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– John 1.5
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
– John 8.12
There I was, in the middle of the Barnes and Noble in South Austin, a tear in my eye. I stood holding a hard cover copy of the collected sermons of a Christian hero of mine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and on the inside cover was John 1.5, which so perfectly sums up the life of faith which Bonhoeffer lived. Never once did Bonhoeffer let the surrounding darkness overcome him. Numerous were the times that he could have fled to safety and likely have lived to a ripe old age. At one point, he did in fact manage to escape the America for a teaching position at Union Theological Seminary in order to avoid being drafted into the Nazi German Army. This trip was only fated to last a month, however, as his heart grew increasingly restless by the day being away from the family, friends, and countrymen in need whom he so loved. He returned to Nazi Germany, and by so doing focused the path of life squarely towards the end he ultimately met. Letters written to his soul friend, Eberhard Bethge, clearly show that he knew how his life would end, hard details aside. He lived his life with a prophetic sense that it would certainly lead to a seemingly premature death, but through none of this did he ever let the light be overcome by the unquestionable darkness. He lived a life of light, and was not overcome by the darkness.
For those of us who grew up in and around the church, we hear things such as “Jesus is the light of the world” and we let it wash over us without allowing it to change us. Such was my realization as I drove home from the Barnes and Noble: Jesus is the light of the world, and the light shines through the darkness, never being overcome by it. I am less than proud to admit that at almost 26 years of age, this was the first time this concept had ever found a place to land on my heart. He is the light of the world, and the light shines through the dark.
Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” usually sends legalists into a frenzy of zealous works. And of course a shallow reading of the book would certainly affirm any legalistic tendencies one might have. However, a careful reading, even of the excerpt below will reveal that Bonhoeffer is no legalist. While he was thoroughly immersed in the world of Sola Gratia, Bonhoeffer does give a helpful corrective to some strains of Lutheran musings on grace. He argues that the gift of grace not only includes the forgiveness of sins, but grace also gives the new life of discipleship to the Lord Jesus. Read it carefully and read it all.
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living inarnate.
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for teh sake of it man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer made one of the most courageous decisions in the history of Christianity when he decided in 1939 to leave the safety of New York City and return to Germany where he confronted Adolf Hitlerand the Nazis. His reward for this incredible act of selflessness was to be hanged in a concentration camp in 1945.
Bonhoeffer, one of the towering figures of the 20th century, may not be a name familiar to the majority of Americans more than sixty years after the end of World War II. Bonhoeffer was a man determined to do the will of God, no matter what the personal cost.
Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
As Hitler and the Nazis seized control of Germany and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small band of dissidents including Bonhoeffer, worked to bring down the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer, a pastor and author, was famous for his classic religious books.
Bonhoeffer’s life was changed during his time at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem before he returned to his native Germany to oppose Hitler. He took the position that Christians are obligated to stand up for the Jews.
Upon his return to Germany he became involved in the effort to smuggle Jews into the safety of neutral Switzerland. He also put his beliefs into action by being involved in the well-known Valkyrie plot against Hitler.
On July 20, 1944, there was a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. As a result, 180 to 200 plotters were “shot or hanged, or viciously strangled with piano wire.” Through Dietrich Bonhoeffer was already in prison, he knew of the plot…
Bonhoeffer was among those who knew when this last assassination attempt was about to take place. He had great hopes for it, so hos quiet reaction to its failure was remarkable. He scarcely allowed for it to interrupt his ongoing theological work. He did know that from then on his life was in even greater danger than it had already been.
He came to prefer the Old Testament for his reading. By the time he could begin writing to Bethge, he reported that he read it two and half times since he had been in Tegel. And what impressed him in the Old Testament, much more than in previous years, was the profound “this-worldliness” of the Jews Bible. Now he no longer clung to Kierkegaard’s epitaph…
A short while yet, and it is won
Of painful strife there will be none.
Refreshed by life-streams, thirsting never,
I’ll talk with Jesus forever and ever.
…But rather wrote, as early as January 1944: “I’m still doing fine, working and waiting. By the way, I’m still optimistic in every regard…”
Mel Lawrenz (author of Spiritual Influence and minister-at-large at Elmbrook Church) has created a series of videos called “Stories of Influence” that are well worth watching. Like mini-documentaries, each video tells the story of an influencer from history and highlights how they affected the culture around them in a spiritual way. Each video also highlights a key theme from the book, like perseverance, being a follower of God, and others.
The first video listed below highlights how Lawrenz uses the word “influence” throughout the series of videos and the book. Here’s a quote from Spiritual Influence that also provides a definition:
“Influence is about the hidden forces that make visible results that have an enduring effect. It ties into the core spiritual realities believers know about because they understand the Creator of the universe to be the underlying power and influence behind all things good.”
These videos are professionally made and would be great videos to show at a staff training event, a book discussion group, or even in a small group setting if your group is focusing on leadership. I highly recommend watching them. And note, I didn’t make these videos, so I’m not just schlepping my own stuff here. Mel Lawrenz and his team at The Brook Network made these videos and I think they did a bang-up job. If you have time to watch only one of them, I would watch the video on Dietrich Bonhoeffer just because I think that man’s life and work are fascinating.
In this Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 photograph, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., and his wife Lulli, talk with reporters while attending the Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo. (AP) Rep. Todd Akin, running as the GOP candidate for Senate in Missouri, has now confessed on Mike Huckabee’s radio show that he is sorry, so very sorry for his remarks in an interview that aired Sunday where he said “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy.
What exactly did Akin confess to doing wrong? Well, for one thing, he said he was sorry for using “the wrong word.” He should have said “forcible rape,” not “legitimate rape.” And yes, he acknowledged on the radio show, women do get pregnant from “forcible rape,” though he never explained the reason for his earlier remarks.
Sorry doesn’t get it done when what you really mean is ‘please make this controversy go away.’
I teach a class on forgiveness at Chicago Theological Seminary, and Akin’s statements illustrate one of the biggest misunderstandings about forgiveness. Just saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the profound moral transaction we call forgiveness.
Akin, in seeking forgiveness, needs to confess exactly what he did wrong, and let those whom he has offended (in this case, rape victims everywhere) know that he seeks their forgiveness. That is not the end of it. Akin then needs to make concrete amends, and then not do it again.
The vague ‘sorry’ Akin put out there on the Huckabee radio show doesn’t come anywhere near the dynamic of repentance and forgiveness. In fact, what he did was pretty much what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called engaging in “cheap grace.” This is the idea that saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness is a spiritual (and political!) “get out of jail free” card.
In 1937, Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was ultimately hanged by the Nazis for resisting Hitler, published a book called “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer wrote that we need to follow the teachings of Jesus in this world, but this is a costly decision. You can’t just talk the talk of grace, or claim Christ has “paid the price” for our sins, and then go along your merry way, continuing to perpetrate injustices. That’s “cheap grace.” You have to change the way you act as well as the way you speak.
(Eberhard) Bethge did become Bonhoeffer‘s biographer, and dedicated the rest of his life to the works of his friend, without him, only a few traces of Bonhoeffer’s work be left to us. But Eberhard Bethge was much more than a biographer. The Letters and Papers from Prison that he published in 1951 contained only Bonhoeffer’s side of correspondence. Only when an enlarged edition appeared many years later, containing Bethge’s letters to Bonhoeffer as well, did we discover that Bonhoeffer developed his ideas in dialogue with Bethge. This was possible because they have been in ongoing conversation with one another since 1935. Thus, during the time Bonhoeffer was in Tegel, they could have said, like very different pair of friends, “I do my thinking in you, and do yours in me.”