5 Must-Read Statements on the Church

This past week, I spoke at Kaleo, our Thursday night young adults gathering at Eastbrook, overviewing 1 Corinthians. I shared a quotation on dealing with disillusionment within the church from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book Life Together is, in my opinion, the best book written on the nature of true community in the church. Here are 5 must-read statements on  the Church from Bonhoeffer:

  • “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” [26-27]
  • “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” [27]
  • “Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” [28]
  • “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, not discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” [29]
  • “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men….Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.” [29-30]

[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together. A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]

Bonhoeffer’s Theological Shift in Harlem

Bonhoeffer_Union_ClassLast night, I finished reading Reggie Williams‘ thought-provoking book, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance. This was an outstanding read and would easily fit within my top five recommended reads about the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I hope to reflect a bit further on the book soon, but I wanted to share this extended reflection by Williams from one of the final chapters of the book here.

The hermeneutical process that was set in motion by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s formative German nationalist environment had been disrupted by immersion in a different community. During the Harlem Renaissance and at the beginning of the Great Depression, Bonhoeffer entered into the ‘church of the outcast of America’ in Harlem. He came to Harlem not as the professor come to give oppressed people The benefit of his knowledge; Bonhoeffer allowed himself to be vulnerable in the Harlem community, which was very different from his own German one, by an incarnational practice. In Harlem he learned from Powell’s ministry and was exposed to a black dialectical ecclesiology and to Powell’s interpretation of a model church community. That encounter exposed the limitations of Bonhoeffer’s _Volk_-centered loyalties, making him vulnerable to the influence of a different worldview and opening him up to important revisions in his faith. When Bonhoeffer shared with his friend Myles Horton the interrupting ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ that he experienced in the Abyssinian church service, Myles was surprised by the different demeanor that his German friend exhibited. It was the different Bonhoeffer, in the year following his encounter with black Baptists, whose piety sometimes appeared ‘too fervent’ to his students. One of Bonhoeffer’s Berlin students recalled the directness and ‘simplicity’ with which Bonhoeffer ‘asked us whether we loved Jesus.’ That different Bonhoeffer was the one who would later speak out against Nazi racism and become the celebrated author of Creation and Fall, Life Together, Discipleship, and Ethics. [Reggie Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), pp. 105-106.]

Bibliography on Prayer

Throughout our series, “Great Prayers of the Bible,” we looked at passages of Scripture in which prayer is the central activity. Along with study of those specific Bible passages, I turned to the wisdom of many authors far more brilliant than me and from many different eras for help. At times people ask me whether I have books I recommend alongside of certain preaching series. I find that a difficult question to always answer briefly, so here is a bibliography I have been gathering (and reading) over the last twenty years on the topic of prayer.

Bibliography on Prayer:

Ruth Haley Barton. “Prayer.” In Sacred Rhythms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.

Anthony Bloom. Beginning to Pray. New York: Paulist Press, 1970.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Prayerbook of the Bible. DBW, vol 5. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

E. M. Bounds. Power Through Prayer in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.

Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1967.

Walter Brueggemann. Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

George A. Buttrick. Prayer. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1944.

David Crump. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Ronald Dunn. Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.

Jacques Ellul. Prayer and Modern Man. Translated by C. Edward Hopkin. New York: The Seabury Press, 1970.

Richard Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993.

Ole Hallesby. Prayer. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1931.

James Houston. The Prayer (previously title The Transforming Friendship). David C. Cook, 2007.

Joyce Huggett. The Joy of Listening to God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Kenneth Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980

C. S. Lewis. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1964.

Richard N. Longenecker, ed. Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Paul E. Miller. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2009.

Andrew Murray. Teach Me to Pray. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1982/2002.

Eugene Peterson. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989.

________. Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

J. C. Ryle. A Call to Prayer. Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2002.

Baron Friedrich von Hugel. The Life of Prayer. New York: E. P. Dutton & Sons, 1927.

Philip Yancey. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 July 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

paul_lachine_illustration“Less Religion, More Money: Countries Get Wealthier as They Become More Secular, Study Says” – Newsweek reports on a recent study in Science Advances that tracked economic development in countries over the past 100 years. “Researchers called tolerance of individual expression the “ultimate driver” of economic change.” Of course, Newsweek doesn’t mention what the introduction for the study says: “Although a correlation between economic development and secularization is evident, in that countries that are highly religious tend to be the poorest (7, 8), it is not obvious which change precedes which through time: whether development causes secularization (9, 10), or vice versa (11), or whether both changes are driven, with different time lags, by a factor such as education or advances in technology.”  It does seem to me that if “individual expression” is the “‘ultimate driver’ of economic change,” we should also ask the question of whether economic change is the ultimate evaluative tool of individual and corporate satisfaction in a country. Are the wealthiest countries reflective of the highest level of well-being? While “well-being” is defined further down in the study, it is not clear how this relates to overall economic development and whether the definition of well-being is implicitly drawn from a secular versus religious definition.

 

pregnantOn a slightly different but related note, Philip Jenkins highlights the dipping fertility rates in the United States in his article: “Faith, Fertility, and the Fate of American Religion.” He writes: “The United States just passed a critical statistical landmark, one that I think – I fear – has immense implications for the nation’s religious life. If I am right, and we are dealing with early days, we might seriously be looking at the opening stages of a large scale process of secularization. After being reported and speculated about for decades, that secularization might finally be happening. As I will argue, the term “secularization” over-simplifies the process, but let that stand presently.”

 

Bonhoeffer_Union_Class“Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Harlem Renaissance” – It’s no secret that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my theological heroes. Ever since I first read his book The Cost of Discipleship in high school after giving my life to Christ, I have continued to learn from his writings up to the present time. Here is a thought-provoking presentation by Dr. Reggie Williams on the intersection of the Harlem Renaissance with Bonhoeffer’s studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Williams is also the author of Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus.

 

VanhoozerSpeaking of theologians in development, every pastor, student pursuing their PhD in theology, or other budding theologians should read Kevin Vanhoozer‘s excellent essay: Letter to an Aspiring Theologian:” How to Speak of God Truly.” Along with giving all of us some excellent reading to pursue, Vanhoozer brings the pursuit of theological thinking into context of thought and context of life.

 

18-mariia-butina.w710.h473.2x“Alleged Russian Spy Was Working to Infiltrate Religious Right As Well As Gun Groups” – With all the ongoing attention given to spying and infiltration between the United States and Russia, one of the more interesting twists this past week came from the case of indicted Russian-spy Maria Butina. Not only was she seeking to influence gun groups, she was also intentionally targeting religious conservative groups as well.

 

michelle-jimenez-211321-unsplash-770x513Last week in “The Weekend Wanderer,” I shared an article on the dramatic increase of multiracial congregations in Protestant Christianity. Not everything about this is positive, however, as at times this can be what some call “racist multiculturalism.” Dr. Lamont Francies explores the potential negative aspects of multi-ethnic churches in his challenging article: “The Mask of Multicultural Churches.” Many of the issues he raises are areas we have struggled with at Eastbrook Church as we continue to navigate what it truly means to move from the appearance of ethnic diversity to deeper Gospel transformation toward the Revelation 7 family of God.

 

Andrew Brunson 2I continue to follow the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed for the past two years in Turkey on allegations tying him to rebel groups there. You can read my latest update here, but also recent articles at Christianity Today (“Turkey Keeps American Pastor Behind Bars—At Least for Three More Months“), CNN (“Trump calls for Turkey to release US pastor accused of spying“), The New York Times (“Turkey Resists Pressure to Release American Pastor From Jail“), and The Washington Post (“Turkish court rejects appeals to release jailed American pastor“).

 

5-medina“4 Ways Men Can Combat Abuse in the Church” – In light of pervasive abuse in our society that also unfortunately touches the church, Gricel Medina says its time for a change. “#ChurchToo and #SilenceIsNotSpiritual have proven that, too often, our instinct is to blame the victim and assume the best of the abuser. Men receive standing ovations in some churches just for responding to allegations; whether they confess or deny misconduct appears almost irrelevant. It might be because Christians love a story of repentance and forgiveness more than the hard work of justice. Or, it might be because we want to believe the best of our leaders.” [Thanks to Sandra Maria Van Opstal for sharing this article.]

 

Laity-Age-of-Distraction-BW-0019-webEver wish you could have two of your favorite thinkers in one room talking about the same topic for an extended period of time. Sadly, I found out I missed on opportunity just like that when Alan Jacobs and Jamie Smith led a retreat together earlier this summer at the Laity Lodge entitled “Attending to God in an Age of Distraction.” Thankfully, I also discovered that audio recordings of the sessions are all available online here.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Praying for Unity in Conflict [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

In our earthly lives, we will at times falter in the battlefields of conflict. We may find ourselves raising our voices against one another in anger or bitterness. Sometimes we do this to another’s face with harsh words and false accusations, while at other times we secretly pass the sweet morsels of gossip or shards of slander into the ears of another.

No matter how it happens, when we stumble into the lands of conflict, the journey toward restored relationships and unity must be infused with prayer. Yes, we must use the best of the wisdom found in the Proverbs of the Bible and the greatest advice of wise counselors. Still, true unity will never come through human efforts alone. When conflict arises in us or around us, the best first step is to fall down on our knees and cry out to the God of the universe in prayer. He alone can speak to the hearts of others – and also to our own hearts – about the causes of conflict and remedies for unity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbors through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbors, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship.”[1]

If your heart is bound with bitterness or rolling in rage, now is the time to desert the battlefields of conflict and seek the sweet remedy of the glory of God released in prayer. As we do this, we may surprisingly find that God not only changes the other person or situation, but He changes us as well. In fact, we may find that we are the one who most needs to be changed.

Prayer is truly the pathway to unity through transformed relationships.

Father,
the conflict rages all around us
  and within us.
We need Your help
  and Your grace,
to turn away from the battlefield
and turn to Your table.
There, help us sit
  as brothers and sisters
in Your holy presence,
  sharing the cup of our salvation
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995).

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Bonhoeffer on Fear

dietrich-bonhoefferI’ve been rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book, Discipleship, over the past month or so. As I was reading this past week, a paragraph from his reflections on Matthew 10:26-39 stood out to me. Here it is:

Human beings should not be feared. They cannot do much to the disciples of Jesus. Their power stops with the disciples’ physical death. The disciples are to overcome fear of death with fear of God. Disciples are in danger, not from human judgment, but from God’s judgment, not from the decay of their bodies, but from the eternal decay of their bodies and souls. Anyone who is still afraid of people is not afraid of God. Anyone who fears God is no longer afraid of people. Daily reminders of this statement are valuable for preachers of the gospel.

Four More Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323Last week, I shared four quotations on prayer from my message “Making Space for Prayer.” Here are four more quotations from my message, “Praying Like a Master,” which is the second  part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church.

“The Lord’s prayer is the essence of prayer. The essence and limit of all the disciples’ praying may be found in it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 155.

“The major preoccupation of children who come into their Father’s presence in prayer is not that we may receive what we need but that He may receive what He deserves – which is honor to His name, the spread of His kingdom, the doing of His will.” – John R. W. Stott, Sermon: “Growth in the Prayer Life,” 20 August 1989.

“All of the strength that comes in prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything.” – Julian of Norwich in Devotional Classics, revised edition, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2005), 77.

“Christ hath put it [the power of prayer] into the hands of men, and the prayers of men have saved cities and kingdom from ruin; prayer hath raised dead men to life, hath stopped the violence of fire, shut the mouths of wild beasts, altered the course of nature, caused rain in Egypt and drought in the sea. Prayer rules over all gods; it arrests the sun in its course and stays the chariot wheels of the moon; it reconciles our suffering and weak faculties with the violence of torment and the violence of persecution; it pleases God and supplies all our need.” – Jeremy Taylor, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, quoted in Ronald Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), 113.