Book “Review”: The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945). First published in 1937 under the title Nachfolge (Discipleship).

I’m not going to attempt to “review” such a classic work. Rather, I thought I would comment on what I thought were some striking themes in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship (1937).

One thing is the theme of unqualified obedience to Christ. One of Bonhoeffer’s chapters is “The Call of Discipleship” and I think that may have been an even more appropriate title for the book. The call is both a gracious call, one we need but don’t deserve, and a call to implicit, unqualified obedience in following Christ, as in the case of the rich young man. In various ways, we want to follow “Jesus and”. For Bonhoeffer, it is Jesus alone.

His chapter on “the enemy” was interesting in light of his eventual participation in an assassination plot against Hitler. All the members of the Dead Theologians Society reading group struggled with reconciling what Bonhoeffer wrote about unreserved love for the enemy with his actions against Hitler. From reading Metaxas’ biography (review coming next week) on Bonhoeffer, it may be the case that he didn’t reconcile these but simply saw this as a tragic necessity for which he was prepared to accept judgment not only by men but God.

Finally, one of the striking themes of this book is the idea that discipleship is inescapably lived out in the visible community of the church. In fact, he cannot think of sanctification in purely personal terms but only in the context of the church. Whereas we may tend to think of the church as instrumental in our growth in holiness, Bonhoeffer would see the bride of Christ being prepared for her wedding day, that bride being the church.

As you can see from the edition, this one has been on the shelves a long time. I read about 100 pages in college and then set it aside. Perhaps that was enough challenge for a young disciple. Thanks to the Dead Theologians Society reading group for helping me read the whole!


From the desk of the editor . . .

If you have not already done such I encourage you to check out the new ESN Blog series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prayer life. Note: You may remember that Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship reached the Final Four of ESN’s March Madness.


Note to the reader: The Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) continues to encourage those who have read the book “under review” to comment. In addition, we acknowledge that some who have not read the book “under review,” also bring helpful insights to the concepts/data explored in a given book, the writing of a particular author, and/or the understanding of the concepts/data as offered by the reviewer. As such we are open to “civil” on-topic comments from both those who have read and those who have not read the book “under review.”

Deep down ESN longs for reviews such as those offered by Bob not only to foster dialogue, but also to serve as teasers — providing an opportunity for our readers to discern what books to place in their personal and book discussion group queue. If you have books you desire to review and/or to have reviewed by ESN, please email ESN.

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Bob Trube

Bob Trube is Associate Director of Faculty Ministry/Emerging Scholars Network, and Senior Area Director for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry team in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania). He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.

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