Bonhoeffer on Bible Reading

I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together, on Christian community. He promoted reading the Bible as a whole. It’s something worth noting.

He wrote that narrow readings—reflecting on just one or two verses—will always have value. It allows believers to discover the depth available in any part of the Bible. But this approach can’t replace reading complete Bible books in context (p53). “Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.”

So, as we start to live in the Bible, the Bible begins to live in us. The Spirit’s ministry is to take the word of God to make us, more and more, into people of God. It’s what a strong personality offers softer personalities. God, himself, forms our hearts around his own profound aims and values. And knowing God as he really is, is sure to change us. We only need to come to him with open hearts, then stay there.

As Bonhoeffer argues, we “learn to know our own history” in Scriptures as we read of God’s ways of exposing “our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation” in what has been written (54). Bible reading, like a searchlight, exposes our soul. We start to see what we were otherwise happy to ignore or to hide from others. It offers truth that cleanses ungodly ambitions and habits.

Bonhoeffer also pointed to the role of Scriptures in building genuine fellowship among believers. “How shall we ever help a Christian brother and set him straight in his difficulty and doubt, if not with God’s own Word? All our own words will quickly fail” (55). Only God is able “to drive out demons” to help a brother.

Last year I visited friends in Germany and Matt, my host, took me to see the Flossenbürg concentration camp where Bonhoeffer was killed by Nazis at the end of WWII. Bonhoeffer, we know, had opportunities to escape the obvious dangers of Germany in his day. Friends in England and the United States invited him to safe havens. Instead he stayed in Germany as a spiritual alternative to a morally collapsed nation. And, with that, he died willingly.

What strikes me in reading this brief book is Bonhoeffer’s heart to live out what he read in the Bible. When circumstances called for him to live and die for others, he did it. He counted others more important than himself.

One takeaway, then, is that the Bible—when engaged as a whole—still stirs deep devotion in open hearts. And Bonhoeffer’s example is, at many levels, an open invitation to all of us.

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