Reflections on first leg of the trip…

In a few minutes I’ll go to class and complete the studies in Genesis with students here, and then board the train for Augsburg, where I’ll spend the evening with friends before filming tomorrow at Dachau and sites in Munich.  Tomorrow night it’s on to Salzburg for supper with a friend and then Schladming, where I’ll be teaching I Corinthians next week.

The week here has been good with many students from Canada, a few from America, and the rest from places in Europe, Africa, and one student from Egypt.  I wish you could be with me for all these conversations, which range from the persecution of Christians in Egypt by Muslims, to the struggles of pastoring in rural Kenya, where drought and water problems have stretched the capacities of all the people, to the differences in health care systems and taxation between Germany and America.  I spoke with a German student who shared her grandfather’s recollections of fighting in WWII, and a story of how God spared his life during a bombing, reminding me that their were people of faith on both sides.  Last night I had supper with a friend and the whole time I was wishing I’d brought the video recorder with me.  We spoke of Hitler’s addiction to Theosophy, why Germany was vulnerable, and the profound effect Bonhoeffer had on Germany after his death.  We also spoke of the American addiction to success and the dangers of that, as he sees it encroaching on the church in Germany.

This travel, and these kinds of discussions are priceless to me for many reasons.  First, they remind of the gospel’s malleability.  It looks different in Germany, than Kenya, than Amsterdam, than Egypt, than France, than America, and that’s OK.  Second, I’m reminded of the danger we all face, of imposing our style of Christianity, with all our strengths and weaknesses, on other cultures.  It’s important to share the central themes: devotion to Christ, the nature of his work, our calling to allow His life to be born in us and expressed through us – and then let these themes take shape in various cultures.

I worry, though, that our American church is becoming fragmented along some very unhealthy lines, agreeing with some commentors on previous posts that some core doctrines are at risk of compromise by the emergent church.  At the same time, I’m concerned that the more conservative branches of our faith true are holding on the centrality of Christ and adding a bit of Americana to that, as if being pro-free market, and pro-war is somehow inherently Christian.  This is, in my opinion, not only nonsense…. it’s dangerous.

Tomorrow I’ll shoot some footage from Dachau, and in Munich, where a resistance movement to Hitler challenged Germany’s apathy.  I think there are lessons to be learned there… or at least some musings.  I won’t post, probably, until Sunday, because I’ll be travelling.

Cheers… In Christ

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Glenda

    You’re really on a Bonhoeffer kick, RD. Glad that your’re exploring your passions!

  • Lamont

    Like the American Indian? In order to X-tianize them, they westernized them. ya gota wear the hat & tie, put on some cloths, throw out the Moccasins and get a pair of shoes & etc… I think your spot on!
    also,
    I think it was (don’t quote me on it) Massachusetts bay , when the Indians revolted, slaughtering many, yet, they left the puritans alone, because the Puritans welcomed them into there lives, helped them, educated them & etc….
    Harvard has paintings of Indian theologians hanging on the walls.
    Some of us got it right too eh?

    Dachau will be….. humbling I’m sure! (I hope that word fits?)
    I’ll be sure to pray for you!
    God speed!

  • http://afrenchpressfaith.blogspot.com/ Will Hale

    Richard and readers,

    I fully agree and understand what you mean in saying devotion to Christ will lead the gospel to look different in Kenya than Egypt, that it is a malleable gospel. It makes sense to me, but I am at a loss when trying to explain it to those of quite conservative strains of Protestant Christianity, who cringe with suspicion at the words ‘malleable Gospel’. They automatically assume I mean relativism and “wishy-washy”, feel good, Whatever-you-want-to-believe-is-good… teaching. That is obviously far from what I (or you, Richard) mean.

    What other way of describing it will get around the battle of words and loaded phrases?

    • Kevin

      Perhaps one could highlight the fact that Christ never presented one absolute gospel message, but conveyed the essence of the gospel through stories and anecdotes that each illuminated a distinct aspect or character of the gospel. The story was also so expansive that it couldn’t be adequately conveyed in one book, but stretched to four books that each display a different and unique character. In particular, I appreciate the closing of John’s Gospel, where the author says that if every story of Christ were to be written down, “the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” To me, the gospel must be retold again and again, incorporating new imagery in order to convey its truth. We can’t assume that stories that moved the hearts of people two-thousand years ago will have the same affect today, and even the Gospels themselves are written in a narrative format that conveyed a particular meaning and significance which is all but lost on us. If certain words or phrases set people off, then perhaps we need to find new words to convey this to them, as well.

  • Linda

    Kevin, maybe the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself can help you understand the gospel of Christ:

    “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:45-47

    So you see the gospel is clear, it is all about the God-man, Jesus, who died and was resurrected for sinners, He died as a substitute for sinners. Christians are to proclaim this gospel and call all people to repentance and faith in Christ..

    The gospel is revelant to every person, because without Christ a person will be lost and end up in Hell forever, you cannot get more revelant than that.


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