Religionless Christianity for Today's Church

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2023

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Abstract

This thesis introduces a new interpretation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity from a missiological perspective. It will argue that religionless Christianity reflects Bonhoeffer’s theology of mission for the modernized and globalized world. Bonhoeffer observed the world becoming nonreligious in all aspects of life and challenged the church to prepare for a generation of people without religious a priori knowledge, whose language would be vastly different from the language of the church. Advances in science and technology have precipitated modernization and globalization, which result in a movement toward human autonomy. The authority of God in the public sphere has lost its significance and influence, and Christianity is considered an individual preference in the private sphere. The world appears to operate just fine even if God does not exist.

The conventional method of mission focuses on communicating the Gospel to individuals residing in a secular environment. This is achieved by adapting the core tenets of Christianity into a vernacular that resonates with them, with the ultimate aim of converting the nonreligious world into a Christian one. In other words, the objective of the mission is to transform the context (secular world) by contextualizing the content (Christianity). Bonhoeffer’s approach is unique in that he attempted to transform Christianity to make it meaningful and relevant for nonreligious people. Bonhoeffer’s theology of mission challenges the church to embrace religionless Christianity as a new form of Christianity for a nonreligious world. Instead of requiring nonreligious people to accept religious doctrines and traditions to become Christians, religionless Christianity offers them to remain in a nonreligious world by becoming religionless Christians.

The term “religionless Christianity” is difficult to reconcile when “Christianity” is already understood as a religion and if Bonhoeffer’s concept of a “completely religionless age” is interpreted as a world without religion. Efforts have been made to resolve this logical fallacy by (1) removing religious aspects in Christianity to make it secular and calling it “secular Christianity,” (2) claiming that Bonhoeffer’s prediction of the religionless age has been proven wrong by presenting the statistical evidence of religious revivalism, (3) suggesting religionless Christianity as Bonhoeffer’s apologetics to explain and defend the core beliefs of Christianity to nonreligious people, and (4) interpreting “religionless” to mean “without legalistic religious traditions of the church” and suggesting that religionless Christianity is Bonhoeffer’s version of a “seeker-sensitive” church.

In this thesis, I will argue that Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity is vastly misinterpreted because anthropological, sociological, and theological approaches to Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “religion,” “religionlessness,” and “Christianity” are not adequate to explain Bonhoeffer’s motivation in exploring the necessity of religionless Christianity. I will present Bonhoeffer as a missionary who stood between two worlds—the world of the religious and the nonreligious—struggling to transform Christianity for the religious and the nonreligious by restoring the centrality of Jesus Christ as the Lord of the world. By analyzing key aspects of religionless Christianity from a missiological perspective, I will establish religionless Christianity as Bonhoeffer’s proposal of a new form of Christianity for today’s church.

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Kim, Steven (2023). Religionless Christianity for Today's Church. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27555.

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