Monday, September 16, 2013

Bonhoeffer, his life and ministry...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 6, 1906 in Berlin, Germany and many books have been written about him, his life, and ministry. We cannot forget him, and we should not. A new book called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life, from the Cross, for the world, was written by Stephen J. Nichols, professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania. Published by Crossway,, this is the third book in Crossway’s series called Theologians on the Christian Life, the first two being on Francis Schaeffer, written by William Edgar, and B.B.Warfield, by Fred G. Zaspel.

This one begins with reminders of Bonhoeffer’s first trip to America, to Union Seminary in New York City, where he studied American theological developments and made many friends here, before returning home to begin a faculty position in Berlin. In 1939, he came again to the U.S., 33 years old and with a bright career ahead. But, author Nichols writes that “the moment he stepped off the ship he knew he had made a mistake.” Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend R. Niebuhr, “I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany, ” and to another friend, “I must be with my brothers when things become serious.” And they were getting very serious. Hitler was becoming more powerful in Germany.

Bonhoeffer influenced both clergy and lay in church and community. He commended “the cross-centered life” saying that Christian living flows from the cross. Reading and obeying Scripture are essential, along with praying and practicing our theology. He quoted “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness,” an idea from Paul (2 Cor. 12:9) that carried Bonhoeffer through difficult times. Essential in his teaching was how to pray, and how to read the Bible. He believed that when we have faith in the incarnate, crucified, resurrected Christ, which God gives to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, along with it comes faith, love, and hope.

It’s a challenge to follow author Nichols through the mix of all that happened to Bonhoeffer, as well as through the details of his beliefs and teachings, and his attempts to live the Christian life in the midst of all that he and the people of Germany were experiencing during the late 1930s–1945. There are two appendices that help: One is a time line of Bonhoeffer’s life and another is a summary called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life. The concluding section on Reading Bonhoeffer offers information on books by and about him, as well as a list of movies available on his life. And Nichols advises that if you are ever on a desert-island, take these, his “Top Five” on Bonhoeffer, with you. You’ll be glad you did.

—Lois Sibley

Monday, September 9, 2013

Liturgy and Rites

For more than 50 years, Louis Weil has been teaching liturgical and sacramental studies. He has  taught at three Episcopal seminaries, given programs for clergy and laity on five continents, and written a number of articles and books about liturgical renewal. In 2012, he was honored by the North American Academy of Liturgy with its Berakah Award in appreciation of his ministry as teacher of liturgy both ecumenically and in the Anglican Communion. His new book, Liturgical Sense, The Logic of Rite, introduces the Weil Series in Liturgics, which is “an occasional series dedicated to the sort of liturgical and academic scholarship that has been the hallmark of Weil’s professional life.” Seabury Books is publisher and can be reached at

Dr. Weil wonders: how did a rite get started, how did it develop and become part of a tradition? How did it make sense in the congregation’s worship experience? And does it still make sense? He is looking back through church history, examining how certain rites began, were they effective for the people watching and listening, and are they still important? Weil suggests that some liturgical practices may be meaningful for the one who uses them, but may be obscure, even confusing, to the congregation who watches.

Based on his 50 years of teaching, his own “person in the pew” experiences, and his looking back at church history, he notices the changes in liturgical practices and calls our attention to how the role of the priest in the eucharistic celebration changed. Rather than being the whole people of God worshiping together, “it began to look like the private devotions of the priest with the lay people watching,” but with no role. Over time, there were many other changes, including the loss of the catechumenate in the fifth century with its preparation for baptism and membership. This loss sometimes continues, when new people do not know the history and teachings of the church, and are not properly prepared for baptism and membership as people of God.

Weil admits that most of the people who teach liturgics have “very strong opinions,” but “their primary purpose is the service of the people of God, the building up of the Body of Christ.What they teach is rooted in what they have learned and experienced in their own lives of faith” and most of them have “a very strong sense of priorities.” Dr. Weil says his goal in this book has been to share that sense, and those who plan, prepare, or preside at worship services will appreciate his suggestions.

—Lois Sibley