Thursday, June 18, 2009

Free but not cheap

I am rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's excellent "The Cost of Discipleship". I began this reread on my journey to Halifax, Nova Scotia for my Uncle's funeral. A little light reading on the plane and before bed time. This great book is a study of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Bonhoeffer begins his book with a detailed discussion of grace. He wrote this in Germany in 1936-7 in the days leading up to the second World War. His primary concern was for the renewal of the church. He believed that the church had settled for a "cheap grace". That is an understanding of grace that was essentially "all about me". A grace that "got me saved" but never engaged my will or my transformation. "Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves." (Page 44 touchstone edition). He argues that the church fell into a double standard where a "maximum obedience," what was expected of monks, martyrs, and other "saints," and a "minimum obedience", what was expected of the rank and file church member, was killing the churches witness and effectiveness. (And, I might add, continues to do so!).

Grace becomes costly (rather than cheap) when it not only brings us to forgiveness but also brings us into obedient alignment with the way that Jesus Christ taught. Who Jesus is is more important than what he says. However, obedience to what he says is the key component to living a life in grace.

I am finding echos of Bonhoeffer's writing in some modern writers like Erwin McManus (see Unstoppable Force or The Barbarian Way) and Rob Bell (Jesus came to Save Christians).

The key component of "Costly Grace" is reorientation of our values and priorities from "what do I get out of it (consumer meism driven religion)" to concern for the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, etc. If we accept this understanding the only logical conclusion is that our American consumer driven religion is the antithesis of biblical Christianity. Lord have mercy and help me change my heart, my priorities, my values, my focus . . .

I will keep reading. . .

Dr. BJ

Monday, June 8, 2009

Acts 8

Acts 8 shows the early Christian movement moving out from Jerusalem. Did everyone notice what got the Church moving from complacency? Persecution. God uses our discomfort to get us moving to where he wants us. With the great successes of Pentecost and the terrific fellowship of the Jerusalem the early church could easily have fallen into a nice little bless me party. Peter Wagner calls this "koininitis" a condition where the church gets so enamored with being together it forgets its mission. The death of Stephen and Saul's work to drag believers off to prison serves to move the church away from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria (remember Acts 1:8). The first non Jewish convert (Samaritans) the first not Semitic convert (the Ethiopian) are in this chapter all of it because the church was scattered away from their home base. What will it take the 21st Century church to leave its complacency and move back out into mission?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wondering About Hope

The Syracuse Newspaper runs a column in the Saturday edition about what people believe. The past few weeks the articles have been written by people who were "areligious"; my read would be that they were more agnostic than atheistic but that is just my perspective. The essence of the two presentations is that this is all that there is so make the most of it. On the surface that sounds great -- live for today, make every moment count, etc.
I find myself wondering, however, why bother. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if this is all there is we are most to be pitied ("If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all peple most to be pitied." 2 Corinthians 15:19). Life becomes a pathetic, accidental and somewhat pointless existence. The question "what am I here for?" has no context and therefore not even a sniff of an answer. I believe we are hard wired to seek meaning and purpose. Victor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning" found that survivors could see a future beyond their current circumstances. This "potential future" gave them hope and that hope helped them survive.
I'm not arguing for a dogmatic control focused "religion" (I can't imagine anything more antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth). I am suggesting that a look to an eternal future is one way that people find hope. This hope not only allows them to survive life's difficulties it also gives them the courage to attempt taking on the structures, powers and inertia of human society that often grinds people to dust. I have read that during the days of the black plague the areas of Europe that were more "Christianized" had a lower death rate. The Christians saw a better future and were not afraid to risk. Because of this they took care of their dead (instead of leaving them in the streets). This extra care saved many lives.
"All these died in faith without having recieved the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 11:13)"
What gives you hope?