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Encounter in Humanization: Insights for Christian-Marxist Dialogue and Cooperation by Paulose Mar Paulose


Bishop Paulose Mar Paulsoe prefers to call himself a "secular theologian" because he communicates the Christian faith in secular language. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary for a dissertation on Bonhoeffer’s corrective of Karl Marx. He was a Bishop in the Chaldean Syrian Church in Kerala, India and served as President of the World Student Christian Federation. Published by Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerala, S. India. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 11: Bonhoefferian Theology as Challenge to Marxism


In this chapter, we shall first summarize our findings and examine the implications of Bonhoeffer’s theology for the church’s life today. We shall then proceed to inquire how Bonhoefferian theology functions as a challenge to Marxist philosophy.

The thrust of Bonhoeffer’s theology, as we described it in the preceding pages, has been the Christocentric view of human life. The vision of the ever-living and ever-present Jesus Christ gave him the right perspective from which to look at every event and every problem of life. It also made him free to cope with any situation without fear and anxiety. Bonhoeffer emphasized that in the modem secular age the mission of the church must assume a secular style. God’s becoming human in Jesus represents a kind of radical secularization. God laid aside His religiousness and divine attributes, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. This was a secular form. Bonhoeffer exhorts Christians to assume the same secular form in their mission to the mature world.

This means that the individual Christian will have to assume a new life style. Bonhoeffer tells us that the Christian is not a special kind of human being, a saint or homo religiosur. To be a Christian means to be one who lives with the joy and freedom which belong to one’s proper nature. Christian life is lived entirely in the world. Christian love is not a religious exercise or a spiritual concern. It is responsible action in the world. "Taking life in one’s stride" and living unreservedly in all that it brings, then, is accepting the world God has given us as the place of our pilgrimage. This is not to accept this world as the only world we know. Our horizons extend beyond earthly existence, since the ultimate has been revealed to us beyond the penultimate.

It is in this sense that we must understand Bonhoeffer’s call for a "religionless Christianity". It is certainly true of the Christian’s faith that its risen Lord is present in all boundary situations, all possible life-crises -- but also in situations which occur in the centre of life. As Bonhoeffer sees it, the Bible is a recall to that faith, to the life in the world which is under God. Bonhoeffer’s consistent effort for a non-religious interpretation of Christianity was to reform the church in such a way that it could truly be a prophet and servant to the contemporary man. Where that is recognized there is no place for any criticism of Bonhoeffer’s vision of religionless Christianity.

Bonhoeffer has quite simply and clearly called the church to new obedience to the commandment of Jesus Christ. We can never know God as an idea, but only in and through our concrete encounter with others in our life in the world. God is to be known in human form, as a man existing for others; and the sole ground for the doctrine of His omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence in His freedom from self, maintained even to the point of the death of God incarnate. It is from this new understanding of transcendence that Bonhoeffer would have us re-interpret Biblical and theological concepts. His theology is one of commitment and involvement. To be a Christian means to be committed to and involved in a way of life in the world, and this is God’s own way, as He is revealed in Jesus Christ.

According to Bonhoeffer, the message of the gospel enables the Christian to be fully in the world, but not of it. The world is the place where God’s grace is operative. Writing to his fiancée from the prison, he expressed this faith in these succinct words:

When I... think about the situation of the world, the complete darkness over our personal fate and my present imprisonment, then I believe that our union can only be a sign of God’s grace and kindness, which calls us to faith. We would be blind if we did not see it. Jeremiah says at the moment of his people’s great need "still one shall buy houses and acres in this land" as a sign of trust in the future. This is where faith belongs. May God give it to us daily. And I do not mean the faith which flees the world, but the one that endures the world and which loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the suffering which it contains for us. Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth; it shall strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth. I fear that Christians who stand with only one leg upon earth also stand with only one leg in heaven.1

However, in relating faith to the reality of the world, Bonhoeffer does not support any unconditional affirmation of the world’s maturity or of the secularity which is its counterpoint.

Many people take it for granted that by his concept of religionless Christianity Bonhoeffer completely denies the necessity of religion. We may make this hasty judgment only if we take his words out of context, or if we do not give due consideration to the presuppositions he makes before he criticizes religion. In Ethics Bonhoeffer says that the Christian, even if ultimately concerned with "last things’, must be immediately concerned with "things before last", that is to say, with the things of this world. At the same time he reminds us that the Christian is a person who is being "conformed" to Christ. This conformation takes place when "the form of Jesus Christ itself works upon us in such a manner that it moulds our form in its own likeness".2 This does not happen because of our own efforts of will to be like Jesus. It is the work of grace, something that happens to us. The grace of God "opens before the secularized man of our time a dimension of human existence which might help him to live, in the midst of the confusion of his personal and social existence, with hope and responsibility."3 Through prayer, meditation, worship, the sacraments, etc., our lives have been touched and transformed by the same God who was in Christ. If this is religion, then Bonhoeffer would certainly say that religion is fundamental to Christian life.

Let us not forget that the most radical critics of religion have spoken from within, and have been people with a clear vision of God. The prophets summoned people from empty cults to a genuine obedience before the Lord God. Jesus condemned the false religiosity of the Pharisees. The Apostles criticized some of the stringent religious practices of their time and stopped them. Bonhoeffer also stands in this tradition. The historical situation in which he lived moved him to criticize religion, for he lived in a religionless environment, where Christianity had been rejected. To his utmost disappointment, the large number of German Christians supported the Nazi state, as distinct from the Confessing Church which opposed it. Bonhoeffer recognized that in an increasingly secularized world a time might come when Christianity everywhere would be deprived of the recognition and privileges that it once enjoyed. He realized that Christians would have to depend more and more on the inward resources of faith, and less and less on outward supports. However, this does not mean that they would have to live without the spiritual practices of religion. Bonhoeffer himself called the church to practice the "secret discipline"4 so that it may become in itself a living witness before it attempts too much to speak to the world.

Our Church, which has been fighting in these years only for its sell-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among man.5

It is the secret discipline which gives the Christian the direction for his mission. But at the same time Bonhoeffer also believed that our prayer and worship are all in vain if they make no difference to our lives or to the way we treat our neighbours. As Helmut Thielicke points out, Bonhoeffer

did not reject the necessity of working on the liturgy and removing it, but he did say, "Only he who cries out for the Jews dare permit himself to sing in Gregorian." He thereby blocked the potential escapist’s path.6

Here we see no opposition to spirituality, but we are not allowed to use spirituality to avoid the demand of Christ that our lives be lived fully for others. Our spirituality should lead us to a sacramental presence in the world after the manner of Jesus himself. Jesus himself is the real sacrament. He is the one through whose sacrificial action God touches and renews this world. Hence our partaking of the sacrament is not just a religious practice, but it means our participation in the suffering of God in the world. It is in this way that we witness to the lordship of Christ. As Charles West put it,

..only the Christian’s humble but confident journey itself, with whatever charges and burdens may be given him to carry, only his realistic concern for neighbours at cost to himself, can convince the unbeliever that the Lord and guide of the journey is the servant son of God who bore the cross.7

Bonhoeffer’s plea for a religionless Christianity is also a plea for re-definition of the church. The church is an instrument for mission by the providence of God. As much as instruments need to be repaired, they have also to be refashioned from time to time according to changes in the nature and scope of the work for which they are used. That is why Bonhoeffer reminds us that if the church is to fulfil its mission it needs to be renewed and refashioned from within.

Thus the ministry of the church is both renewal within and mission to the world. This means that the centre of church’s concern should shift from within her walls to the surrounding community, and from exercises of ingrown piety to exercises of outgoing faith. This also means that our faith must be understood as commitment to work for the purposes of God and not as a pious hope for the next life. We can no longer regard the church building as the gate of heaven, but more as the gateway of the Christian to the world. Bonhoeffer also reminds us that the mission of the church should not be conceived relative to isolated verses from the Bible, but relative to the central Biblical theme of God’s choice of human beings and of the peoples to bear His mission to the world. It is not an election to privilege, but an election to responsibility. Thus the mission is seen to be continuous with that of the chosen people Israel and of Jesus himself. The Israelites were to live and even to suffer in such a manner as to bring God’s blessings upon all the nations of the earth. So also the church exists for the world and cannot live for itself. The mission is to be directed to human society in all its complexity, and not to an isolated entity within man called ‘soul’ or to a dimension of life called ‘spiritual’. The climax of the Bible story is not the salvation of individuals to some spiritual heaven - it is the renewal of God’s creation, the coming of "a new heaven and a new earth". That is why the goal of history is not just that "the saved" will go to heaven --it is the "new Jerusalem", the city in which all the nations will find their true life and their true selfhood, in the light of Christ.

We shall now turn our attention to see how Bonhoefferian theology functions as a challenge to Marxist philosophy. From Bonhoeffer’s critique of religion it can be seen that he retained kinship with Marx in many respects. Marx’s criticism, though it may sound exaggerated, does not take away the responsibility from the Christians to re-think their own beliefs. Let us not forget that there is some truth in Marx’s critique of religion, and of Christianity in particular. Many a Christian has found in religion an excuse for not bothering with mundane problems. If Marx can awaken such Christians from their dogmatic slumber, we should be ready to salute Marx. In this sense Bonhoeffer’s critique of religion is analogous to that of Marx’s. We can even draw a parallel between "opium of the people" and "cheap grace". For Marx, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people." According to Bonhoeffer, "We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ." In spite of this apparent similarity in their thoughts, Bonhoefferian theology functions as a corrective of Marx’s critique of religion.

Marx argued that religion is an ideology which does not serve any real purpose to solve the problems of human beings who suffer from the miseries of this world. "Religion is the fantastic (phantastische) realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality."8 It gives only illusory satisfaction to the oppressed people, and it is in this sense Marx regards religion as opium of the people. Here Bonhoefferian theology confronts Marxism with its steadfast concentration upon Christology. The figure of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord captivates his attention and evokes his faithful odedience. Bonhoeffer reminds us that the answer to the problem of ideology lies in the way the Christian responds to the fact that God so loved the world, that He sent Jesus Christ into the centre of it, into the midst of the intricacies of man’s relation to man. Christians are called to confront the world with this Christ, in that they share the being of Christ with their neighbours. This confrontation, Bonhoeffer says, may not take the form of words at all, but of participation in common responsibilities with the world. On the occasion of the Baptism of D.W.R. Bethge, Bonhoeffer wrote:

For you thought and action will enter on a new relationship; your thinking will be confined to your responsibilities in action. With us thought was often the luxury of the onlooker; with you it will be entirely subordinated to action. "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven."9

Here the Christian will act as one who knows that the reality of this world’s human relations is the reality of Christ’s relation to it. Human beings exists in a field of personal relations in the centre of which is Jesus Christ.

Bonhoefferian theology challenges contemporary Marxists to change their attitude toward religion, and specifically to the question of God. Bonhoeffer is not speaking of a metaphysical concept of God but the God who is interested in the affairs of the world, not a God of metaphysical scheme but the God of history, of society, of the future -- all in the concrete sense of God’s way for mankind in Jesus Christ. If God is denied ideologically, as Marx does, the human being is threatened to become dissolved in the ‘penultimate’. The ‘penultimate’ becomes ‘ultimate’ for people. Their total destiny then depends on their own accomplishments. As long as the human beings face only successes in life this dependence on accomplishments makes sense. But, then, what about human despair and frustration as they are evident in human failure? Marx is not concerned about this question.

Here Bonhoefferian theology challenges Marxists to reexamine their philosophy to see whether they take into consideration the human person in wholeness. As Josef Hromadka stated,

Only that philosophy is right which wants not only to demonstrate and to interpret, to contemplate and to describe, but also wants to change the world and to transform it in the direction of perfect social justice and equality, freedom from hunger and misery, from injustice and exploitation.10

In his "Theses on Feuerbach," Marx said: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." But this thought provoking thesis was only helpful to promote one more impressive idea --unquestionably a welcome one -- that theory and practice should be united. In order to change the world, philosophy must embrace the totality of human existence, its material as well as spiritual dimension. Marx fails to do this.

In this respect, Bonhoefferian theology is an advance on Marxist philosophy. Bonhoeffer reminds the Marxists that the gospel is concerned about the whole of life, and not merely certain aspects of life. There is no area of human experience to which it is not related. It may be true that religion has been narrowly confined to acts of worship, to certain spheres of human relationship, to the realm of the ‘spiritual’ as differentiated from that of the ‘secular.’ This is so because many Christians have not understood the true significance of their faith as total commitment of all that concerns their individual and collective life to the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. For Bonhoeffer, secularity means that all of life is a gift from God, and authentic secularity is a fruit of the incarnation. Even politics and economics are subject to God’s standards, control and judgment. By introducing the concept of religionless Christianity, as it is expounded in the themes of "Holy Worldliness", "Theology of Responsibility" and "Secret Discipline", Bonhoeffer appeals to the Marxists to reconsider their attitude toward Christianity in that authentic Christian faith is something other than the ‘religion’ Marx criticized. Marx’s theory that all religions are enemies of social revolution does not hold true. The "religionless Christian" who leads a "worldly life", as portrayed by Bonhoeffer, certainly plays a vital role in the transformation of society.

Marx interpreted human being as part of a historical process. Everything is related to a historical development and conceived as a by-product of the past and of the present objective situation. Human beings eliminate anything that could not be understood and perfectly explained on the basis of the continuous unbreakable chains of the processes of nature and history. It is true in "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", Marx said: "Men make their own history". But, then, he continues:

They do not make it just as they please: they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. 11

Thus, according to Marx, human reason, conscience, and the very essence of the human being have no independent meaning. They do not transcend the boundary of historical process. They are part and parcel of historical nexus. In other words, human beings are caught up in a trap of historical process.

Here Bonhoefferian theology raises its objection and disagreement. "Man is not only a part of nature and history. He is an entity in himself, standing as a responsible, morally and intellectually active, creative being, directing the way of history. History is his sphere of responsibility". This is not just another expression of some kind of idealistic philosophy, rather a consequence of the incarnation of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of nature and history.

. . . the whole reality of the world is already drawn in into Christ and bound together in Him, and the movement of history consists solely in divergence and convergence in relation to this center. 12

We cannot demonstrate or explain this reality impinged by Jesus Christ by scientific means. But the Christian knows by faith that it is more real than anything demonstrable and explainable. It is this impingement which has shaped the history of human beings and thus, being beyond history, it is the most dynamic force in human life to transform the world.

The world, the natural, the profane and reason are now all taken up into God from the outset. They do not exist "in themselves" and "on their own account"; They have their reality nowhere save in the reality of God, in Christ.13

Human beings are not completely left alone in the trap of history, but are caught up in the reality of God as it is evident in Jesus Christ. The only way to demonstrate this reality is by personal witness and by fellowship with those who have heard and accepted this self-revelation of God. This is precisely what Bonhoeffer does with his theology as well as with his life.

Marx said: "To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But for man the root is man himself."14 This undue optimism in the human person is foreign to the Christian concept of human being. Referring to Jesus Christ as the norm and standard of the human being, Karl Barth says:

The being of man is the history which shows how one of God’s creatures, elected and called by God, is caught up in personal responsibility before Him and proves itself capable of fulfilling it.15

Bonhoeffer also is thinking in a similar way. According to him, human being is rooted in Jesus Christ. It is He who creates meaning and purpose in life, and it is through Him we know our creatureliness.

Only in Christ does man know himself as the creature of God. . . If he is to know himself as the creature of God, the old man must have died and the new arisen, whose essence it is to live in self-disregard, wholly in the contemplation of Christ. He knows himself as one who lives in Christ in identity with the old man who passed through death -- knows himself as the creature of God.16

Christ recreates the being of persons so that the centre of existence is no longer in themselves. It is being-in-Christ. By this recreation the believer is constituted as a free person with responsibility in relation to Christ and fellow human beings. The zeal of the Christian for the transformation of society, or the revolution in which the Christian is engaged in to change the structures of society, is nothing but following Christ where He has preceded us. Paul Lehmann underlines this thought in these words:

As regards what it means to be human and to gain the power to stay human, Jesus Christ is the "wisdom of God" and the "power of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). He is "the truth that will make (men) free" (John 8:32). In him men are already on the way toward being fully human -- that is, whole, complete in themselves because completely related to their kind and to everything that God has made. Thus to be human is to be what God made and purposed man to be, and to exhibit the fact that God’s chief purpose and man’s chief end are identical.17

Marx conceived transcendence as a dynamic human reality, as a self-transcending formation of the meaning and values of our life. By transcendence he meant the movement of the living and humanly experienced present into the future. It is the human being’s openness to what is to come and it is an unlimited openness. The future to which human being is moving is completely open. Here Bonhoefferian theology would question the content of the future which Marx envisions. Would this future be just an extension of the present with all its experienced conflicts or would there be a qualitative difference in that future? If transcendence is only a leap into the future, as Marx conceives it, and if that future has no qualitative difference from the present, then, human beings remain in the abyss of existential predicament. In contrast to Marx’s concept of transcendence, Bonhoeffer gave a this - worldly interpretation of transcendence in which the experience of transcendence is Jesus’ "being there for others." This means the transcendent God is met in the concern for others as given to us in the life and way of Jesus. A Christian’s faith is nothing but "participation in this being of Jesus" Transcendence, thus, refers to the transformation God effects upon humanity in its entirety. In this way, the future which the Christian looks forward to is not just an extension of the present; it is qualitatively different.

Marx considered human beings as limitless. He believed that God is the end of the possibilities which are the breath of our being. According to him, nature and human being are no longer two powers in opposition to one another, but two terms of one relation. The human being rises over all other animal species and begins an historical evolution; becoming the creator of a better society.

But it is wrong to say that only this kind of naturalism can open the way for true humanity. Real humanity of the person is exclusively founded in the human being’s dependence on God and His will. Otherwise they misuse neighbour and nature, as is evident in many Marxist societies. In many parts of the world Marxist ideology has become a betrayal of the revolution in which the world is engaged in. Its hope is in an earthly utopia. The proletarian, whom Marx extolled to the highest degree, finds himself being used for the ends of the party’s strategy, rather than being himself the object of concern. The ideal of a socialist society and the hope for a classless society are used to cover continued exploitation, and the hope for a classless society becomes the opium for the people. Thus the vices against which Marx rebelled return in new clothing because this revolutionary power in itself is corruptible.

According to Bonhoeffer "Man’s humanity is not based upon himself or upon nature but is only possible in obedience to his Lord. Man is a limited being. The Lord Himself who gives man life, spirit, and form is his limit, and this limit is grace, the source of freedom." "The limit [of man] is grace because it is the basis of creatureliness and freedom. . . Grace is that which supports man over the abyss of non-being, non-living, that what is not created."18 It is this grace which defines the form and direction of human freedom. The human being with power and freedom to have dominion over the whole creation is given the possibilities to explore nature. But this freedom for exploration should not blind the human limits. Human beings should know the possibilities given "in relation" to God and fellow human beings, and not in the light of the infinite possibilities of which Marx speaks about. As Charles West put it:

Man is to know himself in relation, and not himself as master or absolute subject, apart from the relation. In short he is to know good, but not good and evil. He is to be creature, and not God.19

Marx was keenly aware of the necessity of humanization of society. He asserted that humanization can be attained by the abolition of private property, the most important cause of dehumanization. This humanization is something which human beings and only they can accomplish. Paul Lehmann calls this "humanistic messianism".

Humanistic messianism is a passion for and vision of human deliverance and fulfillment by the powers of man alone. Its radical immanentism denies the reality and the necessity of incarnation.20

Humanistic messianism was able to change the relations of property, but it was not able to replace property with a new value. The roots of evil go beyond social and economic conditions. The reality of evil cannot be abolished by the humanized society. This is not mere pessimism, nor an indifferent attitude to social and political aspirations of humanity, but an appeal to give up the illusory hopes of human beings. Even the humanized society will badly need the message of the divine grace, forgiveness, redemption, and self-denying love.

According to Bonhoeffer, humanization is possible because of the incarnation. It is not human accomplishment, but a gift from God. In Jesus Christ God became a human being. He is the one who leads the path to humanization, and Christians are called to be agents of the process of humanization.

‘Ecce homo’!- Behold the man! In Him the world was reconciled with God. It is not by its overthrowing but by its reconciliation that the world is subdued. It is not by ideals and programmes or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God. Here again it is not by a general idea of love that this is achieved, but by the really lived love of God in Jesus Christ.21

Again, in the words of Paul Lehmann, this can be called "messianic humanism

Messianic humanism . . . is a passion for and vision of human deliverance and fulfillment derived from the fact and the power of God’s incarnate humanity in Jesus Christ. Its divinely initiated reality and orientation deny the reality and the possibility of the faith and ethos of immanental humanism.22

Messianic humanism keeps the horizons of human solidarity open, seeking in every situation new possibilities for a greater justice, freedom, and peace.

From a Bonhoefferian point of view the kernel of humanization is God’s re-definition of our self-understanding and His re-direction of our freedom. This re-definition and re-direction is the heart of what happened in Jesus Christ. Thus, the criterion of humanization is Jesus Christ Himself. Authentic humanization is God’s humanization by which God self-humanized in Jesus Christ. The task of humanization can be accomplished only in relation to and dependence on God, the author of humanization. We do this by participating in Jesus’ "being there for others". This is to see the world in the hands of the redeemer and to be concerned for its peace, its prosperity, and its solidarity in love. It means to take one’s place as a servant and witness of Christ’s work, free from anxiety about the successes of our revolutions or the maintenance of our structures. We are not called to be successful but to be faithful.

Marx, of course, disagrees. According to him, dependence on God and human freedom are incompatible. He understands freedom as independence. "A being only considers himself independent when he stands on his own feet; and he only stands on his own feet when he owes his existence to himself."23

This is precisely what Emil Brunner called sin: "Sin is emancipation from God, giving up the attitude of dependence, in order to try to win full independence, which makes human beings equal with God. The nature of sin is shown by Jesus in the son who asks his father for his inheritance in order that he may leave home and become independent".24

This longing to be ‘independent’ is not bound to certain social structures -- let them be capitalistic or proletarian. Man is a sinner means that everything is under God’s curse. There is no sinless relationship between man and nature, man and neighbour, but everything is infected by the same perversion. it is hopeless to change this situation just by abolishing private property.

Property in itself is not bad but human beings who use it may be. There is no difference, whether we speak of private property or of state capitalism, there is always a group or class which is privileged above others to own or to enjoy. The question is: whether everybody uses gifts according to God’s will or according to his selfishness, whether the structures of society are filled with responsibility to God and the neighbour or they are being used for the benefit of certain groups at the cost of the other members of society. Here Bonhoeffer reminds Marxists that the responsibility and freedom of human beings are rooted in what is beyond nature and history. Only as we penetrate the depth of this fact can we save human beings from the tyranny of the material world. Bonhoeffer says:

Responsibility and freedom are corresponding concepts. Factually, though not chronologically, responsibility presupposes freedom and freedom can consist only in responsibility. Responsibility is the freedom of men which is given only in the obligation to God and to our neighbour.25

Freedom is impossible as long as there is no real responsibility to God. Marx rejected every responsibility to God and attacked every belief in God. He was convinced that human beings can and must create their own conditions for living perfectly. Consequently, "humanistic messianism" as seen in Marxist societies can only create new wrong social structures. On the contrary, the Biblical witness reveals the evil roots of human misery and economic conditions of human life. It makes human beings with the deepest personal identity responsible for their actions, successes and failures, without denying the urgency of the struggle for social, economic, and political pre-requisites of righteousness, equality, and brotherhood. As Bonhoeffer put it:

The action of the responsible man is performed in the obligation which alone gives freedom and which gives entire freedom, the obligation to God and to our neighbour as they confront us in Jesus Christ.26

Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is Christ, and Christ alone, who validates the world of responsible secular people. The meaning of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is that God and the world can no longer be separated.

Whoever sets eyes on the body of Jesus Christ in faith can never again speak of the world as though it were lost, as though it were separated from Christ... it is only in Christ that the world is what it is.27

If Christ is the Lord of all, then, we are called in obedience to serve all people in his name. It is this obedience, and not some revolutionary principles, which should lead us to servanthood. In that sense our service is a diakonia, a reflection of God’s love for the people. Conformed to the image of Christ, we are given new possibilities for service in the world. Here again Bonhoeffer is concerned not to provide religious sanction for some worldly movement but to discern the form of Christ’s work in the world and bear witness to it by our own words and actions. The Christian’s task is to find out where God is on the move in His world today, and then make all possible haste to be there with Him. In this way we respond to Marx’s critique of religion that Christianity is not the opium of the people but a way of life in which the Christian participates in Jesus’ "being there for others" for the total humanization of humanity.

 

Notes:

1. LPP, op. cit., p. 415 ("The Other Letters from Prison"). The letter was dated 12 August 1943.

2. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, op. cit., p. 80.

3. Jan M. Lochman, "The Unfinished Reformation," Dialog, Vol. 8, No. 4, 1969, p. 271.

4. Vide supra, pp. 196 ff.

5. LPP, op. cit., p.300 ("Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of D.W.R. Bethge").

6. Helmut Thielicke, The Trouble with the Church: A Call for Renewal, trans. & ed. by John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 85.

7. Charles West, Communism and the Theologians, op. cit., p. 387.

8. Marx, "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction", On Religion, op. cit., pp. 41f.

9. LPP, op. cit., p. 298 ("Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of D.W.R. Bethge").

10. Josef Hromadka, "On the Threshold of Dialogue Between Christians and Marxists", Study Encounter, Vol. I. no. 3, 1965, p. 121.

11. Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", Marx & Engels: Selected Works, op. cit., p. 97.

12. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, op. cit., p. 198.

13. Ibid.

14. Marx, "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction", On Religion, op. cit., p. 50.

15. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 111, Part 2, p. 55.

16. Bonhoeffer, Act and Being, op. cit., p. 171.

17. Paul Lehmann, "On Keeping Human Life Human’, The Christian Century, Vol. LXXXI, No. 43, 1964, p. 1299.

18. Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, op. cit., p. 53.

19. Charles West, The Power to be Human: Toward a Secular Theology, (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1971), p. 241.

20. Paul Lehmann, Ideology and Incarnation, op. cit., p. 25.

21. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, op. cit., p. 70.

22. Paul Lehmann, Ideology and Incarnation, op. cit., p. 25.

23. Manuscripts, op. cit., p. 144.

24. Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, trans. by Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952), p. 93.

25. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, op. cit., p. 248.

26. Ibid., p. 249.

27. Ibid., p. 205.

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