Archives For Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The general reasoning against any sizeable interest in the suffering and pain of Germans in World War Two might go along these lines:

‘’Well, the fact that some Germans suffered horribly doesn’t equal the unnecessary loss and pain their country caused to the Jewish people or the Allies.’’

For obvious reasons, this response isn’t without justification.

However, any discussion about German suffering is avoided with the vigour of a young theologian. Who once confronted with the task of unpacking Karl Barth’s complex rejection of natural theology, quietly sums it up, then stamps it with a Dante-esk ‘abandon all hope – ye who enter here!

The conversation moves on and the issue is conveniently ignored.

So it is with some difficult primary documents.

They are politely ignored or misappropriated in haste. Sometimes dangerously decontextualised in an attempt to bring the past into agreement with the present[i]. In this case the intellectual method is betrayed and history is abandoned. Either in favour of an ultra-conservative or progressive party-line. Primary documents are for a time effectively written off, partially discounted, misused or conveniently ignored.

The victim? A warts-and-all linear view of history.

Read and received rightly, primary sources show us exactly where, how and when the past can read and inform the present.

Such an undertaking allows us to carefully acknowledge the past with all the seriousness and respect that it rightly deserves.

If allowed to speak as it is, what a primary source can teach us is invaluable. Their contents will challenge comfortable opinions by dragging us into the context. Sometimes even becoming a contradiction to the self-serving and selective views of history so endemic of our time.

For example: Not all Germans were National Socialists. Some even paid the high price of active resistance.

It’s a rare occurrence for those in the English-speaking world to be granted a first-hand insight into the pain, suffering and thoughts of those few Germans who went against the stream during World War Two. Their voice is smothered by the fog of war and their sacrifice forgotten. So when we get the chance to read about it, it’s worth every penny.

Christian Puritz’s 2013: ‘Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch’ is anexample of such rarities:

WilhelmBusch_Family photo 1943

Pastor Busch and Family, 1943. Just before Wilhelm’s son (centre) left for the Russian front where he died a year later.

 

Busch’s recount of what resistance was like and what it cost is described by him in his diary:

When my son reached the senior classes in the grammar school he himself wanted to resist the ungodly repression of those days.
He chose his friends from the Bible Circle that I was leading. This work had already been so defamed that only a handful of young people had the courage to swim against the tide and keep coming.
His friends decided one day to disobey the command of the Hitler Youth (to which all young people without exception then had to belong) to assemble on Sundays during the time of the church service. (Church Youth Groups were forbidden by the Gestapo, the Secret State Police)
I never commanded my son to enter my youth work; he just grew into it of his own accord.
My boy decided to do a bicycle tour. He invited his friends. And in the end he said it would be nice if his father came as well…
On one of the tours we made a discovery that shocked us. My boy had a nose bleed which just would not stop. We took him to a hospital and eventually were told: ‘This boy has haemophilia; his blood can’t coagulate.’
And yet later they conscripted him for the war in Russia. I ran to see the army doctor who examined him.
But a pastor who belonged to the ‘Confessing Church’ and who was not ‘standing without reserve behind our beloved Führer’ did not get a hearing.
I can still see the little troop standing on the station. Destination Russia!
They were just children, eighteen years old. I could have screamed when I saw my child marching away, looking so pale. What did this tender artistic soul have to do with an unjust war? He had been caught in a pitiless machine.
Then somewhere in Russia he bled to death. Abandoned and alone! No! Not alone! In his wallet was found a bloodstained scrap of paper with the words:
‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want… And though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.[ii]

It’s true enough that when compared to the suffering of millions under the Nazi reign of terror, this is of little consolation.

However, there is a uniqueness within these first-hand accounts. There is a solidarity of suffering which shows a different side to Germany during World War Two. By their resistance to National Socialist rules, they become an exception to the rule.

Not all  Germans were Nazis. There wasn’t a total alignment of Germans towards the totalitarian Fascist state.

This kind of insight is also reflected through the lives of German men and women, such as: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Theologian), Oskar Schindler (Industrialist), Paul Schneider (Pastor), Claus von Stauffenberg (Soldier), Edith Stein (Feminist/Carmelite Nun), and Sophia Scholl (Student).  {Oskar Schindler being the only one on this list to not be murdered by the Fascist State}

.       Left to Right: Bonhoeffer, Schneider,          .      Stauffenberg, Schindler Scholl & Stein

 

In these cases and the few like them, there is a juxtaposition of those inside the Axis with those outside it.

In their resistance we witness a politics of realignment. The unavoidable and political ”nein”  to any state, political party, ideology or politician who lays claim to being a secondary messiah equal to that of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

We are reminded by them, that in Jesus Christ we are turned back towards freedom. In their struggle we are handed the reminder that we may stand, must stand and therefore ought to stand against any stream, scheme or masked revelation that seeks to ‘tame and control the Gospel by adapting it rather than being adapted by it’. (Karl Barth CD.II/I:163)

In 1969, Billy Graham talking with William F. Buckley Jnr. outlined the finer points of dichotomy between the Christian revolution of the heart and all Marxism revolt.

 

Under Marxist rule the first victim is religious freedom. By their very existence, the genuine Christian, the sinner saved by grace, stands in direct opposition to Communism, because society’s salvation, criticism and hope begins and ends with the freedom and authority of Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx.

The Polish people exemplified this in the early 1980’s, when ‘their hostility towards Communism was demonstrated, not by riots, but by openly showing their allegiance to God…’ [iii]

This pertains to the pursuit of truth vs. political conformity. Where the freedom that gives life to the intellectual method is maintained against any who would seek to enslave it.

Just as

…’the light of eternity shines into the sadness.’ (Pastor Busch) [iv]

insight brings hope.

 ‘It would be wrong not to lay lessons of the past before the future’[v]
– (Winston S. Churchill, 1948)

 


References:

[i] For example: the attempt to synthesise Leftism (White Rose Society) with this, (The Historical White Rose Society).

[ii] Puritz, Christian (Trans/Ed.) Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) (First) Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed.

[iii] Wojtyla, K. cited by O’Sullivan, J. 2006  The President, The Pope & The Prime Minister: Three Who Changed The World Regnery Publishing, Inc.

[iv] Puritz, Ibid.

[iv] Churchill, W. 1948, The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Vol.1 Houghton Mifflin Company Kindle Ed.

Billy Graham, 1969. The Decline of Christianity, Firing Line, William F. Buckley

YouTube: The Decline of Christianity

Stanford Transcript: The Decline of Christianity

The word martyr [μάρτυς] means to ‘bear witness’, this is derived from the word marturion [μαρτύριον] which is understood to mean evidence testimony; witness; to be testified.

The word martyr is also connected to martyromai [μαρτύρομαι] ‘I am urging; I am bearing witness; I am declaring; I am insisting.’ [i]

Along with a lot of His colleagues, family and friends – of whom one was Karl Barth and the other Martin Niemöller, Bonhoeffer fits the profile of declaring; bearing witness; insisting. He was a martyr.

Today, fascist theory might only exist in fringe elements of society, but the style of political activism employed by the Nazi’s isn’t.

Rhetoric and labels offer to tempting of a tool to withstand. Evident in the ‘punch a Nazi‘ slogan, which when translated comes to down being a leftist justification for punching a Trump voter, conservative or anyone who is deemed to be an ”oppressor” by pharisees on the Left.

Anyone who, in their opposition, falls foul of the tar and feathering. The put downs. The emotional manipulation and the slurs. Such as the tattooing of the ”wrong side of history” on the social media arms of their victims. People who in their disagreement and opposition, find themselves, ridiculed into silence, falsely branded as racist, bigot, phobic or worse.

The significance of Bonhoeffer, Barth and Niemöller’s resistance must not be overlooked. Their resistance is as relevant as ever. In 1993, Lutheran academic Gene Veith pointed out that the Fascist political play book is still in service today:

…’fascism is a worldview….the defeat of Hitler and the Axis powers in World War II meant the military defeat of fascism, but an ideology cannot be defeated by military power alone. Ideas linger…despite the military victory over fascism, it will long continue to live’ [ii]
(Veith, 1993 Modern Fascism)

Although the Church in the 21st Century shares a different context with the German Church struggle; the Kirchenkampf,  there are parallels.

It  can, however, be difficult to see those similarities. Some similarities are subtleties. The pretenders are in large part invisible to the majority, but are working hard at ‘gradually liquidating the True Church through intimidation.’ (Bethge cited by Metaxas, 2010:294, italics mine).

‘Marx’s categories [generalised dehumanising labels] have been used to complete the work begun by Napoleon [in Europe] and continued in another more horrible way by Hitler […] to replace civil society with a committee of intellectuals – as the official ”voice of the worker” – in which only abstractions can be uttered and only Leftist bureaucrats takes part’ [iii]
(Roger Scruton, 2015. Fools, Frauds & Firebrands)

Part of the Christian and his or her response to this new Church struggle may perhaps require applying Bonhoeffer’s admonishment to ‘not defend God’s word, but testify to it…’ (Metaxas citing Bonhoeffer, 2010:261).The Confessing church is a church of martyrs.

Rather than retreat into gated communities, under the appearance of defeat, or defeatism, the church must, like Bonhoeffer, in Christ, step-up:

…‘Although I am working with all my might for the church opposition, it is perfectly clear to me that this opposition is only a very temporary transition to an opposition of a very different kind, and that very few of those engaged in this preliminary skirmish will be part of the next struggle. And I believe that the whole of Christendom should pray with us that it will be a ‘resistance unto death’, and that the people will be found to suffer it’
(Eric Metaxas citing Bonhoeffer 2010:195-196 [iv])

Marxist, Leon Trotsky saw the danger of not supporting the Church struggle in Germany, which by default meant negatively affecting, through the compromise of freedom, the proclamation and testimony of the Church:

‘…It is only necessary to find real and effective methods to intervene in the struggle, to stir up the religious-democratic opposition, to broaden it and to assist the young Catholics, especially the workers, in their struggle (and not, of course, the Nazi police, which wants to “destroy” these religious organisations). Thus, in Russia we always defended the struggle of the Armenian church for its autonomy.’ (19th August 1935) [v]

The work of the church today is to try and define this new Church struggle, not be defined by it. It comes from within, by way of pressure from without: culture seeking to determine the agenda of the Church. In pushing back, the church today must be cautious of schism. Those involved in the opposition, because of their opposition, must be careful not to trigger it. The Church must be careful of it’s “no” and even more careful of it’s “yes”, but speak it must!

Right from the start those in the church opposition have to ask:

1.  How does struggle connect with ‘bearing witness’?

2. Is ‘bearing witness’ found in the act of struggle as opposed to full subjugation to the powers with which the Church struggles against?

3. Who or what are those powers?

In 1964, Ronald Reagan said that ‘the martyrs of history were not fools [vi]’. Those who speak out are not fools. Those who bare witness to Christ, to the truth and grace that impacts and transforms are not fools. In Bonhoeffer’s story there is holy ground. His stand and those who stood in the same opposition; their ‘no compromise’ theology and service to the Church are real examples of genuine resistance.

‘The reaction should be one of a spiritual and psychological nature, and on a scholarly level.’
(Jacques Ellul, p.67 [vii])

The term martyr (marturion), is understood to be witness. One who declares and insists. All who are raised up in Christ, are called to raise up Christ. As Shelly Rambo puts it:

‘Perhaps the figure of ‘the martyr’ [μαρτύριον – marturion] that we need to mobilize [recover] is not the one who sacrifices him-or herself but the one whose compulsion is to witness and to provide testimony.’ [viii]

How Christians tell their story, live out the struggle or ‘bear witness’ in testifying to that story, may require more effort and attention than is currently being wielded. One thing is clear, the struggle is something we share. Genuine resistance can and should employ testimony.

If this should eventuate in the way it did for Bonhoeffer, and has done in the Middle East, then, with the Moravians of old, from sigh to prayer, “may the lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”

The Confessing church is a church of martyrs. Church, sleep no more!


References:

[i] Goodrick,W.E & Kohlenberger.J.R 1999  NIVAC:The Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan USA

[ii] Veith, G.E.1993 Modern Fascism (Kindle Locations 179-181). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Scruton, R. 2015 Fools, Frauds & Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

[vi] Metaxas, E. 2010 Bonheoffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy Thomas Nelson Publishers

[v] The Church struggle under fascism, 1935 Leon Trotsky

[vi] Reagan, R. 1964 ‘A time for Choosing’, PDF transcript

[vii] Ellul, J. 2015 Islam & Judeo-Christianity: A Critique of Their Commonality, Wipf & Stock Publishers

[viii] Shelly Rambo, 2010. Spirit & Trauma: A Theology of Remaining

learning-in-progressAs the year draws to a close, I find myself thinking about the past twelve months of blogging. I’m fortunate to have had many new interactions with some great thinkers, and some edge dwelling doers, in the active academic field of theology and ministry.

This year, however, I’ve also met with a different, darker side of that field.

I’ve studied theology and have a double degree to show for it. I’ve Read the books. Ticked all the boxes, met the requirements; even made some lecturers smile. Yet, the more I read and learn; the more I seek to participate in the world of academia, the more I see that I don’t fit easily into some of its neatly stacked bubbles.

For starters, my current occupation involves me being a homeschool teacher to my five kids. I don’t say all the “right things” or do what others do to get noticed. I don’t pad agreement on top of agreement. I haven’t written a book yet, and I don’t write blog posts that give an overly appreciative applause to something I’ve read or someone I know.

I write to benefit the reader; share a discovery and hope to learn something in the process. I don’t write for the approval of any who might read my post. I don’t write for others to see how brilliant my academic ability is, and as a result offer me a position on their team. Neither do I seek to invite insult, just to paint myself as a victim.

My focus is on how the theology I read and study, critiques what we are being sold in by society through the media, Hollywood, the Universities and in politics.

I’m interested in working out how that theology translates into ministry; how the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to the world today in its obsession with escalating the hostility between Left and Right.

How that theology brings a critique against the conclusions of academics who, all too often, appear ready to shoot down conservatives, or those on the right with tired rhetoric, slogans and labels.

For sure, some of that criticism in the past has been justified, but when does that criticism, itself become a whip or chain used to oppress new victims?

For instance, I’ve come to learn that any post that seeks to draw theologians like Barth or Bonhoeffer ‘’outside of the box’’ won’t be met with encouragement, let alone a smile. I don’t read the works of Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer through the agreed upon traditional political filters; speak about them through a modern liberal theological lens.

For that I’ve been drawn into some heavy discussions with overly picky critics. I’ve even had someone go out of their way to politely warn me that if I want to move forward in my academic studies, I shouldn’t upset those in power on the Left, by rocking their boat [i].

But I’m not the kind of person who goes around stroking egos, my own or those of the people around me. I aim to proclaim the truth and do that in a loving way. Will it be a flawed communication sometimes? Yes. Do I do my best to take into consideration the blind sides and their inevitable limitations? Absolutely. With every fiber of my ability to do so.

The more I venture into this post-grad world, the more I see; the more I begin to understand that if you’re not politically aligned with what is considered to be the collectives authorised narrative, you’re more likely to just end up speaking to yourself.

The warning signs are clear, if you’re not ‘’on board enough,’’ you won’t succeed beyond what you may have already accomplished. For some, it doesn’t matter how well you write, draw, paint, sing, create or communicate. If you say something different that opposes the consensus of those in box, you’re viewed as a threat to the thrones of those in power within the box.

Even though I’ve worked hard all my life, am a certified four year college graduate; parchment-on-the-wall qualified theologian. The past twelve months have shown me that in the field of theology, I’m an insider forced to live on the outside.

And that’s okay. Here I stand. Introspectively speaking, I’m freed from having to perform to the same oppressive modern liberal tune I suspect many others feel they have to dance to.

I have questions about the appearances, sums and conclusions, so widely assumed watertight, honest and reliable. I’m not looking to rise to the top of the echo chamber. Not looking to outdo, or compete for a position in it. I’m seeking to make an honest contribution. Share what I’ve found and work on refining that as God’s Grace allows.

The past twelve months have opened my eyes to the fact that if I’m relegated to the sidelines because of this, than perhaps the problem has less to do with me, and more to do with those who pushing me, and others like me, there.


Notes:

[i] Yes this did happen. No I’m not prepared to reveal who.

gresham-collegeEngland’s, Gresham College has a series of excellent lectures available for free on YouTube. Two grabbed my attention. Alister McGrath’s, ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates  was the first. The second was Alec Ryrie’s, ‘What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West.’ 

McGrath’s lecture reasserted a lot of what I’ve heard before. What I liked about this was how McGrath dealt with William Paley’s, Natural Theology and how McGrath leans authoritatively towards Thomas Aquinas and Charles Kingsley.

The lecture starts with an overview of Charles Darwin’s journey from boat to the establishment of his theory, and closes with a discussion about Darwinism and religion. I thought McGrath was a little  to generous towards Darwin when discussing Nazism and its social Darwinian ideology.

This, however, is offset by McGrath’s in-depth look at Darwin’s assertions in ”The Decent of Man”.

Key statements were: “Darwin never became an atheist. Although he wrestled with [Protestant] Christianity’s “lack” in dealing with suffering, brought on by the loss of his daughter, Darwin never used evolution as weapon against Christianity. From what we know, Darwin didn’t see a clash between evolution and creation”

After watching another lecture from Alister McGrath called, ‘Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ from an unrelated source, Alec Ryrie’s lecture was a surprise find. Ryrie deals with a similar theme.

The great attraction of this lecture is how Ryrie presents Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s incomplete [‘half-formed’] theology on the ecclesia. More precisely his idea of ”religionless Christianity” drawn out form a list of letters in the unabridged version of ‘Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW:8.’

Ryrie covers three themes. Moral events, christian authenticity and the loss of christian identity as it is paralysed by politics and pluralism. His frame is the evangelical question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Religionless Christianity.

Out of these he points out that in the West, ‘World War Two was the defining moral event, of the twentieth century.’ The fight against the Axis powers in WW2 was portrayed as a Crusade against evil. Something that, post Dachau and Auschwitz proved to be true. This lead to a post-war rallying around Judeo-Christianity, the faith of Christendom, as being a bulwark against communism because it saved the West from Nazism [the new modern face and name for evil].

From here, Ryrie looks to the African-American civil rights movement. In these he sees the opportunistic birth of the left as it took over ownership of the Civil rights movement, quietly suppressing the Christian foundations of it. Attracting in particular those who took Bonhoeffer’s ”religionless Christianity” and looked to work it out as doctrine. (Something I would take to mean the hijacking of Bonhoeffer by the radical Left).

The consequence being a ‘reckless abandonment of institutions’ and tradition in the process. Adding to this the eventual gagging of the gospel and the disintegration of an openly Christian identity.

It’s here where the content of Ryrie’s lecture meets with McGrath’s look back to the legacy of Christian liberalism. From which is drawn the view that ”culture determines the agenda and therefore the church has to go wherever culture leads.”

Christian identity ended up ‘torn’ between left and right. However, by the late 1970s the religious left had became ‘invisible’. As an example, Ryrie presents the overthrow of the Student Christian Mission (SCM) by Marxists, who ‘merged a Marxist revolution with the Kingdom of God; seeing Jesus as a political radical.’ This was the ‘subsuming of Christian identity into radical politics.’ Another legacy of theological liberalism with its ”world sets the agenda laissez-faire attitude.’ (McGrath)

The lecture ends with the example of Buzz Aldrin’s decision to have communion on the moon. Ryrie highlights Aldrin’s regret, mentioned in his 2008 memoir, which stated that he wouldn’t do it if he did the moon landing all over again because they went to the moon on behalf of humanity, which includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus and heathen, not just Christians. Although the communion was done in private, Aldrin is still led to reconsider it. Ryrie points to this regret as evidence of the crisis caused by this loss of identity. The  insecurity (lament/shyness/uncertainty) about holding up, with conviction, what is an essential rite of Aldrin’s faith, makes special note of the struggle Christians have in ‘maintaining a [Christian] identity in the midst of pluralism.’

Ryrie’s lecture is full of insight. His subject is well researched and I find myself agreeing with his points. Points that back up the quip that the radical Left created the Conservative movement. The radical Left continues to be a divisive force, grasping for any cause that will reinvigorate this division to foster recruitment and feed the sense of global community only found in the Commonwealth of Christ. Setting itself up as the Kingdom of God without God in it.

Christianity indistinguishable from the world is subsequently extinguished by the world. Or perhaps more accurately, Christianity indistinguishable from the world allows itself to be extinguished (at least in public) from the world.


Sources:

[i] McGrath, A. 1993 Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ Moore College, Australia

[ii] McGrath, A. 2016 ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates Gresham College – [transcript]

[iii] Ryrie, A. 2016 What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West Gresham College – [transcript]

Truth RL2016I like to read a book, then read what that author read before writing that book.

One thing we’re big on in theology [we have to be] is literary criticism:part of this scientific process is taking a statement back to its original source through questions, analysis, research and faith-filled dialogue about our reasoned conclusions.

It’s a sure guard against deception and ignorance. We want [or rather need] to be as sure as we can be that when and where God has chosen to speak, we are able to clearly hear and discern that Word.

A good reason for our focus on this is highlighted by Eric Voegelin in his 1968 book, Science, Politics & Gnosticism:

‘The deception of the reader occurs when a text or citation is separated from its context and is used in isolation from it’s original intended meaning.’ [i] (paraphrased)

Voegelin had just gotten through explaining how Karl Marx in his doctoral dissertation of 1840–41 misrepresented the statement, “In a word, I hate all the gods” , from Prometheus in Aeschylus’ ‘Prometheus Bound.’

Stating that, “anyone who does not know Prometheus Bound must conclude that the quoted “confession” sums up the meaning of the tragedy, not that Aeschylus wished to represent hatred of the gods as madness.”

‘In this confession, in which the young Marx presents his own attitude under the symbol of Prometheus, the vast history of the revolt against God is illuminated as far back as the Hellenic creation of the symbol.’ [ii]

From Genesis to Revelation on into Church History, the lesson is clear enough: not everyone who claims to speak for God is actually of God. We need to ask faith-filled questions, have a well-informed BS meter and in humility come to a conclusion about what is and is not genuinely of God. We do this by first establishing the what, where and to whom God has revealed Himself; what God has consistently revealed about Himself to humanity from outside of humanity.

Bonhoeffer, in his lectures on Genesis, recorded in DBW3: ‘Creation and Fall‘, substantiates good reasons for this process. According to him, in the Garden, God’s Word was used as a weapon against God. The result being a catastrophic fallout between the creature and its benevolent Creator.

The power to decree that which is right and wrong, good and evil, is now considered to have been taken up into the hands of humanity. Rather than a new day dawning [enlightenment], darkness descends [truth is hijacked] and humanity descends with it. The source that determines what good and evil is, is relocated; reassigned by, and lowered down to a Creatorless humanity. Humanity in its abstraction from God devours itself. Burdened with lust for dominion and power it seeks to overthrow God – “they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it” [iii]; which as we’re told in the Biblical accounts, is ultimately destined to failure and the overbearing governance of unjust, corrupt rulers.

‘Thus for their knowledge of God human beings renounce the word of God that approaches them again and again out of the inviolable center and boundary of life; they renounce the life that comes from this word and grab it for themselves. They themselves stand in the center. This is disobedience in the semblance of obedience, the desire to rule in the semblance of service […]’ [iv]

But this doesn’t happen without a decisive response from God. He isn’t wounded outside His own choosing  [e.g.: as He does for our sakes in Jesus Christ]. Neither is He killed off. Instead humanity is found to have mortally wounded itself.

However, God shows compassion. He acknowledges this and graciously intervenes, providing covering for nakedness, discipline (when necessary), direction and posterity. Despite its new rebellious claim-to-godlike knowledge and power. Its misuse of the divine-human relationship to oppress, deify self, murder and deceive. His creature is not abandoned. God remains God for us, even when He disagrees and takes a stand against us.

“Blessed is the man or woman who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They are like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

God chooses not to jettison His creature and instead chooses to heal and save it. Even though His creature is now so fused with, and consumed by the maddening effects of the primal Human act that deceptively puts God’s Word to use against Him.

‘That is the ultimate possible rebellion, that the lie portrays the truth as a lie. That is the abyss that underlies the lie—that it lives because it poses as the truth and condemns the truth as a lie.’ [iv]

Sources:

[i] Voegelin, E. 1968, Science, Politics & Gnosticism: Two Essays, (paraphrased). Kindle (Loc.492)

[ii] ibid, 1968

[iii] Johnny Cash, U2 ‘The Wanderer’

[iv] Bonhoeffer, D 1937, Creation & Fall, Fortress Press (pp.109-116)

[v] ibid, 1937

DB 1Seventy-two years on, Bonhoeffer’s words speak with a sharp relevance:

I hear men in angry mood. Innumerable voices in wild confusion, a dumb choir assaults the ear of God.
“Hunted by men and maligned, defenceless and guilty to their mind, by intolerable burdens abused, yet we declare them the accused.
We accuse those who drove us to the evil deed, who allowed us to share their guilty seed, who made us witnesses of the just abused, only to despise those they had used.
Our eyes must see violence, entangling us in their guilty offence; then as they silence our voice, like dumb dogs we have no choice.
We learned to call lies just, uniting ourselves with the unjust. When violence was done to the weak, our cold eyes did not speak.
And what in sorrow our hearts had broken, remained hidden and unspoken. We quenched our burning ire and stamped out the inner fire.
Sacred bonds by which we once were bound are now torn and fallen to the ground, friendship and truth betrayed, tears and remorse in ridicule displayed.
We sons from upright men descended, who once rights and truth defended, have now become despisers of God and man, amidst the mocking laughter of hell’s plan
(From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Nächtliche Stimmen; Voices In The Night)

Bonhoeffer’s poem is a lament. It’s complex and partly sporadic, even though it holds to a basic theme and structure.

Edwin Robertson suggests that Dietrich, who was in prison at the time, was anxious. He had found out that the ‘Valkyrie Plot’ {20th July, 1944} had failed. Consequently he was concerned that the contents of the poem might ‘end up in the wrong hands,’[i] endangering his friends and family.

What is clear from Bonhoeffer’s words in ‘Nächtliche Stimmen’ is that he lamented the conforming silence of the German majority and lamented the necessity of his role in the July plot. There is also a sense of anger at being forced into violence because of an unrelenting assault from those who insist on being violent.

Being an early and loud opponent of mass hysteria, Nazism and a leader of dissent in the Church over the Aryan clause in particular, he was more than aware that the window of opportunity for Christians and Non-Christians to act without force had long since passed.The question that sits over this is, how did we as a people let it get so bad?

Apart from there being very strong political parallels that describe how conservatives are pushed into a corner, where no matter what their response it, it’s tainted by the violence and abuse that cornered them.

There are lessons here for the 21st Century Christian community. For instance: authentic Christian activism ought to be able to neutralise the necessity for extreme action. We can approach the world with a ‘readiness for responsibility’ in spite of its sometimes hostile, virulent and internal opposition.

We see examples of this ‘readiness for responsibility’ in the ‘Acts’ of the Apostles where Peter met with the Roman Centurion, Cornelius (10:1-33), and when Paul spoke to the intellectual elite in the Areopagus Council[ii] (17:22-34).

Learning from the mistakes of the past, being able to employ a ‘readiness for responsibility’[iii], as Bonhoeffer terms it, is about participants being encouraged to avoid rage-based responses. Helping our Christian communities aim for balance without detrimental compromises, empowering others to better discern and persuasively respond when attacks are maliciously calculated in order to elicit a negative reaction.

The Christian response needs to include a deliberate challenge to the over-the-top reactionary position.

It seeks to prevent any damage to the ability of Christians entering into a missional relationship with a hurting and bruised world. Anything short of this restricts healthy dialogue, unnecessarily turning opponents into enemies. Ultimately only succeeding to feed the “mocking laughter of hell’s plan”.

Here also rests the significance of Phillip Yancey’s chilling caveat, when he, citing Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Will grace, ”the last best word”, the only unsullied theological word remaining in our language, go the way of so many others? In the political arena, has it come to mean its opposite? In another context, Nietzsche gave this warning, which applies to modern Christians: “Be careful, lest in fighting the dragon you become the dragon.” (1997:292) [iv]

 


References:

[i] Robertson, E. 1999 Prison Poems Zondervan Grand Rapids p.66

[ii] ‘The Areopagus included only those of highest status in this university community’,Keener, C. S, 1993. The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. (Ac 17:33–34).

[iii] Bonhoeffer, D. 1944 On the Baptism of D.R. Bethge, in Letters and Poems from Prison, Kindle Ed.

[iv] Yancey, P. 1997 ‘What’s so amazing about Grace?‘ Zondervan

Cracked soil 2Two weeks ago I came across two speeches. The first was from Catholic Theologian Jean Vanier, and the second was from Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.

I’ve had an interest in the praxis, theology and political philosophy of the former since my encounter with his work during my undergraduate study. His co-authored work, ‘Living Gently in a Violent World, (2008)‘ written with Stanley Hauerwas still stands out in my mind.

Each speech was given as part of an acceptance ceremony whereby Vanier (2015) and Sacks (2016) were awarded the Templeton Prize. Both speeches are not entirely worlds apart, however in the end I was drawn to the speech given by Sacks, more than I was Vanier.

For context, the Templeton Prize is an award that ‘honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works […]The Prize seeks and encourages breadth of vision, and new insights that human beings take their spiritual bearings from a range of experiences.’ [i]

The Sacks speech hits on the dangers and problems caused by the outsourcing of [personal] responsibility (for example abuses, neglect, mechanisms of denial, anxiety avoidance, crisis, oppression, self-justification and how at times  social justice can mask even greater evils).

Some of the key highlights:

1. ‘A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart  and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.’
2. ‘The 1960’s is marked by the outsourcing of morality; an abandonment of the Moral Sciences. Morality had been outsourced to the market. The market gives choices, and morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire […] Ethics was reduced to economics. As for the consequences of our choices, these were outsourced to the state […] Welfare was outsourced to the state. As for conscience, that once played so large a part in a the moral life, that could be outsourced to regulatory bodies. So having reduced moral choices to economics, we transformed the consequences of choices to politics.’
3. ‘You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away. When you do, you raise expectations that cannot be met. […] as a result people start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism. The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was. The far left seeks a Utopian future that will never be. Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror. Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace. These are all fantasies, and pursuing them will endanger the very foundations of freedom […] We’ve already seen on university campuses in Britain and America [& Australia] the abandonment of academic freedom in the name of the right not to be offended by being confronted by views with which I disagree.’
4.  ‘What emerged in Judaism and post-reformation Christianity was the rarest of character-types: the inner-directed personality. Most societies, for most of history, have been either tradition-directed or other-directed.  Inner directed types are different. They become pioneers, the innovators and the survivors. They try to have secure marriages, hand on their values to their children, belong to strong communities, and take daring but carefully calculated risks. When they fail, they have rapid recovery times, have discipline and are more interested in sustainability than quick profits.’
5. ‘Civilisations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being in the first place. It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West.’

His conclusion:

‘There is an alternative: become inner-directed again […] which means learning that there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future.
If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.’ [ii]

All Sacks’ points and his sharp conclusion speak of a society telling itself that it’s on the verge of an upgrade. When in fact it’s face to face with the abyss, far closer to an irreversible downgrade. Glimmers of hope, such as Brexit, where free citizens vote not to comfortably slide into the role of indentured subject, may not be enough to encourage unity against such.

On another front, for me, Sacks’ use of the phrase ”inner-directed” is too ambiguous. Other than referring to it as being human conscience, it’s left open to interpretation. If the definition rests solely on human conscience then it raises significant problems for theologians, who hold human conscience as not being the centre or source of morality, ethics – the distinction between good and evil; right and wrong.

Humanity is not the source of this. It can only be a Word spoken to humanity from outside humanity. It cannot speak right and wrong to itself abstracted from the source of this differentiation. As witnessed throughout the 20th century in the West, when right and wrong are detached from Judeo-Christian ethics, human suffering isn’t answered, it’s increased.

It’s exactly what Bonhoeffer digs into when he states:

Humankind, which has fallen away from God in a precipitous plunge, now still flees from God. For humankind the fall is not enough; its flight cannot be fast enough. This flight, Adam’s hiding away from God, we call conscience. Before the fall there was no conscience.
Only since humankind has become divided from the Creator are human beings divided within themselves. Indeed it is the function of conscience to make human beings flee from God and so admit against their own will that God is in the right; yet, conscience also lets human beings, in fleeing from God, feel secure in their hiding place […]
Conscience is not the voice of God within sinful human beings; instead it is precisely their defence against this voice. Yet precisely as a defence against this voice, conscience still points to it, in spite of all that human beings know and want.’ [iii]

‘Inner-directed” therefore can only mean the inner-direction of the Holy Spirit. Any other source of ”inner-direction” is bound to lead us into inner-misdirection. Inner-direction is directed by a transcendent direction, at once hidden, yet revealed.

Outside this theological framework Jonathan Sacks’ call to become inner-directed is mis-directed:

‘Conscience means feeling shame before God; at the same time one conceals one’s own wickedness in shame, humankind in shame justifies itself […] The grace of the Creator is not recognised. God calls Adam and does not let him flee. Instead Adam sees this grace only as hate, as wrath, a wrath that inflames his own hate, his rebellion, his desire to get away from God. Adam keeps on falling. The fall drops with increasing speed for an immeasurable distance.’ [iv]

With the understanding that ”inner-direction” is within the framework of humanity finding itself being Holy Spirit-directed, I’m on board with Sacks’ conclusions.

‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:16-26)


Source:

[i] Templeton Prize

[ii] Sacks, J. Rabbi, 2016 Templeton Speech PDF Sourced 19th June, 2016 from http://www.templetonprize.org/

[iii] Bonhoeffer, D. 2004, DBW3 Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3  (128). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (p.128)

[iv] ibid, 2004:130