I received a review copy of In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work Life Together from Leafwood Publishers a few weeks ago.
I’ve been trying to be more selective about the free books I accept to review because, well, I have to read them — and time is getting to be very hard to come by. But this book struck me as being unusually pertinent to today’s church.
The book is built on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, regarding life in God’s community, that is, together in church. Life Together is not as famous as Bonhoeffer’s earlier work The Cost of Discipleship (the subject of Jon Walker’s earlier Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship), but is an essential part of Bonhoeffer’s theology — and a much needed teaching for the contemporary church.
We live in a time when Christian individualism and personal autonomy prevail over corporate life. We church shop. We refuse to submit to church leaders. We are reluctant to commit to others at church. We have become consumers of Christian services rather than committed citizens of God’s kingdom — and Bonhoeffer powerfully addresses the problem through solid, Christ-centered, Scriptural exegesis.
Jon Walker offers a popularization of Bonhoeffer’s work and, to a degree, reframes the discussion for contemporary readers. (Thing have changed quite a lot since Bonhoeffer’s time.)
The book has 36 chapters in 178 pages, allowing the reader to absorb Bonhoeffer’s wisdom in bite-sized chunks and making for an excellent text for small group study.
The writing can be a little choppy, but the book is filled with paragraphs that just radiate God’s truth —
And Jesus is voluntarily dependent on us. Just a “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God,” we become the visible image of Christ to the world. Now that Jesus has returned to heaven and is no longer “visible in the world,” we live in visible fellowship as Christ’s body … . And God says the world will know we are the Body of Christ by how we love one another as we live together.
This means the person you have difficulty getting along with in your small group, your congregation, even your family, is essentially, the voice of Jesus calling you to become more like him. Jesus is pushing you to look past the faults and sin of the other person and to look into the reality that this person who seems like chalk-screeching-on-a-blackboard to you is someone Jesus died to save. In truth, even while you were like chalk-screeching-on-a-blackboard, Christ died for you.
And from Bonhoeffer —
Because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and his Word. Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.
The contemporary church has become very worldly in the sense that we see church life as all about maximizing the value of the bargain — getting the most value for our investment. Bonhoeffer and Walker recall us to the Christian principles of submission, service, sacrifice, and even suffering for the sake of Jesus and for the brothers and sisters we love — the very opposite of Western consumerism.
It’s a lesson we desperately need.