Thomas Schirrmacher
Relevant ProMundis Blogposts

WEA leaders congratulate Olav Tveit on his reelection as General Secretary

24. Oktober 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

From left: Wilf Gasser, Olav Tveit, Thomas Schirrmacher

From left: Wilf Gasser, Olav Tveit, Thomas Schirrmacher

Wilf Gasser, associate secretary general of World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and Thomas Schirrmacher, chair of the Theological Commission of WEA, congratulated Olav Tveit on his reelection for a second term as general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) by the Central Committee of WCC, bringing greetings from the Secretary General of WEA, Geoff Tunnicliffe. Both were visiting the committee’s session in Geneva. The Central Committee is the highest decision body of the WCC.

In a short speech to ecumenical partners, Schirrmacher thanked Olav Tveit for half a decade of fruitful cooperation. Under Tveit, cooperation between WCC and WEA in human right matters and else had been increased. WCC often would search for WEA’s opinion, and there would be a lot of room for discussion of theological and other differences between WCC and WEA behind doors and not through the media. The cooperation of WCC and WEA through the Global Christian Forum (GCF) and the Christian World Communions (CWC) shows to be fruitful, especially the upcoming process on discrimination and persecution of Christians. Schirrmacher expressed his hope, that the relationship would even grow in the second term of the general secretary.

Schirrmacher makes a positive assessment of the Pope’s visit to Albania

20. Oktober 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

The Ambassador for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance and Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Schirrmacher, had a very positive assessment of the Pope’s visit to Albania. At the invitation of the President of Albania, Bujar Hishani, he took part in the reception for the Pope, and during his visit he held discussions with the most important Christian and Muslim leaders.

Schirrmacher especially endorsed the fact that at the reception the Pope so explicitly renounced any use of force in the name of God, and that by his visit the Pope emphasized that Christians are thankful to Muslims when Muslims guarantee the peace and freedom of Christians wherever Muslims form the majority in a land.

Thomas Schirrmacher presents the President of Albania a selection of books on freedom of religion (© Presidential Palace of Albania)

Thomas Schirrmacher presents the President of Albania a selection of books on freedom of religion (© Presidential Palace of Albania)

The president of Albania had already invited Schirrmacher a few days in advance for preparatory discussions for the Pope’s visit. At that time Schirrmacher emphasized that Albania has established an outstanding paradigm of a Muslim-majority land that insures full religious freedom for Christians. Both agreed that worldwide developments mean that European politicians and lands that support democracy and human rights should get much more intensively involved in the support of democracy and human rights. That this leads to real benefits is shown by the Albania’s new status as a candidate for EU membership. The president also reached an agreement with the International Institute for Religious Freedom to have the implementation of religious freedom in Albania carefully researched. Schirrmacher was accompanied in the meetings by the General Secretary of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance, Akil Pano.

Among others Schirrmacher met with the Grand Mufti of Albania, Skënder Bruçaj, with the world leader of the Muslim Sufi Bektashi Order, Haxhi Baba Edmond Brahimaj, with the seven Catholic bishops in the land, with the board of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance, and with Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church, the largest Christian confession in Albania. 

By means of his wide-ranging program of visits Schirrmacher wants to make very clear that Evangelicals are not standing on the sideline when religions work together to promote peace and freedom in a land and want to support the government in this direction. Specifically he said, “We cannot only criticize others when things go poorly but we have to support and praise those who really get it right.”

Thomas Schirrmacher in conversation with Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania

Thomas Schirrmacher in conversation with Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania

Schirrmacher has had a long term friendship with the Archbishop of Albania. And the relation of the Orthodox Church to the Albanian Evangelical Alliance is regarded as quite good. The members of the churches in the evangelical alliance are almost entirely former Muslims who became Christians since the renewed independence of the country in 1990. The Archbishop spent many years as chairman of the Commission on World Missions and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches and is regarded as an important theorist of Christian missions. For him freedom of religion in Albania includes the freedom to change religions, even from Islam to Christianity, and he has been publicly engaged to this end since 1990.

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Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters: A Review

10. Oktober 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

Book_ForsakenThomas H. McCall. Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press, 2012. 171 pp., $20. ISBN 978-0-8308-3958-2.

[A shorter version of this review is upcoming in the ‘Evangelical Review of Theology’]

This book poses the following questions with respect to the cry of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, which Jesus made upon the cross: Did God the Father kill his Son? What happened to the Trinity on the Cross? Was the Trinity broken or ruptured at that moment?

Thomas H. McCall, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, seeks to justify the traditional view that reigned until the beginning of the 20th century. That view said that the Trinity was never interrupted and that the separation from God only had to do with the human nature of Christ. Furthermore, he seeks to defend this view over against the predominant understanding held at the present time.

Above all, he investigates Jürgen Moltmann’s view which has strongly influenced the theology of all denominations. According to Moltmann’s view, everything can only be understood in light of his idea of contradiction, such that God is only revealed as God when God’s forsakenness reveals what happened on the cross (pp. 15-18). God becomes the enemy of God, and God’s fatherhood and Jesus’ state of being a son temporarily die. The Trinitarian relationship has to be broken for God to truly be God. This is simultaneously the heart of so-called ‘Social Trinitarianism.’

McCall demonstrates that this view is quite naturally found in most of the commentaries on Mark 15:34, although the text and the context itself do not actually give any explanation for the cry of Jesus. Most commentaries give no exegetical justification for this view. McCall shows that theologians throughout all eras have traditionally held to another understanding, from the early church up to the Reformers and their students (pp. 22-29).

Matthew 27:45 and Mark 15:34 say nothing about the meaning of the cry. However, Mark and Matthew do report that thereafter there were additional cries made by Jesus. Other gospels provide such additional words or cries from Jesus on the cross, according to McCall (pp.37-39). John 19:30 delivers the concluding words: “It is finished.” Luke 23:42-43 is also important: “. . .  today you will be with me in paradise,” since that, according to McCall, does not at all sound like a separation from the Father. According to Luke 23:46, however, Jesus’ last words were: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  That speaks firmly against the idea that the Father and the Son were essentially separated and that the fatherhood and sonship were set aside.

According to McCall, this is completely consonant with Psalm 22, from which Jesus quotes verse 22 (pp. 39-42). Psalm 22:3-5 has to do with fathers who cry for deliverance as Jesus does. This is followed by Psalm 22:6-8, in which testimony to trust in God’s salvation is given at the same time, i.e., trust that the Lord will provide rescue. The cry of forsakenness in Psalm 22:2: leads directly to Psalm 22.24: “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

McCall thus believes that Jesus was never separated from the Father in terms of his divinity. However, with respect to his humanity he experienced alienation from God coming from sin, and whereby one can not literally interpret his cry, as Moltmann does, but rather understand it as part of what was quoted from Psalm 22.

In the second chapter, McCall turns to the doctrine of ‘impassability.’ This is traditionally rendered as the ‘Leidensunfähigkeit Gottes’ in German (literal translation: God’s inability to suffer), which is quite inappropriate. The teaching of the ancient church is morally objectionable for Moltmann and his successors. In his defense of the classical view (pp. 67-73), McCall emphasizes with the words of Richard A. Muller that the exclusion of suffering never meant an exclusion of feelings in themselves (“the exclusion of ‘passions‘ from the divine being never implied the absence of affections,” p. 68) What is not involved is the stoic ’apatheia.’ To be sure, it is a question of God’s care, love, goodness, compassion, etc. Perfect loves demands, however, that God not be subject to emotional swings such as we experience as people and according to which he would love us more at certain times and less at other times. Rather, God’s emotions remain the same and are reliable.

Additionally, McCall differentiates, along the lines of St. Thomas Aquinas, that Jesus suffered with respect to his human nature and not with respect to his divine nature.

What should one think of the book? McCall’s defense of the classical view is welcomed, since it is arguably still held by the silent majority and yet seldom soundly justified. This classical view has been lost more ecclesio-politically than exegetically and doctrinally. What McCall says about Jesus’ cry from the cross is very conclusive and well documented. McCall also repeatedly goes into the complementarity of God’s love and anger and sees the two jointly. Love, however, is superordinate.

One could have wished for a better exegetical foundation for his view of ‘impassability,’ such as for instance provided by Norman Geisler in his Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, Chapter 5, pp. 112-136) with the utmost simplicity. Indeed, McCall quotes the important defenses of the classical position, for instance Paul L. Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God, in a presentation of the view held by the Church Fathers, Richard E. Creel’s Divine Impassibility from a philosophical viewpoint, and Thomas G. Weinandy’s Does God suffer? from the theological viewpoint. The enormous spectrum of opinions can be seen there, whereby there is naturally still plenty of room available for contributions to be made.

Where McCall is very successful is in clearly setting forth the idea that the question he addresses from Mark 15:34 counts as one of the central and basic decisions to be made with respect to doctrine. Moreover, it is much too often deemed to have already been completely sorted out.

Global North-South cooperation for theological education

22. September 2014 von · 1 Comment 

Theological Commission of WEA in Bible engagement

Group_Picture_from_ConsultationFifty-six key influencers of global theological education, representing every continent, gathered 2-6 June in São Paulo, Brazil, for the Lausanne Consultation on Theological Education: Toward Biblical Partnership in Global Theological Education. The group included seminary presidents, institutional principals, heads of accreditation bodies, and leaders in theological education supporting agencies. In addition to The Lausanne Movement, the consultation was sponsored by The World Reformed Fellowship, World Evangelical Alliance, Overseas Council, Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents, Langham Partnership, and International Council of Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE), WEAs global partner for theologcial education representing appr. 1000 theological schools, and was hosted by Mackenzie Presbyterian University.

Chaired by Sam Logan, President of the World Reformed Fellowship, a global partner of WEA, and hosted by Davi Gomes, chancellor of Mackenzie Presbyterian University, the consultation served as a follow-up to the first Lausanne Consultation on Global Theological Education in 2012 where 63 key decision makers and leaders of organizations that provide, support, or accredit theological education, from 31 countries, gathered on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA, USA. At that gathering, it was clear that the challenges and opportunities for theological education in the 21st century required the intentional building, and continued working, of a global community. To that end, this consultation in São Paulo was a strategic gathering which allowed for exploration and emphasis on practical steps forward which would enhance South-East-West-North partnerships.

Participants had their roots in looking toward Scripture and reflection on the biblical and missional foundation for theological education. Envisioning the unrealized opportunities and possibilities that biblical partnerships could achieve gave space for dreams. Finally, case studies and focus groups were utilized to examine challenges—critical topics such as models of institutional partnerships, partnership in the digital age, the role that accreditation plays in facilitating or hindering partnerships, the sharing of resources, and partnership between formal and informal theological education. Videos of the presentations will soon be available.

In his plenary, Thomas Schirrmacher presented the view of WEA and its Theological Commission. Appr. 50.000 people are baptised each day in evangelical churches worldwide, that do not come from a Christian backround and do not have any basic Bible knowledge, said Schirrmacher. This makes Bible engagement the most important task oft he worldwide evangelical movement. Any means to enlarge the numbers of Bible teachers, pastors and leaders has to be used in a broad global cooperation and also a growing ccoperation between resident schools, TEE, distance programmes and programmes within local churches. Any tension or fight between those approaches are to costly! Otherwise the evangelical movement will loose one of its distinctives, being a Bible movement. „And if we loose the Bible“, Schirrmacher stated, „it is only a matter of time to loose the other distinctive of our movement, the emphasize on a personal relationship to our saviour Jesus Christ, as heresies easily destorte his picture and make other persons or goals more important.“

The ten members of the steering committee of the consultation elected Dr Rosallee Velosso Ewell to become a second representative of the Theological Commission of WEA in the committee beside Thomas Schirrmacher.

There should only be suffering and vicarious Christians, not innocent Bystanders!

17. Juli 2014 von · Leave a Comment 

Devotion for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church 2014,

“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10:32-35)

The author of the Letter to the Hebrew seeks to embolden his readers in times of suffering so that they are reminded of how God helped them in earlier times of suffering (verse 32).

What is truly interesting in this text, however, is that the Letter to the Hebrews designates all readers as such, as those who have “endured in the great contest in the face of suffering”, independent of whether this occurred through suffering or through vicarious association with suffering! The author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts the sufferers (A) and those demonstrating compassion (B) on the same footing. In verses 33-34, the following is said about the cross: ABBA.

In verse 33, the readers are first of all addressed as those who in part have ‘themselves’ endured much suffering (A), but “at other times” also suffered because they in some cases “stood side by side with those who suffered” (B). There are, then, direct sufferers (A) and sufferers who are in that position because they suffer alongside others (B)!

In verse 34 the situation is reversed: To start with, it is mentioned that the readers have suffered with those in prison (B). Then it is mentioned that they themselves lost possessions (A).

That is precisely the objective of IDOP. Christians who suffer and Christians who stand side by side with those suffer seek to build a ‘community’ of suffering. Prayer occurs simultaneously in countries where there is Christian persecution and where there is no persecution of Christians. If we do this, then we “do not throw away our confidence,” and this confidence “will be richly rewarded” (verse 35).

A Christian never lives without Christian persecution! Either he is persecuted or he suffers with the fate of those who are persecuted. And whoever suffers, suffers at the same time with others who perhaps suffer even more!

The possibility that someone simply ignores the suffering of another individual or church and then enjoys the fact that things are going well for him, without this turning into thankful involvement for the sake of others, is something which does not even come to mind to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews! For Christians to suffer and for other Christians to not suffer side by side? Unthinkable! Christians who look away while others suffer? Inconceivable! And yet this is precisely what applies to the large majority of Christians!

The International Day of Pray (IDOP) is a good opportunity to end this situation here and now, to inform yourself about the global situation of the body of Christ, and at least through prayer to have ‘fellowship’ with those who suffer.

Thomas Schirrmacher is the director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Chair of the Theological Commission of World Evangelical Alliance, and President of the International Council of the International Society of Human Rights

Thomas Schirrmacher