The Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Book Review:

Review by: Eld. Amit Karthak

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1959.ISBN-13: 978-0684815008

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century. He stood as an intransigent disciple of Christ and brave political dissident during the most horrific days of Nazi regime in Germany.  The Cost of Discipleship[1] is a masterpiece, and the most read work by Bonhoeffer.  The book comes with a “Memoir” by Gerhard Leibholz,[2] that serves to introduce Bonhoeffer as an unselfish, bold, and a great realist who chose the cross of Christ for the sake reconstructing the lackadaisical of Germany.

The book is divided into four major sections. The first section on “Grace and Discipleship” explains the five specific areas of focus in Bonhoeffer’s writing. The remaining three sections on the Sermon on the Mount, evangelism, and ecclesiology are stuffed with the exposition profound truths in very simple and practical explanation.

The first section of the book deals with the relationship of costly grace and the call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer introduced a “costly grace” in contrast to the widely embraced “cheap grace” by the people of his time. By doing this, he offered a radical discipleship model for Christ’s church at all ages. He argued that the response of the disciple is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.[3] However, he also pointed the readers to the fact that it is not possible to obey without God acting first. The idea of suffering and rejection has been explained in greater depth. Finally, Bonhoeffer has also explained the individual nature of the calling and the response on the part of a follower.[4] He sees no possibility of establishing direct contact outside ourselves except through Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer has offered an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.[5] The extraordinariness, the hidden character, and the separation of the disciple community sums up the Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Unlike other interpretations of the text, Bonhoeffer brings out several thoughtful reasoning on the specific words and phrases from the text. He has presented interesting expositions to the different truths from the text and sought its relevance to the unique lifestyle of a disciple of Christ in the world.

Evangelism, as one of the important task of a disciple, is viewed as a possibility only in the actual attachment with his master. The suffering and rejection to this call emphasized with the unfailing promise of the one who called them. The final decision to follow him and the love of God expressed on the cross and the way of discipleship is explained. with the security of their suffering from Christ as the salvation of the Church.

The final section deals with the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ. The mission founded upon the life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been emphasized. Bonhoeffer insists on the oneness of the body of Christ- the Church and the participation in the suffering and glory along with Christ in the crucified and glorified body.[6] Towards the end of the book exposition on the visible community, the saints and the image of Christ with the ultimate goal of becoming “like Christ” marks the zenith of “The Cost of Discipleship”.

“The Cost of Discipleship” deals with various aspects of the call to “Follow Christ”. The whole book is the wellspring of deepest truth that flows swiftly and gently into the life of a serious disciple, refreshing, replenishing and reviving his soul. A memoir about Bonhoeffer, in the beginning, provides a solid foundation for his message in the rest of the book.

In spite of frequent repetitions of the concepts, the book still is a must read for all who are called to be the disciples of Christ and the ones who is prepared to take the Master’s call seriously. Certain sections of the book such as “Discipleship as Individual” (84) and “The Great Divide” (169) can be difficult to understand.  A careful reading is recommended in order to understand the idea of Bonhoeffer. Recommendation to read is for all who is want to follow Christ seriously. The book as a whole contains the fountain of profound truths readily available to believe and follow.

 

[1] It was first published in 1937 by Chr. Kaiser Verlag Munchen and translated by R. H. Fuller from the German “Nachfolge.”

[2] Bonhoeffer’s close friend and brother-in-law.

[3] Pg.48.

[4] He argued, any relationship with the world without Christ is an illusion that hinders our obedience to the call of Christ. Pg. 86.

[5] Matthew 5,6,7.

[6] Pg.219.