Bonhoeffer (2): Only in Extremity

Had some long flights this weekend, which enabled me to plow through most of the rest of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography. Such a great book. God is changing my life through this book. By seeing how Bonhoeffer surrendered his life more and more to the purpose Christ, I am challenged to surrender my life more deeply to Christ.

Bonhoeffer was brilliant and received the best theological education someone in his shoes could have expected. From an early age you can tell he is a profound thinker as well as a profound Christian.  But his theology seems to me to alter over the course of his life as the call of God grips him more and more tightly. It changes in its feel – it becomes more practical, more intelligible, more humble, more actionable.  Think of transitioning from reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity (though not to that scale). Its probably also related to the ministry opportunities he pursued (and excelled at), such as his working with inner city teens in Berlin, his teaching theology to children in Barcelona, his preaching to tiny and relatively simple congregations at numerous points throughout his life, or his serving at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. People from his privileged status and educational background generally didn’t do things like that. And you can’t do those kinds of things without it affecting your theology and how you communicate.

In January 1935 he wrote a letter to his eldest brother, who was not a Christian, about his decision to return to Germany to lead an illegal seminary. At one point in the letter he says:

When I first started in theology, my idea of it was quite different – rather more academic, probably. Now it has turned into something else altogether. But I do believe that at last I am on the right track, for the first time in my life. I often feel quite happy about it (259-260).

I, like Bonhoeffer, have been blessed with a good theological and ministerial heritage in my family. But what is all that to me if I go my own way, if I do not seek the straight and narrow road like Bonhoeffer did, if I do not completely submit all that I am and all that I have to purpose of Christ for my life? The Lord is helping me to see, not just by faith but in my actual desires, that academic pursuits or ministry successes are not the ultimate.  Rather, the ultimate is knowing Christ, and being more fully possessed by Him.  In some ways it feels like life is opening up in new ways as I seek to surrender more deeply.

At the bottom of the page I wrote:

Only in extremity, in utter abjection, in the complete surrender of the will to God and His service – there is certainty, there is joy, there is life.

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