Bonhoeffer and Theology

My computer is temporarily down, so I’m working off of my iPad. So this will be short and sweet.

Anyways, one of the books I’m reading has me thinking:
Is it possible for one to take the “Lutheran” out of Bonhoeffer’s theology and, if so, what would that do to the meaning of Bonhoeffer’s writings? Do Bonhoeffer’s works lose their meaning if we approach them from some theology other than Lutheran?


10 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer and Theology

  1. What part of “Lutheran” does Bonhoeffer rely upon in such a way as to be untrue apart from “Lutheran”? I could easily say that Bonhoeffer is not terribly meaningful apart from Christ and, most particularly, the Cross. However, I am doubtful as to its loss of meaning in the context of wider Christianity.
    But, I will gladly differ to you on this since you are far better read in the works of this Lutheran Saint than I. Where are you on this?

    • It’s just more of a general question. I don’t have an informed opinion yet, but I’m leaning in the same direction you are. One of the books I’m currently reading is on Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. The book is written from an Evangelical standpoint.

      I’m not too far into the book at this point, but as I was driving home, this nagging thought just popped into my head. While I had a particular quote in mind from the book, I can’t seem to find it, so maybe I’m over thinking things…it’s been known to happen.

      Sometimes, I just need to put something out there in order to get it off my chest.

      • Well, I do believe your thoughts do have merit. There certainly are Lutheran theologians who, apart from Lutheranism and/or the Reformation, do not retain their full force. On the other hand, there are persons such as (to use a slightly different category of writing) C. S. Lewis whose work, even apart from Anglicanism, is deeply significant. Or, using yet another form of writing, the Wesley brothers collection of hymnody which is undeniably significant to Christianity even apart from Methodism.

        However, Bonhoeffer’s work is a different kind of writing. One could quite reasonably say that parts of Calvin do not hold up from different positions on the theological map. Perhaps the same is true of Bonhoeffer.

  2. AH! This question has been occupying much of my time lately. I attend an ELCA college (Augustana, in South Dakota) and I’m a member of the honors program which is based off of Bonhoeffer’s writings (particularly his essay “The Structure of Responsible Life”). The four core areas in the program are Freedom, Justice, Pertinence, and Deputyship. But now everything is complicated because I am in a Lutheran Reformation class and a class on Christian Liberty. It seems to me that Bonhoeffer (though a great thinker he was) is more of an ethicist than a Lutheran theologian. Bonhoeffer should have addressed his writings to ALL people, not just Christians. I’m pretty confused on the whole thing, and sorry for such a long message, but thanks for bringing up the topic. here’s the link to the honors program I was talking about if you’re interested:

    • Anna,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      The program sounds interesting, but, unfortunately, it’s not for me. My next step is either a DMin or a PhD.

      But that’s not going to be for a while.

  3. Hmmm….Anna’s comment brings up something that I have been pondering for a long time: what is the difference (if there is any) between ethics and theology? However, that would carry us far-afield of Craig’s original post.
    And Craig–my vote for you is PhD 🙂

    • what is the difference (if there is any) between ethics and theology?

      While it is taking us down the proverbial rabbit hole, I think it is an important question. In my opinion, ethics is a subset of theology.

      • Well, I can sort of buy that. I asked Bell this one time and he said something about this being a question a lot of people have and there is much debate over it. There’s something about Practical Theology in there somewhere–Ethics is Practical Theology. Or perhaps ethics is the practical application of theology. However, for me, that begs the question: what is impractical theology? This goes along with your statement, too. If ethics is a subset of theology, what part of theology isn’t ethics?

  4. You both have far more experience in this arena than me, mostly all the things I’ve said so far belong to the Luther scholar at my school. If I remember correctly, Luther argued that ethics are what men do when they try to make themselves God (in their constant breaking of the first commandment). I guess the most important thing to remember is that ethics, morals, prescriptions (in using the Bible as a cookbook), and laws don’t save you. Bonhoeffer attempted ethics and he ushered others and his own self into the grave. It’s a complicated question! Thanks for engaging some of my thoughts on here. Peace!

    • Anna, you comments are quite valuable and thoughtful. What you say about ethics can be true from a certain point of view. Perhaps even the majority view, I do not know. However, I do not believe that ethics must be like using the bible as a cook book (or anything as insipid as life’s little instruction book). I believe that ethics can be something more.
      I understand ethics to be more about virtues than rules. For example, here is a simplified thought I would consider ethics: if God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, is indeed God (and he is) and if I am created by this God, redeemed by this God and sanctified by this God (which we are) and if I owe all that I am, all that I have and all that I will ever be to this God (which I do) then how is my life manifestly different because of these truths? What become my resposibilites, freedoms and relationships with others because of these truths? How am I, you, the whole world different because of these truths? These questions are not about how am I saved (which you rightly point out is something of which we must be ever mindful against!) but what that saving means. What does it mean to be a Christian?
      Though I must always differ to Craig when it comes to Bonhoefferian things since he is far better read in this than I, it does seem to me that this is more what Bonhoeffer was about. Not: how must I behave in order to be saved? But: what is life now that I am? Surely, this is oversimplified, but it is where I am on it at the moment. Anna, I welcome your continued discussion

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