Monday, January 28, 2013

Bonhoeffer and the Ultimate Invisibility of the Church.

I started reading Bonhoeffer's Sanctorum Communio for a seminar I am taking this term. I was troubled by the direct, exclusive, and necessary connection Bonhoeffer makes between Christ and the church in order to have any human connection to God. For various reasons, I find that this assertion has incredibly problematic implications if "the church" in this account is thought of or formulated in terms of visibility instead of an eschatological reality that is never in hand. My friend, Ry Siggelkow, sent me a paper that he wrote concerning Hauerwas' particular appropriation of Bonhoeffer for his own ecclesial project that emphasizes reading Bonhoeffer's claims in terms of such ecclesial visibility. In the end, I think Ry's paper persuasively offers a possible alternative reading of Bonhoeffer that escapes certain problems in thinking Christology as collapsed into or through ecclesiology. I thought the following excerpt was incredibly well-written and quite succinctly addresses the very concerns that I have with reading Bonhoeffer in the way that he could be read in terms of the visibility of the church as the sole locus for humanity's connection to God:
I want to be clear, from the outset, that my primary concern is not to establish that Hauerwas gets Bonhoeffer “wrong,” for, in the end, I am uninterested in contributing to the exercise of whether we finally get Bonhoeffer “right.” What is at stake here is not this or that interpretation or even our reception of Bonhoeffer today, but rather our faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the extent to which we are faithful to our commission to proclaim and witness to the gospel in the world. I will focus here on Hauerwas’s interpretation of Bonhoeffer and his ecclesiology because he is one influential example of a trend in recent ecclesiology to retrieve the “visibility” of the church by way of an emphasis on the ways in which the church’s “concrete practices” and its lived culture are in themselves intrinsically and directly “public” and “political.” Such accounts usually begin by stressing the extent to which the modern liberal order has sequestered faith to the “private realm” and thus made “faith” and by extension the “church’s witness” an invisible a-political and a-social reality. Such accounts observe that prior to the rise and dominance of modern political formations, the visible church was understood as a “public in its own right,” a fully visible polis wherein its concrete “empirical” practices (its liturgical rites, works of mercy, i.e. the church’s peculiar “economics,” institutional configuration, etc) were inseparable from its political life. What is needed, according to Hauerwas and others (to mention just a few who work from this line of thought—Reinhard Hütter, D. Stephen Long, and James K.A. Smith), is a retrieval of a proper understanding of the church’s visibility vis-à-vis secular political liberalism. Such retrieval, we are told, is the only way by which we can, once again, begin to think the church as a truly visible socio-political reality. It seems to me that more work must be done to interrogate the ways in which the gospel itself has too often, in recent ecclesiology, been instrumentalized in the service of a cultural-political production. For what is at stake with regard to this understanding of the church’s visibility is finally a question of the dogmatic basis of the church itself, and the extent to which we allow the one true dogma—the doxa of God revealed in Christ—to determine our thinking about the church’s visibility. What is often overlooked are the ways in which the doctrinal, in these accounts, are too often cultural-linguistically determined at the expense of this dogmatic basis. Dogma, and dogmatics, as Bonhoeffer defines it in his Berlin Christology lectures, must always and only be the singular apocalypse of God in Jesus Christ, which while including our “hiddenness” with Christ in God, refuses to reduce Christ into a mere doctrine by which we are inducted into a culture.
Ry O. Siggelkow, "On the Invisibility of the Church: Bonhoeffer Against Hauerwas," 4-6.


Daniel Imburgia said...

I reckon some important issues are being attended to here, though for some reason I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on them. Any possibility one might one read the whole essay? Is there any chance that Hauerwas responded to Ry’s assertions? Perhaps in a sentence or two you could articulate what you think is the most salient concerns you and Ry have. That is, if possible, articulate it in a way so that if I was someone wanting to know God (and I am) and I was using Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas as companions and guides on my journey (and I am, along with others), you would perhaps say to me something like: ‘Daniel, the guides you have chosen are worthy of your confidence *but* let me offer you some light from a different angle, perhaps even a brighter more focused light, if only for a particular part of your journey, to help you closer to the center of the path, or to help you envision where this journey is taking you and who you may become, are becoming on the path you are on.’ And if I invited and attended to that light Kait (and I am) what would I see differently? How would my being in this world change because of that light. What new forms of hope will abound in my heart? How much less dark will the shadow of God be in my life?
I don’t mean to put y’all on the spot. These are the same questions I have been asking myself for a long time now before I ever pretend to speak about God in a serious way. And way too often, almost always really, I do not have an answer for myself or others. But I’m always looking. And I think I see some light in what you and Ry are saying here, but I’m not sure I see enough to change my course in any significant way. Then again my eyes are old and weary from the road and maybe I only think I want to know God when really I’d rather stick with either the ready-made or my self made illusions that allow me to settle for a murky complacency.
Well, y’all are busy with school and all so there’s no obligation to respond any time soon, or at all really unless you feel compelled to and have the time. Thanks for an engaging post, blessings and obliged.

Brandy Daniels said...

This is great. Also, yeah, how might Ry feel about sharing his essay with some of us... I really want to hear what he has to say about Hauerwas!!

mshedden said...

I'd be interested in the same kind of response Dan is asking for if you ever get a chance.

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