Joe Dantona's Reviews > Christ the Center

Christ the Center by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Mar 20, 2011

really liked it
Read from March 20, 2011 to January 16, 2012

In this collection of notes on Bonhoeffer's christology lectures in Berlin, the reader is taken to "the center and border of his existence" in an encounter with Jesus Christ. The book's purpose is as a summary and introduction to christology (especially Lutheran christology, and its history and interactions with "liberal Christianity"), as well as a summary, defense and exposition of the Chalcedonian definition of the Hypostatic Union. In its exploration of christology, Chalcedon and the various heresies regarding the natures and person of Christ, this book is largely a success. But, it is not a perfect work.

At various points Bonhoeffer makes odd and frustrating blunders (this is, however, to be taken in the context that these lectures were written early in Bonhoeffer's career). At one point Bonhoeffer says that the Bible is useful with its "flaws," but that it must be informed by scholarship. Now, any sensible Christian will agree that textual criticism has contributed much to our understanding of the Bible and its historical and cultural contexts. But Bonhoeffer seems to be saying-- in the midst of making a statement that we may sometimes have to preach on a text that scholarship has "destroyed"-- that the Bible is secondary to the historical method, as if the analysis were superior to the subject being analysed. Bonhoeffer did not realize, perhaps, the transitory nature of textual criticism (as with all the sciences, what is "fact" this morning is silly fiction by dinnertime), and that what was declared corrupt in the text a hundred years ago has been reaffirmed today. After all, what scholar today seriously contends that Jesus did not really exist? But that argument was extremely popular in Bonhoeffer's day.

Another major stumble comes from Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology, which is quintessentially Lutheran. Bonhoeffer views the Church's authority as inept in the modern era-- he attacks modern "ecumenical councils" as hogwash because of a lack of resolve or definition for orthodoxy and heresy-- and seems to believe that the Church's earlier councils (prior to the Reformation, but especially the first seven or so) were really the only decisive ones. It is unfortunate, this digression, because to answer it properly involves an entire ecclesiastical diatribe which would veer completely off of the current subject. It will suffice to say that this view of ecclesiology is fundamentally inept and naturally leads to a poor state of Christian unity and orthodoxy. An arbiter, a decision-maker-- a pope, a bishopric, a Church with Real Authority-- is necessary to avoid these problems which Bonhoeffer accurately outlines.

A third mistake comes to mind, and that is Bonhoeffer's side-swipe mention of Catholicism as "self-redemption." Very little could be further from the truth. I understand that, as a passionate Lutheran, Bonhoeffer would have to justify his Lutheranism in contrast to the Catholic Church (who was it that said, Every Protestant should ask each day why he is not a Catholic?), but the attack was unwarranted and inaccurate. No serious Catholic, apologist or theologian or layman or priest, would claim that the Church is a method of "self-redemption." From excerpts of his much later work, the "Ethics," it seems Bonhoeffer grew out of this sort of tactic, and that is fortunate.

Most disconcerting is one small passage where Bonhoeffer seems to say that Christ's nature had to have some kind of sinfulness to it in order to be really human. The language is unclear and this I again chock up to the unsure process of piecing the lecture together from students' notes. Nonetheless, this is something to mark.

In all, this book is informative and insightful. Part Two is, in my opinion, vastly superior to Part One, but both have their strong merits. Not all the points hit home and not all the logic is quite so fine-cut (I take this not to be the fault of Bonhoeffer but of the dodgy process of putting together his words from scattered notes), but there is enough material of a spectacular nature to make up for the few significant blunders.
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Reading Progress

03/20/2011 page 34
27.0% "Wow."
01/15/2012 page 44
34.0% "One of the most profound christological works I've read."
01/16/2012 page 74
58.0% "Much of this is very good, but there are some sizable problems in Part One."
12/16/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Scott (new) - added it

Scott Could you directly quote from the smaller passage implying "Christ's nature had to have some kind of sinfulness"? (I don't think you're being dishonest or anything, but I am curious. ;) )


message 2: by Joe (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joe Dantona Remind me in two weeks when school is over and I'll look it up!


message 3: by Scott (new) - added it

Scott Sure, if I remember. :p


message 4: by Scott (new) - added it

Scott Are you able to give me the passage now, or are you still busy as hell (no pun intended)? ;)


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