Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
Thanks to my friend Dana who read this book and told me how great it was, I waited until this summer and dived in myself. The book is Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas, by the way, is also the author of Amazing Grace which was made into a movie in 2006. Bonhoeffer proved to be such an interesting book from so many angles that I posted a review on Amazon. I thought I would re-post it here and recommend the book to you, so here it is…
Without a doubt this is one of the most inspiring biographies I’ve ever read. In fact, the entire Bonhoeffer family was amazing. It was enriching just to get an inside view of their life before the war–the lively intellectual climate of the home, the music that was encouraged and performed by all the children, the dinnertime conversations (where the father Karl made sure you knew how to back up any opinion you voiced), the camaraderie of the siblings. It was a wonderful glimpse into all that a family can be when people are respectful, encouraging of each other, and have a sense of humor (and are brilliant besides). They were not all Christians however. In fact, Dietrich’s father was not a believer nor was his older brother Klaus. However, even as Bonhoeffer’s faith grew and he came to choose theology as his course of study, he still remained close to his father and Klaus. There was just such an abundance of respect instilled into everyone in the family that it spilled over and shaped every aspect of their relationships.
The book gives you an in-depth look at the climate of Germany that made Hitler’s rise possible. It was fascinating to get this glimpse into the terrible wounded pride of the German people after WWI and other political and economic factors which set the stage for Hitler’s rise to power. You also get an inside view of the radically liberal German theologians of this period as Bonhoeffer goes to seminary. I so admired his ability to respect those theologians he considered to be intellectually honest and logical, though he might completely disagree with their conclusions. I was intrigued to learn more details about Karl Barth and his role in standing against the destructive liberalism in these German seminaries.
Then you follow Bonhoeffer to America where he is influenced by the vibrant faith of Abyssinian Baptist, a black church in NYC (Harlem) and especially the gospel music he heard there for the first time. He bought recordings that he took back to Germany where he introduced his family and friends to these spirituals which he felt captured a deeper and more vital spirituality than he had found in most other places. He came to believe that African Americans, because of their sufferings, understood the truth of the gospel in a deeper way than most others.
I was particularly enthralled by the plight of the German church which Metaxas details along with the varied initial positions taken by sincere Christians as Hitler rises to power. Some, like Martin Niemoller, lived at first in a kind of denial thinking that Hitler couldn’t possibly be as evil as Bonhoeffer thought, but then they finally became convinced and many ended up suffering for their faith under the Nazis. The book fleshes out how people of the most sincere faith might still differ greatly in responding to encroaching evil depending on their ability to truly see what is happening–and we should show grace to one another in that, not doubting someone’s sincerity of faith just because he or she can’t see what we see.
The book is long but moves along quickly and retained my interest throughout. There was so much to ruminate on about faith, theology, culture, and the causes of various historical events–too much to list! But best of all, I felt I got to know this amazing scholar, gentle, strong servant of Christ, who gave his life for his faith. I’m grateful to Eric Metaxas for giving me the opportunity to enter into the life of this extraordinary man.