Book Review: “Life Together,” By Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In his book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers the Christian means with which to cultivate authentic Christian community. Having been imprisoned (and later hung) by the Gestapo for his participation in the political and military resistance against Nazism in Germany, the author writes with the authority of experience of Christian community. He asserts that communal life, the physical presence of other Christians, is a gift of grace, that it is the “extraordinary, roses and lilies” of the Christian life. He aims to describe the nature of Christian community through five concepts and devotes a chapter to each: Community, The Day with Others, The Day Alone, Ministry, and Confession and Communion.
Of the nature of communal life, or Christian community, Bonhoeffer writes that it is unified through and in Jesus Christ. He maintains that the communal life is not an ideal, but a divine reality. This means that a Christian must regard community as not a “dream world” of great experience and discoverable riches, but as inherently messy; for it is not, as the author writes, “an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” And in such a reality, the sinful nature of man is ever present. Therefore, we must be disillusioned by that nature itself in order to be “brought to the knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship.”
His central theme is that despite his own imperfection (and because of Christ alone!) the Christian is a great help to his brothers as they mutually act as “bringers of the message of salvation”—which, Bonhoeffer argues, is the goal of all Christian community. Indeed, through their attachment to the church, the common worship of song, scripture reading and prayer, personal prayer, and mutual service the members of the Christian community are being sanctified.
Life Together was a work that stuck with me long after I had put it down. Its lessons are immediately relevant and yet of such enduring consequence. I was constantly sending excerpts from the book to friends and family, and when it came time to review the book itself, my desire was to simply quote it from beginning to end. I count it among the best of theological works that I have ever read; and I believe it to be an indispensable resource for every Christian.
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