Monthly Archives: January 2007

Review of “Liberating Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Message for Today”

                                                 by Geffrey B Kelly, Augsburg, (1984).

First published by Augsburg Press (the copy I read) Liberating Faith was republished in 2002 by Wipf and Stock. Whilst in the conclusion Kelly offers a brief argument for Bonhoeffer’s applicability to the contemporary (1984) Church situation this is not the book’s primary benefit. Instead, Liberating Faith remains an effective introduction to the theology and spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Kelly begins with a brief biographical portrait detailing Bonhoeffer’s adult life. In the second chapter Kelly begins a thematic introduction to Bonhoeffer’s theology with an account of the importance of Christology to Bonhoeffer’s whole theology. Kelly argues that a theme that runs throughout Bonhoeffer’s Christology is the idea of the sociality of Christ. Early on this had a more distinctly ecclesiological emphasis although the Jesus, who is man for others who is present in the early theology becomes in Bonhoeffer’s later thought the sign of the unity of humanity. Subsequent chapters focus on the “liberation of faith” which is essentially Bonhoeffer’s theology of revelation which in large part arises from his own existential crisis regarding his own faith and an examination of his theology of the Church which follows directly on from his Christology. Perhaps the most edifying aspect of Kelly’s work is his next chapter on Bonhoeffer’s spirituality. I note that Kelly has written about this further in the 2002 book The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which, if this chapter is indicative of the content will be an excellent resource. Grounding his spirituality in the work of Christ and the psalms, along with the reciprocal commitment to fellow believers Kelly superbly shows how Bonhoeffer’s spirituality was far from an individualistic act but was part of the very worship and prayers of the Church.

In the introduction Kelly admits that the book “is not a quarrel with Bonhoeffer and his critics, so much as an attempt to stress the positive challenge to Christianity which we discover in his life and writings” (11). Whilst a critical commentary would not be in order given the books purpose as an introduction I do consider this lack of a critical edge (or pointing towards those who have criticised aspects of Bonhoeffer’s thought) to be a weakness of the text. In a related way the Bonhoeffer we have presented is, in the main, the later Bonhoeffer. Given the gravity of the times in which the later Bonhoeffer wrote this is of course understandable. However, notwithstanding the good Christological survey the vast majority of Kelly’s book concentrates on the The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, and especially Letters and Papers from Prison. Consequently as a definitive introduction Liberating Faith must be judged as incomplete. For those who have read a fair amount of secondary literature then this contribution will add little, if anything at all. However, as an introduction and thumbnail sketch of Bonhoeffer’s overall theology Liberating Faith is probably the most helpful book I have come across, in spite of its partial presentation.

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Bonhoeffer Chronology

by Richard.

Please find below a brief stab at a chronology of Bonhoeffer’s own theological writings. I hope this is useful to you. In completing this list I have used the Chronology in The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the bibliographic essay by James Burtness which is available online here:

i) Communio Sanctorum. This was Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation completed in 1927.

ii) Act and Being. Completed in 1930 this was Bonhoeffer’s second dissertation.

iii) Creation and Fall. Published version of Winter lectures at the theological faculty of Berlin (1932)

iv) Christ the Centre. Based on 1933 Summer lectures in Berlin.

v) The Cost of Discipleship. First published in November 1937 shortly after the Finwendale Seminary had been closed down by the Gestapo.

vi) Life Together. Written in 1938.

vii) Temptation. Again written in 1938 Life Together is a collection of lectures given to Finwendale alumni.

viii). Ethics. While never finished this book was begun in 1940.

viii). Letters and Papers from Prison. The first of the theological letters began coming out in 1944. These final two books were collated and preserved by Eberhard Bethge.

In addition to the above there are also three collections of shorter essays of Bonhoeffer’s available. These are: The Way to Freedom, No Rusty Swords, and True Patriotism.

I hope this is useful to you, if you notice any mistakes or omissions please let me know.