Sunday, July 30, 2017

People from Somewhere vs People from Anywhere

by Michael Frost | Jul 29, 2017 | Homepage | 1 comment

Are you a Somewhere or an Anywhere?

Last years Brexit vote stunned many pundits and social commentators, who struggled to explain how it could have happened. But one of them, author David Goodhart has come up with an intriguing explanation for the deep divisions in British society.

It’s all about “people from Somewhere versus people from Anywhere.”

I think this fascinating idea helps make sense not only of Brexit, but the emergence of conservative nationalism in Europe and Australia, and the election of US President Donald Trump.

Let me explain. In his book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, David Goodhart says society can be broken into two large groups.

First, there’s the Somewheres. . .

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

For the Love of God, Bono, Please Stop Touring

By Ben Swihart  July 21, 2017

I thought she was joking.

“I had to find someone who wouldn’t annoy me the whole time. Consider this your fair warning—this will be a spiritual experience for me.”

A friend called me a couple of weeks ago with an extra ticket to see U2 ’s Joshua Tree tour. I remembered liking some of their songs on the radio, and knowing that everything sounds better at a live concert, I happily accepted. Having not yet been lured into the cult of Bono’s personality, all I knew was the legend that preceded him—international poverty relief icon, (aging) Gen-X sex symbol, and all-around good guy.

As the openers left the stage, a scrolling montage of poetry slowly came into focus. While those around me were ordering another $12 beer and taking selfies with their new merchandise, the depth and radicality of this real-life “U2charist” struck me. Maybe this dude was the real deal. While waiting for the founder of the ONE anti-poverty campaign, the author of the corporate (RED) campaign against HIV/AIDS, and the role model for American evangelicals (not to mention multi-platinum rock star) to come to stage, my friend proclaimed, “I think Bono just reads poetry when he’s not recording,” barely giving the screen another glimpse.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Learning to Love Leviticus

Hey, friends! We've been on vocation for a few weeks now. But we're back now and wanted to give you some help on how to understand the second most confusing book in the Bible (after Revelation): the OT book of Leviticus. Our friend, the esteemed OT scholar Christopher J. H. Wright, wrote an excellent and lucid article on this, so we give it to you as our best guidance on reading Leviticus. it's from Christianity Today, 7.22.13.

Learning to Love Leviticus

Even those passages about shellfish, mixed fibers, and animal sacrifice.

Christopher J. H. Wright| July 22, 2013

Learning to Love Leviticus

Even those passages about shellfish, mixed fibers, and animal sacrifice.

Christopher J. H. Wright| July 22, 2013

Perhaps the fact that it is catalogued under "Humor and Entertainment" should tell us how to rightly appreciate A. J. Jacobs's best-selling 2007 book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. In the course of a fascinating year, Jacobs tries to obey literally the 700-plus commands he finds in the Bible—including stoning an adulterer, offering an animal sacrifice, and upholding all the jots and tittles of the Old Testament law. Clearly, taking the Bible literally does not always mean taking it seriously.

More recently, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans undertook her own experiment in "living biblically" by following for a year all the Bible's passages about women's behavior. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is Evans's subversive way of revealing that no one—not even the most conservative Christian—takes the whole Bible literally, and that to do so is both impossible and silly.

Both books, while unfortunately mocking in their own ways, nonetheless underscore some persistent misunderstandings about the Bible:

How the Bible has come to us. Scripture is placed within the context of ancient cultures in the Middle East. It comes dressed in all the particularities of history and geography, which God took seriously when he spoke to us through various people who lived in them. To treat all of Scripture as if it were written directly into today's world is to imagine that God himself thought the world would never change and that we could just keep on obeying all the rules. That is absurd, as we shall see.

How laws function in society, then and now. Sometimes laws are like statutes—expressed in general principles. Sometimes they are cases or precedents from which judges draw principles that can be applied to different situations. Sometimes laws reflect a whole culture's way of thinking about life.

The Old Testament laws are like all of these. They exemplify how God wanted certain kinds of situations to be handled. They embody values and objectives, on the assumption that people would understand how to extrapolate from a particular case to a general principle and apply that to new situations. So to take all of the Old Testament laws at face value is to misunderstand their original intent in the first place.

How commands can function in relationships and communication. If I hear someone on the street shout, "Freeze! Put your hands behind your head!" I need to know two things. First, who is shouting? If it's a police officer—someone whose authorized command I need to submit to—then yes. Second, is he addressing me? Likely the answer is no. It's addressed to the guy who just robbed a street vendor and is running away. So the command has authority because of who gave it, but it is not addressed to me in that moment. It claims my respect—I should not break the law in that way either—but it does not claim my compliance.

Next time you come to London, ask your taxi driver if he is obeying the law. Doubtless he'll answer, "Yes, Guv."

Then ask him, in that case, where his bale of hay and bag of oats are located. Remind him of the English law, never repealed, that requires London-licensed hackney cabs to carry those items for the horses that originally pulled them. Clearly he stands accused of not literally obeying the law. But he will probably retort, "You can't be serious." We all understand that an ancient law passed in the days of horse-drawn transport no longer applies to vehicles with engines. Mind you, it does embody a principle about how to care for a working animal, and that remains relevant—we'll come back to that.

In the same way, common sense tells us that when Paul commands Timothy to "endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ," that is a command that I should seek to obey whenever I face hardship like Timothy. It transfers to me in principle. But when Paul commands Timothy, "Come before winter, bring my cloak, and especially the parchments," we know that is a local, particular command, meant for Timothy only. The idea that all the imperative statements in the Bible should be taken literally, as if they all apply to me, is a nonsensical way of handling Scripture.

Old Testament law: Why is it there?

What we usually mean by "Old Testament law" comes from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The word Torah does not really mean "law" in the sense of legislation. It means "guidance." And the Torah guides its original recipients, and us, by setting the laws and commandments within the framework of a story.

Before we get the Ten Commandments, we get the story of Creation, the brokenness of our sin and rebellion, and the wonder of God's redemption, displayed in the Exodus of the Israelites. So the law was given to a people who not only knew that story, and knew the God who stands behind it, but who had lived it as well. God gave his law to people who had already experienced his grace, his love and faithfulness, his great act of salvation. Obeying the law was never a way to earn God's salvation, but the right way for redeemed people to respond to God's salvation when they had experienced it (Ex. 19:3–6; Deut. 6:20–25).

And God gave Israel his law in order to shape them into a society that would reflect God's character and values in the midst of the nations—what we might call a missional motivation (Lev. 18:3–4; Deut. 4:6–8). The Israelites were to be distinctive by living in God's way, the ways of personal integrity, economic and social justice, and community compassion. The law was not a set of arbitrary rules to keep God happy. It was a way of life, a way of being human, a culture in a particular time and place, to show what a redeemed people under God looks like.

To imagine that "living biblically" means trying to keep as many ancient rules as possible just because they are in the Bible misses the point of the law in the first place. Old Testament law was not just about rules but also about relationship with God, founded on God's grace and redemption, and motivated by the mission of living as the people of God in the world, so that the world should come to know the living God.

Old Testament law: What's in it?

Every society follows different kinds of law—constitutional, criminal, civil, and so forth. So also in Old Testament Israel. There's an old tradition that divides Old Testament law into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial. It has some value, but it can result in people saying, "I only need to pay attention to the moral law and can ignore all the rest." But that doesn't seem to fit with Paul's affirmation that "all Scripture" is authoritative and useful (2 Tim. 3:16–17, emphasis mine).

To fill the picture, we need to recognize that the ancient Israelites had at least the following kinds of law.

Criminal laws: Offenses against the foundations of the society itself, meaning against God and the covenant. Most of those were sanctioned by the death penalty, indicating how seriously the Israelites took any behavior that threatened the nation's relationship with God. All the capital offenses in Israel are linked, directly or indirectly, to one of the Ten Commandments.

Civil laws: Disputes between citizens over land, property, damages, compensation, animals, and so forth. Many of the case laws fall into this category.

Family laws: Parents, rather than courts, dealt with most of these matters, such as inheritance, marriage, and divorce. Only if something went beyond the power of parents to control did it come before the elders.

Religious or cultic laws: All the regulations concerning sacrifice, priesthood, festivals, offerings, cleanness and uncleanness, and so on.

Compassionate laws: We would hardly call these "laws" at all, but the Torah has many of them, such as how to treat the poor and needy, the homeless, those without families or land, debtors, ethnic minorities, and immigrants.

The point is that on one hand, all of these kinds of laws were intended for Israel's society and not directly for us. They are culturally specific and limited. Yet at the same time, as Paul says, all of the laws were "written for our instruction" and are "useful" for us. So we should not find ourselves asking, "Which of these laws do I have to obey, and which can I ignore?" Rather, we should ask, "What can I learn from all of these laws about how God wants me to live and how he wants his people and society at large to live?" Not, "What rules do I have to keep?" but rather, "What kind of relationship do I need to cultivate with God and live out among others?"

Why don't we keep all the laws?

Obviously we don't obey all the Old Testament laws—law such as avoiding clothing made of mixed fibers, stoning to death people who cheat on their spouses, and refusing to eat seafood without fins or scales. Indeed, many of the laws we simply can't obey, because they would break the laws of our own time. For example, we cannot obey the Old Testament laws about how to treat slaves as owning a slave is now illegal (though the biblical laws about slaves have plenty to teach us when we note how unique they were in the ancient world). History has moved on. God knew it would.

See also Wright's sidebar to this article, "Sex in Leviticus."

But just as well, we should never say, "Oh, we don't bother with those things because they are just Old Testament rules." There are principled reasons why Christians not only need but also should not observe certain Old Testament laws simply as written. And regarding two kinds of law, the New Testament itself provides those reasons.

The sacrificial laws: The New Testament makes it clear that the religious system of temple, altar, animal sacrifices, priesthood, and the Day of Atonement has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ through the Cross and Resurrection. He has accomplished once and for all what that great system pointed toward. The Book of Hebrews stresses that, whether we are Jewish or Gentile believers, we must not go back to that system, because we already have all that it represented through Christ's sacrificial death and ascended life in the presence of the Father.

The food laws: The distinction between clean and unclean animals and foods was symbolic of the distinction between Israel as God's holy people and the Gentile nations (Lev. 20:25–26). In the New Testament, that separation is abolished in Christ, as Paul says in Ephesians 2. Through the Cross, God has made the two cultures one new humanity. And as Peter discovered through his vision in Acts 10, before going to the home of the Gentile Cornelius, what God has called clean should no longer be called unclean. Today some Messianic Jewish believers choose freely to observe the kashrut regulations as a mark of their Jewish community and cultural identity. But in their unity, believers are free from food laws.

But just because we no longer keep these laws literally does not mean they can't teach us anything. We are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice in the service of God. We are called to offer the sacrifice of praise. We are called to cleanness of life in a corrupt world. In fact, if we are tempted to mock Jewish fastidiousness over kosher food in the kitchen, we might ask if we have any sustained commitment to the moral and spiritual distinctiveness that the New Testament upholds.

We can find principles even in Israel's civil laws to apply today. The urban Christians in Corinth did not see oxen grinding corn in their city houses. But when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he took an Old Testament law about allowing working oxen to be fed from the product of their labors (Deut. 25:4) and applied it to Christian workers in Corinth. He sees a principle in the case law—originally meant for the benefit of animals—and applies it to working humans. The principle: Work deserves reward. Later he applies another commandment about how manna was to be collected (totally irrelevant to Corinth, you might think), and applies it to the principle of equality between Christians (1 Cor. 9:8–10; 2 Cor. 8:13–15). These are biblical examples of creative application of biblical laws in nonliteral, but very appropriate, ways.

How do we find the principles?

The best way to derive principles from the Old Testament law is to ask questions. All laws in all human societies are made for a purpose. Laws happen because people want to change society, to achieve some social goal, to foster certain interests, or to prevent some social evil. So when we look at any particular law or group of biblical laws, we can ask, "What could be the purpose behind this law?" To be more specific:

● What kind of situation was this law intended to promote or to prevent?

● What change in society would this law achieve if it were followed?

● What kind of situation made this law necessary or desirable?

● What kind of person would benefit from this law, by assistance or protection?

● What kind of person would be restrained or restricted by this law, and why?

● What values are given priority in this law? Whose needs or rights are upheld?

● In what way does this law reflect what we know from elsewhere in the Bible about the character of God and his plans for human life?

● What principle or principles does this law embody or instantiate?

Now we won't always be able to answer these questions with much detail or insight. Some laws are just plain puzzling. But asking questions like these leads us to a much broader and deeper grasp of what Old Testament laws were all about: forming the kind of society God wanted to create.

Then, having done that homework as best we can, we step out of the Old Testament world and back into our own. Ask the same kind of questions about the society we live in and the kind of people we need to be, and the kind of personal and societal objectives we need to aim for in order to be in any sense "biblical."

In this way, biblical law can function sharply as a paradigm or model for our personal and social ethics in all kinds of areas: economic, familial, political, judicial, sexual, and so on. We are not "keeping it" in a literalist way like a list of rules. But more important, we are not ignoring it in defiance of what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16–17. We are studying and using it as guidance, light for the path, in the joyful way of Psalms 1, 19, and 119.

What would Jesus and Paul say?

A. J. Jacobs tried it for a year. The rich young ruler said he had done it all his life. Jesus' response might have been the same: "You need to follow me and get your priorities right. Seek first the reign of God in all of life." Even the law itself expresses key priorities (e.g., Deut. 10:12–13). The prophets put social justice way above religious rituals (1 Sam. 15:22; Hos. 6:6). Jesus agreed, telling those who were meticulously keeping the jot-and-tittle rules that they had forgotten the bigger picture—namely, justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). And he concentrated all the law in the twin first and second commandments, love for God and neighbor. Paul took the same view (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:13–14).

But Paul went further. To those who imagine that "living biblically" means keeping all the rules you can possibly find in the Bible, I think he would say, "You haven't understood the first thing about the gospel. The Good News is not, 'Here are the rules, see how many of them you can keep.' " Instead, I believe he would say, "Here is Jesus. See what God has done for you through him."

The good news is that the God who created the world has kept his promise to save the world. He has done it through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And we can be part of the story that ends in a new creation, with Christ reigning as king. The good news also is that once we have entered that story by repentance and faith, God gives us his Spirit, precisely so that "the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4).

There is plenty that we can learn from Old Testament laws that can still usefully guide our ethical and missional thinking and action. The Torah was always intended to do just that. But the heartbeat of Christian life and freedom is not keeping all the rules. Instead, it is living as people whose whole life and character are shaped by God's Word in all its Christ-centered fullness, becoming more like the Christ we trust and follow, and bearing the fruit of God's Spirit. That's living biblically.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tales of the Demonic

Posted on 6.25.2011

Last year I was sitting in the backyard typing away on my laptop. It was one of those wonderful mornings where I'm working outside with a cup of coffee and the dog running around.

Suddenly, things got very bad. I was surprised to see a man let himself into my backyard. I was startled but saw he was wearing a hard hat, a tool belt and a florescent vest. He was from the electric company and he was looking for our electric box.

Feeling cheerful I said, "Well hello, checking the meter?"

He responded, "Ummm. No sir. I'm here to shut off the power."

Shocked, I sought clarification, "Turn off the electricity!?"

"Yes sir."

"But why?"

"Lack of payment."

Now I'm really alarmed and confused, "Lack of payment? We're set up on an automatic bank draft. How could there be lack of payment?"

The man looked worried, like I was about to totally go off on him. "Sir, I can't say. All I know is that I'm supposed to shut off the power. I'm just doing my job."

I took a deep breath...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Do not “prejudge divine things from human”: Tertullian on Divine Anger

I have been doing a little digging in Tertullian’s work The Five Books Against Marcion the last couple of days. The five books cover an astonishing amount of ground (creation, hermeneutics, prophecy, goodness, Christology, etc.), which makes sense once you consider what a convoluted mess Marcion’s theology actually was. They didn’t call him the “arch-heretic” for nothing.

One important area is his treatment of divine anger. Mark Sheridan has touched on the issue of the Fathers’ handling of Biblical anthropomorphism in Language for God in Patristic Tradition and shown how the different strategies involved were concerned with making sure we were reading the Bible in a way that is “fitting” to God’s dignity and majesty. Obviously, the Marcionites thought attributing anger or wrath to God was unfitting, which partially motivated their rejection of large portions of the Old Testament and New.
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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Conquest, Exile, & Cross: Replacing Projection With Reality

Written by Branson Parler
on February 24, 2014

The problem

If you’re a proponent of nonviolence, you will definitely hear the question: what about the conquest of Canaan? How does this fit with the call to nonviolence? How does this “violent” God fit with the nonviolent Jesus? Numerous books have engaged this issue and the problem of God’s violence, often focusing on the Old Testament (usually meaning the conquest recorded in Joshua). These questions must be answered carefully because the answers given have far-reaching implications and not simply for our view of nonviolence. My contention is that Christian pacifists must affirm certain points of continuity between Joshua, Jeremiah, and Jesus—conquest, exile, and cross—or else they may undermine the central logic of the biblical narrative and, along with it, our doctrine of God.


One popular answer is that the conquest narratives record Israel’s projection onto God rather than God’s actual instructions to Israel. . .

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Finkenwalde Option

The Need for a New Monasticism

Many “options” for the survival/renewal of the church in North America are floating around today. Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is the best known among them and the touchstone for this recent flurry of other “options.” All of them share two basic convictions:

-the American church is in dire trouble and needs a fundamental reshaping, and

-this reshaping requires intentional community to resist the world’s incursions.

Most of them point to monasticism, a reform movement in the early church protesting the accommodation of the church to ideas, ways, and mores of the Roman Empire, as a model for the kind of reform needed. This is a sound instinct. The trick is to discern the shape of the features of a monasticism fit for North America in these times.

And that’s been the catalyst for the discussion around Dreher’s book. Is it Benedict, or Francis, or the Jesuits, or some other version of monasticism that might serve us best in this time and place?

I suggest that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s (DB) experiment to design a community to both support and equip at Finkenwalde, the site of the Confessing Church’s underground seminary, merits consideration. Dare we call it the Finkenwalde Option?

In a letter to his brother in early 1935, shortly before he took on the task of directing this underground seminary to prepare pastors for Confessing Churches, he wrote, “...the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.  I think it is time to gather people together to do this...”[1] 

In the context of the maelstrom ignited by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 the thorough accommodation of the church to German culture was evident to DB. He indicted his church in these uncompromising words: "Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world."[2]

It’s no stretch to apply that same indictment to the American Church. Not suggesting that America and it leadership are comparable to Hitler’ Nazism, the Third Reich, but the reality of the church’s accommodation to our culture in denaturing and debilitating ways sadly mimics the German church of DB’s time.

The Sermon on the Mount

As noted, he turned to monasticism as a model for the renewal and reconstruction of the church in Germany. He did not seek to reduplicate what Benedict and others had done. He knew something new was required – the spirit and ethos of monasticism. In his view, the Sermon on the Mount must be at the heart of this effort. Indeed, in the above letter to his brother, he claimed that Jesus’ Sermon was “the only source of power capable of exploding the whole enchantment and specter (Hitler and his rule) so that only a few burnt fragments are left remaining from the fireworks.”[3]

The Sermon on the Mount, far from being an impossible ideal we can never reach or a teaching applicable only during the so-called Millennial reign of Christ on earth after the defeat of Satan and evil, or for a special, higher class of Christian, or any other evasion, Bonhoeffer fervently believed Jesus’ teaching here was meant as practical guidance on living the life of God’s kingdom which Jesus had inaugurated. His popular book Discipleship (aka The Cost of Discipleship) makes this clear. Glenn Stassen, a latter-day Bonhoefferian, has followed up DB’s conviction that Jesus’ Sermon is concrete, practical guidance for his followers today, with ground-breaking research that has confirmed this conviction made even clearer the Sermon’s practical thrust.[4] It would be quite possible, in my judgment, to gather Christian communities around this description of life in God’s kingdom (which begins now in this life) as a focal point of this new monastic life.

The Arcane Discipline

DB later in his Letter and Papers from Prison insisted on the need for the church to retrieve the ancient church’s practice of the “arcane discipline.” They excluded outsiders from the practice and celebration of its most intimate rites. This was to protect these rites from misunderstanding and profanation and outsiders from gaining untutored perceptions of what was happening. Even in the nonreligious Christianity DB was struggling to articulate there remained a necessary place for formative worship.

We could include here, I think, the development of spiritual disciplines[5] aimed at buttressing our intention to resist the empire’s push to accommodate the church to its needs and aspirations and instead inculcate the ethos and ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s probably the best single “Empire-Buster” we have in our Bibles. Jesus here contradicts or stands on their heads much of what the Empire wants us to buy into and live our lives by. (Bonhoeffer and Stassen are worthy guides for this endeavor.)

Christian Education might be reconceived and implemented as vocational training. Our needs and struggles as Christians attempting to live faithfully from one day to the next is its curriculum. Wes Granberg-Michaelson has recently promoted Finkenwalde as place for us to begin to begin thinking and acting toward a new church.[6] He identifies some of what we are up against in that effort as:

-chauvinistic nationalism,    

-growing economic inequality,       

-destabilizing climate change,       

-unprecedented forced migration,  


-increasing militarization

In a world that at its best valorizes human effort and achievement and at its worst gleefully entice us to long for, anticipate, and experiment with things most would recognize as base and low (even if they dabble in them themselves), the church will not lack grist for its reflection and training in living a Sermon on the Mount-centered life.

This arcane discipline reaches even further than this, though. It reaches into the very core of who we are in Christ and with and for one another. In Life Together Bonhoeffer makes the astonishing (to us modern westerners) claim that it is confession of sin, one to another, that makes the church the church!

The practical putting to death of the old nature (especially it chief expression as pride), assuaging our loneliness, assurance of forgiveness, breakthroughs to community and new life, all this happens as one person confesses their sins to another. Not a priest, not to God alone, but to another Christian. All God’s gracious gifts to us breathe their life from this center. For in meeting with and confessing to another person, we are confessing, receiving pardon, and being filled with new life by Christ himself who stands between us as the center of our relationship.[7]

Such confession prepares for the central act of worship, the Lord’s Supper. Here’s how Bonhoeffer sums it up:

“The day of the Lord’s Supper is a joyous occasion for the Christian community. Reconciled in their hearts with God and one another, the community of faith receives the gift of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, therein receiving forgiveness, new life, and salvation. New community with God and one another is given to it. The community of the holy Lord’s Supper is above all the fulfillment of Christian community. Just as the members of the community of faith are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord, so they will be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and Christ’s community is complete. The life together of Christians under the Word has reached its fulfillment in the sacrament.”[8]

The Three Circles of the Church’s Life

DB is famous, of course, for his insistence that the church be deeply involved in all dimensions of life, “helping and serving,” rather than dominating as he puts it in Letters and Papers.[9] In his book Faithful Presence, David Fitch articulates a vision for the church’s immersion in the world that is consonant with Bonhoeffer’s insight. He proposes three concentric circles in which the church engages it community

-the close circle is gathered community of the committed. Perhaps this would be Bonhoeffer’s “arcane discipline,” his term for the worship of the church in a world-come-of-age. Note Fitch does not say a “closed” circle. He focuses on the quality of relationship in the group rather than its boundaries.

-the dotted circle is a place in the neighborhood where Christians host others beyond the close circle. Perhaps it’s a home gathering, or perhaps a gathering in some other place where Christians offer others the chance to see and experience what goes on in the circle.

-the half circle encompasses the places of hurt and brokenness we encounter. Here the Christian is a guest who extends the presence of Christ into a situation where it may or may not be accepted.

This a helpful way to order our thinking about being immersed in the world as DB advises. Now Bonhoeffer believes we are in a period when the church’s verbal witness has lost credibility and we ought to express our faith during this time with our deeds alone. As Walker Percy put it in The Thanatos Syndrome, our words “no longer signify.” Fitch does not have such a reservation but both are united in insisting the presence, sharing, helping, and serving others is a necessary precursor to valid testimony.

A Finkenwalde Option

Truth is, the Finkenwalde Option Bonhoeffer innovated failed. Or, rather, aborted. The Gestapo closed the seminary in 1937. Two years does not a community of resistance to the kind of forces identified above. So it remains an open question whether we can do it, either. It requires a different way of thinking and certainly different structures for doing church this way. In all honesty the present adult generations in America will not entertain a Finkenwalde Option. We (and I include myself here) are incapable of breaking free from the bonds of reputation, consumerism, and comfort. But if we will own that, and make an effort to nurture younger generations to transition to this way of being church, well, there may be hope down the line.

When Bonhoeffer announced his intention to find a career in the church, his siblings teased and taunted him over the church’s boring, stodgy irrelevance. He brashly shot back, “Well, then, I shall reform it!” And in ways unimaginable nor predictable, he did. Or at least played his part. His indispensable role. And because we have the record we do of his efforts, we have impetus enough to take up his aborted reform of the church and begin working it through in our own very different time and place. We won’t likely see the fruit of it, us older generation folks, but in my judgment, it’s the right thing to do and past the right time to do it. So, thanks be to God for the work and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and we thank him by taking up and doing what he saw and began – a Finkenwalde Option.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament of Freedom, Geoffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, eds. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 424.
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm RĂ¼diger Bethge," Letters and Papers from Prison: DBW 8 (Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition), 11000.

[3] Bonhoeffer, Testament of Freedom, 424.
[4] Glen H. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance (Jossey-Bass, 2009).

[5] David Fitch has seven helpful disciplines in his Faithful Presence: the Lord’s Table, Reconciliation, Proclaiming the Gospel, Being with the ‘Least of These’, Being with Children, the Fivefold Gifting, Kingdom Prayer.
[6] “From Wittenburg to Finkenwalde,”
[7] Bonhoeffer expounds this understanding of our humanity as centered in Christ in his book Sanctorum Communio (“Communion of Saints”).
[8] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible DBWE 5 (Fortress Press. Kindle Edition: 2578.
[9] DBWE 8:14361.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Major Clue to Understanding the Early Christian accounts of Jesus

Divinity Returns in the Messiah
In the second temple period, we find the theme which I have come, in recent years, to regard as the major clue to all the early Christian accounts of God’s action in Jesus.

Ezekiel tells of the divine glory, riding on the throne-chariot, abandoning the temple to its fate because of the persistent idolatry of people and priests alike. But in the final dream-like sequence of the book the temple is rebuilt, and in chapter 43, the divine glory returns at last.

This is the point, as well, of the whole poem of Isaiah 40–55: The watchmen will see the divine glory returning to Zion, though when they look closely what they will see is the figure of the Servant.

The point is this: In two of the major so-called post-exilic books, Zechariah and Malachi, the Temple has been rebuilt, but the promise of YHWH’s glorious return remains unfulfilled.

The prophets insist that the Spirit will return, but that it hasn’t happened.

YHWH will indeed return, but that very insistence is powerful evidence that he hasn’t done so yet. Of course the people are offering sacrifice and praying in the newly restored temple, because that’s how sacred space works, as with the Western Wall in Jerusalem to this day, where devout Jews and even visiting presidents go to pray even though no Jew supposes that Israel’s God is really in full and glorious residence on the old Temple Mount.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (36)

Wrap up

Whew! Our long journey through Revelation is over. But we will have to deal with Donald Trump’s iteration of American Empire for some time to come. I hope you have found John’s vision as challenging and compelling as I have. It reads and feels very contemporary to me. And not as a forecast of some few years at the end of history (calendarizing) but rather a characterization of the perennial challenges the church faces as it struggles for faithfulness in following Jesus in every time and place.
There will always be empires for the church to contend with. Today that empire is less a nation-state than he globalization of a way of life (consumer capitalism) through economic relationships. A rose by any other name, however, is still an empire, uh, I mean rose. The issues and dynamics are similar.
On the one hand, John’s vision addresses readers’
-priorities (by pressing on them reality as it is in Christ),
-passions (by rhetorically pressing on them the immediacy and urgency of response), and
-practices (by pressing on them acts of resistance).
On the other hand, the empire’s dragon-drive tactics include (in the words of Wes Granburg-Michaelson )
-lulling the church back into complicit comfort (denies cost of discipleship),
-condoning narrow, nationalistic loyalties (denies the multiethnic character of the church),
-offering the subtle idols of personal success and material reward (denies the call to follow Jesus), and
-promoting forms of spiritual escapism (denies the crucible of following Jesus).
In this clash of Imperial forces into which we have been drafted (“called”) to serve on God’s side, the price of faithful service is, according to John’s vision, threefold (Rev.12:10-11):
-our enemy the “accuser,” has been defeated (our priorities),
-we fight (“conquer”) him by the “blood of the Lamb,” (our passions) and
-we don’t “cling” to life when threatened (our practices).
The lens John gives us for interpreting reality is the “slaughtered Lamb” of Rev. 5. He’s the “Lion of Judah” though through the gospel’s reversal of our presumed reality he is the slaughtered Lamb. This image turns everything else on its head in Revelation.
-nonviolent suffering is strategic,
-death is the way to life, and
-the persecuted church in which Jesus rules and lives carries the destiny of the world.
All of this, this book of Revelation, far from being some weird apocalyptic fantasy of the “end times,” depicts an “alternate social world”, the vision of God’s Kingdom and those who live in it, in order to shape the community and individual identity of an audience living under imperial rule.
Every empire has its particular aims but all are fired by the same pretentions. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” empire features
-a hard, exclusive nationalism,
-a valorization of strength and force,
-social and financial elitism, and
-demonizing enemies. 
These are chief among the imperial dictates the church is called to resist in our time. Such resistance will cost us, no doubt. It is also the price and prize of the victory Christ has won for us. Even the death of his witnesses are a sign and even a means of Christ’s victory.
After this journey through Revelation, it seems appropriate to end where with John’s benediction for his book, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (35)

Responding to the word and Dismissal (22:8-21)

Responding to the Word

Jesus’ sermon is over. Our hypothetical worship service turns to “Responding to the Word.”  The first move in this section is a reminder to worship only God. It’s usually a hymn or song in our services. Here it is a warning addressed to the Seer himself. And if John needs such admonition, we do all the more. This word must be published abroad “for the time is near” (v.10). The emphasis on “soon” (vv.12,20) and “near” (v.10) reminds us that we live in a time requiring urgency and readiness for God’s work in the world is ongoing (v.11) and our faithful response to him is necessary (vv.12-13).

Next a Beatitude is pronounced on the hearers:  

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (vv.14-15)

Even pronouncing blessedness, the Seer also issues a stern warning against any who “love and practice falsehood.” In context this must refer primarily to those who give up, give in, and collude with the empire and its worldview (as it has been throughout the book).

Jesus, the Davidic, Bright Morning Star messiah, the genuine Emperor for God’s people and God’s world (remember, the slaughtered Lamb of Rev.5!) issues the Call to the Table of the Eucharist of our worship service in v.17:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Coupled with the call “Come, Lord Jesus” (v.20), which may function here as a “preface” to the Eucharist, this verse invites the readers/congregation to experience “the revelation of Christ through his “coming” in the Lord’s Supper.”[1]

Other eucharistic imagery includes the references to “dining” with Christ (Rev.3:8, 20, 4:1) and the Passover imagery in the letter (15:2-4; 16:1-21) esp. the references to “blood.”

I won’t belabor these references here (check the article in the footnote for a fuller treatment). But I do want to call attention at this point to the baptismal imagery used throughout the book, esp. the notion of being sealed or marked with the Name (3:12; 14:1; 22:4) and being clothed with white garments (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 16:15; 19:13,16) or robes (6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 22:14). Consult the article below for the evidence that these carry allusions to baptism. What I do want to spend a little time on is that the visions of Revelation are bracketed between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This, I think, is the true setting for Christian existence, the matrix or “force field” within or between which we are to live as Christians and function as God’s witnesses. Some comments from my blog on this theme:

God comes to us personally through his living Word, Jesus. And he comes to us through his written Word, the Bible. But he also comes to us through his enacted Word, the sacraments. These rituals, baptism and the Eucharist, give us the opportunity to both kinetically and imaginatively encounter the living Christ and practice the skills and moves necessary for faithful prosecution of the struggles of God’s people.

From the perspective of God’s SCRM, these sacraments can be re-visioned to gain traction within this framework. Indeed, I suggest that military imagery is especially helpful here and lifts up aspects of these acts frequently overlooked. I refer specifically to seeing baptism as induction into the military and the Eucharist as the rations that nourish and sustain soldiers in military action.

The Holy Spirit uses the Liquid Word of baptism and the Edible Word of the Eucharist to seal, that is, confirm and make effective, the Preached and Written Word of the Bible.

Baptism is a sign of initiation into God’s people, akin, I suggest, to induction and basic training into the military. Both give us a new parent (Uncle Sam/God the Father), a new identity, a new family, new resources and skills, a new inheritance or goal, and a new vocation (to serve in God’s Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement).

The Eucharist sustains and nurtures us in Christian living. Again, we might liken it to the “rations” a soldier lives off while in action. In the Eucharist we experience a preview of the great feast in God’s kingdom which is our hope, receive provision for present need, and we practice the skills needed to do and be the people God calls us to be. Undeserved welcome, friendship, peacemaking, hope, and stewardship chief among them.[10]

These sacraments are “means of grace” because they initiate and sustain us as members of God’s people and through whom we meet the risen Christ and grow in relation to him.

Another way to state the significance of these sacraments and their importance for us is to think of baptism as the beginning that never ends and the Eucharist as the end that has already begun. We never outlive or outgrow our baptismal call to live for Christ and God’s kingdom; so too, we experience here and now, in part, hope of life and friendship with God and one another in his new creation forever and ever. We live, as I like to put it, between the Font of baptism and the Table of the Eucharist. The various graces of each enfold from opposite directions making that imaginative space between the font and the table in the sanctuary a matrix of grace that forms us as God’s people.

Yet another way to reflect on the significance of these sacraments is to say that in baptism Jesus’ SCRM life becomes ours, while in the Eucharist, our lives become SCRM lives in his.

This is the “grace” John ends his book with (22:21). By now we have a full-orbed profile of this grace to fortify us for the struggle the Empire. A final post will offer some concluding comments on our journey through this strange book.

[1] Charles A. Gieschen, “Sacramental Theology in the Book of Revelation,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003), 171.