There are books I read and enjoy and put on the shelf and then there are the books I also recommend and lend. Eric Metaxa's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is in the latter category. So far five members of our little church have read it or are reading it. Charles Chaput's review in First Things explains some of the reasons the book is so worthwhile.
Biographies matter because they teach through the lives of others. Done well, they inform and entertain. Done very well, they can inspire. And, sometimes, at the hands of an author of real passion and talent, they can change the way we think about ourselves and our times. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, is just such a book. Eric Metaxas has created a biography of uncommon power: intelligent, moving, well researched, vividly written and rich in implication for our own lives. Or, to put it another way: Buy this book. Read it. Then buy another copy and give it to a person you love. It’s that good.Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the sort of compelling figure from the past many people know something about, but few take the time to fully understand. One of eight children from a distinguished German family, he was a man of high intellect and social class who chose practical Lutheran ministry over a promising university career. Repelled by Nazi thuggery, he was appalled by the Third Reich’s treatment of the Jews. He was equally disgusted by the collaboration and cowardice of mainline German Christians, and helped found a “Confessing Church” of resisting, faithful Christians critical of the regime. A pacifist by preference, Bonhoeffer nonetheless joined the conspiracy against Adolf Hitler. He eventually was arrested and was hanged in Flossenburg prison camp in April 1945, just two weeks before the camp’s liberation by American troops.
Bonhoeffer was thirty-nine when he died. He already had written two small volumes that have become modern Christian classics—Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship—and a collection of notes that were edited after his death by his friend Eberhard Bethge and published as Ethics.
As Metaxas shows, Bonhoeffer’s actions cannot be appreciated outside the zealous Christian faith that animated him. In an age of arid theology and practical unbelief, even among many self-described Christians, Bonhoeffer committed himself to live what he claimed to believe. He saw Scripture as the restless but reliable word of God—a word that demands not only intellectual assent but also obedience of heart and submission of will in lives of active service. He had a passion for Jesus Christ and a deeply evangelical faith shaped by the Lutheran tradition. This makes him a rather awkward hero for modern secularizers who fail to read the Bonhoeffer fine print—especially when he speaks, with inconvenient Christian clarity, about the nature of marriage, family, and euthanasia and abortion, which he bluntly described as “murder.” For Bonhoeffer, faith had consequences for the entire range of human behavior, and he took an intensely allergic view of inappropriate Christian compromises with the world. He could see, firsthand in Germany, where such compromises led. .... [more]