When Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his Nazi prison cell that the world had “come of age,” he launched a phrase that was to journey through the theological world for decades. What did he mean? Has the world grown up? If so, what does this mean for the Church in its mission and structure?
Bonhoeffer believed the world had come of age in the sense that the “hypothesis” of God is no longer considered necessary to account for man and his world. This is now true not only in science and philosophy but even in religion itself.
Bonhoeffer noted, “Ever since Kant, [God] has been relegated to the realm beyond experience” (Letters and Papers From Prison, Fontana Books, p. 114). He insisted that a realistic Christian apologetic must openly accept man’s new godlessness and, in the midst of the new scientific world-view, confront him with Christ.
Was Bonhoeffer right? What kind of world is ours?
It is a “seculurban” world, a world that has been secularized and urbanized. Yet it is also a world in which new superstitions rush in where old beliefs feared to tread; a world where city man can be just as isolated and insulated—and just as parochial—as his rural forebears. The secular city is becoming re-enchanted.
Secular man (with the possible exception of some “secular theologians”) is facing a failure of nerve. What was heralded as man’s adulthood, his pinnacle of self-confidence, is being undermined by self-doubt.
Rather than coming of age, our world has, it seems to me, come full circle, returning in several key respects to the spirit of the first-century Roman world. Therefore this age to which we have come may be the best possible one for the effective proclamation of the biblical Gospel.
Recently E. M. Blaiklock observed, “Of all the centuries, ...1
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