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.
ABROMEIT, Hans-Jürgen. Das Geheimnis Christi: Dietrich Bonhoeffers erfahrungsbezogene Christologie. Neukirchener Beiträge zur systemaschen Theologie 8. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991.
BEINTKER, Michael. “Kontingenz und Gegenständlichkeit: Zu Bonhoeffers Barth-Kritik in ‘Akt und Sein.’” In Krisis und Gnade: Gesammelte Studien zu Karl Barth, edited by Stefan Holtmann and Peter Zocher, 29–54. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.
BENKTSON, Benkt-Erik. Christus Und Die Religion: Der Religionsbegriff Bei Barth, Bonhoeffer Und Tillich. Arbeiten Zur Theologie, II/9. Stuttgart: Calwer, 1967.
BETHGE, Eberhard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. Edited by Victoria J. Barnett. Revised. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1967.
BOOMGAARDEN, Jürgen. Das Verständnis der Wirklichkeit: Dietrich Bonhoeffers systematische Theologie und ihr philosophischer Hintergrund in “Akt und Sein.” Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1999.
BURTNESS, James H. “As Though God Were Not Given: Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Finitum Capax Infiniti.” Dialog 19, no. 4 (1980): 249–55.
DEJONGE, Michael P. Bonhoeffer’s Theological Formation: Berlin, Barth, and Protestant Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
EICHINGER, Franz. “Zwischen Transzendentalphilosophie und Ontologie: Zur kritisch-systematischen Standortbestimmung der Theologie beim frühen Bonhoeffer.” In Vernunftfähiger – vernunftbedürftiger Glaube: Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Johann Reikerstorfer-, edited by Kurt Appel, Wolfgang Treitler, and Peter Zeillinger, 65–86. Religion – Kultur – Recht 3. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2005.
FEIL, Ernst. The Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Translated by Martin Rumscheidt. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.
GODSEY, John D. “Barth and Bonhoeffer: The Basic Difference.” Quarterly Review 7, no. 1 (1987): 9–27.
———. The Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960.
GREEN, Clifford J. Bonhoeffer: A Theology of Sociality. Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
———. “Trinity and Christology in Bonhoeffer and Barth.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 60, no. 1–2 (2006): 1–22.
GREGGS, Tom. Theology Against Religion: Constructive Dialogues with Bonhoeffer and Barth. London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011.
———. “The Influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Karl Barth.” In Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence and Impact of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought, edited by Matthew Kirkpatrick. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016.
KAMPHUIS, Barend. Boven En Beneden: Het Uitgangspunt van de Christologie En de Problematiek van de Openbaring Nagegaan Aan de Hand van de Ontwikkelingen Bij Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer En Wolfhart Pannenberg. Kampen: Kok, 1999.
KARTTUNEN, Tomi. Die Polyphonie Der Wirklichkeit: Erkenntnistheorie Und Ontologie in Der Theologie Dietrich Bonhoeffers. University of Joensuu Publications in Theology 11. Joensuu: University of Joensuu, 2004.
KRÖTKE, Wolf. Barmen – Barth – Bonhoeffer: Beiträge Zu Einer Zeitgemäßen Christozentrischen Theologie. Unio Und Confessio 26. Bielefeld: Luther-Verlag, 2009.
LEHMANN, Paul L. “The Concreteness of Theology: Reflections on the Conversation between Barth and Bonhoeffer.” In Footnotes to a Theology: The Karl Barth Colloquium of 1972, edited by Martin Rumscheidt, 53–76. Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1974.
MARSH, Charles. Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
MAYER, Rainer. Christuswirklichkeit: Grundlagen, Entwicklungen Und Konsequenzen Der Theologie Dietrich Bonhoeffers. Arbeiten Zur Theologie, II/15. Stuttgart: Calwer, 1969.
PANGRITZ, Andreas. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘Within, Not Outside, the Barthian Movement.’” In Bonhoeffer’s Intellectual Formation: Theology and Philosophy in His Thought, edited by Peter Frick, 29:245–82. Religion in Philosophy and Theology. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.
———. Karl Barth in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
PUFFER, Matthew. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Theology of Karl Barth.” In Karl Barth in Conversation, edited by W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon, 46–62. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014.
REUTER, Hans-Richard. “Editor’s Afterword to the German Edition.” In Act and Being: Transcendental Philosophy and Ontology in Systematic Theology, 162–83. DBWE 2. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
SHERMAN, Franklin. “Act and Being.” In The Place of Bonhoeffer: Problems and Possibilities in His Thought, edited by Martin E. Marty, 83–111. New York: Association Press, 1962.
TIETZ-STEIDING, Christiane. Bonhoeffers Kritik Der Verkrümmten Vernunft: Eine Erkenntnistheoretische Untersuchung. Beiträge Zur Historischen Theologie 12. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999.
WITVLIET, J. Theo. “Bonhoeffer’s Dialoog Met Karl Barth.” Kerk En Theologie 16 (1965): 301–21.
WOELFEL, James W. Bonhoeffer’s Theology: Classical and Revolutionary. Nashville: Abingdon, 1970.
WÜSTENBERG, Ralf K. “Philosophical Influences on Bonhoeffer’s ‘Religionless Christianity.’” In Bonhoeffer and Continental Thought: Cruciform Philosophy, edited by Brian Gregor and Jens Zimmermann, 137–55. Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ Press, 2009.
In our current context of wealth and poverty existing side by side in a milieu of materialistic consumerism, the Christian gospel of denying ourselves and making much of God is being abandoned for the American gospel of denying others and making much of ourselves.
American Christians have become content to live a baptized version of the American dream, a hollow faith that is about maximizing your earthly portfolio once your salvation is secured.
My main contention is that Christians in the United States should lower their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor. In doing so, they will remain faithful to Scripture and discover a more satisfactory way of life.
Before that, I went to a Christian high school, and a Christian middle school.
Before that, I was home-schooled, and I grew up in a Christian home.
Oh, also: I’m the world’s worst sports fan.
I’m serious. The students in my youth group give me a hard time about it. Every week, they’re like, “Josh, did you see the game?!” “Josh, are you going to watch the game?”
And I’m like, “Game? What game? I don’t even know which sport’s season it is!”
World’s. worst. sports fan. I’m telling you.
The one redeeming quality about my sports fandom is that I’ve stuck with one team through thick and thin: the University of Michigan Wolverines. Go Blue!
Now, I know that the rivalry between the Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes is but a pale imitation of the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn down here. But up North, this rivalry was and is a big deal.
And it was really interesting, back when I was in middle school and high school, to observe what would happen each year in November when the Wolverines and the Buckeyes went at it.
I’m from Toledo, OH, which is on the border with Michigan, so the fan split was about 50/50 – Wolverines on one side, Buckeyes on the other.
And each year, on the day after the big game, you could tell who the true fans were…
The impetus for this study was a discussion question in Dr. Malysz’s Spring 2015 20th Century History and Doctrine course. On March 24, our third class period on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, our second question for discussion read as follows:
“What is religion for Bonhoeffer? What are its anthropological manifestations (in Bonhoeffer’s day)? In what ways is Bonhoeffer’s understanding of religion similar to, and different from, that of Barth?”
Having taken Malysz’s Fall 2014 seminar on Karl Barth, I was intrigued by the question. We only spent a few minutes on the topic in class, focusing on how Bonhoeffer’s definition of religion focuses on a “necessary God of the gaps,” but I wrote down the following questions for further consideration:
Is there a tension in how Barth and Bonhoeffer describe “religion,” or an underlying harmony?
Barth speaks of boundary, Bonhoeffer of finding God at the center. Are they getting at the same thing?
What is the relationship between Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s God as “stopgap”?
It has been over a year since that class discussion, but these questions are still on my mind. I’m convinced that Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological critiques of religion can provide resources for the Church today.
After graduating from Beeson in December, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in historical/systematic theology. If all goes well, I’d like to expand my Barth/Bonhoeffer project this semester into a doctoral project – perhaps focusing on the relationship between Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s “God-as-stopgap,” or on the relationship between Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological interpretation[s] of Scripture and their theological critiques of religion.
BONHOEFFER, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. Translated by Isabel Best, Lisa E. Dahill, Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens. Edited by John W. de Gruchy. DBWE Vol. 8. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.
—. “7. Inaugural Lecture: The Anthropological Question in Contemporary Philosophy and Theology.” In Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931, translated by Douglas W. Stott, edited by Clifford J. Green, 389-408. DBWE Vol. 10. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008.
Like so many other feast days – scheduled, as they are, on the days of the namesakes’ deaths – the feast day of St. James the Apostle is a strong rebuke to our aspirations. To our aspirations as human beings, and especially to our aspirations as ministers of Christ’s Church.
James & John: Fishermen No More?
You see, James started off as a mere fisherman. An admirable one, to be sure, because he and his brother John answered Jesus’ call in Mark 1. They left behind their father, their family, and – they grew to hope! – their family’s fishing profession.
James was off on a new adventure, hopeful and headstrong. So much so that, along with his brother John, he earned the nickname “Son of Thunder”! Coming from the Son of Man, that’s no small compliment!
But their headstrong passion proved to be a weakness as well. In Luke 9, after getting rejected in Samaria, the Sons of Thunder offer to call fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritan village! This earns them a stern rebuke from Jesus.
And, even more famously, they approached Jesus with the following request in Mark 10:37:
Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.
Princes? Or Fishermen?
Now, their request is, in effect: “O King Jesus, would you please make us princes?”
And, granted, this is Apocryphal, but I imagine Jesus putting his arms around them and saying the following:
“Princes? Princes?! Boys, if I had wanted princes, I would have called princes! But, I don’t need princes!
No, no, no. What I need are new fishermen! And that’s why I’ve called you!”
You see, James had been hoping for a new position. And instead he received his old profession – transformed!
James was no longer to be a mere fisherman, but a fisher of men.
And not even just a fisher of men like Jeremiah 16 spoke of – for there the fishermen and hunters are instruments of judgment and exile.
No! Instead, James was to go fishing with, go fishing for Jesus, to bring people back from exile.
Now, undoubtedly, this is a step up from fishing for literal fish.
Or is it?
Not necessarily. At least, not in the world’s eyes.
The Death of St. James the Apostle
Here’s Jesus’ actual answer to the “prince” request:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
And they said to him, “We are able.”
And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Now, granted, this isn’t one of the assigned lectionary passages for today, but I’d like us to look at the beginning of Acts 12:
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
Swept aside, in just one verse! I doubt that sort of an abrupt, violent end awaited most of the fishermen working for Zebedee’s family business.
Was it worth it?
Was it worth it? Did James receive any sort of a promotion, after all?
Of course, we know the right answer. But do we live it out?
Are we thankful, are we satisfied with our roles as servants within Christ’s Church?
Are we willing to be “just” fishermen, even if it costs us our ambitions? Even if it costs us our lives?
By God’s grace, I hope so.
By God’s grace, may we – with the Apostle James – be able to confess the final words of Psalm 34 with open eyes, and open hearts. Perhaps it will help to imagine the following words on the dying Apostle’s lips:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
I’d like to think we made a bit of a difference – perhaps in slowing things down enough to let professors find jobs elsewhere before they got fired. Heck, we even made it into The New York Times. (Although, I will say: I’m embarrassed of the picture they chose for the article.)
However, in the long run, we failed.
Cedarville is now a much different place than when I arrived. What’s more, I became so entangled in the mess that I arrived to seminary with some burn wounds – from a prophetic fire that burnt a bit too hot.
I’m thankful for my time at Cedarville, however.
God has been healing those wounds. Beeson Divinity School and Anglicanism have both been balms to my spirit. And, with the healing has come the realization that I would not be who I am today were it not for my four years in Cedarville, Ohio.
Many of the lessons I learned there were sealed with blood, sweat, and tears – as it were. However, those kinds of lessons are often the most important and enduring.
By God’s grace, I hope to carry forward into my future ministry a combination of prophetic fire and patient faithfulness in the face of injustice and suffering.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m worried about the other members of the “Cedarville Diaspora.”
“Cedarville ex-pats”? Take your pick of terms.
No, not so much the professors who were pushed out. They’ve miraculously landed on their feet, and I’ve witnessed God’s powerful work of redemption through them in their current careers and ministries.
See, God has blessed me with a wonderful seminary and church community in which to grow and heal after Cedarville. Without those things, I don’t know where I’d be after the awful ending to my Christian college experience.
Others, however, may be feeling very lonely and angry right now.
If that’s you, or if you know someone to whom this applies, would you let me know if there’s any way I can help you?
I’ll gladly listen to you vent. I’d love to pray for you specifically, and perhaps to share what I’ve found helpful along the journey.