In this occasional feature, a contemporary writer introduces a classic thinker. This month: Simon Barrow on Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer is important for all kinds of reasons. He combined a prayerful and Christological approach to theological exploration, with a determination to engage the reality of the world on its own terms – while recognising it to be God’s gift and promise in spite of its brokenness. His approach resists simplistic trends in both conservative and liberal theology which have persisted to this day, and beyond which we need to move if we are to develop and sustain a transformational theology in our post-Christendom context.
Anchored in a positive but critical appreciation of Barth’s thinking, Bonhoeffer emphasised that incarnational Christianity is not about learning to be “religious”, but rather discovering what it means to be truly human. For him, the narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was central to this understanding and to the faith and practice emerging from it.
Bonhoeffer developed a language about reading “history from below”. He spoke of the kind of “new monasticism” necessary to re-found a Church capable of faithful service to the world. He posited prayer and action for justice as the two non-negotiable elements of Christian living in a world shrouded in deep darkness. He preached Christ as “the man for others”. He foresaw the demise of Christendom and the Church of power, and was inspired and revitalised by African-American Christianity at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York. He went against the dominant Lutheran grain by embracing pacifism as a central part of his theology, shaped by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…
This is an extract from the May 2014 edition of Reform.