Bonhoeffer: The life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Eric Metaxas, Nelson Books, 2014

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Overview

What does it say on the tin?

True grace comes by costly sacrifice.

In this four-session video-based small group Bible study, New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas will help you discover the major themes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing and speaking and how he not only helped transform an entire faith community in Germany during World War II, but how his beliefs continue to impact the Christian faith of people throughout the world today.

Pulling themes from all of his major books, Metaxas helps us understand why these spiritual truths meant so much to Bonhoeffer and how they can be an inspiration and challenge to our faith.

What do you get?

DVD and book. Latter with video notes, group discussion questions, activities

  1. What Is the Church?
  2. Living in Christian Community
  3. Religionless Christianity
  4. Come and Die

90 minute sessions. All participants need their own study guide. Possibility of spending two sessions per topic suggested. The wide-ranging challenge of the topics would easily merit this. Book Bonhoeffer is recommended to accompany this resource (there are suggestions for linking chapters to the study) but the study stands well without it as well.

Review

  • What is the overall quality of material presentation?

    An extraordinarily thorough exploration of the life and writings of Bonhoeffer, which brings history to life, and gives brilliant opportunities to apply the explicit challenges, for each group member.

    How clear are its aims and outcomes?

    Very clear and simple.

    How accessible are the leader's notes?

    One book for all. Easy to follow sections. Great summaries of the main points of each video – very helpful. Includes the quoted material from Bonhoeffer's writings which is used in the videos. Material for discussion; for prayer; for group work; room for notes; Bible passages; personal work.

    Who could lead it?

    Easy to follow through the sections. A good leader would also encourage the between-session features.

    How helpful are the participants' resources?

    One book for all. Easy to follow sections. Great summaries of the main points of each video – very helpful. Includes the quoted material from Bonhoeffer's writings which is used in the videos. Material for discussion; for prayer; for group work; room for notes; Bible passages; personal work.

    How good is any digital material?

    Very good videos, telling the story of Bonhoeffer's life an writings. Stashed with original photos and video footage from the time, including World War II, locations and (upsetting) scenes. Quoted words of Bonhoeffer throughout. Each video around 20 minutes long. Narrative provided by Metaxas, at the relevant sites from Bonhoeffer's life. The story is told well, weaving events and Bonhoeffer's reflections on them into a seamless whole.

    How much prep will I have to do?

    Worth looking through to familiarise, but easy to use. Main decision would be how quickly to work through the material.

    Is there website support? Links?

    N/A

  • How well does it encourage interaction with the group?

    Mix of video, discussion, then deeper work with engaging together around the major topics. Great way to take up Bonhoeffer's teaching on community.

    How well does it cater for a variety of both learning and delivery styles?

    Vidoes, discussion, prayer, personal and community engagement with all the material. A thorough resource, which will bear being taken seriously, and all the opportunities for growing as a disciple.

    How adaptable is it to my situation?

    Mentions applying material to the North American Christian world, but this is easily transferable across the pond. A significant resource, with lots to engage with. Deals with hugely challenging life issues in an inspiring way. Would suit a good range of groups, who are prepared to look at the big issues it raises, and the troubles of war. But deeply inspiring and memorable – these are the abiding impressions.

    How well does it encourage people to work together in applying the material?

    Significant feature of this resource. Group responses for engaging with Scripture, God and each other are supplied for between-session activity, picking up Bonhoeffer's own emphasis on these. Bonhoeffer's radical focus on relationship with Jesus as priority, then community next, is reflected well in all the material for the groups.

  • How much of the material is Bible-based?

    Often quoted in Bonhoeffer writings which are included in both the video and books. Sermon on the Mount highlighted.

    How well is the biblical material presented and used?

    Suggested passages for reflection and engagement feature prominently in the group community-creating work between sessions. Suggested passages for memorising are provided.

    How well does it apply biblical material to everyday life?

    Sermon on the Mount. Church must be multi-racial, not Nazi state church. Key quotations from Bonhoeffer's theological writings are woven creatively into the presentation and study questions. Great exploration of how his theology led to becoming involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler.

    Is there a particular theological perspective?

    Focus on Bonhoeffer's theology, and his resultant writings and actions.

  • How well does it inspire people towards whole-life discipleship?

    Encouragement to copy Bonhoeffer's open questioning mind, and think things through, not reject things out of hand, not get caught on denominational issues, but focus on God's word. Inspiration to consider and develop true discipleship - expressed in deep care for others, and in responding bravely and honestly to evil. 24/7 Christianity was Bonhoeffer's passion – in his case, to death. A thorough resource, which will bear being taken seriously, and all the opportunities for growing as a disciple.

    How well does it encourage and enable people to grow in their faith?

    Between-session engagement strongly encouraged, with … Search for the truth. Finkenwalde to raise up new church leaders for the Confessing Church. Celebration of life as well as deep commitment to Jesus. As an example of radical, applied discipleship, both as an individual and as a member of a Christian community, Bonhoeffer is hard to beat.

    How well does it stretch faith and vision of God and his purposes?

    Think things through for yourself, based on the ‘pure search for truth' of Jesus. Don't do wrong – remember to follow Jesus. Sober reality. Formation of the Confessing Church (in separation from state Nazi-controlled church). Bonhoeffer encourages the daily discipline of meditating on Scripture, and quietly listening to God – these were radical ideas at the time.

    How well does it connect with real life issues?

    ‘What is God's idea of Germany?' Reflection of Bonhoeffer's search for the ‘real church'. Holistic worship of Jesus – ‘Do you love Jesus?' Ulitmate engagement of real life issues, not just in his death as martyr, but in his life. Apply all theology to life. face evil head on in obedience to Jesus.

  • How well does it encourage personal evangelism?

    Encouragement to act on all biblical principles. Implicit in all Bonhoeffer's theology, though not an explicit focus.

    How well does it encourage local or network-based community involvement?

    Session 2 centres around the creation of genuine Christian community, in a scrupulously honest and loving way.

    How well does it connect with global issues?

    Inescapable imperative to engage with the challenges of our day, inspired by Bonhoeffer's example and quoted theology.

    How well does it encourage global mission?

    Implicit as Jesus is the answer both personally and nationally.

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