Life Together: A Short Review

lifeThe local church was always at the center of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s heart and theology. In his studies he wrote his first dissertation on life in the church (“The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church”).  As a theological professor he labored to train pastors for the church. And in his later writings, he often returned to muse on life together in the local church.

It’s this subject that entitles one of his most famous works, Life Together, posthumously subtitled, “The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.” Coming in at 122 pages, Life Together is not a long book. But it is one that invites you to think deeply about God’s design for his people. Overflowing with wisdom, you will run your highlighter dry if you are given to marking up books.

As we consider the One Anothers in our weekly sermons, I would encourage you to pick up a copy. A small investment in reading Life Together will pay big dividends on doing life together. Continue reading

Life in Community: ‘The Roses and Lilies’ of the Christian Life

lifeWriting from Germany on the precipice of war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic on Christian community. In Life Together he called attention the grace of Christian community, calling it “the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life” (21).

In our country, where freedom to worship remains unchecked, his words provide a needed corrective to any laissez-faire attitude we may have towards biblical community. While church membership and attendance are generally affirmed by Christians, I don’t think we see how much grace there is in our ability to gather. By contrast, Bonhoeffer watched the Third Reich run over the church and the Church in turn to compromise with the state.

In such a context, he came to see just how much grace there is when brothers dwell together in unity—true spiritual unity. Consider his words and give thanks for the community of believers he has given you. May his words spur us on to press deeper into the life of our church, or to start such a community of spiritually-minded believers, if one is not present. Continue reading

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer Were Your ‘Doktorvater,’ or, Seven Qualifications for Ministerial Students

seminaryIn doctoral studies doktorvater is a term for the direct supervisor who oversees your research and writing. It is not surprising that aspiring seminarians seek out a program based on the possibility of working under such a supervisor. For historically, it has often been the case that rising disciples take on the theology and ecclesial habits of their doktorvater.

Sadly, in seminary life there are many students who go through their studies without such a ‘father in the faith.’ Paul House has written about this trend in contemporary theological education, and his book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer is aimed at correcting it. I am sympathetic to his argument, as my forthcoming book review at TGC will show. In what follows I want to consider once slice of what seminary training with Bonhoeffer might have looked like.

Seven Requisite Qualities for Studying Under Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For now, I am especially intrigued by the program of study instituted by Bonhoeffer. What would it have been like to have Dietrich Bonhoeffer as your doktorvater? Based on Paul House’s book, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision (44–45), here are seven things it might have entailed and what Bonhoeffer would have expected.

  1. Submissive to the Word. “Candidates would be committed persons, individuals who knew that their calling ‘demands the entire person. It demands a life under the word of God. Everyday must stand under the discipline of the word.'”
  2. Self-disciplined. Candidates must “foster daily habits of Bible reading, meditation, and holy living.”
  3. Willingly submissive to church authority. Candidates must “pledge themselves to brotherhood with one another and obedience to the church authorities.”
  4. Loyal Allegiance to Christ over Country. “As a citizen [in Nazi Germany], a candidate would ‘serve the truth alone and understand himself to be accountable only to the word of God.'”
  5. A Diligent Student of the Word. “‘The candidate should make it his duty to read a section of the New Testament and the Old Testament daily in the original language. The expectation is that by so doing, he will come to know the entire New Testament and important parts of the Old Testament in the original text and will have worked through several texts with scholarly aids (concordance, dictionaries, commentaries).” [emphasis mine]
  6. An Apt Theologian. “A candidate was to have ‘thorough acquaintance with the confessional writings of his church and be completely accountable with regard to them.” Additionally, “since the church [i.e., the German United Church] had both Lutheran and Reformed congregations, the directors wanted pastoral candidates to be familiar with both confessional traditions.”
  7. Pastorally-Discipled. “Each candidate was to have spent some time as an apprentice with a fellow pastor who prayed with him and guided his work.”

All in all, the men whom Bonhoeffer sought to train were those who gave themselves to the Word and gladly submitted themselves to Christ, his church, and the pastors of those flocks. Moreover, in the face of Hitler’s reign in Germany, Bonhoeffer was looking for those men who would stand against the grain of national opinion. To be a servant in Christ’s church, Bonhoeffer believed one had to be an apt theologian, student of the word, and disciple of the church, while at the same time not seeking a position among the world.

For Contemporary Application

In historical context, the training Bonhoeffer offered only lasted a few years. Beginning in 1935, the Third Reich shut down his school in 1940. Because many of his pupils would be drafted into Germany’s army, most of them never reached the fields of pastoral service. Nevertheless, his labors were not in vain. His two most influential books, Life Together and The Cost of Discipleshipwere born in these seminary years and addressed to men in seminary contexts.

One can hope that in the days ahead, as theological education becomes more imperiled and the costs of pastoral ministry increase, more pastor-theologians will see the need for such educations models. Already, this trend is beginning in schools like Bethlehem Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. Without denigrating larger schools (of which I owe my whole theological training), it is my hope that schools—large and small—will take serious the call to develop godly servant leaders, not just enlist large numbers of graduates.

Scripture reminds us that the qualifications for pastoral ministry are high (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9), which means that the standards and structures for theological education should be equally high. Though this kind of standard may shrink enrollment, it may in the end raise up a stronger band of brothers. This, House argues, was Bonhoeffer’s vision for training gospel ministers, and it is one that we should seriously consider as we plan and pray to train the next generation.

May God be pleased to raise up a generation of stalwart biblical stewards. And may he at the same time, raise up local, pastor-led, church-centered theological schools to do such training.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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For Your Edification (3.15.13)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Church, and Culture.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.

Walking Wisely WHEN and WHERE You Work. Phillip Bethancourt, a friend of mine and the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at Southern Seminary, posts some wise words on making job decisions and orienting your vocation around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the way that Jesus has made you.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy Kevin Vanhoozer has provided a helpful defense and explanation of an important theological concept–the doctrine of inerrancy.  This is the belief that “Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.”  Vanhoozer’s piece nicely outlines what inerrancy is and is not.

Bonhoeffer Question & Answer. Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and social media lobbyist for religious liberty, converses with Jason Meyer and John Piper on the person, ministry, and influence of German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For Your Edification, dss

Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace

When it comes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there are many things I am speculative about.  When I read his The Cost of Discipleship–a classic piece of Christian literature–I got the impression that he was conflating justification by faith along with works.  More sympathetically, I believe he was calling his fellow Lutherans to make sure that they were not mistrusting their credo, “justification by faith.”  Rightly, he sought action to flow from profession; but perhaps at the same time, he imbibed enough German theology that his views of God and the world, would have eventually undercut his beliefs, had God not cut his life short during World War II.

Today, Bonhoeffer has been adopted by many evangelicals as a model Christian, even though, I believe his overall theology, if it had more time to develop may have shown the liberal influences that influenced him.  For instance, he lived next door to and was instructed by Adolph Harnack, and his thinking was greatly shaped by Karl Barth. For a sympathetic, evangelical reading of Bonhoeffer, see Eric Metaxas book Bonhoeffer:Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  For a more critical review that exposes much of Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodoxy, see Cornelius Van Til, “‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer’: A Review Article” (WTJ 34:2 (May 1972).

With all that said, his quote on cheap grace versus costly grace is a classic statement on living out the Christian life with seriousness and zeal. I quoted it in my sermon this morning, and I share it with you now.

 Cheap Grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 

 Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.  Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.  Such grace is costly because it calls us  to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. (The Cost of Discipleship, 44-45).

May we, with vigor and joy, live lives that exhibit an awareness of the boundless grace of God that moves us to good works, not because we are repaying God, but because we delight to go deeper and deeper into the grace of God that comes when we walk with our Savior-Shepherd.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss