I’ve previously written on a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a book that I was very delighted to read and recommend to readers of this blog.
Bonhoeffer is a figure from contemporary church history that I do not think it is possible to read “too much” of. He is delightfully quotable and thoroughly convicting; a man with much to say about the Christian life in reality of this side of the cross.
There are many books one could select from to encounter Bonhoeffer. Many people today discover Bonhoeffer through the popular biography by Eric Metaxas; others discover him after hearing Life Together or The Cost of Discipleship quoted by their pastor. If you want an introduction to Bonhoeffer as a preacher, you could read Isabel Best’s The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Beyond those foundational texts, it is hard for the student or lay person to find another resource to continue their experience with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
This is why I was incredibly thrilled at the release of The Bonhoeffer Reader, edited by Clifford Green and Michael Dejonge and published by Fortress Press. Based on the recent and massive publication of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition (DBWE), The Bonhoeffer Reader is meant to serve the general reader or beginning student. This book provides a series of excerpts from Bonhoeffers life, from those written as a young student to texts published shortly after his death. These readings also cover a wide variety of genres, from academic texts to lecture notes and other short pieces. It is for this reason that The Bonhoeffer Reader is considered primarily a theological reader; it gives us depth and insight into the theological mind of Bonhoeffer not formerly available to a wide audience.
There are many features about this book that make it a great resource for lay-readers and students alike. First, the breadth of wisdom over a large variety of topics has been included for all readers. Bonhoeffers writings on Ethics, Ecumenism, the German Church, Christian life, and his University writings/lectures are all included. Secondly, the footnotes for this text have been largely stripped down in comparison to its DBWE counterpart, making them more readable for a wide audience. One of the greatest features of this text is that in its margins, the page numbers corresponding to the DBWE are included. This is a great feature to include for students who may read an excerpt in The Bonhoeffer Reader and then desire to continue reading the entire piece in the DBWE at a local library. I am also thrilled at any text that includes an index of Scripture references, which is readily available in the back of this book (as well as an index of names).
Each work included by Bonhoeffer includes a brief introduction and background included by the editors. These inclusions provide moments of history in Bonhoeffers life that really make the writings “pop” to the reader. An example of the impacts in this attention to detail is seen in the short work entitled Protestantism Without Reformation. The history provided tells the reader that this work was written shortly after Bonhoeffers return from his second visit to the United States at a time when he was seriously considering the differences between the American and German churches. This would be some time before his arrest that led to his eventual martyrdom. In this work he writes:
Throughout the history of the church, endurance and flight in times of persecution have been the two Christian possibilities, since the days of the apostles. Endurance to the point of last resistance may be commanded; flight may be permitted or perhaps even commanded. The flight of a Christian in times of persecution is not apostasy and disgrace as such, for God does not call every person to martyrdom. Not flight but denial is sin, although there may be a situation where flight is the same as denial or, conversely, where flight itself may be a part of martyrdom (pg. 577).
When I first read this, I was in awe of Bonhoeffers prophetic words on his own life. Could it be possible that even at this time Bonhoeffer could sense God calling him to death for his church?
Bonhoeffer is a man who has much to say to us today, and is someone we would be wise to invest and listen to. It is for this reason I would heartily and readily encourage The Bonhoeffer Reader to any general reader, student or pastor seeking to move beyond the biographical or introductory texts previously available to them. This is a resource I would recommend being available to any individual curious in the theology and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I’ve made it my goal over my Winter Break to read and digest a large quantity of books in a short period of time. It’s my pleasure to now write about one of these books, Jesus on Every Page by David Murray. This book has been on my list since it came out earlier this year, and I was very excited to finally get to read it.
The goal of Murray’s book is to overview 10 ways to see Christ throughout the Old Testament. Those various ways are listed below:
1. In the Creation
2. In the Old Testament Characters
3. In His Old Testament Appearances
4. In the Old Testament Law
5. In Old Testament History
6. In the Old Testament Prophets
7. In the Old Testament Types
8. In the Old Testament Covenants
9. In the Old Testament Proverbs
10. In the Old Testament Poems
Why This Book?
This book comes at a time where it is needed now more than ever. The Evangelical church is in a state where the Old Testament is hardly referenced, and when it is it is most often for morals or character examples rather than pointing to Christ. Not only for this reason, but David Murray also points out other reasons why a revitalization of the Old Testament in the Evangelical church is needed:
1. Liberal scholars have created an environment of skepticism and doubt shrouding the Old Testament.
2. Many Christians are ignorant of the Old Testament’s purpose and historical setting.
3. Still others find the Old Testament to be irrelevant in light of the New Testament.
4. The primacy of Dispensationalism in Evangelical churches tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role.
5. There are so many bad examples of Old Testament preaching that fuels peoples lack of interest.
7. People think the Old Testament is official, not personal (pgs. 6-7).
Interactions with the Text
It would be difficult to go in depth about each of the chapters in this book without writing at length or writing multiple posts. Instead I’d like to just write about a few moments (of many) that stuck out to me in the text and hope that is both informative for you as a reader and convincing enough to buy the book for yourself.
One thing that immediately jumped out to me is in the opening chapter on seeing Jesus in the creation. I was delighted to finally read a book that doesn’t turn Genesis 1-2 into a debate about creation or evolution, but instead teaches its intent for us as readers to see: the glory and majesty of Christ as creator and ruler over all of creation. Murray communicates this thought intimately and beautifully as he lists out the aspects of creation that point to Christ. A section I found really personal was titled “The Accessories of Redemption,” which discusses aspects of the creation that will ultimately be used as part of the plan to redemption. I’ve never thought about the creation with such questions as “What did he (Christ) think when he made the trees, one of which would one day suspend him between heaven and earth? (pg. 47)” When we think of all Christ did in creation despite his foreknowledge of our rebellion, we learn so much about his character and love for us.
I also appreciated David’s approach to the Old Testament characters. One thing is for sure: more often than not we tend to preach the Old Testament in a very man-centered fashion. This approach says we need to have faith like Abraham, forgive like Joseph, and have strength like David. In contrast, Murray shows us how we should instead read the Old Testament characters of old as shadows, types and pointing to Christ and his character. This approach leads us away from man-centered moralism and instead to Christ-centered doxology.
I was also overjoyed to see a chapter on the Old Testament appearances of Christ, also known as theophanies or christophanies. It is wise to learn and observe that when God reveals himself or speaks in the Old Testament it is always through the Son. Charles Drew refers to these appearances as love letters or phone calls between two lovers, acts which are temporary and create anticipation for the genuine arrival (pg. 81-82). Or, as some of Murray’s Scottish friends have said, “Christ enjoyed trying on the clothes of his incarnation.”
Another discussion that would benefit many people is that of Christ as the Wisdom spoken of in the book of Proverbs. It would be unwise for me to go into lengthy discussion on this chapter, but I was awed at how the Proverbs continually point to Jesus Christ.
Like many great books, this text comes complete with a Scripture Index. This index is particularly helpful because it will be useful for future reference to find quick points, introductions and illustrations. In addition, the book contains sets of study questions for each chapter than could be used in a group context.
The only critique I would have for this book is not the content, but a preference about the style. Murray often references Scripture or various commentaries and sources through the use of footnotes. However, instead of including these footnotes on the bottom of the page they are located in the back of the book. I would have much rather seen these footnotes cited on the bottom of the page, particularly for the scripture references that are either paraphrased or not quoted directly.
All in all this is a great book and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who struggles reading through the Old Testament or wants to pick up new pointers on seeing Jesus in the Old Testament text. While a short primer on the subject matter, it will continue to be a book I delve into for pointers and advice as I read through the Old Testament.
I am in love with a little publisher called Cruciform Press. This publisher is a recent company on the scene of Christian books, but has quickly built up a library of material that is well worth our time. Their entire purpose is to publish God-glorifying books with solid theology yet at a very short length. Of the books I’ve seen, they’re often around 100 pages or less.
One book that I’ve had my eye on for awhile is called “But God…”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel by Casey Lute. This book certainly did not disappoint, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject matter (you can find it here).
What follows now is not such much a review nor a synopsis of the text, but just a small sampling of what the book contains. My hope is that you will learn something from this short post, that you would be motivated to pick up a copy of the book, and that this interaction might help me remember some things myself! Much of – if not all – of what follows I owe to Casey and this book.
Many people are familiar with the text from Romans 5:8, which reads: “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’d imagine this passage is what sparked Casey’s desire to write a book called “But God…” In the passages leading up to this verse, the Apostle Paul is making the observation that for an unrighteous person no one would dare die, yet perhaps for a righteous person (as Mr. Lute observes, this might be better read the righteous one) one might die for them. Yet, in Romans 5:8 Paul tells us “BUT GOD,” God acts on our behalf and always does. He is always the initiator.
The purpose then of this little book is to observe many places in Scripture which follow the “But God” pattern. There are 9 detailed examples in all (one of them being Romans 5:8) – I am going to highlight two of them below.
God Preserves Humanity (Chapter 1)
The first example Casey gives is of the story of Noah and the flood. Mr. Lute compares this story to climbing a trail on a mountain; it ascends to the main point, and then descends again (pg. 11). Even though the whole story is important, there is one single climaxing point.
Mr. Lute points to Genesis 8:1 as the climax of the account of Noah. It reads: But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. Casey points out that this is the point of the story; Mankind deserves destruction, BUT GOD remembers Noah and chooses to save him and all of humanity (pg. 12).
What I love about this example given by the author is that he provides solid exegetical evidence for the claim that Romans 8:1 is the center point for the account of Noah. This evidence is based on the use of a chiasm. In literary story telling, particularly in the ancient world, chiasms were used to help the orator remember their place in the story as well as point to a climax of the story. A basic chiasm might look something like this:
In the case of the Noah account, Casey points out a chiasm as follows (pg. 13):
- And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth (7:10) (A)
- The flood continued forty days on the earth (7:17a) (B)
- And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days (7:24) (C)
- Our verse (8:1) (D)
- At the end of 150 days the waters had abated (8:3b) (C’)
- At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven (8:6-7a) (B’)
- He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark (8:10) (A’)
Casey wraps up this example by highlighting that it was only by God’s grace Noah was saved. He was a sinner just like everyone else, but needed God to remember him to survive the judgement. God chose to remember Noah, just as he continues to remember his people today (pg. 16-17).
God Provides a Better Sacrifice (Chapter 4)
This Chapter revolves around Psalm 40:6-8, which reads: In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me:I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. This is an interesting text, to which the author helps provide us clarification. Casey points out that having an open ear as this passage speaks of means “doing the will of God with delight, prompted by having God’s Word written on the heart. When one’s ears have truly opened to what God has to say, he joyfully obeys from the heart” (pg. 46).
However, this passage cannot truly be understood without the later book of Hebrews. In Hebrews Chapter 10 (specifically verses 1 and 4-7), the author of Hebrews specifically uses Psalm 40:6-8 as the voice of Christ, not David. Through this lens, we notice a few things thanks to Mr. Lute’s observations:
- God did not delight in the old covenant sacrifices and offerings because those sacrifices could not take away sins (pg. 47).
- Second, the author of Psalm 40:6-8 is identified as Jesus, which tells us that Jesus recognizes that the Father does not delight in sacrifices. God thus prepares a body for Christ so that Jesus – the “only sustainable alternative” – can perfectly fulfill God’s will as the once-for-all sacrifice for sins (pg. 47).
- The sacrificial system was meant to prepare the way for Jesus – it became obsolete when the incarnated Christ came (pg. 48).
- In a way, Psalm 40:6-8 is actually a record of a conversation between Jesus and God the Father before he came, explaining why he would come. This record is for our benefit (pg. 50).
- God desires a pure heart and “open ear.” These were both perfectly realized in Jesus, and in his obedience he became our perfect sacrifice (pg. 50).
My brief interaction with this text cannot do justice to the awesome soul nuggets you’ll find in this book. I highly recommend you pick it up if you’re looking for a digestible and insightful book.
I recently had the pleasure of taking a summer class on Church History and Philosophy with Dr. Stephen Nichols, respected professor at Lancaster Bible College and now a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries. The course required that I spend the better part of five days in a classroom with Dr. Nichols, and he made the experience a real joy. I was thrilled then when I found out he had a book coming out shortly after the course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I knew immediately this was a book I had to read.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a very interesting and polemical figure in church history. Progressive Christianity wants to claim him in their camp because of his focus on social issues and social injustice. Conservatives want to claim him because of his rock-like dependence on prayer, Scripture and the authority of Christ over our lives. The mistake we often make is trying to interpret Bonhoeffer as a 21st Century Evangelical. He was neither “progressive” nor “conservative” by our definition of the words. I am confident, were he alive today, that he would have criticisms for both camps.
For those not familiar with Bonhoeffer, a brief background is in order. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young German theologian who lived prior to and during the Nazi regime under Hitler. Bonhoeffer was first known for standing up against the German national church, which became a supporter of Hitler and his anti-semitism. Bonhoeffer and those like him branched off and started what became known as the Confessing Church. “These ministers and their parishes would swear allegiance to Christ – who was not Aryan – and not surrender the church to be captive to the political ideology of the Nazi Party” (pg. 33).
Later, Bonhoeffer became head of an underground seminary in Germany. He saw many of its graduates captured and killed under the Nazi regime. During this time, he wrote many now-classic books that define many principles for our time. These books include The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, possibly the two most influential works on discipleship and christian community to our church today, respectively.
Bonhoeffer was arrested for his (debatable) involvement in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. In 1943, just a few months after being engaged, he was arrested and imprisoned at Tegel. In 1944 he was transferred to the Gestapo prison in Berlin. He was martyred shortly before the war was ended.
In his book Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life, Dr. Nichols shows us why exactly Bonhoeffer is relevant to us today. This is not an annotated biography by any stretch. Rather, it is a survey of his theology given in Bonhoeffer’s context to help us understand why Dietrich is “worth meeting.”
He (Bonhoeffer) demands our attention – not like the tantrums of a two-year-old, but like the quiet, trusted voice of a wise friend…Bonhoeffer so well understood how to live because he so well understood the cross on which Christ died. Bonhoeffer also grasped the all-encompassing implications of the cross for human existence. He lived from the cross for the world. This is why he’s worth meeting (pgs. 22-23).
Dr. Nichols’ writing style is perfect for capturing a survey of Bonhoeffer’s theology. A master in history and reformed thought himself, Dr. Nichols knew the best way to lay out the text for the reader.
Beginning in Chapter 2, Nichols takes the reader through a survey of Bonhoeffer’s christology and ecclesiology. It is said that Bonhoeffer had a “Christo-ecclesiology”, that is, Bonhoeffer had both christology and ecclesiology at the center of his thought. It is upon this foundation that the reader will come to understand Bonhoeffer in a better light.
Nichols then takes the reader through a journey on Bonhoeffers doctrine of scripture, his thoughts on prayer, Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on thinking and living theologically, “Worldliness”, freedom camouflaged as service and sacrifice, and finally love.
I was very pleased to find that Dr. Nichols includes much thought into Bonhoeffer’s philosophy on seminary life and theological education. As a seminary student myself, it was fascinating to read of how Bonhoeffer ran his seminary ( playing soccer and going on long walks with his students, among other things). Bonhoeffer had a clear view on how theological education must be in service to the church, and must be lived out in life. These pages are a great reminder and read for any seminary student.
In addition, Dr. Nichols does not merely tell us what Bonhoeffer thought. Rather, Dr. Nichols includes application and his own thoughts for how Bonhoeffer’s theology should apply to our lives today. These little quips, while not often, were great to read and I loved finding these nuggets of wisdom. A couple of my favorites include:
- The church is not a hippy commune or hipster club. The sooner we come face-to-face with the disillusionment with others and the disillusionment with ourselves, Bonhoeffer adds, the better off we and the church are. There is a realism here that we should appreciate, and a realism that, once grasped, goes a long way in sustaining true and genuine community in the church (pg. 69).
- The first commitment (of Bonhoeffer) is what has been said already, that theology is in the service of the church. The second commitment is that theology must be lived out…The church as a whole and individual Christians suffer when we pit theology and spirituality or matters of Christian living against each other. We thrive when they work together (pg. 117).
What I loved most about this book was the way Dr. Nichols really makes the reader feel like he is reading Bonhoeffer in his context, and not just a book about Bonhoeffer. Dr. Nichols achieves this not only in his mastery over the historical events of Bonhoeffer’s life, but also in including a plethora of quotes from Dietrich himself. It was these many quotes that made Bonhoeffer come alive for me and helped me to understand who he was as a person, not just as a church figure. Some of my favorite Bonhoeffer quotes from the book include:
- I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: “We are beggars, its true.” (pg. 30)
- We must not first ask what they (the Psalms) have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ (pg. 108).
- We are not judges of God’s Word in the Bible; instead, the Bible is given to us so that through it we may submit ourselves to Christ’s judgement (pg. 87).
- In Jesus we have come to know the kindliness of the Father. In the name of the Son of God, we may call God our Father (pg. 107).
- He who denies his neighbor the service of praying for him denies him the service of a Christian (pg. 111).
- A seminary in which numerous students openly laugh during a public lecture because they find it amusing when a passage on sin and forgiveness from Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will is cited has obviously, despite its many advantages, forgotten what Christian theology in its very essence stands for (pg. 122)
- May God give (faith) to us daily. And I do not mean the faith which flees the world, but the one that endures the world and which loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the suffering which it contains for us. Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth; it shall strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth. I fear that Christians who stand with only one leg upon earth also stand with only one leg in heaven.
The reader of this review should note how clearly quotable this book is, which is a sign of how much I enjoyed the text. It is a struggle not to quote the whole thing.
If I had to pick one thing to interact with Dr. Nichols on in this text, its that one of his greatest strengths may be a crack into a weakness. While I appreciate all of what Dr. Nichols wrote, many critics might point to how much he includes thoughts from Reformed writers such as Luther or Calvin and claim that Nichols is assuming Bonhoeffer belongs in their camp. While I do not believe this is what Dr. Nichols is trying to do, Bonhoeffer is one of these polemical figures in Church history that people want to force us to take sides on. While I think Dr. Nichols does a sufficient job at interpreting Bonhoeffer in his proper context, others might think he is jumping to conclusions as to where Bonhoeffer fits theologically.
Bonhoeffer has much to say to the church of 2013. As I stated earlier, I do not think Bonhoeffer would pick any side in the current debate of progressive vs. conservative Christianity. Particularly in the American church, Bonhoeffer would have much to say to us today. In particular, I think Bonhoeffer would cringe over how little our church is marked by suffering. I don’t just mean physical or emotional suffering, but a suffering that marks us as truly different from the world, a suffering that shows that we really believe what we preach on Sunday. As he said of Union Theological Seminary in 1929, I believe he would also say of the American church today: “There is no theology here” (pg. 122-123).
Dr. Nichols really knocked this book out of the park by showing us how Dietrich Bonhoeffer is important and relevant to us today. Bonhoeffer is not merely a historical martyr and church figure, but he is a profound theologian and example of living out a serious committed Christian faith in light of insurmountable odds.
Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life is a book I would recommend and strongly encourage every Christian to get their hands on. It may be one of the most influential books you’ll read this year.