I’ve been a pretty big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a while now. But, strangely, my entire familiarity with the man’s life was based on the writings of other people about him, or by fragmented quotations of his own writings. Reading Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer (book review here) was a great way to get acquainted with the man who epitomized what it looks like to live out one’s faith in Christ – even to the point of death.
So, needless to say, it was high time to quit beating around the bush and actually read one of Bonhoeffer’s books. I borrowed “Life Together” from my roommate’s collection. Here are my thoughts.
“Life Together” by Bonhoeffer is a brief, 120-page essay on Christian community – what it is, and what it is not. Every Christian needs a working knowledge of these things, since community is such a buzzword in current evangelicalism. Bonhoeffer wrote about community when community wasn’t cool.
Of particular interest to me were the passages in which the author talks about the balance and interaction between solitude and community. He explains that one must not seek community simply because he is running from himself, and one must not seek solitude simply because he is running from others. Bonhoeffer wrote with keen observation concerning both the Scriptures and his own personal experience, and there are many great things to be understood from this book.
“Life Together” is beautifully written, and I believe that any Christian would profit from reading it. There are parts that are more sophisticated than others, and Bonhoeffer, being a German through and through, loves to quote Martin Luther and even Martin Buber’s philosophical work “I and Thou”. (If you don’t have a clue about Buber, then great, neither do I. “I and Thou” was required reading in a philosophy class my freshman year of college and I retained zilch. So no worries when it comes to “Life Together”.)
My first hands-on exposure to Bonhoeffer was a positive one, and I am looking forward to reading his famous “Cost of Discipleship” down the road. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from “Life Together”:
“Brotherly care is distinguished from preaching by the fact that, added to the task of speaking the Word, there is the obligation of listening. There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for the chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects…Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by him who is himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”