Posts Tagged Politics

Quoting Bonhoeffer #13

[The Union students] talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria . . . They are unfamiliar with event the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level.

In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 99].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #12

On September 23 the parents heard their son preach on a theme central to him throughout his life, supporting the accurately earthly, incarnational aspect of the Christian faith against the Gnostic or dualistic idea that the body is inferior to the soul or spirit. “God wants to see human beings,” he said, “not ghosts who shun the world.” He said that in “the whole of world history there is always only one really significant hour – the present. . . . [I]f you want to find eternity, you must serve the times.” His words presaged what he would write to his fiancée from his prison cell years later: “Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our result to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one legged too.” In another letter to her he wrote that “human beings were taken from the earth and don’t just consist of thin air and thoughts” [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 80-81].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #11

Anyone who has gone through graduate school can feel the truth of this statement:

It is quite a remarkable experience for one to see work and life really come together – a synthesis which we all looked for in our student days, but hardly managed to find. . . . It gives the work value and the worker an objectivity, a recognition of his own limitations, such as can only be gained in real life [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 80].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #7

Metaxas quotes a friend and classmate of Bonhoeffer’s, Helmuth Goes, who “recalled feeling a ‘secret enthusiasm’ for Bonhoeffer’s ‘free, critical, and independent’ theological thinking”:

What really impressed me was not just the face that he surpassed almost all of us in theological knowledge and capacity; but what passionately attracted me to Bonhoeffer was the perception that here was a man who did not only learn and gather in the verba and scripta of some master, but one who thought independently and already knew what he wanted and wanted what he knew. I had the experience (for me it was something alarming and magnificently new!) of hearing a young fair-haired student contradict the revered historian, his Excellency von Harnack answered, but the student contradicted again and again [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 59].

Later Metaxas writes,

Besides Harnack, three other Berlin professors had decided influence on Bonhoeffer. They were Karl Holl, who was perhaps the greatest Luther scholar of that generation; Reinhold Seeberg, who specialized in systematic theology, and under whom Bonhoeffer wrote his doctoral thesis; and Adolf Deissman, who was Bonhoeffer’s introduction to the ecumenical movement, which would play such an important role in his life and provide the means by which he became involved in the conspiracy against Hitler. But there was another theologian who had a greater influence on Bonhoeffer than any of these, and whom he would revere and respect as much as anyone in his lifetime, who would even become a mentor and a friend. This was Karl Barth of Göttingen [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 60].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #6

He attended one Armenian-Catholic service that seemed “stiff and devoid of new life.” He felt that Roman Catholicism was moving in that direction but observed that there were “many religious establishments where a vital religious life still plays a part. The confessional is an example of this.” He exalted in much of what he saw. But he did not feel led to embrace Catholicism as a convert. An acquaintance he met in Rome tried to convince him, but Bonhoeffer was unmoved: “He would really like to convert me and is quite honestly convinced of his method. . . . Following these discussions, I find I am once again much less sympathetic to Catholicism. Catholic dogma veils every ideal thing in Catholicism without knowing that this is what it is doing. There is a huge difference between confession and dogmatic teachings about confession – unfortunately also between ‘church’ and the ‘church’ in dogmatics.” He considered the union of both churches: “The unification of Catholicism and Protestantism is probably impossible, although it would do both parties much good” [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 56.

In my own study and experience, I have discovered three things in relation to this. First, many who leave Protestantism for Roman Catholicism are looking to experience God in a way in which they can be scholastically free and connected to the ancient faith. However, as Bonhoeffer observed, spiritual vitality is absent. Beware of dead dogma, traditions, and icons wherever they may be.
Second, don’t forget that both Protestants and Roman Catholics share the heritage of the Church prior to the Reformation. Neither one owns the previous history.
Third, a key difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions is their approach to doctrine. RC’s take an expansive approach to doctrine; that is, the apostles meant for us to expand upon what was revealed to them. Protestants take an explanatory approach to doctrine; that is, the Church should explain and attempt to make clear what was revealed by God to the apostles. Of course, there is some overlap here rather thank clean line; however, the philosophies are clearly observed in each tradition.

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #5

[In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church] the Lutheran and Protestant traditions were less connected to the great classical past and could therefore veer toward the heresies of Gnostic dualism, of denial of the body and of the goodness of this world. But here in Rome the mingling of these two worlds was everywhere [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 54].

I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever get off page 54!

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #4

For Dietrich the theologian to hold a prejudice in favor of Lutheranism or Protestantism, or even Christianity, would be wrong. One must consider every possibility and avoid predisposing oneself to where it would all we need [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 54].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #2

The army eventually restored order by defeating the Communists and murdering Luxemburg and Liebknecht. In January 1919 an election was held, but no one gained a majority and there was no consensus. These forces would keep fighting for years, and Germany would remain divided and confused until 1933, when a wild-eyed vagabond from Austria would end the confusion by outlawing all dissent, and then the real troubles would begin [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 34].

Hitler’s rise to power and the eventual condemnation of all dissent is why true democracy is of great value. It is good to have the freedom to disagree politically. Very good. An ideology that outlaws every other ideology leads to tyrants and massacre on the human political level. We humans are too corrupt to be above accountability. If anything, this is a reason for American Democrats and Republicans to be thankful for one another.

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Quoting Bonhoeffer

On November 9 the kaiser saw no alternative and abdicated the throne. In a moment, the Germany of the last fifty years vanished. But the mobs milling around Berlin weren’t satisfied. Revolution was in the air. The ultraleft Spartacists, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, had taken over the kaiser’s palace and were on the verge of declaring a Soviet republic. The Social Democrats had a majority in the Reichstag, but any moment it could all vanish. Just outside the window on the Koenigsplatz the angry crowds clamored for change, demanding something, anything – and that’s precisely what they got. Throwing political caution to the winds and a cheap sop to the crowd below, Philipp Scheidemann opened the gigantic window, and without any particular authority to do so, he declared a German republic! That was that [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 33].</block quote

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Election 2012: Can the Christian Vote This Year?

November is coming. As I begin to consider participating in my fourth presidential election, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. Let me begin by expressing the mood of this post just in case you don’t intuitively catch it through the text. I come to this as an average Christian guy simply praying for thoughtfulness about and loyalty to the gospel of Jesus Christ as I consider candidates and issues in our current political and social context. I am a theologian by training and a pastor by vocation, not a political analyst, economist, or any other similar thing. I have traditionally made political decisions from a politically conservative position; that is, I am in favor of smaller government in America’s democratic context; I lean more toward the effectiveness of conservative economic principles; and I view health care as a commodity, not as an entitled right (IMO, it has to be paid for somehow; therefore, health care is something that should be available to working people, and of course compassionate and wise consideration should be given to the poor and disabled, but without the present sense of entitlement.) I have voted for a Republican in every previous election since 2000. There . . . now you know my political history . . . no secrets.

But this election is different. It is unlike any other I have faced. I am an evangelical Christian, which means (among other things) that I believe in (1) the Triune God of the Bible, (2) the orthodox Christian doctrine on the second Person of the Trinity—Jesus Christ, (3) the depravity of humanity (see Luther’s The Bondage of the Will), and (4) salvation for humanity by grace through faith in the faithful work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1–22). I agree with the Christian Church, which has always historically taken the position that abortion of a child is wrong (see Didache 2:2; Barnabas 19:5; as well all Scripture passages condemning child sacrifice and those in which we see Jesus’ great love for children).

On this topic, I do honestly wonder about certain, rare ethical situations caused by today’s medical and technological advancements. A brief story here, when my wife went into premature labor at 20 weeks with our twins, Hadlee and Jaxon, I was nearly faced with a decision that humbled my conservative political views on this issue a bit and caused me to diligently consider what Scripture had to say to me as a husband and a father. Hadlee was born first, and she lived only a few minutes. There was a chance that Jaxon could survive; however, this came with some risk. I remember very vividly the doctor pulling me aside and saying to me that the pregnancy had been compromised which put both Aimee and Jaxon at risk. He advised me that should the situation require such a decision, that I/we would need to be prepared to choose whose life we would seek to protect. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe where I found myself . . . never in a million years would I have thought that I would have to make such a decision. In order to prepare, I first spent time in a long season of prayer. Then, I searched the Scripture for guidance about my responsibilities to God as both a husband and a father. After having done this, I felt sure of a conviction that my relationship to my wife took precedence over every other earthly relationship according to Scripture. I communicated to Aimee that should a decision need to be made, that I felt sure that the right thing to do was to protect her life. However, such a decision did not have to be made; little Jaxon came on his own . . . too early and his life expired after only a few minutes.

Continuing on, I am also in agreement with the historic position of the Christian Church on marriage. For the Church, the reason marriage must be between a man and a woman is a theological reason. God created a male and a female to be joined in a one flesh covenant because it was decided long before creation that such a human relationship would image what God the Son would do for his Bride, the Church (see Ephesians 5:32).

So what’s my dilemma? We have two candidates this election — Mr. Romney and current President Barack Obama — neither of whom I can endorse wholeheartedly as a Christian. Mitt Romney, as has been well publicized, is a faithful member and leader in the Mormon LDS Church. His election (really even his nomination and campaigning) has and will no doubt bring Mormonism into the public view—for the good of it or for the bad of it is yet to be seen . . . more on this later. My problem with this is that Mormonism is heretical and deceptively so. If you were to read the LDS Beliefs, you would most likely not see anything too different from what you may expect from your Christian church’s doctrinal statement, but this is where you would be terribly wrong. Little words full of meaning are left out (e.g., “eternal” in Article 1 of the 13 is only associated with the Father, not with the Son, nor the Spirit—this is intentional by the LDS, which does not believe in the eternal existence of the Son and the Spirit but only the Father). Further, unorthodox doctrines are employed (e.g., see Articles 2, 3–4, 8, and 10). Of the four orthodox Christian doctrines that I mentioned above, the LDS rejects all four, and in so doing, they are guilty of preaching “another gospel” about which Paul has some very strong words (see Galatians 1:8–9). So, how does this relate to politics for me as a thinking Christian. Well, can I vote for a candidate whose religious views may lead to confusing Americans about orthodox Christian theology and therefore allow for a false gospel to be popularized? And don’t compare previous Roman Catholic presidents with a potential Mormon president please—that is not an accurate parallel. I would feel more comfortable voting for a man of no religion than a man advancing a false and confusing gospel.

Then, there is the incumbent, President Barack Obama. I cannot endorse wholeheartedly his position on abortion, which in some sense seems compassionate toward women, but is too free so as to neglect the humanity and life of the unborn:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs (taken from http://www.barackobama.com/women).

Further, I cannot—in my understanding of the marriage covenant represented in Scripture as well as Scripture’s clear teaching that all humans since the fall have perverted human sexuality—endorse his position on same-sex marriage:

So, what am I to do? This is the evangelical Christian dilemma in 2012—to ignore the dilemma is not thoughtful nor good—there is a dilemma. Now, I could just drink the “Republican Kool-aid” as a traditional Republican and not think too deeply about these things, but I can’t. Or, I could side with the more progressive and trendy democratic party (clearly more trendy than the Republicans) because there is a mood of progress about them, but I can’t do this either. The whole “lesser of two evils” is not a justifiable Christian ethic—evil is always evil. I do support small government, so maybe that should be my guiding light to the Romney camp, but can I do this at the expense of the clarity of the gospel? And let’s be honest—do either parties really believe in small government today?

I feel like a sheep being led to the slaughter-house. There’s no good way to go. Even if I decide not to vote—I have committed the gravest sin in America—to not exercise my right in the democracy. In many other places and in the days of monarchs and emperors, I wouldn’t have had to worry about this dilemma. The people in power would be in power—regardless of my opinion—until they just weren’t in power anymore. I would have had no other choice but to seek God, the truly Sovereign King, who gives a hearing at his throne of grace to humble sinners concerned for his/her nation and its leaders. Yet to an American, is praying really doing something? Let me ask this, is praying doing enough? I and you probably feel that it is not—that we must cast our vote and do our part. I don’t know about you brothers and sisters, but I don’t see our part making much of a difference in our country no matter who wins every four years in November.

The real problem here is that we have forgotten how to depend on God as our Sovereign. We Americans have a history being a people who always have to “do something” (and no I am not speaking about hard work here) and then feel like we have fixed things (or at least tried) by our participation in the political process. But where do we Christians go when we are presented with a context like the one we are now facing? Do you decide to contribute to a decision that potentially does harm in the advance of the gospel? Do you vote for a candidate who holds moral positions that violate your conscience? What do we do?

It is time, brothers and sisters, for us to return to God. When is the last time you met with God about the advance of the gospel in our nation? When is the last time you met with God about the moral bankruptcy of our people? The road to being a good American citizen begins with a heart that hungers and thirsts after the things in the heart of God. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I recently watched a documentary on Bonhoeffer and am now reading a biography about him. Bonhoeffer was a German, theologian, and pastor in the days of World War II and Nazi Germany. In his day, it was very clear that the church had ceased to be a group of people who could think critically about ideologies. This is why most of the church gave the blessing of God upon Adolf Hitler. Tell me Christian brother or sister, to what ideology are you most loyal? Is it to the Republican idea? Is it to the Democratic idea? I hope that your first and foremost loyalty is to Jesus Christ, which does not lead one to become inactive in the affairs of his/her nation (as Bonhoeffer clearly illustrates by his life); however, thinking through the gospel implications of things allows a citizen to act in a godly way in the midst of godless nations. You see, the German church was too late in its attempt to call Christians to think critically and biblically about politics. What about us? What about the American church?

For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:14–17).

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