In normal life one is often not at all aware that we always receive infinitely more than we give, and that gratitude is what enriches life. One easily overestimates the importance of one’s own acts and deeds, compared with what become only through other people.
Letters and Papers from Prison, September 13, 1943
During my theological odyssey there are a couple different ways I have come to a theologian. Some, like Barth or Augustine, I have sought out. From my limited knowledge I knew they were thinkers I wanted to grapple with as well as being popular at the time. When I stumbled upon Stanley Hauerwas in a random selection of readers during my seminary years, it seemed as if he was a thinker who found me. He wasn’t popular at my school, and the off chance that I picked up that reading and sunk into it had the feeling of providence. However, Bonhoeffer for me doesn’t fit neatly into either of those categories. During my upbringing in the mainline church, I remember hearing the name but never reading him. During my time among evangelicals in college it was about the same. During seminary Bonhoeffer was mentioned and considered but because we were infatuated with postmodernism he seemed passé. As character he was always around as a token saint, but never really considered.
However, pastoral ministry changed all that. Life Together would become a guide and warning for the challenges of community. Discipleship would press the roll of what it means to follow Jesus caught between cheap grace and legalism. Letters and Papers from Prison would be a haunting witness of a life lived bound to others in a ‘world come of age’. During my early pastoral ministry we were lucky to have several good biographies about Bonhoeffer released, most notably the one by Charles Marsh, to fill out the details of his life. Toward the end of my ordination the words I shared with my congregation were those from Bonhoeffer above.
The pandemic of 2020 it seemed Bonhoeffer was coming up again all over. What did Life Together mean during this time? What wisdom can come from the Prison cell for us under lock down? While others of found solace in Bonhoeffer confronting the politics of our age (sadly both left and right), I’ve been drawn into how one becomes absorbed into Christ in a way that leads to his kind of life in contemplation and actions.
It is with this post I want to start a series considering the writer of Bonhoeffer, what he might say to us, and having him help us answer the question, who is Christ for us today?