Books for a Political Season: Duane W. H. Arnold
Books for a Political Season
The big lie… A failed insurrection… Paramilitary groups hold a torchlit march through a university town chanting “Jews will not replace us”… Politicians embrace a demagogic figure, whom they once considered a joke, in order to gain power. Churches are politicized, resulting in some church leaders abandoning their own faith communities in protest. The issue of race provides a sub text, only sometimes spoken aloud, for political actions. Synagogues and churches alike increasingly become targets for violence. Outlandish conspiracy theories make their way into the main stream prompting fears of alien international cabals…
Welcome to the Germany of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The Cost of Discipleship
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
One of the most difficult questions of the twentieth century was: How could such a vast majority of German Christians turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis? How was it possible for so many to say so little?
Some Christians did speak up, however, and many of them died. Best known among them was Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote several books of theology including, ‘The Cost of Discipleship’, a provocative title, considering the price he himself was to pay for his discipleship. Aware of Hitler’s policy toward the Jews, Bonhoeffer knew that all moral people everywhere should commit themselves to stopping the Nazi regime. So, he decided to take part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. In his own mind Bonhoeffer weighed the personal evil of murder against the evil of Hitler’s murder of literally millions of people, and for Bonhoeffer, the answer was inescapable. The plot, however, was uncovered, Bonhoeffer was arrested, and he was executed, hung by piano wire on a prison wall, only days before the war ended. It was later revealed that Bonhoeffer’s execution was carried out on the personal order of Hitler himself.
For Bonhoeffer, personal discipleship, and discipleship as a community, were the central aspects of Christian faith. Discipleship came before anything else. His view of discipleship was inclusive of the public arena as well as the private. Now, I should warn you that Bonhoeffer is not easy. He demands your engagement with his writing. I have turned to his writings, inclusive of his other books and especially his letters, throughout the years, but, in my opinion, it is in ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ that we discover the man…
Selections from ‘The Cost of Discipleship’:
“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…
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.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man 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 man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
“The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.”
As Bonhoeffer was led away to his execution, it was reported that he turned to a fellow prisoner and said “this is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life”…
I was 16 and had been a Christian about a year thie first time I read this book. It made a big impression and I have never forgotten it.
Some books are monumental and formative… This is one of them.
It really enhanced my commitment to both Christ and his church. I was committed back then to my political views. Bonhoeffer brought it all into perspective for me.
I read this in the beginning stages of my walk of Christ and it fueled a fervency for Christ that was willing to suffer while employed in His stead.
It is high time to read it prayerfully again to invigorate and purify a first love that is filled with good works for friend and foe alike while recognizing evil , even in it’s religiously politicized forms and refusing to submit to it as part of a grace given perseverance to remain in Christ and to occupy in every realm of life until He comes or He bids me to come up to Him.
Thanks for sharing Duane and Michael.
Bonhoeffer has become one of my favorite theologians…not just for this work but all around.
I highly commend to all the published collections of his sermons that are available…
Agreed… Also, ‘Letters and Papers From Prison’…
Every time I hear the right-wing of fundagelical christendom whine about how they feel ‘persecuted’, I think of Bonhoeffer and realize that they’re full of you know what.