Ching on Bonhoeffer, Church, and State

Kenneth Ching  (Regent U. School of Law ) has posted Would Jesus Kill Hitler? Bonhoeffer, Church, and State. The abstract follows.

“Would Jesus kill Hitler?” is a symbolic question about the relationship between church and state. Jesus, of course, did not have occasion to answer. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. Bonhoeffer was a pastor, theologian, and philosopher who, while trying to “live the life of Jesus,” conspired to assassinate Hitler.

This will be the first law journal article to take Bonhoeffer as its primary subject. The article summarizes a long tradition of Christian political theory, the natural law/two kingdoms (“NL2K”) tradition. The NL2K tradition runs through St. Augustine, William of Ockham, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others. Some argue that Bonhoeffer rejected this tradition. This article’s descriptive thesis is that Bonhoeffer was part of the NL2K tradition. Also, a problem in the tradition is identified. Sometimes, the church has had too much influence on the state (theocratic Geneva and Puritan Massachusetts); sometimes, it has had too little (the antebellum South and Nazi Germany).

This article describes and assesses Bonhoeffer’s developments of and deviations from the NL2K tradition both theoretically and in the context of his opposition to Hitler and the Nazis. Using Bonhoeffer, this article also offers an answer to the problematic question “how much influence should the church have on the state?” The normative thesis of this article is that the state must remain religiously neutral, but the church must oppose a state that acts illegitimately.

Only One Way? Critical Perspectives on Christian Pluralism

SCM Press recently released Only One Way?: Three Christian Responses to the Uniqueness of Christ in a Religiously Pluralistic World.  The book presents three theologians’ perspectives on religious pluralism in critical dialogue.  These theologians’ past expressions suggest Only One Way’s content:

Gavin D’Costa, Roman Catholic theologian, has rejected absolute religious pluralism (see Gavin D’Costa, The Impossibility of a Pluralist View of Religions, 32 Rel. Stud. 223 (1996)) as fundamentally flawed.  That view could not, for example, evaluate the truth claims of the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”), who equated Nazism and gospel and were known to preach in SA uniforms; and the Bekennende Kirche (“Confessing Church”), who refused to embrace Nazified, Christo-Aryanism (see Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power 223–28 (2005)).  In an absolute-pluralist view, how could one distinguish between Reichsbischof (“Reich Bishop”) Müller, who preached Hitler, the national redeemer, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who defied National Socialism and was hanged for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler?  (See D’Costa at 226; Evans at 228).  For an account of Bonhoeffer’s defiance of Nazism, pastoral rebellion (he founded an illegal seminary), and eventual execution on April 9, 1945, eleven days before Berlin’s fall, watch Bonhoeffer (Journey Films 2003).

By analogy, from D’Costa’s examples, absolute pluralism would also prevent us, say, from distinguishing between the Islam that gave rise to the 9/11 attacks and the ancient, peaceful, and culturally profound Islam that abhors the violence that occurred on 9/11.

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