When people learn that I’m not a theist, I’m sometimes told in a very knowing way that only theists have a theory of grace. The reason lies in the definition of grace that many use: “God’s unmerited favor, love, or help.”
When it’s put it that way, I suppose there’s no theory of grace for the rest of us. But leaving deity out of it for a moment, I for one receive “unmerited favor, love, and help” every day. Sure, I’m a lucky guy. But not unique. The people, the animals, and the planet around me offer this unmerited favor, love, and help. Right here, in this world.
Grace. Were I to have a heart attack today, there would be people to help. EMTs. Nurses. Doctors. Hospital personnel, from intake specialists to custodians. Many people would even pull over on the highway to let an ambulance go by. Grace. Merited only because I’m be a human being in need. That’s grace for the rest of us.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer issued a reality check to Sunday Christians with a concept he called cheap grace: “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
Repentance. Discipline. Confession. Bonhoeffer had very specific ideas and procedures in mind with these words.