Wednesday 26 September 2007

Bonhoeffer and the end of religion

“It is the advent of the reality of reconciliation – much more than the simple advance of secularisation – that has dissolved, for Bonhoeffer, the old antinomy of religious and secular. In the wake of God’s epoch-making incursion in Christ, the categories ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ no longer map onto reality as it has been remade.... It is possible for Christians to embrace the dissolution of religion as a historical development finally because human religion has already been abolished prospectively but ultimately in God’s act of justifying the ungodly.”

—Philip G. Ziegler, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer – An Ethics of God’s Apocalypse?” Modern Theology 23:4 (2007), p. 589.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, there never was an antinomy of the religious and the secular, but of the religious and the profane. Which makes the potted quote read even less meaningfully. And what is ‘epoch-making incursion’ supposed to mean? When I climb through my neighbour’s bathroom window, that’s an incursion. But the incarnation was hardly an incursion. It was more like the cavalry arriving in the nick of time or ‘the point of it all.’
Do you suppose Bonhoeffer was a more emotionally overwrought person that Aquinas?

Looney said...

My impression is that the secular-religious antinomy is a modern occurrence and little more than two centuries old. On the other hand, it is as ancient as Esau and Jacob.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to our modern saint, Bonhoeffer's theology was always crippled by too greater division between creation and redemption. Quotes like this one are as much a testimony to him showing signs of acknowledging that.

Anonymous said...

If this quote is referring to Bonhoeffer’s ideas, outlined in some of his last letters (from Letters and Papers from Prison) concerning the world come of age etc then I believe it is incorrect. The end of religion, in those letters, stems primarily from secularization and the advance of knowledge associated with it, which Bonhoeffer argues started in the 13th century and at the time of his writing was largely complete. Bonhoeffer does develop the Christological implications of this in his notion of “Jesus as a man for others” and there are potentially incarnational aspects to this. However, maybe the author, is referring to another part of Bonhoeffer’s work in which case his point could still stand.

Alex said...


By "incursion", I think the author is probably trying to draw out a military overtone to illustrate Jesus conquering of sin and death. In other words, the cavalry didn't just "arrive" and run but confronted evil head-on. By "epoch-making" I think he is pointing to the fact that the event changed the course of the world. I guess a lot of this depends on what your definition of the word "secular" is but I don't see why you can say so confidently that there never was an antinomy between the religious and the secular. Didn't the Pharisees create just such a divide? Jesus' life and death were spent dissolving this himself dissolved this as the quote says. This does not mean he broke down all moral boundaries and declared that good was evil and evil was good. But he did redefine or rather refocus what it meant to be good and what it meant to be evil when "while we were yet sinners [he] died for us."

michael jensen said...

give him a break - he was in prison facing execution when he said it...

Robert Elart Waters said...

With all due respect to everybody, creation and redemption wasn't the issue. The issue was precisely the distinction between the sacred and the profane, bridged when God became a human being. The incarnation is the issue.

As a fellow Lutheran, I share Bonhoeffer's consciousness of the
trouble Reformed Christians have with the implications of that incarnation, trouble which effectively prevents an acknowledgment of a true incarnation which would render a Man God, and God a Man, with the attributes of each nature appropriately accorded the entire God-Man while remaining specific to each nature and not attributable to the other in isolation.

God's invasion of His own creation radically complicates the relationship between God on one hand, and the creation on the other. The remain distinct, but can no longer be spoken of in isolation from one another. Nor can life be neatly divided into the sacred and the secular/profane; God, in assuming our humanity, sanctified it and, with it, all creation. Consequently there can be no relating to the creation which evades the fact that God has become part of it, and no relating to God except through the Man, Jesus.

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