Theologian of Resistance

The Life and Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Christiane Tietz
Victoria J. Barnett
  • Minneapolis, MN : 
    Fortress Press
    , September
     150 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and thought continues to fascinate scholars and readers around the world just as it did in the years that followed his death at the hands of the Nazi regime. The current interest in Bonhoeffer is widespread, although it is not without its shortcomings. As Bonhoeffer scholar Cristiane Tietz shows in Theologian of Resistance, scholars from a wide variety of fields have engaged Bonhoeffer, usually focusing on a particular aspect or emphasis of his life or work. Some of these studies have not fully taken into account the way that Bonhoeffer grounds his theology in his life experiences and challenges.

Noticing how often “isolated…sentences [from Bonhoeffer] are torn from their theological and historical context” (111) Tietz, a professor of Protestant theology at the Institute of Hermeneutics and Religious Philosophy in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Zurich, offers a concise and accurate introduction to Bonhoeffer’s thought, exploring how deeply Bonhoeffer’s theological emphases “are imbued with the experience of his life” (vi). In so doing, she paves the way for younger scholars, students, and pastors interested in Bonhoeffer’s life and work to understand the questions and conditions that informed the development of his theology and ethics. Her work has particular significance for those asking how to apply Bonhoeffer’s theological and ethical theses to contemporary issues in a world and culture that are different from his own.

Theologian of Resistance offers a chronological account of Bonhoeffer’s life and work, situating his thoughts and each of his publications into his historical context and the broader dialogue on the events informing his thinking and actions. Aware of the passionate responses that have emerged in Bonhoeffer’s reception in Germany and elsewhere, Tietz offers a balanced and thoroughly humanized view of Bonhoeffer to her readers, countering mythologized narratives. She is not afraid, for instance, of facing the awkwardness of some of Bonhoeffer’s theological convictions for contemporary readers, namely his views on family and on the role of women. She addresses these things, though, with a gracious spirit, taking into consideration his cultural and historical context.

The book is divided into ten short chapters, each of them dealing with a particular period of his life. The book ends with an epilogue summarizing Bonhoeffer’s reception and introducing new comers to Bonhoeffer scholarship. Tietz’s periodization of Bonhoeffer’s life gives the reader a good idea of the continuities and changes in Bonhoeffer’s thought as it connects to his eventful life, shedding more light into the writings that emerged in each particular period and the connections between them. The Bonhoeffer that emerges from these chapters is truly human—sometimes intransigent and uncompromising but at the same time open to reviewing his ideas in light of the uncertainty of his time. He is willing to take the necessary risks to respond as a responsible Christian to the complex challenges faced during his lifetime. Avoiding harsh judgments and romanticized views of Bonhoeffer, this book offers a portrait of a Bonhoeffer who is keenly aware of the limits of responsibility, but who calls for a radical Christian commitment to the complex reality of being in the world.

The quality of Theologian of Resistance is not compromised by its concise format, but the reader finishes this text with a desire for a more robust discussion of some of its ideas, particularly when it comes to the conversation on Bonhoeffer’s reception and scholarship in the epilogue.

This book is a great tool for introductory courses on Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics. More than anything else, it illuminates the background and influences that informed the development of some of his key insights, like the essentially communal orientation of Christian faith, the life of responsibility, the meaning of discipleship, and the difference between religion and Christian faith, in connection with his understanding of a religionless Christianity.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Raimundo C. Barreto, Jr. is assistant professor of world Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
September 24, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Christiane Tietz is Professor of systematic theology at the University of Zurich and Chairperson of the German language section of the International Bonhoeffer Society. She has published widely on Bonhoeffer.

Victoria J. Barnett is Director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She is a general editor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, the English translation series of Bonhoeffer’s complete works published by Fortress Press.


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