Asking the Bible to do More than it does

Asking the Bible to do More than it does November 10, 2014

The issue can be settled into two terms: the Bible teaches truth but it does not teach the path. These two terms are Bonhoeffer’s and emerged from the intense discussions in the Confessing Church on whether their pastors should pursue legalization under Hitler or remain “illegal” and dependent on free will offerings by the parishes that called them and would support them.

The debate was about what the Bible tells us about. Here are Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s salient words about the need for discernment on the basis of truth, but that discernment meant there was no fixed path:

The other misunderstanding concerning scriptural evidence stems from the same root: one now looks to justify our paths not for the past but for the future. We expect from Scripture such concrete directives that we are released from acting on faith; one wants to see the path before walking on it. One demands the certainty that the path will certainly be pleasing to God before starting the journey. One says: if we could be absolutely certain on the basis of Scripture that the path of the Council of Brethren is pleasing to God, then we would follow it. Demonstrate this from Scripture and we will follow. Thus I want to have the scriptural evidence in my pocket as the guarantee for my path.

But the Bible can never fulfill this kind of request either, because it is not intended to be an insurance policy for our paths, which may become dangerous.

The Bible does only one thing: it calls us to faith and obedience in the truth that we know in Jesus Christ. Scripture points not to our paths but to the truth of God.

Let no one among you think after this meeting today that he can go home armed with scriptural evidence that justifies his decision for the Council of Brethren; if so, he misunderstands both the Scripture and the essence of faith. The scriptural evidence does not spare us from faith but actually leads us into the venture of faith and obedience to God’s word, and it strengthens us in this.

According to Scripture we do not first know and comprehend the way and then decide to follow it; it is rather the one who is on the journey who knows that he is on the right way. Knowledge comes only in action and decision. Only he who is in truth will recognize the truth. Jesus says: “Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God” (John 7:17). For this reason, scriptural evidence can be provided only along the way, that is, for the one who believes. Whoever expects from scriptural evidence the justification of a past or future path wishes to be saved on the basis of his work, not to live in faith.

DBWE 15.420-421

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