Tag Archives: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Why we need something like monasticism again today – part III: The moral argument concluded


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

This post continues the series from a section of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis that argues monasticism is part of our “usable past.” Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

To recap, my argument in this chapter has been that we will continue to be both disinclined and incapable of the effort necessary to practice ascetic disciplines unless we, first, have something of the passion for Christ that animated the monks and, second, have a strong traditional foundation on which to build our practice. I have been trying in this book to describe the foundation the medievals had, in their passion for theological knowledge, their understandings of Incarnation and Creation, the balance they held between Word and world, their whole-person devotion, and so on. We need both the passion and the tradition if we are to do the discipline.

In particular, the morality chapter speaks to the argument of this one: If we, like my pastor whose question is described at the beginning of that chapter, do not know how to put a Christian ethic into practice[1] – that we are paralyzed by grace—or rather, by misunderstandings of Reformation teachings on grace. We are kept from applying the practical insights of medieval monasticism by a dimly understood sense that whatever the Reformation was about, it was about destroying monasticism (and it did end up doing that in some European countries). But with nothing to put in place of that practical monastic wisdom—though the Pietists tried to replace it, as did the Puritans—we will fail to practice spiritual disciplines as the monastics did.

Deep down we have counter-rationalizations, arguments in our heads that say “Oh no, that’s not something we need to do. We can achieve virtue in other ways besides spiritual disciplines. Continue reading

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Paralyzed by grace? What we can learn from monastic discipline


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We wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. This post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis moves on from the first of the “principles of mastery”–passion–to the third–discipline:

Holiness is not optional, and it requires effort

All this talk of passion may make us think that what is required it the single big, heroic action: casting ourselves into harm’s way for the sake of our loved one. But wise teachers of the spiritual life have reminded us of something we have sometimes forgotten: our lives as Christians are not all about single crisis experiences—single events that change our lives. The imagery of sawdust-trail conversions and emotional “altar calls” may sometimes lead us to think in that way, seeking a sudden, emotional experience as the solution to all our ills—but it just ain’t so.

John Wesley, to take just one example, reminded us that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the “porch” or the “door” into the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness. Wesley had a favorite phrase to explain holiness. Continue reading

Ethically stunted? The moral morass of Evangelical America


Circles of hellOne of the chapters of my forthcoming Getting Medieval with C S Lewis pulls the threads of that 20th-century moral philosopher (for that was what he was, at his core) for his medieval and classical ethical sources.

Befitting a book that proposes to unpack for evangelical readers a “care package” from what most would consider a very unlikely source – the Middle Ages – I am doing my best song and dance to draw them in. Part of that is putting “Saint Lewis” on the cover. But another part is starting each chapter with a clear and compelling portrayal of “the modern situation” (if you like, postmodern situation) that we find ourselves in: the problem that needs fixing.

This is only classic marketing protocol: state the problem, then give the solution. I’ll let you judge whether I manage to do this well in this draft of the introduction to the chapter tentatively titled “The moral fabric of medieval faith”:

I had finished the first year of my seminary Masters program. Back home, my evangelical pastor pulled me into his office: “How can I address the character issues in my congregation without seeming legalistic? Anything I say on morality seems to pull against the Gospel message of grace!” The question was heartfelt. But after a full year in a church history program, I was at a loss for a helpful answer. Continue reading

Check out this Harpers interview of Eric Metaxas, author of a bestelling new Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography


Cover of "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Pro...

Among the books I was privileged to read for the Christianity Today book awards this year was Eric Metaxas‘s excellent new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas has gotten a lot of well-deserved buzz for this book, including the following interview in Harpers. I’m reproducing here the first two questions and answers out of six included in the interview. For now you can still link here for the whole article.

By Scott Horton

Eric Metaxas, whose best-selling biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, provided the framework for an important motion picture, is now out with a thick review of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who played a key role in one of the attempts to kill Adolf Hitler. I put six questions to Metaxas about Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy:

1. You dedicate your book, in German no less, to your grandfather. Tell us the significance of that dedication, and how in the course of your own life you were drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

[Image] 

Eric Metaxas

My grandfather was a genuinely reluctant German soldier who was killed in the war in 1944, at the age of 31. My mother was nine. The tragedy of my mother’s losing her father at that age has been a big part of my life. My grandfather didn’t want to fight in Hitler’s war. My grandmother said that he used to listen to the BBC with his ear literally pressed against the radio speaker, because if you were caught listening to the BBC you could be sent to a concentration camp. Continue reading

Ah, the crisp fall air, the hope of a World Series, sweaty men in tight pants fighting over a pigskin, and the smell of newly printed pages . . .


Randy Moss #81 of the New England Patriots bef...

Look who'll be catching Brett's passes now!

The Twins are headed into the first round of the World Series tonight. Randy Moss is back in Minnesota (though some wits say “OK, now all you’ve got to do is find someone to throw to him.” Yeah, yeah, Brett Favre is looking all too like the Brett Favre of the Jets years. I still can’t wait to see Moss in purple.) And four new & notable church-historical books are about to hit my mailbox, as it’s time again for the judging in the history/biography category of the Christianity Today Book Awards. This year’s finalists: Continue reading

Rick Warren says: U need to know Christoph Blumhardt. OK. Blum-who?


Well, we should all know about Johann and (his son) Christoph Blumhardt–that’s for sure. And not just because Rick Warren tweeted the other day and said that we should (the tweet read: “Wherever a handful stand together on the Rock, the realities of God’s Kingdom appear” Christoph Blumhardt (U need to know him)).

You’re in luck! My brilliant friend and colleague, the rising theologian Christian Collins Winn, who teaches at Bethel University (my seminary’s sister institution) has written and continues to write on these fascinating Blumhardts. And when I asked, he was only too happy to provide the following brief meditation on their lives and theology(ies):

[UPDATE: Here is a post describing a never-before-translated biography of the elder Blumhardt.]

Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805–1880) and his son Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919) would certainly qualify as  “neglected theologians.”  Both Blumhardts, charismatic pastors from southwestern Germany (Württemberg), managed to be two of the most influential “theologians” of the later half of the nineteenth-century without anyone, at least not anyone in the English speaking world, really knowing about it.  But don’t take my word for it, listen to Emil Brunner speaking about the origins of what has come to be called dialectical theology: “The real origin of the Dialectic Theology is to be traced, however, not to Kierkegaard, but to a more unexpected source, to a place still farther removed from the main theological thoroughfare-to the quiet Boll of the two Blumhardts.”[1] Or consider these words recently published by Jürgen Moltmann: “My ‘Theology of Hope’ has two roots: Christoph Blumhardt and Ernst Bloch.”[2]

Rhetorical hyperbole you say?  Perhaps, but given that not only Brunner and Moltmann, but Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen, Friedrich Gogarten, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Cullman, Paul Tillich and Gerhard Sauter all claim to have been influenced, or at the very least,  to have known the thought of the two Blumhardts with some intimacy, a strong case can be made that the “pastors from Boll” had an important role in shaping the theological imagination of one of the most creative generations of Protestant thought in recent memory.  This fact alone warrants the Blumhardts far more attention than they have received. Continue reading