Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr: Why They Still Matter

Posted on December 3, 2017 by PLT Staff

Lecture given by Stanley Hauerwas and Eugene McCarraher at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia (November 2017). Hauerwas focuses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose theological politics is best understood as the attempt to recover the church from the realm of invisibility known as religion, assumed to be an unavoidable condition of the human condition in his day. Rather, in Bonhoeffer’s mind, the proper place of the church is the locus of Christ’s presence in the world, meaning that the church must denounce the most deceptive form of invisibility, the attempt to be pure, that failed to rebuke Nazism. In contrast, McCarraher argues Niebuhr cannot provide what we need for this time. Both Niebuhr’s political ontology and eschatology rest on a purely secular temporality, where love will have to wait until the end of history. But any new radicalism must begin from a faith in the possibilities of the here and now, leaving today’s apostates of empire, McCarraher argues, to reclaim the language of realism rather than embrace suspect Niebuhrian discernment. Hauerwas’s lecture begins at the 8:50 minute mark, followed by McCarraher’s talk at the 28:44 mark. A Q&A period follows both presentations. For a listing of all our Occasional Lectures, click here.

Excerpt (Hauerwas): “We are tempted to think we live in a very different time than Bonhoeffer. We are not threatened, we think, by Hitler-like leaders, but the cynicism that produced Hitler remains alive and well. We do not trust our neighbors, nor do we trust ourselves, nor do we trust the church. In fact, many in the ministry prefer the church to be invisible. The invisibility of the church means that the primary role of those in the ministry is to be a pleasant person. What seems lacking is anything that you are supposed to do as a Christian. But Bonhoeffer gives those in the ministry and all Christians something to do, and that is the great genius of Christianity. In a world where people are dying of boredom, we give you something to do, and that’s what Bonhoeffer did.”

  • Audio Information
  • Date Recorded:October 2017
  • Location Recorded:Charlottesville, VA
  • Speaker: Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene McCarraher
  • Audio File:Download File »
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