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There’s a good piece by Andrew Walker in First Things on a popular international church network called Hillsong’s apparent equivocation on marriage. At a recent New York press conference, the ministry’s leader, Brian Houston, declined to answer whether the ministry affirms the biblical position. Instead, he stresses the church’s need to stay “relevant.”

Earlier this year the pastor of Hillsong’s New York’s congregation, the ultra hip Carl Lentz, shared similar views with CNN. His wife added: “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.”

Hmmm. If it’s not the church’s place to tell anyone how to live, then what is the church’s purpose? Entertainment? Affirmation? Socialization? And if it’s not the church’s role to counsel how to live, then who or what should? Perhaps it’s the central message of our age that each autonomous individual chooses his/her own path without reference to others.

But of course, absent transcendent authority, individuals, no matter how independent, hearken to temporal influences in their life choices, often the passing fads of their culture and age. Typically transient fads are not helpful, reliable guideposts for life fulfillment. So most of humanity does and has looked to religion, at least at times, for more permanent guidance.

All religion, even its most permissive forms, aims on some level to tell its adherents how to live. Otherwise it has no purpose. Certainly Hillsong preachers must fill their sermons with admonitions. A sermon from Lentz in 2013 spoke of complete surrender to Christ: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” He added: “When you take a bite of me, when you really follow me, everything in me goes in you—you can’t pick and choose.”

Indeed, but the more recent Hillsong comments imply there can be some picking and choosing, at least on sexual ethics. Perhaps the Hillsong preachers still privately adhere to Christian teaching on marriage but don’t want to risk public controversy. At his New York press conference, Pastor Houston explained:

“And to me, the world we live in, whether we like it or not is changing around and about us. Homosexual marriage is legal in [New York City] and will be probably in most Western world countries within a short time. So the world’s changing and we want to stay relevant as a church. So that’s a vexing thing. You think, ‘How do we not become a pariah?’ So that’s the world we live in.”

The challenge is that the Cornerstone, Founder and Lord of the Church was crucified as the ultimate despised pariah, and He warned that His followers would often be pariahs. Yet somehow this collection of pariahs, across the centuries, in every culture, preaching the Gospel of an executed but risen pariah, has made His message the most “relevant” message of all time, everywhere.

For the rest of the post…

Two New Books: Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus

I’d like to mention two new books on Bonhoeffer.

I haven’t read Reggie Williams’s book, Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance, but I did hear him speak at a Bonhoeffer Conference in November 2011 at Union Theological Seminary and have little doubt this will be a fascinating read. As I remember, both he and John de Gruchy talked about how blacks in both the US and South Africa, de Gruchy’s home, already understood Bonhoeffer’s theology of a view from below: it was whites who needed to understand this perspective. de Gruchy and Williams theorized that whites could absorb this theology from a well-heeled German male schooled in a European theological traditional in a way they couldn’t from blacks or other marginalized groups. In addition, the influence of Harlem on Bonhoeffer is an area that deserves more focus. Bonhoeffer immersed himself in black literature and culture while in the US, and clearly made a connection between American oppression of blacks in the 1930s and the National Socialist treatment of Jews.  I have included the Amazon blurb below:

“Williams follows Bonhoeffer as he defies Germany with Harlem’s black Jesus. The Christology Bonhoeffer learned in Harlem’s churches featured a black Christ who suffered with African Americans in their struggle against systemic injustice and racial violence—and then resisted. In the pews of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Bonhoeffer absorbed the Christianity of the Harlem Renaissance. This Christianity included a Jesus who stands with the oppressed rather than joins the oppressors and a theology that challenges the way God can be used to underwrite a union of race and religion.”

I have read Andrew Root’s Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together and can recommend it as a solid, well written book with a strong focus on a ministry that helped lay the groundwork for Bonhoeffer’s seminaries.

Bonhoeffer Against the World

Image: Mike Benny
Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Book Title:

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has always been one of my great heroes of the faith. Such appreciation, of course, hardly makes me distinct. Bonhoeffer, the German pastor-theologian who opposed the Nazis and was executed in a concentration camp, is passionately admired by millions of Christians.

One could even compare him to Athanasius, the defender of Christ’s divinity whose brave stance also drew state persecution. The fourth-century bishop’s unflinching willingness to defy even emperors and their armies was honored with the title “Athanasius contra mundum” (against the world).

Charles Marsh’s welcome biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Knopf), paints a painstaking portrait of a faithful disciple every bit as resolute against Aryanism as Athanasius was against Arians. Marsh’s exquisite eye for detail reveals the sheer unlikelihood of Bonhoeffer’s emergence as the boldest opponent of efforts to Nazify the German church.

Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria, the most powerful ecclesiastical figure in the Eastern empire. He wielded so much influence that emperors were afraid of opposing him too forcefully, lest they provoke a popular uprising.

But what power did Bonhoeffer wield in 1933? He was 27 years old, financially dependent on his parents, and virtually bereft of experience in the working world. His sole professional appointment was an unpaid, non-tenure-track position as a voluntary lecturer. Adjunct professors don’t normally stand athwart emperors.

Yet Bonhoeffer did. Within weeks of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Bonhoeffer declared in public that the Führer was offering a false path to salvation—and, in private, that Hitler was an antichrist. When the Nazis called for ethnically Jewish Christians to be expelled from the churches, he alone insisted that the gospel was at stake. (Initially even Karl Barth, like other anti-Nazi dissenters who founded the Confessing Church, claimed that this was merely a question of church order, not a theological issue.) Marsh, director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, makes a convincing case that by 1933, Bonhoeffer was the most radical and outspoken opponent of Nazi church policy.

Quirky Humanity

I have read numerous books on Bonhoeffer. I have also seen documentaries and dramatizations and visited commemorative sites in Germany. For me, one of Marsh’s greatest contributions is putting on display the quirky humanity of his subject. If you are used to accounts that emphasize the mythic Bonhoeffer of faith, this one will help you grapple with the eccentric Bonhoeffer of history.

To take a trivial example, Bonhoeffer was endearingly preoccupied with dressing well. You could illustrate almost every momentous turning point in his life with sartorial commentary. When he takes a pastoral internship in Spain, he bombards the senior minister with written inquiries regarding the proper formal wear for dinner parties. The poor, overworked man eventually remarked sarcastically that the new intern should bring his preaching robe.

For the rest of the post…

 

Unity With the Persecuted

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).

<img src=”http://b.scorecardresearch.com/p?c1=8&c2=15579784&c3=65203&c15=&cv=2.0&cj=1″ />saAddressing the “In Defense of Christians” (IDC) summit on Wednesday morning, September 10, U.S. Representative Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) declared that every “freedom-loving man, woman, and child must be engaged” in the fight to defend persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

Would that members of the media, particularly Christian and/or conservative journalists, had actually been engaged in this fight to defend religious minorities for a while! If they had been, they would be able to write more knowledgeably about the scourge of global jihad. They would have had experience with U.S. political leaders that have actually given more than lip service to the issue of religious persecution. And they would have known that Texas Senator Ted Cruz is regarded as a strong advocate for persecuted Christians, as well as for Israel, by those of us who actually spend our days and years working on behalf of the persecuted.

If that had been the case, IDC’s Wednesday evening gala with Cruz as keynote speaker might not have become such an issue. As it was, though, the messages given by other speakers in the remaining hours of the summit such as the terrific keynote on Thursday by Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy author Eric Metaxas, have been all but ignored by the media. They preferred to go after Cruz for what they perceived as his insensitivity to Middle Eastern Christians. Metaxas’ speech (sermon, really) was important in its own right, but was also important as a response to what took place the night before, over the gala dinner of braised short ribs of beef and Chilean sea bass.

For the rest of the post…

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
by Charles Marsh
knopf, 528 pages, $35

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s appeal is no mystery: charismatic pastor, brilliant theologian, dedicated ecumenist, and anti-Nazi conspirator whose death at the age of thirty-nine terminated a life still ripe with promise. Interest in him in the English-speaking world blossomed when his prison writings first appeared in translation, and it has only grown with time. In recent years, however, that legacy has been complicated by those who have exploited his moral prestige by inducting him into the culture wars currently dividing the churches.

Admittedly, Bonhoeffer, a man of many turns, lends himself to a number of widely different readings. Do we favor the student of Harnack or the devotee of Barth? The pacifist or the conspirator to kill Hitler? The child of privilege who never lost his taste for the finer things or the man who identified with the marginalized and the outcast? The celebrator of the earthy sensibility of the Old Testament or the proponent of “a new kind of monasticism” who never married?

Charles Marsh’s Strange ­Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer approaches these questions on Bonhoeffer’s terms rather than our own. Marsh, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, gives us a sympathetic and theologically informed portrait that emphasizes Bonhoeffer’s close and enduring ties to Christian orthodoxy, but also his restless curiosity and experimentalism. This balance extends to his treatment of Bonhoeffer’s personal life, which gives us the man in full, freed from sentimental projections.

Marsh has the right idea in bringing Bonhoeffer down to earth. Hagiography is not history, and Bonhoeffer’s story is so compelling that apotheosis is hard to resist. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone who met the zealous young advocate for life in community and the Sermon on the Mount was ­equally impressed—Hardy Arnold, son of the founder of the pacifist Bruderhof near Frankfurt, thought Bonhoeffer a bit of a dandy and a romantic when Bonhoeffer visited there in 1934. We learn about Bonhoeffer’s fussiness about dress, his financial dependence on his parents (to the point of mailing his laundry home), and his pleasure in traveling first class. These habits weren’t dented by the Depression, from which he seems to have been wholly insulated. But none of this is a serious mark against the overall character of the man, whom Marsh regards with unabashed affection and profound respect.

That applies too to his candid presentation of Bonhoeffer’s friendship with Eberhard Bethge, his former student, collaborator, interlocutor, and eventual relative after Bethge married Bonhoeffer’s niece Renate. Readers of this review probably know by now that Marsh treats the friendship as a de facto love affair, at least from Bonhoeffer’s side. On the evidence he presents, in the form of quotations and accounts of various incidents, the characterization is convincing. This was a rich and deep friendship, and its intensity did not lack a certain erotic charge. I don’t know how that can come as a great surprise to anyone with much experience in human friendship, whether same-sex or different-sex. Simply put, Bonhoeffer was in love. While we should hesitate to pass an anachronistic judgment on his behavior, we can at least restrain the celebrations of his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, as his true love, the heroine for the perfect hero—celebrations that were inspired by the publication of their correspondence in Love Letters from Cell 92. Von ­Wedemeyer would never match the role that Bethge played in ­Bonhoeffer’s intellectual and ­emotional life.

For the rest of the post…

Bonhoeffer on abortion

Matthew Schmitz quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, emphasizing how the theologian is forcefully pro-life, while also speaking pastorally about those who commit this sin.

Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And this is nothing but murder.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2014/09/bonhoeffer-on-abortion-2/#ixzz3G9W9yWq7

by Debbie Holloway, Assistant Editor, Crosswalk.com

“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue!”

To be honest, that’s probably the extent of knowledge about Christopher Columbus that many of us have. If pressed for more information, we can say that Columbus discovered America (sort of) and was seeking gold and a new water passage to India. Since Americans celebrate Columbus Day once every year, shouldn’t we know a bit more about this towering historical figure?

1. Columbus introduced slave trade to the Americas.

Though the buying and selling of slaves was common in other parts of the world, to our knowledge it was not practiced in the Americas until Columbus brought it to the Caribbean. Writing of slaves just as he might other goods, Columbus penned in his diary,

“We can send from here, in the name of the Holy Trinity, all the slaves and Brazil wood which could be sold.”

He wrote many other entries referring to the native peoples as simple, naïve, and easy to take advantage of. Because Spanish law forbade slavery for Spanish citizens and Christians, Columbus decided to enslave rather than baptize the natives. Even practices like sex slavery, mutilation, and frequent use of the gallows were practiced at these settlements, which leads to #2…

2. Columbus was arrested, stripped of his titles, replaced as Governor, and failed every task he set out to accomplish.

We already know that Columbus never sought to discover a new continent – so that was a surprise bonus. But that also meant he had failed to reach India and a new passage for ships, and he never found great riches in the Americas as he’d hoped. But you already know this from elementary school. Remember those issues with native slavery and mistreatment that we mentioned in the first section? According to Biography.com,

“[C]onditions at the Hispaniola settlement had deteriorated to the point of near-mutiny with settlers claiming they had been misled by Columbus’ claims of riches and complaining about the poor management of his brothers. The Spanish Crown sent a royal official who arrested Columbus and stripped him of his authority. He returned to Spain in chains to face the royal court. The charges were later dropped but Columbus lost his titles as governor of the Indies and for a time, much of the riches made during his voyages.”

Although he eventually was released from jail and even returned again to the new world, he fell out of favor with both Spain and the colonists. After Queen Isabella died in 1504, Columbus’ most loyal supporter was no longer able to vouch for him, and he was never able to regain his titles or former prestige.

3. The “Columbian Exchange” brought new culture (and new disease) to both continents.

Columbus set in motion a huge intercontinental exchange of foods, goods, culture, and deadly diseases, through his voyages to and from the Caribbean.

“The horse from Europe allowed Native American tribes in the Great Plains of North America to shift from a nomadic to a hunting lifestyle. Foods from the Americas such as potatoes, tomatoes and corn became staples of Europeans and helped increase their populations. Wheat from Europe and the Old World fast became a main food source for people in the Americas. Coffee from Africa and sugar cane from Asia became major cash crops for Latin American countries.”

For the rest of the post…

This afternoon, at the Converge Worldwide Biennial Meeting at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN, I attended a seminar called “Lessons From Bonheoffer” by fellow pastor, Joel Lawrence. Joel is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in St. Paul, MN. I will share my notes from this excellent seminar in a future post. Joel is also  the author of…

It is good to be back in Minnesota for a few days. Our waitress at dinner said “okey-dokey”, “alrighty then”, “dog-gone it” and “thanks for stopping in folks” in her perfect Minnesota accent!

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Here are nine things you should know about the condition. 1. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. 2. Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. The Centers for Disease Control in 2011 estimated the frequency of Down syndrome in the U.S. is 1 in 691 live births 3. Down syndrome is named after the English doctor, John Langdon Down, who was the first to categorize the common features of people with the condition. 4. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm. Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all. 5. People with Down syndrome are significantly predisposed to certain medical conditions including congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, and Alzheimer’s disease. There is also evidence of an increased risk of celiac disease, autism, childhood leukemia, and seizures. It is rare for a person with Down syndrome to have a solid tumor cancer or cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. 6. Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades – from 25 in 1983 to 60 today. The dramatic increase to 60 years is largely due to the end of the practice of institutionalizing people with Down syndrome. 7. All people with Down syndrome experience cognitive delays, but the effect is usually mild to moderate and is not indicative of the many strengths and talents that each individual possesses. 8. Approximately 67 percent of prenatal diagnoses for Down syndrome result in an abortion, according to estimated pregnancy termination rates from 1995-2011. For the rest of the post…
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