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Call for Proposals to Host the Next International Bonhoeffer Congress in 2024. 

 

Interested parties should complete the following form: https://ibm.box.com/s/ti69xenmmn8vq5o2eq87ka948nsuf8tv

 

Proposals are due September 1, 2020.

For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Review of J.I. de Keijzer, Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross: The Influence of Luther in Act and Being (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019) xiv + 185 pp. €69.00 (paperback).

In J.I. de Keijzer’s monograph, several prominent trends in Bonhoeffer scholarship intersect: namely, renewed attention to his early academic theology, sensitivity to the Lutheran provenance of his thought, and the impact of Karl Barth on his theological development. De Keijzer draws these strands together in order to elaborate and defend his central thesis that “Bonhoeffer’s theological development unfolded along a fresh articulation of Luther’s theologia crucis” (10–11). More specifically, the book unfolds as an attempt to read Bonhoeffer’s habilitationschrift, Act and Being (specifically, Parts A and B), as both an appropriate reception of Luther’s theology of the cross after Kant and a critique of the manner in which Barth’s early theology also drew on this aspect of Luther’s thought.

Rather than taking the approach one might expect in such a project (especially, given the subtitle)—i.e. mapping Luther’s theologia crucis in order to provide a framework within which to assess Act and Being as emblematic of this theological method—De Keijzer begins with Barth. The essay “Fate and Idea” is his particular focus since its titular concepts are analogous to those of Bonhoeffer’s habilitationschrift and in the essay Barth associates his own approach to theology with a theologia crucis. Insofar as Barth and Bonhoeffer are working with similar concepts in their critical engagements with philosophy, this provides the basis from which de Keijzer proceeds, in the third chapter, to critically evaluate their respective articulations of a theology of the cross. Crucially, he sees Barth as only engaging with the epistemologically deconstructive aspects of the theologia crucis because of his commitment to God’s formal freedom. Bonhoeffer, on the other hand, pairs the deconstructive aspect with an emphasis on the fact that God is haveable and graspable in Christ on the cross. The resulting thematization is one in which Barth champions crisis and distance, while Bonhoeffer prioritizes crucis and presence. It is, then, in the distinction between Barth and Bonhoeffer that de Keijzer sketches the contours of the specific sort of theologia crucis he detects as unfolding in Act and Being.

The fourth chapter zooms out to consider the roots of the theologia crucis in Luther’s thought before surveying a number of its subsequent appropriations in philosophy and theology. Here, de Keijzer divides the figures surveyed into two camps: those who reflect Barth’s proclivity for distance (Loewenich, McGrath, Kant, and Kierkegaard) and those who resonate with Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on presence (Hegel, Simpson, and Jüngel). He then concludes by suggesting that Luther’s own thinking on the topic resonates more with the latter camp than the former.

Chapters five and six zoom in to focus on Act and Being. Specifically, de Keijzer argues that Barth’s theologia crucis, accented as it is by Kantian commitments, is act oriented, while Bonoeffer’s is being oriented, coming to expression in Christ existing as church community. Here, de Keijzer is particularly concerned to show that Bonhoeffer’s critical alternative to Barth is shaped by the logic of the theologia crucis in a way that can be directly linked to Luther (specifically, his treatise, The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods). He then goes on to treat Bonhoeffer’s engagement with Heidegger’s philosophy in order to show how it provided him with a framework for conceiving of how revelatory encounter with Christ (act) is always already suspended in Christ existing as church community (being). According to de Keijzer, Bonhoeffer analogically appropriated Heidegger’s philosophy for his theologia crucis in a manner that enabled him to forefront the presence of Christ in his coordination of act and being. 

Ultimately, then, the church community serves as the context within which a theologia crucis properly committed to Christ’s presence unfolds. According to de Keijzer, this is Bonhoeffer’s unique contribution to and expansion on Luther’s theologia crucis, and it provides a basis from which “epistemology (theological method), Christology, ecclesiology, and ethics come together” (160). Interpreted in this manner, in Act and Being he suggests that we encounter a thoroughly modern theologia crucis ripe and ready for addressing the challenges of the modern age.

De Keijzer’s ambitious attempt to hold together the three strands mentioned at the beginning of this review means that he lays himself open to questions and critiques on a number of fronts. I will, however, mention only two here. First, methodologically, by waiting to address Luther’s theologia crucis until the fourth chapter, the book’s central concept suffers from a frustrating lack of definition for the first three chapters. In other words, it is clear that de Keijzer thinks Bonhoeffer gets it right and Barth gets it wrong, but without a clear idea of what exactly he intends by the term “theologia crucis”, the reader simply has to take his word for it. Second, one might wonder if de Keijzer’s tendency to organize his argument in terms of  binaries (i.e. Barth and Bonhoeffer, distance and presence, crisis and crucis) results in a polarization of the concepts of act and being that threatens to obscure the import of Bonhoeffer’s coordination of the two.  Although he is careful to note that Bonhoeffer maintains a place for the in-reference-to of act, this aspect is mostly glossed over by de Keijzer in order to emphasize being as the locus of presence and crucis.

Ultimately, de Keijzer makes an able contribution to conversations pertaining to Bonhoeffer’s theology in Act and Being, the Lutheran flavor of his theology, and his theological position vis-a-vis Barth. It may not supplant standards on these topics (i.e. the seminal work done by the likes of Tietz, DeJonge, Marsh, and Pangritz), but it supplements them by offering a possible way of mapping Bonhoeffer’s theological concerns and motivation in Act and Being according to Luther’s theologia crucis.

About the Reviewer(s): Koert Verhagen holds a PhD in Divinity from the University of St Andrews and is currently a post-doctoral research fellow there in the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology. His current research assesses the social implications of justification in Bonhoeffer's theology.

About the Author: J.I. de Keijzer Born 1965; BA in Biblical Studies at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Heverlee; MA in Christian Thought at Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, USA; PhD from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, USA; currently an independent scholar interested in the intersections of cross theology, radical theology, public theology, and social justice.

You can purchase Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross at the following link: https://www.mohrsiebeck.com/en/book/bonhoeffers-theology-of-the-cross-9783161569999

 

 

January 15, 2020

The Board of Directors of the International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section, Issues Statement of Concern

The International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section (IBS-ELS) is dedicated to advancing the theology and legacy of German pastor-theologian and Nazi resistor Dietrich Bonhoeffer through critical scholarship, engaged pedagogy, and constructive readings of Bonhoeffer’s collected writings. While initiated in the United States, this statement expresses the concern, input, and support of members of the Board from English-speaking countries around the world, including South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We speak noting that Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught the profound relatedness of all human persons and, indeed, of peoples and nations. We therefore feel called to raise our voices in support of justice and peace, and in resistance to every form of unjust discrimination and aggressive nationalism.

As grateful recipients, and now custodians, of the theological, ethical, and political legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we believe all persons of faith and conscience should prayerfully consider whether our democracy can endure a second term under the presidency of Donald Trump. We believe it cannot. In 2017, we issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the rise in deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening of respectful public discourse ushered in by the election of Donald Trump. We articulated the need for Christians to engage in honest and courageous theological reflection in the face of the threat posed by his leadership. Over the last three years, the need for such discernment has grown more urgent.

A hallmark of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is his insistence that we see the great events of world history from “the view from below” (1942). That is, he urges us to see from the perspective of those who suffer. The policies of the Trump administration both threaten and disempower the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the marginally employed, and the unemployed. Moreover, Donald Trump has now taken ill-advised military action that raises the specter of war. One of the greatest lessons learned from the history of the Christian churches during Germany’s Third Reich is that it is crucial to respond to threats to human life, integrity, and community when they first appear, and to continue to challenge them.

As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians, we have a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing. We confess our own complicity in the social order that has produced Donald Trump’s presidency, for many of the social and economic injustices we confront predate it. As we take responsibility for these injustices, we resist the policy goals of this administration that have contributed to ever- deepening divisions and growing vulnerability among the marginalized sectors of our population, including the dehumanizing treatment of migrants, systematic attempts to strip rights from LGBTQ persons, the increased rapacious destruction of the environment, the marginalization and assault on communities of color especially through voter suppression, and the economic policies that have contributed to the largest disparity of wealth in the nation’s history. We believe that an honest reckoning with these realities must lead to dismantling the dehumanizing ideologies and systemic inequities in which they are rooted.

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency. We do not make this statement lightly. Bonhoeffer’s writings have been influential for Christians from a wide range of churches and political views, but we feel called to address the grave moral concerns we have outlined here that call every one of us to account. During this new year, debates and discussion will continue to be held concerning the best way for America to move forward. We believe that the United States has the human resources to provide capable and willing leaders, and that together a more just and respectful future can be forged. Acknowledging that all human community and leadership is a mixture of blessing and brokenness, health and dysfunction, we stand with all those who believe this country deserves and needs a constitutional and peaceful change in leadership. And we commit ourselves to listen to the call and obey the commands of Jesus as we enter the year 2020.

We make this statement, in part, because we know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer - a theologian and martyr - is often cited in times of political contention. We offer the following theological lessons from Bonhoeffer’s work as a glimpse into the ways he understood his faith and his responsibilities as a citizen in his own times, and to encourage discernment about how these words might resonate for us today:

o He spoke of God’s freedom and human freedom as “freedom for others” not “freedom from others.” (1932)

o He preached that the gospel is “the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order ... God’s order,” and therefore it is good news for the poor. (1932)

o He warned that leaders become “misleaders” when they are interested only in their own power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)

o He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern legitimately. (1933)

o He reminded Christians that the church has an “unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” (1933)

o He wrote, “For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. ... The hour is late. The world is choking with weapons. ... The trumpets of war may blow tomorrow. For what are we waiting?” (1934)

o He believed that Jesus’s commands in the Gospels - like love your neighbor as you love yourself, welcome the stranger, and love your enemies - are to be obeyed in the social and political realm. He wrote: “From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey.” (1936)

o He wrote, “Behold God become human ... God loves human beings. ...Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are. ... What we find repulsive ... namely, real human beings ... this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” (1941)

o He wrote from prison, “... one only learns to have faith by living in the full this- worldliness of life. ...then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is [metanoia/repentance]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian. ... How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?” (1944)

o He wrote from prison, “How do we go about being ‘religionless-worldly’ Christians, how can we be [ecclesia/church], those who are called out, without understanding ourselves religiously as privileged, but instead seeing ourselves as belonging wholly to the world?” (1944)

Signed by the Board of Directors, International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section,

  • Jennifer M. McBride, President
  • Lori Brandt Hale, Vice President
  • John Matthews, Secretary
  • H. Gaylon Barker, Treasurer
  • Christian Collins Winn
  • Stephen Haynes
  • Matthew Jones 
  • David Krause
  • Michael Mawson 
  • Dianne Rayson
  • Robert Vosloo 
  • Reggie Williams
  • Philip Ziegler 
  • Keith Clements, Emeritus
  • Clifford J Green, Emeritus
  • John W de Gruchy, Emeritus
  • Barry Harvey, Emeritus
  • J. Patrick Kelley, Emeritus
  • Michael Lukens, Emeritus

About the International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section

Since its founding in 1972, the Society has pioneered research and scholarship on the life, historical context, and writings of Bonhoeffer. Working in close collaboration with Bonhoeffer’s best friend, theologian and pastor Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s niece Renate Bethge, and scholars in Germany, the Society laid the foundation for the historical and textual study of Bonhoeffer’s life and work in the English-speaking world, culminating in the recently completed sixteen-volume translation of the German critical edition, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition, published by Fortress Press. The Society is now developing a centralized, public, virtual community, as a more accessible resource for undergraduate students, scholars, pastors, activists, and communities of faith to engage Bonhoeffer’s legacy in concrete ways: www.thebonhoeffercenter.org For more information, please contact the president of IBS-ELS, Dr. Jennifer M. McBride, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Click to download a PDF of this statement.

 

In the Face of Barbarism: Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Culture, Humanity and the Importance of Ordinary Life

On February 13-14, 2020, Perkins School of Theology will be sponsoring a short conference, ‘In the Face of Barbarism:’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Culture, Humanity and the Importance of Ordinary Life.

Most scholarly and popular portrayals of Bonhoeffer focus on the exceptional circumstances in which he found himself. The conference, by contrast, is focused on the importance of everyday life in Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics. Lecturers Victoria Barnett, Michael DeJonge, and Natalie Carnes will help us to position the intersection of art and theology as related to everyday life. The conference will conclude with a one-person play on the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as adapted and performed by Al Staggs.

This conference is generously supported by the Robinson Fund at Perkins, which encourages work at the intersection of theology and the arts. This is appropriate given Bonhoeffer’s interest in music especially and in the way in which the arts were woven into the everyday life of the Bonhoeffer family and the student community at Finkenwalde.

To learn more about the themes of this conference please read a recent op-ed by one of the organizers here: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/02/09/by-making-so-much-of-politics-christians-are-at-risk-of-shifting-their-focus-away-from-god/

Registration

You can register at the following link: https://www.smu.edu/Perkins/News/Bonhoeffer

Registration for the full conference is $10 for students and $25 for the general public. Pricing includes lunch on Friday. Please note that both the keynote lecture on Thursday evening and the one-person play on Friday evening are free events open to the public.

 

Review of Michael P. DeJonge, Bonhoeffer on Resistance: The Word Against the Wheel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. $25.00. 192 pp.

 

While the temptation to hagiography has long been acknowledged in Bonhoeffer scholarship, the concomitant problem of historicism has been given less attention. The moving story of Bonhoeffer’s life leads interpreters to focus on the social and biographical context of his work. While that is something to be celebrated, at times it has meant that the content of Bonhoeffer’s writings is overshadowed by the moral power of his life.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Bonhoeffer’s understanding of political resistance. We continue to return to him for guidance because we recognize that he not only thought about political resistance but actually engaged in it. As Karl Barth wrote of Bonhoeffer in 1952, “Why should one not allow oneself to be addressed like this by a man of whom it was asked and to whom it was also given that he not only thought it and said it, but also lived it?”[1] Bonhoeffer is a moral exemplar, someone whose life suggests he possesses moral authority. What he says carries the weight of his sacrifice.

Still, Bonhoeffer’s conception of political resistance should not be reduced to a narrative of his life, to recounting the various forms of his own resistance. Without losing sight of biography, Michael DeJonge has helpfully refocused our attention on Bonhoeffer’s conceptual framework of political resistance, while showing how Bonhoeffer’s ideas were not merely epiphenomenal to his actions. In his recent book, Bonhoeffer on Resistance: The Word and the Wheel, DeJonge argues that much of Bonhoeffer’s highly complex and nuanced account of resistance was in place early in his career. Changing circumstances in Germany throughout the 1930s and 1940s led Bonhoeffer to engage various aspects of this multiform account. Rather than abandoning various forms of resistance on the road to his involvement in a conspiracy against Hitler, we find that Bonhoeffer maintained a pluriform understanding of resistance applicable to various political situations.

Working across the range of Bonhoeffer’s corpus, DeJonge highlights three phases in the development of Bonhoeffer’s understanding of resistance. During the first phase, Bonhoeffer emphasizes how the church resists through its proclamation of the Word. In the second phase, Bonhoeffer emphasizes how the church resists through its existence as community. This is the period of Finkenwalde, of Discipleship and Life Together. The third phase is marked by Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the conspiracy against Adolf Hitler. The three phases underline DeJonge’s careful attention to the agent of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s thought. In the first two phases, the agent of resistance is the church. In the third phase, the agent is the individual, rather than the church. DeJonge’s account pushes against readings of Bonhoeffer which elide this distinction, whether by attributing to non-ecclesial entities forms of resistance Bonhoeffer saw as distinctly ecclesial, or by attributing to the church forms of resistance Bonhoeffer saw as centering on the individual or on humanitarian organizations.

In addition to the three phases of Bonhoeffer’s resistance activity, DeJonge highlights six “types” of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s thought. Tacitly implied in Bonhoeffer’s 1933 essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” Type 1 involves the individual accusing the state of inhumanity, in cases where the state nevertheless continues to function as a legitimate state. The next three types (2-4) are discussed explicitly in the same essay. In Types 2-4, the agent of resistance is neither the individual nor a humanitarian organization but rather the church. Type 2 refers to the church’s diaconal work in serving the victims of state injustice. Type 3 is the church’s indirect political word, questioning whether the state’s actions are those of a legitimate state. Type 4 invokes the famous passage about “seizing the wheel” of the state, which has often been misconstrued as calling for physical resistance of some form. DeJonge argues on the contrary that for Bonhoeffer the church “seizes the wheel” by proclaiming a concrete commandment, under the auspices of an ecumenical council.

Arising during the second phase of Bonhoeffer’s thinking, in Type 5 the church resists not by intervening directly in the public sphere but rather by fostering an alternative community of discipleship. On this reading, Finkenwalde was no respite from political engagement, but was itself an important form of resistance, called for by the particular conditions of the time. Representing the third and final phase of Bonhoeffer’s resistance thinking, Type 6 refers to a “free responsible action” in which an individual does what is necessary to restore the forms of institutional life that make ethics possible, which Bonhoeffer’s describes as the divine mandates of church, state, family, and culture. This necessary action in a state of emergency might require extreme measures, such as the assassination attempt in which Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators were embroiled. Bonhoeffer’s claim is not that under certain conditions the overthrow of a political leader is morally justified, but rather that such an act might become necessary and responsible while still entailing guilt.

A historian of ideas, DeJonge spotlights just how different Bonhoeffer’s way of thinking is from that of contemporary western democratic modes of thought, not least on the question of political resistance. If Stephen Haynes’s recent book The Battle for Bonhoeffer (Eerdmans 2018) shows how Bonhoeffer has been invoked in the United States on behalf of almost every political cause imaginable, DeJonge’s book brings into sharp relief just what it would mean to come to grips with Bonhoeffer’s conception of political resistance, and indeed of church and state more broadly. Here DeJonge builds on his previous work, in particular Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther (OUP 2016). A key takeaway from this new volume is that Bonhoeffer’s conception of resistance is inescapably Lutheran. DeJonge rejects the view that Bonhoeffer left behind his Lutheran assumptions on his way to political resistance. Bonhoeffer’s involvement in political resistance was, on the contrary, inextricable from his Lutheran political theology. DeJonge has made a significant contribution to Bonhoeffer scholarship in bringing this point to light, and in such a convincing and compelling way.

 

About the Reviewer(s): Joshua Mauldin is Associate Director of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey. He holds a PhD in religious ethics from Southern Methodist University, and his research interests include the ethics of Barth and Bonhoeffer, law and religion, and Christianity in China. He can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and @joshuatmauldin on Twitter.

About the Author: Michael P. DeJonge is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, where he teaches on the history of Christian theology and topics in modern religious thought. His previous publications include Bonhoeffer's Reception of Luther (2017), Bonhoeffer's Theological Formation (2012), and The Bonhoeffer Reader (co-edited with Clifford J. Green; 2014).

You can purchase Bonhoeffer on Resistance: The Word Against the Wheel at the following link: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/bonhoeffer-on-resistance-9780198824176?cc=us&lang=en&



[1] Karl Barth, “Letter to Landessuperintendent P.W. Herrenbrück, 21 December 1952,” in Ronald Gregor Smith, Editor, World Come of Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 91.