Monday, 21 June 2010

On reading Bonhoeffer

This weekend, I'll be preaching a sermon about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (I was asked to preach on any historical saint or theologian, so I immediately replied, "Only if it's Bonhoeffer!")

The new edition of Bonoheffer's complete works has been my most enriching, challenging and disturbing theological experience over the past couple of years. Since I moved to Sydney, my teaching and writing have been hugely influenced by these books. Sometimes Bonhoeffer has even made me (seriously) consider quitting theology and finding an honest job – like Jeffrey Stout, who stopped going to church when he read Karl Barth's dogmatics (Barth made an honest man of him). I'm still undecided on this point.

Anyway, I'm really excited about giving a sermon on Bonhoeffer. The lives of saints are a text – or rather, they are exegesis of the biblical text. As Hans Urs von Balthasar says, it's the ones who love God that really know something about God, so we ought to listen to the witness of their lives. In any case, the timing couldn't be better for a sermon on Bonoheffer. I've got three new Bonhoeffer books sitting by my bedside – you should try it sometime, it's like going to sleep with a stick of dynamite under your pillow:

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 8; Fortress 2010), 750 pp. – This whole series of volumes has rocked my world. So my hands trembled with anticipation when the latest volume arrived: the complete collection of Bonhoeffer's momentous and terrifying prison writings.
  • Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (T&T Clark 2010), 439 pp. – This looks like a great biography, the fruit of decades of work and reflection. It's premised on the fact that "Bonhoeffer did not want to be venerated; he wanted to be heard. Anyone who puts him up on a lonely pedestal is defusing that which, to this day, makes a thoughtful encounter with him worthwhile."
  • Joel Lawrence, Bonhoeffer: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark), 134 pp. – This one looks quite good too. I'm glad to see he emphasises the centrality of Bonhoeffer's christological understanding of the church: "The church [is] the place where the life of Christ is being created in history by the work of the Holy Spirit."
There's also a new popularly written biography, which I haven't seen yet: Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson 2010). If Amazon sales are anything to go by, it looks like it's a big success. Anyone read it?


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