Bonhoeffer and Recommended Reading

I went through and counted the number of times these titles from Dietrich Bonhoeffer were listed in the Recommended Reading Meme. Notably absent are Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, Creation and Fall, Temptation, and Christ the Center.

Life Together, I,II,III, IV

Discipleship, I,II, III

Ethics, I,

Letters and Papers from Prison, I,

I often think of Discipleship as perhaps the most quoted and yet least read of the important books I know of. At one time the first words of the first chapter seemed to be catch-phrases. You know, the ones about “costly grace.” There are two noteworthy things about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. First, though he may be one of the twentieth centuries most notable authors, he was certainly no “stabled author” for his publishers. Unlike Karl Barth he didn’t care to clarify what he’d written or expand on it after it was published. He wrote no sequels or attempted to make himself understood.

Though Discipleship and Life Together are now seen as classics for the Church, the wisdom in these books should be tempered with the author’s lived experience. Bonhoeffer’s comments about Discipleship in later years, as well as his irritation with its success and misunderstanding with particular people visiting Finkenwalde are important to bear in mind. Life Together, a community Rule of sorts, was actually finished after Finkenwalde was shut down, when Bonhoeffer and Bethge were working in the Collective Pastorates.

I think Life Together is taken in the best light with the many newsletters and personal letters which Bonhoeffer sent to his former Finkenwalde students who were sent to the front lines of battle. (These can be found in The Way to Freedom and True Patriotism. The Rule for daily meditation, prayer, and confession, begun in Life Together stayed with Bonhoeffer and his students long after the physical community was no longer possible. What Dorothy Day said about saints is perhaps true about classic books, don’t write them off so easily! With Bonhoeffer, he strove to make his writing part of his action. He wished to preach and speak nothing he couldn’t embody. Maybe that’s the real lesson for us all.


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