Love Wins 9 – Final Post

I can’t help but compare Love Wins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship since I’m presently reading both. It is quite an interesting comparison. When compared, however, it’s hard to avoid a devastating conclusion. For me, it’s impossible to draw any other conclusion than that what Rob Bell offers in Love Wins is cheap grace.

It’s cheap because it is a gospel without cost. Gospel without Lordship. Gospel without discipleship. It’s justification of sin, but not of sinner. It’s justification that is an abstract consequence of God’s loving character and not a transformative demand.  God is love. So God justifies. It’s a gospel that costs us nothing. It’s a gospel without the living incarnate Christ calling his would-be disciple to follow. It is an experience of grace as presupposition and not as a lived, experiential deduction. It’s divine blessing without obedience.

The gospel Bonhoeffer presented could also be titled “Love Wins”, but it is a completely different conception of the victory. God’s love displayed on the cross was central to Bonhoeffer. As he wrote, “Above all grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—“you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us that was costly to God”. For one thing, like Bell’s, Bonhoeffer’s gospel is a gospel in the present tense. It cannot be criticized for having an “other worldly” interest. Bonhoeffer’s gospel is not primarily the good news about “getting into heaven when you die”; it’s good news because sinners are justified by faith. And that faith produces this-worldly consequences. It’s about a community living a cruciform life for the world.  Bonhoeffer’s gospel is one that calls would-be believers to a life of costly obedience. It’s a call to come to the God-Man and submit one’s life without reservation. It’s a gospel that doesn’t seek to justify God to a world; rather it calls humanity into right relationship with its creator.

Much more could have been said than I have about Love Wins in these nine posts. In the book, Rob Bell raises good questions and provides interesting and adventurous readings of biblical texts. He should be commended for offering a fresh take on the old questions about Heaven and Hell and personal salvation. These are topics that have been neglected even avoided in recent decades. In places, Rob’s presentation was helpful in my opinion. But generally I’m dissatisfied and even disturbed with his answers to the questions he raised. And I don’t find his vision of the Christian God and faith as compelling as Bonhoeffer’s unflinching call to discipleship. There’s little in Rob Bell’s understanding of Christian faith that is costly. It’s all good. God says: “we are going to be fine” (172).

What’s more, when it comes to which characterization of the gospel I find most biblically faithful and personally compelling, I choose Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s costly grace over Rob Bell’s cheap grace.

  • Pingback: Joel Willitts

  • Daniel W

    Joel,

    I feel that you are misrepresenting Bonhoeffer’s ideas when you call Bell’s conception “cheap grace.” For Bonhoeffer, grace was free but not cheap because God paid for it, not because it comes at a cost to us. Though Bonhoeffer does call us to discipleship, he does not tell us that grace comes at our cost. Grace comes at a heavy cost that God paid through his Son. I am not saying that Bell’s conception is correct, because I don’t think it is. However, I think it is a misuse of Bonhoeffer’s term “cheap grace” to apply it to Bell’s conception of grace just because it does not come with a heavy cost to us.

  • Daniel W

    Joel,

    I feel that you are misrepresenting Bonhoeffer’s ideas when you call Bell’s conception “cheap grace.” For Bonhoeffer, grace was free but not cheap because God paid for it, not because it comes at a cost to us. Though Bonhoeffer does call us to discipleship, he does not tell us that grace comes at our cost. Grace comes at a heavy cost that God paid through his Son. I am not saying that Bell’s conception is correct, because I don’t think it is. However, I think it is a misuse of Bonhoeffer’s term “cheap grace” to apply it to Bell’s conception of grace just because it does not come with a heavy cost to us.

  • Anonymous

    Daniel W.: Interesting comment. “not because it comes at a cost to us”? What then do you think bonhoeffer meant when he said it should be “costly” to us? I guess we have a fundamental disagreement in our interpretation of Bonhoeffer. I do think precisely the opposite of what you assert “grace just because it does not come with a heavy cost to us” is what Bonhoeffer taught in Discipleship. On my reading of him, our embrace of grace comes with a high price, our full submission to the living Christ. However, it is a graciously joyful price we pay. I would suggest that it is this that motivated the first English translation of Discipleship to garner the title: The Cost of Discipleship.

    • Daniel W

      I withdraw my comment. It has been a while since I’ve read The Cost Of Discipleship, and upon actually looking back at the text, I have to agree with what you have already stated.

  • Anonymous

    Daniel W.: Interesting comment. “not because it comes at a cost to us”? What then do you think bonhoeffer meant when he said it should be “costly” to us? I guess we have a fundamental disagreement in our interpretation of Bonhoeffer. I do think precisely the opposite of what you assert “grace just because it does not come with a heavy cost to us” is what Bonhoeffer taught in Discipleship. On my reading of him, our embrace of grace comes with a high price, our full submission to the living Christ. However, it is a graciously joyful price we pay. I would suggest that it is this that motivated the first English translation of Discipleship to garner the title: The Cost of Discipleship.

    • Daniel W

      I withdraw my comment. It has been a while since I’ve read The Cost Of Discipleship, and upon actually looking back at the text, I have to agree with what you have already stated.

  • Robin Parry

    Joel,

    I have not read all of “Love Wins” so I am not well-placed to assess this comparison. But you may be on to something. I did not get the impression of a “call to discipleship” in Bell’s work—not in the Bonhoeffer sense. (That said, I imagine that a Bell-like set of views could exist in “costly grace” mode. Even inclusivism—after all Bonhoeffer himself wanted to meet Ghandi and to learn from him but felt the necessity to return to Germany instead)

    However, I am reading Bonhoeffer’s “Discipleship” at the moment also (amazing book) and what has struck me as I have read it is how far I and the conservative evangelical churches I know fall into the trap of cheap grace. We call people to believe certain propositions, to stop doing certain things (swearing, sleeping around, stealing, etc.), and to start doing others (go to church, tithe, pray every day, read the Bible, etc.) and BAM—you got grace! But not the costly grace Bonhoeffer speaks of.

    I fear that the majority of churches (evangelical churches included) fall short of discipleship (in the Bonhoeffer sense). I know that I certainly do. BUT I want to change. So perhaps there is hope for us

    Robin

  • Robin Parry

    Joel,

    I have not read all of “Love Wins” so I am not well-placed to assess this comparison. But you may be on to something. I did not get the impression of a “call to discipleship” in Bell’s work—not in the Bonhoeffer sense. (That said, I imagine that a Bell-like set of views could exist in “costly grace” mode. Even inclusivism—after all Bonhoeffer himself wanted to meet Ghandi and to learn from him but felt the necessity to return to Germany instead)

    However, I am reading Bonhoeffer’s “Discipleship” at the moment also (amazing book) and what has struck me as I have read it is how far I and the conservative evangelical churches I know fall into the trap of cheap grace. We call people to believe certain propositions, to stop doing certain things (swearing, sleeping around, stealing, etc.), and to start doing others (go to church, tithe, pray every day, read the Bible, etc.) and BAM—you got grace! But not the costly grace Bonhoeffer speaks of.

    I fear that the majority of churches (evangelical churches included) fall short of discipleship (in the Bonhoeffer sense). I know that I certainly do. BUT I want to change. So perhaps there is hope for us

    Robin

  • Richard

    So a book that says our choices now have consequences here and eternally and so we should choose to follow Christ as we understand him is offering cheap grace? There’s plenty in Bell’s understanding of the Christian faith that is costly – listen to the recent podcast recounting the raped women forgiving her rapists and the pastor that told her a long time ago that it was because she wasn’t a good Christian and her coming back to Christ and being baptized because love won her over. Or the crack addict who is clean. Or, within the book, the racists that will be confronted with their tribalism in Heaven. Even the title of the book comes from Christ’s example on the cross, the very definition of love winning.

  • Richard

    So a book that says our choices now have consequences here and eternally and so we should choose to follow Christ as we understand him is offering cheap grace? There’s plenty in Bell’s understanding of the Christian faith that is costly – listen to the recent podcast recounting the raped women forgiving her rapists and the pastor that told her a long time ago that it was because she wasn’t a good Christian and her coming back to Christ and being baptized because love won her over. Or the crack addict who is clean. Or, within the book, the racists that will be confronted with their tribalism in Heaven. Even the title of the book comes from Christ’s example on the cross, the very definition of love winning.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X