This debate will not go away…

Bonhoeffer – A Reliable Guide?

Date September 23, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is increasingly being quoted by evangelical writers and theologians. Eric Metaxas’ recent highly-acclaimed biography presents him as an evangelical martyr of the twentieth century. Stephen Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College, with a PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary, in his book, Bonhoeffer on the Christian life, states: ‘We can even lay claim to Bonhoeffer as an evangelical’. Bonhoeffer’s book on the Sermon on the Mount, The Cost of Discipleship, is being read by many Christians and is widely described as a modern Christian classic. There is no doubting the brilliance of Bonhoeffer’s mind, nor his passion for the oppressed, nor the original way that he had of stating his beliefs. However, his theology is very different from orthodox evangelical theology and he is certainly far from being a reliable guide in presenting the Christian faith and in interpreting the Scriptures. This editorial is a warning. Don’t take Bonhoeffer as your teacher!

His life

Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up in liberal, theological circles in Germany in a relatively-wealthy, intellectual family. His father was a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology. His oldest brother became a famous scientist and another brother a top lawyer. His mother, a grand-daughter of liberal theologian Karl von Hasse, was a teacher and insisted on family religion though they were not regular in their attendance in church. It was a surprise to all when, at the age of fourteen, Dietrich announced his decision to devote his life to theology. He studied in Berlin under the famous liberal, Professor Adolf von Harnack, but rejected liberalism. The great influence in his thinking was the Swiss theologian Karl Barth who developed what became known as neo-orthodox theology. Far from being an evangelical, Bonhoeffer was more liberal than Barth. He considered himself a ‘modern theologian who still carries the heritage of liberal theology within himself’.

Having completed his studies in Berlin, including his Doctor of Theology, and still too young to be ordained, he went to Union Seminary in New York and did post-graduate studies under Reinhold Niebuhr. Returning to Germany in 1931, he became a lecturer in Systematic Theology in the University of Berlin. The rise of Hitler brought a dramatic change in his life. He rejected Nazism with its antisemitism. One of his sisters was married to a Jew. He helped form the Confessing Church as a protest against the germanisation (nazification) of the national Church. An underground seminary was set up in Finkenwalde and Bonhoeffer taught students for the Confessing Church there. Eventually it was closed by the Nazis. He was involved in helping Jews to escape from Germany and later in a plot to assassinate Hitler. After spending some time in prison he was hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp in 1945 just before the end of the war.

Was he a martyr?

When we think of Christian martyrs we think of the early Christians thrown to the lions for refusing to worship Caesar. We think of Reformers like Patrick Hamilton and William Tyndale burnt at the stake for preaching the gospel and for translating the Scriptures into the language of the people. In no sense were these men involved in conspiracies against the state. Bonhoeffer died for being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Now, one might rightly argue that he was justified in resisting the evils of Nazism, but his death was not because of his beliefs, but rather for his ‘crime’ of conspiracy to murder. So, if we regard him as a martyr it is in a very different sense from the usual Christian martyrs. We admire his love for the Jews and for all who were oppressed and down-trodden, and his willingness to lay down his life for others.

View of the Bible

Critical to evangelicalism is our view of the Bible. The word of God was certainly very important to Bonhoeffer but in a very different sense from evangelicalism. He rejected the liberalism of Harnack with its idea of Scripture as merely man’s thoughts about God. Bonhoeffer believed in revelation and that God speaks through the word. However he did not believe in the Bible as scientific (empirical) truth and he certainly did not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. His view, like that of Barth, was that the word can become the word of God to you when you are reading it. It is not in itself the word of God but God can speak through it. So, for example, he taught his students to spend a half hour each day meditating on a verse of Scripture, not looking at it in the original, not consulting commentaries, not concerned about what it literally meant in the Bible, but simply concentrating on what God had to say to them at that point that day. It can become the word of God to the meditating individual.

Bonhoeffer stated, ‘The Holy Scriptures alone witness to the divine revelation, which occurred as a one-time, unrepeatable and self-contained history of salvation’. There is a huge difference between the Scriptures being a witness to divine revelation and being divine revelation. He happily accepts the so called ‘findings’ of higher (destructive) criticism. He rejects for example the biblical account of creation in favour of evolution. Bonhoeffer on one occasion told his congregation unequivocally that the Bible is filled with material that is historically unreliable. Even the life of Jesus, he said, is ‘overgrown with legends’ (myths) so that we have scant knowledge about the historical Jesus. Bonhoeffer concluded that the life of Jesus cannot be written. He followed Rudolf Bultmann in finding the New Testament full of myths which have to be ‘demythologised’. Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘My opinion of it today would be that he (Bultmann) went not “too far” as most people thought, but rather not far enough. It’s not only “mythological” concepts like miracles, ascension, and so on … that are problematic, but “religious” concepts as such’.

The Cross

For evangelicals the cross is at the centre of their faith. Bonhoeffer did not believe in substitutionary atonement – Christ suffering as a substitute for our sins, dying in our place to earn eternal life for us. The cross of Christ certainly is important to him, but in a very different way – it is as an example and an inspiration. He is concerned that we live cross-centred lives and by that he means that we take up our cross and follow Christ, living lives of self-denial. Yes, as with Barth, there is a great emphasis on grace, but the idea of Christ as the Lamb of God taking away our sins by his suffering hell for us is missing. To evangelicalism that is a critical omission. Indeed Bonhoeffer would argue that we are saved by the incarnation – Christ taking our nature – rather than by His atoning death. He taught that in the body of Jesus Christ, God is united with humanity, all of humanity is accepted by God, and the world is reconciled with God. In the body of Jesus Christ, God took upon Himself the sin of the whole world and bore it.

Conversion

As a Lutheran he embraced the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – you are automatically born again when you are baptised. Around 1931 Bonhoeffer experienced a ‘conversion’, when he, as he puts it, discovered the Bible. From then on he began to read it daily and meditate upon it. Yet it was not what evangelicals normally call conversion, or what the Scriptures describe as the new birth. He rarely referred to it. He criticises conversion testimonies and sees the New Testament as not being about individual salvation. He wrote, ‘We must finally break away from the idea that the gospel deals with the salvation of an individual’s soul’.

Universalism

Bonhoeffer was a universalist, believing in the eventual salvation of all.

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By Decision Magazine   •   September 20, 2016 

Best-selling author and commentator Eric Metaxas has written a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. He discussed the premise of the book and the state of our nation in a recent interview with Decision.
Best-selling author and commentator Eric Metaxas has written a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. He discussed the premise of the book and the state of our nation in a recent interview with Decision.

Interviewed by Jim Dailey, Executive Editor

Q: In what ways do you believe “American exceptionalism” has defined our country? 

A: It’s all quite shocking when you think of it. America was the first country in the history of the world that was based on an idea: liberty for all. It was also the first country in history to say that people could govern themselves. These ideas have become so common that we no longer clearly see them as wild and unprecedented and daring.

As a result of these ideas we have been a beacon of liberty to the whole world and have spread out ideas of freedom beyond our borders so that many people around the world enjoy religious liberty and economic freedom. There is simply no nation in history that has done these things, and in many ways we have been a missionary country, one that felt it had a mission beyond its borders, and one that believed we were chosen by God to do these things. To the extent that we’ve lost that view of ourselves, we have ceased to be that, and I’ve written my latest book with the intention of helping us rediscover that vision of who we are.

Q: The moral descent of our culture has accelerated at a rapid pace over the past decade—e.g., same-sex marriage rulings, the transgender agenda, the decline of millennial participation in religion, and a worldview that is increasingly hostile to traditional Christianity. What has led to the quickened pace?

A: The reasons are many. At some point around the 1960s, a number of things happened. For one thing, a widespread misunderstanding took hold about the separation of church and state. Instead of the founders’ idea that the state should stay out of the business of the churches, some pushed the false idea that churches should cease to have influence in the public square. This profound misunderstanding has been tragic. It led to our abolishing prayer in schools, among other things, which sent a signal that America was a secular idea, which was never true. American freedoms can never flourish in a secular environment, and to the extent that we’ve turned away from faith we have seen them falter. Technology also helped the downward spiral because the birth control pill made it possible to divorce sex from childbirth. This was a fatal breach in a holistic view of human beings and it played a major role in destroying marriages and families, which have always been at the center of our healthy culture.

Q: The premise of your latest book, If You Can Keep It, is taken from a conversation with Benjamin Franklin following the Second Continental Congress. What must our nation do to keep the freedoms that we have been so generously blessed with throughout our unique history?

A: That is precisely why I wrote this book, because the most important thing to do right now is to educate ourselves about what America is and what the founders gave us. In the book I talk about all of those things and about some of the stories of our history, stories about the heroes who sacrificed their lives and much else, so that we could have what we have. These things have not been taught in schools for the last 40 years, so we desperately need to revisit them, and that’s precisely why I put all of them in this book, so that you could just say to someone, “Here, read this and then let’s discuss it.” I want to start a national conversation on these things. We desperately need that right now.

Q: How can a culture that is growing decidedly unmoored from Biblical values promote true freedom and make the course corrections needed to preserve our union? And if virtue is necessary to liberty, from where might that virtue rise? 

A: Again, we need first of all to teach about these ideas. We need to explain this crucial idea that virtue and freedom are connected, that the kinds of freedoms we have in this country simply cannot exist without virtue. That’s why I devoted a chapter to the “Golden Triangle of Freedom.” Every American desperately needs to know that. So first we need to talk about it and we need to let people know that it cannot work any other way. If we don’t see this connection between virtue and liberty, we will never feel the need to promote virtue.

So yes, I wrote this book hoping to reignite a conversation in America about virtue and the importance of it in our way of life. And out of that conversation I sincerely hope we could begin encouraging virtue. The most important thing is that we understand that without God, we are lost. He is the one who inspires us to virtue, and He is the only one who can help our country rediscover its virtue. This is not optional. It’s at the heart of who we have been as a nation, and it’s unavoidable. I included a chapter on George Whitefield which makes that clear.

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Todd Starnes: You Did Not Paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer When You Said Not to Vote is to Vote

Fox News columnist and pundit Todd Starnes is the latest religious right figure to claim Bonhoeffer said

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

In his speech to the Values Voter Summit yesterday, Starnes misattributed this quote to German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Here are the relevant references in Starnes’ speech:

To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer – not to vote — is to vote.

and then down the page a bit:

Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

I believe this is a Bonhoeffer moment for ever Bible-believing Christian in America.

We can no longer be silent. We are to be civil but not silent. We must roar like lions.

The problem is these words cannot be found in Bonhoeffer’s works. The experts at the Bonhoeffer Society can’t find it in his writings, and no one who uses the quote (not even Bonhoeffer biographer Eric Metaxas) has been able to supply a source for it. I traced it back to a 1998 exhibit in Philadelphia’s Liberty Museum, but now the Museum staff cannot locate a source for the quote. There is no source for the quote in Bonhoeffer’s works and no evidence that he ever said it.

For the rest of the post…

First of all let me state clearly that I have been a lifelong Republican. I know that there are many Republicans, even if they do not support Trump, they believe they must vote for him because to do otherwise would be to vote for Clinton. Perhaps they are correct, but I suggest the following should be considered.

It is a relatively accepted fact that both Clinton and Trump are disliked by over 50 percent of the prospective voters. While not comparing either Clinton or Trump to Stalin or Hitler, I believe that it is fair to compare this election as having a choice between Stalin or Hitler. Which is the lesser of the two evils? When confronted by such a dilemma, the only possible choice that I can see is to stand up for a choice other than the one with which we are presented.

The 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had come to the U.S. as guest lecturer, and was encouraged to stay in America in order to protect himself from persecution by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer wrote the following to his friend Reinhold Niebuhr, “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials at this time with my people.” Bonhoeffer stood up for what he believed in and returned to Germany. He was subsequently in imprisoned for two years, and executed in April 1945.

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laptop

You know the guy I’m talking about. He spends hours into the night playing video games and surfing for pornography. He fears he’s a loser. And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is. For some time now, studies have shown us that porn and gaming can become compulsive and addicting. What we too often don’t recognize, though, is why.

Recent research indicates that millions of men are debilitatingly hooked on leisure. Some economists and social scientists are even voicing concern that the amount of men who play games instead of work is a real threat to economic growth. Additionally, the epidemic of pornography is so pervasive in our culture that Time Magazine recently devoted an entire cover story to the testimonies of men whose lives had been harmed by their addiction.

In their book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say we may lose an entire generation of men to pornography and video gaming addictions. Their concern isn’t about morality, but instead about the nature of these addictions in reshaping the patten of desires necessary for community.

If you’re addicted to sugar or tequila or heroin you want more and more of that substance. But porn and video games both are built on novelty, on the quest for newer and different experiences. That’s why you rarely find a man addicted to a single pornographic image. He’s entrapped in an ever-expanding kaleidoscope.

There’s a key difference between porn and gaming. Pornography can’t be consumed in moderation because it is, by definition, immoral. A video game can be a harmless diversion along the lines of a low-stakes athletic competition. But the compulsive form of gaming shares a key element with porn: both are meant to simulate something, something for which men long.

Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.

Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.

The drive to the ecstasy of just love and to the valor of just war are gospel matters. The sexual union pictures the cosmic mystery of the union of Christ and his church. The call to fight is grounded in a God who protects his people, a Shepherd Christ who grabs his sheep from the jaws of the wolves.

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Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. Here are nine things you should know about what happened in the aftermath of the events on September 11, 2001:

1. It took 99 days—until December 19, 2001—for the fires at Ground Zero to be extinguished.2. Cleanup at Ground Zero wasn’t officially completed until May 30, 2002. It took 3.1 million hours of labor to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a total cost of cleanup of $750 million.

3. There were 20 people pulled from the rubble in the two days after the attack. On the day following the attacks, 11 people were rescued from the wreckage, including six firefighters and three police officers. Two Port Authority police officers were also rescued after spending nearly 24 hours beneath 30 feet of rubble.

4. The total number of 9/11 victim deaths rose to 2,752 in January 2009, when the New York City medical examiner’s office ruled that Leon Heyward, who died the previous year of lymphoma and lung disease, was a homicide victim because he was caught in the toxic dust cloud just after the towers collapsed.

5. In 2010, Congress created the WTC Health Program to provide medical monitoring and treatment for emergency responders, recovery, and cleanup workers, and volunteers who helped after the terrorist attacks. As of 2015, the number of Ground Zero responders and others afflicted with 9/11-linked cancers has hit 3,700. Those suffering cancers certified by the WTC Health Program include 1,100 members of the New York fire department, 2,134 police and first responders, and 467 survivors such as downtown workers and residents. Many have more than one type of cancer.

6. Most of the steel from the World Trade Center wreckage was sent to New Jersey salvage yards where it was broken down and sent all over the world for reuse. Nearly 350,000 tons of the steel was sent to be reused in small and large scale tributes, including 7.5 tons for use in the navy battleship USS New York.

7. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded for three days. The lack of condensation trails (contrails) from jet aircraft caused the average temperature across the U.S. to rise by an average of 1.8 degrees celsius.

For the rest of the post…

911b

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” 

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

On Sunday, at a Roman Catholic canonization service in Vatican City, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa a saint.* Here are nine things you should know about the Nobel-prize winning nun who became renowned for serving the poor and dying:

1. Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in what is now part of modern Macedonia. At the age of 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, a group of nuns in Ireland. It was there she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. A year later, in 1929, Mother Teresa moved to India and taught at a Catholic school for girls.

2. In 1946 Mother Teresa received what she would later describe as a “call within a call.” She said Jesus spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city’s poorest and sickest people. In 1950 she received Vatican approval for Missionaries of Charity, a group of religious sisters who took vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” By the late 1970s, the Missionaries of the Charity had offshoots in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

3. Mother Teresa and her religious order gained international attention in 1967 when the famed journalist Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed her for a BBC TV program. Because of the popularity of the interview, Muggeridge traveled to Calcutta a year later to make a documentary, Something Beautiful for God, about Theresa’s “House of the Dying” (Muggeridge would also write a book by the same name in 1971).

4. During her life Mother Teresa received more 120 prestigious awards and honors. In 1971, Paul VI conferred the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize on Mother Teresa, and in 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee writes in their motivation: “In making the award the Norwegian Nobel Committee has expressed its recognition of Mother Teresa’s work in bringing help to suffering humanity. This year the world has turned its attention to the plight of children and refugees, and these are precisely the categories for whom Mother Teresa has for many years worked so selflessly.” She also received the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1985.

5. During her 1979 Nobel Prize Lecture, Mother Teresa called abortion the “greatest destroyer of peace”:

We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child – I will not forget you – I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible – but even if she could forget – I will not forget you. And today the greatest means – the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here – our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us. Our children, we want them, we love them, but what of the millions. Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you kill me – there is nothing between.

6.  Mother Teresa was frequently denounced by secularists because of her oppositionto contraception and abortion. But she was also widely criticized for her allowing her charity to provide inadequate care for the poor and for potential mismanagement of charitable funds. Although she leveraged her fame to raise tens of millions of dollars for her charity, the orphanages and care centers run by her religious order were often substandard. After visiting Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in 1994, Robin Fox wrote about the experience in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Fox reported that doctors only occasionally visited the patients (the care was mostly provided by untrained volunteers) and that pain relief provided for the dying was inadequate, leading them to suffer unnecessarily. In 2008, another observer reported, “I was shocked to see the negligence. Needles were washed in cold water and reused and expired medicines were given to the inmates. There were people who had chance to live if given proper care.”

7. Mother Teresa has also been criticized by Christians for downplaying evangelism and espousing universalist views of salvation. For example in her book, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, she says:

Our purpose is to take God and His love to the poorest of the poor, irrespective of their ethnic origin or the faith they profess. Our discernment of aid is not the belief but the necessity. We never try to convert those whom we receive to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.

When a Catholic priest asked if she attempted to convert people, she reportedly answered, “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.’ ”

8. After her death, Mother Teresa’s letters revealed that she spent almost 50 years in a crisis of faith…

For the rest of the post…

By Stephanie Sumel

ssumell@theacorn.com


UPLIFTING WORDS—The Rev. Tracy Vining of Trinity Presbyterian Church recommends the book “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. UPLIFTING WORDS—The Rev. Tracy Vining of Trinity Presbyterian Church recommends the book “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. The Rev. Tracy Vining said Christians must sometimes do things that are uncomfortable, inconvenient and even dangerous to defend and uphold what they know to be true.

“So often we look at Christianity as something passive,” he said. “But there is a time when you have to stand up, and there’s going to be a cost to that. There is a cost to following Jesus Christ.”

That was certainly the case when the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer publicly opposed the Nazi regime and worked to free Jews from Nazi oppression.

Bonhoeffer was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel Prison in Berlin for a year and a half. He was later moved to a concentration camp, where he was executed by hanging in April 1945, a month before the Nazis surrendered.

Vining, who has served as the interim pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church for nearly two years, said Bonhoeffer lived his faith in the face of opposition and uncertainty.

Vining said Bonhoeffer’s books “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Letters and Papers from Prison” show what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ in good times and in bad.

“He confronted what we think of as a consummate evil—Satan in person—and it ultimately cost him his life,” Vining said of Bonhoeffer. “He was willing to take action rather than just letting things proceed. He assumed he was God’s hands.”

Vining first read Bonhoeffer’s books while attending seminary. The interim pastor at the church on Antonio Avenue said they had a profound impact on his faith

“The Cost of Discipleship” was published in 1937 as Hitler began to rise in power.

In it, Bonhoeffer details what he believes it means to follow Christ and exposes the follies of “cheap grace,” the practice of preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance.

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