In the Beginning

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

—John 13:34-35


Welcome back to YHC for another year of learning, exploration, and life together.  As each year begins and students return to the Valley, we return to a weekly campus custom of the iChapel.  The iChapel is a weekly reflection sent out to the entire campus on a theme both relevant to that week’s chapel service and to the academic calendar.  This year through my iChapels, I will be exploring the idea of discipleship.  To concentrate this exploration, I will engage with a conversation partner.  That partner is Dietrich Bonheoffer.  More specifically, I will be engaging Bonheoffer through his work The Cost of Discipleship.   


Born in 1906 to a comfortable existence into a highly educated and prominent German family, Bonheoffer study theology and was ordained a minister in the German national (Lutheran) church.  Having completed two doctorates, he began a promising pastoral and academic career.  Soon, Bonheoffer found himself pressed outside of the contented, influential position afforded by his upbringing, as the Nazi regime enveloped the state church’s teachings with their political ideology.  Rejecting such a co-opting, Bonheoffer lost his sanctioned pastoral and teaching positions, assuming a central role in the emerging Confessing Church.  The Confessing Church sought to distinguish the role of the church from the role of the state, focusing on the headship of God over national authority.  In the midst of this ecclesial turmoil and escalating political tension, Bonheoffer penned his now famous work Nachfolge (or The Cost of Discipleship), a broad and critical reflection on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and our role as those who choose to follow.


“Following,” that is what is at the heart of discipleship.  The word “disciple” means “a follower.”  Of course, in discovering this fact, at least two questions issue:  (1) Whom do we follow, and (2) how do we follow?


Over the next academic year together, we will journey with Bonheoffer through this exploration, engaging these questions and pausing occasionally to reflect on what Bonheoffer might be saying not just to his German congregations but, also, to us.  Importantly, while Bonheoffer was speaking to a particular people within a particular time and of a particular faith, some of his reflections offer much broader implications for people of different times, different faiths, and different convictions.  I will try to explore those implications, too.  In the end, like Bonheoffer, our goal in the religious community of YHC is to get to the heart of the matter, stripping away excess and encumbrances, finding clarity and purpose for ourselves, this college, and the world.


Throughout this year, if we are able to achieve just a small portion of this task, we will have made significant strides, both personally and institutionally. 


So, enjoy the first days of the academic year and enjoy the anticipation of the faith-filled and faithful journey we are about to undertake.  Like most good journeys, it will not always be an easy one.  Yet, like most good journeys—to borrow verbiage from another of Bonheoffer’s works, it is better experienced as a life together.


See you around campus.  See you along the way.




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