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Archive for May, 2014

In the sixties, a briefly popular fad proclaimed the “Death of God,” building — or so it was meant to seem — on both Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer. The former, of course, actually used the phrase but Bonhoeffer was not at all fostering any suggestion that God was no longer real.

What Bonhoeffer did say about the matter was twofold.

First, how are we to live as followers of Jesus Christ in our day? “Before God and with God, we live without God” (Letter to Bethge, 16 July 1944). The “death of God” theologians loved the second half of that statement, “. . .we live without God” but fail to take seriously the first half, “Before God and with God. . .” Bonhoeffer’s idea is that we are to mature beyond the stage in which we are merely childish and in need of a daddy-figure to watch over our every move. We are to become responsible adults, remembering always that we are responsible to God. God is not dead; he just wants us to grow up into Christlikeness of character.

Second, in what way is the world moving away from old and inadequate theologies? For much of its history the church has taught us that God is a stern, dominating father-figure who disapproves of us and has elevated a chosen few to exercise a god-like dominion over us. People are rejecting that image and “coming of age,” as Bonhoeffer put it. That is, the world is no longer thinking that we are a people subservient to divine domination. It is true that there are billions of believers, more each year, but those who lead our cultures (such as academics and scientists) are actively and evangelistically proclaiming that we can get along fine without believing in God. As Hawkings puts it, “We no longer need a hypothesis about God to explain the universe.”

Bonhoeffer welcomed the prospect of the world coming of age but the church for the most part has continued to resist it. The fact is, however, that even the most faithful among us — or perhaps I should say, especially the most faithful — live by making responsible decisions, not waiting for instructions each step of the way in our lives. I have a very general and very deep trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my life, but I do not stop and pray, “Lord, do you want me to eat lunch today? Do you want me to wear clothes today? Do you want me to wear the blue shirt or the grey one?”

A recent article in Prospect (accessed through aldaily.com, 06 May 2014) reviews two more of a zillion new books on how we are to live without God. The website — aldaily.com — is run by the Chronicle of Higher Education, a journal created specifically for professors. The editors of the website chose 2-5 journal articles each day that seem most worthy of the attention of professors. The number of books, articles, and reviews which deal with theology is really amazing. As the author of this particular review (Alasdair Craig) says, “. . .although science and reason have killed God, we’ve failed to bury him.” We just can’t let go.

It is one of the most important tasks of the contemporary church to speak to the world at this point. Acknowledging and affirming that the world has come of age, how are we to faithfully understand purpose, meaning and truth in a realistic way?

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