Berkouwer on Bonhoeffer

Berkouwer’s discussion of christology and theodicy refers to insights from theologians of different eras – Paul, Luther, Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann (‘A Half Century of Theology’, pp. 254-257).
The lessons he draws from this analysis are profound:
‘ … what is involved is not a theoretical answer to the enigma of evil … but an answer of faith’
‘God’s being is expressed in earthly suffering, not an “uninvolved heavenly holiness”. The atheistic protest is rendered mute by the theology of the cross’
‘the abstract questions of theodicy fall away in the shadow of the event of the cross’
‘ … the reality of the cross, a reality that offends human logic … counters all natural expectations of divine power’
‘In the environs of Jesus Christ, we are conscious of both transcendence and closeness. It is a transcendence, however, that is not empty transcendence. And it is a closeness that reveals that God’s answer transcends even our highest concepts’.
* D. Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the tendency to think ‘in terms of two spheres’ such as ‘natural and supernatural’ is instructive (‘Ethics’, p. 198). He writes, ‘In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and in the reality of the world, but not in the one without the other. The reality of God discloses itself only by setting me entirely in the reality of the world … I never experience the reality of God without the reality of the world or the reality of the world without the reality of God’ (p. 195).
Opposing ’shallow this-worldliness’, Bonhoeffer maintains that ‘it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe’ (‘Letters and Papers from Prison’, pp. 225-226). He emphasizes that ‘the relation of the Church to the world is determined entirely by the relation of God to the world’ and not by ‘the world as it understands itself’ (‘Ethics’, pp. 204-205). Bonhoeffer maintains that ‘the “heart” in the biblical sense is not the inward life, but the whole man in relation to God’ (‘Letters and Papers from Prison’, p. 214). Bonhoeffer’s theme of ‘The “Worldly” Christian’ is helpfully discussed by K. Hamilton (‘Life in One’s Stride, A Short Study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’, pp. 64-69). Hamilton observes that ‘Bonhoeffer categorically refuses to demythologize the resurrection … (and that he) finally walked to his execution saying that for him it was the beginning of life’ (pp. 65-67). Bonhoeffer’s thought is not determined by the ultimacy of this world but by his opposition to ‘the separation … (of) the two spheres of the sacred and secular’ and his insistence that ‘faith is always … an act involving the whole life’ (Hamilton, pp. 65, 67 – citing ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’, p. 224 – , 69, n. 49).
* Bonhoeffer, writes, ‘Our relation to God is not a “religious” relationship … but … a new life in “existence for others”‘ (‘Letters and Papers from Prison’, p. 210). Commenting on Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the ‘deep this -worldliness of Christianity, Berkouwer maintains that he does ‘close the door into the “beyond”‘ without ‘de-eschatologiz(ing) the gospel’ (‘A Half Century of Theology’, p. 214). Citing these words from Bonhoeffer, R. G. Smith, , in his discussion of ‘This-Worldly Transcendence’, (‘The Whole Man: Studies in Christian Anthropology’, p. 102), describes the Christian’s relation to the world thus: ‘The Christian cannot be indifferent to this world which God made and loves. Yet how can he be other than against it in its evil and sin and hopelessness? Both positions are necessary, and both at the same time, and without reserve’ (p. 107).

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