Bonhoeffer (8): Ethics

Two of Bonhoeffer’s most loved writings are The Cost of Discipleship and his Life Together, but his magnum opus was his Ethics.  As I was reading Metaxas’ summary of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics on pp. 468-472, it occurred to me that one way to categorize Bonhoeffer is as an ethicist, and in particular as an ethicist with a post-liberal, Barthian emphasis. His shrewd psychological insight, his compassion, and his life context all make him perfect for a focus on ethics, and his thought on ethics is dominated by Barthian categories of the “wholly otherness” of God.  He argued against “normal” and “religious”…

Bonhoeffer (7): Repentance Protects Grace

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The Gospel is protected by the preaching of repentance which calls sin sin and declares the sinner guilty.  The key to loose is protected by the key to bind.  The preaching of grace can only be protected by the preaching of repentance” (Metaxas, 293). In my journey of trying to understand what gospel-centeredness looks like in various contexts, I found this quote very helpful.  Grace must lead to repentance, not just acceptance of the status quo.  If grace doesn’t lead to repentance, its probably “cheap grace.”  Cheap grace, as he put it in The Cost of Discipleship, is…

Bonhoeffer (6): Metaxas’ writing

Metaxas’ literary giftedness was one of the things that made this book such a great read. He is creative and original without being bombastic; he finds the right balance of writing “freely” but not self-consciously so.  In other words, he doesn’t overdo it, as talented writers are often tempted to. The book reads like a novel and each chapter ends on a dramatic note. The sections describing Hitler and the horror of Nazism are particularly gripping. I learned loads of new words, words like “magus” (356), “ineluctably” (360), “perfidious” (398), and “ersatz” (439). There are many more like these. They…

Bonhoeffer (5): Who am I?

This is Bonhoeffer’s poem “Who am I?,” written in prison at the end of his life. Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, Like a squire from his country-house. Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders Freely and friendly and clearly, As though it were mine to command. Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune Equally, smilingly, proudly, Like one accustomed to win. Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only…

Bonhoeffer (4): “Religionless Christianity”

The concept “religionless Christianity” has become closely associated with the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  On pp. 465-468, Metaxas shows how many have hijacked this phrase to make Bonhoeffer a prophet of their own movement or agenda, in a way that is inconsistent with Bonhoeffer’s theological intentions.  First of all, the phrase occurs only in his 1944 letters to Eberhard Bethge, not in any of his published works.  Bethge was his closest friend and (what we would call) “accountability partner.”  These were private and intimate letters, not intended for wide readership, and very incomplete.  We should be cautious in drawing conclusions…

Bonhoeffer (3): Fighting

I finished Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography a few days ago.  One of the things that will stay will me is how adamant Bonhoeffer was that the church stand up for Jews in Germany in the 30’s.  The church couldn’t just say, “those being persecuted are not Christians, so its not our concern,” because for Bonhoeffer, the church was an institution which by definition existed for others.  To “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8) was intrinsic to the church’s identity. Thus, in the face of increasing pressures towards anti-semitism, Bonhoeffer declared, “only he who cries out for…

Bonhoeffer (2): Only in Extremity

Had some long flights this weekend, which enabled me to plow through most of the rest of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography. Such a great book. God is changing my life through this book. By seeing how Bonhoeffer surrendered his life more and more to the purpose Christ, I am challenged to surrender my life more deeply to Christ. Bonhoeffer was brilliant and received the best theological education someone in his shoes could have expected. From an early age you can tell he is a profound thinker as well as a profound Christian.  But his theology seems to me to alter…