Review of @IVPress’s Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture


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.

Post By Craig Falvo (53 Posts)

I'm a former American Baptist turned Agnostic turned Lutheran. I have a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. I also blog at Bad Theology.

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4 thoughts on Review of @IVPress’s Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture

  1. Bonhoeffer has become something of a cipher. Liberals have generally gravitated to the Letters and Papers and Evangelicals to Discipleship. Metaxas writes well but is clueless theologically, so he was able to find aspects of Bonhoeffer that fit his vision of what a good evangelical believed (proof texted Bonhoeffer) and left off everything else. I’m not sure that evangelicals have offered correctives. They have appropriated him in ways that have suited their purposes, even as liberals have. But we are best served by taking Bonhoeffer as a whole, which is what the project that Clifford Green and Victoria Barnett have tried to provide us with.

    I’ve not yet read the book, but am glad that overall it is a good read.

    By the way, have you read Schlingensiepen’s bio? Doesn’t read like a Metaxas novel, but is an excellent portrait,

    http://www.bobcornwall.com/2010/10/dietrich-bonhoeffer-1906-1945-review.html

    • I have not read Schlingensiepen’s bio, but it is only my wishlist along with Bethge’s bio. I really need to buckle down and read them.

      Speaking as someone who is on the more progressive/liberal side of Christianity, I do agree that Bonhoeffer has been appropriated by both sides to fit their needs.

    • Hey Bob! What about those of us who like Life Together? and V’s 10, 12, 14 & 15 – along with Ferdinand’s matter of fact volume? Where do we fit in this Bonhoeffer chart?

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