Tag Archives | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ethics | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cover of Bonhoeffer's EthicsSometimes I think I really have my life more or less behind me now and that all that would remain for me to do would be to finish my Ethics . . . (14)

Unfortunately, he was unable to finish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, a mere two weeks before the allies liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp which held him. The essays and notes which comprise Ethics were gathered and published posthumously.

Despite the lack of unified structure or flow to the book, the work is rich. Bonhoeffer’s penetrating mind reached deeply into a variety of ethical topics. Consider, for example, this meditation on obedience and freedom:

Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience. Obedience binds the creature to the Creator and freedom enables the creature to stand before the Creator as one who is made in His image. (248)

Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran background is evident throughout this work. His discussion of the church and the world, the three uses of the law, and the role of the conscience in the life of a believer all reveal a Lutheran mind at work.

Ethics is a slow read. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and consider the details of what it means to be an ethical Christian.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Translated by Neville Horton Smith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (1955).

Creation and Fall, Temptation | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Don’t let the mere 144 pages of girth fool you—this book’s a workout. The first study, “Creation and Fall,” was originally delivered as lectures at the University of Berlin in the Winter semester of 1932-33. In them Bonhoeffer laid out a detailed philosophical and emphatically Christological investigation of Genesis 1-3. The second study is consists of daily studies for clergy of the Confessing Church in Finkelwalde from April 12-17, 1937.

Like most things in life, the mental work required to read these studies (especially the first) is equally rewarded. Bonhoeffer delivers penetrating insight into the nature of creation. He doesn’t shy away from modernist questions we like to ignore. (I.e., What came before God’s Creation? “No question can penetrate behind God creating, because it is impossible to go behind the beginning” (16).)

Especially valuable is the way that Bonhoeffer recognized Christ and his resurrection in the Creation story. The constant high Christology, for the Christian, is thoroughly inspiring.

The second study on temptation is easier to read but no less profound. Again, Bonhoeffer redirects us toward Christ:

To be precise, the Bible tells only two temptation stories, the temptation of the first man and the temptation of Christ, … All other temptations in human history have to do with these two stories of temptation. Either we are tempted in Adam or we are tempted in Christ. Either the Adam in me is tempted—in which case we fall. Or the Christ in us is tempted—in which case Satan is bound to fall. (115)

(As a side note, did you notice the shift from singular to plural? Either the “Adam in me” is tempted or the “Christ in us” is tempted. That’s worth meditating on right there!)

If you’re looking for something deep, thought-provoking, thoroughly Christological, and rewarding, these two studies are an inspiration.

No Dominion Without Serving God | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We do not rule, we are ruled. The thing, the world, rules man. Man is a prisoner, a slave of the world, and his rule is illusion. Technology is the power with which the earth grips man and subdues him. And because we rule no more, we lose the ground, and then the earth is no longer our earth, and then we become strangers on earth. We do not rule because we do not know the world as God’s creation, and because we do not receive our dominion as God-given but grasp it for ourselves. There is no “being-free-from” without “being-free-for.” There is no dominion without serving God.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Creation and Fall” in Careation and Fall; Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, 42.

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