Bonhoeffer and the Racialized Church
262 pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: September 2020
How do we remain faithful to and work within a Christian church that has been historically complicit in racism and that still exhibits racist actions in its communal life? While there have been numerous recent accounts addressing why the Christian church of the West is marked by racism and whiteness, there has been less attention given to how we reconcile the church’s racial inequities with the belief that God works through God’s people.
In Bonhoeffer and the Racialized Church, Ross Halbach seeks to reframe the question within Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s conception of the "ultimate and penultimate." Bonhoeffer’s acute sense of God’s continual speaking offers a prophetic challenge to the church: instead of masking the realities of racial sin or pursuing easy resolution, we must confront the full consequences of whiteness in repentant expectation of Christ’s coming. Halbach places the writings of Bonhoeffer into dialogue with the contemporary writings of Willie Jennings, J. Kameron Carter, and Brian Bantum, allowing these various perspectives to augment one another. This approach gives new clarity to present theological discussions of race through a consideration of God’s regenerative work.
Discussions of race must move from seeking a diagnosis to exploring a dialogue that delves deeper into the issue. Racism is not a question to be answered but a resistance that hinders the church from hearing God’s present call, which is given to the body of Christ through baptism and Eucharist. The church’s response to God’s call is found not in the assurance of a solution but in the obedient act of the church’s participation with Christ in preparing the way for the church to hear how the triune God has already spoken and continues to speak today.
Part 1. Words Already Spoken
1 Discerning Surprise
Bonhoeffer and Theological Race Discourse in America
2 The Space of Remembering
Whiteness as an Evolving Language Game
Part 2. Words between Ultimate and Penultimate
3 Creation and Whiteness
Bonhoeffer and Willie J. Jennings in Dialogue
4 Christology and Whiteness
Bonhoeffer and J. Kameron Carter in Dialogue
5 Ecclesiology and Whiteness
Bonhoeffer and Brian Bantum in Comparison
In this erudite and honest book, Ross Halbach makes an invaluable contribution to the complex work of understanding whiteness and unraveling racial logics and histories. As part of this contribution, he provides a rich and nuanced reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of creation, Christology, and ecclesiology. Even more impressively, he brings Bonhoeffer into close and careful dialogue with three contemporary theologies of race: those of Willie Jennings, J. Kameron Carter, and Brian Bantum. Halbach’s book is among the very best constructive deployments of Bonhoeffer to date.~Michael Mawson, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Ethics, Charles Sturt University
Ross Halbach has achieved the first theological study of the hermeneutic enclosure of whiteness from the inside. A brilliant and overdue engagement with the reasons why it seems so difficult to escape the labyrinth of a failed mindset, as he puts it, Halbach renders intelligible the reasons why Christians with immense privilege feel trapped and unwilling to change, and so resign themselves to a way of life sealed off from the voices and concerns of the non-white other.~Brian Brock, Professor of Moral and Practical Theology, King's College, University of Aberdeen
Confronted by what seems to be the inevitability of racism, the temptation is to give up. By drawing on Bonhoeffer’s work, and in particular his Christology, Ross Halbach surprisingly resists that conclusion. It turns out surprise is a crucial category for him that befits the eschatological character of his proposal. He develops his position by providing substantive analysis of Jennings, Carter, and Bantum. Halbach has a strong theological voice that we desperately need if the church is to be faithful to the gospel.~Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics Emeritus, Duke Divinity School