The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Best, Isabel (ed)
Augsburg Fortress Press (2012)
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It would be unfair to judge this volume of Bonhoeffer sermons on its own as it is part of a 16-volume critical English Edition of as much of his work as has been recovered and pieced together but for the non-specialist the question of whether to buy this book is quite proper.

It contains 31 of Bonhoeffer's 71 recovered sermon texts, all but five of which were given before the period of the Confessing Church, with the last five from that period from 1935-39.

Most of the material is gaunt, pronouncements by a young and rather other-worldly theologian preaching on a rather emaciated Lutheran Christianity, the two combining to make rather bleak reading. Not that the times called for much joy: but all times call for a depth of experience and a richness of understanding on the part of preachers; man cannot live by theology alone!

One of my musical interests is the collection of War-time, particularly German, classical music recordings, my prized possession being the Mahler Ninth Symphony which turned out to be the pre Anschluss valedictory concert of  that Vienna Philharmonic which had performed with Mahler on the rostrum; and I often wonder whether my love of it has more to do with the circumstances of the performance than the quality of it. We would have to ask a similar question about Bonhoeffer: had he not lived and died so bravely, running an underground seminary and being a party to conspiracies to assassinate Hitler, would we still care about his sermons in particular and his theological outlook in general? There is a strong case to be made for studying Bonhoeffer's steady move away from conventional Lutheran ecclesiology towards a new approach which he saw, after the capitulation of the vast majority of the Lutheran Church to Hitler, to be absolutely imperative; but whether his theology would have matched his ecclesiology is an open question.

On balance, then, while this is an essential work for the specialist I don't think it offers much to the general reader.