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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

The Cost of Discipleship Summary And Quotes

Updated: Feb 21

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, had a unique view of discipleship that emphasized the communal aspect of following Jesus. He believed that discipleship is not just about personal spiritual growth, but also about the formation of a community of believers who live out their faith together.

As a pastor for the last 20 years, and a creator of many discipleship resources, I have been moved by Bonhoeffer's example of faithfulness to his flock, and his passionate defense that Christianity must mean something... and he lived it, and died for it! As founder of NewStart Discipleship, I aspire to make all the resources I publish conform to the view that discipleship is costly, because it requires a full commitment!

Let's discuss a summary of what Bonhoeffer's book has meant to me.

Bonhoeffer's theology was shaped by his experiences in Nazi Germany, where he witnessed the failure of German Christianity to resist the Nazi regime. Some argue that he was influenced away from the ascendant German nationalism by viewing the film All Quiet on the Western Front. (See Miltmore writing here.) He believed that the German Church had become too closely aligned with the state and had lost sight of its true mission, which was to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.

In our day, this discussion of nationalistic tendencies in religion is highly relevant! In response, Bonhoeffer called for a return to the biblical understanding of the Church as a community of faith, committed to following Jesus and living out his teachings in the world.

Discipleship and "costly grace"

One of the key aspects of Bonhoeffer's view of discipleship is the concept of "costly grace". He believed that grace is not something that is freely given without any effort or sacrifice on the part of the believer. Instead, he believed that true grace comes with a cost, and that true discipleship involves following Jesus even when it is difficult or uncomfortable. He believed that the local church is the place where individuals can learn to live out this costly grace in the context of a community of believers.

Bonhoeffer also believed that true discipleship involves a commitment to living out one's faith in the world. He believed that the church should not be a separate entity from the world, but rather that it should be actively involved in working to bring about social and political change. He believed that the local church is the place where individuals can learn to live out their faith in the world and make a difference in their community.

How Bonhoeffer thought the churches could facilitate discipleship

One of the key ways that Bonhoeffer believed that the local church can foster discipleship is through small community groups. He believed that these groups provide a space for individuals to share their struggles and victories, to be accountable to one another, and to learn to live out their faith in the context of a community of believers. He believed that these groups should be focused on the study of the Bible and prayer and should be led by mature believers who can serve as examples and guides for the others.

He wrote extensively on this in his classic "Life Together," but that's for another post.

Bonhoeffer and the value of servant leadership for discipleship

Bonhoeffer's view of discipleship also emphasizes the importance of servant leadership. He believed that true leadership is not about power or control, but rather about serving and empowering others. He believed that the local church is the place where individuals can learn to lead as Jesus did, by serving others and putting the needs of others before their own. He believed that the local church should be a place where individuals can learn to lead by serving and empowering others, which helps to build a strong and united body of believers.

Discipleship and active resistance to evil in the world

Bonhoeffer's understanding of discipleship also involves a strong emphasis on the practice of community and active resistance to the forces of evil. He believed that the Church is called to be a counter-culture, a community of believers who live differently from the world around them. He believed that the local church is the place where individuals can learn to resist the forces of evil and to live in the way of Jesus.

The Cost of Discipleship Book

The Cost Of Discipleship is Bonhoeffer's most famous work. It was originally published in German in 1937 under the title "Nachfolge" and has since become a classic work in Christian theology and ethics. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who lived during the time of Nazi Germany. He was known for his opposition to the Nazi regime and his involvement in the Confessing Church, a movement that resisted the influence of the Nazis within the Protestant Church.

When Was The Cost of Discipleship Written?

"The Cost of Discipleship" was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during a critical period in German history. Bonhoeffer wrote the book in the mid-1930s while he was teaching at the underground seminary of the Confessing Church in Finkenwalde, Germany. This was a time when the Nazi regime, under Adolf Hitler, was rapidly gaining power and exerting control over various aspects of German society, including the Protestant Church.

Bonhoeffer, as a theologian and pastor, strongly opposed the Nazi ideology and its interference in the Church. He believed that the Church should not compromise its principles and teachings to align with the Nazi regime. Instead, he advocated for a faithful, active discipleship that resisted the pressures and temptations of the world.

"The Cost of Discipleship" was written as a response to what Bonhoeffer saw happening in the Church and society around him. It sought to challenge the prevailing understanding of grace and discipleship that he believed had become cheap and watered down. Bonhoeffer wanted to emphasize the radical nature of Christian discipleship and the commitment it required, especially in the face of the rising Nazi regime. Green argues that he is not rightly considered a pacifist, but that he strongly advocated "Christian peace." (See "Hijacking Bonhoeffer.")

By Concordiadomi - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer's opposition to the Nazis would ultimately lead to his arrest and imprisonment. He was involved in various activities against the Nazi regime, including his participation in the Abwehr, a resistance group. Bonhoeffer's commitment to his Christian convictions and his active resistance to the Nazis eventually cost him his life. He was executed by the Nazis in 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II.

What are the major themes of the Cost of Discipleship?

"The Cost of Discipleship" explores the meaning of Christian discipleship and emphasizes the importance of costly grace. Bonhoeffer distinguishes between "cheap grace" and "costly grace." Cheap grace, according to him, is the idea that forgiveness is readily available without requiring any commitment or change in the life of the believer. On the other hand, costly grace is the true grace of God, which demands obedience, sacrifice, and a genuine transformation of the believer's life.

Bonhoeffer argues that true discipleship involves following Christ and conforming to his teachings, even in the face of opposition and persecution. He challenges the idea that faith is merely a private, intellectual matter and insists that faith must be lived out in the world through concrete actions and a radical commitment to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer also discusses the ethical implications of discipleship, emphasizing the importance of love, justice, and the responsibility of Christians to engage with the world and address social issues.

"The Cost of Discipleship" has had a significant impact on Christian theology and has inspired many readers to consider the radical demands of discipleship in their own lives. It remains a thought-provoking and challenging book for those seeking a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

Top 20 Quotes from Bonhoeffer's book, "The Cost of Discipleship"

Here are some key quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship":

  1. "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."

  2. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

  3. "Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer."

  4. "Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly 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."

  5. "The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world."

  6. "Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God's question and call."

  7. "The disciples are called not because of their own merits but because of Jesus Christ's authority."

  8. "Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected."

  9. "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."

  10. "Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will."

  11. “When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”

  12. “It is only because he became like us that we can become like him.”

  13. “Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian's life.”

  14. “But the Christian also knows that he not only cannot and dare not be anxious, but that there is no need for him to be so. Neither anxiety now work can secure his daily bread, for bread is the gift of the Father.”

  15. “As brother stands by brother in distress, binding up his wounds and soothing his pain, so let us show our love towards our enemy. There is no deeper distress to be found in the world, no pain more bitter than our enemy's. Nowhere is service more necessary or more blessed than when we serve our enemies.”

  16. “Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.”

  17. “The world exercises dominion by force and Christ and Christians conquer by service.”

  18. “The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.”

  19. “Christianity without the living Jesus Christ remains necessarily a Christianity without discipleship; and a Christianity without discipleship is always a Christianity without Jesus Christ. It is an idea, a myth.”

  20. “Justification is the new creation of the new man, and sanctification his preservation until the day of Jesus Christ.”

These quotes highlight some of the central themes in Bonhoeffer's work and reflect his emphasis on the radical demands and costly nature of discipleship.

How Bonhoeffer Lived out the values of The Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to stay in the United States but chose to return to Germany. In 1939, as tensions in Germany were escalating and the Nazi regime was tightening its grip, Bonhoeffer was offered a teaching position at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He had traveled to the United States earlier for a brief visit and was given the opportunity to remain there to escape the dangers posed by the Nazis.

However, Bonhoeffer made the difficult decision to return to Germany. He believed that he had a responsibility to his fellow Germans and to the Church in Germany, which was facing increasing pressure and persecution under the Nazi regime. He recognized the importance of standing with his fellow Christians in their struggles and seeking to resist the evil that was unfolding.

Bonhoeffer's choice to return to Germany was a courageous one, as he knew the risks involved. He was fully aware of the potential consequences and the possibility of imprisonment or even death for his opposition to the Nazis. Nonetheless, he believed that he had a calling to live out his faith and discipleship in the midst of the challenging circumstances of his homeland.

Ultimately, Bonhoeffer's decision to return to Germany demonstrated his unwavering commitment to his Christian convictions and his willingness to face the cost of discipleship, even at the expense of personal safety and comfort. His actions and ultimate sacrifice have made him a symbol of moral courage and integrity.

Summary of discipleship in Bonhoeffer's view

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's view of discipleship emphasizes the importance of the local body of believers in a church and the role they play in helping individuals grow in their faith. He believed that true discipleship is only possible within the context of a community of believers, and that the local church is the place where individuals can learn to live out their faith in the context of a community of believers.

He believed that discipleship involves a commitment to living out one's faith in the world, servant leadership, small community groups focused on the study of the Bible and prayer, and the active resistance to the forces of evil.

Discussion Questions for The Cost of Discipleship

If you are leading a discussion of the book, these questions will provide you a starting point for discussing it.

  1. Understanding Costly Grace: Bonhoeffer distinguishes between "cheap grace" and "costly grace." How do you understand these concepts? Can you provide examples of each from your own life or observation?

  2. Real-life Application: Bonhoeffer argues that following Christ requires a complete commitment that impacts every aspect of our lives. What are some practical ways you can live out the principles of discipleship in your daily life?

  3. Challenges in Discipleship: What do you consider the biggest challenges in truly following Jesus today, as described by Bonhoeffer? How do you confront or overcome these challenges?

  4. The Beatitudes: Bonhoeffer places significant emphasis on the Beatitudes. How do you interpret his understanding of these scriptures, and what implications do they have for Christians today?

  5. Community and Solitude: Bonhoeffer talks about the importance of both community and solitude in the life of a disciple. How do you balance these in your own spiritual journey, and what benefits have you found in each?

  6. The Cost of Discipleship in Society: How do Bonhoeffer's ideas about the cost of discipleship apply to the way Christians should engage with societal and political issues?

  7. Faith and Action: Bonhoeffer insists that faith must be expressed in action. What are some ways you have seen or experienced this principle in action? How does this challenge the way faith is often practiced?

  8. Suffering and Discipleship: Discuss how Bonhoeffer’s view of suffering as a component of discipleship alters the common perceptions of suffering in the Christian life. How does this perspective change the way we approach hardships?

  9. The Role of the Church: According to Bonhoeffer, what role should the church play in guiding believers toward true discipleship? How well do you think the modern church fulfills this role?

  10. Legacy and Influence: Bonhoeffer's life and martyrdom significantly impact his teachings on discipleship. How does knowing his personal story influence your understanding of his writings? Do you think his context (Nazi Germany) limits or enhances the applicability of his teachings today?

Want to engage costly discipleship in your local church?

If you're looking for a strategy for making disciples in the local church, check out this free 1 hour training on making disciples, from a pastor with over 20 years experience:

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