This is the third in a series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.
Resistor. Martyr. Theologian.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was unlike most German Christian leaders in Nazi Germany; he was an active opponent of Nazism. Instead of permanently fleeing the regime after it had shut his local church down, Bonhoeffer left his job at Union Seminary in New York, which he held for less than a year, to be a crucial pioneer in the underground church movement in Germany. Life Together is an account of a fellowship in an underground seminary in Nazi Germany.
In five short chapters, Bonhoeffer expounds on weighty topics such as community, confession and ministry, in the context of a persecuted underground fellowship. Opening with the well-known first verse in Psalm 133,
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
Bonhoeffer plunges into emotional and persuasive exposition on the importance of community in the life of a Christian. To Bonhoeffer, the Christian is way more than a Sunday church-goer; the Christian lives in community with fellow believers. The Christian “needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation… The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” The Christian is also one devoted to helping other believers, allowing oneself “to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending people with claims and petitions.”
In particular, what was most striking to me was Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the confession of sins to fellow believers. He identifies it as the”final break-through to fellowship” where we are set free from the toxic belief that we must be pious in fellowship, concealing our sins and being horrified when a real sinner is discovered in our midst. Instead, he calls us to confess our sins to one another, that by doing so we break the “circle of self-deception”, bringing the sin to light.
Despite his clear emphasis on the community element of the Christian life, Bonhoeffer balance its importance with what he terms “The Day Alone”, devoting an entire chapter to it as well. He poignantly warns us against swinging to either extreme with these weighty words,
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.
In all honesty, it is not difficult to be a Sunday church-goer. All it takes is about two hours of our time every Sunday, maybe throw in another for transport to and fro church. Clearly, however, Jesus called us to much more than that. In the Gospel of John, Jesus was recorded saying,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
Bonhoeffer calls us to do exactly that, showing us the challenge and joy of living together in Christ. This book is suitable for all walks of spiritual life – the skeptic disillusioned with the worldly Christian communities today, the seeker yearning for more meaningful relationships in life, the believer wanting to bring his fellowship to a whole new level. Friends, I encourage you to let this martyred theologian minister to you with his words on what the Christian community looks like, and challenge you to seek out and build a community in that mould.
Life Together is available in most Christian bookstores and online at http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060608521/life-together