Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Paperback, 2009

Status

Available

Call number

248

Publication

HarperOne (2009), Edition: 1, 122 pages

Description

After his martyrdom at the hands of the Gestapo in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer continued his witness in the hearts of Christians around the world. His Letters and Papers from Prison became a prized testimony to Christian faith and courage, read by thousands. Now in Life Together there is Pastor Bonhoeffer's experience of Christian community. This story of a unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years reads like one of Paul's letters. It gives practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups. The role of personal prayer, worship in common, everyday work, and Christian service is treated in simple, almost biblical, words. Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.… (more)

Media reviews

Concordia Theological Monthly
Rich in suggestions for the cultivation of spiritual life.
5 more
The Sunday School Times
Thought-provoking....Breathes of real humility, love for the saints, and faith.
Religious Book Club Bulletin
Makes most contemporary Christian practice seem pale and thin.
Baptist Leader
A richness of Christian experience that cannot but enlarge one's sense of the depth and vitality of life in Christ.
Mennonite Weekly Review
As challenging as The Cost of Discipleship.
Faith At Work
Principles of Christian fellowship learned in the wartime underground.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bsanner
Life Together stands as one of the best theologies of community in modern church history. Focusing on life and ministry in community, Bonhoeffer’s work served as a sort of handbook for the underground church in Nazi Germany. The joy of community and the centrality of Christ are especially emphasized here. Bonhoeffer offers a particularly acute analysis of spiritual life in community, especially in light of Nazi persecution. A… (more)
LibraryThing member LTW
This story of a unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years reads like one of Paul's letters. It gives practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups. The role of personal prayer, worship in common, everyday work, and Christian service is treated in simple, almost biblical, words. Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.… (more)
LibraryThing member seoulful
A book written with the authority of a man who not only spent much time in thoughtful community, but also died a martyr to his beliefs at the hands of the Nazi regime. He begins this book with a description of what a community is not. It is not the wish dream of a visionary, but rather the functioning of a group that centers on the truth of God's Word in the realistic setting of a broken world. He maintains, "Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world." He proceeds to our need to give the other person in the community the freedom of being who he was by God created to be and not what we may construct as our ideal for him to be. Judgmentalism is immediately flagged as crucial. "There is no time to lose here, for from the first moment when a man meets another person he is looking for a strategic position he can assume and hold over against that person." Other points for life in a fellowship include the ministry of holding one's tongue, meekness, listening, helpfulness, bearing, proclaiming and authority. The book ends with a very important chapter on confession. Bonhoeffer explains, "He who is alone with his sin in utterly alone...Sin demands to have a man by himself. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disatrous is his isolation. It shuns the light." A book of profound power brought from the life of a man dedicated to the truth even unto death.… (more)
LibraryThing member Steve777
As a person living in Christian community, I find Bonhoeffer's advice to keep God's view of community in mind rather than one's own "wish dream" to be very helpful. "The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves." pp. 26-27

Bonhoeffer goes on to give much helpful advice, particularly for servant leadership and healthy confession of sins one to another.
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LibraryThing member patl
This is a six-star book. Heck, call it eleven stars. Absolutely classic.

Life Together was young Dietrich Bonhoeffer's manifesto about the Christian community, written as he was leading an underground seminary for the confessing church under Nazi German rule. The members of the seminary knew that they would be executed if they were found; Bonhoeffer was martyred in the process.

Still, the book deals with the everyday nature of conflict and falling short between one person and another; it drives us into deeper relationship and forgiveness and community.

I'll teach from this book in academic and lay coursework around spiritual formation in communities and networks. It's a bit Lutheran and liturgical in some spots for some readers, but it's overwhelmingly powerful throughout.
… (more)
LibraryThing member denis-ryabyy
Amazing. One of the greatest presentations of true Biblical community. A must read for every follower of Christ.
LibraryThing member newmo
It is some time since reading this - I lent my copy and haven't seen it for a while. It is a densely written and quite fervent exploration of communal christian living with a strong orthodox tone adapted to unorthodox times. I was surprised to see the passage on individual confession and impressed by its overall intensity. A kind of Imitation of Christ for the modern world - however I believe Bonhoeffer himself would move away from this degree of formal religiosity as his thought developed.… (more)
LibraryThing member Ron_Gilbert
Modern social definitions of community focus on geographical and political union, and this focus has contributed somewhat to a recession and reduction of a sound doctrine of the church (Ecclesiology). For the church and the world, the carnal has largely replaced the spiritual. Life Together (New York: Harper and Row, 1954) may be a panacea for this ill that will also cultivate a desire for Christian fellowship in the greater context of the communion of the saints.

A man who was martyred for his faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's (1906-1945) conviction was forged in context of German dialectical theology and the fires of Nazi Germany. This context is essential to understanding Bonhoeffer’s emphases.

The Introduction, written by the book’s Translator, John W. Doberstein, succinctly provides a historical background. The biographical history specifically germane to the topic is the period starting from April 1935, when, by invitation of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer assists in the establishment of a seminary by the Baltic Sea at Zingst, where Bonhoeffer lived “a common life in emergency-built houses with twenty-five vicars.” (p. 11). Life together was moved shortly after to Finkenwalde in Pomerania, and it was Bonhoeffer’s experience and mediations during this time that led to the publication of Gemeinsames Leben in 1938. Another well-known book, The Cost of Discipleship, was also written during this period.

Bonhoeffer’s understanding of life together under the Word (p. 17) is the subject of his relatively small treatise. He draws out his definition of community as being lived in the midst of one’s enemies and oppressors (Chapter I, Community); its commonality expressed in worship, the use of the Psalter, the reading of Scripture, prayer, and the fellowship we enjoy at meals (Chapter II, The Day with Others); its individuality in engaging in both solitude and silence as stillness before the Word (Chapter III, The Day Alone); mutual service and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Chapter IV, Ministry); and, how sinners can and may exhibit the love of God in Christ to one another (Chapter V, Confession and Communion).

Postmodern and post-Christian paradigms emphasize an ethos of getting together to do meaningful things, but meaning is derived from the experience, not principles that drive the events, and especially not from principles revealed to us in Scripture. Perhaps Bonhoeffer himself over-emphasized experience, but what makes Bonhoeffer compelling in this book is that he speaks—albeit without much citation—biblical truths that have gone largely by the wayside in evangelical circles: an emphasis on listening to God’s Word; spiritual, Christ-centered and other-focused love; self-denial; seeing Christ in others; an emphasis on union—we are members of one Body—and community; and suffering.

Bonhoeffer’s writings, and seminally, his doctoral dissertation Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of Saints), are problematic for both what he does and does not say. For example, in his doctoral thesis he wrote that Christ is present only in the community of the church: “…Christ himself is the community…Christ is present only in the community.” (A Testament to Freedom, pp. 56-57). This is to this reviewer’s mind a con-fusion of Christ with the Body of Christ for which he gave himself: one could easily end up neglecting God’s transcendence by overemphasizing the Incarnation. In other words, as I read this book, I wondered if Bonhoeffer wasn’t having Humanity swallow Deity.

Nonetheless, while it may be true that Bonhoeffer’s novel, neo-orthodox existentialism and his ecumenism are objectionable issues; that he was a theologian who espoused experience over theology; or that (reputedly) in following Barth he laid the groundwork for Death of God Theology: in reading Life Together I was often reminded that miserable sinners need mercy—from God and from one another—and as we walk our own Via Dolorosa with Jesus it is good to have the company of those who think of themselves as sinners getting sanctified. Whatever Bonhoeffer’s failings, identifying this basic truth wasn’t one of them.

Some favorite quotations are:

“Christian community is like the Christian's sanctification. It is a gift which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases” (p. 33).

“Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ's; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ's eyes” (p. 36).

A discerning reader will glean from this book with the blessing of the Spirit: I recommend it with the previously stated caveats and observations.
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LibraryThing member SgtBrown
This is a challenging book on Christian living. Bonhofer builds a solid, scriptural argument that will test your faith and challenge the reader to new levels of sanctification..
LibraryThing member docliz
Written on the eve of WWII, by this Bonhoeffer, who was matyred by the Nazi's in 1945. A challenge to live in community
LibraryThing member beanbooks
I think this is one of the great Christian books and should be read by anyone interested in Christian community.
LibraryThing member QuietedWaters
"Reading Bonhoeffer is incredibly convicting." That was my friend's opinion when I mentioned this book, and he is absolutely right.

Bonhoeffer was the German pastor convicted, imprisoned, and executed for speaking out against Hitler and eventually scheming to assassinate him. As with his opposition to Fascism, Bonhoeffer lived out each one of his beliefs. That biographical tidbit makes every one of his books more amazing; his strong rhetoric is not simply hopeful. Bonhoeffer walked the talk.

In this book, Bonhoeffer explored the role of Christian community, which he imagines as a small, familial fellowship of believers. Christians, in Bonhoeffer's world, meet together morning and night, before and after their workdays. For that reason, Life Together includes strong opinions about how a community should do daily reading and prayer. Modern Christians may be put off by the depth of involvement Bonhoeffer expects from them, particularly in the chapter entitled "The Day with Others."

The other chapters are devoted to the nature of Christian community, the need for silence and solitude, the role of ministry in community, and the need for confession and communion. Bonhoeffer's praise of solitude echoes Blaise Pascal, when he writes:

"Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people. ... The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear."

I commend this book to you, because it will challenge you to invest more time, energy, and prayer in your local Christian community. Bonhoeffer elevates Christ in all things, and he illustrates beautifully the role individual Christians play in proclaiming Christ. It will encourage you to pursue life together.
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LibraryThing member NGood
In the book “Life Together” Dietrich Bonhoeffer presented some good ideas of what Christian community should look like. He starts out by reminding us of how much of a privilege it is to be able to meet with other believers. The time we spend with Christians should be the most joyful part of our days and weeks. He goes on to write about the difference between spiritual love (love generated by God) and human love (love we conjure up on our own). I think that he made some good points here, in that, as long as community is something that we are trying to do on our own it won't work. We need to make Christ our focus, and as each member of the body focuses in more on the head, Christ, then we will all work together in unity. Bonhoeffer states, “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ”
I think that one of the hardest things the church faces is to keep all of its members focused in on Christ, and that is what the rest of the book was about. He tried to give practical methods of keeping our focus true and on the mark. Unfortunately, at times I think that he got a little over zealous and eccentric in his ideas, such as when he stated that there is something more spiritual and more pleasing in singing in unison than singing with harmony, although he did have a point that we have to be careful that the singing time doesn't turn the attention away from God. Some of his ideas, such as the one just mentioned, seemed to come more out of his own mind than from the Bible, but at other times he was very good at documenting what verses he based his thought on.
He definitely was right on when he said, “If it is really true that it is hard for us, as adult Christians, to comprehend even a chapter of the Old Testament in sequence, then this can only fill us with profound shame; what kind of testimony is that to our knowledge of the Scriptures and all our previous reading of them? .... But, of course, we must admit that the Scriptures are still largely unknown to us. Can the realization of our fault, our ignorance of the Word of God, have any other consequence than that we should earnestly and faithfully retrieve what has been neglected?” Bonhoeffer suggests that there are three key components of time spent in fellowship with believers. He says that these three things are praying a psalm, reading at least a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament, and singing a hymn. He then goes on to explain his thoughts on each. One thing that I greatly appreciated was his stand on reading Scripture. He feels that it is of utmost importance to read and study the Word of God, and that when admonishing others and when making decisions we must use the Word as our guideline, not logic or experience. This is something that was very prevalent in Rocky Ridge. Often times people would talk about how they've seen things work, or they would compare the church to a business and try to model it after one, but they would forget that we are supposed to be modeling ourselves after Christ and that the Bible is of the highest authority while we are here on earth. I also agree with him that there are too many Christians, myself included, out there today who just don't know there Bible very well, simply because we just don't take the time that we should to read it.
If he had finished the book at this point, after talking about love, service, meeting together, and personal devotions, it would have painted a nice picture but it wouldn't have been complete. If these things were modeled completely, it would create a good community, grounded in the Word, and loving Christ and one another, but as humans we sin, and Bonhoeffer doesn't forget that, so he also included a section on how to respond when there is one in the community who is not living as they should be or who has committed some sin. He reminds us first of all that we are all sinners, and that we have all been forgiven by God, and therefore we all must forgive eachother. Not only this, but it is important to confess to eachother. Confession to a brother causes the problem to not be our own anymore, we no longer bear it by ourselves, and in that we can finally leave the sin behind through the power of Christ.
I felt that Bonhoeffer had some really good things to say in this book. Some of his thoughts seemed a bit idealized, but he also was quick to remind us that we are sinners and we must remember that we are only who we are through Christ.
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LibraryThing member CandaJaen
This is definitely in my re-read list. It's one that needs to be gone over again and again, to chew on.
LibraryThing member jimocracy
This was nothing more than the author's personal fantasy; chocked full of speculation and bold assertions. Any person who claims to know what god knows/thinks/wants, is either lying or delusional. Some of the ideas expressed in this book seem innocente enough but there were some very dangerous ideas in here and to follow them could get you killed (or worse).… (more)
LibraryThing member JGadbaugh
Incredibly convicting book by a true hero of the faith. As I live in community I find this book a resource that should not be shelved prematurely. If you are thinking about living in community, or are in one I recommend this book highly.
LibraryThing member highlander6022
Another classic by Bonhoeffer. Although there is some cultural influence shown based on his life time, the book nonetheless puts so much to consider into so few pages overall. Wonderful.
LibraryThing member John_Warner
Bonhoeffer, interested in what defines a Christian community, created one within his seminary in Finkenwalde, a suburb near pre-WWII Berlin, Germany. Although the seminary was closed by a pro-Nazi bishop, the content of Life Together is applicable for any Christian community. The structure of this book includes Bonhoeffer's reflections on the Christian community and what sets it apart from other communities, the need for a Christ-centered daily experience, meditative prayer, service to others, and the healing power of confession. This book is ideal for group discussion and ends with a series of questions for self-reflection or group discussion.… (more)
LibraryThing member patl
This is a six-star book. Heck, call it eleven stars. Absolutely classic.

Life Together was young Dietrich Bonhoeffer's manifesto about the Christian community, written as he was leading an underground seminary for the confessing church under Nazi German rule. The members of the seminary knew that they would be executed if they were found; Bonhoeffer was martyred in the process.

Still, the book deals with the everyday nature of conflict and falling short between one person and another; it drives us into deeper relationship and forgiveness and community.

I'll teach from this book in academic and lay coursework around spiritual formation in communities and networks. It's a bit Lutheran and liturgical in some spots for some readers, but it's overwhelmingly powerful throughout.
… (more)

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1938

ISBN

0060608528 / 9780060608521
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