It is no secret that I enjoy reading Bonhoeffer. I first stumbled across Bonhoeffer during my first year of seminary. We had to read Discipleship as part of our Church History class. I was hooked from page one. I have read several other of Bonhoeffer’s books, including Act and Being, Creation and Fall, Life Together, and Prayerbook of the Bible. I also have several volumes of the English edition of Bonhoeffer’s Works. All that said, I am by no means a Bonhoeffer scholar.
The theme for the 2012 Wheaton Theology Conference was “Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture.” I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get to go, but was excited to see this book was put together. All the contributors to this books were presenters at the Conference that year.
I’m just going to jump in and say that I loved this book as a whole. For the most part, I found the book easy to read and yet well researched. The vast majority of the chapters were enjoyable to read and I even learned more than a few things. The authors themselves come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some of these authors have previously written on Bonhoeffer (Lori Brandt Hale, for example, is the secretary for the International Bonhoeffer Society).
There were a few chapters that stood out to me, most notably Chapter 3, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Christ” by Reggie L. Williams. I will admit, the fact that I enjoyed this chapter as much as I did came as a shock to me. On first glance, I honestly thought this would be one of those chapters that didn’t stand out in one way or another. I’m glad to admit that I was wrong. This was the chapter that I read and reread in the same night because I thought I might have missed something in my first read through. Williams talks about how Bonhoeffer’s exposure to the Harlem Renaissance affected his witness later in Nazi Germany. I found the whole chapter to be fascinating.
The one chapter that I had any real issue with was Chapter 2, “The Evangelical Reception of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Timothy Larsen. My biggest complaint with the chapter is not so much the Evangelical reception of Bonhoeffer itself. My biggest complaint is Larsen seems to shake off the charge that Bonhoeffer has been hijacked or co-opted by Evangelicals. The whole discussion of Evangelical co-opting of Bonhoeffer usually involves a book written by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Larsen cites a review by Clifford Green as just one example of those that charge that Bonhoeffer is being hijacked. What Larsen doesn’t tell you is Clifford Green is the “[f]ounding president of the International Bonhoeffer Society, English Language Section” and that he currently “serves as Executive Director of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Translations Project.” He has also edited several volumes of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series. Victoria J. Barnett, another editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series, has also reviewed Metaxas’ book and comes to the conclusion that the Bonhoeffer Metaxas presents is not the real Bonhoeffer. There are other reviews out there that state something similar.
I also find it very disingenuous when Larsen writes, “Evangelicals have been able to provide valuable correctives that present a more accurate picture of a complex man and theological legacy. Rather than thinking in terms of co-opting, I would argue that the evangelical attitude towards Dietrich Bonhoeffer is analogous to the evangelical attitude of Augustine of Hippo. Evangelicals like and admire Augustine’s life, thought and writings, but they do not pretend that he was an evangelical in the contemporary American sense of the term.” (51) In what ways have Evangelicals provided “valuable correctives?” Sadly Larsen does not give any examples.
Again, overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’m sure it is one that I will be referring to over and over again.