Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christology by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Apologies that this is a day late.

There's a lot that is inspiring about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so much so, in fact, that he has often been referred to as a 'protestant saint'. Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in 1906, and had a doctorate in theology. When the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany, Bonhoeffer was offered several oppourtunities to move to the USA and work there, but chose to remain in Germany. Bonhoeffer taught and preached against Hitler's regime and was involved with a secret group that helped Jews escape into Switzerland and plotted to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was banned from preaching, imprisoned and finally executed in 1945, aged 39.

Bonhoeffer writes in an accessible way that I think anyone can read, and this may well be one of the reasons he has become so popular. I think most of us are put off theological writing because it's so often written in dense, difficult language. Christology is about 100 pages long and the dimensions of my copy would enable it to fit into a shirt pocket. This is no dense tome, then, and it's style is immensely readable.

The reason I have chosen Christology to write about is two-fold. The first reason is simply because I think it is a book that anyone can read. I think too often theology is too removed from the Church. Theologians write for other academics, and for these ideas to affect the Church, we either have to wait for someone to write a book that summarises their thoughts in easier language, or we have to wait for a generation of teachers who teach a new generation of church ministers with these ideas in mind. Theologians can often forget that the purpose of theology is to inform, help, build up or sometimes challenge the Church, not just the university.

Which leads me on to my second reason. Bonhoeffer moves the Christological discussion on in an important way. Christology, typically, has been concerned with the question of how Jesus can be both God and human. There have been many complex attempts at answering this question throughout Church history, the earliest authoritative example being the Chalcedonian Definition. Bonhoeffer argues that we should move the discussion away from the traditional 'how?' question, and focus instead upon a new question: 'Who is this God-Man?'

This is important because it shifts our theology out of purely intellectual realms and into real-life. The question 'who?' demands relationship, in this case, demands relationship with Christ. We can't really say who someone is, after all, until we get to know them personally. For me, Bonhoeffer's Christology reminds me that theology without a relationship with God is pointless, and acts as an encouragement for me to try and go deeper in my faith as well as in my theological studies. I think this book, more than any other, has impacted my life and thinking.


D Schneider said...

You say "Bonhoeffer writes in an accessible way that I think anyone can read". I doubt it! Have you read much by him?

ash said...

I've read Christology, to which I am referring here, and Large portions of Ethics. I found both very easy to read.

Mustachio said...

I've got Ethics. It has been one of the hardest books on the subject I've ever read. It is a book that one broods over, rather than reads. As an evangelical I greatly respect Bonhoeffer, but I wonder about his view on the person of Jesus. Sometimes he can be so mystical in his approach, that one wonders if he is actually concerned with the historical person of Jesus.