Review: The Cost of Discipleship

I’ve found myself thinking this week about all the Christians I’ve met over the years.  Some of them, when I am first confronted with the idea that they are a Christian, I find myself reeling.  The revelation comes on the back of them saying something very unChristian… gossiping, slandering, making racist comments, proclaiming love for things that are clearly called sin in the Bible, or over the years I’ve known them they’ve never once talked of anything remotely spiritual.  How can such a person exits?

This is, in part, the question Dietrich Bonhoeffer answers with his book The Cost of Discipleship.  These people believe in what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.”  By definition grace is the free gift of God’s love poured out (for now we’ll ignore the more technical definitions of common grace, efficacious grace, and prevenient grace).  Cheap grace is grace that is so “free” it has no lasting meaning.  You can sin today with no care for consequences, because you know that redemption is one free step away.  All you have to do is return to the gift giver and snatch up forgiveness; it has no cost.  Bonhoeffer puts it this way:   “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares… Grace without price; grace without cost!  The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.”

The problems with this are immediately apparent.  Good and godly behavior, need have no place in your life because grace is always there, and for free!  Cheap grace justifies sin, but does not justify the sinner.  That is, it forgives the sin but the sinner remains unsaved.  This is what a church does when it offers community without offering accountability, when it offers forgiveness of sins without any confession or penalty.*

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There have been a very few Christians over the years that when I learned they were believers, it just made sense.  Their life reflected their beliefs in their every action.  These people are the ones that believe grace comes at a cost.  They believe that truly following Jesus costs them everything.  They know that in order to be true followers of Christ they must seek him out at every turn, display God’s love in the core of their being, and always, always repent of sin and strive for a more godly way of living.  Bonhoeffer:  “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.  Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it cost a man [Jesus] his life, and it is grace because it gives a man [you!] the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.”

Bonhoeffer puts grace into perspective.  He shows that being a disciple of Jesus is not an easy task.  He lays out the foundation of grace at the very beginning of his book and then spends the whole book showing you what a Christian should look like.

This is a book I’ve read several times in my life and I will likely read it many more.  What you may not know about Bonhoeffer is that he was a Christian in Germany during WWII.  He was arrested by the Nazi’s (supposedly for plotting Hitler’s assassination, though proof is lacking).  He spent the rest of his life writing letters and books from prison.  He was an intellectual and a theologian.  His books can take several attempts at reading before the full weight of them is understood, or more accurately a single sentence from Bonhoeffer can take hours to fully digest.  Since I’m a big fan of books that make you think, I am also a big fan of Bonhoeffer.  He pushes your mind and your theology to new places and forces you grapple with the weighty truths you find there; you cannot read his books and come away unchanged.

For the Christian and non-Christian alike, I highly recommend The Cost of Discipleship.  It spells out Christianity in an in-depth and uniquely engaging way.

Overall, I give this book 4.5 stars.

Up next:  In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan

*Salvation does not come through good works, but our works do reflect the state of our hearts James 2.

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Review: Voyage of the Basilisk

Voyage of the Basilisk is the third book in the Lady Trent Memoirs.  It’s a five part series of books about a female anthropologist who studies dragons in the Victorian Age.  If you’re looking for a story to read that has a female protagonist fighting for the fair treatment of women, I highly recommend this series.  There are a few parts that I find as mild let downs, but overall this series is great!  Marie Brennan brings her personal knowledge of anthropology, archaeology, and folklore to bear in creating this wonderful world.

Before I get to reviewing Voyage of the Basilisk, I’ll point out that last year I read the first two books in the series, and since that was before this blog, allow me to give you a brief run down.  The first book, A Natural History of Dragons focuses on the childhood and first real adventure of Lady Trent.  It shows her fight against sexism in the scientific and scholarly communities and it shows a woman who follows her passions, wherever they may lead.  The second book, Tropic Of Serpents, shows Lady Trent’s second adventure, wherein we learn just how bad she is at politics and some of the difficulties being a female adventure in a masculine world I’ve never before seen in a book, but is very true to real life.

There is one downside to the fact that this series is written as memoirs, and that is the very fact that memoirs are often written with allusions to things that happen in the future (at least from the perspective from where you are in the story).  And that happens a lot in these books.  Despite that, Steph and I still like the series enough to recommend the books, but we do warn that the first two books are a bit slow to develop, but the plots get stronger with each passing book and the adventures kick off much faster in the latter books.

Now on to the review.

Voyage of the Basilisk begins with the action taking place as early as chapter two.  Lady Tent goes on an exciting sea adventure to study all kinds of dragons across the world.  She faces challenges at nearly every turn and meets some fascinating characters.

This is easily my favorite book in the series, and I am struggling with what to say to get you excited about this book while also not revealing too much of the plot.  What I can say is this, Lady Trent navigates the great seas, visiting several nations to see their specific breeds of dragons.  Along the way she learns to swim, swims with many sea creatures, and meets my favorite character in the series!  (Which I say having read all five at this point, expect the last two reviews in the coming weeks.)  We also get to see her raising her son as a single mom with a career and learning life lessons.

Based on her writing style, I think this book is a perfectly fine book to read even if you haven’t read the first two.  It might be a bit harder to follow all of her allusions, but she often describes the scenes she’s referring to, even though she’s already written about them previously.  Give this book a read!

Overall, I give this book 5 stars.

Up next:  The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

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J.K. Rowling wrote three books to raise money for charities.  I’ve already reviewed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and some day I’ll get my hands on the last one, Quidditch Through the Ages.  For now though, allow me to review The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, there are four short stories, faerie tales, that center around the wizarding world of Harry Potter.  If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you’re likely already familiar with the last of those four short stories, The Tale of the Three Brothers.  This story is pulled straight out of the final book in the Harry Potter series.  If you haven’t read that far, you should save reading these faerie tales until after you have.  Or else you risk some spoilers.

The other three stories are unique and engaging.  They each teach morals (as so many faerie tales do) and they do it in a fun way.  You’ll recognize the name of at least one from having read the stories and imaging Ron’s perplexed face when he finds out that Hermoine and Harry have never heard of Rabbitty Babbitty.  But the other three I think will be fresh titles and stories for anyone reading this for the first time:  The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, and The Warlock’s Hairy Heart.  I found each of these stories to be simply delightful, and if I ever have the joy of raising children, I do believe these stories will be read to them as the drift softly to sleep.

I highly recommend this book.  It’s short and endearing.  I give it a strong 5 star recommendation.

Next up: The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Review: The Limners: America’s Earliest Portrait Painters

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During the month of May I was having a hard time reading.  By the end of the month I hadn’t read a single book and was in danger of not meeting my objective of one book per month.  We went with my niece and her boyfriend to Seattle, where I snuck into the local library and found a small, interesting, little book to read quickly to meet my requirements.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I choose this book.  It’s a look at art in America as we began to build cities and grow as a nation.  Most people back then were illiterate, so sign makers had to make beautiful signs that showed what kind of business was inside.  Those same artists would also be used by the wealthy to do portraits of them and their family.  Often these portraits would display the profession of the person depicted.  But the artists back then did not aim for life like images.  Often their depictions came out disproportionate and lifeless.  It’s an interesting phase in our artistic history.  And if you’re into art it’s well worth your time to look into this era and how it has effected us today.

This book gave a nice overview of the topic and was fascinating to read.  Overall I give it 2 stars.

Next Up: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling