Monthly Archives: June 2007

10 Theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Over at the ever wonderful Faith and Theology, Ray Anderson has contributed a guest post on Bonhoeffer as theologian, much of which is right on track. Rather than repost the whole entry, you can go to the link here.

Review of Eberhard Bethge, Friendship and Resistance

Review of Eberhard Bethge, Friendship and Resistance: Essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eerdmans, (1995). ISBN: 0802841236.

In this collection of short essays Eberhard Bethge, former student, colleague and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers an interesting and largely personal reflection on their years of friendship. Without Bethge’s efforts in popularising Bonhoeffer’s contributions (most notably through publishing his Letters and Papers) it is highly likely that Bonhoeffer would be a name relegated to the footnotes of academic monographs. Fortunately, this is just speculation and the reason for Bethge’s passion shines through.

The article begins with an interview with Bethge that was conducted by Clemens Vollnhalsin 1989. In it Bethge gives a fascinating account of the experience of training for the ministry within the context of the Confessing Church and the illegal seminaries they created. Whilst this is the only interview in this collection this personal feel is a consistent one throughout the remainder of the text. There are two essays in particular that I would like to briefly highlight, they are also the undoubted highlights of the book.

“Between Confession and Resistance” recounts the often tense relationship between confessing Christ and political resistance. In first person narrative Bethge offers a history of the confessing church movement from his perspective. In the process of which Bethge gives an account of how a group of seminary students had tried to persuade the seminary directors to place the seminary under the control of the newly established Confessing Church without avail. So it was that Bethge was among those who were given the following warning from the Brudderat: “We do not want to hide from you the fact that we cannot give any assurance that you will be employed, receive a salary or be recognized by any office. You may well face a difficult future …” (p. 16).

Bethge makes clear that in the ensuing months a difficult time was had in the Confessing Church’s rejection ( as demonstrated in the Barmen Theses) against a Nazified Pulpit, Nazified Christian Life, Nazified ecclesiology and nazified clergy. However, Bethge states that they naively did not perceive this approach to be political:

We did not interpret our decision as a choice between Christ and Hitler, between the cross and the swastika, and certainly not a decision between democracy and a totalitarian regime. Rather, we understood the issue as one between a biblical Christ and a Teutonic-heroic Christ, between the cross of the gospels and one formed by the the swastika (p. 19).

Barmen was perceived to be about “letting the church be the church”, not about politics. Confession, not resistance. However, this dividing line was soon seen to be arbitrary: it also became clear to us … that while our confessing synods had developed an excellent language to speak against Nazification, they had no language to speak for its victims” (p. 24). Hence Bethge recounts his experience of the difficult line to be drawn between confession and resistance. To speak for the victim is to resist those who victimised them. Bethge goes on to delineate his own thoughts on this difficult tension between confession and resistance.

The second notable essay, “How the Prison Letters Survived” is a narration of the means by which the letters that were to become Letters and Papers from Prison were smuggled. Like many people it was this book, which Bethge collated from Bonhoeffer’s prison correspondence, that was my first introduction to Bonhoeffer. Much like a behind the scenes DVD extra Bethge goes behind the text to present not only a view of the deep friendship that existed between these two men but also the trials that smuggling these letters posed. Perhaps most poignant of all is Bethge’s recollection of how he discovered that he was to be arrested and how he burnt some recent letters from Bonhoeffer there and then only to discover that these could have been hidden in time.

Friendship and Resistance is a theological book, but one told through the means of biography. This type of theological reminiscing is not something I have encountered before and is, I suspect, quite unique. As such this makes for a fascinating and challenging little book that has deepened my appreciation for Bonhoeffer as he was experienced by those around him .

New URL

I just thought I’d let you all know that the primary url for this website has been changed to www.dietrichbonhoeffer.com. There is no need to alter any existing links as the wordpress.com address will continue to work.

In other news I am hoping to add a contributors page to this blog as well as a link to some helpful online Bonhoeffer materials.

International Conference on Bonhoeffer: Prague, July 2008

This information comes from the International Bonhoeffer Society website.

Call for Papers for the X.
International Bonhoeffer Congress in Prague,
July 22-27, 2008

The planning committee of the X. International Bonhoeffer Congress, to be held July 22-27, 2008, in Prague cordially invites you to propose papers.

The theme of the Congress will be:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theology in Today’s World.
A Way between Fundamentalism and Secularism?

The Conference will especially concentrate on Bonhoeffer’s prison theology, even though it does not want to exclude his other writings. It wants to find answers to the question: How can Bonhoeffer’s prison theology be helpful in a world confronted by fundamentalism as well as by secularism. How does it prevent the church from being a fundamentalist one or from becoming totally secular?

The three working days will have main speakers in the morning and seminar sessions in the afternoon. The three working days of the conference will have the following topics:

Wednesday, July 23rd
Topic of the day: Fundamentalism and Secularism

In the morning we will have speakers who will analyse the current phenomena of religious fundamentalism and secularism (the latter especially in Eastern Europe). In the afternoon we will have seminar session for which we invite proposals (see below).

Friday, July 25th
Topic of the day: The church – “in the middle of the village” ? (30.4.1944)

Subthemes:

  • The shape of the church, the church’s liturgy and worship
  • Education and teaching in today’s schools, churches, and universities
  • Mission
  • Social justice
  • Spirituality

Saturday, July 26th
Topic of the day: The church – in “the open air of intellectual discussion” (3.8.1944)

Subthemes:

  • Political discussions
  • Interreligious dialogue
  • Bioethics
  • Ecoethics
  • Peace Ethics

In regard to the first topic (Fundamentalism and Secularism), we ask for proposals dealing with the question: How could Bonhoeffer’s theology generally help to guide a path in the current situation of fundamentalism and secularism.

In regard to the second topic (The church – “in the middle of the village”?), we ask for papers that deal with the consequences of Bonhoeffer’s prison theology for the concrete life and work of the church in a society confronted both by fundamentalism and secularism (including the named subthemes: The shape of the church, the church’s liturgy and worship; Education and teaching in today’s schools, churches, and universities; Mission, Social Justice; Spirituality).

In regard to the third topic (The church – in “the open air of intellectual discussion”), we ask for papers that deal with the consequences of Bonhoeffer’s prison theology for how and with which contents the church should participate in the current discussions of our different societies which are confronted by fundamentalism and secularism (including the named subthemes: Political discussions, Intereligious dialogue, Bioethics, Ecoethics, Peace Ethics).

Proposals to topics not named above or related to other writings of Bonhoeffer are also welcome.

We especially invite younger scholars, e.g. PhD students, to propose papers. The proposals, which should explain topic, main arguments and conclusions of the paper, should have no more than 500 words. They can be written in German or English. The presentation at the conference can be held in Czech, English or German.

The proposals have to be submitted by June 30th, 2007, to christiane.tietz@uni-tuebingen.de, whom you could also contact for further questions.

The decisions, taken by a small committee, as to which proposals are accepted will be communicated via Email by end of August 2007. The afternoon where the accepted papers will be placed is not necessarily connected to the topic of the day.

November 2006

For the planning group:
PD Dr. Christiane Tietz,
Liebermeisterstr. 12, 72076
Tübingen, Germany

I have found out from my sources that the conference is being held at the Agricultural University in Sukhdol. It is being co-sponsored by the International Baptist Theological Seminary and the Hussite Faculty of Charles University

Hauerwas on Bonhoeffer

Readers of this blog may well know Stanley Hauerwas’ important book on Bonhoeffer, Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004). For those who want to taste of its contents, and perhaps have never seen/heard Hauerwas you may want to spend some time with this Burke lecture that became chapter 2 ‘Bonhoeffer on Truth and Politics’.

Review of The Bonhoeffers: Portrait of a Family

The Bonhoeffers: Portrait of a Family
by Sabine Leibholz-Bonhoeffer
Covenant Publications, Chicago, 1994.
188 pages
ISBN 910452-78-4

Reviewed by Chris L. Rice 

Frits Delange writes in Waiting for the Word that “the significance of family relations for Bonhoeffer’s theology cannot be overestimated.” This beautiful little book of reflections from Bonhoeffer’s twin sister Sabine really helps to lend color to the mosaic painted by Eberhard Bethge’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For example, one should take note that Dietrich spent time with Sabine and her family before and after his second trip to the United States in 1939. Bonhoeffer’s family relationships were much tighter than is normally expected of a modern family, his formed and deepened his education, his understanding of community, and really served as a touchstone for his love for humanity. Alongside books like I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Zimmerman and Gregor Smith, Sabine’s book is a must-have for anyone wanting to know Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Review of Sabine Dramm’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction to His Thought

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction to His Thought
by Sabine Dramm
Translated by Thomas Rice
Hendrickson, 2007
258 pages

Reviewed by Chris L. Rice

If you invest enough time in the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and by these I mean Eberhard Bethge’s biography and the letters and writings from the Gesammelte Schriften (which are soon to be fully released in English), you get rather frustrated by the popular attention for Bonhoeffer (which is maybe six inches deep) compared with the enormity of what he really has to say for the whole human Christian life in this age. When I was handed this new introduction by Sabine Dramm by a friend I thought, “Who needs another introduction? Aren’t there enough of those?”

Was I ever wrong! Upon further investigation, I found a book worthy of high recommendation for anyone wanting a real taste of the seemingly daunting Bonhoeffer corpus. Sabine Dramm carefully and deliberately expounds on all of the Gesammelte Schriften in a delightfully open, philosophical and yet biographical manner. My only explanation for her style is that, rather than presenting the material didactically, in a fashion designed for undergraduates, she presents Bonhoeffer from the position one who has fully traversed his story and concerns and is a faithful guide to the terrain.

Here is one example from her chapter titled “The Book of his life: Ethics”

“According to Bonhoeffer, it cannot be the intention and task of ethics to produce a compendium of ethical values and universal direc­tives for action; nor is it the intention and task of an ethicist to burst forth as an authoritative source of theological truth. The limits of both the ethicist and a set of ethics are clearly defined. He emphasizes how easy it is to say what does not constitute an ethics and an ethicist:

“Ethics cannot be a book that defines what everything in the world by rights should be, but unfortunately is not; and an ethicist cannot be one who invariably knows better than others what and how things are to be done; … an ethics cannot be a laboratory beaker in which ideal ethical behavior and Christian human beings are produced, and the ethicist cannot be the embodiment or ideal representative of a basically moral life” (DBW 6, 372).

These words indirectly describe his own Ethics. They also contain a warning by Bonhoeffer against overestimating oneself and others— ­a warning we too should hear clearly with respect to his person. Bon­hoeffer himself intended with his Ethics nothing more than to help us “learn to live with others” in a world he loved (DBW 6,372), and this in spite of and in that world’s atrocities, in spite of and in the shortcomings of its inhabitants.” (pgs. 104-105)

I don’t recommend shortcuts to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’m willing to face the fact that he’s just going to be beyond what most folks are willing to invest. I don’t mean to sound arrogant in saying that, let’s face it, in the same way I won’t be venturing into the worlds Kierkeggard, Heidegger, Foucault, or Camus anytime soon. But if I had to start again for the first time, I would want someone to recommend this book by Sabine Dramm. Immensely helpful stuff!