Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Article excerpt

The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Edited by Isabel Best. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012, xxvi + 214 pp., $29.95.

In the past decade works by Bonhoeffer and works on Bonhoeffer have flooded the shelves of theologians, clergy, and laity alike. Now just one publication from completion on their sixteen-volume set, Fortress Press's Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English series has granted access to the fullest presentation of his written corpus ever available, and the recent conferences, biographies, and devotional literature considering Bonhoeffer continue to generate enthusiasm and interest among new generations of admirers. The recent publishing blitz has taken Bonhoeffer scholarship in English to an altogether unprecedented level and created opportunity for an engagement with his thought never before possible.

For the many readers captivated by the harrowing story of his courageous life and martyrdom, however, the question remains as to whether these admirers of his life will become actual students of his theology. As Ferdinand Schlingensiepen has articulated so well in his recent and well-received biography, placing Bonhoeffer on a pedestal only forestalls the kind of encounter he would want with others. Schlingensiepen's warning needs to be heard today as much as ever, because the perpetual hero worship of the martyr Bonhoeffer undercuts fresh consideration of the theologian Bonhoeffer, let alone the pastor Bonhoeffer.

Amid the burgeoning renaissance in Bonhoeffer studies, however, an unprecedented publication has emerged, and this new volume highlights a neglected and almost forgotten aspect of the story: Bonhoeffer the preacher. In The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Isabel Best-accomplished Bonhoeffer scholar and translator for the Bonhoeffer Works series-has compiled a remarkably representative sample of sermons from the twentieth-century martyr and theologian. This rich and highly accessible collection of Bonhoeffer sermons provides not only another window into his biography but perhaps, more importantly, a unique and poignant entry point into the richness of his theology.

In addition to the biographical overview in the editor's introduction, Best provides a brief word about the context for and specific references within each sermon. Boasting thirty-one sermons in all, this collection presents a fairly large sample from the number of handwritten and typed manuscripts that remain from his life, and the selection of sermons here showcases the range of liturgical settings and ecclesial contexts in which Bonhoeffer ministered. Best has included messages for important events in the German church calendar like Reformation Day, Remembrance Sunday (i.e. Memorial Day in Germany), and Repentance Day (historically, an official holiday in Germany that the church took as a day of prayer and repentance at the end of the church calendar), as well as special occasions marking personal milestones in his family or his ministry (e.g. his first confirmation class, the baptism of his nephew Thomas, and the confirmation of three young people from the family of his eventual fiancée). In addition to these dates, Best's collection demonstrates Bonhoeffer's sensitivity to the rhythms of the church calendar in the numerous and wonderful Advent, Lenten, and Easter messages included here. She even incorporates a four-week expository series that Bonhoeffer preached on 1 Corinthians 13.

Perhaps more significantly, many of the collected sermons display Bonhoeffer's willingness to provide a prophetic word from the pulpit whenever the opportunity arose. These instances were particularly suited to the various contexts in which Bonhoeffer found himself, and this collection highlights four distinct movements in the larger arch of his pastoral journey: Barcelona, Berlin, London, and his time of ministerial exile. These movements constitute a unique season in his life-a season that includes only two periods in which he preached every Sunday. …

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