Despite the changes on culture and generations through the ages, the call of God -- and the call of Jesus Christ for his believers to be disciples -- remains constant in any culture, Dr. Martin Marty told Oklahoma Baptist University students during the centennial Hobbs Lecture Wednesday, April 14, in Raley Chapel.
Marty's lecture concluded the year-long chapel theme of "Costly Illumination: Counting Everything Loss in Light of the Surpassing Worth of Knowing Christ." The theme is based on Bonhoeffer's book, "The Cost of Discipleship." Marty focused on the text, "The Hiddenness of the Devout Life."
Although his book was written nearly 80 years ago, Marty said Bonhoeffer's life and work is a good foundation for meditating on the call to discipleship. Marty explained Bonhoeffer is seen as an exemplar -- someone who can provide a clear explanation in the darkness of uncertainty. Just as a clearing in a forest provides a definition or boundary of the woods, allows light and offers a place for cultivation, so Bonhoeffer, as an exemplar, provides a definition of discipleship, the illumination of understanding and suggestions for cultivating a disciplined life.
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Marty reminded students that just as they are not suffering -- they attend a university and have their basic needs met -- so Bonhoeffer was raised in a middle class family with an opportunity to attend university. He loved life -- he loved music, and he loved the arts. His life, at least initially, was not so unlike the middle-class student's life today.
"Usually when the call for discipleship comes, we're tempted right away -- I was, Bonhoeffer did -- to talk about all the down sides, all things from which you have to be called to discipleship," Marty said. "But I think you should also look at discipleship for the richness of opportunity. For all the limits of our culture and a time of economic uncertainty and terrorism and all the rest, we often overlook that we're in the midst of great opportunity. Challenges are gifts."
Marty said there is no whining allowed among Jesus' audience - including those who would be his disciples -- despite whatever culture throws at his followers.
"Let's never underestimate the upsides of the cultural opportunities (to follow Christ)", Marty said.
Marty also noted the complexities of Christian discipleship in today's culture, including the "secular" cultural context, globalization and pluralism, unrest and wars, and the demands and lures of popular culture. He said Christians' reactions to such complexities include a variety of responses ranging from obliviousness and indifference to affirmation and religious accommodation, or "cheap grace."
In Bonhoeffer's view, Marty said, discipleship -- believing and obedience -- demands a very God-centered, Christ-centered life. Even at the end of his own life, Marty said, Bonhoeffer's last words were: "This is the end, but, for me, the beginning." All his life was directed in a Christ-centered manner.
"What does obedience look like in our culture?" Marty asked rhetorically. "You do what the situation demands."
Some Christians, he said, look for a hard life, in the assumption it is more righteous to be suffering. Others, he said, seek attention. Some exaggerate the signs of opposition in today's culture, while others ask the government to make it easy. Some identify with a group of fellow suffering disciples; others envy Christians who have a harder time; and still others are grateful to not be in such situations. Marty reiterated the answer, as Bonhoeffer found, is to do what the situation demands.
"Many things in your life -- if you are a tuition-paying student at a good university and have a good place to live and good company and fellows and exemplars around you -- that's what he had," Marty said. "And when the call to discipleship came, he followed. May it be so among you."
Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus for the University of Chicago, where he served as professor of religious history for 35 years. The author of more than 50 books and 5,000 articles, he is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. He also is a speaker, columnist, pastor and teacher. Following his retirement, the university established the Martin Marty Center to promote "public religion" endeavors.
Ordained in 1952, he has served as a Lutheran pastor. He served parishes in the west and northwest suburbs of Chicago for a decade before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1963.
The Herschel H. and Frances J. Hobbs Lectureship in Baptist Faith and Heritage was OBU's first endowed lectureship beginning in fall 1980. The Hobbs Lectureship program annually sponsors a lecture at OBU and highlights speakers that share phases of Baptist faith and heritage with the OBU community. Friends of the late Dr. Hobbs, who was pastor of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, and of the late Mrs. Hobbs, created the endowed fund in honor of the couple's years of outstanding Christian service.