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Stellenbosch, South Africa

19-23 January 2020

You are cordially invited to the XIII. International Bonhoeffer Congress that will be held from 
19–23 January 2020 in Stellenbosch, South Africa on the theme: 

How is the coming generation to go on living? 
Bonhoeffer and the response to our present crisis and hope.

Plenary speakers include Wolfgang Huber, Terry Lovat, 
Nadia Marais, Pumla Goboda-Madikizela, Teddy Sakupapa and Reggie Williams.

Click on the hyperlinks below for more information

1.  About the Bonhoeffer 2020 Congress Stellenbosch

2. Call for Papers Bonhoeffer Congress 2020 Stellenbosch​

​3. Bonhoeffer 2020 ​Plenary Speakers

​4. Click here for program (Coming Soon)

5. Click here for registration

​6. Click here for accommodation​

​7. Pre-Congress colloquium for graduate students working on Bonhoeffer 17-19 January 2020​



A new article has recently been written by David A. R. Clark and published in the Scottish Journal of Theology. 

“Psalm 74:8 and November 1938: Rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Kristallnacht Annotation in Its Interpretive Context.” Scottish Journal of Theology 71, no. 3 (August 2018): 253-266.

For those with access to SJT, the link to the article is here. Alternatively, the permanent link is here.

For readers without access to SJT, the article can be viewed in a low-res, read-only format read via the “Cambridge Core Share” platform at this link.


Following Kristallnacht, Dietrich Bonhoeffer marked the date of the pogrom beside Psalm 74:8 in his personal Bible. This annotation has been frequently cited; however, though scholars have recognised historical implications of associating this psalm text with Kristallnacht, the discourse has yet to examine this annotation thoroughly in the context of Bonhoeffer’s figural interpretation of the Psalms during this period. This article will establish the context of Bonhoeffer’s figural approach to the Psalter in order to address this question: by connecting Psalm 74:8 with Kristallnacht, what theological claim might Bonhoeffer have been making about the events of November 1938?

About the Author:

David A. R. Clark is a PhD Candidate in Theological Studies at the University of Toronto and the Toronto School of Theology (Wycliffe College). His research focuses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of the Old Testament during the Nazi period, including the implications for post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian relations. You can read more about David here: www.davidarclark.ca



Christ Existing as Community: Bonhoeffer’s Ecclesiology

Q: We’re excited to talk with you about your new book which explores Bonhoeffer’s often neglected dissertation, Sanctorum Communio. This book grew out of your own doctoral dissertation at the University of Notre Dame. What initially drew you to Sanctorum Communio as a topic for your research, and why has it remained significant to you over the years?                           

MM: Thank you. I’m excited to talk with you. As you note, my book grew out of a doctoral dissertation. I’d initially planned an overly ambitious project exploring Bonhoeffer’s complex relationship to Hegel and idealism. I had intended to trace this relationship through a number of Bonhoeffer’s major texts. After about a year and a half of work, I realized I was still only working on Sanctorum Communio... Hence the new project became a more modest attempt to simply figure out what Bonhoeffer was doing in this early text. My book then became a further (hopefully clearer) attempt to present Bonhoeffer’s early ecclesiology and make the case for its ongoing significance.

In terms of what drew me to Sanctorum Communio in the first placeand why it has remained so significant... Hmm... Prior to undertaking doctoral studies, I had been involved in an intentional Christian community for several years in New Zealand. I think this involvement continually raised the question of how we understand and attend to Christian communities/ churches as places that witness to God, even as they remain flawed and limited on their own terms. As I try to show in my book, Bonhoeffer provides a rich account of how we might hold these two aspects of the church together. At least on some level, this technical book on Sanctorum Communio is an attempt to wrestle through how we understand the church as the place of God’s revelation, while still recognizing its limits and failures.


Q: It’s now close to ninety years since the original publication of Sanctorum Communio, and yet, it remains one of Bonhoeffer’s most neglected texts. You note how there has only been one other monograph written on Bonhoeffer’s dissertation, despite the fact that Sanctorum Communio is perhaps the closest Bonhoeffer ever came to writing a systematic theology. What originally motivated this neglect, and why do you think it has persisted throughout four generations of Bonhoeffer scholarship?                                                                                                         

MM: I suspect there are a number of reasons behind Sanctorum Communio’s neglect. First, Bonhoeffer wrote Sanctorum Communio early in his life and in a relatively short space of time; it thus lacks the clarity and precision of much of his later writing. Second, many of the figures and sources that he is engaging and invoking are no longer familiar to us. Third, I think there are just ambiguities in the text as it stands. Or at least it is often unclear how some of the claims and discussions are related to others. All of this combined makes Sanctorum Communio a difficult text to read and interpret. I worked on my dissertation and book for around six or seven years, but I’m constantly finding passages in Sanctorum Communio that I’m unsure about.

Here I should also mention here that my book would not have been possible without the careful work of the DBW and DBWE editors and translators (especially Clifford Green and Joachim von Soosten). This often allowed me to identify Bonhoeffer’s sources and to track many of the decisions underlying Sanctorum Communio. My book is also reliant on material from Bonhoeffer’s original dissertation (SC-A), which the editors reincorporated into both DBW 1 and DBWE 1. This original material often displays Bonhoeffer’s thinking in ways that are less evident in the published version of the dissertation (SC-B).

You mention a passing comment that I make in my book about Sanctorum Communio being the ‘closest Bonhoeffer ever came to writing a systematic theology.’ I was making a point that some of Bonhoeffer’s readers have focused on his Christology without always sufficiently attending to how this relates to and is coordinated with other aspects of his theology. And I suggested that attending to Sanctorum Communio may help a little to mitigate this tendency (i.e. in that it has distinct but related treatments of creation, sin, the church, eschatology, etc.).


Q: You begin your book by outlining two major intellectual influences on Bonhoeffer’s early theology – Karl Barth and Ernst Troeltsch. How do Barth and Troeltsch inform Bonhoeffer’s argument in Sanctorum Communio? Perhaps more importantly, how does Bonhoeffer move beyond these two thinkers and what is entailed in the ‘third standpoint’ he lays out in Sanctorum Communio?

MM: My opening chapter frames Bonhoeffer’s first dissertation by showing how he is broadly responding to these two giants and the theological options they represent. To be clear, Bonhoeffer himself doesn’t always have Troeltsch and Barth in view (and refers to them only occasionally in Sanctorum Communio). But my assumption is that these figures would be more familiar to contemporary readers. Accordingly, I contrast Bonhoeffer’s own pursuit of an ecclesial approach to theology (his ‘third standpoint’) with both Troeltsch’s commitment to a thoroughgoing historicism and Barth’s early dialectical theology. For Bonhoeffer, the work of theology always proceeds from the concrete church: ‘the empirical church is the presupposition for theology’, as he puts it in some later lectures.Moreover, I suggest how this ecclesial turn allows him to still incorporate important elements of both Troeltsch’s and Barth’s approaches, albeit while reframing them.


Q: Woven like a melody line throughout your book is the claim that Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology is organized around a theological dialectic of creation, sin, and reconciliation. Can you explain and how this dialectic operates and the ways it is so central to Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the church?

MM: In many ways this ‘theological dialectic’ is at the heart of my reading of Sanctorum Communio. It is perhaps easiest to try to explain it using Bonhoeffer’s own language:

The concept of Christian community proves to be defined by an inner history. It cannot be understood “in itself”, but only in a historical dialectic. The concept is split within itself; its inner history can be seen in the concepts of primal state, sin, and revelation....’

My book tries to take this claim seriously, which means reading Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology or concept of church by continually attending to its ‘inner history’ or ‘split’. Following Bonhoeffer, this involves developing robust accounts or doctrines of the primal state (i.e. creation), the state of sin, and reconciliation in Christ.  This is necessary for explicating what the church concretely is. Any attempt to understand the church apart from this dialectic and these states, for Bonhoeffer, remains abstract or ‘idealist’.


Q: Bonhoeffer develops his account of the church in Sanctorum Communio through a complex theological engagement with social theory. In your book you argue that Bonhoeffer’s use of social theory tends to be misinterpreted. How does Bonhoeffer uniquely use social theory in his dissertation? Moreover, how is this use governed by the dialectic of creation, sin, and reconciliation?

MM: Most scholars have been critical of Bonhoeffer’s engagement with social theory in the early chapters of Sanctorum Communio. In an early and influential essay, for example, Peter Berger criticized Bonhoeffer’s decision to draw on formal sociology (i.e. Simmel, et al.) rather than historical sociology (i.e. Weber, et al). According to Berger, this decision reflected Bonhoeffer’s own largely uncritical, and in hindsight limited, preference for the prevalentschool of his time. On the one hand, I try to show that there are theological commitments underlying Bonhoeffer’s preference for formal sociology. On the other hand, I suggest that he is not simply adopting and using insights and concepts from formal sociology; rather, he is reworking them on the basis of deeper theological commitments.

As you note, I suggest that he does this by engaging social theory and formal sociology on the basis of his dialectic of creation, sin and reconciliation. Here is perhaps helpful to take another quote from Sanctorum Communio:  ‘[T]he concepts of person and community... are understood only within an intrinsically broken history, as conveyed in the concepts of primal state, sin, and reconciliation.’ Taking my cue from quotes like this one, I argue that Bonhoeffer does not have stable or univocal concepts of ‘person’ or ‘community’ running throughout Sanctorum Communio. Rather, he is constantly reworking and rethinking such social-philosophical concepts in and across his treatments of creation, sin, and reconciliation.

Ultimately, I suggest (in my conclusion) that this results in a theological engagement with social theory that is both more appreciative and more critical than that of someone like John Milbank.


Q: One of the more well know aspects of Sanctorum Communio is Bonhoeffer’s development of a Christian concept of person as an alternative to idealism’s reasoning subject. In fact, many scholars read this concept as foundational to the dissertation, and central to much of Bonhoeffer’s later work. However, you argue that Bonhoeffer’s concept of person has a more limited role in Sanctorum Communio than previously assumed. What specific role does this concept have in Sanctorum Communio

MM: That’s right. I argue that Bonhoeffer’s ‘Christian concept of the person’ in the second chapter of Sanctorum Communio is not really the ‘foundation’ for the whole dissertation. Rather, my claim is that Bonhoeffer is using this concept to present the real situation and standing of the human being before God after the fall. In other words, what he calls ‘the Christian concept of person’ is tied closely to how God encounters and claims the human being in her postlapsarian situation. And this means this concept has a more delimited and specific (albeit still crucial) role in his early theology than some others have suggested.

What is at stake with this? Those who have read this concept or the second chapter of Sanctorum Communio as a foundation have tended to suggest that he is developing a ‘relational anthropology’ or ‘concept of person’. While this is certainly true, my concern is that it just doesn’t recognize how much this anthropology is tied to the wider theology and structure of Bonhoeffer’s dissertation. My own interest is thus in showing how this concept is just one part of a richer and more complex dogmatic and ecclesial theology.


Q: One longstanding criticism of Sanctorum Communio has been that it is insufficiently Christological. Scholars have argued that Bonhoeffer collapses Christ into the existing church in ways that place the church beyond criticism. What do you make of this criticism?

MM: In one of my chapters I try to demonstrate that Bonhoeffer has a more robust and viable Christology in Sanctorum Communio than many readers have recognized. Even while Bonhoeffer closely identifies the Christ with the existing church (i.e. in formulations such as ‘Christ existing as community’), he is still careful to insist that Christ remains ‘Lord of the church-community.’ In other words, he is careful never to ‘completely identify’ Christ with the church, in the way that some critics have suggested. In particular, I indicate that he maintains this position through a careful separation of the work of Christ (establishing) and of the Holy Spirit (actualizing) with respect to the church.

Furthermore, I suggest that two of Bonhoeffer’s well-known theological formulations—‘Christ existing as community’ and ‘vicarious representative action’—are both crucial to how he understands the relationship between Christ and the concrete church. 


Q: In Sanctorum Communio Bonhoeffer presents two of his more well-known theological formulations: ‘vicarious representative action’ (Stellvertretung) and ‘Christ existing as church-community’ (Christus als Gemeinde existierend). How does Bonhoeffer draw upon (his Christian reworking) of social theory to develop these terms?

MM: One of my claims in this book is that many scholars read and treat these formulations in isolation from the wider structure and theology of Sanctorum Communio. By contrast, I again try and demonstrate how these formulations are embedded in, and thus fully explicable only in terms of, a wider structure and argument. For example, Bonhoeffer himself explains ‘Christ existing as community’ using the concept of ‘collective person’: ‘The church community as a collective personality . . . can be called Christ,’ as he puts it. This means that properly understanding this formulation requires attending to the different ways that Bonhoeffer uses the concept of collective person in earlier parts of Sanctorum Communio. More specifically, it requires attending to how ‘Christ as collective person’ differs both from collective persons in the primal state and from the collective person of Adam (i.e. humanity after the fall). The concise formulation ‘Christ existing as community’ has all of this in play.


Q: You make it clear in the book that you are assessing Sanctorum Communioon its own terms and, as such, give little attention to the development of Bonhoeffer’s theology. That said, if you had to write sequel to your book where would you begin? In other words, what are some of the ways that Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology develops or transforms over time? Is the dialectic you discern in Sanctorum Communio present in Bonhoeffer’s later thought as well?

MM: Ha! It has just taken me around six or seven years to write a book about a dissertation that Bonhoeffer himself wrote in the space of months. So I guess one option for my sequel(s) would be just to continue working slowly through his corpus. This would mean that I should have a book on Act and Being finished by around 2025, and I might just make it to Creation and Fall by the time I am due to retire.

In terms of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology, I tend to read Sanctorum Communio as basically consistent with Bonhoeffer’s later discussions of the church. I recently taught Life Together in an undergraduate class, and was continually struck by how many of the basic claims and insights were already present in Sanctorum Communio.

In terms of what I have called the ‘theological dialectic’ (i.e. creation, sin, reconciliation), this exact language doesn’t really appear after Sanctorum Communio. Rather, Bonhoeffer uses different language to make the same basic point. In Act and Being, he presents the inner dialectic or fragmentation of the church using the language of ‘being in Christ’ and ‘being in Adam’. And in Ethics,he writes of the church as ‘the ‘human being who has become human, has been judged, and has been awakened to new life in Christ.’ If I were to write a sequel, then, I would hope to demonstrate how this same dialectic or pattern remains at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s theology and ecclesiology.


Q: Toward the end of the book you discuss the ongoing significance Sanctorum Communiohas for contemporary debates in theology. You note that Bonhoeffer’s approach in Sanctorum Communio comes into proximity to scholars who advocate for and practice a type of theological ethnography. At first blush this makes a lot of sense, considering Bonhoeffer’s own lived experience was so central to his theological work. However, you have some concerns about this approach to ecclesial theology. How would you suggest scholars rework concepts like ethnography in order to include them in theological analysis?

MM: In the conclusion of my book, I briefly compare Bonhoeffer’s approach to the church with four more recent theological approaches: those of Stanley Hauerwas, John Webster, John Milbank, and the ecclesiology and ethnography movement. This last movement encompasses a range of scholars who have been advocating for ethnographic practices as a way of developing more concrete ecclesiologies. While I am deeply sympathetic to this movement, I suggest that some of these scholars proceed in ways that can suggest that ethnographic practices per se provide access to the concrete church. Following Bonhoeffer, a more genuinely theological (and thus more concrete) approach requires attending to the church in its concrete form as simultaneously created, sinful, and reconciled in Christ. I thus briefly speculate that a theological use of ethnography needs to entail a more thorough reworking (and internal fragmentation) of ethnographic practices and description.

What would this look like on the ground? I guess the challenge would be to try to develop complex descriptions of concrete communities that attend to their inner fragmentation and contradictions. How could we attend to and describe a particular community as ordinary, even as dysfunctional and sinful, and yet as simultaneously a place of God’s presence and reconciliation? While I didn’t refer to him in my book, I have found Ted Smith’s work in The New Measures and Weird John Brown useful for thinking along these lines. And I’ve also been inspired by Ross Halbach’s use of Bonhoeffer to think about concrete complexities of race and whiteness in North American congregations. As Halbach frames his study, ‘how does the triune God speak through a historical community that is sinful, and specifically inundated with the modern racial distortions of whiteness, and how does God speak through this community without capitulating to its sinful enclosures?’


Q: What are you working on now that Christ Existing as Community has been published?                      

MM: My main focus at the moment is on completing the Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I am co-editing with my colleague Phil Ziegler. We have collected together some excellent essays by established and emerging scholars, and we hope to be able to make these available to readers very soon.

I’ve also begun doing some research and writing in the area of ageing and ethics. In particular, I’m interested in how theology and phenomenology can help us to better attend to lived-experiences and the messiness of the final stages of life, and in how this in turn might help us to reframe some ways we think and talk about bioethics. I’ve found myself drawing on Bonhoeffer a little for this work, as well as on Barth, Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and some more recent scholars.

Thank you for reading my book so carefully and for putting together such focused and insightful questions.


Michael Mawson is a senior lecturer in Theological Ethics at the University of Aberdeen.

His new book, Christ Existing as Community: Bonhoeffer’s Ecclesiology is available for purchase at the following websites:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Christ-Existing-Community-Bonhoeffers-Ecclesiology/dp/019882646X

Oxford University Press: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/christ-existing-as-community-9780198826460?cc=us&lang=en&




The Board of Directors of the International Bonhoeffer Society - English Language Society (IBS-ELS) met last Friday (11/17/18) in Denver, CO in advance of the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting.

The Board renewed its commitment to advancing the theology and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the academy, church, and world as well as encouraging critical scholarship, engaged pedagogy, constructive readings, and public engagement of Bonhoeffer’s collected writings.

Stay tuned in 2019 for big changes to the IBS-ELS website and improved access to educational and scholarly resources!

The IBS-ELS Executive Board is pictured. From left to right:
H. Gaylon Barker - Treasurer 
Lori Brandt Hale - Vice President
Jenny McBride - President 
John Matthews - Secretary


Jesus’ White Bonhoeffer: A Year On

Reggie Williams’s doctoral thesis, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, appeared on bookshelves the same year I began my doctoral work on Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the University of Aberdeen in 2014. Williams’s research inspired my own, leading me into one of the central questions of my PhD. Four years on, I continue to ponder this same question on a daily basis through my research, experiences with family and friends, and challenges at my work and church. The question is this: how does a white person such as myself, or a predominately white church, challenge racism—where racism is understood as a power imbalance benefiting white people (what I will call whiteness from here on out)?

The question of how white people may address whiteness is not the question Williams explores in Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus. Williams, instead, explores how Bonhoeffer defied aspects of his German heritage with a black Jesus discovered in Harlem. While this is Williams’s aim, my paper “Jesus’ White Bonhoeffer” (presented last year at AAR in Boston) extended these explorations to consider what a similar defiance from a white person might look like today. The paper, by and large, contemplates many of the dangers and complexities bound up with applying Bonhoeffer’s witness directly to a white person’s struggle to defy whiteness in the present moment.

One of the main dangers in making this application has to do with our use of convoluted terms. Seeking to apply Bonhoeffer’s life in the racial context faced today raises a number of intriguing intersection points: the intersection between black and African; between white and European; and between race and ethnicity. The flexibility within these different terms mystifies the disparities between discussing a “black” Jesus rather than an “African” one, or a “white” Bonhoeffer rather than a “German” one. How is one identified? What is the difference between a racial identification (white or black) and an ethnic one (African or German)? In my own research I have come to discover that one of the subtle methods white people have employed for evading the guilt associated with whiteness is to change the terms of the debate. Instead of discussing race as a historical power imbalance that works on a global scale, we talk about ethnicity as a level playing field that allows for the celebration of diversity.

Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus cuts through these covert power games by naming Jesus “black.” This naming forces us to deal with how race already defines unequal landscapes rather than capitulating to these racial landscapes by imagining a space beyond them. All of the above intersection points are at play in Williams’s book, and they facilitated my own propensity toward considering how I as a white person may address and challenge my own whiteness. Learning about Bonhoeffer’s time in Harlem from Williams’s research tempted me with the option of turning Bonhoeffer’s life into an answer to my question. Simply put, if I could live as Bonhoeffer did, then I could challenge my own whiteness as Bonhoeffer challenged Nazism. This direct application of Bonhoeffer’s life inadvertently eludes what I understanding to be at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s theology—the surprise of God’s call, here and now. It was this eluding of God’s call that was my main concern when I wrote “Jesus’ White Bonhoeffer” last year for the Bonhoeffer Social Analysis group.

Bonhoeffer’s own theology never steers one toward a methodology or answers but toward the surprise of hearing God today. The crux of my argument is that if we as white people apply Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus as a roadmap for addressing whiteness, we risk moving toward either a white conservatism that seeks to take control through becoming the savior of the oppressed or toward a white progressivism that disregards privilege by hastily identifying ourselves with the oppressed. Both approaches avoid the painstaking work of dealing with our uneven racial landscapes as we seek answers to the problem rather than listening for God to speak from the cross. This slight shift from offering a solution for whiteness to entering into the problem without answers is the hope I found in Bonhoeffer’s writings, and specifically in his essay from Ethics “Ultimate and Penultimate Things.”

Bonhoeffer’s essay “Ultimate and Penultimate Things” presents a unique approach for addressing ethical quandaries. His categories of “ultimate” and “penultimate” can be difficult to grasp because they reflect temporal categories that implicitly conflict with the spatial categories of “universal” and “particular” often employed in the racial discussions of the American academy and contemporary theology. Generally, contemporary theological discourses on race have setup the spatial categories of “universal” and “particular” against one another. The more conservative approach is to present God’s universal work through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the common ground for bridging the divide between ethnic differences and for overcoming exclusions. The more progressive approach is to present the particular manner in which God in Jesus Christ identifies with the oppressed (a black Jesus) to address unjust racial configurations. The former approach relies on a universal posture toward ethnic identity and difference, and the latter approach relies on a particular view of racial identity and inequity. These approaches to race, universal and particular, are conceived of spatially, making them mutually exclusive, with each side vying for the solution to the problem of race.

What Bonhoeffer’s categories of “ultimate” and “penultimate” allow is a temporal coordination of the universal and particular approaches to race. The “ultimate” differs from the universal in that it represents the temporal surprise of the “last thing.” The “ultimate” remains that which defines the pen-ultimate in that every temporal moment is headed toward this end. In a similar manner, the “penultimate” differs from the particular in that it represents all of temporal life as participation with Christ in “preparing the way” for the surprise of God’s final word. The penultimate speaks of the wisdom of adulthood that comes from the education of a lifetime, from history, and practical discernment, while the ultimate speaks of the wonder of childhood that remains open to the surprise of not knowing the future. Both the ultimate and penultimate cohere in participation with Jesus Christ, so that we are to become wise as serpents while remaining innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). In adulthood, we remain children.

Applied to race, Bonhoeffer’s framework of the ultimate and penultimate means that, instead of looking for solutions to race, we as white people must learn (adulthood) how our privilege insulates us from hearing God speak today (childhood). God’s speaking is ultimate in that it comes to us in the absolute moment. “Today when you hear His voice” (Heb. 3:15). The manna of God’s direct word cannot be stored for tomorrow. God’s speaking is always a surprise. The surprise of God’s ultimate word safeguards it from being employed as a universal or a particular solution to the problem of race. The temporal surprise of the ultimate avoids the danger of a conservatism that offers the control of a universal solution to race. This conservatism obscures the inherent weakness of whiteness as that which intrinsically obstructs hearing God speak today. The temporal surprise of the ultimate, at the same time, safeguards against the peril of a progressivism that places itself on God’s side with the oppressed. This progressivism obscures the power that whiteness has afforded to white people and, as a result, can supplant the need for anticipating God’s speaking today. White conservatism and progressivism represent two sides of the same coin; both rely on answers rather than preparing for the surprise of hearing God in the absolute moment. 

 Bonhoeffer’s ecclesial approach of preparing the way is not about answers but about a struggle (adulthood) sustained through the continual surprise of God’s gracious call (childhood). As white people, we must struggle with our own participation in whiteness and how it insulates us from hearing God and others. We can only participate in this sustained struggle against whiteness, because God has already called us, a call that names us “children of God” (Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:16). The surprise and wonder of God’s direct call is what I clumsily attempt to capture with the title of my paper—“Jesus’ White Bonhoeffer.” God does not call Bonhoeffer, or us, apart from history but in the midst of history. As Bonhoeffer so readily reminds us, Jesus bears the soil of the cursed earth in his flesh and plants a new tree of life in the shape of the cross at the center of Golgotha (see Bonhoeffer’s discussion of this in Creation and Fall, DBWE 3:146). Rather than going around race to find ethnic unity or stopping at race to find justice, Jesus must take the long and treacherous path through our racial histories, and we along with him. It is here that we discover with Jesus the surprise of God’s gracious call.

Even as I type this now, I question the validity of what I write and what I have written. Is this idea of “preparing the way” simply another technique for the privileged to vacate the premises of racial struggle? If the idea of “preparing the way” turns into a rote answer to the new challenges we face, then yes, it has become another method of avoiding God’s call, here and now. It is God’s call itself that responds to this conundrum, to which our rote answers incessantly meet desolation. God breaks through our reflexes of whiteness to incite a response and an open responsiveness to God’s speaking in all times and places. Feeling the pain caused by the violence of our whiteness without answers is the stripping that opens us to hear God’s call today. And just maybe, this is the call that surprised Bonhoeffer on that very first day he encountered a black Jesus in Harlem.


Ross Halbach is adjunct faculty in the School of Biblical & Theological Studies at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. He also serves as the chair of the Fellows Program within Multnomah's Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins. He earned a PhD at the University of Aberdeen and is presently working on adapting his dissertation on Bonhoeffer and race for publication with Baylor University Press. 

To read Ross Halbach's paper presented at the 2017 AAR conference in Boston please visit his website at the following link: https://rosshalbach.academia.edu/research


Interested in hearing more papers like this one? Make plans to attend our 2018 AAR paper presentations in Denver! See below for the days, times, and locations!

Bonhoeffer: Theology and Social Analysis Unit


Theme: Celebrating and Interrogating Bonhoeffer’s Life

Saturday, 1:00 PM–3:00 PM
Convention Center-Mile High 3C (Lower Level)

Theme: Bonhoeffer Moment(s)
Sunday, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
Hyatt Regency-Centennial E (Third Level)


Theme: Bonhoeffer and Contemporary Political Challenges

Monday, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
Convention Center-Mile High 1D (Lower Level)


Follow this link for the full program book: https://papers.aarweb.org/2018_Program_Book.pdf