Sunday, July 8, 2012

To faith or not to faith...

I recently sat with a new friend who invited me to coffee by first asking, "How do you feel about disagreement?"  Mind you, his question came just a few minutes after I preached a sermon that included John 3:16 so I was utterly intrigued.  The next thing I knew, we were chatting over coffee and disagreeing about preaching.  What he asked, "Why don't Lutheran preachers exhort to faith?"  What I heard, "Why don't Lutheran preachers ask people to agree with an orderly list of theological ideas that equal faith?"  My response to his question is as simple as it is complicated.  "Preaching evokes faith," I said.

What's the difference?  The difference is a distinction about where faith comes from.  If I say that I agree with a list of ideas about God then faith is an intellectual "yes" that I dredge up from inside of myself.  However, faith generated by God, by the shattering of me in the shadow of the cross, comes from outside of myself.  [More about the cross in future posts].  In this light, a preacher points me to the cross and it is from there that faith is evoked, pulled, generated, etc., as a mystery of God's work in me.

Why does it matter?  Because it's about what God is doing, not what I am doing.  I can never do enough, say enough or be enough to make my way to God.  God is then the one who evokes faith.  


  1. I like the distinction that Caitlin makes on her blog today (7/9). I see the distinction between "exorting to faith" through an "orderly list of theological ideas" and "evoking faith," which comes from inside the believer. [Is this latter reminicent of the often misunderstood position of Luther's --- live by faith alone? Actually, he says that faith should be coupled with action]

    I discovered Dietrich Bonhoffer a couple of years ago and have had the pleasure of discussing him with Caitlin several times since then. Bonhoeffer makes the distinction between "costly grace" and "cheap grace." "Cheap grace" is the kind that springs from adherence to a "an orderly list of theological ideas." "Costly grace" is the grace that comes from the "call of the Cross."

    As a Roman Catholic of yore, I can remember going to Sunday Mass with my parents. During the Mass there was a recitation of the Apostle's Creed --- "an orderly list of theological ideas." When we got in the car after Mass, we could hear people cursing others who were blocking their rapid exit from the parking lot. Obviously, they could not get to Sunday dinner fast enough. They had recited the Creed alright, engaged in the exercise of "cheap grace," but they had lost sight of the "costly grace," which would have prompted them to patience and loving regard for their neighbor which flowed from the commitment to the Cross, an essential element of the Cross as expressed in the creed.

    Bonhoeffer gives a more elegant example of the distinction and he does it in his
    book, "Discipleship," which I am currently reading, yet again. He describes the call of the Apostles by Jesus in the 4th chapter of "Matthew." They immediately dropped their nets and followed Him, no questions asked. Bonhoeffer says that it was the "call of the Cross." They "allowed" themselves to be called by the Cross. This was "costly grace" ending in martydom in all but one. [Of course, Judas is another story for another time.] Bonhoeffer contrasts this with the story of the rich young man who wanted Jesus' advice on how to be saved. Jesus told him to keep the commandments. The young man replied by reciting the commandments (an example of "cheap grace"). And he said that he had kept them all and asked: "What else should I do?" Jesus replied: "If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor so you will have treasure in heaven (a metaphor for total commitment), and come follow Me." But he could only keep the "orderly list of theological ideas." He went away sad because he would only "allow" himself "cheap grace." He could not "allow" himself to hear, or "accept" the call of the Cross. Notice the quotation makes here indicating a "choice."

    I think this analysis adds another dimension to the distinction, which Caitlin makes. Her coffee companion was expecting preaching to be a conveying of "cheap grace." Caitlin sees preaching as a major step beyond, by invoking "costly grace" through faith. The preacher invites the believer to "allow" himself/herself to be caught up in "costly grace," a response to the invitation of the Cross.

  2. Thank you Larry. Your application of Bonhoeffer's categories of "cheap" and "costly" grace to the act of preaching has given me much to ponder!

    1. I have been reading a good bit of Bonhoeffer lately. I am currently teaching a course in our (University of Dayton’s) MBA program. The course is called “Principled Organizations: Integrating Faith, Ethics and Work.” While searching for books for reading in the course, I stumbled upon a genuine treasure trove. It is a book by Walton Padelford, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Business Ethics." In this book, the author draws heavily on Bonhoeffer’s "Discipleship." As I was reading it, I was reminded of another set of his essays, "Creation and Fall."
      In "Creation and Fall," Bonhoeffer has some interesting things to say about “work.” He indicates that God did not intend for Adam and Eve to lollygag around in the Garden of Eden. [How he is privy to God’s intention is a discussion for another time.] He intended for them to “work,” caring for the plants and trees and nurturing the animals. It was not until the “Fall” that Adam and Eve had to work “by the sweat of their brows” to earn their bread. In addition, it wasn’t until after the Fall that women were going to suffer the pains of childbirth. Imagine that!
      There is an important lesson in this picture that Bonhoeffer paints for us. When our work becomes arduous, difficult and troublesome, we experience an extension of the “Fall.” Conversely, I suppose it would be fair to say that, when we turn to our work with a happy heart and joyful attitude, we have a taste of a return to the Garden of Eden. In a way, we may experience the “call of the Cross” and live it with the commitment that Bonhoeffer thinks is so important to discipleship. It is a return to the Word (cf. John: 1,1-5). Maybe that is the path that “preaching” is supposed to open to us.

  3. With great interest I will follow your blog (and twitter too!). The concept of faith for humans is very meaningful in living emotionally healthy lives. As much as there is intellectual satisfaction these days spawned by the scientific method, there is still much we don't know and that why we have and need faith. I also like the distinction of exhorting faith versus evoking faith, or as Larry links in "cheap grace" and "costly grace". I like how anything meaningful in life takes work and courage, and preaching can help us evoke that proverbial action of taking the leap of faith.


Challenging and respectful comments welcome...mean ones, not so much.