Monday, July 14, 2014

What's Wrong with Visionary Dreaming

I just got blown away by this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream…He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dreams bind men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” (Life Together, 27-28.) 

How often have I seen this played out, in one version or another? The whole American Evangelical culture seems to be predicated on the cult of the visionary dreamer, the pastor who has God's great plan for his local church to have a fantastic impact on the surrounding community, to grow the church exponentially, to transform the spiritual and physical landscape of an area. Sometimes he goes from plan to plan to plan, abandoning each one when it doesn't produce the desired results as quickly as expected. Sometimes he stubbornly sticks to one plan and refuses to let go despite detrimental effects. Eventually, the sheep get blamed for not bringing to reality the visionary shepherd's dream.

All this happens, according to Bonhoeffer, because the visionary leader "loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself." Patient ministry to the flock just isn't sexy enough for many leaders. They end up abandoning the community God gave them in pursuit of the community they haven't gotten yet.

I think it's about time I read Life Together.

HT: This We Confess


  1. I wish I had those words when I was trying to explain why 3dm is just wrong....
    thanks keith

  2. Thanks Keith for such a timely (timeless?) reminder of Bonhoeffer's brilliant composition on Christian community. I read the book a few years back but completely forgot about the quote you cite. I sent it off with great pleasure to a couple of friends of mine who are continuing to battle the 3dm juggernaut. It is good to be reminded that the same heresy is not new, will continue to be repackaged and rear its ugly head until Messiah returns. I also wanted to thank you Keith for your book. You captured well what a lot of us out here have been contemplating: "Then stand firm in the liberty with which Messiah made us free and do not be harnessed again with a yoke of slavery." May God use your book to return His people to searching Scripture for truth when confronted with those who "reimagine" in their own image what He Himself has established.

    1. Hi Diane,

      Thank you so much for the kind comments on my book! They are truly appreciated. When I wrote it, I had to think of it as a journal that no one else would see, because I felt it was so much against the tide. The positive comments I've received help me to know that I'm not just one crazy nut who doesn't get it. It means a lot to me that it's been a blessing to you.

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  4. From Dave Porter
    Well said, as always Keith. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld: You've got to go to church with the congregation you have, not the congregation you want.