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date: 29 April 2017

Luther, Lutheranism, and Post-Christianity

Summary and Keywords

It would not be possible to say that the Lutheran tradition has led to the post-Christian world that is Europe today, the causes of which must be multifarious. Nevertheless, it is thinkers in the Lutheran tradition, as in no other, who have tackled the question as to what the coming of modernity means for the truth of Christian claims. It may be said that Luther himself and those around him took a large step from a Catholic, Aristotelian world into modernity. In the Enlightenment, it was notably German thinkers who had come out of a Lutheran context among them, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and Ludwig Feuerbach, who advanced a demythologized interpretation of scripture, seeing the Christian myth as a projection of human self-understanding; the form that their secularizing position took being profoundly influenced by their Lutheran context. Meanwhile, the basic paradigm of Lutheranism, a Christocentic faith set over against reason or works, allowed other Lutheran thinkers to proclaim a Christian apologetic in the face of the Enlightenment (Søren Kierkegaard), and 20th-century secularity (Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). The Lutheran Christocentric apologetic would seem to have ended in incoherence, or to have become irrelevant, in a post-Christian context. It fits ill with forms of post-Christian spirituality. This notwithstanding, it remains the case that ways of thinking that derive from Lutheran thought have profoundly affected the modern world, its philosophy, culture, and psychoanalytic thought. It should be a cause for admiration, not derision, that those who have stood in this tradition—from Luther forward—have been ready to face the intellectual issues of their day and the challenges posed to Christianity. This stands in marked contrast with the comparative failure of the Catholic tradition in this regard.

Keywords: Post-Christian, simul justus et peccator, religion/religionless/no religion, Enlightenment, Martin Luther, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Feuerbach, Søren Kierkegaard, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One cannot speak of a post-Christian reception of Luther (in the sense in which there is, for example, a Catholic reception), either in the 16th century or today, when those who have deserted religion would know little of Luther. What however one can consider is the following. It may be contended that the Reformation—and specifically Luther’s thought—both arose from and helped to bring about a paradigm shift in Western history to modernity. Further, turning to the Enlightenment, it was men deeply marked by their Lutheran heritage (among them Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and Ludwig Feuerbach) who gave us the first great deconstructive or atheistic systems of thought. However, it was also the case that the dialectical nature of Lutheran faith allowed a Christian apologetic to be mounted in the face of the Enlightenment, notably by Søren Kierkegaard. Moving to the 20th century, Lutheran theologians, the more especially Rudolf Bultmann and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the face of what they recognized to be a modern, secular, in many ways post-Christian world, advanced, with an eye to Kierkegaard, Christocentric theologies of revelation. (By contrast, Paul Tillich would appear to abandon the claim to a unique revelation, making it unclear how his thinking is Christian.) It is however the very Christocentrism of Lutheranism that makes for a difficult interface with a post-Christian world and post-Christian spirituality. Finally, it will be good to highlight the considerable legacy that the Lutheran tradition has bequeathed to modern post-Christian culture. What must strike one as remarkable, and greatly to its credit, is that throughout its history the Lutheran tradition has produced thinkers who, to an extent that we may think unmatched by any other Christian tradition, have been prepared to grapple with the challenge that modernity presents to Christian claims.

The Lutheran Revolution

We commence, then, by asking what specifically it was about Luther and the Lutheran Reformation that would prove a catalyst leading to modernity and thence to the post-Christian world.

The Framework of a New World

The shift in paradigm that came about with the Reformation may be encapsulated as follows.

The hegemony and hierarchy of the medieval world was shattered

When, in 1521, Luther appeared before Charles V at the Diet of Worms, two worlds confronted one another. The words “Here I stand, I can no other” may not be Luther’s verbatim speech but rather an astute summary by the scribes of his stance. What he said was that, unless convinced otherwise by the testimony of scripture or by reason (for he could trust neither in the papacy nor councils, since it was recognized that both had erred), he was bound by the scriptures he had quoted, and his conscience captive to the Word of God. Thus he could and would not recant, since it was neither safe nor right to go against conscience. “God help me! Amen.”1 To this the young emperor, a man of serious intent, who was to end his years in a monastery, responded:

I am descended from a long line of Christian emperors of this noble German nation, and of the Catholic kings of Spain, the archdukes of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy. They were all faithful to the death to the Church of Rome … A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong. Therefore I am resolved to stake my lands, my friends, my body, my blood, my life, and my soul… . I will proceed against him as a notorious heretic…2

The hegemony and hierarchical ordering of Charles’s world is well portrayed by the plateresque façade of the Spanish University of Alcalá. Executed in 1540–1555, it could well be counted a “political” statement designed to affirm what by that date was already under threat. Symbols representing the classical ancient world and its gods, the Christian religion and the fathers of the church, are woven into one whole by the Franciscan knotted belt, the display crowned by the pillars of Hercules (symbol of the Spanish New World), and under God on high, the Hapsburg double eagle. It took courage for Luther to go to Worms, yet more so three years earlier, at a time when he was hardly known, to have appeared before Cardinal Cajetan, whereas by 1521 half Germany stood with him. As was well known, John Huss had proceeded under safe conduct to the Council of Constance in 1415 only to be burnt at the stake.3

Aristotelian and Platonist (or neo-Platonist) thought forms were discarded

What differentiated the Lutheran Reformation from previous movements seeking to reform the church (notably those of Wycliffe and of Huss) was that the Lutherans took their stand on a novel theology. In the immediately preceding years, various universities—and notably the new University of Wittenberg—had undergone a philosophical revolution consisting in the shedding of Aristotelian thought forms (integral to Catholic theology).4 This was prerequisite to the new understanding of the human person and the nature of reality that Lutheranism embodied.5

The replacement of the authority of tradition by that of scripture

Were the Lutheran revolution to succeed, it must appeal to an alternative authority to that advanced by the church. For a thousand years in the West, one church had reigned supreme, claiming that the authority of the keys (admitting a person to salvation) had been given by Christ to Peter and his descendants as bishops of Rome. But, likewise for a thousand years, the church had not had available the scriptures in their original language. In 1516 Erasmus published a Greek New Testament text together with a Latin translation that differed from the Vulgate. Luther was by profession a professor of biblical exegesis; his younger companion, fellow professor and reformer at Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon, a first-rate Greek scholar and friend of Erasmus. Luther was soon recognizing that, for example, where the Latin Vulgate had “do penance” (all-important to the indulgence controversy), the underlying Greek read “be penitent”; thus it could not be said that Christ had “instituted” penance as a sacrament.6 Given a blossoming knowledge of the early church, the world of medieval Catholicism could be relativized (and criticized) as untrue to the original intent of Christians.

The “disenchantment” (to employ Max Weber’s term)7 of the world

With the shift to a new theological paradigm, whereby persons were held justified on account of faith not works, the whole paraphernalia of sacred relics, pilgrimages, and supposed miracles, performed by saints whom one might supplicate, became superfluous. The extraordinary change of mindset is well symbolized by the whale vertebra to be found in the room in the Wartburg where, in hiding, Luther translated the New Testament. Presumably a former relic (compare Jonah), it was allegedly employed by Luther as a footstool.8 Earlier this same monk when in Rome had spent his time assiduously visiting relic collections. The magic present in the medieval religious world vanished.9 More especially, the Eucharistic elements were no longer understood (as had presumably been the case in a fairly literalistic sense by the common people in accordance with the doctrine of transubstantiation) as the body and blood of Christ. Lutheran faith was directed to the proclaimed Word, the message about Christ (or kerygma). No longer interpenetrated by the sacred, the world was free to become itself. Nevertheless, any sweeping statement here must be complicated by the fact that Luther apparently believed in devils.

The rise of national consciousness

The Reformation was aided by and in turn gave rise to growing national consciousness. It was a peculiar complaint of German-speaking peoples that, not possessed of the centralized government that France, England, and recently Spain had acquired, they were vulnerable to economic exploitation by Rome. This fueled German solidarity, allowing an escape velocity from the Roman church as Luther became a national hero. The vernacular scriptures, Luther’s hymns, and the printing press (which from the 1530s enabled a wide distribution of Protestant material) made possible a new cultural reality.

Lutheran Theology

Lutheran theology represented a large step toward modernity; meanwhile, its structure was to prove pivotal for the future.

Simul justus et peccator

The Lutheran claim is that persons are simul justus et peccator, at once (simultaneously) just, or justified, and sinner. This claim could not be made, in the sense in which Lutherans intend it, within the Catholic dispensation. Catholicism rests upon Aristotelian presuppositions, such that “goodness” and “being” mutually imply one another: that which has more “goodness” having more “being,” while creation is in itself “a good.” The human relation to God is held to be founded upon a likeness; hence the whole confessional apparatus of the church by which the sinner is reinstated in a state of in grace (a concept itself dependent on Aristotelianism), so standing in relation to God. Thus Thomas Aquinas comments: “God loves sinners in so far as they are natures, because they are, and have their being from himself. But in so far as they are sinners they fail to be, and are not. This deficiency is not from God, and they are hateful to God in respect of it.”10 Against this the reformers (no longer working within an Aristotelian framework) pitted what they took to be the central understanding of the New Testament, that God loves and accepts sinners. Trusting in (viz. having faith in) this acceptance by God, humans are freed to love and serve the world. The dialectical structure of Lutheran faith, that we are at one with God while situated in the world, makes for a double sense of self and, it might be said, a dual reality of God and world.

The concept of the person

Early Lutherans may not have possessed the sense of personhood that was honed by the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Nonetheless, Lutheran theology is cast in existential and relational, rather than the previously ontological (in an Aristotelian sense) terms as derived being.11 Luther does not require the (Aristotelian) language of infused grace to speak of human transformation. He seeks a gracious God; the acceptance he believes he is given enabling a new self-understanding, freeing him for the service of the neighbor. That is the central insight of “The Freedom of a Christian” (1520), the statement in which Luther first articulates a full Reformation position. Conceiving of the person relationally, Luther knows himself as the other reflects him back to himself, that “other” being in his case God. Hegel will come out of this tradition. Luther’s theology is concerned with human dispositions: the human is unnerved (whereupon he attempts to ground himself in himself, the essence of sin); or he trusts, finding himself extra se (outside himself) in Christ in God. Lutheran theology has another timbre, rests on different presuppositions, than one concerned with inward transformation achieved through cooperating with infused grace.

The different sense of time

At least since Augustine theology had been Neo-Platonist; the human conceived to be drawn in love to God, the telos of life being the vision of God in the hereafter.12 By contrast, Luther’s thought is Hebraic, concerned for God’s promise and the faith that it elicits.13 Conceptualizing the relation to God in terms of love is relatively static; in terms of faith by comparison dynamic, future-oriented. Karl Marx will come out of a Hebraic culture, influenced also by a (Lutheran) Hegelianism, which conceives Geist (mind or spirit) to effect transformation in history. Of course, a concern for history is also Augustinian. But Lutheran thought does not involve our being drawn to a beyond, which alone fully constitutes reality. Rather does justification take place in the here and now. In a notable passage Kierkegaard, criticizing the idea of eternity as a projected state “at the end of time”, speaks of it as synthesized into each moment.14

The world

The world comes to have a radical secularity. It is alone through the revelation in Christ that God is known. Christ forms the Christian’s whole circumference, the world seen for what it is through him. There is no natural theology whereby humans might reason to God’s existence. That the world is a creation, dependent on a Creator, is made manifest through revelation. There can be no saints, those who have earned a superfluity of merit. The most that one person can do for another is to point the other to God, who is the sufficiency of each. There are no holy places, nor sacred acts to perform. Accepting in faith his acceptance by God, Luther is present “for” the world. A theology of glory (a mysticism which would ascend to God) is exchanged for a theology of the cross, as the Christian looks to the incarnation in the Christ-child and to the suffering on the cross. The appropriate human stance is one of Nachfolge (discipleship, literally “after-following”), necessarily involving suffering, not imitatio, the attempt to be in oneself a little Christ. In consequence, all believers are to be counted priests, while the German use of the word Beruf (“calling”) for a person’s secular occupation stems from Luther.

The polemic against “religion”

The Lutheran affirmation that we should look to Christ’s righteousness, that justification is by faith not works, gives rise to a polemic against human religion. Luther writes: “Religion that can be comprehended by reason is false religion… . In this respect there is no distinction between the Jews, the papists, and the Turks. Their rites are different, but their hearts and thoughts are the same … That is, they say, ‘If I have acted in such and such a way, God will be well disposed towards me’.” And he adds: “The same feeling is found in the hearts of all men.”15 The Christian revelation is against expectation. Some of Christ’s greatest parables concern God’s agapeistic love, that love which loves irrespective of the goodness of the one loved. The father does not say to the prodigal son “First mend your ways, only then may you enter my house.” Such a stance undercut medieval religious practice.

Enlightenment and After

We turn to the major contribution that Lutheran thought made to the coming of modernity. First some definitions. By “Christian” is intended here the belief that “in the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth” (to give the definition maximum scope) there pertained a uniqueness. This claim has of course been expressed in varied ways, from the early Christian symbol ICHTHUS, to the Chalcedonian formula, to post-Enlightenment attempts to otherwise inscribe uniqueness. By “post-Christian” is intended systems of thought which, while they may draw on Christian culture, do not allow—subsequent to the Newtonian revolution and the rise of Enlightenment thought patterns—that there could be such uniqueness, whether in the form of interventions, miracles, or “special revelation,” as opposed to the possibility of a general revelation, whether through nature (as for example in 18th-century Deism) or in any other form.

Enlightened Post-Christian Thought


Kant was no atheist in the manner of his contemporaries the French philosophes. He could be called in a limited way a moral deist, but he was not a Christian believer. His “first Critique” disabuses us of the notion that, with Descartes, one could pursue a type of Anselmian ontological argument for the existence of God. For our knowledge can extend no further than that for which we have empirical evidence.16 Turning from epistemological to ethical questions, Kant proves himself an Enlightenment man; one who, following in the path of Luther, valorizes the courage to think for oneself. His “What is Enlightenment?” represents human coming of age (Mündigkeit) as using one’s own reason, as opposed to the immaturity (Unmündigkeit) of a heteronomous relationship to a book (the Bible) which, or a pastor who, think for me.17 In his “second Critique” Kant considers that frame of mind which will fortify us in doing good works: the belief that there is a summum bonum, that state in which consonance exists between good works and reward; and furthermore, given the present dissonance, he postulates as regulative concepts the idea of (1) another existence, “eternal life,” and (2) that which brings this about, “God.”18 One could find this “Lutheran in that a certain mind set is judged prerequisite to the performance of good works. (Kant is not, in a positivistic sense, postulating that these things “exist.”) But Kant’s move is fraught with the danger of making moral motivation appear heteronomous, whereas he intends that the moral law should be its own end, and there is evidence that he may have lived to regret it.19

Further, in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone20 Kant executes the first global “de-mythologization” of Christian myth. Luther had evinced considerable hermeneutical sophistication, knowingly performing an eisegesis of the scriptures, reading justification by faith out of them, followed by an exegesis through the lens of justification; indeed, judging biblical books by their conformity to this criterion. Prior to Kant, G. E. Lessing had suggested that the three Abrahamic religions are but differing parabolic representations of fundamental human values.21 Kant proceeds to expound the scriptural story of Fall, redemption, and the coming of the kingdom as fitting, like a hand to a glove, the axioms of his moral philosophy. The biblical story is but a vehicle (Vehikel) of human self-understanding, ultimately disposable. Logically and commensurately with the whole, at the climax of the work it is our “new man” who makes recompense for the sins of the “old.” No external savior (the relation to whom could but be heteronomous) is called for.22 Of a post-Newtonian scientific disposition, Kant ridicules the idea of divine intervention, miracles, or imagined works of grace.


Though he might keep this hidden that his academic advancement not be hindered (his early “theological” essays lying unpublished), Hegel was as makes no odds an atheist.23 This notwithstanding, the tradition stemming from Luther is much in evidence in his work. One is inclined to say (though difficult to substantiate) that Luther’s exploration of human states of mind lies behind the musings of German idealism (by contrast with the empirical, practical, and political context of British philosophy). In the Preface to his Phenomenology, Hegel conceives of the self as in itself a relation, formed in a social context, rather than persons being possessed of a substantial, ontological nature.24 His metaphor of the master and the slave posits that it is through the “other” (whether the individual or the social context) that self-identity is achieved. Hegel’s insights will lead to the Marxist, and later existentialist, understanding of the self as formed in relation, in the first case to society, in the second to particular others. Hegel’s is a whole different context from the Catholic thought world of the 19th and indeed 20th centuries, still preoccupied by medieval Aristotelian notions of a body inhabited by a soul that will be separated from that body at death. Luther had had a strong sense of providence, there being no power independent of God, who works all in all. In Hegel’s case, the transcendent God is commuted into Geist, mind or spirit, which brings about the unfolding of history as it drives toward its telos. It is a significant move toward a secularization of history, though Hegel is far from our contemporary sense of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of human affairs. Turning Hegel on his head under Feuerbach’s influence, Karl Marx holds the material conditions of society, the means of production, to be the driver of history.

Following Kant, in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Hegel reads the scriptures for their symbolic meaning.25


Feuerbach, who briefly studied theology before turning to philosophy, trod in the footsteps of Kant and Hegel. In the Introduction to the second edition of his The Essence of Christianity he writes: “It is to be hoped that readers whose eyes are not sealed will be convinced and will admit, even though reluctantly, that my work contains a faithful, correct translation of the Christian religion out of the Oriental language of imagery into plain speech.”26 It is an up-front demythologization of the Christian religion, understood as a human projection. The Lutheran tradition lent itself to this.27 Luther conceives of God as being in form pro me/pro nobis (in relation to me/to us). His is no abstract God, as though one could know God in and of God’s self. If Luther could say “insofar as you believe it you have it,”28 it is a comparatively small step, turning this around, to suggest the idea of God to be self-generated. Feuerbach concludes that: “Man … projects his being into objectivity (vergegenständlicht sein Wesen);29 … [subsequently] seeing himself as an object to this projected image converted into a subject … He thinks of himself … not as an object to himself, but as the object of an object, of another being than himself.”30 (The book was translated by the atheist George Eliot.) Following Feuerbach’s casting of religion as a consoling dream,31 Marx willed that, as material conditions improved, it should evaporate, allowing of self-fulfilment in community. More recently, Feuerbach’s work has been seminal for feminist theorists who would see the Christian myth as a masculinist projection serving to legitimize gender hierarchy; while Luce Irigaray advocates that women should articulate their own “gendered transcendental,” which would in turn empower them to self-actualization.32

A son of the Enlightenment project, Feuerbach points to the incompatibility between the world of Christian belief and modernity. “Christianity” he writes, stands “in flagrant contradiction with our fire and life assurance companies, our railroads and steam-carriages, our picture and sculpture galleries, our military and industrial schools, our theatres and scientific museums.”33

The Lutheran Riposte


In Kierkegaard we see, by contrast, how the very structure of Lutheran thought could lend itself to a riposte to the Enlightenment and a restatement of Christian claims in the face of its presuppositions. Whereas since Augustine Catholicism has had a “linear” structure, as nature is transformed by grace, Lutheran thought revolves around a dialectic, as faith stands over against works, gospel against law, or revelation against reason.34 The field was open for Kierkegaard, the Lutheran, to contend that the Christian God is not available to human reason, but reveals himself in Christ. Thus his Philosophical Fragments35 poses an impertinent question. Given that idealism (indeed modernity) presupposes that all truth is already present to human beings—one may say with the foundation of the world, inherent in the nature of things (a position Kierkegaard casts as “Socratic”)—what conditions must pertain for this epistemological situation to be escaped? One would have to respond that truth must be “given” to humanity at a particular juncture in history; indeed, if this truth is not to be present even in anticipation, that the one who brings the truth must be in himself “the Truth.” Kierkegaard has carved out a sphere for a Christian apologetic.36 Such a “truth” challenges human pretension, as indeed for Luther revelation challenges human religion, casting humanity-apart-from-Christ—whether human thought in the form of idealism (Kierkegaard), or humans in their innate religiousness (Luther)—into the position of “sin.” These latter stances represent the attempt to evade God, are hubris in the face of God, whereas to be “in the truth” is to respond in faith to revelation. But if Kierkegaard has simply drawn out the implications of the Lutheran structure of thought in the epistemological sphere, it was also the case that he is living in a different age than the 16th century. The incompatibility of the historical and the eternal having come to the fore in the 18th century,37 it had become problematic to say of a particular individual that he is in a second nature “God.”38 Faith becomes for Kierkegaard not simply trust in God in Christ, but the epistemological somersault of crediting that this man is God.39

It is significant that (to employ 19th-century terms) Kierkegaard is a supernaturalist, not a naturalist. Living a century and a half after Newton, he has little sense of the regularity of nature, believing rather in interventionary miracle.40 The contemporaries of Jesus who see what appears to be but a man are alerted by his performance of a miracle, whereupon they must choose whether they will believe.41 In this sense the supernatural has for Kierkegaard at least one foot in our world.

The Twentieth Century

By the 20th century, to their credit major Lutheran thinkers are recognizing that it has become impossible to think that there could be interventionary miracle. Nature and history are understood to form an interrelated causal nexus, while events are one of a type, belonging to a category of such events; they are repeatable. How then to make the case for a uniqueness having occurred in Christ? For, as Kant had noted, Christianity is a “historical” religion, laying claim to what 18th-century Christians called the “scandal” of particularity42; or, as Kierkegaard set forth in his apologetic for the idea of a Christian position, truth is held to have been “given” to humanity at a particular point. Furthermore, with the major advances in the critical study of biblical texts in the German-speaking world in the 19th century, it became untenable to hold that “the Christ of faith” could be deduced from “the Jesus of history.” In the concluding lines of his history of “life of Jesus research” (translated as The Quest of the Historical Jesus) of 1906, Albert Schweitzer takes what might well be called a “leap of faith.”43 Midcentury, Bultmann and Bonhoeffer, indebted each in his own way to Kierkegaard, seek to find a way to speak of the uniqueness of the Christ-event that is not reliant on historical evidence and (notably in Bultmann’s case) that does not involve transgressing the laws of nature. The (Reformed) theologian Karl Barth, influential for both thinkers, had famously expressed what was needed in quipping that God’s revelation touches our world as does a tangent a circle (mathematically it does not).44


Bultmann takes scientific modernity for granted. He knows that there can be no interventionary event, one of a kind, the resurrection.45 But nor does he desire such an event, in this following Kierkegaard. Rather, is it for him the kerygma, the preached gospel, which is the “eschatalogical event,” changing lives as it elicits faith. Bultmann speaks of what one may call two spheres of reality: our everyday history, the world of cause and effect, Historie, and the unfolding of—how shall we depict it?—the sphere of meaning or salvation history, Geschichte. One should remember here that Bultmann stands within a German tradition, stemming from Hegel, which could speak in this way of the progression of ultimate meaning. Now the death of Jesus on the cross is clearly an event in Historie, but the “preaching of the resurrection” lies rather in the realm of Geschichte; the two being as closely interlinked as possible (while lacking any causal relation), as the kerygma of his resurrection lends “uniqueness” to this particular man who died.46 Interestingly, Bultmann equates the move he makes with the Lutheran simul justus et peccator.47 Two spheres of reality exist together.

Bultmann holds demythologization of the Christian scriptures imperative. As he comments in 1941 (echoing Feuerbach’s talk of railways and steam-carriages), the man who listens to the radio does not believe in miracles.48 Myth, thinks Bultmann, arises out of the human need to find language for that which is inexpressible. As he writes, “Der Mythos objektiviert das Jenseitige als Diesseitiges” (myth objectivises that which belongs to the other side as this side”).49 It follows that one should not think of myth in positivistic terms as “true.” But nor is it to be dismissed—and certainly not on account of our having moved into a scientific age. The German word Entmythologisierung translates simply as “out of mythology,” the English “demythologizing” (as though debunking) being misleading. One could see demythologizing as an extension of the Lutheran desacralization of the world. Our leaving our past behind as we respond in faith to the “truth” of the preached resurrection delivers us into freedom. Employing Heideggerian language, Bultmann (in an anti-Pelagian move) speaks of our being delivered from inauthenticity into authenticity.


Bonhoeffer pursues another, equally Lutheran line of thought. Lecturing on Christology at Berlin’s Humboldt University in the critical situation of the spring of 1933, he carries through Kierkegaard’s program in Philosophical Fragments, now advanced not as a hypothetical proposition but as actuality. The published lectures (posthumously reconstituted from his students’ notes) open with a quotation from Kierkegaard: “Be silent, for that is the Absolute.”50 That is to say, there is no possible transition from human thought or reason to Christological confession: confronted with revelation, reason can only give way. Christ comes from outside to be at the center; all else (as also for Kierkegaard) must be reoriented in relation to this reality. The question to be asked of Christ is not “What?,” the question of distraught reason, but simply “Who?” Following Luther’s doctrine of ubiquity, for Bonhoeffer, as for Luther, Christ today is present as preached Word, church, and sacrament. Bonhoeffer claims him to be ontologically (not simply known epistemologically) pro me/pro nobis.51

In prison in his final years, Bonhoeffer sought to find a way to present Christianity to a world come of age (he employs Kant’s term in his “What is Enlightenment?”). It is not simply mythological conceptions but religion itself that is problematic. God as a working hypothesis has become obsolete in ethics, politics, science, or philosophy. But what Bonhoeffer would advance as a solution is exceedingly unclear. He had evidently in no way abandoned the position of the Christology lectures; both his letters from prison and his Ethics, a book constructed after his death from writings undertaken concurrently with his remarks on the need for a “religionless Christianity,” evince the revolutionary Kierkegaardian stance of Christology. There is polemic against the individualism and liberalism that he thinks Bultmann to represent. What is clear is that, in speaking out against human “religiousness,” Bonhoeffer could draw on his native Lutheran tradition. Thus he comments, “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) … It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”52

Lutheranism and the Post-Christian World

Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, and Tillich

Bultmann and Bonhoeffer have been discussed here as outstanding examples of theologians who, grasping the secularity of the modern world, the closed causal nexus of nature and history, and the impossibility of moving from historical facts to Christological confession, attempted in response to formulate a Christocentric Lutheran apologetic. These apologetics will now be critiqued, and the section will conclude with a note on the Tillichian alternative.


We have already seen an apparent inconsistency in Bultmann’s thought in his excepting the proclamation of the resurrection from his demythologization program. Given that his defense of the resurrection balances on a knife edge, one can come off on either side; to the “right” in proclaiming, as do Barthians, the resurrection as a positivisitic event, or to the “left” in not exempting it from demythologization. Taking the latter course, the Swiss (Reformed) theologian Fritz Buri called for an Entkerygmatisierung (“dekerygmatization”) of the Christian message.53 The concept of redemptive history per se, so Buri contends, is simply mythological, writing to his compatriot Karl Barth: “Your Christology, like a piece of chocolate smuggled into the silver paper of your anthropology, strikes me as completely untenable.”54 That is to say, one must first hold Barth’s theological anthropology if his Christology is to make sense; but perhaps the anthropology (of man as sinner) is untenable. Let us turn, however, to the American Methodist Schubert Ogden.

In his Christ without Myth (1962), Ogden contends that across-the-board demythologization should be accepted without further ado. The Christian myth is but a symbol, or “cypher” (Kant would have said “vehicle”). American theologians of his generation—the Niebuhr brothers, or Tillich as an honorary American—says Ogden, hold such a presupposition. Thus he finds incoherent John Macquarrie’s positivistic talk of “unique events in which God was at work.”55 The corollary of Ogden’s position, from which he does not dissent, is that other cultures will employ other myths. But then, willing to be Christian, Ogden suddenly avers that “The sole norm of every legitimate theological assertion is the revealed word of God declared in Jesus Christ” (the Christian kerygma), furthermore criticizing Bultmann for inadequately expressing the objective nature of “the decisive event of divine manifestation.” The Christian kerygma becomes a kind of high point within a wider field of revelation, Ogden contending that the New Testament itself allows that human beings could be “saved” (in Bultmannian terms, delivered into authenticity) “in complete freedom from any saving ‘work’ of the kind traditionally portrayed in the doctrines of the person and work of Jesus Christ.”56

So where are we? What could it mean to say that God is “decisively disclosed”? Is this a unique intervention or not? In contending that the kerygma of the resurrection is an event of Geschichte, Bultmann has avoided placing it in Historie, in which (as he well knows) there could be no such event. Ogden, in demanding a greater objectivity for the resurrection, appears not to be clear as to the necessity of Bultmann’s move. That New Testament writers may be close to the position that Ogden advocates is beside the point. Citing “before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58), the church has indeed given Christ supra-historical existence, that all revelation may be through him. Now one would have expected to find Bultmann, a modern man, wishing to demythologize all such talk. But does he? He is in a catch 22 situation. Without his “resurrection”, he must abandon the Christian claim to uniqueness; yet it is a tangent that, in a world of cause and effect, must never be allowed to touch the circle. Besides which—one may well ask—what could Bultmann (or Ogden) intend by speaking of an “event” in Geschichte? How could one verify it by any normal criteria?57 Or does Bultmann in fact recognize that his “resurrection” (however much coming from “without,” in that it is preached) is in fact mythological, existing only in the human imagination?

That this is the case is the position taken by the philosopher Karl Jaspers in critiquing Bultmann. Jaspers will credit no “magical causality” (interruptive events); one might think, nor will Bultmann. In that case, Jaspers can prick the bubble that is Bultmann’s position. Orthodox (viz. dialectical, Barthian, or Bultmannian) theology, says Jaspers, demands faith in revelation in the face of theological liberalism. But there can be no recognition of revelation apart from faith in that revelation, which indeed Bultmann would seem to concede, saying that one can only discover instances of faith, never the revelation itself. The implication is that “the resurrection”, an impossibility in our world, is a myth like any other. Furthermore, Bultmann’s solution, charges Jaspers (in parallel to Buri’s critique of Barth), is the corollary of his theological anthropology. “A philosophy that conceives empirical existence as hopeless [the reference is to Heidegger’s Being and Time, 1927] finds its natural complement in a doctrine that promises salvation through faith in redemptive history.” Bultmann’s contention is a closed circle. And then again one might well say, “What if I don’t find this kerygma to deliver me into authenticity?” Squarely occupying Enlightenment ground, Kierkegaard’s Socratic position, Jaspers comments: “Every individual achieves inner peace in a resolve grounded in his own historicity.”58


Bonhoeffer is not to be understood apart from the exigencies of the situation in which he developed his Christology. From the start he opposed the Third Reich. It could well be said of his lectures of spring 1933 that they answered National Socialism in its own terms. In place of Hitler, Bonhoeffer sets Christ, proclaiming allegiance to him (as indeed did later the members of the Confessing Church to which Bonhoeffer adhered, rising to their feet—as had not previously been customary—to say the words of the Creed “I believe in God …,” in the Third Reich a political statement). Bonhoeffer’s is not a rational deduction of the existence of God, nor a Christology arrived at through reason. As in Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, reason can but give way, as the human being asks simply “Who?” Thus does Bonhoeffer leap what, in origin, was Lessing’s ditch, though the precedent he looks to is clearly Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. If intending to subvert Nazi ideology, in this too Bonhoeffer reflects the Zeitgeist of the time. He specifically rejects both humanism and liberalism. Alluding to Schweitzer, Bonhoeffer well knows that there can be no Christology which, commencing from the “Jesus of history,” arrives at the “Christ of faith.” The question that one must pose to such a theology as Bonhoeffer’s is essentially that with which Jaspers confronts Bultmann: “The great alternative is ultimately … Is man with his reason master and judge of everything that is, can be, and should be, or must he listen to God?”59 We are effectively back with Kant’s contention as to that in which Enlightenment consists in his “What is Enlightenment?”

Bonhoeffer may be consistent in his own terms. But to get off the ground he has to take a leap of faith to a new reality that holds no point of connection with our normal criteria of evidential reason; thus there is, one might say, no point of contact with the modern world.60

A note on Tillich

Having reached this point, it might seem logical to turn to Tillich as an example of a “post-Christian” Lutheran. Tillich was marked by his Lutheran heritage, writing in 1936, “I am a Lutheran by birth, education, religious experience and theological reflection… . The substance of my religion is and remains Lutheran”; continuing “It includes a consciousness of the ‘corruption’ of existence … an awareness of the irrational and demonic nature of existence,” and so forth.61 Tillich’s phenomenological depiction of the human situation portrays the Lutheran landscape. Over against Angst stands his version of faith: trust in our total acceptance irrespective of what we may doubt or do. But how is such a phenomenology specifically Christian? Tillich speaks much of the kerygma, but he notably fails to connect this with Jesus of Nazareth. Further, what if one does not recognize Tillich’s depiction of the human condition? Thus the present author’s memory of the early 1960s, bearing little resemblance to Tillich’s account of a time when humanity had lost its compass, is rather of an optimistic age brimming with belief in the benefits of advancing technology. Already in 1944 Bonhoeffer had written, “Tillich set out to interpret the evolution of the world itself—against its will—in a religious sense, to give [it] … shape through religion. That was very courageous of him, but the world unseated him and went on by itself: he sought to understand the world better than it understood itself, but it felt entirely misunderstood and rejected the imputation.”62 The Lutheran analysis has, in Tillich’s hands, become an adept tool for interpreting history, but seemingly with no necessary reference to particular historical events. Is that to pass muster as Christian?


The term “post-Christian” may be employed in two senses. On the one hand, it is commonly used interchangeably with “secular,” as when people say that we live in a “post-Christian society.” On the other, it has in recent years denoted (particularly among women who are feminists and theologians) a theological position that is not Christian but precisely “post-Christian,” both halves of the term being apt (thus definitely “post,” but “post” Christian, carrying something forward in sensibilities, rather than, say, “post-Buddhist”).63 What is interesting and significant, connecting the two connotations, is that though European countries are at this point widely post-Christian in the first sense of the term, it seems that, at least in Britain and presumably elsewhere, many would designate themselves “spiritual” persons.64 Thus the expression “spiritual but not religious” has become commonplace.65 Meanwhile, the number of those who self-identify as atheists remains relatively small. Of course, what it may mean to call oneself a spiritual person must vary greatly, covering a spectrum ranging from scarcely distinguishable from (simply) ethical66 to something central to a person’s self-understanding. In this respect it is interesting to note that, at least in Britain, research undertaken in the 1970s and after by the Oxford Religious Experience Research Unit showed that a surprising number of people have had experiences which they deem to be of God or a “higher power,” experiences that had often been life-changing.67

In reflecting upon the relation between Lutheranism and the post-Christian world, we should first consider whether it is the case, as perhaps we might expect, that persons and countries that were formerly Lutheran (or, more generally, Protestant) have been more ready to embrace secularity than have formerly Catholic persons and countries? Second, it is worthwhile to think through the matter of the interface between Lutheranism and the expression of spirituality commonly present in the post-Christian world.

The answer to the first of these questions would seem to be that it is certainly the case that formerly Protestant (including Lutheran) countries were to the fore in becoming secularized, and that they have known extensive secularization. What we may note however is that formerly Catholic western European countries are fast catching up.68 Future research will surely want to explore the sources of a development remarkable for the speed at which it has overtaken European culture. Though the history and culture of a country is clearly significant in this respect, particular historical eventualities in the 20th century may also be determinative. Thus the Lutheran heartlands, which lie in eastern Germany, are today overwhelmingly secular; but this is presumably in large part on account of the forty-five years of submersion in Marxism.69 By contrast, post-communist Russia has known a religious revival, presumably in that case in part at least on account of the need to find a new national identity, a need not present in the East German case after the unification with the Federal Republic. While the country with the most people declaring themselves to be outright atheists—perhaps unsurprisingly, given its tradition—is France.70 But for all the importance of local circumstances, we may note that Germany and the Scandinavian countries (together with the formerly Reformed Netherlands) are today among the most secular countries in Europe. Thus in Denmark, for example, only 2 to 3 percent of the population attends church.71 A complicating factor in comparative studies is that leaving the church has wholly different implications in countries that have a church tax (as do Germany and the Scandinavian countries) as compared with say the United Kingdom, which does not; nonpayment may, for example, make one ineligible for Christian burial. Thus we find that the former West Germany is divided almost equally between Catholic, Protestant, and no church allegiance, while the Scandinavian countries have not known the drop in church membership that has Britain. What it would be interesting to know is how far lack of allegiance to the church is driven by social and political factors (thus, there is some evidence that hostility to women’s rights and to homosexuals has hurt the Anglican churches in Britain, while the child sex abuse scandal has certainly harmed the Catholic Church in Ireland), and how far by theological factors—people simply no longer believe Christian claims.

Turning to the second consideration, the interface between the form taken by Lutheran faith and the nature of spirituality in the post-Christian world. (One should note at the outset that there would seem to be a dearth of attention paid to this vital question by Lutheran theologians, perhaps also by theologians more widely.) I shall suggest that in the Lutheran case there are peculiar difficulties.

The depth of the problem with which Christianity is confronted is clear from our previous deliberations. As Kierkegaard put it in his Philosophical Fragments, either truth is always with humanity, part of the constitution of the world (what he calls position “A”), or (if one is to depart from this paradigm) one must necessarily claim (the Christian position) that Truth was “given” in Jesus Christ; in which case the whole scenario changes and what was previously thought “truth” becomes an untruth. But in a post-Newtonian age it becomes difficult to credit that there could be a special (or unique) revelation. It is precisely this dilemma that notably Bultmann tries to circumvent in separating the sphere of meaning from that of cause and effect; maintaining that it is the preaching of the kerygma of the death and resurrection of this man that is decisive for human self-understanding. If, however, one becomes unstuck as to what could possibly be intended here by “resurrection” (crucially for Bultmann, not an empirical event), then, logically, one is cast into holding a post-Christian position.72 Reality is held to be all of a piece (Kierkegaard’s Socratic sphere), and what one may mean by “God” can but denote that which is part of the one reality, potentially present and available in all times and places. Bultmann, the Lutheran, has, however, in consequence of his Christocentric faith, secularized the world. As Hans Blumenberg rightly comments, “In the midst of the New Testament texts” historical conditioning and saturation with received ideas, Bultmann wants to rescue an irreducible and original core that resists all historicism by means of its formal worldlessness. This kerygma, by virtue of its definition, cannot be secularized. It cannot “go over into” worldliness; it can only “disappear” in it.73 By the same token, the American Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlicky finds Spinoza rather than Kant to be the nemesis of Lutheran thought.74

An interesting comparison here may be made with Catholicism. For Lutherans, the recognition that the world is a creation can presumably be known only through revelation.75 By contrast, in Catholicism it has commonly been thought that there is a knowledge of God through the natural world that is crowned by the revelation in Christ. Catholics have been much less alive to the problem that such a supposition of continuity between a world of cause and effect and the postulation of uniqueness poses in a post-Newtonian world. (One might go so far as to say that Catholicism has yet to confront in any major way the difficulty caused by the Christian claim to a particularity having occurred in history, the conundrum with which Lutheran thinkers have wrestled since the Enlightenment.) Interestingly, it may well be that, with its high doctrine of creation relatively independent of Christology, its emphasis on liturgy, and its sense for mysticism, Catholicism has provided a psychological space in which many may dwell while holding at some distance the tenets of classical Christian belief. The difficulty for Protestants in acknowledging any wider (nonspecifically Christian) spirituality struck the present author forcefully when she left the Christian church and religion behind. While such a position was fully comprehensible to many a Catholic, the question posed to me (by Presbyterians in Scotland) was did I read the Bible and believe in Jesus Christ, and when answered negatively I was beyond the pale. Again, one may note that Catholic thinkers such as Charles Taylor or Gregory Baum consider that a fruitful dialogue may take place between (Catholic) Christianity and the post-Christian world. Believing in the non-necessity of opposition between religious and secular thought, Baum (who, incidentally, criticizes Taylor for not examining New Age religious ideas) advocates an ongoing “back and forth” between them.76 Of course, Protestant theologians have drawn on secular philosophy (witness Jürgen Moltmann’s debt to Ernst Bloch, or Bultmann’s relationship to Heidegger), but there is a tendency simply to castigate as “Pelagian” secular philosophy’s pursuit of human fulfillment apart from revelation.

Meanwhile, Lutheran suspicion of talk of religious experience would appear deep-seated. Though himself influenced by late medieval mysticism, Luther had little time for what he considered Schwärmerei, commenting of the enthusiasts and the papists that they were “two foxes with different heads but tied together by their tails.”77 Both parties, he judged, looked to something about themselves, in the first case inward experience, in the second a belief in infused grace, rather than to what he considered the “objectivity” of scripture. In this unlike the Anglo-Saxon tradition, it could well be said that, with the notable exception of Rudolf Otto’s 1917 work Das Heilige78, the Lutheran tradition has not been particularly open to the empirical study of the phenomenology of religious experience. While any “spirituality” that surfaced in German Romanticism (for example, in the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin), or in the case of Martin Heidegger (from a Catholic background, though a master of Lutheran thought), may be thought to owe more to the Greeks than to the biblical tradition. In recent decades the waters have been muddied for Germans by the unwholesome experience of the National Socialist-tinted ideology of the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”), making many a Lutheran quick to suspect any home-grown “spirituality.”79

There would, then, appear to be profound differences between the forms of spirituality commonly present in the post-Christian world and the structure of Lutheran faith, differences that it must be difficult to bridge. This becomes particularly clear in considering a feminist post-Christian theological position. Feminists have typically wanted to valorize the self, to speak of “coming into one’s own,” that is to say, a coming “to” oneself. But this fits ill with a faith which speaks of breaking the self in order to be based in another. Luther writes that we are semper peccator, semper penitens, semper iustus80: we sin (in Lutheran parlance, we are caught up in self), we hear the gospel and in response are penitent, whereupon we consent again to dependence, to find ourselves extra se in Christ in God. To employ the vocabulary popularized by William James, Lutheranism is deeply “twice born”, whereas the feminist position and that of much post-Christian spirituality that thinks in terms of coming into one’s own is necessarily “once born.” Again Luther writes that “progress is nothing other than constantly beginning,”81 for once and again we go through this threefold movement: the consent to live in Christ in God is no settled disposition. Whether the Lutheran position is intrinsically heteronomous is an interesting question. One could say that, if God is God, then it is only as one is based in God that one comes into one’s own. The problem again is the matter of revelation. It is one thing to find oneself in God in and with coming into one’s own, not incommensurate with a conception of God as spirit and part of the whole to which one also belongs (a religious form of Kierkegaard’s position “A”). It is quite another to say with Luther that “a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ … By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God.”82 We should recognize that for Luther, to be possessed of this new self-understanding is nothing less than what it is to be a Christian: as he says in this very passage ‘otherwise he is not a Christian’. These fundamental questions must surely be grasped by Lutheran theologians as they wrestle with the nature of Lutheran faith in a post-Christian world.83

Luther, Lutherans, and the Post-Christian World

For all that there are points of tension between Lutheran faith and a post-Christian world, whether secular or given its spirituality, it is clear that the legacy that the Lutheran tradition has bequeathed to the modern world is far-reaching and pervasive. Though distinct from it, the Reformation was in part the form taken by the northern Renaissance. It is evident that Lutheran thought forms propelled the German Enlightenment in as much as that major figures within the Enlightenment had been reared within and had absorbed that tradition. Not least, it informed their interest in hermeneutics and shaped their understanding of the constitution of the self. It was in dialogue with this tradition that a hermeneutic of suspicion and a profound critique of religion arose. Again it is clear that Lutheran patterns of thought have flowed into modern Continental philosophy and psychoanalytic thought. Not least have Luther’s own insights proved seminal. Thus, for example, he grasped the profound import of security to a human life, a theme taken up by Tillich with his “Accept that you are accepted,”84 or by Erik Erikson in placing the need for trust in another before the interrelationship of love in the development of the child.85 Again, Luther’s sense of Angst, of not being at home in the world, has, via Kierkegaard, flowed into Heidegger and 20th-century French existentialism. Yet again, Luther’s sense that we misuse others, even God says he,86 in our attempt to prop up an inadequate sense of self is apparent in Heidegger’s observation that we use others as vorhanden (“available” to us). While the recognition that “person” comes before “works,” that it is the prior healing of a person that leads to transformed behavior, is a profoundly Lutheran insight relevant today to criminal justice.

In short, one may say that the Lutheran heritage has passed into the modern world. So influential has it been that it is difficult to distinguish it from that world. Lutheran thought was both the child of modernity and in turn hastened its advent. It is in the light of other religious worlds that one may recognize what a brave attempt the Lutheran has been to tackle the questions that modernity poses for Christianity. One has only to consider, by contrast, the Islamic world, which never passed through an Enlightenment that would relativize and contextualize its scriptures, and which lacks a tradition that gives weight to individual conscience, for this to come into focus. Within the Christian context, one may note that Catholicism still in large part moves within a world of premodern suppositions, sweeping under the carpet questions of cause and effect in its allowing of miracles.87 Much the same must be said of Eastern Orthodoxy. Thinkers in the Lutheran tradition have never resembled ostriches, burying their heads to avoid seeing the truths of modernity. This inquiring attitude and intellectual honesty are present in Luther himself. That, in the West, Christianity has known but one major break in its history that was nothing less than a shift in paradigm owes not a little to one particular human being, his genius, and his courage.

Further Reading

The criterion that has governed the choice of works is that they should be classics in the German tradition which, collectively, illuminate the length, depth, and breadth of a tradition which, arising out of Lutheran Christianity, critiqued Christianity, many of the authors moving outside Christianity to become atheist, or to a position which may be spiritual but is not Christian. The more particularly if one orders the works chronologically, it strikes one that there has been an on-going engagement passed from one generation to the next as to the viability, on both epistemological and ethical grounds, of Christian claims in the modern era. Kierkegaard was Danish but worked within this tradition; Heidegger was not Lutheran but known for his Luther scholarship. Zahrnt has been added as a general history of modern protestant theology for readers who may need more background and context to matters discussed in this entry.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. Translated by George Eliot. New York, Evanston and London: Harper Torchbooks, 1957 [1841].Find this resource:

Heidegger, Martin. “The End of Metaphysics and the Task of Thinking.” In Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings. Edited by D. F. Krell. Revised ed. London: Routledge, 1993 [French, 1966; German, 1969].Find this resource:

Jaspers, Karl, and Rudolf Bultmann. Myth and Christianity. New York: Noonday, 1958.Find this resource:

Kant, Immanuel. “What is Enlightenment?” In Practical Philosophy: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Translated and edited by Mary J. Gregor, 11–22. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996[1784].Find this resource:

Kierkegaard, Søren. Philosophical Fragments. Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Kierkegaard’s Writings 7. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987 [1844].Find this resource:

Lessing, G. E. Nathan the Wise. In Lessing: Laocoön, Nathan the Wise, Minna von Barnhelm. Edited by William A. Steel, 111–220. London: Dent, and New York: Dutton–Everyman’s Library, 1930 [1779].Find this resource:

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 2003 [1889].Find this resource:

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy. Translated by John W. Harvey. 2d ed. London, Oxford, and New York: Oxford University Press, 1950 [1917].Find this resource:

Zahrnt, Heinz. The Question of God: Protestant Theology in the Twentieth Century. Translated by R. A. Wilson. London: William Collins, and New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969 [German, 1966].Find this resource:


(1.) “… wenn ich nicht durch Zeugnisse der Schrift und klare Vernunftgründe überzeugt werde; denn weder dem Papst noch den Konzilien allein glaube ich, da es feststeht, daß sie öfter geirrt und sich selbst widersprochen haben, so bin ich durch die Stellen der heiligen Schrift, die ich angeführt habe, überwunden in meinem Gewissen und gefangen in dem Worte Gottes. Daher kann und will ich nichts widerrufen, weil wider das Gewissen etwas zu tun weder sicher noch heilsam ist. Gott helfe mir, Amen!“ Cited in Adolf Kohler, ed., Deutsche Reichstagsakten, Jüngere Reihe, vol. 2 (Gotha, 1896), 581–582.

(2.) Alfred Kohler, ed., Quellen zur Geschichte Karls V (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1990); translated in Harald Kleinschmidt, Charles V: The World Emperor (Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 2004), 79–80.

(3.) A Catholic literature has arisen which laments the shattering of the hegemony of the medieval world, most recently in Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), but see also Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007) and earlier, Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (London: Gerard Duckworth, 1981). It is the breaking of this hegemony, rather than anything about Protestantism per se, which is held to have led to secularization. For the different understandings of how secularization came about (what the author calls the “neo-Thomist” versus the “Protestant rationalist” accounts), see the excellent article by Ian Hunter, “Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and Secularization in Early Modern Germany,” Modern Intellectual History 8.3 (2011): 621–646, esp. 621–623.

(4.) See Alister McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 59–68, on developments at Wittenberg, chap. 3 on the move from Aristotelian, ontological modes of thought to nominalism and covenantal conceptions.

(5.) It is not without significance that Luther’s last work prior to the outbreak of the indulgence controversy was his “Disputation against Scholastic Theology” of September 4, 1517.

(6.) McGrath, Intellectual Origins, 133–134.

(7.) German, Entzauberung.

(8.) On the size and bizarre contents of relic collections see Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor, 1955), 35–36, 53, 192. That at the castle church at Wittenberg was renowned.

(9.) There is considerable evidence that belief in magic went underground and emerged in other forms; see Alexandra Walsham, “The Reformation and ‘The Disenchantment of the World’ Reassessed,” Historical Journal 51 (2008): 497–528.

(10.) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, qu. 20, art. 2, reply 4, in Aquinas on Nature and Grace, ed. and trans. A. M. Fairweather (Library of Christian Classics; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 81.

(11.) The best discussion of this is Wilfried Joest, Ontologie der Person bei Luther (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967).

(12.) See for example Augustine, The City of God, Bk 22, chap. 29.

(13.) The Reformation historian David Steinmetz has shown this other orientation to be present from Luther’s earliest (pre-Reformation) lectures, remarking in an understatement that the move from “love” to “faith” was “a theological shift of great importance in the history of Western Christianity.” David Steinmetz, Luther and Staupitz: An Essay in the Intellectual Origins of the Protestant Reformation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1980), 140.

(14.) Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, ed. and trans. Reider Thomte (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 85–92. For how this fits perfectly with the Lutheran simul justus et peccator see Daphne Hampson, Kierkegaard: Exposition and Critique (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 133–136.

(15.) WA 40/I:603, 5–11. A different translation is to be found at LW 26:396.

(16.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, I, II, ch. 3, 4.

(17.) Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question ‘What is Enlightenment?’” in Practical Philosophy: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, ed. and trans. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 11–22.

(18.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Practical Reason, I, II, ch. 2.

(19.) Cf. remarks of Erich Adickes in Kants Opus Postumum (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1920), 846, 848–849, 832, 847, discussed by Theodore Greene, Introduction, in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, eds. T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), lxv–lxvi.

(20.) There are two translations. (i) T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson, eds., Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960); (ii) A. Wood ed. and trans., Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(21.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan der Weise (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam, 1990); ed. and trans. W. A. Steel in Laocoön, Nathan the Wise, Minna von Barnhelm (London: Dent, Everyman’s Library, 1930).

(22.) The crucial soteriological passage is ed. Greene and Hudson, Religion, 69; and ed. Wood, Religion, 115.

(23.) On Hegel’s atheism see Robert C. Solomon, “The Secret of Hegel (Kierkegaard’s Complaint): A Study in Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,” in From Hegel to Existentialism, ed. Robert C. Solomon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 56–71.

(24.) There are two translations. G. W. F. Hegel, “Preface,” in The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie (London: Allen & Unwin, 1949), 84–85; and G. W. F. Hegel, “Preface,” The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 14.

(25.) Peter Hodgson, ed., Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

(26.) Ludwig Feuerbach, “Preface to second edition of 1843,” in The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper, 1957), xxxiii.

(27.) See the interesting comments on Feuerbach’s relation to Luther in Simon Podmore, “Luther and Modern European Philosophy.”

(28.) WA 40/I:444, 14. A different translation is found in LW 26:284.

(29.) German “makes himself into an object” (Gegenstand, “object”), which English can capture with “objectifies” providing we understand “object” as integral to that word.

(30.) Author’s translation. “Der Mensch … vergegenständlich sein Wesen und macht dann wieder sich zum Gegenstand dieses vergegenständlichten, in ein Subject; … er denkt sich, ist sich Gegenstand, aber als Gegenstand eines Gegenstands, eines anderen Wesens.” Another translation in Feuerbach, Essence, 29–30.

(31.) Cf. Feuerbach, “Preface” to Essence, xxxix: “Religion is the dream of the human mind.”

(32.) Luce Irigaray, “Divine Women,” in Sexes and Genealogies, ed. Luce Irigaray, trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 55–72.

(33.) Feuerbach, “Preface” to Essence, xliv.

(34.) On the differing structures of Lutheran and Catholic thought see Daphne Hampson, Christian Contradictions: The Structures of Lutheran and Catholic Thought (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

(35.) There are two translations. Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, (i) translated by D. Swenson, revised by H. V. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967); (ii) translated by H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985).

(36.) Kierkegaard may have been influenced here by Friedrich Schelling’s Berlin lectures of 1841, some of which he attended, and he had inquired as to the content of the rest. Concluding that human beings cannot reach God either through reason or experience, yet are sensible of the human need for God, Schelling concluded that God breaks through to us.

(37.) Cf. G. E. Lessing, “On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,” in Lessing’s Theological Writings: Selections, ed. Henry Chadwick (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1956), 51–56.

(38.) Luther, the biblical exegete, had largely avoided such speculation, though he could be said to have a “high,” “Alexandrian” Christology, such that the babe in the manger is indeed God.

(39.) Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, trans. H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), II, I, chap. 2.

(40.) Cf. Hampson, Kierkegaard: Exposition and Critique, 28–29, 88–89, 91–95.

(41.) Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, the end of chap. 4.

(42.) See for example Kant, Religion, preface to the second edition, and Book 3, V, VI.

(43.) Having shown that the endeavor fails, Schweitzer writes that those who are prepared to work, struggle and suffer will “as an unspeakable secret, come to experience who he is …”. Evidently not grasping their significance, the English translation omits the final ellipsis; a sense of mystery is replaced by triumphalism. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. W. Montgomery (New York: Macmillan, 1961).

(44.) “In the Resurrection the new world of the Holy Spirit touches the old world of the flesh, but touches it as a tangent touches a circle, that is, without touching it. And precisely because it does not touch it, it touches it as its frontier—as the new world.” Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. E. Hoskyns (2d ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 30.

(45.) For a good short statement of Bultmann’s position see his Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958; London: SCM, 1960), 14–16.

(46.) See Bultmann’s discussion in his famed essay “New Testament and Mythology” (1941), reprinted in Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. H. W. Bartsch, trans. Reginald H. Fuller (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 35–43.

(47.) Cf. Rudolf Bultmann, History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1962), 154.

(48.) Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” 5: “Man kann nicht elektrisches Licht und Radioapparat benutzen, in Krankheitsfällen moderne medizinische und klinische Mittel in Anspruch nehmen und gleichzeitig an die Geister- und Wunderwelt des Neuen Testaments glauben.”

(49.) See Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 19.

(50.) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology, trans. J. Bowden (Collins: Fontana Library, 1971), 27. Cf. Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, trans. H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 62.

(51.) On this structure in Luther see Hampson, Christian Contradictions, 23.

(52.) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. E. Bethge, trans. R. H. Fuller et al. (enlarged edn.; London: SCM, 1967), letter to Eberhard Bethge, July 18, 1944, p. 361.

(53.) Fritz Buri, Theologie der Existenz (Bern & Stuttgart: Paul Haupt, 1954).

(54.) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter of 18.12.1962, author’s translation.

(55.) John Macquarrie, An Existentialist Theology: A Comparison of Heidegger and Bultmann (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), 187. Having spent a period at Union Theological Seminary, Macquarrie must have been well known to an American readership.

(56.) Schubert Ogden, Christ without Myth: A Study Based on the Theology of Rudolf Bultmann (New York: Harper, 1961; London: Collins, 1962), 161, 180, 169.

(57.) Cf. Ronald Hepburn, “Demythologizing and the Problem of Validity,” in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, eds. Antony Flew and Alasdair Macintyre (London: SCM, 1955), 227–242.

(58.) Karl Jaspers and Rudolf Bultmann, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion without Myth (New York: Noonday, 1958), 102, 83.

(59.) Jaspers and Bultmann, Myth and Christianity, 42.

(60.) All one can perhaps say is that it is not the path which British Christians took during those years or which, given their tradition, so much at variance with the German, they could ever have taken. It was precisely in the war years that, in response to the crisis, there was a revival of interest in natural theology, not simply on the part of Anglicans or Catholics, but equally among Free Churchmen. It was in this context that the Dutchman W. A. Visser’t Hooft, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches in process of formation in Geneva and a trusted friend of Bonhoeffer, found himself writing to William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: “It is not in the name of the revealed commandments of God that the churches [on the Continent] are fighting against political and social injustice and disorder. It is in the Bible and not in the teachings of the Greeks and Romans or of St Thomas that they seek the ethic on which they would build the future political and social order.” (15 Dec. 1943; papers of the WCC in Process of Formation, Archives of the World Council of Churches, Geneva; personal communication to author, P. Ludlow.) Again, one could cite a review of Kierkegaard’s work by the moral and political philosopher Dorothy Emmet. Commenting that to make Kierkegaard spiritually responsible for the present war would have “as little, and perhaps as much, truth in it” as explanations which made Hegel responsible for the last one, she continued that both Nazi apologists and their opponents in the Confessing Church “are consciously or unconsciously moved by a way of thinking which puts the decision of the individual … above any objective or universal norm of ethics or of reason by which it can be either justified or criticized”; Dorothy Emmet, “Kierkegaard and the ‘Existential’ Philosophy,” Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy 16 (1941): 257–271. Evidently something very different was afoot than the liberal, democratic values with which Emmet was familiar.

(61.) Paul Tillich, On the Boundary: An Autobiographical Sketch (New York: Scribner, 1966), 74–75.

(62.) Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers, letter to Eberhard Bethge, June 8, 1944, 327–328.

(63.) The term “postchristian” (sic) was first espoused by Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), who however discontinued its use on account of the fact that it included the term “Christian,” from which she wished to dissociate herself. The present author employed “Post-Christian” from the 1980s, and the term became widely known and understood in feminist theological circles during those years. It will be clear that she espouses this position not simply on feminist but also on fundamental epistemological grounds. Cf. Daphne Hampson, After Christianity (London: SCM, 1996; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1997; 2d ed., London: SCM, 2002). For the variety of positions apparently to be classed as post-Christian feminist see Lisa Isherwood and Kathleen McPhillips, eds., Post-Christian Feminisms (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2008). See also Charlene Spretnak, ed., The Politics of Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement (New York: Anchor, 1982).

(64.) In the United Kingdom in a recent survey, 42.25 percent of the population, including 16.5 percent of those who self-identified as having no religion, considered that there is “probably” a God or “some higher power.” (Linda Woodhead, “Why ‘No Religion’ is the New Religion”, draft for a lecture given to the British Academy, January 2016, and kindly supplied by the author.) See also “Post-Christian Britain arrives as the majority say they have no religion,” The Sunday Times (London), January 17, 2016.

(65.) Cf. Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

(66.) Steve Bruce suggests that many call themselves “spiritual” persons simply on account of this being a fashionable term, much as formerly they would have said they were “Christian”; Steve Bruce, Secularisation: In Defence of an Unfashionable Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(67.) See Alister Hardy, The Spiritual Nature of Man (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 126. Sixty-five percent of the population answered affirmatively to the question “Do you feel that you have ever been aware of or influenced by a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday self?” Survey carried out by David Hay; see also David Hay, Exploring Inner Space (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1982).

(68.) For the statistics which follow and the judgments based on them see Demographics of atheism from which one can click through to individual countries.

(72.) These questions are considered in Daphne Hampson, “Dialogue with Bultmann,” chap. 6 in Hampson, Christian Contradictions.

(73.) Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 39–40.

(74.) Paul R. Hinlicky, “After Dualism: Why Spinoza, Not Kant, Is the True Antagonist of Our Story,” in Paths Not Taken: Fates of Theology from Luther through Leibniz, ed. Paul R. Hinlicky (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).

(75.) There may be some difference between the Reformed and Lutheran positions here. Calvin famously speaks of the world as a theater that displays the glory of God, though in his case too any natural theology is only clarified by the pair of spectacles which is Christian revelation; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, V, 8 and I, XIV, 20. It will be interesting to see what comes of the recent Scandinavian theological concern for creation.

(76.) Gregory Baum, “The Response of a Theologian to Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age,” Modern Theology 26.3 (2010): 378.

(77.) WA 40/I:36, 21–22. A different translation is to be found at LW 27:149.

(78.) Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (London: H. Milford and Oxford University Press, 1923). Otto sees himself as standing in the tradition of Schleiermacher.

(79.) In this respect see Paul Hinlicky’s response to Daphne Hampson, “Grace Alone,” editorial, Lutheran Forum 23.1 (1989).

(80.) WA 56:442, 17 (1515–1516).

(81.) WA 4:350, 15f (1513–1515).

(82.) Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” (1520), WA 7:38, 6–9 (German), 7:69, 12–15 (Latin).

(83.) These questions are explored in more depth than is possible here in Daphne Hampson, “Luther on the Self: A Feminist Critique,” Word & World 8.4 (1988): 334–342, reprinted in Ann Loades, ed., Feminist Theology: A Reader (London: SPCK; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), 215–225; and in Hampson, Christian Contradictions, chap. 6.

(84.) This theme, prevalent in Tillich’s authorship, is found for example in his sermon “You are Accepted,” published in Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1962), 163, where he says “Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.”

(85.) Cf. Erik H. Erikson, Identity, Youth and Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), 96f.; and Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963), 247f.

(86.) Quoted by Philip Watson, Let God Be God (London: Epworth, 1947), 89, who gives the reference WA 1:425, 2ff., but this would seem to be wrong.

(87.) Tillich tells a good story. It was 1950, and he asked Reinhold Niebuhr whether he thought it possible that the Pope might declare that Mary had ascended bodily into heaven, to which Niebuhr replied: “‘I don’t think so; he is too clever for that; it would be a slap in the face of the whole modern world and it would be dangerous for the Roman Church to do that today’”; Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, ed. C. E. Braaten (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 224. Yet this is exactly what the Pope did. Again, when the Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx suggested that the (Aristotelian) transubstantiation should be replaced by “transignification” as an understanding of that change which takes place in the Mass, he was simply met with the encyclical Mysterium Fidei. Significantly, the major authoritative document of recent years, John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio of 1998, showing a marked suspicion of independent and critical reason, is simply predicated on Anselm’s credo ut intelligam. Fides et ratio.