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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Secular Ecclesiology

Paul O. Bischoff


Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Secular Ecclesiology


Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Secular Ecclesiology Paul O. Bischoff

a r e no t book s & publ ic at ions


Contents

Contents

5

Chapter 1: Introduction

The Focus

The Structure

12

The Method

17

9

Chapter 2: Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

Introduction

27

Luther’s Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

28

Nietzsche’s Death of God

39

Bonhoeffer’s Interpretation of Theologia Crucis and the

Death of God

45

Jüngel’s Reclamation of Bonhoeffer’s Theology

45

God’s Presence and Absence

50

Jüngel’s “More Than Necessary”

51

The Death of God in Bonhoeffer’s Prison Letters

52

Religionless Christianity

53


Contents

The Old Testament as a Source for Religionless

54

Bonhoeffer’s Critique of Liberal and Conservative

Christianity Conceptions of God

61

A Christian View of Redemption from the Old and

New Testaments

65

The Public Death of God

68

“Etsi deus non daretur”

72

David Tracy’s Hidden and Incomprehensible God

78

Conclusion

83

Chapter 3: Stellvertretung

Introduction

85

Etymology

86

Bonhoeffer’s Interpretation of Stellvertretung: Sanctorum Communio

90

Stellvertretung as Scandal

92

The Real Presence of Christ in Church-Community

95

Act and Being

98

The 1933 Christology Lectures

The Psychological-Sociological Reduction of

Stellvertretung in Bonhoeffer Research

108 118

Stellvertretung: A Balanced Theological-Anthropology

in Bonhoeffer Research

123

René Girard’s Anthropology of the Cross

127

The Stellvertreter as Protector of the Community

130

The Stellvertreter: Simul Justus et Peccator

131

Girard’s Stellvertretung in Literature

134

Girard’s Communal View of the Stellvertreter

136

Girard’s Equation of the Violent with the Sacred

141

The Stellvertreter as Cathartic Pharmakos and

Maximum Peccator

147 8


Contents

The Surrogate Victim: The Source for Secular and

Religious Institutions

150

Conclusion

158

Chapter 4: An Ecclesiology of the Cross

Introduction

163

Etymology

164

Bonhoeffer’s Ecclesiology as an Interpretation of

Luther’s Communio

169

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ecclesiology of the Cross

Sanctorum Communio: The Spiritual and Empirical

Form of the Church

172 174

The Spiritual Form of the Church

178

The Empirical Form of the Church

184

Act and Being: The Church as New Humanity

203

Discipleship and Life Together: The Visible Community

211

Ethics: The “Communio Abscondita”

225

A Fellowship of the Confession of Guilt

229

The Church as a Double-Agent

233

The Church: A New Ontology of Redeemed Persons

239

Letters and Papers from Prison: The “Gemeinde

Abscondita”

242

The Church of the Cross as a Fellowship of Physical Suffering

243

The Church of the Cross at the Center of Life

The Church: Ontologically Incarnate in the Scandalous

Acts of Jesus

248 250

The Church as Countercultural

The Church: Worshipping with a Non-Religious Liturgy 256

Jürgen Moltmann’s The Church in the Power of the Spirit 260

Conclusion

253

265

9


Contents

Chapter 5: An Ecclesial Missiology of the Cross

Introduction

Bonhoeffer’s Theology of Missio Dei in Sanctorum

269 270

Communio

Bonhoeffer’s Missional Church of the Cross in the

282

Ethics

Participating with a Guilty God in Mission

Participating with a Resurrected God as New Humanity 291

Participating in the Encounter of Christ with the World 294

A Mission of the Church: A Fellowship of the Guilty

for the World

288

303

Bonhoeffer’s Missional Church in Letters and Papers

309

from Prison

The Secret Discipline as the Mission of the Church

Reincarnation: Being Redeemed as This-Worldly

Living on Earth

310 316

An Economically Redeemed Church

317

Conclusion

318

Chapter 6: Conclusion

Introduction

321

What Has Been Established

322

Church Praxis

328

Bibliography

335

10


Chapter One

Introduction

M

The Focus y journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer began in 1963 with a reading of The Cost of Discipleship during a time of dissatisfaction with traditional and conser-

vative Protestantism. In adulthood, after a long hiatus, his life and theology became real for me through lectures and conversations with the late F. Burton Nelson, professor of ethics at the North Park Theological Seminary. After two years of missions in Germany which included meeting the late Eberhard Bethge and his wife Renate, a decision to pursue formal theological study focusing upon Bonhoeffer’s theology was reached. Since August 1999, that study at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago led to doctoral research under Bonhoeffer scholar Richard Bliese, and more recently with theologian Vitor Westhelle both of whom have partnered with me to crystallize my thoughts on Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross—the subject of this book.


Chapter 1

The genius of Luther’s theologia crucis, currently experiencing a late twentieth–early twenty-first century resurrection with its radical concept of a hidden-revealed suffering God, has challenged and changed my previously held classic-theistic notions of God. Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Luther’s theology of the cross during his existential crisis with Nazi nihilism provides a radical ecclesiology which may have implications for the North American church. The central task of this book is to explore Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of the death of God, historic theology of the cross as conceived from Maximus Confessor and more recently interpreted by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, and to investigate Bonhoeffer’s christology as captured from the German word Stellvertretung (vicarious representative). Given such a theological investigation making use of etymology from Latin, Greek and German, key to the study is Bonhoeffer’s radical understanding of the church identified by what may be called his ecclesiology of the cross. Followed by an application of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology to the missio Dei of the church, final conclusions from this theological-only analysis of his entire corpus recommend possibilities for how further study of the North American church may show how Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology impacts a reconstruction of Christianity in this particular context. Theological continuity, though nuanced through his writing given the changes in his social location, is provided by Bonhoeffer’s unwavering concern for the Gemeinde (church-community) as “Christ existing as church-community” and his definition of the vicarious representative for the Christ. Given the scandalous nature of his grasp of Stellvertretung as the failed, powerless Christ, while traditional atonement theories (and they are merely theories) inform aspects of his theological understanding of redemption, no single currently defined atonement theory fully 12


Introduction

captures Bonhoeffer’s breakthrough with Stellvertretung. Such theological continuity from his own dissertation (1927) to his last prison letters indicates his passion for the Christian congregation—the transformed peccatorum communio (community of sinners) become Sanctorum Communio (community of saints). My thesis is that Bonhoeffer’s radical interpretation of Luther’s theology of the cross as scandal provides the ontology without which the church fails to be Christian. Bonhoeffer’s essential theological concept is vicarious representative action. His Christo-ecclesiology is based on the real presence of the Christ in the church as God’s presence in the world. His exegesis of Word parallels Luther’s and for Bonhoeffer—from his dissertation to his re-reading of the Old Testament in Tegel— provides the Hebraic constructions which result in his “suffering God” and “powerless Christ” incarnate in a transformed peccatorum communio called the church. At the heart of Bonhoeffer’s view of the “church for others” is the scandalous cross which when viewed by faith serves as the theological basis for an equally scandalous church in the world. Unlike his own respected theological conversation partner Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer begins with the real presence of the church on earth, not from a priori notions of the classic-theistic God of omnipotent impassibility. The “body of Christ” is Jesus of Nazareth the healer of wounds, the restorer of broken relationships, and the one present in all reconciliation within the world. Bonhoeffer’s church is informed by the Pauline texts which equate the presence of God on earth with the church as an agent of healing and reconciliation (2 Cor 5). Given his social location, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross negates Nazi Germany’s delusional marginalization and murder of the Jews and challenges the Confessing Church’s refusal to “see” the Judenfrage as a theological issue at the heart of the counter13


Chapter 1

cultural missio Dei of an ecclesia crucis (church of the cross). In sum the focus of this theological-only analysis of Bonhoeffer’s entire corpus proposes a radically scandalous ecclesiology. Informed by a crucified God fixed on the wood, a failed Jesus of Nazareth dying powerlessly on a Roman tool of torture and death resulting in a body of Christ which the church must understand as its reincarnation on earth and “come back” as a this-worldly, secular church participating in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of the other. Given a Hebraic grasp of redemption as reincarnation, the church may better “call itself what it really is”—a temporary vehicle ushering in the kingdom by “completing what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” now in preparation for a liturgical gathering of all people-groups around a slain Lamb.

The Structure Chapter 1 introduces the focus, structure, and method of the study. It is critical to re-state here the scope of this study. It is theological and not cultural. By intention and design, the analysis of this book is limited to the theology which emerges from Bonhoeffer’s writings and secondary theological voices. Any statements of cultural method or analysis by authors used in the approved bibliography of this book do not necessarily represent the opinion or agreement of this author. This study seeks to merely suggest the theological possibility of using Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology in those cultural locations where sufficient cultural tools and methodology suggest the potential use of his theology and language. Methodologically, this study favors an eclectic use of dialectic theological thought which allows for the retention of apparently contradictory, paradoxical and ironical thought made available from an epistemology of the cross. The tools used include the biblical witness, etymology of terminolo-

14


Introduction

gy, historical event, Lutheran tradition and philosophical categories of knowledge set within a theological use of revelation. Chapter 2 defines and traces the history of theologia crucis and the theology of the death of God. Christianity is framed by the gospel as located in the scandal of the cross. From Luther’s theology of the cross as point of departure, the apophatic way of “knowing” is traced to Maximus Confessor and the Eastern Fathers with its connection to the Pauline Letters. Here it is established that the God of the Hebrews is a crucified God hidden–revealed throughout history only to appear in the person of Jesus of Nazareth on a cross as a criminal. The scandal of the cross is set forth as the paradigm for knowing God in his death. Nietzsche’s nineteenth-century death of God discussion is analyzed, where he is viewed as the last great thinker to frame a critique of religion using the death of God. Jüngel’s analysis of Nietzsche and how Hegel provides Bonhoeffer with categories for the death of God is established. Jüngel’s understanding of how Bonhoeffer reestablishes the death of God as a theological category after the Hegel-Nietzsche reduction to philosophy is pivotal. An assessment of how the 1960s death-ofgod movement distorted Bonhoeffer’s theological construction of God’s death is established through an exegesis of his prison correspondence. The well-known catchphrase “religionless Christianity” and Bonhoeffer’s neglected radical interpretation of redemption are analyzed. The analysis forms the theological basis for Bonhoeffer’s critique of Tillich and Barth in particular and Protestant liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in general, relative to their conceptions of God and the church. This chapter concludes by identifying how the death of God framed within a theology of the cross has ontological implications for ecclesiology. Chapter 3 analyzes Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the key word in his theology: Stellvertretung. From the background of a 15


Chapter 1

crucified God hidden-revealed on a cross, the Christ as vicarious representative for others is assessed throughout Bonhoeffer’s writings. The chapter begins with an etymology and proceeds to systematically analyze Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Stellvertretung throughout his life and theological thought. The important theological understanding of “concreteness” is linked with Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of the Christ as the Stellvertreter. This chapter begins a structural analysis for subsequent chapters by analyzing a given topic, first, by exegesis of Bonhoeffer; second, by reviewing how Bonhoeffer research has interpreted him; and third, by assessing how the greater theological community has understood Bonhoeffer’s interpretation. The theological linkage between René Girard’s anthropology and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropology is an essential part of this chapter. Chapter 3 concludes with a discussion of how Christ as Stellvertreter impacts the very being of the church. A point must be made here relative to the implications of Girard’s vocabulary as anthropologically-acceptable for the North American church. In no way does this study endorse his use of “surrogate victim” for all segments of Christianity. With particular sensitivity to those segments of any culture who have been oppressed as “surrogate” or marginalized as “victims,” it is understood that Girard’s usage of these terms, while theologically compatible with Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross, are damaging to certain human beings whose social location includes victimization. Chapter 4 is pivotal to the study where Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross is named and analyzed within the context of Luther’s theology of the cross and Bonhoeffer’s christo-eccelsiology. From an etymological analysis of church, Luther’s transgressive language is assessed to further position the skandalon as the operative criterion for an ecclesial community that is Christian. An ontology of the church as scandalous, concrete, 16


Introduction

a community of public shame, a double-agent, and a fellowship of the guilty is derived from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics. From his Letters and Papers from Prison, the church may be defined as the “Gemeinde Abscondita” (the hidden church-community) in the world but not of the world. An explication of Luther’s mark of the church in suffering is linked to Bonhoeffer’s usage of powerlessness and weakness. From an ontology that is scandalous, Bonhoeffer’s prison correspondence creates space to view the church as worldly, paradoxical, contradictory, countercultural and a formation of a failed Christ as the real presence. Key to this chapter’s analysis is participation, where the church participates with a powerless and weak Christ on earth. The chapter concludes with an analysis of how Bonhoeffer scholars have interpreted his ecclesiology with a focus upon the work of Josiah Young linking Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology with African theology. Moltmann’s thoughts in The Church in the Power of the Spirit are assessed as supportive of the thesis and conclude this chapter, which identifies Bonhoeffer’s meditation upon the Old Testament as crucial to his ecclesiology in opposition to Nazified definitions of community. Chapter 5 defines missio Dei as the cruciform presence of the church in and for the world. Bonhoeffer speaks of mission as God acting through the church-community. From Luther’s church as the possessor-proclaimer of Word, Bonhoeffer’s missiology located in both the Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison speaks of participation with God in his activity on earth. From the Ethics, the church is viewed as a fellowship of guilty sinners. Other ecclesial mission themes include the incarnation as mission, the failure of Christ, the church as vicarious humanity for others, conformation to Christ and the reality of both the church and the world. Ecclesial mission themes analyzed in the Letters include Bonhoeffer’s Arcani (The Secret Disciplines), 17


Chapter 1

the kingdom as preparation for faith, the world come of age, redemption as this-worldly living and the countercultural role of the church in mission. As in previous chapters, this final analysis of Bonhoeffer’s theology assesses his interpretation within both Bonhoeffer research and also from the perspective of the larger theological community. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Bonhoeffer’s radical definition of missionaries as ordinary persons with lives of faith. Chapter 6 is the conclusion of the theological-only study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s corpus where it will have been analytically demonstrated that his interpetation of the historic teachings of the death of God and the theology of the cross from the patristic era to Luther provide the basis for what may be called an ecclesiology of the cross. By developing an ecclesiology of the cross, a definitive concept of the church is proposed—one that professes to be Christian. It is a definitive concept of the church which goes beyond traditionally held notions of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. By intention, the definitive concept of the church conceived in this study pays attention to historical events. It is in history, not ideas, that Christianity claims its uniqueness. There are better ideas of religion in Hinduism. There are superior answers to human need in psychiatry. Christianity rests its case in the “more than necessary” events of God’s self-disclosure in the created substance of the earth, a manger, a cross, an empty tomb, a bodily lift-off from a mountain and a symposium of multi-lingual proclamation of a common message. Such are the events in reference to which this study performs its theological analysis. The definitive concept of the church emergent from Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross adheres to the following affirmations:

18


Introduction

1. God’s self-disclosure in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus 2. The relational structure of human existence 3. The historic dialectic of the community of God and others 4. The concrete unity of the reality of God and the reality of the world 5. The responsible community as both means and end 6. The dialectic of individual (personal) and communal being This chapter uses data from the content-analysis of Bonhoeffer’s writing to suggest the possibility that, given the tools and method for doing effective cultural analysis, his ecclesiology of the cross offers an alternative to the North American church that professes to be Christian. Such cultural analysis is beyond the scope of this study which claims to do analysis of theology, not culture.

The Method This section of the introduction unfolds the methodological approach to this theological analysis. Essentially, the method used is limited to a content-analysis of Bonhoeffer’s writings. Bounded by his late 1920s dissertation and last letters written from prison in 1945, through the use of etymology related to Latin and German terms, historical theological constructions, interaction with the political and social events of his time, exegesis of the biblical witness he employs, his nuanced Lutheran context and reference to commentary from secondary sources, Bonhoeffer’s view of the church is defined as an ecclesiology of the cross. Set within a larger context of theological method, what might be identified as a nuanced use of dialectical analysis is 19


Chapter 1

employed throughout the study where the term dialectical is best understood by the term scandal. Essentially, the holding of two assertions in deliberate tension in a “both-and” which retains rather than resolves conflict and apparent contradiction from an epistemology of the cross characterizes the methodological approach. Whether named by Maximus’ “opposites,” Luther’s Deus absconditus-Deus revelatus or maximus peccator, the way Bonhoeffer seeks to think and speak of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church retains the paradox, irony, and contradiction of the cross captured in the positive use of scandal as a unique criterion for that which is Christian. The objective of this book is to think theologically of God, the Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church in terms of the historical events of God’s disclosure and God’s crucifixion; namely, to think and speak from the incarnation and the cross. This method rejects any attempt to think of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the church based purely on anthropological definitions leading to or characterized by an anthropocentrism which inhibits the experience of God and works against a universal validity of Christianity centered in its inner power. At the same time, the term “theological anthropology” is often used by Bonhoeffer and the secondary sources to define his approach. Herein lies the tension—one deliberately maintained—in the spirit of the scandal of a God whose essence is revealed in his becoming human as well as the scandal of a God at odds with Godself on a tool of Roman execution in what is to be understood as a salvific act for all humanity. The scandal and tension retained by a dialectical approach is used to retain the mystery of Christian faith. Mystery here is used as Eberhard Jüngel speaks of it—as an experience of the cross. That is, as Bonhoeffer does throughout his writings, Christian thought is derived from the proclamation which identifies God with the 20


Introduction

crucified human being Jesus of Nazareth located in God’s debates with himself while on the cross in the paradox of a differentiation of God and God. Methodologically, the constructions for God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church derive from apparently contradictory statements like “God is to be spoken of only as the unspeakable; God is thinkable only as the unthinkable;” and “God is located where we least expect to find God.” To this degree, the method used in this study makes no a priori assumptions from classic theism, pantheism, panentheism, agnosticism or atheism about the being of God. While the construction of “God” may contain elements of the above traditional “isms” from the last two centuries of theological discourse, a crucified God advanced in this study is inadequately embraced by any one of them. In effect, the method used to speak and think of the Deity or the church in this study is radically centered and committed to an embracing of the human being Jesus of Nazareth. Here it is useful to distinguish between Barth and Bonhoeffer methodologically while retaining the complexity of their relationship. Analyzing Barth and Bonhoeffer methodologically first involves the abandonment of the reductionist schemes typically used to compare the two theologians. It is merely simplistic to pit the one against the other using the following schemes: Reformed vs. Lutheran, theology of glory vs. theology of the cross, or theologian of divine aseity vs. theologian of divine promeity. Barth spoke and wrote of God with the intention of stressing the priority of God’s aseity over his promeity; that is, to emphasize the priority of God’s identity over all other identities which is to merely say that God is God. The tension surfaces when speaking and thinking of God as Trinity and God in Jesus of Nazareth as the witness of the deity to humanity. God as Trinity 21


Chapter 1

may be thought of as the primary objectivity of God; God in Jesus of Nazareth may be spoken of as the secondary objectivity of God. In both cases, God is objective for us. The key difference in method between the two theologians is one of emphasis absent from the above. Bonhoeffer’s method clearly focuses upon the promeity of God, but his pursuit is given its context by Barth’s framework of God’s aseity. Herein lies a dialectic and an apparent contradiction or paradox from the discussion of scandal above. Any evisceration of Bonhoeffer’s christology from the primary objectivity of God whether called “christocentric, christomorphic, christocratic” is an unnecessary reduction of the theological sophistication Bonhoeffer offers. For purposes of understanding and reading this book, any reference to Bonhoeffer’s nuanced analysis of God’s promeity in Jesus of Nazareth must be interpreted such that it consistently presupposes the primary objectivity of God’s trinitarian identity. That is, Bonhoeffer’s theological method is possible only in view of Barth’s breakthrough that restored both the linkage of ordinary language and technical theological discourse—a critical “both-and” for hermeneutics. Once the Barth-Bonhoeffer relationship is demythologized, it is critical to understand continuity in Bonhoeffer’s method as preserved by the seminal phrase from Hegel, “Christ existing as church-community” and in Stellvertreter. With Barth’s framework always in the background, this book demonstrates how continuity takes on special significance for Bonhoeffer. From his dissertation to his last prison letter, Bonhoeffer seeks to preserve the continuities of God within Godself, God’s relationship to the world, human community, and human subjectivity in itself. Should Bonhoeffer’s language shift to meet the changing times and audience, he never varies from his endeavor to retain 22


Introduction

the above continuities. For the purposes of this study in particular, his nuanced grasp of the church as a human community is of primary concern— one that is conceived with a crucified God and where Jesus as the vicarious representative reclaims the theological value of Christus existierend als Gemeinde. Bonhoeffer describes the human being Jesus of Nazareth as the vicarious representative for humanity. Because Bonhoeffer’s christology—captured in the term Stellvetreter, set within the framework of Barth’s aseity, and radically nuanced in Bonhoeffer’s focus upon promeity—was neglected, the death-of-God theologians of the 1960s (that is, those who introduced Bonhoeffer to North America) distorted Bonhoeffer’s theology from the outset. The significance of the analysis of Stellvertreter and its cognates in this study is an attempt to rectify this error without at the same time mitigating the theological use Bonhoeffer makes of Nietzsche in particular and with atheism in general to speak and think about a suffering God with an audience saturated in the nihilism of National Socialism. To this point, worldliness takes on important methodological significance as Bonhoeffer’s way to speak of the secondary objectivity of God for us from promeity. His similar use of the term secular is understood within Barth’s primary objectivity of God’s aseity and corrects Harvey Cox’s misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer’s use of this critical term in the better way Moltmann speaks theologically of secular as public theology using Bonhoeffer as a source. This book makes methodological use of Jüngel’s “necessary-more than necessary” breakthrough to get at Bonhoeffer’s theological interpretation of grace. The cross is the answer to no question from humanity. That is, the cross is not inherently necessary as an answer to a question on the lips of humanity. Only a woman of dubious character correctly interpreted the cross theologically at the time of Jesus of Nazareth’s crucifixion. 23


Chapter 1

The only theological statement made on that Friday afternoon came from a Roman soldier. Scandalously, Jesus’ disciples fled. An epistemology of the cross strips the religious roses from the cross to call it what it is. That is, the cross is essentially a non-religious event. An epistemology of the cross accounts for the removal of a priori religious notions of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit or the church. Just as Bonhoeffer’s trajectory is taken from the local congregation in distinction from Barth’s top-down method postulating God, this study seeks to focus upon the seminal events from history with which Christian faith has to do. 1. God has spoken. 2. God has become human. 3. God was crucified. Methodologically, the above events are viewed in the analysis outside of their necessity, yet requiring a response. From Jüngel’s “more than necessary” or Bonhoeffer’s rejection of a “working hypothesis of God,” the essential non-necessity of the above provides both the scandal and mystery of how one may think and speak of God. “Necessity” cannot be the center of Christian faith. Therefore, no attempt at a method which seeks to prove the necessity of God succeeds. The scandalous truth of the cross depends on the failure of the Greatest Sinner victimized as a criminal and condemned by Roman law as a religious curse within Judaism. The powerlessness of Jesus of Nazareth as the one pushed out to the margins authenticates the love of God who took flesh onto Godself in the first place. Neither the self-disclosure of God in Jesus of Nazareth nor the crucifixion of God in Jesus of Nazareth is to be understood as necessary in the reading of this book. The analysis of “necessity” is supple-

24


Introduction

mented by how “religion” is to be understood within its definition by Barth as unbelief. Bonhoeffer’s “religionlessness” or “secular interpretation of biblical concepts” are viewed as interpretations of biblical concepts. The reductionism by which Bonhoeffer was introduced and continues to be misinterpreted has typically focused upon a non-theological view of “secular” while simply neglecting that Bonhoeffer consistently included biblical concepts when using the phrase. Methodologically, this validates the point of continuity in his theology from Sanctorum Communio to the so-called Tegel theology as concretely located in Stellvertreter as a christological formulation with support from the biblical witness. On the point of christology, there is simply no so-called “early” Bonhoeffer or “late” Bonhoeffer to the degree that Bonhoeffer’s early christology was traditionally Lutheran and his late christology “secular” in a nontheological sense of the term. A fair reading of the Letters and Papers from Prison is only done in light of theologia crucis where, like Luther, Bonhoeffer’s language is transgressive yet theological. Twentieth-century interpreters of Bonhoeffer would have done better theological analysis had they labored through his academic research before co-opting his phrases out of the Ethics and the Letters in fulfillment of their own agendas. This book endorses in both method and outcome Bonhoeffer’s approach to philosophical theology in general and a reversal of Tillich’s method of correlation in particular. Bonhoeffer stands Tillich’s method of correlation on its head. The detailed analysis of the Bonhoeffer-Tillich relationship must be read with this methodological understanding. Bonhoeffer is not dependent upon the philosophical constructions which Tillich’s system necessitates. The meaning of Bonhoeffer’s answers to human questions has more to do with the theological implica25


Chapter 1

tions of God’s disclosure of Godself in Jesus of Nazareth than it does with Tillich’s “correlation” with questions concerning human existence. From above, the cross is the answer to no question anymore than philosophers anticipated the self-disclosure of God in a baby. The method employed in this book is an attempt to come to terms with a scandalously universal validity for humanity tied to the events of a manger and a cross for the salvation of the world. A second aspect of the Bonhoeffer-Tillich debate related to method is that even if a correlation exists between philosophy and theology in the way Tillich articulates, it does so only because of the terms established by theology— herein lies Bonhoeffer’s inversion of Tillich’s method of correlation. That is, philosophical anthropology becomes meaningful only in the space created by revelation. So, correlation is extraneous to sound theological method and is unemployed in this book. Any further analysis of the nuances of the Bonhoeffer-Tillich relationship fall outside the parameters of this study and are provided here only to point out the difference in method between the two theologians. That said, the twentieth century possessed no finer exegete of North American culture than Paul Tillich, who attempted to explain culture in religious language. Tillich’s letters of encouragement written from the US to the German people during World War II clearly resonate with Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of National Socialism and its nihilistic impact on Germany as a nation. Just as revelation raises issues of method between Tillich and Bonhoeffer, a more nuanced and compatible methodological relationship exists between Bonhoeffer and Heidegger. The use of Act and Being as a source for Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology implies a methodology which, like his, attempts to retain rational thinking about theology without falling prey to the nineteenth-century naive confidence in human rationality and 26


Introduction

moral perfectability. That is, Bonhoeffer’s theological epistemology proposes a vision of divine and human community that transcends the desire of the knower to make itself over in its own image, rather than God’s. Succinctly put, revelation yields its own epistemology. At the same time, Bonhoeffer, in dialogue with philosophical trends, attempts in Act and Being a genuine transcendentalism and a genuine ontology and tries to clarify the extent to which theology can or cannot affirm transcendental epistemology’s subject-object paradigm as appropriate for theological thinking that retains the sociality of the other between humanity and God and between one human being and another. Bonhoeffer makes more references to Martin Heidegger in Act and Being than any other thinker, save Martin Luther. Rather than turning his back on Heidegger, Bonhoeffer reads him in a certain way which employs his categories, yet not at the expense of revelation from a Reformational perspective. That same attempt is proposed in this book when considering philosophical thought. The use of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Dilthey is an attempt to retain this methodological use of philosophy. Crafted within his sociological-ontological concerns within Sanctorum Communio only a few years earlier, Bonhoeffer seeks a new paradigm for theological method which retains revelation while grappling with the ethical concerns of the other, the stranger, the neighbor, and the church which anticipate his ecclesiology located in the fragmentary Ethics. Concretely, Bonhoeffer retains Heidegger’s use of Being-in-the-world as his seminal phrase for a this-worldly church as a community of forgiven sinners participating with the sufferings of Christ. This book proposes, from Bonhoeffer’s dialectical use of philosophical categories, a scandalous church whose authenticity is characterized by a Being-in-the-world which employs a Hebraic interpretation of 27


Chapter 1

corporate redemption characterized by the term reincarnation as a this-worldy return of redeemed sinners to complete what is lacking in the sufferings of the body of Christ for the world. In sum, the methodological approach employed in this study is a synthesis of a dialectical thought characterized by what may be considered a scandalous retaining of apparently contradictory thought forms and concepts drawn from biblical exegesis; the etymology of terms; theological deconstruction and reconstruction; attention to the role of political and social events which informed Bonhoeffer’s theological use of terminology; the use of Word and Sacrament Reformation tradition; an epistemology of the cross which retains paradox; the bothand tension involved in a theological use of aseity and promeity captured in “God is objective for us;” a reconstruction of “necessity” yielding to Jüngel’s “more than necessary” when speaking and thinking of the Deity as crucified and Bonhoeffer’s Christ as the Stellvertreter as Greatest Sinner; a focus upon the historic events involving the speaking of God; God’s incarnation and God’s crucifixion as the means for dismantling “religion” toward a more this-worldly “secular” interpretation of biblical concepts; and the use of philosophical categories as a means of locating a more genuine transcendentalism only possible if and when revelation is retained to maintain a continuity for the church accessible in Bonhoeffer’s programmatic Christus existierend als Gemeinde. In essence, this book employs a methodological use of scandal to “call a thing what it is” from an interpretation of theologia crucis which creates space for what may be called an ecclesiology of the cross.

28


Chapter Two

THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS AND THE DEATH OF GOD

Introduction The objective of this chapter is to assert how a crucified conception of God dismantles classical theism preparing the way for Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross. First, we discuss the impact of Luther’s theologia crucis and the death of God upon a theology that is Christian. Secondly, this chapter assesses how Dietrich Bonhoeffer interprets and contextualizes both the theology of the cross and the death of God during the Nazi period setting the stage for his Christo-ecclesiology of the cross. Finally, David Tracy’s hidden-incomprehensible God is analyzed as a recent proposal from the realism of the cross and apophatic theology. Whether from Luther, Bonhoeffer, or Tracy, each interpretation of God is viewed as a derivative of the Hebraic constructions of the divine from the First Testament of the biblical witness.


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Luther’s Theology of the Cross and the Death of God “The crucial element in Luther’s idea of God was a paradox: to understand the power that made heaven and earth, it was necessary to know the powerlessness that hung on a Roman gibbet.” 1 Contrary to abstract pictures of God from Aristotle’s unmoved mover or Plato’s perfection of eternal forms, “for Luther . . . to find God was to find the cross.” 2 That is, not to emphasis the skandalon, was not to find God. “Luther often drew upon the first chapter of 1 Corinthians to explicate his theology of God as revealed in and by the cross.” 3 Noll observes a mutuality between Luther’s treatment of the cross and his concept of God. Luther often spoke of the two-way implications of the cross to see God and how seeing God helps us view the salvific work of the cross for humanity. As an unbridled polemicist, Luther regularly spoke against a theology of glory while advancing his radical theology of the cross. “To Luther, a theology of glory meant two things . . . first, it urges humans to trust themselves . . . to think that what we do for God matters most rather than what God has done for us. Second, [it] encourages humans to trust their own understanding of God and the world . . . [and to believe] that activities, traditions and structures were in themselves life-giving.” Luther’s view of the cross challenged his spirituality. “Luther eventually came to think that his earnest efforts as a monk were rooted in a theology of glory.”4 That is, the very daily prayers, meditations, reflections, chants, periods

1

Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

2

Ibid.

3

Ibid.

4

Ibid., 169. 30


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

of silence—the ascetic religion of Luther’s day— violated the cross and God. “All such notions were banished when he found the cross.” 5 How did a Roman tool of death, the disdain, derision, insecurity, desertion by male disciples, and total collapse of hope for the future of a renewal movement within Judaism help an Augustinian monk to find God? How was this cross a place where God might be most fully known? Here, of course, are the questions that result in Luther’s epistemological breakthrough with Deus absconditus-Deus revelatus. “To realize that the cross was where God had most completely revealed himself was to realize that any hope for the self would involve a secondary crucifixion of the sinful self . . . an existential awareness of how infinitely impure the sinner was before the holiness and purity of the living God.” 6 The sinner could be saved only through the death of God incarnate revealed on a cross scandalously displaying the Creator, the majestic, all-powerful God suffering powerlessly for human beings. “For Luther it was also a pivotal axiom that the cross reveals the all-loving God as also the all-mysterious God.” 7 For it was on a piece of wood designed to murder criminals that creation took hold of the Creator; it was in a hollowed-out rock that creation entombed the Creator. “At the cross the loftiest heights came down to the deepest depths. . . . There could be no greater mystery.” 8 For a sixteenth-century Germany progressively advancing from the Rebirth back to first-century Greeks optimistically perfecting forms and ideas for the mind, and further back in history to fastidiously religious and morally disciplined Jews—to all of these and to

5

Ibid.

6

Ibid.

7

Ibid.

8

Ibid. 31


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later moderns, this cross was scandalous. “The cross, in sum, was God’s everlasting ‘no’ to the most fundamental human idolatry of regarding the self as a god . . . for all efforts to enshrine humanity at the center of existence.” 9 For Luther, the mystery and scandal of the cross were life-giving. A theology of the cross did not only destroy, it also opened up the possibility of God’s eternal “yes” to anyone who had come to the end of herself. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins . . . when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden under the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there he performed his mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were strong and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome. 10

Luther returned the death of God to theology using an apophatic epistemology. The God of the Hebrews met with his people in the hiddenness of sacrifice. “Throughout the OT period, in spite of miraculous interventions . . . the only place God met with his people was at the mercy seat.” 11 Exegesis of the Old Testament in general and particularly the Psalms located a hidden suffering Christ for Luther. “In his early period, Luther stressed that God acts hiddenly under his opposite.” Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps 116:15).” 12  Lohse makes the important observation that Luther’s

9

Ibid., 169–70.

10

Ibid., 170. From Luther’s “The Magnificat,” LW 21: 340.

11

F. R. Harm, “Theologica Crucis,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1187. (EDI).

12

Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and 32


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

view of the hiddenness of God was equal to God’s invisibility. The critical issue at stake here is faith. “The cross is visible to all, but that God is ‘revealed’ in it as the one who acts hiddenly under his opposite and creates life in death is recognizeable only to faith.” 13 In the Heidelberg Disputation , Luther contrasted a knowledge of glory with a knowledge of humility. “Here, then, the knowledge of God in gloria et maiestate is contrasted with a knowledge in humilitate et ignominia cruris...” 14 Epistemologically, we find from Luther that there can be no knowledge of God outside of the cross. Humanity comes to know God in the least likely of places by faith. Just as God emptied himself of privilege to provide the soteriological resources in Christ for humanity’s salvation—that is, the righteousness of God—so also must human sinners cry out to God for grace to become justified. But McGrath points out how Luther’s theologia crucis is informed by how the Reformer defined the righteousness of God. God’s initiation in the process of justification presents the paradox of a God who humbles humanity for its own good and requests its participation in the process. “If humanity is to recognize its own unrighteousness, it must be forced to concede its own utter unworthiness.”15 Luther works out this paradox with his opus alienum and opus proprium —a dialectic which leads him to say, “God’s works are hidden ‘under the form of their opposite’ (abscondita sub contrariis).” 16 The apparent contradiction of God’s mercy and wrath is resolved in that God’s mercy is latent under

Systematic Development (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 216. 13

Ibid.

14

Ibid., from LJF 31:52.

15

Alistair E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 155.

16

Ibid., 155. 33


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his wrath. It is clear that these are hidden inside, but more amazingly, that they are hidden under the form of the opposite (sub contrario suo abscondita sunt). So, whoever totally humiliates himself in the eyes of the world (coram mundo) is totally exalted in the sight of God (coram Deo). 17 It is McGrath’s contention that Luther first worked out his concept of the righteousness of God prior to his theology of the cross. That is, epistemologically, the way we know by faith that God is crucified on the cross is first to know the contrast between human and divine judgment and where the latter may be found. It is therefore called the judgement of God, because it is contrary to the judgement of men, condemning what men choose, and choosing what men condemn. And this judgement has been shown to us in the cross of Christ.18

From here McGrath analyzes Luther’s theologia crucis from the dialectic of God’s foreign work and God’s appropriate work. “God is revealed in the cross of Christ . . . yet . . . God does not appear to be revealed there at all. . . . The God who is crucified is the God who is hidden in his revelation.”19 The limited, natural knowledge of God spoken of in Romans 1 requires the skandalon of the cross to avoid idolatry. McGrath notes that it is only in the theology of the cross that humanity’s confused concept of God is replaced by God’s revelation of himself in the cross of Christ. To know God requires the essential element of faith that takes humanity beyond reason and cognitive levels of knowledge— it is to take humanity into knowledge of God’s intentions through his means. That is, God’s medium is his message.

17

WA 4.449.35-37.

18

McGrath, 157. From WA 3.463.15-18.

19

Ibid., 161. 34


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

McGrath discusses further epistemological insights from Luther—insights which bear special significance for today’s theology-science dialogue on methods of knowing. “It will therefore be clear that there is a radical dis-continuity between the empirically perceived situation and the situation as discerned by faith.”20 A validly scientific methodology sees in the cross a man dying in apparent weakness and folly. “If God is revealed in the cross, he is not recognisable as God.”21 How could God be on a cross? Here we transition from epistemology to ontology. That is, the discussion turns on the essence of a God who has himself nailed to a Roman instrument designed to murder convicted criminals. Theologians of glory and other humanists over the centuries have “reasonably” rejected the cross. They have done so by rejecting the very definition of the cross as skandalon. It was the Apostle Paul who spoke of the cross as weakness and folly. The rejection of the cross is a function of a “reasonable” ontology imposed upon an event that by its very definition is essentially a paradox and a scandal. Ontologically, then, the Christian life, is characterized by the unending tension between faith and experience—a tension radically rooted in a theology of the cross. It must never be forgotten that Luther was not speculating about the nature of God during a pastoral retreat, but was running for his life. The existential dimension of Luther’s anfechtungen is beyond the scope of this current analysis—suffice it to say, the “trials” experienced by the Reformer incarnated the very tension he located in the scandalous cross of Jesus. “Where the unbeliever sees nothing but the helplessness of an abandoned man dying upon a cross, the theologian of the cross recognizes the presence and activity of 20 Ibid., 167 (author’s italics). 21  Ibid., (author’s italics). 35


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the ‘crucified and hidden God’ (Deus crucifixus et absconditus) who is not merely present in human suffering, but actively works through it. It is with this god, and none other, that Christian theology must come to terms.” 22 While Luther’s hermeneutic of the Word “as it is” in revealing a crucified Christ radically altered the course of church history, basic concepts of theologia crucis are derived from the Eastern Fathers. As observed above, it is no accident that the Finnish interpretation of theosis emerges from a dialogue with Orthodoxy. “The chief idea of Maximus . . . was the idea of deification . . . so subject to misinterpretation . . . despite its appearance in Luther and Calvin . . . and in the New Testament—Protestant histories of the church . . . have made it almost canonical to dismiss this as a ‘physical’ understanding of salvation and eternal life.”23 While no evidence that Luther quoted Maximus exists explicitly, there is clear association of his theology of the cross with Maximus’ theosis. “We correctly understand Luther’s concept of theosis, then, only in connection with his theology of the cross.”24 The ontological implications of theosis, or of “partaking in the divine nature,” derive from keeping the Incarnation and Resurrection together. “The special gift of Eastern Christian spirituality was that it managed to hold these two emphases together.” 25 Of course, the ability to do so places a focus upon a crucified

22 Ibid., 175. 23 George C. Berthold, ed., Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist, 1985), 10. 24 Mannermaa, “Justification and Theosis in Lutheran-Orthodox Perspective,” in Union with Christ, eds. Braaten and Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 39. 25 Maximus Confessor, Maximus Confessor Selected Writings, ed., George Bethold (New York: Paulist, 1985), 11. 36


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

God’s cross as the bridge between God incarnate and God resurrected. Maximus Confessor’s ability to speak bi-lingually— that is, speaking of both spirituality and theology through affirmation by means of negation—made him an adequate resource for Luther’s recall of via negativa as epistemology issuing in a salvation of the “human soul with the world, not an individualism intent on saving persons from the world.” 26 Modern Protestantism without the cross detaches persons from the world. Roman Catholicism without the cross annihilates persons rather than one that transforms them. Pelikan cites “salvation by detachment from the world” and “salvation by annihilation” as the soteriological results of separating the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb. He speaks in favor of a unified Eastern theology whose salvation does not detach or obliterate ninety-eight individuals, but rather re-creates human beings as participants with God in the world. 27 Ontologically, what is at stake with theosis is whether the unity of humanity has a theological context. “Today, in the process of secularization of modern culture, the idea of the unity of humanity has been severed from its religious roots.” 28 While current Protestantism’s accommodation of secularism has detached humanity from deity, Eastern Orthodoxy never did. Maximus speaks of the cross as God’s means through a crucified Christ to “deify human nature.” The operative word, theosis, derives from the biblical witness anywhere participation with God or a partaking in God’s divine nature is stated or implied. For example, in

26 Ibid., 10. 27 Ibid., Jaroslav Pelikan, “Introduction,” Maximus Confessor, 10-11. 28 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 150. 37


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support of Pauline theology the Apostle Peter speaks of the soteriological implications of Christ’s grace with the phrase “participants of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4, NRSV). The ontological implications for the church derive from a participation linked with the scandal of the cross. Etymologically, koinonos informs the usage of “participation with someone or something.” In sacred discourse, on the level of popular polytheism, men are invited as companions to the table of the gods. “Hellenistic mysticism conceives of a general koinonia between gods, men and irrational creatures. By its very nature, however, it seeks a union with the deity rather than communion.” 29 The Old Testament or later rabbinic usages would tend to confine koinonia to the horizontal dimension of human-human relationships. “The most significant point in our OT findings is that . . . [koinonia or its Hebrew equivalent] . . . is [not] used for the relation to God, as so often in the Gk. world.” 30 However, Philo as a Hellenistic Jew, alters the historical Old Testament view. “Thus, Philo speaks of a close fellowship between men and God . . . in the sacrificial meal.”31  Philo views participation in the sacrificial meal between God and humanity as a binding close relationship of the participants. “This applies not merely to the men who partake of it; it is equally true of the believed participation of God.” 32 So even though a Hebraic view generally distances itself from close participation of God and humanity together, there appears to be an exception for the sacrificial

29 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. III, ed. G. Kittel, trans. G. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 800. (TDNT). 30 TDNT, Vol. Ill, 801. 31 Ibid., 803. 32 Ibid., 801–802. 38


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

meal. “The entry of God into sacral fellowship is herein expressed by the sprinkling of blood on the altar.” 33 That is, the skandalon of a crucified God as sacrificial lamb represents a paradigmatic change. The New Testament usage of koinonia maintains Philo’s exceptional usage of participation between God and humans as the real presence of the deity located in the sacral meal. The possibility and reality of God’s real presence among the people of God doesn’t change from the Old Testament to the New Testament. If the Apostle Paul’s Corinthian correspondence on the cross is scandalous to the Jewish thinker, it is so not because God participates with the people of God during a sacral meal, like the Passover, but that Jesus of Nazareth is viewed as that Lamb of God in human form who is also the crucified Messiah for the world. Therein lies the skandalon. The Ineffable One is the baby in the feeding trough. The twelve year-old boy wandering from his mother is God teaching the scribes in the Temple. The hidden Paschal Lamb is located in the carpenter from Nazareth. The convicted criminal dying among common thieves created the tree used for his cross. “Participation in Christ . . . is achieved and experienced . . . in the sacrament.” 34 Paul views the bread and wine as vehicles of the presence of Christ in no less a way than the Hebrew altar is the pledge of God’s presence. “To Paul the exalted Christ is identical with the earthly and historical Christ who had body and blood.” 35 Furthermore, the Apostle precisely states what it means to “participate in the detailed phases of the life of Christ.” 36 Both Luther and Bonhoeffer are conversant with

33

Ibid., 802.

34 Ibid., 805. 35

Ibid.

36

Ibid., 806. 39


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Paul’s phrases which use participation as communion and fellowship with God in Christ—especially in the sufferings of Christ. “The spiritual union with Christ. . . . is especially described in terms of a spiritual fellowship in suffering with Him (Phil 3:10).” 37 As will be discussed below, Bonhoeffer’s usage of participation is primarily informed by New Testament texts from the Apostles Paul and Peter—both of whom emphasize the participation of the believer in the sufferings of God as normative communion with Jesus Christ. In sum, a hermeneutic continuity exists among two of the primary authors of the New Testament, the post-patristic Maximus Confessor, Luther, and Bonhoeffer for interpreting the biblical witness. No theology of the cross exists for Luther or for Bonhoeffer without a crucified God in Christ with whom the church as ecclesia crucis suffers for the other in the world. To conclude the discussion of Luther’s theologia crucis rooted in the radical crucified God, we have seen that through a hermeneutic of Word which “calls a thing what it is,” the Reformer provides an epistemology from the cross which retains the apostolic skandalon of the gospel defined in 1 Corinthians 1 by Paul. We’ve seen that Luther’s programmatic concepts (righteousness of God, Deus absconditus, alien and proper work) are known theologically from the cross. At the root of Luther’s paradoxical and dialectical statements is the skandalon of a carpenter from Nazareth who as the crucified Christ becomes sin that humanity may know the righteousness of God. Indebted to the new Finnish interpretation, we’ve seen how participation and theologia crucis go hand in hand ontologically for Luther in the existence of a church which suffers for others as the presence of a crucified God in the world. From the Reformer, we have a hermeneutical-epistemological-ontological 37

Ibid. 40


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

breakthrough which returns a medieval Christianity to its cruciform roots. Given this brief overview of Luther’s theologia crucis and death of God, to anticipate Bonhoeffer’s re-interpretation within the spiritual darkness of Nazi Germany, we identify and assess Friedrich Nietzsche’s theological contribution to the death of God conversation.

Nietzsche’s Death of God Friedrich Nietzsche may have been one of the last nineteenth-century thinkers to proclaim a scandalous gospel, albeit in disagreement, based upon the cross of Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that the “remedy” he proposed took a nihilistic turn, his diagnosis of Protestantism was accurate. Nietzsche understood the scandal of a “weak” gospel, more than many theologians at the time, and simply took Schopenhauer’s prophetic directionlessness of nineteenth-century rationalism to its logical nihilistic conclusions. Pannenberg credits Nietzsche’s understanding of a prevailing non-Christian view of sin as part of the nineteenth century’s theological difficulty. “Christian faith does not create the fact of sin but presupposes it . . . what Christians say about sin would fall victim to the complaint of Nietzsche that we have here a calumniating of life.”38 Pannenberg’s analysis links a nineteenth-century psychologizing of sin and death to a moralism which removed relation to God from the discussion—one that allowed Nietzsche to challenge the validity of moral norms themselves. Nietzsche also, with Freud, challenges the idea of religious experience as the basis for one’s concept of God, especially faith grounded in a guilty conscience. Pannenberg correctly links the notion of relating faith to experience to

38 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume 2, trans. G. Bromiley, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 236. 41


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Pietism, preferring the better idea that “the concept of God is not based on the experience of conscience but is presupposed in its interpretation.”39 This is of course from Luther. “The message of the gospel, and faith in it, adds something new to the experience of conscience. But the message does not derive from it.”40 Jüngel’s “The Metaphysical Concept of God in the Modern Disputation of the Possibility of Thinking God” links a Fichte-Feuerbach-Nietzsche trilogy of thought on the ontology of God. It’s important first to grasp Jüngel’s treatment of these three thinkers, and especially Nietzsche, in anticipation of Jüngel’s assertion of Bonhoeffer’s return to death of God theology. Jüngel suggests that Fichte saw himself as a defender of the essence of Christianity initiated by Saxon church authorities, that Feuerbach viewed anthropology as the mystery of theology, and that Nietzsche was the prosecutor of Christianity assuming the role of the Antichrist.41 Through a carefully developed argument, Jüngel concludes that all three thinkers fall into the common difficulty of modern thought—God’s essence and God’s existence are separated—an ontic problem. “Zarathustra’s question, ‘Could you conceive a God?’ is closely related to the parallel inquiry, ‘Could you create a God?’” Both of these questions are preceded by the assertion, “God is a conjecture.”42 Nietzsche viewed God as the conjecture of infinity. “Once did people say God, when they looked out

39 Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, 65. 40 Ibid. 41 Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World, trans. D. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 127. 42 Ibid., 146, quoting from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None in The Complete Works. 42


Theology of the Cross and the Death of God

upon distant seas.”43 With infinity set against finitude from a metaphysical tradition, the incarnation of the infinite God was disregarded. That is, the essence of humanity would be to go to the horizon—or in Nietzsche’s words, “to the sea, our sea.”44 Jüngel explains how Nietzsche, with this overcoming of both metaphysics and Christianity, speaks of the death of God as that great event which finally opens up the horizon again. The will to restrict conjecture to the creative will might well be the horizon for the will to restrict conjecture to the conceivable. The infinite God opposed to finite man is fundamentally outside the creative will of man; in that, Nietzsche agrees with the tradition he is criticizing. The infinite God is so opposed to the creative will of finite man that he always casts the creative will back to its finitude, understood as the repulsive opposite of infinity. Since more is conjectured in the thought of God than can be presumed of the creative will, this will is thrown back behind its own real possibilities as a result of that “more.” The problem of the “thinkability” of God “defined” by identification with infinity becomes a very different problem if one differs from the tradition which saw in a God understood as outside the creative will of man the positive beginning point of theology.45

Nietzsche cannot think of a God set apart from the creative human will in opposition to an Anselmian ontology which defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” along with a Cartesian metaphysics which “makes being dependent on the thinking thing (res cogitans).”46 So for Nietzsche, his question contains his answer: “Could you conceive a God? 43 Ibid., 98. 44 Ibid., 147, Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom, 275. 45 Jüngel, 147–48. 46 Ibid., 148. 43


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Answer: ‘But let this mean Will to Truth among you, that everything be transformed into the humanly conceiveable, the humanly visible, the humanly sensible! Your own discernment shall you follow out to the end.’” 47 The implications of Nietzsche’s thought for the death of God are clear. God must be transformed into the humanly conceivable. “In ceasing to be that infinity which as superego is opposed to finite man . . . he then ceases to be God in any sense at all . . . the creative will does away with God and in his place creates itself as the will to the human superego (Ueber-Ich) which superpasses the finite ego.”48 Ironically, Nietzsche knew about the crucified God and all the implications of Christianity in its portrayal of the suffering Jesus who is weak on the cross. However, his metaphysics could not bring him to find in the crucified God the answer he sought from his infinite creative will. One of the remarkable and marvelous contradictions in Nietzsche’s thought is that at another place he was able to perceive the “God on the cross” as the God who “solidarizes himself with mortality, if only then, conversely, to assert the impossibility of such a God.” 49 At this precise point of truly understanding the dilemma of a genuinely Christian theology of the cross, Nietzsche no longer says God when he wants to elevate man to the heights reserved for God in metaphysics; instead he says Superman. “God hath died; now do we desire—the superman to live.” Thus Nietzsche destroyed once more the concept of the essence of God already deprived of its existence, in that he denounced the concept of this essence, conversely, as “an impossible thought which destroys all thought . . . . Accordingly, the Christian concept of God is for

47 Ibid., 149, from Zarathrustra, 99. 48 Ibid., 149. 49 Ibid., 152. 44


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him a bad conjecture.”50 Atheism could now become a foregone conclusion—at least theoretically; for Nietzsche failed to demonstrate that God had become either dispensable or in fact an obstacle for morality—conditions which would need to be shown for atheism to be an obvious truism. Contra Nietzsche and the dominance of nineteenth-century metaphysical thought in Protestant theology at that time, Eberhard Jüngel underscores how a theological recovery of God is possible. From Augustinian apophatic thought, he states that “the self-abrogation of the traditional thought of God contains an opportunity.”51 It involves a total destruction of the metaphysical conception of God. “God must be thought as the one who he is. And this must be done in such a way that no distinction emerges between the essence and existence of God.” 52 Humanity must learn to think thought in a new way. “Evangelical theology (Continental Protestantism) is distinguished from philosophy in that it does not desire to be lacking in presuppositions.” 53 From a hermeneutical base involving an acknowledgement of the existence of biblical texts, Christian theology thinks in terms of concrete historical event beyond the momentary or existential aspect of “I think.” This is the only way for it to be both scientific and honest. “Evangelical theology explicates its basic decisions immediately as decisions of thought, and not solely as decisions of faith . . . around the same basic content which states that that place of the conceivability of God is a Word which precedes thought.”54 In sum, what Jüngel offers in

50 Ibid., 151-52. 51

Ibid., 153.

52 Ibid. 53

Ibid., 154 (author’s italics).

54 Ibid., 155. 45


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his treatment of metaphysical and Cartesian thought from the nineteenth century in general and in his analysis of Nietzsche’s penetrating questions in particular is a method to think Christianly of God. His “thought” of God emerges from historical events involving Jesus of Nazareth who makes God accessible in God’s “retrieving of us.” Jüngel’s ontology of God is worth the following long quote: The thought of God results from this event, and is not therefore its presupposition . . . The supporting argument of the view we are contesting is the objection that even in the original emerging situation of the Christian faith and of its valid theology, the thought of God was the general anthropological presupposition of the Christian faith, which is not present today in that form and which then must be regained; we have designated the reality of the biblical texts as a possibility which leads theology in its task of thinking of God as God . . . The fact that God makes himself accessible to humanity presupposes that God has something to do with humanity . . . . To think God, thought is taken along in that it thinks faith and what faith believes in . . . . As such, theology is ‘theologia in via’ (theology underway) . . . if God is the issue, then experience can never be ruled out . . . but it cannot be regarded as programmed . . . The way that God is to be thought can more precisely be defined on the basis of the insight that God is present . . . as the one who is absent . . . . What Nietzsche felt he had to denounce as the frightful deceptiveness of a symbol is the true basis for the only possible way to think God: God on the cross. 55

Given this background, we now turn to Jüngel’s positioning of Bonhoeffer as that twentieth-century theologian who returned the “death of God” to its theological home.

55

Ibid., 155–169. 46


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Bonhoeffer’s Interpretation of Theologia Crucis and the Death of God “Perhaps the most effective representative of Martin Luther’s theology in the twentieth century was the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” 56 In the spirit of reform within the Christian church, Bonhoeffer emerges, like his Reformation predecessors, during transition and chaos—in his case when the Nazi nightmare posed a threat to the survival of both Christian faith and Western civilization. Our task at this point is to ontologically assess his interpretation of Luther’s theologia crucis and death of God. First, we continue with Jüngel’s excellent analysis of nineteenth- and twentieth-century theology where he identifies Bonhoeffer as that theologian who returned the death of God to theology. Second, we locate in his 1943–1945 prison correspondence Bonhoeffer’s ontological discussion of God and the cross during his existential crisis of faith, where in effect, he begins to do theology for the first time by looking back—into the Hebraic constructions of God in the Prophets. His well-known phrases of “religionless Christianity,” “deus ex machina” and “world come of age” are analyzed along with his neglected “etsi deus non daretur” and radical re-definition of redemption. All of what we discover in Bonhoeffer’s theological analysis of the cross and the death of God follows Paul and Luther from their unembarrassed focus upon the skandalon of a Roman tool of torture as essential to an ecclesiology that is Christian.

Jüngel’s Reclamation of Bonhoeffer’s Theology Contrary to the “God-is-dead” fadism of the 1960s when Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison were misinterpreted and co-opted by Robinson, Altizer, and Hamilton, Eberhard 56

Noll, Turning Points, 171. 47


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Jüngel’s treatment of this historic Christian dogma is theological. In his Gott als Geheimnis der Welt, he credits Bonhoeffer for returning the death of God to its theological realm. “The return of talk about the death of God to theology . . . was prepared if not initiated in the remarks Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote down in prison.” 57 To fully appreciate Bonhoeffer’s contribution is to first trace the death of God philosophically from Hegel. Hegel’s noble attempt to reconcile philosophy with the theological meaning of the philosophically intolerable thought of the death of God resulted in the loss of the death of God from nineteenth-century theology. “That Hegel’s massive accomplishment was almost immediately misunderstood is no excuse for the scandalous fact that there are contemporary thinkers who would have us believe that they could appeal to Hegel for their theologically senseless use of the idea of the death of God.” 58 Recall the names Robinson, Altizer, and Hamilton. “The phrase ‘God is dead’ received its philosophical significance in the concluding sentence of Hegel’s essay ‘Faith and Knowledge or the Reflective Philosophy of Subjectivity in the Completeness of its Forms, as Kantian, Jacobite, and Fichtian Philosophy,’ which appeared in the Kritischer Journal der Philosophic in 1802.” 59 Parenthetically, this would have also been the period of Schleiermacher’s reduction of Christian theology to pietistic feelings of dependence upon God. Note the usage of the Lutheran Hegel’s terms “reflective” and “subjective.” Hegel knows that the death of God is a christological proposition. “Hegel expressly tells his Berlin listeners between 1821 and 1831 that the sentence ‘God himself is dead’ is a quotation from the Protestant hymn-

57

Jüngel, 57.

58 Ibid., 54. 59 Ibid., 64. 48


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book.” 60 Beyond hymnodical usage of the phrase, Hegel brings up the topic “God is dead” and the crucified Christ. Jüngel, after Hegel, reminds his readers of the historicity of Good Friday. “The historical Good Friday is the day on which the historical person Jesus of Nazareth died.” 61 He writes this to introduce where he finds Hegel heading theologically. However, later Hegel would state: “Thus Christ died for our sins so long ago that soon it won’t be true anymore.” 62 Also, “In his Berlin Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel says of the person of Jesus Christ that ‘this is indifferent to the absolute context and to itself, since the person is not the import of the doctrine.’” 63 Finally, Hegel’s program is summed in his identification of a historical Good Friday into a speculative Good Friday and the death of Jesus Christ is reduced to “the presence of the spirit which comes to itself and to his church through this death.”64 By 1807, when Hegel wrote his famous Phenomenology of the 60 Ibid., Jüngel notes that this phrase “God is dead” caused such a controversy in nineteenth-century Lutheran hymnody that the Dortmund hymnbook actually changes the words to “The Lord is dead.” He points out that the hymn, “O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid” (O Sorrow, O Suffering) was authored by a Johannes Ritz in 1641 for a chorale by a Catholic poet in Wuertzburg in 1628. The sentence “God himself is dead” was known and debated as a pronounced expression of Lutheran theology triggering discussion recalling Tertullian and Athanasius debates with Arians on the suffering and death of God. 61 Ibid. 76. 62 G.W.F. Hegel, Dokumente zu Hegels Entwicklung, ed. J. Hoffmeister (Stuttgart: Fr. Frommann, 1936), 358. From Jüngel, Note 81. 63 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, trs. E.S. Haldance, (NY: Humanities, 1968), 71. from Jüngel, Note 82. 64 Ibid., 78. 49


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Mind, the Lutheran Hegel was able to continue his analysis of the death of God without one mention of Jesus Christ.65 Jüngel is fair to Hegel. He calls Hegel’s discussion of the death of God throughout his writings “a grand theological accomplishment . . . a philosophy conceived as a theology of the Crucified One.”66  Only after Jüngel compliments Hegel’s effort does he critique him for neglecting the soteriological implications of the death of God resulting in a “God who needs man.”67 To summarize Jüngel’s discussion of how the death of God during the nineteenth century was given more theological discussion by a philosopher than by leading German theologians, he states: Only after one has perceived how the philosopher has done theology as “theology of the cross” (in contrast with the great Schleiermacher who in this regard has unfortunately nothing to offer) is it permissible to advance any criticism of Hegel’s great theological achievement.68

Unlike the 1960s death of God pundits, Bonhoeffer did not take modern atheism to be a reason to remove God from contemporary thought, “but rather conversely took modern atheism as an opportunity to investigate anew a Christian concept of God in critical interaction with the theological tradition.”69 Bonhoef-

65 Ibid., 89. Jüngel comments on how Hegel’s attempt at synthesis of the Enlightenment and Christianity by translating theology into philosophy is also the point where the two confront one another in strong opposition. 66 Ibid., 94. Here Jüngel notes how it is Hegel the philosopher who reminds his theologian contemporaries of their Lutheran roots. 67 Ibid. 68 Ibid. 69 Ibid., 57. 50


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fer’s reinterpretation of the theology of the cross takes a christological view of the godlessness of the world. He insists that the nihilism of his day allows God’s absence to be interpreted theologically, that is from Luther’s theologia crucis. Jüngel’s argument of how Bonhoeffer returns the death of God to theology is summarized below: 1. Bonhoeffer points out the status quo of humanity’s autonomy leading to his non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts. 2. Bonhoeffer interprets the status quo and understands the “even if there were no God” as a mature, honest recognition urging humanity to find God in what it knows rather than in its unsolved problems. 3. Bonhoeffer interprets modernity’s atheism christologically and historically, considering the ontology of a God who allows himself to be pushed out of the world on the cross. 4. Bonhoeffer points out that God exists in the crucified Christ as deus coram mundo, as a worldly presence, in that he bears the world on the cross as the world will not bear him.70 In sum, Bonhoeffer’s response to atheism it ontological. The Where is God? question is answered in the Who is God? question. Thus, Jüngel credits Bonhoeffer for returning the death of God to theology. An ontological view of God from theologia crucis creates the space for the revelation of a deus absconditus, for the power of God to save humanity revealed in the powerlessness of a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. The fallacy of modernity’s conception of God is that it wrongly defined God ontologically and then proceeded to remove its misconception

70 Jüngel, 57-62. 51


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of God. Modernity’s misconception of a God created in modernity’s own image misses the point entirely. God did not require an autonomously enlightened humanity to remove God from the world. God did that himself on the cross. The removal of God from the world from the atheistic interpretation neglects the critical fact of God’s willing removal of himself on the cross. This renders humanity’s removal of God as extraneous and totally counter to God’s ontology. In effect, since God is present in the world as that One who is absent, “absence is not simply the alternative opposite to the presence of God.”71 This statement merits further analysis from Jüngel’s analysis of Bonhoeffer’s epistemological use of theologia crucis to speak of God.

God’s Presence and Absence To define absence as something more than the direct opposite of presence is to investigate Jüngel’s use of Bonhoeffer’s statement “be pushed out of the world”—a programmatic ontological insight into God’s being. God’s being dismantles the binary alternative of presence and absence. If God existed only as a twentieth-century Uebermensch of the fittest, then God would be viewed as an omni-competent in a worldly fashion. God would be superior to the world. God would be a worldly omnipresence. Classical theistic notions of God have typically run along this line from Constantine to present day movements within Protestantism—all detached from the skandalon. Clearly a God who allows himself to pushed out of the world on a cross that won’t bear him, cannot be the God who crusades to murder Jews and Turks. A proper understanding of the hidden–revealed God known apophatically from the cross is a God whose removedness belongs to his presence. Only a God who is free to make non-

71

Ibid., 62. 52


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necessary choices about his being can allow himself to become a human cell in the womb of a teenage girl. A God whose being is not bound by rationally conceived alternatives of presence and absence may be simultaneously present as well as removed. That is, God is not necessary, he is “more than necessary.” 72

Jüngel’s “More Than Necessary” Jüngel defines “more than necessary” as “whatever is interesting for its own sake.”73 He regards God as more than necessary to humanity because, “God . . . is not just above this contradiction between being and not being but is God in the midst of this contradiction . . . (this) is the point of Christian talk about God.”74 God exists in scandal. The way that God is in the midst of “this contradiction” flows directly from a hermeneutic of the cross as the criterion about how to speak and think of God. God is free and gracious. That is, God goes beyond humanity’s understanding of necessity and becomes a human baby allowing himself to be pushed out of the world on a cross that refuses to bear him as he bears the sins of the world. Thus, the worldly non-necessity of God is an intentional choice to be in the midst of the contradiction between being and not being, between presence and absence. All of this is derived from Luther’s theologia crucis and an understanding of the death of God. The Incomprehensible One dying on the cross as a criminal ready to be pushed out of the world in powerlessness stands under no conditions of any kind—God is not necessary in a worldly

72 Jüngel, 24. Jüngel points out how “God is necessary” is a poor proposition for God. “As a groundless being, God is not necessary and yet more than necessary.” 73 Ibid., 34 74 Ibid., 35. 53


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sense. Given Jüngel’s thorough and innovative understanding of Bonhoeffer’s return of the death of God to theology, we now take a closer look at those statements from his Tegel theology. Though his language is unique to the prison correspondence, it merely continues his interpretation of the theology of the cross from his 1927 dissertation. The quest for the historical Dietrich from the Bonhoeffer of faith is misguided.

The Death of God in Bonhoeffer’s Prison Letters A hidden God from theologia crucis is the ontological basis for Bonhoeffer’s “nonreligious interpretation”—a phrase he doesn’t use until the prison correspondence, though embedded in a christology that runs throughout his writing from Sanctorum Communio. A thorough analysis of Stellvertretung (vicarious representative action)—the key concept in Bonhoeffer’s theology— follows in the next chapter, Bonhoeffer’s christological use of Stellvertretung has its proper theological context in theologia crucis and his interpretation of the death of God. Bonhoeffer’s first use of “religonless Christianity” occurs in his 30 April 1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer has come to a point of theological crisis. “What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is for us, today?” 75 He begins to view the possibility that a western form of Christianity constructed upon a “religious a priori” may have ironically been the very absence of religion. He asks, “How do we speak of God—without religion . . . without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness and so on?” This is precisely the question at the root of Jüngel’s

75 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed., Eberhard Bethge, (NY: Touchstone, 1997), 279. (LPP). 54


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analysis of the death of God and why he finds in Bonhoeffer a conversation partner. Bonhoeffer interprets his culture while reading the prophet Jeremiah and musing out his cell window over the condition of the Protestant church in Germany under the nihilism of the Nazis. He anticipates a day when Christians may truly be who they are—“ek-klesia, those who are called forth . . . not from a religious point of view . . . but rather as belonging wholly to the world.” 76 That is, God is either a religious object absent from the world, or present in his hiddenness as Lord of the world. The Protestant God wrapped in the cloak of German Christianity and Protestantism—the God of the religious a priori—cannot at the same time be the Lord of the world. His Anfechtungen in a prison cell prompts a memory of another troubled theologian similarly concerned about the condition of his church while confined to a tower monastery room. Bonhoeffer’s frustration manifests itself in a series of succinct phrases which merit theological analysis to arrive at the depth of his new theology, albeit expressed in fragments and incomplete ideas. The first such phrase is “religion-less Christianity” and its correlatives: “nonreligious interpretation,” “secular Christians,” or “religionlessness.”

Religionless Christianity “Religionless Christianity” has no meaning outside of a theology of the cross with a crucified God hidden from the world. While crediting Karl Barth for beginning a critique of religion,77 Bonhoeffer’s situation within nihilistic Nazi Germany pushed his concern toward concrete reconstruction of Christian dogma and ethic. His phrase “religionless Christianity” is ontological-

76 Ibid., 281. 77 LPP, 280. 55


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ly rooted in the dialectic of a hidden-revealed God on a cross. He picks up the phrase in the 5 May letter with a reference to Bultmann. “I expect you remember Bultmann’s essay on the ‘demythologizing’ of the New Testament? My view of it today would be, not that he went ‘too far’, as most people thought, but that he didn’t go far enough.” 78 Instead of separating God from miracle (as Bultmann does in a liberal form of abridging the gospel), Bonhoeffer wrestles with the deeper question of hermeneutics. How might we interpret both God and miracle in a non-religious sense? This question prompts another theological question: How do we interpret in a religious sense? There are two answers to the question from religion, neither of which are rooted in the biblical witness nor relevant to humanity. Bonhoeffer defines speaking religiously either as speaking metaphysically or individualistically. His response to either way of talking from religion is informed by the biblical witness—in particular from the Old Testament. Especially from the Prophets, he dismantles a metaphysical intrusion into Christianity appealing rather to the this-worldliness of Hebrew thought. “Does the question about saving one’s soul appear in the Old Testament at all?” 79 All of this discussion is a piece of his interpretation of deus absconditus contextualized in a prison cell while re-reading Barth, the Old Testament, and his favorite philosophers.

The Old Testament as a Source for Religionless Christianity How Bonhoeffer develops his ontology of God in the Letters is a direct result of his interpretation of theologia crucis and God’s death from the Old Testament. Parenthetically, it’s appropri-

78 Ibid., 285. 79 Ibid. 56


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ate at this point to observe that Bonhoeffer scholarship has minimized the voice of the Old Testament in his “religionless Christianity” owing its derivation more to philosophy. While there is no question that his theology was always conversant with the historian-philosophers of his day (in this case, with Dilthey),80 the impact of the Old Testament upon his non-religious

80 In Ralf Wüstenberg’s A Theology of Life (1998) an analysis of Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity maximizes Dilthey and other philosophy to the neglect of Bonhoeffer’s repeated mention of how the Old Testament has influenced his non-religious interpretation. The 30 April letter connects “religionless Christianity” with the Old Testament. In that letter Bonhoeffer challenges any reading of the New Testament without the Old Testament context. He cites several Old Testament texts as a challenge to “escapism disguised as piety.” The 5 May letter again references the Old Testament as theological grist for the non-religious interpretation. Wüstenberg misses the total impact of Bonhoeffer’s analysis of the Christ in the Old Testament, redemption myths, and their relationship to the non-religious interpretation. That Wüstenberg was able to use these Letters with only dismissive mention of Bonhoeffer’s emphasis of how the Old Testament informed his religionless Christianity perpetuates the question why Bonhoeffer’s Old Testament usage and interpretation remains unnecessarily suspect, misunderstood, and traditionally neglected within Bonhoeffer scholarship. To their credit, editors Martin Rueter and Ilse Toedt provide an exception with their helpful observation: “On November 18, 1943, Bonhoeffer mentioned that during the months of his arrest up until then he had ‘read through the Old Testament two and a half times and learnt a great deal.’ That in 1944 Bonhoeffer came to dedicate his future work to a nonreligious interpretation of theological concepts is also the fruit of his view of the Old Testament as the word of the one God.” (“Afterword”, Creation and Fall, 57


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interpretation permeates the Letters. He references the Prophets, especially Jeremiah, several times. Here he upholds the Old Testament as a litmus test to challenge the idea of reducing salvation to individualism. This resonates with his ecclesial comments about community going back to the dissertation of 1927. Bonhoeffer repeatedly quotes the Old Testament throughout his development of the non-religious interpretation. The dismissiveness of theological scholarship of his “Christ in the Old Testament” idea began in the Berlin period. As Bethge observes, “His excursion into the field of the Old Testament scholars was held against him.”81 Given the anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany at the time combined with the weakness of Protestant theology, it is not at all surprising that Bonhoeffer received criticism for locating the gospel within the life of the Jews. It cannot be avoided that he distanced himself from the confessing church because of its inability to interpret Hitler’s murder of the Jews theologically. Clearly, the voice of the prophets from the Old Testament provides a major influence for Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation located in the Tegel theology. The Old Testament offers an alternative to the metaphysical option and challenges the individualism represented in the “anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic pietistic, ethical theology.”82 The “worldliness” of the Hebraic mindset located in the Old Testament reinterprets “the concepts of repentance, faith, justification, rebirth, and sanctification.”83 Here Bonhoeffer also references John 1:14

Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 173. 81 Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, ed., Victoria J. Barnett, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 217. 82 LPP, 280. 83 Ibid., 280–81. 58


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preferring the “biblical sense of the creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ”84 as the source for his theology of life from the death of God for others. The May 1944 baptism letter continues to indicate Bonhoeffer’s deepened thought from the prophets of the Old Testament as he develops his “religionless Christianity.” Bonhoeffer makes fifteen references to the Old Testament in this profoundly theological and reflective letter. His final thoughts speak of a changing form of the church. “It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming—as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom.”85 Bonhoeffer speaks as a modern Jeremiah in this letter, advancing a concrete “prayer and righteous action” approach to Christian faith. The phrase “God of the gaps” in his 29 May letter continues his development of a non-religious hermeneutic from a theology of the cross and the death of God. Another phrase, deus ex machina, from 30 April has previously introduced the thought captured in “God of the gaps.” From Wiezsäcker’s The World View of Physics, Bonhoeffer raises an important epistemological concern related to how we know God. “We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.”86 In other words, he suggests that humanity must find God where it least expects to find him—in those areas where it is competent to live life without God. God is hidden in our solved

84 Ibid., 280. 85 Ibid., 300. 86 Ibid., 311. 59


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problems and that is precisely where Bonhoeffer challenges us to find him. The connection to theologia crucis is clear. The application is radical and assaults the anthropocentrism within the Protestantism of his time. God is not to be lowered by ropes and chains as a religious object only when our problems are to be solved like a modern-day Oedipus. Recall Bonhoeffer’s statement from the 30 April letter which located the church in the middle of the village, in the center of life and at the point of our strength, not only in our weakness. Here again, he references the Old Testament to support his point located in the dual phrases: deus ex machina and God of the gaps. He points to the irrelevance of proposed answers from well-meaning friends during times of stress and crisis. “From the centre of life certain questions and their answers, are seen to be wholly irrelevant (I’m thinking of the judgment pronounced on Job’s friends).”87 What judgment does he have in mind? Eliphaz, the pious classic theist among Job’s friends, has rebuked Job in his suffering as one who has reaped what he has sown. God has abandoned Job according to Eliphaz. In Job 42, God says to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right” (42:7). The issue in the Job story is the ontological issue of who is God and where might Job find him in suffering. God’s answer is that God is to be found in the “solved problem” of Creation, where God has always been and remains. The God hidden behind the wonder of Creation is the God hidden in Job’s suffering. Job’s epistemological breakthrough occurs only after he humbles himself before the hidden–revealed God who speaks to him from a storm. Once Job “sees” what his friends have failed to see, Job becomes their priest and God accepts his vicarious prayer on their behalf and 87 Ibid., 312. 60


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does not deal with them “according to their folly” (42:8). The christology of this text did not escape Bonhoeffer who closes the 29 May letter with “In Christ there are no ‘Christian problems.’” 88 In the overall scheme of his non-religious interpretation, Bonhoeffer uses the atheism and nihilism of his time to propose a God who is there according to Jüngel’s “more than necessary” God worshipped in the center of the village as Lord of the world. The Old Testament supports Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation in the ordinariness of a love story from the Song of Songs in the 2 June letter. “I must say I should prefer to read it as an ordinary love song, and that is probably the best ‘Christological exposition.” 89 Consistent with a this-worldliness from the Hebraic worldview, Bonhoeffer proposes that Christ exists in the erotic love between a man and a woman from the Hebrew Wisdom literature. His interpretation fits the non-religious project of faith where God may become Lord of the religioless on earth. He has already referred to this text in the 20 May letter to Bethge. In this letter his exposition of the non-religious interpretation is located in yet another phrase, cantus firmus. God is the main melody of life—when recognized as such “the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint.” 90 Here God is hidden in erotic love. Once again he shows how the Old Testament challenges the “restraint of passion” in a more true-to-life way than the religion of twentieth-century German Protestants. The cantus firmus usage is no surprise in the dialogue between two musicians as a medium through which the profoundly theological christology of the Chalcedonian definition is channeled.

88 89 Ibid. 89 Ibid., 315. 90 Ibid., 303. 61


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“May not the attraction and importance of polyphony in music consist in its being a musical reflection of this Christological fact and therefore or our vita christiana?”91 Here Bonhoeffer’s non-religious Christianity locates Christ in a cantata. In the 8 June 1944 letter, two days after the human sacrifice of the D-day Normandy invasion, Bonhoeffer reinterprets the death of God with another phrase: “working hypothesis called God.” The context of the discussion is the autonomy of humanity. Simply put, Bonhoeffer acknowledges that “Man has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the ‘working hypothesis’ called ‘God’”92 This phrase echoes previous thoughts from deus ex machina and “God of the gaps.” He notes that for the last hundred years, even in religious questions, “it is becoming evident that everything gets along without ‘God’”93 That is, since Schleiermacher and the founding of Berlin University, Protestantism in Germany provided non-theological answers to religious questions. “God” in such a context was provided his own private space as the answer to the so-called “ultimate questions” of death and guilt where God is “necessary.” Bonhoeffer then poses a critical epistemological question. “But what if one day they (the ‘ultimate questions’) no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered ‘without God’?”94 In today’s language, he asks, “What if a therapist can solve all my problems with talk and medication?” Therapists have replaced pastors and theologians as the new priests in a culture he calls a “world come of age.” Consistent with his hermeneutic

91 Ibid. 92 Ibid., 325. 93 Ibid., 326. 94 Ibid. 62


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of the culture from a non-religious view, he uses this very condition of “without God” to arrive at a theological answer. His abiding theological response is that it is precisely at the centrality of humanity’s strength and existence in “solved problems” that God is hidden and to be found. A Protestant church in Germany that created “God” as deus ex machina who is told when he should speak and where he should appear cannot be the church in the middle of the village. As we do, Bonhoeffer had his versions of liberal and conservative theological thought. Here he critiques the German church’s misguided ontology of a Constantinian God who could not do battle with the Hellenistic-based Nazi forms of “God almighty” co-opted to be mit uns (with us) while invading Europe and annihilating the Jews. From the conservative view, there is the apologetic solution. From a neoliberal perspective, there is the religious interpretation. Both are critiqued from Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts rooted in his wider heuristic of a crucified God on a cross.

Bonhoeffer’s Critique of Liberal and Conservative Conceptions of God As a religious philosopher-socialist, Paul Tillich represents the attempt to interpret the world religiously. His approach, however courageous, tries to find space for religion in a world that no longer wants religion—or so it thought. His interpretation of the progressively evolving world is a try at shaping the world— through religion. Bonhoeffer’s assessment of this noble attempt forms the basis of his critique of liberal theology in general and of Tillich in particular. “Tillich set out to interpret the evolution of the world (against its will) in a religious sense . . . but the world unseated him and went on by itself; he . . . sought to understand the world better than it understood itself; but it felt 63


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that it was completely misunderstood and rejected the imputation.”95 In a rare, yet insightful critique of liberal theology by one who credits liberal theology for part of his theological formation, Bonhoeffer admits that the world must be understood better than it understands itself, but not according to Tillich’s religious (read, “non-faith”) correlation scheme. “Bonhoeffer would reject Tillich’s conclusion that the answers implicit in revelation are meaningful insofar as they are in correlation with questions concerning the whole of our existence.”96 Translated into the vernacular, Tillich’s untenable reduction of revelation to answers has been rendered: “If Jesus is the answer, what are the questions?” As Marsh says, “The questions concerning the whole of our existence are meaningful only in reference to the presupposition of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.”97 We’ve already observed above how Bonhoeffer doesn’t make this popular mistake of validating Christian faith on its ability to answer questions, if for no other reason than non-Christian ideologies and categories may have better answers to humanity’s problems (recall that today’s priests are therapists). Parenthetically, part of the reconstruction of the mainline North American Protestant church heavily influenced by Tillich’s “religious interpretation” and presuppositions foreign to theologia crucis, will ultimately require a theological approach if it is to survive the twenty-first century as a Christian church. Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation from a theological view of the death of God and theologia crucis, finds the conservative apologetic view equally deficient. “The attack by Christian

95 Ibid., 327–28. 96 Charles Marsh, Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology, (Oxford: OUP, 1994), 62. 97 Ibid. 64


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apologetic on the adulthood of the world I consider pointless . . . ignoble . . . and unchristian.”98 It is within this depth of theological thought that Bonhoeffer can be claimed neither by a liberal/mainline nor a conservative/evangelical theological movement within the North American church. He critiques both equally, primarily for trying to find religious (read, “unbelief”) space for God in the world. From the conservative approach, the attempt is to “exploit man’s weakness for purposes that are alien to him and to which he has not freely assented . . . confusing Christ with one particular stage in man’s religiousness.”99 A neo-orthodoxy from Barth, while quite formative for Bonhoeffer, is critiqued as yet another way to create space for religion in the world through its renewal. Bonhoeffer finds no solution for a world come of age though the renewal of religion on earth. While Barth has provided biblical substance to fill in what Bonhoeffer didn’t receive from his reductionist liberal theological education, the critique of his mentor is “that in the nonreligious interpretation of theological concepts he gave no concrete guidance, either in dogmatics or in ethics. Therein lies the limitation, and because of it his [Barth’s] theology of revelation has become positivist.” 100 By “positivist” Bonhoeffer is here chiding Barth for opening the door to pit revelation entirely against natural reason in writing which extols the ordinary, this-worldliness of those who followed Jesus.101 Bultmann’s attempt to “correct” Barth’s “positivism of

98 Ibid., 327. 99 Ibid. 100 Ibid., 328. 101 Andreas Pangritz, Karl Barth in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 75. 65


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revelation” is critiqued as going off “into the typical liberal process of reduction... [where] Christianity is reduced to its ‘essence.’”102 Bonhoeffer’s critique of Bultmann is that the de-mythologizer doesn’t go far enough hermeneutically. It is not merely the supernatural concepts in the New Testament which require reinterpretation. “[All the] concepts must be interpreted in such a way as not to make religion a pre-condition of faith . . . only in that way will liberal theology be overcome . . . and a world come of age no longer an occasion for polemics and apologetics . . . but better understood than it understands itself, namely on the basis of the gospel and in the light of Christ.”103 In sum, the Letters through 8 June 1944 indicate a radical view of Christianity from Bonhoeffer’s non-religious hermeneutic. It is a hermeneutic of the cross. From cruciform skandalon and paradox, Bonhoeffer declares an end to religion, so that genuine Christian theology may re-emerge. It is an epistemology of the cross. God and the world are to be known and understood on the basis of the gospel in the light of Christ. It is an ontology of the cross. Contra liberal theology’s reduction of Christianity to its “essence,” religion is no longer a pre-condition for faith. Jesus Christ is no longer a religious object, he is Lord of the earth. Against the conservative–evangelical religion, experiential piety can no longer be allowed to privatize Jesus to the space “inside one’s heart.”

102 LPP, 329. 103 Ibid., 66


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A Christian View of Redemption from the Old and New Testaments The continuing confusion over justification as a culturally Roman forensic imputing of God’s righteousness rather than a Hebraic participation with God in God’s purposes on earth, is addressed in Bonhoeffer’s radical re-definition of redemption. Bernhard Lohse gets past the unfortunate justification-sanctification debate by explaining Luther’s theologia crucis. That is, the Christian life of discipleship “consists precisely in ‘offering oneself to the cross,’ not in supplementing the sacramental appropriation of salvation through one’s own works.”104 Bonhoeffer asserts that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament supports a Christianity as a religion of redemption. “It’s true that Christianity has always been regarded as a religion of redemption. But isn’t this a cardinal error, which separates Christ from the Old Testament and interprets him on the lines of the myths about redemption?”105 Essentially, what he is saying here is that faith is not humanity’s medium of escape from the world, but rather its introduction to really be in the world in all of its cares, distresses, and fears. “Israel is delivered out of Egypt so that it may live before God as God’s people on earth.” 106 As the people of God, the Jews model a “redeemed” people of God on earth. But even in a more radical way from the gospels and Paul, “the Christian hope of resurrection sends a person back to life on earth in a wholly new way which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament.”107 Here his move is ontological and may radically be considered a form 104 Lohse, 75. 105 LPP, 336. 106 Ibid. 107 Ibid. 67


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of Christian reincarnation in the best theological sense of that term. The Christ that takes hold of a person at the core of her being provides no last line of escape or withdrawal from the world. “Like Christ, [the Christian] must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ.”108 There is no omnicompetent God here, nor can their be any triumphalist faith of a “resurrection-only” gospel which avoids the “My God, my God, why?” from the cross. The Tegel theology is his radical christology of the Berlin lectures in 1932–33 expressed in new linguistic terminology. He continues to center his nonreligious interpretation of the gospel in a way which challenges any “catch-phrase” reduction of his thought. His language constantly revolves around the themes located in Luther’s theology of the cross. Bonhoeffer’s focus throughout the Tegel theology is ontological. He is answering the question, Who is Jesus Christ for us, today? in a religionless mature world. “Jesus did not make every one a sinner first. He called them away from their sin, not into their sin . . . never did he question a person’s health . . . or happiness . . . Jesus claims for himself and the Kingdom of God the whole of human life in all its manifestations.” 109 In the 30 June letter, the prisoner unpacks his ongoing theme from a theological interpretation of the death of God. He affirms the maturity of the world in its ability to live without God by declaring that the world has realized who God really is in his absence. The irony of a-theism is that in its arrogance and autonomy, it fails to understand that God had himself pushed out of the world on a cross. God didn’t require humanists, a-theists, or religious socialists without faith 108 Ibid., 337. 109 Ibid., 341–42. 68


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to remove him from the scene. God removed himself from the scene on a cross, willingly. Affirming an ontology of God’s being which supercedes the notions of “absence or presence” (recall Jüngel’s “more than necessary”), God’s being pushed out of a world that has come of age derives from an epistemology of the cross. Humanity is to “see” God by “not seeing God as omnicompetent” but by seeing him as He really is—marginalized and powerless. Neither liberal nor evangelical restorations of a politically correct or culturally acceptable God provide an answer. Whether Jesus Christ is Lord of the earth and forgiven Christians are engaged with the world is the issue. Bonhoeffer critiques the Protestant theology of his day for doing what Jesus never did—turn human beings into sinners. “When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners.” 110 The “religion-less” person Bonhoeffer has in mind is neither the “hardened sinner” made in the image of a snooping pastor who delights in finding the errors of his people nor the “bourgeois complacent” who lives life quite unaware that an existentialist philosopher or therapist would have him admit that his happiness is really some form of an illness. Jesus related to persons without such contrivances. What Bonhoeffer is concerned about in his non-religious interpretation is “the claim of a world that has come of age by Jesus Christ.” 111 Bonhoeffer’s Hidden God reveals Godself in the center of the village, in the solved problems of humanity’s strength, not in the outskirts of town in the unsolved issues of humanity where Jesus Christ may be domesticated as an answer to a problem in competition with all other equally viable suggestions for how to live. Related to how Bonhoeffer’s interprets

110 Ibid., 341. 111 Ibid., 342. 69


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the death of God from the scandal of the cross is the issue of public versus private faith.

The Public Death of God Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation of the biblical witness continues in the 8 July 1944 letter with a provocatively theological view of God’s death. “The displacement of God from the world, and from the public part of human life, led to the attempt to keep his place secure at least in the sphere of the ‘personal,’ the ‘inner,’ and the ‘private.’”112 The dualism of the “public vs. private” is dismantled by the public death of God on the cross. The skandalon preserves God’s rightful location in the public domain. In the spirit of earlier phrases deus ex machina and working hypothesis of God, Bonhoeffer deals with a deception of “spiritualizing” God out of public concerns. This issue has particular application to a North American culture defined by a deistic Jeffersonian democracy which similarly domesticates theology and the voice of the church to the private realm in the name of the dubious “separation of church and state.” A reconstruction of the church must “see” reality from the skandalon of the cross if its contribution to culture is to surpass “becoming a stained glass version of existing cultural values.” In this letter, Bonhoeffer is theologically concerned with a twofold error “that man can be addressed as a sinner only after his weaknesses have been spied out . . . [and] that a man’s essential nature consists of his inmost and most intimate background . . . those secret places where God is to have his domain!” 113 There was nothing secret about the public crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth “outside the city gate” in Jerusalem. The

112 Ibid., 344. 113 Ibid., 345. 70


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crucified God was hidden, but not privatized on a Roman cross. Bonhoeffer’s concern here is once again ontological. How do we speak of God’s being in the world in light of the gospel and the crucified Christ? The displacement of God from the public realm, as he says, has led to a non-theological relegation to space where God has never been—confined to an inner, private, secret and only-personal realm. An epistemology of the cross shatters this dualism which segments life into the private-public, that is into the “sacred-secular.” This is precisely what Bonhoeffer means when he speaks of a “secular Christianity.” When Dietrich Bonhoeffer uses the term secular, he’s talking about public.114 His notion is non-religious, but not non-theological. His interpretation is no disconnection from biblical concepts, but a non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts. He’s talking about God as Lord of the earth, not a religiously domesticated Jesus who is confined to the private realm, and brought out only when necessary. Bonhoeffer’s theological interpretation of the death of God in his discussion of God’s displacement from the world corrects the twofold error stated above.

114 Part of the misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer’s “Tegel theology” of the non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts is how Bonhoeffer continues to be co-opted for the theological agendas represented in the secondary literature that uses his phrases without Bonhoeffer’s theological context of the cross. That Harvey Cox can repeatedly quote Bonhoeffer without mentioning the cross once in his Secular City (1965) is a case in point. Cox appeals to Bonhoeffer’s diagnosis without reference to his cure for the illness of a metaphysical/religious church; namely, the skandalon of the gospel from Luther’s theology of the cross. Cox does however, rightly distance himself from Tillich’s religiousness in the same way Bonhoeffer does as mentioned above. 71


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A recent interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s use of secular comes from Reinhard Hütter’s project of “the church as public,” derived from Luther’s ecclesiology with a focus upon “participation in God’s own freedom.”115 From a robustly trinitarian economy of salvation, Hütter speaks of “core practices and church doctrine” from a pneumatological–ecclesiological model as protection against the church dissolving into “a variety of theologies bound to specific individual or group identities as a form of self-reflection or as a representative of those groups’ interests.”116 His concern reflects Bonhoeffer’s concern over the loss of God’s centrality in life where the church is in the middle of the village, not marginalized to the personal weaknesses of the parishioner. What Hütter says about theology’s potential reduction to “group interests” and what Bonhoeffer notes as “personal sins or issues” are theologically equivalent attempts to fight against any reduction of Christian theology’s locus. “It’s the not the sins of weakness, but the sins of strength, which matter here.”117 Bonhoeffer’s rare dualism here is intended to amplify the need to speak to the strength of persons come of age, not to reduce them to sinners first and then propose the gospel as a solution to a problem. To illustrate his point he “invents” the idea of types of sins—a notion foreign to his theology and intended only to illustrate the larger point of communicating to persons come of age who no longer feel a need for God. So-called sins of weakness might be those of the body; sins of strength may be those overlooked sins of the mind or the emotion. He makes this statement as a summary of modern pastors

115 Reinhard Hütter, Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Practice, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 28. 116 LPP, 345 117 Ibid. 72


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probing the secret lives of their people in an anti-social attitude that breeds suspicion. “It’s as if you couldn’t know a fine house till you have found a cobweb . . . or appreciate a good play till you had seen how the actors behave off-stage.” 118 If the pastoral hunt for private sins defines sin, then the sins of strength— those at the core of human existence—go unaddressed. He mentions hubris, the breaking of the order of life, and the fear of free responsibility. Bonhoeffer calls for an abandonment, not of God’s rightful place in the public arena, but an abandonment of smuggling God into some secret place. “[We] should recognize that the world, and people, have come of age, that we shouldn’t run people down in their worldliness, but confront them with God at the strongest point.”119 His basis for this approach is clear. The Word of God is the litmus test for why a pastor needn’t snoop into the secret places of a parishioner’s life—it quotes Jesus as never approaching people in this way. Similarly, “the Bible does not recognize our distinction between the outward and the inward.” 120 Here is another ontological move which defines the person as anthropos teleios—the whole person. The earlier comments about public versus private apply here as well and represent Bonhoeffer’s discussion of the person from his dissertation.121 In the discussion below on how the cross implies a certain ecclesiology, his concept of the insepara118 Ibid. 119 Ibid., 346. 120 Ibid., 346 121 Dietirch Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, ed. Clifford Green, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 36–41. Bonhoeffer speaks of the inseparability of person, community, and God from a Christian concept of the person in debate with Hellenistic notions of the person from Aristotle where the person is a “political animal,” or Stoicism’s “negation of the person as 73


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bility of God, person, and community takes uniquely Christian shape as the church.

“Etsi deus non daretur” The 16 July 1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge may very well represent the pinnacle of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts theologically rooted in the death of God and theologia crucis. Few other Letters are more frequently quoted given Bonhoeffer’s pregnant phrases and sentences which re-state his continuing thesis of God’s presence in the world as Lord represented by his apparent absence in powerlessness on a Roman cross. Perhaps no single piece of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology is more misunderstood and misinterpreted than the non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts from the Letters—particularly from this letter’s paradoxical and apparently contradictory dialectical statements. The phrase etsi deus non daretur [“as if God did not exist”] is the operative phrase in the 16 July letter—in effect a summation of the non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts. Here he takes broad sweeps through history, philosophy, science, and religion to speak of an autonomous a world come of age. In theology . . . Lord Herbert of Cherbury maintains that reason is sufficient for religious knowledge . . . in ethics, Montaigne substitutes rules for the commandments . . . Machiavelli detaches politics from morality. . . . Grotius sets up natural law as international law . . . deist Descartes sees the world as a mechanism . . . pantheist Spinoza sees God as nature. . . . Kant is a deist . . . Fichte and Hegel are pantheists . . . the infinite universe of Nicholas of Cusa. . . . Feuerbach’s abolishment of God as a working hypothesis in an individual,” Epicurean “deficiency of spirit” and Descartes’ “subsuming of the person under universals.” 74


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religion . . . everywhere the thinking is directed towards the autonomy of man and the world . . . anxious souls will ask what room is left for God now.122

No answer is left to the question: “We cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur.”123 “And this is just what we do recognize—before God!”124 Bonhoeffer removes all doubt as to how his non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts asserts the apparent contradiction of God as Lord of the earth in a world where God is extraneous. Without the paradox of the skandalon, the contradiction is real. With the cross, an epistemological continuity is maintained from Maximus’ “opposites” to Luther’s Deus absconditus to Barth’s critique of religion to Bonhoeffer’s “religion-less Christianity” as new language to express God’s death from theologia crucis in the aftermath of twentieth-century nihilism. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.125

Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation reaches its zenith in the above. His non-religious interpretation located in theologia crucis is summarized in these sentences of paradox and illogic. 122 Ibid., 359. 123 Ibid. 124 Ibid., 360. 125 Ibid., 360–61. 75


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Without the death of God–theologia crucis behind them, they end any rational discussion of theology forever. Because of his theological heuristic of the death of God–theology of the cross, they establish the unique criteria of Christian theology among all world religious ideologies.126 Without explicitly quoting them, Bonhoeffer takes his place among all “corrective theologies” during periods of upheaval and transition returning to a theological treatment of “opposites” from the Eastern fathers within apophatic epistemology. He employs Luther’s Deus absconditus-Deus revelatus from the cross. It is the supportive thread in Bonhoeffer’s tapestry of dialectic statements: “with us-forsakes us, without the working hypothesis of God-stand before God, before God-with God-without God, omnipotence-suffering.” The world come of age is to be credited, not maligned, for its dismantling of a false conception of God and “opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness.” 127 The issue is not to religiously correlate an abstract God to the ultimate concerns

126 Jürgen Moltmann crystallizes his insistence upon a crucified God in similar language. From his own existential Anfechtungen as a POW behind barbed wire in WWII, he experiences a breakthrough: “A theology which did not speak of God in the sight of the one who was abandoned and crucified would have had nothing to say to us then. There is an inner criterion of all theology . . . which claims to be Christian . . . is the crucified Christ himself. . . . Either Jesus who was abandoned by God is the end of all theology or he is the beginning of a specifically Christian, and therefore critical, and liberating, theology and life . . . the issue is not that of an abstract theology of the cross and of suffering, but of a theology of the crucified Christ” (The Crucified God, 2–4). 127 Ibid., 361. 76


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of humanity. The issue is to abandon a hermeneutic, epistemology, and ontology rooted in religion altogether. “Man’s religiosity makes him look in distress to the power of God in the world: God is the deus ex machina. The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering.” 128 The twentieth century’s “demythologized” God accommodated to universal scientific method cannot help.129 The classic theism of an omnicompetent God aligned with cultural optimism and progressive evolution is dead.130 The etsi deus non daretur prompts a voice from Judaism to concur with Hall about “the radical secularity of contem-

128 Ibid., (author’s italics). 129 T. F. Torrance speaks of theological science with its “particular scientific requirements and material procedures determined by the unique nature of its object or subject matter” (T. F. Torrance, Theological Science. Oxford: OUP, 1969, 106). “Thus theology can be scientific if God is knowable and when theology proceeds in accordance with the nature of its object—the immediate focus of Torrance’s theology is on Jesus Christ as Mediator (the soteriological/christocentric center)” (Elmer Colyer, How to Read T.F. Torrance. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001, 25). Colyer goes on speak of Jesus as vicarious representative for the sins of humanity as that “unique nature” which provides an epistemology that is not only scientific, but also Christian. 130 Douglas John Hall’s entire program is an attempt to answer from a theology of the cross the following question framed within the deficiencies of “an outmoded optimism . . . and the cultic positivism of our official culture: How can one at the same time acquire sufficient honesty about what needs to be faced, and sufficient hope that facing it would make a difference, to engage in altering the course of our present world towards life and not death?”(Hall, God and Human Suffering. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986, 47). 77


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porary culture as a starting point for theological speculation at a time where we live in the death of God.” 131 A more historical approach from Judaism creates openness for a “crucified God” from Second Temple thought.132 Bonhoeffer’s above paradigmatic paragraph includes an explication of a suffering God—the

131 Richard L. Rubenstein, in his After Auschwitz (JHUP, 1992), speaks of finding himself surprisingly aligned with the death of God theologians Hamilton and Altizer. His point resonates with Bonhoeffer’s crediting of the world come of age for its honesty. While he believes the divine–human encounter is totally nonexistent, he at least agrees with Bonhoeffer, and even other death of God theologians, about where to begin the conversation. Rubenstein rightly links Nietzsche’s madman in the cathedral with death of God theology: “After Nietzsche, it is impossible to avoid using his language to express the total absence of God from our experience.” Bonhoeffer would concur without reaching Nietzsche’s or Rubenstein’s ontological conclusions about God’s being. The absence of God does not imply his non-existence; from the skandalon, the absence of God means his presence from theologia crucis. 132 Robert Bauckham takes the position that the possibility of a crucified God was latent with Second Temple Judaism—a formulation which the patristic fathers avoided at Chalcedon. Rather than appeal to theological categories available within Hebrew thought at the time, he states that the Creeds’ use of Greek thought constructions disallowed a crucified God to be part of God’s nature. “That God was crucified is indeed a patristic formulation, but the Fathers largely resisted its implication for the doctrine of God. “The conceptual shift from Hebrew to Greek categories was from categories focused on divine identity—who God is—to categories focused on divine being or nature—what God is. A Jewish understanding of divine identity was open to the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity” (Robert Bauckham, God Crucified, 1998, 78–79). 78


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only God who can help. That is, the impassible God of Western Roman Catholicism is inadequate.133 Michael Gorman’s approach to the Apostle Paul’s theology of the cross places God as the central character as Jesus of Nazareth. “The cross reveals not only the faithfulness of Jesus but also the faithfulness of God . . . [as] the revelation love, power, wisdom, and even weakness and folly of God.”134 At the heart of Bonhoeffer’s theology of the cross is paradox and powerlessness. A juxtaposing of God’s power in his powerlessness is to retain the radical gospel from the biblical witness centered in the cross. Where the cross has been avoided or misunderstood, God has been avoided and misunderstood. The historic continuity of crucified Christ within an apophatic knowing God is represented in Bonhoeffer’s “before God we live with God without God.” Such a statement coincides with the skandalon. Bonhoeffer’s humanitarian approach to persons and the world offers him the freedom to incarnate the rejection of religion and the etsi deus

133 Weinandy maintains that the contemporary conception from the last hundred years—the possibility of God’s passibility—has distorted a two-thousand-year tradition of God’s impassibility. His thesis is that “a passible God is actually less personal, loving, dynamic and active than an impassible God” (Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 1998, 26). Weinandy claims to show that God is “wholly Other” and God is therefore immutable and impassible. He argues that passibility “disfigures the beauty and nullifies the truth of the Creator-creature relationship. To conceive God as mutable and passible is to proffer a relationship with creatures that is literally impotent and thoroughly impoverished” (146). In other words, for Weinandy, only the immutable-impassible God can help. 134 Michael J. Gorman. Cruciformity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, 94. 79


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non daretur in order to dismantle a non-Christian Protestantism in Germany which accommodated the results of enlightened rationalism, romanticism, and nihilism into its “theology.” His non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts, derived from a historic theology of the cross as “seeing” the Hidden-Revealed God, offers the church a Lord of the earth who loves “religionless” persons transiently caught on the street looking for the security of a home.

David Tracy’s Hidden and Incomprehensible God Like Luther and Bonhoeffer, Tracy seeks a recovery of the cross and apophatic theology to counter modern theology’s marginalization of God’s hiddenness and incomprehensibility. The operative term for his project is fragmenting forms. He seeks to gather fragments of the Christian tradition; from Luther, the hiddenness (apocalyptic form) and from Dionysius the Aeropagite, the incomprehensible (apophatical-mystical form). 135 Tracy’s seeks to stand on its head typically Western, systematic, and mainline Christian attempts to name God while marginalizing historic Christianity. Relying primarily upon Eastern Orthodoxy, his fragment-gathering includes ways to name God through “Trinitarian narrative, creed, systematic theologies and liturgy.”136 David Tracy seeks to unify modernity’s separation of passion from reason, theory from practice and form from content within theology. His largest concern is with the splitting of form from content. “It was Barth who was highly at-

135 David Tracy, “Form and Fragments: the Recovery of the Hidden and Incomprehensible God,” Reflections, 1. 136 Ibid. 80


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tentive to the kind of form needed on behalf of the content.”137 Tracy draws from Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s discussion of forms from Eastern theology and literature. Yet, he locates an inadequacy in the two twentieth-century stalwarts in that neither contributes to his “form of fragment” project. Tracy finds no solution, either, in any form of Romantic undoing of the Enlightenment’s totality system. He finds Tillich’s and Rahner’s dependence upon symbol as merely another form of Romantic totality system—a dependence which is inadequate to fight modernity’s totality system. Tracy does credit the Romantics with their discovery of the Impossible as a fragment useful for the naming of God. While he cites Schleiermacher, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Kierkegaard, “it is Jewish thought that first makes the breakthrough theologically in Rosenzweig to the notion of fragments.”138 Tracy’s observation affirms Bonhoeffer’s growing interest in Hebraic constructions from his prison reading of the Old Testament during that late period of his life when he formulated his “religion-less Christianity” characterized by the statement: “Before God we live with God without God” (LPP). Tracy rightly points out how all the “isms” from modernity beginning with deism and ending with panentheism (he calls this one “the best of the list”) seem “to have little to do with trying to understand God as a religious phenomenon.”139 With Douglas John Hall, Tracy dismantles any attempt to name God from a Christianity become Christendom—a triumphalism derived from the fourth-century totality: Constantinianism. With an appeal to Kierkegaard’s “postscripts and philosophical frgaments,” Tracy locates in Kierkegaard a

137 Ibid., 2. 138 Ibid., 3. 139 Ibid. 81


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needed anti-Hegelian undoing of strangling rational systems allowing for the emergence of the Impossible—that is, grace, Christ, God. Paradoxically, he notes Nietzsche as Kierkegaard’s anti-Christian double—one who is always open to any fragment. “In my opinion,” says Tracy, “he (Nietzsche) was a profoundly religious thinker, very anti-Christian of course, in a very Christian, Lutheran way.”140 Beyond Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, Tracy finds in Franz Rosenzweig’s “pointed star” a development of fragmentation of any philosophical totality system. “The reason why so many of us are reading Rosenzwieg now is precisely because he was the first modern religious thinker to try to find the form—in his case the Star of David—that would fragment and break every totality system.”141 Tracy rightly bemoans “the optimistic reading” of either Plato or the Psalms paying little attention to the tragedies in the former or the songs of lament in the latter. He rightly chides any form of progressive Christianity which neglects the rich Hebrew tradition of lament and protest in its liturgy. “These are clues that something is awry here in the Christian naming of God—something in the very heart of trying to name God.”142 Parenthetically, a Christian church that has no liturgical category for lament and protest within its walls

140 Ibid., 4. 141 Ibid. 142 Ibid., 5. Note: LSTC’s offering of the course “Arguing with God” taught by Walter Michel was an attempt to deal with this issue. As a class participant, I was struck then, and reminded by Tracy’s article of the value of the Hebraic thought-forms from which Christianity is derived. Anson Laytner’s Arguing with God: A Jewish Tradition, (London: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1990) would appear to document what Tracy is describing in its analysis of law-court prayer within a covenental relationship with God. 82


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clearly is unable to speak prophetically to it culture outside its walls. Moltmann’s reminder of the “My God . . .” occurs to him only after his experience of suffering in a POW camp while contemplating the Jews and the Holocaust. Recall that his first book was about hope; only later, after the tragedy of WWII did he speak of God as crucified. He was a Lutheran when he wrote both books. His experience of lament and protest occurred outside of his Christian tradition, even though that tradition is a derivative of Hebraic constructions of debate, negotiation, and anger with the Incomprehensible One. David Tracy makes an appeal to christology to sustain his project regarding the gathering of fragments in the naming of God. He questions why a biblical witness so explicitly apocalyptic (Mark, Thessalonians and Revelation) has produced a mainline Christian theology so apocalyptically bankrupt. “Apocalyptic, is after all, throughout the New Testament. . . . But where is it in our theology?”143 Here he advocates tension; we would call this scandal. That is, Tracy seeks the dialectic of the “already/not yet” of redemption in the symbols of the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and the (neglected) fourth great symbol of the Christian tradition—the Second Coming. One possible response to Tracy’s concern about why mainline theology is so divorced from the content of the biblical witness is that Protestantism in the U.S. has marginalized Word as a source for its theology in the quadrant of experience, tradition, reason, and Word. A cursory review of the last hundred years of theological development with mainline Protestantism in the U.S. would easily corroborate this assertion. In sum, Tracy’s advocacy for the apocalyptic and the apophatic resulting in a naming of God as hidden and incomprehensible locates Christian voices in Ernst Käsemann’s 143 Ibid. 83


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“apocalyptic is the mother of all Christian theology,” Luther’s “hidden God,” Moltmann’s “crucified God,” and Tillich’s “God beyond God.” 144 David Tracy “second sense of Luther’s hidden God”—a hiddenness “behind” the cross creates space for Pascal’s “terror of God”—where the hiddenness and incomprehensibility of God first come together.145 What Tracy offers is critical to the argument of this book in general and in the analysis of this chapter in particular because it “calls a thing what it is”—that is, it names a modernity-infused Protestantism as the theology of glory that it is, symbolized by an optimism and triumphalism devoid of lament-protest in its liturgy as well as by an absence of the apophatic-apoclyptic in its theology. From Eastern thought, Tracy finds in Dionysius the Areopagite a thoroughly Christian (not neoplatonist) thinker drawing his names for God from biblical revelation. Furthermore, Dionysius urges a linguistic shift from that of prediction to praise and prayer into mystical union. Here Tracy points out how Dionysius gets past Cartesian binary forms into transgressive linguistic forms which may exceed our experience. “Experience of God . . . is not a knowledge about God.”146 While intrigued by the need to do so, Tracy reserves an affirmation of both Dionysius’ Incomprehensible God and Luther’s Hidden God for a later time. Yet, he names Simone Weil, Pascal, and Kierkegaard as examples of those who have named God as Hidden–Incomprehensible as an example of “The Impossible”—where “the Impossible becomes a matter of justice, justice which, to be sure, seems entirely impossible given the present world’s reign.”147

144 Ibid., 6-7. 145 Ibid., 8. 146 Ibid., 9. 147 Ibid., 10. 84


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Conclusion The objective of this chapter has been to assert that Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross begins with a dismantling of classic theistic constructions of God derived from Luther’s theology of the cross in the Deus Absconditus and his crucified God. As has been demonstrated, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s suffering God pushed to the margins in the person of Jesus Christ is a twentieth-century contextualization of God for a nation tyrannized by the total system of nihilistic Nazism whose inroads penetrated the German Protestant church. Jüngel’s affirmation of Bonhoeffer’s theological return of the death of God from Nietzsche’s exile into post-romantic nihilism creates space for the only way to think of the divinity Christianly: God on a cross. Detached from the fadism of the 1960s death of God theology where Bonhoeffer’s theological return was co-opted and misunderstood, an analysis of his prison correspondence which retains christological continuity advances his suffering God for a theology-from-below, returning Christian ideas of God to their First-Testament home located in the community of the Israelites. Bonhoeffer’s apparently paradoxical and contradictory statements (“Before God we live with God without God”) become coherent when interpreted in concert with his pneumatological christology. Bonhoeffer’s view of redemption is informed by his secular (or public) notion of biblical concepts where the Christian is the new creature “re-incarnated” to live a this-worldly life proclaiming a gospel into the strength of a world come of age. We have observed how Bonhoeffer feels no compulsion to harass the godless into conversion, preferring rather to speak the scandal of the cross as the central truth of life into the strength of a world come of age that feels no necessity for God. Resonating with Jüngel’s “more than necessary”

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God of grace, Bonhoeffer speaks of God and Christian faith as the answer to no felt-need or existential questions whose answers may be better served from science or psychotherapy. Rather, he confronts the person without God with the scandal of a loving crucified God on a cross for humanity as the One for others. Finally, David Tracy’s project of apocalyptic-apophatic mysticism positions God as the Hidden-Incomprehensible One. Like Bonhoeffer, Tracy’s image of God is Hebraic, avoiding the totalism of Hellenistic constructions. Influenced by Rosenzweig’s fragment forms which dismantle the circle into the points of a star, David Tracy advocates a return to the realism of the cross and an epistemology derived from an apophatic way of seeing. Like Luther’s critique of the totality of medieval Catholicism, and like Bonhoeffer’s non-systematic construction of a suffering God as a fragment formed from viewing reality through the lens of the persecuted, marginalized Other, David Tracy speaks of the Impossible as God who in the terror-ridden world in which we now live may be the source of a justice for which humanity may hope against all odds—as impossible. Given a construction of the divine unhindered by the systemic totalism of rationalism, idealism, romanticism, or nihilism, we now investigate how Luther’s theology of the cross creates space for the vicarious representative (der Stellvertreter) in the person of Jesus of Nazareth whose incarnation, life, death, ascension, and Second Coming take spiritual form in the church.

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STELLVERTRETUNG

Introduction Stellvertretung (vicarious representative action) is at the crux of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross. The objective of this chapter is to define and analyze how this one word informs and shapes Bonhoeffer’s theology in general and his communal ecclesiology of the cross in particular. First, an etymological assessment from the English, German, Latin, and Greek provides a brief context for how Stellvertretung and its cognates are understood from both a vernacular as well as a theological perspective. Secondly, through a content analysis of Bonhoeffer’s usage of Stellvertretung, this chapter demonstrates a soteriological-sociological continuity from Bonhoeffer’s dissertation to his last prison Letters. Through a chronological look at his writings, an analysis of how Bonhoeffer uses the term explicitly and implicitly to define and shape his theology is offered with


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appropriate interactive comment from Bonhoeffer research as well as the wider theological community. Finally, the neglected voice of René Girard is lifted up in conjunction with Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertretung. Using Girard’s anthropological research on surrogate victim, mimetic desire, monstrous double, and sacrificial substitution, a theological-anthropological analogy is drawn between Bonhoeffer’s vicarious representative and Girard’s surrogate victim where scandal is the locus. Both scholars assert the possibility for a cessation of unnecessary violence within society when the suppression of the scandal of a violent cross is abandoned either by the anthropological or theological communities.

Etymology Stellvertretung is one of Bonhoeffer’s fundamental theological concepts throughout his writings. Literally the word means to represent in place of another —to act, advocate, intercede on behalf of another; we translate this as “vicarious representative action.”148

In support of this translation, Helmut Ziefle defines the adjectival stellvertretend as “vicarious, representative, delegated.”149 The word is derived from stellen defined as a reflexive verb with “to take one’s stand, to give oneself up, to appear and vertreten whose definitions include “to replace, to represent, to act as a substitute.”150 The general definition of Stellvertretung and its cognates use the terms, “representation, substitution, agency,

148 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998, 120. Note [29] from editor Clifford Green, [SC]. 149 Helmut W. Ziefle, Modern Theological German, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997, 275. 150 Ibid., 275, 317. 88


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deputy, on behalf of, standing in for, in place of.”1 Langenscheidt confirms the link between (“vicarious” and stellvertretend) and (“representative” and Stellvertretung) when going from the English to the German. From the Latin, both “vicarious” and “representative” are translated with vicarius. The Latin vicarius is given by “taking the place of a person, a substitute, an under-servant or under-slave.”2 From the Greek paradidomi (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:25) there is the idea of “giving oneself up in suffering and death on behalf of another.”3 To summarize, Stellvertretung , in its theological-anthropological context is adequately defined by “vicarious representative action” to refer to a crucified God whose death on a cross “takes the place of” and is “on behalf of” the other. It is within this theological-anthropological context that Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood and used the term throughout his writings without variation in its radical relationship to the skandalon. Bonhoeffer’s usage of Stellvertretung is soteriological, referring to the atoning death of God for sinners. His application of Stellvertretung is anthropological without loss of soteriological content from historic Christianity. “The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Stellvertreter reveals . . . a new reality in history . . . for Bonhoeffer, Christ the Stellvertreter is the initiator and reality of the new humanity . . . the dangerous placing of

1

New College German Dictionary, eds., Sonia Brough and Heinz Messinger, New York: Langenscheidt, 1995, 580.

2

Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, D. P. Simpson, (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 814, 640.

3

A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Arndt & Gringich, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1957, 620. 89


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oneself into the other’s shoes.”4 Despite his ambiguous separation of the incarnation from the cross to support an unnecessary subordination of vicarious to substitution when speaking of the cross, Sorum observes “Christ achieved true bodiliness only through his Stellvertretung at the cross.”5 Before going further in how Bonhoeffer research has understood Stellvertreter, it is critical to have Bonhoeffer’s definition of redemption in mind. Bonhoeffer never splits anthropology from theology. The cross has a horizontal and a vertical dimension. The horizontal beam of the cross cannot just hang in space unless fixed to the vertical beam planted in the ground of the earth. Without the horizontal beam there is no symbol for God’s embracing of humanity. Together all the claims for theological-anthropological salvation are united in the cross. Redemption is not biblically defined by a reduction of the cross to only one of its beams. Redemption is a theological-anthropological term involving the salvation of the whole person: body, mind, soul, and spirit. The liberal/evangelical polarization has split/reduced redemption into the horizontal beam in the former and the vertical beam in the latter. Jesus healed the body of a paralytic and forgave his sins in the same event (Mark 2). A healthy tension must be maintained from the scandal of the cross when conceiving of redemption biblically. Bonhoeffer’s soteriology is “simul theological et anthro-

4

Mark S. Brocker, “The Community of God, Jesus Christ, and Responsibility: The Responsible Person and the Responsible Community in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” dissertation, University of Chicago, The Divinity School, 1996.

5

Jonathan D. Sorum, “The Eschatological Boundary in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge,” dissertation, Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, 1994. 90


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pological.” When he speaks of redemption he is talking about a Christian form of “reincarnation” where the new creature in Christ “returns” to earth to participate in the sufferings of Christ for the world. His emphasis is upon the “thisworldly” dimension without loss of the vertical beam of the cross. From a holistic perspective, “redemption” involves all salvific implications of the body, mind, soul, and spirit. There is currently no analogy within either liberal or evangelical Protestantism which reflects the biblical definition of redemption from the cross or the interpretation within “reincarnation” provided by Bonhoeffer. The discrepancies and inadequacies presented by Bonhoeffer research on this issue are reflected in either an over-emphasis on the vertical interpretation of redemption (Sorum’s substitution-only theory) or in a reduction into anthropology (Green’s sociality-only view of soteriology). An underlying tension when reading Bonhoeffer’s theology in general and his usage of Stellvertretung in particular centers on a theological-anthropological dialectic. Bonhoeffer scholarship has at times adequately reflected such a tension yet often severs Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropological usage of vicarious representative action. So Green states of Stellvertretung, “it is not a soteriological concept applied only to the cross (as ‘vicarious’ might suggest). By anthropological analogy, Stellvertretung involves acting responsibly on behalf of others and on behalf of communities to which one belongs.”6 This misleading statement is foreign to the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who

6

SC, 120 from Green’s editorial Note [29]. Green’s tendency is to minimize the soteriological element of Bonhoeffer’s use of Stellvertretung thus denuding the crucial theological element from the “both-and” intent from Bonhoeffer’s robust theological-anthropological meaning. 91


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never favors the moral example of Jesus over his salvific work on the cross. On the other hand, Sorum’s extremism on the rightful substitutionary component of the cross needn’t negate the vicarious implications of that work for sinners as opposed to instead of sinners. The pro nobis is unnecessarily diminished along with the response to participation in Christ when the “vicarious” component of the cross is marginalized. Bonhoeffer’s usage of Stellvertretung is a balanced, yet scandalous, hermeneutic of both the soteriological and the sociological implications of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Furthermore, Bonhoeffer’s definition of the term is consistent and continuous throughout his writing from Berlin to Tegel. There is no early use of Stellvertretung as “substitution” followed by a later understanding of “vicarious,” from Sorum, suggesting the former as the better translation.7 Bliese’s discussion of vicarious representative action as “responsible action whereby Christians were challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world,”8 demonstrates the balanced theological-anthropology intended by Bonhoeffer. Given the above etymology, we now analyze Bonhoeffer’s ontological use of Stellvertretung preparatory to an assessment of his ecclesiology of the cross.

Bonhoeffer’s Interpretation of Stellvertretung: Sanctorum Communio In Chapter 4, “Sin and Broken Community,” under a section entitled, “Ethical Collective Persons” Bonhoeffer introduces

7

Sorum, 48.

8

Richard H. Bliese, “Bonhoeffer as Confessor: The Nature and Presence of Confession in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life and Writings,” dissertation, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1995. 92


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Stellvertretung in the dissertation and summarily informs the reader that it will be discussed later. However, the introduction of vicarious representative action within a context of how sin breaks human community underlines his inherently theological-soteriological usage of the term. He lays the theological groundwork for a new humanity whose ontology is collectively and simultaneously peccatorum communio (community of sinners) in Adam and Sanctorum Communio (community of saints) in Christ.9 Such a new ethical community is not only possible but necessary as “the call heard for all humanity in the story of Jesus Christ.”10 The world of sin is the world of ‘Adam,’ the old humanity. But the world of Adam is the world Christ reconciled and made into a new humanity, Christ’s church . . . the humanity of Adam lives on in the humanity of Christ. This is why the discussion of the problem of sin is indispensable for understanding the Sanctorum Communio.11

Always in the background of his earliest writing in the 1927 dissertation is Luther’s theology of the cross and the death of God. To this point in his dissertation, Bonhoeffer has distanced himself from the speculative sources regarding the person and community offered by idealist philosophy and phenomenological methodologies of sociology (Tönnies). His analysis goes beyond Troeltsch’s historical development of community preferring “the essential social structure of Christian community.”12 Bonhoeffer’s next discussion of Stellvertretung offers a

9

SC, 120–21.

10 Ibid., 121 (author’s italics). 11 SC, 107. 12 SC, 32. In fact, what Bonhoeffer is doing in Sanctorum Commu93


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more theological confirmation of his communally soteriological use of vicarious representative action. Bonhoeffer’s concern is that the real vicarious action of Christ not be confused with the egocentric vicarious representation of Adam. It’s almost as if the 1927 Berlin student knows that his programmatic concept will be misinterpreted by later movements within a Protestantism without Reformation. “In the old humanity the whole of humanity falls anew, so to speak, with every person who sins; in Christ, however, humanity has been brought once for all— this is essential to really vicarious representative action—into community with God.”13 That is, with theologia crucis a perichoretic trinitarian theology sets the context within which Dietrich Bonhoeffer introduces Stellvertretung.

Stellvertretung as Scandal In “The Church Established in and through Christ—Its Realization,” Bonhoeffer clearly places Stellvertretung within the skandalon. Between the last discussion and this one, he has used expressions “community of the cross” to speak of the paradoxical reality of the Gemeinde (church-community). In concert with Gemeinde, he has without embarrassment discussed the Holy Spirit. He invokes Luther to link Stellvertretung with the atoning work of Christ for others. The theological concept of sin is at

nio is verifying how revelation located in the biblical witness is necessary and sufficient for a unique definition of both the person and the community outside the intrusion of speculative thought from the prevailing sociology of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. 13 SC, 146. Here Green adds Note [49] to support the point that Seeberg, Bonhoeffer’s advisor, places Stellvertretung in the center of “the redemptive work of Jesus Christ” (Dogmatik, 2:242 ff). 94


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the heart of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of vicarious representative action. “He [Christ] takes the punishment upon himself, accomplishes forgiveness of sin . . . Christ’s action as vicarious representative can thus be understood from the situation itself.”14 What situation? Bonhoeffer identifies the situation as the “punitive character of the suffering of Jesus . . . . Luther placed all the emphasis especially on this very idea . . . .”15 Here is the skandalon which mocks the reduced gospel of religious liberalism or its conservative evangelical counterpoint without the cross and without a context of punishment being born by the Christ for sin and for sinners. In a brief overview of the skandalon of the cross from Luther’s theologia crucis, Bonhoeffer assures the reader of the soteriological context for Stellvertretung: “It is not an ethical possibility or standard, but solely the reality of the divine love for the church community; it is not an ethical, but a theological concept.” 16 Here is justification by grace through faith set in the consequences for Christian community where the Christian is united not only to Christ in the new humanity, but also ontologically with one another in the church-community, the Gemeinde. “And since the love of God, in Christ’s vicarious representative action, restores the community between God and human

14 Ibid., 155. 15 Ibid., with Green’s note to indicate how Ritschl rejects the notion of punishment as contextually legal and therefore not for use within Christian religion. Ritschl symbolizes the theological liberalism which reduces the gospel to anthropology without the cross which Bonhoeffer consistently rejects throughout his writing. 16 SC, 156 (author’s italics). 95


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beings, so the community of human beings with each other has also become a reality in love once again.”17 Bonhoeffer’s penchant for concreteness emerges in his next analysis of vicarious representative action. Here he actualizes Stellvertretung in three empirical acts of love. Within the context of a section entitled, Geistgemeinschaft (Community of Spirit), his concepts of fuereinander (being-for-one-another) and miteinander (being-with-one-another) become tangible in 1. self-renouncing, active work for the neighbor, 2. intercessory prayer, and 3. mutual forgiveness of sins.18 It is critical to note how he sees these acts of love as an incarnation of the skandalon in the life of the individual Christian on behalf of the neighbor. Bonhoeffer’s theological anthropology is never to be dualized into a religious humanism which smoothes the scandal of the cross into merely following the moral example of a disillusioned leader of a renewal movement within Judaism. What the Christian does for the other is precisely what she knows God in Christ did for her on a Roman tool of death as the innocent crucified God whose powerlessness is gracious and willed in freedom for humanity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio provides the thrust for his entire theology. Beyond the dissertation, there are only linguistic and nuanced variations on his theme of Stellvertretung contextualized within Luther’s theologia crucis and death of God. His next discussion of vicarious representative action could have just as easily been quoted from the Ethics. In further discussion of how miteinander and fuereinander become concrete in the prayer life of the Christian, Bonhoeffer draws a sharp line

17 Ibid., 157. 18 Ibid., 184. 96


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between ethical humanism and Christian vicarious-based love for the other. Like any form of prayer, intercession does not compel God, but, if God does the final work, then one member of the community can redeem another, in the power of the church.19

Bonhoeffer takes his thoughts directly from Luther’s idea of being “Christ” for the other. In the Ethics, Bonhoeffer speaks of “bearing the sins of another” based upon one’s own recognition of culpability for the death of Christ. “Our sins . . . are borne by the church-community—by Christ.”20 Of course, it is in the dissertation that he makes the statement, “Christ exists as the church-community”—interpreting Hegel theologically.

Stellvertretung: The Real Presence of Christ in the Church-Community From Luther’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper, Bonhoeffer links Stellvertretung with the given reality of Christ’s presence in Gemeinde. The Lord’s Supper is . . . a gift to the church-community. Christ’s presence in spirit is not merely symbolic, but a given reality. Christ becomes alive in the believers as church-community. This means the gift has two aspects: Christ gives community with himself, i.e., his vicariously suffering unto death is my benefit; and Christ gives the church-community, i.e., he renews it, thus giving it to itself.21

Based upon the above soteriological and ecclesiological heuristic of Stellvertretung, we find the priesthood of all believers

19 SC, 187. 20 Ibid. 21 SC, 243. 97


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returned to the church through the person and work of the Christ on the cross. This final reference to vicarious representative action indicates a progression of thought where Stellvertretung has itself developed from a term he introduces without comment to a complete identification with the sacrament itself. Just as the sacrament table is central to the liturgy as the location of Christ’s offering, so also is Stellvertretung moved into the center of Bonhoeffer’s theology (as the) . . . structural principle of the Christian church community. . . . the principle.  . . . gives Christian basic-relations their substantive uniqueness . . . . It is consequently no longer possible to separate ecclesiology from Christology, since both are connected through the principle of vicarious representative action.22

Soosten’s summation of the dissertation caps the theological basis for the rest of Bonhoeffer’s radical theology. In sum, no additional theological weight is required beyond the 1927 dissertation which links christology with ecclesiology in Stellvertretung. While Bonhoeffer shifts his language from the academic literature to the prison correspondence, he’s always speaking from the cross. The theology is the same; only the language is different based upon a shift in a religionless audience in a world come of age. Hermeneutically, Stellvertretung derives from the cross and “calls a thing what it is” whether it be a humanity as sinner, Jesus Christ as vicarious representative for the other, the biblical witness written directly to the reader or the possibility of German Lutherans to be a community with and for one another expressed in concrete acts of love.

22 SC, in the “Afterword” from Joachim von Soosten, 294 98


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Epistemologically, Christ is known from a scandalous cross as the Stellvertreter. The church is known as “the community based upon Christ’s vicarious representative suffering on our behalf, and it consists of Christians on earth who in turn stand up for each other [ fuereinander-eintreten]. The marks of the church . . . always imply the sociality of the church-community.”23 The proclamation of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments make Christ’s vicarious representative action present for us; and this vicarious representative action in turn finds expression in the church’s social form.24

The vicarious representative way of “seeing” the church in sociality replaces any epistemology from idealistic philosophy accommodated within the Protestantism of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany without the cross. The principle of Stellvertretung derived from the skandalon urges the Christian to “advocate vicariously for the other in everyday matters. . . .”25 “One person bears the other in active love, intercession, and forgiveness of sins, acting completely vicariously . . . on the love of God . . . in the power of the church-community . . . the community of love [Liebesgemeinschaft].”26 Ontologically, Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertretung creates the space to speak of the Sanctorum Communio theologically after at least a century of the concrete social form’s detachment from the marks of Christ’s church. Given his move away from an epistemology centered in the autonomous “I” of idealist philosophy,

23 Ibid. 24 Ibid. 25 SC, 184. 26 Ibid., 191. 99


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Bonhoeffer defines the church “structurally by Stellvertretung, both with regard to the christological foundation of sociality and the ecclesiological form it requires.”27 The essence of this study is to analyze Bonhoeffer’s christological ecclesiology centered in Jesus Christ as Stellvertreter in such a way that the skandalon becomes normative as a criterion for the church. Given the above review of the Berlin student’s initial dissertation, we now analyze vicarious representative action as located in his second dissertation, Akt und Sein.

Act and Being Act and Being addresses the prevailing winds of philosophical idealism and its penetration into Protestantism. Bonhoeffer’s chief concern is epistemological. “The concept of a contingent revelation of God in Christ in principle the possibility of the self-understanding of the I apart from the reference to revelation (Christian transcendentalism). The concept of revelation must, therefore, yield an epistemology of its own.”28 In this second dissertation, Bonhoeffer conceives of revelation in terms of the church. . . .” The dialectic of Act and Being is understood theologically as the dialectic of faith and the congregation of Christ.”29 His way of knowing is from the cross, developed from Stellvertretung in Sanctorum Communio. “Concepts of being . . . are always determined by the concepts of sin and grace, ‘Adam’ and Christ. This entire study is an attempt to unify the concern of true transcendentalism and the concern of

27 SC, 299. 28 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Act and Being, ed. Wayne W. Floyd, Jr., Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, 31. (AB). 29 Ibid. 100


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true ontology in an ‘ecclesiological form of thinking.’” 30 In his comprehensive analysis of idealism’s hold on Protestantism, he challenged the “I” as center of the universe from the cross. “What is needed is a form of theological thinking that can affirm the finitude of God’s ‘revelation in history’. . . ‘the foolishness of the Christian idea of God, which has been witnessed to by all genuine Christian thinking from Paul, Augustine, Luther, to Kierkegaard and Barth . . . that ‘God himself dies and reveals the divine self in the death of a man, who is condemned as a sinner.’”31 To summarize, Bonhoeffer’s entire project in Act and Being is to challenge the existentialism of Heidegger from a position of revelation in Christian theology. Bonhoeffer locates in revelation a theological response on the one hand to the transcendentalism (the supernatural component of Christianity) and on the other hand to the ontology of being (the human component of Christianity). By restoring revelation, a theological component lost to German Protestantism in nineteenth-century worship at the altar of philosophical constructions, Bonhoeffer can speak of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Second Coming of the Christ without reductions into German philosophy. Given the above background, Wayne Floyd’s (Bonhoeffer scholar and editor of Act and Being) comment on Stellvertretung appears to detach vicarious representative action from its theological roots thoroughly developed in Sanctorum Communio. Within the context of an analysis of E. Grisebach’s philosophy, Bonhoeffer takes an excursion into a new philosophical development which “points the way to reality” in the discussion of falsifying reality by subsuming others into one30 Ibid., 32. 31 Ibid., 17; from the Editor’s Introduction by Floyd. 101


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self. With an appeal to “acting ethically,” Floyd locates Bonhoeffer’s crucially theological Stellvertretung in the personalism of a philosopher. Regarding “I exist in reality, I act ethically” Floyd states, Bonhoeffer works out this position in detail in the notion of Stellvertretung—responsible action on behalf of, and in the place of, another person—in Ethics: “Stellvertretung and thus responsibility exist only in the complete surrender of one’s own life for that of another” (DBW 8:258). But the roots of Stellvertretung lie here in the early, ‘academic’ theology, particularly the engagement with the personalism of Eberhard Grisebach.”32

Floyd’s comment is correct in that Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertretung comes from the academic theology—but Bonhoeffer never explicitly uses the term Stellvertretung in Act and Being, and so Sanctorum Communio is our source for Bonhoeffer’s academic development of vicarious representative action discussed above. But Floyd’s crediting of Grisebach’s philosophy as a source for Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertretung clearly overlooks the evidence in Sanctorum Communio rooted, not in personalism, but in the skandalon of the cross. Bonhoeffer’s entire project in Act and Being is to distance himself from philosophical alloy which distorts the scandal of the gospel with its “foolishness, weakness and powerlessness.” There is no evidence in Sanctorum Communio that Bonhoeffer finds in Grisebach’s personalism a source for his theological development of Stellvertretung. Any reduction of Stellvertretung to a “purely ethicized conception of the gospel”33

32 AB, 87, Note [14] by Floyd. 33 Ibid., 88. Bonhoeffer warns against reducing Christ out of the gospel in a note about Paul Tillich’s linguistic avoidance of 102


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owes its existence to liberal theology’s abridged gospel—an accommodation to criteria which excludes the cross. Bonhoeffer consistently mentions this “abridgement of the gospel” in opposition to his christocentric view of the church. While Bonhoeffer never explicitly uses Stellvertretung in Act and Being, an analysis of one key programmatic text will show that vicarious representative action is an implicit sine qua non for understanding the second dissertation. This one text during the academic period sets up a firm theological-anthropological basis for Bonhoeffer’s definition of the new humanity—a definition rooted in Christ’s salvific work not only for individual sinners but also indicative of a sociality of the cross located in the church.34 In revelation it is not so much a question of the freedom of God—eternally remaining within the divine self, aseity—on the other side of revelation, as it is of God’s coming out of God’s own self in revelation. It is a matter of God’s given Word, the covenant in which God is bound by God’s own action. It is a question of the freedom of God, which finds its strongest evidence precisely in that God freely chose to be bound to historical human beings and to be placed at the disposal of human beings. God is free not from human beings but for

theological terms like, sin, forgiveness, and grace. 34 Clifford J. Green, Bonhoeffer: A Theology of Sociality, (Grand Rapids: Eerdamans, 1999), 86. Green quotes Bethge to confirm the importance of recognizing how Bonhoeffer’s later use of language is rooted in the academic theology. Specifically, the ontological bridge of the second dissertation links the abstract Christus als Gemeinde existierend from Sanctorum Communio with the concrete “Jesus the man for others” from the Tegel Letters. Both statements presuppose Bonhoeffer’s discussion of revelation in Act and Being captured in his “God-being-free-for-humanity.” 103


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them. Christ is the word of God’s freedom. God is present, that is, not in eternal objectivity but—to put it quite provisionally for now—“haveable,” graspable in the Word within the church. Here the formal understanding of God’s freedom is countered by a substantial one.35

This pregnant text must be understood from Bonhoeffer’s discussion of Stellvertretung in Sanctorum Communio. Key to an analysis of the above text is how “God’s freedom for others” is understood. What does it mean to say that God is for others? How might God’s freedom in the safety of aseity compare to the insecurity God’s promeity? The context for the above statements is Bonhoeffer’s discussion of revelation in terms of the concept of “act.” Previous to this current discussion, he has pointed out the inadequacy of German philosophy to deal with the cor curvum in se (heart turned in upon itself) dilemma. “Only a way of thinking that, bound in obedience to Christ, ‘is’ from the truth can place into the truth.”36 This statement, with concrete implications for the later Discipleship, underlines his belief in the unique adequacy of a Christian epistemology to place persons from extra nos into truth. Bonhoeffer credits Grisebach for coming a long way to reach the adequacy of Christian thought on being directed into reality from the outside. That is, the merit of Grisebach’s personalism is a function of its conformity to the a priori Stellvertretung principle. After this quote from Act and Being, Bonhoeffer discusses the implications for “revelation as act” upon how being is to be conceived. His concerns are both epistemological and ontological based upon a view of revelation from a “graspable Christ” who is “for others.” 35 AB, 90-91. 36 AB, 80. 104


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“God freely chose to be bound to historical human beings and to be placed at the disposal of human beings” is directly linked with Jüngel’s God who is “more than necessary.” God is free because God is bound. God is free because he is grace and not obligated to do what he has done in the acts of creation and redemption. To say that God was free to create is to say that God was under no obligation to create; that is, creation was unnecessary. To say that God became human in the womb of a teenage girl from Nazareth named Mary is to say that God didn’t have to “lower” Godself to this participation within his creation. To say that God is free in his acts is to say that God was under no obligation to fix himself to the wood and to be bound to a Roman death tool “for humanity” in his vicarious death for sinners. This is what Bonhoeffer is wrestling with during his breakthrough relating God’s acts to God’s revelation. There is nothing abstract. His christology in this Act and Being statement foreshadows how he summarily rejects the contrived separation of the so-called “historical Jesus” from the so-called “Christ of faith” from nineteenth-century German religious philosophy. When God is conceived from Stellvertretung within theologia crucis and the death of God is grasped theologically, any debate about Jesus versus Christ becomes extraneous.37 Furthermore, Bonhoeffer’s programmatic statement

37 Bonhoeffer’s christology lectures at Berlin during the 1932–33 academic year are pivotal to his theology and will be discussed in detail below. Suffice it to say here that to make the point, Bonhoeffer’s opening paragraph in a lecture entitled, “The Historical Christ” includes this statement: “One must understand that the isolation of the so-called Jesus of history from the present Christ and vice versa is a fiction.” Christ the Center, trans. Edwin H. Robertson, (NY: HarperCollins, 1978), 69. 105


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above underlines a heuristic of Stellvertretung which maximizes the pro nobis rather the “instead of us” located in any extreme reduction of the vicarious representative action to “substitution.” Bonhoeffer’s fuereinander is a direct result of his interpretation of God’s givenness for others. His later statements do not include a “Jesus instead of others” or a “Jesus replacing others,” but with Bethge we agree along with Green that Act and Being’s implicit use of Stellvertretung establishes the later “Jesus for others” from the Letters ushered in by Gemeinde to incarnate Jesus’ “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Prior to any further analysis of Stellvertretung, a brief biographical excursus into the 1930–31 period in the U.S. is important to account, in part, for Bonhoeffer’s transition from “theologian to Christian”38 or to use his own words, from “phraseology to reality.”39 Bonhoeffer scholarship has been as reluctant as Bonhoeffer himself to proclaim any concrete announcement that may sound like a “conversion experience.” Green’s analysis of this period speaks of an “existential crisis.”40 It is described as the contradiction of being a servant of Christ compared to an ambitious vocational use of theology. “But above all it was ‘the Bible, especially the Sermon on the Mount,’ that finally united his professed calling and his actual life, and convinced him ‘that the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the church.’”41 Bethge lists the following observable changes in Bonhoeffer’s life or speech: 1. Regular church attendance 2. A meditative approach to the Bible 38 Bethge, 202. 39 Ibid., 203. 40 Green, 147. 41 Ibid., 148. 106


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3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Oral confession as an act to be practiced A communal life of obedience and prayer Acting upon the Sermon on the Mount Christian pacifism Piety accompanied by theological rigor and broad cultural background.42

How did Bonhoeffer himself speak of his existential crisis taking him from a theologian to a Christian? “Then something happened, something that has changed and transformed my life to the present day. For the first time I discovered the Bible; I had not yet become a Christian . . . I had never prayed . . . I was quite pleased with myself . . . the Bible freed me from that . . . my calling is quite clear to me.”43 In an April 1936 letter to his brother-in-law Rüdiger Schleicher, Bonhoeffer said, “what is God trying to say to us through it [the Bible]? Every other place outside the Bible has become too uncertain for me . . . since I learned to read the Bible this way—which has not been long at all—it become more wonderful to me with each day . . . You wouldn’t believe how happy one is to find the way back from the wrong track of some theologies to this elemental thing.”44 What wrong track? “To what extent is the christological question the central question of scholarship? It is because only in christology is the question of transcendence put in the form of the question of existence. It is because the ontological question is put as the question of the being of a person, the person

42 Bethge, 204. 43 Ibid., a January 27, 1936 Letter from Finkenwalde, DBW 14:114–14. Bethge describes this letter as the only time Bonhoeffer ever spoke about what was going on “inside of him.” 44 Bethge, 206. 107


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Jesus Christ.”45 Here Bonhoeffer lets the reader in on what he might have meant with the “wrong track of some theologies.” He’s about to challenge Schleiermacher in particular and his own academic theological preparation in general while a professor at Berlin University. “The christological question is fundamentally an ontological question.”46 Bonhoeffer is convinced that nineteenth-century Protestantism asked the wrong questions when making its quest for a historical Jesus or a Christ of faith. Liberal theological education crafted the wrong questions. “Two questions must remain for ever excluded from christological thought: 1. The question of whether the answer given and the Church’s corresponding question ‘Who?’ can be justified or not and 2. The question of how the ‘truth’ of the revelation can be conceived.”47 In response to the first question, Bonhoeffer says, “The testimony of Jesus to himself stands by itself.” And to the second, he comments that to answer this would mean going behind Christ’s claim and finding an independent reason for it. . . . A secularized reduction of the true question . . . Who?”48 Liberal theology’s penchant for the “how” question diverted itself onto a wrong track. The “how” avoids the otherness of the one making the claim. It’s the question from cor curvum in se fettered in the autonomy of the Enlightened person. This addiction to immanence can never arrive at an answer to “who”— the question about transcendence. It can only swirl around the misgivings of self-transcendence which is only immanence by a

45 Dietirch Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, trans., Edwin H. Robertson, (NY: HarperCollins, 1978), 33 (CC). 46 Ibid., 32. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid., 31–32. 108


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different name. What Bonhoeffer says in this Introduction to his christology lectures summarizes what he has already discussed in both previous dissertations. He criticizes Protestant theology’s accommodation of the presuppositions of scientific inquiry from a rationalism of the nineteenth century which is no more than “the immanence of reason.” Inherent in his critique of focusing upon “what’s behind the claim of the Christ” is Luther’s precise argumentation introducing theologia crucis from the Heidelberg Disputation. So the reader isn’t at all surprised to find the reformer named in Bonhoeffer’s summation: With the exclusion of these two questions, there remain the questions of “Who?” of the being, the essence and the nature of Christ. That means that the christological question is fundamentally an ontological question. Its aim is to work out the ontological structure of the “Who?” without plunging on the Scylla of the “How?” or the Charybdis of the question of the “truth” of the revelation. The early Church foundered on the former; modern theology since the Enlightenment and Schleiermacher on the latter. The New Testament, Paul and Luther sailed through the middle.49

And the way to sail through the middle with the Apostle and the Augustinian is to let the pneumatological winds propel the ship of christo-ecclesiology avoiding the sandbar of liberalism’s quest for a Christ without history or a Jesus without divinity. At the same time, those prevailing spiritual winds are to help the church avoid the rocky shore of a positivistic Barthianism unable to non-systematically derive Christian truth both from the biblical witness and the world. Bonhoeffer’s contribution to Christian faith is located in his ability to captain the ship in the clear channel waters informed by Paul’s and Luther’s useful 49 Ibid., 32–33. 109


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answers to Jesus’ own question to his followers: Who do you say that I am?

The 1933 Christology Lectures50 In thirty-six hours of lecture during the summer of 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer provided his students with an overview of a christology that demonstrated how Jesus as Stellvertreter answers the “who” question within the context of theologia crucis and a theological view of the death of God. His critique of a

50 Note: The authenticity of Bonhoeffer’s early 1933 Berlin lectures on christology is traditionally questioned since we do not have his actual text. Christ the Center is a reconstruction from student notes. In my May 1999 interview of Eberhard Bethge, he verified his work on the reconstruction of these notes and their theological consistency with Bonhoeffer’s christology from the dissertation as well as his later christology in the Ethics and Letters. In a November 2000 interview with Christ the Center editor Edwin H. Robertson, I asked him the same question as to the validity of the christology lectures. He restated what he says in his “Translator’s Preface”: “Martin E. Marty, in The Place of Bonhoeffer, writes ‘no single piece can compete for the interest with Bethge’s recomposition of these lectures from students’ notes. . . . and the author of the chapter himself, Jaroslav Pelikan says, ‘This is one of the most positive essays in the book. . . . I would strongly recommend that admirable chapter as a commentary on Bonhoeffer’s christology . . . neither the date nor the unfinished state of the text, should keep us from giving very careful attention to what they contain.’” (Edwin H. Robertson, Christ the Center, San Francisco: Harper, 1978), “Preface,” 8–9. Finally, I have interviewed (November 2000) one of the 1932–33 Berlin students, Inge Karding Sembritzky, who vividly recalled Bonhoeffer’s lectures during the 1932–33 Berlin teaching. 110


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docetic liberal theology within German Protestantism permeates the lectures. The attempt to distinguish between the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline Christ is doomed to failure, judged both historically and dogmatically. . . . The results of liberal theology are its own destruction. They make room for the assertion, which they sought to deny, that Jesus is the Christ.51

He continually drives home that point that the christological question is essentially an ontological one. For Bonhoeffer, Jesus is present precisely because he is historical—an assumption the early church never questioned. “The early Church began with the Jesus Christ of history. . . . But we have lost this self-evident assumption . . . So we have to be concerned first with his presence.”52 Bonhoeffer’s language preserves theologia crucis in a discussion of what he calls “critical christology” and “positive christology.” By the former, he speaks of a negative christology which tests and limits statements about the Christ. “The results of critical christology are of a negative kind, because they determine the boundaries . . . for what may not be said about Christ.”53 Once a negative christology has properly determined such rules—similar to the apophatic work of the patristic church councils, a positive christology may be developed. Parenthetically, while Bonhoeffer was unleashing his radical christology in the lecture halls of Berlin University, Nazi propaganda was positioning itself as a “Positive Christianity”54 of moral reform 51 Ibid., 69. 52 Ibid. 53 Ibid., 74–75. 54 Victoria Barnett in her For the Soul o f the People (1992) describes how vulnerable the Protestant church was to the Nazi 111


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within Germany. It is no accident that Bonhoeffer used language to warn an unsuspecting German public about the deceit of the Nazi project. Clearly, at this time a setting of limits was required not only because the Nazis co-opted religious language to “sell” its message, but also because Protestantism itself had fallen prey to one of church history’s oldest heresies—Docetism. In a description of liberal theology as a docetic heresy in present-day Germany, Bonhoeffer located the problem to a faulty concept of God and an errant view of redemption—both of which are resolved within a theology of the cross whose Jesus is the vicarious representative for sinners. He recounts a brief history of docetism’s penetration into the church to show how the Christianity of his day in Germany itself became a medium to distort Christ. “In a more recent protestant theology, docetism has appeared again, but of course in a different form. There is now an interest in the historical Jesus. Where once there was a speculative idea of God, there is now a speculative concept

agenda. “Most Christians ignored the basic paganism of Nazism and focused, instead, upon the ‘positive’ Christianity that the party promised. . . . In 1930, a meeting was held to form a national ‘Christian-German Movement.’ . . . It was attended by a pastor, two of the Kaiser’s sons, a Nazi member . . . and two editors of Nazi newspapers—one of whom was young Josef Goebbels. . . . The ‘German Christians’ formally founded in May, 1932 . . . embraced the spirit of ‘positive Christianity’. . . they were strongly anti-Semitic and supported the Nazi agenda as the political reflection of ‘true’ German Christianity. . . . Joachim Hossenfelder, a ‘German Christian’ pastor proclaimed, ‘Christian faith is a heroic, manly thing, God speaks in blood and Volk, a more powerful language than He does in the idea of humanity” (27). 112


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of history.”55 He supports his asssertion with an analysis of Schleiermacher and Ritschl, both of whom understand Jesus ontologically as the embodiment of particular ideas, values, and doctrines without taking the humanity of Jesus Christ seriously. That is, the incarnation has been reduced to a means to an end where history unveils suprahistorical ideas imposed upon Jesus of Nazareth from history. Parenthetically, a christological critique of religion is latent here which, though neglected by twentieth-century advocates of God’s death, supports his “religionless Christianity” from the prison correspondence. While his critique of Schleiermacher’s docetism centers upon a recreation of the historical Jesus in the image of man related to history, Bonhoeffer’s concern with Albrecht Ritschl relates to value judgments from the church. “He [Ritschl] says that Christ is the designated God only by the church addressing him as such . . . The Church has a system of values . . . with this system it approaches the figure of the historical Jesus, applies it to him or finds it realized in him.”56 Bonhoeffer finds either reconstruction both destructive to the humanity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as well as delusional. “The understanding of the man as a bearer of a particular idea ignores his reality.”57 Rather than conforming to an illusion of Jesus of Nazareth, he finds a theological error in method already discussed above in the “necessity” question. “God’s incarnation is no necessity which may deduced from God himself . . . the incarnation is the inconceivable, the impossible, belonging to the freedom of God, the coming of God which is totally unpredicatable.”58 From above,

55 CC, 80. 56 Ibid., 80. 57 Ibid., 81. 58 Ibid. 113


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we have already noted Jüngel’s usage of a God who is “more than necessary.” Bonhoeffer’s language here is non-speculative when speaking of God. The paradox, irony, and apparent contradiction inherent in the dialectic theology of the cross is Bonhoeffer’s intention when doing battle with the Protestant docetism of his day, which had spawned its reconstructions of a God foreign to the Hebrews, apophatically known in his hiddenness. The absence of the crucified God since the founding of Berlin University by Schleiermacher created space for the Speculative God from the religious personality of man or the religious values of a distorted Protestantism. Biedermann, a Hegelian, then proclaimed the dissolution of all christological dogmas. He said that the form of Jesus of Nazareth must be replaced . . . the humanity and the historicity of Christ had become an accident of the divine substance. Docetism had entered the protestant camp in pure culture.59

Within a German culture historically imbued with Protestantism, the advent of a docetic Christ created the space, or vacuum, allowing the German Protestant church to accommodate the political docetism of an equally delusional Führerprinzip and the denigration of the Jews as human beings. As stated above, it is no accident that Bonhoeffer uses the language from Goebbel’s propaganda to frame his theological challenge to Nazism from the neglected christology of Luther. Bonhoeffer’s theological statements are a direct function of frequent encounters with Nazi philosophy. The 1934 Barmen Declaration, while regrettably devoid of any reference to the Judenfrage (the Jewish Question) at least crystallizes the sharp christological distinctions required for historic Christian faith to survive the onslaught of Hitler

59 Ibid. 114


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and the Nazi ideology. To its discredit, it made no theological-anthropological connection of christology to the treatment of the Jewish people in 1934 Germany. Bonhoeffer’s critique of the effete Protestantism of his time includes his misgivings not only with the docetism of liberal theology, but also Ebionitism’s assault upon theologia crucis. “For it [Ebionitism], faith in the cross is far more of a stumbling block, an insult and a dishonouring of God. It tries to get around the fact that this folly of God is his wisdom . . . . God took the honor away from himself, so man cannot give it back to him.”60 Here is the “smoothing” of the skandalon predicted by the Apostle when he wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter. Here a “strong monotheistic faith in God” rejects the “appearance of God on earth in Jesus.”61 The issue is limitations. In the case of Ebionitism, the soteriological dimension of Jesus as vicarious representative of God for humanity is challenged. “Ebionitism . . . does not succeed in finding a way from the real creator God to the real man, the servant . . . the saving work of Christ is endangered.”62 Bonhoeffer’s robust christology, along with combatting the docetic–Ebionite controversy, poses the question relative to Stellvertretung, How could God suffer in Christ? 63 Here, his hermeneutic analysis of Chalcedon involves two sub-questions: 1. How does the answer retain the deity of Christ? 2. How does the answer make sense of Jesus’ humanity? After a tour through all attempts at answering the “how” question, Bonhoeffer retains the mystery by arriving at the following: “The Chalcedonian

60 Ibid., 82. 61 Ibid. 62 Ibid., 84. 63 Ibid., 89. 115


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Definition is itself ultimately the question, ‘Who?’”64 From the key principle of Stellvertreter, “Of this man, we say: “This is God for us.’”65 Bonhoeffer’s christology qualifies the whole man Jesus of Nazareth as God by resting all it knows about God from Jesus while simultaneously adding nothing to Jesus’ humanity in the statement, “This man is God.” If Jesus Christ is to be described as God, we may not speak of this divine being, nor of his omnipotence, nor his omniscience; but we must speak of this weak man among sinners, of his manger and his cross. If we are to deal with the deity of Jesus, we must speak of his weakness . . . In christology, one looks at the whole historical man Jesus . . . who is wholly God.66

The abstractions of either liberal theology or conservative theology are rejected. Ontologically, the Christ is no abstract idea of God who possesses characteristics of omnipotence. Bonhoeffer’s analysis of humiliation and exaltation focuses completely upon the one who has become human. “The God–human is veiled in the hiddenness of this stumbling block.”67 Here is Luther’s theologia crucis expressed in deus absconditus and the skandalon from the Apostle. Bonhoeffer focuses upon the modes of existence of one true human being rather than the circular discussion of divine–human natures. In the humiliation, Christ, of his own free will, enters the world of sin and death . . . so as to hide himself in weak-

64 Ibid., 102. 65 Ibid., 103. 66 Ibid., 104. 67 Ibid., 106. 116


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ness . . . incognito . . . as a beggar among beggars . . . an outcast among outcasts, as despairing among the despairing, as dying among the dying . . . as sinner among sinners . . . the peccator pessimus, yet sinless among sinners—the central problem of christology. 68

Bonhoeffer’s Jesus as Stellvertreter answers the central problem of christology. With Luther he agrees that only a crucified God robs sinful flesh of its rights over human beings, precisely because it is human flesh that God carries. “Because the God–human is made sin for us as the peccator pessimus he is crucified. . . . He is himself thief, murderer, adulterer, as we are, because he bears our sins.”69 Central to Bonhoeffer’s ontological analysis is a magnification of the scandal of the cross. All scandalous statements about God in Christ are risked without bypassing the core paradox of the gospel. For example, he says, “The sinlessness of Jesus fails if it is based upon the observable acts of Jesus.”70 Jesus is consistently both good and a failure when considering his deeds. The sinlessness of Jesus of Nazareth is incognito along with his deity. Here is the christological basis for the “religionless Christianity” of the prison letters. Jesus, as God, is a scandal to religious persons, it is incomprehensible that God would break every law. If Jesus had not been wholly man, but had taken a divine nature, one might well have accepted his claim . . . but when it came to signs and wonders, Jesus went incognito and refused to give any evidence for faith. Thus he created the stumbling-

68 Ibid., 107. 69 Ibid., 108 quoting Luther. 70 Ibid., 109. 117


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block. But now everything depended on this . . . the nearer the revelation, the thicker must be the disguise.71

The stumbling block, that is the skandalon of Jesus of Nazareth as the Stellvertreter, is at the core of Bonhoeffer’s theology in general as well as radical for his christology in particular. Every aspect of Jesus, be it as the incarnate one, the humiliated one or the resurrected one is ambiguous. “The more penetrating the question of Christ becomes, the more impenetrable must be the incognito.”72 The hidden God is the revealed God; in the manger, on the cross, or from an empty tomb. The ontological question requires the answer of faith where the incognito is maintained as the exalted one who is crucified; the sinless one, who is guilt-laden and the resurrected one who is humiliated. “If it were not so, the pro nobis would be destroyed and there would be no faith.”73 When Bonhoeffer speaks of the pro nobis (for us),74 he is speaking of Jesus as the vicarious representative who is more than necessary as the bearer of sin as the sinless one for others. As the vicar in our place, the crucified God of grace hides himself on the cross, unwilling to command the legions of angels at his disposal to gain power over the event of his own death. As

71 Ibid., 110. 72 Ibid. 73 Ibid., 112. 74 Edwin H. Robertson comments on the “for me” (pro me) in Bonhoeffer’s christology with an implicit reference to Stellvertretung: “Bonhoeffer turns to the Reformers for his understanding of Christ as ‘for me.’ The locus of Christ is therefore found ‘standing in my stead.’ Christ stands between me as I am and as I should be. . . . Christ interprets our being. We discover our humanity in him” (CC, “Introduction”, 19). 118


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the creator, the incarnate God submits to human birth; as the humiliated one, the crucified God submits to tortuous death; and as the exalted Jesus the resurrected one maintains his hiddenness on the road to Emmaus. Throughout his ministry on earth, the Stellvertreter goes incognito. “He will lift it [the incognito] only when he returns in glory.”75 Contra all attempts to provide rational arguments of an apologetic nature, Bonhoeffer even points out the ambiguity of the resurrection. The empty tomb is no “proof” of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “Is our faith then ultimately only faith in the empty tomb?”76 Not to be misunderstood, Bonhoeffer is driving home the point of faith in a person. It is his unrelenting focus upon the “who” of Christian faith, not faith in the “what” of the symbols or even the events. Bonhoeffer ends his christology lectures with comments on the church. From Christus existierend als Gemeinde, Bonhoeffer sheds light upon his programmatic statement from the dissertation. It is with this humiliated one that the Church goes its own way of humiliation. . . . there is no law or principle which the Church has to follow, but simply a fact . . . it is the way of Christ with it. . . . exalted or lowly . . . It is only good when the Church humbly confesses its sins, allows itself to be forgiven and confesses its Lord. Daily this Christ becomes a stumbling block to its own hopes and wishes.77

Beyond the Berlin 1933 christology lectures, Bonhoeffer’s christo-ecclesiology evidences itself in the more popular writings of Discipleship, Life Together, Ethics, and in the Letters and Papers from Prison. Further analysis of Stellvertreter is reserved for how he 75 Ibid., 112–13. 76 Ibid., 112. 77 Ibid., 113. 119


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speaks of the church as the form of Christ below in the following chapter. In the above literature, Bonhoeffer is unable to speak of Christ without also speaking of the church. However, secondary Bonhoeffer research often lacks Bonhoeffer’s theologically Christ-centered focus when assessing his Stellvertretung as discussed below.

The Psychological-Sociological Reduction of Stellvertretung in Bonhoeffer Research Clifford Green smoothes the scandal of Stellvertreter in his reduction of Bonhoeffer’s theology to sociality. By setting ecclesiology within a theology of sociality, Stellvertretung subordinates its scandalous edge to an ethical humanism against which Bonhoeffer himself warned. This type of reduction is indicative of a form liberal theology consistently criticized by Bonhoeffer. Stellvertreter cannot be categorically subsumed into an abstract discussion of “sociality” outside of its ecclesial parameters and authentically represent Bonhoeffer’s theology. Christianity’s ability to speak of Christ without the church is the very cheapened grace that Dietrich Bonhoeffer mentions in Discipleship. As a subset of separating ethics from theology, Green’s editorial analysis of vicarious representative action separates anthropology from christology. Ontologically, this is foreign to Bonhoeffer’s conception of Jesus as the true humanity. Green’s mention of “vicarious representative action as both a christological and an anthropological-ethical concept”78 in his introduction to Sanctorum Communio creates the space to speak of Stellvertreter without the scandal of the gospel. A later reduction of vicarious representative action to individual responsibility for one’s 78 SC, 1. From “Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition,” C. J. Green, 1. 120


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country fails to mention Bonhoeffer’s unique understanding of the church in Ethics as a fellowship of guilt. Green’s interpretation of Stellvertretung is unnecessarily dismissive of the soteriological roots insisted upon by Bonhoeffer. Stellvertretung is one of Bonhoeffer’s fundamental theological concepts throughout his writings. . . . As a theological concept in the strict sense it is rooted in Christology and refers to the free initiative and responsibility that Christ takes for the sake of humanity in his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection—it is not just a soteriological concept applied only to the cross (as “vicarious” might suggest). By anthropological analogy, Stellvertretung involves acting responsibly on behalf of others and on behalf of communities to which one belongs.79

Nowhere in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s analysis of Stellvertreter is it possible to split soteriology from Stellvertretung. Green’s placement of roses on the cross here is more than an analogy to anthropology. It is an ontological misreading of Bonhoeffer’s definition and interpretation of Stellvertretung. Bonhoeffer continuously holds soteriology and anthropology together from the scandal of the cross mysteriously conveyed in Christ’s presence in the church and in the world. There is no evidence that Bonhoeffer would require two sentences to speak of vicarious representative action—that is, one that is theological and another that is anthropological. Green violates his own usage of the term theological-anthropology in the above comment. More seriously, he uses Bonhoeffer to linguistically demean Stellvertretung as “not just a soteriological concept applied to the cross.” This is to talk about water as “not just a chemical concept composed of oxygen and hydrogen applied to the Atlantic Ocean.” By splitting its effect from its essence, Green creates space for 79 SC, Note [29], 120. 121


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the intrusion of humanism rendering the cross unnecessary to Bonhoeffer’s definition and usage of Stellvertretung. As such, the discussion no longer requires Bonhoeffer to continue and is maintained ontologically, epistemologically, and hermeneutically without the scandalous parameters of theologia crucis. In the above-mentioned analysis of Bonhoeffer’s second mention of Stellvertreter in Sanctorum Communio, the context is only soteriological making the cross necessary. Bonhoeffer’s comparison of Adam’s egocentrism is compared to Christ’s “real vicarious representative action [Stellvertretung]—into community with God.”80 It is in this section that Bonhoeffer does

80 Ibid., 146. Here Green observes in Note [49] that Seeberg places Stellvertretung at the center of “the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.” Bonhoeffer’s analysis here includes a discussion of Stellvertretung as the life-principle of the new humanity. That is, he is holding soteriology and anthropology together. “That is why the principle of vicarious representative action can become fundamental for the church–community.” (SC, 146). Here Bonhoeffer speaks of the love of Christ, the church and the new humanity together. “Humanity-in-Adam is transformed into humanity-in-Christ. . . . Christ must now unite all individuals in himself, and act before God as their vicarious representative. . . . Jesus calls to repentance. . . .It would not do for Jesus to re-create the community-of-God during his lifetime. His love had to become complete by fulfilling the law . . . even to death.” (SC, 147–49). Beyond this text Bonhoeffer continues to speak of “the paradoxical reality of a community-of-the-cross” (151), which cannot be “religious community,” but “church.” The soteriological seeds for Bonhoeffer’s “religion-less Christianity” in the Letters are planted here in the dissertation. Such roots grow in the soil surrounding a scandalous cross without which Bonhoeffer cannot and does not discuss Stellvertretung. 122


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discuss “the ethical concept of vicarious representative action.” But to be fair to Bonhoeffer at this point is to quote him correctly within a soteriological context suggested by: Is this Christian view of vicarious representative action for sin ethically tenable? . . . The doctrine of vicarious representative action includes more than our ethical posture, but we ought to let our sin be taken from us, for we are not able to carry it by ourselves; we ought not reject this gift of God . . . The idea of vicarious representative action is therefore possible only so long as it is based on an offer by God; this means it is in force only in Christ and Christ’s church-community. It is not an ethical possibility or standard, but solely the reality of the divine love for the church-community, it is not an ethical, but a theological concept.81

Joachim von Soosten’s assessment of vicarious representative action captures Bonhoeffer’s ecclesial christology. His theological analysis of Stellvertretung characterizes Christ-centered ecclesiology as the “center of Bonhoeffer’s theology . . . structural principle . . . substantive uniqueness . . . no longer possible to separate ecclesiology from Christology.” 82 Soosten accurately credits Luther and Holl’s revival of Luther for the theological background employed by Bonhoeffer’s constitutive use of a sociality which remains attached to the Reformation “because the question of the concrete social form of the church had been disconnected from the theological task of defining the marks of Christ’s church.”83 Bonhoeffer’s “Christ existing as church-community” requires the Apostle’s Adam–Christ typology beyond Hegel’s idealism. “Bonhoeffer can conceive of Christ ‘existing

81 SC, 156 (author’s italics). 82 SC, “Afterword,” Joachim von Soosten, 294. 83 Ibid. 123


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as church-community’ precisely because he defines Christ’s Stellvertretung as the structural principle shaping the life of the Gemeinde.”84 No reduction of Stellvertretung to ethical humanism is possible if we are to honor Bonhoeffer’s critique of social forms from Weber and Tönnies. Bonhoeffer’s christocentric sociality and its ecclesiological forms requires his uniquely soteriological definition of Stellvertretung without Ritschl’s religious humanism. Bonhoeffer’s consistent use of Luther’s theologia crucis establishes a theological definition of Stellvertretung. Only Green’s misunderstanding of theologia crucis and the person-work of Christ explains his allegation that Bonhoeffer employs a “power Christ” in Discipleship which is finally resolved with a “weak Christ” in the Letters.85 Neither Jesus Christ nor theologia crucis undergo an ontological change from a so-called “early Bonhoeffer” to a “late Bonhoeffer.” Green’s overlay of psychological hermeneutic (his fixation with ego and power) onto Bonhoeffer’s theological constructions merely serves to point out a hermeneutical difficulty which is resolved by maintaining Luther’s theology of the cross. Sanctorum Communio cannot be reduced to a theology of sociality by merely analyzing a soteriology of power or a psychology of egocentrism when Stellvertretung is understood from Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic of a scandalous cross employing an epistemology of paradox-opposites ontologically represented in the world by an ecclesia crucis.

84 Ibid., 295. 85 Green, 138. 124


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Stellvertretung: A Balanced TheologicalAnthropology in Bonhoeffer Research Geffrey Kelly appropriately introduces Bonhoeffer’s use of Luther and a theology of the cross in Discipleship. “It is clear that here, as throughout his theology, Bonhoeffer’s framework is Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone.”86 Kelly’s appreciation of the halcyon political and spiritual time of Germany underscores Bonhoeffer’s courage to resurrect Luther to correct an insipid German Protestantism: “Bonhoeffer’s text can be understood from one important perspective as a daring attempt to retrieve Luther from the shambles of his irrelevance in the Hitler era.”87 Kelly’s comments, which can only be interpreted to support Bonhoeffer’s consistent harmony with Luther, include an assessment of the theology of the cross. “Here as elsewhere, Bonhoeffer’s writings are infused with a theology of the cross.”88 For good reason, Kelly is concerned about the accuracy of how Discipleship is read. He focuses upon vicarious representative action as one of Bonhoeffer’s foundational concepts descriptive of the visible and dynamic reality of Jesus Christ in the church. Kelly speaks of the Christ in Discipleship who enables Christians to live together in self-giving love and even follow Jesus to the cross by taking any risks necessary to deliver society from evil.89 A theological interpretation of Stellvertretung allows Kelly to link the same powerless Christ of the dissertation with the weak and powerless Christ of Discipleship.

86 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed., Geffrey B. Kelly, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), “Introduction,” 7. 87 Ibid., 8. 88 Ibid., 16. 89 Ibid., 17. 125


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Jesus’ vicarious representative action on behalf of his brothers and sisters, depicted carefully by Bonhoeffer in his doctoral dissertation, likewise provides the Christocentric foundation for all the associations Bonhoeffer makes between the gospel . . . the resurrected Christ . . . and every community gathered in his name.90

Kelly’s correct understanding of theologia crucis creates space for a Christ present in the “paradoxical power of Jesus in the ‘weakness’ of his cross.”91 This paradox is precisely what Green has misunderstood in his “power Christ” who is nowhere evident in Bonhoeffer’s writing of Discipleship. Kelly’s ontological analysis of the powerless Christ of Discipleship is supported by his “suffering God”: “One can hardly miss the close relationship between the theology of the cross throughout the pages of Discipleship and Bonhoeffer’s theology of a suffering God whose power lies in God’s paradoxical weakness that animated several sections of the prison Letters.”92 He rightly maintains a theological continuum from the academic period to the prison correspondence—it is a consistency rooted in the radically paradoxical and dialectical thought of Luther’s theologia crucis. Jesus Christ, as Stellvertreter, from Luther’s theologia crucis has only been powerless in Bonhoeffer. Kelly’s comments add the appropriate theological weight for following the powerless Christ to a cross without resorting to any psychological analysis of Bonhoeffer’s need for personal autonomy.93 Even within existential

90 Ibid., 18. 91 Ibid., 20. 92 Ibid., 21. 93 See Kelly’s Note [33] on page 22 where he also challenges Green’s “overstatement” of Discipleship as evidence for a personal conflict of a negative nature between his ego and sub126


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crisis, Bonhoeffer’s view of the Christian life is more positively stated as “discipleship is joy.”94 John W. de Gruchy’s analysis of Stellvertretung includes an assessment of how community within a new humanity in Christ is different from mere solidarity: “But through the vicarious atonement of Christ, humanity is restored, and the ‘collective person’ is superceded by the collective ‘Second Adam.’”95 With Kelly, de Gruchy observes a theological continuum represented in Bonhoeffer’s use of vicarious representative action. “The concept of ‘vicarious action’ (Stellvertretung), through which Christ realizes the church, is crucial and, in various forms, recurs throughout Bonhoeffer’s theology.”96 He, too, links the programmatic Christus existierend als Gemeinde from the dissertation with Christ’s role as Stellvertreter in transforming the peccatorum communio into the Sanctorum Communio; that is, the church. The revelatory interaction with persons and the Holy Spirit transcends moral or human achievement in de Gruchy’s analysis of how Bonhoeffer defines the new humanity. He especially focuses upon the soteriological dimension of mutual forgiveness understood through the love of God for the other. “The church is therefore ‘a sociologically unique structure,’ a means to an end, and an end in itself, existing to do God’s will, but being in itself a realization of that will.” 97 The late F. Burmission to Christ’s commands. As Kelly points out on pages 22–23, Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic of Word and the Sermon on the Mount became for him “liberating” from the study of theology for personal advantage or self-aggrandizement. 94 Ibid., 40. 95 John de Gruchy, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 6. 96 Ibid. 97 Ibid. 127


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ton Nelson applies vicarious representative action to the church struggle. He compares “the struggle that was being waged for justice and truth by the Confessing Church [to a struggle that] was a vicarious struggle for the whole church of Jesus Christ.” 98 Implicit in Martin Rumscheidt’s essay on how Bonhoeffer formed his theology are words that bespeak Stellvertretung. “Luther . . . led Bonhoeffer to Christology . . . on the crucially important dimension of the extra nos pro nobis . . . that reconciliation is for us, but also outside or beyond us, in the person and work of Christ.”99 In his attempt to make Bonhoeffer less irritating to North American evangelicals, Swiss theologian Georg Huntemann focuses upon the substitutionary dimension to Stellvertretung. “Bonhoeffer said: ‘Christ’s substitutionary work means that Christ puts himself in our place where we would have had to stand before God . . . In this act, Christ offers up his person . . . [and] functions as the new humankind, and the church is established in him.’” 100 Contra Nietzsche, Huntemann assures the reader that Bonhoeffer never viewed Christianity as a “revolution of inferiority”—a popular view in the 1930s. Stellvertretung carries with it the both-and of “in the place of the other” as well as “on behalf of the other.” The former emphasis implies the “substitutionary” component to Christ’s work on the cross; the latter, the “vicarious” component. Taken together holistically, Bonhoeffer’s view of redemption defines a

98 F. Burton Nelson, “The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” ed. John de Gruchy, The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (Cambridge: CUP, 1999), 34. 99 Ibid., 59, Martin Rumscheidt, “The Formation of Bonhoeffer’s Theology.” 100 Georg Huntemann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Reassessment, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, 168. 128


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Christian form of reincarnation where the redeemed Christian now “takes the place of Christ” in and for the world as a member of Christ’s body the church. What Christ has done for the world, the Christian—in Christ’s place and on his behalf—does for the world in a this-worldly view of what it means to be saved. The Christian “is” Christ for the earth. The church “is” in the world that God loves. We now explore how René Girard’s ethnography of sacrificial crisis and the innocent surrogate victim create anthropological space for Bonhoeffer’s theology of the Stellvertreter on behalf of the peace and survival of the human community.

René Girard’s Anthropology of the Cross The neglected anthropological voice of René Girard must be heard within the Christian theological community. Given today’s reality of “permanent war” where the reporting of suicidal sacrifice has become commonplace and the loss of innocent life an expected part of the evening news, Girard’s project needs to be lifted up as an attempt to quell the violence with which the human community has decided to inflict itself. Neither the sentimental humanism of the liberal project nor the detached forensic substitutionary atonement of the conservative evangelical project has addressed Girard’s provocative equation of violence with the sacred in the surrogate victim. Why Girard’s research has been generally avoided by a theological community whose rituals focus upon a symbol of violence and sacrifice is beyond the parameters of this study. Suffice it to say, by its aversion to the cross, the theological academy may have considered Girard’s project according to the proverbial Chestertonian “weighed and not found lacking, but difficult and left untried.” The intent of this section is to draw a parallel between the ethnography of Girard’s role of the surrogate victim whose

129


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sacrifice provides a cessation of violence within a given community with the theology of Bonhoeffer’s vicarious representative whose death on a cross offers a means of peace and reconciliation with God and with one another. We will investigate how Girard, also, retains scandal in his project and speaks out against Platonic attempts to suppress its vital role. We will observe how Girard conceives of redemption and analyze its value for the anthropology of the church-community. Girard’s analysis of the “monstrous double” creates space for the God-human Jesus. The parallel of the sacrificial rite within tribal communities and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper both indicate that Freudian neurotic compulsion need not explain why a community regularly practices a commemorative ritual of a real sacrificial event. In sum, the sacrificial crisis, as Girard observes, retains the role of a braking system within a community, and a genuine understanding of myth and ritual provides a mechanism for the salvation of the community lest as a logical conclusion of cor curvum in se it embarks upon self-destruction. Scandalously and paradoxically Girard states, “Because the victim is sacred, it is criminal to kill him—but the victim is sacred only because he has to be killed.”101 This programmatic statement opens Girard’s analysis of communities where he notes that the “pieties of classical humanists lull our curiosity to sleep”102 on the mystery of sacrifice. “The sacrificial animals were always those most prized for their usefulness: the gentlest, most innocent creatures, whose habits and instincts brought them most closely into harmony with man . . . animals who

101 René Girard, Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1972, 1. 102 Ibid. 130


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were . . . the most human in nature.”103 Girard observes how Maistre takes the view that “the ritual victim is an ‘innocent’ creature who pays a debt for the ‘guilty’ party.”104 There is however no question of “expiation” within the community—rather, society is seeking to deflect upon a relatively indifferent victim, a “sacrificeable” victim, “the violence that would otherwise be vented on its own members, the people it most desires to protect.”105 Girard’s thought here is that if there is any “satisfying” to be done, it is in conspiracy with the enemy to assuage its hunger. That is, Girard wants to remove the moral component of innocence or guilt from the relationship of the actual victim who has caused disruption within a community and the potential surrogate victim toward whom the violence is diverted. Using examples of brother-conflict and sacrifice from the Cain–Abel, Abraham–Isaac, and Jacob–Esau stories, Girard observes that “sacrificial substitution implies a degree of misunderstanding . . . where the celebrants do not and must not comprehend the true role of the sacrificial act.”106 Here Girard notes that it is precisely the theological basis of the sacrifice that has a crucial role in fostering the misunderstanding. Girard sounds Anselmian speaking of a divinity requiring satisfaction who demands slaughtered flesh: “Interpreters who think they question the primacy of the divine sufficiently by declaring the whole affair ‘imaginary’ may well remain the prisoners of the

103 Ibid., 2,3 from Joseph de Maistre’s “Ecalircissement sur les sacrifices,” Les Soires de Saint-Petersbourg (Lyons, 1890), 2:341–42. 104 Ibid., 4. 105 Ibid. 106 Ibid., 6–7. 131


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theology they have not really analyzed.”107 However, Girard’s thesis cannot be Anselmian, thus the misunderstanding. “The sacrifice serves to protect the entire community from its own violence.”108 Parenthetically, it is noteworthy how often twentieth-century anthropologists and ethnologists have rightfully chided the theological community for missing the point or by neglecting its own core teachings. Mary Douglas similarly challenges European liberal theology for its departure from the Incarnation.109 Here Girard’s move is to pose and answer a question: “The problem then becomes, how can a real institution be constructed on a purely illusory basis? . . . Let us uncover the societal conflicts that the sacrificial act and its theological interpretations at once dissimulate and appease.”110 That is, Girard treats the mystery with an intellectual honesty unrivaled by the very theological community from whom the surrogate substitutionary concept originates.

The Stellvertreter as Protector of the Community Girard points to Lienhardt and Turner to assert that the substitute is for all the members of the community to protect the community from its own violence. Herein is a social function of the act, more accessible to the modern mind: “The purpose of the sacrifice is to restore harmony to the community, to reinforce the social fabric. Everything else derives from that.”111 Gi-

107 Ibid., 7. 108 Ibid., 8. 109 Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Comology. London: Routledge, 2000, 168-170. 110 Girard, 7. 111 Ibid., 8. 132


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rard chides any interpretation as “psychologizing” and simplistic which fails to “reference the ritualistic framework in which the sacrifice takes place” when formulating the fundamental principles of sacrifice. Whether from the classic literature of China or Euripedes’ Medea, both animal or human sacrifice where one victim is substituted for another occurs, “the role of sacrifice is to stem a rising tide of indiscriminate substitutions and redirect violence into ‘proper’ channels.”112 Greek tragedy repeatedly includes the killing of a man to save a man. Girard notes the irony that sacrifice has languished in societies with a fairly established judicial system—ancient Greece and Rome where, he says, the essential purpose of sacrifice has disappeared. Of course, the daily violence in American cities bears out how the presence of laws and courts fail to ultimately preserve harmony within the community. One might further observe that theologies based upon juridical and forensic interpretations of the cross similarly fail to provide community within church structures. Current Finnish Lutheran research is pointing this out using pre-Enlightened categories to interpret the “young Luther” in an attempt to salvage the gospel from nineteenth-century German theological distortion. At any rate, the import of Girard for both the church and human communities is that the “function of sacrifice is to quell violence within the community and to prevent conflicts from erupting.”113

The Stellvertreter: Simul Justus et Peccator Girard speaks of the irony of both religious and moral authorities who paradoxically “attempt to instill nonviolence, as an active force into daily life . . . through the application of vio-

112 Ibid., 10. 113 Ibid., 14. 133


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lence . . . the sacrificial act appears as both sinful and saintly, an illegal as well as a legitimate exercise of violence.”114 Girard notes that “religion shelters us from violence just as violence seeks shelter in religion.”115 He provides a prophetic statement: If we fail to understand certain religious practices it is not because we are outside their sphere of influence but because we are still to a very real extent enclosed within them. The solemn debates on the death of God and of man are perhaps beside the point. They remain theological at bottom, and by extension sacrificial; that is, they draw a veil over the subject of vengeance, which threatens to become quite real once again, in the form not of a philosophical debate but of unlimited violence in a world with no absolute values.116

René Girard wrote the above prior to 1972; in 2004, we live in the world he describes where the prospect of unlimited violence has become an expected, daily event without historical precedent. The repeated daily violence perpetrated on one human being by another would suggest a linkage between the neglect of Girard’s thesis and the self-destruction of the global human community. Of particular import is his analysis of the loss of transcendence within a culture. “Only the transcendent quality of the system, acknowledged by all, can assure the prevention or cure of violence.”117 Girard concludes that a culture in which theology has disappeared fails to realize that what it considers justice is really only revenge. That is, any sentimental interpretation which marginalizes the role of sacrifice within a community

114 Ibid., 24. 115 Ibid., 24. 116 Ibid. 117 Ibid., 24. 134


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for its own good opens the floodgate for the type of repeated violence currently reported without emotion in the daily American media. Furthermore, he mentions religion as problematic in sheltering humanity. The solemn debates on the death of God and of man are perhaps beside the point. They remain theological at bottom, and by extension sacrificial; that is, they draw a veil over the subject of vengeance . . . in the form of unlimited violence, in a world with no absolute values.118

In a way that religion in general and both liberal and evangelical Protestantism in particular are unable to appreciate, “the secret of the dual nature of violence still eludes people.”119 Girard’s provocative idea here is that beneficial violence and harmful violence co-exist and that ritual is the regular exercise of “good” violence. His contribution to Christian theology at this point is critical and cannot be overstated given the romantic inroads of sentimentalism into U.S. Protestantism such that the above statement would never be proclaimed from the politically correct pulpits that have decided to accommodate the commodified convenience of a pain-free society. In his second chapter, Girard defines a proper functioning of the sacrificial process with a paradox. The sacrificial victim must be simul separate from et similar to the community. If the gap between the victim and the community is allowed to grow too wide, all similarity will be destroyed. . . . the sacrifice will cease to be a ‘good conductor.’ On the other hand, if there is too much continuity the violence will overflow its channels. ‘Impure’ violence will mingle with the ‘sacred’ vio-

118 Ibid. 119 Ibid., 37. 135


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lence of the rites, turning the latter into a scandalous accomplice in the process of pollution, even a kind of catalyst in the propagation of further impurity.120

He speaks of the crisis as a disappearance of the sacrificial rites which is tantamount to the loss of a distinction between pure and impure violence. As a crisis of distinctions the entire cultural order is impacted. Drawing from the pre-exilian prophets, Girard notes how Amos, Isaiah, and Micah “link the decay of religious practices (sacrifices) to the deteriorization of contemporary behavior.”121 He is clear that when this happens in a society, the discharged violence upon the “third party” is replaced by a sacrificing of one another. When the religious framework of a society starts to totter, it is not exclusively the physical security that is threatened; rather, the whole cultural foundation is put in jeopardy. The institutions lose their vitality; the protective façade of the society gives way; social values are rapidly eroded, and the whole culture structure seems on the verge of collapse.122

Girard’s Stellvertretung in Literature Girard asserts that such tragedy in a society—one consistently addressed in Greek drama—opens a “royal way to the great dilemmas of religious ethnology.” He finds in literature a source despite the scorn from the “scientific researchers, Hellenophiles, defenders of traditional humanism or disciples of Nietzsche and Heidegger.”123 He speaks of the Old Testament stories—containing the tragedy of enemy brothers—as rooted in

120 Ibid., 39. 121 Ibid., 43. 122 Ibid., 49. 123 Ibid., 55. 136


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sacrificial crisis. Jeremiah’s treatment of Jacob, he notes, bears out a progressive interpretation where later crises are re-interpreted in light of earlier ones. What begins as a local fraternal conflict spreads throughout the tribe or society. A surrogate victim is located to become a braking mechanism to further violence within the culture: “I contend that the objective of ritual is the proper re-enactment of the surrogate victim mechanism; its function is to perpetuate or renew the effects of this mechanism, that is, to keep violence outside the community.”124 Scandalously, Girard suggests a cathartic function of sacrifice in the initiation of a new constructive and radically generative cycle of violence which protects the community from violence. That is, a new sacrificial system is established complete with its repeated rituals once again allowing the culture to flourish. “The dead divinity becomes the source . . . of all those cultural forms that give persons their unique humanity.”125 He calls the violence involved in bringing about the new sacrificial system “radically generative violence.” What is ironic is that Girard, an anthropologist, uses the biblical witness to make the case for his project in ways that few, if any, twentieth-century Protestant theologians have done. One may only speculate why, but one thing is clear: the absence of any theology of the cross is at the root of the problem. The surrogate victim, borrowing from the Oedipus myth, is a dubious figure with a dual connotation as “woebegone figure yet surrounded with quasi-religious aura of veneration, . . . the victim draws to itself all the violence infecting the original victim and through its own death transforms this baneful violence into beneficial violence, into harmony and abundance.”126

124 Ibid., 92. 125 Ibid., 93. 126 Ibid., 95. 137


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But he was pierced through for our transgressions and he was crushed for our sins. The chastening for our peace lay upon him, and through his scouraging we are healed (Isaiah 53).

Girard speaks of the pharmakos (poison or the antidote for poison) as being paraded about the city, later expelled from the community or killed in a ceremony that involved the entire population. That is, the cure for societal illness may appear to be its maximus peccator. The parallel irony and scandal of this inherently double-meaning of a word from the Greek is at the root of Girard’s project where he later analyzes sacred from the Latin and the French as simul violent et sacred terms. Certainly, the medical profession has historically treated illness with “a little bit of the disease” in an injection of serum derived from the illness itself. Girard is speaking in the same genre here with his analogy to classical Greek’s pharmakon as both poison and its cure. Given the pharmakos concept, he then introduces how the “scapegoat” idea is displayed within Greek tragedy with reference to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and claims it’s really behind the “metamorphosis of reciprocal violence into restraining violence . . . .”127 He then asks an important theological question pertinent to our analysis of the vicarious representative: “For whom, precisely, is this victim substituted?”128

Girard’s Communal View of the Stellvertreter Girard deconstructs any interpretation from psychology which would “individualize” the substitution to a particular person in the community. “To understand how sacrifice functions as it 127 Ibid., 96. 128 Ibid., 101. 138


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does, we should consider the proposition that the ritual victim is never substituted for some particular member of the community, or even for the community as a whole; it is always substituted for the surrogate victim.”129 The surrogate victim becomes the intermediary for the entire community and establishes a social basis for sacrificial substitution. Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men . . . through Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. . . . For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . through the one man Jesus Christ . . . just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all people, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all persons. (Romans 5: 12-18) Caiaphas spoke up, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)

Germane to our argument regarding the church-community is Girard’s understanding of sacrifice as essentially communal and social where “individualization marks a later, decadent stage in its evolution, a development contrary to its original spirit.” 130 Bonhoeffer’s critique of the Enlightenment and its autonomy is linked to what Girard is saying here regarding any reductionism from community to the individual. The surrogate victim is the vicarious representative for the community; that is, its intermediary. Part of the scandal in Girard’s project is his study of incest,

129 Ibid. (author’s italics). 130 Ibid. 139


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where using the above analogy from pharmakos, incest is simply another aspect of the affliction that the rites are designed to prevent. Paradoxically, like injecting a small form of the virus into the body to cure a disease, the community attempts “to prevent it by means of a cure that is intimately associated with the most virulent form of the affliction.”131 Theologically, what is working in this analogy from medicine is Maximus’ “opposites” and Luther’s dialectic hidden-revealed crucified God as maximus peccator echoed in Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertreter. The difficulty for the Western reader is to retain the both–and of a “good–evil” component to violence, when Descartes made it possible to feel better about binary, either–or thought forms. That is, the Hebraic ability to retain the scandal and paradox dialectically is to be favored over Plato’s suppression of scandal in an addiction to ideal forms. Girard maintains that social coexistence is possible only with the surrogate victim’s role in limiting violence within a culture: “It is only at this point that the vicious circle of reciprocal violence, wholly destructive in nature, is replaced by the vicious circle of ritual violence, creative and protective in nature.”132 While his examples derive from Greek tragedy, there is a theological parallel related to how the incarnation and discipleship work together to met the criteria of a generative unanimty in the church to quell the roaming of violence within a society. When the transcendental element descends to the human sphere it is reduced to immanence, transformed back into mimetic fascination. Reciprocal violence now demolishes everything that unanimous violence had erected. And as the institutions and interdictions based on generative unanimity

131 Ibid., 115. 132 Ibid., 144. 140


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perish, violence roams at will, unchallenged and unchecked.133

Girard’s language is theological where the Stellvertreter made flesh takes form in the church-community on behalf of the other. This phenomenon is further analyzed in the next chapter’s more intentional focus upon how the church takes shape as the ecclesia crucis in the world from Bonhoeffer’s view. Suffice to say here that Girard has created space with his project for the sociality Green proposes in his interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s dissertation. “Social coexistence would be impossible if no surrogate victim existed.”134 From Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology, Jesus Christ is that surrogate victim who as vicarious representative takes the place of sinners on their behalf as the scandalous maximum peccator, yet without sin as the crucified God on a Roman tool of torture. From such a christology follows his ecclesiology of sociality in the social coexistence of mutual confession-forgiveness expressed miteinander and fuereinander. When Girard speaks of mimesis in this chapter, he talks about the model and the disciple in language which could easily pass for Bonhoeffer’s first five chapters of Discipleship. The “follow me” of Discipleship has an intriguing parallel in Girard’s mimetic “imitate me.” While speaking of the mimetic impulse as desiring what the model desires, Girard points out the double bind which he defines as a contradictory network of imperatives at the root of all human relationships. Mimetic desire is simply a term more comprehensive than violence for religious pollution. As the catalyst for the sacrificial crisis, it would eventually destroy the entire community if the surrogate victim were not at hand to halt the process and the

133 Ibid., 143. 134 Ibid., 144. 141


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ritualized mimesis were not at hand to keep the conflictual mimesis from beginning afresh . . . . By channeling its energies into ritual forms and activities sanctioned by ritual, the cultural order prevents multiple desires from converging on the same object.135

Bonhoeffer would use Girard’s analysis of mimetic desire within the context of a singleminded obedience to the model of Jesus Christ whose real presence in the sacrament, as the ritual of which Girard speaks, focuses the energies and creates societal order among persons. Key in this analysis is the spiritual presence of the Christ in the formation of the church to rightly discern which voice to follow, thus protecting the church from the double bind of floating free and attaching itself to the first model that comes along.”136 Girard’s monstrous double motif through the use of masks takes on an interpretation for how the Lord’s Supper as ritual re-enacts the original experience of Christ’s crucifixion as in “do this in memory of me” and the spiritual preparation which tries to recall the passion of the Christ on Golgotha’s hill in the historical event. The ritual ceremonies that require the use of masks are reenactments of the original experience. . . . celebrants play roles, don masks at the climax of the rite just before the sacrifice. They are enemies first, engaging in mock combats, then they put on their masks and change into monstrous doubles. If the mask is intended to conceal human faces at a point in the ritual, that is because this is what happened to human faces the first time.137

135 Ibid., 147–48. 136 Ibid., 148–49. 137 Ibid., 168 (author’s italics). 142


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But God commended his love toward us in that while we were still enemies, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

Consistent with Bonhoeffer’s entire theology derived from Luther, it is always to the parishioners’ spiritual benefit to never lose sight that it is precisely as a sinner that she once again comes to the table—if for no other reason than during the first time Christ died only for sinners. Bonhoeffer’s grasp of “donning the mask” of an enemy of God to fully appreciate the spiritual benefit of God’s grace in the taking of the sacrament is clear from his Life Together. In an interesting use of “mask” he urges participants in the Eucharist to call themselves what they are. God has come to you to make the sinner blessed. You cannot hide from God. The mask you wear in the presence of other people won’t get you anywhere in the presence of God. God wants to see you as you are. . . . You are allowed to be a sinner. . . . Every pretense came to an end in Christ’s presence. This was the gospel in Jesus Christ: the misery of the sinner and the mercy of God.138

Girard’s Equation of the Violent with the Sacred Girard’s project equates the violent with the sacred. He relates what he calls generative violence with ritual sacrifice. “The failure of modern man to grasp the nature of religion has served to perpetuate its effects. . . . We persist in disregarding the power of violence in human societies; that is why we are reluctant to admit that violence and the sacred are one and the same

138 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: Prayerbook of the Bible. ed, Geffrey Kelly, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 108. 143


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thing.”139 Reminding the reader of the ambiguity of the French, “sacre” and the Latin “sacer” which many mean either violent or sacred, he notes that lexicographers have a tendency “to suppress the scandalous conjunction of violence and the sacred.”140 From the Greek, he notes that “the good krateros [divine force] of gods and heroes is the same as the bad krateros of monsters, plagues, and savage beasts. Further, he comments how “rationalist” dictionaries define “sacred” either as a concept that is still lacking in specificity in an attempt to “clean up the ‘ambiguity.’”141 He reminds the reader how religious interpretation of the sacrificial crisis has always been inclined to categorize such phenomena as “good” or “bad.” By rejecting the definition of “sacrifice” as “an offering made to the gods,” Girard speaks of the successful sacrifice as the god himself who “digests” the bad immanence transforming it into good transcendence, that is, into his own substance.142 For he made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we would become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) The surrogate victim is generally destroyed, and always expelled from the community . . . as the violence subsides it is thought to have departed with the victim, to have somehow been projected outside the community.143 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate

139 Ibid., 262. 140 Ibid. 141 Ibid., 264. 142 Ibid., 266. 143 Ibid. 144


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to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. (Hebrews 13: 11–13).

Girard speaks of the apparent contradiction of two substitutions which characterize all sacrificial rites. First, by generative violence a single victim is substituted for all members of the community. Secondly, in the ritual, a surrogate victim is substituted for the original victim. The surrogate victim, by contrast, is a member of the community. By using the term “sacrificial preparation,” Girard speaks of a “least unsatisfactory compromise” in the selection of the victims. The victim should belong both to the inside and the outside of the community. As there is no category which perfectly meets this requirement, any creature chosen for sacrifice must fall short in one or another of the contradictory qualities required. The goal is to make the victim wholly sacrificeable.144

What must not be lost in the analysis of the intriguing details involved in Girard’s sacrificial substitution is the remarkable fact that a suppression of the scandal associated with the cross of Christ contributes to a distancing of the very real protection offered society by ritual sacrifice from a Christian perspective. Such protection cannot be graphically discussed more effectively than by how Girard links cannibalism to his surrogate victim project. From his study of the Tupinamba Indians of northwest Brazil, Girard speaks of how this tribe transforms its prisoners of war into “scapegoats.” He is an enemy who is adopted; he takes the place of the man

144 Ibid., 272. 145


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in whose honour he will be killed . . . he is intimidated but, if he shows fear, is thought unworthy of the death that awaits him. By acting out these social roles, he becomes a complete human being, exemplifying the contradictions that society creates. The impossibility of his situation is exaggerated when he is charged, by ritual, with the powers and attributes of the culture-hero; he becomes the representative of the other world living in the centre of this one, a Janus figure too sacred to live with.145

Contra any form of psychologizing of the scapegoat, Girard asserts that cannibalism for Tupinamba is redemptive twice over: “by promoting unanimity it quells violence on all fronts, and by preventing an outbreak of bloodshed within the community, it keeps the truth about men from becoming known.”146 Girard invokes Mircea Eliade’s observation that the sacred precedes cannibalism. “The victim is not killed to be eaten, but eaten because he has been killed . . . where the violence of others is ritually devoured through a form of mimetic desire. . . . ”147 The same delicate balance of insider-outsider required in non-cannibalistic sacrificial rites is also required for this transforming of maleficent violence into beneficial substance, a source of peace and stability for the community. This form of ingesting violence ensures a type of cleansing and purging of violence from the community. Girard finds a scandalous parallel in the African-king incest ritual and the Tupinamba cannibalism of its prisoners. Yet, because the scandal of cannibalism has yet to locate its Freud, resulting in its promotion to

145 Ibid., 275; Girard quotes Francis Huxley, Affable Savages. NY: Capricorn Books, 1966, 275. 146 Ibid., 276. 147 Ibid., 277. 146


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a contemporary myth (as has incest), our attention is distracted from its value in other cultures as a source of peace within a community when ritualized. Recall our critique of Clifford Green’s psychologizing of Bonhoeffer’s “powerless Christ.” Unnecessarily, Green “found his Freud” by attempting to explain Bonhoeffer’s christology through the psychological filter of a son’s relationship with a dominant, famous father. The adopted-prisoner motif is the community’s attempt to make the “undifferentiated sacred” into an “insider” to ensure the transference of their aggressions. Girard locates in foreign wars a similar basic function to avert the threat of internal dissension by adopting a form of violence that can be openly endorsed and fervently acted upon by all. Of course, when a nation goes to war and it continues to be internally polarized (The U.S. and Iraq), further analysis is required which goes beyond this study. What can be drawn here are parallels to the preparation for the “cannibalism” of “taking and eating the body of Jesus Christ” in obedience to his command to do so. The commemoration of the life and death of a person need not require any reference to eating of that person’s body. Attendance at a wake, the memorial service, appropriate statements of sympathy, standing alongside the grave site, and going back to the church or a home for lunch usually defines proper respect for the dead in U.S. culture. What was it about how Jesus urged his followers to remember him that makes it relevant to Girard’s analysis of ritual cannibalism and has theological value for the Christian and underscores Bonhoeffer’s vicarious representative? Just as in ritual cannibalism a surrogate victim is ritualized and remembered as One who purged violence for the community, so also the ritual “take and eat, this is my body; drink from this cup all of you, this is my blood poured out for the forgive147


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ness of sins” cathartically re-enacts the sacred violence of the first cross for the reconciliation and peace of the church-community. Jesus, as both the vicarious representative and the surrogate victim in ways we have been using Girard’s analysis to make the point, is the source of Christian faith, precisely because of his role as sacrificial victim. For all of Paul’s critique of Corinthian re-enactments of the Lord’s Supper—impatience in the eating and failure at self-examination—an overlooked concern of the Apostle is germane to our argument. “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Corinthians 11: 29). The familiarity of this religious statement loses its scandal. When the Lord’s Supper is viewed as ritual cannibalism, there can be no failing to recognize a body. However, with a literal eating and a literal drinking, Luther’s insistence on the “real presence” of Jesus’ body and blood takes on new meaning for the Eucharistic observance where the scandal of cannibalism is retained for its theological benefit to the community. Sacramentally, our observance of the Lord’s Supper would be enhanced if a cadaver and a pitcher of human blood were on the altar. Parenthetically, cadavers have recently become commonplace on virtually all prime time, forensic-investigative TV dramas at the time of writing with no measurable negativity from the American public. We settle on the substances of bread and wine at great risk to the genuinely theological and spiritual implications of Communion as the repeated sacrificial rite of the death of a surrogate victim on behalf of the tranquillity and peace of the community. Short of that, the “celebration” of the Lord’s Supper loses its anthropological value for a community of persons often in conflicted relationship within itself, with its pastor and leadership without the profound analysis from René Girard’s research.

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The Stellvertreter as Cathartic Pharmakos and Maximum Peccator From above, Girard speaks of the tribal king who is required to commit an act of incest to accommodate the paradoxical “inside/outside” criterion required to transform him into a sacred monster. That is, there can be no splitting the nature of the “sacrificeable” victim. The king is simultaneously visible as the king, yet hidden under a ‘a mask” of incest. The villagers see their king as the same person in two forms while functioning as their sacrificeable victim. The humiliated one accused of incest is at the same time the exalted king of the village. Even though the king takes on the persona of an egregious sexual sinner, he is yet fully the king of the village—he is “totally there.” The king is still the king. As such, he meets every criteria for a sacrificial, cathartic cleansing of the community. The king willingly undergoes this humiliation for the sake of and on behalf of the community. A villager may ask, “Isn’t this our king?” And the reply is, “This is the king.” Of the humiliated one we say, “This is God.” He makes none of the divine properties evident in his death. On the contrary, we see a man doubting God as he dies. But of this man we say, “This is God.” He who cannot do that does not know what it means for God to become man. In the incarnation God reveals himself without concealment. In the way he exists as the humiliated one he is not the Logos, the deity, nor the humanity of Christ, but the whole person of the God-Man. He is veiled in the hiddenness of this stumbling block. . . . In this way Christ takes sinful flesh. He enters the world of sin and death in such a way so as to hide himself in it in weakness and not to be recognized as God-Man. He goes as the peccator pessimus (Luther, “the worst sinner’), as sinless among

149


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sinners. And here lies the central problem of christology.148

Girard’s analysis of catharsis from the death of a human pharmakos draws from medicine support for both Luther’s and Bonhoeffer’s understanding of Christ as the maximus peccator. “The pharmakos (poison from above) is paraded ceremonially through the streets of the village to absorb the noxious influences and to transfer them outside the community.”149 The parallel of Jesus bearing the cross as the “poison” of the community to die outside the city gate has already been made. What’s new here is the play on words from a medical perspective. Girard points out that cathartic medicine is a powerful drug that induces evacuation of humors or other substances judged to be noxious. “The illness and its cure are often seen as one . . . at least the medicine is considered capable of aggravating the symptoms, bringing about a salutary crisis that will lead to recovery.150 Through researched tribal examples, Girard once again makes his point of the cleansing role of the surrogate victim as the catharsis (defined from the verb, “to purge the land of monsters”). There is then a certain “scandal,” is there not, with the idea that a medical professional would innoculate a patient with a minute amount of a disease to bring about a cure from that same disease. Possibly, when viewed from this scientifically accepted practice, ritually performed in doctors’ offices throughout the world, the anthropology which René Girard brings to the table may be considered by a mainline theological community given to inclusive dialogue. Part of Girard’s lack of acceptance by mainline Protestant

148 CC, 106–107. 149 Girard, 287. 150 Ibid. 150


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theology is located in its roots in Platonism. “Plato found it impossible to believe that tragic discord or tragic violence could ever become synonyms for harmony and peace.”151 Girard has difficulty with Plato’s inability to grasp the philosophical and cultural value of scandal. “The most daring provocations and the most shocking scandal have lost all power to provoke and shock. . . . The sacrificial system is worn out, and that is why its inner workings are now exposed to view.”152 Girard’s statement underscores a running sub-thesis of this study: that Christendom must summarily abandon its Hellenistic distortions if it is ever to become authentically Christian. Girard’s repeated references drawn from the Old Testament where the violent and the sacred found co-existence suggests that Christian thought reconsider its roots in Hebrew thought in rejection of the violence that Plato has imposed on Western culture in his rejection of cathartic sacred violence for humanity. Girard finds in Derrida’s analysis of Plato a certain pietism which accounts for why Western culture fails to possess a philosophical category for a violence that is sacred. Jacques Derrida’s analysis of Plato’s use of pharmakon reveals a naive usage which fails to provide a full meaning of the term which can be translated in the double way discussed above. “When Plato applies pharmakon to the Sophists, he uses it in its maleficent sense of ‘poison’. . . . When applied to Socrates it means ‘remedy.’”153 Girard finds in Derrida’s analysis an inability in Plato to locate the merits of a dialectic interpretation, no matter to whom the term is applied. Plato’s usage is arbitrary and infuses a certain violence of its own, brutally perpetuated within a Western thought unable to grasp

151 Ibid., 295. 152 Ibid. 153 Ibid., 296. 151


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the benefits of generative violence. The impact upon theologies derived from Western thought (read Hellenism) is that the scandal of the cross is averted with the invocation of Plato. Below, we will discover how the scandal of a Roman cross provides no theological hindrance to theologies derived from non-Westem cultures whose experience of oppression and suffering betray the viability of total systems derived from Neoplatonic Westernism. In other words, where authentic Christianity is flourishing today, the distortions of the Enlightenment didn’t arrive until Western Christian missionaries imported a mongrelized gospel recently replaced by more indigenous forms of Christianity. In most cases, those contextualizations include a preference for the poor whose marginalization, pain, and suffering are constitutive of a church of the cross.

The Surrogate Victim: The Source for Secular and Religious Institutions René Girard’s argument draws to a conclusion with the following assertion: All religious rituals spring from the surrogate victim, and all the great institutions of mankind, both secular and religious, spring from ritual.154

Whether law, politics, medicine, drama, philosophy, the church, or anthropology itself, it is Girard’s bold claim that human culture has emerged out of the body of an original victim. The precise language is important here; for he further claims that the surrogate victim is the ideal educator of humanity. That is, from the etymology of e-ducatio “a leading out,” the ritual leads persons away from the sacred permitting them

154 Ibid., 306. 152


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to escape their own violence, removes them from violence and bestows on them all the institutions and beliefs that define their humanity.155 Bonhoeffer’s similar claim would position Christ as the genuine human being whose form resides in the church according to Christus als Gemeinde existieriend from his own dissertation through to his later statements about Jesus as the true humanity in the Letters. As Stellvertreter, the Christ is both the maximum peccator and the divine–human who embodies Girard’s sacred violence from pharmakon discussed above. The presence of Jesus in the church as the vicarious representative on behalf of humanity is at the same time the surrogate victim who takes the place of humanity. As an insider, he identifies closely enough with the community as the son of the carpenter Joseph; as the outsider, he is the Word become flesh. When scandalously understood as the Sacred–Violent One who bears the sins of the earth, it is Jesus Christ who fulfills Caiaphas’s prophecy about how much better it will be for Israel that Jesus of Nazareth died on behalf of the nation as the One for the Others. Throughout this comparative analysis of Girard to vicarious representative atonement, his anthropological research has been used as a source which creates space for Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropology. With the writing of Violence and the Sacred, Girard made no such attempt to consider the Judeo-Christian texts in the light of his theory of violence and religious imitations within a community. His “Conclusion” speaks of doing this in a future study. However, Girard can’t help but make a reference to the Jonah story as a parabolic rendering of his theory where Jonah’s “expulsion from the community results in a pagan crew’s sacrifice to the Lord whom they did not know 155 Ibid. 153


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before.”156 Or, in another place, he uses Pauline language to discuss the surrogate victim. “Can the reader see the surrogate victim as that one initially rejected by the builders, only to become the cornerstone of a whole mythic and ritualistic edifice?”157 Girard is not naïve about the modern mind’s inability to grasp his basic principle and theory linking violence and the sacred. The modern mind still cannot bring itself to acknowledge the basic principle behind that mechanism which, in a single decisive movement, curtails reciprocal violence and imposes structure on the community. . . . Modern thinkers continue to see religion as an isolated, wholly fictitious phenomenon cherished only by a few backward peoples or milieus.158

At the same time, he prophetically notes, “That ethnology is alive today, when the traditional modes of interpretation are sick unto death, is evidence of a new sacrificial crisis. . . . We have managed to extricate ourselves from the sacred, to the point of losing all memory of the generative violence; but we are now about to rediscover it . . . in a spectacular manner . . . not only in the form of a violent history, but also in the form of a subversive knowledge. This crisis invites us, for the very first time . . . to expose to the light of reason the role played by violence in human society.”159 That future study came in his Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, where Girard argues that the concept of scandal is rooted in the Old Testament and that the cross is the

156 Girard, 314. 157 Ibid., 316. 158 Ibid., 317. 159 Ibid., 318. 154


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supreme scandal that reveals and exposes scandal and its operation through the scapegoat mechanism.160 Girard disciple Gil Bailie summarizes the French anthropologist’s program of mimetic desire and surrogate victim this way: “Girard has made the most sweeping and significant intellectual breakthrough of the modern age.”161 Focusing upon Girard’s work using literary criticism as a theological source, Bailie “suggests that the real task of literary criticism has just begun, and that at its center is the Cross. With the Cross as his hermeneutic principle, Girard’s work deconstructs literary deconstruction and replaces its purely literary vertigo with intellectual and moral vigor.”162 Bailie observes that “Nietzsche’s response to the weak moral conscience of a revelation of the Cross was to expel the gospels and try to revive the sacrificial structure they vitiated.”163 Bonhoeffer’s political and cultural context for developing Stellvertretung was a “glimpse of what the world might look like without this ‘conscience’ by observing the use to which Hitler’s National Socialism put Nietzsche’s condemnation of it.”164 At a time of permanent war and terror, Merleau-Ponty is right to say that violence can found culture, and terror can preserve stability in that the “unanimity created by the sacrifice of a scapegoat can become so complete that it includes even its victim.”165 Is there a better explanation for a suicide-bomb-

160 René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation o f the World, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987, 104. 161 Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled. New York: Crossroad, 1997, 4. 162 Ibid., 8. 163 Ibid., 31. 164 Ibid. 165 J. Bottum, “Girard Among the Girardians,” First Things 61 155


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er? Bottum asserts that many reviewers have missed Girard’s implications for Christian revelation in Violence and the Sacred. It would appear that Girard’s project may hve been ahead of its time. In today’s world, the horror Merleau-Ponty’s book is interpreted in what Girard observes about the sacred fusion with violence and its parallel theological implications within Christian revelation as discussed in this chapter. While there may be attempts to systematize Girard by conservative Christian thinkers into an “anthropology of revelation,” Girard himself “denies that there is any ‘Girard system.’”166 Just as Luther’s theology of the cross defies systemization and Bonhoeffer’s vicarious representative derived from theologia crucis stands on its own as crucial to his non-systematic theology, Girard simply discloses both the anthropological roots and implications for the scandal of the cross. “At his best, Girard lets his reading first in literature, then in anthropology, then in psychology, then in biblical theology . . . [reveal] the Cross.”167 Possibly even more intriguing than the sacred–violent embodiment of the surrogate scapegoat for the peace of the community is the impossibility of our ever knowing that this in fact how myth works. “Myth serves primarily to hide the arbitrariness of the victim and the fact that the innocent victim is a victim at all. If we know the victim to be arbitrary, we cannot succeed in making him sacred; if we know the victim to be innocent, the cycle of violence and the breakdown of culture cannot be solved.”168 Bottum observes that the death of the innocent

(March 1996): 42. 166 Ibid., 43. 167 Ibid., 44. 168 Ibid. 156


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Socrates had no redemptive impact upon the cultural breakdown of Athens. Bottum’s article heads the reader in the important direction of seeing how Christianity itself contributes to our current cultural crisis. Hitler sacrificed millions of Jews; Stalin made scapegoats of millions of ‘counterrevolutionaries’ . . . and every little dictator since has slaughtered his own victims to create an ephemeral authority. . . . No one trusts sacrifice to do what it once did.169

Bottum observes that what has been lost in a universalizing Christian revelation is the specificity of Christian revelation. The results of a universalization of the Christian revelation contained in sacrifice take shape in “strange cycles of mimetic victimization and apparently insoluble violence.”170 All of which is to say that despite the sacrifice of human life during the twentieth century—the same time during which Christianity has been expanding in the world—“we may have at last reached the moment for a new cultural appropriation of Christian revelation”171 David Tracy would name this theological turn as a return to Luther’s theologia crucis and apophatic thought focusing upon how God is the hidden-yet-incomprehensible One in the midst of so much suffering, pain, and loss of human life (the escalating loss of life in Asia: 120,000 at the time of writing, 31 December 2004). “Violence can no longer cast out violence,

169 Ibid., 45. 170 Ibid. 171 Ibid. 157


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Satan can no longer cast out Satan, and only our return to the gospel can save us.”172 In his “Conclusion,” Girard discusses a number of premises upon which his theory of the surrogate victim depends. Close parallels exist between the method taken in this study and how Girard summarizes his method. When linking religious imitations of outbursts of violence, he is quick to point out that “these imitations had their origin in a real event.” 173 He compares actuality with ritual imitation to point out that historical event should not be restricted to any one context or to any one dominant intellectual framework. Similarly, when speaking of the incarnation of the divine or the crucifixion of God, it is the reality of the historical event that matters, not any restriction of its meaning from semantics or symbolism. Luther’s epistemology of the cross is summarized by “calling a thing what it is.” Secondly, Girard points out the paradoxical nature of his theory; one that is based on facts “whose empirical characteristics are not directly accessible.” 174 That is, the strength of his argument is no more a function of direct observation analyzed in isolation than the consistently-assumed theory of evolution. In the same way that the theory of evolution depends upon a comparison of evidence (the fossil remains of living creatures), so also Girard’s theory of the surrogate victim cannot depend upon a single context—be it mythic, religious, or tragic—when determining the process of violent unanimity. Both theories have their hypotheses. Yet, Girard locates in his theory a superiority over that of evolution. His move here is to credit the apparent “hiddenness” or “in-

172 Ibid. 173 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 309. 174 Ibid. 158


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accessibility” of the generative event as essential to the theory. “The hidden nature of the event corresponds to the researcher’s inability to attribute a satisfactory function to religious practices. My theory is the first to offer an explanation of the primordial role that religion plays in primitive societies, as well as of man’s ignorance of this role.”175 He points out that his theory opens religion up to the possibility that there is nothing to hide or repress, finding that Freud’s “unconscious” is more problematic than the hidden nature of generative violence. “Although generative violence is invisible, it can logically be deduced from myths and rituals once their real structures have been perceived.”176 This, of course, takes us back to the significance of Luther’s theology of the cross which asserts the hiddenness of God in God’s masks from the apophatic epistemology of Maximus and the early Eastern fathers. Just as “inaccessibility” is essential to Girard’s theory, so also is the hiddenness of God scandalously, yet graciously, revealed on a Roman instrument of death as the innocent victim and as the vicarious representative for humanity. Finally, Girard speaks of the premises of chance as critical to the selection of the victim. From his anthropological study he finds sacred ritual in the throwing of dice. Comparing modernity’s rejection of games and contests as ritual with a high religious regard for chance among primitive tribes, he comments upon how the exclusive notions of “secular” require that a religious meaning be superimposed. “The true state of affairs is precisely the opposite; games originate in rites that have been divested . . . of their sacred character [in modernity].”177 For Gi-

175 Ibid., 309–310. 176 Ibid., 310. 177 Ibid., 312. 159


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rard, ritually regulated chance always contains a sacred element, the sacred “fusion of opposites.”178 Here, of course, we find the familiar language of theologia crucis which consistently “fuses opposites” when conveying the dialectical truth of the sacred whether it be Deus Absconditus-Deus Revelatus, the divinity as the greatest sinner, or the sinner in participation with the sufferings of Christ for the world. Given the above overview of Girard’s conclusion to his fusion of the sacred with the violent, we conclude our analysis of Stellvertreter from Bonhoeffer’s christology in preparation for a discussion of his resulting ecclesiology of the cross.

Conclusion The objective of this chapter has been to define and analyze how Stellvertretung informs Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s christology in general and his ecclesiology of the cross in particular. First through a brief etymology of the term best defined as “vicarious representation,” then through an extensive content analysis of Bonhoeffer’s use of the term beginning in the academic writings: his 1927 Berlin dissertation (Sanctorum Communio) and Act and Being (1930), continued in his christology lectures in 1932–33 at Berlin (Christ the Center). Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropology is crafted within Luther’s theology of the cross and informed by a hidden-revealed God who is crucified. His christology of the vicarious representative who stands in the sinner’s place on behalf of the sinner as the Greatest Sinner retains the supernatural dimension of the cross’ vertical beam without “spiritualizing” the anthropological (ideal) example of Jesus of Nazareth as the one for others symbolized by the horizontal beam of the Roman tool of torture and death. The

178 Ibid. 160


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imposition of sentimental overlays (roses on the cross) onto the cross—as opposed to calling it what is—reduce the theological impact of the crucified God to merely a moral example of one who tolerated victimization. Consistent with the methodology of this study, no anthropocentrism can be considered tenable when speaking theologically of the cross. There are better moral examples in history than Jesus Christ. The significance of a scandalous view of the cross as the location for a dying goes well beyond moral example. While Jesus of Nazareth is the vicarious representative for every victim, with Bonhoeffer we agree that only a suffering God can help. On the other hand, any reduction of the cross to a triumphant Christ who barely feels pain, suffering, or dies a death foreign to that of any human being is a religious departure from Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Luther. The evangelical conservative detachment of the Christian from day-to-day participation in the sufferings of Jesus Christ for others quarantines and sanitizes the cross. The gospel cannot be domesticated into the safe place of dogma which only views the Stellvertreter as orthodoxy. In sum, neither the prevailing moral example from liberal Protestantism nor the dominant triumphalism of conservative Protestantism adequately engage a theology of glory in battle. Neither has provided an alternative to U.S. cultural optimism and progressivism; in fact, the U.S. church has accommodated an anti-Christian bias against the scandal of the cross portrayed by the vicarious representative of the crucified God to the detriment of a healthy American society. Bonhoeffer’s radical view of redemption from a this-worldly perspective may be called “reincarnation” in the theological Christian sense of that term where the Christian as a “new creature” doesn’t piously anticipate escaping the world, but rather fully engages the world as the world by participating in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Just as 161


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the Stellvertreter has taken the place of the sinner on the cross, the Christian now takes God’s place on earth as the church. The voice of anthropologist René Girard has been lifted up in this chapter to link his research with Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropology. Girard finds in what he calls the surrogate victim a source for religion and culture. His research supports the theological use of scandal asserted in this study. Just as the Christ takes shape as the Stellverterter in the community for its good, the surrogate victim within the tribe serves to protect it from future violence. Girard’s equation of violence with the sacred, shatters both liberalism’s sentimentalism toward the cross and provides a needed anthropological component to the other-worldly evangelical religious spiritualization of the cross. (Recall that Protestants announce their view of the resurrection with an empty cross; that is, because “Jesus is no longer in the tomb, he was never on the cross!”) Through an analysis of Greek drama, psychology, and ethnography, Girard’s discussion of mimetic desire and the monstrous double parallels Bonhoeffer’s theological understanding of the vicarious representative explicit in his Discipleship and implied in his Ethics and the Letters. The scandal of incest and cannibalism serve Girard’s violence–sacred equation and parallel Luther’s hidden-revealed crucified God interpreted by Bonhoeffer as the Stellvertreter. The regular ecclesial ritual observance of Christ’s violent death requires Girard’s research to inform the anthropological outworking of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Christians to complete the sufferings of the body of Christ on earth as the church. The real presence of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper will be more Christian when the anthropological implications of “take my body and eat; take this cup and drink” are better understood according to Mircea Eliade’s observation that “the 162


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sacred precedes cannibalism� resulting in a ritual devouring of violence by the church community for the human community. To that end, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross is analyzed in the following chapter.

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AN ECCLESIOLOGY OF THE CROSS

Introduction The previous chapters create the theological space to conceive the church offered by theologia crucis, the death of God, and Stellvertetrung. The following chapters assess the church as participant in missio Dei. The objective of this chapter is to thoroughly analyze Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross from his corpus beginning with his 1927 dissertation to the Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer’s seamless christo-ecclesiology provides a theological continuity making it just as reasonable to speak of the church in the Ethics and prison correspondence as from the traditional academic sources Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being. Bonhoeffer’s existential “discontinuity” related to a disciplined practice of prayer and meditation in the biblical witness is not viewed as any “break” in his ecclesiology as will


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be evidenced in a textual analysis of his dissertation with his Letters when speaking and thinking of ecclesiology. The traditional sources for the church, his Discipleship and Life Together along with various sermons, complete the analysis of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross.

Etymology An etymological analysis of Bonhoeffer’s choice of Gemeinde as word for the church begins with Martin Luther’s ecclesiology in general and his On the Councils and the Church in particular. Well then, setting aside various writings and analysis of the word “church,” we shall this time confine ourselves simply to the Children’s Creed, which says, “I believe in one holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” Here the creed clearly indicates what the church is, namely, a communion of saints, that is, a crowd or assembly of people who are Christians and holy, which is called a Christian holy assembly, or church. Yet this word “church” is not German and does not convey the sense or meaning that should be taken from this article.1

What is it about hauffe (crowd) that Luther uses to distill the meaning of church from the Children’s Creed? From the biblical witness (Acts 19:39), Luther speaks of the Greek ecclesia. “In these and other passages the ecclesia or church is nothing but an assembly of people. . . . The Christians, however, are a people with a special call and are therefore called not just ecclesia . . . but sancta catholica Christiana, that is, ‘a Christian holy people who believe in Christ.’” For Luther, the issue is pneumatological. “That is why they are called a Christian people

1

Martin Luther, “On the Councils and the Church,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed., Timothy F. Lull, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 540. 166


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and have the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them daily, not only through the forgiveness of sin acquired for them by Christ, but also through the abolition, the purging, and the mortification of sins, on the basis of which they are called a holy people.”2 Parenthetically, from the above, it is remarkable that modern Protestant theology has been so reluctant to speak either of the Holy Spirit or to go beyond the catch phrase “justification by grace through faith” to risk speaking of sanctification—a risk Martin Luther willingly took to define the church! Luther’s preference for “crowd” implies the dynamic of “gathering of people” when speaking of the church. “Luther likewise preferred communio, ‘gathering,’ or even ‘fellowship.’ By ‘fellowship’ he has in mind a common participation or sharing. The Latin communio sanctorum denotes either the fellowship of the saints or fellowship in the Holy One at the Supper. Luther did not defend the second view, originating in the ancient church. By communio sanctorum he understood the ‘sharing of goods’ among the believers, thus mutual engagement on behalf of the other in bodily and spiritual goods.3

Here Stellvertretung is applied economically within the life of the community in terms of both bodily and spiritual needs. Theologically, Luther’s focus upon bodily emphasizes the incarnation and avoids the intrusion of docetism; his mention of spiritual thwarts ebionitism. Dialectically held together, the body-spirit foci incarnate the perfection of thought represented by the ellipse, rather than the one-point focus of the circle.4

2

Ibid.

3

Lohse, 279.

4

From mathematics, the two-point ellipse is the perfect figure from which all other conic sections (parabola, hyperbola, cir167


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The twenty years between Luther’s The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ and On the Councils and the Church maintain a continuum of Luther’s economic view for defining the church. “[The church is an] incorporation with Christ and all saints. It is as if a citizen were given a sign . . . [as] a member of that particular community. . . . This fellowship consists in this, that all the spiritual possessions of Christ and his saints are shared with and become the common property of whoever receives this sacrament. Again all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites.”5 Of particular importance are Luther’s notae ecclesiae with particular emphasis on the mark of the cross as the distinguishing characteristic of the church. Luther’s concern is framed by the issue of space. “Where are Christian holy people found in this world [who] . . . are supposed to be in this life and on earth . . . [who] believe that a heavenly nature and an eternal life are to come, but as yet they do not possess them.”6 Luther’s statements here form the theological basis for Bonhoeffer’s spatial interpretation of the church in the Letters with “being in the world.” With Luther, his concern is more with form than it is with function. For the purposes of this study, it is Luther’s “where” question which rightfully precedes the “who” question from hiddenness. That is, where

cle) are derived. The circle, with only one point of reference, the center, is considered a reduced derivative of the two-point ellipse. Dialectical theological thought retains the “both-and” rather than an “either-or” and is based upon this principle common to both mathematics and theology. 5

Lohse quoting Luther’s The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, 1519, 279.

6

Lull, 545. 168


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the church is on earth is answered by who the church is in this world following from the discussion of where a hidden crucified God is revealed on earth. To say that God is no longer involved in this world may be tantamount to missing Luther’s notion of Deus absconditus or the crucified God. To say that Christ no longer exists on earth may reveal more an issue of who Christ is believed to be and where vicarious representation is recognized removing a too-easily conceived theodicy as the catchall response. Like God, Christ is hidden in his opposite. So goes the dialectic, often too difficult for the North American pragmatic Cartesian linear mind. In “On the Councils and the Church,” Luther’s abiding focus is pastoral: how to recognize a holy people in exile such that the discomforted and alienated might find the grace and peace of God. After mentioning the Word of God, baptism, the altar bearing the bread and the wine, the office of the keys in confession and forgiveness, the calling of ministers, the public worship of prayer and praise, Luther speaks of yet one more way to recognize a holy exiled people of God. The depth of his insights and their influence upon Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology merit the following long quotation: Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh . . . by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, they must be pious, quiet, obedient, and prepared to serve the government and everybody with life and goods, doing no one any harm . . . they must be accounted worse than Jews, heathen, and Turks . . . they must be called

169


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heretics, knaves, and devils, the most pernicious people on earth. . . . And all of this . . . because they want to have none but Christ, and no other God. Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there . . . .This too is a holy possession whereby the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies his people, but also blesses them.7

Added to the above seven traits are the anthropological “second table” signs of the church identified with Luther’s teaching on the sanctificiation of the Holy Spirit. Along with the cross, modern Lutheranism has equally avoided these “signs” in its continued misunderstanding of “justification” resulting in the neglect of “sanctification.” Of particular note is Luther’s usage of “common.” From the German, gemein8 preserves Luther’s (and Bonhoeffer’s) definition of the church. As an adjective, gemein has a first meaning of “mean, nasty, vulgar and snide.” Its second definition is “common, public, the common good.” A vernacular usage of the German gemein may be interpreted “common nastiness, common meanness.” This is precisely what Luther (and Bonhoeffer) have in mind when they both speak of the peccatorum communio (a community of sinners); that is, a group of ordinary people who have sin in common as sinners. The church is never not the peccatorum communio. It is always the peccatorum communio transformed into the sanctorum by the scandalous grace of God in Jesus of Nazareth on a cross for sinners. Luther insists upon the daily purging of the sinner by the Holy Spirit, a pneumatology neglected by modern North American Protestantism. “Ecclesia . . . means the holy Christian people . . . in whom Christ lives, works, and rules, per 7

Ibid., 561–62.

8

Langenscheidt, 256. 170


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redemptionem, ‘through grace and the remission of sin,’ and the Holy Spirit, per vivificationem et sanctificationem, ‘through daily purging of sin and renewal of life,’”9 Luther’s concern is about what the common person might think. He is less concerned about the religious person’s opinion. His distinctive language is critical to understand his ecclesiology. His Ecclesia Romana sancta would suggest a distinction from sancta catholica Christiana. “Ecclesia Romana sancta means ‘a holy Roman people’ for they have invented a holiness far greater than the holiness of Christians.”10 That is, the spirituality of the Roman Church against which Luther argued is outside the peccatorum communio with a “righteousness” all its own where Christ may be unnecessary. In other words, the spirituality of the Ecclesia Roman sancta is religious; that is, without faith.

Bonhoeffer’s Ecclesiology as an Interpretation of Luther’s Communio Parenthetically, here is the theological origin for Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation from Luther. Just as Luther’s theological concern was for the common person, so also was Bonhoeffer’s for the “religion-less” person. Gemeinde is also his word for the church, best translated into the English as church-community. But note the etymological significance of Gemeinde for Bonhoeffer echoing Luther. Given gemein we see how Gemeinde is theologically supported as the non-religious community formed around the scandal of the cross. Just as there is nothing religious about the skandalon, there is nothing religious about the church-community when properly understood from Luther or Bonhoeffer. Given Christ the maximus

9

Lull, 541 from On the Councils and the Church.

10 Ibid., 542. 171


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peccator as Stellvertreter, the Gemeinde readily accepts its title as peccatorum communio transformed by the skandalon into Sanctorum Communio, offering Jesus its sin in happy exchange for his righteousness. The peccatorum communio is forever the Gemeinde and the Gemeinde is forever at best only a transformed peccatorum communio precisely because it retains its daily need for the Holy Spirit’s purging of what it never loses—its sin as sinners. Luther’s simul restates the same principle. The Lord of the peccatorum communio is the maximus peccator. Germane to the etymological analysis, it’s useful to note Luther’s vernacular (read indigenous) to communicate theologically. So important for Luther is the element of the “common,” that his use of the ordinary-everyday defines the church. Luther’s understanding of language puts into practice his doctrine of the person of Christ, including the disputes over the Lord’s Supper. This is the practice of the ecclesia. All words are made new when they are transferred from their own to another [semantic] context . . . where this happens, there is the church (ubi verbum, ibi ecclesia).11

Westhelle argues that Luther recreated language, even if it meant a transgressing of boundaries, to give voice to the oppressed. “For Luther, the Word cannot exist without the people of God, and neither can the people of God exist without the Word of God.”12 Implicit to Westhelle’s argument is Luther’s capax where liberating grace dismisses “a worthiness for capacity” as criterion to convey the Word who became flesh. “It is therefore in language and its limits that we will find also Luther’s 11 Vitor Westhelle, “Communication and the Transgression of Language in Martin Luther,” Lutheran Quarterly Vol. XVII, Number 1 (Spring 2003): 3. 12 Ibid., 4, from WA 50:657-661. 172


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appreciation of the glory dwelling in the frailty of the flesh.”13 Luther’s concern for the common person’s grasp of a scandalous gospel in everyday life challenges the clericalism of his day. Bonhoeffer’s non-religious, secular interpretation offers the person on the street access to a powerless, crucified God who is pushed to the margins of existence on a cross. Both theologians seek liberation from Christendom so that the gospel may be effectively communicated to ordinary people. Theologia crucis is behind Luther’s use of language in the vernacular for the common assembly. “Language is the earthly stuff with which the ecclesial regime conveys and conceals the presence of the Word.”14 It is precisely in the “transgressing of semantic fields”—that is, in a scandalous, apparent misuse of words—that Luther speaks in a syntax employing a “grammar of faith.”15 Like Luther, Bonhoeffer proclaimed a gospel released from the captivity of religious language. In sum, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s twentieth-century ecclesiology of the cross is essentially his interpretation of Luther’s sixteenth-century ecclesiology. Bonhoeffer reclaims Luther’s christology and especially his pneumatology for the church. Luther’s use of “gathering” opens theological space for Bonhoeffer’s “participation” for the church. His retention of Luther’s peccatorum communio is the basis for the non-religious interpretation of the church. Luther’s maximum peccator for Christ is retained by Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertreter forming the basis for our assertion that scandal is inherent to Christianity. The skandalon of the church of the cross is that its God is crucified, its savior is hidden as a priest appearing as the Biggest Sinner represented

13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., 21. 15 Ibid., 22–23. 173


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on earth by a holy people in exile as a church often appearing as heretical such that they may possess Christ and no other God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ecclesiology of the Cross Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s innovative ecclesiology is simultaneously diverse while theologically continuity from the dissertation to the prison Letters. Whether he is speaking in the re-interpreted Hegelian Christus als Gemeinde existierend or challenging the Gemeinde to “participate in the sufferings of God in the world,” he remains focused upon a scandalous cross bearing the Stellvertreter for the world. The Logos on a cross is the “transgressive word” who communicates across all semantic fields. The cross interprets language for the church. The cross rejects all attempts at arrangement of a bouquet of roses. It remains a Roman cross for murdering criminals even though made from platinum with a felt bottom placed upon a wood altar in the front of the sanctuary. It is no more a religious symbol in the cathedral than it was on Golgotha. Similarly, “Christ existing as church-community” is no more a religious statement than, “One has to live for some time in a community to understand how Christ is ‘formed’ in it.”16 These parallel statements of Christ’s mysterious formation in the church-community represent a span of seventeen years. Bonhoeffer remains focused upon the formation of Christ in the community of believers. From his “Christ in the Old Testament” hermeneutic located in Isaiah 53, Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the church may be linked from “The Visible Church-Community” in Discipleship to the rich ecclesiology of his July 16–18,1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge. In the latter, Bonhoeffer speaks of the common 16 LPP, 359. 174


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denominator “sharing in the suffering of God in Christ.” After listing persons of faith from Zacchaeus, the shepherds, wise men from the East, a centurion, and Joseph of Arimathea, he states, “The only thing that is common to all these is their sharing in the suffering of God in Christ.”17 From his ecclesiology in Discipleship at a time when the Pastor’s Emergency League was being formed (September 1933) as “committed to financially assist those who had suffered from new legal measures or outright violence.” He says, “They who died with Christ in baptism . . . whose secret suffering with Christ had thus far been unnoticed by the world are now publicly dismissed from their profession in this world.”18 Note the irony and paradox of simultaneously being removed from a religious profession and joining the public sufferings of Christ. The Protestant pastors join Christ’s public sufferings through the godlessness of the Nazis when removed from their pulpits! The very community who meditated, studied, sang, and confessed as located in Life Together now experience another quality of fellowship. That is, they joined Jesus’ table-fellowship with sinners, Zacchaeus, and the women at the tomb who were also the women at the cross— all participants with a publicly-suffering Stellvertreter vulnerably displayed in the weakness of God on a cross. This is why Bonhoeffer’s difficult statement, “The world that has come of age is more godless, and perhaps for that very reason nearer to God”19 is one of his most profoundly ecclesiological statements. When understood within his interpretation of theologia crucis where “opposites” are liberated to exist dialectically, godlessness is close to God. The skandalon shows how very close godlessness

17 Ibid., 363. 18 Discipleship, 246. with Kelly’s editorial Note [74]. 19 LPP, 363. 175


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is to God by pointing to “God fixed to the wood” of a Roman tool of death for criminals. Once the cross is understood, all paradoxical expressions of the church make sense, whether from Luther or Bonhoeffer. A continuity of thought, only because it’s expressed in transgressive language, retains the skandalon in Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross. The scandalous role of a theologian-turned-conspirator in part explains Bonhoeffer’s misunderstood and neglected ecclesiology in his Ethics. To uncover his hidden discussion of the church in the Ethics and the Letters and to validate his dogmatic assertions of the church-community in Discipleship and Life Together, we first analyze the ways Bonhoeffer speaks of the church as the unique revelation of a new humanity in Christ from the academic sources Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being.

Sanctorum Communio: The Spiritual and Empirical Form of the Church Bonhoeffer’s concluding remarks in “Sin and Broken Community,” chapter 4 of Sanctorum Communi0, also introduce his discussion of the church in the last half of his book. Not surprisingly, his ecclesiology is introduced by christology—here with the construction of the collective person of humanity who for the church is Jesus Christ “existing as church-community.” Christ supercedes the collective person in Adam, the old humanity who has sinned forming the peccatorum communio. The humanity of sin is one, though consisting of nothing but individuals. It is a collective person, yet infinitely fragmented. It is Adam, since all individuals are themselves and Adam. This duality is its essence, and it is superceded [aufgehoben] only through the unity of the new humanity in Christ.20

20 SC, 121. (author’s italics). 176


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Prior to formally speaking of the church, Bonhoeffer spends the first half of his dissertation addressing “integrated human beings” whose participation in ethical decisions defines them as part of the collective person. From the Old Testament, he uses the Israelites as the “people of God” who are represented even by the few who repent, thus his Stellvertretung, here used for the first time in his writings.21 Along with this construction of the collective person of humanity is his ethical-empirical form of community which “constitutes the essence of the church.”22 Revelation as the reality of God, for Bonhoeffer, is the uniquely internal criterion for assessing the church. For all his musings and preparatory analysis from sociological morphology, he early in his discussion focuses upon what “the church acknowledges as constitutive, namely the fact of Christ, or the ‘Word.’”23 Later in Act and Being, contra Heidgger’s existentialism, Bonhoeffer re-establishes the significance of revelation-reality of God for Christianity by demonstrating how it resolves the difficulties of transcendentalist philosophy on the one hand and idealism (ontology) on the other. Here his assertion is clear and must be understood. “The reality of the church is a reality of revelation, a reality that essentially must be either believed or denied . . . there is no relation to Christ in which the relation to the church is not necessarily established as well. The church, therefore, logically establishes its own foundation in itself.”24 The impact of Bonhoeffer’s argument from revelation emerges in his critique of Max Scheler’s argument for community-from-mass and egocentric mysticism. “He [Scheler]

21 Ibid., 120. 22 Ibid., 125. (author’s italics). 23 Ibid., 126. 24 Ibid., 127. 177


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should have argued from the historically positive revelation of the holy in Christ . . . to arrive at the reality of the community. . . . Only on the basis of concrete revelation can one arrive at real community.”25 The operative word for Bonhoeffer here, and throughout all his writings, is concrete. Anticipating his focus upon the Old Testament in the Letters, here in the dissertation he credits the use of “assembly” to the Jews as the ekklesia from the Greek. The church as assembly is one of eight themes listed at the outset of his discussion where Bonhoeffer tracks with Luther and Paul to support his “themes of the church” given as: 1. The church is an assembly. 2. The church exists through Christ’s action. 3. The church-community and Christ are synonymous. 4. The church-community is a collective personality (Gesamtpersoenlichkeit). 5. The church is “Christ existing as church-community.” 6. The church as the body of Christ is never pure. 7. The church is visible as a social body. 8. The church as an organism is governed by Christ to serve others.

Each of the above is explicated throughout Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross in the entire corpus of his writings. For his dissertation, he establishes the church as a revelation of both Christ and the Holy Spirit where community is an operative concept without which for Bonhoeffer the church cannot, and does not, exist. This is in opposition to Ernst Troeltsch’s assertion, “The church would still exist even if there were nothing left save the word.”26 While there is clearly no mitigating

25 Ibid., 129. 26 Ibid., 145. Green links Bonhoeffer’s critique here to Tro178


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the importance of the word in Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology, he doggedly clings to community when speaking of the church. A church without hearers of a proclaimed word simply cannot exist and still remain the Christian church of the New Testament. “The reality of the church of the Holy Spirit is a revelational reality in the empirical form. It is a mistake to reflect on the objective work of the Holy Spirit independently of the church-community.”27 With revelation at the core of his argument, Bonhoeffer proceeds to define and analyze the church in three major sections forming the heart of his ecclesiology in the 1927 dissertation: “The Church Established in and through Christ Its Realization,” “The Holy Spirit and the Church of Jesus Christ: The Actualization of the Essential Church,” and “The Empirical Form of the Church.” We begin a distillation of his ecclesial thought with a brief consideration of how Bonhoeffer understands the establishment of the church as the paradoxical reality of a specifically Christian community existing only through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A proper understanding of the paradox (scandal) is crucial to how Bonhoeffer sees Jesus Christ as the unique reality for the church. It has to do with the difference between the disciple-community and the community-of-the-cross. The former was defined only in terms of “an alive Jesus” and appeared to be fragmented by the death of Jesus. However, the community-of-the-cross simultaneously contains the contradiction of deepest solitude and closest community. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer’s discusses the difference between a spiritual community and a psychic community with reference to solitude and community. Over ten years before that writing, he lays the theoeltsch’s Social Teachings (480). 27 Ibid., 144. 179


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logical foundation for the church. “God established the reality of the church, of humanity pardoned in Jesus Christ—not religion, but revelation, not religious community, but church.”28 Note again the early reference to a “religion-less-ness” to be later developed in the Letters. Christ’s vicarious representative action has unique meaning for Bonhoeffer in the scandalous notion that, as Stellvertreter, Jesus takes the sins of others upon himself, thereby punishing sin itself. It is precisely in the act of becoming sin for humanity that the vicarious representative demonstrates responsible action for others.29 Here what appears to be ethically irresponsible is theologically grace, for as Bonhoeffer says, “We ought not reject this gift of God. It is God’s love that offers it to us.”30 Just as in most of his critique of German liberal theology, the issues for Bonhoeffer are reducing what is inherently theological to that which becomes merely ethical. Unlike Ritschl’s concept of vicarious representative action as only an ethical possibility, Bonhoeffer avoids such reduction here.31 With Christ as the unique realization of the church, Bonhoeffer challenges the twentieth-century German Protestant church to recover from its amnesia regarding the ecclesial role of Holy Spirit.

The Spiritual Form of the Church In a rather long discussion of the plurality, community, and unity of the Holy Spirit in the church, Bonhoeffer provides a theo-

28 Ibid., 153. 29 Mark Brocker’s 1996 dissertation links vicarious representative action with being the responsible human being and with becoming the responsible community, the church. 30 Ibid., 156. 31 Ibid., Green references Ritschl’s Justification and Reconciliation. 180


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logical bridge from Christ as reality to the empirical form of the church. He makes the bold assertion that community with God exists only in the church.32 For Bonhoeffer, it is the Holy Spirit who leads persons into actualized church-community. The context for the move he makes here has to do with Schleiermacher’s social-philosophical individualism as the basis for the church. Bonhoeffer’s reclamation of pneumatology regarding the church challenges Schleiermacher’s marginalization of the communal dimension of the church as merely preparatory for the development of the individual.33 Bonhoeffer prefers to conceive of the church theologically sustained by the Holy Spirit a reality within the church-community. Critical to his ecclesiology is the inseparable link of Christ and the Holy Spirit from a robust perichoretic understanding of the Trinity rather than a minimal view of the Holy Spirit symbolized by tacking on the Trinity to the end of a systematic theology as an afterthought. For Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology, it is precisely the Holy Spirit revealed in the cross and in the resurrection who brings Christians into community with God. “When Christ comes into us through the Holy Spirit, the church comes into us.”34 From a

32 Ibid., 158. 33 Ibid., 159. Bonhoeffer’s note includes references to Seeberg and Ritschl to point out Schleiermacher’s contradictory train of thought on the nature of the church. Quoting The Christian Faith, Bonhoeffer points out how Schleiermacher explains the formation of the church rendering the Holy Spirit as extraneous. For example, Schleiermacher finds the need for human beings to communicate as a basis for religious community (this explains Bonhoeffers distaste for “religious community” throughout his dissertation). That is, the church is merely, according to Schleiermacher, the satisfaction of a need. 34 Ibid., 165. 181


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thorough analysis of agape-love, he develops a series of related terms which speak of the community of the Spirit. One such term is Liebegemeinschaft (community of love). By comparing the uniqueness of other forms of community, Bonhoeffer finds in the church-community a unique community with God that exists for humanity only in faith.35 What he means by this gets back into Luther’s marks of the church and relates to Augustine’s understanding of the church as a community of loving persons. “Forgiveness of sin does not come from the organized church and the office, but from the community of saints.”36 Bonhoeffer finds the Holy Spirit the sustaining presence and power which provides the church the ability to understand “community” as an end in itself. The church is a unique and completely novel sociological structure. He summarizes what he means in two programmatic terms: miteinander (with-eachother) and fuereinander (being-for-each-other). Bonhoeffer uses these terms structurally in the context of Stellvertretung to interpret Luther’s notion of church-community bearing with and for the individual. From Luther’s robust theology of “suffering with each other” and “bearing one another’s burdens” and even “the church dying with each member,” Bonhoeffer disallows any reduction of what he is saying to the psychological realm. The message here is clear: the community of love is expressed empirically. A church-community must display “being-for-eachother” in acts of love even to the point of submitting to “God’s wrath on behalf of the other members of the community.”37 Specifically, he lists three concrete acts of love: “Self-renouncing, active work for the neighbor, intercessory prayer; and finally,

35 Ibid., 174. 36 Ibid., 175. 37 Ibid., 184. 182


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the mutual forgiveness of sins in Gods name.”38 Citing corporate intercessory prayer, Bonhoeffer cites Luther’s “the devil is more afraid of a thatched roof under which a congregation prays, than of a magnificent cathedral in which many masses are said.”39 As an actualization of Hegel’s modified concept, Christ existing as church-community, Bonhoeffer locates the entire church-community in the intercessory prayer of one individual on behalf of the other. Here we find a wedding of Stellvertreter and Christus als Gemeinde existierend. Finally, as an example of how the church takes shape in the power and in the presence of the Holy Spirit, Bonhoeffer invokes both Luther and Augustine to explain “the deepest insight into the miracle of the church-community, namely that one person can forgive another’s sins with priestly authority.”40 Just as Christ did, the Christian takes sin from the others’ conscience and bears it; but clearly one can do that only by laying it in turn on Christ, “the church-community is thus able to bear the sins that none of its members can bear alone; it is able to bear more than all of its members combined.”41 Here we find the ecclesiology which supports Bonhoeffer’s later statements in Life Together on confession and forgiveness as actual behaviors for the community that is Christian. That is, function follows form in that the church behaves in concert with its essence as Christ existing as church-community. The church is now the new creature as more

38 Ibid. Bonhoeffer picks up a discussion of these concrete acts up again in Life Together. 39 Ibid., 188 from LW 44:66. Here we find another example of Luther’s transgressive language to make the point of the centrality of prayer in the life of the Christian congregation. 40 Ibid., 189. 41 Ibid., 190. 183


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than only a means to an end. The church in its “being in Christ” is an end in itself. When Bonhoeffer speaks of the church as “being in the world” in the Letters, he has the ecclesiology of his dissertation in mind. Substantively, very little is added to Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross that isn’t explicitly documented in his Berlin dissertation from 1927. In sum, Bonhoeffer’s section on both the plurality and community of spirit related to the Holy Spirit’s role in the church boils down to this: The structural being-with-each-other of church-community and its members, and the members acting-for-each-other as vicarious representatives in the power of the church-community, is what constitutes the specific sociological nature of the community of love.

We complete Bonhoeffer’s pneumatological-ecclesiology in this section with a look into how both a plurality and a community of spirit manifests itself in unity as the collective person. In his ongoing theological assault upon German idealism as related to the person and the community, Bonhoeffer locates a paradoxical basis for the unity of the spirit in the church-community. From the Pauline text applying the cross to racial relations supplemented by the well-known Galatian text which removes the divisions of gender, race, and class within the church, Bonhoeffer says, “The more powerfully the dissimilarity manifests itself in the struggle, the stronger the objective unity.”42 From Luther, he distinguishes between Einigkeit im Geist (unanimity in spirit) and Einheit des Geistes (unity of the Spirit). His language is precise to say that the plurality of persons is unified into a single collective person without cost to individual singularity or damage to the community of persons.

42 SC, 192. 184


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Where concreteness is sustained within the church-community, idealism lacks a concrete concept of the person or community. Bonhoeffer’s tension with idealism is with the categories. Where he opts for ethical categories, idealism is a hybrid of the biological and the metaphysical. “The unity of the Christian church is not based on human unanimity of spirit, but on divine unity of Spirit.”43 Luther’s “one loaf” equates to Bonhoeffer’s “Christ existing as church-community.” A brief analysis of how he speaks of equality in the church-community indicates the difference between unity and uniformity. Bonhoeffer’s social location informed this thought especially as it pertains to the nihilistic uniformity displayed in the Nazi rallies, marches, and festivals, where there was a sheer absence of unity among the persons leading and participating in the “group think” of National Socialism. In fact, just as there “appeared” to be such a “unity” among the German people under Hitler, just the opposite is true of genuine unity in Christ in the church. “Equality has nothing to do with affinity of souls . . . it is really visible only to God . . . for us, it remains invisible because of our dissimilarity. Equality is hidden in its opposite.” Here is the paradox of the church linked with the scandal of the cross; for it is precisely “by the cross of Christ that the same judgment and the same grace is declared to the whole world.”44 Finally, with an appeal to the priesthood of all believers and the gift of word and sacrament, Bonhoeffer completes his thought on unity within the church-community. That is, equality as part of a church’s unity is invisible just as the serving one another as priests “appears” invisible and can never simply be deduced without faith. Bonhoeffer’s Christian 43 Ibid., 198. 44 SC, 205. 185


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definition of unity, invisibly empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to be distinguished from that of either socialism or idealism. It is from an ecclesiology of the cross that the unity of the spirit derives from a theological concept of the church. In sum, Bonhoeffer establishes his concept of the church in and through the reality of Christ present among persons in transition as peccatorum communio to Sanctorum Communio. Secondly, his perichoretic view of the Trinity and focus upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit bespeaks a Gemeinde consisting of individuality, community, and unity. It is the Holy Spirit that establishes the above three realities through the mutual relations of miteinander and fuereinander informed by Stellvertretung. Contra idealism, the Christian church-community deals in the concrete. The following section delves into a critical area of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology taking its departure from concrete expressed in empirical.

The Empirical Form of the Church Bonhoeffer introduces the term translated into the English as “empirical” to mean “actualized, realized, completed = consummated as divine reality, not temporal process.”45 He seeks to strike a balance between the community and the individual when using “empirical.” That is, in no way does the individual Christian lose her identity within an empirical community as in Roman Catholicism, biological constructions, or organological political philosophy. At the same time, the church is not merely an organism as a partially appropriate image. So, “the sociological structure of the church according to the New Testament, plurality of persons, community and unity are understood as

45 Ibid., 139, Note [31] from Reinhard Krauss, SC translator. The German is vollendet as “completed” into the English. 186


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belonging together, analogous to the structure of all communities of will.”46 Earlier in his analysis of the person and community, Bonhoeffer had assessed the relative deficiencies of Greek, idealistic and transcendental philosophies in preparation for the Christian view of person and community. In essence, he demonstrated how philosophy fails to provide adequate sociological categories for community. Picking up the discussion of empiricism within the context of the church, Bonhoeffer analyzes an empirical form of the church which he concludes locates it as a distinct sociological typology on the one hand established by God, and on the other hand like any other empirical community. “The empirical church is . . . identical . . . with concrete historical community, in the relativity of its forms, and in its imperfect appearance, it is the body of Christ.”47 Herein lies the tension: the double issue of history and the community of saints; that is, of time and space. On the one hand it is the bearer of historical tradition and on the other hand acts repeatedly to incorporate new members into its community. As Bonhoeffer does later in his Act and Being to resolve the inadequacies of both idealism and transcendentalism with his view of revelation, here he speaks of an objective spirit of the church located in revelation. Jesus Christ is the bearer of the historical impact and the Holy Spirit, of the social impact. The criterion for the church to be the church despite any question about its forms is directly tied to the presence of Jesus Christ with the church-community. Using Kant as an example, Bonhoeffer deconstructs all idealistic claims for the church from Luther’s justus peccator. 46 Ibid. 47 SC, 209. 187


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Without shame regarding purity, he claims that not only is the church historical, as God entered history in Jesus of Nazareth, but the church is both imperfect and sinful. Kant’s view of the church fails to arrive at this station with Luther. The church that is regarded no longer as a community of sinners is no longer Christian. “Thus the Sanctorum Communio continues to fall again and again. . . . Its repentance and faith revolves around a fixed point: the world is what causes the church to breakup into the community-of-the-cross.”48 Christ’s presence is precisely what guarantees that the church is Christian; that is, simul sanctus et peccator. There is simply no sociological category within either idealism or transcendentalism to adequately define the Christian church in this regard. On the one hand there is what Bonhoeffer calls the “objective human spirit,” and on the other hand from revelation there is the Holy Spirit, who is able to use even the sin of the church to sustain its sociality. Bonhoeffer is very careful to maintain a complete separation of the objective spirit and the Holy Spirit. Throughout this analysis, he makes repeated reference to the leitmotiv: Christus als Gemeinde existierend. As an empirical church, the Gemeinde is the realm of Christ. As such it includes both tares and wheat who needn’t be analyzed until the day of judgment. From both Holl and Luther, Bonhoeffer retains the Volkskirche and the Freiwilligkeitskirche, as the essential and the empirical, respectively. “The invisible and the visible church is thus established by the world; this is a genuinely Lutheran insight.”49 Bonhoeffer opposes any attempts to purify the church; that is, to remove the hiddenness of the realm of God from the strange forms of a Christian church. He 48 Ibid., 213. 49 SC, 221 with Note [294]. 188


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identifies the perfectionist sects as the Anabaptists, Pietists, the proponents of the Enlightenment and Kant, up to the religious socialism of Germany’s Youth Movement in his day. No matter how serious the despisers of the historical nature of our church may act, they are merely playing games if they do not stay with the realities that God intends us to take seriously.50

Of course, his use of “despisers” is an allusion to Schleiermacher. It was such a grasp of the historical (read sinful) nature of the church that kept Luther from breaking away from Rome. Bonhoeffer advocates a similar response from Protestant church leaders. Bonhoeffer concludes his argument for the logical relationship between the empirical and the essential church with a discussion of individual congregations. Here his concern is whether separate local churches can be considered a unity. His answers emerge from an assessment of the New Testament metaphor “body of Christ,” though he claims that the New Testament offers no precise answer to his question. From Luther, Zwingli, Wycliffe, and the Swiss Kilchhoere (local congregations), Bonhoeffer concludes that his empirical church corresponds to the Gesamt Gemeinde (the church-community as a whole). “The body of Christ is indeed in Rome, Corinth, Wittenberg, Geneva and Stockholm; and the individual congregations belong to the church-community as a whole, which is the Sanctorum Communio.”51 However the relationship among unorganized, organized, individual congregations, or universal church is to be construed, Bonhoeffer is clear that the New Tes-

50 SC, 222. 51 Ibid., 224. 189


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tament’s body of Christ refers to function, not to form; namely, the work of Christ. “Christ is fully present in each individual, and yet he is one; and again he is not fully present in any one person, but only all human beings together possess the whole Christ.”52 This is his basis for saying that while each individual congregation is the body of Christ, “It is only the church-community as a whole that can actualize all the relationships within the body of Christ.”53 Having introduced his consideration of the empirical form of the church by comparing the objective human spirit to the Holy Spirit and demonstrating a logical relation between the empirical and the essential church, Bonhoeffer shifts his thought back to sociology. He now discusses the sociological forms and functions of the empirical church. But first, a brief comment on his method of study. Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his “theological study of the sociology of the church” by defining social philosophy as “the normative study of fundamental social relationships that are presupposed by all knowledge as guidelines for the accurate interpretation of empirical sociological data.”54 Sociology, on the other hand, he says is “the systematic study of the structures of empirical communities, not a historical discipline.”55 His primary critique of Weber and Durkheim is that both tend to favor a historical methodology over a systematic look into the social issues of the church. Ernst Troeltsch’s focus on historically contingent social forms is inadequate for probing the essential social structures of Christian community. Only Simmel and Max Scheler are credited with systematic approach-

52 Ibid., 225. 53 Ibid., 226. 54 Ibid. 28–30. 55 Ibid. 190


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es to the sociology of religion.56 He states his own purpose as “to understand the structure of the given reality of a church of Christ, as revealed in Christ, from the perspective of social philosophy and sociology.”57 As will be emphasized in our review of the church in Act and Being, the operative term throughout Bonhoeffer’s dissertation is revelation and its cognates. His refutations of “the old concept of the sociology of religion” and “individualistic social atomism” position his direction into new insights into the nature of community. Given the context of his sociological-theological study, Bonhoeffer identifies the following forms and functions for the empirical church: assembling for worship, a bearing of the social activity of the Holy Spirit, preaching, celebrating baptism, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. While he says all of the above forms and functions “stand first and foremost under the word,” he distinguishes among the effects of each upon the sociological structure of the particular church-community in which they take place.58 His analysis includes a challenge to his own position. For cannot each member of the church-community read the Bible on their own, and in private confess that they belong to the church community, namely the invisible church of the “conscience” and the “soul”? What is the purpose of deadly boredom of a publicly visible worship in which one risks sitting in front of a narrow-minded preacher and next to lifeless faces? 59

Bonhoeffer invokes Luther to stress how regular gathering serves not only to express gratitude for the gifts of grace, but 56 SC, 31–32 from Bonhoeffer Note [14]. 57 Ibid., 33. 58 Ibid., 238 59 Ibid., 227. 191


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also to receive it ever anew. “The assembly of believers remains our mother.”60 He highlights the very special significance of the concrete assembly. First, it is visible, a community of human beings, not to be confused with a community of common convictions, kindred spirits, but a community of love where its weakness is also its strength. Here is Bonhoeffer’s appeal to a scandalous gospel from the Pauline correspondence comparing weakness-power and wisdom-foolishness located in the human God, Jesus of Nazareth. The weakness is the dullness of the assembly where each individual is tied to her concrete condition; but this is also precisely the source of the assembly’s strength. Other people next to me may be quite different from me, strangers, immersed in their own affliction—they too are evidently willed by God.61

Parenthetically, Bonhoeffer’s allusion to “the other” here is fleshed out more thoroughly in his Act and Being in reference to the church. But in this statement he incorporates a historical strand of thought begun in Maximus’ “opposites” and reclaimed in Luther’s theology of the cross where God is hidden within and only to be found in the opposite of God. It is precisely in the other concrete human being that God’s glory and power are recognized, not in some ethereal vision romantically experienced alone in a German forest. The utter dissimilarity of the individuals pales into insignificance before the sovereign unity of the divine word. We

60 Ibid., 228 from editor’s Note [313] referencing Luther’s Large Catechism. 61 Ibid., 229. 192


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discover that one person cannot have anything in common with another . . . that what sustains the community can be nothing but the love given by God into our hearts. Thus one person reminds the other of the God who wants them both in the same church-community.62

Secondly, in the church assembly “total strangers proclaim God’s grace and forgiveness to me, not as their own experience, but as God’s will.”63 While this speaking of God in the congregation is incarnate within human experience that one recognizes and with which one may identify, its truth and power derive from God as his will for the assembly gathered in his name. Bonhoeffer also discusses the value of “the stranger’s proclamation” as indicative that the “I” isn’t experiencing an illusion. Here again is his objective human spirit in history applied to the assembly while at the same time open to the operation of the Holy Spirit. So the proclamation of God’s grace by the other is an assurance and a confidence of faith arising not only from solitude, but also from church-community. When Bonhoeffer’s documents Life Together as the life of about forty seminarians living in community, he makes reference to the dialectic of solitude-community. There within an illegal seminary gathered in worship, fellowship, study, and ministry to others, the assembly provided a group of Protestant student-pastors the assurance that even under Hitler, God embraces the congregant with grace. Bonhoeffer’s comments on the importance of the assembly and the proclamation of grace from the “stranger” provide a transition into the assembly as the bearer of the “office” as another social function of the church. The term bear could easily form the basis for a theology 62 Ibid. 63 Ibid. 193


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all its own within Bonhoeffer’s thought. As Christ existing as church-community, he speaks of the empirical community as the bearer of the “office.” Ironically, the objective spirit encumbered with sin and imperfection can proclaim Word to form community, just as the community makes the Word what it is for the community. In so doing, the objective human spirit becomes the bearer of the social activity of the Holy Spirit. Devoid of any Roman Catholic concept of the inherent holiness of the office and without a sectarian notion of personal holiness, Bonhoeffer’s appeal is to a Word which cannot return void. “Even a Judas may have been able to preach most powerfully.”64 With a high view of how the community mediates Word, Bonhoeffer applies this same idea to the administration of the sacrament reminiscent of the Donatist controversy. The fact that a preacher does not belong to the Sanctorum Communio and that this preacher must use forms shaped by the objective spirit means that the Holy Spirit is able to use that person as an instrument of the Spirit’s own work. This is why the Sanctorum Communio is able to establish an “office” of preaching and administration of the sacraments that it entirely sustains by itself, but which is nevertheless completely independent from it as far as the actual people who hold it are concerned.65

In the spirit of the above statement, Bonhoeffer highlights the qua in AC VII to make the point that Christian preaching is possible only within the Sanctorum Communio in which it is rooted. Of course, the priesthood of all believers emerges here as the Reformation’s protection against any earthly authority

64 SC, 234 with reference to Bonhoeffer’s Note [105] from Luther [LW 34:306]. 65 Ibid., 235. 194


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who would seek to supplant the Holy Spirit who prefers to work within the limits of human imperfection to form the church. Along with assembling for worship, and bearing the “office” of proclamation and the sacrament, there is a sociological meaning with effects to a particular local church-community involved in preaching, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. As far as preaching the Word, the church is of course solely dependent upon it and “can never be subsumed under the sociological category of audience . . . as a faceless mass.”66 Bonhoeffer’s use of mass brings up another sociological difference between the Reformation and Roman Catholicism regarding the Word. If the Word is addressed to thinking, intellectual adults and is received only by personal appropriation by hearers who may also choose to reject it, the church-community is impelled away from the mass. The Mass in a Roman Catholic sense offers no individual the freedom and liberty to make decisions on the basis of the Word’s sovereignty, or even that of Christ. The Mass is impersonalist at this point. “The Christian concept of the church-community is the criterion for evaluating the notion of the mass, and not the other way around.”67 Regarding baptism, the difference between the church– community and the Roman Catholic Mass is sociologically linked to the concept of force in the physical sense, where original sin (naturalistically viewed) is eliminated by the physical infusion of grace. Less magically, a genuinely Protestant view takes the person more seriously in terms of what happens to both infants in their progress toward adulthood, where reasonable decisions are made. From Luther, the church-community steps up to a responsibility for the child who, given its inability 66 SC, 239. 67 Ibid., 240. 195


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to receive faith, is nevertheless incorporated into the faith of the church-community and nurtured toward faith in Christ, not in the institution of the church. As such is becomes a missionary church (Missionkirche). Baptism is thus, on the one hand, God’s effective act in the gift of grace by which the child in incorporated into the church-community of Christ, on the other hand, however, it also implies the mandate that the child remain within the Christian community . . . where the church carries the child like its mother . . . meaning that baptism is no longer meaningful wherever the church can no longer envision “carrying” the child. The church needs to be open for everybody, but must at the same time remain conscious of its responsibility.68

Bonhoeffer takes a different approach to the Lord’s Supper as that constitutive act of the Gemeinde. For in this cultic ritual all participants are serious about their submission to God’s rule in the realm of Christ. Just as baptism is the potential for belonging to the church, the Lord’s Supper is rightly administered only within the Sanctorum Communio in no less a way than Word is proclaimed in qua. Its tactile nature involves a decision, promises a gift, and pertains to both spirit and body. Beyond reduction to only a symbol, the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s presence given as reality as gift to the church-community. The Stellvertreter, in his vicarious suffering on behalf of the sinner, gives community with himself; and at the same time Christ gives the church-community its ability to “bear the other and to be borne by the other . . . as Christ’s priestly work.”69 Just as Christ has taken the place of the sinner for the sinner, the Christian now takes the place of Christ on behalf of Christ for the other. All 68 Ibid., 241. 69 Ibid., 243. 196


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of this is Luther’s elaboration of the gift and miracle of the church-community from “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ.”70 From the theology of the Reformation, Bonhoeffer speaks of the human action before God as the sociological significance of the Lord’s Supper gathering a most intimate community together in one loaf and one cup. Its celebration is freely chosen in obedience in faith that God will act in it. To that end, it is qualitatively different from preaching Word. The church-community addressed by preaching thus becomes the necessary precondition for the church-community celebrating the Lord’s Supper; and the latter, as a church confessing its faith, is thus by nature smaller than the former. The church-community is thus constituted equally by the preached message and then by celebrating the Lord’s Supper.71

Bonhoeffer makes it clear that what is decisive in the Lord’s Supper is the visible, public form of symbolic obedience recognized as such by God. The social significance for such a visible public identification with Christ’s sufferings in liturgy is then understood by the church-community carried out on earth as a participation in the sufferings of Christ for the world—the phrase he uses in the Letters as a non-religious interpretation of a biblical concept indicative of Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropological continuity. To summarize, “The word is the sociological principle by which the entire church is built up. . . . Its unifying center is the word . . . where baptism implies a church-of-the-people . . . preaching implies both a church-of-the-people and a

70 Ibid., 244 with editorial Note [357] citing WA 2:738ff. 71 Ibid. 197


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voluntary church . . . and the Lord’s Supper, purely as a voluntary and as a community confessing its faith.” 72 In a brief but important discussion of how Stellvertreter pertains to pastoral care within the church-community, Bonhoeffer completes his discussion of the sociological meaning of the acts and rituals of the church. Here we once again observe how paradox and irony often accompany his ecclesiology of the cross. “It is not only Christ who is both gift and example for us human beings, but in the same way also one human being is so for another.”73 Reminiscent of his earlier miteinander and fuereinander, Bonhoeffer explains the paradox of how on the one hand all persons must stand before God alone while at the same time placed within a concrete social-historical context where one person seeks the counsel of another. At stake for Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology here is the practice of confession within the church-community as that which distinguishes it from merely religious community. The first draft of his manuscript at this point even included the possibility of establishing times for personal confession within Protestant churches as an expression of pastoral care.74 At this juncture in the development of his ecclesological discourse, Bonhoeffer briefly distinguishes between what he terms the Reformation gospel and unrestrained religious enthusiasm (Schwaemertum). Here he speaks to the issues of authority and freedom in the empirical church. With the Word as authority, he summons the church to speak authoritatively on matters concerning the creed, theology, exegesis, and the liturgy as well as about current events and the world at large. “If the church

72 Ibid., 247. 73 Ibid., 249. 74 Ibid., 250 referencing editorial Note [380]. 198


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is unable to speak authoritatively, then it may have recourse to a qualified silence.”75 In his prison correspondence, of course, he chides the Protestant church for their silence about the Jews during the Hitler period; but then, this silence may have been exactly what Bonhoeffer is allowing for here. After all, the Protestant church of pre-WWII Germany was devoid of any theological ability to speak out about much of anything political or cultural in Germany and chose the path of indifference and neglect. In retrospect, it can only be speculated that Bonhoeffer might have taken back any affirmation for the German Protestant church to be silent for any reason. In fact, he validates his own departure from the Protestant church of his day with his comments here related to having to choose between one’s church and the Word’s authority—precisely what Bonhoeffer did when he helped construct the Confessing Church and then left it because of its silence over the Jews. Finally, Bonhoeffer positions the church as a unique sociological type. Here, the issue is not origin, but essence. Using the convergence of “it is established by God” and “it is empirical,” he discusses the concept of the church in terms of the previously considered sociological types at the beginning of his dissertation. “The church as a sociological type can be conceived according to two subcategories within the society, namely that of a compulsory organization (Anstalt) and that of a voluntary association (Verein).”76 Each of the above subcategories may be considered as Gesellschaft, a society. However, through a careful argumentation related to membership in an association, control

75 Ibid., 251 with reference to editorial Note [382] where Green links this thought to the discipline o f the secret from Bonhoeffer’s lectures at Finkenwalde. 76 SC, 253. 199


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over members, expulsion from an organization, common interests, tradition, payment of money, the admission of children, and the act of will, Bonhoeffer demonstrates the inadequacy of Gesellschaft as either Anstalt or Verein. The litmus test for church is community, yet not just any type of community. For Bonhoeffer, the church must be a community of spirit (Geistgemeinschaft). Beyond an association of kindred spirits, “the term expresses the transcendent foundation of the community . . . as the achievement of God’s will . . . where the church is both a means to an end and at the same time an end in itself.”77 With pneumatology as its basis, Bonhoeffer argues how even Gemeinschaft (community) understood as an ideal type falls short of a Christian definition of the church. His advocacy for Geistgemeinschaft as the closest term to describe the empirical community established by God will become clear in the following analysis. “The act of love brought about by the Spirit is the very heart of the community of spirit.”78 By carefully analyzing how the Christian really loves her neighbor, Bonhoeffer argues in the spirit of the Apostle Paul for an internally motivated and empowered commitment to the other in relationship which is in the end obedience to the will of God. I organize my relation to the other with a single end in mind, namely to fulfill God’s will by loving the other. Now because it is the Holy Spirit who loves within me, I am assured that the end toward which I organize my relation to the other is this very relation itself. Only the Holy Spirit within me is able to tie both of these together. It is the Spirit’s work that, by my seeking nothing but to be obedient to God. . . . I complete-

77 Ibid., 261. 78 Ibid., 262. 200


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ly surrender my will, so that simultaneously I truly love my neighbor. The Holy Spirit combines the claim to authority with the will to establish purpose and to establish meaning. The distinctive act among all the activities of the community of the church is that of love brought about by the Spirit.79

The only acceptable sociological structure to which the church may be compared is the family. This is, of course, no mystery since it is the most commonly used image for the church in the New Testament. Yet for theological reasons, the patriarchal family “cannot be defined as the pure union of obedience and true communal relation; it is either one or the other.” All of which is to say, that, for Bonhoeffer, the church is a uniquely defined and distinctively constructed sociological type established and sustained by the Holy Spirit, as claimed by the biblical witness in the events of Acts 2. “In it (the church) Gemeinschaft and . . . Gesellschaft are most closely intertwined and since this structure comes into being only through the Spirit, we speak of community of Spirit (Geistgemeinschaft).”80 Love, for Bonhoeffer, is the life-principle of the community, unlike the way people relate to one another in a society. Revelation, for Bonhoeffer, is the foundation upon which the structure is built. The goal of God’s will is the communion of the saints as the interconnection of God’s rule and God’s realm. “The idea of the priesthood of all believers remains the foundational principle of the church.”81 Parenthetically, from Holl’s analysis, Bonhoeffer demonstrates the inadequacy of Ernst Troeltsch’s church-sect differentiation. “Troeltsch contrasts the sect with the church as an 79 Ibid. 80 Ibid., 264. 81 Ibid., 266. 201


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organization of salvation into which a person is born. This shows that he employs a genetic-sociological approach.”82 Bonhoeffer’s argument favors a theological approach to the church that goes beyond genetics and sociology—both of which would prove to be problematic in a German culture headed by the Nazis. Holl argues that Troeltsch has merely derived his ideas from Protestant sectarianism, “which is already one reason why it must be inaccurate.”83 While Bonhoeffer argues that the sect may be the church “as long as it has the word,” he is not unaware that sects often place excessive emphasis on insights (personal holiness) that lead to one-sidedness in structure. In effect, Bonhoeffer allows from theology what Troeltsch disallows from genetics and sociology regarding both the church and sects. As the poster child for theological liberalism and his views of the church, it is no wonder that Troeltschian Protestantism accommodated the eugenic distortions of National Socialism’s categorization of the person and the community. Clearly, the ecclesiological issues raised by Bonhoeffer are more than merely internal debates about theology within the church. His analysis of sociological structures and typologies go to the heart of the applied biology of the Nazi program, where in the absence of a Christian definition of the person and community, the Jews and others, were easily “typed” leading to their extermination as an act of cultural purification. Though beyond the scope of this study, the insipid culture-Protestantism which prevailed in preWWII Germany waits to be analyzed as one of many conduits leading to the Holocaust. Finally, Bonhoeffer concludes his last line of argument by taking exception to AC7, which he finds “to be in error when 82 Ibid., 267. 83 Ibid. 202


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it directly links ‘being rightly taught’ to the ‘congregation of saints.”84 This is too sweeping a statement in itself and pokes out too visibly as a departure from his argumentation. After a robust analysis of sociological types and church-community, this seems to be problematic as well. In fact, Bonhoeffer seems to contradict himself. His concern is purity and he argues that “the pursuit of right doctrine” is always present in the church and that is all that is required, not the presence of pure doctrine. Fair enough, and he goes on to argue that the church may reside both in the Roman Catholic church as well as in the sect as a result. The problem is what he claims for the Protestant church. “We see the Protestant church as the ‘true’ church— which is not the same as defining it as the ‘essential’ church— and feel that God has chosen an exceptionally pure instrument for God’s work.”85 He simply cannot make this statement and remain faithful to his argument all along in this section, especially the claim for purity for that which is Protestant. Clearly, he would change his mind later. Bonhoeffer’s statements here are problematic in that he employs a new criterion in the usage of “true” to define what he has been analyzing all along in this section. What is a “true” church compared to an “essential” church? His approach to “purity” has been from Luther all along with the simul. Only here we have a discussion involving “pure,” “true” and “essential.” How these three interrelate is left hanging. None of these questions are addressed and it strikes me that most of this discussion could have been deleted with no loss to his argument. Finally, Bonhoeffer ends his dissertation, Sanctorum Communio, with two thoughts: the experience of the church and the 84 Ibid., 269. 85 Ibid., 277–78. 203


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relationship of eschatology to the church. His main concern is that the church is not a “produced experience but a reality established by God through faith.”86 Rather than to see oneself as “experiencing the church-community” Bonhoeffer opts for the participation of the congregant as moved by the Holy Spirit. This is an issue of will versus experience. His move here is basically an interpretation of Luther’s “The church is impalpabilis, insensibilis [beyond taste and sense].”87 He stresses belief and faith, contra all idealist theories of community, considers Christian community to be God’s church despite its impurities in its empirical, concrete form. He speaks of conflict, “where Jew and Greek, pietist and liberal . . . join to confess their faith at the Lord’s Table to intercede for one another in prayer.”88 Throughout this analysis, he makes constant reference to the Youth Movement currently going on in Germany as a nation’s attempt to re-grasp community after the devastation of WWI. Bonhoeffer poses the eschatological question: “How do we conceive of human community as undergoing judgment?”89 His answer, paradoxical as it is, speaks of God as one who simul may condemn the collective person, and yet accept individuals who stand in solitude before God’s wrath. Rooted in a general bodily resurrection for all humanity, he talks about a judgment of grace occurring in an eternal church-community. His idea of eternal church-community is compared to any mystical ideas such as a “final assimilation into God’s all-encompassing

86 Ibid., 277–78. 87 Ibid., 279 from Note [442] citing Luther’s “Predigten des Jahres 1528,” no.. 78, November 1, WA 27:399. 88 SC, 281. Here in Note [449] Reinhard Krauss, translator from the German notes Bonhoeffer’s allusion to Stellvertretung. 89 Ibid., 283–84. 204


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person, a fusion of our supposedly divine nature with that of God.”90 His ecclesiology of the cross is consistently opposed to any idealism or transcendentalism which seeks to move toward any form of pantheism which fuses creatures and Creator. What he calls the most powerful expression of personal life itself, is the movement of the objective human spirit into the Holy Spirit where the experience of the religious community finally is the real experience of the church-community. “All are in God, and yet each remains distinct from God.”91 To summarize Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross analyzed in Sanctorum Communio, we conclude that the church is a broken community of peccatorum communio on earth as a concrete, empirical-sociological type established by God and sustained by the Holy Spirit as a spiritual community. Informed by his Stellvertretung, it is uniquely Christian as rooted in the revelation of God. Scandalously, the Holy Spirit is able to use even the impurities of sinners as Christus al Gemeinde existieriend. Having a background from revelation, vicarious representation and a Christ-existing-as-church-community, we now further probe the implications of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the church of the cross revealed in Act and Being.

Act and Being: The Church as New Humanity Through an explication of “being in Christ” as “being in the Church” from his Christ-existing-as-church-community, Bonhoeffer defines a genuine theological concept of being ecclesiologically where the church becomes the unity of Act and Being. To this point in his post-doctoral research documented in Act

90 Ibid., 287. 91 Ibid., 288. 205


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and Being, he provides an alternative to the ontological inadequacies of Heidegger’s existentialism where a Christian theological grasp of revelation is the genuine encounter of the human being “from outside.” For Bonhoeffer, the church is the place where being is understood. “There is no room left in a philosophy of the possibilities of Dasein (being) for the contingency of the occurrence of revelation in the cross and resurrection in the Christian church.”92 To this point in his second dissertation, Bonhoeffer has demonstrated the inadequacies of explaining being from the position of the autonomous philosophy represented by either idealism or transcendentalism. He asserts the extra nos aspect of God’s revelation of Godself in Jesus Christ as located in the church as the unique answer for human beings to understand themselves. From Sanctorum Communio’s theological-sociological category for the church, he addresses the problem of Act and Being, ecclesiologically; that is, “being in the church” as a genuine concept of community. The church is . . . not a human community to which Christ then comes or not, nor is it a gathering of such persons as those who (as individuals) seek Christ or think they have Christ and now wish to cultivate this common ‘possession.’ The church is rather the community of faith created by and founded upon Christ, in which Christ is revealed as the deuteros anthropos, as the new human, or rather, as the new humanity itself.93

The anthropology of Bonhoeffer’s statement is what is significant. What the church may rightfully lay claim to having is the word of forgiveness. In word and sacrament, “I am forgiven, 92 AB, 110. 93 Ibid., 112. 206


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you are forgiven” may be said, not merely existentially, but “as Christ” to the other. Contra any individualistic conception from transcendentalism or ontology, human beings are always part of a community. A “pure actualism” from transcendentalism or the “continuity of the I” from ontology are inadequate to handle a unity of Act and Being. “Revelation happens in the community of faith”94 . . . the church. In a challenge to Heidegger’s (and Hegel’s) concept of time as determined by motion, the move that Bonhoeffer is really making here is to establish the starting point for a Christian philosophy of time, “where Christian revelation must not be interpreted as ‘having happened,’ but that for those human beings living in the church, in each present, this once-and-forall occurrence of the cross and resurrection of Christ, is always something ‘of the future.’”95 That is, Heidegger’s reduction of being-in-temporality provides an inadequate conception. “The continuity of revelation means that it is always present in the sense of what is in the future. . . . Even if I did not hear the sermon in each instance, preaching is always heard . . . outside me . . . in the church. . . . that Christ ‘is’ in the community of faith as the supraperson (ueberpersoenlich) through a community of persons.”96 “Only through the person of Christ can the existence of human beings be encountered, placed into truth, and transposed into a new manner of existence.”97 From the priesthood of all believers, Bonhoeffer here speaks of how the “other” becomes “Christ for us.” Now the extra me of Christ exists within the

94 Ibid., 113. 95 Ibid., 111. 96 Ibid., 113–114. 97 Ibid., 114. 207


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church as the extra me of the person next to me in the pew and in the neighbor. Human beings are authentically affected, otherwise revelation is pointless. His notion of being of revelation satisfies the ongoing claims for the person and for the community—this satisfaction is bound to Bonhoeffer’s understanding of concrete. “The community in question is visible concretely.”98 With this statement, Bonhoeffer introduces an interpretation of Luther’s understanding of the priority of being over acting. It challenges Heidegger’s so-called “authentic existence” which individualizes Dasein down to itself.99 Here is an application of the ecclesiology of the cross from Luther’s die Stellung eines Leidenden (place of those who suffer) as the nova nativitas (a new birth).100 Of course, popular conservative evangelical uses of this term rarely speak of the suffering of the cross. In effect, Bonhoeffer’s initial description of how persons are in the church is to speak of them as “acted upon, being encountered.” It is precisely this “being encountered” prior to the act of faith as a “having been created” which Bonhoeffer references from Luther. If faith were understood purely as act, the continuity of being would be broken up in the discontinuity of acts. But since faith as act comes to know itself as a mode of being in the church, the continuity is maintained.101

As Bonhoeffer pursues his argument, the language gradual98 Ibid., 115. 99 Ibid., 116 from editorial Note [50], where Floyd proposes Bonhoeffer’s christology as a counterthesis to Heidegger’s “potentiality-for-being.” 100 AB, 116. 101 Ibid., 118. 208


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ly becomes reminiscent of Sanctorum Communio. “The person, as synthesis of Act and Being, is always the two in one: individual person and humanity.”102 Here is his concreteness in opposition to the abstraction of idealistic concepts. There is no “general spiritual nature” of the person. “There is only judgment and grace . . . sin and guilt . . . believing, praying and proclaiming in the bearing of the new humanity while being borne by Christ in community.”103 Human beings are never purely only being or purely only acting. Someone offers me the sacrament; you are forgiven. Someone prays for me. I hear the gospel, join in the prayer, and know myself bound up in the word, sacrament, and prayer of Christ’s community of faith. . . . Bearing it, I am borne by it (pati) . . . therefore I believe. . . . This humanity presents itself here and there in empirical, individual communities . . . in the mode of being that belongs to the being of revelation.104

With continued reference to Luther, faith bears not only my personal history, but also that of the entirety of humanity. The reality of sin and death are included in the community. But the church bears my sin and death as Christ existing as community. The Christian, for Bonhoeffer, no longer sees sin and death, but only forgiveness and life. “I am in the community of faith as one who bears the old human in me until death. My sin is no longer sin, my death no longer death, because the community of faith is with me.”105 Even though Bonhoeffer provides no reference,

102 Ibid., 120. With editorial Note [59], where Floyd references this statement to “individual collective person” from the dissertation. 103 Ibid. 104 Ibid., 121. 105 Ibid., 123. 209


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this is vintage Luther. Having addressed how persons “have their existence” in the church, Bonhoeffer completes his analysis of the church in Act and Being by raising epistemologically issues related to revelation. Bonhoeffer frames an epistemology with three sociological categories he defines as functions of the church: believing (existential), preaching and theological (both ecclesial) ways of knowing.106 He speaks of believing epistemologically from faith as a God-reality given to the church in the preaching of Christ. From the earlier pati, he again stresses the extra nos centered in the exteriority of the person of Christ who transcends existence and yet exists only in its action on human existence. Further, “only through Christ does my neighbor meet me as one who claims me in an absolute way from a position outside my existence.”107 Beyond Grisebach’s personalism, without Christ the neighbor is reduced to no more than a possibility of self-assertion. Faith discloses a new sphere of knowledge and objects which replaces other concepts of knowledge. It is precisely this believing way of knowing that, for Bonhoeffer, resolves the issue of transcendental and ontological epistemologies. The person “is” only in the act of self-giving. Yet, the person “is” free from the one to whom it gives itself. It is through the person of Christ that this understanding is won; it has validity only for the personal community of the Christian church, which is based in Christ.108

The Christian way of knowing posits the Christ who creates

106 Ibid., 126. 107 Ibid., 127. 108 AB, 128. 210


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the act of faith through the Holy Spirit who hears and believes within the Christian, thus proving to be also the free Lord of the Christian’s existence. “Christ ‘is’ only ‘in faith’, and yet ‘is’ Lord of my faith.”109 Preachers cannot speak the living Christ. All they can do is put forth assertions. While there can be no “not-knowing” and all must be made clear and plain from the Word of God, “Christ lets himself be proclaimed as the ‘subject’ of the words spoken.”110 Preaching, from Luther, is always in principle heard and rooted in a community of faith, not merely in the individual faith of the preacher. Bonhoeffer’s argument for both preaching and theological ways of knowing is nearly seamless. “Theology is a function of the church.” Separate from existential knowledge it derives from the memory of the church preserved from history between past and future. By holding fast to the Word that has been heard, theology retains its humility without recourse to the arrogance of existential thinking. “Because theology turns revelation into something that exists, it may be practiced only where the living person of Christ is itself present.”111 Of course, from Bonhoeffer’s argument, this can only be the church. “Theology cannot speak creatively.”112 That is, so long as theology is surrounded by the community of faith where theology must be done courageously, it can never go astray, “for the community of faith needs theology.”113 Parenthetically, what Bonhoeffer is establishing for a “theology in humility” here is

109 Ibid., 128. 110 Ibid., 129. 111 Ibid., 131. 112 Ibid. 113 Ibid., 132. 211


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what lies behind his decision to investigate other forms and content different from his Berlin experience when the Finkenwalde experiment in seminary community was conceived based upon an Anglican model of monasticism. Bonhoeffer had no desire to reproduce for Germany’s future Protestant pastors his Berlin experience of academics without community. While aware of its limitations, preachers must be theologians who uniquely combine existential confession and theologically “pure” doctrine for the “just now gathered” congregation resulting in a word of decision. Sociologically, Bonhoeffer distinguishes between preachers and theologians; preachers are by nature in the community of faith and secondarily individuals— dogmaticians are by nature individuals, and secondarily in the community of faith. But the church is neither about preachers and theologians—“Believers, however, are, by nature, equally individuals and ‘in the community of faith.’”114 In sum, theology and dogma are judged by the preaching of the living Christ. In faith, persons understand themselves as having been “assailed by Christ” in the granted iustitia passiva. “There is no formal, metaphysical, psychological definition of the being of human beings that is not comprehended in the statement that human beings are either ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Adam.’”115 Unlike is known by unlike, Dasein is in reference to Christ, human beings cannot turn meaning into the possibility of autonomous self-understanding— even if that meaning is absurd. . . . Christ, the crucified and risen one, gives Christ’s own self to be known by human beings, who live to themselves. It is in being known by God that human beings know God. But to be known by God means to

114 AB, 133. 115 Ibid., 134. 212


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become a new person. It is the justified and the sinner in one who knows God. It is not because the word of God is in itself ‘meaning’ that it affects the existence of human beings, but because it is God’s word, the word of the creator, reconciler, and redeemer.116

Bonhoeffer concludes this section of Act and Being, and in effect completes his academic statements on the church, with a reminder adapted from Luther for any theologian who must never forget that all reflective thought has been placed in the service of the church and therefore justified only in that context. Reflecte fortiter, sed fortius fide etgaude in Christo.117

Having analyzed Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross from his two academic dissertations, we now turn our focus toward his ecclesial thinking from his pastoral perspectives located in Discipleship and Life Together.

Discipleship and Life Together: The Visible Community In his “Memoir” from earlier renditions of The Cost of Discipleship, Gerhard Leibholz, Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, speaks of implications from Bonhoeffer’s theology for not only the Protestant Church in Germany, but also the church. “Bonhoeffer understood this-sidedness for the Church neither from the sense of modern liberal theology nor from the National Socialist creed. . . . No wonder the process of debasing Christianity as inaugurated by liberal theology led to a complete perversion of the essence of Christian teaching by National Socialism.”118 In

116 Ibid., 134–135. 117 Ibid., 135. 118 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, Gerhard Leibholz, 213


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his pastoral literature traditionally identified with the “middle period” of his life, Bonhoeffer unpacks what Leibholz states by including in his heuristic of the Sermon on the Mount what the church might be as a visible community from Matthew 5 and its metaphor’s of salt, light, and the city on the hill. Later, he uses the same title, “Visible Community,” to speak of the church as taking space on earth. Other metaphors as “body of Christ, saints, image of Christ” along with a discussion of baptism complete his ecclesiology of the cross from the 2001 revised translation called Discipleship. Invisibility is not an option for the church. A criterion for Christianity that the light of the church should not shine is out of the question. The conformity into a culture-Protestantism of justitia civilis cannot be the church of the cross. The cross was a public, a visible-to-all symbol traditionally associated with a hill outside a city gate. The disciple-community, a community of the cross, would not be encouraged to have salt, but to be salt; not to have light, but to be light; and not to know the directions to a city, but to be a city on a hill. This church would be the community derived from the early associations of Jesus and his followers. The church that had the Word would be salt and light. The role of the church as preservative of the earth is Jesus’ way of “transferring his efficacy of the earth to the disciples.”119 Here Bonhoeffer plants a seed for his “this-worldliness” of the church in the prison theology. The earth and the world are consistently referred to as a positive expressions of God’s creation which, along with humanity, is loved and part of the redemption of the cross. In this preliminary ecclesial discourse within the context

“Memoir,” (NY : Simon & Schuster, 1995), 30. 119 Dietirch Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. G. Kelly & J. Godsey, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 110–114. (D). 214


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of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, he challenges the self-righteousness of any church which locates in “humble invisibility” an antidote to “Pharisaic visibility.”120 In a second part of the book, “The Church of Jesus Christ and Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer links following after Christ with the church where the call to discipleship is proclaimed in word and sacrament from a present Jesus Christ. Using baptism, the body of Christ, the visible church-community, the saints, and the image of Christ, Bonhoeffer speaks and thinks of the church in its scandal, irony, and paradox from an epistemology of the cross. “What the Synoptics describe as hearing and following the call to discipleship, Paul expresses with the concept of baptism.”121 Avoiding a reduction of baptism to a mechanical process, Bonhoeffer’s robust expression of the Holy Spirit related to baptism speaks of the former as the gift of the latter. Paradoxically, in baptism as death, the Christian lives an abundant life in a once-for-allness reception of the cross. “In calling his disciples into the community of the cross, Jesus gave them the gift of justification, of death and forgiveness of sins.”122 Beyond the singular historical event on Golgotha, the Christian bears the cross; that is, the believer is placed under the cross of Christ and is “received into the community of the cross.”123 As a visible act of singular obedience, baptism is meaningless outside of the community, where the sinner’s death means justification and not condemnation in that this death is suffered in communion.

120 Ibid., 113 from editorial Note [62], where Bonhoeffer refers to Emil Brunner’s The Divine Imperative. 121 Ibid., 207 (author’s italics). 122 Ibid., 209 123 Ibid. 215


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Dialectically, “baptism” and “Holy Spirit” collaborate in death and life, cross and Christ, to ensure an intimate communion in the body of Christ, the church. Bonhoeffer’s theological anthropology emerges in his use of “body of Jesus Christ” for the church. From a Lutheran application of the capax combined with the impact of the Apostle John’s “the Word became human,” he says, “we live in full community with the bodily presence of the glorified Lord.”124 As the scandalous maximum peccator, Jesus Christ implemented the “happy exchange” of granting righteousness for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is critical that the understanding of “body of Christ” not be confused with God’s choosing of a single, perfect human being with whom to unite. God did not take on the individual human being Jesus. “The incarnate Son of God was thus both an individual self and the new humanity.”125 That is, neither the moral-example motif of a non-deity suffering innocently as a victim from liberal theology, nor the nonhuman, detached-from-sin sanitized deity from conservative evangelicalism are adequate constructions for a crucified Godin-Jesus of Nazareth. The implications for how the body of Christ is conceived are clear for ecclesiology. An ecclesiology derived from a liberal conception of the body of Jesus rejects the scandal of the gospel in its reduction to religious linguistics of sentimentalism; its churches mouth the stained glass versions of politically correct winds and waves from the sustaining culture. They are the KulturProtestantissimus co-opted by the Nazis. Conversely, the Barmen-perfect conservative Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer’s day, while fastidious in its dogmatic correctness, fails “to 124 D, 212. 125 Ibid., 215. 216


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participate in Jesus Christ’s body as well as in his teaching.”126 Such churches are detached from humanity as if to proclaim a gospel modeled on the vertical beam of the cross devoid of the outstreched arms of God who loves real sinners and a real earth upholding the cross. Such a church does not die in baptism with Christ; nor does it “complete the sufferings of the body of Christ still lacking” (Colossians 1:24). Any construction of a church which does not include its death cannot proclaim the resurrection. For there is no transfiguration of a body. There is no incorruptible body still identified with the “correctness” of a culture or a dogma. Furthermore, there can be no participation in the body of Jesus Christ—a critical aspect of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross. “The crucified body of Jesus Christ issued water and blood, the elements of both sacraments (John 19:34, 35).”127 This is why the Word alone cannot suffice. It is why Girard’s leitmotiv of the body of the surrogate victim models the Stellvertreter so well. All theologies of “in Christ, with Christ and Christ is in us” are improperly understood unless a human body “for us” from a crucified-incomprehensible God is grasped. “The body of Jesus Christ is his church-community.”128 Without an ascension of the body of Jesus Christ, there would have been no need and no room for the church. The ascension makes Pentecost necessary. The spatial-on-earth presence of, not an institution but a person, the church is the new humanity in the world. While the form of Jesus takes shape within the church, there is no place for Hellenism. Bonhoeffer prefers images from the Hebraic thought where the yet-to-be-construct-

126 Ibid. 127 Ibid., 216. 128 D, 217. 217


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ed Temple is the body of Christ, represented first by the human body of Jesus of Nazareth. Any ecclesiology that is Christian must abandon the perfection of Platonic forms. The church as modeled in the Tabernacle, the construction of the Temple, the new eternal Temple from the crucified and resurrected body of Jesus, the destruction of the Temple— all these are fulfilled apocalyptically in a space where, because a Lamb is present, no temple need exist. The temple is the place where God dwells and is graciously present among human beings. It is at the same time the place where the church-community is accepted by God. Both of these aspects have been fulfilled only in the incarnate Jesus Christ. . . . The temple of God is the holy church-community in Jesus Christ. The body of Christ is the living temple of God and of the new humanity.129

Bonhoeffer’s second reference in Discipleship to “the visible church-community” focuses upon the physical space the body of Christ takes up on earth. “To this human being you shall point and say: ‘Here is God’” (Luther).130 No ecclesiology that is Christian can advocate a church that merely appears to have a bodily existence. This is a docetism which puts the space the church requires at risk. A real church consumes space on earth in the preaching of the Word and in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That is, “the body of Christ claims a space for procla-

129 Ibid., 223–224. 130 D, 225 from editorial Note [5]. Kelly and Godsey link this well-known phrase from Luther to Franz Hildebrandt’s study which includes, “I point to the human being and say: This is God” and Luther’s De captivitate Babylonica 1520,: Hic homo est deus, hie deus est homo [This human being is God, this God is human].” 218


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mation, at the same time its claims a space for the order of the church-community.”131 Bonhoeffer’s use of order includes “ministries” and offices of service. But he resists any urge to confine visibility of Christ’s body to the religious realm. With a continuum of thought which begins in the dissertation challenging the church as a Greek form or institution, whose ontology surpasses being only an organism, here Bonhoeffer locates the spatial visibility of the church between the Word and the Sacrament in the ordinary communal life of the disciples of Acts 2. “It is instructive to note that here community finds its place between the word of proclamation and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. . . . This is not an accident. . . . All Christian community exists between word and sacrament.”132 Or, Christian community is part of the everydayness of life which he will later identify as his non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts in the Letters. Using the story of Onesimus and Philemon, Bonhoeffer attempts to apply his notion of order to the sociality of the master-slave relationship. With words rooted in Barth’s reluctance to revolution, he resists a change in the social order which liberates slaves to freedom if they are members of the church-community. With rhetoric which falls short of the scandal of the gospel, and missing an opportunity to radically apply the spatial concept of the church, he opts instead for the security of a religious justification that “slaves should remain slaves.”133 His argument is weak. It misses the cross from Paul’s Ephesian correspondence (“the hostility of the dividing wall is tom down between Jew and Greek”) and fails to apply Galatians 3:28 (“in

131 Ibid., 229–230. 132 Ibid., 233. 133 Ibid., 239. 219


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Christ there is no slave nor free”) in an anthropological sense. No matter how much better life might have been to be a Christian slave, the misuse of such texts to the U.S. cultural situation has indelibly damaged the U.S. church and its role in the perpetuation of slavery in this country. Bonhoeffer would later change his mind on this “secure” means of avoiding a radical overthrow of society in the name of some religious explanation that the world is “overcome in Christ, doomed to destruction” and therefore needn’t be reformed. This is analyzed in the context of his radical view of redemption as reincarnation later. Possibly it is this portion of Discipleship Bonhoeffer had in mind when in the Letters he “regrets some of things he said.” “The world must be contradicted within the world.”134 On the one hand, Bonhoeffer urges the church to engage the world in a frontal assault (apparently without revolution, however). He advances an “un-worldliness” of the church which is to take up space on earth in keeping with Luther’s theology of vocation. However, what Bonhoeffer doesn’t do here which he will do later is to speak of the “worldliness” of the church. Even though he speaks of the “form of the suffering Lord,” in Discipleship, he is unable to speak of the church without religious overtones. His phrases and applications retain the sterility of a “safe” application of Christianity to culture in words that urge the church to submit to state authority from the hackneyed two kingdoms Lutheran idea. The “worldly things” that Christians do, as expressed by Bonhoeffer in 1938 in this book are confined to the ordinary, legal institutions of marriage, family and politics. “The community members still walk in the flesh, but their eyes are turned to heaven.”135 This statement may be that part of 134 Ibid., 244. 135 Ibid., 250. 220


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Discipleship which he would later regret and become problematic in the more “non-religious” interpretation. Bonhoeffer concludes this ambiguous discussion on the visible church-community redemptively with a discussion of the poverty, suffering, hunger, and thirst and compassion of the Christian life. Speaking of the church as sojourners and strangers, he speaks of the public-dying of the church revealed from their hidden daily dying to the old self—here, at least, is the theological continuity with the Stellvertreter which he never abandons, even when speaking “safely” about retaining the two kingdoms motif and resisting radical revolution. Bonhoeffer’s German patriotism would take on no less a Christian perspective when he sat with conspirators in back-alley smoke-filled rooms speaking of the construction of bombs and who would lead Germany after the murder of Hitler. While his discussion of the visible-community may at times sound too religious, in his analysis of “the saints,” Bonhoeffer can speak, paradoxically, of a community no longer subject to the rule of this world. “God is justified by God.”136 The murder of the Son of God by God on the cross carries human flesh into death . . . what happened to him happened to all of us when he bore our sin “onto the wood of the cross.”137 From now on, the location of God’s righteousness is on the cross. What Bonhoeffer is speaking of is sanctification—a word somewhat foreign to modern Lutheran research. While most Lutheran pastors in Bonhoeffer’s day could have recited the justification by grace through faith, there was little discussion about sanctification as a theological concept rooted in the cross. As a subset of theologia crucis,

136 D, 254, from a new chapter, “The Saints.” 137 Ibid., 255. 221


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Bonhoeffer finds theological space for three implications from sanctification for the church-community: 1. Clear separation from the world 2. Conduct worth of God’s realm of holiness 3. A holiness hidden in waiting for the day of Jesus Christ138 First, paradoxically, the church that takes up space as the visible church-community is separated from the world. Herein lies yet another irony and apparent contradiction from his ecclesiology of the cross. “God’s church-community must insist on God’s claim to the whole world. At the same time, it must claim a specific space for itself within the world.”139 Bonhoeffer speaks dialectically of a mutuality of separation between the church and the world—a tension which he calls “the holy struggle of the church for God’s sacred realm on earth.”140 Secondly, this “sacred realm” occurs within the church. Saints are called to be holy, even they are not so in their sinful state. Positionally, the Christian is “made holy” by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit available in participation with Christ’s agenda for the world from the same cross which “forensically” justifies the sinner. Parenthetically, the recent Finnish research on justification confronts modern Lutheran research in such a way so as to return the Holy Spirit from its exile into the desert of a “justification” which precluded the spiritual power to live personally related to Christ. Without falling into the trap of spiritual perfection with the Enthusiasts of his day, Bonhoeffer can speak of sanctification without resorting to a Neoplatonism

138 Ibid., 261. 139 Ibid. 140 Ibid., 262. 222


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which posits “the ideal church of the sinless and the perfect.”141 At the same time the church is imperfect, it has at its disposal the practice of church discipline which calls sin sin and responds to sins in the concrete without a reduction to “lamenting the general sinfulness of human beings.142 The role of church discipline may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of ecclesial praxis within the Christian church. “The aim of church discipline is not to create a community of the perfect, [but] . . . to build up a community of those who truly live under God’s forgiving mercy.143 In a powerful discussion, Bonhoeffer describes the reality of confession-forgiveness-repentance as integral to a life that is genuinely holy, not merely religious. Just as his graphic statement from Life Together, “When I go to another Christian in confession, I am going to God”144 establishes a uniquely Christian anthropology for the empirical community, here he quotes Luther directly, “Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”145 Bonhoeffer conceives of the realm of God as observable conduct worthy of the gospel. It is rooted in the historical Secret Discipline characterized by prayer, mediation, corporate worship and proclamation discussed in the Day Alone and in the Day Together.146 It is this same spiritual discipline about which Bonhoeffer will speak in the Letters even when

141 Ibid., 269. 142 Ibid., 270. 143 Ibid. 144 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. G. Kelly, Life Together, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 109. (LT). 145 D, 271, from Note [64], where Kelly cites the Book of Concord, “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” 460, [WA 30/1:238, If.]. 146 LT, 48–92. 223


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speaking of the “this-worldly church.” Adding in the fruit of the Spirit as a product of the church-community, he transitions into a discussion of the third aspect of sanctification, a hiddenness in waiting for the day of Christ. “True holiness remains hidden.”147 Challenging a non-biblical notion that doing good works may lead to justifying evil works, Bonhoeffer speaks of a judgment of works in the last day. “Christians need to do good works for the sake of their salvation.”148 This Pelagian-sounding statement of near-heresy is of course explained from that part of the Ephesians 2:8–10 text which speaks of sanctification, even if neglected by modern Lutheranism. The “created in Christ Jesus for good works” completes the Lutheran slogan and deserves as many sermons as the over-stated and forensic-sounding text for a non-biblical view of justification which neglects a participation with a suffering Christ and a crucified God in the world for others. A key to this third implication is its hiddenness. Everything about “good works” is hidden, so that when properly understood, any fear of Pelagianism is removed. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The cup of water spoken of in Matthew 25, when offered to the beggar, is the hidden Jesus who surprises the first to follow after the Christ. The “for the other” from the Stellverterter takes form in the church-community who acts in faith in everydayness toward others while waiting the day of the Lord. “Those who have faith are being justified; those who are justified are being sanctified; those who are sanctified are being saved on judgment day.”149 Indebted to

147 D, 276. 148 Ibid., 278. 149 Ibid., 280. 224


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Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer’s mentor speaks more graphically from theologia crucis the same thoughts: Human beings are being saved as those who are lost, justified as those who cannot be justified, raised to life from the dead.150

Finally, having spoken about the visible church-community in two places, baptism, the body of Christ and the saints, Bonhoeffer concludes his discussion of the church in his last chapter, entitled “The Image of Christ.” “God must conform to the human image, since we are no longer able to conform to the image of God.”151 The “more than necessary” grace implied in the first clause of the above statement, solves the problem stated in the second clause. That is, God becomes sin, so that the creature may become righteous. This the scandal of the gospel. Bonhoeffer simply paraphrases Luther’s transgressive language. The Word had to become flesh, since humanity was lost “in Adam.” What is impossible for human beings to do—to change our form; God does by “emptying himself of divine form and comes to human beings in the form of a servant.”152 In fact the Christian never changes shape or form. It is Christ’s form that takes shape in us as human beings, “the form of the incarnate one transforms the church-community into the body of Christ upon which all

150 Ibid., from editorial Note [97], where Kelly cites Barth’s statement from Romerbrief. 151 D, 282. 152 Ibid., 282, where Bonhoeffer paraphrases the hymn of Philippians 2: 5–11. 225


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of humanity’s sin and trouble falls, and by which alone these troubles and sins are borne.”153 No aspect of the image of Christ is off-limits to the church— public disgrace, suffering, being put to death—all these are the ways Christ attains visible form in the church. The incarnate, crucified, and transfigured Christ has entered the Christian (read the church-community) and lives my life within me. The church bears the incarnate, crucified, and risen form of Jesus Christ.154

In sum, Bonhoeffer speaks his ecclesiology of the cross in pastoral fashion while retaining the theological foundation of the Gemeinde from the academic dissertations. With parallel thoughts and concepts, both Discipleship and Life Together represent the most “religious” renditions of the church Bonhoeffer will write. Previously, he has interacted with sociological categories to demonstrate the uniqueness of the Gemeinde as an empirical community established by God in both Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being. If any part of his ecclesiology is theologically challengeable, it occurs within the pastoral interpretations as discussed above. Recall that he himself reflected upon “the things he said in Discipleship” as already noted. While there is no need to attempt an explanation (or excuse!) of his ambiguity—that he wrote both Discipleship and Life Together during that period of this life when he was most attached to the church (1930–1938)—it is not difficult to see why he uses the language he does in those two books. And language is the key to the assertion of continuity maintained in this study. Though Bonhoeffer’s phrasing, vocabulary, and language varies

153 Ibid., 285. 154 Ibid., 287. 226


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throughout the academic, pastoral, and resistance periods of his life, his theological center of the cross inhabited by the vicarious representative never changes. Critiques of Bonhoeffer’s theology as discontinuous are misguided. There simply is no “early Bonhoeffer” or “late Bonhoeffer” any more than his theology of the cross changes from the dissertation to the socalled Tegel theology (a misleading term). The Tegel “language” merely rephrased Bonhoeffer’s robust christo-ecclesiology in “non-religious” language.

Ethics: “Communio Abscondita” Few categories of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology are more neglected, misunderstood, or misrepresented than his robust ecclesiology contained within Ethics. Generally, twentieth-century Protestant theology has either dismissed or minimized theology when speaking ethically. This phenomenon is symptomatic of a neglect of theologia crucis in general and the scandal of God on a cross in particular. Neither a liberal nor a conservative evangelical Protestant perspective resolves this unwarranted dichotomy— the former trading off theology for an immanent humanism engaged with the world, the latter trading off theology for pious withdrawal from the world.155 Bonhoeffer’s eccle-

155 Stanley Hauerwas analyzes the North American “reduction of theology to anthropology as ‘information’ rather than a discipline on which our lives depend. . . . In most mainline Protestant seminaries . . . theology is considered to be the ‘theory’ necessary to provide the background for. . . . ethics. Such an assumption not only makes theology irrelevant but frees ethics from any serious theological engagement.” (A Better Hope, “Only Theology Overcomes Ethics,” (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 119. Hauerwas goes on to demonstrate how the real issue in the U.S. is the “public vs. private” dichotomy 227


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siology engages the cauldron of National Socialism’s nihilistic takeover of German culture with the skandalon of the cross. His most concrete expression of such an ecclesiology is presented in the unfinished Ethics written during the halcyon days of his double-agent status with the Abwehr up to his arrest in April, 1943. In his Ethics, he makes no less than twenty-seven separate references to the church in either single or in several cases multiple-page discussions of why ecclesiology is the foundation for his ethics. Bonhoeffer doesn’t do theology as the theoretical justification for his concrete ethical statements. He does ecclesiological-ethics. When properly understood, his radically concrete “ethical” statements in the Letters are comprehended from his ecclesiology in the Ethics. Culturally, the North American scene is prone more to the “can-do” pragmatism of ethics, than “doing theology” through the church as the ethical community for others. To discover Bonhoeffer’s ethics as ecclesiology, we analyze his programmatic statement of the church: “By her confession of guilt the Church does not exempt men from their own confession of guilt, but she calls them into the fellowship of the confession of guilt.”156 With this difficult statement, Bonhoeffer defines the Church in his final days. This seemingly impossible statement is rooted in Bonhoeffer’s robust christology—one that requires that the Christ belongs both to the wicked and to the good . . . but only as sinners . . . beyond their good

where the marginalization of theology is inherent in democracy’s inability to allow Christians to act in public in spite of the “free exercise” clause. His analysis o f Robert Jenson’s theology equates ethics with ecclesiology. “When Jenson does what looks like ethics . . . it is done as an aspect of his ecclesiology.” 156 Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 116. 228


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and evil . . . so that people may see themselves rightly from the cross as “justified and sanctified sinners.”157 Parenthetically, a clear indicator that twentieth-century mainline Protestant ethics has ceased to be Christian is its misunderstanding of sin and sinners within an ethical context. “The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.”158 When Bonhoeffer begins his Ethics, he deconstructs so-called “Christian ethics” errantly conceived from a Protestantism without Reformation, that is, from a Christianity without the cross and without Christ. His concern for humanity is its departure from its origin, not its inability to be “good.” This is an epistemological perspective. That twentieth-century humanity “knew good and evil” symbolized its departure from God, its origin. “Humanity at its origin knows only one thing: God.”159 Employing the paradoxical language of theologia crucis, “Humanity has become like God, but against God . . . humanity has become a god against God.”160 While for Luther in the cross, God is against God. Bonhoeffer was not deprived of such examples among the Nazi thugs whose nihilism was destroying Germany during WWII. It would take scandalous language to match the invented deception of National Socialism’s duping of German Protestants. One must never forget that it was largely baptized and confirmed Protestants and Catholics who loaded the box cars with Jews for the horrific trips to the death camps—as “gods against God.” The disunion of the Pharisees manifested itself both in the German Christians and the Nazis—both operated

157 Ibid., 63. 158 Ibid., 21. 159 Ibid. 160 Ibid., 23. 229


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from a knowledge of good and evil, rather than from the cross. The “Gott mit uns” on the belt buckle of Wehrmacht soldiers while exterminating Jews in the Eastern villages on their way to Stalingrad symbolizes the delusion of the period during which Bonhoeffer wrote about “Hidden Church-Community.” Bonhoeffer’s talk of the church in Ethics occurs in the section entitled, “The Church and the World.” Scandalously, his most vivid and concrete expressions of the church, documented in Ethics, occurred while he was actively conspiring with the resistance to murder Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology begins with christology. The origin from which a demonized European humanity has departed is Jesus Christ himself. “That is to say, that in the face of the Anti-christ only one thing has force and permanence, and that is Christ Himself.”161 Bonhoeffer’s christology includes a way to personally relate to Christ. “Only that one who shares in Him has the power to withstand and to overcome. He is the centre and the strength of the Bible, of the Church and of theology, but also of humanity, of reason, of justice and of culture.”162 An ontological key to Bonhoeffer’s analysis of the church from the Ethics amounts to grasping his notion of “sharing in Christ” as a member of the church defined as a “fellowship of the confession of guilt.” Does so provocative a statement of the church fit at all with his previous statements of the church? How does “fellowship of the confession of guilt” fit with the programmatic “Christ exists as church-community”—Bonhoeffer’s initial statement of ecclesiology from the dissertation?

161 Ibid., 58. 162 Ibid. 230


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A Fellowship of the Confession of Guilt It is with the Christ who is persecuted and who suffers in His Church that justice, truth, humanity and freedom now seek refuge; it is with the Christ who found no shelter in the world, the Christ who was cast out from the world, the Christ of the crib, and of the cross, under whose protection they now seek sanctuary, and who for the first time displays the full extent of His power.163

That is, the scandal of the cross provides Bonhoeffer’s radically ecclesial ethics in continuity with his cruciform theological-anthropology. Nothing in his description of christology or ecclesiology shifts from his christo-ecclesiology contained in Sanctorum Communio. “The culpability of the individual and the universality of sin should be understood together, the individual culpable act and the culpability of the human race must be connected conceptually.”164 As early as the 1927 dissertation, Bonhoeffer speaks of an ethical solidarity contained in the “experience of common sinfulness”165 which theologically supports the later “fellowship of the confession of guilt” in the Ethics. There is simply no discontinuity related to his ecclesiology. His

163 Ibid., 61. 164 SC, 110-111. Here Bonhoeffer dismisses the inadequacy of any biological concept of sin which seeks to weaken ethical gravity. He prefers instead the Christian-ethical concept of the species; the Geschlecht, an ethical collective concept, which alone can do full justice to the idea of the sin of the human race. (SC, 114). In a Note [11], Bonhoeffer credits Schleiermacher for seeing that the concept of sin implies fulfillment in a social, collective concept, only to critique his biological category instead of the better ethical-social one. 165 SC, 116. 231


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concerns about the form of Christ in his church occur as much in the dissertation as in the Ethics. “If the subject of sin is both the individual and the human race, then one must ask in what sociological form of unity humanity-in-Adam [Adammenschheit] should be conceived.”166 Bonhoeffer answers his own question from the Old Testament, from Israel as the people of God, the collective empirical community on earth. Bonhoeffer is thinking Hebraically here, not from Hellenistic idealism. He is speaking of the church as the peccatorum communio in transformation to the Sanctorum Communio through the cross. His thoughts in the dissertation anticipate what he writes in the Ethics. Through the Stellvertreter, the new human being, the Gemeinde becomes a new humanity in and for the world. Like every person, the collective person of humanity is also capable of being addressed ethically, as indeed the call can be heard for all of humanity in the story of Jesus Christ. The collective person of humanity has one heart. Participation in its ethical nature is demonstrated by individuals through every act of repentance and recognition of culpability. It is Adam, a collective person, who can only be superceded by the collective person “Christ existing as church-community,” the peccatorum communio [community of sinners] is one . . . a collective person, yet infinitely fragmented. It is Adam . . . superceded [aufgehoben] only through the unity of the new humanity in Christ.167 In the cross of Christ God confronts the successful man with the sanctification of pain, sorrow, humility, failure, poverty, loneliness and despair . . . But the unsuccessful man must recognize that what enables him to stand before God is not his lack of success . . . but solely the willing acceptance

166 Ibid., 118. 167 Ibid., 121. 232


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of the sentence168 passed on him by the divine love. It was precisely the cross of Christ, the failure of Christ in the world, which led to His success in history. . . . a mystery of the divine cosmic order . . . repeated . . . in the sufferings of His Church. . . . Only in the cross of Christ . . . does humanity achieve its true form.”169

In the Ethics, the Christian is the human being sentenced by God. The Church is a fellowship of the confession of guilt carrying God’s sentence of death. From Luther, Bonhoeffer speaks of the daily purging, the daily dying to sin, as the maximus peccator with Christ. Bonhoeffer’s pneumatology is evident in the Ethics when speaking of how Christ’s form takes place in the church. “Transfigured though he is in the form of the Risen One, here he bears only the sign of the cross and the judgement. By bearing it willingly he shows himself to be the one who has received the Holy Spirit and who is united with Jesus Christ in incomparable love and fellowship.”170 That is, the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian is the ordinary bearing of Christ’s suffering in a life “hidden with Christ in God.” The new Spirit-filled humanity lives in the world like any other person, unnoticed, without attaching importance to herself, but only to the Christ. The form of Jesus Christ that takes shape in one human being is extended to the Church, God’s longing to take form in all humanity. “Formation means Jesus’ taking form in 168 Associated with the “sentence” is Luther’s use of Anfectungen [trials]. The usage of judicial language maintains a consistency of thought here where the individual’s trials are met in the scandal of the cross by accepting the sentence of God’s judgement and grace and receiving acquittal through Christ who leads “captivity captive.” 169 Ethics, 79. 170 Ibid., 83. 233


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His Church . . . the Body of Christ . . . not a religious community of worshippers, but Christ Himself who has taken form among persons.”171 Here Bonhoeffer speaks of the church in terms of vicarious representative action, Stellvertretung. “What takes place in the Church takes place as an example and substitute for all persons. The Church is nothing but a section of humanity in which Christ has really taken form.”172 Bonhoeffer’s comments on the church in the Ethics anticipate, of course, what he will call the nonreligious interpretation in the prison correspondence. His introduction of the nonreligious here in the Ethics falls within the context of Bonhoeffer’s robust christo-ecclesiology whose God is the Crucified One on a cross. Using transgressive language to express the condition of the Church in post-French Revolution Europe, Bonhoeffer speaks of “western godlessness . . . as godlessness in religious and Christian clothing . . . a hopeless godlessness.”173 Here he has in mind the nazified Protestant German Christian church which has replaced the Bible with Mein Kampf on its altars. He notes that it is a hopelessly godless Church which loses few of its members in the nihilist National Socialist takeover of Germany. He then speaks of a form of godlessness174 which has promise for Germany. “It is the protest against pious godlessness. . . . It defends the heritage of a genuine faith in God and of a genuine Church.”175 The form of godlessness which Bonhoeffer proposes

171 Ibid., 84. 172 Ibid. 173 Ibid., 104. 174 This statement anticipates his “The world that has come of age is more godless . . . and nearer to God.” LPP, 363. 175 Ibid., This statement anticipates the “Only a suffering God can help,” in LPP, 362. 234


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is the form of the suffering Christ existing as church-community. The covert godlessness displayed in church of the West existentially detached from history may simultaneously be the church which is hostile to Christ. “The world has known Christ and has turned its back on Him, and it is to this world that the Church must now prove that Christ is the living Lord as the bearer of a historical inheritance.”176

The Church as a Double-Agent Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his most cruciformly ecclesial statements while a conspirator. Such apparent irony yields to consistency when considered from a scandalous cross. His ecclesiology in the Ethics finds theological support from all that he has written prior to his membership in the resistance as a double-agent for the Abwehr. In Part III: Ethics as Formation, in a section, “Guilt, Justification and Renewal: The Confession of Guilt,” he writes, “Only the person who suffers the cross of Christ is the person under the sentence. Only the person who shares in the resurrection of Christ is the one who is made new.”177 These statements that flavor his definition of the church as a “fellowship of the confession of guilt” from the Ethics. The theological anthropology that supports so provocative an identity for the church begins from the dissertation as discussed above. Furthermore, what Bonhoeffer now states in the Ethics could have been said in Discipleship. Jesus Christ is the Christ who was rejected in his suffering. Suffering and rejection express in summary form the cross of Jesus. Death on the cross means to suffer and die as one

176 Ibid., 109. 177 Ibid., 110. 235


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rejected. Just as Christ is only Christ as one who suffers and is rejected, so a disciple is a disciple only in suffering.178

Bonhoeffer’s proposal for the renewal of a nihilistic church no longer containing the form of the suffering Christ is an appeal to Luther’s third use of the law—obedience to the commands of the crucified God in Christ in a uniquely Christian lifestyle. In a religiously incorrect way, Bonhoeffer pleads for persons to admit their guilt toward Christ to save the church. “The only way to turn back is through recognition of . . . the defection from Christ, from the form which was ready to take form in us and to lead us to our own true form.”179 Ethically, Bonhoeffer weighed the consequences of treason against his country for the sake of the church in parallel with the theological defection from Christ in a genuine renewal of the church. The task of the authentic church is to first acknowledge its own guilt against Christ. Psychologically, Bonhoeffer had been wrestling with guilt for a long time going back to his father’s involvement in a psychiatric analysis of those persons involved in the Reichstag fire. “Karl Bonhoeffer’s expert opinion was awaited with eager anticipation and the disappointment was extreme when his medical and psychiatric finds omitted any mention of guilt or innocence.”180 At this point in his life, Bonhoeffer’s reflections back to early days along with the current situation of his double-agent status, created a unique reconsideration of how to speak of the church with emphasis upon its responsibly ethical role in society. In vintage concrete style, Bonhoeffer actually lists the sins of the Church “timidity, evasiveness, dangerous

178 Discipleship, 85. 179 Ethics, 111. 180 Bethge, 264. 236


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concessions, taking in vain the name of Jesus Christ, withering away of public worship, collapse of parental authority, witnessed in silence the exploitation of the poor and the enrichment of the strong breaking all ten commandments.” As noted, central to Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology in the Ethics is his discussion of the form of Christ. How he speaks of the form of Christ is one of the theological continuities of his writing from Sanctorum Communio to the prison Letters. His christo– ecclesiology sets a context for how the church as “fellowship of the confession of guilt” is vitally linked with the “form of Jesus Christ who bore the sin of the world.”181 This “falling under the sentence of Christ”182 is vital to the spiritually healthy peccatorum communio in its transformation into the Sanctorum Communio. Clearly, the reference to the form of Christ for the church is not unique to the Ethics. In parallel constructions, Bonhoeffer speaks of the form of Christ for the church in Discipleship as he does in the Ethics. In the former, “The form of Christ on earth is the form of the death [Todes gestalt] of the crucified one.”183 Here he speaks of the community in suffering that the Christian experiences in identity with Christ. He focuses upon “being publicly disgraced” in similar fashion to the public execution of Jesus. In language that could easily follow the above, Bonhoeffer remains focused upon similar themes for the church in the Ethics. “The Church and the individual must share in the shame of the cross, the public death of the sinner, for only through this can they be partakers in the glory of Him who is awakened to new righteousness and new life.”184 Whether the director of

181 Ibid., 116. 182 Ibid. 183 Discipleship, 285. 184 Ethics, 116. 237


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an illegal seminary or a double agent with the Abwehr the scandal of the cross provides the basis for Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology whose God is the Deus absconditus of Luther’s theologia crucis. In “Justification and the Healing of the Wound” Bonhoeffer’s view of the church in the Ethics anticipates his ecclesiology in the prison correspondence. Bonhoeffer’s notion of “participation” is explicit in the Tegel ecclesiology with phrases like “participation in the sufferings of Christ for the world” and “sharing the sufferings of God in Christ.” His “fellowship of the confession of guilt” in the Ethics parallels these later expressions of the church in Letters and Papers from Prison. Beyond the guilt, Bonhoeffer now focuses upon a healing of the wounds of guilt. He speaks of healing among the nations in words reminiscent of the apocalyptic vision of the nations gathered around the lamb who was slain. He views the church as instrumental in its healing role among the nations through its model as a fellowship of the confession-of-guilt through the forgiveness of sinners. Rather than by vengeance or reprisal, “the Church of Jesus Christ, as the fountain-head of all forgiveness, justification and renewal, is given room to do her work among the nations.”185 The word “concrete” is seminal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology in general and to his ecclesiology in particular. With his “fellowship of the confession of guilt,” he finds a solution to the missing element of the specific and concrete within the Protestant German church. “The Protestant Church ceased to possess a concrete ethic when the minister no longer found himself constantly confronted by the problems and responsibilities of the confessional.”186 In Roman Catholic ecclesiology, he 185 Ibid., 119. 186 Ethics, 287–88. 238


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finds just the opposite problem—the presence of so many particulars and concrete situations requiring a response that the divine command is reduced to a “mere code of laws and pedagogic method. This danger can be overcome only by a rediscovery of the Christian office of preaching.”187 The proclamation of the church is that of the Christ without which its authority to proclaim at all is compromised. At a time when the content of Christian proclamation was jeopardized by a syncretism of Protestantism and National Socialism, Bonhoeffer rightfully found it necessary to speak ontologically about who Jesus Christ was as Lord and Savior of his people. In words reminiscent of his christology lectures in Berlin ten years earlier, he summarizes a three-point answer to the question, Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ, the eternal Son with the Father for all eternity. Jesus Christ, the crucified Reconciler. Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended Lord.188

For our purposes in lifting up those elements of ecclesiology from the Ethics, the christo-ethics of Bonhoeffer’s statements suggest that “divine being can no longer be found otherwise than in human form . . . the ‘Christian’ element is not now something that lies beyond the human element; it requires it to be in the midst of the human element.”189 Here he implies Stellvertretung in that God did not wish to exist only for Himself, but “for us” implying that the ecclesia crucis also lives for others, not merely for itself. The cross with Christ as crucified reconciler defines a church which must exist in genuine worldliness just as the Roman cross was physically and jarringly planted

187 Ibid., 288. 188 Ibid., 292. 189 Ibid., 291–92. 239


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into Golgotha’s earth and was therefore sustained by “being in the world.” This notion from the Ethics anticipates Bonhoeffer’s church in mission within the secular arena from the Letters. The “secular city” however does not remove an intervening God from reality, but rather involves a crucified God who suffers with those marginalized, oppressed, and pushed out of existence within creation. The issue here is that the authenticity of true worldliness is a function of the proclaimed cross of Jesus Christ. Through a proper understanding of the church in service to the world, a triumphal or imperialist church is rejected by the resurrected-ascended Christ. “In Jesus Christ is the new humanity, the congregation of God. In Jesus Christ, the world of God and the congregation of God are indissolubly linked together.”190 Paradoxically, though the world of God dominates and rules the entire world, the church does not dominate the world, but stands entirely in the service of the fulfillment of the divine mandate. Here is a dialectical thought often misunderstood within North American Christian ecclesiology. Just as the Roman Catholic church sees itself as an end in itself, the Protestant church in Bonhoeffer’s day (and now as well) neglected its role to proclaim the Word yielding to culturally correct pronouncements of therapeutic self-help, optimism, and pragmatism. In either case, the dialectic of proclaiming the Word and being in the world is distorted resulting in the former case with an ecclesiology which neglects proclamation of the Word and in the latter with an ecclesiology which neglects the proper domain and function of the Church as an end in herself.191 Ecclesiology in both cases is the end product of a neglect of scandal which creates space for paradox, and the dialectic 190 Ethics, 294. 191 Ibid., 296. 240


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holding-together of two apparently contradictory theses. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s analysis of the Protestant ecclesiology of his time prompts this study in that with the loss of a theology of the cross, the loss of a theologically understood recognition of a crucified God who is simultaneously the crucified Christ as vicarious representative, space was created and filled with the Nazi illusion of “another Messiah” and “another spirituality” within Germany diametrically opposed to a powerless Christ for others.

The Church: A New Ontology of Redeemed Persons Finally, Bonhoeffer completes his analysis of the church in the Ethics with a surprising statement. “The solution of human problems cannot be the essential task of the Church.”192 This ecclesial statement flows unsurprisingly from a christological statement. “Instead of the solution of problems, Jesus brings the redemption of persons.”193 This line of thought anticipates his Tegel theology surrounding the deus ex machina and God of the gaps. From the gospels, Bonhoeffer supports how Jesus hardly concerns himself with the solution to worldly problems commenting that when asked to do so, he is evasive and ambiguous. Jesus’ responses are tied to the answer of God to the question of God-to-man. Bonhoeffer’s move here is typically christological and therefore equally ecclesiological. “The proper relation of the Church to the world cannot be deduced from natural law or rational law or from universal human rights, but only from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”194 In three tightly con-

192 Ethics, 351. 193 Ibid., 350. 194 Ibid., 352. 241


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structed ecclesiological statements, Bonhoeffer summarizes how the church is to relate to the world: 1. The Church’s word to the world is the word of the incarnation of God, of the love of God for the world in the sending of His Son, and of God’s judgment upon unbelief. 2. The word of the love of God for the world sets the congregation in a relation of possibility with regard to the world. 3. The congregation acknowledges and bears witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ as law and as gospel.195 Note how in each statement Stellvertretung in “for the world” provides a common thread. He further defines the third statement with several other summary sentences: 1. The Church cannot speak to the world based upon some particular rational knowledge. 2. The whole law and the whole gospel of God belong equally to all persons. 3. The Church summons persons to faith and obedience towards the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and defines an area where both are possible. 4. The world really becomes the world only when it exists for Jesus Christ. 5. The Church speaks out against particular attitudes and conditions which may hinder faith from the authority of God’s word; i.e., capitalism, socialism or collectivism. 6. Regarding the autonomy of secular institutions, there is no autonomy before God, but the law of the

195 Ibid., 353., 242


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God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is the law of all earthly institutions. 7. Reason—law of created things—of existent things (unfinished).196 In sum, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross located in the Ethics simply continues his re-interpretation of Luther’s theology of the cross with a focus upon the paradox and scandal of the gospel informed by a crucified God who demonstrates salvific love for humanity as the vicarious representative. The immediate statements above apply Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of a law-gospel dichotomy to the church in the world as the ecclesia crucis for others. That church is defined by a “fellowship of the confession of guilt” which invites all humanity inclusively into its community as the peccatorum communio. The church does not dominate the world but is its servant while proclaiming a paradoxically powerful message of a powerless God dying on a cross for others. The church becomes a catalyst for healing wounds within a fractured society and among the nations. The required healing is only possible as the church takes on the form of Christ who loves and suffers on behalf of humanity. The genuine identity of the church of the cross is the church under sentence in no less a way than Jesus of Nazareth was under sentence for blasphemy against the prevailing religion of his time. From Bonhoeffer’s perspective, the church is at its best when it challenges the anti-christianity perpetuated in the religion and politics of its sustaining culture; for then it is the scandalously vicarious representative of a crucified God pushed to the margins of existence for the world loved by the Creator. The radical ecclesiology of the Ethics anticipates the often misunderstood

196 Paraphrased from 353–357. 243


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catch phrases from the Letters which are best interpreted from an ontology of the cross.

Letters and Papers From Prison: “Gemeinde Abscondita” There can be no surprise that the prisoner Bonhoeffer under sentence crafts worldly language for the church from his “religion-less Christianity.” The changing roles of Bonhoeffer’s last years serve to enrich his ecclesiology of the cross graphically communicated in the prison Letters to his friend Eberhard Bethge. When understood from his previous development of the church, Letters and Papers from Prison documents a linguistic reconstruction of the ecclesia crucis for a world without the religious a priori. Bonhoeffer’s use of Luther’s transgressive language is his attempt to communicate with ordinary, non-religious people. The purpose of this section is to reveal Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross hidden within radically new linguistic constructions in his later prison letters. Barely imprisoned for two months, Bonhoeffer hints at how he is to think and conceive the church and its issues during his two year confinement just prior to his death. In a rare contemplation on the spiritual gifts of tongues and Pentecost, Bonhoeffer asserts “that the church should be the place . . . where everyone understands . . . the language of God through which alone people can understand each other again.”197 By implication he views an undoing of the Tower of Babel confusion of language in the giving of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues to the church at Pentecost. An exegesis of the Acts 2 text supports both interpretations of a commonly understood language and the speaking in the non-grammatical, non-syntac197 LPP, 53. 244


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tical language of tongues. There is the miracle of a multi-lingual expression of the gospel by disciples whose first language was Aramaic. There is the miracle of a supernatural language of tongues. His concern is the role of the church in the healing of the world. He has just meditated upon the church as the “fellowship of the confession of guilt” where the “wounds are healed within a society and among the nations” through the forgiveness of sinners in Christ. In this first mention of the church in the Tegel theology, he offers the reader a linguistic metaphor for the church anticipating his later in-depth reflections of how a new language is required to communicate the scandal of the cross to mature persons who appear to be getting along well without Protestantism.

The Church of the Cross as a Fellowship of Physical Suffering Language is at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesial reflection in the Letters. Looking back at his Berlin seminary days, he ponders Kierkegaard’s thought that Luther, if alive today, would have said just the opposite of what he said in the sixteenth century. The thoughts that Bonhoeffer has of Luther center on the reformer’s desire for a unified Christian people, the freedom of the Christian, and the establishment of a genuinely secular social order free from clerical privilege. In each case, he reflects upon how Luther’s desires ended in disaster as far as a unified church, free people, and the secular social order are concerned. Ironically, while Bonhoeffer is imprisoned it is precisely in these areas that he will reconceive a linguistic approach to the church with special attention to the “secular interpretation” of his theology of sociality launched in the dissertation and maintained throughout his writings. Another significant reflection on his ecclesiology of the cross emerges within a conversation 245


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he has with Bethge in the 9 March 1944 letter, where he favors an understanding of Christian suffering contained within the physical rather than the so-called “spiritual.” His thought here is centered in the fact that the vicarious representative action of the Christ is precisely linked with the removal of guilt through forgiveness. “We so like to stress spiritual suffering; and yet that is just what Christ is supposed to have taken from us, and I can find nothing about it in the New Testament, or in the acts of the early martyrs.”198 Ironically, in this letter Bonhoeffer distances himself from any first-hand knowledge of genuine Christian suffering, yet later in the prison period he will speak of the church as a fellowship of persons who participate in the sufferings of Christ. His christology of Jesus as a genuine human being who suffers actual bodily pain informs how he speaks of suffering in this letter. The 30 April, 1944 letter contains a linguistic analysis of how Christ, faith, and the church all must be understood ontologically. “What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today.”199 When Bonhoeffer questions who Christ is, he simultaneously questions who the church is as well. His christo-ecclesiology leaves no middle ground. He equates “religious” with “intellectual dishonesty.” Within the “religion-less” context of a “western form of Christianity” as a possible “preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion,” Bonhoeffer’s primary concern is both christological and therefore also ecclesiological. As he says, “How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless . . . what kind of situation emerges for us, for the

198 LPP, 232. 199 Ibid., 279. 246


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church?”200 In no sense is Bonhoeffer denying the existence of God, Christ, or the church in any of the theologically-pregnant statements in the 30 April 1944 letter. His concern is the “form” of the church, as if “religion is only a garment of Christianity—and even this garment has looked very different at different times.”201 Note his usage of the word “form.” From the Ethics, his ecclesiology of the cross has focused, as it has throughout his life, upon the formation of the crucified Christ in the lives of real human beings. Nothing related to his ecclesiology or christology is up for auction in the prison theology—itself a misleading term within Bonhoeffer scholarship as to suggest a needless discontinuity in Bonhoeffer’s entire theological program. Bonhoeffer’s so-called “Tegel theology” equals his “Dissertation Theology.” What he is challenging is the relationship between the “form of Christ” and the “garment Christianity has been wearing called religion.” Bonhoeffer rightfully mulls over the deep ontological questions related to Christ and the church. “What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God— without religion?”202 Notice that the only issue under scrutiny here is “form” or “language,” not the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. The question is how might the Lord Jesus Christ be real for people who no longer speak or think in clerical terms or religious cliche. It is not that God can no longer be spoken, but, “How do we speak of God as we used to in a ‘secular’ way?”203 His concern is never that there is no longer a Christian

200 LPP, 280. 201 Ibid. 202 Ibid. 203 Ibid. 247


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church. Rather, “in what way are we ‘religionless secular Christians (as) the ek-klesia belong wholly to the world not as specially favored?”204 At this point, Bonhoeffer answers his christological question. He tells the reader who Christ really is. “In that case, Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world.”205 By ontological negation, religion can no longer speak or think of Christ. Theologically, the Lord of the religionless can only be communicated in secular, worldly terms. Bonhoeffer, in this letter, has more questions than answers as to the meaning, form, and actual terminology required. In the 30 April 1944 letter, he has reached an ecclesiologically radical turning point in his linguistic representation of the church—Bonhoeffer has abandoned all intellectually dishonest (read religious) articulations of the church. Continuing his linguistic concerns regarding ecclesiology, Bonhoeffer makes a provocative sociological move. “I often ask myself why a ‘Christian’ instinct often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious . . . ‘in brotherhood.’”206 How might this provocative statement not be understood as theologically contradictory from the author of Sanctorum Communio and Life Together? How does this statement categorically support his ecclesiology of the cross? His concern is authenticity of faith. He’s embarrassed by religious jargon. In other words, he sides with Luther’s vernacular. He tires of speaking of God only when all other options of human resource have dried up. His challenge to the religious is the construction of a God who is superfluously compartmentalized in life, symbolized by the stage manager of the Greek theater who pulls “God” down

204 Ibid., (italic transliterated from the Greek). 205 Ibid., 281. 206 Ibid. 248


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by ropes at the right point to bail out the protagonist as deus ex machina.207 His drive to articulate God, Christ, and the church recalls Hebraic thought-forms located in the Old Testament. Bonhoeffer’s reading of the Old Testament is the only explicit reference he makes to support his ecclesiology of the cross in the Letters; he even chides the church for its reading of the New Testament minus the influence of its rich Hebraic heritage. His reading of the Old Testament also symbolizes his concern about how the Confessing Church mishandled the Jewish Question. The most dogmatically-correct Christians with whom he has been in close community have dropped the ball from a position of escapist piety. Bonhoeffer as much as says that he would prefer to “be in fellowship” with “sinners.” But this is Luther, and reminiscent of his statements in Life Together about “living among the enemies” and a reminder of Jesus’ constant rebuke from the Pharisees for having dinner with tax collectors. Bonhoeffer’s radically sociological move related to community is thoroughly consistent with his ecclesiology of the cross which positions a scandalous symbol of the death of a criminal at the center of Christian faith. The church of the prison letters is the church of the Old Testament. The Christ of the church is the Christ of the Old Testament. There is continuity of christo-ecclesiology in the prison theology with all that’s transpired from before—only the language is reconstructed, not the theology. From Act and Being, Bonhoeffer challenged the Enlightenment’s autonomy with a view of revelation which is Christian regarding Christ, if not Barthian. It is Bonhoeffer’s non-Barthian view of revelation which liberates him to speak of resurrection immanently,

207 Ibid., 282. 249


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rather than only as “the solution to the problem of death.”208 The Christus existierend als Gemeinde from the dissertation is the “God (who) is beyond in the midst of our life.”209 That is, the God who is transcendent is the God who is immanent from theologia crucis and the Hidden-Revealed God, the Ineffable YHWH of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Church of the Cross at the Center of Life Finally, in the ecclesiologically robust 30 April letter, Bonhoeffer positions the role of the church as a public, at the center of life. “The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.”210 Contrary to the Nazi program—an illusory attempt to deal with the failure and weakness of lost dignity and self-respect at a low point in the life of Germany—Bonhoeffer refuses to position God as a problem-solver at the periphery of life. “I should like to speak of God . . . in strength . . . in man’s life and goodness.”211 He doesn’t answer how he will do this in this letter. Suffice it to say, when understood from a proper hermeneutic of the cross, Bonhoeffer’s remaining theological thought in the prison correspondence underscores how his ecclesiology of the cross becomes the theological basis for what he linguistically identifies as “religionless Christianity.” All of which is to say, Bonhoeffer continues to say what he did at the beginning of his theological study when resurrecting Luther’s theology of the cross, the death of a God who is Stellvertreter as the powerless Christ with

208 Ibid., 282. 209 Ibid. 210 Ibid. 211 Ibid. 250


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whose sufferings the church as peccatorum communio participates as the vicarious humanity for the world. While heavily influenced by Karl Barth’s hermeneutical breakthrough with Romerbrief in 1919 and his criticism of religion, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology cannot replace religion with the church in the “positive” sense that Barth prescribes leaving “the world to its own devices.”212 Bonhoeffer’s church emerges as a function of Christ’s incarnation, for the world. From Stellvertretung, the church as the form of Christ within humanity is the world for the world. Bonhoeffer will have no metaphysical construction of the church as some “beyond.” Consistent with his critique of individualistic piety and personal salvation (a phenomenon he finds nowhere in the Old Testament),213 Bonhoeffer simultaneously challenges any form of anthropocentrism masked as pietistic ethical theology. It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.214

The worldly church Bonhoeffer proposes is to be understood “in the sense of the Old Testament and of John 1:14—the concepts of repentance, faith, justification, rebirth, and sanctification.”215 That is, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross in the Letters seeks a worldly linguistic re-interpretation of its essen212 LPP, 286. 213 Ibid. 214 Ibid. 215 Ibid., 286–87. 251


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tial theological formulations. The theology remains Christian in search for a new liberating language. Bonhoeffer’s closing remarks in the Baptism Letter of May 1944 shed light upon his recurring theme of new language for the church. “Our church is incapable of taking the world of reconciliation and redemption to humanity and the world.” He is speaking of a church of the cross. Bonhoeffer makes a move here which goes beyond language. He is concerned with ontology—the form of the church. “All Christian thinking, speaking . . . our being Christian today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among people. By the time you have grown up, the church’s form will have changed greatly.216 Bonhoeffer doesn’t speculate upon the new form of the church or when it might appear. Borrowing from theologia crucis, he sees the cause of Christ as a hidden-silent affair sustained by those few who pray and act on behalf of others in the non-religiosity and shocking language of Jesus and his coming kingdom.

The Church: Ontologically Incarnate in the Scandalous Acts of Jesus Bonhoeffer’s most theologically pregnant thought during the prison period is in the three-day 16–18 July 1944 letter. By consistently implicit reference through the use of new language, his ecclesiology of the cross permeates the correspondence. By what new language through the prayer and righteous action already mentioned will the church be that worldly fellowship of persons sent back into the world for its restoration? In the 27 June letter he has re-worked the word “redemption” to mean something more than mere escape from cares, distress, and fears. His redefinition of “redemption” identifies the Christian 216 LPP, 300. 252


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with the world, not escape from her cares and longings. “Redemption myths arise from human boundary experiences, but Christ takes hold of a person at the centre of his life.”217 From the known word of Christian dogma in the 27 June letter, Bonhoeffer gives new ontological form to the worldly church; i.e, the church of the cross which communicates in the radically, yet scandalously, liberating language and action of Jesus. In the 16–18 July 1944 letter, Bonhoeffer further defines the non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts. Bonhoeffer’s non-religious interpretation, his secular interpretation, and his religionless interpretation are all interpretations of biblical concepts. Bonhoeffer has not abandoned Christian dogma from the biblical witness when he decides to interpret its concepts for a shift in the audience. It is also critical to establish that during the prison period, while he is re-crafting the language, he is concurrently speaking of a secret discipline, the Arcane Discipline; that is, the worshipping side of the worldly church. Any intellectually honest consideration of the 16–18 July 1944 letter must include a discussion of the following seminal theological phrases or statements made by Bonhoeffer: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Etsi deus non daretur God as a working hypothesis has been abolished The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us Before God and with God we live without God The Bible directs humanity to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help 6. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life 7. Jesus calls people, not to a new religion, but to life

217 Ibid., 337. 253


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8. Powerlessness of God in the world 9. The world that has come Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross permeates the above language. The cruciform theology remains consistent. The non-religious view of biblical concepts continues his interpretation of Luther’s theology of the cross, death of God, and Christ as vicarious representative of a scandalous gospel. Hermeneutically, at first glance, the above statements appear contradictory. When interpreted within the scandal and paradox of theologia crucis and “opposites,” they make perfect sense. For example, taking the last statement first, how might godlessness take the mature world come-of-age closer to God? Look at the cross, says Bonhoeffer. What is “godly” about what is transpiring outside Jerusalem’s city gate on Golgotha? Kelly and Nelson correctly label such questions and statements as “enigmatic (that) will profoundly challenge contemporary Christianity in the twenty-first century.”218 These were the same statements which introduced the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to North America over forty years ago. Then, without a heuristic from the theology of the cross, these statements appeared to a Protestantism without Reformation to remove the cross and its church from a “religiously correct” Christianity. In no way did this interpretation represent Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” from the Letters as discussed above. When properly understood within a context of the continuing themes of his theological thought, “godlessness bringing a world come of age closer to God” parallels the skandalon and paradox in Bonhoeffer’s transgressive language of the vernacular designed

218 Cost of Moral Leadership, Kelly and Nelson, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003, 33 (CML). 254


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to communicate with ordinary people. It explains his “fellowship” with the non-religious. The “godlessness” of the incarnation brought an unsuspecting world closer to God; the “godlessness” of dining with taxman Zacchaeus brought him closer to God; and, the “godlessness” of a Roman tool of death as God’s abandoning of Godself has offered salvation to humanity.

The Church as Countercultural Bonhoeffer challenged a theistic concept of God aligned with illusory optimism and progress augmented by Nazism’s biological politics of racial superiority. While using the language of religion, the Nazis duped a nation into an idolatry where God was eliminated and, for a time, Germany appeared to regain its dignity without the God of the Reformation. But in his Letters from the Tegel prison Bonhoeffer exposes the illusion. Here he is talking “positively” about “godlessness” in the name of intellectual honesty. Essentially, he is critiquing his church for its intellectual dishonesty. The Deus absconditus has appeared for a world come-of-age that no longer requires the “working hypothesis” of a religiously crafted Aryan God of military power from medieval crusades. Bonhoeffer contemplates a God who suffers with Turkish babies murdered by the Teutonic knights of the church and a God who identifies with the Jewish babies killed by the bayonets of Himmler’s death squads. He speaks of a suffering God from the Old Testament. “This belief in God’s vulnerability in a world of sorrow and compassion for the victims is at the core of Bonhoeffer’s theology of the cross.”219 Kelly’s reflection upon the prison correspondence rightfully speaks of the passibility of God. But this reflection upon a suffering God is not unique to the

219 Ibid., 93. 255


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Tegel letters. Nelson and Kelly point out that over ten years earlier, Bonhoeffer was preaching a suffering God in London to Geiman refugees. God suffered on the cross. Therefore all human suffering and weakness is a sharing in God’s own suffering and weakness in the world. We are suffering! God is suffering much more. Our God is a suffering God.220

Because they maintain Bonhoeffer’s theological continuity of the Christ as Stellvertreter, Kelly and Nelson create space for a church of the cross as the Gemeinde on earth for others. Eberhard Bethge’s analysis of “The New Theology” in the prison letters states a warning. “This goal of acknowledging humanity’s coming of age so fascinated later readers that many forgot that Bonhoeffer had framed his call to maturity within the theme of the presence of Christ.”221 As the recipient of the Letters, no one is in a better position to assess the essence of Bonhoeffer’s thought during the prison period. Bethge suggests that Bonhoeffer’s real concern transcends the anthropocentric reduction represented in Green above. He summarizes the popular prison phraseology with Bonhoeffer’s overriding concern about the lordship of Christ exercised through the cross in a world that no longer finds God necessary. He proposes four declarations from the Letters to undergird this assertion: 1. The ontological question, “Who is Christ for us, today?” (30 April 1944). 2. Another form of the same question, “How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless? (30

220 Ibid., 173. Note [1] from a London sermon in St. Paul’s Church, DBW 13:412 (GS 4:182). 221 Bethge, 865. 256


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April 1944). 3. “Christ and the world that has come of age.” (a critique of the liberals in the 8 June 1944 letter). 4. The “claims of Jesus Christ on a world that has come of age.” (from the 30 June 1944 letter).222 Given the above, Bethge summarizes Bonhoeffer’s theological intent in the Letters by stating, “This lordship of Christ that Bonhoeffer is concerned with in all four formulations of this theme is saved by him from clericalization and hierarchical tendencies because this Lord exercises his lordship always and solely through powerlessness, service, and the cross.”223 Paramount in Bonhoeffer’s prison theology is how the church is to take cruciform shape in the world given its Lord as the powerless Christ pushed to the margins. In a section titled “An Unfinished Ecclesiology,” Bethge concludes his remarks on the prison period speaking of its lack of any completed, systematic ecclesiology. “Bonhoeffer did not give a completed ecclesiology that we could hold on to, but left this, of all things, entirely open.”224 By implication Bethge sounds the importance of the church and tells the reader that Bonhoeffer hoped for “new constructions” and “new forms of training, ministry and confession.”225 At the same time, Bethge speaks of Bonhoeffer’s failure in terms of both practical ecclesiology and dogmatic ecclesiology.

222 Bethge, 863–64. 223 Ibid., 864–65. 224 Ibid., 887. 225 Ibid. 257


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At the end Bonhoeffer arrived at a stage that was highly critical of the church. His ecclesiology seemed entirely absorbed within the theologia crucis.226

It is in the spirit of the above statement that the present study is conceived. It is perfectly within the boundaries of a theology of the cross that Bethge would speak of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology as a failure in no less a way than it “looks successful” that God is murdered on a cross. “For him everything depended on the theologia crucis, but the only form in which he knew this was in its urging us toward the concrete fellowship of those who share Christ’s sufferings in the world.”227 Picking up on the idea of sharing Christ’s suffering in the world, yet leaving open how this takes formation as the church, we return to the Letters to explore those statements which inform how Bonhoeffer may have developed an ecclesiology of the cross as “the church for others” identified in his 100-page book proposal.228

The Church: Worshipping with a Non-Religious Liturgy To live in a world come-of-age without protecting the ungodliness of the world in some religious way, the Christian “must live a ‘secular life’ and thereby share in God’s sufferings.”229 Note how theologia crucis is preserved in the paradoxical juxtaposing of “secular life” and “God’s sufferings.” The life of faith is starkly identified with living in the world. “It is not the religious act that makes the Christian but participation in the sufferings of

226 Bethge, 887. 227 Ibid., 888. 228 Ibid., 380. 229 Ibid., 361. 258


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God in the secular life.”230 Here Bonhoeffer defines discipleship as “sharing in the suffering of God in Christ.”231 This form takes place among ordinary human beings without religious method—Zacchaeus, shepherds, wise men, centurions, and Joseph of Arimathea. All these had a “participation in the powerlessness of God.”232 At the individual level Bonhoeffer is articulating what, when extrapolated to the communal dimension, becomes a Sanctorum Communio crucis. This gekreuztige Gemeinde (crucified church-community) is a “this-worldly” congregation who lives “completely in the world.”233 It is reminiscent of the fuereinander and miteinander constructions. Even the conspiracy to kill Hitler, which for Bonhoeffer defined the church as a “fellowship of the confession of guilt” by “participating in the sufferings of Christ for the world,” was an act of faith. In the 21 July 1944 letter where Bonhoeffer has become aware of Hitler’s survival after the final attempt on his life, he understands “participation in the conspiracy” as “participation in God’s sufferings in the world.” Murdering Hitler and the failure of such an attempt are understood theologically in the 21 July letter. That is, they are interpreted from the scandal of the cross, the symbol of God’s partaking in the world’s sufferings. Taken to the individual dimension and then to the communal expression of the church, we have another expression of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross. It is an ecclesiology of faith rooted in a this-worldly church for others whose heritage includes a cross located in both the Old and New Testaments. In a discussion of the relationship of

230 Ibid. 231 Ibid. 232 Ibid. 233 Ibid., 369. 259


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blessing and suffering, Bonhoeffer states, “Indeed, the only difference between the Old and New Testaments in this respect is that in the Old the blessing includes the cross, and in the New the cross includes the blessing.”234 While never fully explaining this paradoxical statement, its dialectic is consistent with all previous cruciform juxtapositions interpreted effectively when considering the skandalon of a crucified God who is Lord of the religionless. In the “Outline for a Book,” Bonhoeffer’s new language articulates his ecclesiology of the cross through unfinished and incomplete ideas. “Faith is participation in the being of Jesus [who] is there for others.”235 Authentic transcendence is new life in and for the neighbor’s concrete situation as God in human form is devoid of metaphysical forms. In the final Letters, Bonhoeffer’s concerns are just as christological and ecclesiological as ever, but he avoids a Barthian “faith of the church.” He now prefers the honest question: “What do we ourselves really believe?”236 He concludes that “the church is the church only when it exists for others.” Behind this statement is a christology preferring the crucified Christ as Stellvertreter. “The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving.”237 This statement is reminiscent of chapter 4 in Life Together, “Service.” Bonhoeffer’s preoccupation is with the humanity of Jesus as example for the church’s vicarious existence for others. In the 21 August 1944 letter, Bonhoeffer’s developing but fragmented ecclesiology of

234 Ibid., 374. 235 Ibid., 381. 236 Ibid., 382. 237 Ibid., 382–83. 260


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the cross is informed by the statement, “It is certain that we can claim nothing for ourselves, and may yet pray for everything; it is certain that our joy is hidden in suffering, and our life in death; it is certain that in all this we are in a fellowship that sustains us.”238 Bonhoeffer’s final recorded christological statement is located in this 21 August letter to Bethge: The truth is that if this earth was good enough for the man Jesus Christ, if such a man as Jesus lived, then, and only then, has life a meaning for us. If Jesus had not lived, then our life would be meaningless.239

In sum, Bonhoeffer’s this-worldly church derives from a seamless christo-ecclesiological continuity defining the Gemeinde’s being in the world. The unifying thread in Bonhoeffer’s tapestry of the church is Christ as Stellvertreter, the vicarious representative for humanity who takes form in the church. How Christ is to take shape and formation in human community is Bonhoeffer’s abiding concern. How the church is to model the kingdom of God on earth in this-worldly “participation in the sufferings of God for the world” is at the center of his “religionless Christianity.” The crucified God hidden on a cross is the scandal that informs how a world come-of-age without need for God may be closer to God. Bonhoeffer’s participation in the plot to kill Hitler is a theological-anthropological statement of faith in concrete action for others as an example of taking responsible risk on behalf of the oppressed Jesus to “murder the murderers.” Bonhoeffer’s radically transgressive language echoes Luther’s desire to reach the person between the house and the street with the Good News. While Bonhoeffer desires

238 Ibid., 391. 239 Ibid. 261


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so totally new an ontology for the church, his non-religious interpretation is not to be separated from the biblical concepts of faith, prayer, redemption, rebirth, justification, and sanctification. His is a secular interpretation of biblical concepts. While several twentieth- and twenty-first-century theologians claim Bonhoeffer as a conversation partner, the work of Jürgen Moltmann most notably affirms his ecclesiology of the cross. Both were influenced by WWII, the Holocaust, and the Nazi-nihilistic takeover of German culture. The evolution of thought within each gravitates toward a theology of the cross as the war progresses and ends. Moltmann begins his Crucified God telling the reader how contemplation of the crucifix in the St. Martinskirche in Tübingen inspires his new conception of God as suffering. His experience as a POW detainee informs this new interpretation of a God who suffered for others. While Crucified God is his signature work, it is in his The Church in the Power of the Spirit that we now locate how Moltmann’s thought supports Bonhoeffer’s argument.

Jurgen Moltmann’s The Church in the Power of the Spirit Moltmann is viewed today as one of the most influential German theologians in both the non-Westem world as well as within the West. He has been heavily influenced by Bonhoeffer as well as by Jewish theologians Franz Rosenzweig and Abraham Heschel and Jewish philosopher Ernst Bloch. There can be little doubt that had he lived longer, Bonhoeffer would have similarly dialogued with Jewish thinkers in an effort to do theology after Auschwitz. The Church in the Power of the Spirit contains both an ecclesiological and pneumatological perspective which complements

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his other works, Theology of Hope and The Crucified God.240 With the cross and the empty tomb as foci of his dialectic theology, he speaks of the Holy Spirit, “whose mission derives from the cross and resurrection . . . filling the god-forsaken world with God’s presence.”241 Like Bonhoeffer, he also speaks of “participation” in ways which parallel that located in the Letters. “The church participates in the messianic history of Jesus.”242 Just as Bonhoeffer did, Moltmann is reacting against his current form of German Protestantism and its need for radical reform and renewal. He critiques the German church with its reduction of Christianity to civil religion preferring instead to challenge it to become “a fellowship of committed disciples called to responsible participation in messianic mission.”243 Moltmann’s theology is informed by theologia crucis. “The theology of the cross is not a single chapter in theology, but the key signature for all Christian theology.”244 His revolutionary method, inclusive of the Holy Spirit, speaks of the Trinitarian God “opening himself” to the world from eternity in preparation for the cross. He speaks of pain itself as a “new experience” for God at the cross.245 This is reminiscent of Bonhoeffer’s “only a suffering God can help us now.” Combined with God’s experience of suffering is God’s glorifying of humankind—a key theme in The Church in the Power of the Spirit. 240 The Modern Theologian, ed. David F. Ford, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 210. 241 Ibid., 211. 242 Ibid., 216. 243 Ibid. 244 The Crucified God, 12. 245 Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, trans., M. Kohl, (London: SCM, 1977), 62-23. (CPS). 263


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God’s purpose for human beings to be glorified can mean nothing less than their sharing in fellowship with the God of glory. . . . There is a foretaste of this wherever sins are forgiven, the bound are liberated, the sick are healed and the outcasts are accepted.246

From the paradox that to share in God’s glory is to share in God’s sufferings on earth, Moltmann says, “There is a future of liberation, and even Salvation, for the suffering God; he dwells in the world in suffering because his aim is to dwell in the world in glory.”247 “Opposite” statements are not problematic when understood from the paradox and dialectic of Luther’s theology of the cross and Deus absconditus rooted in Maximus’ programmatic thought. A glory hidden in suffering is the via crucis modeled for the church in the Stellvertreter. Moltmann’s suffer-glorify leitmotiv is informed by the fact that God chooses to reveal Godself in what is most unlike Godself. His logic is that had God shown himself in what was exactly like him, then only God could know who God is. From this insight in the crucified God, he urges the church to be intentional about finding “the other” who is not like-minded in making its fellowship. Moltmann suggests the offer to “open friendship” to those who are quite unlike it in order to share in the fellowship with the crucified Christ.248 Moltmann, like Bonhoeffer, challenges a Hellenism which has historically distorted Christianity. Preferring Hebraic thought to Neoplatonic ideals, he draws from Jewish scholarship to speak of God and Israel to make his point about a suffering God who takes form within his church in the world. 246 CPS., 59. 247 Ibid., 64. 248 CPS, 114ff. 264


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God separates himself from himself, he gives himself away to his people, he shares in their sufferings, sets forth with them into the agony of exile, joins their wanderings. . . . Nothing would be more natural for the “God of the Fathers” than that he should ‘sell’ himself for Israel and share its suffering fate. But by doing so, God puts himself in need of redemption.249

Echoing Luther’s “God against God on the cross” and affirming of Moltmann’s own robust interpretation of the “My God, my God,” here we find from a Jewish theologian a theology of the cross hidden within the wisdom of a Hebraic construction of God. The passibility of God is focal to Moltmann’s thought and is supported by Jewish notions of a God who finds it “natural” to “sell” himself into slavery vicariously for the salvation of the Jews. Rosenzweig’s “Stellvertreter” suggests a hiddenness within Judaism which must be explored by another, and in more research locate the common ground between Christianity and Judaism. For all his railings against Jews who refused to convert, Martin Luther may have merely arrived at his reconception of a crucified God for the first time from what had been latent in the life of the Israelites for thousands of years. This would also mean that Maximus Confessor’s breakthrough had a precedent. Informed by Hebraic constructions of God, Moltmann thinks and speaks of the Holy Spirit without Protestant embarrassment informed rather by the perichoretic thinking of the Eastern church. He depicts the Trinity as the history of God’s own life, “a history of suffering between the Father and the Son, and this is open from all eternity to take in the history of human

249 Ibid., 61 from Rosenzwieg’s, The Star of Redemption, trans. W. W. Hallo, (London: Routledge, 1971), 409–410. 265


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suffering.”250 While Moltmann is more explicitly Orthodox in his terminology, he echoes Bonhoeffer’s pneumatology which at the time of WWII was a breakthrough in Protestant theology. Bonhoeffer never used the terms theosis or perichoresis as does Moltmann, yet the former created ecclesiological space for such a later usage when speaking of the church as has already been demonstrated. Moltmann speaks of the church in loving God’s created earth. “God does not desire to be glorified without his liberated creation.”251 This parallels Bonhoeffer’s urging of the church to tell the world that it is the world as that which God loves. A this-worldly church is one that grasps its redemption in a “reincarnation” which goes back into the world as a different creature intent on loving the earth, not in seeking some pietistic escape from the evil located on its surface. Theologically, Moltmann advances a reconception of God who is changed by the world and actually needs the world to be who he is. “Does God really not need those whom in the suffering of his love he loves unendlingly?”252 While this statement applies to specifically to persons, it has a similar application to the earth which groans daily for its own redemption. The radical idea of God needing the world, while on the surface an apparent challenge to his infinity, is better understood as the grace of God and the measures to which he goes to love us and to love the earth. This is Moltmann’s point and clearly fits with all that Bonhoeffer says about the church and its need to love the other and the world as God has loved both.

250 CPS, 62-64. 251 Ibid., 60. 252 Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, 52. 266


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Conclusion The objective of this chapter has been to analyze Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross documented in the total corpus of his literature through the three phases of his life: academic, pastoral, and resistance. Taking a trajectory from Stellvertreter, we have demonstrated his seamless christo-pneumatic-ecclesiology informed by Martin Luther’s theologia crucis and his own ecclesiology. As an interpretation of Luther’s “suffering” as the unique nota ecclesiae Christi, Bonhoeffer’s crucified God institutes the visible church-community (Gemeinde) as an empirical church with its own concrete, specific sociological category. Employing Luther’s transgressive language, Bonhoeffer movers across the semantic fields of theology and sociology when crafting how he thinks and speaks of the church. From Christ-existing-as-church-community an epistemology from revelation sets the church apart from Troeltsch’s reduction of Gemeinde to its history. Rather than being a “religious community,” the church takes shape as the formation of the Christ in the lives of imperfect and impure human beings called sinners. The scandal of this idea is further enhanced by that fact that the Christian church is led by the maximum peccator who exchanges his righteousness for sinners’ sin. Anthropologically, the genuine church-community is never not the peccatorum communio. As such it can and must always announce the word of forgiveness for the presence of sin in its membership and pastoral leadership. As a community-of-love (Liebegemeinschaft) the true church-community includes redeemed sinners who are Christ for one another in the announcement of the word of forgiveness. The unique community of the Gemeinde is identified by the church as a community of the spirit (Geistgemeinschaft). That is, Bonhoeffer sets himself apart as a twentieth-century

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Lutheran theologian who speaks of the Holy Spirit without shame and embarrassment. His Holy Spirit scandalously uses even the impurities of church members and pastors for the upbuilding of the church. Rounding out his ecclesiology located in the academic corpus, Bonhoeffer’s view of revelation as the living Christ in the church-community challenges all transcendental-ontological ways of knowing. The issue is epistemological where a hidden-revealed Christ is known in the believing, preaching, and theological functions of the church-community. As such, theology, rather than being divorced from the church, needs to be divorced from any existentialism inhibiting it as a function which serves the church. From the pastoral period, Bonhoeffer continues to weave the tapestry of his ecclesiology retaining the main thread of Stellvertretung introduced in Sanctorum Communio and fleshed out in Act and Being. While his language shifts more toward a “religious” flavor, Bonhoeffer’s eccleisology of the cross is unaltered during the middle period where he served as a pastor, taught as a professor, and directed the illegal Finkenwalde seminary experiment in communal life and study together. The operative vocabulary for Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology during this time includes visible church-community, the body of Christ, the saints, and the image of Christ. His language provides a theological challenge to the KulturProtestantissimus and justitia civilis of the German Protestant church which so easily capitulated to the “positive Christianity” of the Nazis in the absence of the via negativa of the cross. While initially identified with the formation of a dogmatically-correct Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer soon became frustrated with its inability to apply the anthropology of the cross to the biologically-racist principles of National Socialism preferring instead to hide behind traditional two-kingdoms Lutheran teaching. Bonhoeffer himself while 268


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speaking out on behalf of the Jews did not put his thoughts into print until the literature of the resistance. As discussed, his comments in Discipleship (by his own admission) are often too religious and safe, preserving the institution of the church— something he would later disclaim in the new language of the Ethics and the Letters. As a double agent with the Abwehr and a member of the resistance, Bonhoeffer wrote the Ethics in a Bavarian monastery which remains incomplete due to his arrest in April 1943. The Ethics is primarily his delineation of an ecclesiology of the cross stated in language which confronts the state and retains the scandal of the gospel with the church as the “communio absconditus.” While Bonhoeffer research has typically reduced the Ethics to a pragmatism, Bonhoeffer speaks of the church throughout the text. He talks about church-community as a fellowship of guilt, a new humanity under sentence, as a form of public shame among the nations, as concrete ethic, and as a new ontology of redeemed persons going back into the world as vicarious representatives who take God’s place on earth. From his religionless interpretation of biblical concepts, Bonhoeffer weaves a tapestry of the church in new language without any loss of his main thread of the Stellvertreter. Informed by Hebraic thought and constructions from the Old Testament, he speaks of the church to a world come-of-age. Here he challenges his Protestant Church for its myopia in a New Testament-only dogma divorced from its host theology located in Judaism. His “thisworldly” church is spoken in a language very different from that used during the pastoral period represented in the writing of Discipleship and Life Together. Bonhoeffer takes more risks linguistically in how he speaks of the church in the prison correspondence. Historically, those risks have resulted in distortions represented by Harvey Cox’ Secular City and most notably 269


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in John Robinson’s Honest to God—neither of whom understand Luther’s theology of the cross enough to recognize what Bonhoeffer was saying when he used “secular” to mean “from faith” and “thisworldly” to mean returning to the world as a redeemed Christian. Fortunately, there are Bonhoeffer scholars as the late F. Burton Nelson and his co-author Geffrey B. Kelly who have retained Bonhoeffer’s jarring non-systematic language to adequately represent the church in non-religious constructions derived more from the Hebraic origin of Christian faith than from the Neoplatonic thought of Kant whose idealism did Protestantism in Germany no theological favors. From outside the community of Bonhoeffer scholarship, we have noted how Jürgen Moltmann’s theology supports our argument which seeks to retain the scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ when speaking and thinking of the church. Given the above explication of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross, we now focus upon how all of this leads to the reconstruction of the U.S. church. To do so specifically for the American church requires that we grasp Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the church in mission. To that topic, in preparation for concrete suggestions for reforming and renewing the U.S. church, we now assess how missio Dei must be the natural result of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology.

270


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AN ECCLESIAL MISSIOLOGY OF THE CROSS

Introduction Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of theologia crucis defines missio Dei as the cruciform presence of Gemeinde in the world. The mission of a crucified God is to usher in the kingdom using as a medium a church for others. Such a church is a suffering church “in a culture whose values are largely alien to the Christian message . . . the church of the catacombs.”253 Bonhoeffer’s seamless integration of christology, ecclesiology, and mission challenges any reduction of discipleship which smoothes the scandal of the cross to belief in biblical-propositional statements, or to ethical-humanistic activism, or to an assimilation

253 Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision—Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship, (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 200.


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of tolerant-pluralism into the life of the church. The objective of this chapter is to analyze Bonhoeffer’s missio Dei from his explicit use of mission in Sanctorum Communio and his implicit discussion of missio Dei hidden in the Ethics and the Letters. In each instance, his ecclesiology of mission is rooted in a cross whose church is both an end and a means to the realm of God.

Bonhoeffer’s Theology of Missio Dei in Sanctorum Communio “Mission is God acting through the church-community.”1 Bonhoeffer introduces his theology of mission into the closing pages of his dissertation. We have already observed how the church is a unique relationship of the objective spirit and the Holy Spirit. The objective spirit is a will aiming toward an end . . . impelled to do so by God’s unconditioned will to rule which employs it as a means to an end. This inexhaustible will to subject people provides the basis for the idea of mission. God is one, and the whole world should be in God’s Realm; thus the universality of the Christian message is established in principle.2

Here he speaks of the end: the realm of God. Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the church includes a peculiar interconnection of God’s rule and God’s realm where love supplies the basis for the linkage.3 With Luther’s simul always in the background where the church is forever the peccatorum communio in its eschatological pilgrimage to the Sanctorum Communio, “the objective spirit is an expression of the community that is moved by the Holy 1

SC, 266.

2

Ibid.

3

Ibid., 265. 272


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Spirit, and is itself a will for community. With regard to its structure it is a novelty, for it springs from the need to achieve its end.”4 Here Bonhoeffer speaks of the means: the Geistgemeinschaft (community of Spirit). The church is both a means and an end, as that ecclesia militans in pilgrimage to becoming ecclesia triumphans. Distinct from encapsulating the realm of God, the church bear witness to God’s rule in love on earth. To fully grasp Bonhoeffer’s church-of-the-cross in mission, a more detailed analysis of objective spirit from his understanding of Hegel’s objektiver Geist is required. Bonhoeffer’s dissertation is a response to that of his advisor Reinhold Seeberg’s call for a philosophy of the church.5 Here Bonhoeffer articulates a desire which transcends that of the church using phrases, “a new understanding of the cohesion of the spirit of humanity, new ideas about the nature of the objective spirit and the manner in which absolute spirit is revealed in the spirit of humanity.”6 These phrases are noteworthy to the extent that this is precisely where he ends up in the Letters in the non-religious interpretation of Jesus as the new human being and the church as the new humanity. That is, from an epistemology of the cross, Bonhoeffer reconstructs the objective spirit of idealist philosophy into a spirit of sociality which is distinctively captured in the church-community. “The tragedy of all idealist philosophy was that it never ultimately broke through to personal spirit.”7 Yet, Bonhoeffer credits an insight from Hegel which he discovers he can affirm—one

4

Ibid.

5

Ibid., 23 from the Preface in editorial Note [5], where Seeberg’s Christliche Dogmatik 2:385 is cited.

6

Ibid.

7

SC, 74. 273


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that retains both the personal and the objective in the human spirit. His entire dissertation may be characterized as an explication of how with Hegel, “the principle of spirit is something objective, extending beyond everything individual—that there is an objective spirit, the spirit of sociality, which is distinct in itself from all individual spirit.”8 In effect, all of Bonhoeffer’s constructions are located within the dialectic of the objectivity-personality of the human spirit which, when established by God, results in “Christ-existing-as-church-community”—the leitmotiv for his ecclesiology. So in Life Together, when he says the Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality; a spiritual community, not a psychic reality,9 he is simply speaking theologically of how the objective spirit may at the same time break through to becoming a personal spirit. In Act and Being, where the revealed Christ in church-community addresses the inadequacy of the ideal (objective) and the transcendental (personal), he is simply affirming the objective without denying the personal. Or, as he would way, he is retaining Hegel’s perception “without committing the error.”10 The cross is at the center of Bonhoeffer’s theological ability to unite the objective and the personal in the human spirit resulting in the church-community. Before speaking theologically, in the early analysis of the dissertation, he states, “Even in conflict that has been rendered unholy through an evil will, the most intimate social bond of the human spirit becomes visible.”11 Here is his latent theologia crucis where the cross is the location of that conflict of wills which results in the empir-

8

Ibid.

9

Life Together, 35.

10 SC, 74. 11 Ibid., 86. 274


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ical church where the Holy Spirit and the objective spirit are resolved. It is early in the analysis that he says, “The essence of concrete community [as] the concrete form of objective spirit.”12 In further analysis of the objective spirit, Bonhoeffer takes as a trajectory the qualitative thinking from both idealism and romanticism where he imagines “will” is understood as a non-theological extra nos. That is, “persons experience their community as something real outside themselves, a community that distances itself from them without their willing it, rising about them.”13 Looking back at this purely sociological statement through the lens of where we’ve been theologically, we see how these words anticipate his discussion of God’s rule and God’s realm upon the church. But while using the concepts of idealism of the human spirit, Bonhoeffer’s theological perspective has no room for Schleiermacher’s equation of the Holy Spirit with the “consciousness of the species”14 or Hegel’s “absorption of all individual life into the corporate spirit.”15 By corporate spirit, of course, Hegel means objective spirit. But Bonhoeffer’s pneumatology creates space here for his dialectic of the objective and the personal in ways Hegel’s philosophy never achieves. Throughout Sanctorum Communio Bonhoeffer advocates the dignity of the individual person simul the dignity of the community in ways neither German idealism nor transcendentalism find possible. Thus, the distinct uniqueness of the church-community wherein through the cross both individual separateness and communal togetherness reside within empirical community.

12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., 196. 15 Ibid., 197. 275


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In fact Schleiermacher’s “disastrous identification of the Holy Spirit and spirit of the species”16 left open the possibility for the individual becoming a tool. So drastic a reduction of the concept of the person would take only a matter of time within the cultural nihilism of Germany to support the marginalization of actual, concrete persons. Schleiermacher’s metaphysical reduction of the concept of spirit to an anthropological-biological category created much of the vacuum filled by the applied biology of National Socialism. As Bonhoeffer points out, “The biological concept of species has no place in a theological inquiry of the church.”17 It is critical in a discussion of the mission of the church to investigate how a reduction of the concept of person led to the tragedy of Germany’s extermination of its own citizens as a liturgy of ethnic purification. Building on what Bonhoeffer had analyzed in his robust analysis of the reduction of the concept of both the person and the community within the idealism and romanticism of nineteenth-century Germany, the nihilism which resulted had devastating implications for the Protestant church. Victoria Barnett works out in systematic detail how a weakened Christianity created space for influences in the Protestant church which were foreign to Christian concepts of person and community. She speaks of various “revivalisms” within Germany launched at the beginning of the twentieth century. One such return to pietism included “a church-centered, scripturally conservative Protestantism (which) enabled some of them to oppose, fairly early, the ‘German Christian’ attempts to adapt the Christian faith to Nazi political philosophy.”18 It is import-

16 Ibid., 195. 17 Ibid. 18 Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest 276


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ant to define what it meant to be a “German” Christian. Here is precisely where the honor-shame of German culture comes into powerful play to dupe the Protestant Church in its capitulation to the Nazis, for to be a German Christian meant to be a Nazi. The Nazis viewed Christianity as “a weak, outmoded superstition that would eventually disappear.”19 She speaks of Alfred Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century which blended New Testament text with Hitler’s Mein Kampf. While many Christians didn’t take this book seriously, it accused the “churches of compromising the ideals of the Volk and Fatherland by their ‘shameful’ worship of the cross, which, Rosenberg contended had no place in the spiritual life of a proud people.”20 However, the Nazis used Rosenberg’s inflammatory rhetoric against the churches to speak of a “Positive Christianity” which supported the supremacy of the German people during a time when the Treaty of Versailles had destroyed German dignity and pride of nation. “Most Christians ignored the basic paganism of Nazism and focused upon the ‘positive’ Christianity that the party promised.”21 Drawing from a pool of Protestant pastors as early as 1930, the Nazis convened a meeting to form a national “Christian-German Movement.” It was attended by a pastor, two of the Kaiser’s sons, a Nazi member of the Prussian regional parliament and two editors of Nazi papers—one of whom was young Josef Goebbels.”22 This group eventually became more politically-aligned and was not predominantly a church group. “The Protestant group that emerged to embrace Nazi ideology,

Against Hitler, (Oxford: OUP, 1992), 26. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid., 26–27. 277


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and that sought after 1933 to build and lead a Reich Church, was the ‘German Christians.’”23 Founded in May 1932, the German Christians theologically embraced the spirit of “Positive Christianity.” It is critical at this point to say that “the cross” was viewed as “negative Christianity” against which the Nazis and now German Christians opposed as weakening of national dignity. It is also important to point out how Protestant theology for the previous one hundred years had come to the same conclusion using more religiously theological language. It is no wonder that German Christianity became so publicly anti-Semitic while it had been privately so for centuries prior to the Nazis. Anti-Semitism within Protestantism didn’t occur overnight with the advent of National Socialism. It was an easy move from a Protestant theology without the cross to adopt the triumphalist tones of Hitler’s speeches. “Their (German Christian) preaching included one Joachnim Hossenfelder’s sermon: ‘Christian faith is a heroic, manly thing. God speaks in blood and Volk a more powerful language than He does in the idea of humanity.’”24 The theological implications of this one sentence from a German Christian pastor exposes how far from an ecclesiology of the cross the Protestant church had been for so long prior to the advent of Hitler. In light of Bonhoeffer’s analysis of the church, this statement is jarringly indicting of what Christianity had become in Germany in the absence of theologia crucis, a theological view of God’s death, a historically orthodox christology and pneumatology and what we’ve identified as Bonhoeffer’s ecclesology of the cross. Hossenfelder’s statement is an attempt to define a new Christian ontology: “Christian faith 23 Ibid., 27. 24 Ibid. 278


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is . . .” He begins by suggesting that it is heroic. Where would this Lutheran pastor have ever gotten the notion of heroism from Luther’s crucified God? How does this anti-Christian characterization attributable to Nietzsche’s Übermensch not imply that there would need to be Untermenschen? Nothing from a theology of the cross can possibly support any equation of Christian with heroic. Ecce homo! Does he look very heroic on the cross? Within the sociological-political context of Germany after WWI combined with the weakness of its theology, the Protestant church in Germany failed in its mission to proclaim a non-heroic God who suffered with Hebrews enslaved in Egypt and who identified with the oppressed, not with the oppressor. If not to historic Christianity, to whom might a Protestant church have listened whose concept of the spirit and the person had been so theologically reduced by the intrusion of metaphysics? Recall that Bonhoeffer consistently advocates the concrete along with an ongoing suspicion for the metaphysical. “As a metaphysician of the spirit, [Schleiermacher] founders on the concept of sociality.”25 Unfortunately, Schleiermacher would not be the last “metaphysican of the spirit” recognized in German history. In the absence of a theological view of the person and an ecclesiology of community, other “counterfeit” views of the person and community emerged to influence what would become the Protestant conduit for the Nazi program—the German Christian church. One view of the heroic advanced by Hitler would ironically be the self-sacrificing human being on behalf of the community. Note the Girardian implications of perpetuated violence within a community in the following statement:

25 SC, 196. 279


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In giving up one’s own life for the existence of the community lies the crowning of all will to sacrifice. Only this prevents everything that human hands have built from being overthrown by human hands or, destroyed by Nature for herself. . . . Now this basic disposition out of which such an activity grows we call idealism, to distinguish it from egoism. By this we understand only the individual’s ability to sacrifice himself for the community: this is duty.26

That is, in the absence of the Stellvertreter, the self-sacrifice of the human being for the community would continue. Hitler’s ability to subsume individuals into the sacrifical rites of Nazi paganism has already been discussed above in Girard’s mimetic sacrifice of innocent victims in the absence of his “beneficial violence” on behalf of the community. There is no more graphic illustration of Girard’s theory than what happened in Nazi Germany constructed upon the replacement of a crucified God with the heroic Aryan deity. Until and unless National Socialism is viewed religiously, even theologically, how and why it was able to dupe Protestantism in the nation that gave the world the Reformation will never be fully understood. Note how the disposal of life is heroically honored by the illusory metaphysics of Hitler’s statement: Idealism alone leads men to voluntary acknowledgement of the privilege of force and strength and thus makes them become a dust particle of that order which forms and shapes the entire universe. The same boy who is nauseated by the drivel of an ideal pacifist is ready to throw away his young life for the ideal of his nationality.27

26 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, “Nation and Race,” (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1939), 410. 27 Ibid., 411. 280


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Recall the Lutheran pastor’s sermon camped on the term manly in support of the Nazis. From the above we have the “manliness” of a boy who is to understand how giving up on peaceful solutions justifies the disposal of his life for the Fatherland. So, supported by the “Word” of “Nation and Race,” the proclamation of a newly formed “church” in Germany had its “gospel” with no shortage of hearers. Another incarnation of the metaphysical reduction of the concept of the person took shape within National Socialism informed by the enlightened eugenics of the day. “Where there are Übermenshen, there will be Untermenschen—whole groups of people viewed and treated like animals.”28 Barnett speaks of how the cost of cripples and the blind appeared on Nazi posters to advertise the removal of “drains” on society in favor of perpetuating the Aryan species. “This crude appeal to prejudice was supported by the science of eugenics, at that time intellectually respectable.”29 It’s important to the argument being advanced that “apparently” attractive alternatives to the Christian concepts of person and community rooted in imago Dei of the human being were filling the void created by the metaphysical reductions so entrenched in German culture by idealism and transcendentalism unhindered by Protestantism. A brief accounting of eugenics as a “science” is important to fully grasp the issues presented by the Nazis. Eugenics is meaningless as a term unless understood as “race improvement” and “selective breeding.”30 Not surprisingly, the spread of the eugenics movement accompanied the

28 Barnett, 104. 29 Ibid. 30 Laird & Agnes, eds., Roget’s Thesaurus, (Cleveland: Wiley’s Publishing, 1999), 272. 281


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reduction of Protestant theology in the Western world and is most associated with Charles Darwin’s and Gregor Mendel’s observations of the process of natural selection in plants and animals. “It was the hope of eugenicists that the human race would be made healthier and more intelligent by breeding out hereditary weakness and disease.”31 It wouldn’t take long for the “applied biology of race” so embedded in Nazism to co-opt eugenics as a “scientific” justification for breeding the Jews and others unworthy of life out of German society in the name of national purity. The deepest and the ultimate cause for the ruin of the old Reich was found in the non-recognition of the race problem and its importance for the historical development of the people. For events in the lives of the nations are not expressions of chance, but, by the laws of nature, happenings of the urge of self-preservation and propagation of species and race, even if the people are not conscious of the inner reasons for their activity.32

So, Rev. Hossenfelder, the bishop of Brandenburg in 1933 had all the textual support he needed to preach that “God speaks in blood and Volk a more powerful language than He does in the idea of humanity.”33 In sum, the mission of the Protestant church in Germany during the time of the Nazis had become non-existent as proclamation of its message of a crucified God displayed in the vicarious representative for the salvation of the world. Fueled by the metaphysics of idealism and transcendentalism, the concepts of both person and community were reduced to such an unrec31 Barnett, 104. 32 Hitler, 388. 33 Barnett, 27. 282


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ognizeable state that a void was created. Devoid of a theological view of person and community, the combination of damaged ego through the loss and reparations of war and an emerging “science” of eugenics supported by Darwinian natural selection and preservation of the species combined to fill a spiritual vacuum created, in part, by kulturProtestanissimus as the civil religion of Germany. A missionless Protestantism imbued with idealism misunderstood its historically orthodox concept of the sacrament. “Sacraments are acts of the church-community and, like preaching, they unite within themselves the objective spirit of the church-community and the Holy Spirit who is operating through it.”34 Set within the larger teaching and impact of a Word who became human (the incarnation), the sacrament represents the capax for the Christian. God can become flesh; Jesus can be really present in the bread and the wine; that is, the sacrament unites the objective spirit and the Holy Spirit. It would be the mission of the German Protestant church during the rise of Hitler and National Socialism to counter the Volkish absorption of the free will of the individual person. It could not and did not. The example of baptism illustrates how the church, according to Bonhoeffer, becomes a missionary church (Missionskirche). As much as infant baptism is the means for making the church a church-of-the-people [Volkskirche], so, above all, it must be understood as preparation for a real church-ofthe-people [Volkskirche], that is for a church-community that consists of persons who exercise their own will.35

34 SC, 240. 35 SC, 241. 283


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Of course, here we have a Christian theological argument against “blood and soil” as “sacraments” for inclusion into the church-community. Devoid of theological basis, the mere repetition of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were reduced to “religion” (read unbelief) and offered no alternative to the Nazi sacraments containing the real presence of the Führer. Hitler’s use of a Volkskirche is nowhere explicitly mentioned in Sanctorum Communio; however, the theology contained in Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the term in the above quote gets at the issue of how the church-community is built upon individuals of free thought and will who needn’t undergo self-destruction on behalf of the church. Bonhoeffer’s theology of mission constructed upon the mutual sociality of both the human objective spirit and the Holy Spirit revealed in the Christ who exists as church-community diametrically opposes both the philosophy of idealism and its nihilistic representation within National Socialism. The accommodation of idealist and transcendental dissolutions of both the person and community within German Protestantism paved the way for the Nazi “extinguishing” of any person “unfit to live” whose absorption into “a corporate spirit” was already philosophically and religiously affirmed by Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher, respectively. Any analysis of Bonhoeffer’s theology of the church and its mission on earth as “being in the world” must be understood as a theological alternative to the Nazi program. We continue our analysis of his missional church in the Ethics.

Bonhoeffer’s Missional Church of the Cross in the Ethics Just as Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Letters provided unlikely sources for his eccleisology, they both contain a hidden accounting of 284


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his missiology. Little, if any, Bonhoeffer scholarship has provided an intentional analysis of his missio Dei, preferring rather to bypass the church and speak only of Bonhoeffer’s ethics. To do so is to miss the crux of his theology—the cross. His church of the cross ushers in a missiology ontologically characterized by a church being in the world. Just as Bonhoeffer’s ecclesial language has followed Luther’s transgressive vernacular, his missiology is similarly expressed in words and phrases which don’t readily lend themselves to the religious talk of global mission. “The vicious man lives only by grace.”36 Given the essential church as that community-of-will in obedience to the will of God based upon possession-proclamation of the Word, Bonhoeffer speaks of ethics by challenging the basis of ethical humanism, whose aim is to know good from evil.37 “Man at his origin is to know only one thing: God.”38 It is precisely in the cross where the love of God is offered to humanity that God overcomes the pharisaic disunion of the person dislodged from one’s origin. “This deed of God is Jesus Christ, is reconciliation.”39 In this first chapter, which pits the love of God against the decay of the world, Bonhoeffer speaks ethically of the church from his own experience of nihilistic National Socialism where “the children of the Church, who had gone their own ways, in the hour of danger returned to their mother.”40 No longer could the Bible, the Church, theology, humanity, reason,

36 Ethics, 65. This statement is located within Eberhard Bethge’s note attached to the unfinished chapter, “The Church and the World.” 37 Ibid., 21. 38 Ibid. 39 Ibid., 55. 40 Ibid., 58. 285


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justice, or culture provide solace. “There seems to be a general unconscious knowledge . . . which desires not to fall victim to the Antichrist . . . to take refuge with Christ.”41 When Bonhoeffer speaks ethically of the church, he is speaking missionally as well. Of course, his detachment from the Confessing Church during the time of writing Ethics provided him with other nonreligious expression of how a church exists in the world in mission. In a nihilistic culture like the Nazi period in Germany, those in Christ may not have included Protestants whose churches conformed to Troeltsch’s religious organization. Rather, from a theological position that is Christian conforming to the scandal of the cross, Bonhoeffer speaks of the apparent contradiction of Jesus’ dual statements: “He that is not against us is for us” and “He that is not with me is against me.” Bonhoeffer combines these dialectical assertions. In the former, Jesus challenges his disciples to widen the circle; in the latter, he offers a statement of total commitment. “The more exclusively we acknowledge and confess Christ as our Lord, the more fully the wide range of His dominion will be disclosed to us.”42 Only the cross makes these “opposites” true. It was the suffering endured by those who remained loyal to Christ within the totalitarianism of the Nazis that characterized the essential church. That church included persons who “participated in the sufferings of Christ” who may not have attended Protestant worship services or Catholic masses; that church may not have included those who did. Those who sought refuge in the suffering Christ constituted the church of the cross. In so doing, their lives “proclaimed” the

41 Ibid. 42 Ibid., 60. 286


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Word made flesh toward a completion of the bodily sufferings of Christ on earth for others. From a misunderstood radical ecclesiology flows a provocative missiology informed by a scandalous cross: It is not Christ who must justify Himself before the world by the acknowledgement of the values of justice, truth and freedom, but it is these values which have come to need justification, and their justification can only be Jesus Christ. It is not that ‘Christian culture” must make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; but the crucified Christ has become the refuge and the justification, the protection and the claim for the higher values and their defenders that have fallen victim to suffering. It is with the Christ who is persecuted and who suffers in His Church that justice, truth, humanity and freedom now seek refuge; it is with the Christ who found no shelter in the world, the Christ who was cast out from the world, the Christ of the crib and of the cross, under whose protection they now seek sanctuary.43

The impact of the above for missiology is this—a scandalous Christ is required to proclaim the gospel. The loss of the cross during both Bonhoeffer’s time and ours conceded to modernity a “smoothing of the scandal” to make the message palatable. Tillich’s program of correlation stands out as the twentieth-century church’s most notable attempt at this—one which Bonhoeffer rightly dismisses as “too religious.”44 It is precisely the anti-Christian world and its values—both good and evil—which must stand before the crucified Christ and justify themselves before the Lord of the earth, not vice versa. The reductive “If Jesus is the answer, what are the questions”? subverts the core

43 Ethics, 61. 44 LPP, 327. 287


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missiological issue. A radical gospel must be encountered as truth beyond its pragmatism as an answer to questions or solution to humanity’s problems. There may be no unique Christian answers to humanity’s problems. “The message of the cross is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1). Bonhoeffer’s missiological admonition at the start of his ethical discourse is that the church must proclaim Christ prior to cultural contextualization. Bonhoeffer’s next concern is the encounter of Christ by so-called “good people.” In a radically controversial heuristic of the Sermon on the Mount, he declares that being persecuted for righteousness and gaining access to the kingdom of heaven refers neither to the righteousness of God nor to persecution for Jesus’ sake. “It is the beatification of those who are persecuted for the sake of a just cause—that is, for a true, good and human cause.”45 Bonhoeffer excludes from this statement any Christian who views with suspicion those who suffer for just causes, or who remove themselves from the suffering for a human cause. “Jesus gives His support to those who suffer for the sake of a just cause, even if this cause is not precisely the confession of His name.”46 Such reasoning, of course, anticipates the prison letters which speak of faithful living in the ordinary events of life. In a way foreign to religious strategies of church growth, Bonhoeffer speaks of persons whose participation in the suffering for a human cause leads them to Christ. No doubt his contact with the “non-religious” persons outside the Confessing Church in years as a double agent provided him with such concrete human examples. The sequence of the missiological thought is radical: first, become concretely aware of injustice in 45 Ethics, 61. 46 Ibid., 62. 288


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the world, then become aware of your identity with the crucified Christ, who was also persecuted. Bonhoeffer finds biblical support for this sequence—one largely unknown to the North American church. “When she has based herself upon Scripture, the church has given thought to the relationship of Jesus Christ to the wicked and to wickedness.”47 But here is his real point: the question of the relationship of the good man to Christ was neglected among all other achievements of the Reformation. “The good man was either the Pharisee who required convincing of his wickedness . . . or the convert who did good works.”48 The theological consequences of the neglect of this question by the Reformation was reductive of the message of the cross. The gospel merely became the call to conversion and the “consolation in sin of drunkards, adulterers and vicious men of every kind and the gospel lost its power over good people.”49 It is precisely this thought which foreshadows the deus ex machina, the world come-of-age and the church in the middle of the village in the prison correspondence. Early in the Ethics Bonhoeffer begins laying the theological tracks over which his train of “non-religious” thought will ride in the Letters. The convenient reversal of the gospel located even in the protest against a “bourgeoise kulturprotestantissimus” fueled by nineteenth-century evolutionary progressivism led to the twentieth century’s justification of the wicked. “In seeking to recover the power of the gospel, this protest unintentionally transformed the gospel of the sinner into a commendation of sin.”50 In sum, Bonhoeffer’s early move in the Ethics clarifies both the message and the

47 Ibid., 63. 48 Ibid. 49 Ibid., 64. 50 Ibid., 65. 289


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method of participation with missio Dei by a cruciform church. In the spirit of Christ, he widens the circle of the fellowship of guilt with a radius longer than some of the disciples desire. At the same time, he radically tightens the statement of commitment which includes “bad people” and excludes “good people.” From a definition of ethics which discredits modernity’s addiction for a knowledge of good and evil, Bonhoeffer proposes participation with the suffering crucified Christ.

Participating with a Guilty God in Mission “God declares himself guilty before the world.”51 Neither an objective nor subjective atonement theory, a forensic definition of justification nor a rigid idea of righteous imputation, captures Bonhoeffer’s neglected thought of a guilty crucified God for the world. Here he reverses the emphasis of the enlightened human sprit with the deeper question, What did it cost God to save the world? “God is willing to be guilty of our guilt.”52 The missiological implications are clear. The church as a fellowship of guilty sinners finds no offence in being for the world what God has been for them. Bonhoeffer’s missiology of the church always involves being more than doing. The church absolves the world of its guilt when it willingly takes on the guilt of the world. All of the above flows from a theology of the cross informing an ecclesiology of the cross whose Lord is unembarrassingly the maximum peccator. When the crucified God in Christ is free to be the Greatest Sinner, the community worshipping his name is also free to be guilty before and on behalf of the world. That is, sinners are allowed to be who we are—sinners. We’re allowed to “call a thing what it is” as genuine theologians. Bonhoeffer’s

51 Ibid., 72. 52 Ibid. 290


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introductory comments in his last chapter of Life Together link the Lord’s Supper, Confession, and authentic church-community in resonance with his missional thoughts of a church non-pietistically capable of admitting its own guilt before the world. “In the presence of Christ human beings were allowed to be sinners, and only in this way could they be helped. . . . This is the truth of the gospel . . . the misery of the sinners and the mercy of God.”53 The missional church of the cross has no trouble declaring its guilt before the world. “God sides with the real world against all their accusers.”54 At the beginning of the Ethics, Bonhoeffer deconstructs ethical humanism with its reduction to knowing good and evil. That ethics which is Christian, at one with its origin, knows only God in the unity of knowledge. “Only against God can man know good and evil.”55 When humanity is transformed, it is for God. The symbol of the tree of life replaces the symbol of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A humanity reconciled through the cross is alive to God’s purposes on earth. “God leads us ad absurdum by Himself becoming a real human being.”56 The missiological implications are obvious. Just as God identifies with sinners, so also should the church never lose sight of itself as the peccatorum communio. With obvious reference to the idolization of man located in Hitler, the despiser of humanity, Bonhoeffer warns against the “good man” also falling into the trap of a world-despiser. There can be no withdrawal in disgust from the godlessness of the world. The church as “good” can easily become the “despiser of what God has

53 LT, 109. 54 Ethics, 72. 55 Ibid., 72. 56 Ibid., 73. 291


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loved.”57 When the church has misunderstood its ontology, it has lost its mission in the world as being for the world who God is for the world. A misinterpretation located in pious withdrawal is predicated upon a similar ontological misunderstanding of God. The contrived God of omni-competence and purity, when worshipped by “Christians” who only know good and evil, keeps the church “secure” from the world. Such a church fails to participate with the sufferings of Christ. “We can allow the real person to live before God side by side with ourselves without either despising or deifying her.”58 The church in mission by being in the world neither demeans a humanity created in the image of God nor worships the human being from a natural theology which excludes the supernatural Christ become human in the world. “It was precisely the cross of Christ, the failure of Christ in the world, which led to His success in history.”59 Contra-Nietzschian will-to-power incarnate in the Nazi program, Bonhoeffer appeals to the pitiable failure of God on a cross. He compares the mission of National Socialism to the missio Dei. The “successful man” identifies himself with the good, but only at the price of a deep inner untruthfulness and conscious self-deception. “In the cross of Christ, God confronts the successful man with the sanctification of pain, sorrow, humility, failure, poverty, loneliness and despair.”60 The unsuccessful man, the failure, stands before a crucified God willingly accepting the sentence passed upon him. The evidence that the Christian has identified with a God who graciously accepts the guilt of the

57 Ibid., 75. 58 Ibid., 76. 59 Ibid., 79. 60 Ibid., 79. 292


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world results in identification with God’s mission for the world God loves. The sinner from disunion becomes the sinner who stands during Anfechtungen (read trials) awaiting the sentence of the cross in her life. “Only in the cross of Christ, as those upon whom sentence has been executed, do persons achieve their true form.”61 Only as participants in God’s missiology of failure in the world, does the church carry out missio Dei for the world.

Participating with a Resurrected God as New Humanity “Ecce Homo!—Behold the man who has been taken to Himself by God, sentenced and executed and awakened by God to a new life.”62 Only through the cross will the twenty-first-century church die to cultural progressivism and optimism which undermine the gospel. Only after speaking of the cross, which destroys sin, can Bonhoeffer speak of the empty tomb, which destroys death. He writes of the new humanity during a period of cultural death in Germany. “The miracle of Christ’s resurrection makes nonsense of that idolization of death which is prevalent among us today.”63 Participation in the mission of National Socialism meant taking oaths of obedience to carry out the program of Horst Wessel and other “martyrs” to the fascist cause. “There is no clearer indication of the idolization of death than when a period claims to be building for eternity and yet life has no value in this period.”64 The thousand-year mission of the Nazis was launched by decisions of natural selection of the “fittest” regarding persons “unworthy to live.”

61 Ibid. 62 Ibid. 63 Ibid., 80. 64 Ibid. 293


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Before the Nazis killed one Jewish person in a death camp, they declared the mentally and physically deformed “unfit to live.” The nihilism of the Nazi program was all that was “new” in Hitler’s Germany. The mission of the Nazis was a death wish resulting in a “scorched earth” policy when Germany’s defeat was obvious. “But wherever it is recognized that the power of death has been broken, wherever the world of death is illumined by the miracle of the resurrection . . .  one is content with the allotted span.”65 Here Bonhoeffer anticipates his Tegel theology with its focus upon the ordinariness of living in the cares and concerns of everydayness. In the Letters, he upholds the common person—maybe even those who have not “privatized Jesus into their hearts”—but are genuine Christians who live by faith without religion. “The person whom God has taken to Himself, sentenced and awakened to a new life, this is Jesus Christ.”66 Here is a vintage-Bonhoeffer summation of his theology of the cross. Note that it is God that does the acting—it is all grace. Just as Jesus of Nazareth’s death on a cross was salvific for the world, the new creature participates in God’s ministry of reconciliation on earth. “And it is from this form of Jesus Christ alone that there comes the formation of a new world, a world which is reconciled with God.”67 Throughout his words from a chapter entitled, “Ethics as Formation,” we find an implicit missiology for how an “on-trial, sentenced as guilty, executed, buried and resurrected” church is to be in the world as the church for others. In sheer identity with Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection the church finds its mission on earth. Just as Bonhoeffer speaks

65 Ibid. 66 Ibid., 81. 67 Ibid. 294


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of formation in Christ, he talks about conformation to Jesus Christ in mission. “It is not Christians who shape the world with their ideas, but it is Christ who shapes us in conformity with Himself.”68 This statement credits God with doing the acting, not humanity. The Nazi period characterized itself with one program of improvement after another with deceptive titles like the “Strength Through Joy” work program. The German Protestant church similarly promulgated programs of “practical Christianity.” Bonhoeffer’s offers instead the person of Jesus Christ into whose image the Christian conforms. “To be conformed with the Incarnate—that is to be a real person.”69 The Christian in the world is the real person identified with Jesus, the true human being. In words reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s “carrying around the dying body of Jesus,” Bonhoeffer speaks of living by faith a daily existence “carrying God’s sentence of death” which is God’s grace.70 The missional Christian is that person transformed by the Holy Spirit. Note how Bonhoeffer evidences the presence of the Holy Spirit without the reductive hubris of possessing specialized and privatized “spiritual gifts.” “By bearing the sign of the cross and judgement willingly [the Christian] shows herself one who has received the Holy Spirit.. . . [by being] united with Jesus Christ in incomparable love and fellowship.”71 Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the church is not confined to a conglomeration of “Spirit-filled” Christians disconnected from one another exercising their gifts to extol their own piety. “Formation means in the first place Jesus’

68 Ibid., 83. 69 Ibid. 70 Ibid., 84. 71 Ibid. 295


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taking form in His Church.”72 Against all docetic or ebionitic distortions, Bonhoeffer’s model for the church is a this-worldly organism integrally united with Christ’s communal body. The Church is nothing but a section of humanity in which Christ has really taken form . . . she has essentially nothing whatever to do with the so-called religious functions of humanity, but with the whole person existing in the world with all its implications.73

Here again we find Bonhoeffer anticipating his non-religious thought in the prison correspondence. We also find a missiology of the cross ontologically identified with Jesus Christ’s salvific life and death as humanity’s vicarious representative.

Participating in the Encounter of Christ with the World “In Jesus Christ we have faith in the incarnate, crucified and risen God.”74 The existential encounter of God through Christ for the disciple integrates a theology of manger, cross, and empty tomb. The missional message is holistically rooted in Jesus Christ the person—the crucified and the risen one. We have tried to make clear the unity and the diversity of the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection. Christian life is life with the incarnate, crucified and the risen Christ, whose word confronts us in its entirety in the message of the justification of the sinner by grace alone.75

The reality of the encounter is directly proportional to a partic-

72 Ibid., 84. 73 Ibid., 85. 74 Ethics, 130. 75 Ibid., 132. 296


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ipation in the penultimate: “It is the freedom of the ultimate that validates the penultimate.”76 For example, to prepare the way for grace, the Christian feeds the hungry person as “a thing before the last thing.” “To give bread to the hungry is not the same as to proclaim the grace of God and justification to her, and to have received bread is not the same as to have faith.”77 Here Bonhoeffer avoids any ethical humanistic reduction embarrassed by an interaction of the Holy Spirit or by the intervention of the supernatural in the affairs of the world. Penultimate-ultimate harmony and unity must be retained within an integrated view of the person and work Jesus Christ as the incarnate-murdered-risen one. It is nothing less than a curtailment of the gospel if the nearness of Jesus Christ is proclaimed only to what is broken and evil and if the father’s love for the prodigal son is so emphasized as to appear to diminish his love for the son who remained at home.78

Bonhoeffer’s concern is that for two centuries the calling into question of the ultimate by Western Christianity has simultaneously imperiled the influence of the penultimate. “Ultimate and penultimate are closely allied.”79 The missional implications are clear. There simply can be no trading off on the one hand a disregard for the sinner’s spirituality any more than an equal disregard for the bodily need of that same sinner, if a scandalous gospel is to be lived and proclaimed. Bonhoeffer’s “both– and” (read his “theological-anthropology”) here addresses how

76 Ibid., 133. 77 Ibid., 136–37. 78 Ibid., 142. 79 Ibid., 141. 297


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both a liberal and an conservative evangelical misinterpretation of the cross distorts the gospel. No doubt while writing Ethics in the Ettal Benedictine monastery, Bonhoeffer was influenced by the sanctity-of-life teachings of the Catholic church—teachings with which he could easily resonate given his opposition to Nazi genocide of the “unworthy to live.” Rooted in a robust understanding of the incarnation, his integrative view of the church as the body of Jesus Christ informs his view the human body. His view of the body is a function of his missiology—especially in Nazi Germany where so vast a destruction of human bodies went unnoticed by a silent Christian church. “Bodily life, which we receive without any action on our own part, carries within itself the right to its own preservation.”80 From a position that supports preserving bodily life, Bonhoeffer underscores the importance of the body as “a means to an end as well as an end in itself.”81 Bonhoeffer’s purpose is to safeguard the life of the body against arbitrary killing. “One must speak of arbitrary killing wherever innocent life is deliberately destroyed.”82 By 1942–43, during which time Bonhoeffer was writing his Ethics, Hitler had murdered over 70,000 human beings in the T-4 euthanasia program. In January 1942, the “final solution” of the Jewish Question had been decided by “evacuating” millions of lives with bullets and gas into ditches and ovens. With good reason, Bonhoeffer was concretely concerned with how a missional church would address such new issues brought about by the Nazi use of administrative process and technology to murder human beings.

80 Ibid., 154. 81 Ibid., 155. 82 Ibid., 158. 298


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“The decision about the right to destroy human life can never be based upon the concurrence of a number of different contributory factors.”83 That is, the consent of a suffering patient, her family, the signatures of two of her doctors, her church, and her spouse—all these do not validate a decision to arbitrarily take life away. Arguing against the political correctness of a death-wish culture enflamed by Nazi anti-semitism, Bonhoeffer’s theology of the incarnation undergirds his ethics regarding abortion. “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life.”84 He addresses the intentions of a life-giving God—an argument missing in the current debate over the value of the life of pre-born children in North America. “The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of her life.”85 Tied to his thoughts here is a voiceless church whose theological grasp of human life had degenerated into complicity with a nihilistic political regime. Having basked in the rays of idealism for two centuries, the Protestant church in Germany fell prey to National Socialism’s “positive Christianity” which systematically destroyed the human body. “The human body must never become a thing, any object, such as might fall under the unrestricted power of another person and be used solely as a means to his own ends.”86 Whether speaking of rape or slavery, the freedom of the human body is at stake. Taking his argument to its logical conclusion, Bonhoeffer links a lost sense of shame with the dissolution of all

83 Ibid., 159. 84 Ibid., 174. 85 Ibid. 86 Ibid., 181. 299


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social order. A connection exists between the mystery of human corporeality and exploitation. Given the loss of shame over concrete issues like divorce, rape, abortion, torture, slavery, and any other arbitrary deprivation of liberty, Bonhoeffer heralds a missional role for the Christian church to safeguard the freedom of the human body. That the church of his time failed to do this on behalf of the Jews defined his separation from the church in order to participate with the sufferings of Christ in the secular life. It explains his participation in the conspiracy as his radical ministry of a scandalous gospel. When the nihilism of his day completely shattered a Christian basis for what it meant to be or to do good, Bonhoeffer addressed the more important question“What is the will of God?” discussed in his “Christ, Reality and Good,” to which we now turn. A missional objective of the church is to demonstrate the reality of God. “What is of ultimate importance is now no longer that I should become good, or that the condition of the world should be made better by my action, but that the reality of God should show itself everywhere to be the ultimate reality.”87 Bonhoeffer’s robust christology undercuts any autonomous takeover of mission and assigns it to a participation with the reality of God in the world. “The question of good becomes the question of participation in the divine reality which is revealed in Christ.”88 In the Ethics, he continues to anticipate his missional thoughts located in the Tegel theology on the topic of participation of the sufferings of the Stellvertreter, the Christ, for humanity. Preparatory to turning the pseudo-Lutheran “two kingdoms” misinterpretation on its head, Bonhoeffer argues

87 Ibid., 186. 88 Ibid., 188. 300


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for a unified understanding of both the reality of God and the reality of the world. The irreconcilable conflict between what is and what should be is reconciled in Christ. . . . Participation in this reality is the true sense and purpose of the inquiry concerning good. . . . [is] in the reality of God and of the world in Jesus Christ today, and this participation must be such that I never experience the reality of God without the reality of the world or the reality of the world without the reality of God.89

For Bonhoeffer there is no reality outside of Christ. “There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world.”90 His argument is from the New Testament and the thought of the Reformation which undermines the “two sphere” Protestantism of his day. To argue for a unified paradigm is to argue for a better view of the missional task of the church in the world. “If the Christian sector presents itself as an independent entity, then the world is denied that fellowship into which God entered with the world in Jesus Christ.”91 That is, it is deceptively possible for the church to think of a “special place for God” in the world, where it is “doing mission.” This is to erroneously suggest “places” on earth where the church needn’t find space for God. Bonhoeffer replaces pietistic withdrawal from the reality of the world with a radical church whose prophetic mission it is to engage anti-Christian culture with the scandalous Christ. “A Christianity which withdraws from the

89 Ibid., 193. 90 Ibid., 195. 91 Ibid., 197. 301


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world falls victim to the unnatural and the irrational, to presumption and self-will.”92 A mission of the church is to prove to the world that it is still the world created and loved by its Creator. The church of the cross constantly takes risks, not to preserve its own place and security, but to fight for the salvation of the world. “Otherwise the church becomes a ‘religious society’ which fights in its own interest and thereby ceases at once to be the Church of God and of the world.”93 Any creation of “Christian space” in the world by the church undermines the gospel. Once again Bonhoeffer provides tracks for his train of non-religious thought in the Letters. “Christ died for the world, and it is only in the midst of the world that Christ is Christ.”94 The church cannot be the church if it is not of God. But the church also cannot retain its ontological authenticity if it fails to take its place in the world. The foot of the cross was firmly dropped into a space hewn from the rock of Golgotha’s hill to support the wood upon which God died to save creation. It was from the pulpit of a Roman tool of torture that a crucified God proclaimed to the world that it was God’s good creation. The message of Calvary begins in the Genesis account of a day-byday Creation which was always affirmed as “good” by its maker, sustainer, and redeemer. “What is intended . . . is not separation from the world but the summoning of the world into the fellowship of this body of Christ, to which in truth it already belongs.”95 Nothing is gained for the gospel by the church’s overstatement of its separation

92 Ibid., 198. 93 Ibid., 200. 94 Ibid., 203. 95 Ibid. 302


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from the world. By affirming how foreign the church is to the world, it affirms its fellowship with the world. “The Church is divided from the world solely by the fact that she affirms in faith the reality of God’s acceptance of man, a reality which is the property of the whole world.”96 Here Bonhoeffer’s dialectic argues from a cross of “opposites.” Only a church of the cross can exist simultaneously foreign to and in fellowship with the world. Just as the dying body of Jesus of Nazareth as God for the world accomplishes a scandalous salvific act through crucifixion as a condemned person, that same act preserves a required linkage with all Creation. The alien work of God prepares the proper work of God. A hidden God is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The church is in the world, but not of the world. Such statements derive from an epistemology of the cross. The body of Jesus Christ, especially as it appears to us on the cross, shows to to the eyes of faith the world in its sin, and how it is loved by God, no less than it shows the church, as the congregation of those who acknowledge their sin and submit to the love of God.

Thus, Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of theologia crucis and the death of God in the crucially vicarious act modeled by the Stellverterter, the Christ, defines the church and its mission to existentially complete the sufferings of the Crucified One as ambassadors of reconciliation. Such reconciliation is possible, the Apostle tells us, only in the scandalous idea that a holy God chose to become the maximus peccator that sinners have their human dignity restored. The cross fulfills both the creation and redemption mandates of missio Dei on earth. A missional mandate of the church is to proclaim the reality

96 Ibid., 203. 303


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of Jesus Christ through the “preaching and organization of the Church and the Christian life.”97 As a worker, partner in marriage, and subject of government, the whole person stands before the whole earthly and eternal reality, “the reality which God prepared for human beings in Jesus Christ.”98 The ministry of the church on earth is not detached from the “mandates” of work, marriage, and government, but is integrally connected through the Christ who is divine and human in one reality. “The will of God is nothing other than the becoming real of the reality of Christ with us and in our world. . . . The will of God is not an idea . . . it is itself a reality already in the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ.”99 Bonhoeffer summarizes the church’s mission and ethics in one word: participation. “After Christ has appeared, ethics can have but one purpose, namely, the achievement of participation in the reality of the fulfilled will of God, [that is,] that I am reconciled with God.”100 In the prison correspondence, he focuses further upon participation as the missional paradigm for a cruciform church. “Life is not a thing, an entity or concept; it is person.”101 Bonhoeffer maintains an interest in the concrete expression of the church in the world. Ontologically, he advances the Christ as the other who is, not provides, life. Self-knowledge is unable to bring humanity to this point. Only the missional church when it grasps its proclamation correctly can offer this Christ to the world. In the claim, “I am the life . . . we hear the condemnation, the negation of our life; for our life is not our life. . . . We

97 Ibid., 208. 98 Ibid. 99 Ibid., 209. 100 Ibid. 101 Ibid., 214. 304


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live through Jesus Christ, the origin, the essence and the goal of all life and of our life.”102 Bonhoeffer links the mission of the church to Stellvertretung and so speaks of the cruciform body of Christ. “I stand for Christ before others and for others before Christ.”103 Written during a time when the plight of the Jews in all of Europe was known, though often denied, Bonhoeffer saw the mission of the church as the voice for the voiceless from his understanding of God’s death in place of and on behalf of humanity. For him, it would never be enough to “sanctify vocational duties” as the mission of the suffering body of Christ in the world for others. The reduction of the scandal of the gospel by a culture-Protestantism was a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of a church in possession of God’s word. From a position of Jesus Christ as that Word who became incarnate in and for the world, Bonhoeffer drew heavily from the cross as a symbol which “takes a position against the world in the world”104 on behalf of the world. But such an understanding of ecclesial mission only comes from an understanding of who the church is as primarily a fellowship of guilty persons before the Christ who is their life.

A Mission of the Church: A Fellowship of the Guilty for the World What missional purposes might drive the cruciform church as a community of persons no longer in denial about their guilt before Christ? As the church in the world which is against the world yet for the world, how might it be God for humanity in the person of Christ, not in some Christian principle of evan-

102 Ibid., 215. 103 Ibid., 220. 104 Ibid., 252. 305


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gelism or church growth theory? How does the scandal of the cross speak to the mission of the church in the world in ways that disengage it from the progressive optimism of North American capitalism. While concrete suggestions are deferred to the last chapter, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross as a community of sinners and the guilty is applied to mission at this point. “The structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom.”105 Once the church decides that it is not in the business of proclaiming its own good or new ethical ideals, it will understand its mission in the world. Using Jesus as his paradigm, Bonhoeffer advances who Jesus is as the basis for ecclesial carrying out of missio Dei. “Jesus is concerned solely with love for the real person, and for that reason he is able to enter into the fellowship of the guilt of men and to take the burden of their guilt upon himself.”106 Bonhoeffer’s view of Jesus is at the heart of his passion for the church’s mission in the world. The “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” from Discipleship returns in the Ethics to inform responsible prayer and action by the church. Devoid of the Pharisaic self-promotion of his own righteousness, Jesus is free. “Jesus does not desire to look down on humanity as the only guiltless one while humanity goes to its ruin under the weight of its guilt. . . . A love which left humanity alone in its guilt would not be love for the real humanity.”107 Only the responsible Christian willingly embraces the guilt of the neighbor. To act responsibly for others is to become guilty.

105 Ibid., 236. 106 Ibid., 237. 107 Ibid. 306


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If anyone tries to escape guilt in responsibility [she] detaches herself from the ultimate reality of human existence.108

Here is a radical move untouched by current missiological thought by a North American church that professes to be Christian. Beyond church growth principles, evangelism strategies, or stewardship drives, Bonhoeffer here defines mission as living by a participation in the guilt of one’s neighbor. To live is to enter into the guilt of the other. And what is more she cuts herself off from the redeeming mystery of Christ’s bearing guilt without sin and has no share in the divine justification.109

When the church sets its own security, purity, and innocence above care for the other, it has ceased to be the church no matter what creed it recites or what liturgy is dutifully performs. Beyond the sentimental definitions of love assimilated by a church which has not understood what it means to love, Bonhoeffer defines innocent love for the neighbor in this way: Real innocence shows itself precisely in entering into fellowship of guilt for the sake of others. . . . Through Jesus Christ it becomes an essential part of responsible action that the one without sin loves selflessly and for that reason incurs guilt.110

Bonhoeffer’s missiology of the cross cannot reside in a North American church of convenience, consumerism, and capitalism. Concrete recommendations for how the North American church can be in the world as a church of the cross in mission are deferred to the last chapter.

108 Ibid. 109 Ibid. 110 Ibid. 237–38. 307


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From a most unlikely source, Bonhoeffer’s radical command to love as a follower of Jesus and his cross is supported by Nietzsche’s critique of the church. It is a critique consistent with what Bonhoeffer is trying to say. It deals with the age-old question: Who is my neighbor? Nietzsche, without knowing it, was speaking in the spirit of the New Testament when he attacked the legalistic and philistine misinterpretation of the commandment which bids us love our neighbour. He wrote: “You are assiduous in your attentions to your neighbour. . . . But I tell you that your love for your neighbour is worthless love for yourselves . . . I advise you to shun your neighbor and to love whoever is furthest from you!”111

Bonhoeffer’s rare use of the nineteenth-century nihilist to undergird a biblical notion of love for one’s neighbor is stated “to keep the boundary open.”112 It really says more about Bonhoeffer than it does about Nietzsche, in that the theologian was radical (and in this case rather scandalous) to use thoughts from any source to make his often controversial points. Nietzsche’s correct critique of a church was used by Bonhoeffer to challenge a Lutheran church imbued with parochialism and anti-semitism. Nietzsche’s argument here was precisely how Bonhoeffer conceived of the church needing to speak out against, not merely converted Jews in the Lutheran church, but on behalf of all Jews undergoing Nazi oppression. The free responsibility of Christ’s call to love the other set no limits upon the public outcry for the marginalized. Bonhoeffer’s faith as a double-agent within the Nazi Abwehr is no less theological than preaching from behind a Lutheran pulpit or directing an illegal seminary in Finkenwalde. 111 Ibid., 255. 112 Ibid., 256. 308


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All such activities were merely living out an ordinary Christian existence in the mundane, concrete events of human existence without being anybody special—whether a sinner or a saint. Finally, Bonhoeffer concludes his missional thought from the Ethics with a transition to the “religion-less” Christianity from the prison period. The context is a critique of liberal theology’s deficient view of the New Testament as related to the gospel. “The liberal theologians, especially Troeltsch and Naumann, treated the original gospel as a ‘purely religious’ power which encompasses the individual man in his outlook but is at the same time indifferent . . . to worldly institutions and conditions.”113 That is, liberal theology relegated Christian faith to a special, privatized space rendering it “religious” rather than secular. This is why Naumann could say of his faith that he could be a Christian in only five or ten percent of his life; i.e., only in so far as he was not concerned with worldly institutions.114 Bonhoeffer’s critique of liberal theology here is its tendency toward a gnosticism which divides reality into compartments which undermine the lordship of Jesus Christ in the world. “They saw in the gospel of Jesus . . . ‘God and the soul’ . . . and ‘the kingdom of God on earth.’” Rather than understand unified mission of the cruciform church as a proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ as the salvation of the world, liberal theology failed to see how the ethical question is contingent on the question of Christ. Because the New Testament had been subordinated to philosophical constructions from German idealism, liberal theology failed to provide an adequately theological construction for the church. This accounts for the weakness of the German Protestant church in its inability to understand how National 113 Ibid., 317 114 Ibid. 309


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Socialism was an attack upon Christian faith, much less provide an alternative to its takeover of German culture during 1933–1945. Bonhoeffer’s missional thoughts regarding the church include a warning against any self-preservation of itself as an institution. “The congregation can never be content to cultivate its own internal life; for to do so would be to deny its Master.”115 Later in the Letters, he becomes even more concrete as to how the church is to disregard itself institutionally. In preparation for further discussion of mission in the Letters, we also find a transitional thought in how Bonhoeffer conceives of the church as existing for the world. As a temporary medium for ushering the kingdom of a returning Christ, the church sees itself even in mission as not an end in itself. “The congregation itself is merely an instrument . . . a means to an end . . . acting on behalf of the world . . . as the centre of all God’s dealing with the world.”116 The following statements encapsulate Bonhoeffer’s missiology of the cross located in the Ethics: 1. Jesus hardly concerns himself at all with the solution of worldly problems. 2. Unsolved problems may be more important to God than their solution. 3. The essence of the gospel does not lie in the solution to human problems. 4. The essential task of the church cannot be the solution of human problems. 5. The proper relation of the church to the world can only be drawn from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

115 Ibid., 311. 116 Ibid., 296. 310


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6. The word of redemption is for all humanity. 7. The church is to make room for the gospel in the world. 8. The church’s word to itself and to the world must always be law and gospel. The above statements provide a transition into Bonhoeffer’s ecclesial-missional concepts located in the Letters. The seamless continuity of his movement from the Ethics to the prison correspondence relies on seminal ecclesial concepts discovered in the Ethics: participation with a guilty God in the encounter of the world, incarnation as mission, the cross as executed sentence defining a new humanity in con-formation to Christ as a fellowship of the guilty, mission in the safeguard of life’s sanctity, and being in the world to tell it that it is the world by inviting it into the body of Christ. The easy transition of the above notions bespeak the continuity of Bonhoeffer’s cross-centered theology from the dissertation to his prison letters.

Bonhoeffer’s Missional Church in Letters and Papers from Prison Though Bonhoeffer rarely uses the word “church” in the prison correspondence, it remains the center of his thought. From his 30 April 1944 letter, the following question may be inferred: “What is the mission of the church to religionless people who are good?” The themes from Ethics continue into the Letters. “I should like to speak of God . . . at the centre . . . in strength . . . in man’s life and goodness.”117 Bridging from the discussion of “the good” in the Ethics, here Bonhoeffer posits a church defined as a fellowship of the innocent-yet-guilty for good people without reducing the message to problem-solving. Without truncating the gospel as the solution to life’s 117 LPP, 282. 311


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problems, he speaks of God’s transcendence “in the midst of our life.”118 The scandal of God’s mission is that it pertains to persons who least think they need it in life categories where it appears least likely to apply. Bonhoeffer prefers to leave problems unsolved and speaks of the cross and resurrection without pragmatism. “The church stands in the middle of the village”119 is simply another way of stating the lordship of Jesus Christ in the world. There can be no privatized religious space created for God as a problem-solver. Just as Christ is Lord of the world and the church is built in the middle of the village, there can be no humanly constructed boundaries which frame God’s involvement with humanity. “I have come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries . . . death. . . . sin.”120 Bonhoeffer views the church’s mission to the ordinary existence of persons where God is not pushed out to a superfluous deus ex machina. His term “religion-less Christianity” carries a missional application by communicating the gospel in language which doesn’t not require translation. The language communicating the gospel must be the language used ordinarily at the center of life.

The Secret Discipline as the Mission of the Church Irony characterizes Bonhoeffer’s thought in his missional-ecclesial use of “boundary” in the Letters. On the one hand, he is backing off any use of “human boundaries” as privatized space for God’s legitimate relationship to human beings; on the other hand he is drawing a sharp boundary between the mys-

118 Ibid. 119 Ibid. 120 Ibid. 312


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tery of Christian faith and the world. In the former case there is an openness of the boundary for the rightful lordship of Jesus Christ in the world. In the latter case further clarification is needed. “A secret discipline must be restored whereby the mysteries of the Christian faith are protected against profanation.”121 Paradoxically, Bonhoeffer speaks of a religionless Christianity whose mysteries must be retained. How is this not a contradiction? At first glance, this appears to be masked religion. What is hidden, however, is Bonhoeffer’s deep faith expressed in meditation, prayer, liturgy, and the homily from a church where piety doesn’t remove it from the world. Here is the “both-and” of a participation in the sufferings of Christ which on the one hand includes the inner life and on the other hand, the active life of justice for others. Under the unifying lordship of Christ, the apparent contradiction is resolved such that Bonhoeffer can speak simultaneously about both without erecting an unnecessary boundary. “Arcane discipline without worldliness is a ghetto, and worldliness without arcane discipline is nothing more than a boulevard.”122 In a rare usage of “kingdom” Bonhoeffer speaks of an ecclesial mission that transcends personal peace and security. “It is a kingdom stronger than war . . . signifying eternal terror to come . . . not a kingdom of the heart . . . (but) a kingdom for which it is worth while risking our lives.”123 He’s concerned about how religion has reduced Christian faith to sentimentality. Ironically, the biblical kingdom of Christ is powerful and authoritative emanating from a powerless Jesus of Nazareth hung upon a cross. It is a kingdom measurable by the advance

121 Ibid., 286. 122 Bethge, 884. 123 LPP, 304. 313


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of justice for others as wide as the earth, originating from a church at the center of the village where Christ is Lord of both heart and life. Consistent with his thoughts from Ethics about the penultimate and the ultimate, Bonhoeffer speaks of mission as just as much a preparing of the way for faith as a possessing of faith itself. “We have to get people out of their one-track minds; that is a kind of ‘preparation’ for faith, or something that makes faith possible.”124 The context of Bonhoeffer’s writing sheds light on this thought. He is writing during air raids in May 1944. It helps him to think beyond his own personal safety and security. “We are anxious about our life, but we must think about things much more important to us than life itself . . . as soon as we turn our minds from worrying about our own safety to the task of helping other people to keep calm, the situation is completely changed.”125 Extrapolating Bonhoeffer’s experience of a pastor and friend to fellow-prisoners during air raids provides the missional church of the cross an illustration of risk-taking for others. He calls this multi-dimensional thinking—a keeping of life from becoming one-dimensional. The cross symbolizes for the church a multi-dimensional mission of vicarious puttingoneself-at-risk for the sake of the other. This is the missional church in the world concerned about more than its own preservation, peace, and security. In his 8 June 1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer rapidly outlines how both religious liberalism and conservatism are both missionally out of touch with a mature world come-ofage. “Humanity has learnt to deal with itself in all questions of importance without recourse to the ‘working hypothesis’ called 124 Ibid., 311. 125 Ibid. 314


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‘God.’”126 Such an attitude characterized the nineteenth century in religious questions as well as those of science, art, and ethics. Bonhoeffer defines the response of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as defensive—a reserving for themselves a place for “God” in the ultimate questions to which they alone have the “religious” answers unavailable from science, art, and ethics. “But what if one day they (the questions) no longer exist, if they too can be answered ‘without God.’”127 Any religious attempt to answer ultimate questions is beside the point theologically for Bonhoeffer. Parenthetically, current evangelical conservatism which creates a “Jesus or despair” dichotomy lapses into a pietism withdrawn from the earth. Its negative view of creation and humanity has no space for a this-worldly Christianity. A reactive liberalism which posits “If Jesus is the answer, what are the questions?” is equally without substance, since it merely maintains “the questions” as the issue. If the questions are answered, its theology has nothing to offer. Bonhoeffer would agree that neither Jesus nor the cross is no answer. At stake rather is truth, despite the questions from humanity for which religion may provide answers. The cross must be reckoned in unique fashion as scandalous truth without reduction to merely provisional as an answer to humanity’s felt-needs. Neither God nor the cross fill the “gaps” of human existence. He speaks of a “secularized offshoot” of Christian theology attempting “mission” to a world which functions well without God identified as an “existentialist philosophy and the psychotherapists who demonstrate to secure happy people that they are really unhappy and insecure in predicaments from which

126 Ibid., 326. 127 Ibid. 315


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only they possess the answer.”128 He identifies this phenomenon as secular methodism. Then Bonhoeffer addresses the religious approach to mission to the adulthood of the world more specifically. His initial concern with religious mission is “the attack by Christian apologetic which pushes humanity back into its adolescence . . . and confuses Christ with one particular stage in humanity’s religiousness; i.e., with human law.”129 He rejects any missiology which exploits the weakness of human beings. Apologetically theological attempts to carve out space for God in the world by providing “air-tight” rational answers and evidence in support of Christian dogma simply advance the problem of autonomy brought on by the Enlightenment. The answers become more important than Christ and the merits of debate-argumentation take on an importance which outweighs the merits of the Christ on a cross as the issue. Any strategy of mission focusing upon humanity’s sin and weakness is without precedent in the life of Jesus and has no place in an ecclesial mission of the cross. “When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners, but Jesus did not make everyone a sinner first.”130 Bonhoeffer views “snooping around” for the particular sins of a parishioner or potential convert as a weakness of pietistic mission strategy devoid of biblical support or precedent from Jesus’ ministry. If apologetic emerged as a primary mission strategy from the conservative side, the approach taken from the liberal position (Troeltsch) was equally misguided. “The weakness of liberal theology was that it conceded to the world the right to

128 Ibid. 129 Ibid., 327. 130 Ibid., 341. 316


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determine Christ’s place in the world.” Bonhoeffer’s essential opposition to any type of mission strategy (conservative or liberal) is a function of how it views Christ in the world which is equal to saying how it views the church ontologically on earth. On the one hand, theological conservatism creates limited religious space for Christ in its reduction of faith as either the answer to ultimate questions or a privatization to inner feelings of devotion and piety withdrawn from the earth. On the other hand, the liberal counter to remain in the world too easily gives up theological categories unique to Christian faith. The scandal of the cross is found too radical and the “comparatively easy terms of peace that the world dictated”131 erase the conflict between the church and the world while ironically accepting the battle. But for liberalism, the battle ends in defeat followed by surrender with other attempts to create religious space for Christ on earth. For Bonhoeffer the issue lies in the concrete interpretation of the gospel in the light of Christ for a mature world, rather than in Barth’s positivism without concrete ethical guidance, Bultmann’s reductive de-mythology requiring religion as a precondition of faith, or the conservative restoration of the Confessing Church.132 Bonhoeffer’s contribution to Christianity during the prison period of his life is tha, separated from the church, he offered a missional interpretation of biblical concepts from the life and language of Jesus which understood the world better than it understood itself as a world come-ofage without God. He did so without loss of respect for the human dignity of the person no matter how liberal, pagan, or religiously conservative. In his detachment from all public life, 131 Ibid., 327. 132 Ibid., 328–29. 317


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he was able to objectively view his past in all walks of life from a student, pastor, seminary director, lecturer in the academy, and conspirator from the perspective of his own finitude. In the abandoning of all methodism, be it religious or secular, he located a missional approach centered in Jesus Christ as both the true human being and Lord of the earth.

Reincarnation: Being Redeemed as This-Worldly Living on Earth One of Bonhoeffer’s most provocative missional strategies to a world come-of-age is his radical interpretation of redemption from the Old Testament. Using his notion of “boundary,” he redefines redemption for this-worldly living on earth rather than its religious misinterpretation confined to eternal life after death. It is a Hebraic missiology which sends a person back into life “even more sharply defined than in the Old Testament.”133 He equates Jesus’ words in the gospel with the Apostle’s Letters. “The difference between the Christian hope of the resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a person back to his life on earth . . . (not) to a better world beyond the grave . . . (confined) to the far side of the boundary.”134 The gospel of the cross redeems humanity at the center of its life, not as redemptive religious escapism from the cares and fears which arise from human boundary experiences. Bonhoeffer’s missiology is summarized in the theologically pregnant phrase, “being caught up in the messianic sufferings of God in Jesus Christ.”135 From this statement in the 18 July 1944 letter, he speaks of a cruciform church in outreach to the

133 Ibid., 337. 134 Ibid., 336. 135 Ibid., 362. 318


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world where Jesus is the model. In a familiar list of New Testament personalities his appeal is to the “‘narrow conversion’ of individuals who performed concrete acts of righteousness without any explicit confession of sin.”136 His list includes those who really live in the ordinary events of life without becoming anything special—either as saints or sinners. Shepherds are caught up in messianic suffering by simply being drawn to the crib by a star, the Capernaum centurion is a model of faith without any public conversion experience involving the confession of his personal sins. There is nothing in these lives which suggests a specialized “ministry” in a religious sense. Their “sharing in the suffering of God in Christ is their faith without method or religious act involving the whole of their life.”137 Bonhoeffer’s missional strategy for a church of the cross requires a provocative identification with persons modeled by Jesus Christ’s love for the whole person. The messianic sufferings of God in Jesus Christ imply being truly human demonstrated in powerless love for the neighbor—near and far—by living faithfully in daily events on earth as the place God loves.

An Economically Redeemed Church Finally, Bonhoeffer’s missional approach calls for an economically countercultural change for the church in its existence identified with the guilt of sinners existing solely for others, not for its own prestige or preservation. “To make a start, the church should give away all its property to those in need.”138 Along with this challenge to any church sustained in so capitalistic a culture is in North America, he suggests the radical

136 Ibid., 362. 137 Ibid. 138 Ibid. 319


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notion that clergy either live on freewill offering or get jobs to support themselves without being a financial burden on their churches. The church in mission must challenge the hubris and power-worship of its culture. The church with a mission to the world must emulate the humanity of Jesus. These—and other preliminary ideas are offered in an unwritten book proposed in one of his final Letters. The thrust of his final ecclesial thoughts return to his beginning ideas—the church is a scandalously concrete cruciform form of Christ on earth living out of the transcendent for others. Here we find a concrete application from Hall’s desire that the church separate itself from Christendom to be a countercultural agent of missional change on earth. Particularly within the North American context where consumerism has reached idolatrous proportions, any economic-financial countercultural moves by the church constitute the fulfillment of missio Dei. The non-religious language of the Letters continues Bonhoeffer’s programmatic missional ideas for the church launched in the Ethics. Clearly a missional fleshing-out of his incarnational-cruciform-resurrective church on earth finds new articulation in the Letters. His missiology starts in Sanctorum Communio, theological-anthropological continuity is retained in the prison letters where a return to the arcane disciplines, a view of the kingdom as preparation for faith, an affirmation (not a denigration) of the world come-of-age, a provocative view of this-worldly redemption, and a controversial countercultural economic plan define a missional church by simply being in the world.

Conclusion The objective of this chapter has been to assess Bonhoeffer’s church of the cross in missio Dei. We have observed how his ro-

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bust christology-ecclesiology provides a seamless transition into mission where God acts through the Gemeinde. From Ethics, Bonhoeffer’s missiology of the cross implies the church telling the world it is the world and summoning it into the body of Christ. The missional church is a fellowship of guilty persons worshipping a God who became guilty for sinners. In Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer speaks of ecclesial mission as preparation for faith concretely participating with a powerless Christ for others. By using the godlessness of a mature world-come-of-age as a trajectory to communicate the gospel, he challenges the missional church to “be in the world” without carving out special religious space for Christ. Bonhoeffer’s holistic definition of redemption as faithful this-worldly living challenges the church to get involved in the ordinary affairs of humanity. Bonhoeffer’s “missionaries” in the Letters are the ordinary persons of faith without so-called “professions of faith.” His missional church sells its property and challenges its pastors to find day jobs to earn their keep. Within the research community bearing his name, a faithful church is defined by Jesus the Stellvertreter whose followers are defined by prayer and righteous action for neighbors near and far, within and without their own ethnicity and cultural identity. Finally, Bonhoeffer’s ecclesial missiology of a scandalous cross addresses the sins of the North American church. The emergence of the two-thirds nations as sending agencies to North America may be the way the United States “hears” the gospel expressed by those whose experience of oppression by the West authenticates how only a scandalous cross may be able to help a church in crisis. Given the background of Luther’s theology of the cross, Bonhoeffer’s return of the death of God to theology and his radical view of Christ as the vicarious representative, we pro321


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pose a definitive concept of the church which may be identified as an ecclesiology of the cross. Such a scandalous church takes on its mission in the form of Christ as a reincarnation of God on earth.

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CONCLUSION

Introduction The conclusion to this research has two objectives. The first is to summarize what has been established concerning a proprosal for a definitive concept of the church captured by scandal as derived from Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of theologia crucis and the death of God, from his use of the vicarious representative (Stellvertreter), from his development of an ecclesiology of the cross and from his understanding of ecclesial missiology. The second objective is to lift up the unfinished task arising from this study for addressing the North American church using Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross. As stated, the parameters for this research are theological. The question remains, only after employing the appropriate tools and study related to sociological and cultural analysis: How might Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology of the cross, resulting in what we’ve


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called a scandalous church, properly affirm and/or challenge the Christian church in North America given its residence within so many subcultures?

What Has Been Established A definitive concept of the Christian church has been demonstrated as possible from Bonhoeffer’s reclamation for theology of the death of God within the context of Luther’s sixteenth-century interpretation of theologia crucis. By rejecting classical theistic conceptions of God, a crucified God makes accessible God’s flesh and blood in the form of the human being Jesus of Nazareth. Using Bonhoeffer’s theological-anthropology, Jesus of Nazareth as the vicarious representative (Stellvertreter) embodies the true new humanity as concretely incarnated in the church-community. The powerlessly pathetic form of the one pushed to the margins for the sake of the world descends in the self-disclosure of a God who speaks, who became human and who was crucified. The gracious jettisoning of privilege and rights is disclosed by a “more than necessary” God who cannot be reduced to the one who merely meets human needs. All forms of a working hypothesis for God, the deus ex machina or a God of the gaps are rejected in favor of a scandalous God who for no logical reason embarks on a form of self-disclosure as the maximus peccator in the Christ who trades God’s righteouness for the sin of the peccatorum communio. The reconception of God is more available from Hebrew thought-form and construction than from Hellenism. We have demonstrated how David Tracy’s current rethinking and re-speaking of God allows for the Hidden-Incomprehensible and Impossible One. The ineffable One of the Hebrew text and experience of Israel shatters the totalistic conceptions of Constantine’s Greek God whose public and legal partici-

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pation in Greco-Roman culture provided no countercultural influence needed to inhibit the crusading power of the Holy Roman Empire. A reconception of the Christ is made available from Bonhoeffer’s Stellvertreter who defies the limitations of traditional atonement theory from historic Western Christianity. While the vicarious representative takes the place of sinners on the cross, God does so as the model of how the Christian is to live reincarnated in a concrete this-worldly existence on behalf of the other. That is, the redeemed life of the Christian made possible in the salvific act on a Roman tool of death for criminals allows for a “return” back into the world as its lover in relationship with humanity and as participant in the sufferings of Christ. Just as no atonement theory reduced to penal substitution, satisfaction, or moral example fully embraces the scandal of Jesus as the Greatest Sinner on the cross, neither a liberal nor an evangelical conservative christology provides a redeemer as the vicarious representative such that redemption as reincarnation is possible. Just as the Christ has taken the place of the sinner on the cross, the responsible community, the church, takes Christ’s place on earth as “Christ existing as church-community.” This study has demonstrated a resonance of theology with anthropology in the work of René Girard whose surrogate victim and scapegoat provided a needed linkage between the violent and the sacred unavailable within either liberal or conservative theologies of moralism or pietism. It has been demonstrated that a church derived from an ecclesiology of the cross considers the relational structure of human existence. The church has been analyzed by Bonhoeffer in his dissertation from the perspectives of sociology and discovered to be its own unique expression of human community. Bonhoeffer’s distinctly Christian view of the person and 325


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the community where the person retains individuality while in community with others challenges the subsumption of the person by institutions or organizations. Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology views the church as existing for the world, not just for its own preservation looking for a special place on earth. This definitive concept of the church takes the real historic dialectic of the community of God and persons seriously. Sin is an actual event. The peccatorum communio never loses its existence, though transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Sanctorum Communio. The Christian is always allowed to be the sinner she is. Bonhoeffer’s church moves from the primal community (creation), to the broken community (peccatorum communio), to the reconcilied community (the church), and ultimately to the consummated community (the kingdom of God). The scandal of the church is that as essentially the Lamb of God, it is in the world as the blood witness of the love of God. The church participates with a suffering humanity leading to a taking away of the death of the world as a living out of the gospel. The church of the cross is not afraid to become entangled in the messy predicament of existence itself in its role to take persons off the crosses constructed by oppression, victimization, and abuse as systemic incarnations of sin and demonic power. The scandalous church is a community of love which speaks without liberal embarrassment or evangelical triumphalism regarding the Holy Spirit. A definitive characteristic of the Christian church-of-the-cross is located in the liberty and freedom with which it opens itself for dynamic demonstration of pneumatological power in its liturgy, community, and witness as a this-worldly reincarnational being in the world. Such a church may “appear” as the communio abscondita as the being of God in the world. As a fellowship of the guilty, the church of the cross freely admits its guilt against Christ as the continuing qualifi326


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cation it has for coming to the eucharist table for forgiveness. As a new humanity under sentence, the church spends more time judging itself rather than others. As a new ontology of redeemed persons going back into the world, the church takes on the role of vicarious representative in a way which does not demand faith of the other with whom it seeks to participate in the sufferings of Christ in the world. Bonhoeffer spoke of the vicarious representative role of fellow non-Christian conspirators even though they didn’t necessarily view God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ as the ultimate truth and reality. That is, a definitive concept of the church must include a collaboration of the reality of God and the reality of the world. The reality of the world and the reality of God are linked in the concrete reality of Jesus Christ who exists as the church. No embracing of God’s reality can ever be the reason the church escapes from the world into pious religion. No embracing of the reality of the world can ever rule out the self-disclosure of God in historical events associated with God’s speaking, God’s becoming human or God’s crucifixion on earth followed by God’s raising of Jesus of Nazareth to life. There is only one reality in Jesus Christ. The participation of the church in the reality of Jesus Christ by the very nature of God’s historic self-disclosure mandates a full-orbed concrete embracing of both realities. The reconciled community of God is established in the event of God’s self-disclosure. To this point, Bonhoeffer addresses the mistake of liberal theology which identified the objects of revelation with ideas compatible with the deepest essence of humanity. This is a twofold error. First, it bases the validity of Christian faith upon the questions from humanity and its needs. Bonhoeffer addresses this by the correct suggestion that, should the questions of humanity find better answers in something other than Christianity, the argument for the truth of Christianity 327


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fails. The cross is the answer to no human question. The church is the unanticipated this-worldly presence of a crucified God on earth in a way no philosopher ever anticipated. Secondly, the objects of revelation are not ideas, but historic events. Creation, the exodus, the giving of the Torah, the exile and return, the birth of God to Mary, the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb—these are the historic events with which revelation is associated, not some “idea about them.” The reconciled Sanctorum Communio, then, is an objective reality in concert with Bonhoeffer’s focus upon promeity as the secondary objective of God’s objectivity for us (ad extra pro nobis). The church of the cross is a means and an end. As a means, it is the corporate form of Jesus on earth awaiting its consummation in the kingdom of God where no church will be necessary, or even more than necessary. As an end, it is God on earth in community with and for one another (miteinander and fuereinander). As the reincarnation of God in this-worldly existence, the church is the appearance of the finite in existence as the essentially infinite. God now resides in the church as the infinite Passover in the missa solemnis. The consummation of the church is the celebration, the anticipated missa jubilaea, of the infinite Passover. Now, the church may be considered the nullification of God or the death of God to the extent that it is the perpetual annulment of Christ (read the death of Christ). The church carries the dying of body of Christ in this world in hope of its resurrection. The consummated community looks forward to standing around the slain Lamb in celebration. The death of the church is its being Christ forsaken proleptically viewing itself gathered around the Lamb who is no longer forsaken. Luther’s Greatest Sinner creates theological space for speaking of the death of God as the death of the Christ in the way God’s crucifixion takes form in the church. The transgressive 328


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nature of language is required to identify the scandalous nature of this church. The church, as the death of God, takes away the death of the world as the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world awaiting its fulfillment in celestial celebration. Solitude and community are dialectically available in the church of the cross. But solitude cannot be reduced to isolation, and community cannot be distorted to mean a “feeding on the group.” Bonhoeffer’s discussion of Christian community in Life Together speaks of the dialectical tension and apparent paradox of the solitude-community dynamic of the balanced church. It is impossible to be a person without being in relationship with others. It is impossible to be a person without sharing in communal being. The church of the cross subscribes to a praxis which allows for a full participation in the sufferings of Jesus Christ for the world as missio Dei. Participation in the sufferings of Christ for others keeps the church from becoming religious. The scandalous church is a secular church where secular means public, and non-religious refers to participation in the ordinary and concrete events of this life for the other. Bonhoeffer identifies persons in the biblical witness who participated in messianic sufferings with no apparent profession of faith in the revelatory acts God’s self-disclosure. In sum, what has been demonstrated and established in this study is a definitive conception of the church from the death of God, theology of the cross, from a christology defined as vicarious representative for the other, from a revelation characterized by Christ-existing-as-church-community, and from a view of missio Dei which is a reincarnated, this-worldly being in the world. From above, this definitive conception of the church

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of the cross emerges in an attempt to follow the rubric1* below: 1. God’s self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus 2. The relational structure of human existence 3. The historic dialectic of the community of God and others 4. The concrete unity of the reality of God and the reality of the world 5. The responsible community as both a means and end 6. The dialectic of individual (personal) and communal being

Church Praxis Bonhoeffer’s cruciform ecclesiology provides space for broadly defined behavioral functions and forms of a church professing to be Christian. Such a church-community exists in the world as a worshipping, fellowshipping, and witnessing reincarnation of the body of Jesus of Nazareth. How might God’s self-disclosure in the historic revelatory acts of God speaking in the creation of earth and in the words of the biblical witness impact how the church takes shape in the world? How might God’s becoming human manifest itself on earth? How will the church rooted in the worship of the crucified God look to others in society? What characterizes a church-community professing faith in a resurrected body of Jesus? These questions require the study of particular cultures

*

Mark Brocker suggests in his dissertation’s “Conclusion” the above criteria for any definitive concept of the church. As he states, “We have not yet arrived at the definitive concept of the church. The church will be continually on the move until the community of God is consummated in all its fullness. We need to respond again and again to the question of the corporate form of Jesus Christ for us today” (378–379). 330


Conclusion

and subcultures to determine how the answers are displayed those cultures and subcultures. For example, looking at the North American context may reveal that in certain subcultures expressions of God’s self-disclosure are more evident than in certain other subcultures. However this may be so, it is asserted that in its public liturgy—characterized by musics, readings, prayers, and sermon—the church must maintain a dialectic of the mystery of a God who is omnicompetent, yet crucified, the salvific power of the powerless Jesus, and the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit who moves with the wind. In whatever cultural framework, the church must continue to assess its sustaining culture to determine how to incarnate the tension between its ontology as Christian and that of the society to be countercultural if need be. As such, the church is not merely limited to transforming culture, but may serve to liberate culture from itself. Sensitivity toward the relational structure of human existence requires that the church continue to maintain the tension inherent in being a community unto itself while at the same time being in the world for others. While displaying those behaviors which indicate a love for one another which makes “Christ existing as church-community” accessible for the Christian, the local congregation must simultaneously offer “community” to the non-Christian such that faith in the revelatory tenets of Christianity is not mandated and imposed. Bonhoeffer “fellowshipped” with traitors and conspirators in common cause to save his country by becoming unpatriotic. The scandalous fellowship of the Christian church with non-Christians in common cause for the healing of the earth will make it possible to believe that Jesus of Nazareth enjoyed table-fellowship with sinners. To best demonstrate in its worship how the Christian 331


Chapter 6

church evidences the historic community of God and others in reconciliation it may be necessary to take risks with its liturgy of the Eucharist. How might the liturgical celebration of the Lord’s Supper communicate reconciliation in the gospel? Is the giving of the host by the priest to the individually kneeling parishioner the most effective public evidence that the cross possessed a horizontal beam? Does not the giving of the sacrament by one person to another person in an act of confession-forgiveness appropriate to the reality of their particular relationship challenge the so-called “good order” of a “rightly administered” sacrament? Does not this public act of liturgy more effectively model the priesthood of the believer? Good order may need to consider submitting to better ecclesiology in the celebration of Christianity’s most agreed upon act of public worship. A church of the cross will wrestle with the tension and conflict involved in effective modeling of an ecclesiology of reconciliation between brothers and sisters who, when going to one another in confession, are going to God. The shape of the European cathedral in a cross must give way to the “doing of the cross” in the way people publicly celebrate what it means to be a continuously reconciling community of sinners. If the Christian is going to take seriously being concretely unified in both the reality of the world and the reality of God, how might this take shape in its public life? What will the bulletin of its weekly events announce to the congregation and to the local community if it wants to communicate that the church exists for the other beyond purpose-driven self-preservation? How might the church proclaim a Jesus who is the answer to human questions while simultaneously admitting that non-Christian “solutions” to human problems may be more effective? What risks is the Christian church prepared to take to announce the “answers” contained within non-Christian religious traditions 332


Conclusion

which may be superior to its own “answers” while not compromising the truth and mystery of its own tenets? If Jesus is the only reality, how might this be communicated by a church and mosque feeding the hungry in their local community? What is the Christian church prepared to say about how Jesus may be “more really present” in the tikkun of Judaism? If the cross answers no human question and if no philosopher was waiting for God’s arrival as a human baby, how non-religious is the Christian church prepared to be as “the secondary objectivity” of God’s promeity advocating on behalf of the homeless? How will the Christian church maintain its interest in justice without reducing its mission to ethical humanism within a sustaining subculture? How might Bonhoeffer’s “prayer and righteousness action” mantra take shape as an embraced dialectic to avoid “religion” on the one hand and the pitfalls of a misunderstood “secular” on the other hand? What does it mean to say that the Christian church is both a means and an end? If the already-but-not-yet community-on-the-way grasps that “here we have no continuing city,” how might the body of Christ minister to the person whose only apparent reason for living is to turn his body into a bomb in the name of a cause? Or, what might such a church announce to its government regarding economic policies which aid in the creation of communities where the disparate gaps of non-distributed wealth make suicide a normative alternative for human beings? How will the Christian church in North America take persons “off the cross” in the global villages of the world? To the degree that the North American church sees the African dying of HIV/AIDS as Jesus on Golgotha, it will be Christian. That the Christian church within the so-called more “ordered and structured” societies can view being in such a world as a means to proclaiming and working toward the kingdom of God 333


Chapter 6

will become more increasingly necessary in the twenty-first century. Theologically, to the extent that the Christian church can grasp the terror of a righteous God who judges the church in its relationship with persons beyond its own walls may lead to inhibiting those forces fueling the daily acts of terror in the world. Beyond the political and economic explanations for such forces, the church may need to learn from non-Western cultures how systemic “principalities and powers” of the demonic incarnation manifest themselves in those acts of terror which account for the daily destruction of human life. The North American church can simply no longer maintain its naiveté related to the reality of the “spirit world”—a world understood by cultures where the rationalism of the Enlightenment didn’t distort reality. The witness of the North American church to the kingdom of God will become more credible to the degree that it can become countercultural in terms of its permanence on earth. The scandal of the church may be best realised as it decreases its interest in professionalism, construction of its edifices, and use of marketing strategies to maintain its institutional existence. Finally, how might the Christian church of the cross be in the world, dialectically comprised of individuals who don’t lose their individuality as persons while at the same time see the importance of maintaining community? Bonhoeffer spoke of the difference between spiritual community and psychological community. The latter claims nothing of the Holy Spirit; the former defines the term “spiritual” only in terms of the Holy Spirit. Therein lies the uniqueness of the Sanctorum Communio as the local congregation. As spirituality continues to be accessible to personal experience, the Christian church will need to continually distinguish itself from any expression of emotional community which defines its being without the Holy Spirit. The subtleties of these distinctions are often culturally derived and require 334


Conclusion

careful study beyond the parameters of this research. The maintenance of a healthy balance between solitude and community in the life of the Christian church will continue to be critical as the fragmentation and brokenness of individuals and communities continues to characterize our world. The forms that Christian community take as life in community under and from the Word derive from one holy apostolic and catholic church. It will be increasingly important for the twenty-first-century Christian church to see its actions and sufferings as a participation in the distress, promise, and struggle of the entire church. In sum, living on the basis of the secret spiritual disciplines, the church for others can participate in the worldly tasks of ordinary human life by serving without dominating. The church’s vicarious representative work on behalf of the world takes shape by being the objective of God’s ways and by standing in the place where the world should be standing. In so doing, it takes the place for God in the world. As post-Christian society continues to emerge, life in the local congregation and in the larger church will become increasingly significant as the means by which we come to encounter the sources of Christian life in Word and sacrament. The polarity between the discipline of the secret and the worldliness of Christianity is grounded in the eschatological structure of Christian revelation. An ecclesiology of the cross seeks to rediscover this polarity and attempts to express it in concrete terms accessible to the post-Christian context. To the degree that scandal and terror continue to dominate life on the planet, a theological use of scandal conjoins with an ecclesiology of the cross to proclaim that God loves the world through the gift of God’s own reincarnation—the church.

335


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Works by Bonhoeffer Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (English), dbwe, Minneapolis, Fortress. • Sanctorum Communio, Edited by Clifford Green, Vol. 1, 1998. • Act and Being, Edited by Wayne W. Floyd, Volume 2,1996. • Creation and Fall, Edited by John W. de Gruchy, Vol. 3, 1996 • Discipleship, Edited by Geffrey B. Kelly & John D. Godsey, Volume 4, 2000. • Life Together—Prayerbook of the Bible, Edited by Geffrey Kelly, Vol. 5. 1996. Akt und Sein. Edited by Hans-Richard Reuter. Vol. 2, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke. Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1988. Christ the Center. Translated by Edwin H. Robertson. New York: HarperCollins, 1978. Ethics. Translated by Neville H. Smith. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Gesammelte Schriften. Edited by Eberhard Bethge. 6 vols. Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1955–1974. Letters and Papers from Prison. Ed., Eberhard Bethge. New York: Touchstone, 1997.


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“More Bonhoeffer–Barth Correspondence.” Translated by John D. Godsey. Newsletter, International Bonhoeffer Society, English Language Section, No. 22 ( June 1982). No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes. 1928–1936. Edited and introduced by Edwin H. Robertson. Translated by Edwin H. Robertson And John Bowden. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Sanctorum Communio. Edited by Joachim von Soosten. Vol. 1, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werjce. Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1986. Widerstand und Ergebung: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft. Edited by Eberhard Bethge. Revised Edition. Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1977.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Secular Ecclesiology

Through a careful analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s entire written corpus, Paul O. Bischoff places Bonhoeffer’s radical views on the doctrines of Word and Sacrament within the context of traditional Lutheran theology, and the current Finnish dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy. A definitive concept of the church is constructed upon: 1. the relational structure of human existence, the dialectic of individual and communal being, and the historic dialectic of the community of God and others 2. the concrete unity of the reality of God and the reality of the world 3. the responsible community (the church) as a means and an end 4. God’s self-disclosure in Jesus of Nazareth Derived from theologia crucis rooted in Maximus, and interpreted by Luther, a “scandalous” definition of church is proposed whose God is crucified, and whose Savior is simultaneously the vicarious representative and the maximus peccator (the greatest sinner), and whose Holy Spirit indwells the bodies of sinners. Contrary to Western Christianity’s preference for an individualist soteriology, Bonhoeffer emphasizes the communal being of God through his programmatic “Christ-exists-as-church-community.” Special reference is made to Eastern Orthodoxy’s trinitarian doctrine of perichoresis—being-in-relation. Paul O. Bischoff holds the PhD in Theology from the Lutheran

School of Theology at Chicago.

Are Not Books & Publications arenotbooks.com

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Secular Ecclesiology  
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Secular Ecclesiology