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In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer unloaded his words mainly toward the church in Germany. Compromise was the theme of the day. To Bonhoeffer, the survival of the church was at stake. In the book…

Bonhoeffer…moves to the problem of following Jesus Christ when so many pastors and churchgoers lived comfortably in thrall to a seductive political dictator. He alerts his readers from the outset that Christian discipleship has to be lived with utter seriousness. Christian life was at a crossroads, and the direction Christians took would determine whether or not they and their churches were true or false followers of Christ. In typical German church life Bonhoeffer detected only “cheap grace” (The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 131).

We are not facing a Hitler-like dictator in twenty-first century America. But are we living for Jesus with “utter seriousness”?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s main body of work which explained his understanding of following Jesus was the The Cost of Discipleship. Before the book was published. he was able to lay a foundation for the book while he was a director of the illegal Confessing Church seminary at Finkenwalde.

During this period, he taught that Jesus words from the Sermon on the Mount call for a radical obedience to Jesus. Geffrey B Kelly and F. Burton Nelson write in The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

In these lectures he opened to his seminarians the personal heart of his own spirituality: discipleship and the cross, living out the teachings of Jesus Christ even if that led to their persecution and martyrdom (131).

It is ironic that part of the foundation to his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship occurred while he was a director of an illegal seminary. Thus, from the beginning he lived out the teachings of his own lectures. Lectures that stressed an all obedience to Jesus regardless of the cost.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had some strong words about his fellow Lutherans:

We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcase of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ…So long as our Church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there is  no doubt whatever that she is a justified Church!…We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to follow Christ. The result was that a nation became Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship. The price it was called upon to pay was all too cheap. Cheap grace had won the day (53).

As a twenty-first century Baptist in America, I wonder if Bonhoeffer’s harsh words apply to Baptists as well!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer certainly did not beat around the bush when it came to cheapening the gospel:

Grace as the data for our calculations means grace at the cheapest price, but grace as the answer to the sum means costly grace. It is terrifying to realize what use can be made of genuine in evangelical doctrine. In both cases, we have the identical formula-“justification by faith alone.” Yet the misuse of the formula leads to the complete destruction of its very essence (The Cost of Discipleship, 51).

Thus, we say and even cherish the fact that we are justified by faith, and yet we “cheapen” and even destroy that precious truth through a compromising faith.                   

Sometimes, we can convince ourselves that following Jesus really only means a small sacrifice each week in order to satisfy the demands of Jesus. This is known as “cheap grace.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that that the “upshot” of “Cheap graceis “that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are forgiven. I need to longer follow Christ, for cheap grace, the bitterest foe of discipleship, which true discipleship must loathe and detest, has freed me from that” (Life of Discipleship, 51).

Of course, costly grace means (in sharp contrast to cheap grace) that following Jesus is 24/7.

           Perhaps the two most popular works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer among evangelical Christians are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. In the coming days, I am going to take a look at The Cost of Discipleship. As always, I would greatly appreciate any feedback or comments. Thank you.

Bonhoeffer’s chief concern in the The Cost of Discipleship is that “grace…has become so watered down that it no longer resembles the grace of the New Testament, the costly grace of the Gospels.”[1] Bonhoeffer called this a “cheap grace”[2] and it had “been the ruin of more Christians than any other commandment of works.”[3] Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as:

 

…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.[4]

 

“Cheap Grace” is in sharp contrast to “Costly grace”. Bonhoeffer defined this as:

…is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.[5]

 


[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 43.

 

[3] Ibid., 55.

 

[4] Ibid., 44-45.

 

[5] Ibid., 45.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together has influenced Christians and the church for decades. Today when I Googled “Life Together Bonhoeffer” there were around 270,000 web pages including a very good review of Life Together by Tim McIntosh…

Tim McIntosh’s review of Life Together

Quizzical looks usually greet me when I tell people I live in a “Christian community.”

“Oh, like a hippie commune?” some wonder. Or, more bluntly: “You mean, a cult?”

The reactions shouldn’t surprise me. Bizarre religious communities have made headlines in the last several years, some for drinking Clorox, others for stockpiling weapons, others for seeking UFOs.

Our community has no charismatic leader, no semiautomatic rifles, and no silk purple triangles. We live on a farm near a river in North Georgia, praying, working and sharing meals together. Our community is very ordinary.

Note that I said ordinary, not boring. For anyone who has lived in a deliberate Christian community knows that life together is never boring. In addition to sharing meals we also share each other’s needs, idiosyncrasies and moods. Community life is a lot like family life, but stripped of the kinship of common blood and history.

Bonhoeffer’s Life Together

Last week, rummaging through an old box of books, I found a small dusty copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I was familiar with his famous The Cost of Discipleship, but had never read the little book that grew from his experience in a Christian community. Having been immersed in community life for two years, I was curious to hear what this giant of the faith — ultimately martyred for opposing Hitler — had to say about life together.

Many people know at least the outlines of Bonhoeffer’s life. He showed a strong faith from an early age and, in his teens, began to study theology. He completed his doctorate at age 21 and spent his next years as a preacher, pastor, churchman, and teacher in his native Germany. But all these activities were cut short in the fall of 1933 when Hitler came to power. In protest, Bonhoeffer moved to London but soon returned to his country at the request of the Confessing Church (a body of Christians who firmly opposed the Nazi-influenced church) to run a hidden seminary in Finkenwalde.

Life Together emerged from Bonhoeffer’s experience directing the secret seminary.

Click to read the rest of the review

This blog on the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is almost three months old. The very first entry was on February 19, 2008. This site will help me complete my thesis-project in the pursuit of a Doctor of Ministry degree through Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA.

The purpose of this site is to explain the impact that Bonhoeffer can have on twenty-first century preaching and preachers.

On the top of this page are links to each of the six impacts. Thank you to all those who have taken the time to read them. Thank you also to those who have responded with feedback.

I can still use more feedback. This is crucial to help me complete my thesis-project. So if you are a regular to this site or are new, thank you for being here. If you have the time, please click the “Evaluation Form” at the top of the page and fill it out.

Again, thank you.

Bryan

In the classic book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that times of fellowship are crucial because we are instruments of God to encourage others (and be encouraged by others) with His Word:

When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.

He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ.

The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure (22-23).

This is mores than listening to a sermon or sitting in a Bible study. This means that in our gatherings, the Holy Spirit may use us to encourage or gently rebuke another follower of Jesus; or we may be encouraged or rebuked by another. Bonhoeffer also implies humility on our part because our brother or sister in Jesus may have a Word from the Lord that we desperately need to hear.

To Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian fellowship is a gift from God. He writes in Life Together that:

Communal life is again recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the “roses and lilies” of the Christian life (19). Do we see times together with our brothers and sisters in Jesus as “extraordinary” moments in our Christian experience? Bonhoeffer also points out that our Christian fellowship is only possible through Jesus Christ…

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ (19).

Bonhoeffer explains further…

What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity (21).

Thus, each time we are in the presence of other Christians, we have have the opportunity to thank God for his gift of fellowship.

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