“Reflecting on the American church scene, [Bonhoeffer] was fascinated that tolerance trumped truth.  His analysis was remarkably similar to the report he wrote in the summer of 1931, trying to make sense of his year at Union:

‘I now often wonder whether it is true that America is the country without a reformation.  If reformation means the God-given knowledge of the failure of all ways of building up a kingdom of God on earth, then it is probably true. . . . The voice of Lutheranism is there in America, but it is one among others; it has never been able to confront the other denominations.  There hardly ever seem to be ‘encounters’ in this great country, in which one can always avoid the other.  But where there is no encounter, where liberty is the only unifying factor, one naturally knows nothing of the community which is created through encounter.'”

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer (Nashville, 2010), pages 338-339.

On the one hand, community is destroyed by negative scrutiny of others, relishing reasons to criticize, looking down from a superior position.  On the other hand, community is diminished by cowardly avoidance of encounter.  And, as Bonhoeffer interestingly suggests, we Americans have enough space geographically and enough options ecclesiastically that we can avoid encounter if we choose to.  But God says, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17).

It is wrong to brutalize a brother.  It is also wrong to avoid a brother.  The way of Christ is to move toward one another, especially when we are tempted to move away – to move toward one another not in attack-mode but with frank reasoning, where real community can be created – or re-created.

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4 thoughts on “Where there is no encounter”

  1. Eliza Huie says:

    Reading this book right now and loving it!

    He also calls us out of the society of believers and states that the church ‘has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.”(pg.154) We cannot avoid them either…

  2. brian b says:

    Very appropriate challenge for us in our day. Thanks Ray.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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