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Thursday, August 25, 2011  

Some Bonhoeffer for Sunday's Preachers

I have an article coming out eventually that dwells on this subject at greater length, but I wanted to share this passage from Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison for general edification and especially for anyone who's working with the Romans text for Sunday's sermon (it's from "Outline for a Book," in note form so forgive the choppiness):

Who is God? Not in the first place an abstract belief in God, in his omnipotence etc. That is not a genuine experience of God, but a partial extension of the world. Encounter with Jesus Christ. The experience that a transformation of all human life is given in the fact that "Jesus is there only for others." His "being there for others" is the experience of transcendence. It is only this "being there for others," maintained til death, that is the ground of his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Faith is participation in this being of Jesus (incarnation, cross, and resurrection). Our relation to God is not a "religious" relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable--that is not authentic transcendence--but our relation to God is a new life in "existence for others," through participation in the being of Jesus. The transcendental is not infinite and unattainable tasks, but the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation. God in human form--not, as in oriental religions, in animal form, monstrous, chaotic, remote, and terrifying, nor in the conceptual forms of the absolute, metaphysical, infinite, etc., nor yet in the Greek divine-human form of "man in himself," but as "the man for others," and therefore the Crucified, the man who lives out of the transcendent.

Letters and Papers (New York: Macmillan) 1971, pp. 380-81 (emphasis added).

Many of us do not find such language shocking (though I wonder what Bonhoeffer's new admirers among American evangelicalism think about this sort of thing), but there's something about seeing it put this way back when the church bodies in which most of us live and work had not given up on putting Humpty Dumpty together again. I find it very beautiful not so much as a repudiation of Christian theology but as a consummation of it. "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And to know the place for the first time."

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