Taking Hold of the Real: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Profound Worldliness of Christianity

By Barry Harvey

An insightful exploration of the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and its ongoing relevance for an authentically Christian engagement with the world.

ISBN: 9780227175972


Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in one of his last prison letters that he had “come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity”. In Taking Hold of the Real, Barry Harvey engages in constructive conversation with Bonhoeffer, contending that the “shallow and banal this-worldliness” of modern society is ordered to a significant degree around the social structures of religion, culture, and race. These mechanisms displace human beings from their traditional connections with particular locales, and relocate them in their “proper places” as determined by the nation-state and capitalist markets.

Christians are called to participate in the profound “this-worldliness” that breaks into the world in the apocalyptic action of Jesus Christ, a form of life that requires discipline and an understanding of death and resurrection. The church is a sacrament of this new humanity, performing for all to hear the polyphony of life that was prefigured in the Old Testament and now is realised in Christ. Unable to find a faithful form of “this-worldliness” in wartime Germany, Bonhoeffer joined the conspiracy against Hitler, a decision aptly compared to the actions of a small church in the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which, prepared by its life together over many generations, saved thousands of Jewish lives.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 354

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Barry Harvey is Professor of Theology in the Honours College and the Graduate Program in Religion at Baylor University. His other books include Politics of the Theological, Another City, and Can These Bones Live? He has served on the Board of the International Bonhoeffer Society, English Language Section, and the Editorial Board of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.


List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Great Wager

1. A Sacramental This-Worldliness
2. The Ironic Myth of a World Come of Age
3. The Future of a Technological Illusion
4. The End(s) of “Religion”
5. Culture, or Accounting for the Merely Different
6. A Social Economy of Whiteness
7. Reading the New in Light of the Old
8. Polyphonic Worldliness
9. A Tale of Two Pastors

Scripture Index
Index of Names and Subjects
Index of Greek Terms


Endorsements and Reviews

Harvey’s fine study offers a mature and highly responsible interpretation of the central elements of Bonhoeffer’s theology in creative conversation with leading theologians and theorists of our day. … Here is a work from which we can learn what ought never to have been forgotten: that following where Christ leads drives Christians ever more profoundly into the realities of the world for its sake.
Philip G. Ziegler, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology, School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, King’s College, University of Aberdeen

More than just another exposition of Bonhoeffer’s thought or examination of his life, this book is a creative appropriation of Bonhoeffer for our times. Harvey uses his sensitive and thorough understanding of Bonhoeffer to show the irony of modernity’s claim to have reached maturity, and to guide Christians toward the kind of worldliness necessary to deal with the worldliness of a secular age. This book is a fascinating read.
William T. Cavanaugh, Director, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University

In this elegantly written book, Harvey indeed shows us why Bonhoeffer’s theology remains pivotal for our own time, but he does much more. By establishing the participatory and sacramental nature of Bonhoeffer’s theology, Harvey succeeds in showing how still-debated notions like ‘this-worldliness’ and ‘religionless Christianity’ arise from Bonhoeffer’s overall eschatological framework. Everyone interested in Bonhoeffer, including experts, needs to read this book!
Jens Zimmerman, Professor in the Humanities and Canada Research Chair for Religion, Culture and Interpretation

… at once a responsible study of Bonhoeffer and an intriguing work of theology in its own right. … Harvey’s lifelong admiration for Bonhoeffer comes through on almost every page of this engaging book. Although he does not shy away from critiquing Bonhoeffer when he sees fit, his is a thoroughly generous reading. … this book is highly recommended.
Joel Banman, in Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol 24, Issue 3

Harvey’s book is a model of how to make use of one important way of reading classic theological texts. What makes it so good is the rare combination of critical (i.e. textual and contextual) expertise and creative, contemporary theological questioning and provocation. There are plenty of books doing one or the other – few do both.
Stephen J. Plant, in Theology, Vol 120, No 4

Harvey excels not only in his understanding and explanation of the Bonhoefferian motifs of ‘worldliness’ and a ‘world come of age’, but also in his ability to think with Bonhoeffer in an effort to understand how Christians can and should live in a world which is dominated by various social technologies which seek to divide and alienate us.
Brandin Francabandera, in The Expository Times, Vol 128, No 9