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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Bonhoeffer and Christological Ethics

Dietrich Bonhoeffer rejects an ethical schema based on principles or abstract universals (145). Instead, ethics arise out of a historical context and the responsibilities an individual has within that context (146). Ethics are not “imposed” on a situation, but are uncovered in a situation (147). Bonhoeffer gives attention to the situation of ethics because God took on humanity, entered the historical situation, and took on the divine “No” sinful humanity deserved in order to deliver the divine “Yes” (148). Because of the death of Christ, the world has been condemned but has also been claimed by God to be restored (149).

The responsibility of Jesus, as passed on to His followers entails love for the world and those in it as they are (156). He has also freed them from the Law so that in transgressing its specific commands, a Christian may fulfill its call to love God and neighbor in a specific context with precise responsibilities (213). Bonhoeffer shows little patience for Christians whose focus is on avoiding their own guilt. To do is to step back from one’s responsibilities in a given historical setting and to step back from the reality of Christ. Jesus showed Himself sinless by stepping into human guilt and taking it on Himself. For a Christian to love his or her neighbor, he or she must step into the human guilt of his or her neighbor (157-158). “The essence of responsible action intrinsically involved the sinless becoming guilty” (158). The Christian is called to look at a given situation and discern what his or her responsibility is to bring about good within it on behalf of those also living within it (167). That good is not an abstract principle but is seen in the person of Jesus. Life can only be truly lived with Jesus as the “origin, essence, and goal” (170-171). Christians live among the guilt of the world to love their neighbors specifically because Christ in His love has reconciled the world to Himself (173).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Reader's Edition. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015.

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