|Discipleship: Doom? or Delight!|
About this Book
I can remember, many years ago, buying a copy of Bonhoeffer's 'Cost of Discipleship'. The very title excited me. I think I was ready for its message. Perhaps three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp had prepared me for it. There I remember thinking, time and again, 'Our Christianity is too trite. This is not the way it comes through, in the Gospels, nor for that matter, the Acts and the Epistles'.
I had been a theological student before joining the army, and in the prison camp went through a thorough testing of my faith. Sometimes I wondered whether I had had any genuine personal faith, and yet at other times was sure that I was a man of faith. What puzzled me was the failure of many of my Christian friends to discern the ethical issues, to really understand the nature of law. Yet for the most part I myself was puzzled. One thing I did learn eventually, and it was that law matters, and that law is, in the ultimate, love.
In retrospect I saw a shallow superficial Gospel which had been taught to me. Looking to the future I hoped that the grim years of war, with their thought-provoking events, as well as those of our prison experience, would fit men better to begin shaping their new generations. Returning to my home land I was stunned at the little difference this immense suffering seemed to have made. It seemed that the war and its deep implications had simply passed by so many. They just seemed not to have seen it, and certainly appeared to have learned little from it. I must confess my astonishment became something like anger, and even bitterness. It was on the verge of becoming cynicism when I was saved from that by marriage, and a woman who patiently led me back to the truths which I had learned in suffering.
When I finally returned to read theology and seek ordination to the ministry I was still sensitive, alert to any false note and repetition of the superficial Gospel I had witnessed in pre-war and post-war years. I longed for a good hard piece of theology to chew upon, and that book, 'The Cost of Discipleship' made its mark on me. I had seen what the author called 'Cheap grace', and I agreed with him, up to the hilt, that discipleship was costly. And, of course, it is, and always will be.
Also I had begun to understand the depths of the Cross. Men like James Denney and Peter Forsyth had also made a deep impression upon my thinking. Their teaching on the Cross and the holiness of God opened wide a world 1 had seen, though only in part, within the prison camp. There I had deeply studied George Adam Smith's 'Jeremiah'. It was my constant companion for many months, as, daily, I read it. I was drawn both to the suffering of man, and the suffering of God, to say nothing of the suffering of God's people.
For this reason something in me agreed deeply with Bonhoeffer. Discipleship was costly, and I began to preach it, and live it, that way. I noticed the impact such teaching had upon the human spirit. It was severe, but it made men and women serious. It made them quiet before God and man.
So I believed Bonhoeffer to have written a good book and a true one. Even now when I read it I am very moved. I understand, also, that even towards the end of his life, just prior to his martyrdom, Bonhoeffer confessed that, however much many of his ideas had changed or developed, he still stood by what he had written in that book.
Well, there is a history to every man, as there is a history to every movement. For the Reformers the teaching of justification--free grace--was a rich and liberating truth. To hear Luther on this theme is to hear symphonic theology. However, the Pietists demanded evidence of justification in the discernible fruits of the New Birth. The Puritans held to Reformed faith, but required the evidences of a holiness springing from such liberation. The Evangelicals and Methodists of the 18th century looked for proof of life in worship, service and godly living, whilst the Holiness exponents of the 19th century insisted virtually that the proof of justification was holiness. It only needed, then, the Pentecostals of the early 20th century to take this on to its logical (if not theological) conclusion, that is that the true life of faith is a life filled with power.
Bonhoeffer was calling for a renewal of life, through discipleship, but discipleship which was costly. He was too good a theologian to say that grace was dear, but what he says comes very close to expressing this. A good apologist will undoubtedly defend the author against making grace dear, as the author himself defended it against being cheap. So many have read his book and concluded that grace is very, very dear.
Of course grace was dear to Christ. It was costly to the Son who endured the Cross and despised the shame as he became a curse, was made sin for us, and bore our sins in his body on the Tree. Yes, it was costly to him! Also it was costly to the Father who gave His Son, and no less costly to the Spirit by whom Christ offered up himself. Yet, to us it is free! This is the incredible thing. It was some years after reading Bonhoeffer that I discovered experientially what I had always known it theologically--that grace is totally free. Then it was that I began to see the preliminary nature of discipleship, and the ultimate nature of sonship, under the Father.
This is why I have written this book. The pilgrimage to law is a deep one. The pilgrimage to grace is much longer, but it is the final pilgrimage. When a man arrives at grace he knows God. He understands the striving of the religious ego to earn and pay for what it possesses and forever after distrusts this religious ego. He comes to learn its subtleties and deceits. On the other hand the man of grace is intensely joyful, deeply grateful that God is the God of grace, and requires man to pay nothing. He understands the God of love, the God who said, 'I will love you, freely'.