Pushed Out of the World: A Reflection on Bonhoeffer’s Martyrdom 75 years ago today
This is a meditation I wrote on Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom, written for and published in “Bonhoeffer’s Chrism Mass.”
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Bonhoeffer died… and then he rose again.
“Resurrection?” — in the words of theologians, students, and believers, all having stared into the abyss of his martyrdom wondering what might have come of this man and his theology had he lived. They engaged his ethics, his theology, his resistance, his thoughts about Christianity in a secular age. They made meaning. Thus Bonhoeffer, in accordance with the richly-layered complexity of his thought and the unfinished business of a life cut short before its time, became what people wanted him to be: the conservative, the radical, the progressive, the philosopher, the liberal.
Relatively few, however, have made the effort to understand Bonhoeffer on his own terms by digging into his academic writings, difficult, nerdy, arrogantly intellectual as they are.
Yet it is there that one finds the key to his theology and, in a way, the reason why he died.
Bonhoeffer’s theology in “Sanctorum Communio” and “Act and Being” ought to be read as a theology of the cross deeply influenced by Luther’s theology. Particularly in “Act and Being,” Bonhoeffer sought to articulate a theological method that (against Barth), through a synthesis of idealism and realism, sought to validate theological claims by means of a hermeneutical praxis borrowed from Heidegger.
His self-involving “method” leads to a discovery of the reality of God’s self-revelation in Christ through participation of believers in and with Christ.
The only knowledge of Christ is found in living out Christ in the world as community. Christ cannot be mastered cognitively and objectively but only seen and understood subjectively and concretely in the enactment of what Christ calls us to be. Bonhoeffer dug the grave of his intellectual pride. Little did he envisage the ultimate consequences of such a praxis.
If in “Act and Being” this praxis describes the church predominantly for itself and its own life, where the church is Christ existing as community, Bonhoeffer’s later works problematize…