You Can Ignore a Great Ethicist


I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and was struck by the following:

One admires Christ according to aesthetic categories as an aesthetic genius, calls him the greatest ethicist; one admires his going to his death as a heroic sacrifice for his ideas.

Only one thing one doesn’t do:

One doesn’t take him seriously.

That is, one doesn’t bring the center of his or her own life into contact with the claim of Christ to speak the revelation of God and to be that revelation.

One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allows no serious encounter to take place.

I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentleman—just as, after all, I can also live without Plato or Kant. . . .

Should, however, there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that here God himself speaks and if the word of God once became present only in Christ, then Christ has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me. . . .

Understanding Christ means taking Christ seriously. Understanding this claim means taking seriously his absolute claim on our commitment.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 82-83, quoting Bonhoeffer’s 1928 lecture “Jesus Christ and the Essence of Christianity”

Powerful stuff, isn’t it?

Whenever I read the stories of men and women who have come before us, like Bonhoeffer, I’m amazed at the reality that our issues never really change.

Today it’s fashionable to look to Rabbi Jesus, fix our eyes His ethical teaching and and have faith in ourselves that we can live the way Jesus lived, but deny what He taught about Himself.

Despite our posturing of wanting to “live Christ,” I wonder if the root issue is that we don’t actually want to take Jesus at His word.

We don’t want to take Him seriously.

Because if we did—if He really meant it when He said He was God—then it changes everything.

It changes how we live, to be sure, but it changes who we are. Our thought processes, motivations, desires… all of it.

A great ethical teacher can’t do that. Even the greatest ethical teacher can be ignored.

But you can’t ignore God.

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