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In the latest issue of Christianity Today, there is an interview of Richard Foster. Foster is probably best known for writing Celebration of Discipline. He was asked the question, “What were key influences in your early Christian faith?”, Foster responded that the youth pastor in his church was the first key influence. The second was Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his writings…
…especially The Cost of Discipleship. His writings was the only place I could find serious engagement with discipleship. And that probably saved me from abandoning the faith. If all that stuff I read in the Gospels were really true, then that should change everything, but when I looked at the churches in my youthful idealism, I didn’t see it.
But I saw it in The Cost of Discipleship.
And then, of course, his story was compelling because of his own marthrdom. So I clung to that. I still have the old book, taped together (Christianity Today, September 2008, 42).
Without Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is very possible that Christianity would not have been blessed with Foster’s inluence on the spiritual disiciplines.
The Cost of Discipleship was written by German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In chapter fifteen, called “The Hiddenness of Prayer”, we read of his understanding on The Lord’s Prayer, including the statement of our Lord Jesus: “Lead us not into temptation.”
Notice the very practical advice from Bonhoeffer…
Many and diverse are the temptations which beset the Christian. Satan attacks him on every side, if haply he might cause him to fall.
Sometimes the attack takes the form of a false sense of security, and sometimes of ungodly doubt.
But the disciple is conscious of his weakness, and does not expose himself unnecessaily to temptation in order to test the strength of his faith.
Christians ask not God to put their puny faith to the test, but to perserve them in the hour of temptation (167).
The Cost of Discipleship was wriiten by German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In chapter fifteen, called “The Hiddenness of Prayer”, we read of his understanding on The Lord’s Prayer, including the statement of our Lord Jesus: “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors”.
Every day Christ’s followers must acknowledge and bewail their guilt. Living as they do in fellowship with him, they ought to be sinless, but in practice their life is marred daily witl all manner of unbelief, sloth in prayer, lack of bodily discipline, self-indulgence of every kind, envy, hatred and ambition.
No wonder that they must pray daily for God’s forgivness.
But God will only forgive them if they forgive one another with readiness and brotherly affection. Thus, they bring all their guilt before God and pray as a body for forgivness. God forgive not merely me my debts, but us ours (167).
Are ready to forgive the sins of others?
On the fourth of February, 6 years after the turn of the 19th to the 20th century the birth of twins thrilled the new parents, the Bonhoeffers, in Breslau, Germany. The established neurologist’s family had added a daughter and a son, the latter they named Dietrich, and the former, Sabine. Eventually he would have eight siblings. After some schooling in Tubingen, Dietrich attended for three years the Universiy of Berlin starting in 1924, and finally after his dissertation, Sanctorm Communio the twenty-one year old earned his Doctorate — with honors. He went to Barcelona in 1929 for year as curator and Student pastor for the German congregation in Spain. His travels in Europe included a Roman adventure, as well. He was accepted to teach at this the University of Berlin in 1930 after finishing his qualifying thesis (Habilitationsschrift) “Act and Being.”
Halcyon School Days
The August of 1930 started a year when he did postgraduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York until he returned to his post lecturing theology at his alma mater in 1931. While in New York he did regular work at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He also traveled to Mexico and Cuba. In his day, Bonhoeffer, despite his youth, could more than ably communicate the intricacies and sophisticated ideas out of a German and English theology.
Dietrich became Pastor Bonhoeffer in an ordination at Saint Matthias Church in Berlin on November of 1931. The same year he attended the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship Through the Churches — which opened more his awareness of the global faith that he started abroad. For that group he was named Youth Secretary for Germany and Central Europe. He started his evangelical movement around this time that strove to deal with correct doctrine for the Church. Nazi propaganda claiming that they were bringing moral and spiritual renewal to Germany (and ultimately Europe and beyond) did not penetrate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s true discernment of this movement as it did for so much of the world’s Christians having “itching ears.” Bonhoeffer published his winter semester of 31-32 lectures “Creation and Fall.” Events of 1933, namely the election by one vote of Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany, prompted his continued criticism of National Socialisms’ Aryanism and its hatred of everything else, especially the Jews. He belonged to a group that openly rebutted the pro-Nazi German Christians. By April he wrote that civil disobedience was correct when opposing unrighteous political movements. His last seminar on G.W.F. Hegel and published lecture in Berlin “Christ the Center,” an example of his emphasis on Christology, was in that summer of 1933. Before he began to pastor at the Sydenham German Evangelical Church he helped organize the Pastor’s Emergency League in September 1933. This year he started to question Christians’ avoiding sin when obsessed with questionable politics. He authored the Bethel Confession His belief in the planetwide brotherhood of the Body of Christ needed forgiveness and responsibility. He, as a result of his life, is most noted on this other focus — ethics. He befriended the prominant George Bell, Bishop in the Anglican Church while Dietrich assumed a pastorate at London’s Reform Church of Saint Paul. In 1934 he became a member of Bishop Bell’s Universal Christian Council for Life and Work (UCCLW).
Storm Clouds on the Horizon
More auspices of that year, 1933 proved evil — by April Hitler’s first official act was to order a day’s boycott of Jewish businesses. Factories and stores witnessed the pickets; but, Julie Bonhoeffer, Dietrich’s brave grandmother marched right passed the SS stormtroopers, and bought strawberries in one of the Jewish department stores. An American visitor of the Bonhoeffer’s witnessed: “They didn’t dare take this elderly woman. She was very alert and walked elegantly. So nobody was going to stop her!” The next step was the removal and banning of Jews in public office and even church posts, Christian or not. Even though at this time until 1935, Bonhoeffer was still pastoring in England, he kept in touch with the opposition, who would become the “Confessing Church” (Bekennende Kirche) which included Karl Barth and was led by Martin Niemoeller. This “Confessing Church” would involve about a third of Germany’s Protestant leaders. Also, theologically, Barth’s neo-orthodoxy would influence Bonhoeffer throughout his career.
The Confessing Church
As a member of the UCCLW he toured Europe and tried to put those of the ecumenical movement on a much needed “guilt trip” in behalf of the beleaguered Confessing Church being maybe the only ones with orthodoxy and pacifism. The Confessing Church was born in Barmen, Germany in May 1934. The Barmen Declaration of 1934 officially made complaint against the incursion of Nazism in the German Church. August of 1934 Bonhoeffer preached a dynamic message convincing attendees to denounce the Church – State affliation with Fascism and promote peace at the youth conference in Fano, Denmark. Because the Nazis took over all of the theological seminaries, in April of 1935 Zingst, on the Baltic sea, became the new home for the underground Preacher’s Seminary for the Confessing Church until June when Finkenwalde, Pomerania provided the haven. It was here that the confessing community was emphasized in his teaching. This coincides with the time Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in the spring from Great Britain. This group eventually seemed to Dietrich to lean to much in an overly apolitical, more militant, and especially with an overabunance of a neutral outlook toward the Semitic persecutions. But, he stayed involved with them to 1939. Inspired by these heady days he wrote “Spritual Care” and other Pastoral ministry pieces, and his two most famous books: The Cost of Discipleship (1937) and Life Together (1938). On August 5, 1936 the professor was no longer welcome to teach at the University of Berlin.
The Gestapo raided Finkenwald Seminary in 1937 arresting 27. Now, Bonhoeffer devised “collective pastorates” where those learning the ministry hooked up with individual underground pastors and he met with them for classes. He was rethinking his Gandhi-like pacifism seeing patriotism in treason. In February of the next year Bonhoeffer was introduced to the resistance circle by his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyl. This conspiracy of political and military overthrow of Hitler and the Nazi regime was aborted with the Munich agreement. Around this time he wrote his Ethics whereby he declared: “There is now no law behind which the responsible man can seek cover.” He expected believers to serve Jesus Christ with moral responsibility guided by obedience to His ways even to the point of civil legal disregardance. On the second of June 1939, Bonhoeffer went back to New York‘s Union Theological Seminary to teach; but the threats of war only caused this man with a great heart from God for his people, to return to Germany and the resistance on July 27th of that year. His prophetic rationale:
I have had time to think and to pray about my situation, and that of my nation, and to have God’s will for me clarified. I have come to the conclusion I have made a mistake in coming to America. I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of the Christian life in Germany after the war if I did not share in the trials of this time with my people. Christians in Germany face the terrible alternative of willing the defeat of their nation in order that civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose. But I cannot make that choice in security.
The Nazis Clamp Down
1940 came offering more misery to Bonhoeffer’s ministry when the police put a gag order on his preaching, but Dohnanyl arranged to get Dietrich a job with the staff of the Abwehr (military intelligence) department. He could have gathered crucial data and used this courier position and his fame, especially considering his outreach across denominational lines, to garner outside resistance assistance in foreign journeys. Unfortunately the Main Security office was run by the SS and they busted the Abwehr — they thought was unneccesary competition. By March of 1941 Bonhoeffer was not allowed to write, publish or distribute anything.
In 1943 the 37 year old Dietrich, who in January just had become engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, became involved in Operation 7, which was the smuggling of Jews out of Germany into neutral Switzerland. On April 5 of that year, Bonhoeffer continued his ministry — in Berlin’s Tegel prison — joining Dohnanyi and sister Christine, where inmates and guards as witnesses told of his giving counsel and soul nourishment. He was still allowed to see family and comrades, and to write. How much this paralleled the Apostle Paul. We have the opportunity to glimpse into his intermittent experiences with correspondence including love letters from his fiance. One would think that all this disappointment would have imbittered the pastor, who could have felt like the Hebrew Joseph, instead he reminded:
On July 20, 1944 a suitcase bomb placed under the conference table by conspirators, including some of the Abwehr group, exploded, but failed to kill Hitler. Initially Bonhoeffer, who was moved on February 7, 1945 to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, was not tied to them, but the Gestapo found Admiral Canaris‘ diary in April that evidenced his connection, and now, along with others, were sent to Flossenburg. Exactly two years after his first arrest, he was ordered to be annihilated by Hitler. On the same day that his brother-in-law was killed at Sachsenhausen Camp, April 9, 1945, at Flossenburg, a stripped naked Bonhoeffer, only thirty-nine years of age, knelt for his last prayer before being hanged from a gallows that could be called a “Twisted Cross.” (Swastika).
- (Poem from Prison–published in 1946)
Who Am I?
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which
other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like
a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for
the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for
Tossing in expectation of great
Powerlessly trembling for friends at
an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at
thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and
Am I both at once? A hypocrite
And before myself a contemptibly
Or is something within me still like
a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory
Who am I? They mock me, these
lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O
God, I am Thine!
- (1943-45) Letters and Papers from Prison — last years writings of his life were compiled and published posthumously in 1951 by associate Eberhard Bethage. These were the primary post-war source of initiating his Western popularity.
- (1943-45) Love Letters from Cell 92 — are the published letters of fiance, Maria von Wedermeyer.
- His Scholarly Work (bypassed by contemparies)
- (1930)Sanctorum Communio
- (1931) Act and Being
- (1933) Creation and Fall
- His Tracts (were more popular in his lifetime)
- (1937) The Cost of Discipleship
This is where he discusses ‘costly grace’ versus ‘cheap grace.’
- (1939) Life Together
He emphasizes balance in the communities Christian discipline.
- (1939) Ethics — published in 1949
- (1937) The Cost of Discipleship
- Collected Works — the comprehensive compilation whose 1958-1974 German publication is yet to be completely translated into English.
Some of his theological assertions concerning man’s independence, even from God, which were taken more liberally in the 60’s. These perhaps misunderstood ideas like “Religionless Christianity” unfortunately were not more elaborated upon more fully due to the premature death of this great Christion.
The intellectual community is aware of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ethical musings, but they stem from an intense Biblical perspective scanned here:
- Separation of the Church from the World
Whether a pacifist or resistance sympathizer, Bonhoeffer was consistent with his strong feeling of the Churches not conforming to the popular worldview, but following the Mind of Christ.
- Costly Grace versus Cheap Grace
- He saw in history a drifting since the 1200’s regarding man’s relationship, individually and corporately as becoming a set of rituals, rules and philosophies “winning” recruits that run into escapism — the very opposite of participating and or relieving suffering fellowmen.
- Jesus the Man for others
- He wants us to follow the template set down by Jesus himself, one interactive in people’s lives in the good times and bad.
- The Church for OthersContrary to some modern interpretors, Bonhoeffer did not want to completely secularize the institution, but he continued to promote the ordinances, fellowship and the worship with the congregants. The separation from the cosmos (Plato‘s world system) was while we are in the midst of mankind, striving to reeducate modern error of total (or even partial) independence from the Almighty and His Word.
He was fighting the good fight against what is called, also, Easy Believism, that is taking advantage of God’s ultimate forgiveness on the cross. Sometimes known as pietism, or an holiness movement was an answer to the problem of Calvinism’s teaching in layman‘s terms: “One Saved, always Saved.” The cavalier attitude that leads to willful sinning is the opposite of what that unearned, undeserved sacrifice in our stead giving us freedom and power to live sanctified lives.
Besides the works of fiction, of which we are eagerly awaiting translation, Bonhoeffer was a musician it would have been interesting to know what else this giant of a man would have done if he hadn’t demonstrated so dramatically (and literally) that there is “…no greater love than when a man lays down his life for others…”
Source: Great Leaders of the Christian Faith, Moody Press
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology; ed. Walter A. Elwell, Baker: (1984).
The Moody Handbook of Theology; Paul Enns, Moody Press: (1989).
The Cost of Discipleship is one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s all-time classic works. In chapter fifteen, called “The Hiddenness of Prayer”, we read of his understanding on The Lord’s Prayer, including on the statement of Jesus: “Give us this day our daily bread”.
Here is part two…
And since it is the bread of God, it is new every day. They do not ask to lay up a store for the future, but are satisfied with what God gives them day by day. Through that bread their lives are spared a little longer, that they may enjoy life in fellowship with Jesus, praising and thanking him for his loving-kindness.
This petition is a test of their faith, for it shows whether they believe that all things work together for good to them that love God (167).
I never thought of this petition quite that way. I like the fact that as our heavenly Father provides our daily bread, we have yet another day to enjoy Jesus!
I subscribe to the Christian quote of the day, and today’s quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer…
Christian Quotation of the Day
August 24, 2008
Feast of Bartholomew the Apostle
[Jesus to His disciples:] You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
— John 15:3 (NIV)
We may suffer the sins of our brother; we do not need to judge. This is a mercy for the Christian; for when does sin ever occur in the community that he must not examine and blame himself for his own unfaithfulness in prayer and intercession, his lack of brotherly service, of fraternal reproof and encouragement–indeed, for his own personal sin and spiritual laxity, by which he has done injury to himself, the fellowship, and the brethren? Since every sin of a member burdens and indicts the whole community, the congregation rejoices, in the midst of all the pain and the burden that the brother’s sin inflicts, that it has the privilege of bearing and forgiving.
… Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Life Together 
Quiet time reflection:
Lord, You alone have saved Your church, from the weakest to the strongest.
CQOD Compilation Copyright 2008, Robert McAnally Adams, Curator
CQOD Home Page: http://www.cqod.com/
The Cost of Discipleship is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer classic. In chapter fifteen, we find his interpretations on The Lord’s Prayer, including on the statement of Jesus: “Give us this day our daily bread”.
As long as the disciples are on earth, they should not be ashamed to pray for their bodily needs. He who created men on earth will keep and preserve their bodies. It is not that his creation should be despised. The disciples are told to ask for bread not only for themselves but for all men on the earth, for all men are their brethren.
The disciples realize that while it is a fruit of the earth, bread really comes down from above as a gift of God alone. That is why they have to ask for it before they take it (166-167).
The Cost of Discipleship is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer classic. In chapter fifteen, we find his interpretations on The Lord’s Prayer, including on the statement of Jesus: “Thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth”.
Here is the second paragraph on this section…
God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will must be the primary object of Christian prayer. Of course it is not as if God needed our prayers, but they are the means by which the disciples become partakers in the heavenly treasure for which they pray. Furthermore, God uses their prayers to hasten the coming of the End (166).
It certainly a mystery how the Sovereign Lord of the universe and all events uses the prayers of Christ-followers; yet He does. Thus, we daily pray that His will be done on earth as in heaven.
The Cost of Discipleship has long been considered one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most influential books. Countless people have deepened their walk with Jesus through his words. In chapter fifteen, we find his interpretations on The Lord’s Prayer, including on the statement of Jesus: “Thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth”.
Notice how it is vital that we continually keep our focus on things above and not on things on earth
In fellowship with Jesus his followers have surrendered their own wills completely to God’s, and so they pray that God’s will be done throughout the world. No creature on earth shall defy him. But the evil will is still alive even in the followers of Christ, it still seeks to cut them off from fellowship with him; and that is why they must also pray that the will of God may prevail more and more in their hearts every day and break down all defiance. In the end the whole world must bow before that will, worshiping and giving thanks in joy and tribulation. Heaven and earth shall be subject to God (166).