Tag Archives: Bonhoeffer

Summer reading and such

I didn’t plan to give up blogging for Lent. It just sort of turned out that way. Aaaaaand my readership continues to slip away…

I handed in my last paper of the semester yesterday. Now I start thinking about the reading I need to do for the two classes I’m taking in May.

Tonight is the seminary grad banquet. Neither of us is graduating, but we’re going to the banquet. I am winning some kind of award (it’s an honour just to be nominated!). Tomorrow morning we leave for a 6-day stint at Elkhorn Lodge or some-such, a resort north of Neepewa and on the edge of Riding Mountain National Park. It’ll be the Vandersluys’s plus another friend, then a few days later that friend and his wife, and then a few days later another couple friend. It should be good times. I hope. Let’s be honest: the kids a kind of the wildcard here. But there’s a pool and possible horseback riding and hikes.

But after that, after the getaway and the classes in may, I will read what I want to read.

What I think I can reasonably finish in the summer:

Theology:

  • N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
  • Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship
  • Thomas Halik, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing in Us
  • H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
  • C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
  • Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Biography:

  • Eric Mataxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Fiction:

  • Gavin’s sermon from a couple of weeks ago inspired me to pick up Three by Flannery O’Connor again and read at least The Violent Bear it Away
  • I’d like to have a second go at Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Something else by Graham Greene.

Maybe this list isn’t reasonable for me to finish. All of these books will be beneficial reads, but I think now of the books I would benefit from practically by reading them this summer, such a s William Willimon’s Pastoral Theology (a text for a Winter 2012 course) and something on spiritual direction. Plus I need to re-learn Greek over the summer in preparation for the school year.

Let’s be honest: this reading list looks almost nothing like I will actually read this summer.

The small things

I’ve been meaning to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for a couple of years. Once again, my book purchasing anticipated my course syllabus: I was required to read it this semester.  It’s a great book–one which will be worth reading over and over again over the years.  For some reason–probably because it strikes a current sensitive spot–this passage stuck out to me:

We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.  We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? (p. 29, emphasis mine)

You are accepted.

The word of the day is “Hunkered”, as I have been hunkered down in a private study room in the library for most of the day.  I’m working on a paper for Christian Ethics. Actually, it’s a letter written to my church tradition (which happens to be a a mutt) as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, drawing exclusively from his Ethics. Ethics is a rather deep book–you might say it’s meaty, like a thick steak.  It’s loaded with promise, but I’ve felt like I’ve just been on the borders of understanding it for most of the semester.  My task is difficult not only because the format for this paper is unusual, but also because of the nature of this particular book and this particular theologian.

But: the coffee I made before 10a.m. this morning is still hot in the Thermos, I’ve got some soft classical music playing on BBC Radio 3, and I’m making some headway.  I think. At least, I’m beginning to fill the allotted space, which at this point in the semester, quite frankly, is all that I ask for.

And so I offer you this tasty morsel from Bohoeffer’s magnum opus:

In the [physical] body of Jesus Christ, God is united with humankind, all humanity is accepted by God, and the world is reconciled to God. In the body of Jesus Christ, God took on the sin of the world and bore it. There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, hat has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God. Whoever perceives the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as if it were lost, as if it were separated from God; they can no longer separate themselves in clerical pride from the world. The world belongs to Christ.

…in the body of Christ [i.e. the church] all humanity is accepted, included, and borne, and that the church-community of believers is to make known to the world by word and life. This means not being separated from the world, but cfalling the world into the community of the body of Christ to which the world in truth already belongs…. The church-community is separated from the world only by this: it believes in the reality of being accepted by God–a reality that belongs to the whole world–and in affirming this as valid for itself it witnesses that it is valid for the entire world. (Ethics, p. 66-68)

You–whoever you are–are accepted by God.

That’s *A*moral (coupla things…)

I read a remarkable essay by William T. Cavanaugh for my Ethics class: “Discerning: Politics and Reconciliation“.  As it happens, that entire essay is available for preview at Google Books (it’s found in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics).  That’s not the best format for reading the essay, but it’s the only online version I could find.  I’d like to cover it in depth here, but I don’t have time.

In a nutshell, Cavanaugh briefly traces the rise of liberal (small-l) political theory (the foundation of our representative governments) and how it is based the autonomy of the individual and the inevitable conflict that rises between autonomous individuals.  Some form of political authority (ultimately representative government) is necessary as an enforced reconciler or peace-keeper.  Liberal political theory is based on the inevitability of conflict (and possibly the necessity of war with other nati0ns) and the continual suppression of this conflict–a forced peace, if you will.  Violence, in other words, is the norm in liberal political theory.  It is a tragic theory and true reconciliation is never realized.

The Biblical story on the other hand argues that conflict and violence is not “the state of nature”, it is not natural or foundational to being human.  The Biblical story, particularly in the first couple of chapters of Genesis, shows that the way things are now is not the way they’ve always been.  Our current plight is not the norm, not the way things ought to be. The Christian story, in other words, allows for true reconciliation to be realized.

He then goes on to argue that the Church’s liturgy (that is, its gathering to worship) is a way of enacting this reconciliation.

I haven’t done justice to Cavanaugh’s essay, so I urge you to read it for yourself.  It’s quite something.

(I see that there is a Christian Century interview with Cavanaugh available online: “Liturgy as Politics: An Interview with William Cavanaugh“.  I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it might cover similar ground.)

* * *

Also watch the IdeasExchange podcast page at Aqua Books for last Saturday’s talk by Dr. Chris Holmes, my ethics and theology professor.  The title of his presentation is “‘Christianity is Basically Amoral:’ Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Principle-free Christianity”.  I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s posted (it’s not up yet), but look for ‘Christopher Holmes 10.24.2009’.

In the meantime, here’s a Bonhoeffer quote from his talk and from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, which we are working through in Christian Ethics:

Behold God become human, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world.  God loves human beings.  God loves the world. Not an ideal world, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world.  What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. (Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 84)

Bonhoeffer. Bart. (von) Balthasar. (B)universalism.

I read this in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics the other day:

There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, that has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God. (67)

Hints of universalism, perhaps?  No.  Bonhoeffer makes a clear statement about the need for salvation and his active participation in the plot to kill Hitler is not a natural outcome, I don’t think, of a universalist theology (or is it?).  But interesting nonetheless.

This was discussed in class.  What Bonhoeffer is getting at is that Christ is already in the world.  To borrow directly from my professor, the church’s mission isn’t to bring the Light to the world, as it if somehow possessed the Light; the Light is already in the world, and the church responds to it worship (and thereby also points to it).

Bonhoeffer goes on:

…in the body of Christ all humanity is accepted, included, and borne, and…the church-community of believers is to make this known to the world by word and life.  This means not being separated from the world, but calling the world into the community…of the body of Christ to which the world in truth already belongs. (67)

That still has the ring of universalism about it.  Or at least near-universalism.  So close, in fact, you wonder why it isn’t.

But I digress.

I read tonight in William C. Placher’s Narratives of a Vulnerable God the following in a discussion about interfaith dialogue, pluralism and expressing disagreement with other faiths:

Two of the theologians in our century most unbending about the errors of other faiths, Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, also entertained at least a strong hope for universal salvation.  Barth believed that we could at least hope that all could be saved, since we cannot imagine that anyone could hold out against the reality of what one already is in Christ.  What crucially distinguishes Christians is that we already know the good news. (123)

That will, naturally, sound terribly arrogant to some, but it makes sense in the context of what Placher is saying (I may post about that later).  But do you see the similarities between Barth’s (paraphrased) words and the words of Bonhoeffer?   All this was mostly to say that there is a surprising amount of overlap and interrelation and (unwitting) dialogue (not about universalism, though) between the various things I’ve been reading so far this semester.  Bonhoeffer. Placher. Yoder. Fascinating.

Also, though, universalism (or at least the hope for it) isn’t the Brad-Pitt-in-12-Monkeys of theology.  Or maybe it is.

Back to reading.