Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship explores the challenges of embracing the gospel theme of sacrifice. In a direct, sometimes harsh assessment, he points up the difficulty of actually living a creed which embraces sacrifice of the individual believer called to task by the divine. The phrase "cheap grace" remains the watch-phrase of the work. "Cheap grace" refers to the counterfeit self-acceptance the would-be believer experiences, and is discussed in sharp contrast to the genuine experience caused by the demands of the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer cautions us against 'easy religion' and mere emotive response to the Christian message. He portrays Christian life as demanding unflinching self-awareness and struggle, culiminating in surrender. In later writings, Bonhoeffer himself modified the viewpoints he set forth in the Cost of Discipleship. An argument can be made that the work's stringent tone fails to convey the richness of the Christian life to which his book seeks to call adherents. Nonetheless, Bonhoeffer's construct of "cheap grace" serves as a useful metaphor in a time in which materialism, inequity, and disconnection plague us. We may not choose Pastor Bonhoeffer's iron-clad distinctions as to what constitutes authentic spiritual experience, but we will not easily forget his call to embrace the genuine, and not merely counterfeit assuaged feelings for genuine spiritual experience. Although this is a work of theology accessible to most readers, it is never patronizing in tone. Although one would have only a limited vision of Bonhoeffer's work if one read only the Cost of Discipleship, this is an excellent first Bonhoeffer book to read. The Cost of Discipleship is not a radical work, but rather a work of then-mainstream Christianity intended to provoke the reader into action. Even if one cannot reach all of Bonhoeffer's conclusions, and even if one does not share Bonhoeffer's theology, the inquiry is certainly worth undertaking.
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