Holy Wholeness…a great vision for the life of faith

In the biography I’m reading just now over here in Austria, I’m struck by how timeless Bonhoeffer’s vision for the church is.  We read, “he felt that what was especially mission from the life of Christians in Germany was the day to day reality of dying to self, of following Christ with ounce of one’s being in every moment, in every part of one’s life.  This dedication and fire existed among pietist groups…but he thought they they bordered on being ‘works’ oriented and overly ‘religious’.  They had pushed away from the world too much, had pushed away the very best of culture and education in a way that he didn’t feel was right.  Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and the culture, but one’s faith must be shining and bright and pure and robust.

Wow!  Imagine Christians who are able to swim upstream, against the consumerism and sexualization that reduces people to commodities, and the nationalism that preys on people’s fears.  Imagine Christians that are fully in the world, building bridges between God’s eternal truth and longing human hearts by appealing to the cultural languages of the day, without being seduced by the lies of those same icons.

This would be a church that would stand up to Hitler, rather than relinquish their ground out of either fear or nationalism.

This would be a church that would recoil in horror at the allegation that to question a nation’s war policy is to be unpatriotic.  This church would say that loyalty to Christ demands that we question and challenge the decisions of all political parties, precisely because we have an ultimate loyalty a King and Kingdom transcending borders and time.

This would be a church that would challenge consumerism and at least begin having the conversation about whether “shopping our way out of the recession” is the most life giving solution for our planet and it’s people.

This would be a church that takes prayer seriously, and the habits of listening for the voice of Jesus by encountering Him in His word and in fellowship.  This would be a church of people who are listening for God’s voice and direction, and ready to say “yes” to his call.

This would be a church filled with people of joy as well; people who see beauty in the arts, and who enjoy the gifts of food, drink, conversation, laughter, friendship.  They would be people of celebration who cherish intimacy and work hard to nurture it.

They would, in short, be a people of hope in a world where hope is in short supply.  Bonhoeffer ended up forming a sort of “underground seminary” with the goal of creating these kinds of Christians.

Sophie Scholl & friends: literate, intelligent, fiercely obedient to Jesus

It’s a vision that excites me, because God knows that it’s as rare to find this today as it was 75 years ago.  We’ll fall off into either the wasteland of cultural relevance without intimacy with Jesus, or habits that are supposed make for intimacy with Jesus, but end up creating boring legalists.  Neither wasteland is lifegiving.

“Bonhoeffer advocated a Christianity that seemed too worldly for traditional Lutheran conservatives, and to pietistic for theological liberals.  He was too much something for everyone, so both sides misunderstood and criticized him.   On my best days, the same thing happens to me, and when it does I think to myself, “I’m in good company – thanks Dietrich, Sophie, and others, for showing us a good vision, and for living it well”

Which wasteland is the greater danger in your situation:

Cultural engagement and enjoyment without intimacy with Jesus, or…

An intimacy with Jesus that withdraws from cultural and degenerates in legalism and separatism?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Jim A.

    I have a friend of 41 years who is an avid reader (127 books he says last year), immensely wealthy, and has read the Bible through several times. You should see his personal library. We went to law school together and I have known him all these years to be intelligent and curious. He has also been very focused on business and attaining wealth for many years.

    He refers to the Bible as the “Book of Myth.” He lost his only child (I adopted his son for him when I was his lawyer) to an auto accident at age 20. There has been a fair amount of tragedy in his life, but also many blessings. Through it all he does not believe.

    So this year for Christmas I thought I would buy the Bonhoeffer Biography and give it to my friend along with a copy of your book. Unfortunately, I got to reading Bonhoeffer myself so now I have to go buy another copy. But I am praying that just maybe these two books will have impact.

    The greater danger, I believe, is cultural engagement and enjoyment without intimacy with Jesus. Perhaps for both of us. The liklihood of having him attend church is not good. I would like to challenge him after he has read these two books. Who knows; we might find that intimacy.

  • Jim A.

    I have a friend of 41 years who is an avid reader (127 books he says last year), immensely wealthy, and has read the Bible through several times. You should see his personal library. We went to law school together and I have known him all these years to be intelligent and curious. He has also been very focused on business and attaining wealth for many years.

    He refers to the Bible as the “Book of Myth.” He lost his only child (I adopted his son for him when I was his lawyer) to an auto accident at age 20. There has been a fair amount of tragedy in his life, but also many blessings. Through it all he does not believe.

    So this year for Christmas I thought I would buy the Bonhoeffer Biography and give it to my friend along with a copy of your book. Unfortunately, I got to reading Bonhoeffer myself so now I have to go buy another copy. But I am praying that just maybe these two books will have impact.

    The greater danger, I believe, is cultural engagement and enjoyment without intimacy with Jesus. Perhaps for both of us. The liklihood of having him attend church is not good. I would like to challenge him after he has read these two books. Who knows; we might find that intimacy.

  • James Boyd

    One of the chains that has always enslaved me is that of being a pharisee. I continue to grow in my intimacy with Jesus. I still catch myself withdrawing from the culture into legalism and separatism.

    I need the kind of reminder that these posts offer. Praise God!

  • Pingback: Speaking of Bonhoeffer… « Backstage at Taproot Theatre

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