There are certain areas of the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) with which I strongly disagree. But he is among my favourite authors of the twentieth century. I shall never forget the summer meditatively reading his Life Together at the beach of Port Elgin, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Huron, where I was vacationing with my wife Alison and her family. It has shaped my thinking on many aspects of the Christian life, especially those that deal with the nature of Christian community. Bonhoeffer wrote this work out of his experience of leading the Confessing Church’s seminary at Zingst by the Baltic Sea. This seminary was later relocated in 1935 to Finkenwalde, Pomerania. Finding myself now as the principal of a seminary, the book takes on added significance.
As I have noted, it is a excellent guide to the nature of Christian community. For Bonhoeffer, the students under his care had to be men who knew how to play formative roles in the Christian communities to which they were called. We live in different times with different challenges, but we have the same need: how to teach potential pastors to take seriously the call to be pastors and not only preachers. The Word is central. Of this there is no doubt. But its centrality is not only to be found in the context of weekly worship, but in the lived-out experience of the Church. It is only in such that genuine Christian community can be formed—and transformed.