So I was listening to Metallica on my way home tonight. They are one of my favorite rock bands because:

  1. So much of their music was about something that mattered
  2. They’re bloody good at what they do and
  3. You can actually understand what they’re saying most of the time

This third characteristic caused me to stop (not literally, I was driving) and do a mental double take. I thought they were suddenly channeling Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Let me explain.

I assume most of you are at least aware of who Metallica is. If not, there’s always Wikipedia.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is slightly more obscure to many. His principal claim to fame is that he was part of a resistance movement in Nazi Germany and was ultimately killed shortly before the war ended for his involvement in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.

He was also a Pastor and Theologian, one who was deeply convicted of his faith and willing to do whatever it took, including running an underground seminary and taking part in the aforementioned plot, to live it out how he saw things.

Given these circumstances, his Ethics is one of the more compelling treatises on the subject. Bonhoeffer didn’t see moral choices as a matter of applying black and white rules, but rather as a matter of developing a character of your self that fulfilled two primary requirements:

  1. Love God and neighbor
  2. Model your life after Jesus

These were Bonhoeffer’s ethical criteria. They may leave things a little more mucky in terms of deciding right and wrong, but it really gets at the idea that Christians are to be the Imago Christi (Image of Christ) in the world.

Here’s where Metallica comes in. The song I was listening to, “Nothing Else Matters,” is a brilliant example of how a character ethics differs from most ethical theories, both formal (i.e. scholarly and researched) and informal (i.e. how people actually make decisions in everyday life).

Here are the lyrics to the first verse and chorus:

So close no matter how far
It couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know…

While it was written as a love ballad, it could just as well refer to a person or even the church as a whole. “Forever trusting who we are“- not what they do or know but who we are. It may be a little post-modern and individualistic in this expression, but I think Bonhoeffer and Metallica might just both have something here.

Now if only a character ethics didn’t leave it so difficult to adequately judge how we’re doing… Except, oh, that wouldn’t be very much like Jesus to spend our energy judging and arguing about the rightness of actions when there is work to be done for the Kingdom.

Footnote: Information on Bonhoeffer’s Ethics taken from the International Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Dietrich Bonhoeffer at since I can’t get to my own notes from Ethics 101.