Biblical ABCs is a theological resistance primer. Its author, Kornelis Heiko Miskotte, was a Dutch pastor, theologian, and antifascist who lived and worked under the Nazi occupation of his country. Miskotte’s family hid Jews inside their home, and Miskotte facilitated underground Christian discussion groups. In 1941, he published an illegal pamphlet as a study guide for these groups. In an atmosphere saturated with propaganda and lies, Miskotte felt that Christians needed a refresher course in the basics of biblical language—an anti-Nazi catechism, as it were. Miskotte presents this instruction in twelve brief, poetic meditations on important terms drawn from the Bible. Like his teacher Karl Barth, Miskotte insists on the primacy of the Word, and like his imprisoned colleague Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he emphasizes the this-worldliness of the Old Testament. Miskotte also shows his deep debt to the Jewish theologian, Franz Rosenzweig. He begins his primer with the A of the biblical ABCs: the Name of God, the Tetragrammaton, which Miskotte sees as the cornerstone of all resistance to authoritarianism and truth decay.
Kornelis Heiko Miskotte (1894–1976) was a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church and a professor of dogmatics and ethics at the University of Leiden.
Eleonora Hof (PhD, Protestant Theological University), translator, is pastor of Ieper/Ypres, United Protestant Church in Belgium.
Collin Cornell (PhD, Emory University), translator, is research affiliate and coordinator of the Center for Religion and Environment in the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN (USA).
Miskotte’s Foreword to the 1941 Edition
Introduction by Rinse Reeling Brouwer
4.The Names of God
5.The Order of God’s Virtues
6.The Unity of God’s Virtues
12.The Life of the Community
Appendix: Log of Additions to the 1941 Edition
The publication of this English translation and edition of K.H. Miskotte’s Biblical ABCs is hugely welcome. Miskotte’s distinctive and arresting theological vision is still too-little known and under-appreciated, but the appearance of this important war-time tract will go a long way to address this. Here, we can learn again of the fundamental importance of the Old Testament to the theological and spiritual grammar and vision of Christian faith. Here, we find ourselves summoned and schooled by Scripture and are reminded of just how unnatural and unsettling that can and should be. Here, we are led to discover anew the deepest sources of that ‘better resistance’ which the Christian church owes the world.
Sound theological catechesis is the beginning of effective political resistance. And the beginning of sound theological catechesis is the Name of God. Those are the perennially relevant insights that animate Miskotte’s Biblical ABCs, here translated into English for the first time. This labor of love by Eleonora Hof and Collin Cornell is a blessing for everyone seeking basic theological orientation for our own troubled times.
Between these covers, blazoned by an innocuous title, lies a manual for a 'better resistance,' a courageous and joyful proclamation of Christ's Lordship in the midst of the usurping powers of Nazi occupied Europe. Miskotte captures the revolution that is Holy Scripture in the midst of human empire and human paganism, and he does so through a seemingly simple 'grammar lesson' in the Bible's 'primary words and ways.' But only seemingly! Miskotte likens the Christian community to a Rabbinic House of Learning, and invites the Christian to hear in Israel's Scriptures the testimony to the God who 'sabotages' all oppressive schemes, draws near in His Word, and snatches a people out of pagan despair and cruelty into a broad and good land. Thoroughly Christological in its reading, Biblical ABCs wonderfully does not consign Israel's Scriptures to the past, but rather sees them as the Promise that is also the Future, the Coming Kingdom of Righteousness. Readers who have studied Franz Rosenzweig and A J Heschel, and not least, Karl Barth will recognize in Miskotte a teacher in that spirit, and find in this grammar the confidence in Holy Scripture that makes disciples who can dare much for God. The whole is beautifully translated by the editors, and prefaced by a rich introduction by Rinse Brouwer, former Miskotte Chair in Biblical Hermeneutics at the Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam. This is a powerful, deep, and emancipatory text, a grammar of freedom.
Kornelis H. Miskotte's theology generally, and his Biblical abcs—an important wartime work newly translated into English—in particular represent a welcome provocation to contemporary Christian theology. This essay assesses the key theological claims at the heart of the work, reflects critically upon their meaning and significance, and then draws them into conversation with a number of current trends and trajectories in current theological research and writing. In this way, the significance of the work in its own right as well as its—perhaps surprising—relevance to the present theological discussion is brought to light.