DISCIPLESHIP: BONHOEFFER VS. YODER
Yoder would contend that a disciple receives a call. It is not simply a call to follow Jesus; it is a call to be like Jesus. We are called to walk as He did. Discipleship means that we are to participate in the love of God. It is not enough to simply know how God’s love affects us; we are to extend that divine love toward others. Discipleship means that we must forgive others as God has forgiven us. This must be practiced if we are to share God’s divine nature. Christian existence demands that God’s character is manifested in our lives.
Bonhoeffer would agree with Yoder on discipleship. It means participation. He would take a step further and say that it means that we be radicals. When analyzing the Sermon on the Mount he reminds us that we must not only love, but we are to love our enemies. Through us love and mercy are at work in the midst of our enemies. Again and again Bonhoeffer contends that our faith must compel us to act in the world. Just as God participated in the activities of the world through His Son, we too must involve ourselves in the world. We must live for others as Jesus did. Faith alone is not enough for the disciple. He must be involved in the affairs of this world. Real faith means action.
How does the cross affect the world in which we live? Does the cross give an example for the Christian to follow? Yoder is convinced that it does. Two extremes are often presented as the only choices available when dealing with the governing authorities. There is the revolutionary method, which uses force and violence. In this case a rebellion of righteous indignation is reason enough to lash out. If evil is to be defeated, evil rulers must be conquered and replaced. Yoder contends that this choice was not an option for Jesus. When Judas led the mob to arrest Jesus, Peter was ready to fight. Jesus rebuked him. Many would believe that Jesus removed Himself from “worldly” activities. Yoder rejects this conclusion as well. He contends that Jesus was for peace, but He did not achieve it by not dealing with the issues. Jesus was not content to simply be quiet. Yoder contends that the cross was the right political alternative. Jesus entered into the affairs and happenings of His world, yet He was not a rebellious revolutionary. Jesus did all of this so that He would not become a leader. It was a temptation that was before Him many times. He came to conquer yes, but He was not the kind of domineering leader people were expecting. Jesus became a ruler by suffering and humbling Himself in the presence of men.
Not only did Jesus lower Himself, but He also exalted the common individual. They were not to become leaders, but they too, were to participate in humility as He did. Each individual becomes important regardless of status. If a revolution was to take place, all must become involved at the same level. All are responsible in the new social order.
Bonhoeffer again seems to have thoughts similar to Yoder. The goal of Christian ethics for him is to become a new man in Christ. Right and wrong are not objectives, unity with God is. In order to accomplish this we must submit to the will of God. The Christian is called to “do” in the power of Christ. Like Yoder, Bonhoeffer did not see Jesus as a radical out to make waves. Jesus did not overthrow the existing authorities with violence. His purpose was to reconcile the world.
Even though Yoder is very conservative, he does not contend that the gospel deals with the individual alone. The gospel deals with structures, not just personal ethics. The gospel must deal with structures. If there are no structures there is no humanity. The church cannot avoid dealing with these structures. The church must participate. Jesus was born not only to save men, but to change the structures of society. The realms of religion, politics, morals and the intellect all find their meaning and value in Christ. He made a public example of them, triumphed over them, disarmed them and left them helpless (Colossians 2). These powers which appear to be the real rulers to many have been brought to their knees by the work of Christ. It is not our responsibility to conquer them; it has already been accomplished. The whole universe belongs to Christ. All aspects of the cosmos are under His authority. Jesus has accomplished the revolution with no violence.
Bonhoeffer, like Yoder, believes that the church should not avoid dealing with structures. Yet, Bonhoeffer comes to a different conclusion as to how we are to “act.” The key in understanding Bonhoeffer is that Jesus was a man “living for others.” He was concerned about the welfare of people. Even though Bonhoeffer insisted that the church must reject war and violence, he believed that the Christian must live for the sake of others. It was this line of thought that brought Bonhoeffer to active resistance against the Nazi party. The good of the people would be better served if less blood was shed. Bonhoeffer was convinced that death is not God’s will. Since he was committed to carrying out that “will” he became an active pacifist. Jesus had conquered, but we are to participate in the struggle of the structures.
How is the sword to be used? (see Romans 13)
Should the Christian take an active role in the pursuit of peace? If so, how?
If Jesus has conquered the powers that be, what is left for the Christian to do?
Is there an active role in our submission to authority?
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship (NY: MacMillan Pub. Co., 1963).
________. No Rusty Swords. (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1965).
________. True Patriotism. Translated by E. H. Robertson and John Bowden. (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973).
Klassen, A.J., editor, A Bonhoeffer Legacy (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1981).
Roark, Dallas M. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972).
Yoder, John H. He Came Preaching Peace (Scottdale, PA, Herald Press, 1985).
_______. The Original Revolution (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971).
Dr. James Strauss
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656