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A stamp printed in Germany shows Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Protestant theologian, participant of German resistance movement against Nazism and executed in April 1945.

Posted by | Apr 13, 2019

Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

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“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

 

From Bryan: DB will continue to be a hero to all the flavors of Christianity…

Cheap resistance is like cheap grace. It risks very little.

June 7, 2018

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In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer distinguishes be­tween “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace requires nothing from us. Bonhoeffer describes it as “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” We are not changed by cheap grace, and so it is not really from God. Costly grace, on the other hand, “is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

But costly grace is not just costly; it is also grace. “It is costly because it costs a man his life,” writes Bonhoeffer, “and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Bonhoeffer points us to the false dichotomy between preserving our lives and responding to the needs of the world. It is through costly grace that we receive our real lives.

In treacherous times, when powerful people and systems threaten us or others, we have to ask what God wants us to do—and we have to accept that doing it will cost us something. While there is a chance that the choices faith asks us to make will result in physical death, as it did for Bonhoeffer, the cost is likely to stop short of that. Choosing to do the right thing probably won’t make our hearts stop beating.

But what if it did? What would be worth that risk? If you are like most people, your list of people and ideals you’d be willing to die for is a very short one. Yet there’s something else we seem to be willing to risk our lives for: our fears. We allow fear to deprive us not of heartbeats and breaths, but of something even more precious: the fullness and beauty of a life lived well.

For those of us who believe that we rest in the hands of an eternal and ever-loving God, living a life full of fear is worse than dying. The great threat to Christian faith is not that we will not be safe from the world’s dangers but that we will be held captive by our fear of them—that we will have more faith in our fear than we have in Christ. This can be hard for North American Christians to understand, since we have rarely faced persecution. But the mission of the church is not to avoid causing a stir, nor to hold on to things that cannot save us. As Jesus says, to save your life you have to lose it.

Christians are not called to recklessness, but we are called to action.

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Tom Watson letter: The rise of ‘cheap patriotism’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian theologian who was murdered by Hitler days before WWII ended. Bonhoeffer wrote about the concept of “cheap grace” in his book “The Cost of Discipleship. “

“Cheap Grace” is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, without the cross, without Jesus Christ.

Today, we are experiencing “cheap patriotism.”

Cheap patriotism is patriotism without costs, without sacrifice, without discipline. All we are required today to qualify as patriots is to stand when the nation anthem is played. If someone kneels at that time they are not patriots. To silently protest at that time is not patriotic.

The best example of “cheap patriotism” is the current occupant of the White House.

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Among my favorite books in our library are those written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I never tire of re-reading them.

He was one of the most influential Christian theologians in the world.

So pervasive is his influence that church historian Martin Marty once suggested dividing the theological world into two groups: those who admit their debt to Bonhoeffer and those who borrow his ideas without acknowledgment.

Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau in 1906. Educated in Germany and the U.S., he early earned a reputation as a brilliant theologian. During World War II, he was imprisoned for resistance activities against the German government. For his part in a plot to kill Hitler, he was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, a few days before it was liberated by allied troops.

Of his writings, the most impressive to me is The Cost of Discipleship. In this monumentally important book, Bonhoeffer discusses the difference between cheap and costly grace,

In theological terms, grace is understood as the free and unmerited love and favor of God. Bonhoeffer argues that churches are giving away grace at too low a cost. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves — the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”

He argues that cheap grace is disastrous to our spiritual lives. Instead of pursuing a life that requires discipline, obedience and sacrifice, we accept a deceptive gospel that makes us feel strong when, in fact, we are weak and misguided. Instead of opening up our lives to Christ it (cheap grace) has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience.

For Bonhoeffer, “Costly grace is the gospel that must be sought again and again, the gift that must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. It is costly because it causes us to follow , , , and because it costs a man his life. It is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Perhaps the concept of costly grace can be understood by recounting a small part of Bonhoeffer’s life. In June 1939, American friends got him out of Germany. Soon, however, it became clear to them that Bonhoeffer could and would not remain with them. His heart belonged to the German people who were suffering oppression and persecution under Hitler’s policies.

Since he felt he could not desert them at a time when they needed him most, he returned to Germany.

Before leaving the U.S., Bonhoeffer wrote to his colleague, Reinhold Niebuhr, these words: “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of those alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.”

His life personified service, commitment and costly grace. In fact, the day before he was executed, he counseled widows of those who were executed for plotting the death of Hitler, He felt that he could ease their debilitating depression and anxiety.

And his message for all of us — not just Christians — should be reaffirmed.

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Posted: February 17, 2017


In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned some extreme words: “When Christ calls a person, he bids him come and die.” Unfortunately, those words were personally prophetic. In April 1943, the Gestapo arrested Bonhoeffer. He spent the next two years in prison and concentration camps. By special order of Heinrich Himmler and with probable direct knowledge of Hitler himself, two primarily responsible for the Holocaust, the Nazis tragically hung Pastor Bonhoeffer at a camp in Flossenburg, Germany.

Afterward, they burned his body in a pile because the crematorium was inoperative. Just a few days later, the Allies liberated the camp.

Practically, what do Bonhoeffer’s words in his fine work, “The Cost of Discipleship,” mean for us? Similar to alarming images used by Jesus and other authentic faith teachers, Bonhoeffer’s striking language at heart means that true religious faith must make a real life difference. Practical and noticeable change in how we live day-to-day is the point of Christian or any other faith-related “calling” or vocation.

Bonhoeffer’s notion of a Christian being radically obedient to the teachings of Jesus has everything to do with love and respectful expression. Notice that the price has to do with one’s own life. In contrast, radical manifestations of alleged faith rooted in violence, hatred and exclusion are dead wrong.

The cost of discipleship is not in the lives or well-being of others, such as someone killing or hurting someone else, allegedly in the name of God. In vivid contrast to such delusion, genuine expressions of faith benefit others by caring for them and meeting their needs. Lives are enhanced, not lost or harmed.

Outside of the New Testament, the first chapter of “The Cost of Discipleship” might be one of the most important writings for Christians in any era or at any age. Further, prioritizing a transformed life of thanksgiving applies across faith lines.

For his Christian readers, Bonhoeffer distinguishes between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Essentially, cheap grace is the perception that God’s acceptance, forgiveness and favor results from some easy mental assent to a doctrine or belief without any impact on a person’s life. It is “grace without discipleship,” without actually endeavoring to follow the teachings and model of Jesus.

In contrast, God’s actual grace is life-altering. Acknowledging God’s grace is a beginning, not an end in itself. Experiencing and responding to God’s grace is a daily and life-long process involving hard work. Accepting such true grace is a choice. The consequence should be discipline toward a changed life, one that is focused on practical acts of love and caring.

Bonhoeffer is one who has “standing” to provide an opinion about bona fide religious faith. He lived in a time when his beloved German homeland deteriorated into a fanatical and isolationist nationalism fueled by hatred and led by a demagogue. Bonhoeffer was troubled by the general silence of the institutional church of his time, which the Nazis attempted to co-opt with some success.

In “Bonhoeffer: Pastor. Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” Eric Metaxas cites a chilling birthday tribute to Hitler from an April 1939 official publication of the nationalistic German Reich Church: “[We celebrate] with jubilation our Fuhrer’s fiftieth birthday. In him God has given the German people a real miracle worker.” What an abomination. The fascist government, with complicity of the so-called church, worked to silence faithful, authentically Christian critics of the regime, such as Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was a gentle and peaceful man who loved his country. Nevertheless, he actively and strongly opposed the extreme tyranny, outrageous prejudice and ecclesiastical hypocrisy of his day. He was part of a significant movement that opposed all that Hitler and his extreme brand of nationalism stood for and represented.

In 1939 and with help from American friends, Bonhoeffer was in the United States, far away from his imperiled country. He was teaching at Union Seminary in New York. By that time, he was well-known and well-liked in many international circles as a rising theological mind and author.

The situation in Germany by 1939, six years after Hitler came to power, was beyond dangerous. Friends begged him to stay in the United States, where he was making a difference then and potentially into the future. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer chose instead to return to his home. His selfless choice was an act of true love rooted in faith for his misdirected country and its people.

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Recasting the Movie: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Edition

Today, we’ll look at how a dead German theologian came into a resurgence of popularity–only to play an unexpected role in the Christian Right’s ongoing love affair with its own ego.

Westminster Abbey's 20th Century Martyrs. (By photographer- T.Taylor - Public sculpture, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.)

Westminster Abbey’s 20th-century martyrs.

The Hero They Wanted.

In case you’ve never even heard of the guy, please permit me to whisk through his bio. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 and became a pastor and theologian in Germany. He vocally opposed the Nazis and even was involved in a major plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He got caught, imprisoned in various concentration camps, and finally executed in 1945 by the Nazis, and he is now all but a venerated martyr in several Christian denominations. His ideas influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (among many other folks and movements). And to many Christians, he remains a very charismatic and enigmatic figure.

He had some very firm ideas about the importance of living one’s faith in the real world as well as about pacifism, and also some piquant observations to make regarding what he called the “complete failure of the German Protestant church” to stop or even impede the rise of the Nazi regime. At one point he escaped to America and then returned to Germany at the last second to help with the fight against the Nazis. During the last part of his life, he was hassled constantly by the German government, forced to report to the police, and even forbidden to speak in public. Eventually he joined the underground resistance, fulfilling the spirit of a sermon he’d preached long before about how martyrs’ blood was being “demanded” by the events of his time. His death was apparently very brave–though also apparently slightly embellished in the way that many of these sorts of iconic martyrdom accounts often are.

You can probably already see why the Christian Right would adore the guy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer plays directly into their fascination with recasting themselves as the beleaguered, pure-hearted heroes fighting an unthinkably evil regime for ultimate global stakes–with martyrdom not only possible but inevitable.

Eric Metaxas, an evangelical-leaning Christian who is clearly frantic to break out of his limited circle of influence as a Veggie Tales scriptwriter and right-wing radio host, has been on a Bonhoeffer kick of late. He wrote a biography of the man a few years ago that his fundagelical tribe went wild for but which actual historians roundly criticized; one of these scholars proclaimed his version of the man a “counterfeit,” while another claimed he’d “hijacked Bonhoeffer.” The irony is that Mr. Metaxas himself appears to think that liberals have actually done the hijacking–and that now he’s taking back his hero for the conservatives.

Thanks to his biography, terms like “cheap grace” are in vogue in fundagelicalism now in a way I sure never heard when I myself stood among them; Christianity Today, in reviewing the book, gushes about Mr. Bonhoeffer’s plaintive plea asking “Who stands fast?” and his demand that Christians make their entire lives “an answer to the call of God.” This sold out/on fire/uncompromising* quality combines seamlessly with Mr. Bonhoeffer’s heroism during World War II and his very early death at the direct command of Adolf Hitler himself.

You might well wonder what prepared Eric Metaxas to write such a book. I certainly do.

His personal biography page doesn’t list any educational credentials for the man at all beyond graduation from Yale. We don’t even know what he studied there, but we do learn that he upstaged Dick Cavett at his commencement. Obviously his background in Christian entertainment makes him the perfect person to write a popular biography of one of the most influential and complex figures in modern Christianity even though he can’t even read or speak the language that his idol used in his work–which is one of the primary and most basic requirements we should expect to see out of someone trying to be an academic. Another is that the would-be academic should be extremely familiar with the basic scholarly work already done on whatever his or her topic is. And still another is that his work should at least be free of obvious mistakes.

Just like apologist David Marshall before him, Mr. Metaxas lacks these basic qualifications. He is a person claiming expertise who apparently has very little in actuality. He’s smart, that much is clear–and clever. He’s just not anywhere near as prepared to write a book of this nature as he pretends to be. But the inexpert expert is, itself, a trope that feeds into fundagelical delusions of grandeur. Ah kin do jus’ as good as them book-larned edumacated expurts! you can all but hear them muttering.

I know how it is; I was there myself once. More importantly, I figured out exactly why I was there, too.

The Movie in Their Heads.

Unmoored from simple considerations like how their ideas tie into reality, toxic Christians are free to conceptualize their lives as epic movies. They cast themselves as heroes, everyone opposing them as villains, and their cause as divinely-blessed–even divinely-mandated.

For many years now, Christians inhabiting the right-wing fringe of the religion have been styling themselves as the brave crusaders fighting for the soul of America in Earth’s final wretched days. Even back in my day, we saw ourselves that way. We fetishized the Rapture and Tribulation,** waiting eagerly as every predicted date came and went without even remembering all the past disappointments. We correlated world events in our various checklists of what had to happen before Jesus finally kick-started the end of the world. We created and devoured diagrams about Bible verses and how they matched up with this or that natural disaster or war. If Israel’s leaders burped, we gasped and raced back to our Bibles to figure out what it meant in terms of the predictions we thought had been given to us. It always meant something, too–usually “oh my god, we’re another step closer to the Endtimes.”

We thought we lived in “the last days.” Spiritual battles were erupting all around us–angels and demons vying for the souls of every person alive. Prayer was their ammunition; fasting charged their weapons’ power cells. So Christians were vitally necessary in this battle, because without our efforts demons would win countless souls for their gruesome master. (No, we didn’t realize how weak and useless we made our god look by acting this way.)

In such an environment, any Christian, no matter how lowly or uneducated or mocked, could become a Big Damn Hero–a Prayer Warrior who could save other people’s lives, fight evil princes and principalities, and gain the ultimate of all rewards: eternal life and an exalted place in the heavenly kingdom. But this warrior would only receive that reward if he or she stood perfectly steadfast and did not waver in faithfulness. The forces arrayed against such a warrior could be incredible, and the hardships endured both many and excruciating. In the end, though, only one outcome was possible for a truly faithful servant.

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by Paul Trewhela

Paul Trewhela writes that it takes little courage to demand the removal of a statue of a man who died 113 years ago
Thinking about the campaign against the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town last month and its repercussions at other universities (including my alma mater, Rhodes University), led me to think about the German Christian priest and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.With Bonhoeffer, deeds matched words in the toughest of parishes: Nazi Germany. His most famous teaching was about what he called the “mortal” difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace”.

On April 9 1945, exactly 70 years ago this month, the Nazis hanged Bonhoeffer in Flossenburg prison, two weeks before it was liberated by the Allied armies and three weeks before Adolf Hitler committed suicide in the bunker. Bonhoeffer was 39, and had been arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943.

A vocal critic of the regime’s euthanasia programme and its genocidal persecution of Jews, he published his most famous book,The Cost of Discipleship (in German, Nachfolge, meaning discipleship), in 1937, at a time of ferocious repression.

I think his words are relevant in South Africa today, if one can consider Bonhoeffer’s Christian concept of “grace” – understood as the highest kind of spiritual and moral behaviour, embodying God’s word in action – in the light of how young people should address themselves to the problems of South Africa, now.

Cheap grace, he wrote, “means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. …Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite.”

Costly grace, by contrast, “is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. . . . It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

He continued: “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.”

By that, Bonhoeffer meant direct conflict with the Nazi regime.

It is easy to see that “cheap grace” in South Africa today could be represented by the throwing of faeces on the statue of a man who died 113 years ago, and demanding that the statue be removed, or that a university change its name.

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