Monday, May 6, 2013

The Cost of Discipleship: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pt.1

Alright, so I missed a couple of Fridays because of general life business, but here we are again today with a new post. I am revising my original goal of getting a post out every week. I realize now that was a bit overly ambitious. I will instead write at least 2 blog posts each month, sometimes more. The next few blog posts are all going to be over the same book.

I'm going to do a 4- part reflection on Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship because the book is worthy of volumes of reflection and is conveniently written in 4 parts. They are as follows:
1. Grace and Discipleship
2. The Sermon on the Mount
3. The Messengers
4. The Church of Jesus Christ and the Life of Discipleship
This reflection is Part 1, and will focus on Grace and Discipleship.

I've loved Bonhoeffer since reading his book: Letters and Papers in Prison for a class in undergrad. I haven't read much of his work, just these two books; but his life is fascinating and for a man who was killed so young; he has contributed an amazing amount to modern protestant theology.

About the Author
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is a German protestant theologian that was killed for being part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. He left a job in America to be in Germany during the war, because he felt it was his duty as a Christian to take a stand against the horrible injustice being done by the Nazis during WWII. He was ashamed that the church as a whole wasn't doing much to stand up against the Nazi's, and did all he could as an individual to live into his understanding of a what it meant to be a disciple in response to the tragedy at hand.

Part 1 of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship is titled: Grace and Discipleship. There are 5 chapters in this section, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the main theme: grace and discipleship.

Chapter 1: Costly Grace
In this chapter, Bonhoeffer describes the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. He is frustrated because it seems to him that so many Christians are content to accept a grace that doesn't require any sort of sacrifice or transformation on the person's part. That is not what grace is about. grace should be transformative. It does more that forgive sin, it should not be used as an excuse to sin, and it is certainly not cheap because our grace was bought with the highest price. Cheap grace is the "justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner (page 43)." It is "the grace we bestow on ourselves (page 44)."
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. (Page 44-45) 
Cheap grace is just that: cheap. It's worth very little. Costly grace, however, is the "treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it  man will gladly go and sell all he has (page 45)." Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought after, a gift that must be asked for, and a door at which a person must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person his or her] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Grace should be costly, it cost God the very life of God's own son. It should not be a cheap thing to be taken for granted, but rather it is something to be treasured. It is given freely, but only to those who ask and receive; and when one asks and receives, one receives not only grace but a call to follow Christ. This is because "Costly grace is the Incarnation of God (page 45)." One cannot think of grace without thinking of Christ. "Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoe of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light (page 45)."

Cheap grace erases discipleship, when in fact, costly grace IS discipleship. To follow, to be transformed by, and to accept the love and forgiveness of God is the very nature of true, costly grace. Bonhoeffer believes the word of cheap grace has been the downfall of more Christians than anything else. The church is happy to offer grace, but only cheap grace. The call to follow the narrow path is hardly heard. This should not be the case. Grace is not grace unless it is also a call to discipleship. "Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship (page 56)." That brings us to the second chapter in this section.

Chapter 2: A Call to Discipleship
It is through an act of obedience that a disciple responds to call to follow Christ, not a confession of faith. "There is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road - only obedience to the call of Jesus (page 58)."One must forsake her former life and surrender it to the call. This can seem quite scary, but in reality, one only finds stability after she has 'burned her boats' to follow Christ.
The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, In fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), to of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality). (page 58) 
Christ must be the object of this obedience, because discipleship means adherence to Christ. You cannot have Christianity without Christ, without discipleship. A system of rules and set of religious dogma cannot replace the living Christ and those who obediently respond to the grace of God with discipleship.

Faith is only made possible in the midst of the call of Jesus. Humans cannot come up with faith on their own outside of the grace of God. Discipleship is the response in obedience to a call of Jesus, and it is through this call that one receives justification in the grace of God. Faith is only possible because of this grace, and it is also a necessary part of the response of obedience. "Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes (page 63)."Obedience and faith go hand in hand. One does not respond to a call to discipleship with faith alone, but rather "in exactly the same way in which obedience is called the consequence of faith, it must also be called the presupposition of faith (page 64)." One is obedient because of a faith in the grace of God that is given in the call to discipleship, and that faith is only possible because of obedience in responding to the call. One can obediently follow the call to Jesus without faith. Faith may not be possible until the first step is taken.
If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. then you will find yourself in a situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word. (page 67)
Think about the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The response was simply to surrender his old life and follow Christ. Jesus knew true obedience could not be possible for the man while he had all of his things, because his heart would be in worldly possessions and he would be obedient to his greed. In order to be a disciple, he would need to sell them all and follow Jesus.
Think also of the lawyer who asks Jesus the same question in the parable of the Good Samaritan. This man means to tempt Jesus. He knows the law- love God, love neighbor. He asks Jesus who is his neighbor? Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. So many times we ask this question- who is my neighbor? The lawyer here is trying to justify his disobedience, his refusal to love certain types of people. Jesus' answer tells him to stop asking questions and go live out the commandments. Answer the call. Be obedient.
And the final question "Who is my neighbor?" is the parting shot of despair (or else of self-confidence); the lawyer is trying to justify his disobedience. The answer is: "You are the neighbor. Go along and try to be obedient by loving others." (page 78)

Chapter 3: Single-Minded Obedience
This chapter is short and to the point. "Obedience to the call of Jesus never lies within our own power (page 85)." We are called purely to be obedient and have faith, and we cannot instead choose to make up our own rules or live according to our own religious system. We must simply hear the call of Christ, and respond to the grace of God with obedience. This is why the scriptures say that one cannot serve two masters. It is true, a disciple must serve only Christ. A disciple must have a single-minded obedience. Thankfully, there is grace. It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Though with men and women this is impossible; with God all things are possible. Salvation through following Jesus is not something we can achieve ourselves- but with God, all things are possible.

Chapter 4: Discipleship and the Cross
The cross of Jesus symbolize his suffering and rejection. A disciple must also experience suffering and rejection and share in the Lord's experience of crucifixion in this way. Jesus himself says that any who are to follow must take up their cross. We must abandon the attachments of this world and deny ourselves. "Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer (page 91)." When we put our obedience and our faith in Christ, we must certainly face the rejection of this world. We must also be willing to stand alongside Christ as an individual.

Chapter 5: Discipleship and the Individual
We must place our relationship as disciples above all other relationships. In doing this, we become individual followers of Christ. This does not mean we stand alone, however. Community is created through Christ. "He divides, but he also unites (page 100)." One must understand first that it is not on the backs of others that they can place their cross, but that one must carry her own cross in order to follow. Then, community can be truly experienced as individuals walking alongside one another in Christ.

Costly grace. How many of us truly understand the cost of grace? I've always thought of grace as a gift freely given. It is a gift freely given, but that doesn't mean it doesn't cost anything to the giver or the receiver. The grace we receive is not free, just given freely, available to all who are willing to answer the call. I guess it's kind of like if someone wins a free trip to Disney World, the trip is freely given, but it still cost someone the money to pay for it; and you still have to actually make the journey to Disney World in order to experience the gift.

God has freely offered grace to all of us, and it cost God the life of God's own son. For us to use this precious grace as a 'cover all' of forgiveness both cheapens and misuses it. Grace does not give us an excuse to live corrupt, hateful lives. God offers us all grace not simply to forgive, but also to transform and to call back. Grace allows us to turn our hearts back to the spirit and renew our commitment as disciples.

If there is something I have learned while working with teenagers, its that they are not interested in cheap grace. They are not interested in easy answers. They want something transformative, something that requires commitment and work, something that challenges them and strengthens them. They want costly grace. They want discipleship. A good youth ministry should not revolve around pizza and Christian music from the 90's. A good youth ministry program studies scripture and the cultural script that helps us to understand it; asks tough questions and doesn't always have the answers; and focuses on building a strong community that values each individual and the ministry they are capable of within and outside the group. A good youth ministry helps young people to see where God is calling them and what gives them joy. It supports, loves, and accepts everyone no matter where they are on their journey. It offers grace that comes with a call to discipleship.

I'd like to say that this is what my youth ministry looks like, and I hope that it does most of the time. I know, however, that I am not perfect. I confess- I have used pizza and games to get young people through the doors. I can also tell you that pizza does not work as well as offering an opportunity to serve or be a part of the fight for justice. People come through the doors to play games, but more are able to build strong relationships with people who will walk alongside them for years when offered a place in a small mentoring group.

I am truly blessed to be ministering with a group of young people that has, as a community, decided to take the commandments of loving God and loving neighbor seriously. I love how Bonhoeffer summarized the parable of the Good Samaritan, and I cannot wait to teach this passage through the lens of this text. We take grace seriously when we realize that we are, in fact the neighbor. We are not the center, everyone else does not revolve around us. To accept the gift of costly grace is to realize this and "go along and try to be obedient by loving others (page 78)."

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Touchstone, New York 1995.

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