The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

40 Inspirational Classics for Lent

Bonhoeffer, like Corrie Ten Boom, was a Christian, a German Christian in his case, caught up in the difficulties of confronting Nazism. He separated himself from the German Lutheran church over the issue of Nazism, and he was finally executed for his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. A biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was published last year and got lots of good reviews. I’m in the middle of reading Metaxis’ biography now, and I’m quite fascinated with its portrait of a young man with such firm beliefs and such an adventurous spirit. I’d also like to re-read Bonhoeffer’s book about the Sermon on the Mount, The Cost of Discipleship, and I do remember it as an inspiring and challenging read.

Bonhoeffer lived and wrote during the same time as two of my literary and spiritual heroes, C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. One wonders what the men would have made of each other had they met. Tolkien and Lewis both were interested in all things Germanic and Norse, and Bonhoeffer would surely have found the Oxford dons quite congenial and vice-versa. I would note that there is some controversy over whether or not Metaxis’ portrayal of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is accurate or somewhat slanted toward making him seem like a modern-day “evangelical.” However, from what I’ve read so far the biography does a good job of discussing Bonhoeffer’s evolving beliefs in an impartial but respectful way, giving him the benefit of the doubt so to speak. I don’t see the harm in that approach. I really think that arguments over whether men like Bonhoeffer or even Lewis or Tolkien were sufficiently “evangelical” or “orthodox” to be saved are counter-productive and beside the point. They considered themselves Christians, followers of Jesus, and who are we to contradict their affirmation of faith? If there are specific arguments with certain statements made by these faith-filled men, those are worth discussing, but their eternal destiny is in God’s hands.

And again, I would recommend The Cost of Discipleship, a book whose original German title was simply Discipleship. A few quotes:

“His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”
I think, looking back, that Bonhoeffer’s book may have been an influence on the pacifism that I adopted as a young adult (and later gave up). I haven’t yet gotten to the part of the biography where Bonhoeffer reconciles his early pacifism with his participation in the plot to kill Hitler, but it will be interesting to read about that aspect of his thinking.

“The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. …. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reason for a man’s religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ Himself.”
It’s rather amazing to me to remember that God actually understands psychology –better that the psychologists do. He is able to call us over the objections and mystifications caused by our individual psychological make-up and issues.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

We are truly bought with a great price, and taking for granted the mercy of God, assuming that we belong to Christ without truly making any effort to follow Him, is a costly error. What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? We are “saved to sin no more” and if we do fall into sin and error, as I do daily, we should claim God’s grace all the more because we need Him so desperately.

6 thoughts on “The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  1. I LOVED that biography. I thought it was very well-told and engaging. I know there is controversy around it but I learned a lot from it and really came to admire Bonhoeffer more (and liked Metaxes as an author.)

    I Facebooked this post. Love your Lent series!

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  3. I’ve been wanting to read Metaxas’ biography, as well as The Cost of Discipleship. I’ve read about the controversy about the book and I think one reviewer made a good point of saying that to us today, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Bonhoeffer was a liberal Christian or a conservative Christian. What matters is what we can take away from his life that will help us be better Christians.

  4. Yesterday as I was crossing an afternoon street in midtown new york city, i heard the sound of amplified… hymns? Scanning the street, it was not until one block later that I spied a small group of churchy-looking folk set up on the sidewalk with microphones. Hands clasped around their prayer books, they simply sang to the few paused people who bothered to gather around them. I did not pass in front of them, did not read a sign or see some church designation, I assumed I was witnessing the performance art of non-residents who felt called to come to the city to share their lenten spirit. What i remember most thinking back on this otherworldly event today, is not my own surprise but the expression on the tough face of a man standing nearest them. By his clothes, I imagined him to be a delivery man, perhaps a prep cook, probably an immigrant with at least two different jobs; no matter, the look in his eyes, neither fully dark nor completely light, evoked dawn.

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