Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today is the 66th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a dissident German pastor, theologian who opposed the Third Reich’s hold on Christianity during World War II. He was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, at age 39, just three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin. This is a picture of Bonhoeffer with a group of confirmation students that he was instructing. I don’t know why, but it always affirms my passion for youth ministry that great minds like Bonhoeffer did things like confirmation as well.

Bonhoeffer’s theology has been incredibly influential to me as I’ve gone through undergrad and into seminary. This post is simply meant to celebrate Bonhoeffer and his contribution to the world of theology. I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes from him and reflect on them a bit.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids them to come and die.” – from Cost of Discipleship

Discipleship was the first book of Bonhoeffer’s I read, certainly no easy task. But this quote always stuck out to me. It seemed so counterintuitive to the popular Christianity. It stands in direct contradiction to the “Live your best life now” theologies that are all around us today. It reminds all of us that the true cost of discipleship is confronting the tragedy of death head on. Only then can we experience the communion that Christianity was intended to be.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” – from Letters & Papers from Prison

This quote totally re-framed how I see church. We have such a moralistic way of looking at things that we constantly keep tabs on what people do or do not do. Instead we have to remember that everyone is fighting a battle and everyone suffers some burden, most in the silence of their own minds. If we view everyone as being in some sort of suffering, it promotes a community that then expresses itself out of that suffering and opens up a hope for true community with and for one another.

“There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, that has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God.” – from Ethics

Ethics was the most recent of Bonhoeffer’s works that I’ve read. I took a class on it last semester and worked through a good amount of it. This quote gave the other two resolution. What does our suffering look like to God? What does it matter if we’re all suffering? What sort of resolution is brought about by God in our suffering? It is Bonhoeffer stating that through Christ, all parts of the world are reconciled back to God, that even our deepest suffering is reconciled into the heart of God through the suffering and death of Christ. This is my favorite quote of Bonhoeffer’s because it anticipates the endgame of the theology of the cross. It says that, through the crucifixion and resurrection, all of the lost and suffering in the world has been met, accepted by and reconciled back to God. What a great message.

So, thanks to pastor Bonhoeffer for all the ideas that have and continue to influence me in my formation as a pastor and theologian. And for keeping me motivated to love confirmation.

Cheers,
Eric

** For the both of you who are enthralled by my Church in the Present Tense blogs, I’ll be back tomorrow with probably my favorite section of the book, the Worship section.

Church in the Present Tense: Theology

Sorry these posts have been so sporadic. It may have been a bad idea for such an A.D.D. reader as myself to commit to blogging through an entire book. But I’m having fun engaging the different chapters so here goes with the second section: theology

In the second section of Church in the Present Tense, Jason Clark and Kevin Corcoran deal with the theological issues of emerging Christianities. Clark deals with consumer liturgies in chapter 3 whereas Corcoran deals with an emerging eschatology in chapter 4.

Consumer Liturgies

I think Jason’s chapter on consumerism as a detrimentally developing tradition is a really provocative thought. He writes that consumerism attempts to answer those really deep questions of our existence. What is a good life? Well, a good life is having nice things, of course. The feedback loop that consumerism gives us places our salvation in having the next best thing. Having all of the nice things and experiences that a consumer-centered economy has to offer, in a way, saves us from the worst fate imaginable: boredom. With echoes of Neil Postman, Clark explores how we amuse ourselves to the point of numbness to real and valid engagement with the world around us.

While I was reading Jason’s chapter, I couldn’t help but think of echoes of Pete Ward’s Liquid Church. In this short work, Ward says that in our modern society, the most the church can hope to be for people is either a place of heritage or a place of refuge. Church is important because it either a) connects us with our past or b) shelters us from all of the big, bad, “secular” wolves out there. Otherwise, for many people, church is largely irrelevant as a third space for people, which gets back to what Jason explores throughout the rest of his chapter. He comes out by saying that people are yearning for a third space in their lives. A space that isn’t work, and isn’t home, but a place that offers fulfillment of relationship. People aren’t looking for heritage or refuge, so these third spaces are almost never church.

Jason then heads into an ideation of church that leads us into the exchange of stories that seeks to downplay the self-creation that is endlessly promoted in consumer culture, as a way of leading into a search for the true story of life centered around Jesus with and for others. He juxtaposes consumer culture with true community and fellowship found in Christ. The liturgies of consumerism aren’t going to be thwarted by people from the outside coming in. It starts with the people already in the church putting aside the perverted liturgy of consumerism and offering a way forward in mission with the broader community to make the community a better place.

Farewell, Kevin Corcoran

I only title his chapter with a farewell to be a bit facetious about Kevin’s chapter on eschatology. He espouses similar ideas to that of Rob Bell’s new book as ideas that are appealing to the emerging communities. At one point he even explicitly states the essentials of Bell’s thesis that, in the end, love will win and all of humanity will be reconciled to God.

He takes Christ’s announcement of “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to explore the already/not yet dichotomy of the coming Kingdom. It’s here and now. Unfolding right before our very eyes. In no way is the fully consummated or revealed at this point. But we participate in this coming with every action we do. When we act with good intentions to help our neighbor, we help bring about the kingdom. When we participate in destructive activities, we actively prohibit the kingdom coming to fruition. But either way… we’re the participants.

For Corcoran, the coming kingdom is characterized by compassion and justice. There needs to be simultaneously both present in order for the kingdom to be realized. One without the other produces hollow sentiments that, at the least, are not productive. In God’s kingdom, both are abundantly present. In the earthly kingdom, that balance is a little bit harder to come by. The Christians who tend to be attracted by emerging sensibilities are attracted to the tension held by justice and compassion. Scores of people want to help participate in the coming kingdom (even though most certainly would not use that language). Creation yearns for the time when justice and peace meet. But it’s only in the full actualization of God’s  kingdom that it happens. It’s a good thing when people wish to come together and defend the oppressed and work to re-gain what has been lost.

As Kevin notes, there are scores of people who still yearn to participate in this work of justice and peace. And as he, rightly, concludes: “That is a good thing. A very good thing.”

Cheers,
Eric

Church in the Present Tense: Philosophy

What the hell is post-modernism anyway? And how can the church exist in a meaningful way once we decide exactly what our current situation is? These are some of the issues being dealt with in the first two essays in Church in the Present Tense.

Kevin Corcoran has a great essay to open that seeks to get a finger on the pulse of what the new and emerging forms of Christianity are searching for. In it, he discusses the importance of epistemic humility and its place in the church. He writes, “A robust recognition that I am a finite creature, frail and given to self-deception, and that my knowledge of God and the world is thus always partial, fragmentary and incomplete does not lead me to religious skepticism. It leads me to epistemic humility.”

By using this term, he means, essentially, being willing to admit that we don’t have all of the answers, yet are comfortable in moving forward in conversation. Epistemic humility is one of the main things he sees in the emerging sensibilities. So often, we worry that one little slip of disagreeing doctrine is all it takes to thrust us into unbelief. However, this sentiment makes room for us to create an open and honest commitment toward belief without having to risk running headlong into rigid legalism. This moves right into the work that Peter Rollins does in the second essay of the book about discovering a worldly theology that is brought about by these new, emerging forms of Christianity.

He opens with a compelling point on a familiar Galatians passage. When Paul talks about how in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”, it’s tempting to interpret “neither/nor” as “both/and”, as in “everyone’s equal”. But that’s not what’s happening at all. If we truly live into the new community created by Christ, these distinctions of cultural categories no longer apply. It’s an invitation to an entirely new reality, a completely different space of being. For Rollins, emerging forms of Christianity affirm the incarnation event as an invitation to become fully human with and for one another.

Both of these points are significant for coming up with an emerging theology for youth ministry as well. Corcoran’s epistemic humility is something that needs to transcend all ministries, not just the “emerging” ones. These points come up when we realize that we are pieces of a whole, but cannot possibly know the whole ourselves… Or, at least, know it definitively. Because must have this sense of humility before we lead into the task that Rollins lays before us: the invitation.

The invitation into suspended space breaks down all categories. In this suspended space the perpetual categories and social structures that are entirely lived in and conceived within the hallways of the high schools are torn down and a new mode of being is introduced. When we participate in the alleviation of those in this world who are suffering, we help bring this world about. This is the “rubber-hits-the-road” challenge of the opening chapter.

This is the philosophy of the church in the present tense. Tomorrow, I’ll get into the theological chapters by Jason Clark on consumer liturgies and Kevin Corcoran on what an emerging eschatology looks like. More tomorrow.

Cheers,
Eric

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