Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bonhoeffer a Man for Our Times?

Here I want to pick up an undeveloped thought in my previous post. Bethge's subtitle of his Bonhoeffer biography has been rolling around in my head "Theologian Christian Man for his time". It is the last phrase "man for his time" which is in contrast as it seems we wish Bonhoeffer to be a man for our time. Yet what if Bonhoeffer in some sense can only be at play in our midst if he is never ours, never easily and simply for us and our time. What if we are perhas people of his time? We perhaps belong more to Bonhoeffer than Bonhoeffer will ever belong to us.  I doubt he will ever serve our purposes: mainline, academic, evangelical, fundamentalist, post-Christian, post-modern, post-Christendom. If we allow Bethge's presentation of  Bonhoeffer as someone given up to his time it may free us to  an encounter with Bonhoeffer that allows him to be at play in our midst, and will never possessed by any of us. Can we allow Bonhoeffer to be other and still speak to us, who ever we ar? Can we be lead to Christ through Bonhoeffer's witness as a man for his time. Will we allow Bonhoeffer the place of the continually unsettling saint, who shows us an undomesticated God.

Bethge's subtitle summarizes his own sense of a progression and thread in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life. First he was a theologian, who as he developed as a theologian also became a Christian. The theologian and Christian then become a man for his time, which lead to his (early) death at the hands of the Nazis. While Bethge sees a progression, it isn't that the early Bonhoeffer the theologian wasn't a Christian or a man for his time, but as things progressed in his life he was lead upon a certain intensifying trajectory, that lead (rightly) to a flouring of things that were only in bud at an earlier period of his life. In some sense one may say that Bonhoeffer's life was one of continual conversion, where he continually sought to take up the cross of Christ anew. In a sense it is this Christocentric and cruciform understanding of the theologian Bonhoeffer that made him a Christian, and this way of being a Christian, one who answered the call to come and die, lead him to be a man for his times and his death.

Another way of saying all this is to say that Bonhoeffer was a man for his time, because he was taken up into Christ, because Bonhoeffer surrendered himself wholly up to Christ. He was a man for his time because Dietrich Bonhoeffer the theologian and Christian took up his cross and followed Christ where Christ lead. Where Christ lead was into conspiracy, prison, and execution.

This is the challenge of Bonhoeffer for us: he followed Christ and simply(not unthinkingly) and radically calls us to that same discipleship. This means though that Bonhoeffer stands apart from us and our time. Bonhoeffer's witness is then to open us up to the cruciform nature of our existence before God so that we may be people of our times, in this same radical way of taking up of the Cross and following Jesus Christ.

We who might lament the fragments of his letters and papers from prison, the unformed thoughts and theologies - "religionless Christianity"- are then called to see his life as offering which give us a whole and complete Bonhoeffer, meaning that on their own his last words are meaningless. There is only Bonhoeffer who did not survive the Nazis. There is no Theologian after for us. In that sense Bonhoeffer can not speak to us who are wishing and seeking to be freed of our agony by some solution that will save our petty Christianities, our precious fragmented identities we unthinkingly call Christians and label "church". Bonhoeffer will always be other than what we feel we need. Bonhoeffer will never speak life into our tightly held human identities we wrap in spiritual language of self-justification. He wont even breath life into our lifeless theologies and piety. He can only stand outside all our fragments and agony's that as often as not have little if anything to do with the suffering of Christ, and call us to the only identity that matters for the world. Bonhoeffer stands as one who allowed Christ to be all in all, that he could give his all to his time, and proclaim, as one who wholly belonged to Christ, Christ to the world.

Bonhoeffer can't offer us any answers to our troubled times, except in the offering of his life to Christ for the World. This is the silent proclamation of the one who is for others, Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer is for us only to the extent that we in the same way we will take up the Cross and follow Christ, and struggle and suffer as Christ Suffered. Bonhoeffer is for us only to the extent that we are for our times by being taken up into Christ. For in the end Bonhoeffer was a man for his times because he gave himself over to Christ and the Cross as being for others.