May 21, 2010
Martin Doblmeier is president and founder of Journey Films based in Alexandria, Virginia who in 2006 produced a documentary for PBS on Bonhoeffer. Along the way he interviewed Inge Karding, a former student of Bonheoffer in Berlin. She remembers Bonhoeffer saying that “when you read the Bible, you must think that here and now God is speaking with me…he taught us that we had to read the Bible as it was directed at us, as the word of God directly to us. Not something general, not something generally applicable, but rather a personal relationship to us.” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer p.128f.) In 1936, in a letter to his brother-in-law Bonhoeffer wrote “I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive the answer…in the Bible, God speaks to us…” (p.136)
Bonhoeffer’s Barthian interest in the Bible was an interest in the Word revealed in and through the Bible. I agree with him about the Bible but would modify the emphasis slightly to make sure that we remember that the point is the revealed Word or what Bonhoeffer elsewhere makes clear is relationship with God in Christ. In his thesis of 1929, Act and Being Bonhoeffer named something that was to be one thematic strand of his theology: “God is free not from human beings but for them. Christ is the word of God’s freedom.” While the story of faith contained in the Bible is the preeminent revelation of God’s love, the Word is also present in the sacraments, in creation, made incarnate not only in Jesus but in our own discovery of grace as we move towards right relationship.
It is not so much that “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” but more “I know that Jesus loves me as I meet the living Word in the whole story of canonical scripture.” Those who would use the Bible as a talisman or attempt to stem the tide of cultural shifts with all of their scientific, philosophical and artistic manifestations by insisting on some manifestations of culture in the stories of scripture are simply wrong. Bonhoeffer and Barth before him would be appalled at such distortions of the Word.