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Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works #6)

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  921 ratings  ·  70 reviews
The crown jewel of Bonhoeffer's body of work, Ethics is the culmination of his theological and personal odyssey. Based on careful reconstruction of the manuscripts, freshly and expertly translated and annotated, this new critical edition features an insightful Introduction by Clifford Green and an Afterword from the German edition's editors. Though caught up in the vortex ...more
Hardcover, 593 pages
Published January 3rd 2005 by Augsburg Fortress Publishing (first published September 1st 1955)
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Todd Miles
"Ethics" was a difficult book to read and desperately cried out for some editing. In Bonhoeffer's defense, the book was published posthumously, so he never got the opportunity to refine it or interact with an editor. Modern publishers are no doubt hesitant to cut any material, though other publications present the material in different orders. Written while Bonhoeffer was actively involved in the resistance and a plot to assassinate Hitler, my expectation was that he would biblically and philoso ...more
Ben De Bono
Bonhoeffer's Ethics is a challenging and fascinating read. The book is fairly dense and while it makes you regularly stop and think, I couldn't put it down.

It is worth noting that the work is incomplete. This was Bonhoeffer's final book, written while he was in prison. While much of the book is in finished form there are plenty of places where it obviously is not. Some chapters end abruptly, others are little more than a collection of notes and others are in need of some additional editing he w
Brent McCulley
"The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflections," opens Bonhoeffer." The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge" (17). Written for the most part in jail as he was imprisoned by the National Socialists in Germany from 1943 until he was hanged in 1945, Bonhoeffer's work is surly incomplete, but nevertheless, stands as a staggering piece of ethical literature, and one that causes the reader to view all ethical systems heretofore, by taking a st ...more
This book was a dense and difficult piece to work through. After reading it, I am still not sure that I understood much of what Bonhoeffer had to say, but I can point to some highlights. First and foremost, Bonhoeffer explains that the idea of Christian Ethics only makes sense in the context of concrete situations, and then only in relation to the gospel of Jesus Christ. By making this claim, Bonhoeffer explains that it is not possible to make generalizations that would guide the Christian's eth ...more
Dominic Foo
These are a series of essays written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer before his imprisonment and during his imprisonment by the Nazis, I think. I think it was originally intended to be a complete book but he didn't manage to finish it before he was executed. Thus, many parts of this book have missing or incomplete sections.

This is extremely heavy reading loaded to the brim with weighty theological and philosophical considerations with one absolute centre guiding the reflection, i.e. the conviction that i
This was a difficult read, but I'm glad I persevered through and finished it. This is not a work dealing with specific areas of ethical questions, but a work that explores the ultimate basis for ethics, that is the person of Jesus Christ. This centrality of Jesus in the understanding of ethics brought much clarity to the issue. As Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all, all ethics considerations needs to be made in light of that reality.

Bonhoeffer identifies the four main institutions of crea

"Part IV: The Last Things and the Things Before Last" (pp120-185) delves into the big social issues and ethical foundations for dealing with such. The beginning was more time consuming to read as he developed his foundation for a social ethic (if that's the correct terminology). He starts from justification as a certain point of origin in human life, moving on to a definition of the natural. The first three sections - this foundation - required some mental acrobatics on my part, but in the end I
Ths book comes in just under/behind The Cost of Discipleship. The two themes that really stuck out to me had these (though the second point might have come before the first point): First, Christ did a complete redemptive work. Therefore, there is no appropriate "religious" realm and an inappropriate "secular" realm. American Evangelicals like to believe that anything secular is automatically backseat, second-best to the religious. Bonhoeffer says that is nonsense. The city clerk's work has as mu ...more
Timothy Darling
Ok, finally, this has been a marathon read, not in terms of how long it took me to read the book, but in subjective time it would take me to grasp it. The mile to the top of the mountain is still only a mile, but it is hard.

Ethics suffers from three major difficulties. One, it is unfinished. This biggest problem means that some things, especially near the end of the book, that Bonhoeffer says need further reflection do not get it and are therefore unclarified. Bonhoeffer was executed before fini
In general I find Bonhoeffer a little frustrating because he's very good at describing what he's against and why it's wrong, but when he says what he thinks I find him vague and hard to pin down. What makes this really frustrating is that as far as I can tell the problem is not that I'm misunderstanding what he says, but that he intends it to be vague and hard to pin down. In the Ethics, Bonhoeffer is true to form in this regard.

As usual, Bonhoeffer offers some fabulous insights that provide a p
Tim Hoiland
"When evil becomes powerful in the world, it infects the Christian, too, with the poison of radicalism. It is Christ’s gift to the Christian that he should be reconciled with the world as it is, but now this reconciliation is accounted a betrayal and denial of Christ. It is replaced by bitterness, suspicion and contempt for men and the world. In the place of the love that believes all, bears all and hopes all, in the place of the love which loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of ...more
Jenn Cavanaugh
In his writings collected under the title Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer radically disassociates Christian ethics from the abstract knowledge and judgment of good and evil, the dictates of conscience, and psychological reflection, all of which betray disunion with God. Jesus models and calls his followers into unity with God, who transforms us wholly in love, restoring us to a wholeness from which we may love God and others. Bonhoeffer’s primary thesis is that “the point of departure for Christian ...more
This was my first Bonhoeffer book to read. I found his writings to be much like those of Kierkegaard, emphasizing the alienation of humanity and the radical transformation that Christianity calls for. When reading Ethics, I found myself longing to be re-united with God, with humans, with my environment, with myself-- to be rid of the disappointing and discouraging sense of "otherness" that lies at the basis of all our relationships.
This book would have been a lot better if Bonhoeffer had finishe
Alternates between brilliant and tedious. Agree with other reviewers that it could have used some editing, but for obvious reasons that was not to be. Still it is hard to quarrel with what you get from Bonhoeffer in the raw.
Lauren Sheil
The first half was excellent as it spoke mainly of the relationship between the individual and God. The second half spoke mainly of the interaction between the church, state, government and God. Bonhoeffer showed his true colours as a supporter of state religion and just war in this section and followed very closely the traditional Lutheran and Catholic position on the subject. As a result he lost me.
This was Dietrich Bonhoeffer's last book, largely written while he was in prison and not completed.
It is without doubt one of the most significant books of Christian theology of the 20th Century. It's also mostly over my head, stunted as my brain is by 60-second sound bites and status updates. The sentences that I understood I liked a lot.
But what is one to make of a sentence such as this? (from Page 133):
"There is, therefore, no penultimate in itself; as though a thing could justify itself in i
Excellent. Leads to serious reflection and reminds the reader of what living as a free human being before God can and does mean. Grounded in the love of God, which is first and foremost truth, as presented to the world in Jesus Christ...demands critical thinking and meditation while also offering a deliverance from the ever present demand of our conscience to guide our every action (it has it's time and place...i.e. a time for laughing and mourning, life and death, and debating the "ought" versu ...more
Oct 03, 2007 Cindy added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: shannon,kim
Just started this book, the second time I have read Bonhoeffer, and he is way too smart for me, but thinking about what Shannon said about "covering" today, I thought you all might like this quote...(he is referring to the origin of separation from God) Instead of seeing God, man sees himself. "Their eyes were opened" Gen 3.7. Man perceives himself in his disunion with God and with men. He perceives that he is naked. Lacking the protection, the covering, which God and his fellowman afforded him, ...more
Paolo Fernando C.
an attempt to be "real" despite the alienating condition of inconsistency, disruption, and inner contradiction...
Aaron Simms
This is an amazing book that changed my thinking in a number of areas. For one, Bonhoeffer talks about how the study of "ethics" is a symptom of humanity's fall into sin. That is, the fact that we can judge what is right and wrong is a result of the fact that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and "knew evil." We have fallen away from God, fallen away from the "origin," as Bonhoeffer states. Bonhoeffer also discusses the concept of "taking sin upon yourself," just as Christ took our sin upon himself. Th ...more
This is really not a book to love or hate. Instead, it is a book to think about and reread. More than once, I had to go back to fully comprehend what he was saying. There are sections that I have marked to read again, because the truth of Bonhoeffer's writing still rings today. He had a great deal of insight into people and their actions. All authors are influenced by the times they live in, it is obvious in this book that Bonhoeffer was not in favor of the Nazis and their programs. That would b ...more
Chuck Engelhardt
I finally finished this book. Man-o-man was it a difficult read. So much of the book was way over my head and I trudged through just so that I could say I finished it. There were some absolutely brilliant parts that I thought very interesting and Bonhoeffer provided a fresh perspective for me in some areas, such as the original sin and telling the truth. When he turned to undefined Latin references, I was lost. The book is an unfinished work and the footnotes helped fill in some gaps there. If y ...more
the first half of the book is brilliant--extends and goes way beyond 'discipleship'--it's cool to see someone get a great idea, but then to see him move forward from it.
then got bogged down with weird lutheran things i don't understand and very specific delineation of the role of the church, gov't, family culture (which appears like it would be fascinating but it kind of wasn't to me.) ended with a neat look at "what is truth", and addresses the good old "is it a lie to tell the nazis you aren't
Timmy Dy
Just finished the first chapter. Can't wait to read the rest of it!
My mind is being stretched and challenged to critique Bonhoeffer's understanding of the Gospel and of Jesus Christ, which is at the heart of his ethics and worldview. So far, I only hear in him the voice of a true prophet, who will radically reorient me (and many others) back to the true and living God. Hence, the need to discern carefully and cautiously.
Amazing book, now if only we could translate it for our time.
Tylor Lovins
Modern theologians who are ethicists need to consider the argument in this book much more closely. He says, in the opening pages, that the task of the Christian, when it comes to ethics, is to deny that there are any prescriptive objective values: as in James, one is not to be a judge of the law but a doer of the law. Anyway, I appreciate the argument and the spirit of the argument, in light of Bultmann's diatribe against speaking about God, as opposed to speaking of (from) God's reality.
Mick Wright
Very interesting book, and incredible insights on truth and life. Would have loved to give it all 5 stars, but most chapters were left unfinished and the current edition is presented chronologically rather than thematically. Reading it again to pull out the best parts for further meditation and contemplation. Not an easy read, but felt it was my duty to finish after reading the Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas. Well worth the effort, and many surprising and profound points are offered.
This book would definitely have benefitted from some editing. It's dense! It took me almost a year to finish it, granted it was because I kept putting it down because of it being so dense. I decided in the new year to finish it and I did. I'm sure I missed a LOT of what he was saying, so this is a keeper to be re-read. I did learn quite a bit though, so worth the re-read for sure. I have a few if his other works which are hopefully less dense. I'll be reading them this Lent.
Kevin Gasser
I was a little disappointed in this book. Obviously it was never completed, but in its current form Bonhoeffer fails to define the terms he uses(which are often different than how I would use them, ie "world" and "reconciled"), nuances arguments to the point of over-kill, and sometimes spends too much time on subjects that don't need so much type. With this in mind, Bonhoeffer's Ethics does provide a helpful corrective to the academic and nationalistic thinking of his day.
Terribly underwhelming. Cost of Discipleship is far more profound and engaging. Ethics was not able to be completed or edited prior to Bonhoeffer's death, so some chapters remain without conclusions or fully developed thoughts. "Christ, Reality, and the Good" and "History and the Good" are decent chapters, however "The Last Things and the Things Before the Last" was painful to read. I stopped about 2/3 of the way through... maybe I'll pick it up again one day.
This book is Bonhoeffer's effort to create a comprehensive practical theology for the modern world. It shows him wrestling with many questions (particularly regarding politics and the relationship of the Christian to the state) that would occupy him in later life under the Nazis. His insights on human relationships (particularly marriage, family, and child-bearing) seem very contemporary, and have a lot to offer the 21st century Christian.
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was also a participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, sho ...more
More about Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

Other Books in the Series

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (1 - 10 of 16 books)
  • Sanctorum Communio
  • Act and Being (Works, Vol 2)
  • Creation and Fall Temptation: Two Biblical Studies
  • The Cost of Discipleship
  • Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Works, Vol 5)
  • Fiction from Tegel Prison (Works, Vol 7)
  • Letters and Papers from Prison
  • The Young Bonhoeffer: 1918-1927 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works)
  • Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-31 (Works, Vol 10)
  • Ecumenical Academic Pastoral Work: 1931-32 (Works, Vol 11)
The Cost of Discipleship Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community Letters and Papers from Prison Sanctorum Communio Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible

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“Political action means taking on responsibility. This cannot happen without power. Power is to serve responsibility.” 14 likes
“A father acts on behalf of his children by working, providing, intervening, struggling, and suffering for them. In so doing, he really stands in their place. He is not an isolated individual, but incorporates the selves of several people in his own self. Every attempt to live as if he were alone is a denial of the fact that he is actually responsible. He cannot escape the responsibility, which is his because he is a father. This reality refutes the fictitious notion that the isolated individual is the agent of all ethical behavior. It is not the isolated individual but the responsible person who is the proper agent to be considered in ethical reflection.” 7 likes
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