Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works at up to 40% discount

The good people over at Eisenbraun's have marked the anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's execution (April 9th) by offering a substantial discount on all volumes of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English, published by Fortress Press. The sale lasts for 10 days, so there is still time if you have some gaps in your collection, or if you want to start (in which case I would recommend Discipleship, Life Together, Ethics, Conspiracy and Imprisonment as the best places to start). Go here for the details.

Pacifica Themed Issue on Bonhoeffer: Invitation to Contribute

This is a shot in the dark, but perhaps one that might meet with a welcome response from Bonhoeffer scholars, whether based in Australasia or beyond.

I am hoping to produce an issue of the journal Pacifica later this year celebrating the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the light of the recent completion of the DBWE project. 5 articles are currently commissioned, but I am looking for a sixth article that we might include in the proposal to go the journal's editorial board. I am looking for someone who is on Faculty (i.e. with their PhD and in an academic role) who might be able to contribute a 6,000 word article on an aspect of Bonhoeffer's thought, with special concern for Bonhoeffer's relevance for contemporary Christian thought and practice. The piece would need to be a fully critical research article, from someone with a track record in Bonhoeffer research. The articles already secured cover the following topics: Bonhoeffer and Spiriituality; Bonhoeffer and Theological Hermeneutics; Bonhoeffer and State Power; Bonhoeffer and Reading the Signs of the Times and Bonhoeffer's legacy in the light of the DBWE project. The sixth article should not overlap with these themes.

The deadline for final copy would be the end of April 2012 (the reason for the short notice is that other prospective contributors no longer feel able to meet that deadline).

If this is something that interests you then please send me an email with a proposal for your article, along with a brief academic CV, by 31st January 2012. I will only be able to select one proposal, but will contact everyone who sends one in with an indication of my decision. Emails can be sent to the address at the top of my staff page.

Please feel free to share this invitation with others on your own blog or by other means.

Bonhoeffer and the Non-Religious Interpretation of the Bible

I have been pondering Bonhoeffer's prison theology of late, with a view to developing a paper proposal for the upcoming Melbourne College of Divinity Centenary Conference. The added incentive is that it is doppelgänger week on Facebook, the results of which can be seen if you look at my Profile Page.  The MCD 'stream' devoted to things biblical is entitled 'The Word in the World', and the Conference itself should coincide nicely with the publishing of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works edition of what will still be called Letters and Papers from Prison (DBWE Vol. 8).

The prison letters are famous, of course, for raising the question of 'who is Jesus Christ for us today?', a question that, as Gerhard Ebeling noted in a now classic essay, is deeply connected with Bonhoeffer's call for a 'non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts', a way for the church to speak that avoided the 'positivism of revelation' that Bonhoeffer (unfairly perhaps) associated with Barth, and Bultmann's demythologization. Eberhard Bethge and Ernst Feil have both made the point that Anglo-Saxon scholarship has been quick to turn these questions into the search for a 'religionless Christianity, whereas the German tradition has stuck with the fundamental hermeneutical question that Bonhoeffer initially raised.

My question is, what do Bonhoeffer's comments in critique of 'religion' or in favour of 'religionlessness', his account of the nature of the 'world come of age' (now of course outdated), his articulation of the centrality of Christology, the importance of worldliness, the potential of the arcane discipline, the need for silence, have to say about biblical hermeneutics and the interpretation of the Bible per se?  What does that mean for those of us who teach others how to interpret the Bible? What kinds of interpretative work do we need to do, and to what ends?

If anyone out there wants to make some suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.  And, of course, if anyone from Fortress Press is reading this, and wants to send me a copy of the new Letters and Papers from Prison, so that I can wave it at people here in Melbourne in the first week of July and commend it to them, then please feel free to send an advance copy over to me!

Re-thinking Matthew 28 with Bonhoeffer

The paper I am due to give next week will explore the ways in which Matthew 28.16-20 became, not least through the writings and missionary practice of William Carey, a crucial text in the development of the western missionary enterprise.  Given the strength and persuasiveness of the postcolonial critique of such missionary ideology and practice, I appeal for a further look at the text and a ‘Renewing of the Vision’ in the light of its main indicative claim: that all authority has been given to Jesus as the vindicated Son of man.

The closing paragraph will now draw on Bonhoeffer’s critique of the dominant ‘two realms’ paradigm for understanding the relationship between the church and the world (and thus by implication mission as well as ethics, the focus for Bonhoeffer).  See my earlier post here, as well as Halden’s recent reflections on the Ethics here and here. The key is to recognise that traditional mission discourse often operates with spatial categories derived from Matthew 28: we (the church) go into the world (out there, separate from the church).  The world is here construed as a space that lacks that which the church possessed (the gospel; Christ etc. etc.), and thus as unredeemed space it must be the focus of the divine mandate to take it over, possess and claim it in the name of Christ.

Bonhoeffer challenges all this on the basis that in the incarnation God does not merely stake a claim on part of the world (as if after the incarnation there were now a few small squares of the world’s graph paper coloured in and marked ‘God’s’ with the rest left blank).  Rather:

When God in Jesus Christ claims space in the world … God embraces the whole reality of the world in this narrow space and reveals its ultimate foundation. So also the church of Jesus Christ is the place – that is the space – in the world where the reign of Christ over the whole world is to be demonstrated and proclaimed.

What then is the relationship between the space of the church and the space of the world?  Well an understanding of this relationship in spatial (Bonhoeffer calls it ’empiric’ terms) is deeply problematic in so far as it fails to do justice to the fact that in Christ there is only one reality not two and that to belong to Christ is at the same time to belong in the fullest sense to the world.

This is the sentence that then strikes a chord when we attempt to think through a re-visioning of our understanding and practice of mission.

It is not true that the church intends to or must spread its space out over the space of the world.  It desires no more space than it needs to serve the world with its witness to Jesus Christ and to the world’s reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ.

[this and the above quotation taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Clifford Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W Stott (DBWE 6; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 63.]

Bonhoeffer: Beyond the two realms

I spent some time last night looking again at the opening sections of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.  What struck me with renewed force was the clarity of his attempt to re-conceptualize the dominant paradigm of Christian ethical reflection, which is rooted (so he claims) in a fundamental distinction between the reality of God and the reality of the world and which thereby creates the all too common dualisms of sacred/profane; church/world; grace/nature. Here is the passage that took hold as I thought about the ubiquity of such two realms thinking within churches:

As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms, bumping against and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options.  Giving up on reality as a whole,  either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ … Or we try to stand in the two realms at the same time, thereby becoming people in eternal conflict, shaped by the post-Reformation era, who ever and again present ourselves as the only form of Christian existence that is in accord with reality….

There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is God’s reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world.  Partaking in Christ, we stand at the same time in the reality of God and in the reality of the world.  The reality of Christ embraces the reality of the world in itself. … There are not two competing realms standing side by side and battling over the borderline, as if the question of boundaries was always to be the decisive one.  Rather the whole reality of the world has already been drawn into and is held together in Christ.  History moves only from this center and towards this center.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (DBWE 6; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 57-58.

The hermeneutical implications of this understanding of the one reality of God-in-Christ, which is not set against the reality of the world, but which constitutes the world’s true reality, are multiple.  When giving the Whitley Lecture last year, and insisting that we take seriously the human work of interpretation, the most common objection was that I left no room for the work of the Holy Spirit, as if in so doing we could bypass the interpretive act.  This kind of thinking betrays traces of the two realms understanding that Bonhoeffer seeks to challenge, and it inevitably leads, as I noted in a previous post about debates within the Anglican communion, to what Bonhoeffer calls here a ‘battle over boundaries’ (your reading is the result of you imposing your own context onto the text and is therefore ‘worldly’, whereas my reading is the result of Spirit-led insight, and is therefore truly of God).