Bertram D. Brochmann, The Art of Reading the Bible (Original Norwegian edition: Eget Forlag, Bergen, 1950; Norwegian reprint edition: Bondes Forlag, Fauske, 2007; English Edition: Bondes Forlag, Fauske, 2009), Paperback, 431pp. Translation by Lynne Hippler, edited by Dag Ove Johansen.
Reviewed by R.S. Larsen of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford, California.
Last month I celebrated my 75th birthday and yesterday, exactly a month later, I finished reading The Art of Reading the Bible by B.D. Brochmann, written in 1947, first published in Norway in 1950, and now translated into English in 2009. Brochmann has been called by some “Norway’s greatest social reformer,” and The Art of Reading the Bible illustrates how he comes by such a lofty title for a man who is basically unknown, dismissed and/or forgotten outside of Norway.
While I was being brought into the world in a tiny hospital in Viking, Alberta during the Great Depression, former Member of Parliament B.D. Brochmann was raising a strong voice of protest against the tumultuous social upheaval in Europe and in particular the fate of Norway as a pawn in a gigantic power struggle between Communism under Lenin, Fascism under Hitler and Mussolini, and Capitalist Democracy under the Western powers led principally by England and the United States. But what made Brochmann unique was that he was no ordinary “talking head” politician; he was a self taught theologian who brought a powerful voice into the political discourse pointing out the huge gap between what Christ taught and what Norway, a so-called Christian Nation since Christianity was declared the state religion in the 1200’s under Olav, actually practiced. His sternest words were for the church and state “long-robes” who ruled the nation; and even though his father was a very prominent Lutheran minister who wrote extensively on similar biblical themes, he claimed his father too did not quite see the enormity of the “light that illuminated the entire universe” that he himself had been privileged to see.
Brochmann permitted himself to be elected to parliament even though he never ran a campaign; he did so because people saw him as a leader and his strong public speeches drew far greater crowds than any other politician. But he rejected the “leader role” because he believed from Christ’s words that by seeking kings and leaders Christians actually abdicate their own creative, self-sufficient and community-building potential and responsibilities. He saw both politicians and church leaders who were trained to constrain their faith to scholarly inquiry and aloofness, becoming puffed-up figureheads and blind guides gathering power unto themselves that rightfully belongs to the community. And the people themselves aid and abet this process because they are told by the church they are evil and sinful when in fact they are imperfect humans, a “work in progress”, striving to live the life of a Christian under constraints placed by the state-church hierarchy that make all Christian effort one of personal moral behavior, not also of community behavior as Christ would have it. In this way the rewards of Christianity become a “pie in the sky” hope for mere survival in this life and a better life in the hereafter; when in fact this Kingdom-like community life is available to Christians here and now, in this world, in the community and permeating the total living organism that is humanity. This proper life denies boundaries and differences that are set up by our church-state leaders, with our own dumb-sheep-like support, our “need for kings and idols” among us, who simply fleece the sheep, make them work to uphold the so-called leaders through the tax system, and never deliver a single cent of return to the people that was not already earned by the people and given as taxes in the first place.
Brochmann preached (without benefit of a seminary degree) that this system has kept us as in a “dream-state” of reality for the last 2000 years, when in fact we should be living the “reality-state” taught by Christ; that his Kingdom is not the dream-state as the world claims, but the true reality. Modern society has it exactly upside down, that Christ was a rather entertaining moral teacher and founder of a religion called Christianity and his ideas of how to run a state were simply impractical. Brochmann follows up the Sermon-on-the-Mount words of Christ to inform us that it is our entire church-state system that is unreal, upside down, and stultifying to progress toward the kingdom that Christ plainly, “with 100% accuracy and perfect knowledge” of the whole, brilliantly illumines for those who seek to see it and asks us to build in the world. When, after one of his speeches in which he demolished the arguments of a supposedly learned politician the person asked, “Well then, who will govern us?”, Brochmann replied, “God, of course.”
In other words, Brochmann proclaimed his revelation of a community that he thought Norway could achieve, to be a beacon to the world through its example, in which the people in close, loving and wise community provided for one another and themselves by living out the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount and the parables, many of which he interprets as All of Life in a Nutshell. The parables are not about individual moral lessons, he explains; they are descriptions of ourselves and our entire world system, and they apply to us as community, not only to be lived in our individual private lives in which “my faith is my own business” and “Church and State don’t mix.” It is we ourselves who are the Bride of Christ described in John’s Revelation, and it is the church that is the Whore of Babylon; there are only words of condemnation in Revelation for the Sold-out-to-the-State churches; there is no word or promise in Revelation that the churches will survive. They are, like our political structures, imperfect vessels of worldliness demanded by ourselves that keep our faith in its comfortable place in our worldly lives of idols, greed and excess, pitting one group against another, insisting on winners and losers, tolerating injustices and poverty at every hand when in fact our own scientists tell us that the world can easily produce enough food and goods for everyone.
Brochmann claims our churches are full of idols of statues, stained glass and liturgies that keep us comfortable in our hope for an after-life but do little to make progress toward a universal community under God in the here and now. He stopped taking communion, he said, when he realized that it was a substitute for the blood sacrifice that we insist on holding onto so we can continue to authorize the State to kill in our name and then have our sins forgiven. In fact, the goal of the Kingdom, he says, is to eliminate our need for blood sacrifices (including our sacrifice of our own young to the act of inflicting killing on others) so we need to out-grow the need for this terrible idol. Christ does not want idol sacrifice; he wants us to grow up.
What makes Brochmann’s writing so convincing is his absolute unwavering belief in the revelation he has seen and his determination to illuminate us with as much of it as possible. He stayed in Norway when it was overrun by Nazi Germany and continued the dialogue even with the occupiers, an example of “loving your enemies” as Christ commanded. In 1937 he wrote a letter to Hitler prophesying his downfall if he persisted in his violent ways. He called Britain “the most voracious of all nations” because of its empire-building domination of half the world, and in particular its desire to control Norway as a nation of tenant farmers (Britain lost the race with Germany to occupy Norway at the start of WWII). During the war he criticized the puppet Quisling government, especially politicians who trumpeted their success in relief efforts which the people could have managed better themselves; and the government in exile in England that had run off with all the of Norway’s gold reserves to wait out the war. When that government returned to power, 99,000 Norwegians including Brochmann were imprisoned for various and sundry unpatriotic activities; he had dared to pull the lion’s tail and he had to be punished. Inexplicably, he was released after only a few months and later wrote a book about his trumped-up sham trial.
Brochmann’s paraphrases of the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables of the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son, Mary Magdalene and others, in application to us as a community, are especially brilliant and convincing. As in the 1940’s, today’s times are still locked in a self-denying “Dance Around the Golden Calf”, as he calls it, in which we tolerate wars, boundaries, power mongering, struggles of masses to survive in a world of untold abundance in which that abundance of spiritual and material riches is hi-jacked by the leaders that we have created as our modern Golden Calves. The interpretations by Brochmann are eloquent, unique, and ring of truth and authority. It reminds us that Christ totally confounded his enemies with truth in a way they had never heard before; even the Temple Guards reporting back to the Priests who sent them to spy on Jesus said, “Never before has any man ever spoken like this!”
For Christians this is an important book. Brochmann forces us to look at ourselves in the full Light of Christ’s words. It is not surprising that the world is not interested in hearing this message and that during his lifetime the State and Church dismissed, ignored and sabotaged his work.
It has taken 59 years for this particular book of Brochmann’s to reach an English-speaking audience. This is not his only nor his last book but part of a trilogy: The Bible and Natural Science, The Art of Reading the Bible, and Christ in Society. Hopefully, these others will also be translated.
Brochmann with his revelatory experiences, credentials of boldly speaking Truth to Power, deep understanding, eloquence, and desire to follow Christ in action and not just hollow words, is in the end a commanding but ultimately humble figure. Christ-like, one must say. Christians who know their Bible will appreciate what Brochmann has to say. However, will they be able to look at themselves through his eyes and still vote to go with the tide of the world’s status quo of 30,000 deaths a day due to world hunger?
This provocative book should be must-reading for any modern pilgrim seeking to become “Whole in Christ.”