The following is an attempt to tell my testimony, the story of my Christian faith, in approximately 500 words. It was challenging to do, but also a helpful exercise! I challenge you to write out your own story in approximately 500 words.
For as long as I can remember, I have known and followed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. However, there has been a lingering problem in our relationship – on my end. Of course, this problem is called “sin.” But, I mean an even more specific problem: my struggle to know Jesus, and not merely to know about Jesus.
I have always placed a high premium on knowing and telling the truth. As a precocious five-year-old, an intellectual conundrum led me to ask my father how we could be brothers in Christ, though I was his son.
Thankfully, he did not respond with a merely intellectual explanation, but rather a gospel presentation. I prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer,” and my faith journey since then has been a long lesson that real Truth is not a proposition to comprehend, nor a weapon to wield, but a person to love, trust, and obey.
Unfortunately, I have often found it easier to wage intellectual battle than to trust and obey. Knowing all the right answers in Sunday School did little to assuage my pride, lust, anger, and fear.
Thankfully, however, Christ has not given up on me. Instead, through his Word and Church, he has reminded me time and time again that my intellect is to be used in loving, self-sacrificial service – and not in self-defense.
In high school, Christ opened my eyes to a world in need and gave me a glimpse of how the gifts he had given me might be used to meet the world’s needs.
However, to my shame, I had devoted more time and effort into learning things like calculus and Spanish than to learning the gospel. For this reason, I decided to devote my undergraduate studies to learning the gospel in order to preach it to others. I changed my major from Mechanical Engineering to Preseminary Bible just three weeks before classes began.
In college, I fell in love with the gospel, with biblical and theological studies, and with a young nursing student who loved Jesus and wanted to use her gifts (medical and otherwise) to serve him.
We decided to follow Christ together as husband and wife. After we were married in 2012, God opened the doors for us to come to Birmingham, AL, where I have continued my pastoral training at Beeson Divinity School and served as a Youth Minister at St. Peter’s Anglican Church. My wife has lovingly cared for the sick and the poor, first as a Registered Nurse, and now as a Nurse Practitioner.
(Want to read my wedding vows? You can do so here.)
Seminary and Beyond
Seminary (Beeson Divinity School), youth ministry, and my recent ordination to the diaconate have confirmed my pastoral calling. I want to spend the rest of my life serving the world by serving the Church. That is, I want to advance God’s kingdom academically, globally, and pastorally as part professor, missionary, and (primarily a) pastor.
Although merely knowing about Jesus is still a temptation, I know that my Savior is faithful. He can use my life to help heal a world that desperately needs to know him.
Although podcasts (think “iPod” + “broadcast”) have been around for over a decade, we’re living in a bit of a golden age – or a least a Rennaissance – of the medium. For the uninitiated, here’s a nice video about what podcasts are:
Currently, podcasts are one of my very favorite ways to consume information about a wide variety of topics. Sure, gun to my head, I’ll choose books over podcasts as a way to learn. However, unlike books (or videos), you can easily listen to podcasts while doing other things – whether folding laundry, washing dishes, or going for a run/walk.
This is the first podcast I listen to every weekday while making coffee. I love that it’s short (˜10 minutes) and that it provides some snapshots of important news stories that day. In addition to Up First, I frequently listen to NPR newscasts via their NPR One app, which is worth checking out!
Sure, the egalitarian in me wishes there were a show out there called “The Art of Humanity” – about how to be a Mensch. However, in the meantime, Brett McKay has a solid podcast going about “reviving the lost art of manliness.” I enjoy the podcast (and the Art of Manliness website) because it includes so many helpful how-to guides – for everything from weightlifting to men’s fashion.
I created Rookie Anglican as a way of making Anglicanism more accessible. This podcast, Word & Table, has much the same mission, although it’s focus is not just on Anglicanism, but rather on the rich Christian tradition of liturgical worship. As I wrote about the podcast over at Rookie Anglican:
According to their website, Word & Table “is a weekly podcast about liturgy, sacrament, and the great tradition of Christian worship and why it is vital in our world today.”
The podcast was started back in October 2016, and it’s hosted by Alex Wilgus and Fr. Stephen Gauthier, the Canon Theologian for the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of the Upper Midwest.
You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to episodes via the Word & Table website, or simply search for “Word and Table” in your podcast player/manager of choice.
If you’ve got questions about anything related to the Christian tradition, check out the Word & Table podcast to see if they have an episode on the topic!
I’ve become somewhat of a Tim Ferriss junkie in the past two years. In addition to this podcast – which features long-form interviews with “top performers,” in which Tim distils tips, tricks, habits, and practices for the common person – Ferriss’ books are well worth checking out (Affiliate LInks: The 4-Hour Workweek; The 4-Hour Body; The 4-Hour Chef; Tools of Titans) . He’s great at teaching metalearning– how to learn how to learn!
Sure, Coffee Break German hasn’t taught me the kind of German that I’ll need for my Ph.D. German translation exam. However, it is a very informative introduction to basic/conversational German. It makes a wonderful companion to Duolingo for language learning! Radio Lingua Network offers a whole suite of “Coffee Break” languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Chinese!
This is my “desert island” pen. It may not be the very best pen in the whole wide world, but I’m quite sure it’s the pen at the intersection of durability, versatility, and affordability. If you really want to, you can “hack” the F701 by putting in a better ink cartridge. But I’ve been perfectly happy with the standard Zebra refills.
I use this notebook for a personal combination of the Bullet Journal method, Morning Pages journaling, and the 5-Minute Journal. It’s a step up, paper-wise from a Moleskine, yet still affordable – and I love the Medium/A5 size. Currently, I’m on my third one, which is “anthracite gray.” The first two were black, then navy blue. I prefer dotted pages, but they also have ruled and blank page options.
In case you don’t already have and use a password manager, you should really really get one. But don’t just take my word for it, here’s an informative piece from Wired about why you need a password manager.
I started using LastPass a couple years back, and I haven’t looked back. My wife and I both share a premium account – installed on our internet browsers and phones.
I use Evernote primarily as my all-in-one digital file-cabinet – my “second brain,” as the company itself calls it. I’ve been paying for a premium subscription for awhile now, but the free version is quite robust and worth checking out. As far as organizing my Evernotes goes, I’m currently using Michael Hyatt’s tag-based system, although I started off just using notebooks and stacks of notebooks.
As productivity guru David Allen says, your brain is for having ideas, not storing them! Therefore, in order to keep track of everything I have to get done, I have found an external task management system absolutely indispensable. I’ve tried a TON of different task managers, but Todoist has been my favorite for awhile now.
I prefer having an actual watch on my wrist (and, according to Business Insider, I’m not alone), so that I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket to check the time. Granted, I don’t have a favorite watch for females. And, granted, there are much nicer, more elaborate, more expensive watches available out there. However, much like my pen choice above, this watch stands at the intersection of functionality, durability, and affordability. If you’re looking for an even cheaper analog option, check out the Casio Men’s MQ24-7B2 (recommended by Kevin Kelly via Cool Tools).
I think that – after books – podcasts are one of the best ways out there to learn and stay interesting. Plus, unlike books (and Youtube videos), you can easily listen to a podcast while doing something else, such as washing the dishes or folding laundry. Apple’s native Podcasts app has come a very long way, and is worth checking out. However, my favorite podcast app is currently (the free version of) Overcast. To get all “meta” on you, here’s an excellent podcast episode about podcasting. Check it out if you’re even somewhat confused about what podcasts are.
This is the tool I wish I knew about back in high school. Spaced repetition is a key to successful and time-efficient learning. And Anki bakes spaced repetition into flashcard reviews. I started using Anki, on the recommendation of Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever, to learn German for my PhPh.D.rogram. However, the uses of Anki are virtually endless when it comes to learning. Granted, the learning curve is a bit steep, but check out Wyner’s guide to using Anki as a way of getting started.
The following is a sermon preached on Ascension Sunday, 2017. You can listen to the sermon here:
You know, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s goodbyes. Anyone else here hate goodbyes?
Yeah, and the fact that I hate them so much means I’m not really very good at goodbyes.
Sometimes I get awkward and silent. Sometimes I get awkward and really chatty! Heck, sometimes I get awkward and I make poor choices, like the one time when I was getting ready to say goodbye to my family when they dropped me off at college.
They were looking forward to a final dinner with me, in the school cafeteria, before they left. But I was worried about the awkwardness of saying a tearful goodbye between packed tables and chairs, so I suggested that they just leave.
Let’s just say that my family wasn’t very happy. And me? Neither was I. I ate my first college meal all alone.
Goodbyes suck. And I often suck at goodbyes.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, for one thing, this is my “goodbye” sermon here at St. Peter’s, and I wanted to give an excuse for this sermon, if it sucks!
In all seriousness, I do want to thank this congregation for being such a good place for Rachel and me to serve and grow alongside you. Thank you for loving Rachel and me as our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will miss you all very much as we move to Illinois this week.
Anyways, I don’t want this goodbye to get TOO awkward, so I’d better keep on preaching!
I think that goodbyes are bad because they so often leave our stories unfinished.
And we humans tend to hate unfinished business. It’s so much better when the story has an end! Sometimes, even a bad ending is better than no ending at all!
Think about it, if you’re watching an important game on TV – say, Alabama vs. Auburn – would you rather see the ending, even if your team loses, or have the power go out and completely miss the final minutes?
Stories without endings are frustrating. And that’s why it’s so hard to say goodbye.
That’s why Death – the ultimate goodbye, if you will – is so horrible.
It’s not really an ending, not for those of us who go on living, anyways. Instead, Death leaves our stories hanging, with words left unsaid and promises left unfulfilled.
I think here of parents in Manchester this week who were forced to say goodbye to their children all too soon, thanks to the suicide bombing. Or the Coptic Christians in Egypt forced to say goodbye to their loved ones too soon, thanks to the bus attack.
Goodbyes suck, because they leave our stories unfinished.
I don’t want to belabor the artwork with my commentary, so I’ll give you a few seconds to take each slide in.
Now, I don’t know about you, but those pictures affect me deeply. The whole idea of a criminal’s last meal affects me deeply. Why?
I think it’s because these last meals combine the familiar with the unfamiliar. They combine the expected and the unexpected. I mean, on one hand, you’ve got comfort food. On the other hand, heinous crimes. The stuff of life right next to life’s untimely end.
While Jesus of Nazareth was no common criminal, his so-called “Last Supper” with his disciples was a poignant combination of the expected and the unexpected. And when you take a look at the Last Supper, focusing on its unexpected elements, you find out that it’s really a Lasting Supper.
That is, the Last Supper is not just a one-time event, some two-thousand years ago. Instead, Holy Communion, the Lasting Supper, is an ongoing meal, with profound implications for our past, our future, and our present.
Have you ever had a problem finding a reliable resource for recommendations?
Certain Google searches are a piece of cake, but the “best resources for ______” ones can be hit-or-miss.
And don’t even get me started on the decision fatigue. As a serial over-thinker, I start to hate myself a little bit after reading through the upteenth list of “5 Best ____s.” It makes it so hard to make a decision! Then, when you pick something, you end up doubting your decision. Not fun.
I’m sure these dynamics apply to a bunch of different things in life. However, while serving as a Youth Minister in seminary, I realized that finding reliable Christian recommendations and resources can be very difficult.
Sure, it’s not for lack of content out there! When it comes to Christianity, everyone has an opinion – and usually an associated reading list!
But how do you know that the book or blog-post that you find isn’t from some crazy yahoo with nothing more than a computer and a Bible?
Furthermore, if you’re a Christian and your looking for recommendations and resources in some other area, how do you know that what you find is worthwhile?
I mean, sure, everything should be read with a critical eye. But is that latest book or blog-post about mindfulness, parenting, self-help, or productivity helpful and useful for Christians? Or will it require quite a bit of theological critique and analysis before it’s helpful without being potentially harmful?
Google is great, and getting better at many things. But – at least for right now – it’s a pretty crappy theologian!
Idea: The Well-Equipped Christian
With all this in mind, I have an idea: The Well-Equipped Christian (or a similar title) – a website that’s a one-stop shop for Christians looking for reliable recommendations and resources.
Now, to be clear, I’m not claiming to BE the well-equipped Christian! I am not the be-all-end-all source of reliable Christian information.
However, I am a Christian with a seminary education. I’m pursuing a PhD in theology, and I have a heart for the Church.
I want to devote my life and ministry to helping to produce as many “well-equipped Christians” as possible. And I absolutely love giving practical recommendations – specifically in the areas of Bible study, theology, productivity, and meta-learning.
There are a lot of great resources out there. Resources that Christians can benefit from to have healthy minds, bodies, and souls as they advance God’s Kingdom in their daily lives.
I want to connect you to those resources.
I Need Your Help
Are you wiling to help me figure out whether or not this is a good idea? If so, great! I’d love to hear your answers to the following questions:
What is the biggest problem that you’ve faced in finding reliable recommendations and resources? Not just for specifically Christian resources (although that’s great if you want to focus on that), but also for resources in general.
When you talk to your friends about finding reliable recommendations and resources, what kinds of things do you say? Any specific feelings or complaints?
Finally, please share this post with anyone you think would be willing to give me their input! Thank you so much!
God, our Refuge, I ask that your Holy Spirit would move in our lives, so that we would:
promote your justice
embody your steadfast faithful love
and humbly obey Your will,
even if it costs us our reputations, and even if it costs us our lives.
I ask that this transformation would begin with me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’d like to start off with a very basic question: Do you want to get ahead in life?
Do you want things to get better? Do you want your life, and your children’s lives, to improve?
I mean, despite the many things that divide us humans, don’t we all want progress? When it comes right down to it, don’t we all just want to get ahead?
I know I do.
In fact, as the students in our youth group could tell you, this is one of the reasons why I love “life hacks”!
Have you heard of life hacks? They’re these little tips and tricks to get ahead in life while saving time, money, and effort.
Like, one of my favorite life hacks is the “coffee nap.” You drink a cup of coffee, then immediately take a 20-minute nap, so that the caffeine kicks in right as you wake up.
Life hack. Try it sometime. Thank me later.
ANYWAYS, we all want to get ahead in life. Right?
But there’s a problem: How do we know what getting ahead looks like?
I mean, think about it. Getting ahead can look quite different in different contexts. Right?
Perhaps this is too crude of an example for a sermon, but getting ahead in a drinking game looks totally different than getting ahead in Alcoholics Anonymous!
Getting ahead in the NBA Finals hopefully looks different than getting ahead in playing basketball with your kids.
Getting ahead on Wall Street as a day-trader hopefully looks different than getting ahead in running a charity.
In order to get ahead,
you have to know the context,
you have to know the rules,
you have to know the goal.
Otherwise, no matter how hard you try, you’re not really going to get ahead. You’ll just be getting ahead at the wrong thing. Which means you’ll fail.
So here’s the kicker: Getting ahead in God’s eyes looks a whole lot different than getting ahead in the world’s eyes.
The world is a different context. The world follows different rules. And the world has a different goal than God’s Kingdom.
The Main Point
In fact, and here’s my main point if you want to write it down:
Because God’s Kingdom is an “upside-down” Kingdom, getting ahead in the Kingdom of God will frequently look foolish in the eyes of the world.
God’s Upside-Down Kingdom – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Now, this is the message of all of our readings for today, but I’d like to start with the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18. (You can find it on page 952 in your pew Bible.)
1 Corinthians 1:18 says:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (that’s what I’m calling “the world,” by the way – those who are perishing), but to us who are being saved (that is, to us who are a part of God’s Kingdom) it is the power of God.
You see, God’s not against getting ahead. In fact, you could even say that God is on a mission to “Make Creation Great Again”!
I’m not kidding! He made it great in the first place – a perfect universe with perfect relationships between God, humanity, and all of creation.
However, ever since we humans rebelled against God – ever since Sin shattered the relationships between God, humanity, and all of creation – God has been on a mission to put everything back together again.
Sounds great, right?
So why is Paul saying that the good news of God’s rescue mission is foolishness to the world?
Because God makes creation great again in a totally unexpected way!
This is what I mean by “God’s upside-down kingdom.”
In order to make the world right again, God shows up and reverses the ways the world has gotten used to working. And the greatest reversal of all in God’s upside-down kingdom is when the eternal Son of God becomes human and gets himself killed for the sins of the entire world.
The world expects
and we receive instead a
as a political criminal.
We receive a bloody example for those who would dare challenge the kingdoms of this world.
We receive a CrucifiedSavior. And the world calls that absolutely RIDICULOUS.
Because, to the world, you don’t get ahead by laying your life down (like Jesus did). You get ahead by taking what’s yours.
You don’t get ahead by hanging out with the wrong crowd (like Jesus did). You’re supposed to rub shoulders with the rich and the famous, not the poor and the homeless.
You’re not supposed to focus on the people at the bottom and at the border (like Jesus did)!
For crying out loud, you’re supposed to get out there and hustle!
Climb the ladder!
Take no prisoners!
…And get right back where we need to be saved FROM!
That’s where the world’s ways get us.
Where every human is
an egotistical island,
competing with God,
alienating other humans,
and abusing creation.
Thankfully, as Paul tells us in [1 Cor 1:25],
the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God saves us through what looks like foolishness and weakness.
Why? So that we would not boast in our pathetic “wisdom” and “strength.”
Instead, we are to boast only in the true wisdom and strength of God.
Paul continues in [1 Cor. 1:27]:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
This, then, is the upside-down Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the “Losers” – Matthew 5:1-12
And it’s the exact same Kingdom that we find in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.
(FYI: We call them the “Beatitudes” because of the Latin word for “blessed/happy” – beatus.)
Now, remember: God isn’t against getting ahead. He really does want what’s best for us.
But the danger is that we’ll try to get ahead on our own, in our own way. And if we do that, we’ll miss the point in at least two ways.
First, we won’t realize that we desperately need a Savior, and that we cannot save ourselves.
Second, we will ignore the very people that God wants us to care for in order to really get ahead in his Kingdom!
That is, on our own, we’re going to focus on those at the center and height of power. You know, “The Winners.”
But God focuses on those at the bottom and at the borders, the edges of society. You know, “The Losers.”
These are the people who will experience God’s favor in his Upside-Down Kingdom. Take a look at [Matthew 5:3-12].
Notice how Jesus declares God’s favor, His blessing, to what the world would call the “wrong kind of people.”
To the poor in spirit
Those who mourn
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
The pure in heart
And the reviled
And notice as well, that the blessings frequently involve reversals. The world is giving them one thing, but God is going to give them another.
Now, this is important: these famous words are a mixture of encouragement and instruction.
That is, Jesus isn’t just giving us a TO-DO LIST in order to get as much blessing as possible. He’s not saying “Go out there and try harder to be poor, persecuted, hungry, mourners.”
Now, Jesus IS instructing, more on that in a second. But he is first offering divine encouragement to those who are already in those situations.
The Beatitudes: An Interpretive Translation
Here’s my interpretive translation of the Beatitudes. Follow along with each one if you’ve got a Bible in front of you.
Jesus is saying:
(1) “Take heart! Things aren’t what they seem! If you lack resources and realize that God alone can save you, then you might not feel like a part of the Roman kingdom. But you’re a part of God’s Kingdom.”
(2) “Be encouraged! If you bear and grieve the sufferings of the world, then the kings of the world probably won’t give you much comfort. But God, your true King, will.
(3) Take heart! If you humbly and gentlyrefuse to seek vengeance or power, then you probably won’t inherit much from the world’s kingdoms. But God will give you an inheritance in His Kingdom.
(4) Be encouraged! If you pursue God’s will above all else, then you’ll probably go hungry in this world. But you will be satisfied in God’s Kingdom, where His will is obeyed.
(5) Take heart! If you show mercy and compassion to a suffering world, you might not receive much mercy back! But you yourselves will be shown mercy by God.
(6) Be encouraged! If you single-mindedly pursue God’s will, then you probably won’t experience the world’s glory. Butyou will experience God’s glory and presence.
(7) Take heart! If you pursuereconciliation and reject violence, then you probably won’t reflect the character of this world. But you will reflect the character of God.
(8) Take heart! Because when this world rejects you, insults you, lies about you, and persecutes you, then it may not look like it, but you’re in good company! You’re in the company of your Savior, Jesus Christ.
Friends, if you’re here today and you’re at the bottom of this world, then I encourage you to cling to the divine promises of blessing in the Beatitudes.
God is in the process of making all things new – reversing every wrong in this world. Take heart.
However, and perhaps this is uncomfortable to talk about, what if we’re NOT on this list?
What if we’re NOT
who are persecuted?
What if we’re
How should we respond to the Beatitudes?
While I DON’T think that the Beatitudes should be read like a TO-DO list,
I DO think that the Beatitudes are an instructivechallenge to followers of Jesus.
There is a reason why the Beatitudes are at the beginning of Jesus’ quintessential sermon.
It’s almost like Jesus is saying,
“OK, you want to follow me?
You want to be a part of my coming Kingdom? Then let’s get really clear on what this Kingdom is going to be like.
It’s not going to be the kind of Kingdom you’re used to in this world.
You know, the kind of kingdom where the wealthy, wise, and powerful get rewarded.
Instead, in MY Kingdom, the people who get chewed up and spit out by the kingdoms of this world will be rewarded and honored.
if you want to be a part of my Kingdom,
if you want to “get ahead” in my Kingdom,
then you better show concrete concern for
and the weak!
And, as you do so, you’d better be prepared to end up among the oppressed and the marginalized, because the world is going to think you are out of your minds!”
Fear is NOT a Valid Excuse
Brothers and sisters, remember:
Because God’s Kingdom is an “upside-down” Kingdom, getting ahead in the Kingdom of God will frequently look foolish in the eyes of the world.
But there is no escape clause from the rules of God’s Kingdom!
That is, you can’t just ignore Jesus and the Bible because you’re SCARED.
Because you’re scared of how a congregation is going to respond to your sermon,
Because you’re scared of looking foolish,
Because you’re scared of losing your job,
Because you’re scared of a terrorist attack.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care about your fears. He does.
But let’s not kid ourselves!
FEAR is not a valid excuse for ignoring the Bible’s repeated commands for God’s people to show faithful concern for the kinds of people the world ignores and mistreats!
Application: Consistently Pro-Life, for the Unborn AND the Refugees
So, let’s get practical here. How should we respond to these passages about God’s Upside-Down Kingdom?
We must show concrete concern for the powerless. And two recent issues come to mind, that I would be a coward not to mention.
First, in light of the 44th March for Life held this past weekend, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that we must continue to stand up for the unborn.
Abortion is a gruesome evil. And like other forms of evil, it is complex – not easily eradicated.
As Christians, we must wage war against this evil. And that will involve caring not only for the unborn child, but also the mother, and the child after it is born, and the entire family.
Repealing Roe v. Wade isn’t going to completely solve the problem.
Christians will have to step up to the plate and be consistently pro-life in order to fix things.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that, if we are to be consistently pro-life, we must also stand up for the refugees.
Next to the unborn, refugees around the world – but especially from Syria – are among the most vulnerable and powerless people in the world.
Christians should be standing up for and supporting these people. And, to their credit, many Christians are doing so.
I’d encourage you to check out the great work being done by organizations like World Relief and We Welcome Refugees. Talk to me after the service if you’d like more ideas and reading recommendations, by the way.
However, many Christians in this country are falling prey to the fear excuse.
We’re being tempted to turn away these vulnerable people because of the supposed risk of a terrorist attack.
I’m here this morning to plead with you: Do not fall prey to this nonsense.
Even if the fear were legitimate, it is no excuse for Christians not to show concrete love to the powerless.
Whoever said that following Jesus would not involve any risks?
We dare not worship the American gods of comfort and security while neglecting to follow the True God’s commands.
However, these fears of refugees are VASTLY overblown.
Christian theologians Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) inherited a particular understanding of religion. In the broadly post-Kantian milieu, nineteenth-century thinkers such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, and Adolf von Harnack defined religion essentially, anthropologically, and subjectively. That is, religion has a particular essence, and is in some manner inalienable from our humanity. The emphasis of this conception is on the experience of the religious subject, instead of the knowledge of religion’s object (let alone its reality). It is this notion of religion that both Barth and Bonhoeffer challenged.
However, despite the challenge they issued to their shared intellectual heritage, Barth and Bonhoeffer appear to diverge on both the definition and, therefore, the critique of religion – at least during the stage of Bonhoeffer’s 1943-45 imprisonment. While Barth unleashed a thoroughgoing theological critique of religion as faithlessness [Unglaube], he also insisted that humans were always and unavoidably religious. Barth maintained that, despite the liabilities of religion, we cannot and should not be religionless because we are not truly godless. Bonhoeffer, however, spoke in 1944-45 of a desirably “religionless Christianity.” This, despite the fact that he ostensibly intended to carry forward Barth’s theological critique of religion – which was, in Bonhoeffer’s opinion, Barth’s “greatest merit” as a theologian.
Whether Barth and Bonhoeffer share a common theological critique of religion has been subject to intense scholarly debate. To answer this question, we need first to ask another: What did Barth and Bonhoeffer mean by the term “religion”? I propose that, although Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s definitions of religion diverge, their critiques of religion converge. Barth developed a systematic/dialectical concept of religion as self-justification, which the early Bonhoeffer inherited. However, in prison, Bonhoeffer developed a historical/psychological definition of religion as an inward and partial approach to human life. We must realize that these are two different definitions of religion, lest we compare apples to oranges, as it were, and conclude that Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s critiques of religion also diverged.
Once we realize the divergent definitions, we can see the convergent critiques of a particular essence of religion: the self-justifying projection of a deity – a projection which calls for theological analysis. That is, for both Barth and Bonhoeffer, at the heart of “religion” is the impulse to posit and make room for a “God,” in order to secure our own identities by means of and over against this deity. Although religion, thus understood, is inescapable, it is not constitutive of our humanity.
 See Christine Axt-Piscalar, “Liberal Theology in Germany,” in The Blackwell Companion to Nineteenth-Century Theology, ed. David Fergusson (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 468–85; Ernst Feil et al., “Religion,” in Religion Past and Present: Encyclopedia of Theology and Religion, vol. 11 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 31–55; James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006).
 See Karl Barth, On Religion: The Revelation of God as the Sublimation of Religion, trans. Garrett Green (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2006). This is a new translation of §17 in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. I/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), 280–361. Henceforth, all references to the Church Dogmatics will appear in the following form: CD I/1, 1.
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
You know, they say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve even heard it said that it’s the “hap-happiest season of all”!
But, can I take a poll real quick?
Please raise your hand if you’ve ever had a disappointing Christmas.
I mean a Christmas that didn’t live up to your expectations. You wanted it to be filled with love, happiness, and peace, and instead all you got was stress, anxiety, and loneliness.
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