Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of a number of theologians who have greatly impacted my own life and faith. In his company I would also put men like C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, and the early Church Fathers (e.g. Tertullian, Ireneaus, etc…).
Each of them has given me something valuable. To C.S. Lewis I owe thanks for a simple explanation of the Christian faith which made it seem “reasonable” to my inquiring mind. To Martin Luther I owe thanks for what I consider to be a clear exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and distinctions which help keep that Gospel uncluttered. To St. Augustine I owe thanks for the comfort in reading of his own struggles and path to faith in the Confessions. To the early Church Fathers I owe thanks for the assurance that the Christian faith was faithfully transmitted from the Apostles to succeeding generations.
To Bonhoeffer, though, I owe thanks for his ability to illustrate how the Christian life is lived in the midst of a messy, fallen world, a world in which there are no perfect, easy decisions. In Ethics, he speaks of “taking sin upon yourself” for the benefit of others. In The Cost of Discipleship, he talks of “cheap grace” and “costly grace” and what it means to live as the people Christ has made us. In Life Together he reveals what Christian fellowship within the Church looks like.
I wasn’t born a pastor, nor was I born a Christian. I was baptized as an infant, but spent many years growing into the faith. In fact, I am still growing, still learning, still being refined in the fire so to speak.
What has helped me throughout all my years were these men who came before me and wrote down their teachings and expositions – not for their own benefit – but for those who would come after them. To them I give thanks and hope to meet them in person some day at the resurrection.
(By the way, an excellent biography of Bonhoeffer is Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy).
(Image of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s study, by Axel Mauruszat – Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3607480)