"Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace."And with that sharp warning to his own church, which was engaged in bitter conflict with the official nazified state church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his book Discipleship (formerly entitled The Cost of Discipleship). Originally published in 1937, it soon became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world beset by a dangerous and criminal government. At its center stands an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount: what Jesus demanded of his followers- and how the life of discipleship is to be continued in all ages of the post-resurrection church.

"Every call of Jesus is a call to death," Bonhoeffer wrote. His own life ended in martyrdom on April 9, 1945.

Freshly translated from the German critical edition, Discipleship provides a more accurate rendering of the text and extensive aids and commentary to clarify the meaning, context, and reception of this work and its attempt to resist the Nazi ideology then infecting German Christian churches.


Geffrey B. Kelly and John D. Godsey

Discipleship, previously published in a popular edition as The Cost of Discipleship, has been acclaimed in both Protestant and Catholic circles as a classic in Christian spirituality. Discipleship was the largest and most influential book published by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during his lifetime. Within its pages he confronts his readers time and again with his own stark challenges to their facile, less than Christlike ways of being Christian. What did it mean to declare oneself a follower of Jesus Christ? What were Christians to do about the seemingly “impossible demands” of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? How effective and relevant were the Matthean Beatitudes against the materialism, militarism, and ruthless dictatorship that had come to dominate Germany in Bonhoeffer’s own time? How were Christians to act responsibly in the Church Struggle created by Hitler and Nazism?

These were the issues that had disturbed Bonhoeffer during the gestation period of this book. He declares at the outset that his sole concern is to search not for new battle cries and catchwords but “for Jesus himself.” Bonhoeffer’s questions are shocking in their directness: “What did Jesus want to say to us? What does he want from us today? How does he help us to be faithful Christians today?” He goes on in the opening paragraph of Discipleship to say that he does not want to know what some church leader desires of Christians; instead, he wants “to know what Jesus wants.” Indeed, Bonhoeffer’s attempts to ascertain “what Jesus wants” become the main guideline of every chapter that follows, not in the sense that Jesus assumes total control over the disciples, who then would be excused from personal responsibility. Rather, Bonhoeffer insists that

[1.] See below, page 37.

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