Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer today

BonhoefferOn April 9, 1945, just three weeks before World War II ended, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at the Flossenberg prison camp for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer is remembered well for his strong faith and has been remembered beyond his death for his writings, including The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer’s legacy is a great one, and it is good to remember what he taught, even 65 years later.

In 2003, filmmaker Martin Doblmeier produced a documentary, Bonhoeffer, that looked at the German pastor’s life. In an interview on PBS’ Speaking of Faith, Doblmeier discussed Bonhoeffer with host Krista Tippett. The program is a great introduction to the man and what kind of turmoil produced some of thing he wrote.

This year a new biography is coming out on Bonhoeffer.  Written by Eric Metaxas, who also has written a biography on Wilber Wilberforce called Amazing Grace, the new book is called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I look forward to reading it.

The breach that comes from following Christ

I was listening to the excellent audiobook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” today while on the road. As a reminder you can pick this up for FREE this month at It is a challenging book that I am so glad I read and now am being challenged again hearing the audiobook.

 We are called to become disciples of Christ, but what does that mean? Bonhoeffer, who wrote this book over 60 years ago before he was martyred in Germany, says that the call to Christ is a call to die — to yourself. There were many parts that I found myself challenged by today as I rode on barren stretches of Nebraska highway listening to this book. The part that struck me today came from Chapter 5: Discipleship and the Individual. Earlier in the book, Bonhoeffer described how a discple is called by Christ and does not offer his services of his own will. We see Jesus calling Matthew to follow him and also the instance where Jesus comes to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee and he calls Peter to come to him from the boat. Jesus makes his disciples. Here, in Chapter 5, Bonhoeffer goes further, telling the reader that being called to discpleship is a solitary thing:

The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion. All the time we had 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 relations in life, in our kinship with father and mother, brothers and sisters, in married love, and in our duty to the community, 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, stand 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 him. (The Cost of Discipleship, page 50)

Because this is the case, Bonhoeffer says that we must repudiate anything that comes between us and Christ, whatever form that group takes, for the sake of Christ. It is not that we have no relation with that group, it is that we can have no relation outside of Christ the Mediator. To try to do so would be hatred of Christ and thus be a denial of our discipleship with him. These are hard things to hear and grasp, but to follow Christ as a disciple is not something to be taken lightly. But also, as Jesus said in Matthew 11:30: “My burden is easy, and my yoke is light.” Yes, it is a yoke, but it is not something that we cannot bear.