Towards a non-religious interpretation
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The aim of this work is to answer some of the questions left us by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor. Prior to his execution by the Nazi regime on 9th April 1945, Bonhoeffer wrote a series of letters to his friend Eberhard Bethge from Tegel Prison, Berlin. In these letters he examined notions of a non-religious Christianity and he wrote out a short outline for a book, sadly never to be written, which would expand on these religion-less thoughts. It is to the vacuum left, by the book that was never written, that this work aims to address itself and fill. There have of course been other works dedicated to such a cause but none have addressed fully the situational theology which gave rise to such thought, with especial consideration given to a ministry and theology of chaplaincy as a backdrop. Thus, this work identifies a correlation of theology and practice between chaplains from the First World War and today, to Bonhoeffer. Religion-less Christianity arose within a climate of war and collapse within the institutional churches in Germany. This situation plunged individual ministries into a deep unknown, for which Bonhoeffer sought an answer. For Bonhoeffer, it would lead to direct opposition of government and church, fighting specifically for the cause of the Jews. For Studdert Kennedy the deep unknown was experienced on the fields of the Western Front and for the commando chaplains, our work would send us to places such as the Falkland Islands, Kuwait, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Nicaragua and Afghanistan. This work shows the link between situation and thought through these biographical studies, revealing the roots which allowed the thought of religion-less Christianity to grow in the earth of war for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The worth of this research is that it shows a way forward for ministry today, towards the new millennium, postmodern individual. It records examples of vibrant and truly ecumenical team ministries which flourish during a war fighting situation, underpinned throughout by a sound spiritual discipline. Here we learn what makes ecumenical team ministries truly flourish, in an environment of genuine trust and reliance. A common thread emerges in this study, as advocated by those clergymen examined in this work, working on the margins of society for the institutional church in the last century. We learn that to be successful in a postmodern era, the church must avoid past mistakes and any changes to be made, must be critiqued against the thoughts of Kennedy, Bonhoeffer and George MacLeod. This work concludes that real ministry, to ones community, is what truly matters, underpinned by a sound theology of the cross and strengthened by a maintenance of a spiritual discipline amongst ecumenical team ministries. It holds up the importance of the recognition of the orders of ministry between the churches, as being the final action which leads us towards a true understanding of Bonhoeffer's non-religious interpretation.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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