Shock and Awe . . . and Sheep

Theology Thursday

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever. —Psalm 28.8-9 (ESV)
Contrary to what some of you might have supposed, I think that good theology and good doctrine matter. And of course I think my own theology and doctrine is correct because–well, I mean, what’s the point of believing something if you don’t, right?
I still maintain the value of crossing theological cultures, and I still maintain that not one of us has ever thought about God 100% correctly, so that ultimately it’s up to Him and not to us whether we are, to use an already coined term, “saved.” But I also believe there is such a thing as “saved” and what’s more, I am in the middle of a two-semester-long class in which I have to–somehow–codify my theological views and back them up, so I’ve been thinking and reading about these things a lot.
On Sunday during “Energy Shot”–the time we talk about God and the Bible and Life with the Youth Group on Sunday, one of them asked a question that essentially meant, “Wouldn’t God want us to become mature enough not to need Him to do everything for us?”
This is an important question, but parents were already arriving to pick kids up, and I like to teach by asking questions rather than correcting or pontificating if possible (though I dare say I do enough of the other two as well), so I tabled it until a later date. Then, as I was readying to write a statement about what I believe salvation means for my seminary class, I read something that startled me. According to a theology textbook of mine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed essentially the same thing as the Youth was asking about. So I guess she is in good company. But . . . Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I mean, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I mean, I guess, if that’s true, I fundamentally disagree about something with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
This guy.

This guy.

I’m still trying to decide if I’m more stunned that a guy who seems to be laudable across the theological scope of Christendom (including with Evangelicals like me, who might be considered to be more picky) was developing such an unorthodox view, or that I’m in my early 40’s having grown up in a very “Christian-schooled” context (all the way up until now), having read his works and having a mother who just read his very extensive biography, and this is the first I’m hearing of this.
Admittedly my theology book calls Bonhoeffer a “forerunner of this view” that “secularism [is] not a competitor but as a mature expression of Christian faith,” and that “The human race’s coming of age is not rebellion against God, but is God’s educating his highest earthly creature to be independent of him” (Christian Theology, Millard Erickson, Baker Publishing Group: Grand Rapids, 1998). Also admittedly, we could talk about the historical context surrounding Bonhoeffer (mainly, how he stood up against the German state church’s capitulation to Nazism for his whole life and was executed for his work) which kind of explains why “religion” wouldn’t have been a high value to him even if God/Jesus was.
But I still disagree with him. I don’t think that the Bible leaves room for us to grow up to independence of God. I think it’s the root of the human problem to begin with: “You shall be like God”–without God–didn’t go so well. Jesus told us to become like little children, and New Testament writers who followed Him did talk about maturing in our faith, but it was always about growing into God through Christ, not growing independent of Him. Even Jesus (who I would argue–and am in the process of figuring out how to argue–is God Himself) is said to have “learned obedience” to the Father. Plus there’s all that stuff about children and sheep, and God being our Father and Shepherd.
Nobody these days wants to be a sheep.
Even a cool black-and-white sheep in Ireland.

Even a cool black-and-white sheep in Ireland.

I guess Jesus didn’t want to be one either, exactly, but He loved us, so He went there. And I think, for His sake, Bonhoeffer did, too.
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6 thoughts on “Shock and Awe . . . and Sheep

  1. I, like you, believe this is errant theology. In scripture it is quite evident that our dependence …or rather our learning of our need for a saviour, i.e. dependence on someone else for our safety/needs/future, is in my mind a basic tenant of our faith.

    Apart from Christ there is nothing good in us… we are a fallen people … that’s not to say we can’t do good things.. I think we can/do. I also believe that the very best things we do happen often outside our conscious intentions. That is probably another discussion, and I am getting off topic. Big shocker there! 🙂

    • Yeah, I agree with you. I do think Bonhoeffer’s context explains a lot about why he would draw some of the conclusions he did–and evidently he didn’t have the opportunity to develop these ideas much before they executed him. Your saying, “I also believe that the very best things we do happen often outside our conscious intentions” would actually fit into his unfolding theology pretty well!

  2. This is a hard one, Jenn. Gonna have to think about it. I am not sure I understand what Bonhoeffer and the kid were talking about. I mean, we make independent choices every day. I find, often to my dismay, that I don’t pray about everything I am about to do. It’s just impossible. Hm….

    • It is. I don’t know that that’s what Bonhoeffer (or the kid) were talking about though. My understanding is that the more we grow in faith (which I am increasingly coming to see really means trust), the more we will rely on God, not so much in a sense of asking what to do regarding every single decision, but in the sense of trusting what we can know about God’s will from the Bible, and that our own will begins to line up more with God’s in the process.

      Which, I suppose, may be part of what Bonhoeffer was saying, although my impression is that he was advocating less of a consciousness of God, less of an awareness of God’s presence and involvement in life, where I think the Bible (and my own life experience) indicates the opposite–more of an overarching, inescapable but not smothering, awareness of God and God’s care for, interest in, and involvement with the individual (as well as corporate) life.

      I’m not sure any of that actually communicates what I mean or what Bonhoeffer meant, but it’s an off-the-top-of-the-head attempt at any rate!

      • Gosh, this is too complicated for me. In one sense, no one can be independent of God, just like no body can be independent of the planet. So I am left scratching my head. From personal experience, I do get annoyed when people talk about “God’s plan for my life” as though God were some uber-bureaucrat town planner. But that’s probably a bunny trail here. Hey, maybe you could ask the kid what they meant? 🙂
        I confess I have never read anything but a few quotes of Boenhoffer. So no clue at all where he may have been coming from, and how much it was aimed at his contemporaries.

        • I can ask her. 🙂 I haven’t seen her since that day, but I probably will unpack the discussion more on Sunday.

          I agree–I don’t think God’s a micromanager, but I do think He cares about our lives and designed each of us with at minimum a certain trajectory in mind.

          Bonhoeffer spent most of his life combatting the German state church’s capitulation to Nazism (he was executed because he was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler–which is also tough to get my head around! On the one hand . . . on the other hand . . . ) I think he had seen so much atrocity go down either in the name of religion, or using the “Well, it’s personal, and God and I are just fine–even though those bad men certainly shouldn’t be doing those things” type of excuses that it probably coloured his perspective considerably. From this perspective I think people in general just do horrible things to each other, whether they’re religious or not, though, and it seems to me that a TRUE dependence on God would ideally ameliorate things, and not deteriorate them.

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