The following is an interview conducted by Diane Reynolds with Barry Harvey about his book Taking Hold of the Real.
1. What motivated you to write this book?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been a constant companion of mine, both personally as a Christian and professionally as a theologian, for nearly
three decades. I often refer to him as a close friend I never had the chance to meet. I wanted others to see him as a friend as well.
2. What would you say is/are the one or two most important take-aways from your book?
It’s important to recognize that Bonhoeffer cannot speak for us in our struggle to be faithful members of the body of Christ, nor should we want him to, for as he puts it in Ethics, we must give an account of our time and place. That said, he still has quite a bit to say to us on the topic of what it means to be the church in the modern world, particularly if we get beyond the most well-known of his writings (Discipleship, Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison), and look at the breadth of his life, short though it was. What we find when we take the time to do this is an amazing tale of both continuity and development that shows us the maturation of a Christian mind.
3. When and why did you first get interested in Bonhoeffer?
I have written on some aspect or other of his life and work on several occasions, the fruits of which supply both the framework and some of the content for the present volume. Even when I have not written explicitly about him, something he said or did frequently acts as a catalyst for my reflections. I was introduced to him and his thought in seminary, but it was only after I finished graduate school and fell in with the characters in the International Bonhoeffer Society that he worked his way into the heart of my own work and faith.
4. Are there characteristic ways you think people misunderstand Bonhoeffer?
I would to caution people to be careful not to squeeze Bonhoeffer into categories that we in North America find convenient. Attempts to make Bonhoeffer fit neatly into categories such as evangelical or mainline, conservative or progressive, are bound to come up short. The complexities and nuances of ecclesial and political life in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century do not map cleanly onto the intellectual and social landscape of the United States, a fact he documents in his reflections on Protestantism in America, “Protestantism Without Reformation.”
5. Do young people today know about Bonhoeffer in your experience?
There is a general recognition of Bonhoeffer among many young people, but much of that comes from secondary sources such as recent biographies. Whenever I encounter those, young or old, whose knowledge comes from such sources I try to tell them, “Great, now read Bonhoeffer for yourself! You’ll be rewarded in ways you can’t even imagine now.”
6. Anything to add: any new projects on the horizon?
I’m working on a book project in which I hope to take up some of the threads on music that I describe in the book, and develop them into a more comprehensive imaginary of the Christian life in our post-Christendom world.