Instead, Bonhoeffer proposes within the pages of the manuscripts that the starting point ought to be the inquiry into who is good. For Bonhoeffer, the answer is clear: Christ alone proves an adequate beginning for all ethical thought. Christ as the good also becomes synonymous with reality itself, for after the Fall, humans have only a distorted view of reality. Based on these premises, Bonhoeffer moves on to explicate his understanding of the responsible life, structured by the following two factors: obligation (to God and other humans) and freedom. Bonhoeffer examines obligation from the perspectives of Stellvertretung (vicarious representative action or deputyship) and accordance with reality. Freedom takes concrete shape in the accountability for one's life and action, and the venture of the concrete decision. The latter includes for Bonhoeffer also the necessity to accept guilt for the sake of another person.
Even more heatedly debated among Bonhoeffer's readers than his Ethics is his final work, Letters and Papers From Prison. Smuggled out of prison and published only after his death, this exchange of letters, papers, and poems with his close friend Eberhard Bethge comprises revolutionary new ideas for theology and spirituality. Here we read about "a religionless Christianity" in "a world come of age" that needs a different, namely a "nonreligious interpretation" of biblical and theological concepts. Bonhoeffer holds that due to the advances in science and the experiences in two world wars, people can no longer be "religious" in the traditional sense of the word. Religion, for Bonhoeffer, thus comes to stand for the imprisonment of Christianity, and we as readers become witnesses of Bonhoeffer's struggle of how to speak concretely and without using religious language about Christ and the Church in a manner relevant to his contemporaries. He finds a starting point in "prayer and righteous action." The Church itself comes to be understood as the true one only "when it exists for others."
BONHOEFFER IN A NUTSHELL
Being faced with the almost overwhelming variety and wealth of Bonhoeffer's theological and spiritual legacy, one can justifiably ask whether a common thread connects his works and his legacy. This unifying element is found in Bonhoeffer's consistent Christocentrism. Bonhoeffer's unwavering focus on Christ as the center of his theology and spirituality is perceptible throughout both his works and his own life journey, stations of which included being a pastor and a professor of theology, as well as being a double agent conspiring against the Nazi regime, resulting in his execution. His work and his life will undoubtedly continue to influence and trigger religious and spiritual development for years to come.