May 19, 2014
Stephen Nichols has written a book that causes great reflection. Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life really succeeds at living up to its title. Naturally, there are certain expectations that one has when reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His life really was that word Christians today love to use: radical. And if you have ever entered any conversations about Bonhoeffer with the theologically inclined, you know that there are some strong opinions about the man. Was he orthodox? This is another question that will certainly need addressing in a book about his theology and action in the Christian life. And it is. But I’m not writing a review here. There’s so much to discuss from this one man’s convictions that I’d rather write a few posts highlighting some samples and recommending you to read the whole book for yourself. (My first one on was on Thursday Circles.) The thing is, as profound as the Christian life is through the eyes of Bonhoeffer, it is also utterly practical. In fact, Bonhoeffer advocated a “worldly-discipleship.” That is, he wholeheartedly acknowledged the Christian’s calling to be “in the world, but not of it.” He reasons quite plainly:
There is no real Christian existence outside the reality of the world and no real worldliness outside of the reality of Jesus Christ. For the Christian there is nowhere to retreat from the world, neither externally nor into the inner life. Every attempt to evade the world will have to be paid for sooner or later with a sinful surrender to the world. (147)This understanding comes from a very high view of Christ and his church, just to be clear. And Nichols gives many examples of the struggle it entails for a Christian, one whom Christ did not pray for the Father to remove from the world (John 17:15), to then live out their calling between this age and the age to come. And that finally leads me to this excerpt that I wanted to share from a lecture Bonhoeffer gave on Gen. 32:22-29, Jacob’s wrestling with the angel:
For all of us the way into the promised land [the new heaven and the new earth] passes through the night, that we too only enter it as those strangely marked with scars from the struggle with God, the struggle for God’s kingdom and grace; that we enter into the land of God and of our brother as limping warriors. (180)I resonated with those two last words: limping warriors. Immediately I thought of one of my favorite verses, Heb. 12:12:
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees…The writer to the Hebrews is using an illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter being trained for their big match. They have to endure many blows in their conditioning, but this prepares them for glory. And so they get back up again and again. It’s much easier to talk about ideas and ethics than it is to practically live and serve our neighbors in our vocations. It’s tempting to try and spiritualize Monday-Saturday by separating ourselves from the secular circles as much as we can. But as Nichols states, this image of limping warriors, as well as the Hebrews illustration that I shared, “helps us cultivate some of that humility and dependence upon God we so desperately need.” He also reminds us of the One who went before us. “As Christ came into this earth, not hovering six inches off the ground, but fully here, so too we are called to live for Christ in this world” (180). We may come out limping, but all of Christ’s people have a faith that fights to be with him in glory. And like Jacob, we hold fast for that blessing that he will give.