I think Friday was the highlight of my time at Kirchentag in Hamburg. It worked out that I was able to go to a 3 hour panel discussion on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, followed by an Opera in the evening on the life of Bonhoeffer. I am growing increasingly fond of Bonhoeffer, so I was thrilled to get the chance to hear various German biographers and theologians discuss his life and theology.
The discussion was not a disappointment: with charm and wit, and with lively disagreement, the panelists shared their views on Bonhoeffer. In the course of discussion, one of the most heated moments was in the debate about how much guilt the Germans as a whole bore for the Nazi mistreatment of the Jews. Prof. Dr. Rudolf von Thadden argued that national confessions of guilt, such as the Stuttgart Shuldbekenntnis, were mistaken, since numerous pockets of the population did indeed oppose Hitler. Against this thesis, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen argued that the national confession of guilt was by all means appropriate. He told the story of his older brother, who, having learned of antisemitism in school at the age of 10, came home disgusted by it and hating Nazis and antisemitism for the rest of his life. If a 10 year old boy, argued Schlingensiepen, could recognize the appalling nature of Nazism and its hatred for humanity, then how could the nation claim innocence? Here is a clip from Schlingensiepen from the afternoon:
There was also lively discussion over Bonhoeffer’s song “Von guten Mächten,” which we sang together at the beginning of the meeting. After signing this, Prof. Dr. Christiane Tietz announced that she herself did not sing along. She does not agree with some of the theology expressed in the song, and she finds the cheerful nature of the song contrary to the setting in which Bonhoeffer composed it. At this point, I heard loud murmurs of disapproval from those around me (I got the impression that the mostly elderly audience was also quite conservative), and many shouted, “Sie sprechen Quatsch. Quatsch!” Here is a snippet of our singing:
Another highlight from the meeting was Bishop Bedford-Strohm’s interview with South-African systematic theologian Professor Nico Koopman. Koopman explained that Bonhoeffer was an inspiration in his own struggle against Apartheid. Prof. Koopman spoke only in English, so Bishop Bedford-Strohm paraphrased his answers into German. This “paraphrasing” proved quite fascinating to me, as it turned out to be a sort of censoring of Koopman’s non-traditional remarks. For example, Koopman explained that Bonhoeffer was instrumental because,
“From him, we learned about transformation that leads to conformation of Jesus Christ.”
“He did not just call for commitment and obedience, he died for it. Thus, here we found an example of someone who lived and died the theology he preached.”
But most striking to me of all was the paraphrase of Koopman’s following words:
“For Bonhoeffer, Christianity was not about a religion or a theology, it was about a personal relationship with the living Jesus Christ, which transforms ones life and actions.”
This statement was paraphrased as ”Wichtig für Bonhoeffer war authentische Spiritualität,” which is a tamed-down reinterpretation of Koopman’s words.
Following this stimulating panel discussion, I then got to hear the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Opera, entitled, “vom Ende der Unschuld.” The opera was not so much about Bonhoeffer or his theology; it had more to do with the factors that brought Hitler to power, the reasons the Germans accepted such tyranny, and what then prompted Bonhoeffer’s opposition. It was fascinating to observe how the Germans are grappling with their history and what insights are being gleaned. Below is a clip from the opera:
When I get a chance, I will definitely be reading more Bonhoeffer. I came away challenged by three things in particular about Bonhoeffer. First, he was always drawn to the seemingly unimportant in society. Thus, he had a charm with children and could tell magnificent stories; in Brooklyn he attended an African-American church; and of course, he chose to associate in Germany with the minority. Secondly, Bonhoeffer chose obedience over worldly success, comforts, and advancements. A Professor at Berlin, he took the downward, costly path of resistance. And thirdly, Bonhoeffer had a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, which is manifested in his writing. There are some writers who evince such a insight and profundity; I believe that C. S. Lewis and Bonhoeffer are among them. This quality in one’s writing does not come through education or genius, but, I believe, through a saturation in God’s word and a daily communion with Him. This is what I too want to strive for, not for the sake of somehow becoming a better writer or theologian, but simply that I may know Him and be conformed to His image.
April 5, 2013
I recently completed reading the books that Piper and Wright published on justification, which were written in response to each each others opposing views on this doctrine. One thing that was impressive was their congenial tone and gentleman-like manner in disagreeing with each other, which sadly is so often lacking in important debates. Here are some great take-a-ways from the reading:
Piper (quoting Owen):
We have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for (p. 28).
I used to tell my students that at least 20 percent of what I was telling them was wrong, but I didn’t know which 20 percent it was: I make many mistakes in life, in relationships and in work, and I don’t expect to be free of them in my thinking. But whereas in much of life one’s mistakes are often fairly obvious, … in the life of the mind things are often not so straightforward. We need other minds on the job, to challenge us … (pp. 20-21).
Ever since I first read Luther and Calvin, particularly the latter, I determined that whether or not I agreed with them in everything they said, their stated and practiced method would be mine too: to soak myself in the Bible, in the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, to get it into my bloodstream by every means possible, in the prayer and hope that I would be able to teach Scripture afresh to the church and the world (p. 22).
April 4, 2013
I’ve been doing some reading in Luther lately; he is such a stimulating, edifying, and magnificent writer. Some of my favorite take-aways:
the law “is the hammer of death, the thundering of hell and the lightning of God’s wrath, that beats to powder the obstinate and senseless hypocrites. Wherefore this is the proper and absolute use of the law …” (Luther, Romans, 139).
In faith believers approach Christ as a bride would her groom. This is a marriage in which all possessions are shared: Christ the Bridegroom acquires the bride’s “sins, death, and damnation” while she receives his “grace, life, and salvation” (Luther, Freedom, 31:351).
“Many things are indeed cleansed, especially the head of the serpent–that is, unbelief and ignorance of God are cut off and crushed (Gal 3:15)–but the scaly body and the remnants of sin still remain in us” (Gal, 189).
June 22, 2011
Another thought from Gombis’s The Drama of Ephesians:
Because of God’s upside-down logic, performances of God’s triumph will inevitably involve displays of God’s power through human weakness, loss, shame and humiliation. . . . Paul does not merely acknowledge his shameful condition in prison and then move on, hoping not to dwell too long on it. He does not downplay it but exults in his weakness and humiliation. He adopts the title ‘Paul the prisoner’ and uses it throughout his letter. . . . God’s resurrection power is operative in a situation that looks initially like God’s power is absent. But it takes ‘gospel eyes’ to see it. That is why I have talked so much about discernment. If we are not looking at life, at people, with gospel-shaped eyes, we will miss what the gospel wants us to see (Gombis, 112-14).
“Gospel-shaped Eyes,” now that is a thought! God’s way of viewing things looks so different than the world’s. Gospel-glasses delight in weakness, in humility, in impossibilities. People whom the world shakes its head at and discounts as worthless, God looks sees as prime candidates, ripe with weakness, and therefore brimming with the potential of pointing people to Him. I like the way Gombis puts it:
Imagine that your pastor is on sabbatical and a church leader stands up on Sunday morning and announces a guest speaker. She begins rehearsing for the congregation the credentials of the special guest. ‘Mr. Smith ministered for twenty years in a church in the Midwest after earning a seminary degree. Following a three-year stint in a maximum-security prison, he began itinerant ministry, and we are delighted to have him here this morning.’ . . . How can it be that Jesus Christ is victorious Lord, having defeated the powers and authorities, and Paul, the emissary of Jesus, is . . . in prison? (Gombis, 109).
June 6, 2011
There are two common views regarding human nature: one side thinks that people are basically good, the other that people are basically bad. I’m often surprised at how many people seem to hold to the “basically good” position. This issue has been on my mind a lot lately, for some reason.
I read a biography this week about a teenage girl who lived in Germany during the time of Hitler. She writes,
When I was a girl of about 10 years old, we had neighbors who were very decent people. The Nazis came to power and started spying on everyone. Suddenly our neighbors became changed people in a matter of a few weeks. They began to denounce their neighbors in the village and brought a number of them into serious difficulties, all simply in the intent of their own promotion in the ranks of Nazis (Wilder-Smith, 132).
Then, a newspaper article entitled Wealthy, Poor, Pigs All this week discussed a similar theme. The writer reflected on some recent high-profile affairs (Edwards, Schwarzenegger):
No socioeconomic group has a monopoly on piggish behavior. . . . Edwards was indicted Friday on federal charges of using campaign contributions to conceal his concubine – Rielle Hunter, a woman he met in a New York hotel bar and with whom he proceeded to make a baby right in the middle of running for president. . . . The truth is, men of any socioeconomic or political stripe have the pig gene in them. Whether it predominates is another matter, but it’s there. The difference is that the news media are not interested in documenting the extra-route romances of, say, Otto the garbage man. Wasn’t it ironic, and a tad bit reassuring, that Arnold had to confess to doing the same thing inside his $23.5 million mansion? The American public, we know, tends to forgive politicians anything – except hypocrisy. Oh, and cheating on your wife as she lies dying of cancer.
I’m fascinated that a newspaper reporter admits that, rich or poor, people of all levels of society have a “pig” gene; reminds me of a verse: “Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath” (Ps 62:9).
June 3, 2011
Mrs. Black has posted an article in which she discusses whether or not a Christian should curse. I found her essay very helpful and thought-provoking; ironically, I was asked just last week if it was ok to curse. There are two things we might add to her essay on cursing:
1. Cursing and “careless speech”
If we are honest with ourselves, cursing is by all means careless. We spew out some words when we’re mad, giving little thought to what we’ve said. Only later do we feel remorse and conviction. So cursing can definitely be classified as careless. Jesus has given us clear instructions about all such careless speech, saying, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty [careless] word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36). If we take Jesus’ warning seriously, we should not just be careful about cursing. We should, in fact, guard against every empty, careless form of speech.
2. Cursing and edification
Paul’s language about speech is just as sharp as Jesus’: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29). Cursing can by no means be considered language that builds up those around us — it tears people down. So, to use some sarcasm, it is fine to curse if you can build up someone in their walk with Christ in the process.
May 30, 2011
My friend ERIC has written an excellent article entitled “excess or adoration” in which he questions when it is ok for Christians and churches to buy expensive gifts as lavish expressions of Christ’s love. Eric writes,
So my question is this — is there room for material signs of worship? Think of the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. What is it her critics cried — shouldn’t you have given that to the poor! Oh, and that lone critic was Judas. . . . I think most of the modern critique of Churches is fair — I’m just trying to make sure I’m not in the company of Judas if someone really is worshipping God with a right heart.
So, why not read Eric’s post and let him know what you think.
May 29, 2011
Have you ever had to confront an unbeliever over a spiritual issue? If so, what was your attitude? Paul offers clear instructions about how to go about confronting unbelievers. Rather than being obnoxious, belligerent, or just plain annoying, Paul commands:
correcting those in opposition with gentleness , if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:25-26).
So, Paul hopes unbelievers: (1) will be corrected; (2) will repent; (3) will escape the devil’s clutches; (4) will stop doing the devil’s work. Despite the bleak situation of this person needing correction, Paul instructs that correction should be done with gentleness.
With this in mind, I saw a video this week that illustrates what Paul was NOT talking about. Click HERE to watch the short video where Bart Ehrman is confronted on TV. Rather than having a spirit of gentleness, the interviewer is just plain annoying. I doubt Ehrman would be drawn to the truth by the attitude of his confronter. Rather, he may simply be repulsed even further. I’m reminded in watching this video of Paul’s instructions; when we are presented with opportunities where we must confront unbelievers, let us do so in gentleness.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.
May 20, 2011
Hannah-Joy has posted some great thoughts about the dangers of legalism. Quoting Beth Moore, she writes:
Legalism–more than any other, that one little word is probably responsible for causing more churches to die, more servants to quit, and more denominations to split, Like a leech, legalism saps the lifeblood out of its victim. It enters the door in the name of righteousness to vacuum out all the dirt and ends up vacuuming out all the spirit. Don’t confuse legalism with recognition and pursuit of godly standards” (pages 88-89). To that list I would add: legalism gives Christians a bad name. All too often lost people see legalism and link it with Christianity. They see a list of do’s and don’ts a mile long and say, “I want none of that.” Unfortunately all too often they see a legalistic “religious” person instead of a sincere believer expressing their life changing relationship with Christ.
Read her full post HERE.
November 3, 2010
ERIC has written a great post in which he raises some issues related to reformed theology. I really liked one statement:
“For whatever reason, many who call themselves Reformed seem to think they are smarter than those who don’t embrace those teachings. Even if it’s not the case, it still comes across that way (and, remember, I’m writing this and I’m Reformed – at least as far as salvation is concerned).”
As someone who is not reformed, I greatly appreciate Eric’s statement. I can say that his admission is true in my own experience. There have been several times I’ve been told, “If you really, REALLY, read the Scriptures, you will inevitably be of the reformed perspective,” or “smart people are Calvinists.”
Now, I try to keep my unreformedness pretty secret, especially since I go to a Baptist seminary. My own experience at seminary has taught me that most students leave die-hard Calvinists. In the rare occurrences when I’ve been brave enough to engage in a discussion on the matter, I’ve often been pointed to such and such an author, such and such a pastor, such and such a theologian. In one discussion, a friend tried to convince me of Calvinism by arguing, “Do you realize that if you do not hold to reformed theology, then you could not teach at this seminary?” Sorry, but convictions about God’s word trump teaching opportunities.
Eric goes on to say,
“If I wanted to sound Reformed and really smart at the same time, I suppose I would write something like . . . “
I’ll add to his list; I would write something like . . .
1) The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
I’m probably stepping on all kinds of toes right now by bashing the Westminster Confession, but is it really necessary to coin nifty phrases? Does Scripture not define man’s purpose clearly: “Love the Lord your God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself”?
2) Similar to number one, “God is most glorified in us when we are most glorified in him.”
I’m probably stepping on even more toes than in (1) by quoting Piper here. Anyone, however, who reads Piper realizes that his emphasis on glory is how he justifies God sending people to hell–doing so brings him great glory. I have big problems with arguing that God destined people to hell in order to magnify the glory of his justice.
Well, I’ll stop ranting now. I guess the secret is out, I’m not reformed. See what you started, Eric?