Unlike many contemporary preachers that feel the need to start off with pithy, humorous, non-confrontational ‘ice breakers,’ in “Cost of Discipleship” (hereafter CoD) Bonhoeffer comes out swinging like a prize-fighter from word one. He begins with the assertion, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.” His very term ‘cheap grace’ with its deliberately ugly connotation sounds like a concept we could all line up in opposition to…until he begins to unpack this beast:
Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. 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 gross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Stated in those terms, Bonhoeffer’s words are apt to get us a little more worked up. As much as we Evangelicals talk about the freeness of grace in Jesus Christ…and we must speak of his grace this way for this is the reality of the matter…these words tend to hurt quite precisely because Bonhoeffer’s description of Lutheranism in Third Reich Germany unfortunately also perfectly describes Evangelicalism in contemporary America.
Let us look at each of his accusations… Continue reading
I had dinner with our pastor tonight (both of our wives are out of town), and while discussing his D.Min work on men’s ministry in the local church we inevitably came to the topic of discipleship. “Why are men so remarkably absent in the contemporary church?” “How can we engage men and get them to dig deep into the faith?” “What can we do to develop godly men, fathers, and husbands?” These were the sorts of questions we discussed…and tried to resolve.
There has been a recent flood of men’s discipleship materials on the market in the past few years, begun (as far as I can tell) by John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart. When this book came out, my uncle gave me a copy and I began reading it, eagerly hoping it would be a valuable tool to prompt men to jettison the unfortunately predominant, Evangelical model ‘man’ who is woefully effeminate and talks so glibly about ‘being in love with Jesus’ that it makes me feel a little…well…gay. Unfortunately, Wild at Heart did little more than tell men to go ahead and act like manly men while discreetly teaching the heresy of open theism. Of course the book was a bestseller (horrible theology often sells very well), but that’s another rant altogether.
Anyway, during our discussion of discipleship, I suggested Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, which is a wonderful work I had the privilege of reading in Dr. Seifrid’s New Testament theology class. Bonhoeffer lived and wrote in Germany during the time of the Third Reich (read more here). The premise of his book is essentially that the ‘cheap grace’ so prevalent in the German Lutheran church of the day wasn’t really grace at all but a self-delusion. Unfortunately, his words speak volumes to American Evangelicalism today and present a sobering opening to his little book on discipleship. After our evening together, I pulled Bonhoeffer off the shelf and began flipping the pages…soon I couldn’t put it down and had to keep reading, convicted by the realization of that I have been made numb by cheap grace in my walk with Christ.
So I am going to read and study Bonhoeffer again cover to cover, mulling his words and musing his points…and I’m going to write about it as I go. This book should be on every Christian’s shelf, Lutheran or otherwise, and should be read and re-read often. He will bring us to tears and to our knees, but most of all he will bring us to the cross of Christ Jesus and to true, costly grace.
We read in the New Testament…
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Phil 4.11-12, ESV)
This passage is no doubt familiar to all Christians, but I confess, it is one I have read more than I have practiced. Recently, I have been reminded of a marvelous example of this theological truth lived out in the life of St. Timothy. I’m not talking about the biblical Timothy, after all this passage was written by Paul to the Philippian church…I’m talking about Timothy, or rather Timmy, our dog.
Don’t get me wrong, I think emails along the lines of “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from my dog,” are pretty darn lame, but it occurred to me that occasionally there are some lessons to take from our four-legged friends…in this case, a profound theological lesson in contentment.
You see every day at 6:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. I feed the dog. He gets the exact same food he has gotten for his entire 13 years at exactly the same time of day, in exactly the same bowl, in exactly the same portion (save for the minor addition of his thyroid meds now that he’s an old man). Call me crazy, it sounds pretty monotonous and unsatisfying! But for St. Timothy, who has mastered the art of contentment ‘in any and every circumstance,’ it remains a feast to this day. When I pick up his bowl he starts frantically wagging his ‘nub’ and gets as excited as if he were finally getting that filet mignon (or the cat). He is greatly pleased and appreciative simply to be able to eat a few kibbles and lose that empty feeling in his stomach for just a couple more hours. Talk about simplicity in contentment!
Oh that I could be more like my ever-satisfied St. Timothy and less like our never-satisfied culture around us that hustles and bustles just to have a little bit more today than we thought would make us happy last week…
A couple of days ago I got this email from a beloved family member, who forwarded it in good faith that I would enjoy reading it. Well, I read it, was amused by it, figured it probably wasn’t true, and deleted it. After a few seconds of reflection I recovered it from my trash. Now, I didn’t recover it because I suddenly decided to forward it to X number of people in order to show the world that I truly love Jesus or any such business…I recovered it for a much more sobering purpose. Continue reading