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Here’s the important question: How do we live lives like William Wilberforce or Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
Let me take this a little bit further. Wilberforce won. God gave him two great aims: the end of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. Both of those things largely were accomplished. He didn’t make a utopia, but he made the world a better place.
He fought and he fought for 20 years and the first movement happened for the abolition of the slave trade. He fought for another 20 years and some serious stuff was done to end the slave trade.
Manners were being reformed. He started groups like the SPCA to start respecting and taking care of animals. It was this unbelievable life of influence and change that Wilberforce enacted – both by his dedication, his integrity, as well as his creativity and
his ability to work with others to create a network of change. Wilberforce won. God gave him aims and he accomplished them. He found his culture on the edge of the moral abyss. And he worked and he worked. And rather than the culture toppling over the moral abyss, it spiraled back upwards.
And became its own age of reform.
But Bonhoeffer worked and worked and worked. And he failed.
Here’s what I mean by that…
He tried to stop Hitler. He did not succeed. When Hitler announced the Fuhrer Principle, Bonhoeffer stood up and said, “Bad idea.” When Hitler said, “I’m going to be the Fuhrer of the church, too!”, Bonhoeffer said, “Really bad idea because the only head of the Church is Christ.”
And Bonhoeffer started to work on all kinds of levels. Bonhoeffer then joined a plot to assassinate Hitler. They tried three times – it was the Valkyrie plot. He was already in jail by the time the third one out – he was put in jail for this kind of low-level sort of crime of smuggling Jews out of the country. But, when the Valkyrie plot went off and Hitler realized people actually were trying to kill him, he went nuts trying to dig out the conspiracy. And Bonhoeffer’s name kept popping up, and suddenly he became Target A on Hitler’s list.
And before Hitler was essentially taken out of power by the Allies, the only thing that stopped Hitler was essentially his own suicide attempt.
Nothing that Bonhoeffer did succeeded.
So Wilberforce accomplished his goals. He saw his culture on the edge of the moral abyss and watched it spiral back up.
Bonhoeffer saw his culture on the edge of the moral abyss and it just toppled over and collapsed.
Which man was a failure?
In previous sessions, I talked to you about the indicators that Western civilization is in really bad shape. There are a lot of them, but the two big ones are: debt and demographics.
Is our culture going to topple over the cliff or spiral back up? We’re definitely on the edge of the moral abyss.
You are encountering your culture in a way very similar to how they encountered theirs, where there are significant moral problems that cannot sustain the life of the civilization. Is your culture going to spiral up your culture gonna spiral up? Or is it going to collapse? I don’t know. But, either way, we still need to be the same sort of people.
The question is: How do we become those people and how are we encountering our culture like Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer?
- The Summit Lecture Series 8: Is Your Worldview Really Biblical, Part 2
- The Summit Lecture Series: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce
- The Big Picture Podcast 45: Pacifist vs. Peacemaker
- BreakPoint: A Biblical Case against Racism – More Work to Do
- Summit Lecture Series: Can We Be Moral Without God? with Frank Beckwith, part 6