The Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This summer I had a chance to go to Berlin, so I decided to brush up on some Bonhoeffer reading. I decided to go back to Discipleship, a book to which my seminary students often respond with enthusiasm.

The excellent editorial introduction to the new edition places this book in the broad scope of Bonhoeffer's work, defending the view that it represents his mature theology.

I first read The Cost of Discipleship as a much younger man, not trained to read Euro-American texts as embedded in a culture of white supremacy.  Even learning that Bonhoeffer criticized the National Socialist agenda and the German Christians, I little awareness that his work addressed race issues.

What a difference the decades have made, not only for my reading, but also for Bonhoeffer scholarship.  This time, working through Bonhoeffer's arguments revealed his theological agenda challenging the dominant structures of theologians and churches of his day which had accommodated the doctrines of Aryan racial superiority.

Participating in the Confessing Church used to seem to me the natural outgrowth of the kind of Baptist ecclesiology that I had grown up with.  But his was not separation based on a list of prohibitions, such as no drinking alcohol or dancing.  For Bonhoeffer, confessional separation demonstrated a witness over against the powers that were employing deadly force to eliminate the outliers of their society.

I was able to see some of the places where Bonhoeffer served the church and worked to resist the Third Reich.  The legacy of Bonhoeffer there remains important, and Bonhoeffer studies have come into a new era of flourishing.

—Mikael Broadway, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Shaw Divinity School, Durham, NC