Saturday, June 18

Reviews of Bonhoeffer's 'Letters and Papers from Prison'

I read this a while ago in an early, simple edition that didn't give enough context. So I recently re-read it in an expanded edition that was a lot more helpful. Here are my second and first reviews from Goodreads in that order

Overall, this is a great book well worth reading. I haven't put my finger on it yet, but I think Bonhoeffer has some powerful lessons for us about nationalism in this time.

Unintegrated thoughts from my second reading:

Reading this book is a long exercise in observing hope that will never be realized in this world. Bonhoeffer hoped to be released, in part because they didn't really have evidence to pin him down at first and didn't know how deeply he was involved in the conspiracy. But the disappointment in his hopes for this world, of course, is part of the lesson.  'This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.'

B. makes a lot of absolute theological statements that are not absolute.

I have some doubts about poor Maria and if the engagement was a good idea. I get the impression the rest of her life was not very happy. And I wonder what happened with her faith. Part of B.'s theology was to act as best as we can given what we know. It's possible that will have bad results, but we look for God to redeem those, too. 'Sin boldly, but trust in grace more boldly still.' -- Luther

B. obviously really loved his friend Eberhard Bethge. It seems like they had a great friendship.

B. is the patron saint of introspective academics, including taking action and becoming a martyr. But all of the idiosyncratic theorizing does get to be a bit much in parts.

In some ways, Bethge was the great (Platonic) love of B.'s life (more so than his romantic relationship with Maria). Their letters and persistent devotion to one another make a strong impression.

B. criticized 'pietism and methodism', which in their healthy form have borne more good fruit that all the academic theology in history.

Liberal theologians love B. But he's a lot more conservative than them.

Edit to previous review:

The previous edition I read (which I happened to have) was not helpful. There weren't enough notes to help provide context, not least because Bonhoeffer was playing a role in many of his letters (for the censors) and they read as being pretty naive and over-cheerful. I finally started reading the relevant parts of [book:Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy|7501962] beside it and that helped a lot.

What made B. such a great man? He was brilliant and came from a great family and had great opportunities. But I think one of the biggest factors that made him the man he was was his discipline. He was  very disciplined about meditating on the Bible and prayer (though not in a fundamentalist way). Further, as he wrote in his poem 'Stations on the Road to Freedom' [], discipline is essential to freedom (including the ability to act and do the right thing). 

Reading this book, even knowing the ending in advance, is sad. It's sad that we lost such a man to the insanity of Nazi Germany. But B. believed in a greater life than the one that he was living, and he hoped in that in very difficult circumstances. 'This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.'

Saturday, April 2

Idolaters Anonymous

Idolatry does not only mean worshipping statues that represent a deity or force. Tim Keller wrote a good book on idolatry called Counterfeit Gods and he defines it as 'a good thing turned into a pseudo-salvation'. (Here's a good personal example from Tim of Christian ministry as an idol in his life.) Some potential idols include self-esteem, pride, approval, money, power, security, work, food, feeling good, happiness, fitness and sex.

Something else that Tim Keller talk about is that people are made to worship. Not worshipping is not an option. We will worship something. What will it be?

(Almost 29 years ago I preached a youth sermon titled Natural-born Idolaters that pointed in this direction.)

Dallas Willard talks about the efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous and how it produces change in people. I think he says that churches should be more like AA.

In that vein, I have been thinking for a while: what is my most fundamental problem that I need to address and how should it be framed? Sin? Idolatry? Neuroticism? (Not that the most fundamental problem needs to be addressed. Making a dent in any one of these would be a good start.) I had considered the idea of 'Idolaters Anonymous' before.

What prompted me to finally take a next step was some of the things I came across in The Epistle to the Galatians (commentary) by FF Bruce:

Gal 4.3 -- We were enslaved under the elemental forces of the world.
- The law is one.
Gal 4.9 -- How can you turn back to the weak and beggarly elemental forces, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
- The Galatians were reverting to a form of religion which they had practiced before their conversion.
- 'The demonic forces of legalism, then both Jewish and Gentile, can be called 'principalities and powers' or 'elemental spirits of the world'.' Bruce, Galatians, p203
- 'Against those who enjoy 'the liberty of the glory of the children of God' the stoikheia [powers] are powerless.
- 'They cannot reassert their authority over them unless they put themselves back under their power… This suggests that the stoikheia are demonic forces which hold in thrall the minds of men and women who follow their dictates, but lose their potency as soon as their minds are emancipated.' p204
- 'The stoikheia tou kosmou cover all the things in which man places his trust apart from the living God; they become his gods, and he becomes their slave.'
Gal 5.1 -- 'With freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not be encumbered with a yoke of slavery.' p214
Gal 5.21 -- 'For Paul, as R. Jewett wisely points out, flesh 'is not rooted in sensuality but rather in religious rebellion in the form of self-righteousness which was in his terms a 'boasting in one's own flesh'.'' p250

So I personalized the language of AA to idolatry and my general experience. You can see it in the image below (or click through to the Google Doc).

What do you think? Does any of this ring a bell with you? Let me know if you want to discuss it.

Sunday, March 27

New Testament Hymns

This post is an extension of Songs from the Psalms. So here is a list of hymns in the New Testaments and songs I know for them. (I forget where I got the list.) The '+' sign denotes songs I have found to be helpful in practicing a Psalm of the Day.

Lk 1.46-55 (Magnificat)
+ My soul proclaims your greatness, Oh God, Haugen
    Magnificat anima mea Dominum
Lk 1.68-79 (Benedictus)
Lk 2.29-32 (Nunc dimittis)
   Nunc dimittis (Wartburg Choir)
   Now that I've held Him in My Arms, Michael Card
   Lord, now you let your servant go in peace (Lutheran liturgy)
Col 1.15-20
+ Phlp 2.6-11
+ Carmen Christi, Michael Card
   The Exaltation of Christ (Wartburg Choir)
1 Tim 3.16
Eph 5.15 Awake, O sleeper
+ Rev 4.8 Holy, holy, holy, Michael Card
+   We Fall Down, Chris Tomlin
+ Rev 5.9-10 You Are Worthy, Michael Card
+ Rev 12-14 Worthy Is the Lamb, Handel
+ Rev 11.15; 19.6, 16 Hallelujah Chorus, Handel
Rev 11.17-18
+ Rev 15.3-4 Song of Moses, Michael Card
Rev 19.1-8 Hallelujah, Michael Card

Friday, March 25

Recent Preaching and Teaching

I taught Wednesday night Bible Study at our church, Christus Victor Lutheran, for four nights in January and February. The series was called 'The Unbelievable Stories of Jesus' and featured four parables where Jesus exaggerated to make His point. Three of those were recorded. Note: there is some dialogue with the socially-distanced attendees that the mics didn't pick up very well.

Then I preached a sermon entitled 'Why are bad things good and good things bad?' on February 13. Here's a link to the video on YouTube (beginning with the reading of the Gospel):

Here's a link to manuscript if you'd like to read it: There are some notes in the manuscript that did not make it into the sermon.