Union Theological Seminary’s podcast includes Larry Rasmussen’s August 6 lecture on Bonhoeffer offered in two parts. I downloaded it and found it to be an excellent addition to Rasmussen’s book Reality and Resistance. His stories from Bonhoeffer’s brother at the end of part two are particularly interesting.
Author Archives: justthischris
I’d like to call your attention to the latest book available in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series, VOLUME 13, from Fortress Press. The following is from the publisher’s press release:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s pastoral sojourn in England from October 1933 to April 1935, which he initially viewed as a withdrawal from the church clashes in Germany, marked instead a new phase in his intensive participation in that struggle. Newly released by Fortress Press, London, 1933-1935: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 13 provides an almost daily documentation of this deepening engagement against the placid backdrop of his two London pastorates.
Detailing Bonhoeffer’s extensive contacts with German expatriates, ecumenical partners and allies, and friends and family, London, 1933-1935 impressively records both Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the rapidly developing clash with the deutsche Christen and the means by which he pursued it.
The bulk of the material consists of his wide correspondence but also includes records and minutes of his congregational meetings, excerpts from the diaries of Bonhoeffer’s friend and London colleague Julius Rieger, reports from international conferences from 1934, and more than twenty sermons he preached to his London congregations. The wealth of this material, says editor Keith Clements, allows us to experience a dramatic slice of this history and see the many and complex facets of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personality.
“Beautifully translated, the letters and sermons give us new insights into Bonhoeffer himself.”
—Victoria J. Barnett, General Editor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition and Director, Church Relations, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
“Taking its place in what has become a definitive series, this splendid new volume captures Dietrich Bonhoeffer busily at work in a lively new landscape. More than this, it yields a vivid glimpse of that bustling, wider realm of opinion, friendship and endeavour which the crisis of National Socialism provoked beyond the borders of Germany itself. It is surely indispensable.”
—Andrew Chandler, Director, the George Bell Institute at the University of Chichester
Keith C. Clements served Baptist congregations for ten years before becoming secretary for international affairs in the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, Geneva from 1997 to 2005.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 13
Edited by Keith C. Clements
Translated by Isabel Best
Format: 6” x 9”, hardcover with jacket, 452 pages
Price: $50.00/ CAN $60.00
Publisher: Fortress Press
So here’s a rundown on what’s in print and yet to be made available. The ones with links are available, the others have yet to be released. If I’m not mistaken, Volume 8 will be the last to be published. The Fall 2005 newsletter of the International Bonhoeffer Society reported that:
“The English Edition will also feature a volume 17 as a searchable CD-ROM to include a master index for all volumes, a comprehensive series bibliography, additional glossaries, and searchable texts of all 16 volumes.”
Volume 8 Letters and Papers from Prison, translation of Widerstand und Ergebung
Volume 10 Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931, translation of Barcelona, Berlin, Amerika: 1928-1931
Volume 11 Ecumenical, Academic and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932, translation of Ökumene, Universität, Pfarramt: 1931-1932
Volume 12 Berlin: 1933, translation of Berlin: 1933
Volume 13 London: 1933-1935, translation of London: 1933-1935
Volume 14 Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937, translation of Illegale Theologenausbildung: 1935-1937
Volume 15 Theological Education Underground: 1937-1940, translation of Illegale Theologenausbildung: 1937-1940
The Bonhoeffers: Portrait of a Family
by Sabine Leibholz-Bonhoeffer
Covenant Publications, Chicago, 1994.
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.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction to His Thought
by Sabine Dramm
Translated by Thomas Rice
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!
Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004. pp. 252. $19.99 pb. ISBN 1-58743-076-2.
Reviewed by Tobias WINRIGHT, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO 63108
Crossposted on Catholic Book Reviews
Named “America’s Best Theologian” by Time in 2001, Stanley Hauerwas regards himself rather as primarily a theologian of the church. Among his numerous books spanning three decades of theological writing, Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence is no exception in conveying this perspective.
Hauerwas, who is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, offers in this volume a stimulating reading of German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and theological politics which serves as a stage for both the refinement of some of Hauerwas’ more recent work (e.g., his Gifford Lectures, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology [Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001]) and the reprise of some of the major themes (e.g., narrative) from earlier in his career. Included among the cast with whom Hauerwas often dialogues are Thomas Aquinas, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth, John Milbank, Archbishop Rowan Williams, Victor Preller, Alasdair MacIntyre, Oliver O’Donovan, and Jeffrey Stout. Center stage, however, is Hauerwas’ contention that what we proclaim and perform as a church is the truth we offer to a world permeated with lies.
While the subtitle and the photo of Bonhoeffer on the book’s cover could possibly mislead readers to expect from its first to last pages a treatment of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology, especially as these pertain to the subject of nonviolence, the title nonetheless indicates the major theme around which the book revolves. Divided into three major sections, the book’s second section, “Truthful Performances,” develops what Hauerwas has in mind by the book title’s opening words, Performing the Faith. The first third of the book, “Bonhoeffer on Politics and Truth,” obviously correlates with the subtitle’s reference to Bonhoeffer, and the final third of the book, “Performing Nonviolence,” thereby corresponds with the remaining part of the subtitle having to do with the practice of nonviolence. Throughout the book Hauerwas attempts “to develop the connections between truthfulness, nonviolence, and the process necessary for the discovery of goods in common rightly called politics” (17). Still, given that Bonhoeffer is not mentioned beyond page 72, Hauerwas perhaps should have connected the dots between these interrelated sections for some readers by devoting some attention in each of the subsequent chapters’ concluding section to the way in which they intersect with what he had to say about Bonhoeffer in the book’s introduction and initial two chapters.
A pivotal chapter (written with James Fodor of Saint Bonaventure University) of the book is “Performing Faith: The Peaceable Rhetoric of God’s Church,” which explores the analogies between theatrical and musical improvisation and embodying the Christ life in the world. Because Jesus Christ is God’s most defining performance, Christians too are called to become “holy performances” (86). While our performances are actually repeat performances of Christ’s singular performance, we nevertheless improvise along the way. Moreover, we rehearse during worship, which not only informs and forms us, but also performs us in a way that we in turn will perform in the world. As such, the church’s witness is not something constituted primarily by written and oral argument; rather, it has to do with a visibly incarnate life of discipleship. For Hauerwas, Bonhoeffer and his participation in the Confessing Church exemplified this sort of faithful performance.
Hauerwas admits he has always respected Bonhoeffer, but in reading and rereading much that Bonhoeffer had written (and some of the secondary literature), he noticed some similarities between Bonhoeffer and Yoder with regard to their concern for the church to manifest faithfully and visibly God’s will in the world. While there is certainly more to Bonhoeffer (and to Yoder), it is undeniable that this is an important point of contact, so Hauerwas’ presentation, in this reviewer’s assessment, “is not as crazy as it sounds” (18).
There are, however, a number of questions that arise and linger. Are Bonhoeffer’s thought and life, especially with regard to his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler, really congruent with the kind of Christian nonviolence Hauerwas espouses? To be sure, Hauerwas raises doubts about whether we can know “how Bonhoeffer understood how this part of his life fit or did not fit with his theological convictions or his earlier commitment to pacifism” (36). While Hauerwas’ view is plausible, this reviewer remains unconvinced. As Hauerwas himself admits in one of the legion (though usually interesting) footnotes, it is unclear exactly what kind of pacifism Bonhoeffer represented or if his “christological pacifism required the disavowal of violence in every circumstance” (40). As Yoder pointed out, there are varieties of pacifism, and the type with which Yoder identified—a discipleship form of nonviolence that is unintelligible without the confession that Jesus is the Christ and that Jesus Christ is Lord—at times overlapped with and at other times diverged from the other types. Still, unlike Bonhoeffer, it seems, Yoder and Hauerwas draw a line at killing. Even so, the church, according to Hauerwas, cannot presume to know what does and does not count as “violence” (26), which is an odd claim to make by someone who so highly esteems tradition and narrative. The just-war tradition, for example, has a long (though still developing—sort of like improvisation?) history of attempting to distinguish between legitimate use of force and unjustified violence. Nevertheless, Hauerwas posits that pacifism cannot be explained but only witnessed. Why can it not be both?
Hauerwas adds that “Christians are never pacifists or just warriors, but rather first and foremost we are disciples of Jesus Christ” (26). Probably most Christian proponents of just war, this reviewer included, would agree. Just-war Christians should also be able to describe their stance in the way that Hauerwas reserves for pacifism: as a form of discipleship consisting of determinative practices and habituation that spark our imaginations to discover creative forms of life that are alternatives to violence. Couldn’t the just-war tradition function similarly, as a way of life leading to creative solutions, with the use of lethal force truly a last resort, rather than the standard view of the just-war tradition as basically a checklist of criteria? Moreover, some of society’s everyday practices that Hauerwas refuses to participate in, such as singing the “Star Spangled Banner” or “God Bless America,” are similarly refrained from by some just-war disciples, including this reviewer. Hauerwas also believes that in calling himself a pacifist he creates expectations to which other Christians will hold him accountable, but again the same could be said of a sincere just-war Christian. Finally, there are just-war theorists who would agree with Hauerwas when he expresses his view that he does “not believe that the esse of politics is coercion or violence” (202). In short, much of what Hauerwas writes about nonviolence can hopefully be said about just war, and as such perhaps Bonhoeffer, even though earlier he identified with pacifism, could be regarded as moving into a kind of just-war mode (without written and oral arguments, but by witnessing) when he cast his lot with the plot against Hitler.
In this book Hauerwas attempts to respond to questions readers have asked, and it is certain that another round of questions will ensue from this particular effort as well. For this, Hauerwas’ performance in the writing of this book is to be applauded, even by those who disagree or do not totally agree with him. Performing the Faith is most appropriate for academic libraries and for fellow theologians, but probably not for the uninitiated who has not previously read anything by Hauerwas.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, by Renate Wind
Reviewed by Chris Rice
Renate Wind, a teacher of theology, biblical studies, and church history has written the most approachable biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer available today. Leave it to a woman to make an early twentieth century German scholar fresh, vibrant, and alive for this generation! In this little paperback we are introduced to our hero as if for the first time. We learn of what it was like to grow up in the home of Karl Bonhoeffer, a father “both sensitive and detached,” and what effect this had on Dietrich’s desire to know God.
Diary entries of his visit to Rome in April of 1924 provide a window into his first encounter with the church in a Catholic mass. “The whole thing was so fresh, and made an unprecedented impression of the deepest piety. . . I believe I am beginning to understand the concept of the ‘church.’” (p. 29)
Another of my favorite moments in the book takes place in “The Prophet’s Chamber” at Union Theological Seminary occupied successively by four theologians whose nations were getting ready for war. (Japan, Canada, the US, and Germany) “The German was Dietrich Bonhoeffer: he spent the most difficult and most tormenting weeks of his life in the Prophet’s Chamber. In June 1939 he was admitted and given a teaching post for the coming semester. At the beginning of July he packed his bag again and went back to Germany on the last ship before the outbreak of war. In the Prophet’s Chamber his successor found piles of cigarette butts and illegible notes. A diary has also been preserved from these weeks which indicates how much Dietrich fought with himself and his conflicting ideas and feelings.”(p. 127)</p>
In an earlier letter he had written “We ought to be found only where He is. We can non longer, in fact, be anywhere else than where He is. Whether it is you working over there or I working in America, we are all only where He is. He takes us with him. Or have I, after all avoided the place where He is? The place where He is for me?” (p. 137)
Each of the chapters in this book are short enough to make the story easy to follow. The writing provides a special sense of involvement that transcends the period. It would seem that Renate is taking liberties with her subject with the way his story becomes so personable, but all her references are verifiable with notes. She is bringing us close to Bonhoeffer with her prose and this is a real gift. A book of this type can’t really be compared with Eberhard Bethge’s larger biography except to say that somehow she has successfully brought those of us less willing to wade through the enormity of the available material into closer relation with the man himself.
Performing the Faith : Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence
by Stanley Hauerwas
Brazos Press, 2004
Reviewed by Chris L. Rice
(Cross posted on A Desperate Kind of Faithful)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer represents a life of lived theology. His personal commitment to a way of doing theology that involved the whole person in a community of faith as witness to the confrontation of the Gospel can still inspire us today. Stanley Hauerwas leads us through his approach to truth-telling. To set the record straight, only the first two chapters of this book deal specifically with Bonhoeffer’s thought, but in those two chapters we find a blue print for understanding Bonhoeffer’s method of dealing with and speaking the truth, and the importance of the truth for a truly just society. The first chapter aims at understanding Bonhoeffer’s political ethics, which was not fully realized at the time of his execution. This is done by working with Bonhoeffer’s writings in Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, Ethics, and letters surrounding his first trip to America found in No Rusty Swords.
The second chapter appropriates Bonhoeffer’s writings on truth to our conversations in public life. Again he uses letters but also the monumental work Ethics, which it must be admitted, has not been given its due.
Its clear that a big part of Stanley Hauerwas’ work is in the ebb and flow of language. In the introduction to Performing the Faith he dialogues with critics, tries to clarify his intentions, and even confesses when he uses some words wrongly. (p. 22 “metaphors, maybe, but certainly not symbols”) This book gives me hope that politics, theology, and ethics can be both academic and practical. Hauerwas is hopelessly academic—he is far too well read not to be—but he desires practicality above all and to be of service to the Church and our country. He almost makes pacifism attractive and believable. When he writes,
“pacifism is just too “passive” and nonviolence too dependent on being “not violence.”” We can only begin to understand the violence that grips our lives by being embedded in more determinative practices of peace—practices as common and as extraordinary as prayer and the singing of hymns”
I am ready to sign on, albeit as a self-proclaimed non-aggressionist. Whatever that means.
Stanley Hauerwas is no doubt one of America’s most controversial theologians. I must confess I was skeptical that he would try to make Bonhoeffer into his own image. Instead I found that Hauerwas has introduced some of the more complex aspects of Bonhoeffer’s theology into a very vibrant conversation about today’s political and ecclesial climate. He is one of the founding members of Ekklesia Project, which I’ve personally found to be a very stimulating ecumenical gathering of friends who bear witness to a Christian way of life that critiques and separates from the lust for violence and war within our culture.
Bonhoeffer as Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment by Craig J. Slane, Brazos Press, 2004.
Reviewed by Chris Rice
(Cross Posted on A Desperate Kind of Faithful)
The notion of Martyrdom is a foreign one in our post-modern world. It certainly has more negative connotations when understood as someone willing to off themselves for a political cause. We think of religious martyrdom in the news in terms of fiery blasts and falling buildings in the headlines. How could death for a cause be inspirational in this day and age? Craig Slane guides us through the Christian history of witness from its earliest days to the present, demonstrating how the change in our own times have blurred the lines between dogmatic and ideological witness.
Perhaps just when we need it most Slane introduces us to the faith of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as follower of Jesus unto death. Martyrdom, he points out, for the Christian is not recognized or claimed for one’s self prior to death, rather it is bestowed by the believer’s faith community. This separates Bonhoeffer and all believers from those who would off themselves purposely as a suicidal act. Still, is it true that we are called to identify our faith with death as much as life? Can our faith be a death affirming activity–and why would you want to read a book about that? In an age and for a country wherein Christianity has become more about our best, victorious, and most successful living the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of a costly Christianity that daily identifies with a humiliated and hidden Savior. He reminds us of the Church as a radical community wherein we practice individual confession and repentance, and relationships with Christ as mediator. These things, of course, are all a part of a life well lived following Jesus—to the Cross.
I haven’t had a reading experience like this one since I can remember. Those with abstract thought handicaps beware, and if you develop a skin rash at the mention of Heidegger or A.N. Whitehead consider yourself warned. This work is not for the academic faint of heart. But if you’ve got guts and curiosity I dare you to read this book. It is intended as a step forward for Bonhoeffer studies, but also as an interpretation of martyrdom. Bonhoeffer’s final works, Discipleship, Life Together, and Ethics are set in the light of his decision to join the Abwehr and be hung along with Hitler’s conspirators. So reading this book has set my readings of these books in a whole new light. There are many selections from rather obscure letters and texts that help set the right context. As I point out in my review of Stephen Haynes’ The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon, Bonhoeffer is used constantly out of his context. Its only in setting the scene that we can fully appreciate his witness, and then appropriate his example to our own setting.