Dietrich and a Deadly Infection

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.

These are the opening words of the first chapter in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. In his introduction, Bonhoeffer laments over a church life that is surprisingly similar to our own even though the book was published in 1937. The complaints of this 31 year old pastor mirror eerily those of today’s emerging leaders. For Bonhoeffer, however, the need was not for updates in our forms or our theologies. The disease was not an outdated church. The church’s irrelevance was not due to the style of worship or preaching. The disease, rather, was cheap grace.

I have long suspected that the origin of our spiritual impotence was being misplaced, that the problem with our lives and our churches had little to do with our modes of communication or with our ways of doing church. The problem was simply unbelief. We were deceived to think that if we possessed the right message and signed off on the right doctrine, or if we just updated in the right ways, we would be ipso facto Christ’s church—and effective. The life of repentance and obedience had nothing to do with it. We asked for greater faith but were unfaithful with the most basic commands. We prayed for miracles, but never risked doing anything that would require one. We desired more of the Spirit in our midst, but never got on our knees to pray, much less got up and obeyed him when he led.

Bonhoeffer is dealing with this problem. If you are concerned with the state of Christianity, you could do worse than setting down your church strategy books for a moment and engaging the prophetic message of this young Lutheran pastor. If you are wondering why your own life sucks so bad, you could do worse than setting down your self-help books for a moment and wrestling with the call Bonhoeffer sets before us.

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