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The church as the presence of the humiliated Christ

More Bonhoeffer, this time from the new translation of his Lectures on Christology (popularly published as Christ the Center) in the Berlin: 1932-1933 volume:

With the humiliated Christ, his church must also be humiliated. It cannot seek any visible authentication of its nature, as long as Christ has renounced doing so for himself. Nor may it, as a humiliated church, look upon itself with vain self-satisfaction, as though being humiliated were the visible proof  that Christ is with it. There is no law here, and the humiliation of Christ is not a principle for the church to follow but rather a fact. Even the church can be high, and it can be lowly, if only both conditions occur for the sake of Christ. It is not good for the church to hasten to proclaim its lowliness. But it is not good either for the church to to hasten to proclaim its greatness and power; it is only good for the church to seek forgiveness for its sins.

Even the church, as the presence of Jesus Christ — God who became human, was humiliated, resurrected, and exalted — must receive the will of God every day anew from Christ. For the church, too, Christ becomes, every day anew, an offense to its own desires and hopes. The church must stumble every day anew over the sentence “You will all become deserters because of me,”[Matt 26:31] and it must hold on to the promise, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [Matt 11:6] (p. 360)


  1. adhunt wrote:

    This is significantly similar to a thesis by Ephraim Radner which he develops in his massively under-appreciated book “The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West.”

    That it doesn’t lead to the same sort of ecclesiology that you have developed of late I am curious as to the differences between them. Either way I heartily recommend it!

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Liesl wrote:

    What does Bonhoeffer mean by the church? Is he talking about those who believe in Christ, or about the church as a specific institution? Thanks.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  3. Andy Rowell wrote:

    Liesl, Bonhoeffer is talking about “those who believe in Christ” not the “Lutheran church in Germany” or the “Roman Catholic Church” but he is calling the these institutions to be what they are supposed to be.

    Great stuff. Good job directing people to this. This is wonderful convicting stuff–God help us all–we are all sinners. J. Kameron Carter, here at Duke, has been requiring lots of people to read Christ the Center.


    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Tony, sorry I haven’t responded before now. While I think there is a certain sort of similarity between the way Radner and Bonhoeffer articulate some of these matters I think what is crucial is the difference between them. For Radner the “humiliated” status of the church (due to its division) calls into question the church’s very existence. Due to its divided, dismembered state, Radner posits that the church as such may simply have ceased to truly exist. Thus you have his work being further developed, for example in Barry Harvey’s Can These Bones Live? explicitly under the terms of specifying what it would take for the church to “recover its status as the earthly-historical form of Christ in the world” (p. 21). In other words, this stream of thought views the humiliation of the church as putting its status as church into question or even negation from which it must recover.

    Bonhoeffer, however is saying something different. For Bonhoeffer it is precisely as humiliated that the church truly is the body of Christ. This is deeply similar to Barth’s argument in CD IV/1, 662-68 about the nature of the church as the body of Christ, something I plan to post more on later.

    Anyways, that is what I would see as the difference between Bonhoeffer here and Radner’s stream of thought. For Radner the humiliation of the church is a deviation from its nature. For Bonhoeffer it is simply the outworking of its being the crucified, broken body of Christ in and for the world. Likewise Bonhoeffer’s rejection of the church possessing in itself “any visible authentication of its nature” seems to me to be very much at variance with Radner, et al.

    Not trying to start an argument about which is right here, just interested in parsing out the differences clearly since you brought it up.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    I think you are basically correct here.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  6. adhunt wrote:

    By the cotext I assumed as much though in the parsing perhaps they are more similar than you think. I need to read this Bonhoeffer first but Radner is a very strict determinist and so he does in fact see the broken status of the Church as the sovereign work of God, yet this is a sovereign purification of the Church who by sin is less than she ‘ought’ to be.

    So in a way, this is how the Church ‘needs’ to be, with the caveat that it only ‘needs’ to be this way because of the Church’s rebellion not because this is the way she ‘ought’ to be.

    A possible difference between them would also be that Radner is fundamentally convinced of the empirical reality of the Church.

    I’ll log this away for future reading and thought though…Radner has been significant for my own development both ecclesiologically as well as with how to read Scripture.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  7. mshedden wrote:

    As far as I can recall I thought Radner’s conclusion was that in this “humiliated” status the church should “rejoice” and continue to exist as what God has called it to and patiently wait. So while the church may have ceased to exist we can’t make it “exist” but just be with God. I think this would be a pretty major difference between him and Harvey. In his lectures at SPU he raises what I find to be some of the most profound meditations on church unity functions in a divided Christ.
    Tony I don’t know if you have listened to his lectures at SPU yet but they are avaiable on iTunes and very much worth the time.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:


    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  9. mshedden wrote:

    I don’t know how to link to an iTunes U page but if you do have iTunes and search his name in the Music store it should come up.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  10. adhunt wrote:

    Oh yeah, those lectures are amazing.

    Not that I’ve read a ton of theology, but of the theology I’ve read, Radner is far and away the most profound writer on ecclesiology I’ve yet encountered. Most definitely check out his “Hope Among the Fragments: A Broken Church and Its Engagement With Scripture” and an old essay on “The Humiliation of Anglicanism” ( – BTW, I most emphatically do NOT read “virtueonline” but this is the only place I know of where to find that essay.

    Halden, just search “Ephraim Radner” on iTunes and his Seattle lectures will pop up. One is the “Palmer Lecture” and there are a few others he gave there as well. All of them really good.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

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