Monday, February 06, 2006

Wallis and Bonhoeffer

I just read today's SoJo mail which features a piece by Jim Wallis on the importance of Bonhoeffer. This is promoting tonight's PBS showing (10 EST) of Martin Doblmeier's excellent documentary on Bonhoeffer (not to be missed).

There's a natural synergy between Wallis' Sojourners movement and Bonhoeffer's theology -- both are all about the relationship of faith to the world around us, but I'm afraid I've been getting a little weary of Wallis' rhetoric lately, and I think this piece helped me see why. When I first read Wallis' God's Politics it really struck a chord with me. Here was a solid presentation of a politics of peace and social justice that I could get behind. But as the months have passed, I see less and less difference between the weekly e-mails I get from Sojourner's and the weekly e-mails I get from the Democratic commitee -- both are coming across as bald-faced propaganda, and even though it's propaganda for the side I support, it strikes a sour note with me.

Now here's where Wallis' essay struck me. As he's describing Bonhoeffer's theology, he says this:
Believing in Jesus was not enough, said Bonhoeffer. We were called to obey his words, to live by what Jesus said, to show our allegiance to the reign of God, which had broken into the world in Christ.
Far be it from any Lutheran, Bonhoeffer included, to say that believing in Jesus is not enough. Granted, Wallis doesn't speak Lutheranese. Even so, in a strict parsing of his statement above, it seems to me that precisely what is missing is faith. I don't mean to imply that Wallis isn't a man of faith -- I'm certain he is -- but his evangelical roots are showing here and it makes the rhetoric a little rough going down.

This is what I mean -- in the statement above, I take "believing in Jesus" to be the evangelical/Baptist "accepting Jesus as my Savior" kind of profession of faith, and I take Wallis to be acknowledging that it is needed. Then, in supposed agreement with Bonhoeffer, he says that to this must be added acts of obedience. The problem I have with this, theologically, is that it amounts to cheap grace plus works of the law with no inidication of what it is that this latter was necessary for other than congruency.

The genius of Bonhoeffer is precisely in his presentation of obedience to Christ as the very susbtance of faith, not something done in addition to it. It is precisely as God is redeeming in Christ the world that we are called to take up the yoke of Christ. In this regard, Bonhoeffer cites Matthew 11:28-30 ("Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.") at the end of his introduction to Discipleship.

So, to be clear, the issue I have with Jim Wallis is not with his cause. I support his cause and I thank God for calling him to this work. This issue I have, increasingly, is with his presentation, which far too often draws on the clumsy tool of Law where it could invoke the power of the Gospel.


Luthsem said...

You make a good point. It is hard for mainstream evangelicals to come to a biblical understanding of grace. They always seem to end up embracing legalism or antinominan.
I totally love Jim Wallis's God's politics though. Poverty and Peace are
Biblical values not discussed by many evangelicals.

Andy said...

Yeah, GP is a great and much needed work. We hosted a discussion of it at my congregation last summer. I was surprised that there were some people who resisted many of the ideas -- political ideology doesn't yield lightly -- but at least it got the issues out in the open.