A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, June 05, 2023

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Religionless Christianity

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, introduced the notion of "religionless Christianity" in his writings. He first mentioned it in his letters from prison, where he was held captive for his opposition to Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. However, Bonhoeffer was executed in 1945 before he could fully develop and elaborate on what he meant by the terminology.

"Religionless Christianity" can be understood as Bonhoeffer's attempt to envision a form of Christian faith that transcends traditional religious practices and institutions. He recognized that many aspects of conventional religion, including rituals, doctrines, and institutional structures had become detached from the lived realities of people's lives. He believed that Christianity was relevant and meaningful in the larger world and addressed contemporary challenges.

Bonhoeffer's central concern was with the way Christianity had been privatized and confined to personal piety and individual salvation, disconnected from engagement with the world and the pressing issues of society. He believed that faith should not be limited to a set of doctrines or confined to the insularities of the church. Instead, he called for a faith that actively engaged with the world and sought to address social, political, and ethical concerns.

Bonhoeffer argued that true Christianity was centered in discipleship, that is following Jesus. Dietrich did not reject the doctrines and the worship practices of the church. On the contrary, he loved the worship of the Catholicism in Rome and the heartfelt sincere worship of the Baptist Church in Harlem. He also complained while a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York, that the theological liberalism of the seminary was shallow because it was disconnected from the central doctrines of the faith.

What Bonhoeffer means by religionless Christianity is that discipleship was not about believing and worship alone, but should be manifested in concrete actions of love, justice, and compassion. He saw a need for a Christianity that actively participates in the struggles for human dignity, social justice, and the well-being of all people, regardless of religious affiliation. In this sense, "religionless Christianity" is a call to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in a way that is relevant, authentic, and transformative in the world. For Bonhoeffer, Religionless Christianity is missional in character.

As Dietrich notes in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, "The one who believes obeys. The one who does not obey cannot believe."

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