Thoughtful and challenging thoughts from Andreas Loewe and Katherine Firth: Journeying With Bonhoeffer: Six Steps on the Path of Discipleship, p/b, Sydney, Morning Star, 2001

This little book is packed with inspiration. Katherine Firth has written a new biography of Bonhoeffer and has also provided a fresh translation of a number of Bonhoeffer’s poems. Firth is fluent in German and herself a poet.  This work is complemented by six Bible studies for Lent from Luke’s Gospel written by Andreas Loewe.  The studies from Luke  are seen through the lens of ideas and frequently quotations emerging from Bonhoeffer’s challenging book The Cost of Discipleship as well as other material from a newly published German text of Bonhoeffer’s works.Noted below are some ideas from this jointly authored book which resonated powerfully with me. 

p.33  Firth notes the following about Bonhoeffer’s execution in the dying days of World War 2 at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in Bavaria. The prison doctor claimed that Bonhoeffer walked to the scaffold at peace and looking noble ‘at the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed.  His death ensued after a few seconds’ — a story that has been repeated many times, including in the “New King James Version Modern Life Study Bible”. However the prison doctor’s job was to revive people as they were being executed so that the punishment would last as long as possible, so his story is considered unreliable by modern historians. Other witnesses say the execution took six hours, which would be consistent with the usual practice. We can see why von Dohnányi’s sedation was, in fact, a kindness. [von Dohnányi was a fellow conspirator  executed with Bonhoeffer; his German anti Hitler doctor had heavily sedated him before his execution]. We know Canaris [a fellow conspirator with Bonhoeffer and the leader of the attempted coup] was stripped naked as a humiliation before being hanged and it is likely this was true for all the conspirators.  In short, Bonhoeffer’s death was as horrific as he expected.

p. 44: Bonhoeffer: – ‘Levi, the tax collector the toll collector, and the four fishermen hear and obey, and do what Jesus commands them to do….they simply get up and follow. They hear the Word and do it without questioning whether or not they fully understand that is asked of them. Faith will grow out of that first ‘doing’, that first stepping out.’

p. 45-46: Bonhoeffer: ‘But if they want to learn to believe in God, they have to follow the Son of God incarnate and walk with him.’  Andreas Loewe: We actually need to get up and walk with Jesus, in order to be his disciples. Bonhoeffer shows discipleship is not just having knowledge about God, but learning to believe in God….The first step leads us away from our preoccupation with our own lives to life with Jesus.

p.54:  Andreas Loewe: …Jesus reminded him [the lawyer whose question prompted the parable of the Good Samaritan], …that in order to live forever with him, which is what eternal life is, he needed to do more than formulaic following of God’s commandments.

p.56:  Andreas Loewe notes that Bonhoeffer highlights ‘inadequate obedience’ …The call is made, and we want to obey and follow, but the demands the ‘doing part’ of the call makes on us are too hard.”  Bonhoeffer also notes “inadequate faith”.  Andreas Loewe comments: the lawyer sees an ambiguity in the command ..[to love your neighbour as yourself] …he questions, ‘who then is my neighbour’ and, unable to accept the command, is left behind by Jesus.  That is one of the slyest forms of disobedience to God’s call. Loewe quotes Bonhoeffer again: What then happens is that people get so stubborn in their disobedience…that they claim they can no longer discern between what is good and what is God’s command. They claim it is ambiguous and permits various interpretations.

p65:  Commenting on the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Andreas Loewe notes: If limitless grace is careless and wasteful, these parables show us what God thinks grace is worth….they also show us how tireless Christ is in his seeking for those who are lost: raking through the dust and debris of our spiritual homes in the same way a householder woman cleaned out every nook and cranny of her own…I wonder whether we wish to be found in this way, whether we wish for our lives to be turned upside down by Christ?

p66.  Andreas Loewe asks us about how we feel when Christ goes off looking for other lost sheep after we ourselves have been found and welcomed. There can be…a sense of loss as the shepherd sets out to search for, call and bring in other lost sheep.

p67:  Andreas Loewe comments on Bonhoeffer’s question: “What does it mean to cheapen grace?”  Loewe writes: There is a clear line in Bonhoeffer’s thinking between extending Christ’s invitation to come and follow him to all people, and telling all people that they are all right in what they believe. The two, for Bonhoeffer, are utterly incompatible: we pour away Christ’s love when we confirm others in their unbelief. Because belief is costly. Loewe quotes Bonhoeffer: “Is the price we are paying today with collapse of the organised churches anything else but an inevitable consequence of grace acquired too cheaply? We gave away preaching and sacraments cheaply, performed baptisms and confirmations ; we absolved an entire people, unquestioned and unconditionally; out of human love we handed over what holy to the scornful and unbelievers.”

p.69-70  Loewe suggests that the answer to Jesus’ questions in Luke 15 {“what man of you?” (lost sheep) and “what woman?” (lost coin)] is “few people”!   Most of us would be content with the other 99 sheep or the other nine silver coins and thus Loewe further notes: there is no costly risk-taking among them, and (thus) there is also no rejoicing…Luke shows us the extravagant love of God…This is  the meaning of  Bonhoeffer’s phrase “God’s costly grace”. Loewe notes: Jesus brings light and order to the house, that is true. But that light and order comes at the cost of breaking all the habits that prefer darkness and mess.

p72 Bonhoeffer concludes: Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it cost the life of God’s son.

p73. In question 5 Loewe notes. God’s love is also entirely free. Do we personally, or in our community, require people to strive to deserve grace, when grace comes freely? Do you exert ‘strength, effort and discipline which is unnecessary, even dangerous, since everything is already prepared, and fulfilled by grace?  ….an excellent and demanding question!

p.77  Andreas Loewe quotes Bonhoeffer’s words: The cross is suffering with Christ. ….The cross is not random suffering, but necessary suffering. The cross is not suffering that stems from natural existence; it is suffering that comes from being a Christian. The essence of the cross is not suffering alone; it is suffering and being rejected….A Christianity that no longer took discipleship seriously remade the Gospel into only the solace of cheap grace. Moreover it drew no line between natural and Christian existence….Here it has been forgotten that the cross always means being rejected, that the cross includes the shame of suffering. Being shunned, despised, and deserted by people …is an essential feature of the suffering of the cross, which cannot be comprehended by a Christianity that is unable to differentiate between a citizen’s ordinary existence and Christian existence.

p.78f. Andreas quotes Bonhoeffer: “The cross is not random suffering, but necessary suffering.” Andreas comments…following Jesus means rejection and suffering. It means shouldering daily the cross that Christ himself bears …It is in this shared bearing that we are enabled to undertake the daily task of denial of self in order to follow Christ.

p.80f  Andreas Loewe notes that  Bonhoeffer makes a sharp distinction between suffering and rejection. Only one of the two carries shame…..Rejection goes well beyond suffering, takes away and admiration, and sympathy. Bonhoeffer writes: Rejection removed all dignity and honour from [Jesus’ ] suffering. It had to be dishonourable suffering….Loewe notes that Bonhoeffer comments that from the beginning of the church’s story …suffering and rejection, self-denial and death to self are an integral part of our faith…Bonhoeffer is uncompromising. We cannot try to avoid suffering because ‘that is the way for Satan to enter the church.’ These comments must be seen in particular in the light of the establishment of the Nazi Reich Church with its glorification of Hitler and the Aryan race.

p.82f  Andreas Loewe notes that for Bonhoeffer, ‘suffering’ does not mean unremitting torment, nor seeking out acts of self-martyrdom or ascetic exercises. Instead it means freedom from the fear of suffering. If we are not afraid of suffering, or losing our possessions, of looking foolish —then we cannot be imprisoned by these things….Bonhoeffer writes; “therefore, once again, before the law of discipleship is proclaimed, even the disciples must be set free.” Andreas comments; The freedom from yourself does not mean replacing yourself with a void. It means replacing yourself with knowing Christ. Bonhoeffer uses “kennen” here (knowing from personal relationship) rather than “wissen” (knowing about something or someone)

p86f  Andreas Loewe notes:  No-one may judge how much someone else can or should suffer. He quotes Bonhoeffer: “Everyone gets a different amount” of suffering, so that our cross is one we can carry.

p90  Bonhoeffer reading: Jesus’ call to discipleship makes the disciple into a single individual. Whether disciples want to or not, they have to make a decision; each is called alond.. each has to decide alone..Each must follow alone…Out of fear of such aloneness, a human being seeks safety in the people and things around them.

p91  Andreas Loewe: Christ called [his disciples] not to a life of holy introspection , but a life of active doing in his name.

p93  Andreas Loewe: Discipleship is a life-long commitment…Before we commit, we too should consider whether we are able to embark on the costly journey of daily carrying the cross and following Jesus. In Bonhoeffer’s case, he was choosing to set out to wage a war and build an edifice he knew he was likely to lose in this world.

p94f  Andreas Loewe: Christ leaves room for a genuine decision. Individuals are each given the opportunity to reject the invitation, are given space for the realisation that Jesus is not for them. That is a fair response to Jesus’ call: not all will follow. But those who do accept Jesus’ call, need to put Jesus above all. Andreas quotes Bonhoeffer: Christ intends to make the human being lonely. As individuals they should see nothing except him who called them…It is impossible for a human being to avoid ever being left by another. In human relationships, we constantly move away and return, until we move away from this life through death. But God is able to be with us always.

However this does not mean that we should never work to begin in relationship with other humans; simply that we should do so through Christ…Christ needs to mediate all relationships…In becoming human, Jesus put himself between me and the given circumstances of the world. 

p96 Andreas Loewe writes: If we truly turn to Christ, then we need to shun those who claim to be alternative mediators. And that is what ‘hating ‘ the world means….The idea that the followers of Jesus may relate to the world apart from their discipleship is alien to Bonhoeffer.

p102 Bonhoeffer writes: Human beings should not be feared. They cannot do much to the disciples of Jesus. Their power stops with the disciples’ physical death…

p105  Bonhoeffer writes: Who can claim the people’s love and sacrifice so exclusively, if not the enemy of humanity or the Saviour of humanity? Who will carry the sword into their homes, if not the devil or Christ, the Prince of Peace?

p106  Bonhoeffer writes: Whenever Christ calls, his call leads us to death…the cross stands at the beginning or our community with Christ.  Andreas Loewe writes: when we do what Christ calls us to do, we become Christ-bearers to others.

p107  Andreas Loewe writes: As followers of Jesus Christ, then, we cannot remain hidden, and leave the witnessing about the One who called us to “the stones of Jerusalem that would shout out”.

p111  Andreas Loewe asks: How can we carry on a form of ‘living dying’ that includes joy and ‘complete assurance for every new day.’