03 July 2013

Costly Grace

Recently I've been reading excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a devout Lutheran who tried to stand up to Adolf Hitler's Nazis in WWII, and ultimately found himself condemned to death by hanging in Flossenburg Concentration Camp just two weeks before the camp was liberated by U.S. 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions. 

While reading Bonhoeffer, I am inspired and curious. Post-reformation Christians are subject to an extremely different point of view than the philosophers I am familiar with, and it is interesting how quickly the ideas of Protestantism took root in their world views. 

Bonhoeffer says, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church... 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, living and incarnate... Costly grace 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."

Valid points. Love it.

He goes on to discuss the victories of the Reformation: man's realization that he NEEDS God, that the call to follow Jesus is written on his heart. He also talks about a few ways that Luther was misinterpreted. He says, "The justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of the sin and the world. Costly grace was turned into cheap grace without discipleship... But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back on us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition... We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard... Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing of the world than this?"

Reading this makes me proud to be a Catholic. The Reformation, from the outside, looked like a successful counter to the Industrial Revolution. But is Christianity today any better for it? It's hard to say. The Catholic Church takes a lot of scorn for being so slow to change. People inside and outside of the Church are constantly saying that She needs to "get with the times." But that's one of the things I love most about Her. She moves on God's time, according to His grace.

Part of me wonders if one of the central contributing factors to our society today is the idea that "at the bottom, man is seeking his own interests." Underlying the text in this sermon is the notion that at the core, man is bad.
Has this idea pervaded our society entirely without our being aware of it?  If you can't do anything to become holy, because Jesus will cover your sins (or He will choose not to anyways), what is the point of even trying? Let's all throw off the burden of pretending and go lie, cheat, and steal! Extra-marital sex for everyone!

Thankfully, we're made in the image and likeness of the Only Trinity. Who could look at a direct reflection of the living God and call it anything but good, true, and beautiful?

I sincerely wonder what Luther and Calvin hoped for when they first got started. I doubt they planned for nearly 50,000 sects of Christianity.

Pope John Paul II, pray for us and for the unity of all Christians. 


  1. Brittany, have you read Pope Benedict's address to German Lutherans from 2011? It's golden.

    Meeting with the Evangelical Church in Germany

  2. Blit, I have tried to read that book a couple of times and normally have a lot of trouble with it. I enjoyed the part you excerpted, however. Miss you much. I want to hear more about your life!!!