July 11, 2013

The Significance of Bonhoeffer

In this last post taken from Dallas M. Roark’s book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we will discuss the impact of Bonhoeffer’s life and theological works.

In specific areas of theology Bonhoeffer has made several contributions.
  1. The church has an important place in Bonhoeffer’s thought.  If objectivity were a reality in theological circles, Bonhoeffer’s view could conceivably serve as a basis for an ecumenical “happening” between the institutional idea found in Roman Catholicism and the “called out” emphasis of Protestantism.  Objectivity could perhaps lead Roman Catholic theologians to see that formal institutionalism is alien to the New Testament while voluntaristic Protestants might see that the mystical body of Christ has “space” in the world and is where Jesus Christ is to be found.  But since theological wheels move slowly and reevaluation of respective positions seldom occur, the possibilities of Bonhoeffer’s position may have to wait for a long time.
  2. Ethics remains as a powerful work confronting modern man.  We have yet to reckon with may of its features.  His treatment of the role of the Christian in the modern world will probably be a continuing inspiration for many people if the prestige of the church continues to diminish. The new beginning point of ethics is yet to be reckoned with by philosophical ethics.  Nicolas Berdyaev declared that ethics should teach a man how to die, but philosophical ethics is not concerned with this.   Bonhoeffer answers Berdyaev’s question by declaring ethics’ goal for man as being restored to unity with God.  In restoration man becomes real man.  Right and wrong are not products of man’s mind but are found only in the will of God.
  3. About the spiritual life, Bonhoeffer has remarkable insights.  Those who know Bonhoeffer found that the development of the spiritual life as he outlined it was not exciting to begin with, but as time passes they reassessed their views and came to regard their six-month stay in the Finkenwalde experiment as a high point of their lives. The modern seminary turns out men who have not developed a spiritual existence within themselves and are dedicated to serving where the money is highest.  They drift from church to church, lacking vital spirituality, unable to build the churches up because they are empty.  The practical and professional emphasis in the seminary has been in the direction of administration, social work, and ecclesiastical machinery rather than the practical discipline of the spiritual life.  (emphasis my own)
  4. Christology stands out as the central feature in Bonhoeffer.  With one stroke he cut down the controversies centering around the Incarnation.  We are concerned with the Who, not how in the Incarnation.  This is true in the church also.  We cannot ask the question “How is Christ in the church?”  but “Who speaks to us in the church?”  Doctrine was important for Bonhoeffer.  He was not a narrow doctrinaire creature who could not allow doctrinal differences, but eventually doctrine became a life and death issue in the Confessing Church’s struggle in Germany.
  5. We would like to conclude this work with a word about Bonhoeffer’s face toward the future.  Bonhoeffer knew that the evil of Hitler would one day meet its end and there must be people who were ready for picking up the pieces.  The church must be ready to minister.  In 1942, Bonhoeffer met a few friends at Werder, and among them was Werner von Haeften, who was a staff lieutenant of the Army High Command (and subsequently perished in the fallout after the failed “Valkyrie” plot of July 20, 1944).  In discussing his duties, he [von Haeften] asked of Bonhoeffer: “Shall I shoot?  I can get inside the Fuhrer’s headquarters with my revolver.  I know where and when the conferences take place.  I can get access.”   Bonhoeffer discussed this issue at length.  He noted that ridding the world of Hitler was not everything, for worse could come by others; but it should accomplish something; there should be “a change of circumstances, of the government… the ‘thereafter’ had to be so carefully prepared.”  His look toward the future only expressed his continuing faith in God who was incarnated in Jesus Christ and the church.  In these troubled times plans need to be made for the future.
The End.
source: http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=2737&C=2492

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