Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More Bonhoeffer on Religionlessness

A few more words about religionlessness. I expect you remember Bultmann's essay on the 'demythologizing' of the New Testament? My view of it today would be, not that he went 'too far', as most people thought, but that he didn't go far enough. It's not only the 'mythological' concepts, such as miracle, ascension, and so on (which are not in principle separable from the concepts of God, faith, etc.), but that 'religious' concepts generally, which are problematic. You can't, as Bultmann supposes, separate God and miracle, but you must be able to interpret and proclaim both in a 'non-religious' sense. Bultmann's approach is fundamentally still a liberal one (i.e. abridging the gospel), whereas I'm trying to think theologically.

What does it mean to 'interpret in a religious sense?' I think it means to speak on the one hand metaphysically, and on the other had individualistically.
Let me pop in with a comment to this point, and then I will continue. I think the comment above is very instructive. Bonhoeffer here is explaining how people speak when they speak religiously. What is off-putting and somehow out of synch with modern (or postmodern, if you like) society is this metaphysical talk that is related specifically to individuals (what individuals must do and believe in order to be considered Christians). Now here's how he follows up his own comment:
Neither of these is relevant to the biblical message or to the man of today.
That's a mouthful and worth digesting before we speed along. Even if this metaphysical, individualistic way of speaking is meaningful to the religious person, Bonhoeffer declares that it is neither biblical nor relevant to the "man of today."
Hasn't the individualistic question about personal salvation almost completely left us all? Aren't we really under the impression that there are more important things than that question (perhaps not more important than the matter itself, but more important than the question!)? I know it sounds pretty monstrous to say that; but, fundamentally, isn't this fact biblical? Does the question about saving one's soul appear in the Old Testament at all? Aren't righteousness and the Kingdom of God on earth the focus of everything, and isn't it true that Rom. 3.24ff. is not an individualistic doctrine of salvation, but the culmination of the view that God alone is righteous? It is not with the beyond we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of the liberal, mystic pietist, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Barth was the first theologian to begin the criticism of religion, and that remains his really great merit; but he put in its place a positivist doctrine of revelation which says, in effect, 'Like it or lump it': virgin birth, Trinity, or anything else; each is an equally significant and necessary part of the whole, which must simply be swallowed as a whole or not at all. That isn't biblical. There are degrees of knowledge and degrees of signficance; that means that a secret discipline must be restored whereby the mysteries of the Christian faith are protected against profanation. The positivism of revelation makes it too easy for itself, by setting up, as it does in the last analysis, a law of faith, and so mutilates what is - by Christ's incarnation - a gift to us!...

I'm thinking about how we can reinterpret in a 'worldly' sense - in the sense of the Old Testament and of John 1.14 - the concepts of repentance, faith, justification, rebirth, and sanctification. (286)
Let me say here: my aim is not to agree with or disagree with Bonhoeffer, but to offer him as he expresses himself in his last writings. Jesus' life, death and resurrection are everything to Bonhoeffer. But they are not litmus tests of belief. Rather they are God's clarion call of love to us which ought to propel us to wholly invest ourselves (as Christ did) into this life, fully participating in the sufferings of God in the world.

He subordinates specific mysteries to the supremacy of incarnation, life, cross and resurrection of Christ. In these we find the meaning of life and our purpose in it. That is what Bonheoffer asserts over and over again.

On death:
I've come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, which they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?). It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man's life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluable unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the 'solution' of the problem of death. God's 'beyond' is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties. The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is the beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village... (282)


SusansPlace said...

Julie, simple question. :-) Did Bonhoeffer believe Jesus was God's son(in the evangelical way) and that his death on the cross was required as payment for our sins? Or did he believe in universal salvation?
I'm having trouble figuring this out from the passages you posted.


julieunplugged said...

You know what? It's not a simple question. First of all, that's a question that you and I ask partly due to the theological schema in which we were raised spiritually. One of my first discoveries in reading theology (not evangelicals, not Christian writers but the reknowned theologians we've inherited in the last hundred years particularly), this question of "salvation" as meaning heaven and hell and salvation from sins is not addressed in the same ways you and I are used to addressing it. In fact, it is often not even addressed! Salvation is not just about individuals being saved from sins for heaven or hell, universally or otherwise.

So in answer to your question, I'd say that Bonhoeffer never answers that question directly (at least not in LPP).

carrie said...

Bonhoeffer seems to be saying you can't separate God from miracles, the incarnation, the resurrection. But what is this "non-religious" way to interpret and share them that he mentions?

He states that "there are more important things than personal salvation." This is what I'm trying to understand. What is the salvation talked about in the Bible? I realize that salvation in the OT was generally thought of as a corporate reality, but even so, there were definite and specific differences between the people who would enter "God's rest" and those who wouldn't. There was certainly no universal salvation. Although the nations would be blessed by "promised seed" of Abraham.

Salvation, and a returning to God, still seems to be the crux of both the OT and NT.

I'm just trying to get my mind around how something can be and not be at the same time. Trying to come to grips with how the incarnation, death and resurrection are "everthing" to Bonhoeffer, yet not be essential in any way for salvation. But again, what is the definition of salvation in the postmodern mind? Perhaps that's the thing that confuses me the most.

What is Christianity for if not returning to right relationship to God and man? Jesus talks about heaven and "many mansions" for those who believe. I wonder what this means in a theology without eternal salvation?

I have to admit to still being confused and feeling like this is written in another language! :-P
But I'm pluggin away at it, and finding it very challenging!

carrie said...

BTW- my remarks and question in my comments were rhetorical. Don't feel any need to try to answer them. I'm a long way from understanding even the language used, the shift in vocabulary, of these quotes. The comments were more rambling thoughts than anything. Carrie