Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology of the world as a key to understanding his political involvement
This dissertation addresses a classic problem in Bonhoeffer studies. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) claimed to be a pacifist early in his career and arguably remained one throughout his middle writings (1933–1939). In 1939, however, he joined a group of conspirators who tried to kill Hitler. Though not directly involved in the attempted murder, Bonhoeffer did give his approval and provided other forms of support. There have been several scholarly attempts to understand and explain Bonhoeffer's changed form of political involvement. The thesis of this dissertation consists of three interrelated arguments: (1) a study of Bonhoeffer's writings reveals four distinct understandings of the church-world relationship in four distinct phases of his career; (2) his thinking on the church-world relationship is an accurate indicator of his form of political involvement in each phase and (3) his response to his circumstances manifested in breaks in his understanding of the church-world relationship and, therefore, corresponding breaks in his forms of political involvement. The argument begins by organizing the existing scholarship on Bonhoeffer's changed form of political involvement into two approaches: (1) judging Bonhoeffer's change against a “definition of pacifism” and (2) looking at the changes in his forms of political involvement in relationship with a particular theological category as Bonhoeffer encountered changing life circumstances (the “theological categories in context approach”). The strengths and weaknesses of these approaches are judged. Using the second approach, the dissertation argues that Bonhoeffer's understanding of the church-world relationship is the category that most effectively explains his forms of political involvement. Changes in this category, as opposed to changes in the categories Ethics and Christology, are a consistent indicator of changes in his forms of political involvement through the four phases (Church and World in Tension, Church and World in Heightened Tension, Church Against World and Church as World). Finally, the dissertation argues that using the church-world relationship appropriates the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of the other scholarly approaches and thus provides the most comprehensive solution to the classic problem of Bonhoeffer's changing forms of political involvement. ^
David M Gides,
"Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology of the world as a key to understanding his political involvement"
(January 1, 2005).
ETD Collection for Fordham University.