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The great-grandfather (Karl August von Hase) was a very successful theological teacher and writer; his books went through many edition. Hutterus Redivivus, a textbook on the history of dogma, was still a respected examination aid during Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time as a student. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 6.

The social life in the Bonhoeffer home left its mark in the lively style to which Clara von Hase (Dietrich’s grandmother on his mother’s side) accustomed Dietrich’s mother. The Thuringian branch of the family was amazed at the staff of servants that was necessary when Clara and her daughters came to visit. Her children learned to enhance parties with effortless performances.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 4. 

by Jarrid Wilson 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'The Cost of Discipleship' is sure to sear your heart.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ is sure to sear your heart. (Wikimedia Commons )

Looking for some new reading material? Here are 10 books that have helped shape my spiritual life.

1. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala. The times are urgent. God is on the move. Now is the moment to ask God to ignite his fire in your soul. Cymbala believes Jesus wants to renew his people―to call us back from spiritual dead ends, apathy and lukewarm religion. Cymbala knows the difference firsthand. Thirty-five years ago, his own church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, was a struggling congregation of 20. Then they began to pray … God began to move … street-hardened lives by the hundreds were changed by the love of Christ … and today, they are more than 10,000 strong. The story of what happened to this broken-down church in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods points the way to new spiritual vitality in the church and in your own life. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire shows what the Holy Spirit can do when believers get serious about prayer and the gospel. As this compelling book reveals, God moves in life-changing ways when we set aside our own agendas, take Him at His word and listen for His voice.

2. A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards: This best-selling tale is based on the biblical figures of David, Saul and Absalom. For the many Christians who have experienced pain, loss and heartache at the hands of other believers, this compelling story offers comfort, healing and hope. Christian leaders and directors of religious movements throughout the world have recommended this simple, powerful and beautiful story to their members and staff. You will want to join the thousands who have been profoundly touched by this incomparable story.

3. Crazy Love, Francis Chan: Crazy, relentless, all-powerful love. Have you ever wondered if we’re missing it? It’s crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe—the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and E-minor—loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs and try not to cuss. Whether you’ve verbalized it yet or not, we all know something’s wrong.

Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts—it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.

4. Running with Horses, Eugene H. Peterson: In Jeremiah 12:5 God says to the prophet, “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”

We all long to live life at its best―to fuse freedom and spontaneity with purpose and meaning. Why then do we often find our lives so humdrum, so un-adventuresome, so routine? Or else so frantic, so full of activity, but still devoid of fulfillment? How do we learn to risk, to trust, to pursue wholeness and excellence―to run with the horses in the jungle of life? In a series of profound reflections on the life of Jeremiah the prophet, Peterson explores the heart of what it means to be fully and genuinely human. His writing is filled with humor and self-reflection, insight and wisdom, helping to set a course for others in the quest for life at its best.

5. Accidental Pharisees, Larry Osborne: Zealous faith can have a dangerous, dark side. While recent calls for radical Christians have challenged many to be more passionate about their faith, the downside can be a budding arrogance and self-righteousness that “accidentally” sneaks into our outlook. In Accidental Pharisees, bestselling author Larry Osborne diagnoses nine of the most common traps that can ensnare Christians on the road to a deeper life of faith. Rejecting attempts to turn the call to follow Christ into a new form of legalism, he shows readers how to avoid the temptations of pride, exclusivity, legalism and hypocrisy.

6. The High-Definition Leader, Derwin L. Gray: The High-Definition Leader is an invitation of grace for churches and their leaders to grasp the ancient call of the early New Testament Church that crossed ethnic and socioeconomic barriers to create heavenly colonies of love, reconciliation and unity on earth. In it, you will learn the theology and practices that will help you build a mission-shaped, multi-ethnic church.

7. The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer: The Pursuit of God is an inspirational book that aims to guide those who wish to follow Christ. It includes biblical teachings that emphasize the concept of pursuing God. The concept of seeking God should be evident in the context of obtaining a genuine relationship between the Creator and the creature. Man must consider God as not only a creator, but also the one who sustains life; hence, all creatures must depend solely on Him.

8. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

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The twins Dietrich and Sabine were born on February 4, 1906, the sixth and seventh of eight children. Their parents, Karl Bonhoeffer, professor of psychiatry and neurology, and his wife Paula, nee von Hase, lived in Breslau at the time. The family roots, however, were not in Silesia, but in Swabia, Thuringia, and Prussia.

…Through this grandmother (Clara von Hase, nee Countess Kalckreuth), Bonhoeffer developed an early sense for music and the fine arts.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 3. 

He liked talking to children and took them seriously. He would throw chocolates from his window to his nephews and nieces who were doing their schoolwork in the garden of the house next door!!

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii

They (the Bonhoeffer family) had a very strong sense of what was proper; they also had the quality, often ascribed to the British, of treating daily routines of life very seriously, whereas the really disturbing matters, where all was at stake, were treated as if they were quite ordinary. The stronger the emotions, the more necessary it was to dress them in insignificant words and gestures.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii.

When he (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) was angry, his voice grew softer, not louder. The Bonhoeffer family considered anger indolent, not impertinent.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii.

Bonhoeffer’s wisdom on leadership endures. |

Leadership Development According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Does your church have an intentional development plan to disciple and deploy believers to live out the Great Commission? Are you providing strategic pathways and opportunities for your congregation to participate in church planting so that they can be a part of the Kingdom of God invading into every crevice of society both locally and globally? Or, does this happen haphazardly when someone approaches you and they say that they feel called to ministry?

Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38 HCSB)

All Are Called

When I look at those verses, I see them as a call to pray for more harvest workers. But as a pastor and as a church leader, I also see them as a call to disciple my congregation into being harvest workers for the harvest that exists around them both locally and globally.

As a result, while a once-a-year sermon that challenges your congregation to consider full-time ministry may be helpful, it can actually create more harm than good. This sort of sermon unintentionally creates a culture that says some are called and others are not. But the reality is that all believers have the same primary calling—to go and make disciples of all nations. What we do to earn money is a secondary issue, not a primary one!

Instead of merely hoping that your preaching will stir some to see their primary vocation and calling as being harvest workers, what if you actually created intentional environments and training opportunities to call people into this reality? What if everyone in your church saw their primary vocation as being a harvest worker, where some would get a paycheck from the church if their role was to be an equipper of others (Ephesians 4:11-13), and others would get their paycheck from an employer, while serving passionately on the worship team, children’s ministry, or leading a small group? Then we would definitely see more churches get planted.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In Eric Metaxas’ epic biography of the pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we read about the ways that Bonhoeffer trained people for the call of ministry. Although, as the first head of the seminary in the Confessing Church, he was focusing on training individuals for full-time pastorates, there is much that we can glean from his methods that relate to our discussion at hand—training all people to embrace their first and foremost vocation as a harvest worker.

Before we get to those points, here’s a bit of background to understand why Bonhoeffer was starting a new seminary. The main reason Bonhoeffer moved back to Berlin to run the Confessing Church seminary was due to the fact that German Church seminaries had gone apostate. The German Church was compromising on theology and allowing itself to be shaped and formed by Hitler’s anti-Semitism.

This was also at a time in history when the savage bloodbath known as the Night of the Long Knives had just occurred. As a result, Hitler was quickly gaining power while the divide between the German Christian Church and the Confessing Church continued to rapidly widen.

When it comes to creating intentional environments and training opportunities to encourage people to embrace their first and foremost calling as harvest workers, here are three things that we can learn from the way that Bonhoeffer designed and ran this seminary.

Disciples before Ministers

Bonhoeffer was deeply inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and he believed that Christianity would look and be radically different if believers would just merely live it out. So he called his students to see themselves, not as theological students, but as disciples intentionally living out the Sermon on the Mount. “Bonhoeffer was interested in a Holy Spirit-led course adjustment that hardly signaled something new” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 263).

Since theological education in his day produced “out-of-touch theologians and clerics whose ability to live the Christian life—and to help others live that life—was not much in evidence,” Bonhoeffer wanted to train an army of harvest workers who were first disciples before they were ministers (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 263).

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He inherited the sensitive mouth and full, sharply curved lips of his father. Dietrich’s smile was friendly and warm, but it was obvious at times that he enjoyed poking fun. He spoke remarkably quickly and without any dialect. When he preached, however, his speech became heavy, almost hesitant. Although his seemed delicately shape, they were very strong. mother. In conversation he often played with the signet ring bearing the Bonhoeffer crest on his left hand. When he sat down to play the piano he took the ring off and placed it on the left hand corner of the keyboard.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xvii.

Some Lessons for Today From the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let me premise this by saying I am not a scholar or expert on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Nor do I know precisely how he would analyze our current state of affairs. But I have always admired his principled courage. I am in the process of reading the wonderful “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas, and I cannot help but find important lessons from this remarkable man for our world today.

As many of you certainly know, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the brave few to stand up to the Nazi movement from within Germany, and did so early before its evils and horrors were so obvious. Many of the arguments from secular and religious leaders not initially aligned with the Nazis, but who to one degree or another tolerated or endorsed nazism, sound eerily familiar today

Bonhoeffer is rightly known for his key role in identifying and opposing the nazi reign of terror against the Jews and others. But before this, he recognized the dangerous characteristics in culture and politics that would eventually lead to Auschwitz. He recognized the danger of the “fuhrer principle,” that idea prevalent in Germany that a leader would arise who was so strong and effective, with a central idea being that his word was above written law, and all policies and strategies of party and country should serve him. In fact, Bonhoeffer famously gave a radio address days after the election of Hitler (not as a reaction, it had been scheduled in advance) where he described the history of the fuhrer principle, its place in German culture, and its serious danger to society.

The essential characteristic of the fuhrer as a leader is that he is independent, divorced from any external authority, be it a political, legal, or the ultimate authority of God. From his lecture:

“Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached. And before this Authority the individual knows himself to be completely alone. The individual is responsible before God. And this solitude of man’s position before God, this subjection to ultimate authority, is destroyed when the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority…. Alone and before God, man becomes what he is, free and committed in responsibility at the same time.”

The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forge that man stands alone before the ultimate authority…  The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted.”

This brings us to the first timely lesson gleaned from my reading so far – Leaders must live and govern in recognition of a higher authority. Now our founding fathers structured our republic as under authority. They also structured each coequal branch of government to be subject to or at least dependent on each other in specified ways, as well as to the states and to the people. Without recognition of the authority inherent in our constitution the Leader attempts to be independent in the manner of a dictator or Fuhrer. This can be framed as a necessary or benevolent action, as Hitler himself did after the Reichstag fire. The same tendency is seen in so-called leaders today, circumventing the constitution and curtailing basic rights in the name of public safety or public opinion. Any leader, whether Obama or Trump, who proposes suspending portions of the Bill of Rights (as they both are proposing) for the sake of public safety is operating independently and not as one under authority. Beware any potential leader who does not recognize the authority of God, the authority of the constitution, or the authority of the rule of law. Any society that chooses such a leader are opening themselves to the destruction of each, save God who will not be overthrown.

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