Bonhoeffer: Trendy & Worthy

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s popularity has boomed in recent years.  In all corners, he is seen as a heroic figure and/or theological innovator from whom we in the modern Church have much to learn.  His death at the age of 39 robbed the 20th century of one of its great theologians, yet also enshrined him as a hero for individuals from widely disparate points on the theological spectrum.  “Religionless Christianity?”  Check.  Attempting to murder Hitler?  Check.  Standing with the Church against the corruption of its doctrine or co-option by the State?  Check.  So on and so forth.

Today, I reflect on his hallmark idea: grace.  He says it best:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) 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 incarnateSuch grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”


2 comments on “Bonhoeffer: Trendy & Worthy

  1. brianegelston says:

    Bonhoeffer certainly deserves to be remembered for his recognition and rejection of Nazi-instigated corruptions of Christianity. I can’t help but think, though, that, much of his popularity derives from his appeal as an ‘action hero’ Christian. He’s admired (outside the academy, at least), not so much for his theology, but for the political actions that his faith inspired him to take, to wit, his involvement in the attempted assassination of Hitler. His failure in this secured his popularity. After all, nobody likes Hitler, and because the plot failed, Bonhoeffer apologists are spared the task of having to disassociate him from any unintended consequences of a successful coup. He’s the perfect patron saint for the modern mainline (and perhaps also the Religious Right)- a politicized Christian who said some pretty things, but who is ultimately adored for doing things that we today consider socially acceptable. I don’t think he was a bad guy (I’m not sure about all of his theology, but I haven’t done a deep study there so I don’t want to comment on that), but I do think the modern adulation over Bonhoeffer is a bit overdone.

  2. I like the idea of a Christian “action hero.” And think, Schwarzenegger wouldn’t even have to change his accent if there were a movie version!

    Bonhoeffer does certainly have a lot to say though that goes far beyond this. “The Cost of Discipleship” just being the beginning of one’s journey with him. He does write clearly and forcefully, making him a much easier read that some of his other theological contemporaries. Perhaps you know the Swiss writer I speak of?

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