Just got out of class, and I have half an hour to articulate the thought and concept of what we discussed.
Us protestants love to believe that salvation is by the free gift of God in Jesus Christ alone: nothing we do can earn us salvation. We’ve fought wars over it, and go to great lengths to prove it and drill it into our heads: we are fallen humanity, evil steeped in evil, but out of grace God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer confirms this doctrine: he says that Jesus Christ is not a human, but the human, and that all things that happen to Christ (i.e. death, reconciliation to God, resurrection) happen to all, that is, to us. But…where’d we get this idea that we somehow (in spite of all of our talk about God’s grace being a free gift and completely unilateral) need to take part in that salvation?
We talk all the time about how some people are saved and some aren’t. With protestants (and particularly evangelicals – I can’t speak for you fine mainline folk) it’s an in-or-out world. We love to secretly categorize our world into Christian and non-, saved and un-. Sometimes this takes the form of judging people, sometimes it takes the form of “praying for them” because we recognize backsliding – but it very often comes with fearing for their salvation (or our own). But if Christ has died once and for all, how can anyone ever fear for anyone’s salvation?
To fill that gap, we talk about how salvation has been freely given, but it must also be freely received. I can’t think of a clear scripture reference to this, but if you can, please comment! I’m suspicious that it doesn’t exist. We place so much emphasis on realizing our guilt before we can be saved from our sin, that we forget that we have, unilaterally and undeservedly, already been saved. Christ is not crucified anew every time someone says the “Sinner’s Prayer”, he died once and for all, before the very foundations of the world (Hebrews something:something). This is the good news! The good news is not good for some people (Christians) and not for others (non-Christians); it’s good for everyone! We don’t have to say “If you join our club, you’ll get salvation”; the club is in response to salvation. It’s not a club that offers salvation as incentive to join; it’s a club for the saved, i.e. for human beings!
Imagine a social group who approaches you by pointing out all of your faults and telling you that you can be a better person if you hang out with them. That doesn’t sound like good news to me, it sounds like high school. The good news (gospel=”good news” in Greek) is a message that everyone actually wants to hear: “You are already reconciled to God through Jesus Christ – you just don’t know it yet, so we’re here to tell you!” It’s pointing to the reality of what has already been accomplished, so that everyone can see it. Sin blinds us to reality, and Christians are those who try to point to reality and allow ourselves to be formed by that true reality.
Bonhoeffer isn’t a gnostic (it’s not the knowledge of salvation that is effective, but the reality of it) nor is he a universalist (you still must recognize reality in order to be affected by it), but he gets back to the goodness of the news in a way that we’ve lacked for way too long.
When Jesus says that the Gospel is offensive, he means in regards to pointing out the world’s subordinacy to God (a message people don’t usually like) – NOT that Christians should be rude jerks who tantalizingly wave salvation before people but require them to completely humiliate themselves to get it; Christ was already humiliated in our place! Spread the news – we never need to be humiliated again!