A Vital Network of Theologians

A review of Michael Mawson and Philip Ziegler (eds), Christ, Church and World: New Studies in Bonhoeffer’s Theology and Ethics (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), featured in The Expository Times 129, 4 (January 2018).

The University of Aberdeen hosted several leading voices in Bonhoeffer studies over the course of 2014-15. The series of presentations, which took place under the editors’ direction with the support of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, provided the material for this rich collection of essays oriented around four main themes: Christology, hamartiology, ecclesiology, and Christian-Jewish relations.

Philip Ziegler’s eloquent essay shows that Bonhoeffer’s Ethics is largely meta-ethical insofar as it seeks to ‘map the moral terrain’ within which reflection, decision, and action take place. He traces Bonhoeffer’s refusal of appeals to mere humanity or ‘the creature as such’ in favour of theologically locating human beings as either ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Christ’ (pp.101-4). Such ‘cartography’ is complemented by essays that deploy Bonhoeffer’s thought for areas of contemporary interest: Michael Mawson deftly recovers Bonhoeffer’s account of embodied creatureliness as a promising resource for disability theology, while Christiane Tietz skillfully employs Bonhoeffer’s Christology to challenge dominant assumptions about a common ‘religious’ consciousness or a predictable ‘natural’ order on which ethics are based.…
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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


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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Politics in Friendship: A Theological Account

This is a review of Guido De Graaff, Politics in Friendship: A Theological Account (Bloomsbury: T & T Clark, 2014), the early form of a submission to the journal Studies in Christian Ethics.

Politics in Friendship offers a probing, resourceful account of a pertinent set of themes for Christian ethics. The title of the study is unfolded in at least three senses: first, friendship runs parallel to political communities, a distinct but analogous form of life; second, it provides a context for the requisite candour and commonality to support political processes; third, friendship might be called a beginning to political dynamics and so be indispensable to them. De Graaff draws these strands together with the term ‘parapolitical,’ which he adopts from Hans Ulrich (pp. 21-2). As he specifies the term theologically, particularly through the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop George Bell’s shared acts of political judgement during the Second World War, De Graaff observes the additional sense in which friendship might exist beyond political processes. This is to say that even as these two friends deliberated over how to prepare their nations for peace, they were enacting a form of reconciled, mutual relationship that their respective governments had yet to seek (pp. 61-2).…
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© David Robinson, 2018