.. e Bonhoeffers sermon on Psalm 58 (July 11, 1937) grapples with the difficulty in understanding the biblical soundness of the desiring of vengeance. Should Christians be permitted to utilize this form of prayer? Is it biblical (Kuske 85)? The person praying this prayer must be sinless. David is permitted to pray such a prayer because Christ, the sinless one, was (as mentioned in the study of King David) in him. Because Christ is sinless, he has the right to condemn injustice. In this Psalm, Christ calls for the annihilation of evil and later enacts this in his death and resurrection.
David stands in the shadow of Christ, bearing witness to him (Harrelson 129). Bonhoeffer finds a way to present this Psalm in an acceptably “Christian” way. Is this not the Old Testament, the Torah of the Jewish people? How can Genesis, the stories of David, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others be read by the Jews if the Bible can only be read through the revelation of Christ? Is Bonhoeffer swindling the Torah from the Jewish people? This will be extrapolated more fully later on. Letters and Papers Toward the end of his life, most of Bonhoeffers theological formation was recorded in letters and papers to friends and family. Because of its fragmented nature, the meaning of many of his ideas from this time is ambiguous, yet it is important to realize the significance of his theology from this time period.
Two important concepts in Bonhoeffers letters and papers are the “unutterableness of the name of God” and the “world come of age”. The “unutterableness of the name of God” refers to the Israelites extreme reserve in the use of Gods name, YHWH. This was done out of a profound reverance and awe of a holy, omnipotent God. By refraining from the use of Gods name, the Israelites showed a submission or a rendering of power to God. By displacing the use of Gods name into Gods hands, they displace their control to Gods control.
Bonhoeffer saw this as integral to the Christian understanding of relating to Christ appropriately (Kuske 99). The”world come of age” refers to the Europe of Bonhoeffer. How is the Church supposed to function in the modern world? In his Old Testament study, Bonhoeffer saw in Genesis that God created Adam and Eve to relate freely in the Garden of Eden. They were able to do so because God was in the center of their reality. He was Christ represented as the Tree of Life (Harrelson 120). Bonhoeffer also notes in a letter to Eberhard Bethge, the significance of Gods blessing in the Old and New Testaments. This not only includes physical but material welfare.
In the Old Testament it seems that a blessing is given after suffering has been experienced, and in the New Testament, the cross of Christ yields a blessing (Bonhoeffer, Letters, 374). Following the example of Christ and the Old and New Testament communities, the church is called to the sufferings of Christ in this world. The church like the Tree of Life is not to be at the edges of the world but in the center, participating in the sufferings of Christ (Green 123). This is not the entire picture. As the church in faith suffers in the world, God blesses her with physical welfare and life. As the church must be in the center of the world (outward), so must Christ be the center of the church (inward) (Ballard 117).
Taking all of this into consideration, the church in the”godless world” envisioned by Bonhoeffer is not one that merely has a specified niche for God and faith. It rather, as a community, sees Christ as the ultimate meaning of the world. In addition, the church recognizes Christs incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection in and for the world and has faith in him. Further, there will come a time when the church will discover the Bible in a new, existential sort of way. The church is only to talk about God when the topic comes up in conversation with unbelievers.
In other times, the church is to challenge them to discover the truth of the human condition in personal experience with the world. This Christian life in a “godless world” involves both a private and communal faith and commitment, a commitment to Christ and the world (Ballard 122). This dual commitment is witnessed by both Old and New Testaments. Evaluation: Positive In the evaluation of Bonhoeffers interpretation of the Old Testament, more than just his methodology needs to be taken into consideration. Give n the historical and theological climate of his day, Bonhoeffers work was truly brilliant. Two major contributions resultant of his Old Testament study are the salvaging of the Old Testament for the church by promoting the unity of both Testaments and his emphasis of responsibility and action in the world.
The question of the Christian treatment of the Old Testament was of great importance to early twentieth century Germany. What should Christians do with the Old Testament? Is it relevant for the church, and if it is, how should it be studied and applied? These questions buzzed around theological circles stirring up much debate (Kuske 7). With the strong pull of German nationalism and anti-semitism lurking more quietly in the background, German theologians posed inquiries that were heated by nature, having great impact on the church and country at large (Bethge 126). This was the situation Bonhoeffer faced as a young theologian. The three predominant views of the Old Testament were the rejection of the Old Testament, the Old Testament as a primitive development to the New Testament, and the Old Testament as Scripture in unity with the New Testament.
When hearing the possibility of the rejection of the Old Testament, one almost automatically assumes such a suggestion was made in centuries past. It is nearly unimaginable that such a proposition was made merely 67 years ago (Bethge 335)! Nevertheless this movement was modern. Two figures stand in the forefront of this movement, Dr. Reinhard Krause and Adolf von Harnack. Though they both were striving for the same goal, their reasoning was very different. In the winter of 1933 at the Berlin Sports Palace, a historical event that shook the German Church took place. Pastors from all ends of Germany gathered to hear the address of a certain man.
These pastors converged as the leaders of the new Reich Church, and the man for whom they traveled to listen to was Dr. Reinhard Krause, Berlins Nazi Party leader. In this meeting, Krause challenged these ministers to the immediate application of the Aryan Clause and subsequent weeding out of non-adherents (Bethge 335). This new church was to see to the “liberation from the Old Testament with its money morality and from these stories of cattle dealers and pimps (Bethge 335)”. anti-Semitism proved to be a powerful force in the attempt to divorce the Old Testament from the Bible. A second resounding voice against the embracing of the Old Testament was that of Adolf von Harnack.
He stated that the Old Testament should not be counted as part of the Holy Scriptures because it is irrelevant to the Christian church. Because of this irrelevance, it should only be considered a helpful book to read. Never should it be held on the same level of infallibility as the New Testament (Kuske 9). While arguments for the rejection of the Old Testament were raging, many were advocating for the retention of the Old Testament because of its demonstration as a primitive forerunner of Christianity. Proponents of this view see the Old Testament as archaic, presenting mythological ideas of a religion that gets replaced by Christianity. The view of the Old Testament as a “pre-stage” for the New does not certify the rejection of the Old Testament, but rather it encourages the Christian to study and appreciate the development of the Church and Christianity through the ages (Kuske 11). Those on the more liberal end of this standpoint, cannot release the Old Testament from its canonical status because some of the Old Testament is good and necessary for Christian understanding.
Some parts cannot be kept and others discarded. Logically, or perhaps grudgingly, the Bible must be kept whole (Kuske 13). The third position accepts the Old Testament as having equal status as the New Testament. Both are holy and are complete only in their combined unity. Bonhoeffer embraces this position in the tradition of Karl Barth and Wilhelm Vischer. Bibliography Anderson, Francis, I.
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