Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"Religionless" Christianity

From First Things:
Bonhoeffer called this way of life “religionless Christianity,” an explosive idea for his most radical interpreters. It suggested that the theological oppositions that had fractured modern thought could be overcome. Modern theology has been largely concerned with reconciling competing commitments: the value of human freedom with obedience to divine commands; the scientific account of the natural world with the doctrine of creation; the necessity of critical inquiry with the authority of revelation. Bonhoeffer hinted that these were false dichotomies. He even considered the possibility that the most intransigent of oppositions—between belief and unbelief—was perhaps not so intransigent after all.

Denying what seem like core Christian claims about God could be a way of affirming Christianity, perhaps the proper way for modern man. Thus the paradox of a theology without God. Paul van Buren’s The Secular Meaning of the Gospel was the movement’s first widely read publication. Van Buren, then a theologian at Temple University, argued that traditional religious language no longer makes sense in modern societies. The term God, he wrote in 1963, is “either meaningless or misleading.” Since it cannot tell us anything about reality as such—at least, nothing that can be made intelligible empirically—its only function is to express our attitudes, preferences, and feelings. And if that’s what the word God does, the essential ethical message of Christianity can be expressed without reference to the divine. One can be secular—living and believing without reference to a transcendent Supreme Being—and still be Christian.

Van Buren thought he had found a secular way of preserving the moral message of the New Testament, but to Thomas Altizer, a young theologian at Emory University, such an approach was theologically ­inadequate. It implied that modern Christianity should come to terms with the godlessness of secularity, showing how it can be accommodated in a secular inter­pretation of the Bible, rather than reject God outright. It will not suffice “to merely accept the death of God,” Altizer countered. Christians “must will the death of God.” (Read more.)

No comments: