(47) SE5: Bonhoeffer, Pacifist or Assassin? [Part 2]

Today, April 9, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's execution. In the previous episode we took a look at the historical evidence for Bonhoeffer's sustained pacifism, despite the common narrative that he was executed for an attempt to assassinate Hitler. In this episode, we dig into just a few pieces of the book, "Bonhoeffer the Assassin?" which I believe accentuate and complete our series on consequentialism.

*around 59:30 I intend to say prostitution is a secular endeavor, not a sacred one

"Nationalism and internationalism have to do with political necessities and possibilities. The ecumenical Church, however, does not concern itself with these things, but with the commandments of God, and regardless of consequences it transmits these commandments to the world. Our task as theologians, accordingly, consists only in accepting this commandment as a binding one, not as a question open to discussion. Peace on earth is not a problem, but a commandment given at Christ’s coming. There are two ways of reacting to this command from God: the unconditional, blind obedience of action, or the hypocritical question of the Serpent: “Yea, hath God said . . . ?” This question is the mortal enemy of obedience, and therefore the mortal enemy of all real peace. . . . “Must God not have meant that we should talk about peace, to be sure, but that it is not to be literally translated into action? Must God not really have said that we should work for peace, of course, but also make ready tanks and poison gas for security?” And then perhaps the most serious question: “Did God say you should not protect your own people? Did God say you should leave your own a prey to the enemy?” No, God did not say all that. What He has said is that there shall be peace among men—that we shall obey Him without further question, that is what He means. He who questions the commandment of God before obeying has already denied Him. . . . For the members of the ecumenical Church, in so far as they hold to Christ, His word, His commandment of peace is more holy, more inviolable than the most revered words and works of the natural world. For they know that whoso is not able to hate father and mother for His sake is not worthy of Him, and lies if he calls himself after Christ’s name. These brothers in Christ obey His word; they do not doubt or question, but keep His commandment of peace. They are not ashamed, in defiance of the world, even to speak of eternal peace. They cannot take up arms against Christ himself—yet this is what they do if they take up arms against one another! Even in anguish and distress of conscience there is for them no escape from the commandment of Christ that there shall be peace. How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying defenseless, and for that very reason protected by “a bulwark never failing”? 

"In Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of the love commandment, it becomes clear precisely why this model of moral engagement between Jesus and his disciples is so necessary: by nature the would-be follower of Jesus is unable to love his or her enemy. Only after being encountered with God’s free commanding power in Christ can one be enabled to so love. As Bonhoeffer says, Loving one’s enemies is not only an unbearable offense to the natural person. It demands more than the strength a natural person can muster, and it offends the natural concepts of good and evil. But even more important, loving one’s enemies appears to people living according to the law [i.e., Old Testament Torah] to be a sin against God’s law itself. 

What is commonly said from the pulpits about [peace], if it is mentioned at all, would . . . “be just as possible, if Christ had never become incarnate, died, ascended to heaven, and sent His Spirit.” We are ineffective precisely because we are disobedient. In a theological and ecclesiastical climate . . . where any literal application of the Gospel is suspect of “Schwärmertum” and where only the ex-pacifist is respectable, it will take some time and not a little humility to admit, especially for those trained in the school of the great Reformers, that at this point in question the Mennonite minority has been, and still is right: “not because it (nonresistance) works, but because it anticipates the triumph of the Lamb that was slain.” 566"

"387 The penultimate must be preserved for the ultimate, even as the ultimate upholds the value of the penultimate. This, in part, is where Bonhoeffer’s thinking in “Christ, Reality, and Good” is headed. As we further track the structure of his logic in the formative manuscript, we see that since God is the ultimate reality, the purpose of Christian ethics is not moral growth or “making the world a better place,” as some ethical systems would have it, but witness to God’s ultimate goodness, even if such a witness comes at the expense of improvement. 388 This does not mean, of course, that the pursuit of theocentric goals will inevitably lead to demoralization, guilt, or neglect of the world’s needs, but it does at least radically transform the rationale for pursuing these penultimate ends even as it may call them into question more broadly."   

"When reality as a whole is divided into a churchly realm and a worldly realm, the tendency is to envision each realm as mutually exclusive and self-contained. This is problematic because it contributes to the autonomy of both realms. Thus there develops a notion that the world behaves according to laws of its own, while the church is supposed to live according to another, wholly different set of laws. The more definite and absolute the lines are drawn between church and world, the greater the alienation of the church from the world and the world from the church. Bonhoeffer suggests as much when he says, “Realm thinking as static thinking is, theologically speaking, legalistic thinking. . . . Where the worldly establishes itself as an autonomous sector, this denies the fact of the world’s being accepted in Christ, the grounding of the reality of the world in revelational reality, and thereby the validity of the gospel for the whole world.” Similarly, when the Christian realm is understood as autonomous, the world is cut off from the community of God formed in Christ. Bonhoeffer concludes, “A Christianity that withdraws from the world falls prey to unnaturalness, irrationality, triumphalism, and arbitrariness.” 393 Bonhoeffer’s language is quite insistent on this particular point because the more absolutely one distinguishes between “church” and “world,” the more damage one does to the church, the world, and ultimately to the perceived efficacy of Christ. The church becomes alienated from the world, preoccupied with its own internal order, or, alternatively, it becomes increasingly hostile to the world of unbelief. The world, on the other hand, is left entirely to its own devices and to its own self-understanding. In this way the universal scope of the incarnation is undermined, and reality is no longer reality from, in, and toward Christ. Rather, a totalizing definition of the world is articulated in which Christ is simply one parochial element among others. In dogmatic terms, justification is aborted."

“Instead of being a program that we can run, “formation occurs only by being drawn into the form of Jesus Christ, by being conformed to the unique form of the one who became human, was crucified, and is risen. This does not happen as we strive ‘to become like Jesus,’ as we customarily say, but as the form of Jesus Christ himself so works on us that it molds us, conforming our form to Christ’s own (Gal. 4: 9). Christ remains the only one who forms.” 415 Bonhoeffer’s point is that Christians do not remake the world with ideas distilled from Scripture or even Christ’s teachings. After all, Jesus did not come to teach a revised form of piety, but to form human creatures anew. The reason Bonhoeffer rejects a view of Christ as “essentially” a teacher is rooted in this central concern: if Christ is primarily a teacher, then it is what he teaches rather than who he is that is of central importance. Bonhoeffer suggests that when this occurs, inevitably a moral ideal or a system of moral principles stands as substitute for Jesus Christ.”

★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★

@ 2019 The Fourth Way