Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy "What Could Have Been" Day

October 31st is often celebrated as "Reformation Day", especially in local gatherings more in tune with the Reformation and confessional Christianity. October 31st, 1517 was the day that Martin Luther (in)famously nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, "officially" launching what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

I used to look forward to this day as an exciting day in the church, a day when we should redouble our focus on the "Five Solas of the Reformation" and cherish the memory of the giants of the faith who came before us and laid the foundation for the Reformed, confessional wing of the church: Calvin, Luther. Zwingli.

Now? Now I look back with regret at this time, regret over what might have been. In those days when the shackles of Rome were first cast off there was a very real chance to reform the church in practice as well as in doctrine. Instead institutional inertia won the day. The doctrine got better (at least some of it) but the practice stayed the same. Pastors replaced priests but the machinery of organized religion kept chugging along. When a group of Christians started to ask questions and reject Protestantized Roman Catholic practices like infant baptism they were met with essentially the same response that the Roman Catholic church gave to the Reformers: persecution, imprisonment, torture and murder.

Today is as always an important day in the history of the church but rather than looking back at the Reformation as a golden era in the church to be emulated, let us instead use that period as a launching point to go even further back, all the way back to when the apostles were leading the church through service, sacrifice and imitation. Our foundation for church practice and doctrine in not found in the 16th century, it is found in the 1st,

Monday, October 29, 2012

War, Foreign Policy, Politics and The Kingdom

My latest post is up at the Energion roundtable and deals with an issue I have written a lot about, namely foreign policy and war from a Kingdom perspective. The post, Energion Political Roundtable Question #11: Foreign Policy is likely to draw some discussion/friendly fire backlash so check it out and watch for responses and rebuttals galore!

Friday, October 26, 2012

More On Mourdock From Mohler

Al Mohler weighs in with his usual clarity and candor on the Richard Mourdock kerfuffle, The Mourdock Moment: Life, Death, and Lies on the Campaign Trail. As is usually the case when Dr. Mohler speaks to issues like this he brings a forceful but thoughtful argument.

The entire essay is great but this paragraph is just outstanding:

The issue of exceptions that might justify an abortion cannot be discussed carelessly. Furthermore, any reference to rape must start with a clear affirmation of the horrifying evil of rape and an equal affirmation of concern for any woman or girl victimized by a rapist. At this point, the defender of the unborn should point to the fact that every single human life is sacred at every point of its development and without regard to the context of that life’s conception. No one would deny that this is true of a six-year-old child conceived in the horror of a rape. Those who defend the unborn know that it was equally true when that child was in the womb.

It requires a muddled and convoluted mind to assert that life begins at conception and at the same time putting forth circumstance when that life may morally be snuffed out. Even the "life of the mother" clause is intentionally vague as virtually any pregnancy carries with it risks that are life threatening. Again Al Mohler lays out the truth...

First, when speaking of saving the life of the mother, we should be clear that the abortion of her unborn child cannot be the intentional result. There can be no active intention to kill the baby. This does not mean that a mother might, in very rare and always tragic circumstances, require a medical procedure or treatment to save her life that would, as a secondary effect, terminate the life of her unborn child. This is clearly established in moral theory, and we must be thankful that such cases are very rare.

That is a pretty strongly worded statement. Dr. Mohler admits that Richard Mourdock didn't express this sentiment very eloquently but he was at least trying to be honest, something those seeking to capitalize on this media driven non-issue cannot be accused of. I guess when you have nothing else to run on you try to distract the electorate.

I don't expect those who do not have hearts and minds renewed by the Holy Spirit and do not affirm all life as created in the image of God and therefore precious at every age and every stage of life to understand or agree with this mindset. What disappoints me is the reaction by some Christians who seem willing to make the same charges for political gain.

Furthermore, although this conversation is almost completely absent from political discourse among those who are "pro-life", there is the question of reconciling the idea of all human life being precious at every and any stage with the general acceptance of war as a legitimate way to spread ideals and policies. Evangelicals are one of the most universally approving audiences for America's wars of preemption and aggression and this bald hypocrisy is not lost on the world.

We have so far to go on this issue. Whether "our guy" wins or loses in November our mission to the world will not change and our efforts must not falter. Standing up for the innocent especially the unborn and affirming the dignity of all human life even when in a foreign country or a prison cell must mark every moment of our lives. Not merely or even specifically by voting Republican but in our actions and deeds ministering to the crisis pregnancy, in how we treat and support orphans and adoption, in the visitation of the sick, the widow and the wounded in our community. Affirming life is much more than words or bumper stickers or campaign signs in our yard.

The world is watching.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Instead Of Buying Meaningless Junk....

Why not Help Haiti Orphans as You Shop. Click, Shop and Give.! There are several ways to help and the proceeds go to fund the mission of caring for the fatherless and spreading the love of Christ in deed as well as in word. Whatcha waiting for, get shopping!

All Life Is Precious And God Is Always In Control Even When The Circumstances Are Awful

Here I go again with a quasi-political post but this has me all wound up. In the otherwise boring world of Indiana politics, a comment last night by GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock has the media all a-twitter. Here is what he said in response to a question about abortion and exceptions in the case of rape…

"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," Mourdock said.


Now of course in this political environment those pretty obvious words have been twisted, even unfortunately by some people who claim to be Christians. Our illustrious State Democratic Chairman, Dan Parker wasted no time in saying:

"As a pro-life Catholic, I'm stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape," Parker said in a statement. "Victims of rape are victims of an extremely violent act, and mine is not a violent God."

Set aside the idea of “my God” here. Mr. Parker, a supposed pro-life leader in a political party that has made being pro-abortion a litmus test, is guilty of bearing false witness, something that his church frowns on. Only someone who is borderline illiterate or masterfully dishonest would hear those words and come to Mr. Parker’s conclusion. I am hoping that people in Indiana are less susceptible to the sort of “gotcha” politics being wielded here by Indiana and national Democrats. I was probably going to vote for Richard Mourdock anyway, although I am considering Libertarian Andrew Horning, but now I am definitely going to vote for Mourdock. For someone who claims to be pro-life to seek to score cheap political points that come at the expense of the lives of unborn children is unconscionable. Perhaps Mr. Parker should read the genealogy in Matthew where the lineage of Jesus through Joseph the husband of Mary includes Solomon, a man conceived by the terrible sin of David. You think maybe that even in the midst of David's sin God was at work?

As I have stated before, if you say you are pro-life then that should extend to all unborn children regardless of the circumstances of their conception (a notion clearly lost on “pro-life” Dan Parker). Let me be uncharacteristically blunt:

Aborting an unborn child conceived as the result of a rape is punishing an innocent for the crime of another.

Here is a prime example of the muddled way that religious Americans view abortion. Is God only in control when pregnancy happens to a middle class Caucasian married couple that has already started painting the nursery and opened a 529 account? What about when the terrified teen girl comes into the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer? Should we tell her that God doesn’t care about her or her child because she drank too much at a party and got pregnant? Should we tell the woman living in a motel to abort her child because the dad ran off and she doesn’t have much financial support? You can’t call children a blessing when the stars are all aligned and then turn around and support the dismemberment and murder of a child based on the criminal act of another.

Turning abortion into a mainly political argument has led to ridiculous discussions like “under what circumstances of conception does a child forfeit her right to life?” and statements like those from Dan Parker that are simply beyond the pale, using an issue of human life to try to undermine a political campaign and retain control of the U.S. Senate. We have brought this on ourselves and it is high time for Christians to stop relying on the ballot box to overcome the evil of abortion. I guarantee that there are opportunities for each and every Christian in America to give or volunteer at a life affirming ministry in their own home town. We need to quit relying on politicians to do what God has called us to do as salt and light in the world. Abortion is a barbaric, pagan practice and the only cure is the sin atoning blood of Jesus Christ. Only the blood of the Lamb can save the innocent blood of the unborn.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mirror Images

Sorry for yet another quasi-political post but it has been on my mind a lot, not from a "Vote for Candidate A!" position but more for how it impacts the church. So the language that follows will be strong, the hyperbole thick.

In the last decade or so, perhaps with a genesis in the beginning of the Presidency of George W. Bush, I have seen a major ratcheting up of the division in the church based on political preference. Maybe it has always been there but it seems that in the world of a constant media barrage, of Twitter and Facebook and blogging, of 24 hour news channels and talking heads who will do anything to keep getting the opportunity to spout off on TV, what we experience today is unlike any time in the past, even in the fairly recent past.
Case in point. CNN ran an interesting look at President Obama's religious faith and why it seems so alien to so many more traditional evangelicals, Is Obama The 'Wrong' Kind of Christian. While the story is interesting, I think it asks the wrong question because I don't see any sign that President Obama is a Christian of any sort, the 'right' or the 'wrong'. Mitt Romney certainly is not a Christian. Yet that doesn't stop many Christians, left and right alike, from claiming that "their guy" is the one who represents "Christian values".

I see this somewhat differently. I don't see two men who are polar opposites of one another. I instead see President Obama and Mitt Romney as mirror images of one another or perhaps two sides of the same coin. Both represent different types of religious American culture. Both a part of religious movements that have attempted to co-opt Christianity and in doing so have perverted the Gospel. Both use religion in the political process to advance their own agenda and to gain power.

The religious right and the religious left in this country represent two mostly political and cultural movements dressed up in pious sounding language. The religious left is the religion of self-gratification where no pleasure should be denied (which explains the defense of abortion even in the most heinous methods as the ultimate sacrament of the cult of self-gratification). The religious right is the religion of fear, fear of losing what belongs to you, fear of foreign threats (commies, Jihadists, etc), fear of outsiders and the unknown, fear of perceived threats to "security".

From religious feminist Rachel Held Evans (Ha, ha I built a menstrual tent and covered my head! Hilarious! Buy my book!) to Jim Wallis who thinks that Jesus was the original advocate of redistributive economics and who sports a man-crush for Obama that puts MSNBC's Chris Matthews to shame, the religious left in America uses the Sermon on the Mount to advocate for leftist political positions that have no real basis in Scripture (note, I truly think that Wallis is a brother in Christ, just one who is terribly misguided). On the other hand we have the Glenn Beck/David Barton types who think that America is God's chosen land and that Jesus was the original rugged individualist proto-capitalist who traveled around the Middle East with an American flag in one hand and a Colt .45 revolver in the other. For them Jesus is not only OK with smiting the enemies of America (and Israel) but perhaps even actively encourages it.

Left out in the cold are those who are faithful followers of Christ but don't see a home, and more importantly don't see their King, in either camp. Neither the rugged individualistic, flag waving, America as a Christian nation, kill them before they kill you religion of the American religious right nor the Jesus as peace sign flashing hippie, income redistribution advocating, Prius driving religion of the religious left faithfully represent the Kingdom. What is worse, this division not only does nothing to advance the calling of the church, it makes our collective mission exponentially more difficult. Rather than striving with the enemy in the realm of preaching the Gospel to the lost we are tangled up in arguments over tax policy, which wars are "just" and who should pay for birth control pills.

In just a few weeks this election will be over and one side will be excited and the other crushed. Perhaps it will be the religious left who will see the continuation of Obama's quasi-messianic reign as a sign of hope for America. Or perhaps, as I suspect is more likely, it will be the religious right as Christians celebrate the election of a pagan who "shares our values". Either way it would be a good time for both sides to have some serious conversations about what the mission of the church is and whether our obsession with politics is healthy or not. I am afraid that conversation is unlikely to happen. The rising vitriol lobbed at one group by the other only to be escalated and returned is leading to a division in the church that might someday rival the religious wars of Europe. The comfy religious cocoon of America is burning down around us and rather than preparing for evangelizing a "post-Christian" West, most Christians are preparing for the next legislative session.

We have moved beyond needing to get politics out of our religion. Today our politics is our religion. If we can't recover some semblance of perspective we might have to just eschew political involvement at all. As important as the issues facing our nation are, they are completely insignificant compared to the mission that Christ has tasked each and every Christian with carrying out.

Voting for President and voting on church membership have equal Biblical support

Twitter is great for some things but it also allows us to send out brief thoughts that often are just bad theology. Case in point. I love Dr. Russell Moore, especially for his tireless advocacy for adoption, but this is just an awful tweet.

While Russell Moore is a dean at Southern Seminary, a well respected speaker and author and a leader for the church around the world and I am a nobody with a blog in Indiana we do share something in common: neither of us has a vote in who to "receive as church members".

The Bible tells us to "be subject to the governing authorities" but nothing about choosing those authorities. The Bible tells us to love one another but nothing about picking and choosing which we will accept as brothers and sisters. The cavalier way we make such bold statement about "church membership" and other pragmatic traditions of man and grant them the authority of Scripture is deeply troubling.

When someone votes on whether to accept a Christian as a member of the "their church" or to allow them to partake of the Lord's Supper or whether or not they should be baptized, that person deigns to step into God's place and dictate terms to Him. Jesus often chooses the unlovely, the sick, the outcast as His disciples and as one of those I am eternally grateful that He chose me. With that in mind I don't get a say in who to accept as a member of His church.

Friday, October 19, 2012

So Romney Is "Pro-Life"?

This video just came out from the Romney campaign....

Note that this is on the Mitt Romney youtube channel, a channel his webpage links to.

Now on his campaign page, in the generic "values" section, Romney says, emphasis added:

Mitt Romney is pro-life. He believes it speaks well of the country that almost all Americans recognize that abortion is a problem. And in the quiet of conscience, people of both political parties know that more than a million abortions a year cannot be squared with the good heart of America.

Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade – a case of blatant judicial activism that took a decision that should be left to the people and placed it in the hands of unelected judges. With Roe overturned, states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.

Mitt Romney is "pro-life" and believes that "life" begins at conception but his campaign is putting out a video that touts his support for abortion when the circumstances are right. When a child is conceived as a result of rape, incest or can be a danger to the life of the mother, that life that began at conception is expendable.

Let's be clear. If life begins at conception and all human life is precious, then it doesn't matter what the circumstance are behind that life coming into being. Perhaps he is sincere but muddled on this position but more likely Romney is simply pandering here. The "rape, incest, life of the mother" clause is cover for conservative politicians but make no sense. There are tragically lots of people walking around that were conceived as the result of rape or incest and many more that were born in spite of the danger to their mother (Tim Tebow anyone?). They are not less worthy of life than people conceived by loving married upper class parents who were seeking to conceive a child.

Someone says on the one hand that he is pro-life and opposes abortion but then turns around and says that some human beings, defenseless children who committed no crime, can be punished for the acts of another. That is not being pro-life. That is being a politician. I don't expect any more than that from him but those who tell us we are duty bound to vote for Romney because he is "pro-life" need to rethink what that term means.

Close But No Cigar On The Church Celebrity Culture

The whole sordid mess around Dinesh D'Souza, (now former) President of King's College has been ugly and bad for the church as these issues always are. Set aside for a moment that someone who is as smart as D'Souza that makes his living from speaking to Christian groups didn't think that getting engaged while still married to his first wife would be an issue or the fact that even if he weren't still married, that by getting remarried while his ex-wife lives would mean he was committing adultery (something that not many people seem to care about). Something else in this drew my attention.

Carl Trueman has been all over the problem of celebrity driven Christianity for some time and he weighs in on the issue and has this to say (emphasis mine):

Yet, while the questions hanging over the matter regarding his marriage are worrying, I confess that I find equally disturbing the idea that there are Christian groups out there willing to pay Christian leaders fees of $10,000 and upwards for giving a single lecture.  When my youngest son read the reports online, his initial reaction was not to the marriage issue but to the cash: "That's what really gets Christianity in this country a bad name."  was his comment.

I heartily agree. But. While Carl is on the right track he misses the bigger picture:

It is no less disturbing that there are Christian groups out there willing to pay Christian leaders fees of $40,000 a year and upwards for giving a single lecture every Sunday.

Paying a talented speaker $10,000 for a single speech is outrageous but paying a less talented speaker a full-time salary and benefits to do the same thing on Sundays is "not muzzling the ox"? Celebrity speakers who command huge fees for speaking engagements are nothing more than a natural outgrowth of a church culture that seeks after passive observers in church watching a performance and listening to a religious professional give a lecture.

We can often get caught up in the outrage of a celebrity Christian speaker being paid huge sums to give lectures or group like First Baptist Dallas spending $130,000,000 on a new building but then we miss that paying anyone to lead in the church or spending $500,000 on a new building is simply moving the decimal a few places while retaining the same spirit.

When we look at the celebrity culture in the church or the drive to build ever bigger and more expensive "churches", our first impulse is to blame it on being worldly but the culprit might just be our own church culture writ large.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mitt and Billy

I have been mulling over what, if anything, to say about the kerfuffle over Billy Graham's meeting with Mitt Romney, his subsequent endorsement of Romney and the highly controversial removal of mormonism from the list of cults on the webpage of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Many of my fellow believers who are former mormons or on the front lines of mormon evangelism were rightly outraged by this and then today I read something that drove me to write this post.

Apparently the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, using funds donated for this stated purpose "building the kingdom of God and bringing people into relationship with Jesus Christ" to buy an ad to advocate for someone who is diametrically opposed to that mission in every possible way. In part the ad reads:

"As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election may be my last," Graham says in the ad. "I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman."

How exactly can we take seriously a statement like that? A man who belongs to and has been a leader in a religious cult that denies every crucial doctrine in the Bible and perverts the Gospel cannot in any sense of the word be said to "base their decisions on biblical principles". The Bible says nothing about gay marriage. The Bible says nothing about abortion being wrong but preemptive war being OK. The Bible does say an awful lot about being wary of wolves seeking to devour the sheep, wolves who externally look like sheep but are only interested in destroying God's sheep.

I don't pretend to know Billy Graham's motivation here nor do I discount his decades of service to the Kingdom preaching the Gospel night after night to more people than I have talked to in my entire life about any topic. I do know this much. This action is yet another example of the extent to which American Christians are willing to set aside any sense of discernment to win a political victory. I also know that Christians who know nothing about mormonism look to Billy Graham as a trusted leader in the church and that leadership is a responsibility that transcends political pragmatism.

Watchbloggers like the Pyromaniacs would jump all over Billy Graham for this under normal circumstances but instead we are treated to a six part series about why they are voting for Mitt Romney. If Graham had met with Thomas Monson and then removed mormonism from the BGEA webpage as a cult, you can be sure that the boys would have something caustic and ugly to say. But not when it comes to defeating Barack Obama! These same fellows blew a gasket about other Christians signing the Manhattan Declaration which calls for unity among Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians in working toward ending abortion. One thing all three of those groups share is a belief in orthodox trinitarian doctrine and that is something that Mitt Romney explicitly denies. Just don't point that out or you will get an earful of self-righteous bleating.

Listen to me carefully:

Defeating Barack Obama in this election is not the highest priority of the church.

Did you catch that? In fact it isn't even in the ten top. Dare I say not anywhere on our priority list at all as the church.

The apostle John spoke to this very issue in his second epistle:

A lovely visit with a wolf
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John 1:7-11)

I wonder what John would have to say about the most recognizable figure in the church warmly greeting and endorsing someone that John called "the deceiver and the antichrist" because this election is so important to the church.

If you want to vote for Romney in the certain to be dashed hope that he will do great things like ending abortion, that is fine. Not my choice, not by a long shot. Obama is a horrible President and Romney probably would be a less horrible President and I don't feel obligated to vote for one over the other. Just don't blur the bright line between the Biblical Gospel and the perversion of mormonism to make evangelicals feel better about casting their vote for him. America will some day be gone and no one will care who won the 2012 election but those who spend an eternity in hell thanks to the lies of mormonism most certainly will care.

Making It Up As We Go

It should not be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I believe we have gone far astray from the Biblical meaning and practice of the gathered church. There are two primary reasons this has happened. First many of the practices that we assume in the church are a hybrid of what we see in the Bible and Roman Catholic traditions that were protestantized. If you take a traditional evangelical "worship service" and change "pastor" to "priest", "pulpit" to "altar" and "Lord's Supper" to "Euchatrist" and, voila!, you have a Roman Mass. Certainly and I can't overemphasize this, the meanings are very different but the practice looks very similar, although teachings like "the sacraments as a means of grace" are far too close to Roman sacramental doctrine for my tastes.

Anyway, I followed a link from Tim Challies to a post by Mike Leake, Borrowed Light: Should We Baptize Upon Profession?. Mike looks at the issue of withholding baptism from those that profess faith until an examination of some sort can be done. In this post Mike admits he struggles with the contradiction between what we see in Scripture (baptism immediately following profession of faith) versus how we practice traditionally in much of the church (baptism after a series of examinations). This was my comment on his post.....

This seems to be one of those circumstances where we allow the pragmatic considerations to override the Scriptural considerations. We see one thing in the Bible but have a hard time making it work in practice so we make something up. The same goes with "church membership". We don't see it in the Bible but we can't figure out how to do accountability and discipline without it so we canonize an extra-biblical tradition.

That kind of captures it. We read the Bible but we can't (or won't) make it work in "real life" so we create some artificial replacement. Real community and fellowship are hard and messy so we reduce life in the church to a weekly ritual. No wonder so many churches have small groups to try to meet the need for fellowship among Christians that they cannot and do not get on Sunday.

I understand that it is foolhardy to try to perfectly replicate every aspect of the first century church. We live in a vast land where believers are often spread out over wide distances (although most of that has to do with us driving great distances to meet with the "right" kind of Christian instead of our neighbor). We have no hint of real persecution. We have technology was undreamt of in the first century. We have of course a complete New Testament, something unavailable to anyone in the earliest days of the church. We have thousands of years of thinkers and theologians working through the big issues. 

That doesn't mean that we should feel free to "fill in the blanks", especially when doing so compromises the very principles that are clearly expressed in Scripture. Being a disciple isn't easy but that should lead to us seeking to be more faithful and removing the traditions of man rather than making it up as we go.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pastor Romney

I studiously avoided the Presidential debate last night. I am not very interested in listening to two guys lie to me. Plus we were at the pregnancy resource center ministering which is a far more valuable;e use of my time. Anyway we got home and my wife turned on the TV and since all we get is broadcast TV of course the very end of the debate was on. I was in the other room but I could hear them. Romney said something that made my ears perk up. This is from the CNN transcript of the second debate (Emphasis added)

My - my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God. And I believe we're all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I - I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I've sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times.

If I call myself Pastor maybe they will forget I am a mormon?
THAT got my attention. Mitt Romney, in case you missed it, is a mormon. He served in the Stake Presidency in Massachusetts and also as a "bishop" in his ward. This is important to note. As a mormon I never once heard a single reference to any mormon leader as "pastor". In fact pastor was more often a pejorative term. I would never have called the bishop of any ward we were in "pastor" nor would we have called the stake president by that title.

So why would Mitt Romney call himself a "pastor" when he never would have referred to himself as a "pastor" when he was in leadership and none of the people he led would have called him that either? Maybe saying "I served as a bishop and stake president" sounds too weird and alien to evangelical voters ears? Perhaps using those terms would remind evangelical voters that he is part of a religion that historically called orthodox Christianity heretical and an abomination in God's eyes?

Make no mistake. Mitt Romney is quite literally trying to become a wolf among the sheep and his job is made easier because the sheep have no idea what wolves look like. So many Christians think that Mitt Romney "shares our values" because he claims to be pro-life (at least when it comes to abortion). As a Christian, I can think of very few values that I would think Mitt Romney has in common with me because my values are formed by my faith in Christ, a faith that Mitt Romney does not share and in fact actively rejects. He talks about God but the "god" he worships is one of many in a polytheistic pantheon and is not the God we read of in the Bible. He says that we are all "children of the same God" but he means that literally in the sense of being offspring from a procreative act.

I am not saying you can't or shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney. I will not be but not because he is a mormon. I think and President Obama are two peas in the pod and neither of them would know the truth if it was tattooed on their foreheads. What I am saying is that because of the perverse marriage between politics and what we understand as the church many Christians are getting the impression that we share more in common with Mitt Romney, a pagan blasphemer, because he is "conservative" than we do with a "liberal" follower of Christ.

If you vote, and you are under no religious obligation to do so no matter what some blowhards say, do so based on your conscience and with your eyes wide open. Mitt Romney is not "one of us" and he does not share "our values" and neither does President Obama. Just watch how Romney speaks and pay attention to the words he uses because it is clear to me that he is trying to deceive the elect by making himself out to be something he is not.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Blogging Through The Bible: Hebrews 6:1-8

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

The writer of Hebrews continues his thoughts regarding maturity in Heb 5:12-14. The Gospel is very simple but there comes a time when believers need to move past just the rudimentary and into the deeper. Not every Christians is called to be a professional theologian, in fact I am not sure any of us are called to that, but we are called and expected to move past a basic knowledge and into the weightier questions. The New Testament speaks a lot about the Gospel and what we must do to be saved but it also speaks quite a bit about what we are to do once we have been saved.That is where these sorts of issues come into play about moving past the elementary.

The second portion of these verses is where it gets more muddled and much harder to interpret. It certainly sounds at first blush as though true regenerate believers can fall away, and not just fall away but fall away in such a sense that they are never able to be redeemed. This is a tough one. The rest of the New Testament seems to paint a picture of what is commonly caled "eternal security" but what to do with this? The first bit of advice here is to appraoch this slowly and with a great deal of caution.

This is also a case where the correct hermeneutic is to interpret difficult, less clear passages through the lens of more clear and direct passages. Looking at some other verses might help to clarify this passage. First, the Bible makes mention of those who outwardly profess the faith but end up being shown to be false later....
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

Were these who went out actual believers? I don't think so. They were "with us" but then the went out because they were "not of us". I think most of us know either personally or from anecdotal evidence of someone who seemed very religious and then went off the rails. In a religious culture it can be pretty easy for someone to skate along for a long time without ever being born again. I personally get concerned when someone tells me that they have "always been a Christian". The reality is that we cannot know for sure that anyone is regenerate and those who leave serve as a reminder of this fact.

As I read this my mind also went to the parable of the sower that Christ taught....

And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matt 13:3-9)

The sowing here is of the Gospel, even on infertile ground (i.e. unregenerate hearts) there can be some signs of life but ultimately the lak of fertile ground becomes apparent. But seed that falls into good soil sprigns up. We don't kknow which soil is good versus not so we sumply proclaim the Good News to all men everywhere and trust in He who is faithful to move men to repentance.

That is a pretty unsatisfactory answer to a question that has caused controversy for a long time but that is all I got at this point!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fifty Years Later

Today is the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. Depending on who you ask, it was a great first step or a terrible mistake. Those who long for the days of the Latin Mass don't much care for Vatican II and those who want to ordain women and allow priests to marry don't think it went far enough. For Christians outside of Roman influence the whole thing is quite confusing.

This article from Desiring God is an important look at what changed and what has not, What Happened at Vatican II (And How to Pray 50 Years Later). It pulls no punches nor should it. It does help flesh out what Vatican II means, to Catholics and to non-Catholics alike. There are also a couple of interesting stories about the anniversary on NPR and a sympathetic story on National Review.

This is a major deal for Roman Catholics and it is something that evangelicals and others outside of Rome would do well to understand. I obviously have zero interest in Rome as an institution but I am very interested in my fellow Christians in communion with Rome. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Being changed by serving others

Check out this brief post from The Haiti Orphan Project titled: Orphans. And Us.

These are important things to consider and act upon. Caring for orphans is about transformation, not just for them but also for us. God uses us to minister to others but he absolutely ministers and molds and shapes us when he is using us in this way. We don't grow much by reading books, although reading books is valuable. We grow most when we get out hands dirty and when we open our hearts to others.

I would encourage you to seek out a way to get involved in orphan ministry. There are few ministries that get to the heart of the Gospel quite like this one.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Salt Lake City Is The Most Christian City In America?

Ah the Huffington Post religion page. Always a source for muddled theology, confused doctrine and outright hilarity. Today was no different. At least it is consistent. The source of today's religious LOL was a report on the most "Christian cities in America", Most And Least Christian Cities In America. Set aside for a moment the notion that a city can be more or less Christian than another. What really made me GOL (guffaw out loud) was the winner of the top spot. When you go to an article about the most Christian city in America and see this picture... know you are in for some good stuff. Anyway here is the methodology involved...

Of metropolitan areas with population greater than a million, the researchers found Salt Lake City to be the most Christian* city with approximately 72.5 percent identifying as a Christian adherent. The researchers found the greater area of Portland, OR-WA to be the least Christian city with about 30 percent identifying as a Christian adherent. 

The researchers define adherents to be those with an affiliation to a congregation including children, members and attendees who are not members, and believe that the adherent measure is the most complete and comparable across religious groups. Congregations are defined as groups of people who meet regularly at a pre-announced time and location.

Um. What? When you check out the * next to the word "Christian" in the first paragraph, you find their definition for Christian....

*Christians include Mormons and Unitarians / Universalists who self-identify as Christians.

Of course. People who deny every tenet of Christianity absolutely should be categorized as "Christian". Egad.

Amidst this silly report is something that might be less funny. The report looks at those with an "affiliation to a congregation", i.e. someone who is a member or regular attender at a local religious group, and labels them "Christian" but isn't that the same basic criteria much of the church uses? When you meet someone who says they are a Christian, isn't one of the first things you ask them "where do you go to church"? On the other hand if you don't "go to church" anywhere many Christians question your very salvation even if you show many of the actual fruits that one should expect based on the New Testament.

Based on our cultural definition of "Christian" maybe this survey isn't as silly as it first seems and maybe that should worry all of us.

Founded On Which Set of Values?

As we get down to the nitty gritty and approach the election, I am hearing more and more about the need to choose a candidate that will defend and uphold the Christian values that this nation was founded on. The irony of those pronouncements is that they are often invoked in support of a man who denies every pivotal truth of that very same Bible, a man who will swear to uphold the Constitution with his hand on a Bible that he doesn't believe. Anyway, are the founding beliefs of America really "Biblical Christian values" or something very different?

When the colonists declared their independence from England, they did so by a formal declaration that begins with there famous words (or they used to be famous, not sure if they even cover this in school anymore)....

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Everything else in the Declaration is derived from these values. It is a given that King George was depriving the colonists of the right to exercise the "unalienable Rights" and therefore the colonists were not only justified but indeed obligated to "throw off such Government". This is indisputable for the story of America

To many of us, those values are indistinguishable from the values of the Kingdom. Are they really? Let's look at the three fundamentals that this nation was founded on...


Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
(John 12:25)

"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

Preserving our life is not a Kingdom value, indeed many of those who came before us laid down their lives for the cause of the Gospel, men like Stephen and Felix Manz and Jim Elliot and John Hus, not to mention the Apostles. Our lives are not our own and we have no unalienable claim to them. In following Christ we should plan on being asked to lay down our own lives, not in combat but in martyrdom.


Paul often referred to himself as a bondservant and servants were exhorted to obey their masters (Eph 6:5-8). Christians living under the tyranny of Caesar were told to submit to that government (Romans 13:1-4). We have traded our false freedom for a true freedom, one that often leads to our imprisonment, persecution and death.

We do have liberty but it is not the kind of liberty granted by the laws of man or won at the end of a gun.

Pursuit of Happiness?

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Our happiness does not come from being able to go to church or not have soldiers quartered in our home. Our joy is in Christ and the culmination that is to come. But for now we should plan on suffering and sorrow.

So was America founded on Biblical principles. I would say no, just the opposite in fact. If you get right down to it...

If America were truly founded on Christian values we never would have been founded at all and would still be British!

Christianity as a faith is one that is very susceptible to being co-opted by the powers of the world, perverted into a moralistic religion that makes people easier to govern or rule. We need to be continually on guard against losing sight of the mission of the church, especially when the forces that seek to co-opt the Gospel are seductive precisely because they appeal to our most cherished cultural beliefs and reinforce our cultural story.

This isn't America bashing. Just reality. This is a remarkable nation in so many ways. I would imagine that most Christians, myself included, have no interest in leaving this country. We are comfortable here and we like it here. All that can be true and yet we can still look at this nation in comparison to others with a eye turned to the cross instead of Old Glory. This isn't a "Christian nation" and it wasn't founded on "Christian values". It is a great country that is nevertheless filled with people who are moral, religious and lost. Those are the people we are called to reach and often they are the hardest to reach precisely because they live in such a religious, moralistic nation.

We need to keep our eyes clear and our minds focused. Our mission is infinitely and eternally greater than the results of one election.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Happy Pulpit Freedom Sunday!

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified and of course all of the reasons that a Christians should vote for a member of a polytheistic pagan religion instead of Barack Obama so that we can keep more of our tax money and build more warships (1 Corinthians 2:2, Pulpit Freedom Sunday Standard Version)

In case you missed it, today is "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" here in God's most favorite country, the United States of 'Merica! Many of you will be blessed to get up early this morning, find the most culturally appropriate outfit to wear for you and the kiddies and dutifully head to a local church where the pastor will let you know who God wants you to vote for in this election. They will do so in the hopes of offending Caesar and provoking a court battle to preserve the permanent right to tell the laity who to vote for year after year. Because that is the most pressing need for the church this morning. Not feeding the poor. Not equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Not preaching Christ and Him crucified. Oh no, today for 1000+ pastors is all about sticking it to The Man, missing entirely the irony of demanding tax breaks simultaneously from the aforementioned Man .

Like Alan Knox I was at first excited by this idea, hoping it was a freedom from pulpits day where the entire brotherhood of the saints was encouraged to participate in the gathered church. I am all in favor of freeing the church from the pulpit culture! Alas that was not what this meant. No, what "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" is all about is the God given right of clergy to tell the laity who they should vote for and especially in this case to do so in the hopes of stirring up the IRS. What utter foolishness.

If you "go to church" this morning and the pastor endorses a candidate from the pulpit, may I suggest you politely ask him afterward how exactly that helped equip you for the work of ministry for the upcoming week? I am all for people being informed but since most of the church only gathers for an hour a week, isn't that time far too precious and limited to spend on a sermon about American politics and picking fights over tax breaks? If we really want to change America as the church it won't happen at the ballot box. It will happen in the soup kitchen and the crisis pregnancy center, in the orphanage and the widows home. It will happen when we equip all Christians to take the Gospel to the streets and the homes of this most religious country so they can tell others that religion means nothing and Christ means everything. It will happen when we all are about the task of the Kingdom. It will never happen when one among us tells the rest of us who to vote for. Long after all of those pulpits are dust God will ask us for an accounting of our days. Let's not be in a position of telling Him how informed we were about political issues and how faithfully we exercised our civic duty to vote. I don't think He will be impressed.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, the pastors to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. inform the church that they should vote for Candidate A rather than Candidate B in the upcoming American elections (Ephesians 4:11-14, Pulpit Freedom Sunday Standard Version)

Friday, October 05, 2012

Another Reason That "Church As An Organization" Is Fatally Flawed

On my way to work this morning NPR had a story on hunger efforts in Haiti and the upcoming decision by the UN to decide if the UN peacekeeping mission will continue for another year or not. The segment on trying to provide what is quite literally lifesaving enriched peanut butter was very interesting; not least for the broader implications we can draw from it. The title gives you a hint of the gist of the story, In Haiti, Aid Groups Squabble Over Rival Peanut Butter Factories.

The story a fascinating look in general at the effort to provide emergency, lifesaving nutrition support to Haiti and how sometimes we trip over ourselves in trying to help people. What the report exposes is the common issue we see in places like Haiti, namely a lot of different organizations trying to help the populace but doing so with competing priorities and methods. At any given time, there are a myriad of organizations ranging from very small Haiti Orphan Project that I support to massive groups like Samaritan’s Purse, religious groups and secular, the UN, the Red Cross, etc., etc. All have the same basic goal and all are trying to do the right thing but different priorities and methodologies mean they are competing for funding. A dollar sent to the Haiti Orphan Project is probably a dollar not sent to Samaritan’s Purse. So the end of the story about two “competing” organization both making this enhanced peanut butter really grabbed my attention. Read below….

Manary doesn't really take sides. But, he says, looking at the situation from the outside, it does seem like a waste of money. "It seems like [having] two factories isn't appropriate for Haiti."

This kind of thing happens, he says, because nongovernmental organizations end up behaving like all other organizations. They compete; they try to attract recognition and funding, and to promote their own brand.

"Unfortunately, branding is a powerful force among many NGOs," he says. "And it is basically true, I think, that once an organization exists, it tries to survive." But that can prevent it from cooperating with other organizations, or stepping aside to let another organization thrive.

Manary says he understands that impulse, because he has tried to build an organization, too. But it can distract an organization from the people it's really trying to help.

Wow. I can go through and replace “nongovernmental organization” with “local church” and many of the things he says hold true.

We have tried for, quite literally, centuries to operate the church as an organization. For a long time it was a monolithic and frankly tyrannical and corrupt institution that was eventually broken up into a fractured and ever expanding pool of competing organizations.

Like Haitian aid groups, local churches, para-church ministries, mercy ministries, missionaries, denominations, seminaries, etc. are all competing for a limited pool of supporters. Brand becomes critical. Who we are and perhaps more importantly who we are not has an enormous impact on fund raising and sustaininability for churches and ministries. Anyone who is familiar with Reformed theology knows what Ligonier is all about. Many Christians recognize John Piper and Rick Warren and know that one is the Desiring God guy and the other is the Purpose Driven Life guy. The thing is that all of these competing churches and ministries, in spite of their vary disparate priorities, have the same basic “big picture” goal in mind. So why don’t they cooperate more since we all have the same Great Commission and same Great Commandment? The answer is above:

"And it is basically true, I think, that once an organization exists, it tries to survive."

Survival is perhaps the main driving force behind an organization. In order to survive an organization needs money, more so as the organization builds more and more infrastructure. A Bible study meeting in a home doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure but once you start to add property, staff and money you create an incentive to survive. There is a reason that these organizations are seemingly always looking for new ways to spend money: hiring more or better staff, updating the physical property, rebranding themselves by changing “worship style” or altering the name of the group. This church is Reformed and holds to the Three Forms of Unity, that church has a contemporary worship service and a traditional service. This one has a great youth program, that one has the best audio visual equipment around. The church over there is a “conservative” Anabaptist congregation and that one is seeker friendly.

When you get right down to it, local churches and the myriad ministries around the world don’t cooperate because they see each other as competitors at a fundamental level, at least in a practical sense if not in a global “we are in this together” sense. Local churches, denominations, ministries of all shapes and sizes function as organization and as organizations have adopted an organizational mindset even if we dress it up in religious language.

This model of local churches and ministries as organization simply doesn’t work. Sure it “works” from the standpoint of creating sustainable, self-perpetuating institutions that gather and retain assets and influence but from the standpoint of reaching the lost? Not hardly. The vast majority of giving in the local church, even at “missional” groups is absorbed in maintaining the organization. Until we abandon the notion of “church as organization” we will continue to see duplicative efforts, wasted opportunities and unreached people.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

More on Bonhoeffer

My post on Dietrich Bonhoeffer generated some interesting comments, mostly outside of my blog comment section. One was a link to something John Piper wrote back in 2008, before the Bonhoeffer mania was in full swing, asking the question: Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer Wrong to Plot Against Hitler's Life? After a quick trip into the idea of "just war" he concludes his brief notes with these thoughts...

I want to just step back and say that I'm going to be real slow to condemn Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I couldn't see myself, at this point, in any situation that I can think of where I want to be involved in an assassination plot. That's because of the things that are governing my life biblically, from "Thou shalt not kill," to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself," to "demonstrate the Lord's rule in your life through all meekness and patience in taking whatever suffering comes your way."

I'm going to just try and be real slow to condemn Bonhoeffer here. In general I would say we do better in witnessing to Christ by being willing to suffer and not kill than if we go the other route.

I think that strikes the right tone. "Just war" theory doesn't apply here (nor does it ever truly apply to a follower of Christ in my opinion) but Piper is not interested in condemnatioon. Like Piper, I don’t condemn Bonhoeffer either. In those circumstances what would I have done? I don’t know so this is all speculation.

My intent is not to slander Bonhoeffer or sit in judgment of him but to study him as an example of how we should react when faced with difficult circumstances. So while I can’t second guess Bonhoeffer, what I can do is look back with the benefit of hindsight and the safety of living in a country where our greatest danger is apathy rather than Nazis. For me the lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that when push comes to shove we should be willing to put down a mad dog but that we are often most tested when our most cherished values are under assault. For Bonhoeffer, from what I am reading, Hitler was not just a madman persecuting Jews but also someone who was sullying the very concept of what it means to be German. He had to be stopped for the sake of Germany.What do we do when we are faced with threats to our cherished American values? What are we wiling to do to "defend" them? Do we submit and trust God, as Paul said we should under the reign of Caesar, or do we take matters into our own hands?

I think Piper has the right of it in his cautious but firm approach. Our witness as Christians is better suited to a willingness to suffer and die for the sake of the Gospel than to kill for the sake of anything else. As much as we cherish freedom and liberty and even our lives, those are not the Gospel and they often must be set aside for the sake of the one thing that truly matters.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Not a Pastor? Shut yer pie hole! Part Deux!

When I posted the first time with the title Not a Pastor? Shut yer pie hole! I knew the title would ruffle feathers. Oddly enough that has never stopped me! Ever since I continue to find people saying things in a very polite, very religious way that say pretty much the same thing: if you aren't part of the clergy, you don't have a voice in the decision making in the church other than voting on the budget and voting to hire/fire your leaders.

Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway (Lifeway is the supply house for the Southern Baptist Convention and has a vested business interest in maintaining the traditional church), posted a few days ago about the Five Types of Critics in the Church. The post appears to be designed to help pastors categorize those who might be critical so they know how to deal with each type of critic. He lists as the five types of critics: The constructive critic, the negligent critic, the hurt critic, the sinful critic and the self-serving critic.Ironically the "self-serving critic" is the one Thom describes as having the temper tantrum if he doesn't get his way but when the pastor demands that he get his way he is just being a leader. Not listed is "The critic who is right" but I digress.

According to Thom, figuring out which category your critic is in helps you to pigeonhole assess how to respond....

Pastors and other church leaders would serve themselves well to consider two major ways to deal with critics. First, realize that criticism is inevitable. Anyone in a position of leadership will face criticism. Deal with it prayerfully and courageously, but accept it as a part of your leadership that it will never go away.

Second, make every attempt to discern the type of critic with whom you are dealing. In many cases, the criticisms will benefit your life and ministry. In other cases, you may have the opportunity to deal with the critic in a pastoral and redemptive way.

These labels are nice because it is far easier to dismiss legitimate questions if you are able to just lump someone into the category of "sinful critic" or "self-serving critic". 

Dan Edelen first linked to Thom's post and wrote a thoughtful response. Dan points out that leaders trying to change things are often the cause of the disruption in a local church but then are upset when there is some backlash. Dan makes a number of salient points, not least that people are very discombobulated in these turbulent, uncertain times and leaders need to be aware of that. You should read his post, it is good stuff.

My concern has more to do with the underlying assumptions in this list. The assumption at work here gets to the core of the malignancy in the church known as the clergy-laity divide. That assumption is that leading in the church means dictating from on high, i.e. I am the pastor and I get to make the decisions because I am anointed/ordained/elected/hired or whatever. You need to get in line or get out of the way. If someone questions or criticizes you, you need to categorize them. Lists like this just perpetuate the lie that some Christians are called to lead from above and the rest are called to follow these men, hoping that those men are also following the shepherd. Speaking from personal experience in owning sheep, when sheep follow sheep they pretty much always go astray.

The church often operates, not surprisingly, like the U.S. political system. We get to elect our leaders but then have no say in how they lead. When I vote for my Congressman, if the guy I voted for wins I expect that he will do certain things but if he doesn't I am stuck sending him letters and then deciding if I want to vote for him again the next time around. In the church we hire pastors and then are expected to follow them without question unless we decide that they are too far out of line and fire them or they get a better paying gig called to another church and leave. Representative democracy is a passable form of secular government but it is not how the church should operate.

If leaders in the church lead from among the Body, as the Body, instead of over the Body maybe we would see less of this. Part of the mutual submission, leading from below, humility, etc. that are the hallmarks of true Biblical leadership includes not demanding privilege based on having an ordination certificate on your office wall, or putting the title "pastor" in front of your name or being hired at a local church.

When we divide up the church based on man-made distinctions we shouldn't be surprised when that leads to division and "dissent". 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Bonhoeffer: Tale of Heroism or Tale of Tragedy?

As I continue to slowly work through the very popular biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer I find myself thinking about him in a far different light than I expected. He has taken on rather mythic proportions in the church, and while some of that is understandable I am beginnning to wonder if we are doing him justice and getting a real picture of him.

For example, some years before the full rise of Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote these words in a letter to his brother Karl-Friedrich (emphasis mine)....

Perhaps I seem to you rather fanatical and mad about a number of things. I myself am sometimes afraid of that. But I know that the day I became more “reasonable,” to be honest, I should have to chuck my entire theology. When I first started in theology, my idea of it was quite different—rather more academic, probably. Now it has turned into something else altogether. But I do believe that at last I am on the right track, for the first time in my life. I often feel quite happy about it. I only worry about being so afraid of what other people will think as to get bogged down instead of going forward. I think I am right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all of this idiocy sky-high—like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind. The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this.

Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (pp. 259-260). Kindle Edition.

What happened to this Bonhoeffer that he became complicit in a plot to murder someone? When I originally read this excerpt I immediately highlighted the same sections. Knowing how the story ends, at least at a high level, much of what I am reading is confusing. There seem to be two Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, one a man consumed with following Christ and living in fellowship with God's people and another who was consumed with restoring Germany and overthrowing Hitler to the point of lying, deceiving and plotting murder. Something changed and the Metaxas biography doesn't really shed any light on it.

At somewhat more than halfway through the book I am finding myself enjoying it less and less. I am not enjoying the way it is written and I am somewhat disturbed by the picture I see. I have a hard time believing someone as bright, serious and scholarly as Bonhoeffer would make such a radical shift without a great deal of agonizing thought but we see none of that. Stories of his privellaged upbringing we see plenty of but the turmoil over the event that made him famous gets little attention, at least thus far. I have far more to say that will be in my full review but needless to say that I am finding the task of finishing this work to be more chore than pleasure.

I have already added Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance to my Kindle wishlist, by most accounts a more accurate and less agenda driven biography. As some commenters have noted, this popular biography by Metaxas seems aimed at "Americanizing" Bonhoeffer, making him into a palatable champion for conservative America evangelicals and I am not sure that does him justice. Like of the majority of the great men of faith throughout the ages Bonhoeffer must be more complex than we are seeing. Perhaps the popularity of this biography tells us a lot more about the American religious culture than it does about this complex man.