I wrote a couple of days ago about Bonhoeffer beginning The Cost of Discipleship with an exhortation that we not keep men and women out of the Kingdom because of our manmade doctrines. I was reminded of how often the Emergent Movement (EM) says a similar thing. I then wanted to talk about how Bonhoeffer and the EM mean 2 different things by that statement. As previously, I know that not all Emergents are the same, and so again, I am referring to those who seem to suggest that it is wrong to take a firm position on doctrine, even important ones, as that might scare off seekers. I ended by suggesting that there are two ways that we keep the doors to the Kingdom unblocked. Here’s the final paragraph from that post just to refresh where I’m heading now:
We can answer the question of “How do we keep from blocking folks’ entrance into the Kingdom?” in a cheap grace way or a costly grace way. One removes all barriers, including the truth, so that folks can enter, while the other emphasizes the beauty and worth of the truth so that standards aren’t lowered, but that the journey becomes a joy, a pearl of great price or a treasure worth selling everything for. One doesn’t actually open wide the doors of the Kingdom, but actually closes them. The other charts a hard, but joyous course by which one may find the Kingdom doors thrown wide.
The following 2 paragraphs are mostly direct quotes from Bonhoeffer. I have tried to be faithful to the original wording and meaning, but still condense it down into one paragraph for Cheap Grace and one paragraph for Costly Grace.
Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace as that which tells us that if our doctrine of grace is right, then we are justified, a grace that requires no contrition or any real desire to be delivered from sin, the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner. It says, “Do not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from (your) old life under sin. (Do not) erect a new religion of the letter by endeavoring to live a life of obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ.” It does not free us from the toil of sin. It is the grace that we bestow on ourselves. It is “preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession of sin, absolution without personal confession, grace without discipleship, without the cross, without Jesus.
Costly grace, on the other hand, is the treasure hidden in a field worth selling everything for, the pearl of great price worth jettisoning all other possessions to have, the kingly rule of Christ for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes offense, the call of Jesus at which the disciple leaves his nets to follow Jesus. It is COSTLY b/c it calls us to follow, GRACE because it’s following JESUS. COSTLY because it costs a man his life, GRACE because it gives a man the only true life. COSTLY because it condemns sin, and GRACE because it justifies the sinner. It is COSTLY because it cost God the life of His Son, and GRACE because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life. GRACE because it COSTS so much, and it COSTS so much because it is GRACE.
It seems then that what Bonhoeffer warned against as a means keeping men out of the Kingdom by our doctrine is precisely how the EM is attempting to NOT keep men out by our doctrine. Or said another way, Bonhoeffer’s poison is the EM antidote. Or the other way around, the EM open door is exactly what is keeping men out of the Kingdom for Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer’s problem isn’t with good doctrine, like the Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, salvation by faith/grace alone. His problem is those who teach antinomianism, and as a result anti-absolutes, as if we can just get together and talk, share our feelings, never come to grips with the demands and truth of God, and then go home as if we have been justified.
I know this has been a short presentation on a very controversial topic. Feel free to point out to me any misunderstandings that you think I may have regarding the EM or Bonhoeffer’s thoughts. As I move through The Cost of Discipleship, I hope to think more about this.
Lastly, I want to bring it back around to the topic of reading dead people. There are tons of books out there decrying various aspects of the EM, but it has been in reading Bonhoeffer that I would say I’ve begun to understand to a deeper degree at least this one problem with some in the EM and their ecclesiology and missiology. I previously thought that putting off truth claims for another day was dangerous because you’d have to eventually bring them up, and the person you’ve been sharing with for so long might be offended because they feel like you’ve been dishonest, or because you’ve withheld something so precious from them for so long. Now, I believe that worse than those issues is the fact that our attempts to put off truth till another day may actually be what is blocking their way into the Kingdom. I believe, and I think Bonhoeffer did to, that it is the unadulterated Gospel which says, “DIE so that you can LIVE” that is going to draw men to Jesus. Lift up the Son of Man in all His glory, truth, and demands, and people will be drawn to Him.