Bonhoeffer (Ethics) condemns both radicalism and compromise. Radicalism sees only the ultimate and dismisses and judges the penultimate; “everything penultimate is enmity towards Christ” (p. 127). Compromise ensures that the penultimate retains its rights and is not threatened by the ultimate, but in so doing limits the claims of the ultimate.
Bonhoeffer summarizes: “Radicalism hates time, and compromise hates eternity. Radicalism hates patience, and compromise hates decision. Radicalism hates wisdom, and compromise hates simplicity. Radicalism hates moderation and measure, and compromise hates the immeasurable. Radicalism hates the real, and compromise hates the word” (130).
Bonhoeffer of course rejects this, but what’s crucial is the way he rejects it.
He doesn’t reject these extremes in favor of some Aristotelian mean. Rather, he rejects them for Christological reasons and proposes a Christological alternative. Both radicalism and compromise, he says, are “opposed to Christ” because “in Jesus Christ those things which are here ranged in mutual hostility are one.”
Then he simply tells the gospel story: “In Jesus Christ we have faith in the incarnate, crucified and risen God. In the incarnation we learn of the love of God for His creation; in the crucifixion we learn of the judgement of God upon all flesh; and in the resurrection we learn of God’s will for a new world. . . . A Christian ethic constructed solely on the basis of the incarnation would lead directly to the compromise solution. An ethic which was based solely on the cross or the resurrection of Jesus would fall victim to radicalism and enthusiasm. Only in the unity is the conflict resolved” (130).
This is evangelical ethics, an ethics whose most basic frame of reference is the particular story of Jesus.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 5:21 am
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