blast from the past…Bonhoeffer on evangelism

Here’s a fascinating (if long!) quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on evangelism, first posted about way back in May 2006.  At that stage I was wrestling with much of what I understood of my calling and theology:

“But the Christian is not only forbidden to judge other men [Bonhoeffer here is commenting on Matthew 7v1-12]: even the word of salvation has its limits.  He has neither power nor right to force it on other men in season and out of season.  Every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and proselytise them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous.  It is futile, because the swine do not recognize the pearls that are cast before them, and dangerous, because it profanes the word of forgiveness, by causing those we fain would serve to sin against which is holy.  

Worse still we shall only meet with the blind rage of hardened and darkened hearts, and that will be useless and harmful. our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust, so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want.  Thus a strict limit is placed upon the activities of the disciples, just as in Matt. 10 they are told to shake the dust off their feet where the word of peace is refused a hearing. Their restless energy which refuses to recognize any limit to their activity, the zeal which refuses to take note of resistance, springs from a confusion of the gospel with a victorious ideology.  An ideology requires fanatics, who neither know nor notice opposition, and it is certainly a potent force.  But the word of God in its weakness takes the risk of meeting the scorn of men and being rejected.  

There are hearts which are hardened and doors which are closed to the Word.  The Word recognizes opposition, but a true one when it meets it, and is prepared to suffer it.  It is a hard lesson, but a true one, that the gospel, unlike an ideology, reckons with impossibilities. The Word is weaker than any ideology, and this means with only the gospel at their command the witnesses are weaker than the propagandists of an opinion.  But although they are weak, they are ready to suffer with the Word and so are free from that morbid restlessness which is so characteristic of fanaticism.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, London: SCM Press 1959 p129-130)

Wow.  Quite a read but some quality stuff.  It elicited a bit of debate on first posting…may do so again…but worth posting again.  Resonates with me hugely, and I think goes well with what I posted a couple of days ago about following Jesus.


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