Friday, March 03, 2006

Cheap Grace (2)

So, how did the church in Germany (and many other Christians as well) go off the tracks so badly? Bonhoeffer says that one reason was making grace "the data for our calculations" instead of the sum:

At the end of a life spent in the pursuit of knowledge Faust has to confess:

"I now do see that we can nothing know"

That is the answer to a sum, it is the outcome of a long experience. But as Kierkegaard observed, it is quite a different thing when a freshman comes up to the university and uses the same sentiment to justify his own indolence. As the answer to a sum it is perfectly true, but as the initial data it is a piece of self-deception. For acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the experience in which it is acquired. The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.(p.55)
Bonhoeffer is a theologian himself — he is unlikely to think proper theology a minor thing. But there is a key difference between knowing about Jesus, even in a most detailed way, and following him. Bonhoeffer states that while the church he belongs to is quite orthodox, he cannot be sure if it is still following Jesus. There is a point in the Christian life where experience does trump knowledge. And this points us to the basis of what valid Christian religious experience is. It must be rooted in discipleship, in obedience to God.

From here, Bonhoeffer wants to outline just what real discipleship is, by looking first in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and moving through the next few chapters.

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