August 8, 2010

The Church Confronting the World

Chapter 7 is a closer look at Bonhoeffer's "life-work" Ethics.  He wrote on this book between the years 1940-1943.  His friend Eberhard Bethge was the one who actually compiled the notes which comprise the current manuscript, because Bonhoeffer was killed before completion.

The Uniqueness of Christian Ethics:

The first chapter is foundational.  It poses a chasm between Christian ethics and other ethical systems.  Other ethical systems aim at coming to a knowledge of good and evil, but say nothing about why this should be a particular emphasis in ethics.  Christian ethics, on the other hand, has a knowledge of why other ethical systems concentrate on the knowledge of good and evil, but rejects this goal as being a false one.

The goal:

Christian ethics focuses on the new mam, the restored man, the reconciled man, the man in God.  When other ethical systems set up the goal of a knowledge of good and evil, man immediately becomes the arbiter of that knowledge and assumes the role of God who alone has this knowledge.

"Instead of knowing only the God who is good to him and instead of knowing all things in Him, he knows himself as the origins of good and evil."

Man's rebellion brings disunion with God, with man, and within himself.

Bonhoeffer treats the Pharisees as the example of disunited man interested in the knowledge of right and wrong, often in a legalistic sense, but who, because of this question, never saw the real issue at hand: unity with God.

Thus the religious life is not a matter of rules, "but solely of living the will of God."  Man's chief concern in all situations is to discern what God's will is.  This must continue through life.  Bonhoeffer does not imply direct inspiration of God's will, but he indicates that "if a man asks God humbly God will give him certain knowledge of His will."

In the power of Jesus Christ man is to do the will of God.  Man in union with God is marked by the stamp of love.

Jesus Christ is the origin of these values (reason, justice, culture) and "it is only under His protection" that they can survive.

Ethics as formation:

  • Reason (it fails to see "the depths of evil or the depths of the holy")
  • Fanaticism (it loses sight of the totality of evil in concentrating upon a particular evil)
  • Conscience (it becomes timid and uncertain because of the disguises of evil and denigrates to a soothed conscience to avoid despair)
  • Duty (commanded duty does not have the free responsibility of the doer back of it)
  • Freedom (it often involves one in doing bad to ward off a worse event)
  • Private virtuousness (one must remain blind to evils around him and be self-deceived
The wise man is the one who sees beyond principles, rules and other screens to the reality of God.


Three attitudes of success:

  1. It is identified with good
  2. "Only good is successful"
  3. "All success comes of wickedness"
Success or failure mean nothing in place of "willing acceptance of God's judgment."

The beginning point of Christian ethics is not rules but the form of Christ and the "formation of the church in conformity with the form of Christ."

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