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Book Review: ‘Bonhoeffer’ by Eric Metaxas

May 16, 2011

Dietrich Bonhoeffer I wonder if you’ve ever had the joy of reading a book which you can’t put down? You read it in the morning when you wake up, a couple of chapters before you go to bed, and maybe a snatched few minutes at lunchtime as well. You connect with the character, you feel like you know the character, you feel like you want to find out what happens to the character next, even though in this case you know what will finally happen. Such a book for me, was Eric Metaxas’ ‘Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy‘. From the very beginning when you read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s upbringing, usually the part of a biography which you wade through to get to the ‘good bits’, to the dramatic final few hours of his life, I simply couldn’t put the book down!

SYNOPSIS: Bonhoeffer comes from an aristocratic and immensely gifted and close-knit family who love all of life. Karl Bonhoeffer, Dietrich’s father, was an eminent scientist, who married a blue-blooded and strong Christian lady named Paula and together they had eight children. The family was proud of their country and involved during the Great War, losing one of the sons in the process. Dietrich, in what for many of his family seemed a strange move, chooses to study theology at the University of Berlin under the famous liberal Adolf von Harnock and the two worked closely together with Bonhoeffer being impressed by the brilliance of the man. However, it was Karl Barth, the famous orthodox theologian, who Bonhoeffer was to find as a theological soul mate, much to the dismay of Bonhoeffer’s liberal academic friends. Broadened by time spent in Rome, Barcelona and New York, Bonhoeffer returns to a Germany struggling with the Post-Great War settlement, with many Germans seeking strength wherever they could find it. An Austrian painter, who had served as a Corporal during the war steps forward with his own version of history and his delusions of grandeur; Adolf Hitler begins his climb to infamy.

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What allowed this psychotic personality to rise so high was the German demand for a fair deal from the post-war world and many Germans hoped that Hitler would bring their country back to its former glory. The church was no different in this respect and performed theological cartwheels in order to stay in-step with Hitler, and many otherwise great pastors either sold out or kept quiet as Hitler seemed to rise the German nation out of the ashes. Bonhoeffer, however, was to be the almost lone exception. Taking offense at the way the Nazi’s, and the official Reich church, dealt with the scriptures and with the concept of the church, Bonhoeffer began a campaign to call Christians to hold on to the true God as nationalism and Hitler tried, and in many cases succeed in taking His place. Rooted in the understanding that the Church goes beyond national boundaries, and that the Scriptures are the revealed truth of God, Bonhoeffer leads a movement out of the national church setting up what came to be known as the ‘Confessing Church’ which attempted to stand for theological orthodoxy. As war becomes more and more likely, and with many Germans including those within the Confessing Church signing up to fight, Bonhoeffer leaves for England and New York to what seems to be a safe harbour during the storm. However, almost immediately Bonhoeffer hears the call of God to return to Germany to take care of his church and to be with the Germany people come what may. Through the turbulent years of the Second World War, Bonhoeffer struggles with his people, his faith and with his God as he makes a stand against the increasingly relentless Nazi regime, working as a double agent and being involved with plots to kill Hitler.

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Eric Metaxas’ book, allows you to get to know the man who was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Through, what must have been intensive research, and an appreciation of his faith Metaxas brings us close to a man who should be an inspiration for all Christians everywhere. If you can read, stop what you’re doing and read this book, you won’t be disappointed! If you’re in the UK you can buy the book here!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2011 4:28 pm

    I’ve always found Dietrich Bonhoeffer inspiring. I love the quote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”, that you shared. I wonder if Bonhoeffer knew Kaj Munk, another theologian during that time that spoke openly against Hitler’s regime. Shortly before he was killed he wrote:

    “For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature…we lack a holy rage-the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth…a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth, and the destruction of God’s world. To rage when little children must die of hunger, when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God.”

    May we all find our voices, as children of God, as Bonhoeffer and Munk did, to speak about the evils in this world and do something to bring light in among the darkness.

    Great post…I’m going to have to add this book to my reading list!

  2. May 17, 2011 12:13 am

    We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    That is a seriously AMAZING quote! I have never read this book, but based upon your review, I definitely am going to add it to my “must read!”

  3. May 19, 2011 2:55 pm

    Going to get a copy myself. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  4. May 20, 2011 10:20 pm

    Great review! My almost 13 year old son will need to read about Bonhoeffer this year —- would you say this is an adult read or would it be alright for a younger person. (He’s fairly advanced).

    Whether or not we use this book, I look forward to learning more about this man — I am learning so much through homeschooling my kids, lol!

    • May 21, 2011 6:51 am

      Thanks Lisa, I would probably say that this is a book for adults but I think it would be probably be an excellent book for you to read before teaching your son as it would give you a great overview of his life and the issues he faced. Thanks for your thoughts, Mike

  5. May 25, 2011 8:07 pm

    I’ll have to read this one, too. I first read “The Cost of Discipleship” when I was a new Christian – – – forty years ago! I don’t really care for any of the modern theologians, but Bonhoeffer was a heroic figure. If anyone doubted his faith, he could justly say, “Show me your scars!” I appreciate being made aware of this book, thank you.

  6. Alix Kayayan permalink
    September 6, 2012 5:58 pm

    Recently finished the Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer, and like you, could not put it down. It has transported me to another dimension of thought and analysis, especially as I watch the conventions, and the lack of critical and honest thought being presented about the issues. What Bonhoeffer had to say is timeless. The way he lived an inspiration. Now on to the new series published by Fortress Books on his work…

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