Yesterday I told you the story of my friendship with the late theologian Donald G. Bloesch and his widow Brenda. Donald is best known for his major works in theology, ethics and spirituality. He was a master at processing a ton of information and putting his conclusions into a context that kept the gospel central to everything.
Recently I went back to Donald Bloesch’s book, Freedom for Obedience (Harper & Row: New York 1987). Bloesch writes: “The Christian ethic is an ethic . . . that cannot be assimilated into the moral consensus of the wider community. . . . The way of the cross cannot be reconciled with the way of the world, just as the gospel cannot be conjoined with the laws that give stability to social order.” How I wish an entire generation of men like Falwell, Robertson and Dobson (to name only a few) would have understood that simple, but profound point. You cannot paste Christian ethics into the culture and expect the wider community to embrace “Christian ethics.” It seems so obvious but an entire generation of conservatives have gone astray at this precise point. This man, who personally knew just how much liberalism had destroyed his beloved mainline church, understood that conservatism was the new threat to the more evangelical churches. Bloesch understood that ideology, left or right, was no substitute for the gospel of Christ. I came to understand this point primarily because of Don Bloesch.
But Don Bloesch was more than a great theologian. He was a great Christian. Perhaps his least known written work contains evidence of this very point. He wrote private spiritual journals over the course of his life and three of these were eventually published as Theological Notebooks. I have each of them signed as gifts from Don. They continually feed my mind and soul. Here are some insights from Theological Notebook, Volume One (1960-1964). Don was a single man, and only in his early thirties, when he wrote these words:
“Discipline in most circles today is conceived of in terms of punishment rather than training.”
“Before we can go further we must go deeper. Church renewal cannot take place apart from theological renewal.”
“To be ‘catholic’ means to be a citizen of the kingdom that extends beyond this world. . . . The catholic identifies with the poor and despised of the world and is motivated not by human sympathy but by self-giving love.”
“The Christian way is not the ‘middle way’ between extremes but the ‘narrow way’ between precipices.”
“The Christian alternative to Pharisaism is not Publicanism but costly discipleship. The laxity of the Publican is just as repugnant to God as the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. In the parable it is not the Publican as such but the repentant Publican who is praised.”
“God does not will everything that happens, but He wills something in everything that happens.”
“Evil is to be located neither in the heart of God nor in the heart of the universe but in the heart of the self.”
“All people are our neighbors, but only Christians are our brothers and sisters.”
“Happiness is dependent neither on external circumstances not on outward appearance, but rather on the interior relationship with God.”
My friend is gone now. But such writing will feed my soul for the rest of my days. I am filled with joy that the man who wrote such things took the time to encourage and guide me to be a more faithful servant of Christ. Don was a wonderful conversationalist and a great theological resource. Glory be to God for the gift of this dear man to the whole church.