Articles & eBooks

The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon by Stephen Haynes (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 176 pages with notes, bibliography, index

Scholars have long struggled with the many sides of the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, enough one might say that at times, the various portraits of Bonhoeffer that have emerged make one feel as though the real Bonhoeffer may never be known. Or it may well be that as one theologian has put it, “Bonhoeffer’s writings are like a Rorschach ink blot test.” Apparently it is not possible to exegete Bonhoeffer, only to engage in eisegesis.

Stephen Haynes book The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon tackles this issue head on. This is a book that will no doubt irritate many a Bonhoeffer interpreter, but if it shakes up the all too dominant articulation of Bonhoeffer by the ‘inner circle’ of Bonhoeffer scholars who make up the International Bonhoeffer Society then some good will come of it.

Many of us who have engaged Bonhoeffer or who have made academic careers becoming Bonhoeffer specialists do not like to be pigeon-holed. We prefer to see ourselves as objective observers. Yet with Bonhoeffer we may well face our greatest challenge. One of the assets of a book like The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon is that it challenges one to come to grips with the particular lens by which one tends to read Bonhoeffer.

Haynes categories belie the major trends in Bonhoeffer interpretation: Seer (the radical Bonhoeffer), Prophet (the liberal Bonhoeffer), Apostle (the conservative Bonhoeffer), Bridge (the universal Bonhoeffer), Saint (St Dietrich??), Cult (Bonhoeffer dramas, plays, movies and pilgrimages). Each chapter is loaded with references to those, who each in their turn, have taken a stab at Bonhoeffer; scarcely a scholar, writer or lecturer is spared (thankfully, perhaps, Haynes has not yet read our work on preachingpeace.org!). The extensive notes are worth the price of the book.

At times, we sensed that Haynes was writing tongue in cheek, but the wry wit and critical analysis of Haynes make a fine combination. We would recommend this book as a fine survey of approaches to Bonhoeffer and await the sequel.