Life Together II

I’ve finished Life Together .  It’s a relatively short book (about 120 pages), and something I would encourage people to read.  At least, I would encourage people to read the first chapter.  After that, there is much room for subjective commentary on Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on how community ought best to function during the course of a typical day.

Chapter 1 is entitled Community, and I personally found this chapter to contain the most important and convicting theological musings.  It isn’t that the rest of the book isn’t necessarily helpful, it’s just that it falls very quickly out of the realm of theological inquiry and exploration, and into the realm of Christian freedom in action and living, where there may be may good and wonderful ways of approaching an issue (such as the best way to structure our day), and on which the Bible does not give extensive prescriptive instruction, but more descriptive examples.  
Bonhoeffer finds great value in monastic examples for structuring the day, and feels that these are in large part valuable even for a non-monastic Christian community or family.  I tend to agree.  But it isn’t a requirement by any means.  Bonhoeffer feels strongly about the importance, for example, of morning prayer, devotion & meditation.  He makes a persuasive argument that this is a healthy thing for any person to do as soon as they wake up.  He cites Scripture in support of this argument, but frankly his citations sound more like proof-texting, and I’m not at all convinced that those particular Scripture citations (often out of the Psalms) are intended to be prescriptive.  
His thoughts about the nature of Christian community – that it is not something we are entitled to, but a gift from God, for example – are wonderful.  His assertion that any attempt to impose our own ideas about what Christian community should look like or function as – beyond living in total awareness of our own sinfulness – are very helpful and convicting.  What would my experiment in Christian community have looked like if we had spent less time trying to figure out what to do and more time simply immersed in the Word and struggling to love one another?  I’m sure it would have been better.
But the problem is that Bonhoeffer then goes on to outline how Christian community should look like or function as.  While well meaning, it seemed that he contradicted his initial very powerful insights through the desire to give people practical direction.  He did this in another area as well – the area of how we deal with our Christian brothers & sisters.  He makes the powerful argument that we are to have no expectations of them, whether they are strong in the faith or weak in the faith.  We are to hold our tongue and seek to love them rather than risk damaging them through our expectations of how they ought to be.  But then he argues later about the importance and necessity of speaking the Word to our brothers and sisters, of not remaining silent in the face of some perceived struggle or failing on their part.  
So which is it?  I’ve run into this in discussions with peers on this topic as well.  On the one hand they argue that we are to only love one another, and then on the other hand they argue about the importance of discipling and building one another up and even chastising or warning with the Word when necessary.  These are not mutually exclusive things – love and taking some level of responsibility for our brethren – but they are often treated as separate things.  Biblically we are enjoined to love but also to recognize that love is not defined by us, but rather by the Word.  Which means at times we are going to have to say some very difficult things to someone else precisely because we love them.  Whether one prefers the idea of loving others by not holding out expectations, or loving others by being honest with them seems to vary directly on how they would prefer to have love shown to them.  
Understandably, it’s nicer when others love me and bear with my faults.  But perhaps others need to love me by helping me with my faults and holding me accountable.  This is less comfortable, less fun or enjoyable, but equally if not more important than loving me silently.  Bonhoeffer recognizes both things, and does not do a very good job in discerning when to use which approach.  In his defense, I’ve not run across anyone that does do a good job of making this distinction.  I hope when I begin my readings in the early Church fathers that there may be some more nuts and bolts suggestions or observations.
In the meantime, I’m going to want to re-read the first chapter of this book over and over again to help me focus as I live in community with other Christians, whether my wife and children or my parishioners.  The rest of the book can be helpful, but comes off more sounding like rules and regulations – rules and regulations which Bonhoeffer himself begins his book by rejecting.

One Response to “Life Together II”

  1. Book Review (2): Life Together | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] originally reviewed this book almost six years ago in two parts, here and here.  It was much closer to an experiment in Christian community that was very painful for my wife and […]

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