Metaxas or Weikart – Who’s right about Bonhoeffer? (part 2 of 3)
|September 15, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
A second Bonhoeffer quote, an indirect one this time, comes from Metaxas’ biography. It is from Bonhoeffer’s The Prayerbook of the Bible. “In the book, Bonhoeffer linked the idea of Barthian grace with prayer by saying that we cannot reach God with our own prayers, but by praying ‘his’ prayers – the Psalms of the Old Testament, which Jesus prayed – we effectively piggyback on them all the way to heaven” . This also parallels Kierkegaard, who wrote (again in Fear and Trembling) “I do not burden God with my petty cares,” and “. . . in the temporal world God and I cannot talk together, we have no common language” .
Some quotes from Letters and Papers from Prison express Bonhoeffer’s willingness to serve in Hitler’s army if released.
“My wedding plans: if I am free and still have at least a couple of months before I’m called up, I want to get married. If I have only two or three weeks free before the call-up, then I want to wait until the end of the war.”
To his friend Eberhard Bethge, then serving in the German army in Italy, he wrote “It would certainly be good for me if I could be a soldier somewhere near you.”
In another letter to Bethge he said “My own view is that I shall be released, or called up into the army, in January or February. If you can do anything – and want to – where you are about my joining you, don’t let yourself be dissuaded by the suggestions of others.”
Those comments were made in 1943. In another letter to Bethge in 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote (after asking about Bethge’s “direct contact with war”) “I find it hard to understand why we can’t go through these fundamental experiences together, for later – sub conditione Jacobea – we shall have to ponder them together and make them fruitful for our calling” .
If Bonhoeffer had been released from prison and had followed through with his intention to serve in Hitler’s army, it is not hard to imagine how this would have affected his postwar reputation.
Elsewhere in Letters and Papers from Prison Bonhoeffer refers to “the fact that ‘Jesus is there only for others’. His ‘being there for others’ is the experience of transcendence. It is only this ‘being there for others’, maintained till death, that is the ground of his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence” .
Might “Being there for others” as the ground of Christ’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence be connected with what Bonhoeffer wrote in Christ the Center? “All that we know today only through the encounter with the humiliated one. It is with the humiliated one that the Church goes its own way of humiliation . . . The Church gazes always only at the humiliated Christ, whether it itself is exalted or made low” .
Another quote from Metaxas’ biography, this one from a lecture Bonhoeffer gave while serving as an assistant pastor in Spain in 1928: “ ‘Factually speaking,’ he said, ‘Christ has given scarcely any ethical prescriptions that were not to be found already with the contemporary Jewish rabbis or in pagan literature.’ ” Metaxas adds “He must have shocked some of his listeners, but his logic was undeniably compelling” .
This concept is paralleled by some remarks in Christ the Center. Bonhoeffer emphasizes the fact that Jesus walked among us incognito, as it were, with his deity disguised. But the miracles create a problem here. “How then are we to understand the fact that Jesus does in fact do miracles? Are they not a breaking of the incognito?” The puzzle of a Jesus whose deity is disguised, yet who also works miracles, is resolved in this manner: “The miracles do not break the incognito. The world of the ancient religions was full of miracle workers and saviours. In that, Jesus does not stand alone.”
Bonhoeffer adds that “the believing community recognizes in the miracles of Jesus, the approach of the kingdom. It does not see in them only magic and false claims. But the incognito is not lifted for the unbeliever by these miracles” . That is, believers could recognize that Christ’s miracles were of God, but lots of other people were also doing miracles as well so unbelievers could see Christ’s miracles as what others were also doing, and thus Jesus’ incognito was preserved.
About the inerrancy of scripture, we read in Christ the Center:
“Occasionally we have to deal with a problematic situation; perhaps we have to preach about a text, which we know from scholarly criticism was never spoken by Jesus. In the exegesis of Scripture we find ourselves on thin ice. One can never stand firm at one point, but must move about over the whole of the Bible. As we move from one place to another we are like a man crossing a river covered in ice floes, who does not remain standing on one particular piece of ice, but jumps from one to another (Thurneysen).
“There may be some difficulties about preaching from a text whose authenticity has been destroyed by historical research. Verbal inspiration is a poor substitute for the resurrection! It amounts to a denial of the unique presence of the risen one.”
The last part means that since Jesus is risen from the dead, we don’t need a verbally inspired scripture. Attempts to fix Christ in specific historical facts (including that of the resurrection) deny his unique presence which is independent of historical necessity. Bonhoeffer continues: “The Bible remains a book like other books . . . But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us . . . the Jesus who cannot be grasped by history is the one to whom resurrection faith is directed” .
 Erich Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville 2010), p. 368.
 Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Alastair Hannay (London 2005), pp. 36-7.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York 1997), pp. 132, 136, 174, 198.
 Ibid., p. 381.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (New York 1978), p. 113.
 Metaxas, p. 83 (both quotes).
 Christ the Center, p. 111 (all quotes).
 Ibid., pp. 73-74 (all quotes).