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“Who Am I?” (a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 4, 1906. Who was Deitrich Bonhoeffer? Was he a spy? a martyr? a theologian? a musician? a genius? a pastor? This list could keep going, but would never end. Not even Bonhoeffer could answer the question of who he was. This is a poem which he wrote, I pray that it helps you understand Bonhoeffer, and yourself, to a fuller extent.

“Who am I?”

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a Squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

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Calvin Is a Cataract (quote)

Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from the Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.

Karl Barth, in a letter to Thurneysen, dated 8 June 1922 (Revolutionary Theology in the Making: The Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 [London: Epworth, 1964], p. 101). Quoted in Julie Canlis Calvin’s Ladder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), p. 1.

The Trinity and Religious Pluralism

This is a guest post by Todd Miles, Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary.

Keith E. Johnson, Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), $30.00.

“Trinity” is the current buzzword of theology. That, along with its related words and phrases like “perichoresis,” “mutual-indwelling” and “social-Trinity,” function in de facto manner as the shibboleth of legitimate theological enterprise. Unless one sprinkles in some sort of Trinitarian reference every page or so, the project is not to be taken seriously. So the doctrine of the Trinity is used to bolster or justify theological proposals on a wide range of topics including gender, marriage, the church, social justice, and the environment. This “turn to the Trinity” has not gone unnoticed by Keith Johnson, national director of theological education for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and an Augustine scholar. Of particular interest to Johnson are those proposals in the area of theology of religions that seek to justify, by appeal to the Trinity, either pluralism (many paths lead to God) and inclusivism (one is saved by Christ’s work alone, but one does not have to hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved on the basis of that work).

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John Chrysostom on harming oneself

January 27th is one of the feast days for John Chrysostom (347-407), so I thought we could honor this day by reading part of a wonderful sermon he wrote: No One Can Harass the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself. (As a side note: every sermon written by Chrysostom is wonderful! He was called Golden Mouthed after all!)

Thus in no case will any one be able to injure a man who does not choose to injure himself: but if a man is not willing to be temperate, and to aid himself from his own resources no one will ever be able to profit him. Therefore also that wonderful history of the Holy Scriptures, as in some lofty, large, and broad picture, has portrayed the lives of the men of old time, extending the narrative from Adam to the coming of Christ: and it exhibits to you both those who are upset, and those who are crowned with victory in the contest, in order that it may instruct you by means of all examples that no one will be able to injure one who is not injured by himself, even if all the world were to kindle a fierce war against him. For it is not stress of circumstances, nor variation of seasons, nor insults of men in power, nor intrigues besetting you like snow storms, nor a crowd of calamities, nor a promiscuous collection of all the ills to which mankind is subject, which can disturb even slightly the man who is brave, and temperate, and watchful; just as on the contrary the indolent and supine man who is his own betrayer cannot be made better, even with the aid of innumerable ministrations.

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Gregory of Nazianzus takes our error away

Gregory of Nazianzus hardly needs an introduction. He is a Saint, Church Father and the Church Doctor of the Theologians. He, along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, helped formulate many Church doctrines, especially concerning the Trinity. He was the first person to coin the term perichoresis, which is essentially a description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing together in love throughout eternity. Today (Jan 25) he is honored by the Church, and I have selected an excerpt from Oration 29.20, It is truly on of my favorite descriptions of Jesus:

As man he was baptized, but he absolved sins as God; he needed no purifying rites himself – his purpose was to hollow water. As man he was put to the test, but as God he came through victorious – yes, bids us be of good cheer, because he has conquered the world. He hungered – yet he fed thousands. He is indeed “living, heavenly bread.” He thirsted – yet he exclaimed: “Whoever thirst, let him come to me and drink.” Indeed he promised that believers would become fountains. He was tired – yet he is the “rest” of the weary and the burdened. He was overcome by heavy sleep – yet he goes lightly over the sea, rebukes winds, and relieves the drowning Peter. He pays tax – yet he uses a fish to do it; indeed he is emperor over those who demand the tax. He is called a “Samaritan, demonically possessed” – but he rescues the man who came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves. Yes, he is recognized by demons, drives out demons, drowns deep a legion of spirits, and sees the prince of demons falling like lightning. He is stoned, yet not hit; he prays, yet he hears prayer. He weeps, yet he puts an end to weeping. He asks where Lazarus is laid – he was man; yet he raises Lazarus – he was God. He is sold, and cheap was the price – thirty pieces of silver; yet he buys back the world at the mighty cost of his own blood. A sheep, he is led to slaughter – yet he shepherds Israel and now the whole world as well. A lamb, he is dumb – yet he is “Word,” proclaimed by “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He is weakened, wounded – yet he cures every disease and every weakness. He is brought up to the tree and nailed to it – yet by the tree of life he restores us. Yes, he saves even a thief crucified with him; he wraps all the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink, gall to eat – and who is he? Why, one who turned water into wine, who took away the taste of bitterness, who is all sweetness and desire. He surrenders his life, yet he has power to take it again. Yes, the veil is rent, for things of heaven are being revealed, rocks split, and dead men have an earlier awakening. He dies, but he vivifies and by death destroys death. He is buried, yet he rises again. He goes down to Hades, yet he leads souls up, ascends to Heaven, and will come to judge quick and dead, and to probe discussions like these. If the first set of expressions starts you going astray, the second set takes your error away.

Now this is what I like to hear

Nothing warms the heart quite like hearing that you’ve made a convert!

Maximus Reminds Us That God Is All in All

Maximus was a Constantinopolian by birth and, at first, a high-ranking courtier at the court of Emperor Heraclius and, after that, a monk and abbot of a monastery not too far from the capitol. He was the greatest defender of Orthodoxy against the so-called Monothelite heresy which proceeded from the heresy of Eutyches. That is to say: As Eutyches claimed that there is only one nature in Christ [Monophysitism], so the Monothelites claimed that there is only one will in Christ [Monothelitism]. Maximus opposed that claim and found himself as an opponent of the emperor and the patriarch. Maximus did not frighten easily but endured to the end in proving that there were two wills as well as two natures in Christ. Because of his efforts, a council was held in Carthage and another in Rome. Both councils anathematized the teachings of the Monothelites. The suffering of Maximus for Orthodoxy cannot be described: he was tortured by princes, deceived by prelates, spat upon by the masses of the people, beaten by soldiers, exiled, imprisoned, until finally, with a severed tongue and hand, he was condemned to exile for life in the land of Skhemaris [near Batum on the Black Sea] where he spent three years in prison and gave up his soul to God in the year 662 A.D. (Taken from the Prologue of Ohrid)

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The Canonical Books Are the “Fountains of Salvation”

Athanasius is a Father of the Church and the Doctor of Orthodoxy, or right belief. For much of his career, it must have seemed like the whole world was against him as he was exiled at least 5 times for upholding orthodoxy. Praise God that he did not waver in his faith but stood strong and helped maintain orthodox belief in the Church. He is truly a champion of the faith, and we are ever grateful for this servant and saint of God, who is celebrated on January 18.

Perhaps you already know this, but Athanasius was actually the first person to list all 66 book of the Bible as the Christian canon of literature. Below is what he wrote on the topic some 1,700 years ago:

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Turn Your Homes into Heaven

[This is a guest post from Stephen Leckvold, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]

St. John Chrysostom preached many sermons throughout his ministry and covered a vast array of passages and topics. When I first decided to spend time gleaning from some of them, his treatment of marriage and family life caught my attention. Newly married and perhaps and (Lord willing) a prospective father some day, I wondered what would this powerful voice from the past have to say about raising children.

As I dove into his words, I wasn’t disappointed. Among the many exhortations to raise a family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, three struck me and resonated deeply in my heart.

1. Express Concern for Spiritual Things

Our concern for spiritual things will unite the family. John told his listeners, “We are so concerned with our children’s schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord!” It seems that in the case of many families, not much has changed. Children aren’t often sent to the greatest schools in the region to learn rhetoric among the philosophers and master rhetoricians, but many Christian parents are far more concerned with their children’s school grades or athletic achievements than their spiritual development and their conformity to the image of Christ. Algebra and history win the place of humility and love, and their discipleship becomes the job of the youth pastor. Having been one, I’ve seen it firsthand, and it isn’t pretty.

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The Elusive, Invincible, Savage Monster: A Temptation We All Face

[This is a guest post from Steven Leckvold, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]

St. John Chrysostom has an important piece of advice for anyone involved in public ministry: beware the monster.

At the beginning of the fifth book of On the Priesthood, he outlines several temptations and struggles for those who teach the Word of God publicly, specifically through sermons. He has two main categories of difficulties in mind: (1) toe-stepping and its results, and (2) meeting audience expectations. But he thinks that they are both driven by an even deeper problem, a monster that we all face. And his advice? Cut off the heads of the elusive, invincible, savage monster.

What is this monster that we must face? We shall see.


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