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Archive for April, 2014

This is the tenth in the series “Ten theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Fuller Professor Ray Anderson. The article was written in 2007 for a guest spot on Ben Myer’s blog  ( http://faith-theology.blogspot.com ). Thanks to Ben for his permission to use Ray’s comments.

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There is disagreement over this, of course. His complicity in the conspiracy thrust him directly into political resistance. In the minds of many traditional Lutherans, this excluded him from being a Christian martyr. In a sermon preached in 1932 he had this to say about martyrs: “the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” (Bethge 1975, 155). By his own definition, he was a martyr. He never claimed justification for his actions, other than to assume guilt as a necessary component of responsible action. Whether it was true or not, he thought that his actions, to the very end, were those of a Christian disciple in obedience to Christ. Martyrs live for what thy confess to be true, and die for it. Only those who confess the same truth will call a person a martyr.

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These are strong words, both Bonhoeffer’s and Ray’s. Earlier (in Thesis 5) Ray called Bonhoeffer a “prophetic theologian.” We can certainly see his prophetic dimension in these words. The sermon was preached in June of 1932. Hitler held no public office and was only the head of the Nazi party. That party was gaining some strength but Hitler was not trusted by the vast majority of Germans. Bonhoeffer, though, already sensed that Hitler or someone quite like him would soon become the most powerful figure in Germany. The desperate situation in Germany following WW I was even worse now and Bonhoeffer realized that a desperate people are ripe for a tyrant, a strong man who will merely “fix things” at whatever cost to some of the people.

Just a few months later, while Bonhoeffer was preparing a radio talk warning the people of their vulnerability to tyranny, Hitler walked into the office of the aged President Hindenburg one afternoon and emerged a few hours later with an appointment as Chancellor (roughly the equivalent of the British Prime Minister).

Perhaps most amazing about Dietrich’s sermon that June morning was that he recognized both that the coming evil could be resisted only by martyrdom and that, in words over which we still struggle, the blood to be shed “will not be innocent.” He knew that the evil that was being birthed in Germany would allow no one the luxury of innocence. There would be no innocent bystanders because he who fails to speak out against evil has his own share in the guilt.

And perhaps Bonhoeffer was also thinking that the coming of the blood-thirsty tyrant would be no unfortunate evil thrust upon the people. Having abandoned justice, all the nation was already becoming guilty of the sin which would be the tyrant’s foundation. It was, as Bonhoeffer already knew, sin against civilization (i.e., the aggressive war they had begun), against the Jews (the long-smoldering anti-Semitism which was already being fanned into outright hatred), and against God himself (a greater love for Germany than for God).

Odd, to my way of thinking, is the tendency of many Christians to think of soldiers as heroes while condemning Bonhoeffer for participating in an assassination conspiracy. Is killing people okay as long as you’re following orders? I hope we don’t believe that, in part because that’s the kind of mentality that allowed hundreds of thousands of Germans to actively join in Hitler’s murderous ways. Even helping in a Holocaust can be approved so long as someone else has ordered it. Unthinkable!

(More in the next blog on Ray’s line: “He never claimed justification for his actions . . .”)

 

[The sermon Ray mentions was delivered in the Kaiser Wilhelm Church in Berlin on June 19, 1932. It is found in DBWE 11, 457.]

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This is the eighth in the series “Ten theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Fuller Professor Ray Anderson. The article was written in 2007 for a guest spot on Ben Myer’s blog  ( http://faith-theology.blogspot.com ).

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John Maverick was a nineteenth-century Texas rancher and legislator who received a herd of cattle in payment of a bill and turned them loose on the range without a brand. When one of the turned up without a brand, it was assumed to be one of Maverick’s. Many have tried to mark “Dietrich with their own brand, to no avail! He slipped away from the death of God theologians when they realized that the same man who wrote from prison about living in a world without God was the one who invited a Russian atheist fellow prisoner to participate in a final communion service just before being executed. Pacifists put a claim on him but felt betrayed by his admission that he would kill Hitler himself if the lot feel to him as a member of the conspiracy. Evangelicals like his talk about Jesus but wish Bonhoeffer had been more concerned about his unsaved relatives and friends. Social activists applaud him for his concern for the oppressed but are embarrassed by his orthodox Christianity. Even in death, as in life, he remained unbranded.

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Those who knew Ray Anderson know that he was always a maverick. It mattered a great deal to him that he not ever follow tried and true paths toward explaining biblical faith and biblical theology. He thought his own thoughts without ever seeking a foundation other than Scripture. In an informal book of his musings, published by Fuller in 2001, Ray specifically labels himself a “maverick theologian.” (The book is called “Dancing with Wolves While Feeding the Sheep.” The wolves with whom he danced? That would be the professional theologians, a herd of which he chose to be only a fringe member.

It is no surprise, then, that Ray Anderson liked and identified with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in whom he saw the same characteristic. Bonhoeffer fits into no one else’s category, not even that of Barth, the theologian most like him in spirit. Ray could have mentioned that Evangelicals really like two of Bonhoeffer’s books — “Discipleship” and “Life Together” but are at best baffled by “Ethics” and “Letters and Papers.” When you’ve got the answers mastered, it is hard to read the questions raised by a maverick. Perhaps that’s why Eric Metaxas, who has written a popular biography of Bonhoeffer, dismisses his later writings as poorly thought through. Metaxas, no theologian himself, fails to see the amazing consistency of Bonhoeffer from his earliest days to his last.

The problem which Evangelicals tend to have with Bonhoeffer, I believe, stems from the fact that Bonhoeffer, while sharing the biblical foundations of faith with Evangelicals, builds a structure of mature thought on those foundations. We Evangelicals like to remind each other that Jesus called us to become like little children, which we take — for no reason I can discern — to mean he doesn’t want us to grow up. Bonhoeffer became a grown up Christian and few Evangelicals know what to do with such a character.

 

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This is the seventh in the series “Ten theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Fuller Professor Ray Anderson. The article was written in 2007 for a guest spot on Ben Myer’s blog  ( http://faith-theology.blogspot.com ).

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Practical theology deals with God’s self-revelation and activity through the life and ministry of human beings. From the early Barth, Bonhoeffer learned that the act of God reveals the being of God. His second dissertation, Act and Being (1930), attempted to bring Barth’s concept of “pure act” into the historical realm through Heidegger. But Bonhoeffer was never a disciple of Barth. True, Barth led him away from idealism into critical realism with regard to divine revelation, but God’s life and activity through the human person Jesus Christ became for Bonhoeffer the praxis of revelation and thus the form of practical theology. His Christology was orthodox so far as Christ is the form of God in the world, but practical so far as the Christian is the form of Christ in the world. Because the former was merely a dogmatic assumption, his own theological praxis was concerned with action prior to reflection — a statement that scandalized his students.

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Ray’s paragraph is an excellent indicator of one of the most unique dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s thought: His was a theology of the street, not the ivory tower. Ever since the intellectuals of the church in the 3rd and 4th centuries began trying to reconcile theology with Neo-Platonic philosophy, the two fields have been intertwined. Barth began pointing us back to a theology for all Christians, not just theologians, and Bonhoeffer took the matter even further. When Bonhoeffer asked “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” he was challenging the theologians view of a timeless Christ. The path of Jesus, in words that fit Bonhoeffer’s thinking very well, is no longer in the dusty roads of Palestine but on the sidewalks of our cities and towns.

By no coincidence, the words Anderson uses about Bonhoeffer fit himself very well. Ray began as a farmer, became a pastor, and only then a professor. He never lost his rootedness in the ground, never strayed from the fertile soil of biblical revelation, and (to scramble my metaphors a bit) never flew too close to the sun on artificial wings.

His determination to remain at all times a pastoral theologian cost him a great deal at Fuller, where the other theological faculty complained that he just didn’t know how to do theology in the classic manner. Yet Ray connected with students by the hundreds because he spoke to them in the context of their own lives and ministries, not asking them to leave behind their own realities and join him in an elite intellectualism.

 

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This is the seventh in the series “Ten theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Fuller Professor Ray Anderson. The article was written in 2007 for a guest spot on Ben Myer’s blog  ( http://faith-theology.blogspot.com ).

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What he viewed as the demise of the church was its claim to a special place as a religious institution and its failure to exist in solidarity with the world in obedience to Christ. His participation in ecumenical conversations and dialogue marked a blurring of denominational boundaries and the recognition of authentic Christian existence in mutual friendship, as expressed in his final words sent to Bishop Bell in England from his death cell: “for me it is the end but also the beginning — with him I believe in the principle of our universal Christian brotherhood which rises above all national interests and that our victory is certain — tell him too that I have never forgotten his words at our last meeting.” Writing from prison, his view of the church’s future was incarnational and ethical in a truly worldly sense. “The church is the church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. . . .The church must share in the most secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving” (Letters, 382). Denominations are religious institutions at the edge of the world; the church is an incarnational presence in the midst of the world.

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The church to be true to God must exist in “solidarity with the world in obedience to Christ.” In the Evangelical world of which I am a part, we do a fairly good job of serving people, though in limited ways. We’re good at soup kitchens and pregnancy centers but seem to be almost completely lacking in an ability to think in strategic or political terms.

In the last few decades we’ve developed a variety of church models aimed at connecting with the culture around us but we’ve done this in ways that are really pretty shallow. We play music that imitates the fads of secular music, for example, and preach sermons which are not at all about God but about ourselves and our “perceived needs.” The fruit seems to be church services that are very popular but which produce “me-centered” Christians. . .if there can be such a thing.

Solidarity with the world must be in obedience to Christ or it is nothing. And Christ did not take on the trappings of financial success but continually walked with and among the people. We, on the other hand, tend to expect people to clean up and dress up and come to us, where we promise to please them by telling them of God’s promises but never his demands.

The drama being worked out in our day as we learn more and more of the Catholic Church sheltering pedophiles is a painful but effective way for us to see what happens when the church as an institution has higher priority than the church as a servant of the people. They ended up, through no malice, sacrificing the welfare of children for the sake of protecting the image of the church as an institution.

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This is the sixth in a series of ten posts written by Fuller professor Ray S. Anderson in 2007. They first appeared as guest entries in the blog by Ben Myers:

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Postmodern ethics was anticipated by Bonhoeffer when he turned the “modern” basis for ethics (as advocated by Kant) on its head. He wrote: “In the sphere of Christian ethics it is not what ought to be that effects what is, but what is that effect what ought to be” (Communion 1963, 146). The problem of Christian ethics, said Bonhoeffer, is the same as the problem of Christian dogmatics, the realization of the reality of revelation in and among God’s creatures in the form of concreteness, immediacy, and obedience. In a world where good and evil are mixed, and where ambiguity conceals the divine commandment, the Christian’s ethical responsibility is to follow and obey Christ, not merely to adhere to abstract ethical principles. There is no place for “self justification” by virtue of reliance on predetermined principles for action. “Principles are only tools in God’s hands, soon to be thrown away as unserviceable” (Ethics 1995, 71).

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I would add two comments to Ray’s observations. First, those who disagree with Bonhoeffer and wish to proclaim a life of righteousness by way of principles must find a way to distinguish themselves from the first century Pharisees with whom Jesus clashed. The problem between Jesus and the Pharisees was that they both cared deeply about personal righteousness before God but understood that righteousness in mutually exclusive ways. For the Pharisee, righteousness was an achievement, an accomplishment to be worked towards. For Jesus, it was a gift to be received at the beginning. Righteousness comes not by effort but by faith. It comes not by self-cleansing but by forgiveness.

Second, to say that principles are “soon to be thrown away” means, as Paul argues in Galatians, they have a place in the beginning but are meant to be temporary until we learn to follow Christ himself. They are guidelines for those learning the life of obedience but are outgrown as we mature in our responsiveness to the continual revelation of the character and will of God. Unlike what happened in the “situation ethics” of the 1960s, we do not live by ignoring or violating the principles but by maturing beyond the point of needing external reminders of the right, the good, and the true. We live in Christlikeness of character, responding moment to moment to the Spirit of God, as did Jesus.

As Bonhoeffer realized, Nietzche was on to something when he called for us to live “beyond good and evil” but failed to understand that the sphere beyond the categories is not mere emptiness, awaiting our own choices to create the good life. Beyond good and evil is the revelation of God. In the early 20th century, two young men in Chicago — Loeb and Leopold — wanted to take the leap into being Nietzche’s ubermann. So they randomly chose a victim to murder. Whatever may have been going on in their heads, their act was just plain murder and it was wrong.

 

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This is the fifth part of a series called “Ten theses about Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” written by Fuller Professor Ray Anderson and first appearing in the Ben Myers blog: < http://faith-theology.blogspot.com >

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He was one of the first to recognize and point out the disastrous consequences of Hitler’s campaign against the Jews. In June 1933, when the church struggle erupted over the National Bishop (Ludwig Muller) and the opposing General Superintendents were suspended, Bonhoeffer urged an interdict upon all pastoral services (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.) as a way of confronting the German Christians with their unholy alliance with Hitler. But he could not arouse sympathy for this drastic action. In fact, Barth advised against this radical proposal, suggesting that “we should let the facts speak for themselves.” In September, following the Brown Synod, Bonhoeffer urged the formation of a new Free Church and even wrote to Barth requesting his support. But here again Bonhoeffer was disappointed at Barth’s counsel to wait until the present leaders “discredited themselves” (Bethge 2000, p. 292). It was in April 1933 in his article on “the Church and the Jewish Question” that he suggested that the only way to act responsibly would be by “throwing a spoke in the wheel” of the national government. Prophets often die by their own words; theologians seldom do.

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Earlier in this series (entry #2) Anderson had noted that “Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a lonely theologian.” In this entry he shows us another dimension of Bonhoeffer’s loneliness. He respected Karl Barth above all other theologians, in part because of Barth’s courageous move to set theology on a new course after his liberal teachers proved morally inept in resisting the popular ultra-nationalism which marked Germany’s eager entrance into WW I. Now, when Bonhoeffer could see that the evil of Nazi ideology was even greater than the nationalism surrounding WW I, Barth seemed cautious almost to the point of being timid.

A prophet, we have been told, is not without honor except in his own country and kin. Bonhoeffer’s life bears this out. He cried out against Hitler, calling the church to action, but was dismissed as too young, too radical, too un-patriotic. In the essay mentioned by Anderson (“The Church and the Jewish Question”) Bonhoeffer seems at first almost to be thinking on paper, trying to find his way through the barriers of the German political perspective but suddenly his famous trio of responses to state-sponsored evil emerge. We hold the state accountable, we aid those who are wounded by the state, and — if necessary — we do whatever we can to stop the state. Such talk was shocking to the vast majority of German pastors but for Bonhoeffer the conclusion was inescapable: Doing nothing to stop evil makes us complicit in that evil and in its guilt.

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We continue today looking at “Ten Theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Ray Anderson, late Fuller professor. These ideas were written as a guest blog for Ben Myers in 2007 ( http://faith-theology.blogspot.com ).

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While the “worldliness of Christianity” became a dominant theme in his Letters from Prison, underlying this perspective was his conviction that the God who became human in Jesus Christ abolished the distinction between religion and the world. In his earliest writing he stated that religion is dispensable, God is not. “Not religion, but revelation, not a religious community, but the church: that is what the reality of Jesus Christ means” (Communio 1963, 112). Later, having witnessed the utter failure of the church as a religious institution to act on behalf of the oppressed Jews, he followed Christ out of the church into the world. Only those who live fully in the world have a claim to follow Christ, he wrote from prison. The God of religion whom we seek to call into the world on our behalf, has already entered the world in the form of a suffering God. “The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God” (Letters, 360). The “worldliness” of Christianity is not our invention, but our calling. The ambiguity of this situation, he asserted, is precisely what the incarnation created for us. It is ambiguity that creates prophets.

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Anderson, himself a careful student of Kierkegaard, has no trouble with the seeming paradoxes that mark some of Bonhoeffer’s most creative passages. In the 1960s, as Bonhoeffer was becoming known in the US, some theologians tried to follow Bonhoeffer’s thought by proclaiming that we are to live without God. Bonhoeffer himself, however, is careful to say “Before God and with God we live without God.” He is not proclaiming our independence from God but our responsibility before God.

We are not responsible in the sense that slaves and servants are. That is, we are not responsible for merely following orders. Jesus no longer calls us servants but friends because servants do not know what the Father is doing. We are in on God’s plans and responsible for carrying our share of the load, however small a share that may be. To live before God is to be continually accountable to God. To live with God is to live in a power and wisdom whose source is God but whose fruition takes place in and through us. To live responsibly without God is to become godly persons, imago dei, persons marked by Christlikeness of character. We do not hide behind God or our religious cliches and traditions but stand in our own strength (God-given though it must be) in the world and for the world.

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