What I Took Away from Bonhoeffer’s Book, Life Together

Life Together is a book that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote when he taught at an underground seminary when the Nazi’s were in power in Germany – not long before he was killed by the Third Reich. The book is the classic on what Christian community really is and so I want to do my best to present what I think are the three key points in the book.

  1. It’s all about Jesus – The Church as a Divine Reality

The key idea in Bonhoeffer’s book is that the church is created by the Word of God and it owes its ongoing existence to the Word of God. Another way of saying this is that Christian community only exists because of Jesus, and through Jesus. He creates our existence as a people and he binds us together. The Word of God is the fuel that runs the engine of the church. Indeed, it is the Word of God that really holds us all together and this, for Bonhoeffer is a very practical sort of thing – we need other people, from diverse backgrounds, and with diverse personalities, to speak the Word of God to us; and we, in turn, need to speak the Word of God to our brothers and sisters. So not only is Christian community created by the Word, it actually functions through the Word as we give and receive it. Bonhoeffer reminds us that participation in this sort of fellowship of the word is truly a wonderful privilege, that we are not entitled to. We need to be thankful for Christian fellowship. Of course, Bonhoeffer does not deny that Christian relationships are often challenging since they involve sin and friction, but he reminds us that Christian brotherhood truly is a great gift from God – it is “extraordinary, roses and lilies.”

  1. Don’t Overthink Things – The Church is Nothing More and Nothing Less than Christian Brotherhood

Another key idea in Bonhoeffer’s book is that we need to stop trying to make the church into something it isn’t. It isn’t a social club. It isn’t a government charity. It isn’t a business networking tool. It isn’t some cultural project we get to play with – no – the church is nothing more and nothing less than simple, Christian brotherhood. We need to embrace the simplicity of the church. It is a family. It is a group of inter-connected relationships. And we need to preserve this simplicity, for, as Bonhoeffer says, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community becomes a destroyer of the latter…” I love this point. We live in times where many church leaders want to jazz up and hype up the nature of the church. I like the realism of Bonhoeffer – the church is all about Jesus and Jesus’ people. There is a beauty and a simplicity in all of that which we don’t need to try to spin to serve some other agenda.

  1. It’s all about Love – We Fellowship Under the Cross

I can’t stress this enough. Bonhoeffer’s central point in all of this is that we relate to one another in and through Jesus. That means that we forgive each other the same way Jesus forgave us. It also means that we confess our sins to each other just like we need to confess them to Jesus. We have the privilege of hearing confession and giving confession to one another. But Bonhoeffer is very careful on this point. He warns of the dangers of only confessing to the same person over and over. The key in all of this is that we need to confess sin naturally, and that receiving and giving confession needs to be a two-way street – the people we confess to should also confess to us. But behind all of this is the reality of the cross. One of the great quotations from this work is as follows: “Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will not longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother.” In all of this you see the utter importance of humility. On that same line of thought, a key little psychological insight here is that only the humble can actually give good, gracious rebuke and correction to others. The proud are too afraid to say anything because they project their own hypothetical, offended feelings they experience when corrected and then chose never to say anything that would help a brother in sin – in essence your own pride consigns your brother to his sinful ways, but your humility will set him free. This is Bonhoeffer at his best. We need the humility to give correction, to receive correction, to give confession, and to hear confession – and to offer forgiveness and assurance of divine pardon. We are to be a gospel-fueled community and not a bunch of judgmental curmudgeons. When we get these gospel truths firmly in our grip then they free us to love without judgment and to serve sacrificially without feeling that we must do it to prove ourselves or earn some sort of divine favor.

Life Together is great. I heartily recommend it. There is no fluff in this book. It’s straightforward, tough, realistic and yet full of cross-enabling grace.

Authors You Can’t Go Wrong With

I thought I would post a quick blog on the authors that I really think are gold. If I see their name as I am perusing through a thrift store I buy their book immediately to read myself or to give away.

Practical/Devotional/Instructional

John Piper

Francis Chan

John Stott

J.I. Packer

Elizabeth Elliot

Jerry Bridges

Louis Priolo

Paul David Tripp

Anne Ortlund

Graeme Goldsworthy

Don Whitney

Martin Lloyd-Jones

Tim Chester

Alistair Begg

 

Academic

D.A. Carson

Thomas Schreiner

Alec Motyer

G.K. Beale

Kevin Vanhoozer

Richard Bauckham

Andreas Kostenberger

T. Desmond Alexander

Iain Murray

Bruce Waltke

John Sailhamer

Alexander Strauch

 

The Old Gold

Jonathan Edwards

John Owen

John Bunyan

Charles Spurgeon

 

Honourable Mention

Douglas Wilson (major disagreements on his covenantal theology as applied to children etc.)

John MacArthur (major disagreements on his rapture theology and cessationism)

Tim Keller (baptizes babies but otherwise awesome)

C.S. Lewis (wonderful but just says some weird stuff occasionally)

N.T. Wright (has some major problems [depending on how you understand him] regarding the nature of justification…but his sheer volume and academic rigor, not to mention his strong benefit on issues of the historicity of the resurrection, means that you shouldn’t Wright him off)

 

Who have I missed?

Real Social Justice

It is a trend for Millennials, like me, to be more politically active, more cause-driven, and more concerned with things like social justice. I am happy about that. It’s nice to be part of a generation that has some fire in their bones, caring about causes, injustices, and being “radical” and stuff. Really, it is. But one of my contentions is that if we want real social justice, then we need a real, tranformational, all-encompassing vision for what that entails – for most social justice means drink a coffee that came from beans where the farmers actually got paid. Well good. Do that. We should. But if we are going to have a real, good, holistic Christian vision for social justice – and I really believe in that kind of thing – just like Habakkuk and the rest of the Old Testament prophets did (chapter 2) – then we are going to have to get some real backbone and start exposing those nastier parts of our society – and a good place to start would be calling our country to repent of their child sacrifice. Down the road from where I live in Edmonton there is an abortion clinic. The windows are dark. There is no signage you can see from the road. All there is I think is a little sign on the side door that says “Woman’s Health Options Ltd.” It’s quiet. It’s deceptive. It’s a hidden, little altar to Molech. And the last thing I want to do as a Christian is drive past feeling happy that I’m drinking a fair-trade brew.

The Day of the Lord – Coming at you like a Freight Train

Last night I was reading the Old Testament book of Malachi with my wife Brittany; we read chapter four it was quite a terrifying chapter because it talks about the coming Day of the Lord – “yom Yahweh.”

Yom Yahweh – a day of horrific judgment when God’s power is unleashed on his enemies. It is a day of God’s visitation. The day God “shows up.” (Not that he wasn’t present before…but now he is present differently.) Or as Tom Wright would say, this is the day when God “puts the world to rights.” Moreover, it was a blessed day of restoration for those whose hope is in God. They will skip with joy like a newborn calf learning how to use it’s legs (Mal 4:2).

So the question we asked is this: has this day already happened or is it still in our future?

The answer is that it’s both.

The day of the Lord’s visitation happened when Jesus visited the earth – that’s why Elijah/John the Baptizer had to come before him (Mal 4:5; Matt 17:10-13). In Jesus’ message on the Mount of Olives recorded in Luke 21, Mark 13, and Matthew 24 , he appears to say that when the temple is destroyed in AD 70 that was also a sort of fulfillment (or better, instantiation) of God’s great DAY. And then of course, Paul exhorts us to look forward to the return of Jesus on his “day” (1 Thess 5:2).

In other words, this “day” is actually a larger, ongoing reality that is fulfilled over many days.

It’s like a huge freight train in the night. Malachi saw the light at the front of the train, and he saw it from afar and in it’s radiance. But as the train starts moving passed we see one car after another, on and on…connected, progressive, and unstoppable. The day of the Lord is like that – one huge day. Yet the fulfillment is ongoing until we finally see the caboose, when justice is totally meted out and total restoration is here.

So with that a I’d encourage you to get on board. The ticket is free but it will cost you everything. Don’t get crushed underneath. Turn to Jesus and be saved.

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By the way, on the topic of devils…an important little insight from Luther

Martin Luther, in his typical kinda-over-the-top style, commenting on John 15, wrote that God the Father says this to the devil:

“Devil, you are indeed a murderer and an evildoer; but I will use you for my purpose. You shall be My hoe; the world and your following shall be My manure for the fertilization of My vineyard.”

Oh Luther – only you have the guts to say this kind of thing. But oh how we need this perspective today – the devil, as Luther would say, is God’s devil! His trials and attacks are within God’s control, and even they are ultimately just a tool, a hoe, used for our good and God’s glory.

Luther’s Works, ed. J. Pelikan, vol 24 (St. Louis: Concordia Publising House, 1961) 195.

Divine Misunderstanding

I came across a note jotted down in my Bible just now (I think the thought probably originated in a class with Wes Olmstead at Briercrest):

“Jesus was misunderstood since 1) he calls for radical obedience and 2) he does so while eating with tax collectors and ‘sinners.'”

And oh how glorious it would be if we also were misunderstood like this too!

Thought-Provoking Quotation from Chesterton on Courage

Gilbert_Chesterton

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.” (From Orthodoxy)