Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 3-5

1.  Bonhoeffer begins chapter three by clarifying our obedience to Jesus: “But the call of Jesus made short work of all these barriers, and created obedience.  That call was the Word of God himself, and all that it required was single-minded obedience.” The common response: “All along the line we are trying to evade the obligation of single-minded, literal obedience.”

- What is the difference between simple-minded obedience and single-minded obedience?

2.  The actual call of Jesus and the response of single-minded obedience have an irrevocable significance.  By means of them, Jesus calls people into an actual situation where faith is possible. For that reason, his call is an actual call, and he wishes it so to be understood, because he knows that it is only through actual obedience that a man can become liberated to believe.”

- Think of a time when you experienced this faith dynamic of perceiving the call of Jesus in a particular situation. How did your response of single-minded obedience “liberate you to believe?”
- In other words, how did your obedient acceptance of Jesus’ invitation to follow him lead to renewed faith? Share an example.

3.  In chapter four, Bonhoeffer ties discipleship to the cross. “Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the ‘must’ of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself.  Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only is so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion.  Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ, which is the law of the cross.”

- What does it mean for us, in our discipleship today, to share in the suffering, rejection, and crucifixion of Christ?

4. “As Christ bears our burdens, so ought we to bear the burdens of our fellow-men.  The law of Christ, which it is our duty to fulfil, is the bearing of the cross.  My brother’s burden, which I must bear, is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin.  And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share.  Thus, the call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins.  Forgiveness is the Christ-like suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear.”

- As Christians, then, are we left with personal choice as to whom and when we forgive?
- How does the cross of Christ free us to forgive others as Christ forgives us?

5. In chapter five, Bonhoeffer discusses discipleship and the individual.  “The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion.  All the time, we thought we had enjoyed a direct relation with men and things. This is what had hindered us from faith and obedience.  Now we learn that in the most intimate relationships of life…direct relationships are impossible.  Since the coming of Christ, his followers have no more immediate realities of their own, not in their family relationships nor in the ties with their nation nor in the relationships formed in the process of living.  Between father and son, husband and wife, the individual and the nation, stands Christ the Mediator, whether they are able to recognize him or not.  We cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him, through his word and through our following of him. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves.”

- How has our relation to the world been built on “an illusion?”
- What precisely is that illusion?  Why do humans cling to it?

6. “For the Christian, the only God-given realities are those he receives from Christ.” “Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbors through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbors, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship.”

- How does prayer, in Christ, affect & shape all relationships?
- How might our prayers influence local/national/world actions?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter Two

1.  This chapter explores the call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer uses Mark 2:14 as the backdrop for his discussion. He begins (page 57):
“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. How could the call immediately evoke obedience?”  Bonhoeffer answers, “It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.”

- How does Bonhoeffer defend this underlying premise?
- In your own words, how do you understand the truth of this?

2.  Next, Bonhoeffer turns to Luke 9:57-62, where three men engage Jesus, but face conditional circumstances (page 60). He provides a thorough discussion of each of these encounters. Bonhoeffer states, “The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible.  If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe.  He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.”

- What does it mean to “go out of a (current) situation and into a (new) situation where faith is possible?
- Where, in your life and in others’, do you see both “entrapment” that prevents faith and “liberation” that welcomes faith?

3.  Bonhoeffer then offers his central premise:
“The idea of a situation in which faith is possible is only a way of stating the facts of a case in which the following two propositions hold good and are equally true: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”  And, “Only the obedient believe. If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command.”

- Why, according to Bonhoeffer, are the two inseparable?

4. Bonhoeffer doubles down further (page 68):
“When people complain, for instance, that they find it hard to believe, it is a sign of deliberate or unconscious disobedience.  It is all too easy to put them off by offering the remedy of cheap grace.” “Unbelief thrives on cheap grace, for it is determined to persist in disobedience.”

- Staying with Bonhoeffer’s line of reasoning, what is the lure and deception of a life of disobedience to Jesus’ call?

5. To clarify the role of Jesus, Bonhoeffer offers these statements:
- “Here is the sum of the commandments – to live in fellowship with Christ.”
- “In the moment he takes up the young man’s question, Jesus wrenches it from him. He had asked the way to eternal life: Jesus answers, ‘I call thee, and that is all.’”
- “The life of discipleship is not the hero-worship we would pay to a good master, but obedience to the Son of God.”

- What do these three statements have in common?

6.  Bonhoeffer concludes, “Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do. To that there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.”

- The call to discipleship leads each of us down the uncharted road of spiritual discernment, where we encounter the Holy Spirit’s loving invitation to receive and obey the call of Jesus.
- How does our relationship to Jesus deepen as we submit to his consummate love and grace? How does this change us?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter One

1.  The book begins with a touching, yet powerful, “Memoir” by G. Leibholz on pages 13-33.  Based on his recollections:

- What kind of man was Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
- What was of utmost importance to Bonhoeffer?
- How did Bonhoeffer ultimately succeed both in life and in death?

2.  On page 37 of his introduction, Bonhoeffer writes, “The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it.  But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.”

- What does Bonhoeffer mean here? 
- How have you experienced this truth for yourself?

3.  Bonhoeffer begins chapter one with this overarching thesis: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.  We are fighting to-day for costly grace.”  He uses the rest of the chapter to unpack this initial statement.

- Differentiate the meaning of cheap grace from costly grace.

4.  On page 44, he writes: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves.  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.”

- Is this who we are as the church today?

5.  Also on page 44, “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.”

- How has the truth of these two statements impacted your role as a Christian and your choices on behalf of your faith?

6.  Bonhoeffer’s critique continues on pages 53-53: “We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ.”  “The result was that a nation became Christian and Lutherans, but at the cost of true discipleship. The price it was called upon to pay was all too cheap. Cheap grace had won the day.”  He goes on, “We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition.  Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving.  We poured forth unending streams of grace.  But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”

- In light of Bonhoeffer’s assessment, how are we faring today?

7.  On page 55: “We confess that, although our Church is orthodox as far as her doctrine of grace is concerned, we are no longer sure that we are members of a Church which follows its Lord.  We must therefore attempt to recover a true understanding of the mutual relation between grace and discipleship.  The issue can no longer be evaded.  It is becoming clearer every day that the most urgent problem besetting our Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?”

- How do you respond to this closing question?