Best Books of August 2018

Below are the two best books I read in August.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Cost of Discipleship is an easy to read work of devotional literature that seeks to answer the question of how a person can live a real Christian life in the modern world written by a man who was executed by Adolf Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer published The Cost of Discipleship in 1937, years after Hitler had risen to power in Pre-World War 2 Germany. Bonhoeffer then lived out the principles in this book as he struggled with how to be a faithful Christian living under the Nazi government. Initially, he was a Nazi spy who secretly helped Jews escape the Third Reich. Later, Bonhoeffer joined a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Eventually, his efforts to subvert and ultimately destroy the Nazi regime came to light. The Nazis then imprisoned Bonhoeffer for two years before hanging him on August 9, 1945.[1]

In essence, The Cost of Discipleship’s says that the way to live a real Christian life in the modern world is simply to put Jesus’s teachings into practice. By following the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse, Bonhoeffer argues that Jesus comes to us as God and demands we follow him. There simply is no room for reinterpretation, excuses, or arguments: For Bonhoeffer, you either follow Christ as God or you don’t. There is no middle ground to be had. If we wonder how to live a real Christian life, he would say simply put Jesus’s teachings into action. As Bonhoeffer writes, “it is impossible to want to do it (live a Christian life) and yet not do it.”[2] All those who desire to follow Christ do indeed follow him.

This book is also famous for Bonhoeffer’s dichotomy between cheap grace and costly grace. The former, says Bonhoeffer, is the kind of grace that we desire, the kind of grace we give ourselves. Cheap grace, says Bonhoeffer, teaches that “my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven.”[3] Cheap grace then allows us to continue indulging our sin so long as we patronize God by means of a brief prayer of “repentance.” Costly grace, on the other hand, is the kind of grace given by God alone, the kind of grace that many do not actually desire. Costly grace forgives our sin while demanding that we change.

The best way to summarize the dichotomy between cheap and costly grace is to allow Bonhoeffer to speak for himself. He says: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…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.”[4]

Bonhoeffer then urges us to pursue costly grace; for, cheap grace will not help us in the slightest. However, he is sober-minded about what he’s asking. Bonhoeffer famously states: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[5] The Cost of Discipleship urges us to answer the call of Christ to come and to die. Adding to its authority is the fact that its author answered that call and did indeed die pursuing what he genuinely believed was the only option for a Christian living under the Nazi regime.

The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield

This book is a collection of essays on topics within the doctrine of revelation written by the renowned biblical scholar and theologian, B.B. Warfield. This book contains some of the strongest arguments for a high view of scripture in spite of the fact that Warfield passed away nearly 100 years ago. Though this book can be difficult to understand at times, it is an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to understand and defend a traditional view of the authority and reliability of the Bible.

Warfield begins by providing a brief overview of the doctrine of revelation. In the present day, the Bible is the primary way that God reveals himself to believers; however, in the past, God revealed himself to people in different ways. For example, God revealed himself to Moses in ways that were never repeated; similarly, the way that God revealed himself to the prophets is quite different from the way that God revealed himself to the apostles of Christ. What’s more, God reveals himself to us through nature, secular history, and our consciences. Though the Bible is the main way that God reveals himself to us as twenty-first-century believers, the Bible is not the only way that God reveals himself. Warfield begins by describing these different avenues of revelation.

Before long, Warfield launches into his primary concern: defining and defending a high view of scripture. Warfield’s primary argument is that the New Testament authors taught a high view of scripture and we get the most important elements of Christian doctrine from the New Testament; consequently, if we trust the New Testament author’s teaching on the resurrection of Christ, for example, we ought to trust the New Testament’s teaching on the authority of scripture.

At first blush, this argument may seem to be circular. It would appear that Warfield is arguing that the New Testament is reliable; thus, we can trust the New Testament when it says that it is reliable. However, someone as brilliant as Warfield wouldn’t easily make such a sophomoric mistake. Instead, Warfield’s argument has greater depth, subtlety, and nuance.

Warfield’s argument is quite sophisticated. For Warfield, we should not begin with the belief that the New Testament is inspired; instead, inspiration is the crown of scripture—not the foundation. We reason our way to inspiration instead of taking inspiration for granted. Consequently, Warfield argues that we should examine the evidence to see whether the New Testament is reliable. Once we’ve done our homework and learned that the New Testament is indeed reliable—which Warfield says is supported by “internal and external, objective and subjective, historical and philosophical, human and divine”[6] evidence—we will have to trust the New Testament’s teaching regarding the authority and reliability of the scriptures on pain of irrationality. In short, if the New Testament is reliable, we have to trust everything it teaches, including when it teaches that all of scripture contains the authority of God.

Warfield also covers many other topics. For example, Warfield despises the word “inspired” when applied to scripture. Instead, Warfield argues that the Greek word behind inspired in 2 Timothy 3:16 (θεοπνευστος) conveys a meaning very different from what English means by “inspired” and should thus be translated as “spired.” Warfield says that God didn’t inspire scripture so much as he “spired” or “breathed out” scripture, a point which has begun to appear in modern translations. The NIV’s translation of 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “all scripture is God-breathed,”[7] for example.

This book is not an easy book. Make no mistake about it: This is not Saturday morning, coffee on the porch, laid-back reading. However, this book is an invaluable resource. Furthermore, since this book is a collection of essays, if you don’t understand what Warfield’s saying in one essay, simply move on to the next. Each essay is independent of the other essays and makes an argument all its own. If you desire to understand what it means for scripture to be inspired or to know why Protestants place such high trust in scripture, this is a one-stop resource.

Notes & Sources

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/dietrich-bonhoeffer.html

[2] Bonhoeffer Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 197.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] 45.

[5] Ibid., 89.

[6] B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, (Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2017), 174

[7] 2 Timothy 3:16, NIV.

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