Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a controversial figure on many counts. I wrote a research paper on him one semester in college hoping to come to a conclusion. The only conclusion I came to was that, while I wasn’t sure what I thought about all of his theology and actions, there was one thing I respected greatly about him: Bonhoeffer decided what he believed about something and then acted on it without reserve, regardless of the cost.
It is on this backdrop that his book The Cost of Discipleship becomes even more powerful.
As a book it stands easily on its own merits. The book essentially takes on the format of a sermon, moving passage by passage through the Sermon on the Mount and drawing Christian living principles from it.
As one might expect from a character such as Bonhoeffer, he wastes no words and stands firmly on his points. In the very first chapter he makes his distinction between the “cheap grace” he sees as a significant problem in the church and the “costly grace” that is consistent with the Bible.
“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate,” Bonhoeffer wrote. “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has … such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it call us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Bonhoeffer presents some controversial ideas, and it is certainly a book that will make you think. I read it with a notebook on one side and a Bible on the other, following along with his logic and writing down quotes. Some were marked with an all-capital “THIS” and others with question marks and concerns. Some stand on their own. All that to say, the book is well worth your time.
But it becomes even more meaningful considering Bonhoeffer’s life. Reading about the cost of discipleship from a man who knew what it meant to bear that cost and was willing to do so until the end adds extra weight. When taken together with his life, Bonhoeffer’s book cannot be lightly tossed aside. His ideas must be given their due consideration because he was willing to die for them.
And while I did not agree with everything in the book, I think it is a valuable addition to any discussion on what it means to live an obedient Christian life.