Following Bonhoeffer’s Example of Genuine Love

Recently I began reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.[1] Thus far my reading has proven beneficial. As I read over the next few weeks I hope to share a few gleanings with you. Today’s post concerns the issue of genuine love, which was one of Bonhoeffer’s greatest characteristics during his stay in Berlin. It was because of his love for Christ and people that Bonhoeffer had an effective ministry.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Overview

On February 4, 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born the fourth and youngest son to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was born only ten minutes before his twin sister, Sabine, who he would be closest to. His father, Karl, held the chair in psychiatry and neurology at the university in Breslau.[2] One of his earliest recorded theological musings occurred when Dietrich was about four years old. He asked his mother, “Does the good God love the chimney sweep too?” and “Does God, too, sit down to lunch?”[3] The Bonhoeffer’s adhered to a homegrown form of Christianity with little church attendance, but daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing. Paula and Karl taught their children Biblical values that would have a lasting impact.[4]

Dietrich’s upbringing would certainly come to have a lasting impact on his life. During Hitler’s rise to power Dietrich would serve as a pastor and spy and would eventually worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. Metaxas wonderfully articulates Bonhoeffer’s life as a pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy. For more on Bonhoeffer, see Metaxas’ book. If you haven’t read it yet, you can purchase it here or here.

Loving people: Bonhoeffer’s example for us

Metaxas recounts of Bonhoeffer’s remarkable ability to connect with people in difficult circumstances, especially those in his confirmation class in Wedding, a notoriously tough neighborhood north of Berlin.[5] Dietrich was given this assignment shortly after his ordination in 1931. The Superintendent desperately needed help with a class of 50 boys. Bonhoeffer answered the call to come help. These children had significant difficulties with discipline, but Dietrich simply told them stories from the Bible, particularly the eschatological passages.[6] That is the situation Dietrich willingly submitted himself to.

As I read the following quote the other day I was immensely challenged.

“At the end of each evening I read something out of the Bible and after that a little catechizing, which often grows very serious. The experience of teaching them has been such that I can hardly tear myself away from it.”[7]

How is it that Dietrich was able to teach these often rebellious students? How could he say, “I can hardly tear myself away from it?”

By this point in Dietrich’s life he had developed a radical love for God and neighbor. His commitment to these students challenges me greatly. I want to have a heart like this for people and for the ministry of the word. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer exemplifies Christ’s Gospel in a unique way.

What exactly was Christ’s gospel?

[34]  But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. [35]  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, [36]  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” [37]  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [38]  This is the first and great commandment. [39]  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [40]  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40, NKJV

In scripture we are given both the indicative and the imperative. The indicative is that God loves us because He sent His son to die for us. He gives us His righteousness. We are redeemed by grace through faith. This is the indicative. The imperative of the Gospel is that we should love God and our neighbor. It’s one thing for us to agree that we should love one another, but something entirely different to practice it.

May our hearts and minds be challenged to love people as Bonhoeffer did. We have to see others as image bearers. Some image bearers may not have been born again, but if we love people with authenticity, following Bonhoeffer’s example, we will make a difference for Christ.

 

[1] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Ibid, 130.

[6] Ibid, 131-132.

[7] Ibid, 133. Dietrich wrote this in a letter to his friend Erwin Sutz, whom he met when he visited New York.

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