I’ve been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biography written by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer. Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It’s been very enjoyable thus far. I’m only a little more than a tenth of the way in (it’s a 600+ page book so I’m taking my time) but I find myself falling in love with the journey of Bonhoeffer. I kind of stumbled upon him as a friend of mine let me know that Metaxas would be speaking at a local church and that he was a writer. Since I feel like I’m in a season of doing a little writing, and I was thirsty for a mid week encounter with God, I made my way to the church to join hundreds of other folks with the same idea. And there were, literally, hundreds of folks there, although very few minorities were present. I was a little uncomfortable at the fact, but my excitement for seeing what was going on in other parts of God’s body overshadowed any insecurity.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear Metaxas speak on his own personal journey with God and his passion for writing. He shared some highlights from Bonhoeffer’s life and peaked my interest enough for me to pick up my own copy within a week’s time. Bonhoeffer is a well-known German theologian who was influential in the history of the church. But that in and of itself is not what made me want to learn of his importance in the church. The fact that he received a greater understanding of who God is through the black church, the fact that he gave his life for God as a martyr in his late 30’s while engaged to the woman he loved, the fact that he was not just some “talking head” made me want to dig a little deeper into this man. While I do appreciate knowledge and intelligence, I tend to shy away from those who get really caught up in dissecting God’s word to the point that they forget to apply it to their own lives (1 Corinthians 8:1). Even as Metaxes gave his personal testimony about attending Yale, and his academic accomplishments, it wasn’t until he mentioned a dream God gave him that I could really exhale (until that point I didn’t even know I was holding my breath). He knew God. Personally. Of course, the other end of the spectrum is those folks who operate in His gifts and think that that qualifies their salvation. Matthew 7:21-22.
In my own life I can see God’s hand in “balancing me out” with obtaining knowledge of His word as well as having that personal experience with Him and applying His word. Clearly Bonhoeffer was called to the intellectual, academic world and as such God equipped him for such a calling. He was to reach the talking heads and shed light on those deceived by various false philosophical ideas. He himself states that philosophy is “man’s attempt to search for truth without God”. I agree entirely.
In reading some of Bonhoeffer’s writings that the author shares, my heart races in excitement to see his walk with God unfold. To see him weighing his options of being a pastor instead of a professor (the children and young men he discipled were tugging at his heart strings). To watch him come to the conclusion that it is not man’s ability to grasp God but that God grasps man and any revelation that man has of God comes from God alone. To watch Him make this discovery on a more personal level, that God had a specific will for his own life and learning what that will was. My Spirit bears witness and I appreciate his contribution to God’s bride. The following are some passages which really spoke to me:
On his experience in Union Theological Seminary (an American seminary in New York) “The theological atmosphere of the Union Theological Seminary is accelerating the process of the secularization of Christianity in America. It’s criticism is directed essentially against the fundamentalists and to a certain extent also against the radical humanists in Chicago, it is healthy and necessary. But there is no sound basis on which one can rebuild after demolition. It is carried away with the general collapse. A seminary in which it can come about that a large number of students laugh out loud in a public lecture at the quoting of a passage from Luther’s De servo arbitrio on sin and forgiveness because it seems to them to be comic has evidently completely forgotten what Christian theology by its very nature stands for.”
Even though Bonhoeffer was surrounded by theological liberalists, he held firmly to what he viewed to be fundamental truths to his faith. And while He respected others’ ideas on these matters, even when he disagreed, the liberalists had now crossed certain boundaries, therefore losing that respect. In my view they had lost touch with the simplicity of the gospel and therefore were now the very enemies of it.
On his experience in the church
“Things are not much different in the church. 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, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in general I’m increasingly discovering greater religious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about 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?”
How similar it is today. Sadly, there are so many churches preaching a watered down version of the gospel with no transforming power. Often Christ’s forgiveness of sins is shared but souls are not informed that they are called to DIE like their savior (whether spiritually or physically). Unfortunately, in my opinion, the black church is not exempt from this watered down gospel, but that’s a topic for another blog post…
So, this was a rather lengthy and perhaps “heavy” topic but I wanted to share what I am learning. I’m not learned in theology as that is not the path God has taken me on (I suspect because I would be one of those talking heads I shy away from) but I do enjoy learning about people’s lives and about Him. I did not use other references on Bonhoeffoer so feel free to do your own research. Hopefully I stay diligent in my reading and maybe write a review. Who knows, I could totally disagree with Bonheoffer on all matters within the next 100 pages.
P.S (A loose definition of a talking head: someone who exalts knowledge above love and does not apply God’s word to their lives…something like a Pharisee).