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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: May 2006

5 - The reception of Bonhoeffer's theology

from Part one - Bonhoeffer's Life and Legacy


Prior to 1963 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was largely known in the English-speaking world as a martyr of the Confessing Church struggle (Kirchenkampf)in Germany, and the author of The Cost of Discipleship. The publication of Honest to God in 1963 in which Bishop John Robinson interpreted Bonhoeffer on the basis of his fragmentary theological reflections in prison, significantly changed this perception. Bonhoeffer became the radical theologian of secular Christianity and was even held responsible for the 'theology of the death of God' which became the rage in some circles at the time. This confusion about the significance of Bonhoeffer's life and thought was compounded by the apparent contradiction between his pacifism during the mid 1930s and his later involvement in the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was a riddle.

The controversy surrounding Honest to God none the less sparked off renewed interest in Bonhoeffer, especially in the English-speaking world. As his friend and biographer Eberhard Bethge later put it, Robinson's 'fascinatingly one-sided' interpretation of Bonhoeffer 'introduced the most fruitful period for the study, translation and publication of all of Bonhoeffer's works in the Protestant, Roman Catholic and secular spheres'.