This is a quick book review of a Christian classic. A detailed explanation of what the sections below are intended to accomplish can be found here.
Title: Life Together
Author: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Year Published: 1954
Tags: Fellowship, Community, Bonhoeffer
Priority: 5 - all Christians should read it - and 0 - should be read with extreme caution and discernment. See below for an explanation.
Bonhoeffer was a man who knew intimately the joys of constant, sweet community with brothers in Christ. And he knew intimately the pressing weight of lonely, desolate separation from believers. This book is his invaluable contribution to Christendom on fellowship, written not so much as a theological treatise or an exposition, but as a devotional, with practical advice and encouragements to think biblical about fellowship and community, that believers would be united as one for Jesus Christ. This man gave his life for the Bride of Christ; we should, too.
This book is both a 5, meaning that I think that this book is one of the very best written on its topic (in this case, fellowship), and a 0, meaning that I think this book is dangerous, and that if you have to read it, it should be read with extreme caution and discernment. This is undoubtedly a reflection of Bonhoeffer as a man, as I seek to illuminate (slightly) in my review of Eric Metaxas' biography of Bonhoeffer (link will be updated when the review is posted). Bonhoeffer defies categorization; he is the epitome of a paradox.
This means that this treasure chest of a book contains dozens of priceless gems as well as filthy coal; both come from the same source, but one type has immense value while the other type must be rejected as useful for burning.
Because of the paradoxical nature of this book, I must provide a strong warning. Why? Because this book has a high prerequisite: if you are interested in reading this book, I strongly advocate that you first have a rock solid theology of the church and fellowship. Otherwise, this book could be devastatingly confusing and destructive rather than edifying and enlightening.
Solid books on ecclesiology that do a stellar job of explaining the fundamentals include the following: The Master’s Plan for the Church by MacArthur, The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever, Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris, and What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti M. Anyabwile.
An illustration may help. Biblical and systematic theology is like the structure of a house. Devotional books like this one is like the furniture that fills the house’s rooms. But, without understanding the house, how could you intelligently fill the rooms with the furniture? Without knowing where the kitchen, the family room, and the bathroom is, how would you know where to put the bed, the desk, or the cabinet? As furniture without the house would be utter confusion, so this book without a rock solid understanding of the Church, would be utter chaos.
That being said, a biblical and systematic theology without devotion is cold and lifeless, about as uninviting as a concrete house with no furnishings or any of the things that transform a mere house into a home.
So, at the risk of being pedantic, I say it again: if you don’t have a rock solid ecclesiology, do not read this book. Read the ones mentioned above first.
Bonhoeffer is no mere theorist. In middle age he lived the principles of fellowship as laid out in Scripture, particularly while teaching his seminary students at Finkenwalde. There, they enjoyed unbroken fellowship: reading the Word together, mediating on Scripture together, praying together, singing together, eating together, playing sports together, studying together, laughing together, and grieving together - all of life, they did together.
It is from this intense life-study that Bonhoeffer speaks, and he speaks well, deftly cutting between the counterfeit and true of deep realities like community, love, sin, repentance, Bible reading, communion, fellowship, honesty, and sin. It is rare to find such an accessible book speaks of such deep things; let it not go unheeded!
This book's writing style is similar to the gospel according to John, in that profound, universe-shattering truths are stated in the simplest and most pithy of ways; compared to the complexity and the depth of the topics that must be addressed, it is incredible that Bonhoeffer (and his translator) write so clearly and simply. This is certainly advantageous, as even the simple are able to comprehend. However, in no way is this book simplistic. It's meant to be read slowly, and tasted, not skimmed quickly. The richness is deep, and honestly, quite enjoyable.
Chapter Titles & Quotes
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another one through and in Jesus Christ.
What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity. Pg. 21
Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him alone; it know that it has no immediate access to other persons. …this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. Pg. 35-36
- The Day with Others
[On consecutive reading of all genres of the Bible for daily family devotions] Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation …We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth.
…A complete reversal occurs. It is not in our life that God's help and presence must still be proved, but rather God's presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is "external to ourselves." I find no salvation in my own life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Pg. 53-54
But the one who will not learn to handle the Bible for himself is not an evangelical Christian. Pg. 55
- The Day Alone
A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. Pg. 86
*There are at least 7 lengthy quotes that I wanted to choose for this chapter. I will try to be content with choosing just a few.
In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members to exist within in it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the fellowship. Pg. 94
To forego self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian. It sounds like an exaggeration, like an untruth. Yet even Paul said of himself that he was the foremost of sinners (I Tim. 1:15); …There can be no genuine acknowledgement of sin that does not lead to this extremity. If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison to the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible. Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no apology whatsoever. Therefore, my sin is the worst. Pg. 96
- Confession and Communion
The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone in our sin, living in lies of hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners! Pg. 110
In confession a man breaks through to certainty. Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to our selves and also granting ourselves absolution. And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self-forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin; this can be accomplished only by the judging and pardoning Word of God itself. Pg. 116
Let There Be Books
This book is part of the Let There Be Books idea that I started. Let me know if you’re interested.