Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics of Formation


Ryan M. Huber

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been claimed as an ethicist of responsibility, peace, divine command, and more. In this dissertation I argue that Bonhoeffer should be understood as an ethicist of formation. I argue that formation lies at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s ethical project, as articulated in his writings and as lived out in his concrete historical context and personal story, and that Bonhoefferian ethics of formation can provide a third way between Thomistic virtue ethics and character ethics in the landscape of contemporary Christian ethical thought.

To this end, I utilize a combination of textual, biographical-historical-contextual, and comparative analysis to provide a thick description of Bonhoeffer’s ethics of formation and an articulation of a foundation for Bonhoefferian ethics of formation for contemporary Christian ethics. I attempt to demonstrate that formation is a central motif in Bonhoeffer’s Ethics through a chronological engagement of significant interpretations of that work. I examine the roots of formation in Discipleship and Life Together as a demonstration of the role of formation in the continuity of Bonhoeffer’s evolving thought over the course of the 1930s. I explore the central importance of formation for the structure and organization of Ethics, arguing that the work, though unfinished, is more structurally unified than previously thought. Because Bonhoeffer’s life and his written work are so closely intertwined, I engage his personal story of formation as a guide for understanding how important aspects of the process of formation were realized in his own context. I also examine Bonhoeffer’s vocation as an educator, in which he helped to form others through teaching and building relationships in Christian community.

Finally, I endeavor to move toward the construction of a foundation for Bonhoefferian ethics of formation through comparative analysis with three major voices in the contemporary Christian ethical landscape concerned with ethics as a project of the moral growth of agents in community, namely Thomistic virtue ethics and Protestant character ethics. By comparing the ethical positions of Jean Porter, Stanley Hauerwas, Glen H. Stassen, and my interpretation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I argue that Bonhoeffer’s ethics of formation is a third way between virtue and character ethics, as his ethics of formation shares certain similarities with each position, yet entails a distinct, unified, Christological, and personal account of Christian moral growth in community.

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PHD in Theology

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Lee, Hak Joon

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian ethics, Discipling (Christianity), Spiritual formation


Missions and World Christianity


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