Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“I recommend this work without reservation” is the cliché that begins or ends many book reviews. When it comes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, it is an endorsement that, though postive and true, is just too timid, too cautious, too professional. Recommendations for this book should start as a list of commands. Get the book today. Read it, and don’t put it down until you’re done with it. Then, pick it up again, and again, until it is done with you.
Life Together, a short and lively book, is Bonhoeffer’s reflections, published in 1938, on the miracle of Christian fellowship in the context of an underground seminary he founded as the Nazi movement was overtaking Germany. In April 1943, he would be arrested by the Nazi’s and hanged two years later.
Given his imprisonment and eventual martyrdom, all the more poignant then are the opening pages which reminded his seminarians, first, to never take Christian fellowship for granted. Think, Bonhoeffer said to his charges, of those who do not enjoy Christian community: those alone in hospitals and “the imprisoned, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands.” Go in imagination, Bonhoeffer bids us, to those who are longing for the joy and strength that comes from the physical presence of other Christians. Pause, you who enjoy Christian fellowship day by day in church, perhaps in your family and workplace also, and think of those living without it. Second, never forget that when you do gather, wrote this good Lutheran, that you announce by your presence that our justification and rebirth is by God alone. The gracious miracle of Jesus Christ creates and keeps together the miracle of Christian fellowship.
Few speak of the miracle of Jesus Christ these days, fewer still of the miracle of Christian fellowship. Is it because few are astonished, as Bonhoeffer was, by both? Astonishment comes when we see God’s grace and free initiative at the heart of things. This doesn’t mean that he is a dreamer. Grace and love have a shape and a name: Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is infinitely fruitful for us. So, from these first pages, Bonhoeffer develops a Christ-centered account of community in five short chapters that is guided, nourished, and constantly renewed by scripture, solitude, ministry, confession and communion. Bonhoeffer’s weightiness and his lightness—that is, his sobriety and his joy-- as a Christian lies in his devotion to the ‘inexhaustible riches’ (Ephesian 3:8) God has for us in Jesus Christ. Readers of Life Together will learn never to take Christian community for granted and so much more about that fellowship and its Lord.