Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, martyr, Nazi dissident, and founding member of the Confessing Church, gave a lecture as a young man in 1928 called “Jesus Christ and the Essence of Christianity.” In this lecture on December 11, this young theologian just out of high school spoke provocatively in stating that Christ had been exiled from the lives of most Christians. He spoke strongly saying:
Of course, we build him a temple, but we live in our own houses. One gladly withdraws for a couple of hours, but only to get back to one’s place of work immediately afterward. The religion of Christ is not a tidbit after one’s bread, on the contrary, it is the bread or it is nothing. People should at least understand and concede this if they call themselves Christians.
He urged the people of Barcelona that one cannot give Him only a small compartment in our spiritual life, but we must give Him everything or give Him nothing. These absolutes of complete death to self and life in Christ is clearly found throughout the New Testament, but is yet clearly missed by so many professing Christians.
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 and 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 to me…
Understanding Christ means taking Christ seriously. Understanding this claim means taking seriously his absolute claim on our commitment. And it is now of importance for us to clarify the seriousness of this matter and to extricate Christ from the secularization process in which he has been incorporated since the Enlightenment.