I have several heroes from church history. Two of them happen to be Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you could ask them what was wrong with evangelicalism, particularly in America, I am confident they would respond cheap grace and a theology of glory. We’ve bought into the lies of the world and fallen in line with the old Adam, thinking we know better then God. At the same time we’ve made grace, religion, and Christ something to market and sell rather then exult in and receive. Bonhoeffer begins his masterwork The Cost of Discipleship with an explanation of cheap grace. The following are some particularly pointed insights:
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares…Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system…Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.(pages 43-44)
What is called evangelicalism has for the most part lost the evangel. In many churches messages are preached with little or no mention of the saving work of Christ. Men and women are given an invitation to follow a Jesus they do not know and never warned to count the cost of discipleship. H. Richard Niebuhr put it well when he said, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” He said that of the liberal social gospel, but now it is true of evangelicalism for the most part. We have bought into what Luther called long ago a theology of glory. Luther explains the theology of glory in the following:
Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isa. [45:15] says, “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.”
So, also, in John 14[:8], where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeing God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9]. For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ, as it is also stated in John [14:6 and] 10[:9] “No one comes to the Father, but by me.” “I am the door,” and so forth (Thesis 20).
We want to know God only in his glory and majesty, we don’t want to know him in suffering and in the shadow of the cross. We want a Christ without a cross, at least without the cross of the New Testament world. We’ll take the cross as an ornament and a decoration but not as the instrument of death and suffering that it is. For today I’ll close with Luther’s observation regarding the rejection of the cross by a theology of glory. Luther says:
This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s. (Thesis 21)