Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for plotting against Hitler, is in vogue today. Much of what people are so excited about in his writings is simply Lutheran spirituality. Michael Gerson writes a fine column about Bonhoeffer’s reflections from a Nazi prison on Christmas. What Bonhoeffer is saying–the inversions, the paradoxes, the repudiation of power (of great interest in a postmodern apologetic)–is an application to Christmas of Luther’s theology of the Cross. [Read more…]
Justin Taylor posts a startling quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together, about what a Christian “who lives beneath the cross of Jesus” knows about sin, himself, and other sinners. And how this knowledge of the human heart, as revealed by the Cross, goes deeper than that of any psychologist. [Read more…]
We often hear references to Bonhoeffer’s term “cheap grace.” In an essay defending Christians who are trying to separate themselves from the world–which I recommend that you read–Rod Dreher usefully quotes the entire passage and its context from The Cost of Discipleship dealing with “cheap grace.”
Read the passage after the jump, and then help me think about it. [Read more…]
The New York Review of Books has published a rather remarkable article by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern, a detailed account of the ways Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his family opposed the Nazi regime. You might be familiar with Bonhoeffer’s activities–though I learned a lot I didn’t realize–but the actions of his wife Christine and, especially, his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, who was a major mastermind of the German opposition to Hitler, are not known nearly as well as they deserve to be. It is a moving story of courage and of faith.
There is a TV show on BBC called Luther about a British police investigator, a black man played by Idris Elba. According to Jordan Ballor, Luther is also Lutheran, a dramatic exploration of vocation and what it means to be a little Christ to your neighbor.
I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve got to now. Ballor’s essay is worth two blog posts. First, I appreciate his explanation of vocation, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s application. I’ll post that today. Tomorrow I’ll post some of what he says about the TV show.
The reformer Martin Luther is justly famous for his doctrine of vocation, or calling, and its implications for the Christian life. Luther understood vocation as a Christian’s place of responsibility before God and for others in the world. One of the critical aspects of Luther’s view of vocation was that we represent God to others in our service to them. He said that Christians act as masks or “coverings” of God (larvae Dei), the visual and physical representations of God’s action on earth. In some real and deep sense, the hands of Christians serving others are the hands of God. Even non-Christians, in their roles in the social order, can be said to represent God’s preserving action in the world.
Luther also understood the ambiguity inherent in any action undertaken in a fallen world. His doctrine of justification made it clear that on no account might humans presume to stand before God with a presumption of innocence or merit based on their own works. No matter how faithfully a Christian might work, or what good things a Christian might seek to do, none of this can justify us before God’s righteous judgment. Our justification in this sense depends solely on the righteousness imputed to us on the basis of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. . . .
The Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer takes this Lutheran understanding of vocation and radicalizes it in his doctrine of “vicarious representative action” (Stellvertretung). In Bonoheffer’s view, we act as representatives of God to one another precisely in our ability to take on, in a limited and provisional way, the guilt of others. For Bonhoeffer this action means that we live “for others,” just as Christ lived, died, and was raised “for us.” As Robin Lovin puts it, “Responsible action is a true imitation of Christ, a willingness to be despised and abused for the sake of those who have themselves been despised.” This idea of vicarious representative action, of living for others in a deeply sacrificial way, is what animates the life and work of DCI John Luther.