on May 3, 2004
I agree with the others who have praised this book; even their minor criticisms I share. I have read it through very carefully twice (once in my 30's; later in my 50's) and have moderated a Sunday School discussion class who took on Bonhoeffer and read him very carefully and critically against the Bible. Bonhoeffer (who, amazingly, wrote this book at age 31) did his Lord proud.
This is not an easy book to read. It is meat, not milk. Yes, you do have to be a saint, i.e. a believer, i.e. a disciple in order to be a Christian. Having faith means being faithful. Having faith means bearing fruit. Having faith means being a disciple. Calling Jesus, "Lord" means obeying Him. Jesus, not Bonhoeffer, not the RC Church nor Luther nor Calvin nor whoever else may "speak to you" is the One Who says, "Take up your cross and follow me." Pastor Bonhoeffer leads the reader through some fairly profound meditations on discipleship. One does not simply read this book as though it were a magazine story; he must read and re-read and re-read again passage after passage as he works his way through it.
If you are quite comfortable in knowing you are "saved by grace through faith," and freed from the tyranny of the works of the flesh and the Law, wonderful. But ask yourself whether Jesus suffered and died on the cross just so you could be comfortable in your "faith." If it occurs to you that there may be more to faith than creeds, confessions, and church attendance, that you were given the gift - and gifts - of the Spirit for some purpose other than as a voucher for your personal ticket to Heaven, you may find this book very helpful. In any event, should you read it, it will challenge you in many marvellous ways.
It is quite difficult, I think, to fully appreciate what the man wrote without understanding and contemplating what was going on (and eventually transpired) in his life, church, country, and world. Thus, I recommend that anyone who reads this learn as much about these other things as he reasonably can, for which purpose there are many options, including books, articles, and films on video and DVD.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one who knew of that which he spoke when dealing with the issue of cheap grace versus costly grace. Bonhoeffer's commitment to the principles of his vocation and being cost him his life - executed in the closing days of World War II, Bonhoeffer walked a dangerous path through exercising his vocation faithfully in the midst of the twin evils of warfare and Nazi domination of Germany.
Bonhoeffer's life, from the earliest days, probably seemed like it was set on an idyllic path - the son of a professional family with strong roots in a prosperous and civilised culture, Bonhoeffer would seem to have 'had it made'. His early days in school showed him to be a minister and academic of great promise. However, his experiences at Union Seminary in New York City, an academic environment very different from the German academy, and at the Abyssian Baptist Church, an African-American congregation, vastly different from his Germanic Lutheran background, prepared a way for Bonhoeffer to expand beyond his upbringing and learning to become someone striving to find God in all people, and the will of God in all that he did.
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. Bonhoeffer points out that the call of God and the gift of God's grace is not to be taken lightly - 'the call to follow Jesus always leads to death'. This may seem an unusual call in our day; after all, the more prosperous of our churches would seem to espouse a conventionally respectable lifestyle (far from the 'death' Bonhoeffer speaks about) as the reward for following God. However, Bonhoeffer uses the example of the disciples, each of whom faced martyrdom, as did many early Christian leaders, as a touchstone for the vocation.
Bonhoeffer also gives a great deal of attention in this text to the Sermon on the Mount, providing interpretations that still speak to congregations today, but also with warnings. Bonhoeffer admonishes those who would pick and choose the parts of scripture, or indeed the parts of the Sermon on the Mount, that fit what they want to hear, disregarding the rest. Bonhoeffer writes that we are not called to interpret, but to obey, giving ourselves up to God, as the disciples did, as martyrs did, and as Bonhoeffer himself would do in the fullness of his lifetime.
The real substance of the book is in Bonhoeffer's own words. Cheap grace was the deadly enemy of the church then, and it remains a dangerous foe to this day.
on November 8, 2002
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.
That Bonhoeffer truly lived what he wrote is reflected in his martyr's death at the hands of the Nazis mere days before the liberation of Germany. Given plenty of chances to leave the country, he instead stayed, claiming that the raising up of pastors in Germany during the time of war was essential to the nation's future.
But back to the book...
"Cost of Discipleship" is a challenging call to more radical discipleship. The famous line from this book, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," is the bedrock upon which Bonhoeffer bases his entire premise. That Christ paid a penalty for our sins that cannot be acquired by any means except through His grace and faith in Him alone seems like a given in the Christian life. But Bonhoeffer renews a concept that was under attack in his day by the growing liberal theology: following Christ means dying to self. In the shadow of the rise of psychology that simultaneously arrived with the deconstructionist theology, the idea that must one abandon self to Christ seemed outdated, but Bonhoeffer stayed the course. Dying to self flew in the face of what the intelligentsia were espousing and what the general populace were beginning to believe.
Bonhoeffer also broke with his Lutheran predecessor, Martin Luther, who once said, "Sin boldly, but love God more boldly still." What this book asks is a consideration of the cost Christ paid for us on the cross. What comes with knowledge of this is the realization that to take sin lightly is to trample on the very blood of Christ. Grace is to be had for those that ask for it, but it is not cheap - an enormous cost was paid. To sin boldly shows contempt for the death of the Savior.
To this day, "The Cost of Discipleship" has remained controversial. At a time when personal fulfillment and the gratification of self are out of control (even in the Church), Bonhoeffer's masterpiece is a clarion call to a generation spiraling out of control. The cheap grace of hyperdispensationalism and the blasÃ© attitudes of many Christians concerning their own sin need to be countered, and this book provides that in full.
While I cannot comment on this translation of "The Cost of Discipleship" (my copy is by a different translator), Bonhoeffer's words will still erupt from the page. Get this book as soon as possible if you have not read it - it will return incredible dividends in your own walk with Christ.
on November 11, 2003
Where does one begin?
This is a book that will profoundly change your understanding about what it means to be a person of faith in the world. Bonhoeffer challenges us to look beyond the values of this world, and asks us are we willing to embrace the true cost of discipleship? His analysis of cheap grace, and its corrupting influence reminds us that there are times that we have to challenge the powers of this world, that there are times when to be a good Christian means we can't always be a good citizen.
Bonhoeffer wrote in the shadow of evil, made even worse by the reality that many so-called Christians were only too willing to serve Adolf Hitler and his evil regime. Bonhoeffer makes it clear to the reader that cheap grace is at the heart of such fatal compromises of faith, that allow evil to flourish. It is through understanding costly grace, that we can embrace discipleship that will allow us to witness to this world in such a way that we are freed from the powers of this world.
Bonhoeffer's words are just as important today, as they were in the dark days of the Nazis, and will always challenge us in our faith.
on December 29, 2001
I recently took a seminary class that dealt with traditions in Christian devotion, and one of the assignments was to pick a classic Christian book and do a report on it. I chose "Cost of Discipleship" because I had wanted to read it for some time. Much has been said about the book's power, and I desired to experience that for myself. After finishing it, I can see why "Cost of Discipleship" has challenged so many in their walk with Christ.
The book's major theme centers on what it really means to be a disciple of Christ. This is summed up by Bonhoeffer's statement that Christ calls us to "come and die." Christ wants all of us - nothing is to be held back. One is either a disciple of Christ, or they are not. There is no middle ground. The true disciple is dying to his or her life as a whole, and their old life is being replaced with the life of Christ.
"Cost of Discipleship" is soaked in Scripture, and that is one of its main strengths. This is not surprising, since reading the Bible actually contributed to Bonhoeffer's personal conversion and commitment to Christ. Bonhoeffer constantly refers to Biblical passages to make his points, and he does not resort to storytelling or even personal anecdotes. One can sense his deep love for the Bible and for Christ throughout the book. Another strength is Bonhoeffer's conveyance of how imperative commitment to Christ really is. Bonhoeffer was an early foe of Adolph Hitler, and this book was published while he was being persecuted by the Nazis. Thererfore, he wrote as one who has stood for Christ in tough times, and he knew that Christ is one's only hope. Indeed, he eventually gave his life for his faith, and by all Christian and secular accounts glorified God to the very end. Finally, 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. He illustrates the power and holiness of God in a way that indicates the necessity of a healthy, reverent fear towards God.
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. But this may be a situation where a person takes for granted a truth they have worked through and internalized, and therefore they fail to communicate it to others because it is so integral to them. I think Bonhoeffer loved God so deeply, with all his being, that he never thought to specifically describe loving God as the basis for the principles in this book. However, it is also possible that the times he lived in prevented a more introspective writing style. Bonhoeffer was under persecution by a political regime that he knew to be the epitome of evil. Therefore, he knew what was at stake, and so focused on what needed to be heard about the cost of Christian discipleship, with the assumption (or at least hope) that the reader already had an abiding love for Christ.
Overall, "Cost of Discipleship" challenged me in a number of ways. First, Bonhoeffer's life and death were inspiring - he lived what he wrote, and I consider him to be an example of faith in action that every Christian should emulate. I pray that I would face persecution with his courage and perseverance. Second, his linking of sanctification with being part of the Body of Christ encourages me to avoid being a "lone wolf" Christian. It's important for my spiritual health to become part of a church so that I can minister to others and be ministered to as well. Third, his love for Scripture reminds me to never forsake reading the Bible, and also not to rely exclusively on the writings of others, or their interpretations of Scripture. Fourth, his focus on a relationship with Christ prods me to examine my own relationship with Him, and to ensure that I don't neglect it. Finally, his statement that Christ bids us to "come and die" leads me to evaluate the level of my own commitment as a Christian, especially in light of current events.
"The Cost of Discipleship" was difficult to read. This was in part due to its literary density, but also because of its powerful message about the true cost of being a disciple of Christ. Bonhoeffer's words are relevant, convicting, and challenging to anyone who claims to be a Christian. Highly recommended.
on October 1, 2001
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship" is a tremendously inspiring, motivational, and insightful look into what Christian discipleship is all about. Bonhoeffer, who wrote the book in the midst of struggling to stand up against the evils of Nazi Germany in the 1940's, provides the reader with a transformational look into Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and what it means to us as believers today.
If you are not inspired and given food for thought and prayer about your journey with God after reading this book, then check your pulse!
His message, like the message of the Gospels, when truthfully proclamied, is not easy to hear. He writes something to the effect of "When Christ calls a [person] he bids them to come and die...that they might gain new life." That is the radical message of Christian discipleship in a nutshell- Christ calls us to give our ALL for Him.
The first step of discipleship is 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 WILL change your life! Or should I say that through this book Bonhoeffer's witness to the transformational power of Christ will change your life.
on April 20, 2004
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.
The last fourth of the book was a little "thicker" to me, and I did not get as much out of it. The author's thoughts were not as lucid once he got out of the Sermon on the Mount passage, and they did not communicate as much to me personally. However, the first 3/4 of this book is so powerful that I would recommend it to anyone.
Be prepared to face your comfortable habits and ways of thought in a new light if you read this book. The Word is a sword, and Bonhoeffer uses it to penetrate us.
on March 22, 2004
This book is a must read for anyone who calls himself a Christian. I particularly like Bohnhoeffer's concept of 'cheap grace' and how it is our mortal enemy.
Cheap grace? To quote Bonhoeffer himself, "It is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." In contrast, 'real grace' will cost a man his life.
This concept of grace, as Bonhoeffer showed by the example of his life and just as importantly his death, stands in stark contrast to the pop Christianity 'Happy Church' movement we so often see on Sunday morning TV - or just down the street.
on February 16, 2003
This is all about God. It's the story of blindly following religious belief. It's really a wonderful work and is great for shoring-up the faith of all existing believers. I give the book five stars, I guess, because I'm one of them. I'm a believer. Thus, I fervently recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer/G.K.A.Bell's, The Cost Of Discipleship to everyone, not just "the choir". Having said that, I also know "I am, because I think". If God only wanted us to believe and not think, he would not have supplied us with a brain. Thus, I also recommend that everyone also read a book by Norman Thomas Remick called West Point: Character Leadership Education...., a book that can broaden and strengthen The Cost Of Discipleship's impact on people's lives by bringing the realities of life into concert with The Cost Of Discipleship's message, joining and reconciling revelation and reason. As a believer and way-of-life subscriber to The Cost Of Discipleship's message, I still think we can have both God and Galileo, so to speak.
on September 26, 2002
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic treatise on the first step in truly following Christ gives anyone who reads this work very little wiggle room to deny what he is saying. Bonhoeffer opens his work with the call of Levi, who was called and followed without hesitation. The author points out to us this call is not a mental decision, it is rather just a decision under the authority of Jesus Christ.
This call from Christ, and the subsequent following of Levi, comes with no praise for obedience. The author shows us that there is only obedience, without the expectation of praise for simply doing what we are all created to do; follow Christ. Levi follows simply for the sake of the call, not for what he might get out of following Christ. Bonhoeffer would have us believe this is the ultimate model for us to use in choosing to follow Christ. Through this call, there is significance, but only in Christ, who is the only significance, he alone is important. (Bonhoeffer, 59)
It is here that he turns to looking at what is not true discipleship, which included having an abstract Christology, religious knowledge and theological knowledge. If it is an abstract idea, it is not real discipleship. He hammers home this point in saying, "Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship." (59) This kind of religion talks about God, but not his living and transformational son Jesus Christ.
The next part of his essay turns to comparing three disciples and how they reacted to Christ's call. The first, who we already have touched on did not hesitate and followed Christ immediately. The author says that the disciple did not call himself to this chosen destiny, rather Christ alone can call. Our decision lies in whether we follow or not. The second disciple asks Jesus if he can bury his father before he follows him. (60) Although this was the law at the time, Jesus, who is superior to the law let the man fulfill the ordinance in order that he could then follow Christ. Bonhoeffer shows us now that Christ made himself at that point an opponent of the law, above the law, and the only law that matters. (61)
The third disciple has his own ideas about what it will look like to follow Christ. This, the author says, is inconsistent because it renders Christ's call into human terms, which it is not. This puts Christ into a box, and, if it worked that way, would let us determine what our path in life would be. Bonhoeffer acknowledges that this is possible, but would not be the true call Christ has for our life. As soon as this disciple expresses his willingness to follow, he does not really want to follow at all. (61)
The author then goes into what exactly this call looks like. First and foremost is that the call will change the person's life dramatically. They must leave their old situation. This call must be heard and than acted upon. He says, "The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus." (63) He continues on commanding us that Jesus' call is the only thing that makes faith possible. Only the call is important, and this call leads us to faith. He also shows us that faith and obedience are separate but there is a unity between these two in the call to follow Christ.
This is where he reiterates that the first step hearing the call and following is the most important piece. Jesus wants us to show him we will follow, not talk about it. It is in this obedience that we show our faith. Bonhoeffer than attempts to show us that if we are trying to keep some part of our life under our own control, we are being disobedient.
This document finishes with the author's treatise on the rich young man who came to Christ and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life. Christ knew this about the young man and told him to leave everything and follow him. The young man was presented with this and could not, and went away sad. Bonhoeffer shows us how Christ creates a situation where there can be "no retreat." (75) This man was confronted with the eternal Son of God, and walked away.
Bonhoeffer is completely convincing in his call to discipleship. There is hardly any way one can argue with what he has to say about the life of Christ and what Christ is calling us to do. He backs this up with sound doctrine, using the example of three disciples and how they did or did not follow Jesus' call. The author shows what each man had to do to follow Christ, the perfect example being Levi who just simply hear the call, and went. The interesting disciple is the third disciple who wanted to map out his own course for living, and in that he had lost his way. The author was strong here in showing that we must follow Christ and not set any stipulations along the way. It is all or nothing in Bonhoeffer's view, which he convinces this reader is completely accurate.
There is no lack of clarity in the statement; "The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus." (63) How can anyone ever learn what true faith is unless we are under the will of God for our lives. Bonhoeffer reinforces my view that unless Christ is transforming us through following his call, our faith is empty and really no faith at all.
I highly recommend this work, prepare to be challenged when you read it.