Tomorrow, our Theology Circle gathers to start discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (Gemeinsames Leben). If you’re in NYC, come join us. Details are below. I picked LT because it is a very modern, positive exploration of what intentional Christian community can look like and an exploration of what fellowship is. It is a small, accessible book born out of experience. It also serves as a nice communal counterbalance to the radically subjectivist individualism that we discussed in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. FT is about how no one can understand one’s relationship with God. LT is about living together in light of God.
It’s worth mentioning that LT was written over four weeks in late 1938 after a wealth of intense experience with the good and the bad of Christian community. Bonhoeffer was 32 and had recently finished his most well-known work, Nachfolge (The Cost of Discipleship), immediately prior. He had already experienced a great variety of religious community from the marginal church life of his youth to his theological training at Tübingen to his influential trip to Rome in 1924’s Holy Week to his year pastoring an ex-pat church in Barcelona to his year at New York City’s historic Union Theological Seminary in 1930/31 where he also taught youth Sunday school at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem to lecturing at the University of Berlin to working as a student minister at a German trade university to pastoring two ex-pat churches in London to all throughout his work with the European ecumenical and youth movements to his sharpening battles as part of the Confessing Church with the German Christians and the Nazi’s Reich Church. By the time 1938 arrives, he has already directed an illegal, underground seminary for pastors of the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer knew life together.
He’s on the Nazi’s radar screen. He has gone virtually toe to toe with Reich Bishop Müller and keeping one step ahead of him as the incompetent bishop seeks to solidify Hitler’s power among the suspicious churches. Bonhoeffer knows what is happening. He has seen (not all, but growing number of) Christians in his country duped and slowly seduced to solidify Hitler’s increasing power grab since 1933. He has resisted the “Aryan Paragraph” that prevented all non-Aryans from becoming ministers or religious teachers. The Nazi State sought to turn every aspect of German life together towards and for Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer sought to resist to ensure life together in and toward and for Christ.
It is important to not take Christian community for granted. In the United States and United Kingdom, we do. We have churches on almost every corner. Christendom, in its many forms, is alive and well. There are those who would claim that the US is a “Christian nation”, whatever that means. However, anyone who compares a perceived persecution of Christians in the US to that of the situation in Hitler’s Germany is a fool and has no knowledge or understanding of Europe’s first half of the twentieth century. It is fear-mongering and naive. It is important to say that up front, because there are those who will twist Bonhoeffer to make him their own instead of letting Bonhoeffer be the very nuanced and complex and brilliant Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
For Bonhoeffer, the idea of decision was critical. In his many encounters with ecclesiastic, ecumenical, international, and state bureaucracies, he realized that Christian community must be decisive about its identity and its place in the World. It should not mince words and only say things when it needs to. But when it does, it must be decisive. It must be concrete. It must take a stand, if only for itself. Life together is to live decisively. It is a decision to live together. It is intentional. It is loving. It is where Christianity encounters itself. This is fellowship.
We decide to gather at 61 Local at 61 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, on Wednesday nights at 7pm to explore what life together looks like. We discuss and drink together. Join us.