A Walk with Bonhoeffer (D)

We continue our reading of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and chapters 2.

In chapter 2, “The Call to Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer emphasizes that Christianity must be about a bold and unswerving obedience to Jesus. He overstates a bit, but generally makes his point by saying that “The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus” (p 57).

Bonhoeffer, in his own time, must have known of too many academic “theories” about how Christian spirituality “works.” Why do people follow Jesus? What exactly should one believe? Bonhoeffer undercuts any of these questions by simply arguing that, in the Gospels, disciples follow basically because it is JESUS who calls and his call is powerful (57). He sets the readers up for his argument in later chapters that Christ’s call to discipleship is “present” (post-ascension) through the preaching of the Word of Scripture.

One thing Bonhoeffer emphasizes is that a focus on Christian spirituality must necessarily be a living relationship with Christ – here and now. It is not creedal allegiance alone or self-reflection. It is deeply personal: “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ” (59).

While I don’t find Bonhoeffer fully convincing when he argues that there is a model in the Gospels for blind obedience that leads to faith, he does make a good point that, if we divorce “obedience” from “belief” we set up a gap between the two. Can there be an initial period of “belief” and a subsequent decision to “follow”? Bonhoeffer says – May it not be! He admits that “From the point of view of justification, it is necessary thus to separate them, but we must never lose sight of their essential unity. For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience” (64).

You can sense Bonhoeffer’s frustration with the current state of his own national church and the stagnant faith of the religious academy in his interpretation of the rich young man (Matt 19): “The only answer to his difficulties is the very commandment of God, which challenges him to have done with academic discussion and to get on with the task of obedience” (73).

You can sense that Bonhoeffer has a bone to pick with Christians that simply don’t take their faith seriously. He wants believers who live and breath and move at the call of Jesus. We call it “sold out.” Bonhoeffer called it Nachfolge.

My RBL Review of Bennema’s Encountering Jesus

RBL has now posted my review of C. Bennema’s Encountering Jesus. I really enjoyed reading this book. Bennema knows his Johannine literature, has devised a good methodology for character analysis, and the book blends academic scholarship and spiritual formation nicely. This short read is something I will continue to use in class and research.