A Message for the Churches From Kyle Strobel and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: God’s Power in the Lamb that was Slain

I just listened to a very convicting message by Brother Kyle Strobel. He is offering a compressed message from his co-authored book with Jamin Goggin titled  The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It to a conference being held by the Calvary Global Network (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa — my former church from years past). He is referring people to a genuinely Gospel conditioned notion of power and wisdom; what Martin Luther might call a theology of the cross. It is this reality that gripped my heart many years ago—which I fall short of more than I want to admit—and why I wrote my master’s thesis on a key passage in this area I Corinthians 1.17-25. It’s a conception of power that flips the wisdom of the world on its head; it is power in weakness. Unfortunately just as in the cosmopolitan church of Corinth, so too in the cosmopolitan church of evangelical North America worldly wisdom, worldly power has entered into the gates of the church and subverted the genuine power that God has supplied for his church through the broken veins of his Son, Jesus Christ. Please watch Kyle’s message here.

As a dovetail and corollary with the message that Kyle has brought the churches I just finished a book where in the last chapter of that book a contributing author offered the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It fits very well with Kyle’s message; with the Apostle Paul’s message; with Jesus’s message about power, and what that ought to look like in his church. Note:

God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, or science, has been surmounted and abolished; and the same thing has happened in philosophy and religion (Feuerbach!). For the sake of intellectual honesty, that working hypothesis should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated…. Anxious souls will ask what room is left for God now; and as they know of no answer to the question, they condemn the whole development that has brought them to such straits. I wrote … before about the various emergency exits that have been contrived; and we ought to add to them the salto mortale (death-leap) back into the Middle Ages is heteronomy in the form of clericalism; a return to that can be a counsel of despair, and it would be at the cost of intellectually honesty. It’s a dream that reminds one of the Song O wüsst’ ich doch den Wegzurück, den wieten Weg ins Kinderland [commonly translated “Oh, I wish I knew the way back, the way into childhood”]. There is no such way—at any rate not if it means deliberately abandoning our mental integrity; the only way is that of Matt. 18.3, i.e. through repentance, through ultimate honesty. And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [commonly translated “as if God did not exist”]. And this is just what we do recognize—before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which He is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. Here is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; God is the deux ex machine. The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help. To that extent we may that the development towards the world’s coming of age outline above, which has done away with a false conception of God, opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness.[1]

If we look at the evangelical churches in North America, and beyond (into other movements and traditions in the churches), we don’t see ‘God’s weakness’ characterizing the type of ‘power’ that the churches seek to operate from; we see, as Strobel emphasizes for us, the demonic power that comes from below. There are plenty of good intentions operative in the churches, but it’s no mistake that the adage says ‘the path to hell is paved by good intentions.’ We ought to recognize that we are at God’s mercy in Jesus Christ in every step that we take. We ought to recognize as thinkers and leaders in the church of Jesus Christ, as everyday Christians, that we can operate with all the piety and speak with all the Christianese available; but absent the death and life of Christ in our lives, as the sustenance that serves as our ‘adequacy’ we will be injecting into the leaven of the Gospel a de-leavening agent that mitigates and pollutes the genuine transformative power of the Gospel that God intends for his church; that God desires that the world see in the guarantee of his Kingdom resident in the heart of his new creation.

Let’s be convicted.


[1] Bonhoeffer, “Letters & Papers From Prison,” (New York: Simon&Schuster, 1997) cited by Jospeh Minich, “Classical Theism In A World Come Of Age,” in Bradford LittleJohn ed., God of our Fathers: Classical Theism for the Contemporary Church (Moscow, ID: The Davenant Institute, 2018), Loc 4542, 4551, 4558, 4563 kindle version.


The Scholar Juxtaposed with the Worshiper: A Heart on Fire for the Glory of God in Christ

There are Christian scholars, and then there are those who study and research because they really just want to know God in deeper ways. Scholarship might become a necessary by-product of the latter, as far as the apparent characteristic of their lives, but that’s not what drives them; what drives them, ultimately, is a love for Christ; a realization that without God in Christ in their lives that they would be vanquished and swallowed up by the cares and worries of daily life. The Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 3 writes this: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Christians who study, primarily because they realize that their sufficiency or adequacy is from Christ alone, I would suggest, are distinct from what we normally think of in terms of a “scholar,” even a Christian scholar. A Christian scholar, in a primary way, is characterized by a drive to achieve heights in whatever their chosen discipline might be. They will achieve this through getting good reviews from their peers, by offering theses to the scholarly world that are original to them and their names, and potentially be elevated to chairs or noted positions of influence in their professorial, editorial, or administrative roles. Jonathan Edwards, while achieving many of the marks of what counts toward being a recognized “scholar” and “academic,” ultimately was driven by the higher less self-possessed purpose of seeking the glory of God in everything that he did. His scholarship was a by-product of a greater focus wherein self-consumption was not the motivating factor. Oliver Crisp and Kyle Strobel write about Edwards in this vein,

Although he was a voracious and eclectic reader, drawing upon as wide a range of materials as he could in order to fashion his own works, it would be a mistake t think of Edwards as a scholar in the modern, secular sense of the word. No doubt he was a fine metaphysician and surprisingly well read for someone living so far from the centers of high society. But, contrary to the Miller thesis about the character of Edwards’s outputs, his work was all bent to a single purpose, namely, the glory of God. To this end, he read and studied the Bible more than any other work. At first glance, it is rather surprising that modern secondary scholarship on Edwards has not made more of this fact. After all, Edwards was a minister almost all of his professional life, spending hours a day in prayer, in Bible study, in the writing of minute notebooks on Scripture and typology, and in the construction of sermons and midweek lectures for his congregation. One of his major projected works, which remained unfinished at the time of his death, was a Harmony of the Old and New Testaments, for which he had been gathering notebook materials over a protracted period.[1]

There is a proportion in Edwards’ life between his Christian spirituality and his drive to know God which produced the massive ‘scholarly’ output he generated. His scholarship was the outcome of his love of God in Christ; as he sought Christ and His Kingdom first all these other things were added.

I think Edwards models what Christian scholarship actually should be. Not one where career is of the upmost, but to know God and make Him known; both personally and corporately. A life driven by doxology.

[1] Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle C. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 25.