What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today?
We are approaching a completely religionless age; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" aren't really practicing that at all...
Europe today is increasingly secular. Churches are empty. Yet, Europe is full of religion. Mosques are growing.
How can Christ become Lord of the religionless as well? Is there such a thing as a religionless Christian? If religion is only the garb in which Christianity is clothed--an this garb looked very different in different ages--what then is religionless Christianity?
And there we have the source of the controversy. I assert that his words are an attack on hypocritical Christianity, "going through the motions" religiosity, pietism without piety, "Church" without Christ. At the same time Bonhoeffer is struggling with how to communicate Christ without the trappings of what people have done and said without their true meaning, of baptizing without catechizing, of doing weddings without premartial preparation, of being what some have called "a burying Sam" of a preacher.
Honestly, I found much of Bonhoeffer's fiction to be unremarkable. That is not to claim that my fiction (if I had any) would be as or more remarkable, but simply that Bonhoeffer's gifts are elsewhere, such as his famous wedding sermon from Volume 8 (82-87). I regularly quote it in my premarital preparation classes.
Don't think that it is the new ideas that are important to us. They may be important to the writers, who profit from them. What do we care about new ideas? I can assure you that we have neither the desire nor the time to chase after originality at any price. We want something much simpler, ground under our feet so we can live. That's what I call the foundation. Can't you feel the difference? People like you have a foundation, you have ground under your feet, you have a place in the world. there are things you take for granted, that you stand up for, and for which you are willing to put your head on the line, because you know your roots go so deep that they'll sprout new growth again. The only think that counts for you is to keep your feet on the ground (68).
"You know, Grandma, we've outgrown this kind of preacher wisdom just like we've outgrown our Latin teachers rattling of Ostermann's exercises. I really can't understand how you can bear to listen to it Sunday after Sunday.
There is, Bonhoeffer declares, a difference between "Christianity" and "its pathetic representatives," himself included.
The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.