Theological Insight


“The whole church community is really only in the local community. The church exists by the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, which have to be distinguished. The community has been chosen by Christ from eternity . . . . The new humankind lives in him; it has been created by his death (Eph 2:15). It is the second, the new Adam (1 Cor 15:45). Thus humankind is really redeemed in him, for he gave himself for the church (Eph 5:25), and the building up of the church means exclusively the actualizing of what has been accomplished in Christ . . . . Christ’s relation to the church is twofold; he is the creator of its entire life, which rests on him, the master builder of the church, and he is also really present at all times in his church, for the church is his body; he rules over it as the head does over the body. The body, however, is ruled by the Holy Spirit period . . . . and here again we have to distinguish between the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit, which are not identical in their power. What Christ is for the whole church, the Holy Spirit is for individuals. The Holy Spirit impels individuals toward Christ and brings Christ to them (Rom 8: 14; EPH 2:22). The Holy Spirit creates community for them . . . . That is, the Holy Spirit’s power extends to one’s social life, and makes use of one’s social bonds and social will, whereas the Spirit of Christ is directed toward the historical nature of human life together.”

From The Communion of Saints (Sanctorum Communio) in A Testament to Freedom, Edited by Geffrey B. Kelly and E. Burton Nelson, Harper San Francisco.


“Costly Grace is the hidden treasure in the field, for the sake of which people will go and sell with joy everything they have. It is the costly pearl, for whose price the merchant sells all that he has; it is Christ’s sovereignty, for the sake of which you tear out an eye if it causes you to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ which causes a disciple to leave his nets and follow him.
Costly Grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock. It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live. It is costly because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s son––“you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s son was not too costly for God to give in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly Grace is the incarnation of God.

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.


“We are otherworldly––ever since we hit upon the devious trick of being religious, yes even ‘Christian,’ at the expense of the earth. Otherworldliness affords us splendid environment in which to live. Whenever life begins to become oppressive and troublesome we just leap into the air with a bold kick and soar relieved and unencumbered into so-called eternal fields. We leap over the present. We disdain the earth; we are better than it. After all, besides the temporal defeats we still have our eternal victories, and they are so easily achieved. Otherworldliness also makes it easy to preach and to speak words of comfort. An otherworldly church can be certain that it will in no time win over all the weaklings, all who are only too glad to be deceived and deluded, all utopianists, all disloyal children of the earth. When an explosion seems imminent, who would not be so human as to quickly mount the chariot that comes down from the skies with the promise of taking us to a better world beyond? What church would be so merciless, so inhuman, as not to deal compassionately with the weakness of suffering people and thereby save souls for the kingdom of heaven? We are weak; we cannot bear having the earth so near, the earth that bears us. We cannot stand it, because the earth is stronger than we and because we want to be better than the evil earth. So we extricate ourselves from it; we refuse to take it seriously. Who could blame us for that ––who but the have-nots in their envy? We are weak, that’s just the way we are; and we weaklings are open to the religion of otherworldliness. Should it be denied us? Should the weakling remain without help? Would that be in the Spirit of Jesus Christ? No, the weak should receive help. We do in fact receive help, from Christ. However, Christ does not will or intend this weakness; instead, he makes us strong. He does not lead us in a religious flight from this world to other worlds beyond; rather, he gives us back to the earth as its loyal children.”

–Excerpt from Bonhoeffer’s sermon: Thy Kingdom Come: The Prayer of the Church for the Kingdom of God on Earth (November 19, 1932)

From A Testament to Freedom, Edited by Geffrey B. Kelly and E. Burton Nelson, Harper San Francisco.


“To act responsibly means to include in the formation of action human reality as it has been taken on by God in Christ. Christ did not cause the world to cease being the world, and every action that seeks to confuse the world with the kingdom of God is a denial of both Christ and the world. By grounding responsible action in Jesus Christ we affirm precisely the limits of such action. Because we are dealing with worldly action, this responsibility has a limited scope. No one has the responsibility of turning the world into the kingdom of God, but only of taking the next necessary step that corresponds to God’s becoming human in Christ. Responsible action is nourished not by an ideology but by reality, which is why one can only act within the boundaries of that reality. Responsibility is limited both in its scope and in its character, i.e., both quantitatively and qualitatively. Every transgression of this boundary leads to catastrophe. The task is not to turn the world upside down but in a given place to do what, from the perspective of reality, is necessary objectively and to really carry it out. But even in a given place, responsible action cannot always immediately do what is ultimately right. It has to proceed step – by – step, ask what is possible, and in trust the ultimate step, and thus the ultimate responsibility, to another hand.”

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 6: Ethics, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.