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.
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?