Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one who knew of that which he spoke when dealing with the issue of cheap grace versus costly grace. Bonhoeffer's commitment to the principles of his vocation and being cost him his life - executed in the closing days of World War II, Bonhoeffer walked a dangerous path through exercising his vocation faithfully in the midst of the twin evils of warfare and Nazi domination of Germany.
Bonhoeffer's life, from the earliest days, probably seemed like it was set on an idyllic path - the son of a professional family with strong roots in a prosperous and civilised culture, Bonhoeffer would seem to have 'had it made'. His early days in school showed him to be a minister and academic of great promise. However, his experiences at Union Seminary in New York City, an academic environment very different from the German academy, and at the Abyssian Baptist Church, an African-American congregation, vastly different from his Germanic Lutheran background, prepared a way for Bonhoeffer to expand beyond his upbringing and learning to become someone striving to find God in all people, and the will of God in all that he did.
The subject of this book is grace - too often, in Bonhoeffer's day and our own, people seem to look at grace as something free, instead of something freely offered. Bonhoeffer points out that the call of God and the gift of God's grace is not to be taken lightly - 'the call to follow Jesus always leads to death'. This may seem an unusual call in our day; after all, the more prosperous of our churches would seem to espouse a conventionally respectable lifestyle (far from the 'death' Bonhoeffer speaks about) as the reward for following God. However, Bonhoeffer uses the example of the disciples, each of whom faced martyrdom, as did many early Christian leaders, as a touchstone for the vocation.
Bonhoeffer also gives a great deal of attention in this text to the Sermon on the Mount, providing interpretations that still speak to congregations today, but also with warnings. Bonhoeffer admonishes those who would pick and choose the parts of scripture, or indeed the parts of the Sermon on the Mount, that fit what they want to hear, disregarding the rest. Bonhoeffer writes that we are not called to interpret, but to obey, giving ourselves up to God, as the disciples did, as martyrs did, and as Bonhoeffer himself would do in the fullness of his lifetime.
This edition of Bonhoeffer's great work is prefaced by his friend, Bishop G.K.A. Bell of Chichester, a friend and admirer of Bonhoeffer, who states that, 'Dietrich himself was a martyr many times before he died'. There is also a memoir provided by G. Leibholz, which puts the text in historical context. However, the real substance of the book is in Bonhoeffer's own words. Cheap grace was the deadly enemy of the church then, and it remains a dangerous foe to this day.