Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, and The American Church Today


I was first introduced to Dietrich Bonhoeffer my freshman year of college. My professor of the class,”Pauline Epistles” had us read his “Cost of Discipleship” and I was instantly spellbound.

Never had the price of discipleship (or the cost of grace) been so clearly articulated to my young heart. “When Christ calls a man,” said Bonhoeffer, “he bids him come and die.”

Bonhoeffer was a German theologian during World War 2. When many pastors and so-called Christians were choosing to side with Hilter and embrace Anti-Semitism, Bonhoeffer was among the first to publically oppose them.

Bonhoeffer focused all his energy on contemporary theological issues facing the church of his time and gained many enemies by doing so. In the midst of the war, he was invited back to America (where he had studied for a time), but felt immediate regret in his decision to return there:

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security…”

Upon his arrival, he was harassed by the Nazis and then imprisoned. Only weeks before the war ended, he was executed by the Nazis at the age of 39.

Bonhoeffer was a man who not only wrote about but also lived out the Cost of Discipleship.

Pondering his life and death leaves me reflecting on what he would say to the American Church today?

Cheap and Costly Grace

Bonhoeffer defines “cheap” and “costly” grace as such:

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.

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him…Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son.”

What Gospel Have We Embraced?

Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

While the Prosperity Gospel tells us to come to Jesus that we might receive health, wealth, success, favor, and freedom from pain and suffering, Jesus tells us plainly, “Anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Acts 14:22 says that “It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.

Choosing to follow Jesus doesn’t mean we are promised a life with no problems. In fact, as you can see from the scriptures above, it’s quite the opposite.

Are we willing, like Bonhoeffer, to pursue Christ and His plan for our lives rather than pursuing the cultural idols of health, wealth, security, and social acceptance?

Grace is costly because it cost a Jesus his life. Let’s count the cost and follow Him without reservation, knowing that we have a greater and abiding possession in heaven.

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Laura M. Thomas is writer and editor at This Eternal Moment. A homeschooling mom to three little girls, she loves writing, reading, the great outdoors, and afternoon nap times.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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