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Interpreting Bonhoeffer

Historical Perspectives, Emerging Issues

Edited by Clifford J. Green and Guy C. Carter

Publication Year: 2013

In the early twenty-first century, interest in the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is increasing significantly. In this environment, how should we understand and interpret Bonhoeffer? Interpreting Bonhoeffer explores the many questions surrounding the complexities of Bonhoeffer’s life, work, and historical context and what they might mean for how we understand and interpret Bonhoeffer now and in the future. Looks at issues of interpreting Bonhoeffer’s work and legacy in light of increased interest from across the theological spectrum.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-11

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Editors' Foreword

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pp. xi-xiv

The time is ripe for a synoptic assessment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As we near the seventieth anniversary of his death in 1945, his popularity has never been greater. Yet one could argue that he is simultaneously the most quoted and the most misinterpreted Christian theologian of the twentieth century. This volume, under the broad rubric Interpreting Bonhoeffer, presents leading...


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pp. xv-xvi

Part I. Interpretation from Historical Perspectives

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pp. 1-2

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A. Bonhoeffer and Public Ethics in Six Nations, 1945-2010
1. Inspiration, Controversy, Legacy: Responses to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Three Germanys

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pp. 3-14

I have been invited to present the German case for the influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on public ethics. As a German myself, I may seem an obvious choice to interpret Bonhoeffer’s influence from a German perspective. But there is an enormous difference between Bonhoeffer’s time, ending in 1945, and the later contexts of the responses to his life and work. It is true that Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

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2. Bonhoeffer and Public Ethics: South Africa Notes

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pp. 15-24

When I first engaged Bonhoeffer’s theology in the 1960s and 1970s, the church struggle against apartheid had only begun to gather momentum following the Cottesloe Conference. This event, sponsored by the World Council of Churches in Johannesburg in December 1960, was in response to the Sharpeville Massacre1 earlier that year. Soon after, Beyers Naudé,2 disillusioned...

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3. Public Ethics and the Reception of Bonhoeffer in Britain

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pp. 25-34

During the autumn of 2011, Britain was convulsed by one of the most bizarre, tragicomic episodes in our public life: the “Occupy the City” campaign which, taking its cue from the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration in New York, resulted in an encampment of protestors against corporate greed pitching their tents in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. There ensued legal measures...

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4. Bonhoeffer and Public Ethics in the USA

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pp. 35-38

To address Bonhoeffer and Public Ethics in the USA, I will illustrate with Bonhoeffer’s reception among Union Seminary students in the years of my tenure, 1986–2004.1 My evidence is thus anecdotal, but I think it holds up in view of similar testimony by others.
In those years a highly diverse and sometimes fractious student body only assembled in the same room if the course were...

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5. Bonhoeffer and Public Ethics from the Perspective of Brazil

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pp. 39-46

What is the contribution of Bonhoeffer’s theology for a public theology in Brazil? What are the lessons the great Brazilian Christian church, Catholics and Protestants alike, must urgently learn from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology? I approach this question from my personal history. Thirty years ago, when I was a freshman in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Bonhoeffer’s book...

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6. Bonhoeffer’s Social Ethics and Its Influences in Japan

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pp. 47-60

This chapter addresses the influences of Bonhoeffer’s ethical thought in Japan and on the Japanese people from 1945 to 2010. In Japan there were only 350,000 Protestant and Catholic Christians in 1937, less than 0.5 percent of the whole population. Now there are around 960,000 Christians (0.8 percent) in the country, and not growing. So Japan was not a Christian country before 1945 or...

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B. Translation as Bonhoeffer Interpretation
7. Cultural Elements in Theology and Language: Translation as Interpretation

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pp. 61-70

The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works edition is not only a very carefully edited set of books but is also a remarkable translation from the German. It is in fact a faithful facsimile of the German edition. A few additions were made, because during the time of its editing new Bonhoeffer material was discovered and was published in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Yearbook in German and consequently translated...

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8. Discovering Bonhoeffer in Translation: New Insights from the Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition

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pp. 71-78

I would like to begin with a biographical note. Many years ago, I was a theology student at the University of Tübingen in Germany, enrolled in my first seminar. For the duration of the entire semester, each of the weekly two-hour sessions was devoted to the study, analysis, and discussion of a single monograph: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation Sanctorum Communio. This...

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9. Bringing Voice to Life: Bonhoeffer’s Spirituality in Translation

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pp. 79-92

For English-speaking readers curious about the spirituality of Bonhoeffer, the translation of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition (DBWE) is a signal event. The “B” series in particular—volumes 8 through 161—gathers for the first time in English the full range of just the sort of writings spirituality scholars covet for the fine-grained access to Bonhoeffer’s life and heart they...

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C. Historians Interpreting Bonhoeffer
10. The Bonhoeffer Legacy as Work-in-Progress: Reflections on a Fragmentary Series

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pp. 93-100

The 2011 conference on which this volume is based examined the numerous aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life and thought that continue to impact Christian life and witness around the world. Yet to a very great extent, future scholarship will be based primarily on the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke / Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: the sixteen-volume collection of his papers, correspondence, and theological...

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11. The American Protestant Theology Bonhoeffer Encountered

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pp. 101-110

I have been asked to speak about American theology in the 1920s. Who was the most distinguished American theologian of the 1920s? It was not Walter Rauschenbusch,1 who died in 1918. It was not Henry Nelson Wieman2 or Reinhold Niebuhr,3 who were just getting started in 1930. Harry Emerson Fosdick4 was famous by then, but nobody regarded him as an important...

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12. Contextualizing Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Nazism, the Churches, and the Question of Silence

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pp. 111-126

The word most often used to describe the Christian response to the Holocaust and to Nazism in general is “silence.”1 In the vast theological, historical, and popular literature on the churches and National Socialism, silence has become the most serious charge leveled against Christianity.2 Why did Christians not speak out? A litany of failures follows: examples abound of Christian individuals...

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13. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in History: Does Our Bonhoeffer Still Offend?

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pp. 127-134

Those of us who attended worship at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church prior to the opening of the Conference, “Bonhoeffer for the Coming Generations,”1 heard a powerful sermon in which the Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle asked the question, “Does our gospel still offend?” He argued, of course, that it should, that the gospel of Christ should not simply make us feel comfortable. I will now...

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14. Bonhoeffer and Coming to Terms with Protestant Complicity in the Holocaust, 1945–50

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pp. 135-144

Many Bonhoeffer scholars exalt the prodigious influence Dietrich Bonhoeffer had on various post-1945 political and theological discourses in Germany and across the globe. This influence is rightly celebrated, for his theology and praxis have certainly enriched these discourses. It is therefore disappointing, although not entirely surprising, that in the immediate postwar years the more...

Part II. Emerging Issues of Interpretation

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pp. 145-146

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D. New Research in Text and Context
15. Reading Discipleship and Ethics Together: Implications for Ethics and Public Life

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pp. 147-154

From the beginning, people who have researched the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have taken a particular interest in his theological development as well as in the question about the unity of his work. Different as the answers may be that have been given to these questions, there is still general agreement on one matter: many researchers have compared Discipleship and Ethics and...

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16. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Black Christ

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pp. 155-168

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was raised in an educated, wealthy German family. His father was a psychiatrist at the University in Berlin, where the brilliant young Dietrich would later become a popular lecturer. But as soon as he had delivered his inaugural lecture at the university, he spent some time in New York, as a Sloane Fellow at Union Theological Seminary. The Sloane Fellowship annually...

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17. Church for Others: Bonhoeffer, Paul, and the Critique of Empire

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pp. 169-180

A non-Christian talking strangely but powerfully Christian—when I heard Slavoj Žižek speak to the Occupy-movement in October 2011 down at Wall Street, all of a sudden I couldn’t help hearing another voice in the no-mike chorus of mouth-to-mouth communication, the voice of a Christian who at one point in his life and from a prison cell, started to talk strangely and...

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E. New Theological Issues and Interpretation
18. Bonhoeffer’s Strong Christology in the Context of Religious Pluralism

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pp. 181-196

Bonhoeffer’s circumstances were different from ours. Most people in the western world at that time were Christians. In Germany, almost everybody belonged to the Protestant or the Roman Catholic church. Jews lived in Germany too—half a million at the beginning of the Third Reich, distressingly almost none at its end. In Bonhoeffer’s time, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism were religions of people...

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19. Bonhoeffer from the Perspective of Intellectual History

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pp. 197-204

I find it appropriate that a panel on “Bonhoeffer the theologian” follows a panel on “Bonhoeffer and the historians” because theological and historical inquiries converge in the figure of Bonhoeffer in fascinating ways. Academic interest in Bonhoeffer has tended to come from people we might broadly characterize as theologians: constructive thinkers who approach Bonhoeffer...

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20. Bonhoeffer’s Contribution to a New Christian Paradigm

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pp. 205-218

The publication of the complete works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, first in German and now in English, should prompt theologians to address the question: What is Bonhoeffer’s theology read as a whole all about? Is there a coherence to it? Are his writings just fragments, or is there a unifying perspective? I will argue that there is a fundamental vision, namely, a worldly theology centered in Christ for...

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21. Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Activist, Educator. Challenges for the Church of the Coming Generations

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pp. 219-234

On July 21, 1944, the day after a turning point in German history, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge,

If one has completely renounced making something of oneself . . .—then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life’s tasks, questions, successes...

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pp. 235-236

It is an honor and great pleasure for me to speak to you here at Union Theological Seminary. Before I first came to Union—it was in the 1990s—I was made to understand that Union was sort of an equivalent to the Vatican and—though being very much a Protestant—I approached this place with a considerable amount of awe. Today, with great joy and undiminished respect, I...


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pp. 237-244


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pp. 245-259

Back Cover

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p. 277-277

E-ISBN-13: 9781451469646
E-ISBN-10: 1451439644
Print-ISBN-13: 9781451465419
Print-ISBN-10: 1451465416

Page Count: 250
Publication Year: 2013