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JUNE 9, 2019 BY KELLEY MATHEWS

Did you know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous pastor martyred during World War II, planned to marry before he was captured and executed? Only after reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of the World War II German pastor did I learn that. In her upcoming novel, Amanda Barrett explores what might have happened between Dietrich and his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer. She writes it as historical fiction, based on a true story but fills in gaps with literary license, what-ifs, and maybes. It looks fascinating.

I’ve invited her into this space to share some of what she learned during her research and writing of My Dearest Dietrich: A Novel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Lost Love


April 9, 1945.

It’s early morning. For the guards at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp, it’s a routine day, beginning with a routine task—preparing six prisoners for execution. Their crime? Participation in a conspiracy whose aim was the assassination of Adolf Hitler.

For the rest of the post…

At Watermark Community Church in Dallas, where I’m privileged to serve as pastor, there’s a sign in a back room that I made when teaching through 2 Peter:

Divine Physician’s General Warning:

Ingesting false teaching will complicate your life, possibly eternally. Examine the Scriptures to see if the things you hear are true.

Here’s the obvious message: Evaluate everything against God’s Word, which includes both the teaching we hear and also the lyrics we sing in corporate worship.

This discipline is especially relevant today, given the popularity of songs from Bethel Music and the increasing concerns over Bethel’s theology, practices, leadership, teachings, and school of “supernatural ministry.” Given that we should “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21), it’s worth asking whether churches concerned with orthodoxy should sing songs associated with individuals or organizations with a history of errant beliefs or practices.

Not a New Issue

For generations Christians have embraced truth-filled hymns composed by authors who have held to unsupportable beliefs or who have fallen away from the faith. Here are just three examples.

  • “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” penned by reformer Martin Luther, who wrote the 95 Theses that rightly protested corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and set off the Protestant Reformation, but who also wrote The Jews and Their Lies and On the Ineffable Name, which were rooted in hostility and horrific views toward Jews. (See Bernard Howard’s article, “Luther’s Jewish Problem.”)
  • “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” written in 1757 by Methodist preacher Robert Robinson, who later fulfilled the “prone to wander” line by drifting away from the faith.
  • “It Is Well with My Soul,” written by Horatio Gates Spafford after he lost his four children in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre in November 1873. While his most famous work is this anthem to the truth of God’s sovereignty, his teachings on eternal punishment and the Holy Spirit were at best ill-informed, and at worst heretical.

So, should songs that strongly proclaim the truth of God’s Word no longer be used in corporate worship given other errant beliefs or practices by the authors or associated churches?

Here are four questions that might help when assessing whether a song, book, or any form of communication should be used.

1. Are you examining everything you consume (sermons, books, music, movies) through the lens of God’s Word?

It’s important that all believers are equipped with Scripture so they may accurately discern (1 John 4:1–3) whether a sermon, song, book, website, or other media aligns with Scripture and the Spirit. Every believer should be equipped to discern truth from error and live in fellowship with mature believers who hold them accountable in their discerning (Prov. 15:22).

Just because something feels right doesn’t mean it stands the test of God’s Word.

2. Does the song stand on its own, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word without explanation?

Every song a church sings should be grounded in Scripture and sound doctrine and should edify the body of Christ (Eph. 4:29). Right worship is a form of equipping, and if the song is communicating unbiblical ideas, then it shouldn’t be welcomed in the church. Every song is the responsibility of the shepherds, and shepherds are to be on guard so that savage wolves (Acts 20:28) with snappy melodies don’t come into the flock.

Over the years at Watermark we have examined countless songs for clarity, from “Away in a Manger” to “Reckless Love.” We constantly ask ourselves questions like, “Is it accurate to describe God’s love as ‘overwhelming, never-ending, and reckless?”—as the chorus of “Reckless Love” says? It’s the responsibility of the spiritual leaders in every church to make these calls. It’s not an overstatement to say that their protection of their people (Acts 20:28–30) and their own future judgment (Heb. 13:17) depend on it.

3. Is it possible to separate the truth being sung from the error of its associations?

A church is never in more danger than when a false teacher communicates under the guise of proclaiming truth (2 Cor. 11:14; Acts 16:16–18). In addition to false teachers, we must be aware of directing others toward ministries of well-meaning individuals consistently associated with false or errant theology and practices.

The leadership of Bethel and the teachings and practices embraced by its members, students, and ministry partners would, at a minimum, fall into this category. Promoting their songs—even though the songs themselves are theologically accurate—could open others to additional messages and ideas that are errant in practice and theology.

Historically, there is at least one significant example of music and lyrics being a means through which heresy was propagated. Arius (AD 250–336) was a capable songwriter and a theologian who denied Christ’s deity. He wrongly asserted that Jesus was a finite, created being with some divine attributes—not the eternal God. The popularity of his melodies and songs led to the rapid spread of his heretical ideas.

We must acknowledge that a well-written song can quickly lead others to a truth-forsaken place. While it’s unlikely that many today will dig up Horatio Spafford sermons if they sing “It Is Well,” many people will want to know more about Bethel’s “supernatural school of ministry” because of their excellent music.

4. Would using the song cause us to actively support an errant ministry?

Perhaps the most unavoidable implication is that using songs from these ministries and artists supports them financially. Even if you protect your flock from future influence, you unavoidably will be strengthening the ministries. The cost-benefit of the truths should be weighed in your ultimate decision.

Examine Everything

For the rest of the post…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother Klaus visited Tripoli in 1924. His thoughts on Islam…

In Islam everyday life and religion are not kept separate, as they are in the whole of the church, including the Catholic Church. With us one goes to church and when one comes back an entirely different kind of life begins again…Islamic and Jewish piety must naturally be marked religions of law, when the national and ritual elements are so intermingled or actually identical. Only in this way can they achieve such a strict demarcation from other races and religions…  

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter Two: Student Years: 1923-1927, 58.

Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy) (copy)
Chaplain Norris Burkes. Photo by Wade Spees.

This weekend, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I’m reading “The Liberator” by Alex Kershaw.

It’s a great book in many places, but I’m having a problem with the places where Kershaw negates the contribution of faith in the foxholes.

I’ll admit that I appreciate Kershaw’s efforts to expose the bonehead things said by organized religions, but, as a combat veteran myself, I believe it’s a disservice to our veterans to deny the place their faith played in the battlefield.

I can only suggest that Kershaw will find a place in his future writings for at least three epic contributions from people of faith.

Starting from my obvious slant, chaplains.

Father Francis Sampson, or Father Sam as he was affectionately known, was the real inspiration for the film “Saving Private Ryan.” It was he, and not the character played by Tom Hanks who found Fritz Niland, the real-life “Private Ryan,” who had lost his three brothers on D-Day.

Along with the 501st paratroopers, Sampson landed at Saint-Come-du-Mont on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He gathered wounded in a nearby farmhouse but quickly found his farmhouse aid station overtaken by Germans.

The frightened padre was placed against a wall to be shot, but a Catholic German soldier saved him by convincing his comrades not to kill a priest. The soldiers returned the priest to an Allied medic station where he ministered to German and American wounded paratroopers.

Father Sam was recaptured during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned near Berlin. There the chaplain was granted permission to stay in the enlisted men’s prison to conduct mass for the remainder of the war.

He would often discount his heroism by saying “no pair of knees shook more than my own, nor any heart ever beat faster in times of danger.” Yet a grateful nation bestowed on the humble man the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest American military award, for his selfless help to the soldiers.

After the war, the never-quit-chaplain volunteered for Korea. He retired after that war, but his nation recalled him for the Vietnam War as head of the military chaplains in 1967.

Faith also guided Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss. Portrayed in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” Doss was an American pacifist combat medic who refused to carry or use a weapon of any kind.

Although not a D-Day hero, he was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for action in Guam and the Philippines. Doss distinguished himself in the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 soldiers and became the only conscientious objector in WWII to receive the Medal of Honor.

Finally, no spiritual writing about WWII should omit the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And of course, there’s a movie about him too, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist and Nazi Resistor.” (2003)

His early-20th-century writings chastised the church for avoiding its role in the secular world. Few serious seminarians graduated after WWII without reading Bonhoeffer’s influential book, “The Cost of Discipleship.”

For the rest of the article…

It was a family tradition that the Bonhoeffer children should first attend the University of Tübingen, their father’s alma mater. Their grandmother still lived there. After returning from the front, Karl-Fredrich had begun studying natural science there in 1919, and Klaus followed him for his first semester of law. During the summer semester of 1922 Sabine enjoyed staying with her grandmother. Christine was in Tübingen studying Dietrich began his theology studies. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter Two: Student Years: 1923-1927, 47

In 1946, a man named Ernst Lohmeyer disappeared from East Germany. It took me three decades to piece together his story.

The Bonhoeffer That History Overlooked
Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs

I had never heard of Ernst Lohmeyer until I was in my late 20s. I came across his name in the same way I came across many names at the time—as another scholar whom I needed to consult in doctoral research.

Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer

In the mid-1970s, I was writing my dissertation on the Gospel of Mark in the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A premier commentary on Mark at the time was Ernst Lohmeyer’s Evangelium des Markus (Gospel of Mark), published in the acclaimed Meyer Commentary Series in Germany. Lohmeyer first published the commentary in 1936 when he was professor of New Testament at the University of Greifswald in Germany. The edition I was using, however, was published in 1967 and accompanied by a supplementary booklet. It carried the name Gerhard Sass, was dated 1950, and mentioned “how continuously [Lohmeyer had] labored to improve and expand his book, until a higher power carried him off to a still-unresolved fate.”

The melancholy of Sass’s preface haunted me. Why, after all these years, was the mystery still unsolved? The note about Lohmeyer’s mysterious disappearance stayed with me by the sheer power of its intrigue. But I did not pursue it. I was married at the time. My wife, Jane, and I had two young children, and my work as youth minister at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs was a full-time-plus call. In addition, my PhD work at Fuller entailed flying to Pasadena three times a year to research assiduously in the library for two weeks. I had no leisure to pursue the lead.

In June 1979, however, his name came up again. I was translating for a Berlin Fellowship team in Greifswald, East Germany. We were in our final meeting, enjoying Kaffee und Kuchen—coffee and cake—in dicke Maria—“Fat St. Mary”— as the rather squat-looking church was affectionately called. The church basement was filled to capacity with people interested in hearing and talking with American visitors. Those who attended did so at some risk to themselves, for the Stasi—secret police—disapproved of public gatherings that were not controlled by the state. During a pause in the discussion, I suddenly interjected. “Is not Greifswald where Ernst Lohmeyer taught? Does anyone know what happened to him?”

For the rest of the post…

APRIL 4, 2015 BY OWEN STRACHAN

nytThe New York Times just published one of the more rough-handed pieces we’ve yet seen regarding “gay Christianity.” In “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,” opinion writer Frank Bruni takes the gloves off and seeks to bully Christians into caving on homosexuality. The column is frank, direct, and brutalizing.

Let’s consider five takeaways from this striking article.

1. Here’s what Bruni believes opposition to “gay Christianity” is based in: raw prejudice. He says as much:

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.

It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.

The lack of self-awareness here takes your breath away. Apparently, Christians cannot see their “biases and blind spots,” but Bruni can. Here’s one example of a “blind spot” he might be missing: he claims all “interpretation is subjective” and “debatable” even as he presents his viewpoint as authoritative. Though he shames Christians for their hermeneutical simple-mindedness, he turns around and makes precisely the error he has just accused us of.

Editorialist, heal thyself.

2. We also note Bruni’s comments on doctrinal formation, which reduces in his mind to “scattered passages of ancient texts.” Speaking of “blind spots” once more, this is the fallacy of “chronological snobbery,” as C. S. Lewis called it. Simply because a teaching is old means it’s outmoded. This apparently does not apply to pagan sexuality, however, which is the framework by which our secular culture now operates. I’m not sure what to think of “scattered texts”–if “scattered” means something like “homosexuality is condemned in no uncertain terms in both the Old Testament and the New Testament,” then Bruni is more accurate than he knows.

The collective witness of the Bible, spread across diverse genres and eras, is indeed unified that homosexual desire and behavior is sinful (see Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22; Deuteronomy 23:17-18; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). Beyond the clear teaching of these inerrant texts, homosexuality, as my colleague Jim Hamilton pointed out in his excellent chapter in God and the Gay Christian?, fits nowhere in the storyline of the Bible. Marriage is instituted by God between Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:18-25), affirmed by Jesus himself in crystal-clear teaching (Matt. 19:3-6), and ultimately points to the covenantal love between Christ and his cruciform people (Eph. 5:22-33).

Both exegetically and theologically, the Scripture is unmistakably clear: homosexuality does not owe to the good design of God, but to the corruption of the flesh. You could call this witness “scattered,” I suppose. You could also call it “overwhelming.”

3. It turns out that Bruni is not only here to correct us, however. He comes as an angel of freedom. He speaks to us in the verdant tones of “religious freedom,” which he helpfully defines as follows: “freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.” Here it is: your 2015 version of religious liberty. In years past, this concept meant something like “the opportunity to obey your conscience without prejudice.” Now, it means “the golden opportunity to believe what secular elites tell you to believe.”

We have reverted, really and truly, to the conditions that led the Puritans and Pilgrims to brave death and come to America four centuries ago. Our worship is now compelled and instructed, just as in days past. But we are not dealing with a state church, or at least not an established one. We are dealing with a cultural intelligentsia that offers us a grand bargain: we can give up our sexual ethics and be just fine, or we can hold onto them and be smashed into conformity. It’s really this stark: the Bible should be “rightly bowing”–Bruni’s actual phrase!–to secular rationalism. In other words, we have an authority, and it is not Scripture. It is the culture.

Religious people, according to Bruni, cling to their faith. Now, the time has come. We should give it all away. Like slavery and gender roles–“other aspects of their faith’s history”–we should simply relinquish views that the culture now finds wanting. This is rich stuff. Christianity offered women far more agency than secular Greco-Roman culture did. Christianity over the centuries has ennobled women, protected them from male predation, and given them a key place in the kingdom. Christianity overcame slavery, slavery that pagan cultures practiced without batting an eye.

It is lamentably true that far too many Christians embraced the racist and sexist beliefs of secular culture in the past. But it was not Voltaire and Rousseau who championed the abolitionist cause. It was William Wilberforce and William Lloyd Garrison and Jonathan Edwards, Jr. It is not the secular elite who now protect women from the ravages of the Sexual Revolution, with men openly preying on women. It is the church, even the imperfect church, that preaches the gospel and gospel ethics, which overcome both racism and sexism to render the people of God one body, the body of Christ.

The church has never been perfect. But did the church unleash genocide on the world, as secularism did through leaders like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot? It most certainly did not. Secular authoritarianism has brought great evil and suffering to people. The church, though imperfect, has brought gospel hope, ethical enlightenment, and social justice to untold numbers of people. Bruni ignores and even erases this in his piece.

4. Bruni waves his hand and thereby dismisses all believers who hold to complementarian convictions. He quotes exactly one obscure pastor to ground this rather audacious claim:

“In the United States, we have abandoned the idea that women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men, but the Bible clearly teaches that,” said Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor who was removed from ministry in the church after he performed a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999. “We have said: That’s a part of the culture and history of the Bible. That is not appropriate for us today.”

And we could say the same about the idea that men and women in loving same-sex relationships are doing something wrong.

This point amuses me. It’s as if there are no denominations with, say, 40,000 local churches that adhere to robust complementarian principles. You’d think the Southern Baptists just got raptured by a secular editorialist. It’s as if the PCA and the conservative Anglicans and Methodists and Pentecostals and hundreds of other groups simply have no voice. Why? Because Jimmy Creech says so, and Frank Bruni has cited him.

This is telling material. The secular left, more than many evangelicals, understands the indissoluble connection between complementarity and exclusively heterosexual marriage. If you give up the first, you swing the door open wide to give up the second. I say this to fellow evangelicals: Bruni is exactly right in this connection. Giving up complementarity means denying both Scripture and natural design. This shift opens the door to embracing transgenderism, homosexual orientation and marriage, and polyamory. There is no other backstop. There is no other iron wall against raw pagan sexuality.

Complementarianism–represented institutionally by CBMW, cbmw.org, the organization I lead–is the last line of defense against the secularist sexualism. There’s nothing else to arrest this cultural momentum. Bruni quotes same-sex-affirming ethicist David Gushee along these lines: “Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people,” Gushee said.” Gushee is quite right. So, I ask my fellow Christians: is complementarity bad? Should we downplay it? Should we problematize it, sigh deeply, and wish we didn’t have to hold it?

Or, should we own it, love it, receive it as good, and see it as the outworking of a gospel worldview?

5. Bruni closes with a peroration worthy of a fiery homiletician. There is one option for Christians, and that is to embrace homosexuality or else: 

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy — and warranted. All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.

So here it is. “Church leaders must be made” to stop seeing “gay Christianity” as sinful. This is a “warranted commandment,” according to Bruni, who states this baldly without reference to any source, authority, text, or tradition. He’s quoted the tiny handful of “Christian” theologians who affirm homosexuality, albeit without so much as a whisper of a reference to the tens of thousands of scholars, exegetes, theologians, pastors, and leaders who do not affirm it.

For the rest of the post…

Community Church to Host Public Lecture on Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Mon Jun 17th, 2019

On Saturday, June 22, at 4 p.m., Orcas Island Community Church will present a public lecture titled “The Life and Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

This lecture will be given by Rev. Dr. Bryan Burton, ordained in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Burton received a Ph.D. in theology from Queen’s University in Belfast, focusing on the theology of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For the past 30 years, Burton has been teaching classes in both seminaries and churches on these theologians. He has pastored churches in Southern California, the Twin Cities, Belfast, New Jersey, Seattle and now Florida. He has been teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students at Queen’s University, Drew and Princeton, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College and The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.

Burton was first drawn to Bonhoeffer in high school.

“Shortly after becoming a Christian, I had a youth pastor who encouraged me to read C.S. Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship and Life Together,’” Burton said.

He refers to Bonhoeffer as a pastor and a theologian who knew how to communicate Christianity in the church and in the wider culture.

Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was martyred for his faith and political stance against the Nazi regime.

For the rest of the post…

Very sad…! (Bryan)

Bonhoeffer opposed abortion but the president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute argues for it

No longer.

Writing in the New York Times, Schenck decries the new Alabama “heart-beat” law protecting children in the womb:

“Over the last decade, I have changed my view on Roe. I’ve come to believe that overturning Roe would not be “pro-life”; rather, it would be destructive of life. I have witnessed firsthand and now appreciate the full significance of the terrible poverty, social marginalization and baldfaced racism that persists in many of the states whose legislators are now essentially banning abortion. If Roe is overturned, middle- and upper-class white women will still secure access to abortions by traveling to states where abortion is not banned, but members of minorities and poor whites will too often find themselves forced to bear children for whom they cannot adequately care.”

ROB SCHENCK, “I WAS AN ANTI-ABORTION CRUSADER. NOW I SUPPORT ROE V. WADE.” AT NEW YORK TIMES

Schenck is offended that minority and poor white babies will die at a lower rate than upper-class babies. Spin that as you will, that’s what he said. More deaths of minority and poor white babies in the womb would, by Schenck’s explicit reasoning, be a big improvement.

There’s a callousness in abortion advocacy that almost defies belief.

Rich or poor, black or white, children are born into and raised in difficult circumstances all the time and everywhere. In fact, if you consider the intact, middle-class American family as the standard, most children in the world are born into circumstances less favorable, and often much less favorable, than those of the stable American middle class.

Schenck bemoans those less fortunate than himself:

“… primarily members of minorities and poor whites—whose daily lives consisted of one crisis after the next. Many of them lacked even the most rudimentary life skills, including what it takes to raise a child. They were in a state of perpetual panic about money, about the bewildering circumstances they found themselves in, feeling victimized by their very existence. Some spoke to me of their children, agonizing over how helpless they felt in providing anything for them.” 

~ ROB SCHENCK, “I WAS AN ANTI-ABORTION CRUSADER. NOW I SUPPORT ROE V. WADE.” AT NEW YORK TIMES

Around the world, billions of people are in a perpetual panic about food and clean water, not to mention money. Are their children better off dead? Would the world be a better place if large swathes of Africa, Asia, and South America—where entire nations struggle with food and water and shelter and education—were exterminated?

Does the word “exterminated” seem too harsh? It’s accurate. Abortion is no natural process, no disease, no accident. It is a deliberate calculated decision to kill, greased by an exchange of money. On an individual basis, it is the decision of a mother to violate her most basic trust—her bond with her baby. On a societal basis, ‘extermination’ is accurate.

“Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering.”

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