Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
February 13th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Bonhoeffer on speaking in pictures (myth?)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my CTP class this morning, I tried to address the term “myth.” I think this is a difficult concept for us to wrap our heads around, not least because we can usually see the difference between a story and history. Yet, myth is a basic part of our language. We tell stories, we paint scenes, or we believe things that are simply not factual — but they are true. True, at least, in the sense of our senses.

I came across this quote from Bonhoeffer and I think it sums up, pretty much, what I mean when I say myth. Myth is a picture of something I cannot explain, or a truth hidden. Myth is the concreting of the abstract:

Who can speak of these things except in pictures? Pictures after all are not lies; rather they indicate things and enable the underlying meaning to shine through. To be sure, pictures do vary; the pictures of a child differ from those of an adult, and those of a person from the desert differ from those of a person from the city. One way or another, however, they remain true, to the extent that human speech and even speech about abstract ideas can remain true at all—that is, to the extent that God dwells in them.1


  1.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 (ed. Martin Rüter, Ilse Tödt, and John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; vol. 3; Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 81.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


2 Responses to “Bonhoeffer on speaking in pictures (myth?)”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    The principal reason modern and postmodern Western society continues to experience difficulty with myth emanates from the rather idiotic insistence that religious texts be taken literally.

    One of the easiest ways to understand myth is to think of a dream. Hopefully, it’s not a nightmare!

    Dreams are individualized experiences. They may express hopes or fears or a person.. At once they are real and chimerical. Some are memorable. Others evaporate in the light of day.

    Mythology serves much the same purpose for a culture or society. Myths address a common issue with a memorable illustration. This was especially important before widespread literacy.

  2. Fantastic!

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