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Introduction:

The third reason Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact is his emphasis on a non-compromising faith. This was known as “costly grace,” Bonhoeffer spoke against the “cheap” grace within the church. His classic statement is found in the Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[1] To Bonhoeffer, this was basic Christianity. It was impossible to be a follower of Jesus and not live a self-sacrificing life out of obedience and love to him.

John de Gruchy, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, writes that Bonhoeffer first began to explore Christ’s radical call to follow him while he was an “unpaid lecturer” at the University of Berlin[2]:

During his two years (1931-33) at the university he became a ‘minor sensation’, attracting a significant number of students to his lively seminars. Many of the insights which later found expression in The Cost of Discipleship were first explored in the informal discussions which Bonhoeffer had with the circle of students who gathered around him.[3]

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.”[4] Bonhoeffer called this a “cheap grace”[5] and it had “been the ruin of more Christians than any other commandment of works.”[6] 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.[7]

“Costly grace”, on the other hand, is:

…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.[8]

Of all the works of Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship is certainly his “angriest book—possibly his one ‘angry’ book…none of Bonhoeffer’s early works reveal him inflamed and vehement, as this book does. The tone throughout the book is entirely serious, rarely speculative, often rhetorically powerful—but always angry.”[9] There is an idea of Bonhoeffer’s anger in the first chapter of the book:

We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcase of cheap grace, and there we have a drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ…To be “Lutheran” must mean that we leave the following of Christ to legalists. Calvinists and enthusiasts—and all this for the sake of grace.

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 to pay was all too cheap. Cheap grace had won the day.[10]

There was urgency for Bonhoeffer to complete the book because he believed that true discipleship was the only hope for Germany:

The conditions Bonhoeffer faced are simple reason enough why. He wrote the book between 1935 and 1937, while directing the seminary at Finkenwalde. Hitler by now had roused the German people to a nationalistic furor and an utter blindness to social responsibility.

The imprisonment and terrorization of Jews raged through the large cities. Any outspoken criticisms of the Nazi regime, including those from the Confessing Church, were quickly squelched. Germany had been, not too long ago, a “Christian” nation; now men and women continued to attend church services, but the real spirit of Christianity had dimmed to a darkness.

At this time Bonhoeffer wrote his strongest book, a challenge to Christian discipleship, because he believed that only a real return to the Christian faith could save Germany.[11]

Biblical Foundation:

Jesus said in Luke 9:23-25: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Robert H. Stein comments that three conditions for following Jesus are laid out in this passage:

The first involves a need to deny oneself. This is much more radical than simply a denial of certain things. This mandates a rejection of a life based on self-interest and self fulfillment. Instead a disciple is to be one who seeks to fulfill the will and the teachings of Christ.

The second condition involves the need to take up one’s cross…Jesus’ own crucifixion reveals more fully to Luke’s readers that this call is a commitment unto death. There needs to be a willingness to suffer martyrdom if need be.

The final condition is the need to follow Jesus. In contrast to the other two conditions, indicating that following Jesus must be continual[12]

Jesus made it clear later in Luke chapter 9 that following him could actually mean sacrifice to the point of homelessness. In verse 57, a man came to Jesus and boldly declared: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Most people have a home to go to, but Jesus made it clear that some of his followers will be kicked out of their homes because of their commitment to him.

It was this commitment that Bonhoeffer wrote about. He wrote that “cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church.”[13] To Bonhoeffer, grace should be “costly” because it cost Jesus Christ his very life. Grace is also costly because it costs people their very lives if they follow Jesus. Yet cheap grace had reduced discipleship to mere doctrine. Following Jesus has been cheapened by deemphasizing repentance, baptism, church discipline and the Lord’s Supper.

It is grace without biblical discipleship, that is, without the renouncing of personal ambition in order to follow and obey Jesus. The way of the cross means that we give up everything to be a Christ follower (Luke 14:25-35).

The Apostle Paul described it this way: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that, I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). It was Paul’s desire to discard everything that was once important and meaningful so he could be a better follower of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne interprets Paul’s words: “…were Paul to place the whole world with its wealth and power and advantages, its prestige and accolades and rewards in one scalepan of the balance and Christ in the other, Christ alone would overwhelmingly outweigh everything else in terms of real worth. Hence, from the standpoint of simple logic Paul cannot afford to gain the whole world if it means losing Jesus.”[14]

Bonhoeffer saw discipleship much like the Apostle Paul did. His own commitment to Jesus was tested in 1939, when professors Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Lehmann asked Bonhoeffer to come to New York City to assume a teaching position at Union Seminary and thus, escape the perilous situation in Germany. This would certainly keep Bonhoeffer out of harm’s way. With great hesitation, Bonhoeffer accepted the position. So in June of 1939, Bonhoeffer and his brother Karl-Friedrich made the voyage to the United States.

However, he quickly realized that it was a mistake. His time in America was short-lived. He explained his decision to return to Niebuhr:

It was a mistake for me to come to America…I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Germany after the war if I do not share the tribulation of this time with my people…Christians in Germany are faced with the alternatives either of willing their country’s defeat so that Christian civilization may survive, or of willing its victory and destroying our civilization. I know which of the alternatives I have chosen but I cannot make the choice from a position of safety[15]

To Bonhoeffer, true and biblical discipleship had to be costly and self-sacrificing. There really was no other way to follow Jesus. He returned to Germany because he was a “German and a Christian.”[16] As a Christian, he had to follow Jesus regardless of the cost to his own safety and position. If he had to suffer, then so be it in order to follow Jesus.

In the Cost of Discipleship, he wrote: “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his Master…If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow him.”[17]

Application:

While twenty-first century followers of Jesus are not threatened by Hitler and Nazism, they do face the possible threats of materialism, pride and cheap grace. Thus, preachers must make doubly sure that their own commitment to Jesus is non-compromising and that their preaching and teaching does not side-step the costly demands of Jesus.

Further, the New Testament is clear that suffering will be experienced by the followers of Jesus. James 1:2-4 assumes that Christians will suffer: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

J.A. Motyer writes that “trials of many kinds” is a “true picture of life!”[18] Trials often bring distress and discouragement. Yet, according to James, since they are interwoven into the very fabric of our lives, they should be seen as a reality of life. Motyer continues: (James) “appeals, therefore, not for the adoption of a superficial gaiety in the face of life’s adversities, but for a candid awareness of truth already known.”[19]

Life’s adversities will result in the development of a perseverance that can lead to mature Christian character. That is, the faith of the Christian will be refined through the “slow and painful” process of testing. This refining through testing will lead to a “new facet of the believer’s character that could not exist without testing.”[20]

Suffering, to James, can result in true joy when trials are seen as essential tests for our faith. Joy can be experienced even at the onset of “various trials” because they can lead to positive results. The trials will vary from believer to believer depending on one’s circumstances. Yet, there will always be a cost in following Jesus.

***************************************************************************************************************

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 89.

[2] De Gruchy, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, 13.

[3] Ibid., 13-14.

[4] http://www.probe.org/history/history/dietrich-bonhoeffer.html#text2

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

[6] Ibid., 55.

[7] Ibid., 44-45.

[8] Ibid., 45.

[9] Kuhns, In Pursuit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 81.

[10] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 53.

[11] Kuhns, In Pursuit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 81-82.

[12] Robert H. Stein, The New American Commentary: Luke, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 279.

[13] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 43.

[14] Gerald H. Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 139.

[15] Quoted in Mark Devine, Bonhoeffer Speaks Today (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2005) 19-20.

[16] Ibid., 20.

[17] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 91

[18] J.A. Motyer, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of James (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 30.

[19] Ibid., 30.

[20] Peter Davids, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary of James (Grand Rapids, 1982), 68, 69.

Haddon Robinson Preaching Retreat 2019

Chris —  May 14, 2019

I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat (Map of Participants — Don’t miss Ireland!). This year we are studying the book of Isaiah and our guest lecturer is Tim Mackie of The Bible Project. Watch the Bible Project on Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66!

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

For the rest of Chris Braun’s blog…

Ten years ago today–on May 9, 2009, I graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. The D.Min track was “The Preacher & the Message” under the leadership of the late Dr. Haddon Robinson. This “bonhoefferblog” was part of my D.Min thesis, “The Impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on 21st Century Preaching.”

bonhoefferblog

This morning (Saturday) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, I sat down with Dr. Haddon Robinson and Dr. Sid Buzzell to defend my thesis on the impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on twenty-first century preaching and preachers.

I am thankful to the Lord to pass it.

I am also thankful to everyone who offered feedback of some kind to the bonhoefferblog. Your contribution helped me to complete my thesis.

I plan to continue to add posts to this blog. It has become part of my life and routine.

Bryan

I am on D.Min. display table at Gordon-Conwell!

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by
Chris Brauns 
May 15, 2018

I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat. This year we are studying the Gospel of Mark and our guest lecturer is Mark Strauss of Bethel seminary. 

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

For the entire post…

The Late Dr. Haddon W. Robinson, and Gordon-Conwell Alumnus, Dr. Tim Keller, Named in Baylor University Poll of 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English Speaking World

May 1, 2018

Late Gordon-Conwell Professor, Alumnus Cited in “Most Effective Preachers” Poll

May 1, 2018— Two widely recognized preaching experts, the late Dr. Haddon W. Robinson, and Gordon-Conwell alumnus, Tim Keller, have been named in Baylor University’s latest poll of the 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English Speaking World.

Dr. Robinson, who died in 2017, served the seminary for 26 years as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching, was Senior Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and Interim President from 2007 to 2008.

He was also named in an earlier Baylor University poll of most effective preachers, as well as Christianity Today’s “25 Most Influential Preachers of the Past 50 Years” and Preaching magazine’s 2010 list of the “25 Most Influential Preachers of the Past 25 Years.”

Keller, who received a Master of Divinity degree from the seminary in 1975, was the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY, and is Chairman of Redeemer City to City, a ministry that plants churches in New York and other global cities.

For the rest of the post…

Haddon Robinson grabbed an ice pick and headed out the door to join his gang. They were intent on avenging the murders of three of their members.

Association with a gang was a matter of survival for a young man growing up in the Mousetown section of Harlem in the 1940s. Haddon’s mother had died when he was a boy, and his father worked a 2 to 11 p.m. shift, so no one was home to stop him.

As the gang members emerged from an alley, a policeman apprehended them. For whatever reason, the officer singled out Haddon, searched him, and found his ice pick. “What do you plan to do with this?” the officer asked. “Chop ice,” Haddon replied. At that, the officer kicked him to the ground, swore at him, and made him return home. That night, several of Haddon’s fellow gang members would lose their lives in a brutal brawl. As he later reflected, “The foot of that policeman was the hand of God in my life.”

Life Devoted to Preaching

God’s hand continued to work in Haddon’s life, shaping him into a devoted follower of Jesus who eventually became a dean of evangelical preaching. He is best known for his book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages—first published it in 1980 and currently in its third edition. I once asked Haddon how he was able to make his book “sing.” He told me he delivered the first draft orally to his secretary while pacing back and forth in his office.

On July 22, 2017, Haddon entered the presence of the Lord. He died in his sleep almost three years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I am one of his many former students who will be forever grateful for his imprint on our lives. This self-described “latchkey kid” from a vicious, violent district in New York City taught us grace, godliness, and how to preach the Scriptures.

Haddon’s interest in preaching began shortly after his conversion to Christ when Harry Ironside, the renowned pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, visited New York City. Of Ironside’s preaching, Haddon wrote in his diary: “He preached for an hour and it seemed like 20 minutes; others preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is.” A few years ago, Haddon said: “I have devoted my life to answering that question.”

Haddon’s call to preach was solidified while a student at Bob Jones University. There, he heard leading preachers in chapel and often spent Friday nights in the library reading sermons and books about preaching. When he enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary, the school didn’t offer classes in preaching. During his senior year, a few classmates asked him to teach them how to preach. This eventually led to an invitation for Haddon to return from an assistant pastorate in Medford, Oregon, to teach homiletics at DTS. “I went back because they needed a ‘low-dollar person,’” he recalled. “They hired me on the basis of gift, not education.” Haddon often quipped that friends would marvel at how he didn’t become an atheist after listening to so many student sermons.

When I reflect on how Haddon shaped evangelical preaching, I think of three particular convictions he taught and modeled.

1. Need for a Big Idea

Haddon wrote his classic preaching textbook in an era when expository preaching was often reduced to an exegetical lecture. He was concerned that listeners would walk away from a sermon “with a basketful of fragments but not an adequate sense of the whole.” One of his witticisms (which his students called “Haddonisms”) expressed his concern: “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.”

The hallmark of Haddon’s approach to exposition lies in identifying and communicating a biblical text’s “big idea.” Some have questioned this approach, arguing that it’s artificial and works better in some passages than in others. They’re concerned about reducing the richness of a text to a single idea. Yet Haddon saw the “big idea” approach as a way of communicating a biblical text precisely so that listeners could access its riches. He observed: “Sermons seldom fail because they have too many ideas; more often they fail because they deal with unrelated ideas.”

Haddon believed preachers are not ready to preach a text until, in the words of John Henry Jowett, the big idea “has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.”

2. Need to Exegete Both Text and Listener

Robinson insisted his students work hard to understand both the text and the listeners to whom we preach. I remember him grilling me in class over my exegesis of a passage in the Gospel of Mark. My fellow students and I had to exegete a particular text and then discuss how we would preach it. I remember saying, “This is how I plan to preach this text.” Haddon replied, “No you won’t. Try it again.” So I tried it again, and he said: “That won’t do. Try it again.” By the end of my presentation, I was frustrated. Yet Haddon approached me after class and told me how glad he was to have me in his DMin program in preaching. I realized he was pushing us to understand deeply the author’s intended meaning.

Haddon also insisted that we exegete our listeners. What do they value? What are their needs? What do they need explained, validated (proved), or applied when they hear a biblical text proclaimed? He had no patience with the “stained-glass voice” and “three points and a poem” approach of many pastors. He believed it dulled the senses of listeners. I remember Haddon interrupting a sermon one of my classmates was preaching in class. He suddenly started waving his arms and said, “Stop right there! Stop. Do you use that kind of a voice when you order a meal at McDonalds? Then don’t use it when preaching.” He chided the sermon outline of a friend of mine, saying: “That sounds like it came out of a book called Simple Sermons for Sunday Evening.”

3. Need for Godliness

Haddon admonished his students with Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” He warned us: “When you fail to walk with God, you walk on the edge of an abyss.” This is something he modeled well. Haddon was a man of God before he was a spokesman for God. He was a man of godly integrity, a man of tenderness as well as toughness. I never once heard him criticize his critics, though I remember the opening to one of his prayers: “Lord, I am a sinful man in need of your grace.”

Though brilliant and full of insight, Haddon was not full of himself. In 1996 a Baylor University poll named him one of “The 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World.” Once, when asked about the honor, Haddon shook his head: “How in the world do you come up with a conclusion like that?” As he has famously said: “There are no great preachers, only a great Christ.”

Selfless Servant

Part of Haddon’s godly grace was his expression of love and care to others. I’ll never forget how he encouraged and prayed for a struggling yogurt shop owner near Gordon-Conwell’s campus. She had come to faith in Christ through his radio ministry and couldn’t believe he was “that Haddon Robinson.” He gently insisted that we, his students, give her our business to help her pay her bills.

When I had to miss my graduation ceremony at Gordon-Conwell due to a family member’s illness, Haddon called the day after to tell me how sorry he was and to inquire about my family member. By the end of the phone call, he agreed to fly to Montana—where I was pastoring at the time—to present me with my hood and diploma. This seems rather remarkable, but it was a rather typical act of kindness for Haddon.

For the rest of the post…

Haddon Robinson

I hadn’t planned to post today.

I received word today that Haddon Robinson passed away this morning. Haddon served as the the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He wrote Biblical Preaching, a classic textbook on preaching. He’s taught thousands of preachers in his tenures at Dallas Theological Seminary, Denver Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell.

I had the privilege of taking my Doctor of Ministry under Haddon from 2004-2007. I learned much from Haddon as a preacher, but I learned even more from Haddon as a man. Haddon exuded integrity and humility. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever known.

I was more than a little nervous when it came time to defend my thesis before Haddon. My advisor was positive, but I knew his opinion would not stand before Haddon’s. Haddon asked some pointed questions and raised a few good points, but somehow forgot to tell me at the end if I’d passed. It turns out that I had.

Every year a group of D.Min. Graduates gathered to study a book of the Bible with Haddon and a commentator. We continued to learn from Haddon even after our formal studies concluded. You could tell when Haddon was speaking: every time Haddon rose to speak, the room was filled with the sound of typists trying to keep up with Haddon’s thoughts. I’m grateful now that we were able to capture many of his unscripted comments.

It’s tempting to write a hagiography when it comes to someone like Haddon. He wasn’t perfect, and he was the first to admit it. That, in part, is what drew us to him. It’s clear that Haddon walked closely with God, and as such he wasn’t overly impressed with himself. “There are no great preachers,” he said, “only a great Christ.”

I last saw Haddon in December of last year. He wasn’t doing well, but he continued to live as a man who loved God and loved his family. He was also loved by so many of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

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