Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 18

“Thus, in the spiritual community the Spirit rules; in the emotional community psychological techniques and methods. In the former, unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodical, helping love is offered to one another; in the latter, psychological analysis and design.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 14 - 15.

Continuing from the previous post…

What is “unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodical, helping love”? I don’t know that I can answer this question from Bonhoeffer’s point-of-view, at least not at this juncture in Life Together. It may be that the answer will unfold as we continue to explore the book – certainly elements of it will become clearer. However, I will answer it as I see it contrasted with “psychological techniques and methods” both in Life together and in the contemporary Western church.

I’m going to call Bonhoeffer’s “unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodical, helping love” – “simple love”. I’m using this term because I think simplicity is a characteristic of this love; it is uncomplicated, straightforward, sincere, without pretension, without guile, and without manipulation. It is also simply based on God’s Word.

In “simple love” Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word mediate and inform relationships. In the emotional community psychological dynamics foster manipulation (no matter the motives) because these dynamics are considered the framework of thinking, relationships, and organizational and community dynamics. In the emotional community not adhering to the latest psychological or sociological data and thinking is considered naïve and ignorant and the idea of “simply” relying on God’s Word, Christ, and the Holy Spirit is not thought practical.  In simple love God’s Word is thought sufficient for life together, in the emotional community there may be the idea that God’s Word in some form is necessary, but it is not sufficient – it must be augmented (at best) or made subject to (at worst) psychological and sociological thinking.

In simple love we believe and act on the promise that our souls are purified as we obey the truth and that this results in “sincere love of the brethren” (1 Peter 1:22). We believe that we have been born through the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23) and that this Word is the continuing source of our life in Christ (James 1:18, 21; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Mark 4:1-20).

One way to determine whether we are living in an emotional community or a spiritual community of simple love is to observe where we go for answers – is it to the Word of God or is it to sociological and psychological thinking? Is it to the Word or is it to technique?

The emotional community primarily sees itself in psychological and sociological terms, the spiritual community sees itself as a community of citizens of heaven whose trajectory is to live with Jesus forever and ever, (Phil. 20 – 21). The spiritual community looks to Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word for guidance and identity; the emotional community looks to feelings, sociology, and psychology for identity, affirmation, and definition.

A measure of success in the emotional community is “how I feel, how we feel”. Feeling is critical for continued relationship. In the spiritual community we look to Christ and His Word and desire to be transformed into His image, knowing that embracing the suffering of the Cross is central to our lives.

In simple love we have simple freedom. In simple love we can simply look to God’s Word and in simply looking to God’s Word we have the simple freedom to speak it to one another without having to engage in sociological or psychological sophistication or manipulation. In simple love we do not require a methodical scheme in our relationships, we do not desire to devise complicated plans that cloak our direct thinking, our direct feelings, our direct desires – in other words, in simple love we can learn to be simply without guile as we trust our Lord Jesus and one another. In simple love Christ, His Word, and the Holy Spirit mediate our relationships in life together; in the emotional community psychological techniques, methods, and designs meditate relationships, teaching, preaching, and…alas…worship services.

Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth,” (John 17:18). Paul writes that Christ cleanses His church, His community, “by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:16). Because the spiritual community is a supernatural community that exists within the person of the resurrected Jesus Christ, it worships God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The natural man rules in the emotional community, the Holy Spirit rules in the spiritual community of simple love. The spiritual community has its roots in the heavens in Christ, the emotional community is rooted in earth. The spiritual community can do nothing without Christ the True Vine (John 15); the emotional community can do all things through sociology and psychology. The spiritual community is willing to fail in the eyes of the world rather than take matters into its own hands outside the Vine; the emotional community insists on sociological and psychological and organizational success and employs technique and manipulation to achieve it. The spiritual community embraces the eternal certainty of the Cross in the midst of temporal uncertainty; the emotional community strives for temporal certainty regardless of its eternal result (see 1 Corinthians Chapter 3).

The spiritual community says, “Better to fail in the eyes of others than add anything to Jesus Christ.” The emotional community says, “We have the techniques and tools to achieve what we want, it would be irresponsible not to use them.”

We no longer believe that the Word of God is sufficient for our lives; is it any wonder we are in a state of perpetual seeking for answers and self-analysis? Is it any wonder that we are ever selling and buying new programs and techniques and market studies and outreach programs? Jesus and His Word no longer satisfy and we have so clothed and hidden the Gospel beneath layer upon layer of sociology and psychology and self-help (individual and collective) that the Bible is now a foreign language with foreign images and patterns to much of the professing church in the West. It is little wonder we have ceased in large measure to be salt and light to our generation. We taste the same as the world around us.

When John wrote his first letter (1 John in the New Testament), he wrote in a time of confused thinking and persecution – an emotional community was seeking to displace the spiritual community of the church of Jesus Christ. His first letter is the best succinct example of simple love that I can think of in the Bible. In simplicity is restoration.  

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