If every evangelical read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, evangelicalism would be nobler. The book is theologically profound, overtly Lutheran, and a seminal study connected to a heroic figure. In uncompromising ways Bonhoeffer’s book assaults the easy-believism of Western evangelicalism and exposes its gospel as too often a caricature.
It is always encouraging to see more and more evangelicals looking into Bonhoeffer’s work. I suggest that folks read not only his famous discipleship book, but also Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 5).
Why do you think evangelicals are so big on Bonhoeffer today? Which of his books do they read? Which of his books do they not read? Speculative: If Bonhoeffer were alive in the USA today, where would he attend church?
There have been two recent attempts to bring Bonhoeffer alive for evangelicals. Jon Walker, Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, sketches central themes of discipleship through the lens of Bonhoeffer’s famous study, and Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, has a biography on Bonhoeffer that most would say leans him toward the evangelical side of his writings and beliefs.
Bonhoeffer was no evangelical. He was closer to Barth than to any evangelical alive at his time, and history tells us that evangelicalism was dead-set against Barth. Bonhoeffer was European, Lutheran, pietistic, and a theologian-pastor. His pietism and his boldness when expounding Scripture make him attractive to evangelicals, but any full reading of his stuff — especially his dissertation or habilitation or his stuff from prison — will reveal that he would have been quite uncomfortable among most evangelicals today.
Evangelicalism will do well, however, to embrace Bonhoeffer and to learn from him. He will broaden its vision and he will deepen its theology.
But his discipleship stuff won’t go away, and that is why so many evangelicals read him today. In fact, it was my reading and complete absorption by Discipleship in college that gave me the vision for my most recent book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. But this post is about Jon Walker’s new book…
In Rick Warren-like fashion, Walker sketches discipleship in twenty eight chapters (read it in a month, skipping two or three days) with pointed themes, like learning that trust can be measured by how much we need to control life, that Jesus must always be given the higher priority, that the gift of righteousness does not excuse us from righteous living, that trust can be measured by our desire to get even, that it can be measured by our love of enemies — well, you can see that Walker’s theme is obedient trust.
He’s right. At the heart of Bonhoeffer’s famous study and at the heart of discipleship is obedient trust — not just the simple acceptance of Christ and not the strenuous discipline of obedience, but the kind of obedience that proceeds out of trust and is consistent with trust.
What unites each chp is the theme of “becoming like Christ.” Each chp concludes with two patterns of thinking: fallen thinking and kingdom thinking.