Saturday, March 12, 2016

On Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I am slowly working through The Cost of Discipleship (TCOD) , a provocative read.  My original plan was to write a series of posts responding to it, and while I will from time to time, I think I would do better to just encourage anyone with the slightest interest in Bonhoeffer and who he was to just read the book. But it is not a book you just sit down and read; it's not a murder mystery or a self-help book.  It is one you should read with the Bible beside it, checking his references, using your concordance, and reading S-L-O-W-L-Y, and art we have lost because there is so much to read and there is FOMO:  Fear of missing out on something (which leaves one disappointed both ways).

TCOD is one of those few books of all that are written, a small fraction of the published world, that is worth reading slowly.  I do not mean by that that everything in it is "correct," whatever that means.  I wouldn't venture to say whether it was or not.  I mean that everything in it is worth considering and mulling over and reflecting on and praying about.   It is a book for a serious reader who wants to be made uncomfortable. 

I am aware that there is a controversy over his theology (more liberal than conservative, a disciple of Karl Barth) as well as one over his decision to be involved in a plot to kill Hitler.  Both of those seem to be at odds with some of the things in the book.  For that reason I do not say, Follow this book--it contains all you need.  I would never do that--I don't believe in gurus.  While I can enjoy and benefit from the teaching and ideas of a certain "expert" or "teacher," the Bible reminds us that wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors and we have a responsibility to consider, evaluate, think, be rational.  The four R words--revelation, reason/rationality, religion (practice), and reflection--need to be in their place, but revelation comes first and controls all of them. 

That said, some chapters of books are better than others.  I would recommend the sixth chapter, on the Beatitudes.  The first chapters set it up, but they are more difficult reading, and I can see why someone might be put off or even confused by the first chapters.  They must be read in context of a state church that is succumbing to a dictator who is using them for his own ends.

My son mentioned at lunch the other day that the Catholic Church during WWII engaged in a plot to kill Hitler, also.  It's an interesting point to consider; in retrospect I cannot judge their efforts.  It is interesting considering our own political realities now.  They are not equal but it is hard not to see some parallels to the Putsch when violence is breaking out at a Trump rally.  As much as I dislike Trump and his ideas, he should not be shut down because some leftists think they can cause a riot. 

Final thought:  an academic usually will say not to criticize or praise any work until it has been read, seen, or experienced.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I agree with that.  (Pornography and slasher films excepted.)  That's why I would say read TCOD before even a biography or before buying someone else's views. 

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