Acton Institute Powerblog

Bonhoeffer’s Legacy

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Earlier this month, we marked the 100th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth on February 4, in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. In a message before the International Bonhoeffer Conference on February 3, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man immersed in a specific cultural heritage, and untroubled by the fact; he was a person of profound and rigorous (and very traditional) personal spirituality; he was someone committed to the ecumenical perspective from very early on in his adult life. But his witness involved him in raising some very stark questions about the value of a culture when it became part of a tyrannous and racist ideology; in challenging the ways in which traditional piety could be allowed to become a protected and private territory, absolving us from the need to act, or rather to let God to act in us; and in insisting that the search for visible unity as an ideal independent of truth and integrity could only produce a pseudo-church.

Discussing Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Acton director of research Samuel Gregg said that the theme of love stood in stark contrast to the ideology of the Nazis. “The idea of hate was actually elevated into a kind of principle, in the sense that the German people were the master race, which meant treating non-Germans as if they were subhuman,” he said. “The idea that all people deserved to be loved was completely foreign to this ideology.”

For those who are interested in learning more about Bonhoeffer’s theology, the true basis for his Christian life, you can check out my article in the current issue of the Journal of Religion, “Christ in Creation: Bonhoeffer’s Orders of Preservation and Natural Theology.” I compare and contrast the approaches of Bonhoeffer with Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, and find that Bonhoeffer has his own unique attitude toward natural theology (rightly understood), specifically finding a basis for ethics in his doctrine of preservation orders. I look primarily at two of Bonhoeffer’s early lectures delivered at the University of Berlin: Creation and Fall and Christ the Center.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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