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  • Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought ed. by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick
  • Mark Mattes
Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought. Edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016. xxiv + 351 pp.

Kirkpatrick, lecturer at the University of Oxford, assembles fifteen high-quality essays that assess the impact of Bonhoeffer’s thinking on Christian ethics. All essays assume some familiarity not only with Bonhoeffer’s thought and Bonhoeffer scholarship but also with trends in Christian ethics over the last eighty years. The book merits the attention of thinkers both within and outside of Bonhoeffer studies.

Keith Clements shows how Bonhoeffer was mediated to the English-speaking world through two English theologians, John A. T. Robinson, and Ronald Gregor Smith. Robinson used Bonhoeffer’s concept of “religionless Christianity,” in which faith is no longer privatized or used to legitimate power in order to develop a Christian theology for a secular age (3). In contrast, Smith utilized Bonhoeffer’s [End Page 463] affirmation of human agency in order to affirm humanity’s contribution to history in opposition to the Platonic favoritism of the eternal over the temporal (7). For Smith, that the transcendent is to be met in this world, not the world to come (8), counters a secularistic reductionism that rules out a transcendent dimension to reality altogether. Eleanor McLaughlin explores Bonhoeffer’s impact on the “Death of God” theologians in the mid-twentieth century, such as Thomas Altizer, for whom God was not to be found in church but instead in the secular world (33). Altizer could draw from Bonhoeffer’s conviction that a “suffering God” disbarred from the world is the God who can help a humanity “come of age” (39).

Tom Greggs outlines the complicated theological rapport between Karl Barth and Bonhoeffer. In spite of Bonhoeffer’s charge that Barth is a revelational “positivist,” that is, God is known solely through his revelatory word and not in nature or history, each theologian appreciated the other’s work (61). Robin Lovin compares Bonhoeffer’s ethics with Reinhold Niebuhr’s. For Niebuhr, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not do-able, as Bonhoeffer suggests, but instead is an “impossible ideal” which “inspires and judges us” (70). Matthew Kirkpatrick compares Bonhoeffer with Joseph Fletcher’s “situation ethics.” Unlike Fletcher who believes some good can always be wrestled from every situation, no matter how bad, Bonhoeffer urges us, if need be, to disobey the law, become guilty, if one can thereby help the neighbor (101). Guido de Graaff compares Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas. While both reject a foundationalist approach to ethics which wants to establish Christian ethics in some neutral, broader stance than what faith provides, Bonhoeffer’s ethics is less amenable to the virtue ethics Hauerwas espouses. Both however sense the at times tragic implications of Christian behavior. For pacifist Hauerwas, non-violence can expose others to suffering while for Bonhoeffer the life of discipleship is costly (136).

Geffrey Kelly and Matthew Kirkpatrick note that Bonhoeffer laid the foundations for Liberation theology when he claimed that in Jesus Christ God became a “beggar among beggars,” an “outcaste among outcastes,” and denied “cheap grace” (155). In consequence, for Liberation theologians, to know God is tantamount to doing justice (157). H. Martin Rumscheidt explores how Dorothee Soelle drew out the implications of Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” [End Page 464] in order to develop a more thorough-going secular theology sensitive to feminist concerns. Christine Schliesser notes Bonhoeffer’s impact on Jürgen Moltmann for whom a truly loving God is one who suffers (198). Philip Ziegler charts the impact of Bonhoeffer on Wolf Krötke, a theologian active in East Germany, who highlighted the Bonhoefferinan conviction that God gains ground and power in the world by being powerless (217).

Christopher Holmes shows how Eberhard Jüngel articulated the ontological implications of the Trinitarian theology assumed by Bonhoeffer (236). Peter Frick indicates that Gerhard Ebeling, with Bonhoeffer, sought a theology that engages the “real world,” though accentuating Luther’s law and gospel distinction, which Bonhoeffer seldom did (246ff ). Brian Gregor shows how Paul Ricoeur appropriated Bonhoeffer by affirming that the God “of...


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