Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bonhoeffer & Neocalvinism

 Marvin Olasky recently commented on this article with the phrase:
Some inmates seek cheap grace: religion not necessarily a deterrent to criminal behaviour via
A clear reference to one of the most quoted parts of the book 'The cost of Discipleship' in which Bonhoeffer makes the distinction between "cheap" and "costly" grace. But what is "cheap" grace and "costly" grace according to Bonhoeffer? In his own words:
"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
"costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Bonhoeffer is quoted a lot, and to advance a variety of agenda's.  And apparently it's fashionable in some circles to compare Kuyper to Bonhoeffer, as Gerard Dekker does here. But what is noteworthy is the frequent quoting of Bonhoeffer in relationship to political engagement.

Arie Slob, leader in Dutch parliament of the ChristenUnie, defended joining the coalition government in 2007 by referring to Bonhoeffer. In 2012 Kuyper center published the article 'Distinct Discipleship: Abraham Kuyper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Christian Engagement in Public Life.' Next week a Bonhoeffer conference takes place in the Netherlands. Last year a Bonhoeffer conference took place at Wheaton College.There was a recent presentation on "The Common Good and Just Peacemaking: Abraham Kuyper and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Discipleship for a Better Worldliness." at Westmont College in Santa Barbara California by Fuller PhD candidate Brant Himes.


Bonhoeffer's ideas centred around an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. Haley Feuerbacher writes:
'In 1937, a book by controversial theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer presented the Sermon on the Mount as the paramount description of discipleship, generating much stir in Nazi Germany due to its label of the nation's religion as antinomian'
 And in the same blogpost Haley says:
'Another manifestation of this antinomianism, the German Church embraced Luther's Two Spheres doctrine, which speaks of a spiritual use and a civil use for Scripture.'
 Admiring Bonhoeffer is one thing, agreeing with his reading of the Sermon on the Mount another. And concerning this idea of separating 'cheap' from 'costly' grace, it seems very superficial. As Rick Ritchie wrote in 2007:
'Bonhoeffer sees a problem in Lutheran Systematics, so he coins some counter terms. Then he reads these terms into a bunch of Bible texts. Only they are different texts from the ones the original systematic terms came from. "Grace" is in large part a Pauline term. St. Paul counters it to "works of the Law." We are saved by grace apart from works. Grace is exclusionary. The Lutherans noticed this and insisted upon it. Bonhoeffer thinks that in their insistence on this, they have undercut Jesus' teaching.

The sad thing is that he won't engage the issue on the ground of the Pauline Epistles. (I checked the index. While Bonhoeffer does quote from Paul a lot, these are either not the Lutheran core texts, or they occur late in the book, after he has made a case for a certain understanding of grace.) He reads his own conclusions back into the Gospels.'
Rick Ritchie makes a very good point when he adds:
'He reads his own conclusions back into the Gospels. And in many points they are plausible conclusions. Except this doesn't seem to be a convincing argument to me on one account. If all I had been given were the Gospels, I would not have thought it possible for St. Paul ever to write what he wrote. If I had heard the Sermon on the Mount in person, I would never have guessed that St. Paul's arguments in Romans would be a possibility.'
It reminds me of what I said earlier:
'The gospel of Matthew should be in the first place read through the lense of the rest of the New Testament, in particular Acts of the Apostles, Hebrews and the revelation to John.'

In my recent blogpost on the organic structure of the Reformed Experimental Garden I wrote about the coherence of developments in reformed theology at the Theological University in Kampen. Is it possible to reconcile Bonhoeffer's views on 'cheap' and 'costly' grace with neocalvinism? I'm not very confident it can be done.

John Piper, a Calvinistic Baptist (?) Christian preacher , who regularly writes in World Magazine, studied in Munich under Pannenberg and writes here on what he took away from some of Panneberg's lectures:
'While Bonhoeffer drew the line at the church-rejection of Jewish ethnicity, and Pannenberg drew the line at the church-affirmation of homosexual behavior, the principle was the same: both the rejection of Jewish ethnicity in the church and the affirmation of homosexual behavior in the church stand in opposition to the cross of Christ.'
February 27 2012 he summarized his post:

'The church that approves of homosexual relations has by that act ceased to be a true church. Wolfhart Pannenberg'
Yesterday John Piper referred to Bonhoeffer again:
'Dietrich Bonhoeffer was engaged to Maria when he was hanged. He never married, skipping the shadow on the way to the reality.'
Let's however listen to K. Schilder's sermon (in 1939) on Galatians 4:30a 'what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son' to understand how he uses it to strike at the heart of national socialism. After rejecting the approach of the Buchman and 'similar movements' he emphasize the word 'isolement'  (isolation) to explain his approach. The word 'isolement' has a specific meaning among Dutch neocalvinists since the founder of protestant-christian politics Groen van Prinsterer used In ons isolement ligt onze kracht” as motto. How does Schilder define 'isolation' in this context? Let's listen to excerpts of the sermon:
'Isolation, not coveted in and of itself and by himself. Oh no, he wasn't even allowed to covet it in that way: it was about the fathership, also of himself, the fathership of many nations? Fathership, also of  Sumbanese and JavaneseBatavians, Saxons, fathership, oh yes, also of those who formerly were humanists and 'Buchmanian', but which have now abandonned the boasting in the flesh? But an isolation that faithfully wanted to preserve the gospel for himself and others, so that later salvation can come to the Gentiles, and to the "many peoples" of the promise of God. For he who keeps the word of free grace unchanged, works for the "many nations", the other works against them, he is ecumenical, the other is a man of a secthe  works for peace, and in honor of the Prince of Peace, the other tables blood, race, soil, or the soul, the stateclass, and birth.'
and:
'And since the discipline, that Paul wants to see exercised against the Judaizers, should  certainly not be judaistic, and therefore must be fully fashioned according to the New Testament, therefore this discipline is not just a matter for elders and pastors of the church, but of all those that are part of the congregation.'
and:
'Hear, all that this morning are here in the church: the requirement of the Lord, that thou should throw out the slave and her whole family, the whole tribe, ban the principle of bondage, is spoken to you all strictly individually.'
Notice the emphasis on 'individually', a consistent trait in all of Schilder's sermons, obviously linked to his understanding of Antirevolutionary politics but most of all to what he said about the value and centrality of the perspecuitas of scriptures in his inaugural address (in his thought) as I summarized it recently:
'The deliberate enforcement of the perspecuitas of scripture as interpretative tool'
Or, to quote Jim Demint's life verse (Galatians 5:1), 'it's for freedom that Christ has set us free'.

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