Metaxas or Weikart – Who’s right about Bonhoeffer? (part 3 of 3)
|September 29, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
About the virgin birth of Christ, Bonhoeffer wrote “The question ‘How?’, for example, underlies the hypothesis of the virgin birth. Both historically and dogmatically it can be questioned. The biblical witness is ambiguous” .
On Christ’s full humanity, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Christ has taken upon him all that flesh is heir to. But to what extent does he differ from us? First, not at all. He is man as we are, he is tempted in all points like as we are, yet much more dangerously than we are. Also in his flesh was the law which is contrary to God’s will. He was not the perfect good. At all times he stood in conflict. He did things which, at least from outside, looked like sin. He became angry, he was harsh to his mother, he escaped from his enemies, he broke the Law of his people, he stirred up revolt against the rulers and religious men of his country. He must have appeared a sinner in the eyes of men. Beyond recognition, he stepped into man’s sinful way of existence . . . Simply stating the sinlessness of Jesus fails if it is based upon the observable facts of Jesus. His acts take place in the homoioma sarkos. They are not sinless, but ambiguous. One can and should see both good and failure in them” .
Concerning Christ’s resurrection, Bonhoeffer writes: “It looks as though our faith in the resurrection were bound up with the news of the empty tomb. Is our faith then ultimately only faith in the empty tomb? . . . Empty or not empty, it remains a stumbling block. We cannot be sure of its historicity. The Bible itself shows this stumbling block, when it makes it clear how hard it was to prove that the disciples had not stolen the body. Even here we cannot escape the realm of ambiguity” .
As an assistant pastor in Barcelona in 1928, Bonhoeffer said “I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth – genuinely loved each other – will remain together with God, for to love is part of God” .
In a letter to Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer wrote “Once again I’m having weeks when I don’t read the Bible much; I never know quite what to do about it. I have no feeling of obligation about it, and I know, too, that after some time I shall plunge into it again voraciously” .
In Creation and Fall, Bonhoeffer’s commentary on Genesis, Bonhoeffer writes (after Genesis 1:6-10), “Here we have before us the ancient world picture in all its scientific naïveté . . . undoubtedly in this passage the biblical author stands exposed with all the limitations caused by the age in which he lived. The heavens and the seas were not formed in the way he says: we would not escape a very bad conscience if we committed ourselves to any such statement. The idea of verbal inspiration will not do” .
Quoting Genesis 2:7 (“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground…”), Bonhoeffer says, “The language is extremely childlike,and shocking for those who want to ‘understand,’ to know anything. How can we speak of God in the way that we speak of a man shaping his vessel out of earth and clay? The anthropomorphisms become more intolerable . . . This can surely not produce any knowledge about the origin of man!” .
On Genesis 3:24 (“So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life”) Bonhoeffer comments, “The German fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty differs from the story told here by the fact that because of the cutting, flaming sword of the cherubim, no living being makes his way across” .
These and many other comments by Bonhoeffer reflect the neo-orthodox belief that the Bible is spiritually true, a revelation from God who does speak to us, but it is not historically true. The Bible is a human book, with human errors, though it does contain words from God. It has been observed that neo-orthodoxy is in fact merely a form of theological liberalism. According to Metaxas, Bonhoeffer “had once told a student that every sermon must contain ‘a shot of heresy.’ ” Metaxas plays down this quote, but Bonhoeffer may very well have meant more than merely making an overstatement for effect .
It is significant that Bonhoeffer spoke at the funeral of the liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack and praised him highly when, according to Metaxas, Harnack believed that the biblical miracles never occurred and the Gospel of John was not canonical. Referring to Harnack’s funeral, Metaxas says Bonhoeffer “disagreed with Harnack’s liberal theological conclusions but agreed profoundly with the underlying assumptions that guided Harnack . . . Anyone on the side of truth, wherever it led, was a compatriot to be lauded” .
Metaxas also states that “Bonhoeffer had obviously turned in a different theological direction from Harnack, but he knew that he owed much of what he had learned to Harnack.” As Bonhoeffer wrote in Letters and Papers from Prison, “I feel obliged to tackle these questions as one who, although a ‘modern’ theologian, is still aware of the debt that he owes to liberal theology” .
It seems evident to me that Weikart is correct in asserting that Metaxas has given us a counterfeit Bonhoeffer, and that many American evangelicals who admire Bonhoeffer are not equipped to evaluate his writings adequately.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (New York 1978), p. 105.
 Ibid., pp. 108-09.
 Ibid., p. 112.
 Erich Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville 2010), p. 86.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York 1997), p. 234.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall (New York 1997), p. 30.
 Ibid., p. 50.
 Ibid., p. 104.
 Metaxas, p. 364.
 Metaxas, pp. 59, 95.
 Ibid., p. 90.
 Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 378.