This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Bonhoeffer was a Christian pastor and seminary professor living in Germany in the 1930s. He wrote The Cost of Discipleship as a wake-up call for the church, which he felt had rendered Christianity somewhat meaningless by making discipleship too “easy.” He lived as he preached—his Christian beliefs compelled him to speak out against Hitler’s regime and ultimately led to his execution in 1945.
Below are four quotes from The Cost of Discipleship with explanations and context.
The Cost of Discipleship Quotes
Bonhoeffer expressed concern that, by trying to make Christianity easier for people to practice, churches had, in fact, made it meaningless. As a remedy, he challenged Christians to adopt a rigorous lifestyle of “discipleship,” which involved humility, self-denial, and suffering.
Here are The Cost of Discipleship quotes that highlight some of Bonhoeffer’s main arguments:
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.
Bonhoeffer is probably best known for criticizing what he called “cheap grace,” and contrasting it with what he called “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer subscribed to Luther’s view that people can only receive salvation by trusting in God’s grace (not by earning God’s favor through righteous works). Thus, he treats “grace” as being synonymous with “salvation.” In his view, real salvation requires a serious commitment, and so anything less (i.e., “cheap grace”) is fake salvation. And fake salvation is dangerous, because it lures you into a false sense of security until you find yourself condemned to be lost.
The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience.
Bonhoeffer references Jesus’s call to Levi (Matthew) as recorded in Mark 2:14: “As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s station, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he rose and followed Him.”
In general, the term ‘disciple’ means a student, follower, or apprentice. To Bonhoeffer, the key distinguishing quality of a disciple is obedience—personal, unconditional obedience to Christ that takes precedence over all other obligations, such as family, country, and career.
Bonhoeffer asserts that Christ still gives personal instructions to his disciples today. He claims that as you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit gives you insight into how it applies to you today, not only in a general sense, but at a personal level.
To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer declares that to suffer like Christ is the most glorious honor that a disciple can receive on earth. As such, you can triumph over suffering by accepting it and rejoicing in the fact that it allows you to relate more closely to Christ.
He asserts that humbly and peacefully seeking to follow Christ invariably provokes people who reject Christ to slander you and seek your harm, just as Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus’ teachings persecuted him.
They must recognize in fear and amazement both the power and the weakness of the Word of God.
In several places, Bonhoeffer mentions in passing that the gospel of Christ is “weak” in the sense that it is not forceful: Christ did not force anyone to follow him, and Christians should not force anyone to convert to Christianity. Instead, we should invite people to follow Christ without coercing or compelling them, and leave them free to refuse if they so choose. According to Bonhoeffer, this spirit of “weakness” is what differentiates the gospel from “an ideology” whose proponents impose their views on others.
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- Why Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed the church made discipleship too “easy”
- Why getting into Heaven will cost you a lot more than you thought
- Bonhoeffer’s design for real Christianity