Category: Bible and Theology

Bishop Angaelos

Bishop Angaelos

The nation of Ethiopia has declared a state of mourning following confirmation that Islamic State terrorists have murdered more Christians in Libya. Numerous statements have been issued by religious leaders, including those from Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby, in Egypt for a “visit of condolence,” and al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Muslim authority. The following statement, published here in full, is from by Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom:

The confirmation of the murder of Ethiopian Christians by Daesh (IS) in Libya has been received with deep sadness. These executions that unnecessarily and unjustifiably claim the lives of innocent people, wholly undeserving of this brutality, have unfortunately become far too familiar. Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their Faith.

The Christians of Egypt and Ethiopia have had a shared heritage for centuries. Being predominantly Orthodox Christian communities with a mutual understanding of life and witness, and a common origin in the Coptic Orthodox Church, they now also share an even greater connection through the blood of these contemporary martyrs. (more…)

kuyper-portrait-paintingIn the latest issue of Themelios, Robert Covolo reviews  Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship alongside Richard Mouw’s Called to the Life of the Mind, examining the common traits that emerge from two perspectives on scholarship from the “Kuyperian strain.”

Outside of the differences in tone and audience that one might expect from authors separated by a century (and an ocean, for that matter), Covolo notices each author’s emphasis on scholarship as a distinct “sphere,” thus involving a distinct calling. “It is hard not to recognize a strong family resemblance” between the two authors, he writes.

First, a taste of Kuyper:

Kuyper contends that Christians entering academic work must do so recognizing “a distinctive calling in life and a special God-given task” (p. 5). In stark contrast to those who jump through academic hoops merely to secure a good job, Kuyper calls budding Christian scholars to appreciate the privilege afforded them, considering theirs a holy calling as priests of learning. For, according to Kuyper, to be a true Christian scholar requires more (though not less) than sustained and careful thinking, reflecting, analyzing, methodical research, attention to form and an understanding of academic etiquette. It also calls one to a life of humility, prayer, service, pure living and sincere piety. Indeed, Kuyper claims no area of one’s life—from financial planning to taking care of one’s body—is unaffected by this call.

(more…)

Jesus Christ the Apple TreeToday is the 70th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp. I’m privileged to offer a brief reflection on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy over at Public Discourse.

I’ve been working on Bonhoeffer’s thought for over a decade now, and I’m often struck by the depth of his conviction and insight in such troubled times. One of the things about him that I try to highlight in the Public Discourse piece is how Bonhoeffer’s courageous action for the world today was rooted in hopefulness for the world to come. As so many others have often pointed out, and rightly so, Bonhoeffer’s theology and biography are intimately related.

For example, in principle Bonhoeffer affirmed God’s institution of marriage: “Through marriage human beings are procreated for the glory and service of Jesus Christ and the enlarging of Christ’s kingdom.” But even when faced with the dangers of resistance to Hitler and the travails of war and social discord, he took the step of proposing to Maria von Wedemeyer. Planning to marry her was an act of courage, a concrete form of affirming and accepting God’s will for this world.

There is an apocryphal saying attributed to the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther, that “if I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” As Scott Hendrix writes, this saying (although it has precedent in a story attributed to Francis of Assisi) actually arises from the Nazi era in Germany: “Scholars believe it originated in the German Confessing Church, which used it to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.”

Bonhoeffer lived out his own form of that insight through his engagement to Maria in 1943, shortly before his arrest and eventual execution. May Bonhoeffer’s life and work continue to inspire hope and perseverance even in the midst of our suffering and confusion.

Hilarion

Hilarion

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a high ranking bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, commented on a new poll that showed a growing number of Russians are viewing the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in a positive light. Hilarion’s comments amount to a verbal cup of black coffee for those intoxicated with Stalin (1878-1953), one of the most murderous dictators in history. Stalin, who blew up Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931, was described by historian Robert Conquest as a man who combined ruthlessness, deception and terror in the extreme. The historian quoted a Russian scholar who said of Stalin’s dictatorship: “We wiped out the best and brightest in our country and, as a result, sapped ourselves of intelligence and energy.”

Metropolitan Hilarion:

“I think that to sober up, some need to go to the Butovo firing range on the outskirts of Moscow,” Ilarion said during a program aired by Channel One on Monday, according to media reports.

Butovo was the site of the largest number of political executions in the Moscow region under Stalin. “The firing range has a museum, photographs of people, it tells you what was happening there: Every day they brought in and shot 200, 300, 400 people,” Ilarion was quoted as saying. “There were 15-16-year-old children. Why were they shot?” (more…)

When struggling with “work that wounds”— work that’s “cross-bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing,” as Lester DeKoster describes it — we can content ourselves by remembering that God is with us in the workplace and our work has meaning.

But although these truths are powerful, God has not left us with only head knowledge and philosophical upgrades. When we give our lives to Christ and choose a path of transformation and obedience, the fruits of the Spirit will manifest in real and tangible ways, despite our circumstances. We will find meaning, but we will also experience peace, patience, and joy, even when it doesn’t make sense.

In Music Box, a classic Christian film from the early 1980s, we see an apt demonstration of this. The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength, not just as some abstract idea, but in real and noticeable ways through the application of mind to hands and hands to creative service. The Gospel breathes new life, even into the most dark and plodding situations.

Watch it here:

In the film, we see a tired and moping man, who lives a life of drudgery at a factory, followed by misery and disconnect at home. The solution? On his way home from work, he finds a magical music box that triggers a chorus of angels. God reminds him of the gift of Jesus — a lesson that sets the man about gift-giving of his own joy and purpose to other people, a newfound capacity that God continues to stretch throughout the film. In short, he’s awakened to the reality that all is gift. (more…)

Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653In his newly translated primer on the book of Matthew, Reformed pastor Cornelis Vonk writes powerfully about the monumental moment of Jesus’ death.

Summarizing the heart of the Gospel and its profound implications for human freedom, Vonk reminds us of the lasting power of God’s incredible sacrifice.

“Death did not overcome Jesus,” Vonk writes, “for he was so willing to lay down his life himself.”

Shortly before dying, Jesus is forsaken by God. This happened when, in addition, an hour-long darkness had spread across the whole (Jewish?) land….We do not know the cause of this darkness, but we do know who caused it: God must have done that.

With that darkness he showed something incomprehensible to our understanding. What was that? That at the end of his life on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God, his wrath against the entire human race. And for what purpose did this happen? So that everyone who one day wanted to enter into eternal life would remain pardoned from condemnation under that divine wrath. How could this be? By Jesus functioning as the perfect substitute who bore that hellish condemnation. Jesus did not need to do that for himself. He had never thought or done anything bad, nor had he been conceived and born in sin. Nevertheless we know that he was condemned by God, forsaken by God.

He said so himself when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 46).

…But Jesus did not die as everybody else up to that point had died. They had to die. But Jesus placed his own life in God’s hand. Matthew writes that he released “his spirit,” that is, his breath. John writes that he “surrendered” the spirit. That word is even more clear. Death did not overcome Jesus, for he was so willing to lay down his life himself. He could do that (John 10:17–18). He had the power to do that, the divine power. And as man, or we say, “according to his human nature,” Jesus had sufficient strength to speak with a loud voice.

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BroadwayUMC-naveIn the early 2000s, Broadway United Methodist Church had a series of outreach programs, including a food pantry, after-school program, clothing ministry, and a summer youth program that served up to 250 children per day. Today, these programs are completely absent, and it’s no accident.

“They’ve been killed off,” writes Robert King in a fascinating profile of the transformation for Faith and Leadership. “In many cases, they were buried with honors. But those ministries, staples of the urban church, are all gone from Broadway. Kaput.”

“One of the things we literally say around here is, ‘Stop helping people.’” says Rev. Mike Mather, the church’s pastor. “I’m serious.”

Although Mather was the first to initiate many of these programs, with some efforts going back as far as the late 1980s, after a series of circumstances, including a series of community tragedies, he began to believe that a new approach was needed. “I started paying attention to what they really cared about,” he says. (more…)

Archbishop Damaskinos

Archbishop Damaskinos

This is a doubly significant day in the nation of Greece in that not only is the Annunciation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) observed but also Independence Day. March 25 commemorates the start of the War of Greek Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire and the tourkokratia or Turkish rule that is traced back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The occasion is marked with much pomp, parades and speech making in Greece and where large numbers of Greek immigrants have settled all over the world. This week also marked the anniversary of another stirring witness to freedom and human dignity, this one by a heroic churchman.

On March 23, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, signed his name on a letter addressed to the collaborationist Prime Minister K. Logothetopoulos. The letter, composed by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, was a courageous defense of the Greek Jews who were being rounded up and it was signed by other prominent Greek citizens. “The Greek people were rightfully surprised and deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community of Salonika to places beyond our national borders, and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland,” the archbishop wrote. “The grief of the Greek people is particularly deep … ” When the Germans continued with the deportations, Damaskinos called the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, to his office and told him, “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” (more…)

Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print.jpg

Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print” by Rembrandt – www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“No, those who labor and are heavy-laden do not all look the way Rembrandt drew them in his ‘Hundred Guilder’ picture—poverty-stricken, miserable, sick, leprous, ragged, with worn, furrowed faces. They are also found concealed behind happy-looking, youthful faces and brilliantly successful lives. There are people who feel utterly forsaken in the midst of high society, to whom everything in their lives seems stale and empty to the point of nausea, because they can sense that underneath it all, their souls are decaying and rotting away. There is no loneliness like that of the fortunate.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In a meeting with young historians last fall, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the annexation of Crimea (RT described this delicately as “the newly returned” Crimea) and reminded them that “Prince Vladimir [Sviatoslavich the Great] was baptized, and then he converted Russia. The original baptismal font of Russia is there.” Matthew Dal Santo, a fellow at the Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, uses a public exhibition of art in Moscow (Orthodox Rus. My History: The Rurikids) to explain in The National Interest how Russia and Ukraine hold intertwined histories rooted in Orthodox Rus’.

“Faulty as history, Rurikids’ defiant expression of offended Russian exceptionalism is nonetheless more than a pose,” Dal Santo writes. “The West’s doggedly legalistic construction of the crisis has consistently underestimated how much Ukraine means to Putin—and a substantial proportion of the Russian public—as well as the high costs Russia is prepared to pay to keep it out of the West’s orbit.” More from his article: (more…)