Home > Books > Notable Book: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Notable Book: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Ever since reading The Cost of Discipleship in college, Bonhoeffer has held a fascination for me.  I’ve read most of his books as well as most biographies about him.  My master’s thesis (which I never finished) concerned Bonhoeffer and the theological framework that drove him to combat Hitler and the Third Reich.

In this new biography of Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas has captured the man and the times in which he lived like no other.  This biography stands above them all.

Metaxas takes us through the life of Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, who stood against Hitler and his regime from the very beginning.  He guides us in understanding how Bonhoeffer’s theology took root in his life, not merely as philosophical ideas, but how they actually shaped his perspective and guided his actions.  In the beginning, Bonhoeffer recognized the problem of Hitler, and he challenged the church not to be swindled of its faith.  When the church wouldn’t listen, Bonhoeffer helped create the Confessing Church.  He then took it upon himself to establish underground seminaries to train future pastors.

When the opportunity presented itself for Bonhoeffer to flee to America from Germany, he initially accepted.  Upon his arrival, he realized that he’d made a mistake, apologized to those who’d helped him flee, and returned to Germany, full of the knowledge that it might lead to his death.  Soon after his return, Bonhoeffer joined a group of conspirators against the Third Reich, planning to overthrow Hitler and end the war.  To do so, Bonhoeffer became a double agent.  Many of his friends would not realize what Bonhoeffer had done until after his execution.

Not once did Bonhoeffer see that his role in the conspiracy as an abandonment of God, but rather he saw it as the fulfillment of his calling by God.  When the conspiracy was uncovered, Bonhoeffer was jailed.  As the war came to an end and as the extent and purpose of the conspiracy became known, the orders were given to execute those involved.  Thus, the fate of Bonhoeffer was sealed.

Bonhoeffer has been an attraction to many strands of theology- from his challenges found in The Cost of Discipleship, to his emphasis on community in Life Together, to man’s actions in his uncompleted Ethics, to the various letters he wrote from prison.  He appeals to many, sometimes because the phrases he used have been misunderstood.  Metaxas excels in this biography by putting Bonhoeffer’s words in context, by explaining what he meant by a “religionless Christianity” and other such words.

Bonhoeffer could’ve stood alone because of his intellectual and theological prowess.  Yet, his life and death (a pastor to the end, a theologian to the end, a conspirator at the end, and a martyr) demonstrate that what he spoke were not mere ideas.  They were the source of his life and hope.  Metaxas has captured this life of Bonhoeffer like no other.

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