Come and Die: The grace that leads to death
Costly versus cheap grace
The grace that leads to death
Grace that demands a response
Bonhoeffer's theological intersection with Wesleyanism
Grace is a word that can seem dull and lifeless in the church today due to its overuse and familiarity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sees grace, costly grace, as the summary of the true Gospel. In Bonhoeffer's day, such costly grace had been exchanged for a cheap imitation of grace that was little more than empty religion, demanding little effort and no obedience. Bonhoeffer, who was eventually martyred, knew intimately that , “When Christ calls a man [sic], he bids him come and die.”1 For Bonhoeffer, then, death is the mark of true discipleship and is a manifestation of the appropriation of costly grace in the life of the believer. This paper will explore this thesis first by contrasting this costly grace with cheap grace. It will then make the connection between grace and death (both spiritual and physical), with particular emphasis on the ethical response required of this grace. Finally, a brief analysis will be given of points of intersection between Bonhoeffer's understanding of God and grace and contemporary Wesleyanism.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's understanding of grace developed in the particular historical context of the rise of the Third Reich to power in a Germany that had only recently been defeated in World War I and had suffered what many considered to be great humiliation as a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles. The German church, the church of Martin Luther, had come to align itself with the Hitler and the Nazi regime in the 1930's. Christianity in Germany accepted grace as only an abstract concept, which had little bearing on real life. There was no need of a response of obedience to grace given. It was into this setting that Bonhoeffer developed his perspective on the importance of grace, and how that grace speaks of the character of God.
Bonhoeffer opens his Cost of Discipleship with a chapter on costly grace. He begins this chapter by first describing what he calls cheap grace, which is, in reality, no grace at all. Cheap grace is described as: the deadly enemy of the church; blessings without limits; merely a doctrine, system or principle; intellectual assent to an idea; needing no contrition, “still less any real desire to be delivered from sin;”2 effects no real change; justifies the sin but not the sinner; is a denial of the living God, and especially disregards the costly sacrifice on the cross. He also describes it as, “The preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession... Grace without discipleship... the cross... [and] without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”3 It emphasizes the love and acceptance of God without realizing the sacrifice that wrought our forgiveness. Cheap grace, then, is really no grace at all.