A Walk with Bonhoeffer (D) Part I

This coming winter, I will be teaching a Christian Formation course that will have a special focus on the cross and Christian discipleship. Thus, I dug out my old copy of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship which I have not read for many, many years and perhaps not even in full. I recently rediscovered Bonhoeffer as I assigned my students last year to read the Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians biography for this same course.

This summer, I am reading Discipleship and Eric Metaxas’ (controversial?) biography. I must admit that right now Bonhoeffer’s work and lifestyle is resonating with me in many ways. I know many of you have probably read Bonhoeffer and do not need an introduction or refresher on any of this, but it will help me process and perhaps spark interest in him among a few of you who don’t know his work well (as I admit I do not).

The (D) posts will focus on Discipleship. The (B) posts will focus on the life of Bonhoeffer as explained in Metaxas.

Cost of Discipleship Chapter 1: Costly Grace

Cheap grace is the enemy of our Church (43)

…cheap grace…amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God (43)

What is “cheap grace”?

…preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession (44-45)

So what is “costly grace”?

…the kingly rule of Christ…the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him” (45)

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ” (45)

Bonhoeffer, in his own time and context, expressed a deep sadness at the power of a Church that has largely forgotten Jesus and misunderstood grace. It offered cheap grace to the world and the world gladly accepted. It is cheap because the Church offered to justify the sin without justifying the sinner. Real grace is different.

…like water on a parched ground, comfort in tribulation, freedom from the bondage of a self-chosen way…” (49)

One does not really understand what Bonhoeffer is trying to say in this book unless he/she reckons with the German title: Nachfolge – “following after.” Yes, this is discipleship, but the theme of following (versus the central concept of word “disciple,” which is learning) is about leaving everything to follow Christ. It is about action and active obedience, not just “commitment” in a more abstract way. I suggest we try to re-claim a closer terminology of Bonhoeffer’s title: “The Cost of Following Jesus.”

What about the potential for pelagianism and legalism – earning salvation by works. Bonhoeffer wishes to take the risk.

The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works (55)

Next time, chapter 2.