Years ago I read a book called “The Cost of Discipleship”. It argued against notions of cheap grace. The book was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, who was killed by the Nazis at the very end of World War II. Bonhoeffer was safely ensconced in the United States and could have very easily chosen to ‘ride out’ the war but instead chose a much costlier road by deciding to return to Germany. He became part of the conspiracy to kill Hitler. That involvement led to his death by hanging.
Eric Metaxas has written a biography of this pastor, martyr, prophet and spy. It’s simply entitled Bonhoeffer. Read it. Grapple with it. Be challenged by it.
Throughout the book I wondered how I would act and react in the face of great tyranny. If evil has a face it must be that of Hitler and his cronies. Cruel and unmeasured the Third Reich marched headlong into acts of cruelty that when spoken of today still stun our sensibilities. And yet men and women stood up against that evil conspiring to encourage the downtrodden and to bring evil to its knees. So unspeakable were the crimes against humanity that men like Bonhoeffer struggled mightily with how to be a person of faith in the midst of it all. Many realized that it would take the power of God to combat the denizens of hell that draped themselves in Nazi brown.
The essence of Bonhoeffer’s theology could be summed up by two words. Only God. And, thus,those who believed in Jesus were called to follow a path of complete and total surrender to His cause no matter what the cost. Christians were those did the will of God. Radically. Courageously.Joyfully. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived that kind of discipleship life and it is the reason we remember him.
In today’s world we rant and rave against anything that inconveniences us. All we need to do is open the paper or click to a website and discover what we’re for or against on this day or the next. We bicker and scuffle about a variety of issues. Christians are in the fray staking out residence on both the right and left and in the safe middle. When push comes to shove our blustering, much of the time, is just that …bluster. We will slap a bumper sticker on the car and send an occasional e-mail to congress but that’s about it. It’s too easy to go along and get along. Our commitments are neither radical nor courageous and thus rarely joyful.
We have become tame here in the west I think. Nothing seems to challenge our resolve and our faith in such a way that makes us want to change, challenge or rise up. We know little of costly faith but live magnificently well with the adornments of cheap grace. And we pay the price for all of that. I have to chuckle whenever I think of missionaries from developing countries arriving on our shores to deliver us from our soft notions of discipleship.
Of course, there are exceptions. Many of them. Maybe even you (just don't assume it). We know them because they often give up security and privilege in order to live more simply and differently emboldened by a gospel agenda. Their example challenges our thinking and lifestyle. There are those who have discovered a ‘holy discontent’ and move with determination to remedy wrongs and to heal the broken often going to battle against the current faces of evil. We are encouraged by their witness for it stirs something in our napping souls.
So, as I finished Bonhoeffer today I wondered about myself. I’ll let you wonder about you. Am I someone who lives in such a way that is bold, courageous, radical and joyful? Or have I settled for slip-sliding down the slide of cultural contentment and cheap grace Christianity? Has my faith become all about ‘me’, my lifestyle, my dreams, and my hopes? Have I become so inwardly focused that I can’t see ‘Jesus in a distressing disguise’? Do I accommodate evil instead of warring against it? Have I bought into a message of the gospel that allows me to stand pat? Pretty nifty questions I think. Harder answers.
Ah, what a great read Bonhoeffer has proven to be. It’s challenged both my thinking and my heart. Can’t ask a book to do better than that. I hope you'll read it. May it mess with your head and heart the way it's messed with mine.