While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.
History and Good  (246-298)
I’ve summarised the second draft of ‘History and Good’ first, however I’ve also included something on the first draft below.
The theme of this chapter is how to live ‘responsibly’. Primarily we are responsible for giving a response to the questions people ask about Jesus (255). In doing this we do not take responsibility for ourselves, justifying ourselves, but for Christ, answering for Him (255-256).
The structure of responsible life
In this section Bonhoeffer describes the structure of responsible life with the concepts of vicarious representative action, accordance with reality, taking on guilt, and freedom. I have focused on the latter two.
‘The structure of responsible life is determined in a twofold manner, namely by life’s bond to human beings and to God, and by the freedom of one’s own life it is this bond of life to human beings and to God that constitutes the freedom of our own life. ‘ (257)
Responsible action ‘involves both willingness to become guilty [Bereitschaft zur Schuldubernahme] and freedom.’ (275) So, for example, there will be extraordinary circumstances that dictate that one cannot strictly observe laws of state. This is acceptable because Christians have ‘free responsibility’ before God (274). Jesus is the ultimate picture of one who acted responsibly and broke laws, becoming guilty, ‘for love’ (275, 278-279). ‘Those who act out of free responsibility are justified before others by dire necessity [Not]; before themselves they are acquitted by their conscience, but before God they hope only for grace.’ (282-283)
Christians should not act against their conscience but our natural consciences should be ‘set free in Jesus Christ’ so that He becomes our conscience, not laws (278). Likewise we are not to be guided by principles. Bonhoeffer criticises Kant’s ‘grotesque conclusion’ that one should always tell the truth, even when that means telling a murderer where someone is hiding in your house (279). Things are not that simple. ‘Responsible action must decide not simply between right and wrong, good and evil, but between right and right, wrong and wrong.’ (284) Humans do their best in Christ and God ‘looks upon the heart, weighs the deeds, and guides history’ (284).
The place of responsibility
Here Bonhoeffer considers what we are responsible for. Where do the limits of our responsibility lie? Central to the answer is the concept of vocation.
Life in Christ is the Christian’s vocation, his responsibility. ‘This rules our two disastrous misunderstandings, that of cultural Protestantism and that of monasticism.’ (290) I.e. we are not to simply perform our earthly vocations faithfully (as workers, parents, etc.), and we are not to escape from the world. Also, as vocation is not restricted to certain aspects of our lives, our call to life in Christ as a vocation should affect all areas of our life. ‘Vocation is responsibility, and responsibility is the whole response of the whole person to reality as a whole.’ (293)
Finally, Bonhoeffer speaks out against not only legalism but also ‘enthusiastic transgressions‘ of the law (294). Any transgression of a law should aim to ultimately reinforce it. ‘The suspension of the law must only serve its true fulfilment. In war, for example, there is killing, lying, and seizing of property solely in order to reinstate the validity of life, truth and property.’ (297) Continue reading