Review of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

“Bonhoeffer’s three conclusions-that the church must question the state, help the state’s victims, and work against the state, if necessary-

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were too much for almost everyone. But for him they were inescapable. In time, he would do all three.”

Eric Metaxas charts the journey within, around, and through the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor of the 1930’s and early to mid-1940’s as he questions, helps, and works against the Nazi state and government of Germany for which he paid with his life as a member of the German resistance movement.

Well written, documented, and researched, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, publisher) is a substantial work about and on a key figure in the Christian faith for the latter half of the 20th century whose writings, written in the context and against the backdrop of Nazism, have influenced the thoughts and views of many clergy and activists since his death. And while Metaxas does a wonderful job in detailing Bonhoeffer’s theological journey and development, one of the strengths of the book is his very clear and focused narrative on the resistance movement in Germany that reached to the highest levels of the German military. And because there are many threads of thought (theological, historical, political, and social) this book can be read and studied from several perspectives which sheds light on life in Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler as well as the personal impact that Nazism had on Germans themselves.

Another strength of this book is in the detailing of Bonhoeffer’s upbringing and family and their joint suffering in both World War 1 as well as World War 2. Metaxas brings out the dynamics of the Bonhoeffer family as they struggle with the nationalistic fanaticism and the resultant effects on their Jewish connections.

And having read Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship (often called The Cost of Discipleship), I appreciated the book’s latter chapters in which Metaxas outlines the continuing development of Bonhoeffer’s theological views and perspectives. He also clearly details Bonhoeffer’s warm and compassionate evangelical beliefs that are developed in the theological dialogs and currents of early 20th century liberalism. Beliefs which, interestingly enough, would, I think, be embraced by both the right and the left in western society today but for far different reasons.

On my rating scale I give this book a ‘6’ (off the charts!) because of its clarity in telling of Bonhoeffer’s times and the rich diversity within Bonhoeffer’s life itself. Simply a well done book. This book would be a great book for both use in classes on religion, history, and ethics.

I bought an e-copy of this book for my own person reflection and use.


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