Saturday, April 23, 2016

"objective relevance", "subjective apprehension"

"It was an intolerable truncation of the Christian message when the older Protestantism steered the whole doctrine of the atonementand with it, ultimately, the whole of theologyinto the cul de sac of the question of the individual experience of grace, which is always an anxious one when taken in isolation, the question of individual conversion by it and to it, and of its presuppositions and consequences. The almost inevitable result was that the great concepts of justification and sanctification came more and more to be understood and filled out psychologically and biographically, and the doctrine of the Church seemed to be of value only as a description of the means of salvation and grace indispensable to this individual and personal process of salvation. We will only ask in passing whether and to what extent Luther's well-known question in the cloister-which was and will always be useful at its own time and place-contributed if only by way of temptation to this truncation, or whether it is simply an aberration first of orthodoxy and then of the Pietism which began in it and followed it. What is more to the point is to remember (and this, too, is something we can only mention) that we will do well not to allow ourselves to be crowded again into the same cul de sac on the detour via Kierkegaard.
     "Certainly the question of the subjective apprehension of atonement by the individual man is absolutely indispensable. And it belongs properly to the concluding section of the doctrine of reconciliation-yet not in the first place, but in the second. . . ."

     Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, trans. Bromiley (1956 []), p. 150.

An unprincipled pacifism

"In March 2004 I met with Dietlinde Jehle, the widow of Bonhoeffer’s pacifist friend [Herbert Jehle].  As we looked through his papers we came across a letter announcing Bonhoeffer’s death.  It was from [the lifelong Lutheran pacifist] Franz Hildebrandt, who couldn’t believe that Bonhoeffer would have been personally involved in the 20 July 1944 plot to kill Hitler.  So I asked Mrs Jehle, who was herself a Quaker and a pacifist:  'Your husband Herbert, the Quaker and peace activist who[m] Bonhoeffer converted to pacifism, what did he think about Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the plot?'  Her answer was quick and definite:  'Oh, he had to do it!'  It was clear from this exchange that Herbert Jehle both supported what Bonhoeffer did and at the same time did not believe that he had abandoned his Christian peace ethic."

     Clifford J. Green, "Pacifism and tyrannicide:  Bonhoeffer's peace ethic," Studies in Christian ethics 18, no. 3 (December 2005):  46 (31-47).
     Green's point is that Bonhoeffer's "Christian peace ethic" was rooted in "his Christology, his understanding of discipleship and the Sermon on the Mount, his way of reading the Bible, and his understanding of the gospel and of the church" (45), but not justificatory ethical principles.  Still, I'm not yet seeing how it (as explicated by Green) differed really from a responsible and theologically informed Christian position on, say, "just war".  For to say that, in joining the plot to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer was drawing upon "the [well-developed] tradition of [Christian reflection upon] tyrannicide", "not assassination or murder" (41)albeit by way of "core theological beliefs, rather than . . . the sort of principles found in the just war doctrine" (42))is already to admit that "absolute pacifism is unsustainable".  Indeed, very little of the logic outlined on pp. 41 ff. isn't native to a properly theological "just war" approach.  Indeed, the emphasis on the importance of "free, responsible action" in a case such as that faced by Bonhoeffer, for whom tyrannicide was, nevertheless, clearly "contrary to the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount" (43 ff.), when coupled with the insistence that "followers of Jesus are always completely alone, single individuals who can act and make decisions finally only by themselves" (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, trans. Green & Krauss, DBW 4 (2001), 135), would seem to cut against the importance to Green (and the "just war" tradition!) of the fact that Bonhoeffer "was not an individual acting on a self-appointed mission", but rather a member “of a substantial German resistance movement led by top military officers, lawyers, government officials, labour leaders and others" and abetted by "an international consensus of governments and church leaders—not least the entire Allied military operation" (Green, 41).
     I therefore look forward to an expansion upon the further step taken in "How to read Bonhoeffer's peace statements:  Or, Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran and not an Anabaptist," by Michael Dejonge (Theology 118, no. 3 (2015):  162-171), which is tantalizingly incomplete.