Bonhoeffer's earlier works, however, are quite different in nature. His two dissertations in particular, Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being, are highly academic, rather abstract treatises of various topics in theology and little known beyond theological circles. Geared toward a wider audience is Bonhoeffer's little booklet about Christian community, Life Together, which summarizes his experiences with the illegal seminary of the Confessing Church. Life Together explores various facets of Christian community and spirituality. In this booklet, Bonhoeffer also seeks to reintroduce spiritual disciplines often neglected in Protestant Christianity, such as confession and meditation.
Around the same time, Bonhoeffer wrote his second "spiritual classic": Discipleship. Famous for its radical critique of "cheap grace," that is, grace and forgiveness without repentance and discipleship, Discipleship argues for "costly grace" instead. Here, Bonhoeffer draws from the Sermon on the Mount to give concrete and practical advice on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Followers of Christ need to renounce themselves and be transformed into the image of the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ. Published in 1937, with the Nazis in full power, Discipleship offers the attentive reader a practical message about the implications of the Sermon on the Mount for everyday Christian life.
Given the context of Bonhoeffer's participation in political conspiracy, his book Ethics appears quite different in language and content. Designed as an academic work, its terminology as well as train of thought presupposes more theological training in its readers than Bonhoeffer's previous two books. Bonhoeffer was never able to finish Ethics. The various manuscripts comprising this work-only parts of which had been reworked by Bonhoeffer-were published posthumously and show clear signs of their unfinished nature. Despite the difficulties present in this work, the reader willing to engage it will find rich rewards, for invigorating and thought-provoking new insights emerge from its pages. Bonhoeffer engages here in nothing less than a radical deconstruction of the common ethical endeavor that starts with the questions of what is good and how to be good.