Here's a little something I wrote on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison for my ethics class with Dr. Glen "Pure Playa" Stassen. It's a response to the question, "What does Bonhoeffer mean by religionless Christianity?" I hope the answer is self-explanatory, though a quarter's-worth of reading and reflection lay behind it.
When Bonhoeffer describes “religionless Christianity,” he is speaking about a faith without boundaries. The concept of the “boundary” can be found throughout Bonhoeffer’s works in various contexts. In the present context, the boundary is one between the “world” and that which is beyond the world, namely, the things of God. Religion had become a kind of buffer between Person and Spirit, between the world of tangible, verifiable, propositional realities and the ineffable kingdom of the heavens. In other words, religion is a means of filling of the void within human understanding, of appropriating the things beyond comprehension (282). The danger inherent to this religiosity is that the boundary constantly flexes to accommodate humanity’s cognitive or experiential faculties. Therefore, the boundary between God and humanity expands with human understanding, pushing God further and further away.
Bonhoeffer vehemently opposes any such construction that separates reality into two spheres, one worldly and the other divine. Instead, all of reality is bound up in Jesus. The incarnation of God in Christ draws together the two spheres of reality—wrenched apart by religion—and sets the divine within the world. Bonhoeffer puts it plainly: “God is beyond in the midst of our life” (282). So the religion Bonhoeffer advocates is one that is worldly. He makes no allowance for a separation between God—that is, beyond the world—and God’s activities within the world, such as miracles and the ascension (285). God entered into the world in the incarnation, destroying the boundary religion seeks to erect. Humanity is not to be drawn up to some disembodied spiritual existence at the end of time, to a heaven in the clouds. The kingdom of heaven on earth is the focus of God’s work in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (286). At the same time, Bonhoeffer protects against a kind of reductionism that would exchange the boundary on humanity’s understanding for a limiting boundary on God, so that the divine is made finite. Bonhoeffer criticizes Barth’s “positivist” doctrine of revelation because it leaves no room for the infinite, for mystery (286). This “positivist” view relegates all of reality to something that must be accepted either completely or not at all.
Taking all of this into account, it follows that there cannot be a “secular” world and the “world of faith,” or any other manifestation of a two realm split. The incarnation draws the two together. The God beyond comprehension is concerned with this world “created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored” (286). Therefore, when Bonhoeffer advocates a “religionless Christianity,” he is talking about drawing all of life into one realm: the