And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur (even if there were no God). And this is just what we do recognize – before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God.–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter’s and Papers from Prison
Recently I’ve been reading quite a bit of Bonhoeffer’s final compilation. It is intimate and raw. It is the diary of a man caught up in realities that can scarcely be imagined. He is imprisoned; waiting for a trial that never comes; watching horrors from the Nazi’s, horrors from the liberating Allied troops as they indescriminantly dropped their bombs on Germany; the inhumanity of man, the decay of morals as survival took over. His reaction is in some ways exactly what you would expect from a witness of such atrocity. But, the man also happened to be a theologian. And so his response is caught up in this grand lament, a wrestling with God. I find the letters incredibly compelling.
That having been said–I can’t help but wonder if Bonhoeffer was wrestling with issues that are a) not ours (clearly right?) and b) speaking from a modernist culture that had reduced God–in a way he was reeling from the explaning away of God. Some of the things he assumes feel more like “the death of God” modernism that would later be the final conclusion of the defunct Protestant/enlightenment marriage. I don’t know–now I would say my questions are not how can we live in a religionless Christianity but a religionFULL Christianity.
This brings to mind something I’ve been wrestling with too. As I’ve come out of the house church movement I’ve been reflective of what the messages I bought into and propagated were exactly. One of them was reductionism/puritanism at its finest. “If this isn’t in the New Testament then it shouldn’t exist”. Or, even more beautiful but equally simplistic and positivist: “Take the world (and the institutional church with all its bells and smells) and give me JUST JESUS”. At the end of the day one realizes that this means something very very different to countless people. It’s a simplification. And one that truly people really don’t mean. “Just Jesus” in the organic church world, for instance, means the system of no overt leadership, meeting in houses, and the demand that everyone “share” (typically through speaking). What I’m saying is that if you say your about “just Jesus” it means something more than…well..just Jesus… Isn’t that funny? It’s the same with the charismatic world, that statement can hide inside it tongues, gifts of the spirit, etc… On and on it goes. My point is that the reduction, the need to simplify to the lowest common denomenator is actually simply laziness, or self indulgent piety (in some cases). But evangelical Christianity is, in some ways, built upon this, (see Paul Metzger’s fascinating book: “Consuming Jesus” for more on this).
For many young evangelicals, I suspect, this is a primary (if unconscious) reason why they’re returning to “high church”. Spirituality/church to the MAX. Tired of the reductions we say (along with indie band Over the Rhine) ”All I need is everything!”
And that’s how I feel these days…some days…like I can’t reduce what I need to a single “just give me ______” statement. In fact, while I’m curious about Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity, I also don’t identify with it. Christianity and Christ with it is too big to isolate from even religion. It and he must be everywhere and everything for it to be the reality of what is said of it, of the proclamations it makes. There it is then…my reduction, “Just give me a gritty down to earth Jesus who I can find everywhere and in everything…All I need is ALL”.
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