Christian Classics Month: Bonhoeffer's 'The Cost of Discipleship'
Wow...I'm almost overwhelmed as I try to sum up the first section of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. It is challenging me on just about every level imaginable. Many of you will know that Bonhoeffer was a Christian martyr of the Second World War: he did his theological work in 1930s Nazi Germany, worked as part of the underground Resistance, was taken prisoner by the SS, then finally executed for treason shortly before the end of the war. This book was written in the context of a national Lutheran church which had liberalised the doctrine of grace to such an extent that true repentance and obedience to Christ were able to be evaded; in Bonhoeffer's words, they 'gave what was holy to the scornful and unbelieving'.
Knowing that the church fell tragically short of obedience to Christ when it came to resisting the prevalent evil of Hitler's government helps me to understand the seriousness of Bonhoeffer's argument. But, to be honest, I think the context is not absolutely necessary - the voice of Christ speaks so strongly from these pages that it transcends that particular situation. That is what Bonhoeffer is about, after all, getting away from man-made doctrines and back to the call of Jesus Christ. He starts off contrasting cheap grace - which assumes forgiveness can be had while still clinging to our "bourgeois secular existence" - with costly grace: the grace that cost Jesus his life and costs us our lives when we take up his call..."When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
One of the things I'm loving most about this book is that it is engaging deeply with the gospel narratives and words of Jesus. It's the sort of writing that makes you uncomfortable, in a good way, as you can feel the Holy Spirit prodding you to examine your own life. Do we often get so caught up with the idea of justification by faith that we squirm out of real, costly obedience? Do you detect in yourself the 'vigilant religious instinct of man for the place where grace is to be obtained at the cheapest price'? It is very confronting to read what Bonhoeffer has to say about obedience. We are so used to talking about the obedience that comes from faith...but what about the faith that comes from obedience? The external act of obedience in response to the gracious call of Jesus, eg Peter leaving his nets, that leads a person into the place where faith becomes a possibility...like I said, it's challenging stuff.
I have some friends who are struggling with issues of faith and assurance at the moment. What Bonhoeffer might say to them is something like this: you haven't got the faith you want because you are holding something back from Christ. Let go of your old life and follow him single-mindedly and your faith will mature. Not sure if I'm brave enough to actually say that to my friends though!
More to come next week as Bonhoeffer discusses the Sermon on the Mount.
About our contributor:
Kristen is wife to Pete and mum to three little girls, Eleni, Tessa and Freya. She grew up in a non-Christian family, but Jesus took hold of her in her early teenage years through a youth group ministry. She has been a member of St Aidan's Hurstville Grove for about 13 years, where she has been privileged to be involved in Bible Study groups, pastoral ministry, music ministry and Scripture teaching. She is also a singer and choral conductor. She is a dog person, not a cat person, although the right cat could possibly win her grudging affection.