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Community of Foreigners: Bonhoeffer’s Theses for a Time of Resurgent Nationalism

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) knew the grief of love for an embattled nation. He lost family members in the war and then watched punitive measures from the Versailles treaty contribute to a decade of economic hardship for the German people. Bonhoeffer sought to bring these homeland struggles to the attention of an ex-patriate community that he pastored in Spain at the end of the 1920s. His lectures from that period show how deeply love for his people ran, even to the point of disregarding the lives of others in the pursuit of national interests.

Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer’s love of the Christ-community ran deeper still, a commitment that caused him to turn sharply against many of his earlier views. In 1933, when the National Socialists had taken power and suspicion of foreigners had reached a critical juncture, Bonhoeffer nailed his theses to the church door. At issue was the ‘Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service’, which included a paragraph that entailed demotion for civil servants of Jewish descent. Bonhoeffer opposed the enforcement of this law against the church’s ministers, writing and contributing to several statements of which the most succinct was his ‘Theses on the Aryan Paragraph in the Church’. Today, as nationalism surges across Europe and North America, straining commitments to refugee persons, Bonhoeffer’s claims deserve another hearing.…
 
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Confessing Race: Toward a Global Ecclesiology after Bonhoeffer & Du Bois


The fact that today the “black Christ” of a young Negro poet is pitted against the “white Christ” reveals a destructive rift within the church of Jesus Christ.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Protestantism Without Reformation”

Writing as a refugee in New York in the Summer of 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer uses W.E.B. Du Bois’s image of the “color line” to critique racial lines drawn between churches. The broader purview of Bonhoeffer’s essay, “Protestantism without Reformation,” places sociopolitical observations about the black church among American denominations into dialogue with German philosophical assumptions and ecclesial memory. His comments reveal that although a great deal of his deliberation during those two months is focused on an imminent return to Germany, he remains compelled by the witness of the Harlem community that had accepted him during his research fellowship at Union Seminary in 1930–31.…
 
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A Cleaving Mind: Hegel and Bonhoeffer on the Fall Into Knowledge

The following excerpt is taken from my recent article in Modern Theology 32.4 (October 2016), in which I explore how Genesis 3 affects our ethical thinking. The essay also draws on a chapter of my Ph.D. thesis–the current task that’s kept me from posting on this site more frequently!

Tob and ra [good and evil] are concepts that express what is in every respect the deepest divide in human life. The essential point about them is that they appear as a pair, that in being split apart they belong inseparably together.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall

Introduction

Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered his lectures on Genesis 1-3 at the University of Berlin under the title Schöpfung und Sünde. The course was one of several treatments of Jewish scripture in order to rethink ethical life under the emerging Third Reich, an exegetical habit that led to fines and publication bans in subsequent years. He delivered the lectures in winter semester 1932-33, during which time Adolf Hitler was appointed German Chancellor. A day after that momentous event, Bonhoeffer recounted the irreducible ambiguity of the Fall, which he cast in the ‘twilight’ while reminding students that the name Lucifer means ‘Light-bearer.’

Along with thinly-veiled reference to contemporary events, the term ‘Light-bearer’ is one of several echoes of Hegel’s lecture on the same passage, also delivered at the University of Berlin a century earlier. Bonhoeffer had the three volumes of his predecessor’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion at hand, newly edited by Georg Lasson. They contain Hegel’s most explicit and sustained work with biblical text, which is likely why this section is one of the most heavily marked in Bonhoeffer’s set. Along with providing a key secondary text for his Genesis lectures, the volumes serve Bonhoeffer’s preparation for a summer 1933 seminar focused on these texts.…
 
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© David Robinson, 2017