What Happened to Dietrich?: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Shift in Harlem

Bonhoeffer_Union_ClassNot too long ago I read Reggie Williams‘ thought-provoking book, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance. This is an outstanding book and would easily fit within my top five recommended reads about the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There is so much to say from this book, but in our present moment I wanted to share this extended reflection by Williams from one of the final chapters of the book here. In our present tensions, we must understand that a shift must occur for the church, particularly for white Christians. We must enter into the experiences of others, especially our African American brothers and sisters, in a way that changes us to become more like Jesus. It begins with seeing God more clearly, then reading the Bible more fully through other cultural lenses, then seeing ourselves and others differently in ways that leads to concrete action for the sake of the kingdom of God.

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.

[From Reggie Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), pp. 105-106.]

Children as a Symbol of Hope

stanley-hauerwasAs I prepared for my message from this past weekend, “God of the Little Ones,” I read a lot of different material. In returning to Stanley Hauerwas’ A Community of Character, I was seized by the power of his comments on children, not only in relation to parents but also in terms of the broader community around them:

Having children is one of he most morally charged things any community of people does, as nothing else says more about who they are and what they think life is about.

In particular, a community’s willingness to encourage children is a sign of its confidence in itself and its people. For children are a community’s sing to the future that life, in spite of its hardship and tedium, is worthwhile.  Also, children are symbols of our hope — please not that they are not the object of our hope — which sustains us in our day-to-day existence. Life may be hard, but it can be lived. Indeed, it can be lived with zest and interest to the extent that we have the confidence to introduce others to it.

More profoundly, children signal a community’s confidence because they are bound to change our society and their existence fortells inevitable challenge. Our stories and traditions are never inherited unchanged. Indeed, the very power and truth of a tradition depends on its adaptation by each new generation. Thus, children represent a community’s confidence that its tradition is not without merit and is strong enough to meet the challenge of a new generation.

(Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, p. 209)

Righteous Relationships

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What does apple pie, fresh fruit, and exile faith have in common?

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series, “Exiles: A Study of 1 Peter,” looking at our relationships from 1 Peter 3:1-12: wives, husbands, and the community of God.

You can watch the message here or subscribe to our audio podcast, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site.

If you’re interested in getting to know us more at Eastbrook, please take a moment to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo. You could also join our community by downloading the Eastbrook app.

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Righteous Suffering (discussion questions)

Exiles Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Righteous Suffering,” which is part of our series “Exiles” on the book of 1 Peter. This study walks through 1 Peter 2:11-25.

  1. When was a time when someone noticed that you were a follower of Jesus just by the way you live? What happened?
  1. This weekend we continue our series, “Exiles,” on the New Testament letter of 1 Peter. Take a moment to begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you and transform you through His truth. Then, whether you are alone or with others, read 1 Peter 2:11-25 aloud.
  1. Building upon the last section of identity markers (1 Peter 2:9-10), Peter begins this section of the letter begins by returning to terms he used earlier: “foreigners” (1:17) and “exiles” (1:1). Why do you think Peter highlights these terms again here?
  1. There are two major exhortations Peter offers in verses 11 and 12. What are they?
  1. Peter introduces the concept of spiritual warfare here. What do you normally think of when you hear the phrase ‘spiritual warfare’, and how does that relate to what Peter is discussing here?
  1. In verses 13-17, the letter turns toward the meaningful social responsibility of God’s exiled people. What are the major instructions Peter brings to his readers in these verses?
  1. Peter highlights the freedom of God’s people in verse 16. What does he say the point of this freedom is?
  1. Some people say that Christians should always quietly submit to authority, regardless of what the authority asks us to do. Others say that Christians should challenge the established authorities at times when they deviate from the public good. What do you think? How do the themes of submission and doing good inform the way we think about this question?
  1. With 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 Peter applies his teaching to the basic unit of Roman society, the household. He does this in an unexpected way, beginning by addressing the ‘least of these’ personally. How does Peter both dignify and challenge the household servants in verses 18-21?
  1. Peter holds up Jesus as the example for the household servants – and all Christians – to follow in verses 23-25. He does so by weaving Isaiah 53 throughout his words on Jesus. Take a moment to read Isaiah 53 aloud. Where do you hear echoes of Isaiah’s words about the Messiah in 1 Peter 2:23-25?
  1. Why do you think the example of Jesus would be such a powerful example to these early believers who feel like foreigners and exiles? How does Jesus’ example speak to you?
  1. What is one specific thing you sense God is speaking to you about your life through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about what you share together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.

[Next week: We continue our “Exiles” series with a discussion of “Righteous Relationships.” Prepare ahead of time by reading 1 Peter 3:1-12.]

Righteous Suffering

Exiles Series Gfx_Web Header

What does it look like to live out our faith in everyday things as exiles?

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series, “Exiles: A Study of 1 Peter,” looking at the four characteristics of our lives with God from 1 Peter 2:11-25. At the end of the message, I added a few comments about the current refugee crisis, fears of global terrorism, and how we should respond to that.

You can watch the message here or subscribe to our audio podcast, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site.

If you’re interested in getting to know us more at Eastbrook, please take a moment to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo. You could also join our community by downloading the Eastbrook app.

Read More »