This breakout session session preview comes to us from our friend Javier Garcia. Hope to see you next week in NYC for Mockingbird 2016. You can register here!
In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton presents us with an unsettling truth: “The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard.” No matter how much or how deeply we consider the short words of our faith, such as “cross,” “law,” “gospel,” and, above all, “grace,” it is all too easy for us to slip, to miss the point, to twist the meaning and misunderstand the very heart of what we believe. Here at Mockingbird, we revel in what Paul Zahl calls “one-way love” – the steadfast, never-ending, ever-surprising and seemingly impossible truth (thank God it is not impossible!) that God accepts us and loves us completely in Jesus Christ, without question and without conditions.
Yet, in our wrestling with this reality – both to understand it and accept it – we often come up against competing definitions or interpretations of grace, which threaten to dim the light and muffle the promise. A contentious example here is the whole idea of “Cheap Grace” and “Costly Grace” that appears in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s spiritual classic Discipleship (more popularly known as The Cost of Discipleship). The misinterpretations of this trope are legion. Bonhoeffer’s economic language doesn’t help – grace doesn’t have to be earned, as if somehow it were expensive. Grace is free! A gift isn’t bought, nor is this one merited by us (in unison, let us join the Pauline chorus: by no means!). Other aspects of Discipleship make us wonder…We hear “only the believers obey and only the obedient believe” or “faith is only faith in deeds of obedience” and it sounds as daunting as the heavy-metal guitar riffs (yes, that guitar with fire bursting out of its fret board) of Mad Max: Fury Road, heralding the bitter end to this hopeless world. Is this grace?
The question remains, then, is Bonhoeffer a Mockingbird or its bogeyman? Is his understanding of grace compatible with one-way love, or is it something else entirely? We would like to think that Luther-an (i.e. all lovers of Luther) birds of a feather flock together, but does Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of grace fly, at least with us? In this breakout session we will be taking a fresh look at Bonhoeffer’s theology of grace, making a detour from his more famous works to find the short words we love in his sermons and reflections on pastoral care. We will find that Bonhoeffer is a crucial resource for us to understand the different forms of relief we can find in grace, especially in our world of expectation.
To anticipate some of our discussion and to see its relevance for the season of Easter, I leave you with Thomas Cranmer’s collect for this past Sunday:
“Almighty God, which hast given thy holy son to be unto us, both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of Godly life; Give us the grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life.” Amen!