The Cost of Discipleship

By: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Subject Matter: Sermon on the Mount; Criticism; Interpretation; Christian life
Rating: 3/5

The Cost of Discipleship

Warning: The Cost of Discipleship throws you right in to some heavy theology.

It is not meant to be an explanation of Christianity; it is not evangelical; it is not a helpful guide for new believers or a basic introduction for nonbelievers.

What it is is a call to action for anyone who claims to follow Christ.

It is a little deep for me, meaning I’m not super sure I followed everything Bonhoeffer was saying.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian during the time of World War II. He was a German who refused to abandon Germany to the ideology of Nazism and the tyranny of Hitler. He was executed by the Nazi regime, and is, to many, considered a Christian martyr.

That’s a little bit of context,  but I’m still not super sure who Bonhoeffer’s audience is. What I mean is, I don’t know if he was writing this book for the general public, or even more specifically, for the Christian community. He throws around concepts and Latin and Greek and theological jargon like it’s nothing.

Yet, it is convicting. It is sassy. It is blunt.

(And unintentionally funny. Chapter 10’s title? “Woman”. Yep. Just “Woman”.)

He’s surprising. For instance, he totally threw me with this quote:

Prayer is by no means an obvious or natural activity.

I spent FOREVER just trying to deal with that tiny tidbit. It’s so opposite of everything I’m used to hearing, but in the context, Bonhoeffer culls it out, makes it a topic that is even available to be discussed.

Bonhoeffer points out the ways we convince ourselves we are being righteous, the ways we manipulate the words of the Bible to fit our lifestyles. Over and over, he calls us out the way Jesus called out the Pharisees. He forces a lot of self-examination, an internal exposition of our true motives, our pride, in a way that – to me – is daunting and almost discouraging.

But then he reminds you, trope as it may be, that with God all things are possible.

He explains intense topics like “whether Jesus means his precepts to be taken literally or only figuratively” and mankind’s fall from grace and infant baptism and the separation of church and state, and he makes them approachable. He removes the conundrum and lays it all out there.

On a personal level, a lot of what Bonhoeffer said hit me hard. A lot of his points are timely in my life. Apologies in advance. I’m going to give you a pretty long quote, but it’s one I think we need to hear more often than we do:

One can imagine [a struggling believer] conversing thus with his pastor: “I have lost the faith I once had.” “You must listen to the Word as it is spoken to you in the sermon.” “I do; but I cannot get anything out of it, it just falls on deaf ears as far as I’m concerned.” “The trouble is, you don’t really want to listen.” “On the contrary, I do.” And here they generally break off, because the pastor is at a loss what to say next. He only remembers the first half of the proposition: “Only those who believe obey.” But this does not help, for faith is just what this particular man finds impossible. The pastor feels himself confronted with the ultimate riddle of predestination. God grants faith to some and withholds it from others. So the pastor throws up the sponge and leaves the poor man to his fate. And yet this ought to be the turning-point of the interview. It is the complete turning-point. The pastor should give up arguing with him, and stop taking his difficulties seriously. That will really be in the man’s own interest, for he is only trying to hide himself behind them. It is now time to take the bull by the horns, and say: “Only those to obey believe.” Thus the flow of the conversation is interrupted, and the pastor can continue: “You are disobedient, you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control. That is what is preventing you from listening to Christ and believing in his grace. You cannot hear Christ because you are willfully disobedient. Somewhere in your heart you are refusing to listen to his call. Your difficulty is your sins.”


Then again, about 70% of what he said went way over my head. And am I saying that I agree 100% with Bonhoeffer on everything he’s saying in this book.

So, he’s probably not for every one. He’s not joking around; he’s not taking it easy on you.

Be prepared, but be open, and Bonhoeffer’s got a lot to say.




More like The Cost of Discipleship:

(for more by Bonhoeffer)

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Psalms by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

(for more about Bonhoeffer)

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

(for works referenced in this book)

Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(for modern theologians)

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis – or ANYTHING by C. S. Lewis

Gospel in Life by Timothy Keller

Multiply by Francis Chan

Desiring God by John Piper

(for historical theology)

Confessions by Saint Augustine

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life by Robert Hall


Coming up:

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Ground Rules by Renee Swann

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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