Book Review: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, Thomas Nelson 2011.

Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer really impacted me, I suspect in a very lasting way. It’s engaging, fast paced though comprehensive and detailed, and written from a very deeply true Christian conviction about the roles of the Church and the individual Christian in society. It’s a monster of a book, but it goes quick and is absolutely worth multiple readings. As I said a couple posts ago, this book reminded me how valuable biographies are for our growth in character and faith, but I want to give just a few more detailed reasons why this book was so helpful and important.

1. Theology brought into the crucible of real-life experience.

While reading this, our shepherding group was right in the middle of studying 1 Peter. Peter talks about living as a sojourn and exile in this world the way it is now, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to live this way in Nazi Germany, and wrestled hard with how to do this. It wasn’t an option for him – he was right in the middle of it, and really had to deal with how biblical theology plays out in real-time, real-life struggles. This book urges the reader to truly count the cost of their faith in Christ.

Bonhoeffer’s Germany, once so founded on Christian principles, turned away from those principles to the idols of power and nationalistic pride. Churches themselves abandoned sound theology and sided with the German nationalist “Christians.” The supposedly God-fearing country sided with Hitler and with satanic heresies. But Bonhoeffer and a handful of others fought to stay the course and worship God in the midst of a world truly gone mad. They really fought to apply the principles of Scripture to a unique and drastic situation in their lives. Metaxas’ book gives a great picture of what it means to live for Christ in one’s unique circumstances and trials.

2. Bonhoeffer’s faith: deeply true, and rooted in enjoyment of God, not comfort.

Bonhoeffer didn’t have a desire for the Church to avoid suffering at any point during Germany’s plight under Hitler. Bonhoeffer was convinced (and only became more and more firm in the idea) that all suffering is ordained by God and Christians are to accept it, count it all joy, and bear up with resolution and worship in the midst of great darkness. Bonhoeffer said, “Christians do not wish to escape repentance, or chaos, if it is God’s will to bring it upon us. We must take this judgement as Christians,” and Metaxas adds, “Christians must be like Jesus in their willingness to suffer for others, and Germany must now do this before the world. God could be trusted to sort out the details.”

Even though the Church in Germany lived in fear and suffered because of the sins of others, they could resolve to bear up under the persecution. This isn’t to downplay the injustices committed by Hitler against the Church and against God; but God ordains how and when persecution comes, and calls His Church to bear up under suffering like Christ did, not avoid it.

3. Bonhoeffer’s resolve to enjoy God, even to death.

I’ll end with this quote. By the end of the book, you’ve gotten to know Bonhoeffer and his death at Flossenburg is heart-wrenching. Metaxas has done us this one huge favor among others: he makes us feel what it’s like to lose a brother to the martyr’s gallows. And Metaxas lets us in on as many details of Bonhoeffer’s last weeks and days as he can. Here’s what Bonhoeffer said about possible impending death:

“I do not think that death can take us by surprise now. After what we have been through during the war, we hardly dare admit that we should like death to come to us, not accidentally and suddenly through some trivial cause, but in the fullness of life and with everything at stake.”

And later,

“To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human.”

Bonhoeffer’s joy in God ran deep. He loved Christ, and knew the worth and glory of Jesus surpassed any comfort a broken world could offer. May we also embrace suffering and slander in the name of Christ, for the sake of the “full life and its real joys” that Christ purchased for us with His own blood.

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