January, 2014 Archive

I’ve previously written on a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a book that I was very delighted to read and recommend to readers of this blog.

Bonhoeffer is a figure from contemporary church history that I do not think it is possible to read “too much” of. He is delightfully quotable and thoroughly convicting; a man with much to say about the Christian life in reality of this side of the cross.

There are many books one could select from to encounter Bonhoeffer. Many people today discover Bonhoeffer through thebonhoeffer reader popular biography by Eric Metaxas; others discover him after hearing Life Together or The Cost of Discipleship quoted by their pastor. If you want an introduction to Bonhoeffer as a preacher, you could read Isabel Best’s The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Beyond those foundational texts, it is hard for the student or lay person to find another resource to continue their experience with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This is why I was incredibly thrilled at the release of The Bonhoeffer Reader, edited by Clifford Green and Michael Dejonge and published by Fortress Press. Based on the recent and massive publication of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition (DBWE), The Bonhoeffer Reader is meant to serve the general reader or beginning student. This book provides a series of excerpts from Bonhoeffers life, from those written as a young student to texts published shortly after his death. These readings also cover a wide variety of genres, from academic texts to lecture notes and other short pieces. It is for this reason that The Bonhoeffer Reader is considered primarily a theological reader; it gives us depth and insight into the theological mind of Bonhoeffer not formerly available to a wide audience.

There are many features about this book that make it a great resource for lay-readers and students alike. First, the breadth of wisdom over a large variety of topics has been included for all readers. Bonhoeffers writings on Ethics, Ecumenism, the German Church, Christian life, and his University writings/lectures are all included. Secondly, the footnotes for this text have been largely stripped down in comparison to its DBWE counterpart, making them more readable for a wide audience. One of the greatest features of this text is that in its margins, the page numbers corresponding to the DBWE are included. This is a great feature to include for students who may read an excerpt in The Bonhoeffer Reader and then desire to continue reading the entire piece in the DBWE at a local library. I am also thrilled at any text that includes an index of Scripture references, which is readily available in the back of this book (as well as an index of names).

Each work included by Bonhoeffer includes a brief introduction and background included by the editors. These inclusions provide moments of history in Bonhoeffers life that really make the writings “pop” to the reader. An example of the impacts in this attention to detail is seen in the short work entitled Protestantism Without Reformation. The history provided tells the reader that this work was written shortly after Bonhoeffers return from his second visit to the United States at a time when he was seriously considering the differences between the American and German churches. This would be some time before his arrest that led to his eventual martyrdom. In this work he writes:

Throughout the history of the church, endurance and flight in times of persecution have been the two Christian possibilities, since the days of the apostles. Endurance to the point of last resistance may be commanded; flight may be permitted or perhaps even commanded. The flight of a Christian in times of persecution is not apostasy and disgrace as such, for God does not call every person to martyrdom. Not flight but denial is sin, although there may be a situation where flight is the same as denial or, conversely, where flight itself may be a part of martyrdom (pg. 577).

When I first read this, I was in awe of Bonhoeffers prophetic words on his own life. Could it be possible that even at this time Bonhoeffer could sense God calling him to death for his church?

Bonhoeffer is a man who has much to say to us today, and is someone we would be wise to invest and listen to. It is for this reason I would heartily and readily encourage The Bonhoeffer Reader to any general reader, student or pastor seeking to move beyond the biographical or introductory texts previously available to them. This is a resource I would recommend being available to any individual curious in the theology and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The Animal Kingdom is full of various creatures who are known to devour others of their own kind. Sharks, spiders, wasps, polar bears and even chickens have been known to turn their own species into a delicious afternoon snack.

Too often the church appears to be modeled more after the Animal Kingdom in this way than it does Christ’s selfless sacrifice. Anyone who has been around the church for awhile will easily be able to recollect numerous occasions where other Christians have hurt them in significant ways. Countless people have turned their back on the church for good because they have been harmed more grievously by Christians in the church than by others outside of the church. The place that is supposed to be a safe haven for us can quickly turn into something that feels like a cannibalistic frenzy.

Why do Christians so easily and readily hurt one another? At the root of it all is sin, and this sin manifests itself in numerous ways. Sometimes we are just paying our pain forward; we hurt, so we want others to hurt. Other times we are just insensitive to those around us. Often we set unrealistic expectations of others, forgetting that we too are sinners in need of grace. Unrepentant sin can foster bitterness, which then gets extended to our brothers and sisters in the church.

But the cause of this problem is not the purpose of this post. My desure instead is to point those of you going through this kind of pain and betrayal to a Man who knows a thing or two about this subject.

Christ our King understands what it means to be betrayed by those closest to him. John 1:11 says that Christ came to his own people, but they did not receive him. In the book of Zechariah, we see a prophetic message for what the Messiah will endure at the hands of his friends:

And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’ – Zechariah 13:6

Jesus tells us that a servant is not above his Master (John 15:20). Therefore, we should expect to identify with him in his betrayal. As dysfunctional and painful as that sounds, it is a reality of life in a sinful world on this side of glory.

But this is not the end of the story, as identifying with Christ’s betrayal is not only the problem but also the solution to our pain and the beginning of healing. In his book Hit by Friendly Fire, Dr. Michael Milton identifies how, through relating to Christ’s betrayal and suffering, we can move beyond our pain and begin to apply the gospel remedy to heal our soul. Dr. Milton identifies three “steps” to seeing the gospel in the midst of our pain from being wounded by other Christians:

1. Take up your cross. When Christians take up their cross, they are identifying all of their pain and suffering with the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle Paul often knew what it meant to take up his cross. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul’s cross is imprisonment at the hands of other would-be preachers of God. Yet, Paul is able to rejoice because he has related his predicament to the sufferings of Jesus. “Only that, in every way…Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

2. Take off your crown. Anglican Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda once said, “So much of our response in the Christian life is difficult, but necessary.” As difficult as it is, we must trust God’s sovereign plan for our lives. He is in control, we are not. What does it mean to trust God’s plan in the midst of being betrayed? It means drinking from the cup we have been given, just as Christ did. It means we say, like Joseph, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Cherish the promise of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

3. Go to your Gethsemane. There must be a moment when, in the midst of our pain, we look it square on and say “Not my will, but Yours.” We must respond to the pain and hurt and trust totally in Christ. This final step frees us from pain and bitterness, and allows the grace of the gospel to foster forgiveness in our hearts. We can hand the actions of others over to God, knowing in the end he is sovereign judge.

When we know that pain and betrayal is possible at the hands of our Christian brothers and sisters, ‘trust’ is a concept that may be hard for a lot of us. I love how Dr. Milton sums up our response to this predicament, “It is not that I implicitly trust all men, it is that I trust God in all situations. And that makes life sweet.”

FromTheVaultFinal

The following is an excerpt by highly esteemed scholar J.I. Packer from his book Affirming the Apostles Creed.

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It is by strict theological logic that the Creed confesses faith in the Holy Spirit before proceeding to the church and that it speaks of the church before mentioning personal salvation (forgiveness, resurrection, everlasting life). For though the Father and the Son have loved the church and the Son has redeemed it, it is the Holy Spirit who actually creates it, by inducing faith; and it is the church, through its ministry and fellowship, that personal salvation ordinarily comes to be enjoyed.

Unhappily, there is at this point a parting of the ways. Roman Catholics and Protestants both say the Creed, yet they are divided. Why? Basically, because of divergent understandings of “I believe in the holy catholic church” – “one holy catholic and apostolic church,” as the text of the Nicene Creed has it.

Official Roman Catholic teaching presents the church of Christ as the one organized body of baptized persons who are in communion with the Pope and acknowledge the teaching and ruling authority of the episcopal hierarchy. It is holy because it produces saintly folk and is kept from radical sin, catholic because in its worldwide spread it holds the full faith in trust for everyone, and apostolic because its ministerial orders stem from the apostles, and its faith (including such non-biblical items as the assumption of Mary and her immaculate conception, the Mass-sacrifice, and papal infallibility) is a sound growth from apostolic roots. Non-Roman bodies, however church-like, are not strictly part of the church at all.

Protestants challenge this from the Bible. In Scripture (they say) the church is the one worldwide fellowship of believing people whose Head is Christ. It is holy because it is consecrated to God (though it is capable nonetheless of grievous sin); it is catholic because it embraces all Christians everywhere; and it is apostolic because it seeks to maintain the apostles’ doctrine unmixed. Pope, hierarchy, and extra-biblical doctrines are not merely nonessential but actually deforming; if Rome is a church (which some Reformers doubted) she is so despite the extras, not because of them. In particular, infallibility belongs to God speaking in the Bible, not to the church or to any of its offices, and any teaching given in or by the church must be open to correction by “God’s word written,”

That the New Testament presents the Protestant view is hardly open to dispute (the dispute is over whether the New Testament is final!). The church appears in Trinitarian relationships as the family of God the Father, the body of Christ the Son, and the temple (dwelling-place) of the Holy Spirit, and so long as the dominical sacraments are administered and ministerial oversight is exercised, no organizational norms are insisted on at all. The church is the supernatural society of God’s redeemed and baptized people, looking back to Christ’s first coming with gratitude and on to his second coming with hope. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4) – such is the church’s present state and future prospect. To this hope both sacraments point, baptism prefiguring final resurrection, the Lord’s Supper anticipating “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).

The evangelical theology of revival, first spelled out in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the present-day emergence of “charismatic renewal” on a worldwide scale remind us of something that Roman Catholic and Protestant disputers, in their concentration on doctrinal truth, tended to miss – namely, that the church must always be open to the immediacy of the Spirit’s Lordship and that disorderly vigor in a congregation is infinitely preferable to a correct and tidy deadness.

The acid test of the church’s state is what happens in a local congregation. Each congregation is a visible outcrop of the one church universal, called to serve God and men in humility and, perhaps, humiliation while living in prospect of glory. Spirit-filled for worship and witness, active in love and care for insiders and outsiders alike, self-supporting and self-propagating, each congregation is to be a spearhead of divine counterattack for the recapture of a rebel world.

Here is a question for you: how is your congregation getting along?

I’ve made it my goal over my Winter Break to read and digest a large quantity of books in a short period of time. It’s my pleasure to now write about one of these books, Jesus on Every Page by David Murray. This book has been on my list since it came out earlier this year, and I was very excited to finally get to read it.

The goal of Murray’s book is to overview 10 ways to see Christ throughout the Old Testament. Those various ways are listed below:

1. In the Creation
2. In the Old Testament Characters
3. In His Old Testament Appearances
4. In the Old Testament Law
5. In Old Testament History
6. In the Old Testament Prophets
7. In the Old Testament Types
8. In the Old Testament Covenants
9. In the Old Testament Proverbs
10. In the Old Testament Poems

Why This Book?

This book comes at a time where it is needed now more than ever. The Evangelical church is in a state where the Old Testament is hardly referenced, and when it is it is most often for morals or character examples rather than pointing to Christ. Not only for this reason, but David Murray also points out other reasons why a revitalization of the Old Testament in the Evangelical church is needed:

1. Liberal scholars have created an environment of skepticism and doubt shrouding the Old Testament.
2. Many Christians are ignorant of the Old Testament’s purpose and historical setting.
3. Still others find the Old Testament to be irrelevant in light of the New Testament.
4. The primacy of Dispensationalism in Evangelical churches tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role.
5. There are so many bad examples of Old Testament preaching that fuels peoples lack of interest.
6. Laziness.
7. People think the Old Testament is official, not personal (pgs. 6-7).

Interactions with the Text

It would be difficult to go in depth about each of the chapters in this book without writing at length or writing multiple posts. Instead I’d like to just write about a few moments (of many) that stuck out to me in the text and hope that is both informative for you as a reader and convincing enough to buy the book for yourself.

One thing that immediately jumped out to me is in the opening chapter on seeing Jesus in the creation. I was delighted to finally read a book that doesn’t turn Genesis 1-2 into a debate about creation or evolution, but instead teaches its intent for us as readers to see: the glory and majesty of Christ as creator and ruler over all of creation. Murray communicates this thought intimately and beautifully as he lists out the aspects of creation that point to Christ. A section I found really personal was titled “The Accessories of Redemption,” which discusses aspects of the creation that will ultimately be used as part of the plan to redemption. I’ve never thought about the creation with such questions as “What did he (Christ) think when he made the trees, one of which would one day suspend him between heaven and earth? (pg. 47)” When we think of all Christ did in creation despite his foreknowledge of our rebellion, we learn so much about his character and love for us.

I also appreciated David’s approach to the Old Testament characters. One thing is for sure: more often than not we tend to preach the Old Testament in a very man-centered fashion. This approach says we need to have faith like Abraham, forgive like Joseph, and have strength like David. In contrast, Murray shows us how we should instead read the Old Testament characters of old as shadows, types and pointing to Christ and his character. This approach leads us away from man-centered moralism and instead to Christ-centered doxology.

I was also overjoyed to see a chapter on the Old Testament appearances of Christ, also known as theophanies or christophanies. It is wise to learn and observe that when God reveals himself or speaks in the Old Testament it is always through the Son. Charles Drew refers to these appearances as love letters or phone calls between two lovers, acts which are temporary and create anticipation for the genuine arrival (pg. 81-82). Or, as some of Murray’s Scottish friends have said, “Christ enjoyed trying on the clothes of his incarnation.”

Another discussion that would benefit many people is that of Christ as the Wisdom spoken of in the book of Proverbs. It would be unwise for me to go into lengthy discussion on this chapter, but I was awed at how the Proverbs continually point to Jesus Christ.

Like many great books, this text comes complete with a Scripture Index. This index is particularly helpful because it will be useful for future reference to find quick points, introductions and illustrations. In addition, the book contains sets of study questions for each chapter than could be used in a group context.

The only critique I would have for this book is not the content, but a preference about the style. Murray often references Scripture or various commentaries and sources through the use of footnotes. However, instead of including these footnotes on the bottom of the page they are located in the back of the book. I would have much rather seen these footnotes cited on the bottom of the page, particularly for the scripture references that are either paraphrased or not quoted directly.

All in all this is a great book and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who struggles reading through the Old Testament or wants to pick up new pointers on seeing Jesus in the Old Testament text. While a short primer on the subject matter, it will continue to be a book I delve into for pointers and advice as I read through the Old Testament.