2 Corinthians 9: The Spiritual Gift of Generosity

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Prophet Isaiah draws a parallel between the generosity of God in watering the earth and the word of God powerfully accomplishing his purposes.  Because generosity is a tangible expression of love, is Isaiah, in fact, saying that love accomplishes God’s purposes?  Jesus thought so (Matthew 5:44-46).

In chapter 9, Paul continues his discussion of the drought relief fund for Jerusalem that he has been discussing.  Garland [1] noted these parallels between chapters 8 and 9 forming an inclusio (a literary frame around the discussion):

  Chapter

Text

8

9

The grace of God 8:1 9:14
Ministry/Service 8:1 9:12-13
Test 8:2 9:13
Generosity 8:2 9:11,13
Abound 8:2 9:12

This is inclusio is important because other commentaries have argued for a second letter being inserted in chapter 9 because they could not understand Paul’s apparent repetition.  Paul pauses in his letter to explain the relief fund, in part, because his Greek audience does not understand the Jewish concern for helping the poor.

For example, in verse 9 Paul paraphrases:  You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. (Deuteronomy 15:10)  Like the Romans, the Greeks saw only one reason for charity—to receive praise and honor from those receiving it.  Praise and honor from poor people was not interesting to them.  Praise and honor from God for offering charity to the poor, by contrast, was another matter.  In verses 7-12, Paul reminds them of God’s interest in generosity, especially to the poor, 4 times!

Paul drives his point home by reminding the Corinthians that the saints in Jerusalem will be praying for them (v 14) [2].

Generosity.  Do we count both the blessings and the cost when we donate money?  Paul reminds us:  God loves a cheerful giver (v 7)

[1] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H. page 400.

[2] Later, in his letter to the Romans (15:30-31), Paul worries that the Corinthian gift will not be accepted.

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2 Corintios 9: El Don Espiritual de la Generosidad

Basket of coins by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

2 Corintios 9: El Don Espiritual de la Generosidad

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Así como la lluvia y la nieve descienden del cielo, y no vuelven allá sin regar antes la tierra y hacerla fecundar y germinar para que dé semilla al que siembra y pan al que come, así es también la palabra que sale de mi boca: No volverá a mí vacía, sino que hará lo que yo deseo y cumplirá con mis propósitos. (Isaias 55:10-11 NVI)

El profeta Isaías traza un paralelo entre la generosidad de Dios en regar la tierra y la palabra de Dios poderosamente lograr sus propósitos. Debido a que la generosidad es una expresión tangible del amor, es Isaías, de hecho, diciendo que el amor lleva a cabo los propósitos de Dios? Jesús pensaba así (Mateo 5: 44-46).

Capítulo 9

En el capítulo 9, Pablo continúa su discusión sobre el fondo de alivio de la sequía de Jerusalén que ha estado discutiendo. Garland [1] señalaron estos paralelos entre los capítulos 8 y 9 forman un inclusio (una trama literaria en torno a la discusión):

 

  Capítulo
Texto 8 9
La gracia de Dios 8:1 9:14
Ministerio / Servicio 8:1 9:12-13
Prueba 8:2 9:13
Generosidad 8:2 9:11,13
Abundan 8:2 9:12

Se trata de inclusio es importante porque otros comentarios han argumentado a favor de una segunda carta que se inserta en el capítulo 9, porque no podían entender aparente repetición de Pablo. Pablo hace una pausa en su carta a explicar el fondo de ayuda, en parte, porque su público griego no entiende la preocupación judía por ayudar a los pobres.

El Versículo 9

Por ejemplo, en el versículo 9 Pablo parafrasea: No seas mezquino sino generoso, y así el SEÑOR tu Dios bendecirá todos tus trabajos y todo lo que emprendas. (Deuteronomio 15:10) Al igual que los romanos, los griegos sólo vio una de las razones para la caridad—para recibir la alabanza y el honor de los que la reciben. La alabanza y el honor de las personas pobres no era interesante para ellos. La alabanza y el honor de Dios para ofrecer caridad a los pobres, por el contrario, era otro asunto. En los versículos 7-12, Pablo les recuerda el interés de Dios en generosidad, en especial a los pobres, 4 veces!

Pablo conduce su punto de origen al recordarles a los corintios que los santos en Jerusalén estarán orando por ellos (v 14) [2].

Generosidad

Contamos como las bendiciones y el costo cuando donamos dinero? Pablo nos recuerda: Dios ama al que da con alegría (v 7)

Notas

[1] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H. page 400.

[2] Later, in his letter to the Romans (15:30-31), Paul worries that the Corinthian gift will not be accepted.

 

Vea También:

2 Corintios 1: Sellado, Garantizados, y Reconfortado 

La Espiritualidad Cristiana 

Otras Métodos de Conectar:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Edgerton: Write for Yourself in Your Own Voice

Voice_08252014Les Edgerton.  2003.  Finding Your Voice:  How to Put Personality in Your Writing.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Let me see.  If you did not know the subject of a book called—Finding Your Voice—what possibilities come to mind?  Perhaps, a doctor’s guide to throat surgery recovery? Or, maybe, lost in the opera house, confessions of a prima donna? Or, better, a citizen’s guide to responsive government…?  Clearly, a bit of context is helpful.

Confession time.  Although I am a writer myself, I read Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice:  How to Put Personality in Your Writing, in part, to learn about writing and, in part, to see what he would say about personality.  It is more than a bit ironic that a fiction writer would write about developing an authentic style (voice) in writing.  Much like actors have trouble figuring out who they are—which mask is the real me?—fiction writers must live into the characters they create if readers are going to take them seriously.  It is therefore not surprising that Edgerton finds tension between the authentic style of the writer and the requirements of the story (223).  A chameleon writer might alternatively be considered extremely versatile or simply inauthentic—depending on the amount of experience writing that we are talking about.

Edgerton does not so much promote a particular method as assist the reader in discovering their authentic voice.  This task could be daunting in an age of relativistic morality where the idea of personality—a surface attribute—has been substituted for the older notion of innate character [1].  In a sense, Edgerton deconstructs the wantabe writer like a cook peels an onion—underneath do we find a core personality or just another mask?  Strip away da rules of your English teacher (10); forget about the Critic Nag Dude and beige voice (11); abandon old writing books (15); take reviews (15); go easy on the synonyms (18).  Most interesting is his notion that we must also abandon the voices in our head, so to speak, of favorite writers, previous editors, and cultural stereotypes.  This writer’s exorcism goes on and on (48).  Still, we are encouraged to find a voice that at least conforms to the expectations of the genre that we are writing for.

It is interesting to watch the voice evolve in Edgerton’s own writing.  Early in the book, he assumes an edgy voice—the ex-con, insecurely trying to relate to the reader. By chapter 6 he assumes the more confident voice of a writing instructor.  Later in the book the insecure voice shows up again in the form of name-dropping of other writers and books that might be interesting.  Personally, I preferred the self-confident writing instructor who is not afraid to give me the advice that I need.

What advice did I seek?  Edgerton writes:

Make yourself your intended reader.  By writing to you as your reader, you get closer than at any other time to getting your real voice on the page.  You write naturally (78).

Yes.  Thanks.  That will do fine.

[1] I am borrowing a bit from David F. Wells. 1998.  Losing Our Virtue:  Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

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Rabbi Wolpe: Finding Meaning in Faith

Wolfe_review_08212014David J. Wolpe. 2008.  Why Faith Matters.  New York:  HarperOne.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Rabbi David J. Wolpe’s book, Why Faith Matters, came to my attention as I prepared to teach a class on Hebrews 11. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Wolpe is more philosophical and focuses on the quest for meaning. “Faith believes in the legitimacy of asking ‘why’–that the very question is an animating force in life” (193). While I am interested in the question and believe that faith is a journey, the truth of faith begins with its content. Wolpe provided me with snapshots of brilliance when what I searched for was direction in faith’s journey. Though we travel different paths at this point, I loved his book.

Wolpe’s strengths as a writer include his ability to dialog with the reader, his keen insight into the human condition, and his brilliant analytical mind. In his prelude, for example, he tells the story of a man using his sickness to teach his children and grandchildren how to die. He writes about his friend Isaac: “Here was a chance to teach his greatest lesson. They would remember much about him to be sure, but they would never forget how he died” (xiv).  As a pastor, I have used this lesson in hospital visits.

Wolpe is a master of the anecdote.  Pick a page; find a story.  One I liked was the man standing before God in heaven.  Wolpe writes:

“Dear God…Look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in Your world. Why don’t you send help?”..God responded:  “I did send help. I sent you” (38-39).

Those of us that go from point A to point B to point C can only stand and applaud.

After a brief prelude, Wolpe organizes his book into 8 chapters:

  1. From faith to doubt;
  2. Where does religion come from?
  3. Does religion cause violence?
  4. Does science disprove religion?
  5. What does religion really teach?
  6. Reading the Bible;
  7. Is religion good for you? And
  8. Why faith matters.

His introduction is written by Pastor Rick Warren.  Rabbi Wolpe was honored as the number 1 pulpit Rabbi in America.

Wolpe’s brilliance comes in getting to the heart of complex matters quickly. Why do atheists try to make science into a religion? They confuse puzzles (which can be figured out) with mysteries (which are unsolvable) (11). Why does Nietzsche dislike democracy and Christianity? He is a classicist who prefers the morality of masters (classical view) over that of slaves (Christian view) (48-49).

Wolpe’s writing is a joy because of these many insights and anecdotes.

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Prayer Day 41: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Father God. We praise you with songs our whole life long. We serve you gladly and enter your presence with singing. We remember that you are God: you made us; we belong to you; we are your people—the sheep of one shepherd. We come to church with thanksgiving and trust your judgment. Your praise fills our hearts and we bless your name. For you are good and your love never fails us—even as we, ourselves, pass away (Ps 100). In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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2 Corinthians 8: A Faithful and Generous Heart

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

But when they measured it [manna] with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. (Exodus 16:18 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When is enough, enough?

One of the great stories of God’s provision starts with manna:  bread from heaven.  Moses writes:  It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Exodus 16:31).  Moses instructed the people to take only what they could eat in a day and to share their excess supply with those who could not gather enough.  The people had to trust that God would provide a fresh supply the next morning.  When the Lord’s Prayer says—Give us this day our daily bread (Matthews 6:11)—the back story is one of manna in the desert.

We know that Moses’ instructions about manna came from God because 6 days a week leftover manna would rot, but the day before Sabbath leftover manna would not rot.  Because the Israelite people were forbidden to work on the Sabbath, God provided manna that would not rot on the sixth day so that they could save enough for the next day and keep the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-24).  God’s provision meant that the Israelites did not have to fast in order to keep the Sabbath.

Paul (v 15) uses the story of manna in the desert to write to a rich church (Corinth), about the need to share resources (a drought relief fund) with the poor church (Jerusalem; Exodus 16:18).  Paul writes:  For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness (vv 13-14).  Here Paul speaks not out of obligation, but of fairness, applying a kind of insurance principle. This suggests that the relative disparity in wealth between the two churches is not so great that one would always be the more fortunate.  Tying this need of the Jerusalem church to the story of manna suggests also that God’s gracious provision can come in the form of the assistance that we provide to one another.

Paul makes this point implicitly when then turns to discuss Titus—his partner and fellow worker (v 23).  Titus, who is famous for his preaching (v 18), volunteers to assist in conveying the Corinthian gift to Jerusalem (v 17).  Why?  Because he cares for the Corinthian church much like Paul himself and was their appointed representative (vv 16, 19).  Titus therefore is not only a good man, but he embodies the spirit of grace and generosity which the gift itself embodies (v 19).

Why does Paul care so much about this fund for the Jerusalem church?

It is interesting that Paul writes theologically and apologetically about the importance of this financial aid.  Paul argues, for example, that financial assistance is an expression of the faith of the Corinthian church.  He writes:  But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also (v 7).  This is an argument grounded in Christian freedom, not obligation.  He makes no appeal to the Old Testament standard of a title, but rather argues that the Corinthians give out of proportion to what they have (v 12).

Garland sees Paul’s special concern in raising this drought relief as motivated by the need to promote unity in the church between Jewish and Gentile believers [1].  Rather than allowing ethnic cliques to develop within the church, Paul promoted unity.  To the Galatian church, he wrote:  There is neither Jew nor Greek [ethnic division], there is neither slave nor free [class division], there is no male and female [gender division], for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatian 3:28).  I am curious: what would a letter from Paul to the churches in Northern Virginia look like?

When is enough, enough?

[1] David E. Garland.  1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing Company.

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2 Corintios 8: Un Corazón Fiel y Generoso

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Pero cuando lo midieron por litros, ni al que recogió mucho le sobraba, ni al que recogió poco le faltaba: cada uno recogió la cantidad necesaria. (Éxodo 16:18 NVI)

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

¿Cuándo es suficiente?

Una de las grandes historias de la provisión de Dios comienza con el maná: pan del cielo. Moisés escribe: Era blanco como la semilla de cilantro, y dulce como las tortas con miel (Éxodo 16:31). Moisés instruyó a las personas a tomar sólo lo que podían comer en un día y para compartir su exceso de oferta con los que no pudieron reunir suficiente. La gente tenía que confiar en que Dios proveería una fuente fresca de la mañana siguiente. Cuando la oración del Señor nos dice—Danos hoy nuestro pan cotidiano (Mateo 6:11):  la historia de fondo es uno de maná en el desierto.

Sabemos que las instrucciones de Moisés sobre el maná vinieron de Dios porque 6 días a la semana de sobra maná se pudriría, pero el día antes del sábado sobrante maná no se pudra. Porque los hijos de Israel tenían prohibido trabajar en sábado, Dios proveyó el maná que no se pudra en el sexto día para que puedan ahorrar lo suficiente para el día siguiente y guardar el sábado (Éxodo 16: 23-24). La provisión de Dios significaba que los israelitas no tenían que ayunar con el fin de guardar el sábado.

Paul (v 15) utiliza la historia del maná en el desierto para escribir en una iglesia rica (Corinto), sobre la necesidad de compartir recursos (un fondo de alivio de la sequía) con los pobres de la iglesia (Jerusalén; Éxodo 16:18). Pablo escribe: No se trata de que otros encuentren alivio mientras que ustedes sufren escasez; es más bien cuestión de igualdad. En las circunstancias actuales la abundancia de ustedes suplirá lo que ellos necesitan, para que a su vez la abundancia de ellos supla lo que ustedes necesitan. Así habrá igualdad (vv 13-14). Aquí Pablo habla no por obligación, sino de justicia, aplicando una especie de principio de seguro. Esto sugiere que la relativa disparidad de riqueza entre las dos iglesias no es tan grande que uno siempre sería el más afortunado. Atar esta necesidad de la iglesia de Jerusalén a la historia del maná sugiere también que la provisión de la gracia de Dios puede venir en la forma de la asistencia que ofrecemos a los otros.

Pablo hace este punto implícitamente cuando luego se vuelve a hablar de Tito—su compañero y colaborador (v 23). Tito, que es famoso por su predicación (v 18), voluntarios para ayudar en la transmisión del don de Corinto a Jerusalén (v 17). ¿Por qué? Porque él cuida de la iglesia de Corinto al igual que el mismo Pablo y fue su representante designado (vs. 16, 19). Por lo tanto, Tito no sólo es un buen hombre, pero él encarna el espíritu de la gracia y la generosidad que encarna el regalo en sí (v 19).

¿Por qué Pablo cuidado mucho acerca de este fondo para la iglesia de Jerusalén?

Es interesante que Pablo escribe teológicamente y en tono de disculpa sobre la importancia de esta ayuda financiera. Pablo argumenta, por ejemplo, que la ayuda financiera es una expresión de la fe de la iglesia de Corinto. Él escribe:  Pero ustedes, así como sobresalen en todo —en fe, en palabras, en conocimiento, en dedicación y en su amor hacia nosotros—, procuren también sobresalir en esta gracia de dar (v 7). Este es un argumento basado en la libertad cristiana, no por obligación. Él no hace ninguna apelación a la norma del Antiguo Testamento de un título, sino que sostiene que los Corintios dan fuera de proporción con lo que tienen (v 12).

Garland ve especial preocupación de Pablo en la crianza de este alivio de la sequía como motivada por la necesidad de promover la unidad de la iglesia entre los creyentes judíos y gentiles [1].  En lugar de permitir camarillas étnicas a desarrollar dentro de la iglesia, Pablo promovió la unidad. A la iglesia de Galacia, escribió: Ya no hay judío ni griego [división étnica], esclavo ni libre [división de clases], hombre ni mujer [la división de género], sino que todos ustedes son uno solo en Cristo Jesús (Galacia 3:28).  Tengo curiosidad: ¿cuál sería una carta de Pablo a las iglesias en el norte de Virginia parece?

¿Cuándo es suficiente?

[1] David E. Garland.  1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing Company.

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Webb: Analyzing Culture in Scripture and in Life

Webb_08192014William J. Webb.  2001.  Slaves, Women and Homosexuals:  Exploring the Hermaneutics of Cultural Analysis.  Colorado Springs:  IVP Academic [1].

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Toxic waste is a term once used in Washington to describe issues that could not be openly discussed without tainting the person discussing them.  High on the list of such issues were race, gender, and sexuality.  Hopefully, it is now possible to engage in reasoned conversation about these issues.  William Webb’s book Slaves, Women and Homosexuals:  Exploring the Hermaneutics of Cultural Analysis clearly attempts to begin that conversation.

Webb begins with a question and an answer.  The question is:  So how does a Christian respond to cultural change?  His answer is:  It is necessary for Christians to challenge their culture where it departs from kingdom values;  it is equally necessary for them to identify with their culture on all other matters (22).  The tough part arises in distinguishing:  between kingdom values and cultural values within the biblical text (23).   This is what Webb sees as the interpretative (hermaneutical) task.

Webb applies his hermaneutical framework primarily to 3 issues:  slavery, women, and homosexuality.  He picks slavery because he believes the issue to be settled within today’s church.  Clearly, the role of women and the issue of homosexuality are under active conversation—at least across denominations and, in some cases, within denominations.

Webb (26-28) defines these 4 positions as held on the role of women within the church:

  1. Hard/strong patriarchy—unilateral submission of women with an extensive power differential;
  2. Soft patriarchy—unilateral submission of women with a moderate power differential;
  3. Evangelical egalitarianism—mutual submission with equality of power between male and female; and
  4. Secular egalitarianism—equal rights and no gender-defined roles.

Webb (28) likewise defines 3 positions within the church on issue of homosexuality:

  1. Marital heterosexuality only—homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle for Christians;
  2. Covenant and equal-partner homosexuality—homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle for Christians provided that the partners are equal-status, consenting adults, and the relationship is one of a monogamous, covenant, and lasting kind; and
  3. Casual adult homosexuality—homosexuality is an appropriate lifestyle for any member of society provided it involves consenting adults.

In laying out these positions, Webb is simply defining the field of inquiry.  He is not at least initially advocating for any one of these positions.  Near the end of the text, however, he identifies himself as an evangelical egalitarian on women’s issues and argues for a marital hetersexuality only position with respect to homosexuality.

An important contribution of Webb’s work is a concept that he calls as a redemptive-movement hermaneutic.  In defining this concept, he outlines a model:  X=>Y=>Z.  The X stands for the original culture;  the Y stands for scripture; and the Z stands for the ultimate ethic (30-33).  This model permits us to ask 2 important questions.  First, does scripture move beyond the cultures of surrounding nations in addressing an issue? (X=>Y)  Second, does scripture point to an ethic beyond that actually embodied in scripture? (Y=>Z)  These 2 questions allow us to isolate the redemptive movement implied in the text of scripture.  Webb uses this model to examine several scriptural passages that today sound bizarre, but which would have been at least slightly redemptive to the original audience.  One example was the taking of female prisoners as spoils of war:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.
(Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ESV)

Webb (32-33) argues that this is clearly an ugly text in today’s culture [2], but in relation to the customs of ancient times was redemptive in its application under the X=>Y criteria.

Today’s application of the text would not follow the exact words prescribed in the text, but rather to observe the redemptive spirit of the text and draft an appropriately redemptive, modern policy dealing with female captives (33).  Webb describes an attempt to apply the exact words of the scriptural text in a new context as a “static” interpretation (36-38).  Ignoring the redemptive spirit of the text leads to wooden or misleading interpretations and may lead to the text being discredited in the eyes of believers and non-believers alike.  Clearly, much more could be said about this redemptive-movement hermaneutic.

Webb writes his book in 8 chapters preceded by a foreword, acknowledgments, and an introduction and followed by a conclusion, 4 appendices, a bibliography, and a scriptural index.  The chapters are:

  1. Christian and Culture;
  2. A Redemptive-Movement Hermaneutic;
  3. Cultural/Transcultural Analysis:  A Road Map;
  4. Persuative Criteria;
  5. Moderately Persuasive Criteria;
  6. Inconclusive Criteria;
  7. Persuasive Extracriptural Criteria;
  8. What If I Am Wrong; and
  9. Conclusion:  Arriving at a Bottom Line.

The foreword is written by Darrell L. Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary [3].

Webb’s Slaves, Women and Homosexuals is a readable and engaging text that focuses on applying scripture rather than simply arguing over it.  It is gutsy for a writer to take on the ugly texts of scripture and to find both redemption and application in them.  Personally, my initial response was to reject cultural analysis because it lies outside the twin authorities of scripture and God’s direct revelation.  However, I realized that I was guilty myself of discounting or skipping over the difficult texts rather than engaging them.  In effect, I was already doing cultural analysis, just not employing a consistent method.  This internal struggle led me to reconsider Webb’s analysis.

I am sure that some readers will simply not be able to engage in conversation about politically incorrect topics, but I would challenge them to stretch their own views a bit for the sake of understanding scripture better.  Webb’s own words are helpful when he says:  I must thank our modern culture for raising the issues addressed in this book.  But our cultural only raises the issues…it does not resolve them (245).

[1] http://www.tyndale.ca/faculty/bill-webb

[2] This exact issue was in the news this past week in the Middle East war in Iraq as ISIS fighters rounded up women hostages to the horror of the onlooking world.

[3] http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock.

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Bonhoeffer: Reframing the Christian Community

Bonhoeffer_life_together_08122014Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  1954.  Life Together:  The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (Gemeinsames Leben).  Translated by John W. Doberstein.  New York:  HarperOne.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gemeinsames Leben was written in 1938, a year after Nachfolge, when Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught in an underground seminary Pomerania, Germany.  At the time, the Confessing Church, which he helped organize, was floundering under Nazi persecution.  While the last part of Nachfolge dealt with the church and life as a disciple, it was highly theological, not a work in practical ecclesiology.  Gemeinsames Leben appears then to address the question: how then can the church remain a faithful witness under persecution by a high-tech, secular culture?

Gemeinsames Leben is short consisting of a mere 5 chapters:

  1. Community;
  2. The Day with Others;
  3. The Day Alone;
  4. Ministry; and
  5. Confession and Communion (5).

The book begins with Psalms and ends with the sacrament of communion.  In some sense, the community of God is framed with the word (scripture) and the sacraments—and so it is with Bonhoeffer.

Community. Bonhoeffer starts with a provocative quotation: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1 ESV) Today, it would be considered political incorrect because the translation is literal (brothers, not brothers and sisters).  For Bonhoeffer, it was provocative because the Old Testament was considered un-German, worse, Jewish, by the Nazi, hence forbidden[1].

Bonhoeffer’s second paragraph is no less provocative. He says:

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.  Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies (17).

The mere existence of Christian community is a political statement and: a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer (19).  Bonhoeffer expands on this thought saying:

The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the Triune God (20).

Bonhoeffer reframes the everyday experience of the Christian into the persecuted world in which he finds himself in Nazi Germany.  This is possible only because:  We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ (21).  Community is also an antidote to self-centered, pretentious dreaming.  Bonhoeffer writes:  God is not a God of the emotions, but the God of truth (27).

The Day with Others.  Bonhoeffer commends the keeping of the hours.  For example, he states:  The early morning belongs to the Church of the risen Christ (41).  The psalms are especially meaningful to Bonhoeffer as a model and mode for personal prayer (45).  Here we learn what prayer means, what to pray, and how to pray in fellowship (47-48).  For Bonhoeffer, Christian worship really never stops with continuous readings (50), hymn singing (57), prayer (71), table fellowship (66), and godly work (69).

The Day Alone.  For Bonhoeffer, community is not an escape from loneliness—like the television in the psyche ward which is never turned off.  He starts his discussion of time alone by saying:  Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone (76).  Bonhoeffer (78) commends silence as the mark of solitude (and speech as the mark of community).  He sees 3 reasons to be alone during the day:  for scriptural meditation, for prayer, and for intercession (81).

Ministry. For Bonhoeffer, ministry begins with humility and restraint. Evil thoughts should not even be dignified with expression (James 3:2; 91) and this evil begins with the discord over who should be in charge (Luke 9:46; 90).  Bonhoeffer offers 3 services in ministry:  listening (97), active helpfulness (99), and burden bearing (100).  If these 3 services are not properly rendered, proclamation of the word is most perilous (104).  Leadership accordingly depends also on these 3 services (108).

Confession and Communion.  Sin isolates us both from God and from community.  Bonhoeffer observes:  Sin wants to remain unknown (112).  He sees 2 dangers in confession of sin: first that the one hearing confessions will be overburdened and second that the confessor will try to elevate sin to “pious work” (baptize the sin into acceptance; 120).  The sole objective of confession is absolution, not acceptance.  Bonhoeffer proposes that confession occur the day prior to communion as a necessary step to participating in communion (121).  For this reason, in part, communion is a joyous celebration because the slate has been wiped clean, so to speak.

How then can the church remain a faithful witness under persecution by a high-tech, secular culture?  Bonhoeffer does not answer this question in words.  Rather, he answers it by actions—let the church be the church!  And so we should.

[1]Eric Metaxis. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.  Pages 162, 367-368.

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