Ag man (as they say in South Africa), Stackhouse (Making the Best of It) writes about some seminal thinkers … CS Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I began reading Bonhoeffer in college, read three more of his books the summer after college, and have since begun purchasing and reading his collected works. When I taught beginning Greek at Trinity in the summer (crash) course, we began class each day with a few pages from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Stackhouse finds plenty in Bonhoeffer to work with as he builds his view of Christian realism. I relish discussions of Bonhoeffer.
I shall never forget being physically moved when I read the first time the account of his last moments. In many ways, Bonhoeffer’s last moments bring to realization the very project Stackhouse is describing. How have you been impacted by Bonhoeffer? And, in particular, how has your view of Christ and culture been impacted by him?
Stackhouse sketches the major themes of Bonhoeffer’s theology/legacy: Christ, Word of God, Discipleship. Then some themes: Christ as Lord of the world, religionless Christianity, ambiguity, paradox and responsiblity, and then the future in realistic hope.
“Teaching about Christ begins in silence…. silence before the Word.”
Word of God: doesn’t permit us to separate Word from Christ (as so many do today).
Discipleship: wow, where to begin. The Cost of Discipleship is legendary (Bonhoeffer’s books). Cheap grace.
“Only the believers obey, and only the obedient believe.”
Christ is the center; our relationship to him relates to the real world through him.
He doesn’t opt for the simple two kingdoms stuff of Luther. The reality of God places us into the reality of the world. Here he becomes profoundly realistic.
Bonhoeffer’s pacifism gives way to a realism that led him to participate in the assassination of Hitler.
Or this: We mustn’t try to be more pious than the God who made this world and put us in this world.
Religionless Christianity: Stackhouse prefers the standard view here; the undoing of state and institutional Christianity in Germany. He struggles with the need, at times, to sin in order to do God’s will: “Before God and with God we live without God.” (Famous statement by Bonhoeffer)
But, this too: “Jesus is hardly ever involved in solving worldly problems … Since Jesus brings the redemption of human beings, rather than the solution to problems, he indeed brings the the solution to all human problems.”
Here’s his realism in full display:
1. We never fulfill our responsibility perfectly.
2. We may have to do things not done by others.
3. We may have to do what others think is evil in order to do good.
4. We must confess our sins. “… responsible action involves both willingness to become guilty and freedom.”
Bonhoeffer’s ethic developed from Discipleship to Ethics … from obedience to Torah to ambiguity and discernment. A Christ-focused existentialism.
Tony Jones, if you are out there and reading this, is the kind of realism you adhere to?