Can You Believe They Said That?
People say crazy things. Have you ever heard a strange comment and wondered how anyone could say such a thing? What were they thinking? Surely, they can’t be serious!
Here are two such crazy, outrageous comments I read today.
“Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God – the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters and Papers from Prison.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”– Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 10.
Can Bonhoeffer be serious? He calls us to set aside reason, principles, conscience, freedom and virtue in favor of standing firm on…faith? Or worse, exclusive allegiance to God? We live in an age of reason, of rationality, of human-centered logic. It sounds absurd to suggest that in our post-truth culture we would willingly set aside our reason, principles and conscience and trust our lives to beliefs and beings that are being dismissed as archaic superstition.
And then there is Jesus. While most people, even atheists hold a generally positive view of the moral teachings of the first century prophet, what are we to make of these absurd injunctions? What happened to ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild?’ What about the ‘Prince of Peace?’ He brings a sword not peace? Causes turmoil in families? Calls us to lose our life? Why would anyone ‘take up their cross’ and follow this kind of person?
And that is the question of the day – are we, as faithful stewards, ready and willing to follow this Jesus?
Christianity in the U.S. is under increasing pressure to retreat, conform or face persecution. There is a broad swath of church-going Americans who seem benignly willing to compromise their faith so as not to offend the distorted values of this world. Much of main stream Protestantism, including its colleges and seminaries, continues to strip itself of the trappings of orthodoxy that would distinguish it from the prevailing post-Christian culture. To these cultural conformists, Bonhoeffer’s and Jesus’ words are unintelligible at best, and irrelevant at worst.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) The words of Bonhoeffer – exclusive allegiance to God – and Jesus – whoever finds his life will lose it – are foolishness if your measuring stick for success is the extent of your tolerance and accommodation of the secular humanist agenda of our day.
We must understand that these challenging words are steward words. Bonhoeffer is calling us to set aside our quest to live as owners who rely on their own reason, principles, values, conscience and virtues and embrace the complete surrender of the faithful steward. The result can only be “obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God.” For Bonhoeffer, that means our life as a steward will be “an answer to the question and call of God.” How else could it be?
In a similar way, Jesus’s words call us to reject the idea that our life is our own. If we seek to play the owner, we will only accept those words of Jesus that fit our understanding of how this owner’s life should be lived. And that will never include sacrifice, certainly not the willingness to lose our life. But if we will surrender ourselves completely to him and bear with joy the mantle of the faithful steward, then our priorities will be radically reset. Only stewards can understand a life where we love Jesus more than father and mother, where following him may cause the world around us, even our own families to reject us. Only as surrendered stewards can we embrace the call to lose this old, fearful, self-centered life in order to pick up our cross and follow the one who came that we might have life to the fullest (John 10:10).
The question I am asking is whether we will be such surrendered stewards who will joyfully claim these hard words as our own. Will we take up our cross with this Jesus? Will we have the courage, with Bonhoeffer, to stand?
I will give reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper the last word.
“When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”
 If you need proof, read Barna Trends 2017, especially pages 50-53 and the section on Faith. See also my blog from March 7th, http://thestewardsjourney.com/proclaimed-ashamed-falling-new-moral-code/