Summary of Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This short and simple book written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a Lutheran minister and scholar, offers important insights into the value of the Psalms in the midst of an increasingly secular and hostile world.

Bonhoeffer, consistent with his Lutheran tradition, approached the Old Testament with a strong christological view. For Bonhoeffer, the entire Old Testament bears witness to Christ – who is present in the OT as well.

Therefore, we should “not ask first what [the Psalms] have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ” (20-21).

“The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity. Yet more important than all is the fact that Jesus died on the cross with the words of the Psalter on his lips” (26).

As a foundational source of his spirituality, the Psalms are unique in being the only book of Scripture in which the primary dialogue is aimed at God. In the Psalms, God gives us the words in which we can speak to Him.

“Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that, he needs Jesus Christ… Only in Jesus Christ are we able to pray, and with him, we also know that we shall be heard” (9-10, 11).

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (15).

For Bonhoeffer, the Psalms are the way in which Christ teaches us – both individually and communally – how to pray. Through Jesus Christ, the Word of God, all human experience and dialogue becomes the Word of God. We add our voices to His when we pray the Psalms.

“If we wish to pray with confidence and gladness, then the words of Holy Scripture will have to be the solid basis of our prayer. For here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words which come from God become, then, the steps on which we find our way to God” (12).

Through the Psalms “the body of Christ is praying, and as an individual one acknowledges that his prayer is only a minute fragment of the whole prayer of the Church. He learns to pray the prayer of the Body of Christ. And that lifts him above his personal concerns and allows him to pray selflessly” (49).

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