The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
By Geoffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson. Eerdmans, 300 pp., $25.00.
In good times religious leaders think that they have reinvented the church. In bad times they seek wisdom from those who have gone before them. No wonder, then, that many now ask what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have made of our world. When the path to peace seems so uncertain and the relationship between Christian faith and America's role in the world has become so complicated, we might learn something from this German pastor and theologian who led the church's resistance to his country's imperialism and militarism.
American readers tend to overlook the fact that Bonhoeffer was a patriot who cared deeply about the future of the German people. That was why he gave up the safety of New York to return to Germany in 1939. But Bonhoeffer was also a Christian who accepted God's judgment on his nation.
Geoffrey Kelly and Burton Nelson are well qualified to relate Bonhoeffer's spirituality to our time. Both have devoted their careers to Bonhoeffer scholarship, and they have maintained an ecumenical dialogue in which Kelly's Roman Catholicism and Nelson's Evangelical Covenant Protestantism subtly enrich their interpretations of Bonhoeffer's German Lutheran ecclesiology. They present a systematic treatment of Bonhoeffer's theology and ethics, with an emphasis on the spirituality he developed during Germany's church struggle and taught to his seminarians in the Confessing Church. The extensive notes and index signal that this is a work of serious scholarship. Thirteen pages of useful discussion questions also remind us that Kelly and Nelson are superb teachers. Theirs is a book for the college and seminary classroom, the clergy study group and the Sunday morning discussion class, as well as the theologian's library.
Above all, this is a book for those prepared to think about moral leadership at a time when the future is unclear and when self-righteous certainty dominates public discourse. How do we provide courage and hope without self-righteousness? How can we listen to the concerns and fears of those around us without falling victim to their illusions? The Cost of Moral Leadership is about theological convictions that provide a wider perspective on world events, but it is especially concerned with the spiritual disciplines that sustain our faith when success and power seem to have deserted us.