Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

by Eric Metaxas, Timothy J. Keller (Foreword)
1st Edition, ©2010, ISBN: 9781595551382
Hardcover, 608 pages
Current Retail Price: $29.99
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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.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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FLAWS: Violence, Nazis
Summary: This illuminating biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer situates his life and thought within the broader context of World War II and 20th century theological developments.

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  You Have to Admire Bonhoeffer's Convictions
Jonathan Burley of OR, 3/1/2013
This is a very inspiring book concerning the "German Church" and what went wrong that allowed Hitler to rise to power and remain in power. Bonhoeffer was in the middle of the split within the church and helped in a few assassination attempts on Hitler. The book also serves as a good historical account of Hitler's rise to power and what ultimately brought him down.

Before reading the book I shared in the criticism of the German people for allowing Hitler to rise to power and remain in power. However, we critics must remember that most of the German people did not know about the death camps. Bonhoeffer's family was well placed socially so they knew what was going on, which is why they were able to resist.

Some have criticized Bonhoeffer's views on "cheap grace." The book does not dive into that discussion. It is mentioned in a few spots, but one does not get a good grasp of what Bonhoeffer was thinking on the matter. I definitely want to read The Cost of Discipleship, which is where Bonhoeffer more fully discusses his views on the matter. Regardless, whether one is to agree with his views or not, one must admire his convictions and the stand he took against evil and the corruption of the "German Church".
  An Extraordinary Life
Miss Pickwickian of Oregon, 3/23/2011
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s voice in the ecumenical movement, the German church, the events of the Second World War, and in the lives of Christians today is hard to over-emphasize. Despite his influence, his name is often only a tribute at the end of a thought-provoking quote. His greatest example comes from the evidence of his theology through the everyday and extraordinary events of his life.

Bonhoeffer was the seventh of eight children born into an aristocratic family. He grew up in the center of German intellectual thinking with an impressive lineage and powerful family connections. He decided at the age of thirteen to become a theologian—a very brave declaration to most of his circle. Sometime after receiving his doctorate at age 21, he gave an even more daring acknowledgement—the Bible was indeed the powerful Word of God. This idea was a very unpopular one, especially to his former theological professors. In holding to this conviction, Bonhoeffer literally fulfilled his most well-known quote, “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

Eric Metaxas’ six-hundred page book is an engaging read. He throws you into the turmoil of defeated Germany in the early 1900’s and carries you into World War II through the eyes and actions of the church worldwide and the Germans who were opposed to Hitler. It’s an interesting perspective—very foreign to the great divide between the power and influence of the state and the church in America.

Metaxas moves quickly, but he seems to confuse his styles. His use of “anon” and “hence” and sometimes disturbing generalizations (particularly of Hitler and Luther) are startling. Some of his wording is very awkward, but most of it is simply an easy read. With the scope of the book and the many characters and events, he does an excellent job keeping things interesting and understandable.

The biography has received some criticism for portraying an entirely orthodox Bonhoeffer. For a completely authentic picture, we should look at Bonhoeffer’s own books and the biography of his close friend, Bathge. Most of his questionable statements can only be found in earlier lectures and seem to be directly contradicted by his letters and books (the infallibility of Scripture, virgin birth, etc.). Metaxas may err in depicting a Bonhoeffer that American evangelicals are more eager to embrace, but his dedication to showing the layer of Germany that would not cheer Hitler is impressive.

He also stands very firm where a lot of biographies get muddled. Bonhoeffer was not a pacifist. (If we insist that he was, how consistent is his theology when he joins the conspiracy that includes violence against Hitler?) Metaxas gives a fascinating picture of Bonhoeffer’s views on ethics and war.

The book includes numerous quotes from Bonhoeffer’s own lectures, letters, and books, as well as first hand accounts from friends, family members, and students. These give an unbiased perspective, regardless of any generalizations the author might add.

"Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet," and Spy is well worth reading to understand the whole picture of the Germany of World War II, the movement of the church worldwide, and the life and witness of a man sincerely and unapologetically enslaved in joyful obedience to his Lord.