Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, The Cost of Discipleship (Amazon), is a piercingly beautiful tribute to the life completely surrendered to Christ. Bonhoeffer frames his snapshot of the Disciple’s life with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Throughout his exposition on the text and the various aspects of Christian life, Bonhoeffer reminds the disciple that nothing but single-minded obedience can fulfill the Christ-called life.
“It is neither possible nor right for us to try to get behind the Word of the Scriptures to the events as they actually occurred. Rather the whole Word of the Scriptures summons us to follow Jesus.”
Writing at the height of the historical-critical era in Berlin, Bonhoeffer advocated a radical position of strict obedience to the text. While this may be somewhat of a no-brainer for someone cut of the modern fundamentalist cloth, this approach was revolutionary in Bonhoeffer’s enlightened, bourgeois intellectual circles. The result is an exhilarating call to the immediacy of Christ, a heart-thumping, headlong rush to the edge of the void where only the leap of Faith can save.
In Bonhoeffer’s mind, any attempt to step into the shoes of the disciples and understand Jesus’ teachings is futile. It simply cannot be done. Time, culture, and place all stand obstinately in the way. But, more importantly, by focusing on the historical context, the believer becomes blind to the living Christ standing before him, urging him to radical obedience. Simple obedience to the Word of Christ, right here, right now, is what is required.
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Bonhoeffer vehemently resisted the soft grace, the “cheap grace” offered by the Church of his day. Cheap grace allows for mere intellectual assent with little to no obedience and certainly no real transformative power in the life of the believer. The costly grace of Christ invades the disciple’s life through Christ’s call to follow. It overturns all self-seeking, freeing the individual from the tyranny of self. It manifests in a kingdom-minded disciple, wholly unbound by the cares of life whose eyes are fixed on the prize that is Christ.
“The right way to requite evil, according to Jesus, is not to resist it.”
Throughout The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer offers vignettes of the radical life of disciples. Bonhoeffer’s chapter on “Revenge” is a perfect example. Basing his exposition out of Matthew 5:38-42, Bonhoeffer lays out the extreme meekness of the disciple. Christ calls the disciple to give generously to the evil person, to the oppressor, and, as such, become a living recrimination of evil. In Bonhoeffer’s words “[r]esistance merely creates more evil and adds fuel to the flames.” What makes Bonhoeffer’s approach so interesting is the fact that he was martyred for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. It appears that, ultimately, Bonhoeffer yielded his conception of the Scriptures, his personal legalism, to the call of Christ. He felt it was his divine call to take part in the effort to rid the world of such evil (to learn more see Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy)
The Cost of Discipleship is one of the most challenging, transformative works on which I have ever laid my hands. Not only is he one of my favorite thinkers, but Bonhoeffer is an impeccable example of the Christian life ready to sacrifice all for Christ’s call. You will not go wrong with this book. Find it. Read it.