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on January 22, 2011
By Eric Metaxas

So many books have been written on Bonhoeffer, including the definitive biography by his best friend Eberhard Bethge. So why another one? Eric Metaxas has done a masterful job offering us a biography that is accessible to a new generation of North Americans who may not have any sense of the European context at the beginning to mid-20th century within Germany and beyond. In particular, Metaxas highlights the large opposition to Hitler and the Nazis within Germany, as well as the failure of the Allies to recognize and support such opposition, leading to repeated failures to bring down Hitler and the Nazis from within. Metaxas also does a great job chronicling the development of thinking that lead a group of Germans traditionally supportive and respectful of the rights of a legitimate ruler elected by the people, to the radical conviction that such a ruler and his party must be brought down by any means possible, including murder.

Bonhoeffer is a key player in this drama, and Metaxas offers us accessible ways to comprehend Bonhoeffer's personal and theological journey, his efforts within the church as both pastor and theologian, his witness in the ecumenical movement, and finally his involvement with the "Abwehr" (German Secret Service) in plans to assassinate Hitler and find support among the Allies for such a task.

While this is the dominant story line, Metaxas also beautifully chronicles Bonhoeffer's various relationships, especially with his parents and siblings, his best friend Bethge, and his growing love for Maria.
Metaxas also does a brilliant job describing various conceptual themes and how they develop, such as the Aryan/Pagan theology and the antagonism of the Nazis to Christianity, in particular it's Jewish elements and its presentation of a crucified Saviour as the revelation of God; the theological developments that lead to the split within the German church leading to the establishment of the Confessing Church, divisions within the Confessing Church and Bonhoeffer's impatience with their hesitation to be as radical as he believed they should be; his partnership with ecumenical leaders and the development of key relationships with people like Bishop George Bell; the development of his theological thinking around themes of discipleship, The Lordship of Christ, God's commitment to the earth and to the particularity of embodied life, his relationship with Karl Barth and others.

With all this going for the book, however, there are a few weaknesses. It would have been good to get a little more about Bonhoeffer's American experience and his response to theological voices like Reinhold Niebuhr. Moreover, in his discussion of the development of Aryan ideology and Reich church theology, Metaxas reflects on the ambiguity of Luther's position on the Jews, but offers no such reflection on the distorted appropriation of Nietzsche by the Nazis. In addition, while German opposition to Hitler is connected to the persecution of Jews and the disabled, precious little is mentioned about homosexuals and nothing on the Gypsies. Finally, a little more could have been said to try to understand how it is that so many Germans were drawn to Hitler when he was so obviously deranged.

In spite of these concerns, however, this is among the best books on Bonhoeffer one can ever read.
(Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller)
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This is a wonderfully well written biography of a key figure in 20th century Christianity. Eric Metaxas has done a masterful job of communicating the zeitgeist of early and mid-20th century Germany, the inter-relationships between church and state amidst the growing popularity of the National Socialist Party and the incongruity of being a Christian, and adhering to official NAZI party lines. Four points are particularly well made:

First, there can be no doubt that one of the key issues that Bonhoeffer must respond to throughout his early life is the way the German Church - the church of the reformation that has so highlighted the importance of scripture, salvation and reconciliation with God by grace through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross - the German Church had adopted habits, that made it vulnerable to collaborating with government abuse of different populations. The German church is portrayed as simply offering up all kinds of deep compromise to the NAZIs. This biography begs the question: how do you interpret scripture in a way that will make you stand in the face of evil, cover your neighbor's back, look after the poor and the rejected, even if it means your end? To what extent will you go?

Second, the question takes on even more depth when applied to each individual's personal life. The question is not how to live your life without sin, without making mistakes. The question is: How do you respond with your entire life to God's calling? This question is incredibly significant in the face of a modern day Christianity that is strong on cultural judgement and too often thin on judging the atrocities and calamities that go on all over the world. As image bearers, are we concerned with avoiding a "bad life" rather than fully living the life that God has redeemed and made new.

Third, this biography is masterfully written by someone who has really done much careful historical work. I have read many works on the rise of the NAZI Party and the conditions that provided the context for the atrocities of WWII. I have learned much in this book about the intricate plans by the NAZIs to co-opt the German Church and, in an Orwellian fashion reminiscent of more explicit Stalinian tactics, allow the church to survive as an institution while removing completely all of its power and significance. There is much in this book that expresses NAZI thinking about Christianity and God and the role of believing Christians in the German resistance.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the specifics of the Bonhoeffer story are remarkable. His uneasy beginnings in theology, his experience of the American church, his work with the Confessing German Church and his early stands against some of the troublesome actions of the more traditional German Church, his work with the community of ordinands and his devotion to people, to service, even in prison, even at the dawn of his own execution. His desire to marry, start a family, to keep friends and to cherish them, to enjoy them, his bouts of depression. His struggle with the great issues that he faced and the choices that he made, especially as he engaged in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Above all, his refusal to live a life where the easy decisions are made that take you away from responding to God's calling. Metaxas makes a wonderful point, drawn from Bonhoeffer's thoughts on Ethics, about three quarters of the way through the book where he claims that not wanting to make mistakes will take you away from action that reflects God's presence. But deciding to take action will almost certainly confront you with different other dilemmas and force you to make other decisions. Being an image bearer is not an easy path.

This biography, like few other books, leaves the reader with the same question that haunted Bonhoeffer: How do you respond with your entire life to God's call? A question for the ages.
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on January 4, 2011
I have read a bit of Bonhoeffer's story in the past but Metaxas in this recent writing does a fine job of introducing this complex person in such a way that I the reader felt somewhat transported back in time to process the amazing challenges of living under such life pressures. The book is excellent in that it keeps moving without bogging down, but also gives enough depth and detail to enable us to understand not only the context of Bonhoeffer's life but also probe into his thinking and agonizing over such difficult life and death decisions that he must make. If you enjoyed the author's "Amazing Grace" coverage of William Wilberforce, you will thoroughly enjoy his engagement of Bonhoeffer's life and times. I felt emboldened to be less concerned with what others think about my actions and decisions after examining this outstanding life.
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on June 26, 2010
The historical biography genre is alive and well in the hands of Eric Metaxas...his book about famous pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is so fluid and alive that it transports the reader to another world. That the subject matter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is eminantly important is beyond a doubt and Metaxas weaves an incredibly readable and highly relevant biography that captures details that have been missed or downplayed in other sources.

It is something when you can say that a biography is so compelling you find it hard to put down but this is just such a biography.Metaxas writes with a clear awareness of the relevance of Bonhoeffer to our own culture and emphasizes certain aspects of his life and theology such as the question of "what is the church?" Truly a biography for our time.

The author's biographical skills are not the only thing showcased in the text, his attention to historical detail is also constantly at the fore.

For those who know and appreciate Bonhoeffer you will be very happy with Metaxas' treatment of him. If you are unaware of him or simply not a fan of biographies I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to check out this book. You will be introduced to a person who will challenge and sharpen you and you will be given a wonderful and unique perspective about a critical period in world history - early 20th century Europe.

I promise you that this book will not will be a measure of what a biography should be for years to come.
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on January 11, 2011
Attending high school in the 40's and working on the gas tanks for the Lancaster Bomber during the summer of 44 I looked on my efforts as patriotic. Germany and Hitler were the enemy. I had no knowlege of the delemna that faced the German People, especially the Christian community. As a believer I have now learned what a real commitment is and the cost, something which we discussed but the reality never understood.
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"An others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonment." - Hebrews 11:36(KJV)

This is the first biographical account of Bonhoeffer's life I have read that truly pulsates with purpose and vitality. While other presentations may have effectively covered Bonhoeffer's theological views and his dogmatic opposition to the German National Church as an arm of Nazism, none seem to have the ability to create the historical, political and social context in which the man labored as a persecuted Christian. Throughout his adult lifetime, Bonhoeffer and members of the Confessing Church came to symbolize not only the need to resist tyranny but to stand for Christian truth. It is the personal lessons of the latter that Metaxas lays out in his efforts to define who the real Bonhoeffer is in history. While he may be seen as a gallant knight committed, along with others like Niemoller, Cannaris and Bethge, to rescuing the nation from the horrors of fascism and anti-semitism, if that were his only saving grace, he may have been known as a "Good German" in a generation of political vipers. Metaxas goes much further to reconstruct the trials and tribulations of an important figure in modern Christianity who learned to put his theology to the test while under fire. Over the decades, we see Bonhoeffer maturing as a Christian dedicated to serving God and loving his fellow man in ways that fulfilled Scripture. By the time his life ended on the scaffold at Flossenburg Prison, Bonhoeffer was what the reader might call the finished product: totally yielded to the will of God for him and his beloved Germany. While I applaud the courage of Bonhoeffer to stand up to all that is evil in society, I am more inspired by how this book traces the refining fire experiences God put him through to minister to others in their moments of misery. Yes, Bonhoeffer and the Kreisau Circle failed to remove Hitler but, as they were to learn in defeat, there is no shame for the Christian in being obedient to God's ultimate purpose and will. Overall, a very well-written and easy-to-read version of a celebrated life of a significant person who got it right when so many others were terribly wrong. Unlike Churchill, it was Bonhoeffer's destiny never to realize the prospects of a renewed society rising from the ashes of despair and treachery. Metaxas presents Bonhoeffer as an Old Testament prophet who was given only a fleeting glance of future glory and told to go out and live and preach an unpopularly tough message in the meantime.
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on January 21, 2011
Since I was a student of theology some 25 plus years ago I have been familiar with the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Admittedly though, I have never read any of his works except to reference and quote him from time to time. I also had no clue about his absolutely incredible story.

Thanks to Eric Metaxas' new book Bonhoeffer. Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy I have had the opportunity to get to know Bonhoeffer and his story in a much more intimate fashion and have learned a tremendously greater appreciation for Bonhoeffer the theologian - but even more than that - for Bonhoeffer the person.

As I read the book, I was introduced to Dietrich's famous and well educated family. His father Karl was a noted psychologist, however Dietrich's interest in theology came from his mother's side of the family. His maternal great grandfather was a noted theologian, Karl August von Hase, and it was this influence that seemed to propel Dietrich on his sojourn into theological studies.

Metaxas crafts the story in a well documented but easily readable fashion. Layers and facets of Bonhoeffer's life are uncovered page after page, including his years of study, his life as a pastor and as a teacher, and ultimately as a conspirator in the plot to bring down Adolf Hitler.

As his story unfolds, we are able to see Bonhoeffer's transition from a brilliant academic theologian to someone who lives and continually develops his theology daily against the complicated backdrop of Nazi Germany. The more he learns about God, the more he believes that God actually speaks through His Word and that following Christ means more than just mental assent but instead an entire life devoted to living as Christ instructed. This conviction would lead him to his active participation in the conspiracy to eliminate the evil influence of Adolf Hitler, and tragically, eventually to his own death.

In spite of the book's length, Metaxas' writing style keeps you fully engaged in the story...but the real win in this book is the story itself. This is altogether an educational, inspirational and intriguing read.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
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on December 26, 2010
Eric Metaxas has written an exceptional biography about Bonheoffer in both breadth and depth. It provides incredible insight into Bonheoffer's spiritual life and thus his thinking and writings. It captures the murky waters that good churches, politicians, military commanders and ordinary citizens of Germany lived through during the Second World War (and the preceding ten years) as it faced off with the very essence of evil. It makes you realize that life in Germany was extremely complex.

Metaxas very skilfully uses the story to make you think and better understand your own beliefs and their importance. The story challenges the reader to be open to learning from other people while at the same time to strive for clear thinking.

I could not put the book down. At times I became grumpy around my family because the story took me back in time and made me feel like I was a part of all that unfolded. I felt Bonheoffer's frustration with the church especially. Metaxas has delivered a masterful biography.

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon December 14, 2010
It has been a while since I read an interesting biography. And I have heard the name Bonhoeffer in the past. I knew he was some sort of Christian hero but I didn't know his story - until now that is...

I must confess that I am still reading the book. It is a brick of over 500 pages and I like to take my time when I read biographies. I am quite enjoying discovering the life of a Christian who took a stand to defend the Jews during the second World War. This book covers his whole life from before his birth with the history of his parents to until the broadcast of his funeral.

I was surprised to read about the fact the he was homeschooled during the early years of their life. There was a schoolroom in their house. The Bonhoeffer children went to regular school at the ages of 7 or 8. Until then, their sole educator was their mom. When they got to school they excelled in their studies. Reading this information encourage me to pursue homeschooling. Every now and then an homeschool mom needs encouragement and learning that the Bonhoeffers were doing it is very encouraging.

As I said, I am not done with the book. When I read biographies, I need to take a break once in a while to digest the life, joys and trials of the person. Bonhoeffer was one of the few who stood up against Hitler in Germany and he got sent to prison for that. Reading about historical events is important for everyone - young and old.

This Christmas is you have a loved one who loves reading biographies, please do consider Bonhoeffer. It is well written and full of interesting fact about this man who took a stand to defend the people in need.
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on December 13, 2010
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Eric Metaxas' book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is one of the most enjoyable (if it can be called that) books I have read in a long time. It follows the life of German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the years leading up to and basically concluding World War Two. This is not a perfect book. While a talented writer, Metaxas sometimes injects modern popular phrases into the text that distracts the reader, perhaps because elsewhere Metaxas is so successful in drawing the reader into the events. It is also not a comprehensive compilation of Bonhoeffer's thought. Bonhoeffer scholars may notice that Metaxas draws on aspects of Bonhoeffer that are most compatible to evangelicalism.

At the same time, this is an incredible book. First of all, Metaxas is extremely successful in igniting an interest in Bonhoeffer, and hopefully readers will read some of Bonhoeffer's own works, as well as that by Bonhoeffer scholars. Metaxas helpfully puts Bonhoeffer into his historical contexts and the importance of his interactions with the thinkers of his time such Von Harnack, Niebuhr, Barth and George Bell. Metaxas also is very good at painting a picture of what could happen when a Christian combines deep theological reflection with a commitment to social justice. This book left me wanting to be a better scholar and a better pastor and most of all to bridge the gap between the two.

I highly recommend this book. It is an inspiring account of the life, times and thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller.
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