Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Entry One


For many years I have heard the name Bonhoeffer, have reads bits and pieces of his life and writing, and thought I knew rather a bit about him.  I bought The Cost of Discipleship years ago, but never really cracked it open, although in retrospect I am not sure why.  But because I am a “fan” of Eric Metaxas—at least I listen to him on the radio every day—I decided that 2016 would be the time to actually study this person.

When I went to buy Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Amazon, the reviews gave me pause and I decided to hold out to find another one.  I will not the repeat the reviews here, as they are publicly available.  It’s just that I have far too many books, and unless I get it from the library or already own it, I am not inclined to bring another into the house.  So I decided to go to Bonhoeffer’s own words for two reasons: I had already read   Life Together and found it readable and wise, and I already owned The Cost of Discipleship.

In the past I had read “warnings” that DB was not “evangelical”  By that was meant, I think, that he had been educated at liberal, mainline seminaries (such as Union in New York) and that, well, he was not American and would not see church/state separation or even authority of the Scripture and the deity of Christ the same way as “we” would.  So I walked into The Cost of Discipleship with a wary eye, al,ost with a sense of intellectual do-goodism:  “I should read this because it’s an important historical text even if he doesn’t have anything to say to me personally.”

Whether or not he could sign the same statement of faith I would is unknown and probably moot at this point.  He would probably sign the Apostles or Nicene Creed with a couple of disclaimers.   I set aside that prejudice to understand the book.  I started with the New Year.

As with many classics, Christian speakers and celebrities like to quote random sentences, often out of context.  The most common is “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  This is from Chapter 4, “Disciple and the Cross” which is quite profound and which I am reading three times.  That quote is rather taken out of context or misinterpreted for drama’s sake.  In context he is talking about living in light of the cross, which means both suffering and rejection.  It is the rejection that is more painful, in DB’s thinking, and I agree.  Humans have suffered with or without faith in Christ. It is the suffering related to rejection due to allegiance to Christ that “signifies,” that distinguishes us and is what we are called to. 

I plan to follow up with more essays on reading Bonhoeffer at various times.

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