Becoming Simple and Wise: Moral Discernment in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Vision of Christian Ethics

By Joshua A. Kaiser

A study of moral discernment in the Christian life, arguing that the balance between faith and reason is exemplified in the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

ISBN: 9780227175491


How does a Christian discern the will of God? While this question lies at the heart of the Christian moral life, religious communities struggle to articulate responses that balance simple faith and rational reflection. Some characterise discernment as simple obedience to the commandments in Scripture; others portray it as an exercise of human reason and conscience.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, pastor, and political conspirator who embodied a life of discernment amidst difficult circumstances in WWII Germany, offers a compelling theological account of how to seek and respond to God’s will. By tracing Bonhoeffer’s understanding of moral discernment throughout his writings, and especially in his Ethics, Joshua Kaiser demonstrates the importance of discernment for Bonhoeffer’s vision of Christian ethics and explores how his view combines elements of simple faith and rational reflection. While the results of the study will be significant for those interested in Bonhoeffer, they will also be relevant to all who struggle along the path of Christian discipleship.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 212

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Joshua A. Kaiser teaches theology, philosophy, and biblical studies at Trinity School at Greenlawn in South Bend, Indiana. He holds a doctorate in theological ethics from the University of Edinburgh.



1. Introduction
2. The Problem of Moral Discernment
3. The Christological Foundation of Discernment
4. Christian Formation and the Practice of Discernment
5. The Simplicity of Discernment
6. The Penultimate Context of Discernment
7. Conclusion



Endorsements and Reviews

Kaiser engages with the oldest and most central question in Christian ethics: ‘How can I discern and do God’s will?’ In close conversation with Bonhoeffer’s exemplary life and theology, and writing with clarity and verve, Kaiser offers his readers an interpretation that will serve students of Bonhoeffer, and of Christian ethics more generally for years to come.
Stephen J. Plant, Dean and Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge

With Becoming Simple and Wise, Joshua Kaiser makes an invaluable contribution to scholarship on Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics. While attending to prima facie tensions in Bonhoeffer’s own comments about moral agency and ethical deliberation, Kaiser convincingly shows that there are deep resources in Bonhoeffer for a rigorous conception of moral discernment. This is a remarkable achievement; it deserves to be read and studied carefully by all those with interests in Bonhoeffer, Lutheran ethics, and moral theology.
Michael Mawson, Lecturer in Theology, University of Aberdeen

Kaiser works to inform that debate more fully, which represents a valuable service to Bonhoeffer scholars and graduate researchers as well as students of the great Christian moral tradition more generally.
Taylor Worley, in Theological Book Review, Vol 27, No 2