In my CTP class this morning, I tried to address the term “myth.” I think this is a difficult concept for us to wrap our heads around, not least because we can usually see the difference between a story and history. Yet, myth is a basic part of our language. We tell stories, we paint scenes, or we believe things that are simply not factual — but they are true. True, at least, in the sense of our senses.
I came across this quote from Bonhoeffer and I think it sums up, pretty much, what I mean when I say myth. Myth is a picture of something I cannot explain, or a truth hidden. Myth is the concreting of the abstract:
Who can speak of these things except in pictures? Pictures after all are not lies; rather they indicate things and enable the underlying meaning to shine through. To be sure, pictures do vary; the pictures of a child differ from those of an adult, and those of a person from the desert differ from those of a person from the city. One way or another, however, they remain true, to the extent that human speech and even speech about abstract ideas can remain true at all—that is, to the extent that God dwells in them.1
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 (ed. Martin Rüter, Ilse Tödt, and John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; vol. 3; Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 81. ↩
These are brief thoughts on why I choose orthodoxy. I hope to edit, and develop this later. It is, thusly, unfinished.
I am asked why I strive for orthodoxy when it is presumed this since I came from a fundamentalist background I am less likely to navigate towards orthodoxy. Shouldn’t I be atheist or worse — progressive? Or because I would like to consider myself one who studies Scripture on the academic level, shouldn’t I refrain from the perilous seas of orthodoxy? However I believe that orthodoxy has a lot to offer and it is what I choose to believe is the better form of Christianity. My intention upon becoming a United Methodist was not to be orthodox but to remain just outside of doctrinally indescribable. I insisted that I could have my own view of the Godhead. I insisted I could define easily the boundaries of what I would and would not believe. However, the more I approached church history and scripture as well as engagements with both conservative and progressive Christians, the more important orthodoxy became. It is in orthodoxy where I find the refutation of both conservatism and progressivism as well as the stabilizing force needed to renew the Church universal.
If given enough time on this earth I would like to explore every facet of the Christian experience. However I would do so within the orthodox framework. It is not because orthodoxy is empirical or because I can prove (as a matter of science) orthodoxy is “best” or “absolute;” however, I can show it is a matter of value and worth and should not be so easily discarded upon the trash-heap of modernity, post or otherwise. Orthodoxy is that lens that has guided us for 2000 years and will continue to guide us forward.
I do not see it as a restriction or a boundary — neither as some evolution of a conspiracy centered on maintaining power and privilege. I see it rather as like a teacher to guide us, to shape us, to mold us and to finally set us free to find a value in the lessons we have learned. In fact, I would suggest that orthodoxy developed as a counter to privilege, either imperial or personal, so that no one person could place a stranglehold on the Gospel.
Orthodoxy is not restrictive. Indeed as it restricts to contain heresy it also expands to build upon the lessons learned during the rebellion. We would not have the Trinity except we first had the faulty notion of the Father who died. Orthodoxy reigned and contained that heresy — and yet was able to expand into the doctrine of the Trinity we have today.
Orthodoxy does allow for exploration and even experimentation. Its rigidity allows for freedom. Indeed it allows for mysticism and challenging long-held notions. It allows us to experience Christianity from different points of view and different angles. But yet it always maintains that it is the truth even when it expands to take in that which we did not know.
I believe there is always room for improvement and to change no matter the system but if you seek to just simply abandon the system then it becomes an issue. We see the great thinkers of the past who improved upon what they had, not by destroying the foundations upon which they themselves were built but by tackling the subject at hand while grappling with new information and new questions. It is not that they shut everything out in a fundamentalist manner but they brought in new things to help enlighten truth that they already had.
We cannot too harshly judge the great thinkers and minds of the past and consider them as our contemporaries — complete with the problems and solutions we now ourselves enjoy. Orthodoxy does not mean that that which is past is always better; progress does not mean that which is now is likely any better.
When I examined orthodoxy, especially with my background as anti-orthodox, I find it a level that is both stabilizing and liberating. Without orthodoxy, without that ability to remain grounded on (not “in”) the past, the Protestant Reformation would’ve been derailed. This is why the free churches and others today have no specific context to progress or understand doctrines as the world itself shapes our questions and demands new answers. Orthodoxy is a structure in of itself and unites those who hold to it even if in the nonessentials they disagree strongly.
Orthodoxy, then, allows for us to actually progress, to move forward, to handle the world that is revealed to us daily. It gives us a basis for deciding how to handle these new things our sacred writings did not speak to. We cannot simply say “the Bible says” or “the Bible does not say” and expect that to remain unchallenged. There is a logic and consistency at work in orthodoxy. This logical consistency is met by the Mystery of freedom provided for in orthodoxy. But when we meet new forms of life and love we can expect orthodoxy to provide an answer for us, not in restricting ourselves to the past, but an opening ourselves up to what it means to understand the incarnation of Christ. Orthodoxy is founded not upon one thing (Scripture) itself a part of orthodoxy, but but several experiences.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, every doctrine must have a social intention.1 Therefore if we hold to the incarnation we can build our doctrine from the proper use of this, we can build our doctrine on the proper use of the body, the proper use of love, and the proper use even of doctrine. Justification likewise has a social intention we should explore in this modern world. Justification, like incarnation, is not a holdover of the past. It is one of the grounding doctrines of the Christian faith. The creeds mention that Christ has died for us. While we can explore atonement models and theories, we must always remember that the basis of justification is that we as a church, as a people, even as individuals are set right with God through the death and physical resurrection of Christ. Likewise, these two doctrines are dependent upon one another. Justification is effected only because of the unique, divine Son of God.
These two doctrines are related in no less way to the doctrine of Creation itself, including to the image of God as St Athanasius tells us in his tract on the incarnation. If we properly understand the incarnation then we know what justification achieved. If we can grasp this, then we can finally understand the imago dei.
Everything we do as Christians — whether it is liturgical, practice, ethics, or morality — must come from proper orthodoxy and orthodoxy in its proper place. Without these things, the foundation of Christianity as we know it falls. For those like Oneness Pentecostals who believe in “Jesus only,” we must remember that the very book given to us that tells about Jesus — that book which we recognize in someway as an authority in our spiritual lives — is likewise given to us through orthodoxy. It was assembled by those who sought not to control or to have power but to protect and defend the Gospel as once for all delivered to the Apostles by Christ. Those who believe in a “Jesus only” Christianity do not truly exist as a Christian specimen except in their own minds. “Jesus only” Christianity is a logical fallacy and a paradox.
Is orthodoxy oppressive? No, not in of itself. Are people oppressive? Surely so. Those on the left who continuously claim that orthodoxy is oppressive fine their replication on the right with those who claim all things are persecution. I contend, with experience, that the oppressive systems are not orthodoxy but generally built around an independent personality, who believing him or herself more knowledgable than all of Church Tradition has created themselves a church. Orthodoxy itself is not oppressive, only those who misuse it and those who ignore it for their own private revelation.
Is orthodoxy biblical? Indeed, very much so. Further, the gospels testify to a level of orthodoxy, as well as a door to generous orthodoxy — if not heterodoxy. In Matthew 16.19, Jesus gives to Peter the much-discussed keys of the Kingdom. In John 20.21-23, Jesus gives to the Apostles the door of forgiveness. Matthew establishes a view of orthodoxy by not only using a rabbinical legality but also by pinning it to the role of the prime minister as found in Isaiah 22.22. Jesus created a line leading directly to orthodoxy. Further, Jesus was likewise exclusive. Jesus threatened to throw some into outer darkness. He had no issue saying “depart from me.” As much as Jesus was exclusive Jesus was likewise inclusive. He allowed that people could fall into that gray area of the middle as we see in Luke 9.49-50.
Let me return to Bonhoeffer. In Cost of Discipleship (293n.), he writes,
False doctrine corrupts the life of the Church at its source, and that is why doctrinal sin is more serious than moral. Those who rob the Church of the gospel deserve the ultimate penalty, whereas those who fail in morality have the gospel there to help them. In the first instance doctrinal discipline applies to those who hold a teaching office in the Church. It is always assumed that only those will be admitted to the ministry who are didactikoi, able to teach (I Tim. 3.2; II Tim. 2.24; Titus 1.9), “able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2.2). If hands are laid on any man before he is ready for his office, the responsibility rests with the ordaining minister (I Tim. 5.22). Doctrinal discipline thus starts before the actual ordination. It is a matter of life and death for the Church that the utmost care be exercised with regard to ordinations. But this is only the beginning. When the candidate has been approved and admitted to his office, he must, like Timothy, be admonished unceasingly to maintain the true saving doctrine. In this connection the reading of the Scriptures is especially emphasized. The danger of error is only too strong (II Tim. 3.10, 14, 4.2, 2.15, I Tim. 4.13, 16; Titus 1.9; 3.8). Further the minister must be exhorted to live an exemplary life—“Give heed to thyself and to the doctrine.”
It is not merely enough to say that what we teach must be biblical. Indeed what we teach must be orthodox. Because it is only by orthodox teachings we can understand the social intention of the Gospel. This is our fabric and our lens for viewing Christianity and questions that arise. Orthodoxy is not a rulebook nor is it a fence. It is a pathway protecting against stumbling blocks. It is what teaches us about morality and ethics and indeed, assigns to them importance. Likewise, it teaches us what love is and brings forth its primacy.
While John Wesley never articulated it so well, Wesley’s intention was not that far off from Bonhoeffer, which is not completely surprising given the Lutheran influence on Wesley along with Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran formation. While this is the case, Wesley did not suffer from the false notion that morality can exist independent of nor primary over doctrine. His teachings always began with correct doctrines, including justification. Justification, if we understand it correctly, leads us to holiness which is the goal of the Gospel. Even in his interpretative strategies, Wesley began with Scripture. He did not begin with morality. Correct morals comes from understanding God’s revelation and covenant. Orthodox doctrine without holiness is Gnosticism — that ancient and modern way whereby our salvation is dependent upon correct knowledge.
One of the stranger things about protestant orthodoxy is the fight’s inherent paradox. Perhaps if we contend for orthodoxy, we must likewise contend for those who established it, as enshrined better either in Rome or the East. Or, rather, we contend for the creedal orthodoxy, allowing for a small measure of Protestantism whereby we hold to the Creeds, forgetting that these were established by Councils and Councils Bishops and Bishops Apostles. If we contend for this creedal orthodoxy, wherein the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Resurrection are held as paramount next to Creation, Mary’s place in the Gospel, the Scriptures as a testimony to Christ, Justification, and a Church universal then we will do well enough. I still, however, find it difficult to contend for orthodoxy while ignoring, even in small pieces, those who establish orthodoxy.
When it comes to other forms of Christianity, I do not generally concern myself with them, finding something of value in Paul’s words of preaching Christ. On the other hand, if they pretend to be orthodox or if they are fundamentalism, then it raises my rancor. Indeed, I have little or no issue with gnostic Christians, Mormons or even American Baptists. I do, however, take issue with oneness pentecostals and progressives. I try to always watch my language and call those who attend or pretend to orthodox Christianity “orthodox Christians” and expect of them to be true to their self-identification.
So… there you go. Some thoughts. I wrote most of this while traveling down the road. Apple’s iOS dictation is awesome.
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Bonhoeffer’s works. So, it should surprise anyone that I received a review copy of Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14 from Augsburg Fortress.
The book is split into three parts. Part 1 contains 154 letters and documents, both to and from Bonhoeffer. Part 2 contains exercises, lectures, and essays written by Bonhoeffer f. Part 3 contains sermons and meditations written by Bonhoeffer. The books is pretty evenly divided between letters and other writings (about half the book is letters with the other half being the other writings.)
The piece that I found most interesting was Bonhoeffer’s Lecture and Discussion on the Power of the Keys and Church Discipline (beginning on page 825). I found this piece to be interesting because of its proximity in writing to my favorite of Bonhoeffer’s works, Discipleship. One of the things that drew me to this particular piece is that we can see Bonhoeffer formulating pieces of Discipleship. This also allows us to see the development of Bonhoeffer’s ideas that later became a part of Discipleship.
There is a lot in this volume, but one aspect that I liked about this volume was the incorporation of the student notes found in Part 2. For example, there are notes on Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession(337). From the footnotes, we know that these notes were taken by a student maned Joachim Kanitz. And Eberhard Bethge’s corresponding notes have this lecture given on July 15, 1935. It should come as little surprise that most of the student notes found in this volume are from Eberhard Bethge; however, if you spend some time looking through the different student notes, you will come across the names of other students. I personally thought this was interesting because it adds a new dimension to Bonhoeffer’s works, especially during his time teaching at the seminary. It’s not just Bonhoeffer’s words that we have here, but also the words of his students.
This is an excellent resource for those studying Bonhoeffer. There are a plethora footnotes that cross-reference other letters/papers/documents in this volume as well as other volumes in the series. My only complaint with the volume is there are several items that were published in the Nachlaß Dietrich Bonhoeffer that are not included in the English edition. Those items not included can be found in Apendix 6 (1043). All told, this is another excellent volume in the series!
I received this book free from Fortress Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The point of this review is not so much the content or the argument; however, I can never pass a good argument up. Unfortunately, Nation fails to deliver a solid response to the still-as-yet historical fact that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who preached pacifism, attempt to kill Hitler. There are, of course, variations on what this meant. Did the German theologian provide care, direction, or even help in planning? Or perhaps he was ready to kill the monster himself. Regardless, this fact does not sit well with those who hold that had Bonhoeffer attempted to kill Hitler, then his preaching is far less reliant than had he not.
I, of course disagree. Regardless of our theological tenets and ethical stances, we must always wrestle with them, especially the face of such cruelty as of that imposed by the Third Reich. If Bonhoeffer had had a chance to kill Hitler — if both men were alone in a room, say — but refused, how much more the moral monster might we think the theologian today rather than the somewhat hypocritical ethicist. Indeed, if we do not wrestle with our positions, we slide into fundamentalism of which the end is always disaster.
Nation, Siegrist, and Umbral argue from silence too often. Rather than taking Eberhard Bethge’s memorys as factual they desire to supplant it with theological expectations. Bethgre was part of the conspiracy. Logic dictates, then, that the testimony of a man this close not only to Bonhoeffer (as student) and to the conspiracy must have some weight. Yet, the only argument put forth by the authors seems to be that we cannot know the facial expressions therefore we really do not know what was said (89). They overrule reasonable plausibility with concern of theological preservation.
I must suggest this book as an exercise in discovering the Historical Jesus.
But, on to the Logos platform. I prefer electronic editions of most things. Indeed, I have the Kindle, iBooks, Goodreader, Inking, Olivetree, and, of course, Logos on my iPad. I like the versatility electronic editions give me as well as the cure for my inability to write in books. With the Logos Bible Software program, I have the ability to not only have an extensive library by my side, whatever my travels, but I have the ability to keep all of my notes and highlights as well. Further, whether I make a note on my iPad, iPhone, or Mac, the note is synced across the library. Of course, this is the same with Kindle and Olivetree, but Logos does something better. With Logos, I can copy and paste into my word processor and expect the correct footnote, with correct page number, to show up.
Logos also provides the timeline feature. For instance, if I am building a timeline of 20th century Christianity, I but need to find the flags next to each mentioned date (available in all resources) and pin them to the timeline. There are existing timelines, but by doing this, I can create a specific one. Not only this, Logos has the excellent search feature, not just for this resource, but so too for all resources. Note, when I search for anything in my library, this will now be among the resources searched.
All in all, if I was going to buy this book, I’d buy it in Logos. As a matter of fact, my first instinct is to always go to Logos because there I have not just the ability to always have it, but the ability to really make use of it.
I have Kindle, iBooks, and Logos. As one who does a lot of reading, as well as research, I like to keep all of my notes and scribbles on one platform. Kindle is fine, but if I had my choice, it will always be Logos. And here is why. Attached are three photos of the inside of the book. The Logos version, if you have the other books mentioned herein, will include links to other books in your library. This is extremely helpful given the amount of books I have.
Further, I really like the set-up of this one in Logos because of the footnotes. The footnotes are honest-to-goodness footnotes. Anyway, have a look: