What can the call to discipleship, the adherence to the word of Jesus, mean today to the businessman, the soldier, the laborer, or the aristocrat? What did Jesus mean to say to us? What is his will for us today? Drawing on the Sermon on the Mount, Dietrich Bonhoeffer answers these timeless questions by providing a seminal reading of the dichotomy between "cheap grace" and "costly grace."
This reviewer was inspired, given ample food for thought and encouraged on his journey with God after reading this book.
Bonhoeffer's message, like the message of the Gospels, when truthfully proclamied, can be difficult to hear and accept. He writes that "When Christ calls a [person] he bids them to come and die...that they might gain new life." This is the radical message of Christian discipleship in miniature.
Bonhoeffer writes of the first step of Christian discipleship as putting Christ first, and following- no matter what the cost may be. For Bonhoeffer, his faith cost him his life. He was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for his open opposition to the tyrrany of Nazism, where he died helping others at the age of 39.
If you have not done so already- read this book- it may change your life! Or should I say that through this book Bonhoeffer's witness to the transformational power of the Holy One may change your life.
Centering on a detailed analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer explores the shape and scope of this life of suffering and sacrifice for the mature Christian. Consistently, he argues that true faith is the harder path, not the easier, and that it requires both the sacrifice of consistently serving others and the burden of vigilant self-assessment. Anything short of this, Bonhoeffer insists, is cheap grace and thus no grace at all.
As with his other writings, it is impossible to read "The Cost of Discipleship" without noting the overtones of his political struggles against the Nazi regime. Despite several opportunities to leave Germany, Bonhoeffer decided to maintain his Christian witness from within his homeland, eventually becoming heavily involved in the Nazi resistance, which led to his arrest and his execution.
Knowledge of Bonhoeffer's martyrdom, as well as his struggle to justify his political resistance, including the consideration of assassinating Hitler, make this book particularly fascinating. There are no easy answers to put faith in practice. While Bonhoeffer finds confidence in the promise of the Gospel, to the extent that there should be no anxiety for the Christian life, he also recognizes the significant obstacles offered by a violent dominant culture and ruling class and the smug piety of those who misunderstand and misappropriate religion.
In some ways, the book is poignant, not only for its persistent and earnest search for understanding, but for the way in which it points to the rationale for Bonhoeffer's own death. If the true cost of Christian discipleship is to suffer, the ultimate suffering is death. Even without this overtone, the insistent call to refuse cheap grace in pursuit of a fuller appreciation of Christ's teaching is engaging.
The Fortress edition is helpful in filling in the gaps in documentation that Bonhoeffer leaves as well as giving some historical context to the work but ideally one only gets to glimpse Bonhoeffer's development by going through his work and Bethge's biography (or atleast Renate Winds much shorter one). Even apart from the background it is a work well worth any thoughtful Christians time.
The issue for a believer, also in the same context, is in Romans 13:5, suneidesin (conscience). The State for Bonhoeffer, as for many Christians, is what to do when the State is not repentant and in fact evil, i.e., Nazism. Bonhoeffer concluded his righteous act, acting as a faithful God-fearing Christian, was to plot and kill Hitler.
For many Christians our opposition to the State is not quite as dramatic as Bonhoeffer, who eventually was hung for his efforts to kill Hitler, although his point is still valid. Our conscience dictates that we must at times oppose the State. Otherwise, one could argue for example if a Christian lives under a legitimate God-appointed State ruler, such as a Christian living under sharia law, Christians ought to convert to Islam. Surely there are places and times where Christians will live in a non-repentant, evil regime and the duty of the Christian is to resist the regime. Christians must have opposed Roman authorities or Christianity would have had a short existence.
Here's a bit from it (Spoiler? Is there spoiling when it's laying out the gospel? Just to be sure, I'll let you know this is in the 2nd to last chapter, so maybe you want to wait until you get there if you're reading it):
" But we believe and are well assured, "that he which began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1.6). In that day Christ will show us the good works of which we were unaware. While we knew it not, we gave him food, drink and clothing and visited him, and while we knew it not we rejected him. Great will be our astonishment in that day, and we shall then realize that it is not our works which remain, but the work which God has wrought through us in his good time without any effort of will and intention on our part (Matt. 25.31 ff). Once again we simply are to look away from ourselves to him who has himself accomplished all things for us and to follow him.
The believer will be justified, the justified will be sanctified and the sanctified will be saved in the day of judgment. But this does not mean that our faith, our righteousness and our sanctification (in so far as they depend on ourselves) could be anything but sin. No, all this is true only because Jesus Christ has become our "righteousness, and sanctification and redemption, so he that glorieth let him glory in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1.30). "
Bonhoeffer constantly refers to Biblical passages to make his points, and he does not resort to storytelling or even personal anecdotes. Even though “Cost of Discipleship” was published in 1937, every page in this book counters the “easy believism” and license that tempt and seduce many Christians today. Bonhoeffer attacks “cheap grace” and demands a steadfast, deep loyalty to Christ. However, I did have a couple of minor issues with the book. It is somewhat densely written, and therefore may be daunting to the average layreader. Bonhoeffer was a highly educated theologian, and it shows in his writing style. In addition, Bonhoeffer tends to neglect grace in favor of emphasizing absolute holiness and commitment. His moralistic leanings have the danger of encouraging legalism and asceticism if a reader is inclined toward those pitfalls. I’m sure this was not his intent, since it was Bonhoeffer’s genuine love for Christ that motivated his passion and perseverance.
Bonhoeffer was a person of limitless courage and faith. Born 1906 in Breslau, Germany to a prosperous family Bonhoeffer studied theology and completed his doctoral thesis when he was 21. He rose to some measure of fame in the 1930s by virtue of his writings and radio sermons.
As is set out in the introductory memoir in this edition, Bonhoeffer understood immediately that Hitler and his national socialist ideology represented a grave threat to Germans, to Christianity, and to western civilization. In a radio adress he gave in February, 1933 Bonhoeffer denounced Hitler and denounced his fellow Germans for accepting a corrupt and inhumane leader and system as its idol. Although Bonhoeffer spent a great deal of time living in England, safe from harm, he understood that he could not in good conscience “participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1939 to take up the struggle against Nazi-ism. He had to have known that his return would lead to his death but he knew he could not do otherwise. He was called and he obeyed that call without question. Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 after being caught assisting the escape of a number of Jews from Germany. On April 8, 1945, with Allied troops only days from liberating his prison, Bonhoeffer was executed on the orders of Hitler by the S.S. Black Guards. One cannot read the Cost of Discipleship without an acute understanding that his writings on sacrifice, on obedience, and on the cost of grace were mirrored by his actions.
The Cost of Discipleship is one of those rare works of classical Christian writing that points the reader to what it means to be a true follower of Christ. I use the word “true” because in today’s modern church the false doctines of “decisionism” and/or “acceptionism” have taken hold; meaning one “makes a decision to accept Jesus” or one “accepts Christ.” But “from the beginning it was not so.” Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached a doctrine of repentance. This remarkable young Lutheran Pastor makes a compelling statement of what the difference is between the “cheap grace” that is all too prevalent in so-called christendom and true Bible-based “costly-Grace.” Bonhoeffer uses the term “costly” because Jesus Himself demands our all; “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself daily and follow me.”
It is enlightening and encouraging that such a book could be penned by one of the great Lutherans of the 20th century. The subject of this book is grace - too often, in Bonhoeffer’s day and our own, people seem to look at grace as something free, instead of something freely offered.
The exposition of the Sermon on the Mount is fantastic. Boenhoeffer is straight-forward and leaves you no wiggle room in terms of conviction. He has a gift for communicating our thought processes as we try to justify sin in our lives, and I was amazed that his insight was written decades ago in a different country, because they perfectly described the way I think today. It is by faith alone that we are saved, but that faith is never alone. As Bonhoeffer said, “Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey”
Bonhoeffer begins his classic commentary with a discussion of what it means to be a follower of Christ. He contrasts the cheap grace (to just believe) with the costly grace by which we are saved, if we continue in obedience to Christ. He brings the reader to the Cross of Christ and takes the Sermon on the Mount as a command rather than an ideal. In conclusion he applies his teaching within the context of the greater community of Christ that is found in the Church.
He `counted’ the cost of discipleship and found Grace a Costly Truth. Cheap Grace, as he called it, is grace bestowed on ourselves, preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, eliminating self denial and the death of self life. Cheap Grace is grace without Discipleship. He states that “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. The sacraments, the foreignness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.” He attempts to demonstrate how the church along with the gospel ha s been diluted by this teaching. See it in his own words “We …..have gathered like eagles round the carcase of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ.” He implores Germany Christianity that they have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence. Also that if the German Church refuses to face the stern reality of sin, it will gain no credence when it talks of forgiveness.
This book will drive home the important Truth that GRACE is NOT LISENCE to sin. It is the Power of God to transform a sinful soul into Newness of Life. Although one would have only a limited vision of Bonhoeffer’s work if one read only the Cost of Discipleship, this is an excellent first Bonhoeffer book to read. Then in which I greatly advise to follow with reading Letters and Papers from prison. Staggering in its theological depth and its unflinching call for the crucifixion of self, “The Cost of Discipleship” is a true classic, an essential book for any Christian library.
Unfortunately, sometimes Bonhoeffer's Lutheranism gets the better of him, and I would have found his discussion of Paul to be better had he not been fighting the Reformation conflict over justification by faith only.
Otherwise the book demonstrates the depth and greatness of Bonhoeffer and his insights.