As I’ve been teaching a Sunday School class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I’ve noticed that he and I have a lot in common. He pursued a greater understanding of theology, yet continually felt that head-knowledge wasn’t enough. He was disgusted at American churches with their love for liberal Christianity, social relevance, and conformity to the world. He wasn’t scared to criticize his contemporaries or entertain radical new ideas. He believed love was well worth the risks it brought and the fear of loss. He had bouts of depression. He could be rather intense at times and felt that some people were put off by him.
But what we’re going to address today is his view that the Christian life is so much more than going to church, reading motivational books, and putting on a good face. He believed the Christian is called to take their faith out of church and into the world.
“In Jesus Christ the reality of God has entered into the reality of this world. The place where the questions about the reality of God and about the reality of the world are answered at the same time is characterized solely by the name: Jesus Christ. God and the world are enclosed in this name. . . . we cannot speak rightly of either God or the world without speaking of Jesus Christ. All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We start with the fabric of reality itself. Bonhoeffer believed the incarnation of Christ supports the framework of one reality. To speak of “the world” as if it’s some foreign realm isolated from Christianity is not accurate. Christ came to the world. We are in the world. We’re not called to Paradise just yet. We ought to live to fulfill our earthly commission rather than wait around for the second coming.
“As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms bumping against and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options. Giving up on reality as a whole, either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ—and in both cases we deceive ourselves”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
So many people gravitate to the extremes. For some, this means love of the world at the expense of their walk with Christ. They can’t get over their habits. They can’t reject addiction. They can’t break off their relationship with materialism, pride, and selfishness. They might be heard saying things like “Don’t judge,” “Nobody is perfect,” or “I’m not into legalism.”
For others, they love their “Christian” life more than their “real” life. They just want emotional spirituality without having to worry about getting their hands dirty. They ignore the fate of their unbelieving friends in the name of keeping themselves “pure.” They scoff at certain activities, labeling them “worldly” so they can rally behind others in ostracizing those who practice them. They might be heard saying things like, “Don’t be conformed to the world,” “I can’t stand people like that,” or “I’m trying to be more heavenly minded.”
“There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is God’s reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world. Partaking in Christ, we stand at the same time in the reality of God and in the reality of the world. The reality of Christ embraces the reality of the world in itself. The world has no reality of its own independent of God’s revelation in Christ. . . . [T]he theme of two realms, which has dominated the history of the church again and again, is foreign to the New Testament.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As the YouTube channel Blimey Cow once said, “Your real life is your spiritual life, and both are going to be awful until you realize that they’re not separate things.” Obsessing over Christian culture and religion to the exclusion of obedient action for Christ is sin. Obsessing over the world and amusement to the exclusion of obedient action for Christ is sin. It boils down to the object of your worship. God doesn’t care what it is; if it’s lower than him, it has to go.
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”John 17:15-19 (ESV)
Here, we witness our Lord and Savior speaking to the Father. He prays that we are kept from sin, sanctified in God’s truth. Yet he also says we are sent into the world. Here, the two realities meet in perfect harmony. We are in the world, yet not of the world. Perhaps even this phrase requires some deconstruction, as David Mathis proposes. Ultimately, we ought to imitate Christ in our actions, pursuing truth and holiness. This should lead us towards the world, not away from it. We should see the broken chaos around us and feel a deep desire to be the hands and feet of Christ to those among it. We should step out in faith, without fear.
“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”James 1:25 (ESV)
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