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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Thomas Nelson / Paperback
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The reception of Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, and Spy met with unparalleled, resounding, and unexpected success among the Christian community and beyond in 2010.
Yet, the book has caused a great deal of controversy among scholars, academics, and others who follow Bonhoeffer closely. This was not unexpected as Bonhoeffer was specifically intended to be a critique of those who understood Bonhoeffer to be "liberal" in his theological leaning as both evangelical scholars and non-evangelical scholars argued he was.
Metaxas' book challenges this assumption by telling Bonhoeffer's story so as to demonstrate his theological orthodoxy. This fact, which undergirds so much of what Metaxas is trying to accomplish--namely--reclaim Bonhoeffer, has proved controversial in many people's minds.
It is well known that Bonhoeffer is the first comprehensive biography of Bonhoeffer since the German theologian's brother-in-law, Eberhard Bethge, released his massive 1000pp+ biography in the early 1970's. Since that time however, much new information has come to light, and Bonhoeffer's story has been in desperate need of updating.
It is Bethge's work, along with the new material Metaxas has synthesized that provided the groundwork for Bonhoeffer. The result has been widely acknowledged to be a masterful story complimented by lucid and inviting prose, historical accuracy, and deeply moving-emotional narrative which invites reader's into the world and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazi's seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to conquer the world while exterminating European Jews secretly. While espionage and intrigue were the rule of the day, and while many groups discussed assassination, only one real organized attempt was made by German nationalists to rid the world of Adolf Hitler, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a key contributor.
But how did Bonhoeffer, a Christian pastor and brilliant theologian come to the point of murder and step into what Metaxas understands to be the roles of "prophet" and "spy"?
Metaxas' book is the fullest accounting of that transition, that struggle, produced for a broad readership. He tells the stories of Bonhoeffer's heart-wrenching 1939 decision to leave the safety of America for Hitler's Germany, of Bonhoeffer's from theological resistance to political action in Germany, of his key theological relationships with George Bell, Karl Barth and others, of his tragic romance with Maria von Wedermeyer, and of his imprisonment and subsequent martyrdom.
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. They may even find themselves asking: would my own faith provide me this kind of courage?
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. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffers lifethe theologian and the spyand draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffers heart-wrenching decision to leave the safe haven of America to return to Hitlers Germany, and sheds new light on Bonhoeffers involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in Operation 7, the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland.
"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. Includes Readers Guide [A] beautifully constructed biography.
Alan Wolfe, The New Republic
Metaxas tells Bonhoeffers story with passion and theological sophistication. . . .
Wall Street Journal
[A] weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. . . .
Metaxas presents Bonhoeffer as a clear-headed, deeply convicted Christian who submitted to no one and nothing except God and his Word.
Metaxas has written a book that adds a new dimension to World War II, a new understanding of how evil can seize the soul of a nation and a man of faith can confront it. . . .
Thomas Fleming, author, The New Dealers War
Metaxas has created a biography of uncommon powerintelligent, moving, well researched,vividly written, and rich in implication for our own lives. Or to put it another way: Buy this book. Read it. Then buy another copy and give it to a person you love. Its that good.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, First Things
"A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century."
"A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century."
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.
Interview Excerpt from the Christianbook.com Academic Blog
Matthew: Why did you choose to write on Bonhoeffer?
Metaxas: When I first seriously became a Christian in 1988, the man who helped lead me to faith shared the story of Bonhoeffer with me. I was staggered. My mother is German and she lost her father in WWII, when she was just nine. So I've always had a fascination with that period. Hearing Bonhoeffer's story intensified that fascination and eventually helped determine that I would write this book.
After my biography of William Wilberforce, I thought I was through with biographies. But people who enjoyed the Wilberforce book kept asking me whom I would write about next. I thought about it and realized that the only person who inspired me and captured my imagination enough to warrant another biography was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Matthew (CBD Academic): What is it about Bonhoeffer that so fascinates you?
Metaxas: Part of it has to do with the fact that I myself exist on that strange borderland where conservative Evangelical Christianity meets the world of the Yale-Manhattan cultural elites. And it seems to me that Bonhoeffer stood in a similar place in his own time.
Bonhoeffer has been something of a darling to those on the left, but his dedication as a Christian makes him stand above such easy categories. His Christianity defined his entire life and made him stand beyond these labels. As a result, he has something to say to the church, but he also has something important to say to those outside, to secularists, and to non-Christians. I'm attracted to him, in some large part, because of that.
Matthew: After reading your book, it is clear that you believe Bonhoeffer to be profoundly orthodox theologically. Many Evangelicals would reject this view. Have Evangelicals missed the boat here? What can they learn from him? Why do you feel so strongly about his orthodoxy?
Metaxas: I simply don't believe any other conclusion can be reached based on the facts we now have. We've been dealing with a caricatured picture of Bonhoeffer, based on a handful of cherry-picked facts, as I say. He was in some ways quite complicated, but the facts show him to beat his very core-orthodox theologically. It is easy to see this when all the facts are considered, otherwise I have not done my job in writing this book.
I think perhaps the biggest lesson from Bonhoeffer for Evangelicals is the grace he exhibited towards those with whom he disagreed. He was not theologically liberal, but he was gracious and kind to those who were. He showed great respect for figures such Adolf von Harnack, for example. But this graciousness, too, is a manifestation of his theology. Christ did not suggest loving one's enemies--theological or otherwise--he demanded it. Bonhoeffer showed love towards his theological opponents. He refuted them logically, but respectfully. We evangelicals can learn something from Bonhoeffer in this.
Matthew: Many have suggested that Bonhoeffer's theology takes many radical and, at times, contradictory trajectories. Do you agree with this assessment, why or why not?
Metaxas: That's not where the facts lead. Bonhoeffer's theology was a straight, congruous development, right up to the end, and any attempt to make it look overly serpentine is mistaken. That's perhaps the most remarkable thing about his theology and his life; they are not a herky-jerky development, but a remarkably smooth one.
I think that's why knowing the story of Bonhoeffer's life is so extremely important, because without that it's difficult to make sense of his theology.At first glance there are contradictions, but when one looks a bit more deeply one sees that there simply aren't any. Bonhoeffer may be somewhat complicated at times, but he is absolutely not self-contradictory, not at any point. That's quite important to understand.
Matthew: Why do you think people--whatever their convictions--use Bonhoeffer to further their own ideologies?
Metaxas: I think it is part of human nature. It is always tempting to use someone like Bonhoeffer to support one's own views. But Bonhoeffer resists this usage. He walks a fine line between left and right, and it is tempting for those who only propound a gospel of grace and love to dismiss Bonhoeffer's emphasis on obedience, guilt, and sin. Bonhoeffer stands in the middle and we need to hold his theology in the tension that he held it, above trite categories of right and left. Bonhoeffer pulls us to the center where compassion and justice exist together, in Jesus Christ.
Matthew: Do you believe this approach reflects an outworking of Bonhoeffer's Christology?
Metaxas: Yes, definitely. We want to gravitate towards eccentricities and exaggerations. But as I say, Bonhoeffer wants to pull us towards the center, towards Christ who judges AND forgives. "Christ the center" as a theological method is a reflection of Bonhoeffer's life and theology.
Read More from this interview!
Reviews & Endorsements
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 known-but 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."
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
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 Bonhoeffer's 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 Bonhoeffer's did.
Bonhoeffer is not an easy read. The text is nearly 600 pages long. At times, reading about the middle of Bonhoeffer's 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
Christianbook.com Academic Blog
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).
Kirkus Starred Reviews
"A welcome new biography of one of the 20th century's 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 (1906-1945), who "thought it the plain duty of the Christian-and the privilege and honor-to suffer with those who suffered." In the finest treatment of the man since Eberhard Bethge's 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 subject's 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."
In this weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas (Amazing Grace) offers a comprehensive review of one of history's darkest eras, along with a fascinating exploration of the familial, cultural and religious influences that formed one of the world's greatest contemporary theologians. A passionate narrative voice combines with meticulous research to unpack the confluence of circumstances and personalities that led Germany from the defeat of WWI to the atrocities of WWII.
Abundant source documentation (sermons, letters, journal entries, lectures, the Barman Declaration) brings to life the personalities and experiences that shaped Bonhoeffer: his highly intellectual, musical family; theologically liberal professors, pastoral colleagues and students; his extensive study, work, and travel abroad. Tracing Bonhoeffer's developing call to be a Jeremiah-like prophet in his own time and a growing understanding that the church was called "to speak for those who could not speak," Metaxas details Bonhoeffer's role in religious resistance to Nazism, and provides a compelling account of the faith journey that eventually involved the Lutheran pastor in unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Hitler. Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology.
Copyright,Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. "For anyone whose faith has been strengthened by the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this is the biography you have always wanted. Eric Metaxas has written a rich, detailed, and beautiful account of the great pastor and theologian who gave us The Cost of Discipleship and sacrificed his life for opposing Hitler. Metaxas' Bonhoeffer is a monumental achievement and a deeply important work."
Greg Thornbury, PhD, Dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University
"Dietrich Bonhoeffer's great gift is that his understanding of faith in times of conflict speaks to generation after generation. Eric Metaxas Bonhoeffer is the biography for this generation. A masterpiece that reads like a great novel and weaves together in one opus an understanding of Bonhoeffers theology, the complex and tragic history of 20th century Germany, and the human struggle of a true Christian hero. Eric Metaxas is claiming his place as the preeminent biographer of Christianity's most courageous figures."
Martin Doblmeier, Filmmaker, BONHOEFFER
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