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Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action)

Addressing topics ranging from the family to work, politics, and the church, Jordan J. Ballor shows how the Christian faith calls us to get involved deeply and meaningfully in the messiness of the world. Drawing upon theologians and thinkers from across the great scope of the Christian tradition, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and engaging a variety of current figures and cultural phenomena, these essays connect the timeless insights of the Christian faith to the pressing challenges of contemporary life.

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The death of his brother Walter (in World War I) and his mother’s desperate grief left an indelible mark on the child Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At his confirmation three years later, she gave him the Bible that Walter had received at his confirmation in 1914. Bonhoeffer used it throughout his life for his personal meditation and in worship.

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (revised edition), 28.

April 24, 2015

You Have Just Enough Time

“I don’t have enough time.”

I have said this countless times over the years. I have thought it many times more than I’ve said it. But I have not ever seriously considered that thinking or speaking this way reflected poorly on God. Until the other day on “Ask Pastor John” I heard Prof. Bruce Hindmarsh say,

Busyness is moral laziness [because it is often a statement of our self-importance and our excuse to be inattentive to people] . . . But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do.

I had to replay this a number of times. It wasn’t even the main point in Prof. Hindmarsh’s remarks about the importance of Sabbath. But it was the main point for me. Busyness is moral laziness, God has given us just enough time, every moment is a sacrament — these are massively important truths I need to soak in.

“Busyness Is Moral Laziness”

We all know busyness. Everyone is busy. And everyone complains about being busy. Busy, busy, busy. Busy is a buzzword (even phonetically). Most of us have grown fairly comfortable with busyness.

But to call busyness (meaning a frenetic, distracted lifestyle) “moral laziness” suddenly makes us uncomfortable. It means that busyness is not something that merely happens to us. It is something we choose. As objections begin to rise in our minds, it is helpful to remember what Jesus said to busy Martha: “Mary has chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:42). Martha, you have chosen something else.

So why do we choose busyness?

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Should Christians Care about Earth Day?


Since 1970, April 22 has been dubbed Earth Day, a day of global emphasis and celebration of environmental stewardship. Many Christians participate in Earth Day festivities, but many others aren’t sure how to think Christianly about this issue and whether or not environmental concern is, as it is often portrayed, a “liberal” or “progressive” concern.

Despite how the topic is usually used by the Right and Left sides of our American political spectrum, there is much that confessional, Christian theology speaks to the issue of creation care. In fact, it is only the Christian account of the world and human history that makes a desire to preserve the physical order a rational one.

The New Testament affirms that the meaning of all reality is encoded in something the apostle Paul called “the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). This mystery is that in Christ there is a “summing up” of everything—not simply the aggregate of all individual souls but “things in the heavens and things on earth” (Eph 1:10) in the Person of the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. The order and harmony of the universe are described in the Genesis account of, for instance, the regularity of times and seasons. The order of the physical creation is attributed to and a reflection of the manifold wisdom and goodness of God.

In other words, the physical creation is important because it is part of God’s communication of his attributes and his redemptive plan for the cosmos. Just as our physical bodies serve as temples of the Holy Spirit and are therefore worthy of our care and preservation, so the earth is the permanent dwelling place for the reigning Christ Jesus, and is likewise deserving of care and preservation.

This care and preservation for the creation is not, as some believe, incompatible with the biblical doctrine of dominion. Some Christians and non-Christian environmentalists unfortunately end up agreeing with one another that it’s one or the other; either mankind is in the image of God and therefore in dominion over the earth, or mankind has a responsibility to take care of the planet.

This is a false dilemma. Christian dominion is not, in Carl Henry’s words, “pharaoh-like,” but instead is Christlike. We see a picture of true dominion in the True Man, Jesus Christ, who did not come to serve his own appetites but to serve others. Christ’s example of pouring Himself out for others is a graphic illustration of how true biblical dominion is done for the sake of others. This principle is also made clear in God’s command to cultivate the earth and “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), communicating that creation care is done for the sake of future generations.

Because human dominion is grounded in the image of God, this dominion reflects God’s dominion, which is not predatory. God, in the biblical narrative, creates the raw materials of the universe, he shapes these materials, and he cultivates and conserves them. God’s dominion is seen not only in his dynamic creative activity, but also in his Sabbath rest, withdrawing from such activity. God commands human cultivation of agriculture, but also specifies rest for the land. Exercising dominion over the created order is not contrary to exercising care over it; on the contrary, only a dominion-capable humanity is capable of caring for the environment at all.

Misguided teaching about “population control” misses this crucial point as well. The rearing of children is, at the most primal level, the same impulse that drives humanity to check a reckless, selfish form of dominion in order to cultivate an other-directed, limited, future-oriented dominion, one that preserves and protects ecosystems and cultures for generations to come. If human beings are God’s appointed means of caring for His earth as the Bible teaches, then what is needed is humanity’s redemption, not elimination. Procreation is pro-creation.

Christian theology is consonant with protection of the earth precisely because Christianity maintains the uniqueness of humanity as image-bearer. Thus, while human beings have dominion over the creation, we have no dominion over one another, or indeed over our createdness itself. What is often called environmental protection is simply the outworking of neighbor-love.

So should Christians care about Earth Day? Yes.

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imagesLast Friday (April 9, 1945) was the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The German theologian and dissident, was hanged for opposing the Nazi regime. He is not just remembered for his death, but for his clear articulation of the incarnational faith, ministry, and community.

Though never fancying myself as much of a theologian, I do enjoy the likes of activist theologians such as Lesslie Newbigen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You could say they had “street cred” in the neighborhood. They not only talked of God, they lived out the missio dei (the mission of God).

An introspective question I often ponder is this, “Do I”? Or, am I simply a person who talks a good God game, but when it comes to living it out in my neighborhood, do I really?

I hope I do…I pray I do…and even more so, I pray WE do!

Bonhoeffer was the real deal when it came to living incarnationally and engaging the world around him. These are a few of my favorite (and convicting) thoughts from his writings:

“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”

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Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and given an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting God’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. “The challenge of death comes to us all and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone…. I will not be with you then, nor you with me” (Luther).

But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.

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by Larry Tomczak

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed he must stand up to evil in whatever ways necessary.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed he must stand up to evil in whatever ways necessary.

    To those trying to convince us that these are America’s greatest days and revival is breaking out, I humbly challenge this perspective. Granted, there are “pockets” of some encouraging spiritual activity, but by and large the church is successful numerically but unsuccessful influentially.

    How we need to take seriously the 2 Chronicles 7:14 promise:

    “(If) My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

    In the meantime, opposition to Christianity is becoming more aggressive and hostile. Nowhere is this more evident than in the areas of natural marriage and sexual purity.

    Who could have fathomed just a decade ago the ABC family network would feature a primetime show, “The Fosters,” with two lesbian “parents,” a transgender teen and two 13-year-old boys kissing?

    How about rampant perversion and pornography a “click” away on kids’ and youths’ smartphones?  Should it surprise me when our state newspaper, The Tennessean, features a front-page article that our college rape reports are up 77 percent?

    How about laws being passed allowing men to share public restrooms and showers with our 10-year-old daughters because they identify themselves as a “transgender”?

    One more …

    After 5,000 years of Western civilization defining marriage as the union of a man and woman, we are on the precipice (barring miraculous intervention) of the Supreme Court imposing homosexual “marriage” on all 50 states. Marriage referendums passed by the overwhelming majority of citizens in state after state are probably going to be obliterated in this watershed moment and the floodgates opened for homosexual “marriage,” polygamy, polyamory and whatever.

    Recently the largest Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, changed the wording of its constitution to fully embrace sodomy-based “marriage.” Influential and heretical author Rob Bell stated on Oprah Winfrey’s TV program that the Christian church in America is “moments away from embracing gay marriage.”

    I’m praying and fasting this not becomes reality but I’m also aware of how far the nation and church have fallen away from God. Judgment comes in diverse ways.

    All of this means we must be prepared for greater risk-taking and courageous action in these “perilous” times foretold in 2 Timothy 3:1-9. Are you ready?

     Taking Risks—A New Non-Negotiable

    Ron Wayne was one of Apple’s three co-founders. He was present at the birth of Apple along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. He designed the company’s original logo, wrote the manual for the Apple One computer and put together the new partnership agreement that gave him a 10 percent stake in Apple.

    In his autobiography “iWOZ,” Wozniak recalls meeting Wayne and thinking, wow this guy is amazing, he seems to know all the things we did not. He played a major role in those days. However Wayne was risk averse due to a business failure five years earlier. Twelve days after he signed the agreement for 10 percent of Apple stock, he decided that the wild spending of young Steve Jobs wasn’t worth the risk. He sold his shares back to Apple for $800. Today those shares would be worth $22 billion dollars!

    To be successful we must be risk-takers. And with what’s happening in America, we must get ready to take risks in standing for truth, especially as it relates to marriage.

     We are facing a “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Moment.” You recall that he chose civil disobedience and disobeyed Nazi law that stated that protecting Jewish people was against the law. He was hung for his stand. He also said prior to his death, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

    Biblical Christianity shows us times when man-made laws contrary to divine laws are disobeyed. Moses was hidden for three months; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t bow to the idol; Daniel continued praying when it was illegal; Esther was willing to risk her life to approach the king; Peter and John would not refrain from preaching the gospel.

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    April 2015
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