Thursday, December 13, 2012

LHP Review: Bonhoeffer



Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Volume 11). Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. 612 Pages. Cloth. $60.00. (LHP)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer remains a favorite of many Christians, theologians, and pastors around the world, hence Dietric Bonhoeffer Works in the original German and now in English translation.  

Personally, I appreciate his work and writing in context. Discipleship is of great value to me. Pastorally, it is of great value to me. I disagree with him vehemently with regard of his rejection of musical harmony (Life Together). 

Our most recent review of other volumes in this series ( is an attempt an an explanation of how Bonhoeffer's progressive Christian fans have misunderstood what he wrote about "religionless Christianity" for their own purposes and agendas. That review focused on his late work.

Volume 11 delves into much earlier work, after he returns from New York.

Volume 11 in the sixteen-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition, Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932, provides a comprehensive translation of Bonhoeffer's important writings from 1931 to 1932, with extensive commentary about their historical context and theological significance. This volume covers the significant period of Bonhoeffer's entry into the international ecumenical world and the final months before the beginning of the National Socialist dictatorship. It begins with Bonhoeffer's return to Berlin in June 1931 after his year of study in the United States. In the crucial period that followed, Bonhoeffer continued his preparations for the ministry, began teaching at Berlin University, and became active at international ecumenical meetings. His letters and lectures, however, also document the economic and political turbulence on the European and world stage, and Bonhoeffer directly addresses the growing threat of the Nazi movement and what it portends not only for Germany, but for the world. Several of the documents in this volume, particularly the student notes of his university lecture on "The Nature of the Church" and his lectures on Christian ethics, give important insights into his theology at this point. His ecumenical lectures and reports are significant documents for understanding the ecumenical debates of this period.  (publisher's website)

Is there value in this volume for the typical Lutheran parish pastor? Yes, though it is of a more limited value. In 2/3, "The History of Twentieth Century Systematic Theology," the reader gets to see Bonhoeffer's notes as he traced the further development of progressive theology, a theology so "progressive" it thought (and still thinks) it has moved beyond the Bible and Christ. Harnack (203) criticizes Luther for writing too much about Christ!

Readers will be reminded that the church body Bonhoeffer served in was a union church (227) that unfortunately served as a model for much of LWF post-WWII-Lutheranism. I was more than uncomfortable with the idea of drafting a new catechism (258), dangerous because of its compromises with the fads and culture of its own time and place, rather than the timeless teaching of Christ.

Reading each new volume of Dietrict Bonhoeffer Works is of theological exercise for the reader. Lutherans of my church body will be challenged to exercise their muscles in historical theology, exegetical theology, systematic theology, pastoral practice and homiletics. I'm not sure that the average LCMS pastor will be willing to pay $60.00 for the workout.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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