Friday, September 16, 2011

Bonhoeffer from Prison on "Religionlessness

A few more words about "religionlessness." You probably remember Bultmann's essay on "demythologizing the New Testament." My opinion of it today would be that he went not "too far," as most people thought, but rather not far enough. It's not only "mythological" concepts like miracles, ascension, and so on (which in principle can't be separated from concepts of God, faith, etc.!) that are problematic, but "religious" concepts as such. You can't separate God from the miracles (as Bultmann thinks); instead, you must be able to interpret and proclaim them both "nonreligiously." Bultmann's approach is still basically liberal (that is, it cuts the gospel short), whereas I'm trying to think theologically. What then does it mean to "interpret religiously"?

It means, in my opinion, to speak metaphysically, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, individualistically. Neither way is appropriate, either for the biblical message or for people today. Hasn't the individualistic question of saving our personal souls almost faded away for most of us? Isn't it our impression that there are really more important things than this question (--perhaps not more important than this matter, but certainly more important than the question!?)? I know it sounds outrageous to say that, but after all, isn't it fundamentally biblical? Does the question of saving one's soul even come up in the Old Testament? Isn't God's righteousness and kingdom on earth the center of everything? And isn't Romans 3:24ff. the culmination of the view that God alone is righteous, rather than an individualistic doctrine of salvation?

What matters is not the beyond but this world, how it is created and preserved, is given laws, reconciled, and renewed. What is beyond this world is meant, in the gospel, to be there for this world--not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystical, pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Barth was the first theologian--to his great and lasting credit--to begin the critique of religion, but he then puts in its place a positivist doctrine of revelation that says, in effect, "like it or lump it." Whether it's the virgin birth, the Trinity, or anything else, all are equally significant and necessary parts of the whole, which must be swallowed whole or not at all.

That's not biblical. There are degrees of cognition and degrees of significance. That means an "arcane discipline" must be reestablished, through which the mysteries of the Christian faith are sheltered against profanation. The positivism of revelation is too easygoing, since in the end it sets up a law of faith and tears up what is--through Christ's becoming flesh!--a gift to us. Now the church stands in the place of religion--that in itself is biblical--but the world is left to its own devices, as it were, to rely on itself. That is the error. At the moment I am thinking about how the concepts of repentance, faith, justification, rebirth, and sanctification should be reinterpreted in a "worldly" way--in the Old Testament sense and in teh sense of John 1:14. I'll write you more about it. (374-375, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8)

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