Monthly Archives: March 2012

Bonhoeffer and Christian Unity

Mobius Strip 2

Mobius Strip 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been asked occasionally, “How did you get so interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer?” I am not a Lutheran, nor am I a German, nor was I alive during the second World War. To that question I might respond, “How do we get interested in anything?” We are not born liking spicy New Mexican cuisine, breakneck bluegrass music or the Minnesota Vikings. But, through our various experiences we are all (or most of us at least) blessed with the opportunity to become aware of all of God’s greatest gifts. And, even though I cannot remember when or how I was introduced to Bonhoeffer, I consider him to be one of God’s great gifts to me.

 I also believe, as I have read and attempted to digest Bonhoeffer’s writings, that he has much to say to a movement that started as an effort to unite all Christians on the simple teachings of the Bible. For today’s post I would like to take a few of his comments (admittedly few and without much contextual background) from his essay, “Protestantism without Reformation” in the volume, Theological Education Underground: 1937-1940 in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012). As I read them I could easily imagine some of the thoughts coming off of the pen of Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone.

The overall context of these quotes is a report that Bonhoeffer made regarding his visits to the United States (written after his second trip in August of 1939), and the observations he made regarding the differences between the Christian world of Germany and the Christian world of the United States. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things the way they really are, instead of the way we as insiders want to see them. There is no indication that Bonhoeffer was ever introduced to a congregation of the American Restoration Movement (Disciples of Christ, Christian Church, Church of Christ). I would truly love for him to have had that experience and to have written on it, but we can only deal with what we have, not what we wish to have had. I present these thoughts then for your consideration:

The doctrinal differences are often more significant within denominations (e.g. Baptists, Presbyterians) than among the different denominations. (p. 442)

Where churches are not divided by the struggle about the truth, the unity of the church should already be won. But the real picture is exactly the opposite. Precisely here, where the question of truth does not become the criterion either for community or for church schisms, there is greater fragmentation than anywhere else. (p. 442)

Only the truth revealed in Holy Scripture can and must decide between the existing differences. Churches must allow themselves to be questioned by one another on the basis of Holy Scripture. (p. 443)

The unity of the church is both origin and goal, both fulfillment and promise; it belongs to both faith and sanctification. (p. 445)

The claim to be the church of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with pharisaic conceit; rather, it is an understanding that humbles because it moves toward pennance). (p. 445)

It remains a fact that the New Testament gives legitimacy to the concept of church, not to the one of denominations. (p. 445)

The unity of the church as promise, as future, as the fruit of sanctification, is a work of the Holy Spirit…There are no methods that lead to the unity of the church. Only total obedience to the Holy Spirit will lead us to common understanding, confession, action, and suffering. (p. 445)

There are several other quotations from this essay that I would like to present, but they are not really germane to the issue of church unity. I simply present these as thought seeds and to challenge my readers as Bonhoeffer challenged me.

Are your toes as tender as mine are?

The Difference Between Tolerance and Indifference

No political correctness

No political correctness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to pose a question here that I believe has some very serious consequences no matter how you answer it. The question has special significance in the culture of the United States today, one in which political correctness has all but destroyed the idea of freedom of speech and is well on its way to destroying the concept of freedom of religious expression. That question is, “What is the difference between toleration and indifference?”

I won’t bore you with any long preliminaries. I will state my opinion up front and clearly. I believe that the only way toleration can exist is if there are two firmly held beliefs which are in sharp contrast to each other, yet both are allowed to exist at the same time. Indifference means that one belief or the other is held so weakly that it has no bearing on a person’s life. If I am indifferent to something I am not tolerating it, I simply do not care about it.

Where does this question fit in our politically correct world? I am so glad you asked (whether you did or not). The critical point of contact with our culture today is that there are groups of people who are demanding that we practice “toleration” when in reality they are demanding either indifference, or more likely, outright acceptance.

Let me illustrate my meaning with an unrelated picture, but one that I hope gets my point across. Let’s say we are neighbors and you decide to throw a big party in your back yard. I can tolerate your loud music and boistrous yelling and merry making for a certain period of time even though my infant child needs to sleep and I cannot even watch my movie on tv because of the racket. I can tolerate it, that is, even though I am profoundly against it and irritated by it, simply because you are within your rights to hold such a party. But, let’s say that in our city there is an ordinance against loud music beyond 12:00 midnight. At 12:01 I am going to call the police and lodge a complaint because I can no longer tolerate your abuse of my right to have a peaceful sleep. For me to continue to supress my feelings would no longer be toleration, it would be indifference.

In today’s culture I can tolerate certain behaviors simply because I am forced to by the passage of laws which limit my ability to respond to them. That is, I can tolerate activities because I am powerless to change the behavior of those who participate in them. That in no way means I have to accept the behavior or think that it is normal. But the only way I can tolerate it is if I am deeply opposed to it and in the United States that means (at least for a little while longer) I have the right to speak out against that behavior as a part of my Christian faith.

And here is the difference between toleration and indifference. Many groups do not want me to simply tolerate them, even though they use the word. They want me to be indifferent to their behavior, or more radically, they want me to accept their behavior. And based on my understanding of God, his creation, and human nature that is simply something that I cannot do.

There are a great many things that disciples of Christ must tolerate even though we would prefer them to disappear: abortion, the tobacco and alcohol industries, the business of pornography, the greed of Wall Street, racism, war – just to name a few. We can actively petition to change the laws that allow such things, but we live in America, and so we have to deal with our Constitution with all of its warts as well as its beauty. But that does not mean I have to approve of these behaviors or be indifferent to them.

I just want my fellow disciples to reject the idea that toleration means acceptance or indifference. We have been seduced by a fine sounding word into surrendering our Constitutional right and our God given responsibility to oppose that which we find morally reprehensible. We may not win every battle – we may lose all of them in fact. But as God told Ezekiel, once the watchman has sounded the trumpet it is up to the people to respond appropriately. The watchman will not be held responsible for their lives if he has properly warned them. If there is no warning given because the watchman is asleep, then the lives of all the people will be the watchman’s responsibility. Indifference is the great anesthesia of the modern church.

We cannot sound the trumpet if we are indifferent to the approaching disaster.

Bonhoeffer and the Moment of Truth

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - among others - lecturer ...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - among others - lecturer at the preacher seminary in Stettin-Finkenwalde. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a while since I have posted here, but I now have my last academic goal squarely in my sights before I have to write my dissertation for my Doctor of Ministry program. I apologize in advance for those who are completely disinterested or uninterested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but since he is the focus of my life for the next 4 – 6 months I am afraid that you will get a steady diet of Bonhoeffer in this spot for the next little bit of time, anyway.

I would like to generate some thoughts/comments on several topics, and when first coming to know about Bonhoeffer one of the first questions that is asked is, “How can a Christian participate in a coup that involves the assassination of a head of state?” It truly is a fair question, and it was a question that Bonhoeffer wrestled with for several years leading up to his arrest on totally unrelated charges.

So, I will pass the question on to you – Can a Christian ever justify murder? If the answer is yes, then what events or ideas or principles must be present in order for that decision to be acceptable? Do you feel like the elimination of Hitler was justified? Would you, as a military officer in the German army, have supported the coup or would you as a good, loyal German have preferred to have followed the German constitution (remember, Hitler had all but totally dismantled the German Constitution by the time the United States had entered into the war).

If you answered the question “no,” then how would you explain our Christian responsibility to defend the defenseless – the poor, the widows, the orphans. Remember that Hitler started out his reign of terror by forced euthanasia and the elimination of the weakest and most hated individuals within the German realm before he turned to the Jews. If you hold to the principle that murder is wrong always and forever and in every case and in every time, then how can you account for God’s command (not mere allowance, but command) that the guilty be executed centuries before Moses received the law on Sinai?

I believe I know Bonhoeffer’s response to this dilemma. He was writing a mammoth work on ethics that unfortunately was never completed before his arrest and eventual execution. In this book he works through the creation of an ethic that attempts to be faithful to the Sermon on the Mount (his transformational text) and yet also be true to the situation in which he lived. It was NOT a situational ethic, but an ethic which dealt with his situation. If there is enough interest we can work through this profoundly disturbing conflict and how Bonhoeffer responded, and the motivations and justifications he gave for his actions.

Or, no one will really care and I can write about whatever I want to secure in the knowledge that my thoughts will live on in meaningless obscurity.  🙂

“Our Eyes Are Upon You”

A tornado near Seymour, Texas

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I apologize if this post seems a little stormy. Right now I feel my life is coming apart at the seams and very often this place allows me to sort some thoughts out. I hope that this exercise will be valuable to you as much as it is cathartic to me.

As I have mentioned several times earlier, I am working on a Doctor of Ministry degree, and my last seminar will be focused on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I know there is a great temptation for any scholar to view his work as being the most critical and profound for his day, and at the risk of being overly dramatic, I am seeing more and more parallels between Bonhoeffer’s culture in the 1930’s and 1940’s with our culture today. Not in terms of political powers (I do not want to elevate Obama to the level of Hitler; Obama is just a little pipsqueak) but I do see some parallels between the church Bonhoeffer was trying to save and the church in America. Let me illustrate:

  1. The Lutheran church in Germany was being pressured profoundly by the National Socialists (Nazis), overtly in some cases and covertly in others. The most overt pressure was in terms of anti-Semitism. This hatred of the Jews was tied to the later writings of Luther, who wrote some viciously anti-Semitic rants toward the end of his life. Once the Nazis had their toe-hold through a mutual hatred of the Jews, they could make sure other, more objectionable, laws were passed without raising too much opposition. Our increasingly secular government is pressuring the church in the same way. First the government attacks those godless terrorists (read “Muslims”) and before long we lose our freedom to speak in dissention to the government or to challenge its authority. First government guarantees the “freedom” for a woman to control her own body, and then the government is forcing religious institutions to pay for elective abortions and abortive drugs. Give a godless government an inch and before you can say “separation of church and state” the state has made every effort to eliminate the church from the people. In this regard I do hold President Obama personally responsible. I believe he is intentionally attempting to tear down the bulwark of religion in America for the purpose of advancing his Marxist/Socialist agenda. If the church remains silent we only have ourselves to blame when we have lost the legal right to speak out.
  2. The Lutheran church in Germany had long been conditioned through the teachings of Martin Luther to view the world in terms of “two kingdoms.” Therefore, many in the Lutheran church, and especially among the leadership, did not want to challenge Hitler when he first came to power because they felt it was not biblically appropriate to do so. They wanted to take care of the church, and allow Hitler to take care of the government. Bonhoeffer saw the tremendous weakness of this viewpoint. While he never would have proposed a theocracy, he did very much want his church to speak out against the abuses of the government. In America today the situation is almost completely reversed, but the end result is virtually identical. What one group (loosely organized) provides the loudest voice for American nationalism? If you said, “Conservative Evangelicals” you get the prize. We have “national prayer days” in which we pray for God to “bless America” as if America was the only place on earth for God to bless. We pray before our meals and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag before we start school. The party for whom one votes becomes a litmus test as to the orthodoxy of one’s religious beliefs. Lest you think I am making all of this up, I was once asked in the middle of an interview for a preaching position whether I was a registered Republican or a Democrat. For the record, I am neither. I am a Christian. My citizenship is in heaven. Instead of surrendering the reign of Christ to the government, in many ways we have attempted to make the reign of Christ coterminous with the American government. We have fallen off of the other side of the cliff that Bonhoeffer saw his church fall off. The Lutherans would not speak out against the Nazis because of the separation of the two kingdoms. We won’t speak out against the abuses of the American government because we want the church=America=the church. What we must recover is the freedom of the church to speak critically of the government and to stand in opposition to the godless direction it is leading our nation. In this regard I see a very strong connection between Bonhoeffer and David Lipscomb. I would heartily recommend you to read Lipscomb’s “Civil Government” if you have not already done so. Lipscomb and Bonhoeffer approached the relationship of the sacred and the secular government from different perspectives, but their destination is remarkably similar: if the church is to be the church we must maintain our separation from the government, and at the same time exercise our responsibility to critique and challenge that government.

So there you have a brief part of my tortured thoughts for today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw his church slipping off into the abyss and despite his best efforts (and the efforts of a many others, I might add) his church did not wake up until they had the deaths of 6 million human beings on their hands. Today the comfortable church in America is in real danger of slipping off into the same abyss, and what are we concerned about? Forming praise teams to keep us entertained during our insipid worship services? Failing that, forming a praise band to wake us up from our consumerist induced stupor? Turning the lights out and lighting a few candles and some incense to make our prayers a little more “spiritual”?

Are you kidding me?

One passage of Scripture that was very meaningful to Dietrich Bonhoeffer was 2 Chronicles 20:12, which says in the second phrase, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” (NIV, emphasis mine).

I personally do not think we are smart enough to think or act our way out of this current spiritual catastrophe. I pray we lift our eyes upon God, and pray for his grace to move us back to him. It is the church’s only hope.

The Ancient Paths

English: Prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 1:9-10) Русски...

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In my last post I attempted to point out a great failing of some within the American Restoration Movement. That failing is the attempt to move the church forward by focusing only on the past. I hope I made clear that I am no opponent of our history, but I did want to point out the folly of trying to drive forward by staring in the rearview mirror.

Where did that desire to make the present or future perfect by going back to some idyllic past come from? It is partly in our American DNA. We, as a people, have always believed that our country is founded on principles that go all  the way back to a secular “Garden of Eden” as it were. You hear this when you read our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence. We were moving forward by going back to the primitive beginning. The American Restoration Movement, birthed right in the middle of this move to the past, picked up on the language and the fervor of the culture in which it was born. Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell, along with a host of others, were simply children of their age, and they did what other children of their ages have done. They used the common language to tell their story and to move their people.

Because the American Restoration Movement was also very much a “Back to the Bible” movement there was also a strong sentiment to do things the way the Bible taught. And so any passage that encouraged a return to a pristine past was especially valuable in the arsenal of these early restorers. Perhaps the most valuable was Jeremiah 6:16:

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (NIV)

No plainer message could be found to provide ammunition for a return to a pristine, undefiled church. All we had to do was to ask for the “ancient paths” and when we found them to stay right there. Jeremiah 6:16 has become a bedrock passage for the heirs of the Restoration Movement as we seek to restore New Testament Christianity.

But, I have to ask: have we not taken this passage out of context? Or, if not, have we not at the very least mis-interpreted it? Have we not misapplied it?

Notice what the LORD is telling the people through Jeremiah. He is not telling them to return to an ancient place or an ancient time and to stay permanently attached to that place or time. He is telling them to return to the ancient PATHS. A path is not a destination! A path is not the goal. A path is the route to the destination, to the goal. The people were to WALK in the path, to move forward, not back. Time only moves in one direction and that is forward. The paths that they were to choose were ancient, to be sure, but they were paths that were to lead the people to their God.

This point is further made in Jeremiah 18:15:

Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths. They made them walk in bypaths and on roads not built up. (NIV)

When you examine the context of the book of Jeremiah these two passages are perfectly in line with the message the LORD was trying to get the people to hear. God wanted the people to accept their immediate destiny (Jerusalem would fall, the people would go into captivity, but they were to accept this punishment and in 70 years they would be released) and move forward. He was not calling on them to return to some pristine past. Humans just cannot do that. Time does not have a reverse gear. We can, and should, learn from our past. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That is an undeniable part of life. (Maybe I will add that to my “Fourteen Undeniable Truths of Theological Reflection.”) But we cannot recreate something that existed in another time period in another culture.

I believe the New Testament is full of restorationist language. But it is not a language that calls us to return to a specific time or place. The New Testament writers did not say, “Be like Jerusalem, be like Antioch, be like Ephesus.” The New Testament writers said, “Be like Jesus.” The restoration that the New Testament writers called for is a return to Jesus. Their eyes were set firmly ahead, all the while remembering the message of the past. The Lord’s supper was a remembrance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but it was a proclamation of those events, until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). The author of the book of Hebrews said, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb. 13:14).

I am an unabashed restorationist. I love the history of the Churches of Christ in America. I believe Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell were geniuses that were centuries ahead of their time. But I fear that in our haste to follow in their footsteps we have made a tactical error. It does us no good to build a mansion where our forefathers pitched their tents. To be a true heir of restorationists is to return to the pure message of the Bible, not a mythical pristine manifestation of the church, no matter whether that manifestation of the church is the first century, the 19th century, or the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Returning to the book of Hebrews, the author called upon his readers/hearers to: “…fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” (3:1) That is our clarion call for restorationism in the 21st century. Look forward. Look to Jesus. Proclaim his death, burial, and resurrection until he comes again. Make the church become what he wants to find when he returns. The only way to do that is to live in the here and now (the “penultimate” of Dietrich Bonhoeffer) with the vision of the pure bride of Christ firmly in our focus (the “ultimate” as Bonhoeffer would say).

You cannot drive, or fly, by looking in the rearview mirror. Let us renew our commitment to become the living church of Christ for today, not a museum of ancient artifacts of a bygone past.

Airplanes Have No Rearview Mirrors

English: Barton W. Stone (1772-1844) Português...

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Have you ever stopped to consider why airplanes have no rearview mirrors? Actually, I believe there was a model that was produced with a rearview mirror, but it was kind of a novelty. Give up? Airplanes are designed to go in only one direction – forward. If you are worried about what is behind you, just kick the rudder a little and turn your head. Airplanes are designed strictly for optimists and visionaries. Historians need not apply.

I believe therein lies a great message for the church of Christ. As heirs of the American Restoration Movement we look back on our history (at least since the days of B.W. Stone and the Campbells) with pride. Before that, not so much, until we get back to the days of the first century church. So, you might say we have a pair of binoculars attached to our rearview mirror. We are not so much focused on the road behind us, but the distant horizon is a definite attraction.

In one way this is a good thing. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We must be constantly reminded of our history, even more so than we claim to pay attention to it today. (As an aside, I would also argue that we need to add the time from from 100 AD to 1800 AD as well.) Just think of how the Israelites were not just encouraged, but COMMANDED to review and even to relive their past. The feasts of Passover and Booths were not just fun holidays – they were actual re-creations of a rich, powerful, and theologically centered past. So, let us be unequivocal here – knowing and valuing ones history is critical for a healthy and sane future.

Alexander Campbell (Restoration Movement) at A...

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But I return to my analogy above. You cannot drive a car, much less fly an airplane, by staring in the rearview mirror. Especially difficult would be to do so with a pair of binoculars attached to the mirror. While a healthy knowledge of, and participation in, ones past is critical for the development of one’s future; the goal, the vision, has to be forward. Just stop and consider how the New Testament writers describe the major processes of discipleship: it is a growing, a transformation, a becoming, a renewal. These are all forward looking verbs. It is no mystery to me that the final book of the Bible is an apocalypse – a deeply metaphorical look into the future. But don’t just focus on Revelation. The author of the book of Hebrews says it all in one terse little sentence, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Look forward, not back. Our rearview mirror is important, but it is to be small and narrowly focused. It is an appendage to the church, not the primary means of navigation. We live our life in the eager expectation of Christ’s return, not in woeful recollection of his temporary death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way: here and now we live in the penultimate, but we are created by our faith in the ultimate. It is not the penultimate that gives the ultimate its meaning, it is the ultimate that gives the penultimate its meaning. I believe Barton W. Stone and David Lipscomb lived this focus on the ultimate far more passionately than did Alexander Campbell, and it is instructive that as the Churches of Christ have made their peace with this world they have moved further and further from the Stone/Lipscomb tradition and more and more into the Campbell tradition. You cannot have your eyes focused solely upon God’s kingdom and believe yourself to be anything other than a stranger and a pilgrim on this earth. Stone, and later, Lipscomb were pilgrims. Campbell came to make his peace with the powers of this world, and as he did so he took down his tent and built a house. He ultimately became a very much a citizen of this world.

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) co-founded the Nash...

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I love the history of the American Restoration Movement. I also love reformation history, medieval history, and both pre-and post Nicene history. But history can only be instructive, it can never be determinative! We must learn to cast our eyes upon the ultimate, upon the “last days,” so that we can truly live as God’s people and Christ’s disciples in our own age. The ultimate gives meaning to the penultimate. Christ’s return teaches us how to live today.

I will never remove my rearview mirror. But I am never going to try to fly in the fog by watching what is behind me. I want to keep the pointy end going forward, and the shiny side up. I want to take as many people with me as I can, too.

Forgiveness, Prisons, and Capital Punishment

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I have been preaching a series of lessons on the life of Moses. This character simply has more material concerning him than one could ever preach, even if it was the only source of sermon material. Anyway, I’ve moved along pretty quickly, and I have omitted quite a bit of sermon material, more than enough for another series or two.

One passage that I did mention ever so briefly, but did not develop, was the story of the rebellion of the people of Israel after the spies returned from scoping out the land of Canaan. As a result of the rebellion God was about to destroy the whole nation, and Moses “stood in the breech” as it were and begged God to reconsider. Moses’ speech was quite effective, and God forgave the people. You really need to read the entire passage in context, beginning with Numbers 13:1, but the critical section is this: (Moses is speaking first)

In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now. The LORD replied, I have forgiven them as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times, not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers… (Num. 14:19-23, NIV)

Have you ever really stopped to consider that passage? I would like to pose some questions regarding that theologically packed verse.

1.  How does this passage correct our view of “forgive and forget?” That is one pop-psychology phrase that really irks me. How can a woman forget a rape? How can a child forget the murder of a parent or a parent the murder of a child? When we tell someone that they must forgive and move on I believe we heap untold amounts of guilt upon them. Here, live and in living color, God clearly forgives the people, but far from forgetting their crime, he stipulates that the generation that was old enough to rebel against him must die in the desert. Are we saying that humans have the capacity, and therefore the responsibility, to do something that God himself was not willing to do?

2.  What does this passage have to speak to us about the use of capital punishment, if anything at all? Is it possible to forgive someone, and yet still demand that they forfeit their life because of the crime they have committed? I have heard it said repeatedly by many different people from many different walks of life that if you forgive someone you cannot punish them for the crime that you have forgiven. It is as if the act of forgiveness erases the crime. If I forgive someone of murdering my relative (and, by the way, I have had a family member murdered, so this is not simply an academic question for me), are they still liable for the crime of murder?

3.  If you answered the above question in the negative, what does that have to say about lengthy prison sentences? How can we forgive someone of the crime of murder and thereby take the death penalty off of the table for discussion, and yet still demand that the person spend the rest of their life in prison? Are we not splitting the chin whiskers of a gnat? It seems to me as a matter of legal, moral and theological consistency that if forgiveness eliminates the possibility of the death penalty then it eliminates the possibility of any kind of penal punishment. I mean, forgiveness is forgiveness, right?

I am one of the strange breed of individuals who still believes in the appropriate use of capital punishment, and this is one of the passages (and there are many others) to which I can point and ask some serious questions. God clearly forgave. That point cannot be denied. And yet God punished, and used the “death penalty” as punishment. Are we simply to erase this episode due to the fact that is occurred on the other side of the cross? Then, what shall we say about God’s forgiveness on the other side of the cross. Was it erased too?

I am willing to discuss the issue, because I believe it is both a serious theological and secular issue. In addition to believing it is appropriate to use the death penalty, I believe it has been abused by the judicial system in the US, and I believe that there needs to be some major adjustments in how it is used. But that is true at every level in our judicial system.

I welcome any feedback and push backs.

Postmodern Christianity – If All Else Fails Lower The Bar

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One of the major tenets of postmodern Christianity is this, “We have not been very successful with this whole counter-cultural thing, you know, all the ‘purity of heart’ stuff and ‘keep yourself unblemished from the world.’ So, if we can’t beat the world, let’s join it. Let’s out-world the world and call it Christianity, and when everyone sees how much we are like the world then they will want to join us and they won’t be embarrassed and we can build bigger churches and everyone will all be happy.”

If you doubt me, read this article. (as long as the link is good).

To sum the story as I understand it, a minister goes to a movie studio to become an extra in a movie. The movie he thought he would be a part of turns into a sitcom that is flagrantly anti-Christian in its treatment of women. So, instead of quietly leaving he gets involved deeper and deeper as an “extra” and justifies his whole experience because another extra thought it was “cool” that a Christian minister would be a part of that type of show. He makes the incredible statement that the entertainment industry needs more “Christians,” especially when the “Christians” have absolutely no control over the story line or the overarching theme of the show or movie. In the whole postmodern world view, if you can’t have an impact on society with high moral standards, just lower the bar. Literally! The scene in which he appears is shot in a bar in which women are routinely used and viewed purely as sex objects.

That ideology is wrong on so many counts! To justify behavior that is blatantly opposite to the New Testament standard of human sexuality by calling on the name of Jesus is absolute heresy! Just to mention one example, Jesus was able to comfort and have a conversation with the woman at the well (John 4) ONLY because he stood defiantly and confronted the power structures that used and abused women! This is one of the major themes of the gospel of Luke, in addition to John. How can we move from that counter-cultural indictment of society to one in which it is perfectly okay, and even recommended, that we participate in a setting in which women are dressed in low-cut extremely tight t-shirts and shorts that are only slightly larger than common underwear?

I just have one question for those who have no problem with this philosophy. What would a minister who is complicit with this “meta-message” (to use a good postmodern term) have to say if he were called to the bed side of a young woman who had been severely beaten and raped by a man who filled his mind with the images that the minister had a part in creating? What is he going to say to the girl, or her parents? “You know, when I was on the set of that show that debased women, I had somebody tell me it was really cool that a Christian minister would act in a show like that!” I don’t think so. Not if it was my daughter. Not if he wanted to keep his head on his shoulders.

We’ve got to re-think this whole postmodern pabulum. As the father of a little girl I am simply horrified at the way our daughters are being sexualized. Pornography is the fastest growing drug in the United States. And I mean that literally. The endorphins that are released by viewing naked or semi-naked women (and men) is no different from the endorphins that are released when certain drugs are injected or ingested. You may say, “But this is a prime-time sit-com, not pornography.” Only in degree, dear reader. Only in degree. Any show which routinely debases females and distorts a healthy view of human sexuality is pornography, and the sooner we name the name we can deal with the sin.

I can only speak as one individual, but as a father I do not want my daughter to be anywhere close to this minister, if he truly thinks that participating in a show such as this is glorifying to God or that it is the proper way to honor women as Christ loved and honored the Church (Ephesians 5).

Just as a clarification, you will notice that nowhere in this post did I name the minister. The article to which the link leads is self-written by the minister, so I will let it stand. This post deals only with his behavior in this one specific incident, and I do not want to be accused of attacking him personally, nor do I wish to make a statement about his relationship with God. As I would have never watched this particular show I would have never known about his participation had he not advertised the fact (and quite proudly too, I might add) through this article. It is his behavior, and the underlying message that it communicates, to which I am deeply opposed. If I have caused unneccesary harm or pain I apologize. If I have inflicted any necessary pain, I accept responsibility.

As a Baptist minister and civil-rights leader was once quoted, “If you see a good fight, get in it!” This is a battle that I cannot stand back and let others fight. There is simply too much at stake.

The LORD Bless You

P dove

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The book of Numbers has to be one of the most neglected books of the Bible. Maybe not the top of the bottom list, but it has to rate in the bottom 5, maybe even the bottom 3. All those names and numbers and arcane rules and drivel and twaddle: we only read the book of Numbers to complete the “I read the Bible all the way through this year” checklist, and only then mostly by skimming it.

And right there in the book of Numbers, sandwiched between the rules for the Nazarite and another of the incessant lists of numbers of things given for the tabernacle, is the priestly benediction, one of the most beautiful passages within the entire canon of Scripture.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)

Thus the priest was to bless the Israelites. Imagine hearing Aaron or one of his sons pronounce that blessing upon you as you worshiped at the tabernacle. What other God spoke so lovingly and tenderly both to and about his people? This passage is one of those passages that we should read over and over again, slowly and reverently, letting the words soak into our hearts.

“The LORD bless you and keep you.” Not a man. Not a government. Not a political party. Not a church. Not even a priest, although it was a priest who spoke the words. It was the LORD himself, the Holy Name spoken with emphasis to let the people know who it was that had chosen them, had delivered them, had protected them, and would be their constant lover, protector and guide.

I find verse 27 to be equally powerful, although not with the same poetic punch. “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27, NIV, italics mine). The blessing was not just an emotional “pick me up.” The blessing actually conferred upon the people a concrete gift – a specific blessing. God’s name would be written upon them. They would be claimed and reclaimed as God’s people every time the blessing was spoken upon them.

Actually, the book of Numbers is not all that bad, if you take the time to really receive it as it would have been received by an Israelite in the Tabernacle or even first Temple time period. It is full of rich history, some admittedly bizarre legal codes, and some fascinating glimpses into human nature. And, one of the most beautiful gifts God has ever given his people.

The LORD bless you today, and every day.

Book Review – Why They Left (Flavil Yeakley, Jr.)

Pews in rows in a church.

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One of the goals I had for this blog was to do an occasional book review. However, with my Doctor of Ministry studies I have had to do quite a few reviews in a more academic setting, and so my hunger to do one for this blog was not very strong. Today, however, I would like to make my first suggestion: Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil Yeakley, Jr. (Gospel Advocate, 2012)

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is a preacher, elder, deacon, or just anyone who is interested in the trends affecting the Churches of Christ, and religious groups in general. You may not agree with everything that Yeakley says, and he admits as much at the very beginning of the book. But you cannot afford to dismiss the material that Yeakley presents, and he has done a tremendous service to the church in preparing this book.

The book has twelve chapters, three introductory chapters and then eight which deal with various reasons why members are leaving the Churches of Christ, and then a concluding chapter. I personally felt like the first three chapters were the most valuable, as it was in these chapters that Yeakley presented some statistics and other information that is so important for church leaders to know and understand. My favorite chapter was the third, in which he dealt with communication issues within the church. In my opinion that chapter was worth the purchase price of the book itself.

The eight chapters detailing reasons why people have left the Churches of Christ are uneven. Some are very touching, others were a little flat. I felt the chapter dealing with those who just did not fit in was a little over wrought, simply because I do not get into the Myers-Briggs type analysis. If you enjoy that material this will probably be one of your favorite chapters.

I will say that for those of us who have wrestled with many of these issues within the church and have chosen to stay in the church, reading this book is painful. It hurts to know how many people have been hurt enough to leave the church on the one hand, and how many have left because they simply have what I believe is a shallow understanding of discipleship or of Scripture. I am not their judge, however. God will be the judge of all of us, something that Yeakley makes clear in his evaluation of these reasons why people have left the fellowship of the Churches of Christ.

One little aspect of the book that really got my attention. Yeakley quoted from the February 2012 issue of the Christian Chronicle and the day in which I was reading that particular chapter was late in February, 2012. How is that for getting a book published using up-to-date information?!

Overall, however, this book needs to be in the hands of every church leader who cares deeply for the church. If you are not a member of the Churches of Christ some of the issues and problems may seem a little quaint and humorous to you, but I am sure some of yours would seem equally quaint to us. I think that this book would be valuable for many conservative church leaders, whether they are in a non-denominational setting or even within a denominational structure. Many problems and issues cross confessional boundaries. Like any good thought-provoking book, this one will not answer all the questions, and it will become dated within a few years. But for the immediate future this is a very important book.

For those church leaders who are concerned about this issue and are looking for additional resources, I would also recommend Unchristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (Baker Books, 2007); Falling Away: Why Christians Lose Their Faith and What Can Be Done About It by Brian Simmons (Hillcrest Publishing, 2007); and Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 2008).

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