This morning I read an article from the Banner of Truth which critiqued Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While I do appreciate much of Bonhoeffer’s work, this is not a defense of Bonhoeffer. It is a defense of scholarship and an opposition to “proof by assertion” arguments. While there are a number of areas to both agree and disagree with MacLeod, I will address just one point he makes in order to illustrate the flaw of his methodology.
MacLeod writes, “For evangelicals the cross is at the centre of their faith. Bonhoeffer did not believe in substitutionary atonement – Christ suffering as a substitute for our sins, dying in our place to earn eternal life for us.” MacLeod offer no examples of this assertion, he does not point the reader to a single citation to demonstrate this serious accusation—an accusation that would remove Bonhoeffer’s works from the realm of Christian writings. In addition, this assertion is patently false.
In Chapter 4 of the Cost of Discipleship, which is entitled, “Discipleship and the Cross”, Bonhoeffer writes, “The Son of God bore our flesh, he bore the cross, he bore our sins, thus making atonement for us.” What is Bonhoeffer talking about if not “substitutionary atonement?” Earlier in the same chapter, Bonhoeffer writes, “…since he has suffered for and borne the sins of the whole world…” which while not Calvinistic—but Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran—this statement is clearly teaching “substitutionary atonement.” Later he writes, “…it is true that only the suffering of Christ can atone for sin,” leaving no doubt about his position on the “substitutionary atonement” of Christ. Here are three statements by Bonhoeffer that disprove the assertion of MacLeod.
For some reason, MacLeod felt it necessary to disparage Bonhoeffer. I cannot see the benefit of his efforts. He may have noted some of the errors of Bonhoeffer, which is good, but why make up something that is easily disproven? I am disappointed at the lack of scholarship in his article. I understand that MacLeod does not want people to “blindly” follow Bonhoeffer. I agree. I am opposed to “blindly” following anyone, including Calvin. To reject all of Bonhoeffer is to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Bonhoeffer brings a much needed critique to Cheap Grace—a theological ideology that is running rampant today. His description of a grace that justifies sin and not the sinner is invaluable today. His honest effort to follow Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount are essential to be heard today when many teachers over-spiritualize Jesus’ words.
I think it behooves us to read Bonhoeffer, compare his words with Sacred Writ, discard the errors and follow the truth he espoused and lived. His determination to oppose oppression