Monday, November 10, 2008

Real Life Together -- Bonhoeffer on Visionaries

I am reading "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and finding his words a challenge to my own attempts at thinking about the division in the church across racial lines a well as a our outcomes requirements on Christian ministries. 



"God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. 


. . . we think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack deep certainty, the strong faith, and  the rich experience that God has given to others  and we consider this lament to be pious.  We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.  How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things.  If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where this is no great experience, no discoverable riches,  but much weakness and small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything  is so paltry and petty, so far from our expected, then we hinder God form letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us us in Jesus Christ.  


This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. "pp. 28-29 


This guy would not have made it in the church growth era!  But what he says rings true to me about my own make-up (visionary) and oft found lack of contentment with the church.  


It also bolsters, in a way, my feeling that perhaps in adopting market principles for evaluating ministry we can overstep or over-reach what God has for us. 


There is a beauty in serving out of weakness-without-triumphalism that at the heart of the gospel.


hammerdad said...

Hey Joel, I love that first paragraph about how we get offended with other brethren and even God when the plan doesn't go as we imagined. I really wonder if this isn't what is happening in the hearts of some who are so offended by an obama presidency. It seems that some are offended that God didn't come through on the issues they felt he must hold most dear when maybe it was the issues they held most dear.

Also, wow, the whole quote rings true of most ministries I know. We try so hard to tell God what he wants us to do for him. I wonder if that happens in our families as well??? "Okay God, here is how I want this child to turn out. . . then on the next one if we could arrange for this other outcome. . ."

Paula Hamernick said...

oops that was me.

hammerdad said...

hey Babe~

you said "It seems that some are offended that God didn't come through on the issues they felt he must hold most dear when maybe it was the issues they held most dear"

I'm not sure that offended at God is the right description but I agree that no matter who one, some were bound to be offended/upset.

There were issues in the election that were and are heart wrenching and critically important on both sides. So in a sense, all Christians should have both a reason to rejoice AND a reason to mourn, either way the election came out.

I think part of the problem now is that white Christians don't perceive black Christians to be appropriately mournful about the issue of abortion. Black Christians on the other hand don't see most white Christians as ever having been appropriately mournful about past and present reality of injustice in our society. Sadly, the divide deepens.

Steve said...

"So in a sense, all Christians should have both a reason to rejoice AND a reason to mourn, either way the election came out."

So true...

I have found that we long (rightly) for simplicity so much that we oversimplify the complex.

My feeling on the election fallout is very well described by your statement above... and a reminder that to truly vote Kingdom values is to always face a paradox when voting.

Few people really want to think through all that stuff, so we oversimplify.

I'm doing a discussion forum in my Young Adult class next Sunday on the election. The class is quite diverse: Perhaps 25% White, 40 or 50% Latino, and close to 30% Black.

Yet I had many White people who voted for Obama and a number of minorities, including Black people, who passionately voted for McCain. Of course I had the more typical patterns as well.

One of my objectives is to get these college-age people to stare this very complexity in the face, together. It should be interesting.

And maybe healing!

hammerdad said...


I have been teaching a sunday school class in the burbs this month and of course this topic comes up. I will be really interested to see how our class went!

Steve said...

I'll let you know. I e-mailed you the template for the discussion.

A good verse for all of us is Romans 12:15:

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn".

The election and its aftermath among Christians brings a new depth of meaning of this verse to me. What if we all obeyed it in light of the election?