Understanding the world better than it understands itself: the theological hermeneutics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
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Bezner, Steven M.
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This dissertation argues that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work is best understood as a consistent project of theological hermeneutics with an ecclesial focus. The project examines Bonhoeffer’s life and writings with the intention of demonstrating how theological hermeneutics is at the center of his theological project and that each phase of development in his hermeneutics logically fits both with his historical and cultural context and the remainder of his writings. In order to make this argument, the dissertation demonstrates how certain theological themes (Christ existing as church-community, obedience to Scripture, and vicarious representative action, specifically) develop over the course of Bonhoeffer’s work. The dissertation concludes by arguing that the ecclesially-focused hermeneutics proposed by Bonhoeffer provide an excellent framework for contemporary theological reflection and suggest some possible interpretive paths forward given his methodology. After introducing the argument in the first chapter, the second chapter examines Bonhoeffer’s development of Christ existing as church-community. Chapter two investigates Bonhoeffer’s interaction with philosophy, epistemology, and ontology in order to create a theological anthropology rooted in this ecclesial theme of Christ existing as church-community, noting ties to Radical Orthodoxy through participatory ontology. Chapter three examines Bonhoeffer’s time as a professor and pastor, closely reading Creation and Fall, Christ the Center, and Discipleship. Through this reading, the chapter argues that Bonhoeffer builds upon the theological anthropology of Chapter Two using the concept of obedience to Christ. With this theological theme of obedience, Bonhoeffer interacts with and interprets the situation in 1930s Germany. Chapter four surveys the final phase of Bonhoeffer’s life—that of conspirator to overthrow Hitler. The chapter examines Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and prison writings, arguing that the final ecclesial theme that emerges in his theological hermeneutics is vicarious representative action. The final chapter demonstrates how each of Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutical themes builds toward his position regarding nonviolence and provides an example of how the contemporary church might learn from such a hermeneutic.