A Book Review
For the last thirty years as an Evangelical Christian I had heard the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer as one of those “fathers of the faith” that I had to read. For me he was in the was on the same list as Francis Schaeffer, someone I knew I was supposed to read.
Unfortunately, ministry, family, work and to be honest TV, got in the way and I never embarked on learning more about the man I was supposed to be reading. That all changed last month when I picked up Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes. I chose it as my next read based on the subject and on the fact that I loved Metaxes’ previous work Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.
Both books are wonderful historical biographies with a fine attention to the motivations of the main subject. Metaxes uses his pen to delve deep into the reasoning and purpose behind the subject’s actions. What we find when we dig deep into these men, are men who are deeply committed to God and deeply concerned about the society where they live. They stand up for something. They become lone voices in a dark time in history.
The story of Bonhoeffer was especially fascinating to me in that it occurs during 1930’s and early 1940’s in Europe. World War II is raging for most of the book. I have read nearly 20 books on the topic of the war and its affects on Germany and the people of Europe. To add to that library of thought on the war a very Christian perspective was quite refreshing. Too often we assume that Christianity must have been dead in German in 1932 when Hitler came to power, if not then, then definitely in 1945 when Bonhoeffer was executed. But as you read the book you realize that is not true, there were Christians that were attempting to live in a world that was very anti-Christian like. They lived in a world where the government told them to replace the crosses on their churches with swastikas and the Bibles on their altars with “Mein Kampf”.
As one reads the book one is constantly challenged to think, what would I do in that situation? In a more modernist twist the question could be WWJD – What would Jesus do? I am not sure how well I would stand up to the test. I often sat thinking that I would not have stood up as Bonhoeffer did, I may have stayed in the background, believing that the protection of my family was number one. The book will make you think on these things.
The subtitle of the book is “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”. It is well placed. The book makes great efforts to show the multifaceted aspects of who Bonhoeffer was. There is clear evidence that he lived each one of those roles.
Bonhoeffer himself wrote many books and articles. Metaxes’ book spends some time on the main three books, “The Cost of Discipleship”, “Life Together” and “Ethics”. There is enough information in the book to whet your interest, but it is not exhaustive. But the interest foundation is laid and I have already purchased and received my copy of “The Cost of Discipleship”.
I found that parts of the story reinforced my efforts to spend so much time in God’s Word. Bonhoeffer had very clear thoughts on what value a faithful belief in the inerrancy of God’s Word was. I wrote a post last month on this very topic “Bonhoeffer and the Bible”.
Finally, I found the book to be historically interesting and spiritually challenging. It is absolutely on my list of books I will buy for others as gifts.
UPDATE – MARCH 2nd 2011.
On 28 Feb, the same day I posted on the Bonhoeffer book I had to drive to Munich, Germany for business. Along the way I decided to take a few hour detour to visit the Flossenburg Concentration Camp where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged on April 9, 1945. There is plaque there remember Pastor Bonhoeffer and some members of ther reisistence and consipriators in the attempt to kill Adoph Hitler in 1944. You may recall their story in the Tom Cruise movie of 2008 Valkrie.
The memorial stone (pictured below says):
Im widerstand gegen diktatur und terror gaben ihr leben fur freiheit recht und menschenwurde.
In the resistance against dictatorship and terror their lives has been given for freedom and human rights.
The stone marker references 2 Timothy 1:7, but I find the whole paragraph of Paul’s appropriate:
2 Timothy 1:6 – 12 NIV
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
Later that evening I had dinner with my German friend and coworker. I had told him of my side trip and he presented me with a copy of a speech by Margot Käßmann, which she gave on Westminster Abbey on 5 February 2006, Bonhoeffer’s 100 birthday. Here is a link to the wonderful memorial. It led to a nice conversation about faith and taking a stand for Jesus Christ.