Sunday, 16 September 2012

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy


This is a stunning book. It's informative, memorable, tragic and inspiring.

I'd heard great things of the new biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas, so got to reading it this past week. Although a lengthy read, it is magnificent.

My knowledge of Bonhoeffer was thin, although I was somewhat aware of his courageous activity against Naziism throughout the 30s and during the war. I also knew of his, 'cheap grace' idea, and one or two others. But now  I know considerably more of this man and his lived relationship with God. Although something of an intellectual and academic theologian, he always maintained a living, breathing relationship with God,  which informed all he thought and did.

Much of the book explained the rise of Naziism, Hitler, and his gradual grasping of despotic powers. I knew something about the effect of the treaty of Versailles and the humiliation felt by the German people, but hadnt thought abut its effect upon Christians in Germany. There is fascinating detail of the complexity of the relationship between the church and the state, and the unbelievable capitulation of the state church, even to the extent of the rewriting parts of Jesus sermon on the mount. Thus Ludwig Muller, the archbishop of the state church, wrote to other church leaders, (if it were not wickedly true it would almost be funny)

'I have not attempted to translate the sermon on the mount but have Germanised it...'

And since meekness was not an acceptable Germanic attitude, Muller gave his comrades something more in keeping with the hearty Germanic image he wished to promote,

 'Happy is he who always observes good comradeship, he will get on well in the world'.

There are some big themes in the book; the relationship between church and state, when is a church not a church? When is it right to lie or to kill? The role of suffering in the Christian life, the importance of community for Christian growth, and so much more. But what stands out for me were of a more personal nature.

I was taken with his emphasis on the importance of personal times with God, which for Bonhoeffer meant daily meditation on small parts of Scripture, in addition to a regular praying of the Psalms, (it seems that unles and until we go through the sort of challenge and oppression tat Christians in Nazi Germany faced we perhaps will never truly understand some of the 'harder' psalms).

I was also much helped by his repeated emphasis upon the importance of life on earth, his was no merely cerebral or otherworldly Christianity.

God wants to see human beings, not ghosts who shun the worldin the whole of world history there is always only one really significant hour-the present. If you want to find eternity you must serve the times. 

And when writing to his fiancée from prison, his famous words abut marriage,
'Our marriage must be a 'yes' to Gods earth. It must strengthen our resolve t do something on earth. I fear the Christians who venture to stand on earth with only one leg, will stand in heaven one leg.'

I loved his whole life discipleship' emphasis (a la Mark Green and LICC), illustrated by a letter from one of his trainees in ministry. Here he  reflects upon training under Bonhoeffer at the small seminary in the German countryside,

'We had an appreciation of all that give charm to the fallen creation..... music, literature, sport, and the beauty of the earth......, a magnanimous way of living.  When I look back I can see a clear picture, the brothers sitting in the afternoon over coffee, bread and jam. The chief (Bonhoeffer!) returns after a long absence,......now we get the latest news and the world breaks into the quiet and simplicity of our country life...Does it dull the senses of your theological vision if I tell you that it was the peripheral things which were enhanced by appreciation of  the central one.'

 Bonhoeffers attitude to death and dying was not fatalistic but supremely based upon his conviction that Christ is Lord of all, and nothing could alter that fact. All we are called to do is submit to Christ and serve our times wholeheartedly.  Sounds easy.ok, ok, but what an adventure. Here is no half-hearted Christianity, but then, what's the fun in that?

Guess Id better stop for now, but all to say, do consider getting hold of this book and take time out to read it.
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