Page 3: Bonhoeffer the Assassin?
In the final chapter, the authors assess the concept of guilt in Bonhoeffer’s Ethics. “In Bonhoeffer’s view the church is guilty of breaking the whole of the Decalogue” (194). Despite this, “The church is a community of those who confess their guilt before God and the world” (194). Christians have guilt, but they are also called to responsibility, which “cannot be known apart from God’s revelatory act of becoming human” (198). The authors then argue, “Bonhoeffer’s pastoral work, ecclesial networking, and various other forms of resistance were acts of Christ-shaped responsibility” (200).
While Bonhoeffer the Assassin? utilizes the scholarship of others, it still represents a minority interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s life and writing. While Glen Stassen, Barry Harvey, Arne Rasmusson, and Marva Dawn gave endorsements and Stanley Hauerwas wrote the foreword, the book has also received some negative reviews since its release. Michael P. DeJonge, in his review for The Christian Century, says he finds their argument that no evidence exists Bonhoeffer was involved in assassination plots “unpersuasive.” He also criticizes their use of the term “assassin” in the title and their use of Sabine Dramm’s work. Roger Olson, primarily relying on Eberhard Bethge’s biography, questions the central argument of the book. Olson also questions the use of “assassin” in the title.
Mark Thiessen Nation acknowledges in a response to Olson that he knew “there would be many who would not want to accept our argument.” Nation actually defends the argument of the book by utilizing Bethge, who said that “one should place the greatest weight on what we know from texts and the facts as best we know them, not memories of informal conversations.” While Bonhoeffer the Assassin will definitely not convince everyone, it represents a novel and valuable contribution to Bonhoeffer scholarship. The book demonstrates Bonhoeffer’s commitment to peace and opposing injustice, and will likely lead to further reexaminations of Bonhoeffer’s life and work.
Shaun C. Brown is Associate Minister of Youth at Central Holston Christian Church in Bristol, TN, where he lives with his wife Sherri, dog Max, and cats Tonks and Lupin.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com