Further to my post yesterday in which I raised the question of the significance of Bonhoeffer's prison theology for biblical hermeneutics, I came across this quotation from Gerhard Ebeling's classic essay on the notion of 'non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts.' I haven't read much Ebeling before (although I bought my copy of Word and Faith on the 7th March 1989. The essay, though, is fantastic, and was written only 10 years after Bonhoeffer's death. Ebeling speaks movingly of 'a martyrdom whose gravity also silences any criticism that might come from those who have survived' (p.102). The following, though, is wonderful, punchy stuff, and possibly the longest rhetorical question ever recorded:
It is necessary to emphasize that the expression non-religious interpretation was not coined in order to loosen the reins of theological study but to tighten them, not in order that the traditional biblical and theological concepts could be cheerfully thrown overboard but in order to regain them, not in order to succumb to a snobbish freebooter jargon but to strive for new expression of the Word of God, not in order to play off life against doctrine, action against thought, but to incorporate life really in doctrine and action really in though, not purely and simply in order to enable the non-believer to understand but in order that we ourselves, we theologians, should come to the right understanding, not in order that we should now proclaim non-religious interpretation as Gospel but in order that, if we should prove appropriate, we should really proclaim the Gospel in non-religious interpretation?
Gerhard Ebeling, 'The "Non-Religious Interpretation of Biblical Concepts"' in Word and Faith (translated by James W. Leitch; London: SCM, 1963), 128.
One can only wish that some of those who appropriated Bonhoeffer in the 1960s had read and taken heed of Ebeling's observations. Incidentally, I couldn't resist looking up the German that has been rendered 'snobbish freebooter jargon' to see if it is some weird idiomatic translation, but no, Ebeling wrote 'snobistischen Freibeuterjargon'. It sounds even better and more vicious in German, don't you think?