Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 25, 2008


Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that in reading the bible and thinking of theology it is more important to ask the question “who?” than to ask “how?”

I was reminded of this recently while listening to a podcast of the late J. B. Torrance discussing prayer (go to to buy a copy of this awesome lecture.) Torrance quotes Bonhoeffer in his discussion of Jesus’ high priestly role.

So often we want to know how: how to pray, how to evangelize, how to be good. Yet when we really know who Jesus is – the Son of God as man – those concerns begin to fade away.

In his union with humanity the Son is our prayer, he is our evangelism and he is our goodness. He shares all that he is with us, in his relationship with the Father and the Spirit. When we focus on techniques, strategies, and plans we begin to lose focus on who he is and who we are in him.

Yet when we focus on who he is and who he declares us to be – children of his Father, sharing in the Triune Life – we find that the “how” comes naturally, as the simple rhythm of life lived in The Life, the one Who Is that He Is.



  1. Jonathan, I like your emphasis on the person of Jesus. I also like the approach to the same issue taken by Edith Humphrey in here very fine book, “Ecstasy and Intimacy.” She notes there that the “who” (Jesus) you rightfully emphasize, is one who is (in his being), who speaks (he is the Word) and who does (he acts in our world). In our union with him we are invited to share (participate) in his being, speaking & acting–all three.

    In Jesus there is no division or separation of the three (being, speaking and acting), and our participation in him and with him should involve us actively in all three.

    The catechesis of the church appropriately assists people in this tripartite (though unified) participation. Unfortunately, what often happens is that such teaching segregates the three and emphasizes one or two the the exlusion of the other(s). This is to truncate Jesus’ wholeness and the result is that (at best) we experience something less that his fulness; and (at worst) we experience someone/thing that is not Jesus at all.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Ted, helpful as always!

    I certainly agree that there is no separation of being, speaking and acting in Christ. But I also feel strongly that the emphasis of our gospel preaching must always be on the being. The speaking and the acting, I think, are natural outflows of our understanding of our being in and with him. Therefore, the better we understand our being in him the simpler it is to understand how to speak and act in him.

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