Review: Maier recalling The Apocalypse

A review of Harry O. Maier, Apocalypse Recalled: The Book of Revelation after Christendom, Fortress, 2002.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and direct from Alban Books.

Reading Apocalypse Recalled was a bit of rollercoaster for me. I picked it up with low expectations. Then at times reading the first chapter I thought it might become my top recommendation on the book of Revelation. But the rest of the book never quite delivered. It ends up being a good introduction to the secondary literature on Revelation, but not the book itself. We dip in and out without ever grappling with the central message of the book. Maier’s treatment of temporal references in Revelation promised much, but in the end it was not clear how it was supposed to change the way we understand Revelation or apply it today. The best chapters – on the visual and oral dimensions of Revelation – are those which most engage with the text. The chapter on listening to Revelation alone makes the book worth buying for if you’re doing some in-depth study of Revelation.

Maier believes, as I do, that Revelation is as much written to challenge comfortable Christians who are compromised by participation in empire as it is to comfort afflicted Christians who are persecuted by empire. As Maier puts it, we read as if we are Philadelphians when we are actually Laodiceans. What this analysis perhaps highlights is that Philadelphians, that is those Christians who are marginalized, can legitimately read it as a word of comfort while Laodiceans, those Christians who have comprised by the culture, should read it has a word of challenge.

A potentially strong aspect of the book is Maier’s reflections on reading Revelation in the context to his family’s history as Germans refugees from modern day Poland who fled to Canada after the Second World War to escape the advancing Red Army. But this feature of the book never quite delivers either. The links between Maier’s story and what he was saying about Revelation don’t turn out to be strong enough. Also the ‘after Christendom’ element of the subtitle is never really explored.

Well my top recommendation on the book of Revelation remains Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation (available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk). But Maier does enter somewhere in the top ten. It’s a good orientation to reading Revelation today and a useful summary of a lot of the secondary literature.

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Review: Brueggemann on an unsettling God

A review of Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible, Fortress, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and direct from the distributors Alban Books.

This book is drawn from Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament (available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. An Unsettling God seems to be Part III of Theology of the Old Testament with few changes except for a different introduction.

Brueggemann highlights the relational nature of God. God enters into dialogue in which he shapes and is shaped. Brueggemann describes how this works in relation to four dialogue partners: Israel, humanity, the nations and creation. So far so good. But Brueggemann privileges the mutuality of the dialogue. The result is in effect the god of open theism. Though Brueggemann does not use this label, he disavows the God of classical theism. The result is not so much the unsettling God of the title as an unsettled god! Brueggemann assumes a relational God and an immutable God are incompatible. But the grace of God allows us to affirm that God chooses freely in his grace to be influenced by the prayers and actions of people.

Brueggemann presents a catalogue – almost an inventory – of Israelite faith. As a result there is much of value and much to learn from this book. It reflects the work of a man who has spent many hours deep in the text. When Brueggemann is engaging with the text of the Old Testament he is always worth reading. His commentaries are always worth consulting.

But when Brueggemann moves to implications his theological presuppositions become problematic. In An Unsettling God he rejects synthesis, believing this would impose a system on the text. Instead he highlights its multivocal nature. A variety of voices are heard in the text whose differing perspectives ‘cannot be harmonized’ (34). The result is a thoroughly postmodern approach to the Old Testament (though modernity is assumed with Brueggemann cutting up the text and reordering the chronology with all the assurance of someone who was there).

Perhaps the most striking feature of the book is an absence. For all Brueggemann’s emphasis on the many voices of the Old Testament, one is silenced – the voice of atonement through sacrifice. There are no references in the Bible index to Leviticus 1-10, nor to Leviticus 16. This is an account of what the subtitle calls the ‘heart of the Hebrew Bible’ that excludes the Day of Atonement! As a result Israelite faith is reduced to ethics with some scope for failure. In Brueggemann’s hands this looks remarkably like the ethics of Enlightenment liberalism. His marshalling  of what he calls the ‘data’ of Old Testament faith promises much, but in the end reveals more about Brueggemann than about God.

This fatal omission of atonement through sacrifice is due no doubt to the modern distaste for God’s wrath and atonement through blood. But it also results from another common problem in modern theology, one that is less often remarked upon, but no less fatal, namely the tendency to disconnect sin and death in the way that Genesis 3 and Romans 5 connects them. Brueggemann says, for example, ‘the dependence [of humanity upon God’s life-giving breathe] raises the acute problematic of mortality, which is not in itself related to sin.’ (60). ‘The power of the Nihil is not to be reduced to or explained by human sin and guilt.’ (146) Brueggemann speaks of Yahweh being in conflict with the ‘power of the Nihil’ in what he calls (with at least more honesty than most) ‘dualism’ (143). Brueggemann cites passages that speak of God’s primordial defeat of Leviathan and the dragon, but without explanation interprets them as implying on-going conflict. When the Bible does speak of the chaos of Genesis 1 returning it is not the result of God’s weakness, but his judgment against sin. So Jeremiah 4:23, for example, speaks of the earth again being formless and empty. But this is because God himself as acted (Jeremiah 4:28) in judgment against the sin of his people (Jeremiah 4:14). The God who created in grace can uncreate in judgment.

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Review: The Reason for God DVD and Workbook

A review of Tim Keller, The Reason for God DVD and Workbook, Zondervan, 2010.

The DVD is available here from amazon.com. The accompanying workbook is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. The DVD is not yet available from amazon.co.uk though when it is, it should be available here.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is a great introduction to the Christian faith that begins by tackling the common objections that people have to faith in Christ. It made top ten in the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list.

You’ve read the book, now you can watch the DVD. A DVD and workbook have just been released by Zondervan.

Except that this is not quite the book in DVD form. Keller has take a more creative approach. The six sessions are not monologues in which Keller presents the idea in the book. Instead he takes six common objections to Christianity and debates them with a group of unbelievers. Each session in about 18-20 minutes long. Keller gets perhaps a quarter of the air time. So these videos do not attempt to deliver knock-down arguments. The participants are not persuaded by the end of each session. Instead, each movie opens a discussion which includes a positive and engaging Christian perspective, but without this perspective dominating the debate. Keller does finish each session with a closing thought. This usually follows – as do many of his interventions – a presuppositional apologetic line. In other words, he turns the discussion back on the doubters to reveal the nature of their ‘faith’ and show the assumptions in their presuppositions.

So the movies are not designed to give to an unbelieving friend to watch on their own. I would suggest they can be used in two ways. First, with groups of Christians to give them the confidence to discuss the questions of their friends in a generous manner. Second, with groups of unbelievers as a way of opening up a discussion on their objections to Christianity. The introduction to the workbook says, ‘The guide and DVD are not about getting armed with arguments and answers so that they can be used as generic responses whenever anyone asks you about your faith. Rather you should start to become conversant with ways to sensitively, gently, humbly, and respectfully talk about the objections.’

The videos are beautifully produced. Each sessions is a 20-minute selection from a series of unscripted longer discussions supplemented by personal interviews with the participants. Sometimes the discussion is a little highbrow with terminology like ‘semantics,’ ‘reductionistic’ and ‘pluralism’ (though Keller’s contributions are always accessible). But I would not think this would get in the way unless someone has a chip about inaccessible vocabulary. Highly recommended.

Here is a trailer and the session titles …

1. Isn’t the Bible a Myth?
2. How Can You Say There Is Only One Way to God?
3. What Gives You the Right to Tell Me How to Live My Life?
4. Why Does God Allow Suffering?
5. Why Is the Church Responsible for So Much Injustice?
6. How Can God Be Full of Love and Wrath at the Same Time?

Here are my reviews of Keller’s The Prodigal God DVD and workbook and Gospel In Life DVD and Workbook – both also highly recommended.

Thursday Review: A Reader’s Greek NT

A review of A Reader’s Greek New Testament, eds. Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, 2nd Edition, Zondervan, 2007.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Maybe like me you studied NT Greek at college, but never really kept it up. Now when you pick up your Greek NT your progress is so slow it hardly seems worth it. Or you need something to help you refresh your lost knowledge. Enter A Reader’s Greek New Testament. I’m excited to get my hands on this great resource. The key thing about it in my mind is this: Every word used fewer that 30 times in the NT is translated in footnotes below the text while every word used more than 30 times is in a glossary at the end. This means you can read the NT without having constantly to look up words in a Greek lexicon. It’s not the same as an interlinear which inevitably discourages you from reading the Greek itself, but you are never far from the information you lack. It’s one of those simple ideas that when you meet it, you wonder why no-one else has ever done it.

A Reader’s Greek New Testament uses the Greek text behind the TNIV with footnotes comparing it with UBS4. It also claims to use a new Greek font that is easier to read. It comes in Italian duo-tone (i.e. fake leather) finished off with gold leaf and a marker ribbon. One key test that it passes is that it lies flat when open on a table – an important feature of any reference book.

My one small complaint is this. I would have gone for thicker paper. It’s not too bad, not as bad as most study Bibles whose pages are so hard to turn I usually give up. It seems to be designed (with its duo-tone cover) to be carried around, possibly to church gatherings. Please don’t take your Greek NT to church gatherings. Why would you do that? To critique the exegesis of the preacher? You should be trembling before God’s word. No, this should sit on your desk. In which case it does not need to be so thin. So instead let’s have pages which are easier to turn so we can look up cross-references quickly.

But this is a small quibble. Overall this is a great resources for those of us who’ve forgotten much of their Greek and for learners who want to learn by doing, i.e. by reading the text itself.

You can look at a sample here.

Thursday Review: Soul DVD and CY evangelistic courses

A review of Soul DVD and the CY and CY Nano evangelistic courses.

Soul is a seven-session evangelistic presentation. It’s designed for young people. That said, although there is a youth slant (references to image, peer pressure and following the crowd), it would be perfectly acceptable for an adult audience.

Trailers and session titles are below.

Soul is basically Christianity Explored for young people. Rico Tice has been replaced by Nate Morgan Locke, but the basic content is similar. That means it’s cross-centred and grace-centred. There’s a clear explanation of sin, judgment and atonement while the cost of following Christ is plainly spelt out (using Mark 8:34-38). The tone is serious to the point of being sombre (go on, Nate, give us a smile). Extracts from Mark’s Gospel are read with the words appearing on the screen so that much of the time the format is Bible reading followed by exposition. There’s no compromise on the truth of the gospel for the sake of relevance. Instead, relevance is established by establishing our need of a saviour. The distinctions from other religions are highlighted which is important in our increasingly pluralistic context.

Rico Tice is a more natural presenter, but Soul is more visually creative. There’s plenty of moody lighting and overhead panning shots as well as strong visual images. The stilling of the storm is told with water beating down on a hooded narrator and the resurrection is narrated in an underground car park climaxing in a motorbike riding up a ramp into the light. Think of the production values of Nooma videos combined with the content of Christianity Explored.

CY is an accompanying course for teenagers and young adults while CY Nano is aimed at 11-14 year-olds. The material in both courses is very similar with just a few tweaks and a different visual feel. The courses are designed to be used alongside Soul. Each session begins with a short Bible study from Mark’s Gospel. Then you show the Soul episode followed by discussion questions. That said, both Soul and CY can be used independently. There’s a leaders manual that covers both versions of the course.

I like CY and CY Nano. It’s a great gospel presentation based on a Gospel (surely that’s the obvious place to start) with a clear explanation of sin and grace as well as the cost of following Christ. Plus they’re a bit easier to use than Christianity Explored. Again, I would be happy to use CY with any adult. Indeed my problem with Soul and CY is that now I’m not sure whether to use the Christianity Explored course material or the Soul and CY combination!

Soul DVD is available here in the US and here in the UK.

The CY Sample Pack is available here in the US and here in the UK.

The CY Starter Pack is available here in the US and here in the UK.

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Thursday review: Becoming a Contagious Christian

A review of Becoming a Contagious Christian course with DVD, CD, workbook and leader’s guide by Mark Mittelberg, Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels, Zondervan, 2007.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The Becoming a Contagious Christian course is an updated version of a previous course based on the book Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg. The core of the course are six DVD sessions with Mark Mittelberg and Lee Strobel speaking to an studio audience interspersed with dramas and vox pops. I feared the dramas would be too cringey, but they are well done (though I’m still not convinced how they would go down with a British audience). This material is supplemented by a participant’s workbook as well as an extensive leader’s guide, a CD with further resources  and the original book. The CD includes sample text for six sermons that can be delivered alongside the course with a view to creating a ‘contagious campaign’ in your church.

It’s great material, especially for people who are nervous about evangelism. It covers much that you would expect in personal evangelism training – motivation, building relationships, beginning a gospel conversation, presenting the gospel.

The real added value is its recognition that people have different styles of evangelism. There’s a 36-question questionnaire that enables people to identify their personal style. You might quibble with the six categories, but the idea that people do evangelism in different ways is important. Too often people are made to feel guilty about not doing evangelism in the way that others do. It would be worth working through this session alone with a missional community. It may mean some people start to recognize the role they can play while others learn to esteem the role of others even when this does not look like what they do. Ironically the course does not really follow through this insight with something of a one-size-fits-all approach in the rest of the material.

The session on sharing your story is very helpful. The gospel presentation taught in session five, though, is somewhat too individual-centred for my liking. The centrality of the people of God in the story of salvation is neglected and the presentation is fairly man-centred rather than God-centred. It’s focus is getting to heaven rather than the renewal of all things or the glory of God. That said, all gospel frameworks are reductionistic. They are at best a training tool.

There is much that is helpful in this material. But some of it is not appropriate to the deeply secular culture of Europe. In our context the chance to run through a gospel framework is a rare opportunity. Even if people were interested (which they’re not), they lack the background knowledge to make sense of an abbreviated gospel framework. Nor would you get away with ‘turning’ a conversation, as suggested, by moving from a discussion of ‘physical fitness’ to raising the issue of ‘spiritual fitness’. Sharing the gospel is inevitably fragmentary with interest and understanding growing over an extended period. That said, I could see us using the second session on evangelism styles.

The course kit is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The book is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The DVD is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The participant’s guide is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The leader’s guide is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Thursday Review: Michael Emlet on cross talk

A review of Michael R. Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet, New Growth Press, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Rick tell you his wife is divorcing him after 22 years of marriage. How do you bring the words of Scripture to Rick? How do you counsel him with the word? CrossTalk is an attempt to answer this question. It’s a book on the use of Scripture in pastoral counselling.

It opens with a chapter outlining a number of scenarios to highlight both the challenges in applying Scripture to life and some of our preconceptions about how this should be done. The Bible is not, says Emlet, primarily a book of do’s and don’ts, nor a book of timeless principles for the problems of life, nor a casebook of characters to imitate or avoid, nor a system of doctrines. Instead the Bible is a story: the story of redemption with Christ as the centre. This means we need to look back to where we have come from and forward to where we are going, all the time remembering that this is God’s story, not ours.

To apply the Bible life, however, requires not only reading the Bible as a story, but being able to read people. Strikingly here Emlet’s approach parallels that of his approach to the Bible. He’s moving us away from proof-texting to seeing the Bible as an integrated narrative. In the same way he moves us away from trying to understand people through disconnected words or actions. Instead he proposes that we look for the “narrative skeleton” running through the person’s life. ‘In this sense, everyone has a story. Not simply a story to tell but a story (or stories) to live, a plotline that is going somewhere.’ (66) Emlet suggests using basic worldview questions (Where are we? Who are we? What’s wrong? What’s the remedy?, 69) to plot a person’s story in a way that parallels the Bible plotline of creation, fall and redemption. This allows us to ‘answer the fundamental questions of life with the biblical story’ (71).

Emlet suggests that we should view people in the categories of saints, sufferers and sinners (all of which will simultaneously be a reality for most people). He suggests that it is important to highlight these particular aspects of our identity as believers because “they describe our experience before Jesus returns to consummate his kingdom. How we live in our ‘roles’ as saints, sufferers, and sinners reveals how aligned we really are with God’s Word.” (74) (I’ve included below the main questions Emlet suggests for analysing people in this way.) “In ministry we are reading two ‘texts’ simultaneously, the story of Scripture and the story of the person we serve. In ministry we must always have one eye on the biblical text and one eye on the individual. Or better, our gaze constantly shifts between the two.” (90) Chapters 8-10 explore these principles through an extended case study.

In the final chapter Emlet emphasizes that the use of Scripture is a process, not a one-time event. Personal ministry is a dialogue, and that conversation occurs over time. He concludes by reminding us of the need to immerse ourselves in the word and rely on the Spirit rather than trusting a methodology. ‘The more we immerse ourselves in Scripture and the more self-conscious we are in our approach to people, the more natural and spontaneous these connections will be’. (173) ‘Real-life ministry requires wise creativity and Spirit-dependent flexibility, not slavish adherence to a set of rules’. (174)

If these ideas do not strike you as new then you may not gain much from reading CrossTalk. But if they are then CrossTalk would be a great place to start, to start learning how to use Scripture rightly in pastoring one another.

One final comment: There are a couple of pages on the role of the community in pastoral care (60-61, 175), but they are very brief and it would have been good to see this developed more.

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Thursday Review: Ancient Christian Doctrine

A review of Thomas Oden (series editor), Ancient Christian Doctrine, five volumes, InterVarsity Press, 2009.

See below for details of each separate volume and purchase information.

I’ve often thought about lashing out for the complete set of early church Fathers. Last year I nearly got as far as pitching the idea to my wife. But three things put me off: the cost, the shelf space and, perhaps most of all, the suspicion I’d rarely use it because I’d never know where to go. Enter the new Ancient Christian Doctrine series.

The five volumes provide a selection of primary Greek, Latin, Coptic and Syriac sources from 95-750AD in translation (some for the first time) organized around the Nicene Creed (an outline of the series is below). Each volume contains the whole Creed in Greek, Latin and English, a guide to using the series, abbreviations and an introductory essay. The main body of the book is divided up by lines of the Creed. The relevant section of the creed is repeated, again in Greek, Latin and English. There is then an essay on the historical background, an overview and the extracts themselves. Each volume ends with an outline of the contents, and author, writings and Scripture indices. The final volume also includes great short biographical sketches and a timeline (both available online). This series is styled as a companion series to the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series in which the exegetical writings of the Fathers are similarly extracted and collected by Bible books.

These books are everything you could wish for plus some things you would have wished for if only you’d thought to do so. They’re beautifully produced (although sadly they are glued rather than stitched) – a joy to hold and behold.

But above all they’re a joy to dip into. I’ve spent a happy weekend doing so. More to the point, I can readily see myself using them in the future. When I’m speaking on some point of doctrine, for example, I now know where to go to find insights from the Fathers. For non-Patristic scholars, the Fathers just became accessible!

In the introduction to the second volume John Anthony McGuckin says: “It is one of the great tragedies of the current state of divided Christianity that this patristic literature is so little known by so many, or, worse, regarded as not a real heritage of the Protestant world.” (2:xix) This series is a great remedy for that malaise, especially as it is avowedly designed with both academics and lay-readers in mind. In the closing essay Thomas Oden talks about looking at the phrases of the creed “in slow motion” (5:273). This series offers an opportunity to do that for yourself alongside the early church Fathers (2:xvii). Oden’s introduction to the series emphasizes the importance of the Nicene Creed, not only as an ecumenical statement of faith, but as a teaching tool. It also argues that the “new ecumenism” needs to be nourished what it calls the “old ecumenism”.

The list price for the series is $250, but Amazon.com is selling the individual volumes for $31.50-$33.75. Still not cheap, but a good idea for your next birthday. Besides it’s only a third the price of an iPad. At Amazon.co.uk they’re all £29.76 a volume. There is one reason why you might decide to defer: they’re promising a searchable CD Rom at some point in the future which some might prefer.

One or two other points of interest caught my attention. John Anthony McGuckin decries the idea that the synoptic Gospels represent christology “from below” while the Fathers were attempting christology “from above”. These are terms the Fathers themselves would not recognize and which do little to aid our understanding of their accomplishments. Meanwhile Mark Edwards resists modern attempts to reinterpret Patristic soteriology in our own image, arguing for a variety of models which combine to form a unified whole, rather than competing with one another.

Series Outline

Volume One: We Believe in One God—the knowledge of God the Father—the triune God revealed in creation, providence and human history (Gerald L. Bray, the Latimer trust and Samford University). Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Volume Two: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ—the coming of God the Son—the incarnate God, one person in two natures, truly God, truly human (John Anthony McGuckin, Union theological Seminary and Columbia University). Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Volume Three: We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord—the revelation of divine love—the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, his earthly ministry, death and resurrection (Mark J. Edwards, University of Oxford). Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Volume Four: We Believe in the Holy Spirit—the ministry of God the Spirit—the person and work of the Holy Spirit in justification, salvation and the holy life (Joel C. Elowsky, Drew University). Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Volume Five: We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church—the triune God in the church and in history—the glory of God in the church and the fulfilment of history (Angelo Di Berardino, Augustinian Patristic Institute of Rome). Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Thursday Review: an evangelistic resource for ‘non-booky’ people

A review of Pete and Ann Woodcock, Tales of the Unexpected: Stories Told By Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, DVD and Workbook, The Good Book Company purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Tales of the Unexpected is a welcome new evangelistic resource from The Good Book Company. It’s aim is to ‘to share the gospel with those who are unfamiliar with the Bible who haven’t been in a classroom in a while’, what they call ‘non-booky’ people.

Over four sessions it looks at three parables from Luke’s Gospel (the rich fool in Luke 12, the runaway son in Luke 15, the stay-at-home son in Luke 15, and the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18). The resource involves a DVD with down-to-earth presentations and a workbook with questions and the relevant passage printed out. In an interesting innovation, the DVD offers alternative versions of the talks by either Pete Woodcock and Lizzy Smallwood. They both pretty much follow the same script so the idea is you can choose the presenter you prefer (an idea you could try for Sunday mornings, perhaps).

It’s exciting to the see The Good Book Company producing this kind of resource, especially since it’s billed as ‘the first in a series of planned resources called Jesus and You … as part of The Good Book Company’s on-going commitment to reaching hard-to-reach groups’. The DVD presentations are great and the questions generally seemed pitched at the right level. I commend the resource to you.

My one suggestion for future resources in the series would be to include a reading of the passage or a retelling of the story on the DVD so groups have the option to make it a completely oral experience. The workbook feels quite ‘busy’ and it would be great if the resource could be used in a way that means participants do not need to read text at all. (I also suggest they decided whether it’s ‘Lizzy’ or ‘Lizzie’ as both spellings are used on the DVD.)

Here’s a taster …

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Thursday Review: Bonhoeffer’s Works

A review of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Fortress/Alban Books. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

Over the coming few days I’ll be posting a series of posts on the new edition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics by Dan Richardson, a student who has been doing some research for me. But first I want to review the new English edition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German theologian, a leading light in the confessing church that opposed the rise of Nazism and ultimately a martyr at the hand of the Nazis. His martyrdom was the climax of a life of faithful witness, but has also sometimes obscured his contribution to theology. One problem is that many of Bonhoeffer’s writings were either constructed from his lectures or written in fragmentary form during his time in prison. This has led to him being claimed by various – and often contradictory – theological schools as their own. (My own perspective, for what it’s worth, is that Bonhoeffer was thoroughly Lutheran and we should read his talk of ‘religion-less Christianity’ not as the advent of some form of secular Christianity, but as a contemporary reworking of Luther’s theology of the cross in the Heidelberg Disputation.)

In 1986 Christian Kaiser Verleg published the first sixteen volumes to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s birth. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series is making the German edition available in English with the translation project now based on the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

The result is everything you could want from a collected Works. They are superbly annotated with translation notes, sources of allusions and historical background. The page numbers of the German edition are in the margins. There are introductions to the English edition of each work together with an afterword translated from the German edition. There are full indexes and bibliographies. For those works pieced together from notes or lectures there is (in the volumes I’ve seen) a commentary on the process, variations and chronology.

The books themselves are beautifully produced (though sadly the hardbacks are glued rather than stitched). Underneath the dust jacket, the hardback editions have Bonhoeffer’s signature embossed in gold on the front with the title embossed on the spine.

The fragmentary nature of many of Bonhoeffer’s works also means that books like Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison have been published over the years with varying contents and orders. So Bonhoeffer, more than most theologians, has needed a definitive edition and this is what we now have.

If you’re new to Dietrich Bonhoeffer …

If you’re new to Bonhoeffer then I would start with The Cost of Discipleship purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (a work on discipleship which includes his famous warning against cheap grace and his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount) and Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (reflections on Christian community written for the students at the seminary of the confessing church). I would then move on to Letters and Papers from Prison purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (written as the title suggests in fragmentary form prison and which includes his discussion on religion-less Christianity). I also love his short work on the Psalms, Prayerbook of the Bible, which happily is included together with Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US in the new Works.

All the volumes in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series are available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Alban Books.

Here’s a sample of the new translation. Here’s the opening paragraph of Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible followed by the opening paragraph in the old edition. Continue reading