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Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for plotting against Hitler, is in vogue today. Much of what people are so excited about in his writings is simply Lutheran spirituality. Michael Gerson writes a fine column about Bonhoeffer’s reflections from a Nazi prison on Christmas. What Bonhoeffer is saying–the inversions, the paradoxes, the repudiation of power (of great interest in a postmodern apologetic)–is an application to Christmas of Luther’s theology of the Cross.
The appeal of Christmas to a prisoner, from one perspective, is natural. Christmas upends the normal calculations of power and influence.
“He takes what is little and lowly,” said Bonhoeffer, “and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. .. He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
This is not merely a sentimental insight. In Bonhoeffer’s view, this revelation about the character of God involves a kind of judgment.
“No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.”
This means, of course, that nearly all of us are judged—convicted by our indifference to the needs of others and sentenced to our own sour, self-flagellating company.
“And then,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love.”
Modern people, surrounded by violence and oppression, presented with morally conflicted choices, are not in need of an ethical system. They are in need of hope. And that sets a limit on our own effort.
“A prison cell like this,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “is a good analogy for Advent; one waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”
In the Christian view, the door was swung open by the incarnation, by a God who somehow became a defenseless child, a refugee, a teacher of good, a victim of injustice, left alone, tired, in doubt to face a humiliating death.
From San Diego this year!
A lot of debate has swirled around the similarity (or dissimilarity) of Christianity and Islam lately. What do people think? |
Just a few months ago, in October, LifeWay Research published a good amount of data on how Americans, pastors, self-identified evangelicals, and religious service attendees see Christianity and Islam. Today, I wanted to share just a bit of data with you regarding how similar or dissimilar these groups of people see the two most popular monotheistic faiths in the world.
Do Muslims and Christians Worship the “Same God?”
In the last week or so, the debate about whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the “same god” has been stirred up due to a controversial situation at Wheaton College, about which I wrote last week. (Full disclosure, I’ve written on several occasions that Muslims and Christians do not pray to the same god and saying so is not helpful.)
Perhaps the reason for the controversy around such “same god” issues is that the country is split, though you would think that country overwhelmingly believes they do worship the same god based on the responses.
But, the nation is actually split down the middle.
Forty-six percent of Americans agree Christians and Muslims pray to the same God, 47% disagree, 8% are not sure.
Of course, we look for statistically different sub-groups of people who believe differently about this issue. Interestingly, they include:
- Northeasterners (56%) are more likely to Agree than Southerners (40%) and Westerners (44%)
- Those age 25-34 (56%) are more likely to Agree than those 35-44 (42%), 45-54 (40%), 55-64 (44%), and 65+ (41%)
- Those age 18-24 (52%) are more likely to Agree than those 45-54 (40%).
- Nonreligious (56%) are more likely to Agree than Christians (41%).
- Catholics (52%) are more likely to Agree than Protestants (38%).
- Self-identified evangelical Protestants are less likely to Agree (35% v 50%).
- Those attending a religious service at least about once a week (34%) are the least likely to Agree.
By Shane Pruitt
There are many things that Jesus-following, church-going, Bible-believing Christians believe that are completely unbiblical.
One of the greatest gifts that God gave mankind was the Holy Bible because the Bible is literally God revealing Himself, and communicating Himself to mankind in written word. Anything and everything that we know about God comes from these Holy Scriptures, and they contain the totality of what we need to know about becoming a Christian, and everything that we need to know about living the Christian life.
Orthodox Christianity teaches that the Bible was inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit of God using human instruments. It also believes that in its original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic; it is without error and fault.
However, there are many things that Jesus-following, church-going, Bible-believing Christians believe that are completely unbiblical. How does this happen? Often, we’ll hear someone quote a statement that sounds nice to us, and we’ll begin repeating it as though it’s biblical truth without ever researching it in the Scriptures. Several of these unbiblical statements have gained enough traction that many people believe they’re actually Bible verses. Not only are the statements unbiblical; most of them teach the opposite of what the Bible teaches.
Here is a list of nine popular unbiblical statements that Bible-loving Christians tend to believe:
1. God helps those who help themselves.
This statement is actually anti-Gospel. Self-reliance and self-righteousness, or the attitude of trying harder and doing better, actually gets in the way of the work of God. Jesus saves those who die to themselves: “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
2. God wants me to be happy.
It’s a common belief that God exists to be our “personal genie,” waiting to give us our every wish. It’s amazing how we will justify our sinful actions by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.” Happiness is tied to feelings and emotions that are often based on circumstances, and those change all the time. God wants us to be obedient to Him, trust Him and know that everything He does is for our good, even if it doesn’t make me feel “happy” in that moment. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
3. We’re all God’s children.
Although God has created everyone … not everyone relationally belongs to Him. Only those who have repented of sin, placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and possess the Holy Spirit of God inside of them can claim Him as their Father: “But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15b–16).
However, those who don’t have Jesus as their Savior, nor have the Holy Spirit of God inside of them, actually belong to Satan: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1 – 2). “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
Hard times come with hard questions, and our cultural context exerts enormous pressure on Christians to affirm common ground at the expense of theological differences. But the cost of getting this question wrong is the loss of the Gospel.
A statement made by a professor at a leading evangelical college has become a flashpoint in a controversy that really matters. In explaining why she intended to wear a traditional Muslim hijab over the holiday season in order to symbolize solidarity with her Muslim neighbors, the professor asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Is this true?
The answer to that question depends upon a distinctly Christian and clearly biblical answer to yet another question: Can anyone truly worship the Father while rejecting the Son?
The Christian’s answer to that question must follow the example of Christ. Jesus himself settled the question when he responded to Jewish leaders who confronted him after he had said “I am the light of the world.” When they denied him, Jesus said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Later in that same chapter, Jesus used some of the strongest language of his earthly ministry in stating clearly that to deny him is to deny the Father.
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ’s atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.
To affirm this truth is not to argue that non-Christians, our Muslim neighbors included, know nothing true about God or to deny that the three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — share some major theological beliefs. All three religions affirm that there is only one God and that he has spoken to us by divine revelation. All three religions point to what each claims to be revealed scriptures. Historically, Jews and Christians and Muslims have affirmed many points of agreement on moral teachings. All three theological worldviews hold to a linear view of history, unlike many Asian worldviews that believe in a circular view of history.
And yet, when we look more closely, even these points of agreement begin to break down. Christian trinitarianism is rejected by both Judaism and Islam. Muslims deny that Jesus Christ is the incarnate and eternal Son of God and go further to deny that God has a son.
“God sends his Son—here lies the only remedy. It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will and action but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image has been re-created here on…
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Weekly column by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
As we enter the last few days of Advent before we rightly give our hearts over to the joy of Christmas, we might take a few minutes to consider two brief passages from the past about the deeper meaning of the season.
Here’s the first. The great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the [Advent] message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.
Bonhoeffer knew both the joy and the cost of his Christian faith, and he lived his discipleship heroically in very difficult times. But he was not alone in his heroism, nor in preaching the real meaning of Advent from the depths of Germany in the Second World War. Here’s a second passage for our December prayers:
We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. The answer to this question is perhaps that we were living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. And now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters; not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one thing – the spirit’s innermost moving and being moved…
The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth. The Advent message comes out of an encounter of man with the absolute, the final, the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes – so that in the end, the world shall be shaken.
A German Lutheran pastor and theologian. After extensive theological training in Germany and America, Bonhoeffer worked as a chaplain and lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. Along with Karl Barth, whose theology had a lasting impact on Bonhoeffer, he signed the Barmen Declaration in 1934 in opposition to the Reich government. After short stints as a pastor in London and as a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he returned to Germany and became involved in Reich resistance. As a result, Bonhoeffer was arrested and, tow years later, executed at the age of thirty-nine. Although a Lutheran, Bonhoeffer’s theological works share many features with Reformed theology, and his more practical works, such as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, have wielded enormous influence within evangelicalism.