Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Notice: Lawrence, Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer:: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)Joel Lawrence
New York, London: T & T Clark, 2010

Truth be told, Joel Lawrence is one of my best friends. He and his wife Myndi have been significant partners with Karla and I for a decade now. Joel and I both graduated from Dallas Seminary [although we only became acquainted at the very end of our ThM years] and we both worked on an MPhil and PhD at Cambridge at the very same time [2001-2005/6].  Joel and I once lived in a single room together for two months will attending a Goehte Institute course in Prien am Chimsee in southeastern Germany. So I can hardly be seen as an objective reader of his new book on Bonhoeffer. Nevertheless, I can promise that the book is a result of an intensive study over the last ten years beginning in his Masters work in Cambridge. Joel did his thesis on Bonhoeffer. I can remember many times discussing Bonhoeffer over a beer and a pipe in some pub in Cambridge.

There is a resurgence of late in interest in Bonhoeffer. One can point, for example, to the very recent biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy published by Eric Metazas. Joel's book on Bonhoeffer provides a useful introduction to his thought. The book is both accessible and brief. But its brevity and accessibility should not be confused for elementary or unsophisticated; Joel's work is a serious engagement with the challenges of interpreting Bonhoeffer. Because Bonhoeffer remains in many ways an enigma given that both this life and theological work were cut short by his death at the hands of the Nazis, his theological outlook can be difficult to ascertain. What's more, as Joel puts it,
Because of the nature of his theology and the fact that he died young before he had the opportunity to answer the questions he raised, one can make Bonhoeffer say just about anything one wants (9).
Joel attempts to assist an interested reader of Bonhoeffer in sorting out his thought by rooting in his historical and theological context and by integrating the various  strands of Bonhoeffer's thought. Joel identifies three fundamental themes of Bonhoeffer's work: Christ, the Church and the world. Joel uses these to assist the reader in keeping the "big picture" as they work with a particular portion of Bonhoeffer's writings. Working from back to front historically, Joel shows in the chapters of his book that the questions Bonhoeffer raised in his letters from prison were the outgrowth of his earlier seeds of thought. Joel is adamant that one must read Bonhoeffer's work comprehensively always taking into account the corpus of his ideas. He cautions readers of Bonhoeffer to appreciate the unfinished nature of Bonhoeffer's thought espeically in his prision letters. He admonishes readers to avoid  ripping sound bites out of his writings to prop up one's particular pet theological idea. Joel says, "There can be no 'cheap' readinds of Bonhoeffer, only 'costly' readings" (112).

Joel concludes the book with a chapter on the continued significance of Bonhoeffer for the 21st century suggesting that Bonhoeffer has a prophetic voice to us through the themes of Christian worldiness, the suffering of God and religionless Christianity.

1 comment:

Geoff Arnold said...

Thank you for this book notice, Joel. My interest in Bonhoeffer as increased more and more these past two years with a Luther class, Bonhoeffer readings, and a lot of engagement with Moltmann. It will be interesting to read, especially with the quote you cited. I've often felt that many I've spoken to 'love Bonhoeffer', but few actually have read him (while fewer have read only "Discipleship..."). I plan to continue reading his works this summer; this should be an interesting addition.