Jacob Phillips presents a critical study of a neglected aspect of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology: his writing on human subjectivity, self-reflection, and individual identity ‘in Christ’. In response to the rise of chronic self-representation through digital technology, Phillips argues that Bonhoeffer presents a radical challenge, maintaining that—from the perspective of Christian theology—there is something deeply negative about beholding representations of oneself. Bonhoeffer instead holds that discipleship means adopting a posture of radical agnosticism toward one’s own identity.
Phillips focuses on the interrelation of ‘simplicity’ and ‘reflection’ in theological cognition and ethical deliberation, showing a wider significance in contemporary theological anthropology, soteriology and ethics. By following the tradition of reading Bonhoeffer in relation to the philosophical sources, such as Wüstenberg , Janz, Whitson-Floyd, Marsh, Zimmermann, Gregor, Phillips highlights the ways in which Bonhoeffer’s work relates to modern debates in epistemology and ethics generally, and that of Wilhelm Dilthey and hermeneutical phenomenology in particular. This volume offers a detailed theological analysis of the themes of self-identity, human subjectivity, and self-understanding, which are highly pertinent for contemporary society.
Phillips has written a highly perceptive book, arguing for a new key to Bonhoeffer’s corpus, simplicity and wisdom. Drawing on Dilthey to show how Bonhoeffer harmonises and integrates the unreflective and reflective dimensions of our human subjectivity in Christ, Phillips challenges us to appropriate boldly Bonhoeffer’s vision of discipleship in wise and simple obedience to Christ.
—Christopher R.J. Holmes, Head of the Theology Programme, University of Otago, New Zealand
This rich and careful study provides a sustained engagement with a central tension in Bonhoeffer's theology: an emphasis upon simplicity or unreflective obedience (especially as found in Discipleship) and a recognition elsewhere of the role of wisdom, discernment and responsibility (especially in Ethics). Displaying a detailed grasp of Bonhoeffer’s corpus and philosophical influences, Phillips’s book makes an important contribution to ongoing scholarship and debates.
—Michael Mawson, Senior Lecturer in Theology, Charles Sturt University, Australia
Jacob Phillips’ text takes up an important project in Bonhoeffer scholarship, addressing contradictions between Discipleship and Ethics vis-à-vis unreflective and reflective obedience to God. Pairing close readings of Bonhoeffer’s work with hermeneutical insight from Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm Dilthey, Phillips arrives at a constructive integration of those contradictions. Moreover, he places his work in conversation with the varied scholarly reception of Discipleship and Bonhoeffer's own cautionary words about the ‘dangers’ of his earlier work. I highly recommend this book for serious students of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life and legacy.
—Lori Brandt Hale, Professor of Religion, Augsburg University, USA
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