A scroll through some of my recent Facebook statuses shows the quotability of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and its impact on me:
Also, this one:
And, just for fun, here’s some Bonhoeffer from a letter quoted in Eberhard Bethge’s biography of him:
Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is substantial evidence that this servant of God saw himself as belonging to the church. The short, powerful book is both a gift and a challenge to any Christian who will take the time to study it.
I have just finished reading it through all the way for the first time. Though it’s true that there is a focus on how one can be a faithful member of a Christian community, the application to the Christian-as-individual is rich, as well.
How Life Together is Structured
There are five main sections of Life Together:
- The Day Together
- The Day Alone
- Confession and the Lord’s Supper
Bonhoeffer was, in fact, writing with his own seminary community in mind (see “Benefits of the DBWE Critical Edition,” below), but he also intended with Life Together something more universal:
We are not dealing with a concern of some private circles but with a mission entrusted to the church. Because of this, we are not searching for more or less haphazard individual solutions to a problem. This is, rather, a responsibility to be undertaken by the church as a whole.
Throughout each of the sections, the focus of the book is “life together under the Word” (my emphasis, but also an ongoing emphasis of Bonhoeffer). An editor’s footnote explains that “life together” can also be translated from German as “common life.”
Christians in community are a sort of sacrament to each other, a theme throughout Life Together:
The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian living in the diaspora recognizes in the nearness of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. In their loneliness, both the visitor and the one visited recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body.
Through prayer and worship together, intentional solitude, service to each other, hearing confession of sins and–ultimately–through participation in the Lord’s Supper, the purpose and aim of Christian communities is “to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
Bonhoeffer’s Dialectic of Solitude and Community
Throughout the book Bonhoeffer explores the dialectic between living in community (“The Day Together”) and the individual’s time alone (“The Day Alone”). He suggests that the ones who will do best living in community are those who already do well alone. Those who cannot already live at peace with themselves will not do well in community:
Those who take refuge in community while fleeing from themselves are misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distraction, no matter how spiritual this idle talk and distraction may appear.
On the other hand, “the reverse is also true.” Discipleship is best when not received, experienced, and lived just as a solitary endeavor. Bonhoeffer says, “Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone” (emphasis in original).
Both solitude and the company of others, then, are needed:
We recognize, then, that only as we stand within the community can we be alone, and only those who are alone can live in the community. … It is not as if the one preceded the other; rather both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer’s characteristic and refreshing forthrightness brings the point to a head:
Those who want community without solitude [Alleinsein] plunge into the void of words and feelings, and those who seek solitude without community perish in the bottomless pit of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.
Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone.
Benefits of the DBWE Critical Edition
Life Together is Volume 5 of Fortress Press’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (English Edition); it’s also the first one published (1995) in the series.
In addition to its being a new translation from Bonhoeffer’s German, there is an Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition, Editors’ Afterword to the German Edition [abridged], and an extensive (though not distractingly so) set of footnotes as part of an explanatory critical apparatus.
Though one could certainly read Life Together in its own right, editor Geffrey B. Kelly’s introduction is a great set-up. From the very beginning he highlights the fascinating history of the book:
It was because [the Gestapo] had shut down the preachers’ seminary at Finkenwalde that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was finally persuaded to compose his thoughts on the nature and sustaining structures of Christian community, based on the “life together” that he and his seminarians had sustained both at the seminary and in the Brothers’ House at Finkenwalde. … With the closing of the seminary at Finkenwalde and the dispersal of the seminarians, however, Bonhoeffer felt compelled not only to record for posterity the daily regimen and its rationale, but also to voice his conviction that the worldwide church itself needed to promote a sense of community like this if it was to have new life breathed into it.
Kelly brings to light more about the historical situation leading to Life Together (including the Finkenwalde seminary), as well as ties it in with some of Bonhoeffer’s earlier writing that undergirds the book. Kelly notes that Life Together is ultimately a highly Christocentric work. Indeed, Bonhoeffer writes:
Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. There is no Christian community that is more than this, and none that is less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily community of many years, Christian community is solely this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.
The critical footnotes are excellent and seem to be placed at just the right spots. They include biblical references, historical background, explanations of German-to-English translations, and descriptions, where needed, of the larger body of Bonhoeffer’s thought that informs a given passage.
For those wanting to read Life Together, there’s a nice bonus with the Fortress Press DBWE edition: it includes also Bonhoeffer’s Prayerbook of the Bible: An Introduction to the Psalms. Given his emphasis already in Life Together on the importance of the Psalms for the prayer life of the community (“The Psalter is the great school of prayer”), its inclusion in this volume is perfectly fitting. The text itself is just above 20 pages, with the addition of an English editor’s introduction and German editors’ afterword.
One More Bonhoeffer Quote,
and How to Get the Book
The last word of this review goes to Bonhoeffer. Here it is:
The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is “from outside ourselves” (extra nos). I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ. Only those who allow themselves to be found in Jesus Christ—in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection—are with God and God with them.
If you don’t already own Life Together, you should. If you do own it in an old paperback edition, you should get the Fortress Press Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works edition, if possible, whether through purchase or library check-out.
If you really want to go in depth, Geffrey B. Kelly (lead English editor of DBWE 5) wrote Reading Bonhoeffer, which includes a reading companion to Life Together.
Many thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy, given to me with no expectation as to the content of my review. You can find Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible here on Amazon (affiliate link), or here at Fortress Press.
This last week I visited what has to be the best bookstore in the cosmos. Loome Theological Booksellers bills itself as the world’s largest theological bookstore. It has great prices, an incredible selection (the Bonhoeffer section, for instance, had secondary literature in French and German), an easy-to-navigate layout, and a really nice owner.
Here are a few photos (click on any of them or open in a new tab/window to enlarge):
Here’s the annex. It’s enormous. The photos below just show part of it:
If you’re in the Minneapolis-St. Paul or Stillwater area, check it out! They’re having a $2 per book Labor Day sale that I was sorry to have missed by a couple of days.
By now many of you Words on the Word readers will have heard that the UBS edition of the Greek New Testament has recently been published in its fifth revised edition, the UBS5. See here for more.
Check out this smart graphic from Hendrickson Publishers announcing the edition (academia needs more good infographics):
Just as I reviewed the amazing LXX-NA28 combo, I will soon be reviewing the UBS5 Greek New Testament.
While I work my way through it, with just about a minute of your time and a few clicks, you can enter to win your own copy of the UBS5, thanks to the great people at Hendrickson Publishers.
You Can Earn Up to 8 Entries: Here’s How
Simply comment on this blog post with a short sentence on what interests you in the Greek New Testament. That will give you one entry.
If you share on Facebook and/or Twitter, and then come back and post the link to your share in the comments, you get two additional entries.
If you want to earn five additional entries, you can record a (however lo-fi) video of yourself answering the questions: Why does Bible translation matter? and: What does translating the Bible mean to you personally?
To receive those five additional entries, post the url to your video (whether you’ve uploaded to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, etc.) in the comments. Then others can see your video, too.
I’ll select two winners using a random number generator.
A Bit of Fine Print
The giveaway is open through Sunday, September 7, 11:59 p.m. EDT. On Monday I’ll notify the winner and post about it both here and in the comments below. Then Hendrickson will mail you your UBS5 GNT! (Note: Only domestic/U.S. shipping addresses are eligible for this contest, with apologies to the rest of the world!)
Make sure in when you leave a comment that you include your email address—I can use that to contact you, and the email address isn’t public.
Happy entering, and the folks at Hendrickson and I look forward to seeing your videos. Drop me a line if you have any questions.
I’ve just come home to the new Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies (JSCS) in my mailbox. This volume (vol. 47, 2014) publishes an extensive comparative review I wrote of Bible software programs for Septuagint studies. In the review I consider and evaluate Accordance 10, BibleWorks 9, and Logos 5.
I’m excited to see it in press! Here are the journal cover, the contents, and the first page of the review. You can subscribe to JSCS at this link.
I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for the first time. As I near completion of the book, here is a convicting passage that jumped out at me:
But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.
Congratulations to Rick Mansfield, winner of the MyWerkz foldable Bluetooth keyboard. I used a random number generator to select the winner. Way to go, Rick, and enjoy! (P.S. See his nifty blog here.)
I’ll post my review of the keyboard soon. Until then, see my gathered tech gear posts here. Thanks to all who entered and shared.
“What’s your theology of justice?” he asked at the beginning of the class, which was met with blank but curious stares.
Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing, more than any other book besides the Bible, has shaped my theological understanding of justice. Authors Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice develop a Christ-centered, Scripture-shaped, journey-oriented theology of justice reconciliation.
The authors urge that we slow down and take the time that is needed for true reconciliation—as a journey—to take hold. A question that permeates the book is, “Reconciliation toward what?” Katongole and Rice are aware that “reconciliation” calls to mind various “prevailing visions,” many of which lack theological rootedness in the Biblical story of God saving his people.
Reconciliation is, they suggest, a God-given gift to the world and the ultimate goal of the “journey with God from old toward new.” They write,
The journey of reconciliation hangs or falls on seeing Jesus. …For Christians, the compass for the journey of reconciliation is always pointing toward Jesus Christ.
Katongole and Rice make heavy use of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (II Corinthians 5:18-20, TNIV)
Seen as a gift, then, reconciliation becomes something that is “not for experts only,” but something that God calls all his children to. To equip us for the journey God gives us gifts: a cloud of witnesses, communion, peace and harmony, Sabbath, and the gift of Scripture, which is to shape us as God’s story in the world.
Midway through the book the authors arrive at a biblically understood definition of justice:
Justice is an aspect of God’s shalom, a notion that carries with it the idea of completeness, soundness, well-being and prosperity, and includes every aspect of life—personal, relational and national.
Justice, they say, is to include the interpersonal, relational aspect; yet it must also attend to structural considerations. To speak about justice so holistically, against dichotomies that might otherwise render our work ineffective, is wise and instructive for our journey toward reconciliation.
Although written by a black, Catholic, African academician and a white, Protestant, American practitioner, the book does not specify what issues in reconciliation may occur between any two specific groups and how those groups (or individuals) might think about moving forward. The authors do give helpful anecdotal evidence of reconciliation that bridges and heals divides of race, class, and ethnicity. But the reader wanting, for example, to mend and redress the brokenness in black-white relations in the United States may have to look to supplemental reading for more practical hints.
However, in its development of a fairly robust theology of reconciliation and justice, Reconciling All Things lays the important groundwork on top of which such future work can be built. Its chapters on lament (“The Discipline of Lament”) and leadership (“The Heart, Spirit, and Life of Leadership”) are profound in their call for Christians to slow down, locate themselves (emotionally and physically) among the broken places of the world, and to mourn and lament in those places, together with those who mourn and lament.
The one who would lead, then, is less concerned with specific techniques, tools, and strategies, and more concerned with seeing a gap, being deeply moved in response, and belonging to the gap, long before she or he would make proposals to initiate change and issue directives. In laying this groundwork, Katongole and Rice actually leave the work of developing techniques and specific reconciliation “skills” to the reader.
In the end, “You find that God has surprised you and your companions over and over with all that you needed to go on….” The assurance of this ongoing gift of God’s provision gives the Christian who would practice reconciliation all she needs to begin discerning her role in practicing reconciliation in everyday life.