Friday 11 March 2011

Frank Viola on Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Picture: Dietrich Bonhoeffer - weekend away with students

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Born 4 Feb 1906
Died 9 Apr 1945
Country Germany
Category Government

Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born, with a twin sister Sabine, into an upper-class family in Breslau, Germany. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Berlin and also the director of the psychiatric clinic at Charité Hospital, which was also in Berlin. His mother was Paula von Hase, daughter of Countess Klara von Hase. As a child, he was a gifted pianist, and it was thought that he would either become a musician or follow his father's footsteps and become a doctor. Surprising everyone in the family, at the age of 14, he chose to pursue a career in religion instead. He attended Tübingen University for a year, toured Rome, and then returned to Berlin in 1924 to enroll in the University of Berlin. He graduated from the University of Berlin in 1927 with a doctorate in theology. Between 1928 and 1931, he worked and studied in Spain, United States, Mexico, Libya, Cuba, and his home country of Germany. He was ordained on 15 Nov 1931 at the St. Matthew's Church in Berlin.

When the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became one of the first religious leaders to oppose Nazism. Two days after Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor, he delivered a radio address against him, and the radio address was cut short by a Nazi sympathizer, and he was unable to finish. He was also a prominent leader against the Nazi prejudice against Jews. Between 1934 and 1935, he was the pastor of two German-speaking churches, St. Paul's and Sydenham, in London, England, United Kingdom. In 1934, he was among those who organized the Confessing Church in Germany. As the Nazi regime continued to suppress the Confessing Church, his authorization to teach at the University of Berlin was reovked in Aug 1936. In Aug 1937, Heinrich Himmler declared it was illegal to teach the theology of the Confessing Church, and the church's underground seminary was shut down by the Gestapo in the following month, arresting 27 pastors of the church. One of his sisters, Christine, married Hans von Dohnanyi, a German politician who was also dissatisfied with the Nazi Regime. It was Dohnanyi who introduced Bonhoeffer to members of the Abwehr (German military intelligence) who plotted to overthrow Hitler. In Jun 1939, he traveled to the United States at the invitation of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, but returned to Germany shortly before the start of the European War.

In war-time Germany, Bonhoeffer was forbidden to speak in public by the Nazi German government, and by 1940 was required to regularly report his activities. In 1941, he was forbidden to publish. He joined the Abwehr, where he had already made contacts with like-minded anti-Nazi colleagues. He was active in the planning of assassination attempts against Hitler, and believed that he had sinned for such action, but he believed that he was sacrificing for the greater good for Germany. As an Abwehr personnel, he was able to work as a courier and diplomat for the resistance movement, visiting various contacts within Germany and aboard in Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. In May 1942, he made contact with Anglican Bishop George Bell, a member of the British House of Lords; a report was submitted to British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, but no further action was taken (Britain had similarly turned down many offers to help from various groups within Germany at this time).

On 6 Apr 1943, Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested as the result of political struggles between the German SS and Abwehr organizations. Bonhoeffer was accussed of corruption, evading military service, and using his position to circumvent orders to cease church activities. He was imprisoned at the Tegel military prison in Berlin. During his 18-month imprisonment at Tegel, a sympathetic guard named Knobloch offered to help him escape, but Bonhoeffer rejected him in fear of retribution against his family. After the failed July Plot in 1944, which nearly succeeded in killing Hitler, a large effort to hunt down conspirators commenced, and connections were finally made between Bonhoeffer and other conspirators. He was transferred to the detention cellar of the Reich Security Head Office, then in Feb 1945 he was sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Some time later, he was moved to the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp. On 4 Apr 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of Abwehr, was discovered; as Hitler read them, he condemned all Abwehr conspirators to death. On 8 Apr, SS judge Otto Thorbeck sentenced him to death per Hitler's orders, and he was executed by hanging on the next day.

Source: Wikipedia.

Frank Viola series of Four Blogposts
Take time over this one and follow the links into Frank Viola's blog and his books and other posts, for example : Kingdom Confusion
Blogging Through Bonhoeffer Part One
I’m a student of history. And the more I look at it, the more I recognize a certain pattern. God sends spiritual giants who change the course of church history in waves.
One wave was made evident around 1926 and continued through the 1940s. In three different countries.
Three choice vessels of God began publishing then. They had lots of similarities in the testimony they bore regarding the supremacy of Jesus Christ and His church.
Those three vessels were:
Watchman Nee in China.
T. Austin-Sparks in England.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany
In the coming days, I’m going to be blogging through Bonhoeffer’s complete works.
Bonhoeffer was first and foremost a theologian. And as a theologian, he’s one of my favorites.
I’ll begin by recommending a recent biography written about him, which may be the best ever written on his life.
It’s called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
If you like reading biographies, you’ll want to own this one. Click on the link above to see a movie trailer and read endorsements and reviews. I own the book and love it.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: It’s called Advice for Christian Authors. It will contain advice for established authors, first-time authors, and those toying with the idea of writing a book

Blogging Through Bonhoeffer: Part II
Posted on 03/01/2011 by frankaviola 11

Last week I promised I’d begin blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s major works. I won’t do it every day, as we’ll need a break for lighter subjects. But I’ll resume until finished.
I will refer to Bonhoeffer henceforth as DB.
Some of DB’s works are highly academic. Others are prophetic, written in the context of Nazi Germany.
His academic works are dense and presuppose a fair knowledge of theology, philosophy, and history.
I began this series by starting with DB’s biography, which was the subject of my first post.
The rest of the series is based on the brand new, unabridged translations of his written legacy published in Dietrick Bonhoeffer Works (16 volumes when completed) by Fortress Press.
Let’s explore the first volume today: Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 1)
This was DB’s doctoral dissertation. It is an academic work. It’s considered brilliant and ground-breaking. Years after it was published, Karl Barth called it “a theological miracle.” This work informed all of DB’s work to come. So it was foundational to his life and message.
The explicit goal is to relate sociology with ecclesiology in the description of the Church. DB differentiated his theology both from the Liberalism of his German professors and the new and growing current of Barthian theology (a la, Karl Barth’s view of the Church).
While DB sided with Barth on some of the issues, he differed with him on others.
Ernst Troeltsch exemplified the Liberal approach when he described the Church entirely in terms of secular sociology. Troeltsch was contradicted by Karl Barth, who saw the Church entirely in terms of the response of individuals to God’s act of self-revelation in Christ.
Liberalism fails to maintain the truth of the extraordinary reality that makes the Church what God created her to be in reality. Liberalism reduces the Church to the level of a human religious fellowship. The Church as a spiritual reality is lost.
Barthianism fails also because it reduces the Church to an event that blinks in and out of existence depending on the event of revelation. The Church as a stable, practical reality is also lost.
DB avoids both Liberalism and Barthianism by describing the Church as “Christ existing as community.” And this is the view upheld by Scripture. (See From Eternity to Here for an analysis traced throughout the Biblical narrative.)
It is in the matrix of Christ as community that we become true human beings. We are joined together in the forgiveness of sins. We are gathererd together by the love of God for us and through us in Christ. We are part of Christ together as community under His lordship.
The continuation of the reality of divine revelation is found not in doctrine as such or in pious sentiments. It is found in the reality of the Church. One could paraphrase Bonhoeffer by saying that the real exposition of divine revelation is the Church.
Since the heart of divine revelation is Christ, and Christ is not separate from His Church, this is scripturally true.
Therefore, the Church cannot be reduced to or explained as an empirical community (thus everything that calls itself “Church” isn’t necessarily so). Neither does it exist other than as an empirical community (so DB would reject the post-church paradigm).
On this basis Bonhoeffer constructs a theology centered on the convergence of Christology and ecclesiology.
What I find amazing is that at the same time that DB penned this insightful Christocentric work on the Church, Watchman Nee was writing along the same lines in China and T. Austin-Sparks was doing the same in England. While DB was a high-church Lutheran, his theology of the Church was fundamentally the same as theirs.
Here are some excerpts:
“Christ personifies the new humanity, and the Christian community is about the restoration and consummation of the created sociality of humanity.”
“Paul repeatedly identifies Christ and the church-community. Where the body of Christ is, there Christ truly is. Christ is in the church-community, as the church-community is in Christ. To be in Christ is synonymous with to be in the church-community.”
“The church is the presence of Christ the same way that Christ is the presence of God.”
“In and through Christ the church is established in reality. It is not as if Christ could be abstracted from the church; rather, it is none other than Christ who is the church.”
My favorite part by far is Chapter 5. For an academic book on the reality of Christ and the Church, this is a priceless work.

Blogging Through Bonhoeffer : Part Three
Act and Being, 1931. This is volume 2 of Deitrich Bonhoeffer Works.
It was a dissertation that qualified DB to become a faculty member of the School of theology at the University of Berlin. It’s a heavy theological work that draws on a good bit of philosophy. Not light reading at all. I’ll give a summary, then make some practical application.
DB begins by presenting a view of theologians as belonging to either one of two schools of thought. There are advocates of a theology of Act and advocates of a theology of Being. Theologies of Act stress discontinuity, dualism, the moment of revelation, and decision. Theologies of Being stress continuity, unity, tradition, and cognition.
Karl Barth is the quintessential theologian of Act. The influence of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental philosophy is evident in Barthian thought.
The theology of being stands for the continuity of God and Christianity. Some of these theologians see God’s availability to us in terms of true doctrine. Others in terms of inner experiences. Still others in terms of the institution of the structures of the Church or a verbally inerrant Bible. But all of these not only make God available, they make Him manipulatable. God loses His sovereign freedom in all three cases. He can be pinned down and domesticated by us.
We can avoid losing God in the unknowability of the transcendent or trying to capture Him in forms that make Him just another object to manipulate by returning to the reality of Christ existing as community.
As those who are recreated into Christian community, we participate in the continuity of revelation as the life of the Church. God’s self-presentation in the proclaimed Word make it necessary that we reflect on that Word so that we can faithfully proclaim it. This reflection is called theology. Because theology reflects on the Truth of God, it participates in that Truth. Yet because theology is not itself that Truth, it always has a fragmentary, fragile, and partial grasp of the Truth. And thus it is always open to criticism, correction, and improvement.
Revelation has its being in the Church. Both preaching and theology are for the Church and in the Church. Act and Being are united in the Church.
Like DB’s first work, Christ and the Church lay at the center of his theology and philosophical outlook: “Christ existing as community.”
In Jesus Manifesto, there’s a chapter on the kingdom of God that takes a fresh look at the justice vs. justification debate. Some of that chapter is taken from these two articles where I talk about how some Christians view the kingdom simply as Act. While others view it simply as Being. But it’s both.
Kingdom Confusion: I
Kingdom Confusion: II
Here I stand with DB. In the Church we find the unity of Act and Being. Christ is both Act and Being and so is His kingdom.
If you want a more detailed analysis of this work, click here
Note that DB’s prophetic books are much more accessible.

Blogging Through Bonhoeffer: Part IV
Posted on 03/11/2011 by frankaviola 1

Creation and Fall (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 3)
This is DB’s exposition of Genesis 1-3 delivered as lectures at the University of Berlin in 1932-1933. It’s a difficult read, yet many of the points are powerful.
This is from the Editor’s Introduction, which I found both fascinating as well as encouraging:
Despite the impact Bonhoeffer’s lectures had on his students, systematic theologians at the time ignored their publication, and most biblical scholars scorned Bonhoeffer’s Barthian method of “theological exegesis.” Nevertheless this indifferent and critical reception, Creation and Fall provided “a first small literary success for Bonhoeffer.” One of the book’s readers was Karl Barth; indeed it was the only work by Bonhoeffer on which Barth was to express an opinion during the author’s lifetime. Barth’s influence on Bonhoeffer is clear in Creation and Fall, and Barth found it congenial and helpful for his own work (pp. 5-6).
In Creation and Fall, DB tells us that Genesis lets us know that everything has been created by God and is preserved by Him. This means that there are no purely “secular” or “natural” realities out there. Everything constantly depends on God for its existence.
In the midst of our existence there are the two trees. We were created to live our lives on the basis of knowing everything only in God. There are not two possibilities offered to Adam to live by. There is only God and not the possibility of good versus the possibility of evil.
When Adam chooses to know good and evil, he chooses to understand his life in terms of the two possibilities that he bears in himself rather than in terms of God. This sort of goodness is as far from God as evil. It is only in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins, that we can be brought back to living our lives on the basis of the one Reality of God in Christ rather than in terms our human potential for good and evil.
I expand on this very issue in a more accessible way in the chapter I wrote on living by the Tree of Life in Jesus Manifesto. DB’s treatment is very dense and academic.
According to DB, Christians know the Truth in terms of knowing the end which has dawned in Christ. This means that the beginning cannot be understood apart from the end. And the end is Christ. We therefore must understand Genesis in terms of Jesus Christ. DB’s exegesis of this book is intensely Christological. Following Barth, he uses theological interpretation to grasp the Old Testament.
For DB, the Bible is the book of the Church, and the Old Testament is the book of Christ at all times. He is correct on both points. As the Editor’s Introduction states, “For Bonhoeffer, the Old Testament was certainly the Hebrew Bible, but it was also part of the Christian canon. Therefore it had to be read in light of God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ” (p. 9).
Here’s a choice passage from the book:
Therefore it [the Church] reads the whole of Holy Scripture as the book of the end, of the new [vom Neuen], of Christ. Where Holy Scripture, upon which the church of Christ stands, speaks of creation, of the beginning, what else can it say other than that it is only from Christ that we can know what the beginning is? The Bible is after all nothing other than the book of the church. It is it this in its very essence, or it is nothing . . . In the church, therefore, the story of creation must be read in a way that begins with Christ and only then moves on toward him as its goal; indeed one can read it as a book that moves toward Christ only when one knows that Christ is the beginning, the new, the end of our whole world. Theological exposition takes the Bible as the book of the church and interprets it as such (p. 22).

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