Private Confession Of Sin In The Theology Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- By: Nicola J. Wilkes

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 66:2 (NA 2015)
Article: Private Confession Of Sin In The Theology Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Author: Nicola J. Wilkes


Private Confession Of Sin In The Theology Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer1

Nicola J. Wilkes

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In the thesis I argue that private confession of sin plays a significant role in Bonhoeffer’s theology from his earliest writings onwards and that it is the vehicle through which he envisages the reinvigoration of the church. On Bonhoeffer’s account, private confession of sin is a moment of concrete encounter with the present Christ in which the one who confesses comes out of self and into Christ and thereby into the church-community; namely, into Christ existing as church-community. In so doing the confessant displaces self as the pseudo-creator, and stands before Christ in order both to speak out truth and to hear truth; that is, she comes out of self in order to be addressed by Christ. Through this action the confessant embraces reality, receives Stellvertretung (vicarious representative action), moves from death to life, from isolation to community, and from disunity to union with Christ and his Church. Confession is the actualisation by the Holy Spirit of the already accomplished ontological reality of the reconciliation of humanity with God wrought by Jesus Christ through his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. The Stellvertreter, the one who hears the confession, stands before the one confessing both in the place of the church community — that is, in place of Christ — and as a fellow sinner, forgives the sin in the power of the Spirit and ‘takes the sin from the other’s conscience and bears it … by… laying it on Christ’ in the name of the triune God. In sum, for Bonhoeffer, private confession effects a reconstitution of personhood through the revelatory word heard in encounter with Christ.

Confession is intrinsic to Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology, theological anthropology, soteriology, hamartiology, Christology, epistemology, theology of discipleship and healing, confession (Bekenntnis) of faith,

ethical and sacramental theology, theological concept of Stellvertretung, interpretive hermeneutic, and philosophical critique. It is his response to the theological problem of sin, and the philosophical issue of how human beings know truth. Although his first published reference to confession, in a footnote in Sanctorum Communio, falls under the title of pastoral care, even here Bonhoeffer affords it a richer significance than one confined to pastoral issues. From the time of his visit to Rome at the age of seventeen, the notion of private confession was embedded in the framework of Bonhoeffer’s thought such that it became a controlling idea decisively shapin...

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