Bonhoeffer and Me: Comparative Theological Autobiography

25 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2015 Last revised: 26 Feb 2015

See all articles by Matthew Cavedon

Matthew Cavedon

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: November 19, 2014


Studying Bonhoeffer helped me to better organize my own theological development and to see how my biography has influenced it. My theological formation shares some similarities with that of Bonhoeffer. A fellow convert, I was also raised in a bourgeois family with a distant Christian background. My foray into Christian faith featured academic study, like Bonhoeffer’s. Having reached the point in my life where Bonhoeffer became an effective advocate of Lutheranism and dialectical theology against Nazism and theological liberalism, I find myself a partisan of orthodox Catholicism with a penchant for doctrinal fights and social affairs alike. To predict my own distinct contributions to theology in the years to come would be to ignore the most important lesson of Bonhoeffer’s third stage: context matters. However, in light of studying Bonhoeffer’s theology and biography, I can identify some of the points that will serve as its raw materials.

I see three movements in the development of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology throughout his life. The first stage encompasses both Bonhoeffer’s pre-Christian bourgeois upbringing and his conversions into academic theology, dialectical theology, and committed Christian discipleship. The second stage is comprised of Bonhoeffer’s student years and much of his ordinary pastoral work. This is when Bonhoeffer became a strong voice for Lutheranism, supporter of dialectical theology, and radical social critic. His conventional Lutheranism fit his pastoral task well by making him accessible, while the context of German politics made him believe in the urgency of social critique. The third stage, during Bonhoeffer’s conspiratorial activity and imprisonment, witnessed two distinct contributions arising from his combination of the ideas that had been present in his earlier life, each in response to the failure of the German Lutheran order: Bonhoeffer pushed theological ethics into radical Christology and predicted the emergence of a religionless Christianity.

Keywords: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ethics, autobiography, history, theology, radicalism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Christology, religionless Christianity, Germany, Holocaust, World War II, prison

Suggested Citation

Cavedon, Matthew, Bonhoeffer and Me: Comparative Theological Autobiography (November 19, 2014). Available at SSRN:

Matthew Cavedon (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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