Book: Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship, revised edition, translated by R.H. Fuller. New York: Macmillan/Collier, 1963. 352 pages.
Bonhoeffer's book, written at a popular level, effectively emphasizes Christianity's self-sacrificial nature. The book's 32 chapters are arranged in four sections: 1) Essays about grace and discipleship, 2) Expositions of the Sermon on the Mount, 3) A short discussion of the messengers of the gospel, and 4) a description of what the church of Christ should be. Section 1 is the best part of the book; section 2 the weakest. Section 4 is a good conclusion for the book, giving a more comprehensive overview of how Christian life, characterized by a lack of self-consciousness, is integrated into a community.
I was surprised to see that many of Bonhoeffer's ethical conclusions (but not his theology) would find basic agreement with Anabaptist ideas. He writes against civil lawsuits (pages 122-3, 303), oaths (153), politics (157), and violence (143, 159, 291). He advocated church discipline -- excommunication and ostracism in some cases (284, 317, 324-329). Anabaptists criticized Lutherans and Reformed churches for lax or nonexistent discipline, so I was surprised to see it stressed by a Lutheran.
``Cheap grace means the justification of sin,'' writes Bonhoeffer. ``Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...grace without discipleship'' (46-47). ``Cheap grace...is another word for damnation'' (74).
He stresses obedience: ``Only he who is obedient can believe'' (50, 69). ``The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians that any commandment of works'' (59).
He emphasizes that Christians are called to suffer and die (95-104). ``They do not go out of their way to look for suffering.... They simply bear the suffering which comes their way as they try to follow Jesus Christ, and bear it for his sake'' (122).
I have long been aware of these themes of sacrifice. But what particularly struck me in Bonhoeffer's development is the theme of self-unawareness. This is developed first in the exposition of Mt 6:1-4 and repeated later in the book.
``From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship?... 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.... If we become conscious of our hidden virtue, we are forging our own reward.... All our good works are the works of God Himself.... We can never be conscious of our good works'' (176, 178, 334).
This concept illustrates the radical trust we are to put in God as we walk by faith. There is no point in being aware of our good deeds if we truly believe that our relationship with God is based on faith rather than works. Paul and James ``want Christians to have a genuine and complete dependence on grace, rather than on their own achievements'' (333). Our job, as it were, is simply to play the game as best we can; we should not get distracted by keeping score. For me, this was the most important concept in the book.