The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My first book review for The Reading Disciple. Finally!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship is the first classic Christian book that I ever read. I first heard of the Lutheran pastor Bonhoeffer through the Web. Suddenly, I got interested with his works. When I was reading The Reason for God, Tim Keller quoted from Bonhoeffer’s famous book. This just made me more interested. So I managed to get a copy of it.
The copy that I have is the 1964 First Cheap Edition. It contains a foreword from G.K.A. Bell, a Bishop of Chichester, and a memoir by G. Leibholz.
The book is divided into two parts according to its table of contents, but is actually divided into four general themes. These are grace and discipleship; the Sermon on the Mount and discipleship, which walks through every topic of Matthew 5-7 and relates it to discipleship; the messengers and discipleship, which discusses Mark 9:35-10:42 and focuses on the apostles; and church and discipleship.
One may found himself at lost when he reads chapter 2 entitled The Call to Discipleship, where Bonhoeffer writes the relationship of faith and obedience—that it cannot be separated from one another, that “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes”1, in which the second proposition can be stated as faith is made possible by obedience. Fortunately, he clarifies, “From the point of view of justification it is necessary thus to separate them, but we must never lose sight of their essential unity.”1
Towards the end of the book, Bonhoeffer discusses the topic of justification. I’m glad he did so, because the evangelical view of justification is what separates evangelicals from other belief systems that claim to be “Christianity”. He writes, “The justification of the sinner therefore consists in the sole righteousness of God, wherein the sinner is utterly and completely unrighteous, and has no righteousness whatever of his own, side by side with the righteousness of God…We can then receive justification because we willingly renounce every attempt to establish our own righteousness and allow God alone to be righteous. Thus the only way we can be righteous in the sight of God is by recognizing that he only is righteous and we ourselves sinners in the totality of our being.”2
I find the book difficult to understand. I have three assumptions for this. First, the book was originally written in German and there are translation issues involved. Second, Bonhoeffer lived in a different era. Lastly, he was just theologically deep. Whatever the reason may be, the difficulty to comprehend the book made it hard for me to point out the strengths and weaknesses of it. Nevertheless, there are lots of deep truths that are plain obvious and easy to understand, and can be found at most, if not all, chapters of the book.
Throughout the book, Bonhoeffer uses a lot of Greek words that are not yet transliterated and Latin words without it’s English equivalent given. I find this unhelpful for it requires readers to do extra research.
If I were to summarize the book in a few words, I will have to borrow from (the often quoted) Bonhoeffer’s words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”3 Despite it’s difficulty to comprehend, this book deserves a high recommendation.
1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1964), 54.
2Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 247-248.
3Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 79.