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The Rhythm of the Christian Life

Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2019.
Available at Amazon.com.

This book by my former PhD student Dr. Brian Wright resources Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for a pattern of modern discipleship.

The foreword is by Timothy George!

Blurb: Most of us think that if we could simply balance our lives better, we would be happier. But what we actually need is to rediscover the rhythm. As Christians, our whole life consists of loving God and loving others, just like Jesus did. In this book, Wright invites us to find true joy as we embrace these two core realities and discover how they are meant to work in tandem. Explore The Rhythm of Christian Life and recapture the joy of life together as God always intended.

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The Lionhearted Listener

The Habit That Set Luther on Fire

Article by Marshall Segal

“See how much he has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all” (Here I Stand, 212). On this date, now more than five hundred years ago, the word of God waged a serious war against threats to the gospel emerging from the Roman Catholic Church, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

The Ninety-Five Theses may not have been nailed to the door, as the scene has been famously painted. They were probably pasted with glue. Pieces like these were often posted to the door, which served as a bulletin board for the university. Luther likely did not even post the theses himself. But his ninety-five nails drove deeper than any metal might have, because they were forged for this emerging war in the fire of divine revelation.

His Ears Led the Way

Timothy George writes,

What Luther did do, what he was called to do, was to listen to the Word. “The nature of the Word is to be heard,” he remarked. . . . He listened to the Word because it was his job to do so and because he had come to believe his soul’s salvation depended upon it. Luther did not become a reformer because he attacked indulgences. He attacked indulgences because the Word had already taken deep root in his heart. (Theology of the Reformers, 55–56)

George goes on to quote Luther: “If you were to ask a Christian what his task is and by what he is worthy of the name of Christian, there could be no other response than hearing the Word of God, that is, faith. Ears are the only organs of the Christian” (56). We often remember Luther for his extraordinary mouth, but it was first and foremost his ears that led to his challenging the Roman Church. He launched a revival of faithful and valiant listening — to God.

Long before he composed “A Mighty Fortress,” before he was driven into exile, before he stood fast at the Diet of Worms, before he courageously debated Eck at Leipzig, before he posted his ninety-five theses at the Castle Church, Martin Luther listened. And while he listened to God, he gave birth to centuries of lionhearted listeners.

How Luther Listened

The listening began for Luther long before the reforming, while he still lived and served as a devoted monk in the cloister at Erfurt. Herman Selderhuis writes,

While in the monastery, Luther learned that Bible reading is actually ‘listening to the Bible’: a text had to be read but also heard, again and again, as frequently as necessary until one gained an understanding of what the text said. . . . The goal was to read and listen until one heard God’s voice in the Word. (Luther: Spiritual Biography, 59)

Luther himself explains the importance of good listening: “If you want to become a Christian, you must take the word of Christ, realizing that you will never be finished learning, and then with me, you will recognize that you still do not even know the ABCs. If one was to boast, then I could certainly do that about myself, because day and night I was busy studying the Bible, and yet I have remained a student. Every day I begin like someone in the primary school” (Spiritual Biography, 59).

Behind the brilliant rhetoric and revolutionary leadership was a tenacious humility to hear from God. Luther did not pretend to have mastered Scripture, even as one of the greatest theologians in history, but considered himself always a student, and an elementary school student at that. And by opening the Bible as if he had not seen anything yet, he saw far more than most — certainly far more than the respected priests and scholars of his day.

Selderhuis continues, “Luther searched in the Bible, he ‘knocked’ on the texts, he shook them like the branch of a fruit tree, and then he listened to find words of comfort and reassurance to drive away his fears” (59). Good listeners search and knock and shake the word of God until they hear God speak — until he gives the long-awaited answer, or whispers their fears away, or leads them with clear direction, or breathes fresh inspiration and strength into their life and ministry, or reassures them with his promises. Listening to the very words of God in the Scriptures is not only the quiet key to the Protestant Reformation, but to the faithful, fruitful, and happy Christian life.

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by Timothy George

Editors’ note: Come celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with us at our 2017 National Conference, April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis. The theme is “No Other Gospel: Reformation 500 and Beyond.” Timothy George will be speaking on “Reformation Before the Reformers” and “Early Reformers: Why Didn’t They Unite?” in workshops. Space is filling up fast, so register soon. The following article originally appeared in First Things.

The preaching of the gospel as a sacramental event is at the heart of Reformation theology. Preaching is also at the heart of Reformation faith—preaching as an indispensable means of grace and a sure sign of the true church. Where is the church? According to Article VII of the Augsburg Confession (1530), the church is that place where the Word is purely preached and the sacraments are duly administered. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) went even further when it declared that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”

Of course, preaching—unlike the printing press—was not a new invention of the Reformation era. Far from it. Think of Augustine and Chrysostom in the early church, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Hus, and the many mendicant friars who fanned out across Europe in the Middle Ages.

St. Francis preached the gospel to a Muslim sultan, and Savonarola declared God’s judgment on the sinful leaders of Florence. Bernardino of Siena, the great Franciscan herald, preached to throngs in the 15th century, calling on his listeners to repent, confess their sins, and go to Mass. The Protestant reformers knew this tradition and built on it, but they also transformed it in two important respects.

Central Act of Worship

First, they made the sermon the centerpiece of the church’s regular worship. Prior to the Reformation, the sermon was mostly an ad hoc event reserved for special occasions or seasons of the liturgical cycle, especially Christmas and Eastertide. Most sermons were preached in town squares or open fields. The reformers brought the sermon back inside the church and gave it an honored place in the public worship of the gathered community. The central role of preaching in Protestant worship can be seen in the way pulpits were raised to a higher elevation as families gathered with their children to hear the Word proclaimed.

Second, the reformers introduced a new theology of preaching. They were concerned that the Bible take deep root in the lives of the people. The Word of God was meant not only to be read, studied, translated, memorized, and meditated on; it was also to be embodied in the life and worship of the church. What might be called the practicing of the Bible—its embodiment—was most clearly expressed in the ministry of preaching. Martin Luther believed that a call to the preaching office was a sacred trust and shouldn’t be used for selfish purposes. “Christ did not establish the ministry of proclamation to provide us with money, property, popularity, honor, or friendship,” he said.

Luther

Preachers should be wary of listeners who are too complimentary, for flattery can have a sinister outcome. Puffed-up preachers are likely to think, This you have done; this is your work; you are a first-rate man, the real master. Such conceit is not even worth throwing to the dogs, Luther said. Faithful preachers should teach only God’s Word and seek only his praise. “Likewise, the hearers should also say: ‘I do not believe in my pastor, but he tells me of another Lord whose name is Christ; him he shows me.’”

Zwingli

Preaching was no less important in the Reformed tradition. When one visits the Great Minster Church in Zurich today, the following inscription can be read over the portal: “The Reformation of Huldrych Zwingli began here on January 1, 1519.” That date, no less than October 31, 1517, can answer the question, “When did the Reformation begin?”

For on that first day of January, which happened to be Zwingli’s birthday, the new pastor began his pulpit ministry by announcing his intention to dispense with the prescribed texts of the traditional lectionary. He would follow a new paradigm: preaching expositional sermons, chapter by chapter, starting with the Gospel of Matthew. After completing Matthew, Zwingli resumed the same lectio continua method by taking up Acts, then the letters to Timothy, Galatians, 1 and 2 Peter, Hebrews, the Gospel of John, and the other Pauline letters. He then turned to the Old Testament, beginning with the Psalms, then the Pentateuch and the historical books.

Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger, who succeeded Zwingli as the Reformation leader in Zurich, reported “a rush of all sorts of people, in particular the common man, to these evangelical sermons of Zwingli’s, in which he praised God the Father, and taught all people to place their trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as the single Savior.” One of those common people who rushed to hear Zwingli in the 1520s was a young student named Thomas Platter. He tells of hearing a sermon by Zwingli that was “expounded so powerfully that I felt as if someone was pulling me up by my hair.”

Calvin

From the pulpit of St. Pierre in Geneva, John Calvin followed the preaching pattern established by Zwingli. His pulpit work was marked by sequential, text-driven preaching. In the course of his ministry at Geneva, Calvin delivered more than 4,000 sermons, and many have survived for us to study.

What was the secret of Calvin’s preaching? Hughes Oliphant Old gave this answer:

Calvin drew out of the Scriptures aspects of Christian teaching which the church had not heard for centuries. This was above all the case for the doctrine of grace. The promise of salvation was presented to all who would believe it. Calvin preached justification by faith, as all the reformers did. More than some, perhaps, he also preached sanctification by faith. The lives of those who believed the Word of God would be transformed by that Word. Holiness was the fruit of faith. To believe the Word was to live by the Word, and that life lived according to the Word of God was blessed, both in this world and in the world to come.

Three Marks of Reformation Preaching

In an important essay published in Theology Today in 1961, Heiko A. Oberman set forth the distinctive marks of Reformation preaching in terms of three interrelated aspects.

1. The sermon is an apocalyptic event.

Not quite in the sense of Savonarola’s preaching of impending doom to the people of Florence, but in the sense that the sermon unveils and makes present the last judgment here and now. Without demythologizing Christ’s future coming, gospel preaching existentializes the final will of God for every hearer by calling for a decisive response here and now. “In the sermon,” Oberman observed, “Christ and the Devil are revealed, Creator and creature, love and wrath, essence and existence, ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’”

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by 12 . 26 . 16

“Christmas comes even in the midst of rubble.” Those words were written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his parents on November 29, 1940. From his monastic haven in the Benedictine community at Ettal, Bonhoeffer was keenly aware of the “rubble” in which the Feast of the Incarnation was about to be celebrated. Inside the letter to his parents, Bonhoeffer included an Advent card with the nativity scene painted by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1511. It shows the Holy Family huddled together in a dilapidated house, which looks for all the world like a modern bomb shelter. Real bombs were then falling all over Europe, and the military success of the Nazi armies during the summer of 1940 promised that the war would not end quickly. There would yet be much more rubble before the nightmare was over.

Bonhoeffer will always be remembered for his role in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, an activity that led to his execution on April 9, 1945. But even in the shadowy work he did as a double agent for the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer never lost sight of the fact that he was an ordained Lutheran pastor. As the founding director of an illegal, underground seminary of the Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer had grown close to the students with whom he shared a unique “life together,” as he titled one of his shorter writings. In August 1937, Heinrich Himmler had issued a decree criminalizing such schools.

Still, Bonhoeffer continued to work with small groups of students that met in isolated, out-of-the-way places such as Sigurdshof in eastern Pomerania. In March 1940, the Gestapo discovered this place too and shut it down. How was “Bruder Bonhoeffer,” as the students called him, to stay in touch with his scattered flock? Beginning in May 1940 and continuing through November 1942, Bonhoeffer wrote a series of seven circular letters (Rundbriefe) to his dispersed students. Many of them had by then been drafted and sent to the front lines, and a number of them had fallen in battle. Bonhoeffer corresponded as best he could with his former students at the front. From Ettal, he sent greetings and Christmas presents to their wives and children at home.

The circular letters dealt with issues of pastoral and spiritual concern faced by the former seminarians now far removed from the life they had once shared as a close-knit community of love and learning. How does one maintain a daily order of prayer and Scripture reading, so essential to the Christian life, while carrying out the duties of a soldier? What purpose could God possibly have in permitting the deaths of so many young pastors? How could spiritual equilibrium be maintained in the midst of so much suffering and loss? These and other questions Bonhoeffer answered with compassion, insight, and pastoral sensitivity. The circular letter written from Ettal in December 1940 dealt with how to celebrate Christmas amidst the rubble.

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For three months during the early years of World War II, from November 1940 through February 1941, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) lived at Ettal, in a historic Benedictine monastery that is still a tourist attraction today. Nestled in the picturesque Bavarian Alps, Ettal became a sanctuary for Bonhoeffer as he found himself zwischen den Zeiten—still officially a pastor of the Confessing Church charged with training ordinands for ministry, yet drawn inexorably into a conspiracy against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

At Ettal, Bonhoeffer experienced firsthand the gracious hospitality of the Benedictine life in which every guest is treated like Christ. He took meals with the brothers in the refectory, he was given access to the monastic library where he worked on his book Ethics, and he walked and skied on the snow-covered hills. In the company of his friend Eberhard Bethge, who came from Berlin for a long visit, he sang and made music. He bought Christmas presents for his family and friends back home, including the wife of Martin Niemöller, a fellow Confessing Church pastor being held in a concentration camp. He spent time with local school children, including his nephew, whom he personally nursed during a bout with influenza. In the midst of all this, he made ready for yet another season of Advent.

Bonhoeffer loved Advent and saw in this holy season of waiting and hope a metaphor for the entire Christian life. During the Advent of 1942, Bonhoeffer wrote a circular letter to some of his friends and former students:

The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye but finds life precisely within it.

Following his arrest, Bonhoeffer would find a good analogy for Advent in the confinement and waiting all prisoners know. Advent reminds us, he wrote, that

Misery, sorrow, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something different in the eyes of God than according to human judgment; that God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn—a prisoner grasps this better than others. And for them, this is truly good news.

The monastery was not a prison.

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The year was 1943, and another Advent had dawned for Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer loved Advent and had often preached sermons on this holy season of waiting and hope as a metaphor for the entire Christian life. Just one year earlier, during the Advent of 1942, Bonhoeffer had written a circular letter to some of his friends and former students.

The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.

Those words took on a deeper meaning in December 1943 as Bonhoeffer found himself one of eight hundred prisoners awaiting trial in Berlin’s Tegel military prison.

At this point, Bonhoeffer still hoped he might be released, perhaps even in time to spend Christmas with his family and his nineteen-year-old fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer.

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Giving Thanks in Hitler’s Reich
by Timothy George    |   November 19, 2013

George__4Timothy George is dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and chairman of the Colson Center’s Board of Governors that oversees the Worldview Church.

Paul Robert Schneider (1897-1939) was the first Protestant pastor to die in a concentration camp at the hands of the Nazis. His story is one of unmitigated courage, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. Only in recent years has he begun to receive some of the recognition he deserves.

Schneider was not a theologian of first rank like Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, nor a hero like the Polish friar Maximillian Kolbe, who sheltered thousands of Jews and eventually exchanged his own life for one of his Auschwitz cellmates. Nor did Schneider live in a large urban center like Martin Niemöller, the Confessing Church leader in Berlin or the Catholic bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, the “Lion of Münster.” Paul Schneider, rather, was an obscure village pastor who could have escaped persecution completely had he simply been willing to keep his mouth shut.

The son of a German Reformed pastor, Schneider followed in his father’s footsteps, succeeding him in 1926 as leader of the Protestant church in the small town of Hochelheim. By that time, his early flirtation with liberal theology had given way to a more vigorous biblical and Christocentric faith, influenced in part by his teacher Adolf Schlatter. In 1933, the year of Hitler’s assumption of power, Schneider ran afoul of local Nazi leaders in his community who forced his transfer to the even more remote village of Dickenschied.

Schneider had been there hardly a month when he was asked to preside at the funeral of a seventeen-year-old member of the Hitler Youth named Karl Moog. Before the benediction had been pronounced, the local Nazi district leader, Heinrich Nadig, interrupted the service to declare that young Karl had now crossed over into the heavenly storm troop of Horst Wessel, to which Schneider replied: “I do not know if there is a storm of Horst Wessel in eternity, but may the Lord God bless your departure from time and your entry into eternity.”

Schneider_Paul

Sturmführer Horst Wessel was a Nazi party activist and author of the popular Nazi hymn “The Flag on High” (also called the Horst-Wessel-Lied). After his violent death in 1930, he was elevated as a hero in the Nazi pantheon. The Wessel story was incorporated into the pagan mythology the Nazis were seeking to revive. Alfred Rosenberg, the master of Nazi ideology, claimed that Wessel had not really died but now led a celestial storm troop. Those who died in the service of the Nazis, like young Karl Moog, were summoned to join the Wessel storm troop above. Just six months prior to the funeral incident, the Nazi bimonthly Der Brunnen declared: “How high Horst Wessel towers over that Jesus of Nazareth—that Jesus who pleaded that the bitter cup be taken from him. How unattainably high all Horst Wessels stand above Jesus!”

Pastor Schneider refused to subordinate the Christian Gospel to such a pagan myth. When Nadig repeated his graveside claim about Horst Wessel, Schneider said: “I protest. This is a church ceremony, and as a Protestant pastor, I am responsible for the pure teaching of the Holy Scriptures.”

After this confrontation, Schneider was placed in prison for five days, but he did not back down. In a letter to the Nazi leader he explained his position:

In a Protestant church ceremony God’s voice has to be clearly heard from the Holy Scriptures. Our church people are liberalized enough, so it is no longer appropriate to allow just any opinion to be expressed in the church. There can no longer be any place for this because especially at a church funeral the seriousness of eternity does not tolerate being measured by human standards. Therefore, not everyone who does his duty in the Hitler Youth or the SA fairly well can be beatified. I will certainly accept the earthly storm of Horst Wessel, but that does not mean by a long shot that God will allow him to march straight into eternal salvation. That is perhaps “German faith,” but it is not biblically based Christian faith that takes seriously the full reality of sin that is so deeply rooted in the heart and life of man.

Over the next four years there were more conflicts and more imprisonments for Pastor Schneider. His wife Margarete—he called her Gretel—supported him with her love, prayers, and correspondence. On one occasion, he wrote back to her from prison: “And now, today, the laundry arrived together with the Heidelberg Catechism, your letter, butter, and chocolate.” To his six children, ages one to ten, he wrote these words: “Keep on praying that God in his love and mercy may bring your father back and that we may all remain in Dickenschied. Even if God keeps us waiting awhile for the fulfilment of our prayers, we must not think that he does not hear us, and we must not tire because it takes so long. Though God helps not in every deed/He’s there in every hour of need.”

Later, he was officially deported from the Rhineland by the Gestapo and warned never to preach again in his church. Schneider ripped up the deportation order in the presence of the Gestapo official and wrote a personal letter to Hitler declaring that he could not in good conscience obey it. The consequences of such defiance were not hard to guess, nor long in coming,

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by COLLIN HANSEN

Flight or Fright? How to Redeem Halloween

 Going Deeper with TGC Banner

Every year Halloween seems to grow in popularity. Bigger decorations, better candy, badder costumes. And every year Christians wonder how to handle this strange event that brings neighbors together over ghoulish scenes of death and unhealthy piles of chocolate. Should we steer death-defying teenagers toward Hell Houses to consider the eternal state of their souls? Should we lock ourselves in our living rooms with the lights turned off? Or should we embrace the fun and enjoy the company of neighbors who only emerge this one holiday each year? In short, do we flee from Halloween or seek to redeem the day?

Pumpkin-Cross-CarvedIn the latest Going Deeper with TGC podcast, Mark Mellinger and I talk with Timothy George, author of the recent article “The Gospel of Ghoul” and founding dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. We discussed our culture’s fascination with zombies and vampires and the meaning of All Saints Day. He also explained how we should we can “tweak the Devil” on Halloween. Listen to the whole discussion for his answer to questions of which Protestant reformer he’d want to dress up as and whether we speak too much, not enough, or just the right amount about hell.

As the podcast continues, The Gospel Project managing editor Trevin Wax talks with Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, about enduring trials and facing genuine persecution. He shares his testimony about how God bore him through trials while growing up in a Muslim home and standing with Jesus against his father.

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