I’m not very interested in the political arena. And while I’m interested in economics and would enjoy studying it more intentionally, I don’t’ have a good grasp on the historic economic problems facing our country today. But, being a pastor, I have an opinion on why we’re experiencing the things we’re experiencing. That’s not the point of this blog though.
After doing some reading of a theologian and pastor’s spiritual thoughts about his one-year experience in America, I began to wonder if the American Church is not a significant factor in our current economic and political struggles.
On a side note, how many theologians do you know that are pastors these days? And how many pastors do you know that are theologians? I think it’s quite rare, and therefore quite unfortunate, that we do not have pastors who are more serious theologians and more theologians who are more thoughtful pastors.
Let me share with you a couple of quotes that struck me from this pastor-theologian’s analysis of attempting theological study in America:
“There is no theology here…They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students—on average 25-30 years old—are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are unfamiliar with even 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.”
“There is little intellectual competition and little intellectual ambition. This gives work in seminar lecture or discussion a very innocuous character. It cripples any radical, pertinent criticism. It is more a friendly exchange of opinion than a study in comprehension.”
“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.”
What a indictment of the theological institutions and churches he attended. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but agree in many ways. We have set aside the gospel of Jesus Christ and our need for a Savior and Lord and decided that we can make our own way to God.
The analysis comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1930, when he decided to spend a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
I recently started reading Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy. I just finished the chapter about his to study in America. I had no idea Bonhoeffer was such a good theologian, but what has struck me most about him is his ability to think clearly and perceive logical arguments. He always knew how or why he (or anyone) arrived at his conclusions. In that sense, he was a true academic. He attended and studied under some of the best liberal theologians of the 20th century—liberal because they did not believe the biblical text should be studied as the living Word of God. Yet, he learned how to study the texts from their scientific approach to them while still believing that God revealed Himself to the world through them and through the person of Jesus Christ. He didn’t accept their conclusions.
I think this is the beauty of using our heads. Sometimes, I think we let our church leaders get away with not using their heads. And certainly, we all are guilty of the same. Accepting the conclusions and proclamations of politicians, pastors, and public celebrities without investigating whether or not they opposed to or aligned with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer’s brother worked with Albert Einstein and his father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a world-renown scientist. So Bonhoeffer was able to take the scientific methods and mindset he learned at home and put them to good use as a theologian and pastor. I guess growing up in that household had its benefits.
If you don’t know much about Bonhoeffer, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there are a couple things you should know. First and foremost, he was martyred for his faith in a Nazi concentration camp because he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Second, he is known for his incredible pastoral and theological ministry from within the camp. And third, if you haven’t read Life Together or The Cost of Discipleship, I suggest that you make plans to do so as soon as you can.