Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

by Eric Metaxas, Timothy J. Keller (Foreword)
1st Edition, ©2010, ISBN: 9781595552464
Trade Paperback, 608 pages
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Great historical figures often lose their humanity—their heroism and goodness are all that is remembered, and the fact that they were human beings is forgotten or purposefully 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 who was ultimately killed for his outspoken orthodox Christian faith, who foresaw the evils of German Nazism and the future of evangelical Christianity, and whose understanding of the role of Christians in the state led him to active duty as a double agent and attempted assassin, Bonhoeffer was not larger than life—he was simply unequivocally alive for Christ.

Metaxas reveals aspects rarely explored. The son of German intellectuals, Bonhoeffer was given to extensive study from an early age, spending his youth and early adulthood learning from some of the leading liberal theologians of the early 20th century, and traveling throughout Europe. He first found genuine faith in the United States at the all-black Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. When the Third Reich began its rise to power, Bonhoeffer left the safety of America to return to 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 that 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 of the man, and while the author's writing style leaves something to be desired (the narrative and style are somewhat choppy), the portrait of Bonhoeffer the Christian man he offers can only be met with admiration.

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".