Dietrich Bonhoeffer once asked another pastor what he wanted to do with his life – the young Frenchman parson said – “I wish to become a saint.” At first Bonhoeffer was impressed with this answer, but came to question it later. The tendency of Christians seeking enlightenment, holiness, growth – even sainthood – is to withdraw, to become inward, to transcend the world to achieve deeper communion with the God in heaven.+
In 1944, Bonhoeffer sat in prison pondering this conversation that happened a decade earlier in his life. The question about what it means to be a Christian continued to preoccupy his thoughts, and common Christian answers (e.g., being more “religious”) came to disturb him more and more. When Christians seek to be “religious,” they are open to the temptation of arrogance, Bonhoeffer comments in his letters to his friend Eberhard Bethge. Or, religiosity leads to despair when one fails, he adds.+
As Bonhoeffer put his thoughts on paper, he postulated this:+
To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself on the basis of some method or other, but to be a human – not a type of human, but the human that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.
Bonhoeffer feared the pervasive assumption amongst most Christians he met that Christianity was essentially self-serving – my problems, my needs, my growth. Christian discipleship is not mainly about turning inward, but turning outward, “allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ.”+