Reflections on Bonhoeffer

Cover of I scanned the last sentence of Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer and it was regret that stared back when I saw the next page titled, "NOTES."

Over 500 pages of a beautiful submersion into a life lived completely and I find myself wishing the book were longer so that I could walk next to someone who understood how theology spilled out into and gave purpose to *viviology (knowledge, study, and act of life or living).

Few people, especially those blessed with academic minds, are able to meet the needs of the former without sacrificing the demands of the latter. Bonhoeffer refused to only stand behind a podium in the high brow, organized classrooms of universities and behind closed doors of churches. The more he learned and studied, the greater he felt pulled toward living out the Truth he so passionately taught.

I love how he didn't abandon the books and the study to live among the people in radical opposition to his intellectual contemporaries' expectations.

Bonhoeffer saw, in his travels to the United States, what could happen when people step away from Truth and place something else at the center. He traveled to the US first in 1930 to study and teach at Union University and then again briefly in 1939 to consider a teaching position. Both trips were filled with the realization that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is and will always at the center of Christianity. This is what he said during his first visit,

"The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I've been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation ... One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak of Christianity, ... There's no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?

The enlightened American, rather than viewing all this with skepticism, instead welcomes it as an example of progress.

...

In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life."

It's funny ... how timely these words are today. Maybe "sad" better describes how far we've come since Bonhoeffer's evaluation in 1930. We preach on "virtually everything" but what will reach, save, and transform lives. We preach on trees and health and wealth and all the ways the world is evil, but we don't preach Christ. Could it be because we are scared of the price? Bonhoeffer's approach to life was, in large part, informed by God's approach to grace and discipleship.

We want the discounted version - the less painful, less costly kind of grace - but with the full benefits of its original value. In what he would call "cheap grace," Bonhoeffer explains how we do ourselves a disservice in settling for something less than what God originally intended (by straying from Jesus Christ at the center of the Good News). In his book, "Cost of Discipleship," he says,

"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church disciplineCommunion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

We've created a grace that strips it of all its power. When we're done sermonizing, what we've given people is at best hollow and full of despair. There is no life in it. In contrast, is this costly grace:

"costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." "

I still cannot figure out how Bonhoeffer merged his knowledge with his life, but I can certainly see that he did. For three months in 1931, he conducted confirmation classes in rough neighborhood of Wedding. He took the post shortly after being ordained and the zeal with which he approached the class of fifty boys might have been characteristic of a new minister, but the care and perseverance he applied in every aspect of his teaching was unique. His life with those boys emphasized community and sacrifice. The textbook was not drudgery, opened with great pain and resistance. The Text was carried around in their hearts and gave the greatest joy to its living out.

Even as the very church he helped to build up (The Confessing Church) failed to stand for Truth when it mattered most, Bonhoeffer's resolve grew only stronger. He believed that he had been "grasped" by God - that he had been chosen for something. But, that something was only important because of (and dependent on) the God who decides to break through and use people, sermons, and situations for His glorious purposes.

He resolved to not only preach Christ and Him crucified, as Paul declared in his letter to the church in Corinth, but he endeavored to LIVE in obedience to Christ's costly call to follow as a disciple.

How do we marry Theology and *Vivology?

I think it means knowing the Word so well it becomes a part of you. I think it means keeping your bookshelves loaded and guarding time for study, even if technically no longer a student. I think it means dedicating uninterrupted times of prayer. I think it means loving Truth because you believe in your deepest soul it redeems and reveals life. I think it means fellowship around campfires and crazy games of soccer. I think it means coffee and conversation and debate. I think it means keeping Jesus Christ at the center - recognizing that every good gift is only good because God wills it to be so.

And, I think it means delighting in this life. I think it means being deliberate about our thanksgiving - walking in each day knowing that God's glory is what shines bright to reveal He is at the center.

I must end this musing here, but I promise I will continue to ponder. Until then, would you, with me,

.let LOVE FLY like cRaZY.

*I might have just made up this word, but give me credit because it's got two parts that should work together - viv is the latin/greek root word meaning "live" and ology is a suffix used to describe bodies of knowledge. I'm trying to say that, just like we aspire to grasp theology, we must also pursue a grasp of vivology and a combination of the two. What is knowledge of God without a life lived out as a result of that knowledge? And really, how does one know about 'living,' exactly?

Also read: interview with Metaxas by Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition blog blog reflections on Lent, self-denial, life and Bonhoeffer by Brett McCracken