Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it. Trust the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say?” [ Gen 3:1]
In a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity and her Bible, it is crucial for every believer to be absolutely convinced that the scriptures are the divinely inspired Word of God. The Enemy will do anything to entice or intimidate us into doubting our one source of authority and hope. Make no mistake; this was, is and will be the Devil’s main strategy. If he can get us to doubt the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture, he will have won a decisive victory in the Church. He does not limit his schemes to the cultural wars that surround us. He employs his wiles in the very confines of the sacred.
I discovered that in my first seminary experience. I sought out a conservative Baptist seminary in the Midwest for my first experience in the discipline of theology. I was not prepared for what I was to hear. My first class was on the Old Testament and my professor was a distinguished looking scholar with a lot of letters after his name. He attended some of the most prestigious European schools and had secured an excellent reputation within theological circles.
What he taught the first week shocked the socks off me. He boldly declared that the Bible was not a book written by God but a work written by men. It was not God’s revelation of who he was but man’s ideas of what man hoped he was. I was floored. I had been taught from my earliest days that the Bible was inspired by God. I faced a great personal crisis.
Then, thank God, I had another class in the afternoon. It was a class on the Gospel of John. It was taught by a man who had the same long list of letters following his name and who attended some of the same prestigious schools as my OT professor. But, he started his class with devotions and as he taught his eyes would often well up with tears as he spoke of Jesus and his Word. For him the Bible was precious precisely because it was God speaking and revealing his salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. He showed me that just because you believe in a divinely inspired Bible does not mean you have to stuff your brain in your pocket.
This was not the last time I would face this kind of liberalism in my studies. Throughout my seminary pursuits, I was continually confronted with a view of Scripture which diminished the glory that I was convinced radiated from its pages. What made it extremely difficult was the fact that many who held a low view of Scripture were also scholars with compelling personalities and strong convictions. It was my first taste of the battle for the Bible that was being waged in the confines of the Church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to face even greater challenges than I. He was not raised in a Bible believing home. He was raised in a liberal, naturalistic environment. Although it appears that his mother was a believer, his father was not. He was a leading intellectual and one of the most influential psychologists in Germany. Dietrich’s brother Klaus was a very successful lawyer with Lufthansa. His other brother Karl-Friedrich was a brilliant scientist who would collaborate with Albert Einstein. Both of them were extremely upset by Dietrich’s decision to study theology rather scientifically verifiable realities. Responding to his brother’s criticism of his uncompromising belief in the existence of God, he declared, “Dass es einen Gott gibt, dafur lass ich mir den Koph abschlagen.” Translated it means “Even if you were to knock my head off, God would still exist.” Obviously, something was going on in Bonhoeffer’s mind that was unique to his family which had its source in another world.
His country Germany was the home of the world’s most liberal theologians. Dietrich attended the prestigious Berlin University and became friends with one of its most venerated professors, Adolf von Harnak. At 73, Harnak was a living legend among the liberals of his day. His approach to scriptures was that it was a product of human hopes and had nothing to do with a supernatural origin. However, Bonhoeffer disagreed. He was neither intimidated by von Harnak’s fame nor softened by Harnak’s friendship. He regularly contradicted his professor’s views on scripture in class. He was convinced that the scriptures were not just historical sources but agents of God’s revelation of himself. He would not be silent in this conviction.
We can gain an insight into the secret of Bonhoeffer’s boldness by reading this report given by one of his students. She wrote,
He said that when you read the Bible, you must think that here and now God is speaking with me….He wasn’t as abstract as the Greek teachers and all the others. Rather, from the beginning, 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 with a personal relationship to us. He represented this to us very early on, and the whole thing comes from that.
Did you hear that? It was not just that the Bible was the words of God. It was God speaking with me. God was not only speaking generally, he was speaking specifically. When he opened the Bible he did so not to just know about God but to know God. This God was the ultimate Reality and had a personal plan for his life. When God spoke through the scriptures he had only one option: to trust and obey.
For him, the Bible was so much more than something to toy with in order to fulfill his obligation to do devotions. No, it was the place where the man or woman of God found the answers to life’s most important truths. He wrote, “I believe 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 this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us.”
Approaching the Bible in this way transformed the way Bonhoeffer lived. He explained,
Since I have learnt to read the Bible this way- it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.
Because of deep involvement with the Word, he became convinced of the truth that is there. Someone once wrote that “You couldn’t be a friend of Dietrich if you did not argue with him.” This was his way, not because he was cantankerous but because he loved truth. Jesus Christ was the Lord of his life and he had found him in the Bible. The truth of God was not only reasonable it was fixed. Whether he was confronting a liberal professor or contending against diabolical evil, his mind was convinced and his heart was committed.
If we are going to stand toe-to-toe with the critics of Christianity in the dark days that lie ahead, we must love God’s Word with the same kind of radical devotion. Thank God for scholars and theologians like Bonhoeffer, who though confined to the den of disbelief, stood their ground and silenced the critics by their logic, their love and their life. They did the studies, they asked the hard questions and they weathered the criticism and ridicule of the skeptics and still found God’s Word both reasonable and reliable. We can confidently follow in their footsteps. We just need to believe it, love it, declare it and let the Word of God change the world.