Dietrich Bonhoeffer on ‘Cheap Grace’

1.3 Dietrich Bonhoeffer on ‘cheap grace’

Perhaps no other work on discipleship is more widely known and highly regarded than that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Discipleship, however, “is a book that needs to be seen within a specific context” in order for it to be read and understood properly.1

Bonhoeffer was thinking and writing about the nature of true discipleship in the context of his home country, Germany, in a very specific point in history, namely the re-emergence of Germany in the 1930s under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. It was during this time that the Nationalist Socialist revolution “sought to force all elements of society, including the churches, into line with the ideology and structures of the Nazi party”, even demanding that “Christians discriminate against their fellow Jewish citizens and against other groups that had been branded as ‘enemies of the people.’”2

While parts of the church in Germany during this time were indeed absorbed by the power of the Nazi regime, and earnestly believed that their actions were in line with what God wanted for their country, Bonhoeffer became more convinced of the call to peace through discipleship as taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It became clear to him that “the call to discipleship, although unmistakably addressed to the individual, would place that individual within a community and within the public arena.”3 For him, the call to discipleship was deeply embedded in embodying God’s redemptive and loving purposes in the world as seen through the example of the Christ. It was this conviction that led him to become a figure head in what would be known as the Confessing Church, and in one of its seminaries for pastors-in-training.

The Confessing Church, in a bold and striking example of true discipleship, “adopted its own order, and in doing so, separated itself from the Reich Church government and the National Socialist regime.”4 They were not willing to go along with the message preached by the Third Reich, nor were they willing to sit back and rest in the promise that one day it would all end and that they would reap the reward of eternal life in heaven as a result of their quiet faithfulness.

And so, in 1934, the Confessing Church met to table a theological declaration that “was the compass that was to guide this new ‘confessing church’ in its struggle to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ against the opposition of the Nazi state.”5 Written primarily by Karl Barth, a key feature of the declaration as it pertains to discipleship is that it maintains that the Christian church, “as a church of pardoned sinners, has to witness in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it belongs solely to him [Jesus Christ, its Lord] and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectations of his appearance.”6 In other words, disciples of Jesus are called to be faithful witnesses of his teachings and example at any and every point in human history.

While Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship must be read within the context of understanding its true nature within his ‘today’, it is argued that within its pages he expounded the Barmen declaration “in such a way that its truth became undeniable, even beyond the historical context of the Church struggle in the Third Reich.”7 With that in mind, we turn to specifically to Bonhoeffer’s exposition of the dangers of cheap grace.

Bonhoeffer begins by making this bold statement: “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of the church.”8 He describes cheap grace as a doctrine adopted by the church wherein we find “justification of sin but not the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways.”9 Having been forgiven of their sins by the free gift of God’s grace, the Christian is therefore enabled to continue on living in much the same way as they did prior to receiving that gift – “so the Christian need not follow Christ, since the Christian is comforted by grace!”10 There is, then, no visible change, no way of distinguishing the so-called followers of Jesus from any other citizen of this world. Bonhoeffer goes on to give a clearer idea of what cheap grace looks like when he says the following: “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.”11

In other words, the church can and, at times, has fallen into a deep trap wherein it is perceived that, upon receiving the forgiveness of sins, nothing else is required – “the Christian should live just like the rest of the world.”12 Christians can continue living in the same way as they did prior to professing belief in Jesus, imitating the world around them instead of embodying the redemptive work of God within that very world. This acceptance of cheap grace, therefore, “did not open the way to Christ for us, but rather closed it. It did not call us into discipleship, but hardened us into disobedience.”13

Cheap grace can cause Christians to drastically misunderstand the nature of the call to discipleship. It allows for a non-disruptive belief in Jesus free from the burden of truly following him and engaging in the realities of the world, and allows for absorption of the people of God into the dominant powers of society, culture and politics. There is no personal transformation, nor is there any need to participate in the ongoing renewal of creation made possible through Christ.

1 Martin Kuske and Ilse Todt, “Editors’ Afterword to the German Edition,” in Discipleship, ed. John D. Godsey and Geffrey B. Kelly (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 289.

2 Ibid., 294-295

3 Ibid., 293.

4 Ibid., 297.

5 Robert T. Osborn, The Barmen Declaration as a Paradigm for a Theology of the American Church (Lewiston: E. Mellin Press, 1991), 9.

6 John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches; a Reader in Christian Doctrine, from the Bible to the Present (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1973), 520.

7 Kuske and Todt, “Editors’ Afterword”, 298.

8 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. IV (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 43.

9 Ibid., 43.

10 Ibid., 44.

11 Ibid., 44.

12 Ibid., 44.

13 Ibid, 54

On This Day in Hockey History: Pevs, the Cup, and Me

I cried when the Boston Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

It wasn’t the first time in my life that my favorite hockey team had been there, but I was too young to appreciate the feat in 1990, and subsequent conference finals losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992 only wrenched my heart enough to make me a die hard fan for life, always hoping they’d get back to that level.

And then Nathan Horton from David Krejci happened (side note: don’t sleep on Andrew Ference’s outlet pass to spring the play), and I found myself celebrating in my backyard (so as not to wake Baby William) with my hands in the air and a few tears falling down my cheek.

I honestly didn’t expect them to go on and beat Vancouver in the Final, seeing as the Canucks were far and away the best team in the NHL all season long. The journey was anything but a straight line, prompting me to chew several pieces of herbal anti-anxiety gum between swigs of adult beverages all through the series. Seriously, that gum is a thing, and it was left over from the birth of our first child. In the end, the somewhat lopsided Game 7 allowed me to process the eventual win in a greater amount of time than the previous series victory, meaning no tears that time around – only several silent iterations of “(expletive) yes” (again, so as not to wake the baby).

GettyImages-116454752.0

One of the neat things about the Cup is its summer travels, being loaned to every member of the winning team for a day so that they might celebrate where they were born or currently live. As fate would have it, this Bruins team featured Rich Peverley, a Guelph native who still called the Royal City home. My wife Lauren and I had been living here since returning from Scotland in 2009, and by then it already felt like home, especially after Will had been born at the local hospital. When I heard that he would be bringing the Cup to the Sleeman Centre – home of the OHL’s Guelph Storm – I made sure to take the day off work so we could be there.

How did he get there? It’s quite a tale, really.

Peverley took the long road to the NHL. After this good Ontario boy was drafted by the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the OHL during the Don Cherry regime, Peverley decided against the junior hockey route, choosing instead to accept a scholarship at St Lawrence University. There, he led the team in scoring for 3 out of his 4 years.

Unfortunately, his collegiate success did not translate into having the Peverley name called on Draft day, forcing him to begin his pro career in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingers.

In 2005, Peverley made the jump to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, where he posted 168 points (56 G, 112 A) in 176 games. This was enough to convince Milwaukee’s parent club – the Nashville Predators – to offer him an NHL contract, where he would appear in 73 games over the course of 3 seasons (scoring 7 G & 13 A in 73 GP as a Predator.) In January of 2009, Peverley was waived by the Predators, and subsequently claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers organization, a move that proved to be most beneficial. Peverley proceeded to put up 124 points (49 G, 75 A) in 180 games for Atlanta during 3 seasons, earning both his first big contract (2 years, $2.6 million), as well as an invite to represent Canada at the 2010 World Championships in Germany.

In February of 2011, Peverley – along with Boris Valabik – was acquired by the Bruins in exchange for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart, by no means an insignificant price tag. Wheeler has since become a great player and part of the “Boston trades away too many good young talents” lexicon, but I’ll always be a fan of the trade because of 2011.

Peverley, of course, scored two goals for the Bruins in the Final that year, both of which came in a 4-0, Game 4 win that tied the series after Boston had dropped the first two contests on the road. The first of those goals was a beauty.

And so on July 27, 2011, I joined a large group of local Bruins fans in the local rink, and we celebrated a Cup win together, thanking Rich for his role in the victory. I got him to sign a puck, and handed my phone over to have this unfortunately blurry photo taken of us.

404030_10150648779226561_1911455929_n

I wasn’t able to be in Boston for the parade, but this was a little slice of the pie, and I was happy to be part of it.

The chances of the Cup coming to Guelph anytime soon are slim, barring an appearance with San Jose’s Logan Couture or Florida’s Michael Haley – the only guys from here currently in the NHL. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan chose to take it to his home in the States rather than his place of birth, and that decision coupled with Tom Wilson’s new contract has me worried about his sanity. But I digress …

For those who live in the densely hockey populated southern Ontario, the Cup is likely to come within driving distance in any given summer. It’s well worth the trip to see the greatest trophy in sports, and when it’s your town and your favorite team being represented, it’s truly a day to remember.

Thanks for the Facebook memories, Pevs.

Book Review: At Second Glance,’The Call’ by Os Guinness Gets a Hard No

The Call by Os Guinness was quite big when I was in college. First published in 1997, it was either required or recommended reading for students just a few years later, and it remains a treasured source of wisdom for those who ask these questions: Why am I here? What is God’s call in my life? How do I fit God’s call with my own individuality? How should God’s calling affect my career, my plans for the future, and my concepts of success?

There’s more than 100,000 copies of this book in print, and in this newly updated and expanded anniversary edition, Guinness explores the truth that God has a specific calling for each one of us and guides a new generation of readers through the journey of hearing and heeding that call, one that is “for all who desire a purposeful, intentional life of faith.”

I remember reading it circa 20 years ago and being encouraged and challenged, and thought it might be worth revisiting now that I’m in my later 30s and still asking some these questions. The thing is, my perspective on them has changed quite a bit, and I’m not the same person and don’t hold all the same beliefs that I did back then.

So as I cracked open this Guinness afresh, some immediate flags were raised. It became more clear to me that he was writing from a position that I have moved far away from (ie: a literal reading of the Bibile), and something further prompted me to do some digging. A quick search found him saying “President Trump is God’s wrecking ball stopping America in its tracks (from) the direction it’s going and giving the country a chance to rethink,” and Christians should love people who are in the homosexual lifestyle like they do people in prison.

Any concept of God’s call that allows for support of or even a positive take on Donald Trump and speaks at the LGBTQ community this way gets a hard no from me, and puts a huge cloud over this book that didn’t allow me to read much further than the first few chapters.

Here’s some more context on Guinness’ stance on Trump, which isn’t outright supportive but remains unfavorable. 

My William Karlsson Problem

I have a decision to make.

It’s a small one in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

Here’s my dilemma: What should I do with William Karlsson?

Yes, I’m talking about the Vegas Golden Knights center, and yes, I’m referring to my fantasy keeper hockey team. But I’m also talking about perhaps the most obvious candidate for regression in the history of the National Hockey League.

I scooped “Wild Bill” as one of my two free agent pickups last season, and the guy almost won me my league, which would have amounted to my first championship. The 25-year-old broke out to the tune of 43 goals and 35 assists in 82 games, marking an otherworldly bump from his previous levels of production at the NHL level.

Consider the following: In 184 career games prior to last season, Karlsson had recorded 18 goals and 32 assists, good for a point per game average of 0.27. In 2017-18, he catapulted to 0.95 points per game, tied with star centers Aleksander Barkov and Tyler Seguin in total points.

But the caveat to end all caveats is his 43 goals came on 184 shots, good for a 23.4 percent success rate. That was matched by Colorado rookie forward Alexander Kerfoot, who scored 19 goals on 81 shots for an identical shooting percentage. To call that unsustainable is a massive understatement considering the league average generally falls between 10 and 11 percent, per  of Sportsnet.

Now I’ve openly admitted in the past that advanced stats aren’t my forte, but I know some basics that could help to put this in context. For starters, Karlsson boasted a 53.31 Corsi For percentage during 5 on 5 play last season, meaning he was on the ice for more shot attempts for than against over the course of the season. Encouraging.

And although he only recorded 184 shots, he did attempt 321, meaning he was indeed firing the puck towards the net with some regularity. A few more of those hit or aren’t blocked, and his outburst doesn’t seem so outrageous. Additionally, his 222 attempts in 5 on 5 play were on par with other start centers such as a Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux. All this from the great Corsica Hockey, by the way.

It’s also encouraging to note his playoff performance, which might give a better indication of where he’ll rank in the future. Predictably, his production leveled off a bit at seven goals and eight assists in 20 games, and he recorded 50 shots on goal, meaning his shooting percentage dropped back to a more normal 14 percent. None of this is really a bad thing, though.

As Scott Maran over at Dobber noted halfway through Vegas’ run to the Cup Final, “What’s really great though is that in just a few playoff games, Karlsson is probably showing his baseline for next season. And it’s still fantastic. There’s no chance he shoots over 20% again, but right now he’s at four goals in nine games with a 13.3% shooting percentage. That comes out to a 36-goal pace over a full regular season, which is much more realistic for Karlsson next season. His increased shot rate also bodes well as it would have been near impossible for Karlsson to keep scoring at such a prolific pace without upping his shots on net.”

Look, regression is inevitable with this guy. He’s not going to score 43 goals on 184 shots, as that kind of success is almost as rare as an expansion team killing it in the inaugural season. But there’s signs that he won’t fall off the face of the earth and post nothing numbers like he did in Columbus and briefly in Anaheim.

Karlsson has been given a real shot as a number one center by Gerard Gallant in Vegas, and – to his credit – he made good on it during his first go round.

And it wasn’t as if he was a one-dimensional player, either. He did impress enough at both ends of the ice to finish sixth in Selke Trophy voting , although a Vegas writer voted for him over Patrice Bergeron, so take that with a grain of salt.

On his list of 300 keeper skaters, Dobber has Karlsson listed at 38. On my squad, that’s behind only Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau, Brad Marchand, Taylor Hall, Patrick Kane and David Pastrnak. When you have 15 keepers, I can’t justify keeping the likes of Cam Atkinson or Jeff Skinner over him, and have to assess the merits of Mark Stone and Matt Duchene playing on a garbage Ottawa team.

I know nobody cares about my fantasy team, that’s for sure. But in the bigger picture, Karlsson seems like someone to at least hang a hat on, just maybe not your favorite one. Maybe the beat-up snapback you use to play softball in and not the authentic, fitted Blue Jays lid with the white front.

Interestingly, he remains a restricted free agent, so the kind of money and term afforded to him by the Golden Knights will speak volumes about how much they have in his ability to come close to replicating his success with the club to date.

In short, “Wild Bill” is sure to be tamed a bit, I think, but he’ll be better than ok. I hoping so, at least.

Thank you for reading my rushed attempt to keep my hockey writing rust at bay.

Christianity in the Centre of Empire

1.2 – Christianity in the Centre of Empire

The question now to consider is how this gap came about, and what can be done to recover a sense of discipleship as ‘the Way’. It has been argued that part of the problem can be traced back to the early-fourth-century. Up to this point in history, the followers of Jesus resided largely on the margins of culture and society. They dwelt in what Lee C. Camp calls “an uncertain social position”, mostly ignored but at times openly persecuted and even killed.1 However, in the year 312, the Roman emperor Constantine was inspired to place the Greek letters Chi and Rho – the first two letters in the Greek word for “Christ” – on the shields of his soldiers as they entered into battle. Victorious, a decree was sent out declaring an Empire wide acceptance of Christianity, resulting in the restoration of previously confiscated property, “a new, very visible social and political role within the empire” for the church, and even a “unity and purity of doctrine” among believers through the calling of the Council of Nicea.2

Furthermore, by the end of the fourth century, the emperor Theodosius went as far as to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Thus, Christendom – “an alliance between church and empire” – was formed.3 While it would appear as though an end to religious persecution and an enhanced status for the church would allow for more widespread recognition and perhaps even an expansion of its call and mission, there were certain ramifications that, while being careful not to oversimplify or generalize the situation, help to explain the aforementioned gap between 21st century Christianity and discipleship.

According to Camp, what is seen in Christendom are “particular ways of thinking about Jesus that obscure (if not set aside) his teaching.”4 Broadly speaking, Camp argues that within the context of Christendom, the following began to take place: Christianity lost its biblical emphasis on discipleship and began to emphasize religious ritual; the Church began to focus more on orthodoxy as opposed to living as communities of disciples; and salvation was now equated by seeing eternal life as a future reward as opposed to present reality.5 In a society wherein Christianity is moved from the margins to the center of social, cultural and political life, true discipleship is inhibited in that “the masses already to easily believe themselves to be Christian.”6

For a Christian in this society, there need not be any visible separation from or positive effect on the world around them; following Jesus is no longer seen as an organic movement that develops in the context of community, but rather becomes a state sanctioned ‘religion’ that includes all citizens, regardless of their actual commitment to Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas, picking up on earlier work by John Howard Yoder, describes the situation in this way: “the distinctive character of the Christian life is now primarily identified with inwardness since everyone by definition is already Christian.”7 In other words, “if the world is basically Christian, then one need not worry about the church. Conversion, detoxification, and transformation are not needed. All that is needed is a slight change of mind, and inner change of heart, a few new insights.”8 Visible personal and social transformation – essential characteristics of discipleship – is extracted from the equation; all that is required is a vague acceptance of certain doctrinal statements.

And so began a process whereby “the dominant cultures of society slowly penetrated the life of the Church.”9 The result of that process this is that “discipleship gets shelved as irrelevant to the real concerns of the world”10; the so-called people of God lose a sense of the very real demands placed on them by the call of Jesus, and fail to engage in the redemptive work of God in the world around them. This is a process that continues today, and Peterson poignantly translates this problem into present terms with the following statement:

Christians today are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential – whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers – hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow.11

When those who profess to follow Jesus become absorbed into the dominant powers of society, culture and politics, it becomes more and more difficult to tell them apart from any other citizen; they begin to mirror the world around them rather than embody the kingdom of God among them. To be absorbed in such a way and so to lose a sense of what it truly means to follow Jesus is to fall prey to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously referred to as ‘cheap grace’.

1 Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008), 25-26.

2 Ibid., 26. Camp notes that it was at the Council of Nicea that “the emperor desired that debated matters of the nature of the relation between the Father and the Son be settled, so that nothing would disrupt the unity of the church.”

3 Ibid., 26.

4 Ibid., 26.

5 Ibid., 26-27.

6 Ibid., 27.

7 Stanley Hauerwas, “A Christian Critique of Christian America,” in The Hauerwas Reader, ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 475. In this particular article, Hauerwas draws heavily on Yoder’s seminal work in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1984).

8 Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1989), 29.

9 Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004), 236. Vanier offers a haunting description of the effects of Constantinianism in this section of his commentary, highlighted by the following passage: “After the conversion of Constantine in the year 313, Church and State became intertwined. Kings and princes exerted a huge influence on the Church and church affairs. Many bishops and abbots acted like princes and lords, wielding a lot of power. Building huge palaces and beautiful buildings became more important than being attentive to the poor and seeing them at the heart of the church.”

10 Camp, Mere Discipleship, 48.

11 Peterson, The Jesus Way, 8.

Articulating the Gap Between Christianity and Following Jesus

Yesterday I posted the introduction to my MTh disstertation (written in 2009) entitled Following Jesus in the 21st Century: A Practical Theology of Discipleship. Here today is the first part of Chapter One – Defining the problem: On why Christianity and discipleship are no longer synonymous terms

discipleship

1.1 Articulating the gap

That the question of the nature of Christian discipleship in the 21st century is being asked emphasizes the implicit reality that what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is quite possibly radically different than the popular notions of what it means to be a Christian. While it is important to avoid sweeping generalizations, it can be argued that within the context of the modern, Western church, there is a sense that Christians misunderstand what it means to follow Jesus, all too often mirroring the world around them as opposed to embodying the kingdom of God among them.

There exists an underlying misconception that to be a Christian requires belief in Jesus with little to no change in terms of socially, culturally and politically accepted ways of living. Therefore, on a general level and in the context of the Western world, there seems to be a gap between what it means to believe in Jesus and what it means to answer the call to discipleship.

This gap is, in part, related to the terminology used to distinguish those who profess to believe in and follow Jesus. As Eugene Peterson notes, “it is significant that the primary term for identifying the followers of Jesus in the early church was ‘the Way.’”1 This designation is used six times by Luke in the book of Acts, a prime example of this being when Paul makes the following remark: “this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors …” (Acts 24:14, New Revised Standard Version). Here, Paul is clearly referring to ‘the Way’ as a group of devoted individuals belonging to a specific and visible community intent on worshipping God.

The term ‘Christian’, on the other hand, is used only once in the New Testament, in Acts 11, and is invoked, according to Dallas Willard, “to apply to disciples when they could no longer be called Jews, because many kinds of gentiles were now part of them.”2 Today, ‘Christian’ has become the dominant term, providing a particular way of interpreting what it means to follow Jesus in the present with no particular reference to the beginnings of this sect known as ‘the Way’, and therefore leading to misguided understandings of the nature of discipleship.

While subtle nuances of language may seem unimportant, the gap that exists between the ways of 21st century Christianity and ‘the Way’ of true discipleship must be acknowledged. Dallas Willard frames this problematic gap in this way:

The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – student, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ.3

According to Willard, this gap is characterized by the fact that “one is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any sign of progress toward or in discipleship.”4 Stating the issue even stronger, Willard, while again referencing the reality that a new distinctive term was implemented to describe both Jew and Gentile who answered the call to follow Jesus in New Testament times, makes the assertion that “it is almost universally conceded today that you can be a Christian without being a disciple.”5 In other words, Christianity does not entail discipleship – the latter is currently an optional as opposed to essential characteristic of what it means to follow Jesus.

N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, argues that this gap is rooted in the fact that the call to follow Jesus is no longer a disruptive call:

Plenty of people in the church and outside it have made up a ‘Jesus’ for themselves, and have found that this invented character makes few real demands on them. He makes them feel happy from time to time, doesn’t suggest that they get up and do something about the plight of this world. Which is, of course, what the real Jesus had an uncomfortable habit of doing.6

Wright seems to be suggesting that the call to discipleship involves transformation not only in the lives of those who profess to follow Jesus, but also in the world at large as those same people act in ways that embody God’s redemptive love. However, the reality is that today, one can be called a Christian without any visible evidence of personal transformation, progress down ‘the Way’ of discipleship, or interest in setting the world to rights according to the teachings and actions of Jesus. Following Jesus, this is not.

If, as Willard maintains, discipleship revolves around becoming students, apprentices and practitioners of the Way of Jesus Christ, the result is meant to be both personal and social transformation – the old must become new, and the followers of Jesus must be engaged in the work of his Kingdom come. But, the reality is that many who profess to believe in and follow Jesus fail to take seriously the nature of that call, and, as will be argued, this is a reality that is rooted in the following factors: the absorption of early Christianity into the social, political and cultural powers of the Roman Empire; the modern tendency to individualize the Christian faith, more specifically by focusing on ‘going to heaven after we die’ as opposed to engaging in the present realities of the world; and ultimately in the idea that the people of God have failed to engage in the reading and retelling of a scriptural story of discipleship.

1 Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation in Following Jesus (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009), 23.

2 Dallas Willard, “How to be a disciple,” in The Christian Century 115, no.13 (1998):430

3 Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2007), xv.

4 Ibid., 4.

5 Dallas Willard, “How to be a disciple,” 430.

6 N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (London: SPCK, 1994), ix.

Introducing a Practical Theology of Discipleship

It’s been about nine years (what?!?) since I finished my Aberdeen dissertation entitled Following Jesus in the 21st Century: A Practical Theology of Discipleship. I have kind of been sitting on it, unsure of what to do with something that I worked on every day for almost a year. It’s seems crazy for it to simply take up space on my hard drive; as a work of practical theology, any contribution to the field [be it ever so minor as this] should be out there to enable the critical reflection and faithful participation that it requires and demands.

So, I am going to start posting bits and pieces of it, beginning with the introduction. My hope is that it will open up some good discussion, and that both writer and reader will be challenged in regards to discovering more and more what it means to follow along the ‘Way’ of Jesus.

kings-courtyard

Introducing a Practical Theology of Discipleship

Practical theology has been defined as the following:

Critical, theological reflection on the practices of the church as they interact with the practices of the world, with a view to ensuring and enabling faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in and for the world.

What follows is an attempt to employ this definition in order to articulate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century. In order to do so, it is important to address the subtle yet precarious gap that currently exists between popular notions of modern, Western Christianity and the nature of true discipleship. This will lead into an examination of the biblical story of discipleship as outlined in both the Old and New Testaments, and finally a discussion in regards to the present implications of discipleship.

While practical theology is “rooted in the scripture and tradition of the Christian faith and takes theology very seriously”, the process of critical and theological reflection is always undertaken “for the sake of developing practices that faithfully reflect the actions and character of the triune God, as God has revealed God’s self in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

With this in mind, it will be argued that from the beginning of creation, the triune and loving God has been calling people to live faithfully to the reality that he is Lord over all creation, and that he is deeply interested and involved in that which he has created. While this invitation has often fallen on deaf ears, God has graciously continued to call out a people through whom his loving and redemptive purposes for the world could be made known.

Whereas Christianity today is often defined by its emphasis on belief in Jesus without any necessary visible change in relation to the world around us, the call to discipleship involves a turn from the old to the new, often at great cost, as well as an active involvement in the present realities of the world. This is accomplished through tangible steps of obedience by those whose lives have been reoriented according to ‘the Way’ of Jesus, and by a community of disciples whose practices and habits bear witness to the reality that, through Christ, a different way of living has been made possible.

To be a disciple, therefore, is to demonstrate to the world that to believe in Jesus is to understand that his message of good news is rooted within the present realities of life, and that to follow him requires a visible shift away from the dominant social, cultural and political powers of the day and into the world as imagined and revealed in Scripture and shaped by the teachings, example and practices of Jesus. From this understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century, disciples will be better equipped to ensure and enable faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in and for the world.

Riveted? Stay tuned for more!

Book review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

image

Dissecting the Bible is a hot undetaking these days, and Rachel Held Evans is the latest to ask questions like “If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired?”

This new book of hers, then, is a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read.

In typical Rachel Held Evans style, she draws heavily on her own experiences to make this stand out as a fine memoir, but she also makes use of original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay.

She also relies heavily on recent and ancient scholarship, a lot of which should be tracked down as a follow up to Rachel’s work here.

Through it all, she rightly encourages the reader to learn “the mysteries and contradictions of scripture (aren’t) meant to be fought against, but courageously engaged, and that the Bible by its very nature invites us to wrestle, doubt, imagine and debate.”

Along those line, this book is a great introduction to questions that people may be having about the Bible, giving voice and lending credence to them for those who may still be afraid to broach them, and others who might think its contents are outdated and of no value to the present world.

For further reading, I’d immediately point people to Rob Bell’s “What Is The Bible” and anything by Pete Enns as where to turn next.

Repost: I needed those Bruins this season

As the 2017-18 NHL season began, my wife Lauren had recently undergone her second surgery in six months, book ending eight rounds of chemotherapy to treat a pretty serious case of breast cancer. She also had six weeks of radiation on the horizon beginning in late November.

It had been a very long and very difficult summer of taking care of and worrying about her, keeping the boys occupied, all while working and trying to keep myself together.

I needed hockey to come back. Not only was I entering my fifth season as a full-time hockey writer, I desperately needed the distraction and entertainment that my favorite sport had provides year in and year out, minus the occasional lockout.

The thing is, my expectations for the Boston Bruins were middling. They were coming off an opening round loss to the Ottawa Senators after missing the postseason in each of the past two years, and the belief was they’d be a playoff bubble team with a bevy of young but relatively unproven talent being incorporated into the lineup to compliment the experienced group of core talent.

The jury was very much still out as to whether the so-called rebuild on the fly was working, and it felt as though the past few years had largely been wasted – if you’re not contending with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and even an aging Zdeno Chara, what exactly is the point?

image

They kicked off the new campaign with an encouraging win over the reigning Western Conference champion Nashville Predators, but then dropped two to the Colorado Avalanche, a team coming off the worst 82-game season in the shootout era.

The rest of October was up and down, and it all seemed to be going to script; the Bruins were what we all thought they would be.

But in the middle of November, about the time Rask was being written off, something seemed to click and the Bruins started winning way more often than not. I won’t go into all the details of how and why, but rather jump to a moment in March that stands out to me as a highlight of the year.

Boston was pretty well settled in a playoff spot after quite a run through the middle portion of the schedule, and Don Sweeney had played the role of buyer prior to the trade deadline. One of those moves was the somewhat head scratch inducing signing of Brian Gionta, who was not in the NHL to begin the season and who had not impressed all that much as captain of Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Still, here he was in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers, doing the damn thing.

After seeing some of what the worst life has to offer, it was a reminder that there are pleasant surprises still waiting to show themselves as well.

None of this was supposed to happen, really. Boston finishing with 112 points, second in the East and fourth overall; kids like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinin stepping up this high, this soon; Bruce Cassidy earning a Jack Adams finalist nod in his first full year behind the bench; Sweeney trading for Rick Nash, one of my low key favorite players; Brian friggin’ Gionta scoring breakaway goals.

I don’t know why, but that goal will stick with me – always a fan of the underdog – as the epitome of how much this season of Bruins hockey meant to me.

Sure, it all came to a bit of a screeching halt against the Lightning after a satisfying Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and we were all left believing this team could have accomplished more.

In the end, more people will remember this team for Marchand’s playoff licking than anything else, and that … sucks.

But it’s only a game, and more often than not, the journey is more important than the destination.

For me, with everything else that was going on, it was a season to remember. I needed it, and I thank the Bruins for it.

And, most importantly, there was this at the end of it:

Hockey Numbers & Narratives

This is a repost from a few years ago, but it remains true and I thought it would be a good follow up to my last blog on how I became a Bruins fan.

Back in high school, I avoided maths and sciences at all costs.

After barely surviving both of these areas in Grade 10, I completed the minimum requirements – Grade 11 math and chemistry – in order to graduate, and focused instead on the arts in the latter years.

Languages, history, music, geography and law were more in my wheelhouse, leading me to start a degree in the latter at Carleton University in Ottawa.

(My time there lasted less than a semester, but that’s a story for another day).

My first sports love was baseball and the Blue Jays, but my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has to tell ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me, and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

My statistical focus didn’t go much past wins, losses, goals and assists, to be honest, and that’s the way it remained for years.

But as I got more into hockey writing several years back, I was exposed to the analytical developments that were changing the way some looked at the game. By all accounts, it was solid, important and meaningful work, much of which (and here’s the confession part) I simply didn’t understand.

Perhaps it’s not prudent to admit you’re not the sharpest pencil in a certain box, but again, I’m simply not much of a numbers person. I can certainly wrap my head around the more basic advanced stats – shot attempt differential, PDO, whatever/60, situational production etc. – but when it comes to the fanciest of stats, I get lost.

This is in no way to pick a side in the tired old debate of stats vs. the eye test. Quite the opposite, really. It’s acknowledging my place on a spectrum based on how my brain works, appreciating how advanced stats help tell better stories, and seeking out well-spoken folks who can articulate them for us lay folk.

And that’s why I follow a plethora of start-minded people online, who devote time to writing and sharing articles, and answering questions from us dummies who don’t get it the first three or four times.

During my time at theScore, I tried to sprinkle a measure of advanced stats into my work in order to give proper context to the stories I was writing.

And while I was by no definition an expert, I didn’t feel hindered in my ability to enjoy and cover the game despite a limited knowledge of the deepest ins and outs, numbers wise.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe this has to be an either/or conversation. Our brains are wired in certain ways, and it’s quite possible to enjoy and appreciate the game on different levels.

If something doesn’t fully compute, there’s no need to close the door completely one way or the other. And if someone doesn’t assess the game as deeply as humanly possible, it doesn’t necessarily diminish their passion for and understanding of the game.

As for me, I understand my limits, and am perfectly fine working within them. But again, I very much appreciate those who put in the work to expand our understanding of the game we all love so much, and especially those who can explain it in terms the rest of us can grasp.

This is why I love the offseason, by the way. There’s no games, but plenty of drama.