I picked up a copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship (Reader’s Edition) at my local Barnes & Noble recently. Discipleship is a topic I’m focusing on in 2016 so I thought this would be a good investment in my reading this year.
Lutheranism vs Catholicism
My feeling while reading the first two chapters was that Bonhoeffer dealt more with the interplay from Luther’s religious interaction with Catholicism than he dealt with Biblical discipleship. Given that Bonhoeffer’s context was as a Lutheran pastor and theologian in Nazi Germany this seemed reasonable but it didn’t seem to address much that he and I might share in our faith experiences at that point.
Suffering vs Ease
The further I read into the book the more I found that my reaction to his terminology was visceral while our theology around discipleship and the Lordship of Jesus in a believer’s life matched up well in many regards. His assertions about the necessity of suffering in Christ feel overly strong but he affirms that suffering in itself is no credit to believers. When I was able to move past the language and consider his stance within the context of his social experience I believed I could understand his statement better even though I believe this suffering can be in a more personal and less public manner than he seems to understand.
I found statements like the following difficult to fit within my experience and what I see as universal for believers
“Thus, suffering becomes the identifying mark of a follower of Christ.”
Discipleship and the Cross, chapter 4
He seems to vacillate between the necessity of suffering and those who are willing to suffer although that may be a linguistic effect.
I think we would disagree in practical application here but I cannot fault him for his viewpoint; of the two his fits Jesus’ experience and the eventual experiences we believe from history about all the apostles. My primary contention at this point is in the rapidity and comprehensive nature of suffering for each believer.
Mediation vs Immediacy
Bonhoeffer laid out his view of Jesus’ mediation versus the immediacy of believers as I moved towards the middle of the book (as gauged by chapters, not volume). His statement that believers must relinquish any immediacy in their life was shocking.
“[Jesus] wants to be the medium; everything should happen only through him. He stands not only between me and God, he also stands between me and the world, between me and other people and things. He is the mediator, not only between God and human persons, but also between person and person, and between person and reality.”
Discipleship and the Individual, chapter 5
This struck me because the allusion that came to mind was Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
1 Timothy 2:5, ESV
The more I worked through his statement the more I could see some practical applications but the terminology still set my teeth on edge. To me, I find Christ’s commands that I am to love my neighbor as myself not totally equivalent to Him being my mediator as to Him being my Lord and directing me as well as His Holy Spirit being the one who empowers me and guides me to achieve what the Son has commanded of me.
I was very pleased to find Bonhoeffer address Jesus’ desire and direction for community between believers when the chapter ended with
He separates, but he also unites.
Everyone enters discipleship alone, but no one remains alone in discipleship.
Certainly Christian community and sharing are commanded in Hebrews
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV
I am also reading Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle simultaneously for a small group I’m in. This study is on submitting all that I have to God, particularly finances. My interaction with this text
About halfway through this book, I find Bonhoeffer difficult to read from our linguistic and cultural differences but also from his dogmatic approach that comes through even when I have trouble understanding his doctrinal position. I don’t know that I disagree with him doctrinally, however. I find the book very satisfying to the effect that his thoughts and communication (as translated from the German) sharpen my view of how I experience Jesus’ authority over me and my submission to His sovereignty.