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4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 46,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, cheap grace, and tough religion

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Much has been said lately about how to do evangelization. I’ve contributed a bit to that myself. Now I begin to think that, instead of always stressing niceness, it might be good to give tough religion a try.That idea was inspired by a reading of Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian and pastor executed by the Nazis near the end of World War II for  involvement in the plot against Hitler. Metaxas’s book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson), is a tad too worshipful for my taste, but it contains a wealth of information about this iconic religious figure of the 20th century and, best of all, quotes generously from his writing.

As in this description of what he found while doing post-doctoral studies in the early 1930s at Union Theological Seminary in New York: “In New York they preach about virtually everything, only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.”

As that suggests, Bonhoeffer, an intellectual from a well-off, highly cultured family, was no wimp. Welcomed back to New York in 1939 before the outbreak of hostilities, he could have spent the war there safe and secure. But he chose to return to Germany in the conviction that he belonged with his people during what he knew would be their darkest hour.

For the rest of the article from The Catholic World Report…

Worldly possessions tend to turn the hearts of the disciples away from Jesus. What are we really devoted to? That is the question. Are our hearts set on earthly goods? Do we try to combine devotion to them with loyalty to Christ? Or are we devoted exclusively to him? 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 193.

 …the heart of the disciple must be set upon Christ alone.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 193.

Jon Walker in his book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work:  Life Together writes in chapter 22 about speaking the truth in love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote…

God did make this person as I would have made him. He did give him to me as a brother to me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator.

This was a powerful chapter by Walker

 

Walker writes that The Big Idea is…

When we speak the truth in love, we bring out the best in one another. We are called to encourage and confront each other in the Body of Christ; in fact, it is a service we are expected to provide so we can all mature into the image of Jesus. we’re to speak words empowered by Jesus, not influenced by our own opinions of motives.  

Walker added:

Imagine how your life would change if you committed to never talking about another person’s faults unless that person was included in the conversations. 

How would that change your family? Your workplace? Your small group?

…What if we learned to speak the truth in love, helping one another to become more like Jesus?

Because we carry the Word within is, our rule is not to “use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV)

And this keeps our speech robust with love. We don’t demand and we don’t try to control others through our words.

Think about this: in heaven there will be no criticism, fault-finding, or mean-spirited judgment. We will speak in God’s language of love instead of Satan’s language of insult and put-down.

And if Satan will have no voice in eternity, he shouldn’t have a voice in us now!

(Jon WalkerIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work: Life Together, Chapter 22)

The Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds!

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;

     No palace too great, no cottage too small.

     The angels who welcome Him sing from the height,

     “In the city of David a King in His might.”

         Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

     Then let every heart keep its Christmas within,

     Christ’s pity for sorrow, Christ’s hatred of sin,

     Christ’s care for the weakest, Christ’s courage for right,

     Christ’s dread of the darkness, Christ’s love of the light.

         Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

     … Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Christmas Songs and Easter Carols

Corrie ten Boom

“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. 
The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. 
The only requirement is to believe in Him. 
The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”

~Corrie ten Boom

by Wesley Hill in First Things On the Square

 

Krister Stendahl

Krister Stendahl’s classic 1963 essay, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” makes the case that Augustine and the Western (Protestant) Christian tradition, preoccupied as they were and are with personal human guilt, present us with a drastic misreading of Paul. Unlike his fourth-century reader who poured out confessions of sin and misery to God, Paul was relatively untroubled by a sense of personal failure. According to Stendahl, himself an ordained Lutheran clergyman, Paul was very different from Augustine and Luther insofar as Paul possessed a “robust conscience.”

When Paul looked back over his life prior to his conversion to faith in Jesus, Stendahl argued, he considered himself a successful keeper of the Jewish law. Where Augustine and Luther narrated their respective conversions as a transition from oppressive feelings of condemnation to the relief of forgiveness and justification, Paul presents a very different picture: “as to righteousness, under the law [I was] blameless” before I became a Christian, he says (Phil. 3:6).

In drawing this distinction between Paul and Augustine, Stendahl is not simply interested in making a point about the distant past. He suggests, rather, that Paul’s freedom from feelings of guilt may have something to teach us about our contemporary Christian experience. Paul’s witness may enable us to break free from an oppressive Augustinian preoccupation with human unworthiness. “Did Paul think the only way to become a good Christian was out of frustration and guilt?” Stendahl asks (in the book in which the “Introspective Conscience” essay was eventually collected). No, he answers. “It may be that the axis of sin and guilt is not the only axis on which Christianity revolves.”

Another Lutheran clergyman—the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffermay offer the best rebuttal to Stendahl’s view of Paul. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer worries that some versions of Christian apologetics and evangelism elide the distinction between sin and feeling guilty. As theologian Ian McFarland put it in his excellent book In Adam’s Fall:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was highly critical of those styles of evangelistic preaching that seek first to persuade people how wretched and miserable they are and only then introduce Jesus Christ as the cure for their condition. He called it ‘religious blackmail’ and thought it both ignoble and completely inconsistent with Jesus’ own preaching. . . . Bonhoeffer objected that such preaching confused sin with personal weakness or guilt.

Better, Bonhoeffer argued, to present the total claim of Jesus Christ on a person’s whole life, rather than attempting to root out—in the fashion of muckraking journalism—a person’s hidden insecurities as a prelude to introducing them to Jesus’ forgiveness. At first glance, this makes it sound as though Bonhoeffer were agreeing with Stendahl that we have to break free of the old notions of personal sin and guilt if we’re to preach Christ in the changed landscape of modernity. But a closer read suggests there’s a deeper logic at work here.

Bonhoeffer suggests, contra Stendahl, that if we’re really to preach about the sin of humanity, we have to avoid yoking that preaching too closely to the feelings of guilt that may or may not be a feature of our hearers’ experience. Regardless of what a person may feel, Bonhoeffer implies, the gospel truly addresses them and lays claim to their lives. The truths of sin and redemption aren’t dependent on the rising and falling of human emotional states. And to dismantle a faulty view of the importance of those emotional states isn’t equivalent to a wholesale revision of Christian teaching on sin and redemption.

There’s an important lesson here…

For the rest of the post…

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