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As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

We can never collude when idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the gospel is at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.”

The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things.

The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.

On the one hand, we pray for all rulers—and judging from the example of Old Testament exiles like Daniel and New Testament prisoners like Paul, we can even wholeheartedly pray for rulers who directly oppose our welfare. On the other hand, we recognize that all earthly governments partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in what the Bible calls idolatry: substituting the creation for the Creator and the earthly ruler for the true God.

No human being, including even the best rulers, is free of this temptation. But some rulers and regimes are especially outrageous in their God-substitution. After Augustus Caesar, the emperors of Rome became more and more elaborate in their claims of divinity with each generation—and more and more ineffective in their governance. Communism aimed not just to replace faith in anything that transcended the state, but to crush it. Such systems do not just dishonor God, they dishonor his image in persons, and in doing so they set themselves up for dramatic destruction. We can never collude when such idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance. Christians in every place and time must pray for the courage to stay standing when the alleged “voice of a god, not a man” commands us to kneel.

This year’s presidential election in the United States presents Christian voters with an especially difficult choice.

The Democratic nominee has pursued unaccountable power through secrecy—most evidently in the form of an email server designed to shield her communications while in public service, but also in lavishly compensated speeches, whose transcripts she refuses to release, to some of the most powerful representatives of the world system. She exemplifies the path to power preferred by the global technocratic elite—rooted in a rigorous control of one’s image and calculated disregard for norms that restrain less powerful actors. Such concentration of power, which is meant to shield the powerful from the vulnerability of accountability, actually creates far greater vulnerabilities, putting both the leader and the community in greater danger.

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Bonhoeffer’s wisdom on leadership endures. |

Leadership Development According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Does your church have an intentional development plan to disciple and deploy believers to live out the Great Commission? Are you providing strategic pathways and opportunities for your congregation to participate in church planting so that they can be a part of the Kingdom of God invading into every crevice of society both locally and globally? Or, does this happen haphazardly when someone approaches you and they say that they feel called to ministry?

Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38 HCSB)

All Are Called

When I look at those verses, I see them as a call to pray for more harvest workers. But as a pastor and as a church leader, I also see them as a call to disciple my congregation into being harvest workers for the harvest that exists around them both locally and globally.

As a result, while a once-a-year sermon that challenges your congregation to consider full-time ministry may be helpful, it can actually create more harm than good. This sort of sermon unintentionally creates a culture that says some are called and others are not. But the reality is that all believers have the same primary calling—to go and make disciples of all nations. What we do to earn money is a secondary issue, not a primary one!

Instead of merely hoping that your preaching will stir some to see their primary vocation and calling as being harvest workers, what if you actually created intentional environments and training opportunities to call people into this reality? What if everyone in your church saw their primary vocation as being a harvest worker, where some would get a paycheck from the church if their role was to be an equipper of others (Ephesians 4:11-13), and others would get their paycheck from an employer, while serving passionately on the worship team, children’s ministry, or leading a small group? Then we would definitely see more churches get planted.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In Eric Metaxas’ epic biography of the pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we read about the ways that Bonhoeffer trained people for the call of ministry. Although, as the first head of the seminary in the Confessing Church, he was focusing on training individuals for full-time pastorates, there is much that we can glean from his methods that relate to our discussion at hand—training all people to embrace their first and foremost vocation as a harvest worker.

Before we get to those points, here’s a bit of background to understand why Bonhoeffer was starting a new seminary. The main reason Bonhoeffer moved back to Berlin to run the Confessing Church seminary was due to the fact that German Church seminaries had gone apostate. The German Church was compromising on theology and allowing itself to be shaped and formed by Hitler’s anti-Semitism.

This was also at a time in history when the savage bloodbath known as the Night of the Long Knives had just occurred. As a result, Hitler was quickly gaining power while the divide between the German Christian Church and the Confessing Church continued to rapidly widen.

When it comes to creating intentional environments and training opportunities to encourage people to embrace their first and foremost calling as harvest workers, here are three things that we can learn from the way that Bonhoeffer designed and ran this seminary.

Disciples before Ministers

Bonhoeffer was deeply inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and he believed that Christianity would look and be radically different if believers would just merely live it out. So he called his students to see themselves, not as theological students, but as disciples intentionally living out the Sermon on the Mount. “Bonhoeffer was interested in a Holy Spirit-led course adjustment that hardly signaled something new” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 263).

Since theological education in his day produced “out-of-touch theologians and clerics whose ability to live the Christian life—and to help others live that life—was not much in evidence,” Bonhoeffer wanted to train an army of harvest workers who were first disciples before they were ministers (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 263).

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Lambeth Palace Library

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has said he is “appalled” at how the Church of England has destroyed the reputation of the wartime Bishop of Chichester, George Bell.

Bell was a revered figure in the CofE, a close friend of the martyred German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a firm opponent of the destruction of German cities in mass bombing raids.

However, he was accused long after his death in 1958 of abusing a young girl in the late 1940s and 1950s. The woman came forward decades later and after investion the CofE announced last October it had formally settled her claim after experts said they had “no reason to doubt” its truth. Bell’s name has been stripped from buildings and institutions and the current Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, has apologised to the victim.

However, a fightback in favour of Bell led by columnist Peter Hitchens has questioned the Church’s handling of the issue and now Lord Carey has joined the fray.

Responding to a letter from Bell’s 92-year-old niece Barbara Whitely, he said it had “delivered a ‘guilty’ verdict without anything resembling a fair and open trial”.

He added in the letter date March 3: “His reputation is in tatters and as you sadly point out, all references to him in the diocese he loved and served have been removed and renamed.

“[…] I am frankly appalled by the way the church authorities have treated his memory.

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Significant people in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life

Karl & Paula Bonhoeffer
(1868–1948) (1874–1951)
Distinguished parents

Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer was a prominent neurologist and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Berlin. In addition, he served as director of the psychiatric and neurological clinic at the Charite Hospital Complex in Berlin. Trained in the disciplines of science, he encouraged in his children self-reliance, control, independence, and objectivity. He was not at all enthused when Dietrich decided as a boy to become a minister and theologian.
Paula Bonhoeffer was daughter of Karl-Alfred von Hase, a chaplain in the court of Kaiser William II. Her grandfather was renowned church historian Karl-August von Hase. Paula exercised profound influence on all her children. She was concerned that they develop familiarity with the Bible, hymns, and traditions of the Christian faith.
The Bonhoeffers had eight children: Walter, Karl-Friedrich, Klaus, Ursula, Christine, Sabine, Dietrich, and Susanne.
The Bonhoeffer home nourished a climate of anti-Nazism from the 1920s. Karl wrote in his memoirs: “From the outset we considered the victory of National Socialism in the year 1933 and Hitler’s being named Reich Chancellor as a misfortune.”
In addition, the parents fought anti-Semitism from the beginning of their family life. In a recent interview Eberhard Bethge stated with potency: “I am absolutely convinced that for Dietrich Bonhoeffer as for his family, the Jews were the main reason for sharing in the conspiracy.” It was little wonder that the Bonhoeffers’ home became a meeting place for resisters to the Nazis.

Eberhard & Renate Bethge
(1909– ) (1925– )

Best friend and niece

Were it not for Eberhard and Renate Bethge, it is unlikely this issue of Christian History could have appeared. More than any other persons, living or dead, they have been responsible for transmitting Bonhoeffer’s written legacy.
Eberhard met Dietrich in 1935 when he studied at the Finkenwalde Seminary that Bonhoeffer directed. Eberhard was the son of a Lutheran pastor from the province of Saxony; even today he refers to himself as a country boy.
In time he became Dietrich’s closest friend and confidant. A participant in the resistance, Eberhard was drafted to serve in the German army. He was imprisoned for the final months of the war in Berlin’s Moabit prison.
Eberhard served pastorates after the war and spent several years at the same London congregation that Bonhoeffer shepherded in 1933–35.
Eberhard edited the significant Letters and Papers from Prison; most of its letters were addressed to him. He also wrote the massive biography Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (Harper & Row, 1970).
Renate Bethge is the niece of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of four children of Ursula (Bonhoeffer’s older sister) and Rudiger Schleicher. She spent her childhood in a home next to the Bonhoeffer family home in Berlin.
“I was 7 when Hitler came to power,” she remembers, “and we knew from the beginning that the Nazis were very dangerous, and that we were not supposed to talk to others about things which were talked about in the family.” The family “told us what Hitler was doing, above all, the trouble with the Jews, that it was terrible how they maltreated Jews, that already Jews were being put into concentration camps and beaten up. So this was in the family from the beginning, and I as a child really thought all the time they were planning something to get rid of Hitler from the government or to kill him.”
Renate helped preserve Bonhoeffer’s letters to her husband and others. Many of the letters were buried for safekeeping in the backyard of the Bonhoeffer home, awaiting the end of the Nazi regime when they could be brought to light.
Since the war, Renate has been a partner with her husband in writing and speaking. The Bethges, parents of three grown children, live in the town of Villiprott, near Bonn, Germany.

Hans von Dohnanyi
(1902–1945)

“Intellectual head” of the conspiracy against Hitler
The son of a Hungarian composer, Hans von Dohnanyi was a brilliant lawyer who married one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s older sisters, Christine, in 1925. He became a personal assistant to the Reich Minister of Justice in 1933.
Consequently, early in the Hitler regime von Dohnanyi became aware of the Nazis’ crimes on their way to absolute power in Germany. He began to compile a “Chronicle of Shame” documenting the heinous injustices—persecution of churches, torture and mistreatment of individuals in concentration camps, sterilization, violence against the Jews. The record was used as evidence in the post-war Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.
Hans von Dohnanyi continually channeled behind-the-scenes information to his pastor brother-in-law, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1939 von Dohnanyi joined the Abwehr, the secret intelligence agency under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. He arranged for Bonhoeffer to become attached to the Munich office of the Abwehr, thereby keeping him from service in Hitler’s army. Von Dohnanyi arranged several trips (to Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) for Bonhoeffer. Ostensibly, Bonhoeffer was to perform assignments for the Abwehr, but actually he represented the German resistance movement to key contacts in these countries.
Von Dohnanyi, a strategic figure in the resistance, was described by the Gestapo as “the intellectual head of the movement to overthrow the Fuhrer.” Arrested in 1943, he underwent severe tortures and illnesses until his execution (at Sachsenhausen) on April 9, 1945—the same day Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenbürg.

Sabine (Bonhoeffer) Leibholz
(1906- ) His twin

Of the eight children born to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, only Dietrich’s twin sister, Sabine, still survives. Soon 86 years old (on February 4, 1992), she lives in Göttingen, Germany, with her elder daughter, Marianne.
At 18, Sabine married Gerhard Leibholz, a brilliant lawyer who had earned his doctorate in philosophy at 19. Leibholz became judge of a district court and later, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Göttingen.
The twins, Dietrich and Sabine, enjoyed a unique chemistry in the large Bonhoeffer family. In 1938, the year after the Gestapo closed the Confessing Church’s seminary at Finkenwalde, Dietrich stayed in the Leibholz home and wrote his classic Life Together.
Gerhard Leibholz and his two brothers were baptized Christians, but because their father was Jewish in background, they were classified as Jews by Nazi interpretation. In the fall of 1938, as persecution of Jews increased, the Leibholz family—Gerhard, Sabine, and their two daughters—fled. They were driven to the Swiss border by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eberhard Bethge and crossed over late at night.
Throughout the war years, they lived in England. The profundity of Dietrich’s correspondence with his twin can be seen in an April 1942 letter:
“It is good to learn early enough that suffering and God are not a contradiction but rather a unity, for the idea that God himself is suffering is one that has always been one of the most convincing teachings of Christianity. I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness, and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart.”
It was in Sabine’s Oxford home that the shattering news arrived in 1945 that Dietrich and other family members had been murdered by the Nazis. With the collapse of the Hitler regime, the Leibholz family moved back to Gottingen to pick up the threads of their lives. Professor Leibholz taught political science until his retirement in the mid-1970s. He died in 1982.
Sabine has continued to provide insights into the Bonhoeffer family. Her book, The Bonhoeffers: Portrait of a Family (first published in English in 1971) will become available from Covenant Publications in 1992.

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Justin Taylor

December 4, 2015

565fbbef1b0000150129f11eChristianity Today executive editor Andy Crouch has a pitch-perfect response to the critique that “God isn’t fixing this” and that politicians and people of faith should stop saying our “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims of the San Bernardino shooting and that action is needed rather than prayer.

Crouch writes, “We can say with some confidence that all the following are true.”

[The bold headings are my summations. What follows are excerpts from each of Crouch’s points.]

[1. Almost all of us naturally express empathy in our familiar terms.]

1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope, severity, and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place.

1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. . . .

1.c. Unless the tragedy is literally at our door, this empathic response—call it “thoughts and prayers”—is all that is available to us in the moments after terrible news reaches us. . . .

1.d. It is unrealistic, and arguably cruel, to ask for fresh words in the moment that we are confronted with suffering and loss, let alone horror and evil. Every human being, in these moments, falls back on liturgies—patterns of language and behavior learned long before that get us through the worst moments in our lives. . . .

1.e. Politicians and public figures are fundamentally like all other human beings and have the same basic responses to tragedy. This is true no matter their position on controversial issues of policy (say, gun control). So it is no surprise that they respond immediately, like the rest of us do, with familiar words and phrases that express their human solidarity with those who suffer. . . .

[2. Prayerful lament is right and does not ask God to “fix” things.]

2.a. To offer prayer in the wake of tragedy is not, except in the most flattened and extreme versions of populist Christianity, to ask God to “fix” anything. . . .

2.b. An equally valid and instinctive form of prayer in the face of tragedy is lament, which calls out in anguish to God, asking why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. . . .

2.c. No honest accounting of history can deny that God, if there is a God, is terrifyingly patient with evil. And yet, over and over, astonishing goodness, holiness, and reconciliation have emerged from even the most heinous acts of violence. . . .

[3. Prayer and action should not be played against each other.]

3.a. To suggest that we should act (though usually without specifying how those of us not physically present could act in the immediate wake of tragedy or terror), instead of pray, therefore, is to ask us to deny our capacity for empathy.

3.b. At the same time, the Bible makes it clear that God despises acts of outward piety or sentimentality that are not matched with action on behalf of justice. . . .

3.c. Therefore we must never settle for a false dichotomy between prayer and action, as if it were impossible to pray while acting or act while praying. . . .

3.d. To insist that people should act instead of pray, or that we should act without praying, is idolatry, substituting the creature for the Creator. . . .

[4. The victims are in our thoughts and prayers.]

4. Therefore the victims of the shootings in San Bernardino, and all those who were caught up in the violence and live this very moment in its awful continuing reality and consequences, and also those who perpetrated the violence, are in our thoughts and prayers.

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Nov 13, 2015

How can we respond in a uniquely Christian way to the horror in Paris? |

We Are All Parisians: A Christian Response to Global Terror and Radical Islam
We are, it is hard to disagree, in what will be a decades long struggle with radical Islamists. Tonight, that stark reality is made clear again as the death toll continues to rise in Paris in what has been, if early reports are accurate, a series of multiple terror attacks. While no group has claimed responsibility thus far, this scenario is all too familiar, and France has previously experienced smaller attacks from radical groups. So while we wait for more details, we are beginning to process what we do know.

Others can opine on geopolitical realities, military strategies, and more. But I’m burdened to ask, how do we respond as Christians?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can and will share some suggestions in this painful time. I believe there are things Christians can and must do to respond to this, and so many other, terrorist attacks.

Pray for France, Pray for Muslims. And pray for those who are our enemies.

First, pray. #PrayforParis. Pray for France, Pray for Muslims. And pray for those who are our enemies. That’s a uniquely Christian thing to do– to pray for all, including our enemies. It’s not easy, but it is our calling.

Second, love the hurting. Though most of us are not in Paris tonight, we know that Christians are there, along with others, loving those who have lost so many. And,even from where we sit, we can love the French and “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). It was the French newspaper LeMonde that said in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, “We are all Americans now.” Well, today, we are all Parisians.

Third, love our enemies. Again, that is what makes our faith unique. Most of us are watching this unfold from outside of France, but as the President of the United States said in his remarks, “this is an attack on all of humanity.” When we let that sink in, love isn’t our first natural feeling. But love is what we are called to anyway.

You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. –Matthew 5:43-45

But in moments like this, that response can be hard to come by. We have to consider our own tendencies, and be ready to flee from temptation. Fresh memories from 14 years ago come back for Americans tonight, and strong feelings rise to the surface.

Sometimes it’s not enough to just give lip service to what we should be doing. We also have to commit to what we should be resisting. And on a night like this, there are at least three things we should NOT do as Christians.

First, we should not hate. That’s what our human nature wants to do. We feel pain for those on the other side of the ocean. We feel anger toward an evil that we cannot control. We remember what it feels like to live in a nation under attack. And some of us may even worry about people we know who live in France. All these emotions, especially together, can lead our souls to some troubling places. But the truth is, we are people who live with hope and who live with a mission. We cannot hate a people and reach a people at the same time. As we pray, we must pray for our own hearts to be protected from hate.

Second, we should not take out anger on refugees.

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Stop Worrying about the Millennials

Image: Photo by Catherine Macbride

We are certainly concerned about millennials.

It began about the time this age cohort reached adulthood, with the 1999 publication of Saving the Millennial Generation: New Ways to Reach the Kids You Care About in These Uncertain Times. It accelerated when some polls in the mid-2000s began to suggest millennials’ waning interest in church. Enter “millennials and church” into a search engine, and soon enough you are pointed to sites that proclaim, “Ten reasons churches are not reaching millennials,” or, “Why millennials are leaving church.” The latter article quickly garnered some 100,000 page views not long ago.

This past October, the 2014 Alignment Conference featured Barna’s David Kinnaman and pastor and church planter Dave Ferguson talking about millennials, who present a “game changing moment” for the church. Gen2 Leadership Conference is meeting this month with the theme, “Fighting for the Heart of the Millennial Generation.”

We find ourselves facing into “millennial anxiety” as well as concern about the “rise of the nones” (those who do not identify with any religious tradition, a cohort that is apparently growing in the West). Like some reverse Paul Revere, many ride through the fiber optics of the Internet and into church basements shouting, “The millennials are leaving! Watch out for the rise of the nones!” Simply put, millennial anxiety—a concern shared by both mainline and evangelical churches—is the fear that those between ages 18 and 25 have little interest in the church, and that the church has failed to convince them to stay.

As a professor of youth ministry and theology, I suppose this is my time to shine. I should stoke the flames of millennial anxiety, preaching afresh how important youth ministry is, urging that if we don’t offer some new, culturally sensitive initiative, the future of the church hangs in the balance. Or I might become a booster, pointing to the counterevidence that, while some millennials are leaving the church, according to studies by LifeWay Research and Barna Group, many others are as faithful as ever. To do that, of course, would only reinforce millennial anxiety by locating the focus of our anxiety on the next generation.

Instead, I find myself moved in another direction. I wonder if millennial anxiety is about our concern for real young people, or if it’s about the church’s desire to possess a youthful spirit. Do we want departing millennials and nones to encounter the gospel—or to merely become members? Are we worried more about their spiritual health or about the health of our institutions?

Over the past several months, as I finished writing a book on the youth and children’s ministry of 20th-century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I’ve had the chance to rethink the church’s approach to millennials. Bonhoeffer scholars and others have often overlooked the fact that most of Bonhoeffer’s ministry from 1925 to 1939 was among children and youth. In fact, many of Bonhoeffer’s most creative theological periods coincided with his direct interactions with children. For this reason, he provides a fountain of theological and practical wisdom that can free us from our own millennial anxiety and help us offer something of lasting value to our young people.

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The high-profile resignation points to new realities for leadership.

In light of this week’s events, the PARSE editors are lifting our longstanding ban on the discussion of Mark Driscoll to share this piece from William Vanderbloemen. – Paul

This week, amidst mounting pressure, Pastor Mark Driscoll resigned his position as Senior Pastor of Mars Hill Church, which he founded in 1996 and grew to14,000 in weekly attendance over 15 campuses. His resignation was sudden, would have been unforeseen by most even a year ago. There was no sexual scandal. His board took over 1000 hours to review his work and decided that while Pastor Driscoll had made mistakes, he was not unfit for ministry and they had not called for his resignation.

This high profile a resignation as a voluntary act of a founding pastor is unprecedented. It has created a firestorm of online speculation.

Regardless of what opinion people have on Pastor Driscoll or Mars Hill Church, this resignation signals a new day in pastoral leadership, and a shift in how leadership is both validated or invalidated in at least three critical ways:

1. Social media has impacted church leadership even more than it has businesses.

There’s an undeniable pattern in church history: every major church growth breakthrough happens on the heels of a communication breakthrough.

Every major church growth breakthrough happens on the heels of a communication breakthrough.

Rome built roads, and then Paul planted churches. Alexander conquered the then known world and gave it one common language, and the New Testament was canonized in his Koine Greek. The printing press was invented, and Martin Luther put a Bible in the hands of anyone who wanted one. Now, as we sit on the heels of the most seminal communication breakthrough ever, the church is poised for enormous growth and expansion.

Mars Hill Church was one of the first churches to leverage social media to help grow a platform and a congregation (Pastor Driscoll has nearly half a million Twitter followers alone). Many other churches followed suit, and now, evangelical pastors are viewed by Twitter as powerhouses. Enough so that some time back, Twitter moved a key executive to Atlanta just to be close to the high number of evangelical pastors in the area.

But with that opportunity comes danger as well. Just as social media and the hyper connected internet age helped catapult Mars Hill onto a national scene, they also played a key role in the turbulence at the church that led to Pastor Driscoll’s resignation. Daily blogs from across the country criticized the church, the board, and/or Pastor Driscoll. Some of the most popular posts were from people who have never even attended Mars Hill.

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Bonhoeffer Against the World

Image: Mike Benny
Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Book Title:

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has always been one of my great heroes of the faith. Such appreciation, of course, hardly makes me distinct. Bonhoeffer, the German pastor-theologian who opposed the Nazis and was executed in a concentration camp, is passionately admired by millions of Christians.

One could even compare him to Athanasius, the defender of Christ’s divinity whose brave stance also drew state persecution. The fourth-century bishop’s unflinching willingness to defy even emperors and their armies was honored with the title “Athanasius contra mundum” (against the world).

Charles Marsh’s welcome biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Knopf), paints a painstaking portrait of a faithful disciple every bit as resolute against Aryanism as Athanasius was against Arians. Marsh’s exquisite eye for detail reveals the sheer unlikelihood of Bonhoeffer’s emergence as the boldest opponent of efforts to Nazify the German church.

Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria, the most powerful ecclesiastical figure in the Eastern empire. He wielded so much influence that emperors were afraid of opposing him too forcefully, lest they provoke a popular uprising.

But what power did Bonhoeffer wield in 1933? He was 27 years old, financially dependent on his parents, and virtually bereft of experience in the working world. His sole professional appointment was an unpaid, non-tenure-track position as a voluntary lecturer. Adjunct professors don’t normally stand athwart emperors.

Yet Bonhoeffer did. Within weeks of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Bonhoeffer declared in public that the Führer was offering a false path to salvation—and, in private, that Hitler was an antichrist. When the Nazis called for ethnically Jewish Christians to be expelled from the churches, he alone insisted that the gospel was at stake. (Initially even Karl Barth, like other anti-Nazi dissenters who founded the Confessing Church, claimed that this was merely a question of church order, not a theological issue.) Marsh, director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, makes a convincing case that by 1933, Bonhoeffer was the most radical and outspoken opponent of Nazi church policy.

Quirky Humanity

I have read numerous books on Bonhoeffer. I have also seen documentaries and dramatizations and visited commemorative sites in Germany. For me, one of Marsh’s greatest contributions is putting on display the quirky humanity of his subject. If you are used to accounts that emphasize the mythic Bonhoeffer of faith, this one will help you grapple with the eccentric Bonhoeffer of history.

To take a trivial example, Bonhoeffer was endearingly preoccupied with dressing well. You could illustrate almost every momentous turning point in his life with sartorial commentary. When he takes a pastoral internship in Spain, he bombards the senior minister with written inquiries regarding the proper formal wear for dinner parties. The poor, overworked man eventually remarked sarcastically that the new intern should bring his preaching robe.

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The ministry rise of Brad Hoefs was meteoric, and his collapse was just as sudden. In one confusing episode, he went from successful pastor at one of the fastest growing churches in his denomination to a public disgrace. From family man to family embarrassment. He didn’t understand why, and neither did they.

Growing up, Brad had watched his father deal with symptoms of manic-depression. His dad took medication, but the family wasn’t supposed to talk about it. Not understanding his family history, Brad, as an adult, spent months taking steroids prescribed by his doctor for a medical condition, not knowing that these steroids could have unfortunate side effects.

Soon after, he began to have times of surging energy, creativity, and nonstop drive. It paid off. King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, rode this wave right along with him, growing from 800 to 3,000 in seven years.

He lived under tremendous stress as pastor of a large church, and he had just endured a long and taxing fight with the city to purchase property that would allow his church to expand.

Ironically, he had never felt more alive. He was invigorated by the challenges. At times he was so inspired, he would go away to a hotel and work day and night, barely sleeping, for four or five days at a time. He would come home with months’ worth of work done in five days.

He was riding a wave of enthusiasm and productivity most people could only dream of.

But with this soaring mood came something darker he couldn’t name—a sense that he was out of control. He needed grounding, to manage his racing thoughts and emotional flights. So without understanding why, he engaged in bizarre behaviors that seemed to help ground him.

I can’t ‘cope.’ I’ve got to live! – Brad Hoefs

He sped at 80 mph along country roads at night, opened the car door, and touched his foot to the pavement passing by underneath. He visited places where people had been murdered. He went to dangerous locations late at night. The effect of these experiences? “I would feel bad. The guilt would bring me down so I could manage,” he said.

Sometimes he drove all night and found himself eating breakfast in another city, with no idea of how he’d arrived, no memory of the previous eight hours.

One night, driving around the city, he stopped to use the bathroom at a public park with a bad reputation. Here, in an incident he remembers too dimly for true recall, his dream life turned to a nightmare in the form of a citation for indecent exposure. Sitting in his car, with a ticket from a police officer in his hand, he felt something he’d never experienced before: a crushing and desperate depression that made him want to end his life. “I was ready to kill myself. I had a plan,” he said.

Local media reported on the story of his citation, and his church and the community were shocked.

“For the next three months we basically bled to death,” Hoefs says. No one could understand what had happened. Church leaders privately asked him to resign. Under his therapist’s direction, he told them he would deal with that issue later, and he went to a hospital in Michigan to get help.

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September 2017
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