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Archive for the ‘Early Bonhoeffer’ Category

A fellow student of Bonhoeffer, Paul Metzger from Mulnomah Seminary in Portland OR has just podcast an interview with me related to my soon-to-be- out book.

Here’s the link:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2018/01/bonhoeffer-evangelicals-mikehayes/ .

I hope you enjoy it and tell others about it.

Thanks!

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As we seek to follow our Lord into the world, we want to learn from him how to relate to those who do not share our faith. The first instinct of many Christians is to envision some sort of fine program to attract people to come to us. Odd how Jesus turned the world on end without a program or an institution of any sort. How’d he do that? The answer, of course, is obvious: He loved people. He did at times speak to crowds but for the most part he simply related to people one at a time. Powerful relationships!

I like to imagine each of us a a circle. If we are like Jesus in being inclusive by nature, we will continually expand our personal circle to enclose as many people as we possibly can. There are limits for each of us, naturally.  I cannot imagine my circle including Trump, for example, because I can see nothing of God — nothing! — in him. I cannot see signs of a soul or morality or trustworthiness in him whatsoever. I can see no reason to think of him as anything but a total and complete fraud.

But in almost every other case, I can easily let my circle expand to embrace even those who are quite different from me. Here’s how I do it. It’s something I learned from Paul in Colossians.

Paul thanks God for the faith, hope and love he sees in the Colossian Christians. We know that these are fundamental values for Paul. Was it just a coincidence that he saw them when he considered the Colossians? I think not. I believe Paul was always on the lookout for the workmanship of God in other people. The clearest signs would always be faith hope, and love. When he saw those signs, he embraced the people and thanked God (not the people) for them.

I am convinced that we can often see faith, hope, and/or love in people even before they have given their lives to the Lord. When we do so, we thank God for the movement of his Spirit in the other person, whether Christian or not, religious or not.

It is as if our circles are overlapping. Yes, there remain differences between us but that’s not our concern. That’s something for the other person to work out with the Lord.

I think often of the family living across the street from my family when I was a child. They always treated me with far more respect than I deserved, always welcomed me into their home, and always were teaching me one thing or another. I absorbed it all like a dry sponge.

So far as I know, they were non-believers, yet they treated me in very godly ways. Looking back now all these years later, I recognize a very great deal of godliness in them, whether they knew it or not. Were it now possible, I would gladly affirm and respect that godliness, even while praying that they would take more steps toward the arms of the Lord.

When we embrace people for the signs of God’s workmanship in them, we create in them a sense of being welcome. Surely that will open the doors to full fellowship with us and with our Lord far more effectively and lovingly that if we nag them to change to be like us. And certainly more than if we reject, judge, and condemn them.

Could it be more obvious?

In his set of mini-essays called “After Ten Years,” Bonhoeffer wrote:

“It remains an experience of incomparable value that we have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short from the perspective of the suffering.” He did not see life from the perspective of the “successful,” the powerful, the wealthy, the educated. It was only as he learned to see through the eyes of the weak and suffering that he could see the world — and see his Lord ! — most clearly.

 

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One of the most critical questions for the church for the last century or so has been, How do we relate to the world around us?

It is essential that we do a better job of wrestling with the question because our entire ministry to the world depends on the attitude with which we approach those who dwell outside the protective walls of the church.

I begin my meditation on the matter with a simple observation: When we follow Jesus Christ, he leads us into the world, not into the church. Yes, he visited synagogues but did not set up shop there. Instead, he kept moving into encounters on the streets. He did not become a ruler of a synagogue. He met people where they were and asks almost no questions about their backgrounds or situations.

One of my favorite stories is that of the Greek, the Syrophoenician with the demon possessed daughter. Jesus is in Gentile territory and is approached by an unclean Gentile female. After a brief exchange, Jesus tells her she may go her way and return to her now-healed daughter. That she was not a Jew, was not like Jesus, is simply not an issue in this story. Rather, the essential point is that she heard the word of the Lord, though it was in the form of a parable, and spoke the appropriate word in response.

Why didn’t Jesus call her to convert to Judaism? Let’s think about this for a bit.

Jesus found, so far as we are told, no religious signs in her. What he did find was faith and an attentive ear. And that was enough.

If we will listen carefully to those around us, we will hear many signs of faith. The question is, Will we affirm and value those signs or tell people it’s not enough? Will we not like them until they become more like us?

Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that I might be all means save some.” Most Christians, it appears to me, reject such thinking all together. We want to make sure everybody knows not how much we are like them but how different we are. And that usually seems to mean we want them to think we are better than they.

Jesus and Paul had an inclusive attitude, widening their own circle to include and bless as may people as possible. Today, I fear, it is more fashionable among Christians to want to exclude any who seem different. Think, for example, of the so-called “evangelicals” of our day applauding Trump for wanting to exclude hundreds of thousands of people from our nation. Jesus would be furious, would he not?

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As many of you know, the days of this blog are numbered. I’ve exhausted all the options for cancer treatments and am now on a fairly (very?) short time table. I’m not really ill yet, just always tired. But I’m not tired of Bonhoeffer! Looks like my book (“Dietrich Bonhoeffer: a Biblical Appreciation”) should be in print by March. I am deeply indebted to John Matthews for his great encourage and extensive practical help.

At this particular stage in life, one’s thoughts return often to memories and often to some of the fundamental issues of life. Much on my mind recently has been Bonhoeffer’s poem called “Who Am I?”

Fellow prisoners looked at him and said he is a man of strength, poise, confidence, and faith. He looked at himself and saw a very different person.

“Or am I only what I know of myself? Restless, yearning and sick, like a bird in its cage, struggling for the breath of life, as though someone were choking my throat; hungering for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds, thirsting for kind words and human closeness, shaking with anger at capricious tyranny and the pettiest slurs, bedeviled by anxiety, awaiting great events that might never occur, fearfully powerless and worried for friends far away, weary and empty in prayer, in thinking, in doing, weak, and ready to take leave of it all.”

The answer, of course, is that both were true. As he said elsewhere in LPP, he could hold multiple emotions and perspectives simultaneously.

In the end, however, his questions about identity really didn’t matter much. We cannot establish our identity by cataloging our various personal qualities.

Remember  Moses asking the Lord, Who am I that I should have this Egypt assignment? And the Lord answered, I am with you. That’s the key!

“Who am I?” asked Bonhoeffer. “They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am thine.” That’s the key!

So here I sit, having just experienced my last Christmas surrounded by a beautiful family, knowing that 99.9 per cent of my life is now nothing but memories. And the memories are covered with tears, most of joy, some of sorrow. The tears have been tucked away all along, awaiting this time when I cannot hold them back any longer.

One of those memories long cherished is of the time shortly after giving my life to the Lord in 1962. I “saw” Jesus standing about 20 feet before me with arms outstretched as if to welcome me. But I didn’t know how one walks toward a vision. So for 55 years I’ve wondered if someday I might find myself wrapped in his loving arms.

Somehow in the last few weeks I’ve discovered that my head is leaning hard against my Lord’s chest. And for the first time I’ve called him Daddy. And I’ve dared to say, from deep in my heart, I am a beloved child of the Lord. Until now, to claim to be anything but a servant was just too audacious for me.

And I can say with Bonhoeffer, Whoever I am, you know me O God; You know I am thine.”

And the rest is detail.

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I am 75 years old, have lived a long, full, rich life, despite my own personal shortcomings (all by the grace of God), and am now the recipient of the news that there are no further treatments available for my cancer. Ever hear a word that sounds more terminal than “terminal?”

I have been sustained throughout these past five years by several Bible verses which have become extremely important to me. “This is the day the Lord has made; I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” (Thanks to my friend Ray Anderson at Fuller for this.) “To live is Christ; to die, gain.” “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

Also important to me has been an observation from Bonhoeffer which, though a bit lengthy, I quote:

29 May 1944 DBWE vol. 8, pp404ff

“I hope that despite the air raids you both are enjoying to the full the peace and beauty of these warm, summerly days of Pentecost. Inwardly, one learns gradually to put life-threatening things in proportion. Actually, “put in proportion” sounds too negative, too formal or artificial or stoic. One should more correctly say that we just take in these daily threats as part of the totality of our lives. I often notice hereabouts how few people there are who can harbor many different things at the same time. When bombers come, they are nothing but fear itself; when there’s something good to eat, nothing but greed itself; when they fail to get what they want, they become desperate; if something succeeds, that’s all they see. They are missing out on the fullness of life and on the wholeness of their own existence. Everything, whether objective or subjective, disintegrates into fragments. Christianity, on the other hand, puts us into many different dimensions of life at the same time; in a way we accommodate God and the whole world within us. We weep with those who weep at the same time as we rejoice with those who rejoice. We fear – (I’ve just been interrupted again by the siren, so I’m sitting outdoors enjoying the sun) – for our lives, but at the same time we must think thoughts that are much more important to us than our lives. During an air raid, for example, as soon as we are turned in a direction other than worrying about our own safety, for example, by the task of spreading calm around us, the situation becomes completely different. Life isn’t pushed back into a single dimension, but is kept multidimensional, polyphonic. What a liberation it is to be able to think and to hold on to these many dimensions of life in our thoughts. I’ve almost made it a rule here for myself, when people here are trembling during an air raid, always just to talk about how much worse such an attack would be for smaller towns. One has to dislodge people from their one-track thinking – as it were, in “preparation for” or “enabling” faith, though in truth it is only faith itself that makes multidimensional life possible and so allows us to celebrate Pentecost even this year, in spite of air raids.”

So here I sit. There are tears but my wife can still bring laughter from way down inside me. I feel badly that I’ll not get to see my grandchildren even through Jr. Hi., yet already my spirit is beginning to anticipate the joy that lies before me. I have a wide range of emotions and not one of them compromises the others. Thank you, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for articulating the “multidimensional life.”

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Looking over some of the poetry of John Milton (1608-1674)  yesterday evening, I stumbled over one I hadn’t read in many years. It has no title or date so far as I know but obviously comes from near the end of his life.

The lines that grabbed my attention were:

I am old and blind; /Men point at me as smitten by God’s frown; /Afflicted and deserted of my kind; /Yet I am not cast down.

I am weak, yet strong; /I murmur not that I no longer see; /Poor, old and helpless, I the more belong, /Father supreme, to Thee.

John Donne (1572-1681), whose life barely overlapped with that of Milton, wrote a short poem which is both amusing (as a play on his own name) and yet profound. I’ve long found it a delight.

A Hymn To God The Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.

A good many years later Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) sat in prison and wrestled with the question of which was the real Dietrich, the frightened or the brave. He built his question into a poem but could not really answer the question. He concluded the poem, entitled “Who Am I?” with these solemn words:

Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am thine.

As I ruminate on those odd words from my doctor (“There are no more treatment options for your cancer”) I find a variety of Bible verses rise to the top of my consciousness for a few days, only to be supplanted soon by others. These past few days it has seemed  I can summarize what has been or at least has been intended as my life story: “Here am I, Lord.”

The rest is detail.

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At long last my Bonhoeffer book is completed and has been accepted by a publisher. It should be available in the Spring of 2018.

The title is “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biblical Appreciation.” Until recently the subtitle was going to be “An Evangelical Appreciation” but the word “evangelical” has morphed into a political rather than a theological term and so has become useless in theological discussion.

What I argue in the book is that Bonhoeffer builds on the same foundations as have the (non-political) Evangelicals who have so shaped my faith over the last half-century: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Fuller Seminary, John Stott and Eugene Peterson, among others.

The two parts to the foundation we share with Bonhoeffer are the centrality of Jesus Christ and the trustworthiness of the Bible. Like Bonhoeffer, I want to read Scripture with a sense that it is “a love letter written from God” to me, even while listening to it wit a critical ear.

The critical ear does not invalidate my trust in the Bible. It just means I do not believe it was dictated by God to a variety of stenographers over the centuries. Though often obscured by our modern translations, there are substantial difference between the way the books of the Bible are written, indicating that the personalities and writing styles of the writers had a significant effect on their work.

In my Bible blog, for example, I’ve just finished spending a couple of months going through Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. I’m now beginning work of I John. The transition from one to the other is like a culture shock. Paul’s training in Greek rhetoric shows through very strongly, while John poetic way of thinking is like walking through a field of wildflowers. To read Paul as if he were John, or vice versa, would be to miss entirely the persons behind the text.

Yes, I agree that the Bible is the Word of God but it is not God’s Word instead of being a human word. As is the case in nearly everything God does on earth, the human is yoked to the divine. If we cannot see that in Scripture, I doubt that we can begin to comprehend it in the incarnation of Christ.

Though using the same foundations, the theological house Bonhoeffer builds seems quite unlike American evangelicalism of the 20th century. That means, first, we are given a whole new perspective from which to understand our Lord, his promises to us and expectations of us. Second, it challenges us to be free to disagree even with our most cherished mentors. The finest people among us are still fallible. We want to enter into conversation with them, not blindly write down their every word.

Finally, why have I chosen “Biblical” in the sub-title? It is because, as an evangelical, I’m always trying to be sure that everything I say or write is an accurate and insightful reflection of Scripture. Bonhoeffer was an excellent student and teacher of the Bible. His later years, of course, were marked by his struggle against Hitler. He wrote less directly about the Bible than in his earlier years but grounded his work on biblical foundations no less.

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