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Posts Tagged ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer’


NPR’s Weekend Edition took an unusual turn. When I listen to NPR, which I do periodically, I don’t usually agree with their perspective on things. But it is good to hear opposing viewpoints. Sometimes they have interesting stories about people. This was not a story I expected to hear on NPR since it doesn’t fit their usual narrative.

They interviewed PCA pastor Allan Edwards. In his teens he realized he was attracted to men, not women. As a Christian he sought to figure all this out in terms of his relationship with God. It was not easy for him, he wanted to make sure he understood the Scriptures correctly. He came to the conclusion that he did, and that acting on those desires was wrong.

“I think we all have part of our desires that we choose not to act on, right?” he says. “So for me, it’s not just that the religion was important to me, but communion with a God who loves me, who accepts me right where I am.”

Here is what we have to remember; we ALL have wrong desires, including wrong sexual desires. Homosexuals are not the only ones who have sinful desires. We do them a disservice when we talk like they are. Those desires, at times, seem quite powerful. We can allow them to define us, to form our identity.

Allan wisely did not let his sexual desires define him. He finds his identity in Christ, as his parents’ son and his wife’s husband. Soon he’ll add his child’s father. Yes, he is married to a woman. Yes, they have a sexual relationship. He chose the route of marriage, not celibacy. Some of his friends chose celibacy.

The interviewer brought up the word “suppress” which wasn’t one he was wild about. He expresses his sexual desires in the context of marriage. He puts to death his same sex desires, as we would put any other sinful desire to death. We are to do this with our greed, hatred, fear and other sinful desires.

His wife displayed wisdom in discussing this.

“There’s always going to be situations where a partner is sexually attracted to someone else and isn’t necessarily dealing with sexual attraction with their partner,” Leeanne says.

We often don’t admit this or want to talk about this. At times we will be attracted to other people. Just about everyone deals with sexual attraction toward people other than their spouse. It is just a question of whom.

“Everybody has this experience of wanting something else or beyond what they have,” Allan says. “Everyone struggles with discontentment. The difference, I think, and the blessing Leeanne and I have experienced is that we came into our marriage relationship already knowing and talking about it. And I think that’s a really powerful basis for intimacy.”

What should be obvious is that he isn’t suppressing this or hiding it. He is open and honest. As a result it becomes a matter for prayer and encouragement, as well as ministry. Too often pastors are limited in ministry because people think they aren’t sinners. Maybe they used to be, long ago, but not now. But pastors continue to have struggles with sin, including sexual sin. They struggle with the desires of their hearts, including sexual desires.

When we hide these struggles they gain power over us. We suffer in silence. We don’t enjoy the fellowship with other sinners saved by grace, as Bonhoeffer notes in Life Together. As Steve Brown would tell us in seminary, “demons die in the light.”

But it is scary. That is because people can over-react or misunderstand. I once told a few other pastors, as we shared prayer requests, that I was struggling with lust. They were afraid I was having an affair. They meant well, but I was not inclined to share more. I did tell them I’d begun treatment for low T, and suddenly felt like a teenager again. Thankfully I didn’t have the acne too. I thought I was more sanctified than I was but it was just getting older. The increased testosterone didn’t put desires in my heart, but revealed them. I saw afresh my incredible need for Christ, my never-ending need for Christ (in this life).

As Christians we have to stop pretending we are more sanctified than we really are. We need more honesty about what is lurking in our hearts. We need to be more honest about weaknesses. Expressed properly they open the door to ministry to both Christians and non-Christians. People recognize they are not alone, and that because of Christ (who is ever and always our justification) we are accepted by God despite our on-going experience of temptation and practice of sin. Perhaps people will see that love does cover a multitude of sin.

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God. Heidelberg Catechism

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Peter Hubbard, like Jesus, is not content for us to merely be gracious to homosexuals in Love Into Light. He’s not content to change the climate in the church regarding people who struggle with same sex attraction (SSA). He wants repentant, believing strugglers to be a focus of outreach and part of our community.

This doesn’t happen accidentally. We need to be wise in how we live in community and go about outreach. In talking about community, he starts with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which is a pretty good place to start. Community is important, essential, but it can often be idolatrous too.

“The one who pursues community to escape loneliness is trying to escape from himself.”

I’ve seen that happen. I’ve experienced that to an extent. We just experience the loneliness, and don’t really understand what is going on in the heart. We should not forget that we are made in the image of God, however. As a result, we were made for relationship; for community. God is the eternal community of Father, Son & Spirit living in loving harmony. We were made for that. We also recognize that each person within the Godhead is differentiated. They have a sense of self. Loneliness can be a sign that we don’t have a strong sense of self, or enjoy being by ourselves.

“So in one sense we don’t need each other (God is enough). Yet in another sense we desperately need each other (He reveals Himself to us in community).”

Many people in the church who struggle with SSA often agonize alone. They fear rejection, if people knew. They need the acceptance of the group, and the group needs their honesty. This is a hindrance to community if there are any sins that are kept private. We don’t let anyone into our hearts and are … alone.

He relates how his congregation had a frank discussion of homosexuality. It prompted one member to think more deeply about their sin, and how it was “natural” to them- meaning they had a predisposition to anxiety.

“I”m being challenged to realize that we all may have something in our ‘nature’ that is sin, and we cannot choose to condone our own sin, even though we have a propensity for it. He have to fight against it as the Holy Spirit frees us from it.”

Community deepens as we recognize this fact about ourselves. If we do, we see that while their sin is different in the details, it is not different in kind. If worry is 2nd nature to you, a life-dominating sin, you can understand what it would be like to continually be attracted to the same sex. Just try to a second to consider what it would be like to know that your very attractions are wrong. Every day presents numerous opportunities to stumble in your heart. Of course, even heterosexuals face this as our hearts are tempted to move beyond fidelity, lusting for our neighbor’s spouse or a single person.

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There is a media company that sends me books to review.  I choose from titles they make available.  Recently they made Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship by Jon Walker available.  I’ve read The Cost of Discipleship a few times, and I was curious to see what he had done with it.  I have not yet completed the book (I have less than 100 pages to go), but the deadline looms.  I don’t think anything in the rest of the book will fundamentally change the review.

First an observation.  With the downturn in the economy, editors must have been on the low priority list.  The text was laden with errors leading me to believe it hadn’t been proofed.  This is a trend I’ve noticed lately.  This goes beyond the misuse of apostrophes.  Wrong words are used or words are repeated.  Note to publishers- the computer won’t help you find and correct many errors.  Hire someone who can read!

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.  The whiny man on the grammatical soapbox has been sacked.

Walker follows the pattern of Bohnoeffer’s classic book.  He starts off with a quote from Bonhoeffer’s chapter, the passage of Scripture used and then interacts with Bonhoeffer.  He’s not critical of Bonhoeffer, at least in any significant way.  He’s trying to make it more accessible, and in touch with contemporary concerns.

At the end of the chapter he has some helpful bullet points.  He has a summary statement followed by examples of “fallen thinking” & “kingdom thinking”.  It ends with the call to choose, a way to apply the truth covered in the chapter.

It is a readable (aside from textual errors) (the one responsible for sacking those responsible has also been sacked), updated treatment of Bonhoeffer’s book.  It doesn’t add anything significant.  It isn’t concerned with wrestling with the validity of Bonhoeffer’s conclusions or arguments.  In other words this is not a critical treatment of Bonhoeffer’s book (both positive or negative).

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Must read for pastors & elders

Finally finished The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline by Mark Lauterbach.  Sinus infections tend to slow down your reading.  Funny how that goes.

I love how Mark treats church discipline as a function of the the gospel.  It is one of the ways the gospel works to transform local bodies and individual Christians.  It is not about “getting even” but about helping people move “farther up and further in.”

One aspect he mentions is public disclosure, when and how it is appropriate.  Sin is deceitful and thrives in darkness.  As it says in John 3, “men loved the darkness because their deeds were evil.”  My prof Steve Brown used to say, and surely still does, “demons die in the light.”  This is why we are told to “confess your sins to one another (James 5).”  When we confess our sin to another person we break part of its power over us.  I’ve seen this in my own life.  It is not so much the confessing, but stepping out in the gospel recognizing that my reputation with that person is an illusion.  The doctrine of justification frees me to openly talk about my sin in appropriate relationships.  Like rats and roaches when the light comes on, temptation often flees.  He also draws in sections of Bonhoeffer’s great book, Life Together, to argue his point.

Another important aspect is that restoration takes place in community.  I recently read about Gayle Haggard’s book.  I was shocked to learn that the overseers removed them from the church community.  The very thing they needed was taken from them.  I don’t understand their decision, and it flies in the face of everything I understand about the gospel, community and church discipline.

A final aspect that I found interesting is in dealing with divisive people.  Lauterbach falls back on the pastoral epistles and essentially says “tell them to leave.”  Looking back I see how I should have told some people to move on after warning them about their divisiveness.  Mark Driscoll also talks about this in Confessions of a Reformission Rev.  People who undermine the unity and purity of the church will undermine the prosperity of the church.  If they refuse to submit to discipline, they need to go.

Mark’s book doesn’t try to address every circumstance.  He allows the place of wisdom to sort out some of the gray areas in application.  His focus is on our goals and the heart attitude.  He has done the church a great service in writing this book I wish I had read earlier.  Pastors and elders would do themselves a great service by reading this book and applying it in their ministries.  It will be a process.  A church that has not been exercising church discipline will need instruction and time to get where they need to be.  We tend to think that God’s timetable is NOW, but Scripture shows that He usually moves slowly since we are but dust.

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When I was offered the opportunity to read and review Christianish by Mark Steele, it looked very interesting to me.  The subtitle is “What if we’re not really following Jesus?”  I am not familiar with Mark Steele, but the subject interested me.

Here are the positives:

  • Mark Steele is a pretty funny guy who can tell a story.  In many ways this is similar to Donald Miller’s best work (in my opinion, Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What).  He uses rather lengthy stories to introduce the topic of the chapter.
  • He has some important things to say.  There are a number great thoughts for the American church to consider.  There are many ways in which we truly are not following Jesus, and Mark identifies a great deal of them.

These things make the book accessible to broad evangelicalism.

The problem is that Mark never really gets to the core issue.  He never even really defines Christianish, but leaves it as fairly obvious.  Each chapter addresses one aspect of what he thinks is Christianish and how we should be instead, but he never gets around to defining the problem of what I call nominal Christianity, or cultural Christianity.  Some great thinkers like Jonathan Edwards (Charity and Its Fruits) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship).  In those books, Edwards calls the problem counterfeit grace and Bonhoeffer cheap grace.  Steele’s perspective would have been deepened from spending time with these men, applying their thoughts to our generation.  This, in fact, is what seems to separate Donald Miller from Mark Steele.  Miller subtly comes off as well read.

Since Mark does not adequately identify the problem, he completely misses the cure.  It basically sounds like try harder, try differently.  It could be imagined that he is talking about repentance without clearly talking about repentance.  You get a sense similar to what I thought of MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus after talking about it in class with Jerry Bridges.  Much of what John MacArthur says is true, but he neglects the doctrine of regeneration which gets to the core of the issue.

John Piper’s recent book, Finally Alive, is essentially addressing the same issues as Mark Steele’s.  Not as hip, to be certain.  But he gets to the core problem & cure: lack of regeneration & believing (and savoring) the gospel.  I think this is part of the problem with broadly evangelical books- they lack a depth of theology and saturation with Scripture.

I am aware that this sounds harsh.  I enjoyed reading Mark Steele’s book.  I just didn’t find it helpful in combating the remnants of Christianish in me, or others.  And address it we must.

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