Archive for August, 2017

The final point from a wonderful brief essay entitled “What Bonhoeffer Knew” by Sam Wells:

“Bonhoeffer did not expect immediate results. He died probably assuming his life had been a failure. We don’t see it like that. The distinction between being faithful and being effective isn’t an absolute one; they’re actually the same thing in different time scales.

He assumed that the shape of renewal is death and resurrection. The future of the church is not simply a matter of using social media or singing attractive music or getting our message right. Bonhoeffer knew the way that Christ renewed Israel: through incarnation, sharing joys and sorrows, facing the passion, being crucified, and being raised. He allowed his life to follow the same trajectory. That’s the way God renewed creation 2,000 years ago. That’s the way God renews the church today.”

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Yoder“Any [Christian] perspective is likely to have some way of distinguishing as well between levels or realms one of which is spiritual or religious or sacral and the other of which is material or worldly or everyday.  Different Christian traditions will make this distinction of realms of realms or levels in quite different ways, but almost every tradition finds it an illuminating division…

The expression of Christian concern for the shape of the wider society must take into account the fact that the participants in that society are not addressable from a perspective of faith in Jesus Christ…So it is right that we should begin at this point.  The definition of the gathering of Christians is their confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.  The definition of the whole of human society is the absence of that confession, whether through conscious negation or simple ignorance, despite the fact that Christ is (‘objectively,’ ‘cosmically’) Lord for them as well.  The duality of church and world is not a slice separating the religious from the profane, nor the ecclesiastical from the civil, nor the spiritual from the material.  It is the divide on this side of which there are those who confess Jesus as Lord, who in so doing are both secular and profane, both spiritual and physical, both ecclesiastical and civil, both individual and organized, in their relationships to one another and to others [i.e. in all of life].  The difference as to whether Christ is confessed as Lord is a difference on the level of real history and personal choices; not a difference of realm or levels or even dimensions…

The most important error of the Christendom vision is not first of all its acceptance of an ethic of power, violence, and the crusade; not first of all its transference of eschatology into the present providence with God working through Constantine and all his successors in civil government, not its appropriation of pagan religiosity that will lead into sacerdotalism and sacramentalism, not its modeling church hierarchy after Roman administration, nor any other specific vice derived from what changed about the nature of the church with the epoch of Constantine.  Those were all mistakes, but they were derived from the misdefinition of the place of the people of God in the world.  The fundamental wrongness of the vision of Christendom is its illegitimate takeover of the world: its ascription of a Christian loyalty or duty to those who have made no confession and, thereby, its denying to the non-confessing creation the freedom of unbelief that the nonresistance of God in creation gave to a rebellious humanity.

First, then: we can only have gospel social ethics if we let confession and non-confession make a difference.  Second, now: we can only be doing gospel social ethics if we are telling the story of Jesus.” (John Howard Yoder, “Why Ecclesiology is Social Ethics: Gospel Ethics Versus The Wider Wisdom,” in The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiastical and Ecumenical, pp. 107-09)

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GreeneGraham Greene’s celebrated masterpiece The Power and the Glory includes a wonderfully unique and dynamic portrayal of a zealously atheistic young lieutenant (never named) whose mission in life is to rid Mexican society from the church’s cruel, false deception of the masses.   Two passages in particular are memorable in their giving utterance and shape to this character’s ethos and aims:

“The lieutenant sat down upon his bed and began to take off his boots.  It was the hour of prayer.  Black-beetles exploded against the wall like crackers.  More than a dozen crawled over the tiles with injured wings.  It infuriated him to think that there will still people in the state who believed in a loving and merciful God.  There are mystics who are said to have experienced God directly.  He was a mystic, too, and what he had experienced was vacancy–a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all.  He knew.”

And a little later in the book:

“It was for these [uneducated common peasants] he was fighting [including killing some of them randomly to force the renegade priest to come out of hiding and surrender].  He would eliminate from their childhood everything which had made him miserable, all that was poor, superstitious, and corrupt.  They deserved nothing less than the truth–a vacant universe and a cooling world, the right to be happy in any way they chose.  He was quite prepared to make a massacre for their sakes–first the Church and then the foreigner and then the politician–even his own chief would one day have to go.  He wanted to begin the world again with them, in a desert.”

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“The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the sword are not as strong as they think–true as that is: we still sing, ‘O where are Kings and Empires now of old that went and came?’  It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe.  One does not come to that belief by reducing social processes to mechanical and statistical models, nor by winning some of one’s battles for the control of one’s own corner of the fallen world.  One comes to it by sharing the life of those who sing about the Resurrection of the slain Lamb.” (John Howard Yoder, “Armaments and Eschatology”, my italics)

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MacIntyre“To anyone who wishes to argue with one about religion one can then only take the argument in cogent, logical terms as far back as his own first principles will allow.  But because there comes a point at which such argument must cease, it does not follow that there is nothing more to say.  It is no accident that the religious autobiography is a classic form of theological writing for this shows us how a man comes by the premises from which he argues.  It goes behind the argument to the arguer.  St. Augustine’s Confessions are the classic document here.  Thus it is not mere pious moralizing which connects the rise of unbelief with a lowering of the quality of Christian life.  Where the Christian community is incapable of producing lives such as those of the saints, the premises from which it argues will appear rootless and arbitrary…What we know about God we do not learn from philosophy.  All that the philosophers can hope to do is to clear up misconceptions and by so doing partly neutralize the acids of skepticism.” (Alasdair MacIntyreDifficulties in Christian Belief, p. 118)

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