Bonhoeffer’s Ethics Pt 5: Guilt, Justification, Renewal

While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.

In this manuscript Bonhoeffer discusses the need for acknowledgement of guilt by individuals but more especially corporately, by the church (134-142).  He then explores how those who confess their guilt can be justified and renewed, both individuals who have faith in Christ and to some extent the West as a historical political form (142-145).

When we turn away from Christ (and therefore turn away from our true nature), ‘There is only one way to turn back, and that is acknowledgement of guilt towards Christ.  The guilt we must acknowledge is not the occasional mistake or going astray, not the breaking of an abstract law, but falling away from Christ, from the form of the One who would take form in us and lead us to our own true form. … The place where this acknowledgement of guilt becomes real is the church. … It is tautological to say that the church is the place where guilt is acknowledged.  If it were otherwise, the church would no longer be church.’ (135)

Individuals must take responsibility for their own sin.  ‘Why does it concern me if others are also guilty?  Every sin of another I can excuse; only my own sin, of which I remain guilty, I can never excuse.’ (137)

The church must take responsibility for its sin.  Bonhoeffer opens ten paragraphs with the phrase, ‘The church confesses…’  One example is, ‘The church confesses its guilt toward the countless people whose lives have been destroyed by slander, denunciation, and defamation.  It has not condemned the slanderers for their wrongs and has thereby left the slandered to their fate.’ (140)  To those who claim that not the church but others are guilty Bonhoeffer answers, ‘In confessing guilt the church does not release people from their personal confession of guilt, but calls everyone into a community of confession.’ (142)

The church is justified by faith in Christ (142).  However, ‘for the nations [Völker] there is only a scarring over [Vernarbung] of guilt in the return to order, justice, and peace and in granting freedom for the church to proclaim Jesus Christ.’ (143)  Bonhoeffer argues that after imperialistic conquests there can be a slow turning towards justice, peace, and even happiness for those once violated.  This amounts to ‘a scarring over’ of past guilt.  ‘To be sure, the guilt is not justified, not removed, not forgiven.  It remains, but the wound that it inflicted is scarred over.’ (143)  At this point, ‘something like forgiveness takes place, though it is only a weak shadow of the forgiveness that Jesus Christ gives to believers.’ (144)
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Paul Helm on Tom Wright

More on Tom Wright’s view of justification …

Paul Helm is starting a series of posts on Wright. Expect plenty of insight with a dash of verve and wit.

The first post criticises Wright’s understanding of the Reformed position. He thinks Wright’s covenantal approach is more akin to Reformed theology than Wright realises and also that Wright operates with a characiture of the Reformed view of imputation. But Helm also believes the gap between Wright and the traditional Reformed approach is narrowing and can be narrowed still further.

A primer on the justification debate

Christianity Today have published online a table from their June 2009 edition by Trevin Wax that summarises the debate over the new perspective on Paul and justification. Following their recent books interacting with each other’s ideas, John Piper and Tom Wright represent the two sides of the discussion. Here are the books in question …

John Piper, The Future of Justification purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

Tom Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

See also Tom Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, especially chapter 7 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

For my own take on the topic see my article ‘Justification, Ecclesiology and the New Perspective’ which was published in Themelios and which is available online here.

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How should we fast

This completes my short series looking at fasting.

Should Christians fast?

Using a hunger for food to cultivate a hunger for God

And today …

How should we fast?

There are two dangers associated with fasting. The first danger is to deny that food is good. The Bible says food is a good gift from God and is to be received with enjoyment and thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

The second danger is to think we can earn merit with God through abstinence. Fasting does not earn God’s approval or blessing. It is not the Pharisee who fasts who goes home justified in the parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:12-14, but the sinner who cries out for mercy. ‘It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat, and we don’t gain anything if we do.’ (1 Corinthians 8:8). Fasting, like other ascetic practices, cannot of itself restrain indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23). And fasting done for selfish gain which disregards other people is an abomination in God’s sight (Jeremiah 14:12; Zechariah 2:5; Isaiah 58:3).

John Piper says: ‘The question is not of earning or meriting or coercing anything from God. The question is: Having tasted the goodness of God in the gospel, how can I maximize my enjoyment of him, when every moment of my life I am tempted to make a god out of his good gifts?’ [1]

Since fasting is not in itself meritorious there is no ‘right way’ to fast. But it is good to stick to whatever you intend. The body suffers from a lack of water long before it suffers from a lack of food so you should normally continue to drink water during your fast. Do not eat a lot at the end of a longer fast. You could consider one of the following:

— a regular 24 hours fast – eat an evening meal one night and then break your fast with a light supper the following evening

— a regular day fast – eat an evening meal and break your fast with breakfast the day after next

— a fast for guidance – fast for a period leading up to a significant meeting or throughout a significant time together

Finally let me repeat my recommendation of John Piper’s book, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (Amazon UK and Amazon US).

[1] John Piper, A Hunger for God, IVP, 62.

Tom Wright responds to John Piper on justification

N. T. (Tom) Wright has written a book defending his approach to justification and responding to his critics. It’s coming out from SPCK in February, but you can pre-order it here for £7.25 from Amazon UK (reduced from £10.99) with free UK postage. (It’s not out yet in the US, but you can sign up to be notified of its publication at Amazon US.)

Michael Bird from Highland Theological College has seen proofs and writes:

This book is a response to many of Wright’s North American critics and to John Piper’s The Future of Justification in particular. It is not a point for point reply to Piper but a general articulation of what Wright really thinks about justification with some hand-to-hand combat with Piper (as well as others such as Carson and Seifrid) along the way. Wright gives a very forthright defence of his position, but is certainly not acrimonious or uncharitable towards Piper … This book is vintage Wright with his easy-to-read sermonic prose, exegesis of the texts weaved into a master theological narrative, and provocative one liners through out … Wright wonders what Protestant theology would have been like if we read Romans and Galatians in light of Ephesians and Colossians rather than the other way around … And, what I’ve been harping on about myself, God’s plan to deal with the root problem of sin and God’s purpose to bring Jew and Gentile together are not mutually exclusive. Importantly, Wright communicates with great verve and genuine pathos that what ultimately matters for him is that we do not pursue any perspective (Wright, Old, New, or otherwise) but settle for nothing less than Paul’s perspective!

I agree with Bird’s assessment of the debate: ‘I genuinely enjoy both the works of Piper and Wright. I find ample grounds to affirm and disagree with various portions of their respective volumes on justification.’

For what it’s worth, I’ve contributed in a small way to the debate here: Tim Chester, ‘Justification, Ecclesiology and the New Perspective,’ Themelios 30:2, Winter 2005,5-20.

Let me also commend a couple of Bird’s own books:

Amazon UK:

A Bird’s-eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message (IVP)

The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective (Paternoster)

Amazon US:

Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message (InterVarsity)

The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective (Paternoster)