Midwestern prof’s book focuses on beloved martyr
December 13, 2005
A book may inform. A book may delight. When a book achieves both goals there is great joy in the reading of it. Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus at All Costs is just such a book. Written by Mark DeVine, professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, this new release from Broadman & Holman shows the significance of the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The publication coincides with the 100 th anniversary of the birth of the German theologian.
Bonhoeffer wrote the popular works The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics. However, he is best known for his role in opposing Nazism and conspiring to help assassinate Adolf Hitler. In a day when the vast majority of the German church acquiesced to Hitler, Bonhoeffer led an opposition group known as “the Confessing Church.” Near the end of the war, he was arrested and executed in a concentration camp.
The first chapter of DeVine’s work is worth the price of the book because of the lively biographical account of Bonhoeffer. DeVine is a master story-teller, showing the difficult times in which Bonhoeffer lived out his short 39 years.
DeVine does not attempt to cover all of Bonhoeffer’s thought. Rather, he shows the relevance of Bonhoeffer to current evangelical Christianity by focusing on four areas of concern.
First, Bonhoeffer wrote a great deal about knowing and doing the will of God. Rather than waiting for a direct divine word from God, he argued for submissive obedience to written Scripture. Bonhoeffer said, “Do not get into the habit of interpreting Scripture in light of personal experience. Do not measure God’s word. Let it measure my word, my life.” DeVine contrasts this with much of evangelical piety:
“As a Southern Baptist, I rarely encounter a sermon or participate in a Bible study or small-group session without hearing claims of divine leading and guidance. These claims are shared as though the experience of such daily guidance is a matter of course for speaker and hearer alike.”
Without neglecting the reality of Holy Spirit guidance, Bonhoeffer and DeVine challenge us to move beyond the murky elusiveness of seeking individualized revelation. God does not play hide-and-seek with His will.
Second, living through the day of a compromised church, Bonhoeffer spoke often on the nature and mission of the true church. Rather than giving up on a church which disappointed him, Bonhoeffer saw that true communion with Christ does not exist apart from our relationships with one another in the body. DeVine says that some modern church practice keeps us from this type of true interaction with one another.
Third, Bonhoeffer emphasized the relationship between the witness and relevance of the church. He said, “The intention should not be to justify Christianity in this present age, but to justify the present age before the Christian message.” The church is to be in the world but not of it. Strong proclamation of the Word and a Christ-centered theology is the path of fidelity that avoids cultural accommodation. Again, DeVine draws application from these themes to evangelical practice.
Finally, Bonhoeffer wrote about freedom, suffering, and hope – three themes central to his own story. He exhorts us to “Seek God, not happiness.” Unfortunately, many in evangelicalism turn this truth around, focusing on personal fulfillment even at the cost of disobedience to God. God’s commands are a gracious gift of God that reveal His desires to us. Believing as he did in the imminent return of Jesus, Bonhoeffer expressed urgency in his call for repentance of sin.
In closing, DeVine says of Bonhoeffer, “We are confronted with a follower of Jesus prepared to died rather than abandon his Lord. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has much to teach us, and we evangelicals need not put our heads in the sand to sit at his feet for a spell.” DeVine’s exceptional book provides us with an enjoyable opportunity to listen to the voice of Bonhoeffer. ( Scott Lamb pastors Providence Baptist Church in St. Louis and is a frequent book reviewer and art critic for The Pathway. He may be contacted through www.wisdomofthepages.com.)