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By Megan Briggs

Steve Carter
It’s been over a month now since Steve Carter, the lead teaching pastor of Willow Creek, resigned unexpectedly. On Sunday, August 5, 2018 while he was supposed to be onstage at Willow Creek’s main campus in South Barrington, Illinois, Carter was backstage throwing up. Afterward, he drove home and typed out his resignation letter. Carter recently granted his first interview since resigning, in which he shares a little more about his decision to leave.

“Pat’s story was pretty brave,” Carter told Religious News Service. “I thought, what’s the brave thing I am supposed to do?” Pat Baranowski served as Bill Hybel’s assistant for over eight years. When the New York Times published her story on August 5, which included allegations of sexual harassment by Hybels, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Carter. He could no longer serve in a position of leadership at a church that was initially averse and then woefully slow to respond to allegations of sexual harassment involving Hybels.

The church and its leaders had been dealing with the fallout of an article published in the Chicago Tribune in March, in which multiple women shared their own allegations against Hybels and his alleged sexual misconduct and harassment. Carter had even stood on stage when Hybels denounced the allegations as false and described them as an attempt to ruin his legacy. Now, Carter seriously regrets the agreement with Hybels that his physical presence implied.

He also regrets being on stage for any of the “family meetings” (meetings hosted by the elder board of Willow Creek, designed to communicate to the congregation) that occurred after the Chicago Tribune article broke. Carter wrote in a blog post titled “An Apology” what he believes the church leadership should have done at those meetings: “I believe now that what our church needed initially was to practice transparency and repentance, to grieve, and to reflect on what Jesus was inviting us into and to listen to the Holy Spirit.” Carter also apologized for not doing more to “prevent the hurtful statements that were made” about the women who brought allegations forward.

Steve Carter Moves Forward

The mantra Carter is repeating through this process of moving on from Willow is “Grieve. Breathe. Receive.” RNS reports instead of rushing into a new assignment, Carter is “focusing on his own spirituality and asking God what he should do next.”

Before his resignation, Carter had a book in the works with publisher David C. Cook. That book, the topic of which was to be about his leadership role at Willow, has been sidelined. Carter is now working on another project with David C. Cook titled Everything to Lose: Doing the Right Thing When the Stakes Are High. The book will be released in November and will focus on the reasons he left Willow.

According to the interview with RNS, Carter has also been reaching out to the women who have brought allegations against Hybels. He and his wife, Sarah, have also started a GoFundMe campaign called “We believe you.” The campaign is raising money (the goal is $50,000) to create a counseling scholarship program for “those who have been abused and shamed at the hands of churches and clergy.” The campaign description says 100 percent of the funds raised will go to pay for counseling for those seeking help healing from sexual and power abuse.

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“The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.”

~ Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison

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In an era of intense polarization, as liberals and conservatives argue over the meaning of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work, a Bonhoeffer scholar considers what it means to be a disciple in the age of Trump.

Scholars and theologians across the spectrum have long argued over the meaning of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work, but in recent years, those disagreements have intensified, spreading beyond the church and academy and into the political world, says Stephen R. Haynes.

“Basically everybody with an opinion who’s even heard of Bonhoeffer wants to use him to strengthen their case about whatever issue is under consideration,” said Haynes, the author of “The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump,” to be released this month by Eerdmans.

Since 9/11, and especially in the past few years, as America has become increasingly polarized, so too has Bonhoeffer’s legacy.

“People want to use him in a liberal way or a conservative way,” said Haynes, the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis. “They want to use him in a way that speaks not only for what they believe but against what they’re against.”

The politicization of Bonhoeffer became most apparent in the 2016 presidential election, Haynes said, when Eric Metaxas, author of a best-selling Bonhoeffer biography, and other conservative evangelicals cited Bonhoeffer in urging evangelicals to vote for then-candidate Donald Trump.

“For the first time, people are using Bonhoeffer to say specifically, ‘We need to support this candidate in order to salvage our democracy,’” Haynes said.

In his book, Haynes takes issue with Metaxas, who he said “normalized” Trump in a way that many Christians find “difficult to imagine.”

As one who grew up in the evangelical tradition, Haynes said he is trying to speak to evangelicals who support Trump.

“I’m talking to people I know and respect who are committed to Trump, to try to think outside the box, outside the voices that they hear all the time, and reconsider what they’re doing,” Haynes said.

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“The prayers of the psalms and the reading of the Scriptures should be followed by the singing together of a hymn, this being the voice of the Church, praising, thanking, and praying. “Sing unto the Lord a new song,” the Psalter enjoins us again and again. It is the Christ-hymn, new every morning, that the family fellowship strikes up at the beginning of the day, the hymn that is sung by the whole Church of God on earth and in heaven, and in which we are summoned to join.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together, 57.

What does it mean to call Dietrich Bonhoeffer an apocalyptic ethicist or theologian? Philip Ziegler, in his new important study on apocalytpic theology, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology, contends against the grain that Bonhoeffer (=DB) was an apocalyptic ethicist.

Is Bonhoeffer’s moral theology apocalyptic? This question is unsettled from L front to back. The texts that constitute Bonhoeffer’s Ethics are unsteady though well-worked fragments of the actual theological ethics he hoped to write. More unsettled still is the meaning of “apocalyptic,” whose popular and scholarly valences are as many as they are divergent and contested. Even if one could steady the question, prospects for a positive answer appear remote. Readers of the Ethics have not been led to the idea of “apocalyptic”: quite the opposite. One possible exception here is Larry Rasmussen, who does associate Bonhoeffer with apocalyptic eschatology. Yet even he considers the association forced: turning to apocalyptic means diverging from Bonhoeffer, who was “almost immunized” against such an eschatological perspective by Lutheran confessional and German academic traditions, says Rasmussen.” [SMcK: Criticism of Rasmussen was clear on this very point.]

Undeterred in going against the grain of DB scholarship, which is formidable, Ziegler says,

I want to argue that in draft upon draft of his Ethics manuscript, Bonhoeffer is definitely working out a theological ethic whose intent is to conform to the contours of Paul’s apocalyptic gospel.

He is undeterred because of the rise of apocalyptic Pauline theology that fits more with Barthianism (and some would say is Barthianism) and therefore with DB.

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“Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together53.

by Richard Beck

One of my favorite parts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is the spiritual transformation he underwent in the early 30s. Prior to these years, Bonhoeffer had mainly pursued theological studies as an academic, intellectual endeavor. The Bonhoeffer family was Christian, but they weren’t particularly devout by way of church attendance or personal devotion.

And while it may be strange to think of someone pursuing theology in a purely academic way, just attend AAR/SBL. Theologians and biblical scholars who have no faith in God are a dime a dozen.

That was Bonhoeffer before the early 30s. But then something happened to him. As Eberhard Bethge describes it, the theologian became a Christian.

What caused the change? Bonhoeffer’s time in America seemed to have played an important part. Bonhoeffer spent a post-doctoral year in 1930 studying in New York at Union Theological. During that time, two critical things happened.

First, Bonhoeffer was exposed to the black church. During his year in New York, Bonhoeffer attended and taught Sunday School at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Second, through his relationship with the Frenchmen Jean Lasserre, who was also studying at Union, Bonhoeffer was exposed to the Sermon on the Mount as the Word of God. Prior to this time, Bonhoeffer had used his Lutheran theology to keep the Sermon on the Mount in a box. But after 1930, Bonhoeffer began to see the Sermon at a command to be obeyed.

And beyond his experiences in America, I also think Bonhoeffer’s pastoral work with churches, like his confirmation class in the Wedding parish, also had a profound impact upon his faith.

All these experiences changed Bonhoeffer profoundly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer became a Christian. Here’s how his best friend Eberhard Bethge describes the change:

He now went regularly to church…Also he engaged in systematic meditation on the Bible that was obviously very different from exegetic or homiletic use of it…He spoke of oral confession no longer merely theologically, but as an act to be carried out in practice. In his Lutheran ecclesiastical and academic environment this was unheard of. He talked more and more often of a community life of obedience and prayer…More and more frequently he quoted the Sermon on the Mount as a word to be acted on, not merely used as a mirror.

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With remarkable frequency the Scriptures remind us that the men of God rose early to seek God and carry out His commands, as did Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua (cf. Gen.19.27, 22.3; Ex.9.13, 24.4; Josh.3.1, 6.12, etc.). The Gospel, which never speaks a superfluous word, says of Jesus himself: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1.35). Some rise early because of restlessness and worry; the Scriptures call this unprofitable: “It is vain for you to rise early… to eat the bread of sorrows” (Ps. 127.2). But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God. This was the practice of the men of the Bible. 

~ Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together43-44.

“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his awakening Word.

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together, 43.

“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.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison

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