Next Article in Journal
Sweet Asceticism: An Ethnographic Study of Female Renouncers in the Chaitanya Vaiṣṇava Tradition
Next Article in Special Issue
Read the Signs: Detecting Early Warning Signals of Interreligious Conflict
Previous Article in Journal
The Bestowal of Noble Titles upon the Mountain and Water Spirits in Tang China
Previous Article in Special Issue
Divine Discomfort: A Relational Encounter with Multi-Generational and Multi-Layered Trauma

The Road to Reconciliation—Insights from Christian Public Theology

Center for Faith and Society, Fribourg University, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
Historical Trauma and Transformation, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch 7602, South Africa
Academic Editors: Gladys Ganiel and Joram Tarusarira
Religions 2022, 13(3), 230;
Received: 19 January 2022 / Revised: 2 March 2022 / Accepted: 3 March 2022 / Published: 8 March 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conflict and Peacebuilding: Advances in the Field)


Once primarily situated within religious contexts, reconciliation has since become an established concept in peace and conflict studies. The exact meaning of this concept remains disputed. This contribution takes the sometimes heated debates one step back as it seeks to return to the roots of the religious dimensions of reconciliation in order to shed light on its meaning and use for peace and conflict studies today. Using Christian Public Theology as a framework, the author delineates several hallmarks on the road to reconciliation. While the metaphoric “road to reconciliation” must not be misunderstood as a linear progression with a predictable result, it does indicate that certain milestones are likely to be encountered on this path. These include remembrance, repentance, confession of guilt, forgiveness and justice. As the author draws out the religious dimensions of these concepts, a deeper understanding of the meaning of reconciliation emerges.
Keywords: reconciliation; peace; conflict; public theology; religion; remembrance; guilt; forgiveness; justice reconciliation; peace; conflict; public theology; religion; remembrance; guilt; forgiveness; justice

1. Introduction

“No future without forgiveness!” (Tutu 1999). Desmond Tutu’s call to his fellow citizens has become legendary. With his paradoxical intervention, Tutu paved the way for forgiveness and reconciliation when most people both expected and feared hatred and revenge by the long-suppressed non-white majority in South Africa after the official end of the Apartheid regime. Once primarily situated within religious contexts (cf. Breytenbach 1989), the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation have long since become established in peace and conflict studies besides other contexts, including psychological and therapeutic settings (cf. Touissant and Webb 2005). With their becoming mainstream in numerous other discourses, however, their exact meaning has become increasingly unclear.
In this contribution, I seek to take the sometimes heated debates one step back as I return to the roots of the religious dimensions of forgiveness and reconciliation in order to shed light on their meaning and productivity for peace and conflict studies today. Coming from the perspective of theology, I will use Christian Public Theology as a framework in order to delineate and discuss several hallmarks of the road to reconciliation. While the road metaphor is helpful in the sense that it points to the process character of reconciliation, it must not be misunderstood as if it denoted a linear progression with a predictable outcome. Nor must reconciliation be understood—to remain within the imagery—as a comfortable walk in the park. Rather, it must be seen as a demanding hike along stony and steep paths, encountering deep valleys and nearly insurmountable steep cliffs. The road metaphor indicates further that certain milestones are likely to be encountered on this path. These include remembrance, contrition, confession, forgiveness and justice (cf. Volf 2015, pp. 161–94).1 These milestones do not represent a strictly chronological order. Rather, as I will show below, they repeat themselves, they interact with each other and they are prone to change—with changes affecting both themselves and the participating actors.2

2. Engaging the Resources of Religion: Towards a Theology of Reconciliation from the Perspective of Public Theology

Any hike begins with adequate preparations and first orientations. Where are we and where do we want to go? Which paths can we follow? The setting in many Western societies in the 21st century is that of radical pluralism, characterized by a “farewell to principle” (“Abschied vom Prinzipiellen”, Marquard 1986). At the same time, one of the most influential offers of interpretation of modern reality has failed, namely, Max Weber’s famous postulation of a “disenchantment of the world” (“Entzauberung der Welt”, Weber 1994, p. 9). In conjunction with the so-called “secularization thesis”, this notion predicted a continuous decline of religion in modern societies. The contrary seems to be the case, however. After decades of religious abstinence, there is a “return to the question of religion” (Freeman 2012, p. 1) and a renewed interest in the role of religion in the making of modern societies. Some even speak of a “desecularization of the world” (Berger 1999). These observations of the increasing interest in religion on the side of academics, politics and society are supported by empirical findings. According to an extensive study conducted by Pew Research Center, the 21st century will be religious (Pew Research Center 2015). Nearly all major world religious traditions will gain in membership. With the bulk of religious growth being expected in countries associated commonly with the “Global South”, European countries constitute somewhat of a special case in this development. Yet even in Europe, the lack of a common social imaginary apparent not only in the manifold crises of the Union of Values in Europe causes even self-described “religiously non-musical” thinkers, such as Jürgen Habermas, to call for a careful reinvestigation into the resources of religion (cf. Habermas 2001).
With its inherent ambivalence (Appleby 2000), religion contains both destructive and constructive elements. This holds particularly true in the field of conflict and peacebuilding (Schliesser 2019a). While public attention is oftentimes focused on the conflictive powers of religion, I would like to examine religion’s positive impact, such as that connected with the concept of reconciliation. Yet before we discuss the resources connected with this concept any closer and start our journey, so to speak, we need to enquire as to which paths look promising. I propose following the path labelled Public Theology.
What, then, is Public Theology? This mode of exploring theology makes clear both the relevance of theology for the public sphere and the relevance of the public sphere for theology. According to Wolfgang Huber, one of the protagonists in German-speaking Public Theology, Public Theology seeks to “interpret the questions of life together and its institutional forms in their theological relevance and to determine the contributions of Christian faith for the responsible engagement with our life world” (Huber 1996, p. 14).3 Heinrich Bedford-Strohm adds the following five characteristics to Huber’s more general definition of Public Theology (Bedford-Strohm 2009, p. 53). Public Theology is (1) engaged in topics of public relevance; (2) bilingual in the sense that Public Theology speaks both its own theological language and a language that is understandable in the public sphere; (3) interdisciplinary and (4) “glocal” in the way it combines a particular, local setting with a global outlook. Finally, (5), Public Theology includes issues of public relevance into its own theological reflection. In addition to Bedford-Strohm’s more formal criteria, I would like to add a sixth characteristic that strengthens Public Theology’s material profile, namely, Christology. Here, the traditional dogmatic imagery of the munus triplex, the three-fold office of Christ as king, prophet and priest, can give concrete orientation to contemporary Public Theology (cf. Schliesser 2019b, pp. 355–71). If we look at Christ as king, for example, we find a king that exemplifies servant leadership, a king who proclaimed the Gospel of reconciliation and ministered to the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. Christ as prophet then points us to the prophetic tradition of crying out against injustice and to the fact that reconciliation is inseparably connected with justice. The priestly office finally reminds us of our fellowship with others as equals, being at the same table reconciled with God and with each other.
In the context of pluralistic European societies that increasingly realize that the secular state depends on preconditions which it cannot produce itself (Böckenförde 1991, p. 112), the role of religion awakens renewed interest. Christian Public Theology responds to this interest and engages with public issues, including conflict and peacebuilding. With its Christological orientation, it can lead a path towards a deeper understanding of reconciliation. With this in mind, we can now begin our journey.

3. Rock Bottom: On the Existential Need for Reconciliation

The road to reconciliation begins at rock bottom, at the low point of human social existence, for the downside of reconciliation is conflict and broken relationships. Already in the third century BCE, Roman poet Plautus (ca. 254–184 BCE) summarized what humans are able to do to one another by the well-known aphorism: Lupus est homo homini (Plautus 1968, p. 495).4 Humans can turn into beasts. Not exactly pleasant travel companions! There are different theories about the root causes of conflict. Philosopher of state Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) describes three main reasons for conflict. “First, Competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory” (Hobbes 1968, p. 185).5 Theology then digs even deeper. According to Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546), it is unbelief that is at the root of all evil or, theologically speaking, sin. By their unbelief, humans reject God’s offer of a loving relationship. Yet the term “sin” has become rather opaque in today’s world. If we look into the New Testament’s use of the term “sin”, we find the ideas of a missed mark, of a missed path or a failed relationship (Härle 2000, p. 461). To miss one’s path—on a hike this can have a fatal outcome. Sin therefore goes beyond individual acts; it is both act and being. And sin has consequences. It manifests itself not only in a lack of love towards God, but also towards oneself, the other person and our life world.
And how does guilt fit into the picture? While sin refers to that which interferes in humans’ relationship with God (Scheiber 2006, p. 315f.), guilt describes the consequences of sin that burden both humans’ relationship with God and humans’ relationship with each other. Here, the German-Swiss philosopher Karl Jaspers is helpful for approaching the different layers of guilt. Jaspers differentiates between four aspects of guilt (Jaspers 1973). Criminal guilt refers to concrete violations of law, while moral guilt points to one’s continuing responsibility, even if there is no violation of legal rules. Political guilt, then, is partaken in not only by politicians, but by all citizens, albeit to a lesser degree. And then there is metaphysical guilt, which refers to our shared responsibility for global injustices that we might not be able to influence much, yet still partake in. Since modern times, the focus has been on individual, criminal guilt, while the other dimensions have slipped out of sight. From the perspective of peace and conflict studies, however, it is, in particular, the fourth aspect, namely, guilt as metaphysical guilt, that becomes of interest. By means of this concept, we can focus on dimensions that are beyond the individual, criminal guilt.
Against this background, it becomes clear that sin and guilt entail both individual and supra-individual dimensions. This means that sin and guilt can be located also in structures and institutions. From this perspective, even entire societal systems can be understood as sinful. In 1982, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, under the leadership of South African Allan Boesak, condemned the South African Apartheid system as “sin” and “heresy”: “We declare with black Reformed Christians of South Africa that apartheid (‘separate development’) is a sin, and that the moral and theological justification of it is a travesty of the Gospel and, in its persistent disobedience to the Word of God, a theological heresy” (de Gruchy and Villa-Vicencio 1983, p. 170).
If now sin is a missed pass and a broken relationship, reconciliation must be understood as returning to the right path and as the healing of relationships. From a theological perspective, reconciliation is not one topic among others in the New Testament, but the central topic. Reconciliation is the healing reinstitution of the broken relationship between God and humans through the reconciliation brought about by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:14–21). This road to reconciliation has already come to its happy end. Yet from the vertical axis of God reconciling the world with himself emerges on a horizontal axis the call for inter-human reconciliation. Reconciliation, then is, according to South African theologian John de Gruchy, “a human and a social process that requires theological explanation, and a theological concept seeking human embodiment” (de Gruchy 2002, p. 20). The “human embodiment” de Gruchy calls for manifests itself in all of the dimensions mentioned above, namely, as reconciliation with God, with oneself, with others and with one’s life world and includes both individual and supra-individual dimensions.

4. Heavy Baggage: What Has Remembrance Got to Do with Reconciliation?

Processes of reconciliation are oftentimes burdened by difficult memories. At the same time, reconciliation cannot do without remembrance. Looking at the experiences of his own native South Africa, theologian Robert Vosloo emphasizes, “Without memory we cannot travel the painful road to reconciliation and hope” (Vosloo 2001, p. 34). Indeed, remembrance is not only directed towards the past. Rather, the way we remember and what we remember—and what we do not remember—has a great impact on the way we deal with the present and the future. Remembrance thus assumes the function of a “normative bridge” between the times.
To unpack the image of a “normative bridge”, we need to define what we mean by “normative”. “A ‘norm’ is a sign which grounds in an ethical statement or discourse an ethical demand on the behavior of individuals or groups or which has been imputed with value” (Zimmermann 2012, p. 17; see Note 3). A norm is, thus, a sign laden with “moral significance” (Fischer 2011, p. 195) which in turn influences our action. These signs can include imperatives such as “Thou shalt not kill”, condensed moral terms such as “justice”, but also concrete situations, even in their narrative forms, as these generate emotional affixation such as hatred or empathy, and in turn help to build moral significance.
Against this background, it becomes clear why and how memories as signs can acquire normative meaning and moral significance. As such, memories—both individual and collective—are not merely static. Rather, they are dynamic constructs that are being formed through manifold processes of remembering and forgetting. According to cultural scientist Aleida Assmann, we need to differentiate between “active” and “passive” remembrance and forgetting (Assmann 2008). Active remembrance, for instance, refers to the active selection of certain memories for an official canon. Active forgetting then means the deliberate destruction of specific memories. Processes of remembrance are, therefore, always embedded in contexts of power and power struggles. In his dystopic novel 1984, George Orwell points to this connection: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”.
Due to their normative value and their liability for abuse, the power of remembrance for dealing with life today and tomorrow can hardly be overestimated. Too often, the power of remembrance is of a destructive kind. Individual and collective identities are being nourished by memories of atrocities that one person or group committed against the other. Here, Paul Ricœur’s call for a “juste mémoire” (Ricœur 2004, p. 684), a just memory, is of central importance. Yet even a “juste mémoire” by itself as the mere “re-presentation” of the past cannot guarantee a new beginning. In order to ease the burden of heavy memories permanently, forgiveness is needed. Before we face this challenge, however, we need to be aware of the danger of being led down a wrong track on the road to reconciliation.

5. Danger! The Scapegoat and the Wrong Track

In this context, the cultural-anthropological thoughts of René Girard regarding his concept of the scapegoat proves to be helpful. According to Girard, human relationships are based on mimicry due to desire (Girard 1998). This means that the root cause for conflict is less found in difference, for instance, regarding opinion, ideology or religion, but rather in human rivalry. Mimetic desire and rivalry can quickly feed into a spiral of increasing enmity and violence, while the object of desire recedes into the background. In his analysis of archaic societies, Girard uncovers a sacral mechanism that serves to eventually interrupt the spiral of violence. “When you have that mimetic violence, there comes a point when you forget about the object and you concentrate on your opponent … and there is a tendency for the system to simplify itself … until finally everyone polarizes against a single enemy who seems responsible for the whole crisis” (Girard 1998, p. 133). All violence is turned against this one enemy, the scapegoat. And it is only by the elimination of the scapegoat that the escalation of violence can be brought to an end. The Old Testament ritual of the scapegoat that is being killed for the sins of the people (Lev 16) is one of the most prominent examples of this mechanism—and the inspiration for the name of Girard’s concept. During this ritual, the scapegoat becomes both a victim and—by means of its sacralization—a sacrifice. While Girard’s Christological interpretation of the scapegoat model has prompted repeated criticism (cf. Negel 2005, pp. 449–76), his cultural-hermeneutical discussion continues to be helpful for better understanding the nature of violence.
How, then, can a discussion of reconciliation benefit from the analysis of archaic rituals such as the scapegoat? The focus here is on the attribution of guilt. Conflict is being carried out as blame game. As each side in a conflict looks for a scapegoat, guilt is easily assigned to someone other than the self. A theology of reconciliation, however, does not participate in this kind of game, but chooses a different path. Rather than being led down a wrong track by the scapegoat, a theology of reconciliation recognizes Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. This unsparing admission of guilt, however, is not without dangers, either, for it can lead into the abyss of despair. However, theological tradition offers another option of dealing with one’s own shortcomings and guilt, transcending both scapegoat mechanism and destructive self-flagellation. It is confession, “the offer of divine help” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 114), as German theologian and Nazi-resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it. Bonhoeffer is one of the few theologians in Protestantism who have engaged in rediscovering this helpful tool of reconciliation. According to Bonhoeffer, in confession, a fourfold breakthrough takes place. First, a “breakthrough to community”, because “sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 110). Next, confession leads to a “breakthrough to the cross” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 111). Confession is painful, it is “a terrible blow to one’s pride” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 111). In confessing, we share the pain of Jesus Christ at the cross who suffered the shameful death of a sinner. But how, exactly, in this way does confession become a “breakthrough to new life” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 112)? “The break with the past is made when sin is hated, confessed, and forgiven” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 112). Confession is metanoia, which means that a former path came to its dead end and a new, life-giving path is now being followed. And finally, in confession occurs the “breakthrough to assurance” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 112). For how can I be sure, Bonhoeffer asks, that really I have been forgiven? This certainty is given to me by the presence of the other. “Confession before one another is given to us by God so that we may be assured of divine forgiveness” (Bonhoeffer 1996, p. 113). The example of confession could also be utilized to examine the role of ritual in reconciliation processes, a so far neglected dimension. Yet this would lead too far here.6 In confession, truth is spoken, responsibility accepted and forgiveness granted. A new beginning—a new life—is being initiated. Rather than a burdensome law or a grim confessional box, confession is quite the contrary: it is the inviting bench by the side of the road, beckoning the weary traveler to take a rest.

6. Steep Face Ahead: The (Im)Possibility of Forgiveness

Sooner or later, travelers on the road to reconciliation will encounter a steep face called forgiveness. Can this steep face ever be conquered? Theological tradition reveals quite different approaches. The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:12) contains both the affirmation and the demand of forgiveness: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Revised Geneva Translation). According to Swiss theologian Karl Barth, forgiveness is the main denominator on which everything that aspires to be called Christian life comes to stand (Barth 1948, p. 132). Yet there are conflicting opinions. Given the omnipresence of human failure and guilt and the ensuing suffering, skepticism seems to be the appropriate response. After Auschwitz, French philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch deems forgiveness impossible, even immoral, because forgiveness died in the death camps (Jankélévitch 2003, p. 271). To make peace with the past is utterly intolerable. The only possible moral attitude is to remember and to remain outraged and unreconciled.
Jankélévitch points us towards the following two aspects. On the one hand, his intervention makes clear that forgiveness can never be demanded, least from the perpetrator. To pressure victims into forgiveness runs danger of retraumatizing the victims and reducing the concept of forgiveness to absurdity. On the other hand, Jankélévitch reminds us that forgiveness is no inevitability. It is no automatism that will happen anyways in due course. Rather, forgiveness is the transcendent, the miracle of a new beginning, comparable to the wonder of birth (Arendt 1992, pp. 231–38). The metaphor of delivery can be understood in a double sense. For one, forgiveness delivers the victims and frees them from their bond with their perpetrators. Through forgiveness, victims resume the authorship of their own lives. And second, forgiveness delivers the perpetrators who are no longer reduced to their guilt, but instead who are welcomed back into the communion of humans. It is this insight into the liberating power of forgiveness that inspired Desmond Tutu to proclaim, “No future without forgiveness!”.
Yet how does Barth’s view of forgiveness as the “main denominator” of Christian life correlate to Arendt’s insight into the wondrous nature of forgiveness? I think this tension cannot be resolved too quickly. Rather, I propose holding on to the “mystery of reconciliation and forgiveness” (Carney 2015, p. 808) as the ultimate entering the penultimate (cf. Bonhoeffer 2005, pp. 146–170).

7. Safeguards and Reparations: Reconciliation and/or Justice?

Readers with a theological background will have noticed that the milestones discussed so far on the road to reconciliation have some similarity with the so called sacrament of penance, also called the sacrament of reconciliation. Theological tradition knows here of the following elements: contritio (contrition/repentance), confessio (confession of guilt), absolutio (absolution/forgiveness) and satisfactio (satisfaction/reparations). In Protestant tradition, however, the latter has fallen from grace, so to speak. Yet it was not the good deeds in and of themselves that Reformation theologians criticized, but solely their alleged salvific effects. Rather, one of the central texts for Reformation theology, the Confessio Augustana (CA), underlines the continuous importance of good works. Contrition and, in turn, faith—following forgiveness on the basis of the Gospel—lead naturally to good works. Deinde sequi debent bona opera, quae sunt fructus poenitentiae (CA XII)7 (Melanchthon 2014, p. 107). The causal relationship is very clear: Penance—or rather reconciliation—does not follow from good works/reparations, nor is it identical with good works/reparations. Rather, reconciliation will be followed by good works/reparations. To illustrate this causality, Martin Luther is said to use the example of an apple tree that does not need to be told to bring forth good fruits, but does so naturally.8 In a similar manner does penance or reconciliation bring forth visible signs of concrete action by which the perpetrator demonstrates his or her willingness to change and pursue the path of justice.
Despite the fact that Reformation theologians such as Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon highly valued the sacrament of reconciliation, including good works/reparations as the organic consequences of the forgiveness received, good works seem to remain somewhat dubious in the Protestant tradition, emitting the questionable odor of justification by works. In turn, good works were regarded as irrelevant not only for receiving grace, but for the entire Christian life. The relationship, thus, between justification (receiving God’s grace for free) and sanctification (living accordingly) became distorted. Bonhoeffer was among those Protestant theologians who passionately fought against this misunderstanding by criticizing what he perceived as “cheap grace”, i.e., reconciliation and forgiveness without repentance and without change of behavior.9
South African psychologist Nomfundo Walaza uses the following allegory to illustrate the innate relationship of reconciliation and change of behavior towards justice in view of the reconciliation process in South Africa. “Once there were two boys, Tom and Bernard. Tom lived right opposite Bernard. One day Tom stole Bernard’s bicycle and every day Bernard saw Tom cycling to school on it. After a year, Tom went up to Bernard, stretched out his hand and said, “Let us reconcile and put the past behind us”. Bernard looked at Tom’s hand and said, “And what about the bicycle?” “No”, Tom said, “I am not talking about the bicycle. I am talking about reconciliation” (Divided Community Project and Mershon Center for International Security Studies 2021, p. 16).
The question, then, if one should seek reconciliation or justice poses a false alternative. Reconciliation without justice remains empty just as justice without reconciliation remains cold. Only in their conjunction as reconciliation in justice can both concepts unfold their respective power. Without concrete and visible change, the road to reconciliation will be reduced to a fair-weather affair. In the Kairos Document of 1985, South African theologians criticized such kind of reconciliation as “cheap reconciliation”, because it is not being followed up with concrete efforts to remedy injustice (Kairos Document 1986, Art 3.1). “Costly reconciliation”, on the contrary, will lead to genuine and positive change that can function as safeguards when the road to reconciliation becomes slippery. Desmond Tutu’s proclamation “No future without forgiveness”, therefore, has a twin sister: “No forgiveness without future” (Moltmann 2019).
The South African Kairos Document illustrates well what is at the heart of Public Theology, bringing us full circle. Understanding public issues such as the identification and correction of injustice and the transformation of conflict as affairs with distinct theological dimensions, Public Theology cannot be silent on these issues. At the same time, however, critical and self-critical Public Theology needs to keep two things in mind: First, remembering the injustices committed and wars waged in the name of a Christian God throughout history, Public Theology brings its own resources to the table in an attitude of humility. Second, Public Theology is keenly aware of the fact that complex global challenges, such as the struggle for justice, conflict transformation and peacebuilding, depend on the joint effort of all actors. Public Theology, therefore, partners with other religious and non-religious traditions in the united quest for a more just and peaceful world.

8. Are We There Yet?

The road to reconciliation is long and leads across many a deep valley and steep hill. Understanding reconciliation from the perspective of Public Theology can provide orientation through certain milestones, such as remembrance, repentance and confession of guilt, forgiveness and justice. At the same time, these milestones serve as indicators that we are still on the right path. If none of these milestones are being encountered, however, this could be an indication that we are possibly on the wrong track. The road to reconciliation is not a linear path, but rather works itself through numerous serpentines. This affords the traveler with different views at different times and places. Furthermore, reconciliation has revealed itself as a relational concept. It finds its origin in God’s reconciling himself with humans and, from there, it radiates into human relationships on both individual and supra-individual levels. Indeed, reconciliation is both a process and a result. So what can we say, then, in answer to the question that not only children ask on the road, “Are we there yet?” The answer can only be, “Already now and not yet”.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


In his work “Flourishing. Why we need religion in a globalized world”, Miroslav Volf discusses the dimensions of “remember”, “forgive”, “apologize”, “repair” and “embrace” (Volf 2015, pp. 161–94).
This contribution builds upon previous research published in (Schliesser 2022).
Author Translation.
“Man is a wolf to other men”. Author Translation.
“The first maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety; and the third, for Reputation. The first use Violence, to make themselves Masters of others mens persons, wives, children, and cattell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name” (Hobbes 1968, p. 185)
A further question that arises here is directed at the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. Is repentance required for forgiveness? Or does repentance arise from forgiveness? To Bonhoeffer, both repentance and forgiveness belong innately together. While God’s grace is unconditional (and therefore does not depend on human repentance), Bonhoeffer points out that the “breakthrough to the cross” and the realization of one’s own shortcomings and guilt entails hating one’s sin. Rather than constituting a causal or temporal relationship, in which one comes after the other, repentance and forgiveness are mutually connected. For in the new, life-giving light of forgiveness we can genuinely see and repent our failures (cf. Schliesser 2020).
“Then, good deeds must follow which are the fruits of penance”. Author Translation.
While the example of the apple tree is well-known in Luther scholarship, it cannot be precisely tied to the reformer. Rather, it is part of the oral tradition surrounding Luther.
“Cheap grace means justification of sin but not the sinner … Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer 2001, p. 43f).


  1. Appleby, R. Scott. 2000. The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. [Google Scholar]
  2. Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Vita Activa Oder Vom Tätigen Leben. München: Piper. [Google Scholar]
  3. Assmann, Aleida. 2008. The Religious Roots of Cultural Memory. Torsk Teologisk Tidsskrift 109: 270–92. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  4. Barth, Karl. 1948. Credo. Die Hauptprobleme der Dogmatik, Dargestellt Im Anschluss an das Apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis. 16 Vorlesungen, Gehalten an der Universität Utrecht Im Februar und März 1935. Zollikon: Evangelischer Verlag. [Google Scholar]
  5. Bedford-Strohm, Heinrich. 2009. Politik und Religion—Öffentliche Theologie. Verkündigung und Forschung 54: 42–55. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  6. Berger, Peter L., ed. 1999. The Desecularization of the World. Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. [Google Scholar]
  7. Böckenförde, Ernst Wolfgang. 1991. Die Entstehung des Staates Vorgang der Säkularisation. In Recht, Staat, Freiheit. Studien zur Rechtsphilosophie, Staatstheorie und Verfassungsgeschichte. Edited by Ernst Wolfgang Böckenförde. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, pp. 92–114. [Google Scholar]
  8. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1996. Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 5. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [Google Scholar]
  9. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 2001. Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 4. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [Google Scholar]
  10. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 2005. Ethics. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 6. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [Google Scholar]
  11. Breytenbach, Ciliers. 1989. Versöhnung. Eine Studie zur Paulinischen Soteriologie. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlagshaus. [Google Scholar]
  12. Carney, James J. 2015. A Generation After Genocide: Catholic Reconciliation in Rwanda. Theological Studies 76: 785–812. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  13. de Gruchy, John W. 2002. Reconciliation. Restoring Justice. London: SCM Press. [Google Scholar]
  14. de Gruchy, John W., and Charles Villa-Vicencio. 1983. Apartheid Is a Heresy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. [Google Scholar]
  15. Divided Community Project and Mershon Center for International Security Studies. 2021. Working Together to Advance Racial Equity: Planning Truth Commissions and other Initiatives. Available online: (accessed on 14 January 2022).
  16. Fischer, Johannes. 2011. Ethik als rationale Begründung der Moral? Zeitschrift für evangelische Ethik 55: 192–204. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  17. Freeman, Dena. 2012. The Pentecostal Ethic and the Spirit of Development. In Pentecostalism and Development. Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa. Edited by Dena Freeman. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–38. [Google Scholar]
  18. Girard, René. 1998. Victims, Violence and Christianity. The Month 4: 129–35. [Google Scholar]
  19. Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. Glauben und Wissen. Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. [Google Scholar]
  20. Härle, Wilfried. 2000. Dogmatik. Berlin: De Gruyter. [Google Scholar]
  21. Hobbes, Thomas. 1968. Leviathan. Edited by Crawford B. MacPherson. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [Google Scholar]
  22. Huber, Wolfgang. 1996. Gerechtigkeit und Recht. Grundlinien Christlicher Rechtsethik. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus. [Google Scholar]
  23. Jankélévitch, Vladimir. 2003. Verzeihen? In Das Verzeihen. Essays zur Moral und Kulturphilosophie. Edited by Vladimir Jankélévitch. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, pp. 243–83. [Google Scholar]
  24. Jaspers, Karl. 1973. Philosophie (Existenzerhellung, Band 2). Berlin: Springer. [Google Scholar]
  25. Kairos Document. 1986. The Kairos Document: A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa. London: CIIR. [Google Scholar]
  26. Marquard, Odo. 1986. Abschied vom Prinzipiellen. Stuttgart: Reclam. [Google Scholar]
  27. Melanchthon, Philipp. 2014. Confessio Augustana. In Die Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche. Quellen und Materialien. Edited by Irene Dingel. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 84–225. [Google Scholar]
  28. Moltmann, Jürgen. 2019. e-mail message to Christine Schliesser. September 11. [Google Scholar]
  29. Negel, Joachim. 2005. Ambivalentes Opfer. Studien zur Symbolik, Dialektik und Aporetik Eines Theologischen Fundamentalbegriffs. Paderborn: Schoeningh, Available online: (accessed on 14 January 2022).
  30. Pew Research Center. 2015. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010–2050. Available online:–2050/ (accessed on 14 January 2022).
  31. Plautus, Maccius T. 1968. Asinaria. Genova: Istituto di Filologia Classica e Medioevale. [Google Scholar]
  32. Ricœur, Paul. 2004. Gedächtnis, Geschichte, Vergessen. München: W. Fink. [Google Scholar]
  33. Scheiber, Karin. 2006. Vergebung. Eine Systematisch-Theologische Untersuchung. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. [Google Scholar]
  34. Schliesser, Christine. 2019a. Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding. In Routledge Handbook of Religion and Political Parties. Edited by Jeffrey Haynes. London: Routledge, pp. 126–38. [Google Scholar]
  35. Schliesser, Christine. 2019b. Theologie im Öffentlichen Ethikdiskurs. Studien zur Rolle der Theologie in den Nationalen Ethikgremien Deutschlands und der Schweiz. Öffentliche Theologie 37. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Available online: (accessed on 14 January 2022).
  36. Schliesser, Christine. 2020. Ich glaube … die Vergebung der Sünden. In Die Rede von Gott Vater und Gott Heiligem Geist als Glaubensaussage. Der Erste und der Dritte Artikel des Apostolischen Glaubensbekenntnisses im Gespräch Zwischen Bibelwissenschaft und Systematischer Theologie. Edited by Jörg Frey, Jens Herzer and Anne Käfer. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 455–78. [Google Scholar]
  37. Schliesser, Christine. 2022. Wegmarken einer Theologie der Versöhnung. Evangelische Theologie 82: 53–64. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  38. Touissant, Loren L., and Jon R. Webb. 2005. Theoretical and Empirical Connection between Forgiveness, Mental Health and Well-Being. In Handbook of Forgiveness. Edited by Everett L. Worthington Jr. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 407–22. [Google Scholar]
  39. Tutu, Desmond. 1999. No Future Without Forgiveness. New York: Crown Publishing. [Google Scholar]
  40. Volf, Miroslav. 2015. Flourishing. Why We Need Religion in A Globalized World. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Google Scholar]
  41. Vosloo, Robert. 2001. Reconciliation as the Embodiment of Memory and Hope. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 109: 25–40. [Google Scholar]
  42. Weber, Max. 1994. Wissenschaft als Beruf. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. [Google Scholar]
  43. Zimmermann, Ruben. 2012. Pluralistische Ethikbegründung und Normenanalyse im Horizont einer ‘impliziten Ethik’ frühchristlicher Schriften’. In Ethische Normen des frühen Christentums. Gut-Leben-Leib-Tugend. Edited by Friedrich Horn, Ulrich Volp and Ruben Zimmermann. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 3–27. [Google Scholar]
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Back to TopTop