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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Thomas Nelson / 2010 / Hardcover
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As Adolf Hitler and the Nazi's seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted the extermination of European Jews, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Widely known as the author of the classic works, The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together and, arguably, some of the most important theological works of the 20th century including Act & Being, Sanctorum Communio and Ethics. Bonhoeffer is also widely known for his 1945 execution in Flossenberg concentration camp for attempting to assassinate Hitler.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is the first fully comprehensive biography of Bonhoeffer in more than 40 years. Written by best-selling NY Times author Eric Metaxes, he presents both sides of Bonhoeffer's life, as theologian and as conspirator drawing them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil.
Presenting a deeply moving narrative, using previously unavailable documents-including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and first-hand personal accounts, Metaxas reveals dimensions of Bonhoeffer's life and theology never before seen. Furthermore, Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer's heart-wrenching 1939 decision to leave the safety of America for the lion's den of Hitler's Germany, and using extended excerpts from love letters and coded messages written to and from Bonhoeffer's Cell 92, we are allowed to see for the first time the full story of Bonhoeffer's passionate and tragic romance.
Finally, Bonhoeffer gives witness to the extraordinary faith of an incredible human being, while also illuminating the tortured fate of a nation he sought to deliver from the evil tyranny of National Socialism, and its political party, the Nazi party. The reader will come face to face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and even to the point of death.
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.
WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH?
As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffera pastor and author, known as much for such spiritual classics as The cost of Discipleship and Life Together, as for his 1945 execution in a concentration camp for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer's lifeâ·the theologian and the spyâ·to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documentsâ·including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accountsâ·to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer's life and theology never before seen.
In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spyâ·A Righteous Gentiel vs the Third Reich, Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer's heart-wrenching 1939 decision to leave the safe haven of America for Hitler's Germany, and using extended excerpts from love letters and coded messages written to and from Bonhoeffer's Cell 92, Metaxas tells for the first time the full story of Bonhoeffer's passionate and tragic romance.
Readers will discover fresh insights and revelations about his life-changing months at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and about his radical position on why Christians are obliged to stand up for the Jews. Metaxas also sheds new light on Bonhoeffer's reaction to Kristallnacht, his involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in "Operation 7," the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland.
Bonhoeffer gives witness to one man's extraordinary faith and to the tortured fate of the nation he sought to deliver from the curse of Nazism. It brings the reader face to face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfullyâ·even to the point of death. Bonhoeffer is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil.
"[A] massive and masterful new biography." â·Christianity Today
"Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication." â·Wall Street Journal
"Metaxas magnificently captures the life of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer . . . A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st Century." â·Kirkus
Eric Metaxas is the author of New York Times #1 bestseller Bonhoeffer. He is currently the voice of BreakPoint, heard across 1,400 radio outlets by an audience of 8 million. He currently lives in New York with his wife and daughter.
Kirkus Starred Reviews "A welcome new biography of one of the 20th centurys leading lights.
Metaxas (Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God: The Jesus Edition, 2010, etc.) magnificently captures the life of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer (19061945), who thought it the plain duty of the Christianand the privilege and honorto suffer with those who suffered. In the finest treatment of the man since Eberhard Bethges Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (1970), Metaxas presents a complete, accessible picture of this important figure, whose story is inspiring, instructive and international in scope. Coming of age in Germany at the close of World War I, the precocious Bonhoeffer quickly became a rising star on the international theological scene.
In the 1930s he became a leader of the Confessing Church movement, which stood against Hitler, and helped organize its underground seminary. He also joined the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency in which foment against Hitler was most active. Bonhoeffer took part in the conspiracy to kill Hitler, which caused his imprisonment and eventual hanging, just weeks before the end of the war. Throughout this period he also wrote some of the greatest works of practical theology to come out of the first half of the 20th century. Metaxas rightly focuses on his subjects life, not his theology, though readers will learn plenty about his theology as well. The author makes liberal use of primary sources, which bring Bonhoeffer and other characters to vivid life. For the most part, Metaxas allows this epic story to play itself out, unhindered by commentary; where he does add his own voice, the conclusions are sage.
A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century."
As a caveat to this review, I must state that I am somewhat of a Bonhoeffer snob. I believe Bonhoeffer on account of his extraordinary life and stunningly insightful, orthodox, and creative theology is misunderstood by most Christians and abused in the academy, especially by theologians who overemphasize enigmatic statements made by Bonhoeffer in personal conversation.
Thus, I am always skeptical of new treatments of him outside of Bethge. Upon reading this book however, I was pleasantly surprised with Metaxas' grasp of Bonhoeffer's complex life and its different stages of development. Metaxas does an outstanding job of displaying Bonhoeffer as someone struggling to live faithfully in a historical context that was mired in chaos.
To this end, Metaxas' literary skill builds the story line in conjunction with the rising anxiety in Bonhoeffer's life. Unlike many treatments of Bonhoeffer, Metaxas sees, juxtaposes, and connects the different stages in Bonhoeffer's life in the linear and thematic time line around which the book is arranged. Though not exhaustive (like Bethge), Metaxas effectively and powerfully tells Bonhoeffer's story.
Highlights include Metaxas' treatment of Bonhoeffer as a pastor (and as a children's and youth pastor!), his American journeys, and his relationships with Bishop George Bell of Chichester and Karl Barth, Metaxas' ongoing perception that Bonhoeffer was a Jeremiah like figure speaking God's word in a world that had forgotten Him and, lastly, Metaxas fair (finally!) treatment of Christianity and its place in the Third Reich namely, that it was used by the Nazi's when it constituted a viable political power tool, but that in reality it was summarily despised and hated by the Nazi ilk. Metaxas also provides a stinging account of the German Christians displaying them as nothing more than useless and ineffectual pawns.
As a whole This book is a perfect substitute for anyone who though interested in the Bonhoeffer story, was put off by the enormity and detail of the Bethge biography (though that biography is worth every second of attention).
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was recently awarded by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) as their 2011 Book of the Year. We caught up with author Eric Metaxas to ask him a few questions.
What led you to write a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
I'd first heard the story of Bonhoeffer in the summer of 1988 and was simply amazed by it. I was baffled that I'd never heard it before. It haunted me for years, not least because my mother is German and lived through the war, and because my grandfather was killed in the war at age 32 while reluctantly fighting for a regime he hated. The idea that Bonhoeffer stood up for the Jews because of his Christian faith staggered me, and I always thought that I would someday dig deeper into his life.
Have you been surprised by the success and acceptance that Bonhoeffer has received?
I have been stunned. It was very painful to write, but in the midst of the difficulty of writing it, I knew that God was with methat it was His story and His book. To be perfectly honest, He made that clear to me. He didn't appear in a burning bush or anything, but He has other ways of communicating these days. Honestly, I knew He was involved in my writing this story and that this was His book, but I simply had no idea it would be a bestseller and would have such an impact. I am deeply humbled and grateful, and I have absolutely no confusion about who is the Author of this book's success.
What were some of the special insights you discovered about the Bonhoeffer family?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't arise out of a vacuum. He came out of a family that, as a whole, was at the very center of the conspiracy against Hitler from the beginning of the early1930s. It's hard to fathom, but at age 27, Bonhoeffer himself gave a speech denouncing the Nazi idea of "The Leader Principle (Das FührerPrinzip) just four days after Hitler became chancellor in early February, 1933. The radio broadcast was cut off before Bonhoeffer could finish his speech, and it's thought that the Nazis were behind that. Bonhoeffers whole family had an innate sense from the very beginning that Hitler was the worst thing that had ever happened to Germany and that he would destroy the nation of Shiller, Goethe, and Bach. So Bonhoeffer's family played a huge role in shaping who he was and how he lived.
Were there some unusual or unique sources that you were able to utilize?
There is a spectacular 2003 documentary on Bonhoeffer by Martin Doblmeier. He generously gave me permission to use all of the many interviews that he did with Bonhoeffer's relatives and friends, most of which did not make it into the final cut of the film. The interview with Eberhard Bethge sheds light on Bonhoeffer's attitude toward what happened at Kristallnacht. It also explains how Bonhoeffer could have become involved in a plot to assassinate the head of state. This subject in particular has long needed a more in-depth explanation, and I feel Ive been able to provide that because of the interview with Bethge. I also had the privilege of interviewing two people who knew Bonhoeffer. One is Renate Bethge, the widow of Bonhoeffer's best friend and biographer. Renate was also his niece and figures centrally in much of my book. The other person is the elder sister of Bonhoeffer's fiancée.
You mention the romance that Bonhoeffer experienced that spanned his final days in prison? Who was the object of his love? What is known of their romance?
My book offers the first full account of their relationship. That's because the letters between them were not published until 1992 by the elder sister of Bonhoeffer's fiancée, whom I had the privilege of meeting. No one has ever used that material to tell Bonhoeffers story until now. Maria von Wedemeyer was only eighteen when she and Bonhoeffer fell in love. At thirty-six, Bonhoeffer was literally twice her age. Marias mother was strongly against herdaughters engagement to Bonhoeffer, and by the time they were officially engaged, Bonhoeffer had been arrested and taken to Tegel prison. Their romance is an incredibly beautiful story, but a sad one too.
You quote some fairly strong words that Bonhoeffer wrote about the state of Christian faith and practice that he witnessed in the U.S. in the training of pastors. Why did he go to Union Theological Seminary? What were the things that he saw which were redeeming?
Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian who studied in Berlin under some of the finest theologians in the world. What was being done for theology at Union was, for him, extremely disappointing, and he said sobut he said it in his typically gracious way. He went to Union mainly for the experience of being in Americafor a year. He was too young to be ordained, he wasn't sure what to do with the next year, and his brother had studied in America. Bonhoeffer thought that studying in America would expand his cultural horizons.
When Bonhoeffer used the phrase religionless Christianity, what did he mean? Why has this been a source of controversy?
After his death, Bonhoeffer's theological legacy became unclear because of a few comments he made in letters to a friend about what he called "religionless Christianity." Some overzealous, post-war theologians took these comments far out of context and ran with them, effectively muddying Bonhoeffers theology and legacy for two generations. Withouttrying to, I think I was able to clarify some things in a helpful way for future generations just by quoting Bonhoeffer and putting his words into context. In many ways, it seems clear that Bonhoeffer is not the person he was long portrayed asand I'm happy that the facts can, at last, speak to this. What Bonhoeffer was asserting by his use of the phrase religionless Christianityis that churchgoers in Germany were fixated on "being religious" in the superficial sense,and not on living a life of obedience to the teachings of Christ. This attitude lacked the moral rigor to stand up to the Nazis plan that led to the Holocaust and added to the great tragedy of German history. Bonhoeffer would have been horrified at how his meaning was distorted. His best friend, Eberhard Bethgewho wrote the first biography on Bonhoeffer in 1967 and to whom Bonhoeffer wrote the letters containing his thoughts on "religionless Christianity,"desperately tried to rectify the misunderstanding. Bethge was simply unable to stem the tide of post-war, "God-is-dead" theology that miscast the real Bonhoeffer.
Does Bonhoeffer have a message for people today?
There are several, as anyone who has read the book would tell you. It really does seem that this is a story especially for today, which is why, in retrospect, I believe I had to write italthough I didnt fully realize thisat the time. One message is that true faithnot phony religiosity, but real faith in the God of Scriptureis the only solution to true evil. The evil that Bonhoeffer faced in the Third Reich was not something most Germans knew how to deal withand, of course, most of them failed completely. But Bonhoeffer very presciently saw the Nazis for what they were and faced them with an extraordinary faith which manifests itselfamong other thingsas courage.
Bonhoeffer's writings and his whole life were uniquely integrated. One sees that his life was the very incarnation of his theology. For himand this is the main pointif you don't live the things you claim to believe, you don't really believe them at all. Bonhoeffer believed what he wrote and taught, and his life and death are the spectacular and clear evidence of that. The story of Bonhoeffers life helps us to think about who we are, what we believe, and why. A life like Bonhoeffers can't help but be deeply inspiring.
Wall Street Journal
In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a "humanist" or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable. In "Bonhoeffer" we meet a complex, provocative figure: an orthodox Christian who, at a grave historical moment, rejected what he called "cheap grace"belief without bold and sacrificial action.
Since the 1960s, some of Bonhoeffer's admirers have seized upon a phrase from one of his letters"religionless Christianity"to argue that he favored social action over theology. In fact, Bonhoeffer used the phrase to suggest the kind of ritualistic and over-intellectualized faith that had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler. It was precisely religionless Christianity that he worried about. After a 1939 visit to New York's Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the "self-indulgent" and "idolatrous religion" that he saw there. "I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out," he wrote, "if God himself is still anywhere on the scene."
King's College, NYC
Wall Street Journal
World Magazine names Bonhoeffer runner-up for its annual Book of the Year Award Our runner-up for book of the year is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (April 2010, Thomas Nelson), by Eric Metaxas. This year brings the 65th anniversary of the Nazi hanging of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his attempt to overthrow Adolf Hitler, and that martyrdom is well knownbut Metaxas illuminates, mile by mile, the road to full resistance. Early this summer the book rose to The New York Times bestseller list, suggesting contemporary resonance with its 20th century themes...
"...Metaxas illuminates Bonhoeffer's belief that "it was the role of the church to speak for those who could not speak." He fought Nazi attacks on Jews and called for "costly grace" by which Christians would give up comfortable lives to follow Christ's call: "Costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life."
Metaxas lays out the cost and Bonhoeffer's willingness to meet it over nearly 600 thorough but immaculately readable pages. We can pray that none of us will have to face the choices that Bonhoeffer faced. We can pray that if we do, we'll be willing to pay the price."
Few books have enjoyed the acclaim that Bonhoefferby Eric Metaxas has garnered this year. Multiple news shows have invited Metaxas to come in and share about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even President George Bush has taken on Metaxas' book as his personal reading project. Sales of the book have been beyond the wildest expectations for a biography from a Christian publisher. Having recently read Bonhoeffer, I can honestly say all of the acclaim and praise that the book is getting is truly deserved.
Bonhoeffer is a powerful book. In many ways, Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with such passion and urgency that one could easily mistake the book as a novel. The book begins by sharing about Bonhoeffers family and his early years. It quickly moves along into Dietrich's youth and early adulthood. As Bonhoeffer comes of age, his native Germany moves more and more toward Nazi rule. As the evils of Hitler rise, so does the character of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to oppose the lies of the Nazi party and its influence on the church. The reader is able to see Bonhoeffer's courage in the face of tremendous opposition and in the end the reader witnesses Dietrich's death for his Christian convictions.
Bonhoeffer is thoroughly Christian without being preachy. This is because Metaxas writes this book as a witness to an amazing man and that man's witness to God, allowing Bonhoeffer's life to speak for itself. He tells of his struggles and his victories. Whether we see Bonhoeffer's passion for spiritual development of his trainees in the Confessing Church or his desperate pursuit of a place to worship that preached theologically grounded sermons when he came to America, we come to discover a man full of Christian conviction. By the end of the book, we discover a genius, scholar, and leader that refused to flee from evil in the world, but fought against evil courageously. The reader is left longing for their life to matter in the same way that Bonhoeffers did.
Bonhoeffer is not an easy read. The text is nearly 600 pages long. At times, reading about the middle of Bonhoeffers life can be tedious. Both of these realities may be enough to scare some readers off. However, those scared off by the book's size and thoroughness will be missing out. Metaxas has written a biography that will not only be treasured by the person who purchases the book today. This book will be a book that grows in influence and respect in both faith and academic circles for years to come. Clint Walker, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
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