Friday, September 16, 2011

Bonnhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

I always have a pile of new unread books. Perhaps you think this irresponsible and that I should only buy a book when I am definitely going to read it but that's not the system I have going. Sorry about that. So when I embarked on choosing my holiday reading for a break in the Alps I decided that a central European holiday warranted a central European biography. 

If you are like me, the discovery of the Christian world's 'who's who' is a journey that unfolds gradually after you are born again. The names preachers quote start to catch your ear, "Did he quote C S Lewis again?" or lives that seem out of the ordinary like Jackie Pullinger or a fascination peaks over a nutty Victorian toff who you learn gave up playing Cricket for England to go to China. So down the years you build up a list of the happy few who become rather like friends as you discover their stories, read their writings and as you try to let the way they led their lives and their insights on following Jesus slowly permeate the way you think about and live yours. On all our lists of Christian lives there will always be a few that you have heard mentioned over and over again but for some reason you have never quite got around to reading their books or a biography about them. For me, Bonnhoeffer was one such life. 

I knew five things about Bonnhoeffer before I read Metaxa's stunning biography. I knew he was German, that he wrote 'Life together' and 'The Cost of Discipleship', that he came up with the phrase 'cheap grace', that he prayed the Psalms and that he was executed by the Nazi's. 
There is too much in this book to share in a review but here are some bullets I wrote in my moleskine under the title 'Insights and lessons from Bonnhoeffer':

1. Theology and study without a relationship with Jesus can be just dry bones and dead religious intellectualism.

2.  'Some have gone so far as to call it a conversion' [p. 123]. I am one of them

3. Evil creeps- so catch it early. Bonnhoeffer saw it long before many other good and godly men (1933).

4. 'Life together' at FinkenWalde is a picture of radical community. Read this book. I say it again to myself 'Read this book!' Question to self: How does one build such a radical discipleship community today?

5. Bonnhoeffer demonstrates that utter obedience to Scripture will lead you inevitably to the crucified life. My thought: are so few of us crucified because so few are obedient to Scripture?

6. Friendship with a handful really matters (Bethge and George Bell)

7. There is such a thing as a courageous Church of England Bishop

8. Pray the Psalms

9. Write more letters of encouragement

10. Remember the tears that came as you read the last chapter in that alpine restaurant. Remember them.

11. Bonnhoeffer read books, asked for books, learnt from books, thought about books and read all genres of books right up to the very very end. If ever there was a contemporary man who said 'Send me my scrolls' this was he. Lesson for me: never ever ever ever stop reading. 

12. Love and pray for the Jewish people and remember that this evil happens, is happening and will happen again. The Devil is alive and busy. Prayer : give me eyes to spot evil schemes early and fight them will my might. 


One of the reviews of this book said, "This book could change your life". My copy is now dog-eared, scribbled over, broken-spined, underlined and if not literally certainly emotionally tear stained. I think the reviewer was right and for me at least I pray that it might be so. 

Truly, don't miss reading this.

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