’The Bible remains a book like other books. One must be ready to accept the concealment within history and therefore let historical criticism run its course. But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us. We must get into the troubled waters of historical criticism. Its importance is not absolute, but neither is it unimportant. Certainly it will not lead to a weakening, but rather to a strengthening of faith because the concealment within the historical belongs to the humiliation of Jesus Christ.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Christ the Center’, p. 73-74)
It is interesting how such a astute theological mind had such a non-fundamentalist view of Scripture. So far as I can tell, this viewpoint did not prevent Bonhoeffer from being a thoroughly Christ-centered thinker, which I also find interesting. Perhaps a traditional view of Scripture (inerrancy being among the big pillars of such a view) is not as essential to Christianity as many have assumed.
‘[Jesus] is the unrighteous among those who can no longer be so because He was and is for them. He is the burdened amongst those who have been freed from their burden by Him. He is the condemned amongst those who are pardoned because the sentence which destroys them is directed against Him. He who is in the one person the electing God and the one elect man is as the rejecting God, the God who judges sin in the flesh, in His own person the one rejected man, the Lamb which bears the sin of the world that the world should no longer have to bear it or be able to bear it, that it should be radically and totally take away from it.
This is undoubtedly the mystery of divine mercy. God acted in this way because He grieved over His people, because He did not will to abandon the world to its unreconciled state and therefore on the way which leads to destruction, because He wiled to show it an unmerited faithfulness as the Creator, because in His own inconceivable way He loved it. But in this respect it is as well to be clear that the mystery of His mercy is also the mystery of His righteousness. He did not take the unreconciled state of the world lightly, but in all seriousness. He did not will to overcome and remove it from without, but from within. It was His concern to create order, to convert the world to Himself, and therefore genuinely to reconcile it. He did not, therefore, commit an arbitrary act of kindness – which would have been no help to the world. He did what we might call a neat and tidy job. He accepted the world in the state in which He found it, in its alienation from Himself, in the state of sinful men. To bring about this conversion He really took the place of man. And He did not take the place of this man as God but as man: “to fulfill all righteousness,” to do right at that very place where man had done wrong, and in that way to make peace with man, to the triumph of His faithfulness, to His own magnifying in creation and by the creature. The Word became flesh that there might be judgement of sin in the flesh and the resurrection of the flesh.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics’, IV.1 p. 237)
This is my personal favorite Christmas song – the lyrics really are quite profound. Hopefully they provoke some fruitful reflection. Enjoy.
Bonhoeffers theological method is a radical (though not totally unique) one: Christ is the center of all reality and history for him. Bonhoeffer starts from Christ – he does not deduce Christ from history or nature. This is a reversal of what Bonhoeffer considered to be the failing of liberal theology – liberal theology allowed God and Christ to be assigned their place in the world.
This ties into something I’ve been thinking about – I think one of the failings of Christianity in modern times is that it has been relegated to something that has it’s proper place, rather than something in which we find our identity and being.
It seems to me that the total, absolute, ontologically transforming nature of being in Christ has been forgotten – and I’m as much to blame as anyone. These are broad strokes to be sure, but I do feel that they are accurate. Christianity is a dangerous, powerful, disruptive, traumatizing thing. We should not try to tame or domesticate it. We should not find a place for Christ – we should find our place in Him.
If reality is grounded in Christ, and being in Christ is by definition being in community, does that mean reality is intrinsically relational? This would make sense to me. If this is true, then, does that mean that real being is only possible in community? If both language and actual being demand community, them perhaps true human existence can only be had in community.
If human existence is grounded in participation in the reality, and reality is grounded in Christ, then what happens if one does not participate in Christ? Thinkers like C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright seem to head towards a less literal interpretation of hell – hell being a total loss of all existence and human identity. Effectively it means simply continuing on living without participating in reality – this is the road that I see Bonhoeffer ideas going down. The question is, however, does this fit with the Biblical data of the afterlife?
Given the Jewish understanding of the afterlife, which is the view that Christ and the Apostles would have held, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to say that it does indeed fit with the data. The Jewish view of the afterlife was that of a shadowy sort of non-existence – think of the Nazgul (Ringwraiths) from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I think this is a fairly solid view of the negatiove afterlife given Bonhoeffers view. It’s not a literal fire-and-brimstone kind of idea, but to my mind it’s a much worse kind of existence.