Biography, Book Reviews, Religious, Theology

Bonhoeffer – book review

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Raiding the Biography section of our church library has recently led me to some great reads. The latest is Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. This biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 39-year-old German theologian, executed just two weeks before the Allies liberated the camp where he was imprisoned, is fascinating in many ways.

With access to plethora of primary sources (like journal entries, letters, Bonhoeffer-authored books as well as books written by historians, B’s friends, and family members) the author gives us a fulsome picture of this brilliant young man. In the days of Bonhoeffer’s adulthood (1930s to mid-1940s) people wrote a lot of letters and correspondence from and to Bonhoeffer is often quoted verbatim. So also are journal entries and other sources that place us firmly in the historical setting.

We see Bonhoeffer’s growth of conviction in many areas (like his understanding of the church, the life of discipleship, necessary Christian disciplines, the role of a pastor, and above all the importance of adherence to Scripture) as he follows his calling as a professor, mentor, and pastor.

As a man of principle thrust into the furnace of Nazi Germany, he becomes involved with the Abwehr (German counterintelligence) and is part of plots to do away with Hitler.

Finally, we also see him fall in love, at 36 years, to Maria Wedemeyer,* the 18-year-old granddaughter of a long-time friend.

His pastor-heart comes through in many of his writings as he counsels the students of the theological school he runs for a few years, comforts friends and family members during their war experiences, and becomes a sort of confessor to fellow prisoners and guards. Even on the last morning of his life, he leads fellow prisoners in a worship service.

His wisdom on many subjects is on display in this book. I was especially taken with his attitude toward the church, marriage, the family, and Christian disciplines and discipleship. His thoughts on death in the quote below seem eerily prophetic.

“In recent years we have become increasingly familiar with the thought of death. We surprise ourselves by the calmness with which we hear of the death of one of our contemporaries. We cannot hate it as we used to for we have discovered some good in it, and have almost come to terms with it. Fundamentally we feel that we really belong to death already and that every new day is a miracle…we still love life but I do not think that death can take us by surprise now. After what we have been through during the war, we hardly dare admit that we should like death to come to us, not accidentally and suddenly through some trivial cause, but in the fullness of life and with everything at stake it is we ourselves, and not outward circumstances who make death what it can be, a death freely and voluntarily accepted” – p. 447.

His writings quoted in this book make me want to read his books firsthand.

If you have an interest in history, especially the history of World War II, you might want to add this book to your list of must-reads. Other books on my list are:
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer;
Darkest Hour – How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink by Anthony McCarten;
Rees Howells Intercessor – by Norman Grubb (the chapters that deal with the war)

Each one adds a layer of understanding as one reads of historical events from yet another perspective.

*I was curious about what happened to Maria Wedemeyer, to whom Bonhoeffer became engaged about four months before the imprisonment that eventually led to his death. This 2001 Christianity Today article was of interest.

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