CALL FOR PAPERS
New Conversations on Bonhoeffer’s Theology
A Graduate Student Conference at the University of Notre Dame
April 10-11, 2011
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45) remains one of the most prominent and contested modern German theologians. His theology has been at the center of important discussions on pastoral theology, practical ethics, political responsibility, and the role of the Christian in the modern world. Bonhoeffer’s dramatic involvement in the assassination plot against Hitler, and consequent execution, has no doubt contributed to the widespread interest in his work. Today he is among the most widely read theologians in North America and Europe. Recent scholarship on Bonhoeffer’s theology, while attentive to these earlier discussions, has branched out in new directions. First, there has been increased interest in Bonhoeffer’s early and more academic works. Second, a number of recent studies have drawn Bonhoeffer into debates in continental philosophy and other disciplines. Third, there has been a renewed attentiveness to Bonhoeffer’s early twentieth-century theological and historical context. These developments indicate a growing interest in reading Bonhoeffer along systematic, philosophical and historical lines. Fourth, closer attention to Bonhoeffer’s engagement of Catholic interlocutors along these same lines has raised new prospects for Protestant-Catholic dialogue. The purpose of this conference is to draw together and further these developments.
New Conversations will feature papers by graduate students and senior scholars from North America and Europe, including:
Robin Lovin (Southern Methodist University)
Christiane Tietz (Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz)
Bernd Wannenwetsch (Oxford University)
Gerald McKenny, Randall Zachman, Cyril O’Regan, Krista Duttenhaver and other Notre Dame faculty will chair graduate student paper sessions.
We cordially invite graduate students to submit a one page abstract by 1 December 2010 to NDBonhoeffer@gmail.com for a paper 25 minutes in length. Please also indicate full contact details and institutional affiliation. We especially encourage abstracts on Bonhoeffer’s theology in relation to the following:
Early 20th century theology and history
Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist theology
Hans Urs von Balthasar
Ethics and moral theology
Enquiries may be directed to Adam Clark and Mike Mawson at NDBonhoeffer@gmail.com. New Conversations intends to provide accommodations for all student presenters and some travel costs for European students.
This event is sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and the Notre Dame Theology Department.
Reading the apocalyptic “Kingdom-World-Church” theses alongside my current work on Sobrino raised the question for me as to whether or not Sobrino is an apocalyptic thinker (and, if so, in what way). Sobrino does not seem to fit with a number of key representatives of apocalyptic in contemporary theology: although Sobrino certainly wants an interruption of the oppressive status quo, he is quite at home with the language of utopia and does not provide a sustained critique of evolutionary time as in Metz’s apocalyptic theology; although he argues that we must be open to the unexpected, transformative power of grace, he does not endorse the dialectic of Barth’s apocalyptic; although immersed in Scripture, the Book of Revelation does not play a central role as in Balthasar’s apocalyptic. Nevertheless, it does seem as though there are at least some apocalyptic elements in Sobrino’s thought.
We can see this first in the urgent and conflictual quality to Sobrino’s work as he tries to give us a new vision of God and the world. Sobrino regularly describes the teachings of Jesus, the Christian life, and the situation of the poor as dialectical: “in order to affirm the truth of God, positive affirmation is insufficient if we do not at the same time adduce the negative affirmation” (Jesus the Liberator, 186). Jesus does not just announce Good News, he condemns oppression of the poor and weak; Jesus not only preaches and acts on behalf of the Kingdom, he opposes the anti-Kingdom and pays the price for such opposition. Christians must follow Jesus in serving the God of Life against the many idols of death in our world. Moreover, poverty itself is a dialectical reality: the poverty of the Third World is a direct consequence of the opulence of the First World and true solidarity with the poor demands opposition to the rich and powerful. As is in the case in much of apocalyptic discourse, Sobrino’s stark contrast between Kingdom/anti-Kingdom and poor/rich is an urgent call to action. Drawing upon Ellacuría’s notion of “being honest with reality,” Sobrino’s apocalyptic rhetoric reveals the crisis in reality and includes an urgent demand to side with the Kingdom and the poor. Second, in Sobrino’s treatment of biblical apocalyptic, he argues that most central is “a human longing that in the end there will be justice, that the butcher will not triumph over the victim” (Christ the Liberator, 39). This builds upon the dialectic above and adds the dimension of hope for the victim, an “apocalyptic hope in the triumph of justice…made real” is the resurrection of Jesus (42). And as with the previous dimension, this hope is intimately connected to praxis: a hope for the victims is true hope when is leads to a praxis of removing the crucified victims from the cross within history. Finally, in his Spaces of Apocalyptic, Cyril O’Regan concludes with a brief point on the centrality of martyrdom is some apocalyptic. I do not know of any other contemporary theologian who places more emphasis on martyrdom than Sobrino. The martyrs of El Salvador are the source and content for much of his thinking. For Sobrino, the martyrs are the victims of conflict between the Kingdom and anti-Kingdom; the martyrs give vision, by revealing (oppressive) truth of the world.
Do these three elements make Sobrino an apocalyptic thinker? I am not so sure. As I think through this, I continually return to a distinction between apocalyptic and prophetic rhetoric. These are obviously related but not identical. Each of ‘apocalyptic elements’ that I describe in Sobrino seem to be points shared in common by prophetic and apocalyptic discourses – condemnation of oppression and idolatry, dramatic and urgent rhetoric, an inclusion of hope even in dire times, and personal sacrifice just to name a few; characteristics unique to apocalyptic – divine interruption, a focus on divine over human agency in transforming an oppressive situation, highly imaginative visions, etc. – are not really dominant in Sobrino’s thought and would seem to be at odds with his emphasis on the transformation of structures in history through human agency. As an exception, one place where Sobrino may be genuinely apocalyptic is his highly conflictual construal of history as a whole as a war of sorts between the Kingdom and anti-Kingdom in which the former are represented by the oppressed victims of history and the latter by the rich and powerful. Given this, perhaps we can say that Sobrino is a prophetic thinker whose discourse is tinged with apocalyptic.
On the drive up to Chicago yesterday, I listened to a handful of the New Testament podcasts Todd pointed to a week or so ago—which, incidentally, are really, really good. It’s immediately clear how good of a teacher Goodacre must be, and they would be worth listening to as a pedagogical model even if they weren’t helpful in substance. But then, of course, they are helpful in substance, if relatively basic.
Anyway, listening to a few of Goodacre’s mini-lectures on the Gospels reminded me of how outstanding the gospel writers are as theological stylists, undoubtedly better than many of the figures I put on my list. The genre itself is genius, and in each case it’s executed with really surprising creativity. The quiet riffs on older scriptural themes and figures, the way explicit points are also made to function as structural patterns of the whole narrative, the sheer number of ideas that arise solely from the story’s form, never once hammered didactically through a particular character…
I do think that any narrative-form genre has a massive stylistic advantage over expository genres. When narrative writers have some theological or philosophical point to make, they’re really forced to express it through the form of the piece rather than saying it directly (or else end up with a pretty terrible story). Most philosophers and theologians, accustomed to saying everything directly, don’t feel any need to say anything at the more elusive and difficult level of form.
We must simply try to realize clearly and soberly that a spiritual union with God cannot be regarded as something which grows in inverse proportion to the belonging to the material world…’separation from the body’ for the soul in death does not by a long way need to mean ipso facto a greater nearness to God. Remoteness-from-the-world and nearness-to-God are not interchangeable notions, however much we are accustomed to think in such a framework. The deceased remain therefore (despite the visio beatifica) united with the fate of the world…
The end of the world is… the perfection and total achievement of saving history which had already come into full operation and gained its decisive victory in Jesus Christ and in his resurrection. In this sense his coming takes place at this consummation in power and glory…his Second Coming takes place at the moment of the perfecting of the world into the reality which he already possesses now, in such a way that he, the Godman, will be revealed to all reality and, within it, to every one of its parts in its own way, as the innermost secret and centre of all the world and of all history. This is the context into which we must fit what we call the resurrection of the body in the strict sense. The history – which has remained within the framework of the world – of those who by their lives have already effected their personal finality, reaches its real completion and explicit expression together with the consummation of the world. These human beings now become achieved as totalities with soul and body, and their perfection, already begun in death, becomes itself perfected, tangible in the world, embodied. We cannot really imagine the ‘how’ of this bodily consummation. But we can say in our faith together with God’s revelation: I believe, that we will one day be the living, the complete and achieved ones, in the whole expanse and in all the dimensions of our existence; I believe that what we call the material in us and in the world surrounding us (without really being able to say what it is basically, what belongs to its essence and what only to its temporary form and appearance) is not simply identical with what is unreal and mere appearance, with what has been cast off once and for all and which passes away before the final state of man…
Anyone who disposes of the earthly world and dismisses the perfected man from this earth for good, spiritualistically or existentially or in whatever other way, directing him into a beatitude of (supposedly) pure spirits, stultifies and betrays the true reality of man, the child of this earth. Whoever lets man perish, ground to pieces in the cruel mill of Nature, does not know what spirit and person are, and does not know how much more real, in spite of all their apparent weakness, the spirit and the person are than all the matter and energy of physics. Whoever does not believe that both of them, once reconciled, can come to the one completion, denies in the last analysis that the one God has created spirit and matter in one act for one end. The Christian, however, is the man with the complete solution. This solution is the most difficult, the least synoptical. The belief for this solution and the courage for such a solution he draws from the Word of God alone. But God’s Word testifies to the resurrection of the body. For the Word himself became flesh. He did not assume something unreal but something created. But whatever is created by God is never something merely negative, is never the veil of maya. Whatever has been created by God, assumed by Christ and transfigured by his Death and Resurrection, is also destined to finality and consummation in us.
Karl Rahner, “The Resurrection of the Body,” Theological Investigations 2.211, 213-216
For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I find metaphors involving weight extremely moving and compelling. It’s a fairly common trope, at least since Augustine—who talked occasionally about how the pondus voluntatis et amoris, the weight of desire and love, was the real ordering principle in the cosmos. I ran into it again recently in Dante (who probably gets it directly from Augustine). Beatrice has to explain to him, when they first pass into Paradise, how his body is able to speed upwards towards and beyond the moon: because the weight of love allows one to fly, as surely as a waterfall pours faithfully to the earth.
And now this wonderful passage, from Kierkegaard’s discourse on the birds of the air:
And yet, yet human language has not ever, and thought has not ever, invented a more beautiful symbol of independence than the poor bird of the air. And yet, yet no speech can be more curious than to say that it must be very hard and heavy to be—light as the bird! To be dependent on one’s treasure—that is dependence and hard and heavy slavery; to be dependent on God, completely dependent—that is independence…. Dependence on God is the only independence, because God has no gravity; only the things of this earth, especially earthly treasure, have that—therefore the person who is completely dependent on him is light. (Upbuilding Discourses, 182)
A couple months ago I expressed some reservations regarding how liberation theology is appropriated near the end of the Kingdom-World-Church theses posted over at Inhabitatio Dei. A bit later I posted a couple quotes from Roberto Goizueta that reinforced a couple of my points. Last week Halden noted the critiques some have made regarding the theses and their relation to liberation theology (I don’t know if he had mine in mind or not) and provided a lengthy quote from Leonardo Boff in support of the appropriation of liberation theology within the theses.
The quote from Boff illustrates very well the ways in which the authors of the theses rightfully draw upon liberation theology and the ‘church of the poor’ within their work. Contrary to ‘ecclesiocentric’ theologies, Boff, Sobrino, and others de-center the church vis-a-vis the Kingdom of God and the poor. As I mention in my first post, the de-centering of the church in view of the Kingdom is a significant point of agreement. The inclusion of the ‘church of the poor’ within this de-centering further shows the commonality with liberation theologians. These points are important and thus I do not think that the engagement with liberation theology is merely superficial.
Nevertheless, significant divergences seem to remain (and remain unaddressed in Halden’s new post, which simply reinforces the point of agreement I just described and affirmed in my original post). There were two main issues I raised that still remain.
First, it is stated in thesis 11 that the preferential option not only lies at the center of the mission of the church, it is the mission. This needs to be further explored, as the general flow of the theses does not seems to support this claim. I illustrated this in my first post by looking the critical reading of liturgy in the 4th thesis. Many liberation theologians offer critiques of liturgy and ritual in a way that flows directly from the preferential option for the poor . They worry that liturgy can devalue human action in such a way that we become passive before God and pacified before oppression. The critique of liturgy in the 4th thesis does not seem to be shaped in the slightest by the preferential option as the mission of the church; rather the danger of liturgy and the devaluation of God’s action the temptation of (ecclesial) self-aggrandizement.
The second has to do with what is meant by “church of the poor” or the “preferential option.” Although the theses still need to be expanded, I think we can see the authors affirming the preferential option in terms of ethics/solidarity and for our understanding of God (in theses 10 and 11). The further question is whether or not (or how) they understand the preferential option in terms of theological method. This aspect is absolutely essential within Latin American liberation theology (including in Sobrino’s No Salvation Outside the Poor, the work cited in thesis 11). This aspect was shown in one of the quotes from Goizueta in my earlier post (“The preferential option for the poor is nothing other than the assertion that the crucified people of history are the privileged mediators of God’s mercy in the church and in the world. The crucified people are the privileged historical mediation of the crucified and risen Christ in the world. When they extend mercy, they embody Christ’s own offer to the apostles after the resurrection: ‘Peace be with you'”). It is also clear in Sobrino’s affirmation of the preferential option as ‘pre-theological’; and even clearer in Juan Luis Segundo: the option for the poor is the hermeneutical key for the Gospel, “the antecedent element required in order to interpret the gospel and keep its letter from killing”; “the epistemological premise for an interpretation of the word of God”; “the human attitude that we adopt, on our own responsibility and at our own risk, toward the Word of God, before reading that Word” (Segundo, “The Option for the Poor” in Signs of the Times, 120, 122, 126). For Goizueta, Segundo, Sobrino, and many others, the preferential option demands not only a different way of being Church (the focus of the theses), but also a very different way of doing theology (not represented in the theses).
A further point related to this which needs to at least be mention (and it is gestured at in Halden’s newest post in his concern about Boff’s notion of ‘mediation’) is the view of the poor as ‘sacraments’ of God. This is shown well in the Goizueta quote above. The way this is often described within liberation theology would seem to go against the apocalyptic, Barthian shape of the theses as a whole, and yet it shapes the methodology of many liberation theologians in a way that I assume would not be acceptable within the theses.
The theses are, of course, theses. They await further development and Halden’s latest post promises us further exploration. As they develop their notions of the preferential option and the church of the poor, I hope they not only continue to draw on the points of agreement mentioned at the beginning, but also focus in on those points where they seem to diverge significantly with essential aspects of Latin American liberation theology.
Some may already know about these but I just starting listening to Duke Professor Mark Goodacre’s podcasts on the New Testament. You can find them here or just search “NT Pod” on itunes. The podcasts provide remarkably clear introductions to a variety of topics and there are a few series of podcasts that are quite helpful as a group (e.g. on the Synoptic Problem, on the Passion Narratives). Most of the podcasts are around 10 minutes, although sometimes he puts up extended 50 minutes versions (the longer ones are edited recordings of his NT class and for these he also includes copies of his handouts from class).