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The Cost of Discipleship

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The soteriology of Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is an honest reaction to the context of his world under Nazism. This reaction can be summarized as “Christ against culture” according to famous Christian worldview distinction (cf., H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture). As Bonhoeffer himself exemplified with his life and death, for him salvation is a process before the entrance into God’s eternity rather than one time event, and this salvation is inherently joined with ecclesiastical and social life of Christian.

Salvation is, for Bonhoeffer, a calling for righteousness rather than an invitation for propitiation. It is a calling for sinners to die daily until they reach physical death, yet while living they are only “invited” to imitate sufferings of Christ—denying themselves daily and taking up His cross daily. On 9 April 1945 he gave his last words before execusion, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life,” but during his life Bonhoeffer also said, “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes” (69). He argues that since “the disciple is not above his master” suffering is a mandatory, if not actively voluntary (100). Thus his emphasis on voluntary suffering was an honorable duty for all Christians, and this makes his definition of salvation [redemption] almost a requirement for earthly missions before the heavenly union with Christ—namely, “costly grace” (45ff, 130f).