Book Review: The Cost Of Discipleship

I was a high school wrestler. I wasn't very good,  I was pretty small and underpowered compared to my competitors, but I did work really hard at it, and competed on the varsity squad all four years. In the end, I'm probably a better coach than I am a wrestler, because I had to learn the techniques of the sport. One of the things I learned and taught my guys when I did some coaching later on, is that very few wrestlers take a shot on the opening whistle. Most competitors like to dance a little bit to try to figure out what their opponent is thinking. The few wrestlers who immediately go in for a double-leg takedown on the opening whistle for instance, are usually made up of entirely different caliber. These are your elite competitors. They understand the element of surprise.
I had the same feeling when opening up this book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called The Cost Of Discipleship.  Now here was a writer who understood the element of surprise. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.” Wow, that got my attention. Did it get yours? Bonhoeffer goes on, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, so everything can remain as it was before.” The problem with this type of thinking, is that it proposes that the idea of grace itself is sufficient enough to forgive us of our sins. Perhaps going to church for a few hours on a Sunday, is the only duty that a Christian must fulfill? Perhaps that's all it takes to be assured that one’s sins are forgiven?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer adamantly disagrees with this line of thought.
“Costly grace is the Incarnation of God…it is therefore the living word, the Word of God.” The problem the author has with cheap grace is that it actually pulls people away from understanding the great cost, and the great sacrifice, and the great value of grace for the believer. He even goes as far to say: “the word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.” What would be the alternative? If this is what is going to be the ruin of the church, then how should we proceed? As the book is appropriately titled, Bonhoeffer is making a case for  a highly intensive form of discipleship. If a believer is truly going to be a disciple, then they will have to be uncomfortable. Not only uncomfortable in a few circumstances, but perhaps uncomfortable their entire lives.
“Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his weakness and the almighty power of His Lord. If Peter had not taken the risk, he would have never learnt the meaning of faith.” If I continue with my wrestling competitor analogy, this is A competitor who not only loves the element of surprise, but loves the biggest challenge imaginable. As a writer, it appears that Bonhoeffer is is an author who loves the extreme  situations. Without question he was a man who experienced his own extreme situations. As a Christ follower his own life was precarious on numerous occasions. However, as an author, it appears he wants to push his reader to experience more. If you and I were given the opportunity to take the risk and walk on the water as  Peter did, or stay in the boat, Bonhoeffer would  seem to be pushing us out of the boat with great anticipation for what God was about to do.
It seems as though this author places very little value in this world on the things that seem to matter so much to each of us. “The life discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves. Not of the law, no personal piety, nor even the world.” The author uses the disciples as an example. He points to ways in which their possessions, and things of this world pulled their hearts away from Jesus.  If it was easy for the disciples to be pulled away, how much easier will it be for you and I?
I find this book to be very moving. It’s compelling to read between the lines of the character of a man who has given absolutely everything for the cause of Christ.  His approach is direct and to the point which is both refreshing and hard to swallow at the same time. Where am I to begin? Is there any way to make the connection between 21st century American culture where I literally have nothing to fear? Total and complete abandon is something I know very little about. In many ways this read makes me feel like I did on the wrestling team in days of old. I'm on the team, but I have no idea how to make the leap from “competitor,” to “champion.” I’m not sure if that’s what the author intended. Did he intend to set the goal out of reach?


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