Life Together: The Classic Exploration Of Christian Community, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This book is short and demanding, and in many ways it reminded of C.S. Lewis’ similar treatment in Mere Christianity, which is a compliment any book should consider itself fortunate to receive. Although Lewis and Bonhoeffer were quite different, they were contemporaries and, I believe, would have found a great deal of common cause concerning their views of Christian ethics, not least based on their similar views about the root of sin in pride. It is unclear how the two would have gotten along, but this book, fortunately, gets along very well even if provides a difficult and demanding and often paradoxical view of Christian fellowship. Contrary to a great deal of contemporary thought, the author does not view fellowship as being for the healing of broken believers, but one imagines that having written this book before the immense traumas of World War II that the author would likely have been at least a bit more compassionate on the other side of that horrible conflict had he survived himself. At any rate, this book is an immensely demanding one on the reader, and coming as it does from a large and continually growing body of work by and about the author’s thought, it is worthy of serious reflection by the reader .
At the core of this book is a paradoxical truth that in order to live together with other believers, one must have an individual personal relationship with God, and that in order to have a good relationship with God one must have a relationship with other people that is founded upon love and outgoing concern. The author shows himself in this short book (roughly 120 pages) very concerned about the egotism that results from pride and the authoritarianism that seeks for strong leaders, which makes sense given the author’s context in writing in the environment and context that led to Hitler’s destructive and immensely disastrous rise to power. Including in this book are chapters about community, the day together, the day alone (in prayer, meditation, and intercession for others), ministry through service, and confession and communion. Throughout the book the author shows himself to be a loyal Lutheran but also one who was, perhaps more than most, attuned to the ecumenical spirit that many Christians would find appealing in the postwar environment, and the book opens with a short biography of the author for those who are not familiar with it already in greater detail.
The author, in this book, manages to present a view of Christian fellowship that is rigorous and that requires a great deal of reciprocity and complexity in one’s dealings. Believers are to openly confess their sins but avoid making a show out of it, and are to listen to the confessions of others so that secrets may be brought into the light and their power removed. Believers were to have sufficient time for personal prayer in their own lives, but those prayers were to be made with a concern for the well-being of others, starting with those closest to us, while the demands of individual faith were not to make us unsociable with others but rather more deeply united as believers. Most readers will find a great deal to challenge and as a call for repentance and struggle with the baser areas of our nature or with our own pettiness and pride that can make us difficult to get along with sometimes. The author is under no illusions about how hard it is for people to genuinely enjoy life together but he doesn’t care about the difficulties we have in getting along with others–he presents the unsparing biblical demands of reconciliation and love and expects us to get on with the task of living up to the demands of Christian fellowship, which we will do, if time permits.
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