Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Life Together 4

Bonhoeffer.jpgI consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together one of the most important theological works in the 20th Century. There is in this brief encounter with Bonhoeffer’s ideas a swelling gloom of Nazism, a palpable blur of what is to come, and an insight into how the Church is to conduct itself that makes the book a one-of-a-kind and I hope you own it, read it, and read it often.

Bonhoeffer combines profound insight into the psychology of how humans interact along with a constant holding of all things in the light of Scripture. One of his themes is selfish, emotional love vs. genuine spiritual love. The first excites itself out of what it can get while the second is rooted in our relationship to one another in Christ — it takes the relationship as it is to be in Christ and demands no more and expects no less.

Love is measured by its attributes: What do our relationships produce? Do they lead to truth, to freedom, and to fruits? What do you think of his ideas of the dangers of retreats?  

But these are his best words on the subject:

“Emotional love lives by uncontrolled and uncontrollable dark desires; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by the truth. Self-centered love results in human enslavement, bondage, rigidity; spiritual love creates the freedom of Christians under the Word. Emotional love breeds artificial hothouse flowers; spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily under God’s open sky, according to God’s good pleasure in the rain and storm and sunshine” (44).

In the same section: “A life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis [association of piety], but instead understands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church” (45).
“Nothing is easier than to stimulate the euphoria of community in a few days of life together [a retreat, a conference]; and nothing is more fatal to the healthy, sober, everyday life in community of Christians” (47).
"And gives no basis for comparison. "No honey, it really is like that.""

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  • Like the book these are words to mull over and chew on. But liberating for many, including myself.
    Glad for these posts, Scot. A good reminder of the value of this book, and not to let it out of sight once we’ve read it.

  • Diane

    Bonhoeffer’s words on retreats (and would this extend too to feel-good religious conferences?) are interesting …On the one hand, Dorothy Day, who was living in Christian community with the alcoholics, the mentally ill, the trash, smells, lice and noise of the slums, as she called them, writes in her journals of being helped by religious retreats.
    However, retreats and conferences can create a restless sense of being a substitute for living the faith, can create a group of retreat and conference junkies/groupies who pop up at everything, can offer a promise that people who are coming will have a canned “experience” of “uplift,” which is different from real life. One retreat I attended was jolted out of its placidity by one individual’s anger and challenges, and other people murmured “this wasn’t what I came for,” and complained that this retreat was not “so uplifting as the year before,” which points, I think, directly to what B is talking about.
    So are there ways to go into retreats that are better than others? Do we have to come for the “right reasons?” And what are those reasons?

  • BeckyR

    “Nothing is easier than to stimulate the euphoria of community in a few days of life together [a retreat, a conference]; and nothing is more fatal to the healthy, sober, everyday life in community of Christians” (47″
    I agree because retreats don’t require ongoing relationship with other christians, by which we learn what it is to love one another because there is the possibility of being close/intimate. There is opportunity in ongoing relationships to rub up against things about another person that bug us and learn to love them within that. Plus the added benefit of repeated contact with their love for one’s self, being able to share that love.

  • Dana Ames

    Scot, do you know if there is a version of LT auf Deutsch available somewhere?

  • Scot McKnight

    Dana, I have that German edition and it is a beautiful binding. On the bottom of the Amazon page, go to the German page. Type in name and title and the publisher is Christian Kaiser Verlag, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke Bande 5 in 1987. I’ve read my German one twice.

  • Dana Ames


  • pds

    The English translation I read was pretty clunky in places. Time for a new one?