- Posted by Lin Wilder
- On February 29, 2016
- 0 Comments
They are terms I have never considered: cheap or costly grace. Phrased like you would a commodity.
Exactly the phrase used by Martin Luther to describe the problems with the Roman Church. At least according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship.
After completing Eric Metaxas’ splendid biography of the German founder of the German Confessing Church, Spy and Martyr, Bonhoeffer, I wanted to understand more about this man who understood Christianity in a way that few of us do. In the last part of his book, Metaxas describes the perversion of one of the more provocative phrases penned by the theologian, Bonhoeffer, ‘religionless Christianity.’ Bonhoeffer writes …”We are moving toward a completely religionless time, people as they are now, simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as religious do not in the least, act up to it, an so they presumably mean something quite different by religious.”
What Bonhoeffer means here, Metaxas carefully explains, is not real Christianity, but the Christian ‘light,’ the ‘feel good,’ (my words) ersatz religion that Bonhoeffer had contested though out his life. The theologian witnessed the failure of this religiousity during a time of catastrophic evil for Germany and for western civilization. And wondered if these times were calling for a Christocentric Lord, one who is not contained by the Tabernacle and Sunday mornings but was moving into the world. Taken out of context, Bonhoeffer’s phrase has been used frequently by atheists arguing against religion and Christianity.
Bonhoeffer was murdered before he could further write about what he had in mind but I think of the similarity between Teilhard de Chardin’s Cosmic Christ when I read and re-read what Bonhoeffer wrote almost sixty years ago.
So what about cheap versus costly grace?
According to Bonhoeffer, the Roman church’s response to the cultural waxing and waning of faith was monasticism. At least, there were men (and women) who possessed the fortitude to live according to authentic Christianity. But Luther wanted that costly grace found in the monasteries to flow over the world, therefore he walked away.
Strangely, I have never before thought of faith as something which ebbed and flowed. But clearly Luther and Bonhoeffer did:
As Christianity spread, and the Church became more secularized, this realization of the costliness of grace gradually faded. The world was Christianized, and grace became its common property.
When I read of the Israelites story of returning and leaving their God through the millenia, I considered these ‘phases’ as specific to the Jews. But now, reading Bonhoeffer and his interpretation of Martin Luther, I see it all very differently. This love story between God and humanity is replete with loss, betrayal and confusion.
The real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast— burdensome rules and regulations, false hopes and consolations— that it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ..
Is there not after all an element of truth in the contention that our preaching is too dogmatic, and hopelessly irrelevant to life? …CHEAP GRACE is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2012-08-07). The Cost of Discipleship (Kindle Locations 495-499). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.