by Eric Metaxas
This is a book that has received extremely high praise by a number of readers and reviews and after having read it over the past few months I have to say that I completely agree with all of it. The writing itself is very well done. I don’t want to overlook that fact. The author is very competent in terms of creating a sense of empathy and identity with the characters as well as it being historical and factual and distant. The book is engaging. The farther you get into the story the more you will want to keep reading. So from a literary standpoint it deserves very high praise.
The book’s popularity and success and value is not solely due to its stylistic quality but the subject of the book is fascinating. He truly was an intriguing character yet one that I personally knew relatively little about prior to reading this book. (I suppose that isn’t completely true I had listened to Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom perhaps two and a half years ago, sometime in the future I’ll have to write about FoF Radio Theatre) Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an especially bright young man (read: Pastor, PhD, author of deep theological works, University lecturer by 25 or so and just getting started) who had the exceedingly valuable but rare trait of being not just one who thinks deeply but who acts upon his convictions. He is even more remarkable in that he had the depth of thought to see clearly how in various circumstances things about which he was unshakably convinced were true might have applications for him but not for others. His intellect and determination to apply truth to life was tempered with a great amount of discernment and empathy for others.
With the insight and character that Bonhoeffer seems to have possessed he would have been a fascinating figure to read about no matter when he lived. So in a sense the historical setting in my opinion is only the backdrop for the story. If that is true it is one of the most interesting backdrops possible. The individuals that Bonhoeffer interacted with, the information he was privy to, the actions he engaged in are all of great significance.
As a theologian he knew of the dangers of liberal higher criticism not from afar but as a student of the most respected of these theologians, as a close friend of Karl Barth, as the author of a dissertation in direct opposition to the dangers this produced. Even in America he was acquainted with the debate between liberals and fundamentalists as a visiting student at THE liberal seminary across the street from the church pastored by Harry Emerson Fosdick in the early 1930s.
As a German he knew of the atrocities being committed against the Jews because his brother-in-law was among the elites forced out of their jobs and then ultimately fled the country with Dietrich’s help, a friend in Berlin was keeping a record of the concentration camps and the horrors occurring there and told Dietrich long before most of the world knew, and years before Dietrich himself was to end up there.
He knew of the resistance movements because he was among the leaders. He was a pastor pushing back when the German church ascribed full allegiance to Hitler and not Christ, he was the head of a seminary for the confessing church. He was not just a pastor either but was brought into the intelligence agency competing against the SS and not just as an agent but as a double agent.
In all this you might think he had become concerned with himself and lost touch with the lives of others but yet he was extremely concerned with engaging in real relationship with those around him. His letters – which provide much of the historical detail also give insight to how much time he invested in the lives of others. He was concerned that those around him be ministered to.
Even with all I’ve written there are a number of themes that I haven’t even touched on in this enjoyable 600+ page book. In the end perhaps the biggest thing I’ve taken away from this is how faith in Christ – what Bonhoeffer terms discipleship – encompasses every aspect of your life. It drives your ethic in work, your relationships with friends and family, your loyalties to country, your hope for the future, your relationship to a spouse (or fiance because…well, read the story). All of life is shaped by what it means to be a disciple. This is the story that the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells. It is a record of his life as a disciple.
I posted a few highlights from the first half of the book as I was reading you can find those here: Recently Read↑
Besides this book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer there are a few of his own works that have survived to today. I have not read them (yet) but having become somewhat familiar with the themes in them I would recommend them as well:
The Cost of Discipleship
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