Thursday, April 03, 2008

Some Thoughts on Luther, Lutheranism, Anti-Semitism and Nazi Germany

Luther was undeniably anti-Semitic in his writings in his later years about the Jews. Luther and others in the Reformation threw a lot into question, even turning a doubtful eye on certain of the Scriptures, such as the book of James. He also in his Table Talks when asked what should be done to a huge mentally retarded man who ate like a horse and was a burden on his poor family, said that he should be killed, and this was quoted in a court case over eugenics in pre-Nazi Germany as a justification for eugenics. In Germany, it was Protestant Liberalism, specifically radical Lutheranism, that later undermined the authority of the Scripture. The school of Tubingen and the German school of Higher Criticism did this by applying naturalistic exclusionary principles to their interpretation of the Bible. The vein of this influence is observable in references made by Nietzsche and by Hitler to the Bible. I am thinking of their antagonistic interpretation of the apostle Paul's writings, which seems to draw on the work of Bauer and others, who dreamed up massive rifts in the early church. The hands of those who held the Bible, having stripped the Bible of a normative authority even intellectually, were free to deal with it disingenuously, to distort its teaching according to their agendas. From my perspective, which I doubt you can understand, not sharing my presuppositions, it is to be expected that a Satanic hatred of the Jews, as a covenant people of God whom God watches over in a special way for the sake of His promises to the patriarchs, will express itself again and again over the centuries, sometimes from surprising quarters.However, in the midst of the Third Reich's rise to power, there was a powerful theological movement called the Confessing Church which deeply influenced much of Protestantism and the Catholic church afterwards, led by Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoeller, Helmut Thielicke and others which was characterized by a resounding emphasis on the Word of God and a resounding "Nein!" to naturalistic shepherding of the churches. A natural outcome of this was the anathematizing of race theory as heresy in the famous Barmen Declaration. They stood against the Nazi "science" even at the cost of life, the cost of discipleship to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer was executed. Martin Niemoller was declared the personal prisoner of Hitler by Hitler in a rage when he heard that Niemoller was going to be let out of prison. Thielicke was stripped of his profesorship, etc. So even just in the history of the Lutherans, a return to the Scripture made the uncommon difference in an uncommonly horrid situation.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Cheap Grace" Versus Ezra's Example

Here is a note from the commentary I am reading this morning: "Drawing upon the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thronveit remarks that Ezra's prayer/speech 'speaks against the attitude of cheap grace that has counted on God's continual provision but has failed to heed the warnings of scripture or history". -Matthew Levering, Ezra & Nehemiah, Brazos Theological Commentary, p. 102.

As I am reading Ezra and being aided in my reflections by this commentary, it is brought out to me how clearly Ezra looked to scripture and to God's working in history. He understood Israel's exile in terms of God's judgment as the book of 1 & 2 Kings does, and he understood the return of the remnant as a fulfillment of Jeremiah's prohecy of return after 70 years of captivity. He also saw God's providential working in the leniency of the Persian kings who allowed the Israelites to return and facilitated their rebuilding of the temple, and he was afraid that the Israelites intermarriage with idolatrous peoples around them would bring about the same judgment on Israel as that recounted in 1 & 2 Kings in which both Judah and the Northern Kingdom, after hundreds of years of flagrant idolatry, finally are discarded. But this time, Ezra fears, the judgment may be more final. He rips his hair and beard, and rends his clothing. He sees God in history, and leads all Israel into communal confession of sins.

It is interesting to think of cheap grace in reference to our understanding of God working in history and in our relationship to the Scriptures. If the Scriptures cannot demand anything of us, except when morphed into human principles, then it is cheap grace. Similarly, if we do not see God at work in history and in our times, in our lives and in the broader world, then it is cheap grace.