Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Dallas M. Roark
Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D. is Professor of Philosophy at Emporia State University. Two of his other books are The Christian Faith and Introduction to Philosophy. An online version of his Introduction to Philosophy can be found at http://www.emporia.edu/socsci/philos/text.htm. Published in 1972 by Word Incorporated. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 1: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Man and His Interpreters
A brief biographical summary covering Bonhoeffer's family, education, pastoral service, teaching appointments, ecumenical service, the evangelical opposition to Hitler, activities in the German resistance to Hitler, and his imprisonment and eventual execution. There follows a sketch of how different authors have viewed Bonhoeffer, including John A. T. Robinson, Paul M. VanBuren, William Hamilton, Gerhard Ebeling, Eberhard Bethge, Jurgen Moltmann, Jurgen Weissbach, John Godsey, William Kuhns and William B. Gould.
Chapter 2: The Shape of the Church
In perhaps his most difficult work entitled The Communion of Saints Bonhoeffer attempts to define sociology and the church by relating sociology and theology to each other. This involves a definition of the Christian concept of persons related to other persons and to God, and involves the concept of sin as breaking the relationship of man to man and man to God. He then turns to a significant study of the nature of the church as not just another organization but the Body of Christ.
Chapter 3: The Church: Objective Source of Revelation
Bonhoeffer explores the act-being problem. He concludes that revelation as act and revelation as being are inadequate alone and must somehow be synthesized. His proposed solution lies in seeing the church as a unity of act and being. Thus revelation is not the past remembered as in scripture, but exists presently and continually in the church and "the church is the Christ of the present. . . Christ existing as community."
Chapter 4: The Church Seeking to Know Itself
Since Christology is fundamental to Bonhoeffer’s thought, the Word of God is not an idea but a person and is to be studied in the worshiping community. Bonhoeffer deals with the early heresies condemned at the Council of Chalcedon,which he uses as a touchstone for his Christology.
Chapter 5: The Church’s Life in Christ
Bonhoeffer’s popular book Life Together deals with the practical relations of the church’s life in Christ, including his concept of Christian community; how the community should worship by always including scripture, hymns and prayer both individual and common; personal worship that includes meditation, prayer and intercession; the problems of the church that require learning control of the tongue, meekness, listening, forbearing and proclaming.
Chapter 6: The Church’s Brand of Discipleship
Discipleship as answering Jesus’ call to follow him by being radically obedient to the commands of Christ, particularly as they are found in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Discipleship in the world today means following a living Jesus as he is proclaimed in the preaching of the church and in the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion.
Chapter 7: The Church Confronting the World
The uniqueness of Christian ethics lies in its insistence on the centrality of Jesus Christ in discerning the will of God for doing what is good and not evil. It is concerned not with rules but of actions directed by our life in Christ. Issues of conscience, responsibility, freedom and obedience are discussed in the light of the situation in Germany when this book was written. It issues in what can only be called a situational ethic for a crisis situation.
Chapter 8: The Church Against Religion
The most provocative of Bonhoeffer’s books was his Letters and Papers from Prison that included phrases like "religionless Christianity," "Jesus as the man for other," and "the God who forsakes us." He declares that the evil of the Nazi period threw ethical concepts into conflict. In asserting that "we are moving toward a completely religionless time" and that religion is opposed to being Christian, he declares that we must live as persons who manage our lives in a kind of Christian worldliness, a Christianity without religion, but certainly not Christianity without God.
Chapter 9: The Significance of Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer’s significance certainly includes the man himself who was a hero of faith in the struggle against Nazi tyranny. In evaluating his theological contributions, it is important to balance the seemingly radical statements of the "later Bonhoeffer" with the "whole Bonhoeffer" found in authors like Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer’s theology made several contributions, particularly in the area of ecclesiology and the ecumenical movement, ethics and the role of the Christian in the modern world, spiritual life especially in theological education, and Christology as the center of doctrine.
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