Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Cost of Discipleship (1937/1959)

The Cost of Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 1937/1959/1995. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. [Source: Borrowed from friend.]

Words I'd use to describe Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship: challenging, confusing, deep and philosophical, puzzling, thought-provoking, discussion-worthy, complex, problematic, and unsettling. It is an engaging read. If you're not willing to commit your mind to unpacking it--engaging with the ideas and concepts being explored in the text--then it's a waste of time. It's a challenging read. You can easily puzzle over the meaning of a paragraph for a considerable amount of time. Did Bonhoeffer mean this or that? The difference between "this" and "that" may be subtle or narrow--or it could be considerable. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt in some places, yet, I wanted to weigh each statement against the Word of God. I still don't know what to make of certain statements, certain positions, certain ideas within The Cost of Discipleship. For example, when he argues that it is dangerous for Christians to believe that "our salvation has already been accomplished by grace of God" (55) This was NOT a work where I found myself in easy agreement all the time.

At its best, The Cost of Discipleship showcases Bonhoeffer's expository writing. Within The Cost of Discipleship, he discusses particular sections of Scripture: Mark 2:14, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 19:16-22, Matthew 19:23-26, Mark 8:31-38, Matthew 26:39, 42, Luke 14:26, Mark 10:32, Matthew 5:1-12, Matthew 5:13-16, Matthew 5:17-20, Matthew 5:21-26, Matthew 5:27-32, Matthew 5:33-37, Matthew 5:38-42, Matthew 5:43-48, Matthew 6:1-4, Matthew 6:5-8, Matthew 6:16-18, Matthew 6:19-24, Matthew 7:1-12, Matthew 7:13-23, Matthew 7:24-29, Matthew 9:35-38, Matthew 10:1-4, Matthew 10:5-6, Matthew 10:7-8, Matthew 10:9-10, Matthew 10:11-15, Matthew 10:16-25, Matthew 10:26-39, Matthew 10:40-42. You'll notice that he extensively focuses on the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7). Essentially, Bonhoeffer is discussing what it means to be a disciple, what it means to follow Christ, what it means to live the Christian life, what it means to be justified and sanctified.

I will share quotes that I think sum up Bonhoeffer's doctrines. Some I agree with; some I am less sure about. Some I think are discussion-worthy because I just don't have the answers.

Cheap grace is 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. (45)
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God... Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." (45)
The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. (51)
An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever... Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ...In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. (59)
The call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian's duty to bear. (90)
It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received. (116)
The cross is the strange light which alone illuminates these good works of the disciples... It is by seeing the cross and the community beneath it that men come to believe in God. But that is the light of the Resurrection. (119)
Their righteousness is righteousness indeed, for from henceforth they do the will of God and fulfil the law themselves. Again, it is not enough to teach the law of Christ, it must be done, otherwise it is no better than the old law. In what follows the disciples are told how to practice this righteousness of Christ. In a word, it means following him. It is the real and active faith in the righteousness of Christ. It is the new law, the law of Christ. (125)
From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or of what we are doing. We must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only in so far as we look unto Jesus; then it will seem not extraordinary but quite ordinary and natural. Thus we hide the visible from ourselves in obedience to the word of Jesus. (158)
When men pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action. (163)
The essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father. (164)
Discipleship does not afford us a point of vantage from which to attack others; we come to them with an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single-mindedness of the love of Jesus. When we judge other people we confront them in a spirit of detachment, observing and reflecting as it were from the outside. But love has neither time nor opportunity for this. If we love, we can never observe the other person with detachment, for he is always and at every moment a living claim to our love and service. (184)
Judgment is the forbidden objectification of the other person which destroys single-minded love. I am not forbidden to have my own thoughts about the other person, to realize his shortcomings, but only to the extent that it offers to me an occasion for forgiveness and unconditional love, as Jesus proves to me. (185)
Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with clarity. (185)
If we follow Christ, cling to his word, and let everything else go, it will see us through the day of judgment. His word is his grace. (195)
Nothing could be more ruthless than to make men think there is still plenty of time to mend their ways. To tell men that the cause is urgent, and that the kingdom of God is at hand is the most charitable and merciful act we can perform, the most joyous news we can bring. (211)
It is baptism into the death of Christ which effects the forgiveness of sin and justification, and completes our separation from sin. (233)
The death of Jesus is the manifestation of God's righteousness, it is the place where God has given gracious proof of his own righteousness, the place where alone the righteousness of God will dwell. By sharing in this death we too become partakers of that righteousness... Since God had to establish his own righteousness in the death of Christ, it follows that we are with him in the place where God's righteousness is to be found, that is, on the cross... For the death of Jesus establishes not only the righteousness of God, it establishes his righteousness for us who are embodied in the death of Christ. (274)
Justification is primarily concerned with the relation between man and the law of God, sanctification with the Christian's separation from the world until the second coming of Christ...Justification is the new creation of the new man, and sanctification his preservation until the day of Jesus Christ. (278) 
The preaching of forgiveness must always go hand-in-hand with the preaching of repentance, the preaching of the gospel with the preaching of the law. (287)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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