The ridiculously awesome (and flawed) life of Bonhoeffer

Ok, so I’ve started “The Cost of Discipleship” (known just as “Discipleship” now, I think) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer recently, and the man is just slicing through all my layers of cynicism, self-protection, and defence mechanisms like a knife through warm butter. I’m always wary of things that sound good and get me emotionally fired up both because emotional ploys only last so long without heart change; and sometimes the “sounds good” stuff can rip the rug right out from underneath me (in a bad way)…so I try to be as objective as possible.

But just like AW Tozer, Bonhoeffer won’t let me occupy this place. Both their writings pulse with life and truth, and make me want not only to be a better man and follower of Christ, but engage and embrace the hard steps of discipleship to get there. The glaring flaw of Bonhoeffer’s life of seeking to assassinate Hitler (as well as his anguish in his decision-process leading up to and after his imprisonment) helps me to see him for who he was. A normal guy given an incredible opportunity at true life who pursued that life with all he was; who stumbled and fell, but had the guts and courage to get back up and keep running. Here’s a longish quote from the Intro that keeps striking me…

“In the last resort, what we want to know is not, what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what Jesus Christ himself wants of us. When we go to church and listen to the sermon, what we want to hear is his Word – and that not merely for selfish reasons, but for the sake of the many for whom the Church and her message are foreign. We have a strange feeling that if Jesus himself – Jesus alone with his Word – could come into our midst at sermon time, we should find a quite different set of men hearing the Word, and quite a different set rejecting it…the real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast – burdensome rules and regulations, false hopes and consolations – that it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ. Of course it is our aim to preach Christ and Christ alone, but, when all is said and done, it is not the fault of our critics that they find our preaching so hard to understand…it is just not true that every word of criticism directed against contemporary preaching is a deliberate rejection of Christ and proceeds from the spirit of Antichrist.

So many people come to church with the genuine desire to hear what we have to say, yet they are always going home with the uncomfortable feeling that we are making it too difficult for them to come to Jesus….They are convinced that it is not the Word of Jesus himself that puts them off, but the superstructure of human, institutional, and doctrinal elements in our preaching. Of course we know all the answers to these objections, and those answers certainly make it east for us to slide out of our responsibilities. But perhaps it would be just as well to ask ourselves whether we do not in fact often act as obstacles to Jesus and his Word.

If you took the time to read the entire quote, the end is what strikes me so directly. I can’t help but think that society for a long period of time knew they had questions and assumed they could “go to church” to find answers to those questions. However, as they pursued, they found more and more that churches often hit them with careful and well-laid-out doctrinal formulas and systematic theologies that, by hook or by crook, ended up confusing them or frustrating them. Is it possible that incrementally people have darkened the doors of churches less and less because they weren’t finding space there to investigate the longings and questions of their heart? Have our three-point self-help (or process-oriented, but just as empty) sermons and black and white answers to grey questions in fact driven people away from the very places and people they should have the space to explore?

Often the interplay between Emergent worship and more rigid structures of worship centers around preaching and worship structure. I think the heart of the issue runs much deeper than that. It’s not about candles, but candles can help. It’s not about preaching, though active-learning models help. It’s not about participatory worship, though participatory worship can help. I think it’s about strategic leaders in churches pursuing Christ first and foremost, though all else would fall away. It’s not about the financial or butts-in-seats or sermon type or worship structure bottom line. God is forming a people to stick by Him and depend on Him no matter what…

When people come to Middle River on Sundays for worship, do they see more Nate and less Jesus or more Jesus and less Nate? When the youth God has entrusted us with see me during the week, do they see more Nate and less Jesus or more Jesus and less Nate?

I weep at my inadequacy and self-centeredness that is being so ruthlessly exposed by God through men like AW Tozer and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the other young men in our Bible Study, and the crisis situations of those suffering in our church. May we the global church define our lives by the “single eye,” that whether we are busy or not, we cultivate the continual attention to God’s movement and desires for how to use our lives…that as we simplify and obey the call to love God and neighbor sacrificially, we find true life and (not so ironically) that life glowing before others.

I’ll probably have a few more comments in the future regarding thoughts this book sparks in me.

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