One Christian theologian recently remarked that one of the problem with the modern church is that we are not producing any “scholar saints.” These are the leaders who love God with all their minds in provocative and even ground-breaking ways, and live exemplary lives revealing the glory of God to the world. An example of one such Christian leader in recent memory might be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A much publicized biography by Eric Metaxas aims at recovering a holistic view of his life and remind us of how important a figure like Bonhoeffer is right now.
From a Crosswalk article by Kelley Mathews, Metaxas notes:
"The singular thing about Bonhoeffer that recommends him to this generation is that he calls us to a closer, authentic walk with Jesus, not just a merely religious walk, but one of true obedience to Jesus Christ," says Metaxas. "His life asks us, 'How do we live as authentic Christians all the way, in the face of struggles and evil?'"
"He is a model for living the authentic Christian life. Bonhoeffer is the ultimate example of someone who is discerning and obedient to Jesus in the deepest way. I believe that God gives us illustrations from history, and the life of Bonhoeffer is one of those. He is an example to believers of what it looks like to negotiate the difficulties of life, to deal with evil as a serious, devout, mature Christian."
From the handful of things I know about Bonhoeffer, here are a couple of thoughts on why his influence is so important to us.
First: his scholarship. His academic and pastoral work ranges from rather technical works on ethics and ecclesiology to more popular writings on discipleship and his letters from prison. The more I read works like “The Cost of Discipleship,” the more convinced that their enduring qualities owe more to the deeper work in the background done by the author than we may realize.
Second: his pastoral leadership. He was radically separate from the mainstream Lutheran influence of his day, which eventually required him to form community for those who were leaving comfortable lives to join in following Christ in uncomfortable ways. The Christian church today needs iconoclasts who are unafraid to disconnect themselves from what Luther called the “Babylonian captivity.” Bonhoeffer was that man for his time.
Third: his martyrdom. He wasn’t a dissenter for the sake of dissent. He clung to Christ when the price was as high as it could possibly be. Do we loosen our grip on Christ too easily? Do we spend more time than we are willing to admit straddling lines of discipleship to Christ and to the world?
There is much more to be said about Bonhoeffer, so I look forward to getting into Metaxas’ book.