Pastor Dietrich’s counsel

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote something in The Cost of Discipleship that keeps working on me. It went like this: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

Bonhoeffer sees this as a key pastoral insight.

In dealing with souls, it is essential for the pastor to bear in mind both sides of the proposition. When people complain, for instance, that they find it hard to believe, it is a sign of deliberate or unconscious disobedience. It is all too easy to put them off by offering the remedy of cheap grace. That only leaves the disease as bad as it was before, and makes the word of grace a sort of self-administered consolation, or a self-imparted absolution.

Bonhoeffer argues that the words “I struggle to believe” signal to the pastor “I have not obeyed.” In the next few paragraphs, he charts the mind and movement of the person who says the first as a signal and symptom of the second. But Bonhoeffer does not leave it at diagnosis.

The pastor should give up arguing with him, and stop taking his difficulties seriously. That will really be in the man’s own interest, for he is only trying to hide himself behind them. It is now time to take the bull by the horns, and say: “Only those who obey believe.” Thus the flow of the conversation is interrupted, and the pastor can continue: “You are disobedient, you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control. That is what is preventing you from listening to Christ and believing in his grace. You cannot hear Christ because you are willfully disobedient. Somewhere in your heart you are refusing to listen to his call. Your difficulty is your sins.”

God, recall these words to my mind the next time I am in need of them.


4 thoughts on “Pastor Dietrich’s counsel

  1. You can be sure people won’t like to hear this. For the most part people don’t want to be challenged in their faith but would rather be coddled. Wesley would agree very much with Pastor Dietrich, I believe.

  2. I have several reasons for becoming agnostic, but amongst them is certainly an unwillingness to pay the price necessary to lead a true “Christian” life. I stopped believing in exact proportion to an unwillingness to obey when obedience was going to be the costliest. I don’t regret my choice to give up the faith, but I do think Bonhoeffer is onto something true here about the nature of the relationship between faith and obedience.

  3. ouch. what a true statement. and what a lesson for us as people who care for people’s souls. I could have used these words earlier this morning.

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