Saturday, 14 December 2013

Keller on Bonhoeffer

Timothy Keller, writing in the forward to Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer "Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy" says:
It is impossible to understand Bonhoeffer's Nachfolge [imitation (of Christ)] without becoming acquainted with the shocking capitulation of the German church to Hitler in the 1930s. How could the "church of Luther," that great teacher of the gospel, have ever come to such a place? The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by costly grace had been lost. On the one hand the church had become marked by formalism. That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone so it doesn't matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works....

Both of these impulses made it possible for Hitler to come to power. The formalists may have seen things that bothered them, but saw no need to sacrifice their safety in order to stand up to them. Legalists responded by having pharisaical attitudes toward other nations and races that approved of Hitler's policies. But as one, Germany lost hold of the brilliant balance of the gospel that Luther so persistently expounded - "We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone." That is we are saved, not by anything that we do, but by grace. Yet if we have truly understood and believed the gospel - it will change what we do and how we live.

By the time of Hitler's ascension, much of the church understood grace only as abstract acceptance - "God forgives; that's his job." But we know that true grace comes to us by costly sacrifice. And if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. Anyone who truly understands how God's grace comes to us, will have a changed life. That's the gospel, not salvation by law or by cheap grace, but by costly grace. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that.

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