on April 13, 2010
On the morning of April 9, 1945, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp. The camp doctor, H. Fischer-Hullstrung, later remembered:
[Just before the execution] "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to God...so certain that God heard his prayer...I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
Others testified that, up to his last day, the 39 year old Bonhoeffer remained cheerful. He knew what he had to do, was reconciled to God's will, and was able to climb the steps to the gallows "brave and composed."
Who was this man who died so bravely--who Hitler himself, from his bunker beneath Berlin just three weeks before his suicide, ordered to be "destroyed?" He's the subject of best-selling author Eric Metaxas's new biography, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy."
Shortly after his conversion in 1988, Metaxas read Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship and learned the story of the young man who, "because of his Christian faith stood up to the Nazis and ultimately gave his life." From then on, he was determined to tell the story to others. And tell it he has.
Metaxas takes readers, in 592 pages, through Bonhoeffer's entire life, from his parent's courtship to his memorial service. No corner of the subject's life is left unexplored. Through the author's use of Bonhoeffer's personal letters to family and friends, earlier biographies, interviews with those who knew Bonhoeffer, and other thorough research, readers get a comprehensive and balanced look into one of recent history's greatest theologians.
Appropriately, Metaxas emphasizes Bonhoeffer's theology and how it played out in his life. In contrast to "cheap grace," Bonhoeffer believed that true grace influences all aspects of a Christian's life. Christianity is more than formal religion, and it requires believers to be willing to sacrifice everything to God. Christianity is also more than legalistic morality. Ethics, according to Bonhoeffer, can't be reduced to a set of rules. These beliefs are what led this humble and devout follower of Christ to be involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler.
How Christianity and assassination plots can be reconciled is hard for many to fathom--especially those who have lived only in peace and safety. We must consider Bonhoeffer in the context of his life, his country, and the war that he had no choice but to be a part of. Ethics, once so clear, become unclear. Do we lie to the Nazis, or do we give them information that leads to the deaths of innocents? Do we obey our nation's laws, or do we defy them by leading Jews into safety? Do we fight in Hitler's army, or do we refuse, knowing that we will be beheaded and leave our family destitute? These are some of the questions Bonhoeffer faced.
But readers can sympathize with Bonhoeffer. Metaxas masterfully puts us in his world. We celebrate with him in his family's parlor. We study with him in his illegal seminary. We watch with him as his world unravels. And we see him agonize over decisions, decisions that are not so clear, and decisions that he often had to make without the support of others.
Metaxas's "Bonhoeffer" will be one of the best books of the year. I've learned, as expected, much about the life of a great and inspiring Christian. But I've also learned about the world, sin and evil, what it really means to be a Christian, and what it really means to live. There are a few books that, years after I have read them, I realize have had a great influence on me. This will be one of them. You can't go wrong with this book; I give it my highest recommendation.
I received a free review copy of this book through the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze program.
on April 15, 2010
I first learned of the impending publication of Eric Metaxas' book Bonhoeffer in 2009. Having read his stellar biography of William Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) in 2007, I knew I'd certainly enjoy this one. The wait did not disappoint.
Mr. Metaxas once again combines his wit and intelligence to recreate the life of one of God's servants, this time Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Not knowing much about Bonhoeffer before cracking open the book, I immediately felt drawn to him through Mr. Metaxas' writing, intimate and personal without being hokey or homespun. Bonhoeffer's story is one that is translatable to any time, any country, any person who feels called to stand for uncompromised righteousness. The narrative of Bonhoeffer's life is completed with sparkling commentary on politics in early twentieth century Germany. Metaxas clearly devoted untold hours researching the life of Bonhoeffer. One little known story - that of Bonhoeffer's relationship with his fiancee Maria - is told in full.
Brilliantly combined in the narrative are excerpts from Bonhoeffer's personal letters to friends and family. Metaxas uses these letters to vividly outline the essence of Bonheoffer - in his own words. One sees his devotion to family and the importance his played in his life, his fervent devotion to the Bible as the accurate and complete Word of God, and his unwavering faith and obedience in spite of the call to suffer and, ultimately, die for the cause of Christ.
Learning about Bonhoeffer's life has only made me curious to read his work. I have a feeling I'll soon be devouring every book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer I can find. And I'm waiting patiently for Eric Metaxas' next biography. He's sure to not disappoint.
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote those words in The Cost of Discipleship, which was first published in 1937. Eight years later, on April 9, 1945, he answered Christ's bidding and was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg concentration camp for conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler the previous year. Bonhoeffer's last words, appropriate to a Christian facing death, were hopeful. "This is the end...For me the beginning of life."
In Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas sets out to narrate Bonhoeffer's life for a new generation of Christians, who are unacquainted with the 1967 biography written by Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's closest friend. Metaxas is the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (2007), which was subsequently turned into a movie. His biography of Bonhoeffer is well written, well paced, and very insightful, especially regarding the theological, spiritual, and ethical evolution Bonhoeffer experienced in his conflict with the Nazis, which consumed the latter third of his short life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of eight children born to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, and the youngest of five boys. He was the scion of illustrious families on both his paternal and maternal sides. His father Karl's ancestors included prominent politicians and scientists. Karl himself was chair of the department of psychology at the University of Berlin--in effect, the leading psychologist of Germany. His mother Paula's family included military leaders and theologians, including her grandfather, the prominent liberal church historian Karl August von Hase, and her father Karl Alfred, the erstwhile chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Bonhoeffer followed in the footsteps of his von Hase ancestors, studying at Tubingen before achieving a double doctorate in theology at Berlin. Following his studies in Berlin, Bonhoeffer did a year of postgraduate work at Union Theological Seminary of New York, where he attended and taught Sunday school at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, then under the able leadership of Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. Bonhoeffer was unimpressed by Union's scholarship, but his involvement with Abyssinian gave him a deep love for "Negro spirituals" and important insights into how segregation damages both minorities and the majorities who oppress them.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, when Bonhoeffer was just 27 years old. From the get-go, the Nazis attempted to subvert and control every traditional institution in Germany, including the German Evangelical (or Lutheran) Church. This attempted subversion drew Bonhoeffer into the opposition to Hitler that would eventually cost him his life. The struggle would also radicalize him in numerous ways. He increasingly realized that being a good German and being a good Christian were not coterminous. He increasingly began to practice a free-church ecclesiology in the midst of a state-church nation. And he increasingly realized that passivity in the face of evil was complicity with evil.
Most of Bonhoeffer's work in the 1930s and 40s was professorial and pastoral. He helped found the Confessing Church, which was formed to oppose the Nazification of the state church. He helped found and lead the Confessing Church's underground seminary at Finkenwalde. And throughout this time, he wrote what have become classics in theology and spiritual formation: Life Together, The Cost of Discipleship, and Ethics (which he completed toward the end of his life).
But all along, he was drawn increasingly into the conspiracy against Hitler. Bonhoeffer's social class and family were deeply involved in this struggle. His older brother and two brothers-in-law were also executed for their involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler. Interestingly, they undertook this conspiracy from within the government and military, not outside of it. At one point, when Bonhoeffer was about to be drafted into the Army, his family friends arranged for him to work for the Abwehr, or Military Intelligence. To many of his Confessing Church comrades, it appeared that Bonhoeffer had sold out. In reality, this position saved Bonhoeffer from military service and allowed him to continue pastoral work under the guise of doing assignments for the Abwehr.
On July 20, 1944, General Claus von Stauffenberg placed an explosive device under a table at a meeting with Hitler. The explosion killed several people, although Hitler lived, scathed but otherwise unharmed. Bonhoeffer was already in prison, although his role in this conspiracy wouldn't become known for some time. Indeed, at one point, his uncle, General Paul von Hase, was able to get him special accommodations in the military prison just outside of Berlin. With the failure of Stauffenberg's bomb, however, the plot unraveled. Several thousand people were arrested, often because they were family members of conspirators, and several hundred were executed. The conspirators were aristocrats, military leaders, and civil servants--the traditional leaders of pre-war Germany. Why had they tolerated Hitler for so long? They had been working against him from the beginning, Metaxas makes clear, but Hitler's foreign policy and military successes made him very popular, and thus very difficult to work against.
Bonhoeffer had seen this difficulty nearly from the beginning. In a sense, he was a prophet who foresaw where Hitler's regime would lead Germany, and counseled more radical action than conservative German's traditional leaders--religious, military, or civil--could tolerate, until of course it was still late. He, and they, paid for their dereliction with their lives.
If I have made much of Bonhoeffer's involvement with the plot against Hitler, it is only because this is the most well-known thing about him. But Metaxas reveals the layers of theology, spirituality, politics, and commitment that characterized Bonhoeffer's life. His biography is well written and highly recommended.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite theologians and one of the most influential theologians on my life and calling to the ministry. So when I saw this book being offered by Thomas Nelson, I had to jump on it, and I'm glad I did.
Like many seminarians, I was introduced to Bonhoeffer through The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. But I really didn't know a lot about the person. There was a little bit of background information in my copy of The Cost of Discipleship, but that was it. This book changes all of that.
From his early childhood to his arrest and subsequent martyrdom for his involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler, Metaxas draws from the letters of Bonhoeffer as well as his family to write this biography. Metaxas weaves the brilliant story that is the life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who stood and preached for what he believed. When the church in Germany failed to stand up to Hitler, Bonhoeffer did. This is his life. Through Bonhoeffer's life and death, we really do see the cost of discipleship.
This book is a must have for all students of Bonhoeffer.
I give this book 5 our of 5 stars.
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
I finally got around to reading Eric Metaxas' highly publicized biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I wasn't going to read it for two reasons: 1) because I don't usually read biographies of theologians whose works I've read extensively, and 2) because I was completely annoyed with Glenn Beck and Eric Metaxas' discussion of Bonhoeffer where they treated him like an American, patriotic, conservative evangelical. I didn't want to read a book that "Americanized" Bonhoeffer so I put E. Bethge's biography of Bonhoeffer on my "to read" list instead of Metaxas'. Somebody recently gave me Metaxas' book to read, so I decided to read it after all.
What do I think of it?
Positively, it was well written. Metaxas is a good writer and uses the English language well. I also enjoyed the historical side of the book, since I've read scores of books that have to do with WWII. This might sound trivial, but I also liked the size of the chapters - they were just perfect to read in one sitting. Though the book did drag along at points (it could have been much shorter!) it was arranged in a readable manner.
Negatively, I do believe Metaxas wrongly casts Bonhoeffer as a patriotic evangelical (as I rightly gathered from the above mentioned interview). After reading this book, one would think Bonhoeffer was a German-speaking blend of John Piper, George Washington, Mike Huckabee, Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. Metaxas describes Bonhoeffer's youth as an evangelical version of the Von Trap family (in "Sound of Music") despite the fact that Bonhoeffer's father was not a Christian and his family rarely went to church. Bonhoeffer is also portrayed as a wild-at-heart-prayer-warrior who enjoyed quiet times, spiritual disciplines, and exhorted his students to "love Jesus."
Metaxas also explained Bonhoeffer's decision to help in a plot to assassinate Hitler as following God's plan for his life and hearing God's voice in the matter (phrases used in America today but not in Germany 70 years ago). In other words, Metaxas uses today's American evangelical words to describe Bonhoeffer's life and actions. This is definitely unhelpful; we can't call Bonhoeffer a conservative against the liberals as Metaxas does. This gives us a distorted and simplistic picture of Bonhoeffer - it's Bonhoeffer cast in an American mold.
I've read enough of Bonhoeffer to know that though he was an exceptional and gifted man, he wasn't at all a patriotic evangelical in the way Americans think of those terms. For two short examples, he was somewhat Barthian (where his christology, anthropology, and ecclesiology intersect - see parts of his Ethics for example) and he had quibbles with certain aspects of the OT (which show up cryptically in his prison letters). To get a more balanced and accurate view of Bonhoeffer, one has to read some other sources that discuss Bonhoeffer's theology. I realize it is trendy to quote Bonhoeffer in American evangelicalism, but in quoting him we have to be careful not to pretend he's evangelical in today's sense of the term. We should read Bonhoeffer, but in doing so we should be mindful of his theological background and context. (The same might be said of C. S. Lewis.)
Another thing worth mentioning is the historical scholarship of the book. Some historical points Metaxas made sounded inaccurate to me based on my earlier studies of the Euoropean theater of WWII. Before treating this book as "gospel truth" in the area of history, I'd want to hear what serious WWII historians and scholars have to say about it. One should also notice his bibliography was limited to English sources - and not too many at that. On this same note, in his brief section discussing Martin Luther, Metaxas really painted a terribly inaccurate historical/theological picture of the 16th century reformer.
In summary, after reading Metaxas' biography I felt like I had just watched a movie based on a book - you know, where the producers take some liberties in attempt to make the story more exciting, compelling, or to get an idea out there that wasn't really in the book. I usually like those movies, but end up disappointed because they didn't accurately portray the real story. That's my basic thought about the book; that's why I only gave it two stars.
So if you haven't yet read it and this topic interests you (and if you are up to reading over 500 pages!), I do recommend it with the following caveats: 1) don't believe everything you read, and 2) read a fair amount of Bonhoeffer himself to get a better picture of the man, and 3) read a biography about Bonhoeffer from a different (i.e. non-American evangelical) point of view.
on May 4, 2010
"He was quite clear in his convictions, and for all that he was so young and unassuming, he saw truth and spoke it out with absolute freedom and without fear." These were the words of Bishop George Bell at the memorial service for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They capture the true essence of who Bonhoeffer was and what we, as those who follow in his trail aspire to become.
In his Book "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Marty, Prophet, Spy" Eric Mataxas has laid before us the formation, conflicts, relationships, burdens and passions of one of the greatest theological voices of the past century. While you read the pages you picture yourself in the esteemed halls of the German aristocracy and academia. You are transported to lecture halls, pulpits, private studies and the Bavarian Alps. While reading this account of the life of a man who faced conflicting feelings and passions from every side it is impossible not to feel that somehow you now know him and the breadth and depth of his passion for God.
Mataxas paints a wonderful picture of the family background, early childhood influences and cultural zeitgeist of Bonhoeffer. The imagery, attention to detail and theology woven throughout the pages brings to life a man whose absolute zeal for God was never watered down theology or rhetoric, but was personal and resolute.
One of the greatest gifts of "Bonhoeffer" is the inclusion of personal correspondence, texts of sermons and lectures and diary entries. It gives a behind the scenes feel to what the man himself was experiencing and how his inner devotion drove his life's work. As any nation marches toward war, it is reasonable to assume that a nationalistic pride would rise to the surface. Along with his German bearing and position, Bonhoeffer also was torn between the desire for a Christian Germany and the reality of Germany in the hands of a madman.
This book is a precious gift for anyone who has read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings. It paints for us a deeper picture of a pastor, theologian, academic and patriot that has not before been appreciated. Eric Metaxas has once again written an epic biography of a man who has helped shape history and a man who far too few know. While the size of this book is daunting, the reward is well worth the time invested. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for everyone who love God and for everyone who wonders how that love of God can be reconciled with the love of their country.
on January 10, 2012
For a little background, I'm a minister with an advanced degree in religion. I've read all of Bonhoeffer's major works, and a lot of his more obscure writings; I've also read several other biographies of Bonhoeffer. I'm certainly NOT a Bonhoeffer expert, but I probably know more than the average person.
Though there are some issues to be aware of (see below), on the whole this was a very enjoyable book that might appeal to you in three ways:
1. It's entertaining. The book's greatest strength is that it reads like a novel. Everything, from Bonhoeffer's academic lectures to his love life, is woven together into a simple but entertaining storyline. I usually have a hard time finishing a biography, but I read this one easily. If you're just looking for an engaging book, this one fits the bill.
2. It's simple. Metaxas breaks everything down for you. This makes it really easy reading--maybe even too easy at times. I don't think that things were really as straightforward as he portrays them. But for the most part, it's great that the book is so accessible, even for people who don't know anything about Bonhoeffer, World War II, or church history.
3. It's inspiring. Bonhoeffer really is a fascinating person. In one of the darkest and most senseless periods of modern history, he consistently did what most others were unwilling to do; he saw what most others were too shortsighted to see. Metaxas also does a good job covering the less well known parts of Bonhoeffer's life, such as his pastorates and professorships.
There are also a few weaknesses:
1. Metaxas serves as the book's omniscient narrator. He frequently tells you what Bonhoeffer "must" have been thinking; it sounds very authoritative, but it's all just speculative. Likewise, he sometimes tells you why Bonhoeffer performed a given action, but in reality there is scholarly debate over the issue (though to be fair, this is goes back to one of the strengths...the book is easy to read precisely because Metaxas doesn't get bogged down in these nuances).
2. His language can get a little dramatic (even incendiary) at times. The atrocities of the Nazis speak for themselves; it's neither scholarly nor objective to call people "miscreants," "demons," and "invertebrates." Even though Metaxas has produced a decent biography, his style sometimes makes it sound like a hatchet job.
3. There is a degree of bias. If you happen to follow Bonhoeffer scholarship, you're probably already aware of the controversy that this particular book has caused. Allegedly, it's an attempt by the author to reinterpret or ignore some of the most significant parts of Bonhoeffer's life in order to portray him as a conservative, Evangelical guide for modern day American culture wars (for a particularly critical review, see "Hijacking Bonhoeffer" in The Christian Century). Some of the author's comments in interviews are a little scary. For example, in an interview Metaxas says that there are parallels between the Obama administration and the Nazi government; he then encourages us to do battle with our own state in the same way that Bonhoeffer battled his. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn't want us to assassinate the president. Regardless of the author's personal views, I think the book itself is still useful. In my opinion, all history is somewhat subjective. History is a collection of unchangeable facts, but how we interpret those facts--and what we decide that the facts mean--can be different for different people. This book is definitely a conservative interpretation of Bonhoeffer's life, and the author puts that spin on things. Metaxas calls Bonhoeffer "a conservative" several times, he goes on a long digression on Bonhoeffer's opposition to abortion, he ignores Bonhoeffer's "liberal" characteristics like rejecting biblical inerrancy, and in one place he even says that liberal Christianity explains Hitler's rise to power. I didn't always agree with Metaxas's interpretation of the evidence, but it certainly doesn't rise to the level of conservative propaganda or anything like that. If you finish this book and want the other side of the story, or you're serious about really getting to know Bonhoeffer, you can always read the massive book by Bonhoeffer's nephew-in-law (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography); that book is usually considered the definitive biography anyway.
But for everyone else, this is definitely a book that I'd recommend. It's engaging and relatively fast-paced, which isn't always the case with biographies. If you don't have much experience with Bonhoeffer, I think you'd enjoy this look at one of the 20th century's most interesting personalities.
on May 19, 2010
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is principally an exhaustive biography of the iconic Christian pastor who dared stand against the Third Reich- even unto death. But Bonhoeffer is also much more than a biography of a man. In detailing Bonhoeffer's life, Metaxas gives the reader a window into the events and worldview that led to the rise of Hitler and the willingness of the German people to follow him until it was too late.
We are also allowed glimpses into Bonhoeffer's own heart through journal entries and letters to family, personal friends and his fiance. To read the doubts and wonderings of a man who ultimately trusted God and acted in accordance with His plan was, for me, inspiring. For example, as he sailed away from his homeland in May of 1939 to America in order to avoid putting the Confessing Church in the crosshairs of the Nazis by refusing to serve if drafted, he penned these words to his friend and confidant Bethge, clearly wishing He had heard definitively from God about his decision: "If only the doubts about my course had been overcome." He goes on in the letter, "So too one day we shall see quite clearly into the depths of the divine heart...and see a name: Jesus Christ." Bonhoeffer was, like I am, a human being whose heart at times was unsure but who was willing to take God at His word. If he could not see clearly now, he was sure he would see in eternity! Is this not the Christian walk? Paul spoke similarly in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." Yes, Bonhoeffer was great and he was also just a man in need of God's constant grace and guidance.
In Bonhoeffer, Metaxas also whets the reader's appetite for further study of Bonhoeffer's teachings and theology. We learn how the ordinands in the Confessing Church were instructed not only in doctrine but discipled into lives of devotion to Christ through the practices of Scripture memorization and meditation, confession one to another, and prayer- all practices that Bonhoeffer instituted at the outlawed seminaries he oversaw. We hear how he uses orthodox theology to wrestle with (and help others do the same) the monstrous situation in which they found themselves. Metaxas does a splendid job describing Bonhoeffer's wrestling with the idea of truth, for example, as he retells the process by which Bonhoeffer rejects the "easy religious legalism of never telling a lie" and enters into a deception that "stemmed not from a cavalier attitude toward the truth, but from a respect for the truth that was (so) deep." I really enjoyed Metaxas' forays into Bonhoeffer's teachings and writings. I was challenged to think deeper about God and His ways than I have done in the past. I am eager to read some of Bonhoeffer's original works such as Life Together and Discipleship.
The final chapters of Bonhoeffer are fast moving and full of detail and intrigue about the Resistance movement within Germany, of which Bonhoeffer was a major player. Bonhoeffer's engagement to Maria von Wedemeyer and their relationship is also explored in these chapters. As I read their love letters to one another, another book went on my list for future reading. The details around Bonhoeffer's arrest, imprisonment and eventual murder lend the reader more insight into just who this man was. The final chapter of Bonhoeffer is aptly entitled "On the Road to Freedom." Metaxas explains, "We know that Bonhoeffer thought of death as the last station on the road to freedom." As a pastor in London years before his execution by the Nazi's Bonhoeffer had himself preached in a sermon, "No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence."
As I stated at the beginning, Bonhoeffer is an exhaustive biography and it did take me quite some time to finish it. It was always interesting and well written. I am so glad I persevered because it has truly expanded my view of God and enriched my walk with Him. I highly recommend you take the time to read it.
on April 27, 2010
I discovered Dietrich Bonhoeffer about 18 years ago as a result of Steven Curtis Chapman's album, "For the Sake of the Call". He mentioned in the liner notes that he had been inspired to write the songs on this project as a result of having read Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship". I knew I had to read it, and after having done just that, I became forever a follower/reader of all things Bonhoeffer.
With that being said, when I requested a copy of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, I didn't realize what an incredible reading experience I was about to have. I have read much about Bonhoeffer over the years, as well as most of what he wrote, but I have never read such an interesting, engaging account of his life. I have even read Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eberhard Bethge, who was one of Bonhoeffer's closest friends as well as member of the family by marriage...but, Metaxas' account is, by far, the best I have ever read.
He shows the history of Germany as a culture; academically, scientifically and theologically. He shows the reader how Germany was ripe for the ascent of a monster like Adolph Hitler as a result of World War I. The German people were disenchanted, disheartened and nationally emasculated by their defeat, so when a man making the promises of a Fatherland restored to it's pre-Kaiser glory came to light, they ravenously accepted him. This was the Germany in which Bonhoeffer came of age, both physically and theologically.
Metaxas brings to light letters, interviews and people in Bonhoeffer's life that I had never seen, or heard of, before. The passion that developed within the heart of the young Lutheran pastor and scholar is almost tangible as you read his efforts to hold the Church accountable in Hitler's Germany. The boldness that developed in his mind and heart only intensified as the times grew more and more difficult for the Church, and for him personally. The prophetic tenor that came from the voice and pen of this young man should never be forgotten, and thanks to Eric Metaxas, the information will always be available for the next generation of the brave and the bold within Christendom to learn from.
I HIGHLY recommend this book for the Bonhoeffer "fan" as well as the 20th Century history student. Metaxas presents the information with vivid detail and puts the necessary spiritual emphasis where needed. Read it, digest it and recommend it...but never give it away. This is a book that should be read and re-read if for no other reason than to remind us that God has always raised up men to speak the truth no matter the consequences.
I am a member of the Nelson Book Review Blogger program.
on January 2, 2012
A weakly written, frequently juvenile book, carried on the shoulders of a great and important story. Now I am going to read another biography and try to forget this one. Mr. Metaxas would be well advised to avoid serious writing, and to employ an editor.
Far, far too much of this book is written in silly, comic-book language. Of the abortive 1943 plot to blow up Hitler's airplane, Mr. Metaxes has this to say: "Brandt gave the package [containing the bomb] an inadvertent jerk, nearly causing Schlabrendorff to have a heart attack and to expect a belated [?] and unexpected ka-boom [italics Metaxes' own]." And after the unsuccessful July 20 bombing, we read, "Hitler was fine and dandy, albeit cartoonishly mussed."
Metaxas reserves his real eloquence for the Nazis, with a blistering list of adjectives that remind one over and over of old-time communist propaganda: "the superlatively despicable Heinrich Himmler"' "Heckel... pursuing a strategy of double-barreled flatulence" (double barreled? flatulence?), "Hitler kicked his bejeweled Arsch upstairs" (Metaxas seems fascinated with anal analogies... ), "the cadaverous Heydrich" (Heydrich is also referred to as "the albino stoat") and so on. This is not serious history or writing.
From time to time Metaxas breaks into an odd lyricism, as "... Chamberlain, like a woman scorned, would hear no sweet talk." The quotation, of course, refers to fury - surely something quite foreign to Chamberlain?
Pseudo sophistication is another painful issue: "Bonhoeffer's cultural standards were obviously high". (My!) One would also note in passing that Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus is not an opera. And may we ask what an "improper noun" may be?
One is also confused by odd phrasings which must be colloquial, but somehow fail to communicate: "Le mot oncle"? "fumfering inaction"? "That was another bag of peanuts"? The list of this sort of thing is endless, and it makes for painful reading.
The Bonhoeffer story is a deeply important one, and Bonhoeffer himself asks many important questions about service to God, Christology, often posing answers that are challenging as the questions. His was a great mind, and a great life - and both deserve something far more adult than this pop bio. By all means, read about Bonhoeffer, and read his own words. This biography whets the appetite, but it is inadequate, too long (editing!), deeply self-indulgent, and `cannot but make the judicious grieve". If one is going to invest the time to read a book of this length, on a subject of this importance, it should be something far more serious, treating the subject with the respect it deserves.