Heroes often lose their humanity—their greatness alone is remembered, and their personhood is forgotten or ignored. In his new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas reveals Bonhoeffer the man, and in so doing reveals a man even more heroic and good than the legends suggest.
The title might suggest otherwise. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy has the ring of an espionage novel, which is almost true. A pastor killed for his outspoken orthodox Christian faith, who understood the dangers of German Nazism and the future of evangelical Christianity, and whose views on the role of Christians in the state led him to serve as a double agent and attempted assassin, Bonhoeffer was not larger than life—he was unequivocally alive for Christ.
The son of German intellectuals, Bonhoeffer studied extensively from boyhood. He spent his youth and early adulthood learning from some of the leading liberal theologians of the early 20th century, and traveling throughout Europe. He found genuine faith in the United States at the all-black Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. When the Third Reich rose to power, Bonhoeffer left the safety of America for Germany, believing it his duty as a German and a Christian.
Perhaps most surprising is Bonhoeffer's brief but passionate love for Maria von Wedemeyer, the granddaughter of a good friend with whom he corresponded and to whom he proposed. It's sometimes difficult to think of a man of such intellect and such activity being in love, but the interlude simply offers more insight into the hero who was first of all a man.
Bonhoeffer died young. Arrested for involvement in an assassination attempt on Hitler, he never saw 40, but he profoundly affected the way subsequent generations of Christians would perceive their faith and their role in the world. Metaxas draws heavily on journal entries, letters, and other source documents to present a complete profile, and while the author's writing style is a bit choppy, the portrait of Bonhoeffer he offers can only be met with admiration.