Preserving the world for Christ
Toward a theological engagement with the ‘secular’
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 February 2008
The practices, habits and convictions that once allowed the inhabitants of Christendom to determine what they could reasonably do and say together to foster a just and equitable common life have slowly been displaced over the past few centuries by new configurations which have sought to maintain an inherited faith in an underlying purpose to human life while disassociating themselves from the God who had been the beginning and end of that faith. In the end, however, these new configurations are incapable of sustained deliberations about the basic conditions of our humanity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology provides important clues into what it takes to make and keep human life human in such a world. The first part of this essay examines Bonhoeffer's conception of the last things, the things before the last, and what binds them together. He argues that the things before the last do not possess a separate, autonomous existence, and that the positing of such a breach has had disastrous effects on human beings and the world they inhabit. The second part looks at Bonhoeffer's account of the divine mandates as the conceptual basis for coping with a world that has taken leave of God. Though this account of the mandates has much to commend it, it is hindered by problematic habits of interpretation that leave it vacillating between incommensurable positions. Bonhoeffer's incomplete insights are thus subsumed within Augustine's understanding of the two orders of human society set forth in City of God.
- Research Article
- Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2008
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30 Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 128.
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50 Bonhoeffer, Ethik, pp. 166–7; Ethics, pp. 174–5. By inference we can then say that, for Bonhoeffer, reason's true nature can only be rightly understood when it is a part of an epistemic scheme that emphasises the ascent of the mind to its beginning and end in God, such as one finds in Bonaventure's Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (The Journey of the Mind to God).
51 Bonhoeffer, Ethik, pp. 57–8; Ethics, p. 71.
52 Bonhoeffer, True Patriotism, p. 109.
53 I am indebted in what follows to Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom, pp. 155–66.
54 Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, I. Pref., ed. R. W. Dyson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 3.
55 Regarding death, Bonhoeffer states that, ‘The miracle of Christ's resurrection has overturned the idolization of death that rules among us. Where death is final, fear of it combines with defiance. Where death is final, earthly life is all or nothing. Defiant striving for earthly eternities goes together with a careless playing with life, anxious affirmation of life with an indifferent contempt for life. Nothing betrays the idolization of death more clearly than when an era claims to build for eternity, and yet life in that era is worth nothing, when big words are spoken about a new humanity, a new world, a new society that will be created, and all this newness consists only in the annihilation of existing life.’ Ethics, p. 91.
56 Augustine, The Confessions IX. 2, trans. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1997), pp. 210–12. For a provocative discussion of the suitability of contemporary professions for Christians see Robert Brimlow, Paganism and the Professions (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002).
57 Augustine, City of God, V. 17, p. 217; cf. XIX.17, p. 947.
58 Augustine, City of God, V. 24, pp. 231–2. Augustine's speculum principis is pre-Carolingian in form, with the emperor but not the empire included within the pilgrim city of God.
59 Bouhoette, Letters and Papers, p. 17. The subdiscipline of theodicy makes a similar sort of assumption.