Monthly Archives: July 2007

Review of David H Hopper, “A Dissent on Bonhoeffer”

Review of David H Hopper, A Dissent on Bonhoeffer, Westminster Press, (1975). ISBN: 0664208029.

In the 1960s the Bonhoeffer’s thought had been (mis)applied to the then current theological fad, namely the Death of God theology of Andrew Hamilton and particularly Thomas Altizer (a movement related to and similar in outlook to the Sea of Faith Network which grew out of the philosophy of Don Cupitt).At around the same time John Robinson’s Honest to God, Paul Van Buren’s The Secular Meaning of the Gospel and Harvey Cox’s The Secular City all explicitly used Bonhoeffer’s prison letters for their on theological formulations of the new world come of age. Hopper notes that many early Bonhoeffer scholars complained about such appropriations of Bonhoeffer’s thought such as Paul Lehmann’s comment about concerning the use of Bonhoeffer in Death of God theology as “careless dissemination of half-truth” (p. 19). Hopper goes on to note that this emphasis on the later Bonhoeffer was resisted by many of the key Bonhoeffer scholars because it separated Letters and Papers from Prison from Bonhoeffer’s other writings. There are, these scholars argue, a continuity in Bonhoeffer’s theology that runs through many of Bonhoeffer’s theology.

 

For the majority of the book Hopper proceeds to take each of these alleged unifying themes of Bonhoeffer’s theology separately and therefore offers discussion on Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology, christology and theology of reality and in the course highlights the discontinuities in these approaches as Bonhoeffer’s thought developed.

 

So, what prescisely is the Hopper’s dissent on Bonhoeffer? It is difficult to say as, truth be told, Hopper is decidedly imprecise on this point. However, the main point of issue for Hopper seems to be that Bonhoeffer is simply not a systematic thinker. There is no doubt that over the course of his theological career Bonhoeffer’s theology did evolve and, sometimes in areas that I am not so keen one. But what Hopper makes no reference to which seems to me to be a crucial observation is the extent to which Bonhoeffer’s theology is consciously contextual.

 

At the time of its publication maybe this book offered more, but I struggle to really say too much positive about this now other than as a window into the dominant scholarly of Bonhhoeffer of a previous generation. Unless you are specifically researching this issue then I think it best advised that you give this book a miss.

 

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Book Notice

Earlier this year Eerdmans published the late Heinz Eduard Tödt’s account Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics, Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context. Eerdmans summarises the book as follows:

Since Heinz Eduard Tödt’s death in 1991, much effort has been put forth to comprehensively publish his important theological works. This volume collects a number of Tödt’s writings rising out of his decades-long study of Bonhoeffer. With that study comes an appreciation of and respect for Bonhoeffer, clearly seen in these pages.

Tödt first discusses Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics and then focuses on contemporary history. He especially concerns himself with the present tasks in theology and in the church, clearing a path for understanding our way of life through theology’s eyes.

One of the twentieth-century’s best theological ethicists, Tödt said that the further he went, the closer he got to Bonhoeffer. In Authentic Faith, he shows an understanding of Bonhoeffer’s spirit that makes this book a must for the shelves of any Bonhoeffer scholar and all students of social and theological ethics.

If you visit the link above you will also be able to find a table of contents. I have just received a copy today which I will post a review on in due course.