A Walk with Bonhoeffer (D) – “Single-Minded Obedience” and “Discipleship and the Cross”

Discipleship, ch 3: “Single-Minded Obedience”

It is no surprise, when you think of Bonhoeffer’s own life-context and the torpor within the church in his time when it came to real action in the name of Christ, that he attacks “inward piety.”

Bonhoeffer imagines the pseudo-pious self-dialogue, after a so-called Christian reads stories of disciples leaving their belongings and following (physically) after Christ: “…I must cultivate a spirit of inward detachment, so that my heart is not in my possessions” (p0. 80). He later admits that this false piety has the aroma of truth, but no substance (see 82). Instead, “it is only through actual obedience that a man can become liberated to believe” (83). For Bonhoeffer, there is no good reason to sit around waiting for an epiphany. You must take a literal step of faith, and the faith itself will follow.

The fourth chapter is “Discipleship and the Cross,” perhaps my favorite chapter in the book.

The call of God is to follow Christ. Bonhoeffer makes a good point about the purpose of this.

There is a distinction between suffering and rejection. Had he only suffered, Jesus might still have been applauded as the Messiah…It could have been viewed as a tragedy with its own intrinsic value, dignity, and honour. But in the passion Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honour. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus (87).

Bonhoeffer fixes this rejection to the very identity of Jesus and, thus, to the Church as well.

Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion (87).

Bonhoeffer does not only mean martydom, though one example of dying with Christ would be that. He also holds up Luther, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world(89). For Luther to leave that place was his own dying to the old man.

One bit of interpretive nuance Bonhoeffer highlights involves Jesus’ own desire for the cup of suffering to pass by him.

…the cup of suffering will indeed pass from him–but only by his drinking it (92)

I am not sure I think the Gospel writers had this in mind, but it is interesting.

What we learn in this chapter is that Bonhoeffers Christology, anthropology, ecclesiology, and crucology (did I make this word up?) are all inter-connected.

[Christ] suffers vicariously for the world. His is the only suffering which has redemptive efficacy. But the Church knows that the world is still seeking for someone to bear its sufferings, and so, as it follows Christ, suffering becomes the Church’s lot too and bearing it, it is borne up by Christ. As it follows him beneath the cross, the Church stands before God as the representative of the world (92).


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