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Bonhoeffer Seminar

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve been checking in recently you know I have not posted anything for a while. I have been attending a seminar on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Chicago, as a part of my D.Min. program. I have some time to kill here at the airport, so I thought I would give some preliminary thoughts on the seminar. It will take me quite some time to process everything that I learned this weekend, but I can make a start.

1.  With the publication of all of Bonhoeffer’s works in English there is a real explosion of scholarly work in the life and theology of Bonhoeffer. Only two volumes remain to be published in the DBWE, and one will be released very shortly. At least one additional biography is in the works. This phenomenon was discussed, and it was agreed that some theologians make a big splash and then disappear (kind of like New Coke). However, if the thoughts of a theologian continue to be relevant 60+ years after his death, and new works continue to be written about him, that is a pretty good indication that his works are valuable and need to be considered.

2.  It was fascinating watching the difference in speaking styles between some foreign scholars (Aberdeen, Scotland and Cambridge, England) and some younger American scholars. The younger scholars were far more animated and used PowerPoint, the older Americans and the foreign scholars were more polished and “distinguished.”

3.  It is amazing how exhausted you can be if all you do all day is sit and listen to lectures. Honestly, I would leave the hotel at 8:00, not return until 9:30 that night, and except for some walking to the cafeteria and back all I did was listen to lectures and do a little bit of reading. And I am absolutely fried. Part of that was a lack of sleep. And part of that was a major overload of coffee. And part of that was having to stay awake for a grinding schedule of lectures. I need some sleep!

4.  I learned so much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One lecture in particular focused on his time in New York, when he attended the Abyssinian Baptist church in Harlem. Working with the blacks in New York (through the friendship with a young black student at Union Theological Seminary) had a profound impact on Bonhoeffer – maybe THE defining moment of his life. He was stunned by the treatment of blacks in the U.S., and confidently spoke that the same thing would never happen in Germany. His brother wrote to him letting him know that major changes were taking place in Germany while he was gone (1930-31). Bonhoeffer was horrified when he returned home and saw what was happening to the Jews. Any nation, at any time can revert to pure animalism if vigilance is not maintained. And don’t think that “Christianity” will save any nation. The German Christians were in full support of Hitler’s policies. It was only the “Confessing Church” in Germany that raised any objections to Hitler, and they only offered up whimpers. It was Bonhoeffer that was THE vocal critic of the Nazi program, and it started with him when he saw the mistreatment of the blacks in NY.

5.  In spite of all the new research being done on Bonhoeffer, much remains to be done, and God willing, I would like to be a part of that conversation. I obviously have a lot of work to do for this particular course, but maybe I can formulate a good thesis and actually do my D.Min. final project on an aspect of Bonhoeffer’s ministry. All in good time, I hope.

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