Review of “The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives”

BonhoefferlegacyBy Stephen R Haynes. Fortress, (2006). ISBN: 0800638158.

Reviewed by Richard

The Bonhoeffer Legacy is a follow up to Haynes’ 2004 The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon (reviewed here). Like this earlier work the strength of this work is its survey of the secondary literature. The focus in this case is to relate the variety of interpretations of Bonhoeffer’s relation to Judaism and specifically the anti-semitic sentiments that has plagued the history to theological thought.

Haynes begins with a survey of Bonhoeffer in the popular (primarily Christian) memory. With the gravity of the murderous scope of the holocaust and the Church’s acquiescence there is a need for moral heroes and, in the mind of many, Bonhoeffer fits the bill excellently. It enables us to see that in spite of all its failings the Church “did something” to say no to the persecution of Jews. Bonhoeffer’s involvement in “Operation 7” is cited in support of this assertion. In contrast, in his second chapter Haynes focuses on the response of Jewish scholars to Bonhoeffer’s thought and actions. This Jewish reading is never the wholehearted elevation of Bonhoeffer as moral paradigm the Christian (and primarily evangelical) popular memory; the most benevolent position was to consider Bonhoeffer “the best of a bad lot”. Why? Bonhoeffer’s writings early on, particularly in the 1933 essay “The Church and Jewish Question” displayed not only a supercessionism but also echoed themes of anti-Jewish rhetoric common in the Nazi and pre-Nazi era. For example, Bonhoeffer repeats the “witness people” myth that affirms the charge of deicide on the Jewish people and their historic sufferings as retribution for this sin. Hayne’s study is an attempt to steer a middle course between the rejection of Bonhoeffer by some Jewish Scholars and the Christian ‘spin control’ of his defenders.

Fundamentally, The Bonhoeffer Legacy while certainly meeting a lacuna in Bonhoeffer Studies fails to really satisfy focusing too much on context and Bonhoefferian historiography over the work and rescue-work of Bonhoeffer. I consider this to be a disappointment because as his previous publication Prospects for Post-Holocaust Theology makes clear Haynes has the expertise to have made this the definitive account of Bonhoeffer’s theological relationship to Judaism and the holocaust.

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One response to “Review of “The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives”

  1. Pingback: Recommended Reading for the Study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer « bonhoefferblog

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