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WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH? As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a pastor and author, known as much for s WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH? As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a pastor and author, known as much for such spiritual classics as "The cost of Discipleship "and "Life Together," as for his 1945 execution in a concentration camp for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, "New York Times" best-selling author Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer's life?the theologian and the spy?to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents?including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts?to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer's life and theology never before seen. In "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy"?"A Righteous Gentiel vs the Third Reich," Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer's heart-wrenching 1939 decision to leave the safe haven of America for Hitler's Germany, and using extended excerpts from love letters and coded messages written to and from Bonhoeffer's Cell 92, Metaxas tells for the first time the full story of Bonhoeffer's passionate and tragic romance. Readers will discover fresh insights and revelations about his life-changing months at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and about his radical position on why Christians are obliged to stand up for the Jews. Metaxas also sheds new light on Bonhoeffer's reaction to Kristallnacht, his involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in "Operation 7," the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland. "Bonhoeffer" gives witness to one man's extraordinary faith and to the tortured fate of the nation he sought to deliver from the curse of Nazism. It brings the reader face to face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfully?even to the point of death. "Bonhoeffer" is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil. "Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology." ?"Publishers Weekly" "[A] massive and masterful new biography." ?"Christianity Today" "Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication." ?"Wall Street Journal" "Metaxas magnificently captures the life of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer . . . A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st Century." ?"Kirkus""


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WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH? As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a pastor and author, known as much for s WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH? As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a pastor and author, known as much for such spiritual classics as "The cost of Discipleship "and "Life Together," as for his 1945 execution in a concentration camp for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, "New York Times" best-selling author Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer's life?the theologian and the spy?to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents?including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts?to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer's life and theology never before seen. In "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy"?"A Righteous Gentiel vs the Third Reich," Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer's heart-wrenching 1939 decision to leave the safe haven of America for Hitler's Germany, and using extended excerpts from love letters and coded messages written to and from Bonhoeffer's Cell 92, Metaxas tells for the first time the full story of Bonhoeffer's passionate and tragic romance. Readers will discover fresh insights and revelations about his life-changing months at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and about his radical position on why Christians are obliged to stand up for the Jews. Metaxas also sheds new light on Bonhoeffer's reaction to Kristallnacht, his involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in "Operation 7," the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland. "Bonhoeffer" gives witness to one man's extraordinary faith and to the tortured fate of the nation he sought to deliver from the curse of Nazism. It brings the reader face to face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfully?even to the point of death. "Bonhoeffer" is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil. "Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology." ?"Publishers Weekly" "[A] massive and masterful new biography." ?"Christianity Today" "Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication." ?"Wall Street Journal" "Metaxas magnificently captures the life of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer . . . A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st Century." ?"Kirkus""

30 review for Bonhoeffer: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mike (the Paladin)

    Let me say first that this is a wonderful book. Congratulations Mr. Metaxas. From an account of Bonhoeffer's life to the overlay of history I was drawn in and followed it. There is (of course) for me a sort of bittersweet sense to the book as Bonhoeffer died just before the end of WWII. He was murdered about 3 weeks before Hitler took his own life more than likely having been murdered on the orders of the mad man himself. Some will not be as interested in the theological insights that can be found Let me say first that this is a wonderful book. Congratulations Mr. Metaxas. From an account of Bonhoeffer's life to the overlay of history I was drawn in and followed it. There is (of course) for me a sort of bittersweet sense to the book as Bonhoeffer died just before the end of WWII. He was murdered about 3 weeks before Hitler took his own life more than likely having been murdered on the orders of the mad man himself. Some will not be as interested in the theological insights that can be found here but it was a major part of what I love(ed) about the book. Bonhoeffer has a lot to say and whether a Christian holds with all his insights or not they are still worth reading. Of course a major part of the book (and why it was selected here) has to do with Bonhoeffer's disgust with the way the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany. Having visited America and expressing his concern over the racial situation here (pre-WWII America) he was relieved that no corollary existed in his own Germany. Having thought this the situation that met him when he returned home from his short visit to America was doubly troubling for him. I was not aware before I read this book of Bonhoeffer's involvement with the long running conspiracy to kill Hitler. I had been aware of the earlier abortive attempts. These do always seem creepy to me as Hitler always seemed to escape from situations where he shouldn't have. The books account of Bonhoeffer's thoughts and concerns the struggle he has before he moves in that direction. The man moved from being almost a pacifist to participating in a conspiracy. Rather amazing. I can't possibly give an insight into all you'll find here. Bonhoeffer was an amazing person, a devout and humble Christian and a resource for us still today through his writings. While I can not escape the feeling of loss, outrage and sadness at the death of Bonhoeffer at such a young age, he himself was ready for his death and met it with calmness and faith. A special individual and a good book. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    We all know history is written and it’s no use wishing for some other outcome when reading a biography or history book. Yet reading this book I felt a terrible suspense. I knew Bonhoeffer was a goner - still I bit my nails, I dreaded, I cried, I hoped, and for a while I even engaged in magical thinking, imagining if I boycotted the last 20 pages Bonhoeffer would not die! The sense of tragedy is heightened because the end of the war almost let Bonhoeffer escape his stupid fate, death coming just We all know history is written and it’s no use wishing for some other outcome when reading a biography or history book. Yet reading this book I felt a terrible suspense. I knew Bonhoeffer was a goner - still I bit my nails, I dreaded, I cried, I hoped, and for a while I even engaged in magical thinking, imagining if I boycotted the last 20 pages Bonhoeffer would not die! The sense of tragedy is heightened because the end of the war almost let Bonhoeffer escape his stupid fate, death coming just two weeks before the Third Reich was brought to its knees. I had to force myself through the last pages. Ugh, what a waste. (Buchenwald) Just to note: I’m an atheist. And I’m no student of church history but I really enjoyed the theological insights of this book. For as much as Bonhoeffer sometimes seemed an arrogant fussbudget, at least when he was younger, I’m glad he existed, with his confidence in the Christian god, and his dedication to following his sense of what is right (doing what he felt was God’s will, for example, despite its being a ‘sin’). The world needs more like him. How can you not admire someone who in 1935 said, “Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants.” Bonhoeffer really wins you over. But for all my admiration and respect, I couldn’t help but be frustrated with him and all of noble, high-bred and fine-feeling aristocratic Germany, which couldn’t get off its collective Arsch and assassinate Hitler, despite their outrage and chagrin. Being on the side of the right was surely a way to feel good about yourself, but accomplished zilch. And just like I hoped against all reason and reality that Bonhoeffer wouldn’t die, I hoped to be reassured that there were good Germans out and about in the ’40’s. But the conclusion is there were hardly enough, and certainly not enough willing to sacrifice themselves for the country they’d been proud of. As one conspirator says, “God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope that for our sake God will not destroy Germany.” But history makes it seem you could count the good-when-it-mattered-most men on two hands. And the war not only destroyed Germany’s future but also obliterated its past. That is, it will never be remembered for its poets and thinkers; whoever thinks of Germany now thinks first of the maniac with the little mustache and genocide. And while those who think of Sodom might think about Lot, no one thinks about Bonhoeffer or von Stauffenberg. Biography is a good way to experience history from a certain perspective, and I found this book illuminating in its picture of an age. Living in Germany, it’s an era I hear about day-in day-out. You can’t live here without reading something about WWII every day, and guaranteed there is a documentary on some channel or other every evening, too. But it’s often big-picture stuff, or some military campaign, or just fleeting reference, and this biography was right there with its details of a particular life in a particular place. It was heartening to read about Germans who protested against the Nazis, who found the Gestapo and the SS reprehensible, even if they failed to bring change.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sally Wessely

    This is an absolutely amazing book about a man who truly was a pastor, a martyr and a prophet. It is a must read for every Christian. We must examine our own beliefs about how we are to live as Christians in relation to the State, and to each other. The book helps the reader to understand how Nazi Germany happened and the role that the German church played in what happened in Germany after World War I. Someone said that Eric Metaxas has done for Bonhoeffer what David McCullough has done done for This is an absolutely amazing book about a man who truly was a pastor, a martyr and a prophet. It is a must read for every Christian. We must examine our own beliefs about how we are to live as Christians in relation to the State, and to each other. The book helps the reader to understand how Nazi Germany happened and the role that the German church played in what happened in Germany after World War I. Someone said that Eric Metaxas has done for Bonhoeffer what David McCullough has done done for John Adams. I would agree with that statement. The book is dense in its information about Germany, the key figures in German politics after World War I, the religious leaders of the time, and in theological beliefs of the German church. Even so, I found it to be a book I could not put down. I hope to read it again so that I might gain even more insight into the man and his times. The evolution and development of Bonhoeffer's faith and theology is fascinating. He left us a great legacy of faith. His faithfulness in living the Christian life as he saw it, his productivity, intelligence, and internal fortitude are only matched by his resolve to see Hitler removed from power. He worked, even from prison, on the plot to assassinate Hitler. One is left to wonder what would have happened if Bonhoeffer's warnings to England and to others would have been heeded. Would Hitler have been able to carry out his evil plan? The dedication to a higher moral code, justice and equality shown by him and his entire family is inspirational. Many in his family suffered much, even the loss of life, because they were committed to a Nazi free Germany.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kimba Tichenor

    I will be honest it scares me to see the many positive reviews of this book, as it contains numerous historical errors, not to mention it grossly oversimplifies Bonhoeffer's theology. The historical errors include locating Bonn in Switzerland and asserting that Germany was not yet an authoritarian state in 1934 -- one year after Hitler seized power. But of greater concern than these factual errors and the misspelling of German concentration camps (both Buchenwald and Dachau are spelled incorrect I will be honest it scares me to see the many positive reviews of this book, as it contains numerous historical errors, not to mention it grossly oversimplifies Bonhoeffer's theology. The historical errors include locating Bonn in Switzerland and asserting that Germany was not yet an authoritarian state in 1934 -- one year after Hitler seized power. But of greater concern than these factual errors and the misspelling of German concentration camps (both Buchenwald and Dachau are spelled incorrectly) is Metaxas's misrepresentation of Bonhoeffer's theology as akin to the beliefs of contemporary American evangelicals. While I am no expert on Bonhoeffer's theology, I do know that he was deeply influenced by the philosophical writings of Kierkegaard and the theological writings of Karl Barth -- both of whose approach to religion would be totally foreign to an American fundamentalist. Remaking Bonhoeffer as a Christian conservative requires cherry picking from his writings, not to mention rewriting German history. Contrary to Metaxas's portrayal, the failure of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) to stand up to Nazism was not the product of Church leaders' failure to develop a personal relationship with Christ. Although this explanation may appeal to an American evangelical audience, such an explanation ignores the complex ways in which German culture and nationalism had become entangled with Church practices and doctrine. Similarly Metaxas's depiction of the ecumenical movement in which Bonhoeffer was intensely involved ignores several defining features. For example, he ignores the fact that many of Bonhoeffer's ecumenical allies were committed pacifists. They also most often were the very liberal theologians whom Metaxas seems intent on portraying in a negative light. While it is true that Bonhoeffer expressed criticism of historical biblical criticism during his stay in the United States, he also warned students at Finkenwalde about the dangers of developing an individualistic personal relationship to Christ and praised Rudolf Bultmann's call for de-mythologizing the New Testament. Moreover, in his letters from prison, he spoke of a "religionless Christianity" and called upon people to "live as if there were no God." The truth is that Bonhoeffer does not fit neatly in any narrow theological box -- liberal or conservative. In short, this is no biography, but rather a polemic seemingly aimed at co-opting Bonhoeffer for the current political agenda of the religious right. This agenda becomes more evident if you look more closely at the author's background. A conservative evangelical radio host Metaxas served on President Trump's Evangelical Council and has described secularism as a threat to freedom.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    Yikes- this was a real disappointment, or, as Metaxas might say, a hemorrhoidal bummer. I was excited when I read reviews when it came out. Then I was wary when I learned that Metaxas is the 'founder and host' of a philosophy reading group for crazy-rich, conservative New Yorkers. Then when I saw that the blurbs for his book, rather than being by biographers or scholars, were by CEOs, ex-CEOs, former General Partners of Goldman Sachs, Kirkus journalists or people who feel the need to put PhD at Yikes- this was a real disappointment, or, as Metaxas might say, a hemorrhoidal bummer. I was excited when I read reviews when it came out. Then I was wary when I learned that Metaxas is the 'founder and host' of a philosophy reading group for crazy-rich, conservative New Yorkers. Then when I saw that the blurbs for his book, rather than being by biographers or scholars, were by CEOs, ex-CEOs, former General Partners of Goldman Sachs, Kirkus journalists or people who feel the need to put PhD at the end of their names, I was really put off. Then I started reading, and I went back to excitement. Metaxas writes very clear, Hemingway-gone-effeminate sentences for the most part. It's very soothing... and then suddenly you realize that he's just lulling you so he can smack you over the head with a patented word-couple like 'hemorrhoidal isometrics' or 'vampiric homonculus.' In one sentence he describes Hitler as having both 'canine sensitivity' and 'lupine ruthlessness.' In *one sentence*. Theologians are accused of building 'diminutive Ziggurats.' It reads like a high-school student trying to impress her teacher. And then there's the big problem with the book: despite the fact that almost everyone in Germany refused to take a stand as firm as Bonhoeffer's, Metaxas is unwilling to consider that anyone then alive wasn't either a black-hatted varmant or a white-hatted hero. Once Hitler takes the stage, the book becomes a morality-tale rather than a biography. *Real* Christians never supported Hitler, and Bonhoeffer can do no wrong- but even *he* admitted that he rubbed people the wrong way and had a knack for making enemies. True, true, Metaxas admits, Bonhoeffer could get a bit too high-brow in the pulpit. But such a criticism is doubly ironic: first, because Metaxas' primary complaint about 'Bishop' Mueller is that he's an 'uneducated Navy chaplain' of lower-class origins (this is particularly jarring when you realize how privileged Bonhoeffer was, and that Metaxas doesn't seem to care). Second, despite its sneering at the uneducated, this book is determinedly middle-brow. I imagine Bonhoeffer and Barth sharing a smirk about it before they got back to reading something incomprehensible. I should have been tipped off by the sub-title, of course, that there wouldn't be much attention paid Bonhoeffer's ideas here: it's not called 'Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Theologian.' But I still found the lack of intellectual analysis disappointing, especially given that Metaxas has his own theological axes to grind, primarily against those who are attracted to the idea of religion-less Christianity. Who are they? We're never told. What should we put in place of their (as he sees it) flawed interpretation? We're never told. It's a shame, because this is a great subject for a biography, and he obviously did a great deal of research and excellent synthesis.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark Sutherland

    On a rare occasion I get so involved in a book that it becomes real to me. The characters come to life. The story envelops me with its mental imagery and emotion. And when you finish, it's like emerging from another world that existed for only a short while. And on an even rarer occasion, a book about real people does the same. Yesterday, I finished reading "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" by Eric Metaxas. Yesterday, I lost a friend who I won't meet until eternity. Bonhoeffer was a pas On a rare occasion I get so involved in a book that it becomes real to me. The characters come to life. The story envelops me with its mental imagery and emotion. And when you finish, it's like emerging from another world that existed for only a short while. And on an even rarer occasion, a book about real people does the same. Yesterday, I finished reading "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" by Eric Metaxas. Yesterday, I lost a friend who I won't meet until eternity. Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany, prior to and during World War II. He was an outspoken critic of the Nazis, and his criticism--and ultimately his actions--were driven by his understanding of Scripture and his convictions about God. He saw great evil in Hitler and his crew, even before Hitler came to power. And as Hitler destroyed the Germany Bonhoeffer loved, Bonhoeffer spoke against Hitler. He spoke and acted in defense of the Jews. He spoke and acted in defense of a biblically-based Church. He spoke and acted against the heretical church of the Third Reich. And you can't help but ask yourself what would you do in the same situation. Are you passionate about God's Church, to the point of standing against a tyrannical church-state partnership that wishes to redefine what you believe? Are you so in love with the Word of God that you will stand against the popular, acceptable claims as to what it means. And are you willing to speak against those who twist God's Word to fulfill their own desires and plans? And are you so secure in your stand before God, a stand that is based upon faith alone in the sovereign plan of God that existed before time began, that you would calmly face your execution in a way that impacted those who witnessed it for decades to come? While you may not agree with everything Bonhoeffer stood for, his life is an example to us all. And his life, and death, should force us to go to Scripture to answer these questions and more. I look forward to meeting Pastor Bonhoeffer when God calls me home. In the meantime, we have to be satisfied with an incredible biography that grips you like a novel and won't let you go until you say goodbye to your new friend. Thank you Eric Metaxas for writing this book. And thank you Dietrich Bonhoeffer for living it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    Note in re. reviewerly shortcomings: Let me preface this by saying that I am about as ill-qualified as one can be when it comes to ecumenical history. The full extent of my knowledge on the Protestant Reformation is that Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the door of a church on October 31, 1517 (and I only remember that because I remember thinking that it was weird that he did that on Halloween, and that the digits of 95 and 1517 both add up to 14...random, I know, but, hey, I was a sophomore in Note in re. reviewerly shortcomings: Let me preface this by saying that I am about as ill-qualified as one can be when it comes to ecumenical history. The full extent of my knowledge on the Protestant Reformation is that Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the door of a church on October 31, 1517 (and I only remember that because I remember thinking that it was weird that he did that on Halloween, and that the digits of 95 and 1517 both add up to 14...random, I know, but, hey, I was a sophomore in high school). As a result, I won't be commenting on any bits of biblical exegesis and/or theology because, really, I would just be making things up. Die Familie von Bonhoeffer: Growing up in the Bonhoeffer household (aka "the Wagenheimstrasse") was intense. Dietrich was sixth out of eight children (including his twin sister, Sabine) born to neurologist/psychologist Karl Bonhoeffer and his wife, Paula, granddaughter of a famous Protestant theologian, Karl von Hase. Karl, the pater familias, was effectively an atheist (or agnostic- basically, he wasn't terribly into religion), but the children were brought up with their mother's religion (I don't know what they're looking at in the picture below, but it could be a bible). However, every subject or endeavor, whether it be science, religion or music, was approached with fervid rigor under Karl Bonhoeffer's roof. The rule of thumb was, in essence, if you're not going to say something devastatingly brilliant, then don't say anything at all. I don't mean that to imply that the children didn't love their father- they adored him, and their house was a veritable hive of activity (click graphic below for it to be almost legibly large). The big takeaway here was that, though Dietrich was nervous to tell his father he planned to be a theologian, it turned out his dad was a-ok with it, as long as Dietrich studied the bible with the same discipline with which Karl approached his work as a scientist. After all, Dietrich's older brother, Karl-Friedrich, was off working in Physical Chemistry with Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Also, it sets the scene for how Bonhoeffer would be perceived in the world. His future student, Eberhard Bethge, was quoted: It was hard for any group of people to live up to the standards expected and maintained in the Wangenheimstrasse. Bonhoeffer himself admitted that newcomers to his home were put under the microscope. With that background it was easy for him to create the impression of being superior and stand-offish. Dietrich Takes Berlin (and also the US, and other places): Eric Metaxas (author of this book) uses the Bethge quotation (above) by way of introduction to his chapter on Bonhoeffer as a student in Berlin. Bonhoeffer's commitment to his own intellectual integrity would not allow him to just align his thoughts with those of one professor or another (which, at times, could make things uncomfortable). Despite his burdensome schedule as a student, Bonhoeffer was deeply involved with the students in his Sunday school class (all theological candidates had to complete "parish work" in addition to their studies). Bonhoeffer was never one to shy away from hard questions. He began holding the "Thursday Group," where they would address questions like, "Is there such thing as a necessary lie?" Also, we begin to see the development of Bonhoeffer's ideas of costly grace and (its counterpart) cheap grace. Here is where my theological ignorance will have to be excused, so I'll just borrow from Timothy J. Keller's Foreword in which he describes Bonhoeffer's cheap grace: That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn't really matter much how you live. I'm skipping over quite a bit here, and will sum up Bonhoeffer's take on Christianity in the U.S. (circa 1930 - 1931) by saying that he was not impressed. However, Bonhoeffer was taken with what he heard in Evangelical, black churches and, furthermore, was acutely aware of the hypocrisy inherent in the treatment of "the negro problem" state-side. Bonhoeffer and The Fuhrer Principle: Dietrich returned to Berlin determined to "make known the suffering of the negroes." Also, Bonhoeffer around this time (1931-1932) experienced a dramatic shift (Metaxis calls this "the Great Change") in his realization of what it meant to live "the life of a servant of Jesus Christ and belong to the Church." However, he also encountered a Germany that was undergoing great changes of its own. I'm going to steer away from the word (prophetic) that the author uses to describe Bonhoeffer's reflection on " the Fuhrer Principle " prior to Hitler's election, but it certainly showed quite a bit of foresight. While Bonhoeffer's treatment of the Fuhrer Principle is nuanced in its logic, it boils down to the idea that man is meant to seek salvation from only one authority, and that authority is the ultimate authority. “The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority . . . we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him.” Nazi Germany and the Church: Hitler was far too astute to think that he could be declared chancellor, denounce the church, and have death camps up and running all in one fell swoop. No, in fact, Hitler would readily invoke God and Christianity as "the basis for our collective morality," in the earliest days of his rule. However, the heresy apparent to Bonhoeffer was not so readily apparent to much of the church leadership, as the need for unification and authority had intensified in the backlash to the Weimar Republic. By April of 1933, the Nazi regime goal of coordinating the Protestant churches under one Reich church had gained sufficient momentum for the leadership of the Protestant federation to be writing a new constitution for a national church, and elections for the Church Council (below) were held in late 1933 for the Reichsbishop. The Kirchenkampf (which means "church struggle"), happened in waves (see Five stages of Kirchenkampf) which I won't attempt to describe. Hitler's pick for bishop, Ludwig Muller, was not elected by the original Protestant federation council, so Hitler had to make several maneuvers before Muller could be "elected" and installed as Reich Bishop. The Aryan Paragraph and the Confessing Church: Luckily, Bonhoeffer was not alone in his outrage regarding the changes in the Church-State relationship. The Aryan Paragraph (which barred all non-Aryans from civil service) proved to be the tipping point. Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller, who had previously supported Hitler, formed the Pastors' Emergency League to consider whether or not they could accept this differentiation between Christians and Christians of Jewish descent (excluding the latter from the church). And lo, the Confessing Church was born. Bonhoeffer, Niemoller and Karl Barth were among the pastors who decided that the adoption of the Aryan Paragraph was incompatible with the church of Jesus Christ. From Confession to Conspiracy: Ok, so I'm not really going to describe this in any detail, but it's the name of a chapter, and I thought it was a pretty good one. Bonhoeffer did not think that his responsibility as a Christian could be restricted to schisms in the church. While some members of the Confessing Church were resisting political encroachment on their church activity, Bonhoeffer saw that there was a much larger problem at hand. About half of this book is dedicated to closely examining how Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to the realization that it was not just his need, but his duty to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler . Suffice it to say that this wasn't a decision he made lightly. Bonhoeffer was a serious, rigorous man and one whose story is deservedly told and remembered. Metaxas opens the book with Bonhoeffer's funeral, contrasting it with the sentiment that "the only good German is a dead German." My only critique of the book would be the occasional backhanded pot shot at (admittedly terrible) individuals, not because they were wrong, but they seemed out of tone with the rest of the narrative and certainly un-Bonhoeffer-like.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Werner

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian hanged by the Nazis at the age of 39, shortly before the conclusion of World War II, for his role in the plots for Hitler's assassination. His dramatic death has served to make him a semi-legendary figure in some circles, though his name isn't a household word to the general public; but even in the circles where his name is recognized, it's a fair assumption that many more people know of him vaguely by hearsay than have Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian hanged by the Nazis at the age of 39, shortly before the conclusion of World War II, for his role in the plots for Hitler's assassination. His dramatic death has served to make him a semi-legendary figure in some circles, though his name isn't a household word to the general public; but even in the circles where his name is recognized, it's a fair assumption that many more people know of him vaguely by hearsay than have actually read his own writings or studied his life in much detail. He's often been posthumously co-opted by the Religious Left, on the basis of an out-of-context seizing upon of a single phrase he used in a 1944 letter, "religionless Christianity." This is the only Bonhoeffer biography I've personally read. The one that's generally recognized as THE definitive one is the 1,084-page 1968 tome by his close friend, pupil and correspondent (who eventually became his nephew by marriage), Eberhard Bethge, which is obviously a primary source for much of the subject's life. One Goodreads reviewer characterized Metaxas' work as "dependent on Bethge." In fact, to the extent that they're serious about historical investigation, subsequent biographical treatments are all somewhat "dependent on Bethge," and one might question their authors' commitment to serious research if they weren't. Yale graduate and evangelical Christian professional writer and public intellectual Metaxas, however, has used a substantial array of other primary and secondary sources besides Bethge's (the bibliography fills about two and a half pages). What he's also done is to synthesize and condense this material into 542 pages of actual text, which is still pretty detailed, but less daunting and more manageable for the non-specialist reader. Metaxas starts with Bonhoeffer's family background (he came from a distinguished lineage on both sides; his father was Germany's foremost brain specialist, and one of his brothers, as a physicist, helped split the atom). He then proceeds to cover every stage of his subject's life, from childhood through the July 27, 1945 memorial service at Holy Trinity Church in England (which frames the main narrative at beginning and end). Bonhoeffer's theological thought is treated intelligibly, in the context of the events and experiences of his life in which it took shape. His own writings, letters, and diary are quoted frequently, as are the words of other people who played parts in his life and who knew him. A Goodreads reviewer complained that too much historical context is provided, but I personally did not have that feeling at all; I found the focus to be quite steadily on Bonhoeffer, with reference to the events around him confined to what's necessary for understanding his own role and reactions. As a history major, I went into the book with a general knowledge of the Nazi regime and the war, and I had some basic prior information about Bonhoeffer's life and thought; but I encountered much significant information here that I didn't previously know. Clearly, the author admires Bonhoeffer greatly, and considers him a hero (as I think any non-Nazi who studied the man's life would). But he's writing biography, not hagiography; he portrays his subject in photographic detail, without trying to air-brush the picture. This is not academic writing for professional scholars, but for general readers; it does not employ the very dry, objective, precise and colorless mode of writing academics use in writing to each other (and which I wrote in as a college and graduate student, so I'm quite familiar with it). Metaxas' prose, in contrast, can be quite colorful in terms of the comparisons and descriptions used, and he makes no bones about being passionate towards the subject. Examples might include the characterization of the aged Luther, in reference to his anti-Semitic comments dredged up by the Nazis, as "the Don Rickles of Wittenberg" (he insulted pretty much everybody, not just Jews), or the comment, on Neville Chamberlain's declaration of war after two days of dithering, that "at some point someone lent Chamberlain a vertebra." Readers who, for one reason or another, would prefer a more academic tone can fairly point this out. (Unlike some Goodreads reviewers, however, I don't think Metaxas' prose style deserves ridicule.) The hardcover edition (which was pushed into print too quickly, to coincide with the anniversary of Bonhoeffer's death) also contained some typos and misspellings of German words. These were mostly corrected in the paperback edition (which is the one I read), although the misspelling of Gleichschaltung as Gleischaltung wasn't. Bethge himself (who was the recipient of the letter in question) was strongly and explicitly critical of theologians who recklessly misinterpreted the "religionless Christianity" phrase as indicating some kind of wholesale rejection of traditional Christian beliefs. Both Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth (another close friend, who was also a major theological influence) had been explicitly critical for years of "religion," understood as a man-made system of rules and shibboleths by which people try to earn favor with God and make themselves feel pious, and contrasted with a Biblical dependence on God's grace. (The same terminology is not uncommon among American evangelicals today.) As Metaxas makes clear, Bonhoeffer was not a separatistic and anti-intellectual Fundamentalist. He was a strong supporter of Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy (and in the context of 1920s and 30s Germany, where it was hotly opposed by Harnack's liberalism). In lifestyle, he was much like Barth and his contemporary C. S. Lewis; he was a cultured appreciator of classical art, music and literature, and an uncompromising exponent of intellectual rigor in theology and Biblical interpretation. He was willing to fellowship with other believers, Catholic and Protestant, across denominational lines, and he respected fellow serious thinkers, such as Harnack, even when he disagreed with them. But he was also strongly committed to classical Christianity, to the authority of Scripture, to the practice of serious prayer and worship, and to a life of total obedience to God, which ultimately led to his willing acceptance of his own martyrdom. Metaxas also makes this irrefutably clear, and primarily by quoting Bonhoeffer's own words. Though footnotes aren't used here, there are 21 pages of notes documenting the sources for each part of the text, by page and sentence/paragraph beginnings. The 14-page index appears to be serviceable, though I didn't use it much. Finally, there are 15 and 1/2 pages of discussion questions, designed for book clubs or other groups reading the book together. These actually seem to be quite good for their purpose, aiming to elicit individual thought and serious group discussion rather than to cut it off by suggesting canned answers. As a young man, I read some of Bonhoffer's writing, though I don't list it on my Goodreads shelves because I don't remember exactly what I read. But at that stage of my intellectual development and Christian walk, I don't think I was genuinely capable of appreciating and engaging with his thought. One effect of reading this book has been to give me a much deeper appreciation of him as a person and as a theologian; another has been to convince me that I need to seriously read or reread some of his writing --and sooner, as in next year, rather than later. My "default" rating for nonfiction books that I like is normally three stars. This one is a rare nonfiction read that earns five; and that's every bit as significant as it sounds!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an inspiration and a revelation. I do not know anyone who does not find much to admire in Bonhoeffer. Even those who find Christian doctrines to stretch plausibility can admire Bonhoeffer's courage as a moral and principled man standing up to authoritarianism at the risk of his own life. When the Nazis co-opted the Lutheran Church in Germany, he helped to organize a new church, called the Confessing Church, to oppose the Nazi's attempted corruption of German Christianity. W Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an inspiration and a revelation. I do not know anyone who does not find much to admire in Bonhoeffer. Even those who find Christian doctrines to stretch plausibility can admire Bonhoeffer's courage as a moral and principled man standing up to authoritarianism at the risk of his own life. When the Nazis co-opted the Lutheran Church in Germany, he helped to organize a new church, called the Confessing Church, to oppose the Nazi's attempted corruption of German Christianity. When it became clear that Hitler had widespread political support and would not fail on his own merit - something many influential people in Germany wrongly supposed would happen - Bonhoeffer joined the conspiracy lead by Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr and had no difficulty seeing that it was his duty as a Christian to support Canaris' plans for the assassination of Hitler and the violent overthrow of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law, also a member of the conspiracy, maintained a list documenting Nazi atrocities. The list was to be used to win the loyalty of the populace - which for years was largely in the dark about the Nazi's most horrific crimes - after Hitler was gone. It was the discovery of the list by the SS that likely led to the order that Bonhoeffer be executed. Bonhoeffer lived and died courageously and Metaxas provides the details of Bonhoeffer's life in this regard effectively. I think this explains the book's success. Metaxas also wants his readers to understand that Bonhoeffer was a unique and innovative theologian. Here the book is a disappointment. Unquestionably, Bonhoeffer lived a sincerely Christian life and influenced friends to do likewise, even in the difficult circumstances of their time. But more than that, Metaxas is convinced that Bonhoeffer made important, even groundbreaking, contributions to protestant theology. He failed to convince me. Metaxas just does not engage the substance of Bonhoeffer's theology in any serious way. I am far from an expert on this important subject, but Bonhoeffer seems not to have said anything about breaking with the bourgeois theology, that characterized Christianity on the continent before WWI, that his older contemporary Karl Barth had not already said even better. Though Bonhoeffer's LETTERS FROM PRISON is undeniably compelling as an account of Bonhoeffer's personal psychology of faith, it does not offer anything new regarding the reasons for faith. Or if it does, then Metaxas fails to develop it sufficiently for a reader like me to appreciate. In this sense, it seems to me that Metaxas failed to achieve much of what he set out to do in this ambitious book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    It was said that when he prays it is as if he is really conversing with a God who is listening to him. His family was rich and influential. He had aristocratic lineage both in the maternal and paternal side. Close relatives occupied high positions in the government, including the military. He had a real talent for music, but he chose to be a theologian and a pastor of the Lutheran church where he belonged. But he was open-minded insofar as faith and salvation is concerned. He had wanted to visit I It was said that when he prays it is as if he is really conversing with a God who is listening to him. His family was rich and influential. He had aristocratic lineage both in the maternal and paternal side. Close relatives occupied high positions in the government, including the military. He had a real talent for music, but he chose to be a theologian and a pastor of the Lutheran church where he belonged. But he was open-minded insofar as faith and salvation is concerned. He had wanted to visit India and talk to Mahatma Gandhi. He was a well-read scholar and a poet. The poem "Powers of Good" which he wrote in prison has become famous throughout Germany and is included in many school textbooks. He had made monumental contributions to Christian thought. He had fallen in love thrice, the last one to a young lady named Maria. In saner times we would have seen him marry, raise children, write more books on philosophy and theology, grow old teaching and holding services for his flock. But no. He was a German. And it was the time of Hitler and the Nazis. A gentle, kind, humble man of God in the most fucked up of times and places! The extermination of the Jews and other people deemed undesirable by the Nazis, the killings of the sick, infirm and mentally ill, the suppression of free speech and other basic civil liberties, the systematic attack on religion and religious groups, the deification of Hitler and the indoctrination of the populace on the Nazi ideology--what cruel cosmic joke was it to present all these before a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Long before the world came to know of the Holocaust, he already knew about it through his contacts within the German military. He loved his country, lost a brother fighting for it during world war one and had lost many friends, relatives and students in the current one. But he is face-to-face with evil incarnate. He had been praying that Germany lose the war but Hitler kept on winning battles and conquering territories. So what to do? Part of the enjoyment one can get out of reading this biography is to see the unraveling of this very fascinating moral conundrum. If you have any real plans of someday reading it then stop here. But I tell you that it is a thick volume and if you have lots in your tbr then maybe you can disregard the coming spoilers and continue, for here I will tell you what Bonhoeffer did. He joined the German resistance against Hitler and his Nazi cohorts. More than that, he was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and his closest henchmen. A devout follower of Christ conspiring to murder the head of state of his own country. He had gone to the United States twice, and during the second time concerned friends had urged him to stay since the Gestapo was already hot on his heels. But he chose to go back to Germany. He was needed there, he felt, at the very least to speak up for the weak and defenseless, especially the Jews. In prison later, a plan was hatched for his escape and flight to another country but upon learning that such would further endanger some friends and relatives, he chose to remain behind bars. Fully aware of the dangers to his very life, he boldly looked forward, with complete trust, and proposed to Maria and they became engaged. He said that acts like this in times of great peril is "embracing God's earth." He considered it as an act of faith in God to step out in freedom and not to fear future possibilities. As to killing Hitler as a sin or a violation of God's own commandment he said, confiding to a church colleague, that it is his moral conviction that: "the structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom...(and that) If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility he detaches himself from the ultimate reality of human existence, and what is more he cuts himself off from the redeeming mystery of Christ's bearing guilt without sin, and he has no share in the divine justification which lies upon this event." But fate was kinder. It was not guilt he suffered from. The opposition to Hitler was extensive, even right at the start of his ascension to power, and there had been many plots to oust him via coups or outrightly assassinate him, but all these had failed. Including the last one where Bonhoeffer was a participant--Valkyrie--recently made into a film starring Tom Cruise. While Nazi Germany was already tottering, with allied bombs raining upon Berlin itself, Bonhoeffer was executed upon the orders of the Fuhrer himself. He was just 39, not able to marry Maria, and most likely still a virgin (so unlike Thomas Merton!)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    This is one of those times I curse my own ignorance. This was my first introduction to Bonhoeffer and I regret not meeting him some other way. Because this book has some freaking problems. They're not Bonhoeffer's problems though; they're the author's. Let me start with the easiest. It's the last thing in the book, but it confirmed a lot of what I'd been suspecting. The About the Author section, which for most writers runs a paragraph or two, and even for the likes of Dostoevsky or Faulkner runs This is one of those times I curse my own ignorance. This was my first introduction to Bonhoeffer and I regret not meeting him some other way. Because this book has some freaking problems. They're not Bonhoeffer's problems though; they're the author's. Let me start with the easiest. It's the last thing in the book, but it confirmed a lot of what I'd been suspecting. The About the Author section, which for most writers runs a paragraph or two, and even for the likes of Dostoevsky or Faulkner runs a page at most, in Metaxas's case runs for THREE GUSHING PAGES. It's the most shameless self-promotion I've seen by an author, a cataract of celebrity namedropping and self-congratulation. It boasts of his "upstaging Dick Cavett" and being complimented by Woody Allen, and lists everything he's ever done from the 1980s to yesterday evening. There's even mention of receiving praise from the actress who played Alice on The Brady Bunch. It's the kind of resumé that starts employers howling. But so the book. First, it's boring. Oh good lord is it boring. In attempting thoroughness, Metaxas bogs down the project with incidental details and bland, unilluminating anecdotes. It takes a millennium to get to the first interesting material. Second, Metaxas adores his subject too much. There's absolutely no questioning of Bonhoeffer here: everything he does is right and true and good. It feels nearly sacrilegious to ask, but are we allowed no consideration of his doubts and depressions, are we not allowed to challenge him just a little? Here, the golden is all we get; there's precious little of B's internal struggles, only the occasional wandering or clouding of doubt, a fleeting mention of his depressions. Otherwise he's depicted as stalwartly, cheerfully marching ever forward. The reader is meant not to connect with Bonhoeffer the human, but to admire from a distance Bonhoeffer the saint. When Bonhoeffer is unsaintly, Metaxas glosses right over it. B gets engaged to a woman, Maria, barely more than a girl, an engagement that pretty rightly troubles the girl's mother because Maria is half B's age and has recently lost both father and brother in war. She's as vulnerable as it gets. Plus she barely knows Bonhoeffer. Yet in Metaxas's account, B feels no qualms about it. While he's in prison, she's every bit as jailed by the relationship. Maria, for lack of experience and any real face-to-face interaction with B, has to devote herself to imagining a brilliant wedded future with a man she barely knows. He encourages this with promises of the great good to come. After many months, she expresses her misery and her doubts about maintaining the engagement; shouldn't compassion and honor compel him to let her go if she wishes, to release her from this hellish waiting? On the contrary, he stresses the bond between them, claiming to want only the best for her but insisting that the best for her is to remain absolutely, irrevocably bound to him. While comfort and hope and the promise of love is to be expected of someone languishing in prison, I found that particular letter of his -- quoted at length in the book -- to be particularly disturbing, packed with manipulations masquerading as love. Any remark on this from Metaxas? Nosiree, it's all cool and godly and preordained, a love for the ages. And maybe again it's my ignorance speaking -- perhaps Maria and Bonhoeffer's love was the solid gold deal -- but some evidence of this would be reassuring. Third, there's a tone of smugness permeating this book. Emanating not from Bonhoeffer, but from the author. It's that sort of cheerful condescension that is one of Christianity's more irritating faces. The kind that smiles pityingly upon the poor naïfs who through stubbornness or bad luck remain blind to what the believer so surely sees is The Truth. (To be clear, I'm not blasting believers; my complaint is only with this particular attitude.) This makes Metaxas oblivious to some obvious points. Take just one e.g.: he notes as an example of evil that Goebbels invoked Germanic pagan imagery in the torchlit midnight book burnings. The pagan aspect itself, distinct from the Nazi horror, Metaxas considers evil because it's decidedly unchristian. There's a hint of criticism for the Germans who didn't recognize this, who simply responded viscerally, stupidly to it. Yet surely he's aware of Christianity's own pagan underpinnings, no? The uncanny coincidence of Christmas falling near the winter solstice, Easter's tie to ancient fertility rites? I know that when I've stood in a southern Methodist church on Christmas Eve, singing carols in the tender dark of a candlelit vigil, no one's ever interrupted the service with, "Wait just a minute! Just what the hell does that pine tree have to do with all this anyway?" Metaxas seems to take for granted that God, his own personal Big Guy, is the only correct and proper God, and that his readers are with him on this -- or should be. Less than a quarter of the way into the book, you realize he's not an unbiased biographer, that the scholarliness obscures his truer project: he's not reporting on a real, fallible human or exploring the evolution of a humble pastor to revolutionary thinker and anti-Nazi collaborator, but rather erecting an icon in the image of his own beliefs. It's the same problem I have with depictions of Jesus as essentially untroubled. I understand the yearning for a placid soul moving unflinchingly forward through the worst of horrors: it represents security, stability, the power of faith in the face of crisis. But when the temptations of the desert are blown past -- "Oh, but he wasn't really that tempted, he was never fooled" -- it leaves me cold. You don't get credit for resisting something that holds no appeal. "Would you like mayonnaise on your sandwich?" "I don't like mayonnaise." "GOOD FOR YOU! I WISH I HAD YOUR RESTRAINT!" No, give me a savior who overcomes the most insidious temptations, who wages that battle of living one minute after the next, who's intimately acquainted with fear and doubt and weakness and pain, who in spite of all that finds a way to deal with it healthily, with empathy and optimism and grace. Otherwise you end up with a statue of a savior, as magnificent and unfeeling as bronze. In my experience, I-Thou relationships rarely end well. Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it is. Ultimately, the book made me quite interested in Bonhoeffer. I just wish I could shake the feeling that Metaxas is somehow using Bonhoeffer to his own ends. I can already see it listed in his next book's About the Author section, given a hearty thumbs-up from Kirk "Enough Already" Cameron from Growing Pains.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark Jr.

    I'm hovering between three and four stars here, because I did enjoy the book. Quite a stirring narrative. But, to put it too bluntly, I don't have a fundamental trust in the theological acumen and judgment of Eric Metaxas. He's certainly a good writer who did his homework (more on that in a moment), but I've read some Bonhoeffer—and he just didn't quite speak the language of evangelical Protestantism like Metaxas seems to assume. Even within the book there are hints that Bonhoeffer probably shoul I'm hovering between three and four stars here, because I did enjoy the book. Quite a stirring narrative. But, to put it too bluntly, I don't have a fundamental trust in the theological acumen and judgment of Eric Metaxas. He's certainly a good writer who did his homework (more on that in a moment), but I've read some Bonhoeffer—and he just didn't quite speak the language of evangelical Protestantism like Metaxas seems to assume. Even within the book there are hints that Bonhoeffer probably shouldn't be claimed as an evangelical patron saint, the guy who did, we're sure, what we evangelicals would have done in the same Hitlerian circumstances. Bonhoeffer's closeness with Barth, his appreciation for Roman Catholicism, his chumminess with Union Theological Seminary—all of these made me uneasy. Yes, he praised a fundamentalist preacher in NYC and made some incisive criticisms of Fosdick and Coffin—but I never felt comfortable with him theologically. Metaxas defends Bonhoeffer by suggesting several times that he tended to overstate his case in order to shock people into listening. I have no reason to dispute that assessment. But I'm still stuck at three stars, because Bonhoeffer's place on the evangelical-to-liberal spectrum seems all-important for the biography of a theologian. In addition, Metaxas fails to delve much into the circumstances behind Bonhoeffer's apparent conversion. He writes of one instance in Dietrich's life, "What happened is unclear, but the results were obvious. For one thing, he now became a regular churchgoer for the first time in his life and took Communion as often as possible." Really? He was already a theologian at this point and had done church work. This seems very important to ferret out, but Metaxas leaves it unclear. Yes, Bonhoeffer said and did some evangelical things, and I surely hope he was regenerated. I simply don't feel I can trust Metaxas to help me decide. I'm afraid he made Bonhoeffer into our evangelical image. Thankfully, I don't have to decide Bonhoeffer's eternal destiny. It's in God's good hands. And no matter where he is now, God's grace (common or special?) was strong in him, and he did courageous and honorable things I'm not sure I could do, even on my best day. Criticisms over—because Metaxas deserves a great deal of praise for this book. I couldn't help liking the clever little wordplays he used frequently. For example: Norway ... had recently been handed over to Hitler by the Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling, whose surname became an improper noun, meaning “traitor.” Metaxas also has a flair for epithets. Nazi Reinhard Heydrich was alternately a "piscine ghoul," an "albino stoat," and a "waxy lamprey." (He was also "cadaverous.") A little much, perhaps, but it made for good reading. So did the rest of the story—at least once the conflict between Bonhoeffer and the Nazis began. I had done some study of the man, but I had no idea how early, powerfully, confidently, prominently, and presciently Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazis. He really did seem to see what was coming as few others did. And instead of being an alarmist or conspiracy theorist, Bonhoeffer had access to real evidence of Nazi atrocities. Metaxas gives sufficient detail, lets characters speak in their own words from actual letters, and yet keeps the story moving. One thing for which I will always be indebted to him is resurrecting the validity of Bonhoeffer's relationship with 18-year-old Maria von Wedemeyer. Getting to read her letters makes the relationship plausible in a way it hadn't been when I just watched the movie. Bonhoeffer's story is one that challenged me deeply, and yet I think evangelicals should not be quick to claim him or his brave actions as their own.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Terry

    I was hoping for a great biography with this book, but it turned out to be so much more than that. In fact, I would say it's more like three books in one. Talk about overdelivering. Book #1: How Did Hitler Happen? I've read a lot about World War II and the Holocaust (haven't we all?), but I've never read a book that explained so clearly how Hitler rose to power and got away with so much. Because World War II and the Holocaust are such enormous topics, narratives tend to jump right into the middle I was hoping for a great biography with this book, but it turned out to be so much more than that. In fact, I would say it's more like three books in one. Talk about overdelivering. Book #1: How Did Hitler Happen? I've read a lot about World War II and the Holocaust (haven't we all?), but I've never read a book that explained so clearly how Hitler rose to power and got away with so much. Because World War II and the Holocaust are such enormous topics, narratives tend to jump right into the middle of the action, leaving readers feeling like they've been transported to some strange fantasyland, not unlike the dystopias of today's YA lit (Hunger Games, etc.). But Eric Metaxas pulls way back from the start of World War II, even back before World War I and sets us gently down in the highly cultured, highly educated world of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's admirable family. Through the first world war and the harrowing reparations demanded of Germany and then through Germany's financial crisis and national identity crisis, the conditions become ripe, crisis by crisis, for a madman like Hitler to climb the stairs onto the international stage. If you're interested in the question of how Hitler happened, this book is wonderful, but it doesn't end there. Book #2: What is true Christianity? This is another huge topic, and it's explored question by question throughout Bonhoeffer's extraordinary life. Born into a scientific and educationally exacting family, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood out from the beginning, announcing at the age of 13 that he wanted to be a theologian. His older brother was working on splitting atoms with Albert Einstein and his father was Germany's best known psychiatrist, so pursuing theology was an odd choice. I admire the brave truth-seeking Bonhoeffer exhibited, beginning when he was very young. He explored different religions, admiring the bits and pieces he felt were "true" in each. For example, when he spent time in New York City, he attended church in Harlem because he felt the churches there showed much more true devotion to Jesus Christ than the more intellectual churches in midtown Manhattan. He also talked about "cheap grace," the idea that you only have to confess faith in Jesus Christ but don't have to follow his commandments or strive to live in a Christlike way. Woven throughout the history and biographical narrative are many, many faith-promoting ideas, quote, and stories. Book #3: How to live a cultured, refined life. Modern American culture has a lot to offer, but culture and refinement aren't near the top of the list. Paula and Carl Bonhoeffer, however, are models of culture and refinement, and I found myself wishing I could be transported back to their Berlin home of a hundred years ago. From their large family dinners and birthday parties to their Saturday night concerts put on for family and friends, everything they did seems to have been designed to uplift those around them. Their letters to each other are elegant, heartfelt, and full of cultural references. They discuss science, art, and music the way people today talk about the NFL or the Grammys. Their elevated level of culture seems to have pulled them through incredible trauma. Even in prison, their sons had the character and active minds necessary to continue learning, support those around them, and continue to be productive, noble members of society. If you read this, Dietrich Bonhoeffer will become a hero of yours, and so will his mother and his father and his twin sister Sabine and his best friend Bethge and his fiancée Maria. It's wonderful to learn about the German heroes of their darkest days.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dougald Blue

    He gave everything for principle during WWII. The Nazis murdered him while his former fellow Lutherans, the German nationla established church, adopted Nazi liturgy and caved. Bonhoeffer and others founded an alternative denomination that was opposed to national socialism. A great lesson for today's moral relativists in the USA.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    I wish I could have taken longer to read this book. It's excellent. Like the subject's "Letters and Papers from Prison", I found myself not wanting to turn pages because I knew they would bring me to the end of his story. Bonhoeffer is one of those rare men whose close following of Christ led him to very difficult places. Yet he went, with boldness and even joy at times, knowing that following God's call was the most important thing. His story personally challenges me through his combination of I wish I could have taken longer to read this book. It's excellent. Like the subject's "Letters and Papers from Prison", I found myself not wanting to turn pages because I knew they would bring me to the end of his story. Bonhoeffer is one of those rare men whose close following of Christ led him to very difficult places. Yet he went, with boldness and even joy at times, knowing that following God's call was the most important thing. His story personally challenges me through his combination of method and emotion, meditation and solitude with strong standard and firmly held theology. So many seem to divide these into two different worlds. Yet he embraced both, clearly stating and boldly living the things he taught.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    The problem of evil. The origins of morality. German culture. Twentieth-century Protestant theology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a more conservative thinker than I'd assumed. I've never read Cost of Discipleship or Ethics, so this long biography filled in my knowledge of his life and career while at the same time introduced me to his actual writings and sermons. (One challenge of listening to the audiobook was tolerating the lengthy sermon-excerpts that Metaxas offers. But I also had the print editi The problem of evil. The origins of morality. German culture. Twentieth-century Protestant theology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a more conservative thinker than I'd assumed. I've never read Cost of Discipleship or Ethics, so this long biography filled in my knowledge of his life and career while at the same time introduced me to his actual writings and sermons. (One challenge of listening to the audiobook was tolerating the lengthy sermon-excerpts that Metaxas offers. But I also had the print edition and referred to it to re-read certain expository passages.) This theological conservatism led me to continually try to reconcile his pious views with my idea of a radical figure involved in the plot to kill Hitler, to undermine the existing "Satanic" regime of the country he loved. E.g., DB's belief that his strength to make moral decisions came from God, not from himself. ~ But what of the loving and tolerant Bonhoeffer family and his "liberal" upbringing - why cannot that have contributed to his moral strength? Or, that DB claimed he was not afraid of death because of his belief in God and an afterlife. ~ But what of the courageous members of the Resistance who were atheist or non-Christian and didn't have the hope for an afterlife with God? Alan Wolfe apparently mused on some these same questions in his 2011 New Republic review of this book.Is it possible to face death with courage without knowing that a better life awaits? Can one be loyal to one’s collaborators in the resistance without being loyal to some higher power? Can faith help overcome torture? Lurking behind all such questions is the major one: if the problem of evil is not one that humans can solve, have we no choice but to rely on God for help? Does Bonhoeffer’s greatness prove his rightness? (Wolfe concludes: "Bonhoeffer may have been convinced that God was telling him what to do, but I am not convinced.") I think I'd also conclude that for me his greatness does not necessarily prove his rightness, and his faith does not explain his courage. But of course my cultural views and agnosticism/atheism contribute to my opinion. So to give Bonhoeffer "the benefit of the doubt" it seemed necessary to grapple with these paradoxes and re-educate myself. -- And what is already one of the most fascinating and unlikely stories of World War II becomes even more fascinating when understood in the context of Bonhoeffer's conservative Protestant worldview. It's too easy to make Bonhoeffer a martyr and assume I understand what motivated him. I'm not the only one, I'm sure: Metaxas explicitly calls out the postwar "death of God" theologians who misappropriated Bonhoeffer, and rues how DB's "religionless Christianity" has been misunderstood. Side observation: Karl Barth does not come off looking so good. Read more about Barth's stance on Nazi Germany and what if any effect on his legacy.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Just finished my thick skim of Metaxas' book. I enjoyed the flow of his narrative, though the attempt to cram the historical record--kicking and screaming if necessary--into the ideological categories of contemporary politics was troubling and a bit distracting at times. That said, I enjoyed it and may spend more time with it once I'm not quite as busy as I am now. This paragraph from the review in Books and Culture seems particularly apt: "What will be the impact of this heroic tale on American Just finished my thick skim of Metaxas' book. I enjoyed the flow of his narrative, though the attempt to cram the historical record--kicking and screaming if necessary--into the ideological categories of contemporary politics was troubling and a bit distracting at times. That said, I enjoyed it and may spend more time with it once I'm not quite as busy as I am now. This paragraph from the review in Books and Culture seems particularly apt: "What will be the impact of this heroic tale on American evangelicals? Haynes insightfully warns us that people tend to unreflectively associate themselves with Bonhoeffer and draw parallels between their perceived enemies and Nazi Germany. In other words, Bonhoeffer's story can be misused to fuel self-righteousness. Evangelicals in the United States are not a persecuted minority threatened with annihilation. On the other hand, evangelicals are similar to Bonhoeffer in that they find themselves citizens of a militarily powerful country consisting predominantly of conservative Protestants. Like the church in Bonhoeffer's Germany, evangelicals need to seek renewal through truth-telling, accountability, education of the young, and Scripture."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    I read a good deal about and by Bonhoeffer when I was in college. I did not recognize the Bonhoeffer the author presents here. The author tries to turn Bonhoeffer into a tool for his political agenda. I was born and raised Roman Catholic and went through an evangelical phase in college and a bit after. I know the Bible and church history well. Categorically and without apology, I consider evangelicals intellectually dishonest. Down deep they know their beliefs are indefensible, so they lie and c I read a good deal about and by Bonhoeffer when I was in college. I did not recognize the Bonhoeffer the author presents here. The author tries to turn Bonhoeffer into a tool for his political agenda. I was born and raised Roman Catholic and went through an evangelical phase in college and a bit after. I know the Bible and church history well. Categorically and without apology, I consider evangelicals intellectually dishonest. Down deep they know their beliefs are indefensible, so they lie and cheat distort. This is what this author has done with this book. And it is not the least bit inconsistent that most of them are Trump supporters, including the author. One example of dishonesty is how the author tries to attribute Luther’s anti-Semitism to his digestive troubles. Au contraire mon idiot, Luther was through and through a vicious anti-Semite.... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ============ There are many other serious problems with this book detailed here..... https://www.christiancentury.org/revi... more on this hack job... https://contemporarychurchhistory.org... Sound familiar? "Germany was filled with Christians whose understanding of their faith had so converged with German national culture that it tainted both their politics and their theology." "What the author fails to grasp is that there were many devout, well-educated, Bible-reading Christians in Germany who read their devotions each morning and fully supported National Socialism."

  19. 5 out of 5

    ariane

    I saw early on what Metaxas was trying to do here but stuck with it. Then I got to page 124, where he asks whether or not Bonhoeffer had been "born again", and I couldn't take it anymore. This book is a poorly-concealed attempt to cast Bonhoeffer in the role of a 21st-century American Fundamentalist preacher without actually stating it in a complete sentence. That may be fine and dandy to people who walk that way. But for an open-minded and critical history nerd who just wants to read a decent b I saw early on what Metaxas was trying to do here but stuck with it. Then I got to page 124, where he asks whether or not Bonhoeffer had been "born again", and I couldn't take it anymore. This book is a poorly-concealed attempt to cast Bonhoeffer in the role of a 21st-century American Fundamentalist preacher without actually stating it in a complete sentence. That may be fine and dandy to people who walk that way. But for an open-minded and critical history nerd who just wants to read a decent bio of Bonhoeffer that tells his story and explains his theology and politics in layman's terms - or, really, for anyone who wants to read a biography untainted by the author's personal beliefs and prejudices - this book is not only a major failure but also a little bit insidious. Call me over-sensitive, but I do adore my Widerstand boys and would love to see a book hit the the New York Times Bestseller list that does any one of them justice. Unfortunately, all Metaxas's book does is stroke right-wing evangelical egos. I don't need to finish it to know that it isn't going to improve. Victoria J. Barnett has written an excellent critical review of Bonhoeffer which you can (and should) read here. (As if noticing the praise from Glenn Beck and Joseph Loconte doesn't deter you first. Well, okay, Publisher's Weekly raves about it too...)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    I have always been curious about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He's a theologian well-respected by Christianity's more intellectual set, was a principled man who stood up to Hitler's Third Reich, and yet represents for me a major theological conundrum: how a man of God involved in a plot to assassinate one of the most evil men who ever lived could not only fail, but be captured and executed by the Gestapo mere weeks before the war's end. Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy tells the st I have always been curious about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He's a theologian well-respected by Christianity's more intellectual set, was a principled man who stood up to Hitler's Third Reich, and yet represents for me a major theological conundrum: how a man of God involved in a plot to assassinate one of the most evil men who ever lived could not only fail, but be captured and executed by the Gestapo mere weeks before the war's end. Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy tells the story of Bonhoeffer's life in great detail, from childhood to death. The focus is on Bonhoeffer's family relations, pastoral work, split with the Reich-supporting church, relationship with the worldwide church, and the historic events surrounding his life. You won't learn Bonhoeffer's broader theological ideas from this book, but will get glimpses in letters and specific reactions to events. Metaxas cannot help but editorialize, and I suspect he has done a fair amount of pruning and white washing to let his own hagiographic take on Bonhoeffer's life and ideas shine through. Metaxas tries to anticipate some of the theological problems and smooth rough edges to keep the reader from asking any difficult or interesting questions. Bonhoeffer (I've always heard "BON-hoffer", but the 22-hour audio book I read uses the proper German "BON-hoofer") was born to a well-established and well-heeled family. He showed an early aptitude for music, but his passion for faith convinced him to pursue a doctorate in theology against the prodding of his family (his brother Karl Friedrich, for example, became an influential chemist). Too young for ordination, he spent some time as an assistant pastor in Spain (the book downplays his love of bullfighting), returned, and left in 1930 for post-graduate study at Union Theological Seminary in New York, which he found to be missing the passion and Christ-centrism he expected from the church. He found more common ground and inspiration within the Black church, and saw connections between the US treatment of African Americans and his own country's anti-Semitism. In a sadly foreshadowing passage, he writes about how much worse a problem American prejudices are - an assessment I can't fault him for: no one anticipated the nasty turn Germany would take (though God might have foreseen it). Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and turned his attention to ecumenical relations worldwide. When National Socialism came to power in 1933, Hitler ordered church elections to install his own men, the so-called "German Christian" movement. Bonhoeffer actively fought against this, especially proposals such as the "Aryan Paragraph" which proposed to remove all clergy with Jewish ancestry. While Bonhoeffer rightly spoke out against this act as unfair and un-Christian, and against the concept of a "fuhrer", and promoted study of the Old Testament (which Nazis sought to downplay or remove), he himself held some fairly anti-Semitic views and found Jews of interest only as potential Christian converts (these shortcomings are completely ignored in the book). Influential theologian (and eventual friend to Bonhoeffer) Karl Barth wrote the Barmen Declaration in 1934, declaring independence from earthly authority, and figures such as Martin Niemöller and Bonhoeffer joined the new fledgling "Confessing Church". Metaxas makes a couple sideways references to opposing Christians who "put undue emphasis on Romans 13", without directly quoting or addressing the problematic scripture that clearly states they should all be obeying Hitler's authority: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience." -Romans 13:1-5, NIV Metaxas plays the "No True Scotsman" card many times, trying to establish that Hitler was not a Christian (more complicated than that, but essentially true), that the party leadership was unilaterally non-Christian (simply untrue), and that believers everywhere responded forcefully against Hitler (the Confessing Church only had about 20% buy-in). He even finds a way to brush off protestant founder and German hero Martin Luther's rabid anti-Semitism, claiming it was a result of older-age dementia setting in (God should have been able to protect against this in one of his most influential servants). There's a lot of apologetics going on here. Bonhoeffer was a powerful voice for good in many ways. He respected Gandhi's pacifist teachings and had arranged to visit the spiritual leader (this unfortunately never panned out). He wrote in support of the Christian community, the importance of the Old Testament, and the values of the sermon on the mount. The Nazis noticed and barred him from Berlin, and later from public speaking in general. He encouraged a faith that was active and involved in societal affairs, and chastised those who tried to remain neutral or use their clerical status to avoid political engagement or military service. He himself was conflicted on his own involvement: he was tempted to serve the war effort for his country, and yet could not swear allegiance to Hitler. Bonhoeffer could have chosen to ride out the war safely in America, and did briefly accept a professorship at Union Theological Seminary, but later returned to be present in Germany as he had returned from London before. Germany was his home, and he was going to serve as an active participant in his country's fate. Bonhoeffer joined the Abwehr (a military intelligence group), where he was aware of multiple assassination attempts on Hitler. It is frustrating to read about all the bombs that fizzled or meetings that changed at the last second. If anyone was ever ripe for assassination, it was Hitler. His death could have prevented the suffering and deaths of millions. While Bonhoeffer was not directly involved in the execution of any of these plots, Metaxas argues that he offered the theological backbone and justification to the efforts. Bonhoeffer even resigned from the Confessing Church so they would not be implicated in assassination if his involvement were discovered. In 1943 he was arrested (for different reasons), but was able to maintain correspondence with conspirators. There is an interlude shortly before his imprisonment in which Bonhoeffer pursues a relationship with Maria von Wedemeyer, who had 18 years to his 36. This is cringeworthy, especially the letters back and forth between them. One might suspect this to be a product of the time, but her mother was adamantly against the match, and mandated that they wait a year before moving forward with their wedding plans. As it happens, Dietrich was arrested before that year was up, and they never consummated the relationship. Metaxas glosses over the creepiness of this arrangement, and doesn't mention the credible possibility that Bonhoeffer may have been gay (I am curious to read Diane Reynolds' The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer), which might explain some of his sensitivity to the marginalizing practices of the Third Reich, as well as his naming student Eberhard Bethge as his heir. After the failed July 20, 1944 assassination attempt (in which Hitler survived a bomb that exploded mere feet from him, pulverizing the room and killing other top officials, thanks to a quirk of fate and furniture design (see the movie Valkyrie)), Bonhoeffer was identified as part of the conspiracy and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and then to Flossenbürg, where he was hanged roughly three weeks before Hitler killed himself and the war ended. There are so many small decisions and moments where Dietrich might have been freed, or could have escaped, and it is frustrating to see his inevitable fate approach. The only notable character missing in this story is God himself. This is a problem for Christianity. Hitler should have been killed as soon as possible. Lives could have been saved. Bonhoeffer was a man of God, theologically rooted, who had prayed to God and felt it was his duty to support assassination of a dictator. Who better to succeed? Think of the witness, and how glorious a testament that could be to God's power? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Claus von Stauffenberg would be household names. And yet, over and over Hitler was spared (he survived something like 15 serious attempts on his life, and indeed took this as a sign from Providence that his mission was honorable). Instead, it was Bonhoeffer who died first, at the hands of the Gestapo, despite multiple points at which subtle intervention could have saved him. Where was God in all this? Is he not more powerful than a conference room desk? Could he not help a fuse detonate at high altitude? Was it his will that millions more should die first? The events as they actually occurred make a lot more sense if God does not exist. Metaxas tries to defray this conclusion without ever facing it head on. He shares Bonhoeffer's own post-hoc justifications about how you can be in the right, yet on the losing side. How God demands obedience, not success. Bonhoeffer recognizes that the Lord is "plundering his own best instruments", and yet falls back on the foregone assurance that God does not make mistakes. As good people die left and right, he shrugs off the questions and offers pablum: "Whomever God calls home, he certainly loves." And "Thy ways are past understanding, but you know the way for me." Also, "Suffer patiently... God approves." And yet, whenever things go right for an instant, God receives the praise for intervening. Great "schadenfreude" is had when an evil judge is killed by a falling beam in an air raid... was that God's intervention? If so, then why not a similar fate for Hitler? It is declared "fitting" that the concentration camp rescue should happen at the same time Easter is being celebrated. Wouldn't it be more fitting if the rescue came before Bonhoeffer was killed, or if mass murder were prevented in the first place? It is just-so logic and empty theology that can only respond to events after they have occurred, employing excuses and rationalization for any lack of guidance or predictive power. The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a fascinating window into an important moment in history, an inspiring but ultimately tragic story that invalidates the deeply held beliefs of its protagonist.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    Metaxas has written a compelling biography of a complex hero of the German Resistance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was the product of two aristocratic German families. His father was a psychiatrist at the leading hospital in Berlin. His mother was a member of the von Hase family, a descendant of well known theologians. A mixture of science, logic, discipline and devotion were daily presences in the Bonhoeffer home. When Dietrich announced he had chosen to study theology at the age of thirteen, it wa Metaxas has written a compelling biography of a complex hero of the German Resistance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was the product of two aristocratic German families. His father was a psychiatrist at the leading hospital in Berlin. His mother was a member of the von Hase family, a descendant of well known theologians. A mixture of science, logic, discipline and devotion were daily presences in the Bonhoeffer home. When Dietrich announced he had chosen to study theology at the age of thirteen, it was not a childish decision, but a very deliberate and carefully considered choice. The Bonhoeffers lost their eldest son, Walter, in World War One. They were loyal subjects of the Kaiser and the Weimar Republic. However, the entire family recognized that the founding of the National Socialist Party would lead to drastic consequences for their country. As Hitler cemented his position of leadership, the Bonhoeffers were vocal opponents of the changes sweeping across Germany. Bonhoeffer was a leading proponent of the Confessing Church, founded in opposition to the Reichskirche represented by the Deutsche Christians. He would be outspoken in his condemnation of the infamous "Aryan paragraph" that the Nazi party sought support for among the Deutsche Christians to remove anyone of Jewish descent from being allowed to participate in Christian worship, though baptized as Christians. Hitler used the principles of Christianity to support his political agenda as one means of cleansing the German race. The traditional Deutsche Christians did not realize that Hitler intended to abolish the church when the time came. His openly anti-christian supporters such as Himmler, Goebbels, and Heydrich intended to replace the cross with the swastika and bring back the Tuetonic gods. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was deeply involved in the growing international ecumenical church movement. His brilliance as a theologian brought him to England and America where he developed ties which would later become outlets to the world for Bonhoeffer's revelation of Hitler's atrocities against the disabled, his political opponents and the Jewish populations of Germany and all of Europe. From academic theologian, Bonhoeffer transformed to a committed pastor, ministering to those who found themselves without a voice as the Nazi juggernaut began to crush every opponent following the outbreak of war in 1939. Bonhoeffer transformed from pastor to spy, joining in the earliest conspiracies to remove Hitler from power. He would become a member of the Abwehr, the Intelligence Division of the German military to cloth himself in a cloak of deception to be in a position to bring about Hitler's downfall, even through assassination if necessary. Throughout this meticulous study, Metaxas reveals Bonhoeffer's innermost thoughts through careful selections from his letters and his best known writings. And Metaxas offers a unique perspective of Hitler's rise to power from a theological perspective. To the greater extent this is a brilliant book, and would be completely so, were Metaxas a more incisive writer, resorting to his own analysis as opposed to his heavy reliance on the careful recitation of not only Bonhoeffer's own words, but those of the most significant people around him. Whatever the reader's religious beliefs may be,"Bonhoeffer" is a book that deserves to be read. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a man whose courage, morality, and sense of justice should be remembered and practiced today.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    Sept 2014 As excellent on the 3rd reading as it was on the first 2. Highly highly recommended. What struck me at this reading was how Bonhoeffer's family was privy to so much that was happening in the German government so far ahead of when the average German seemed to find out. I am reading "The Storm of War" now, and it is fascinating to see the military issues set in contrast to this much more personal view of history in Germany at the time. ****************************************************** Sept 2014 As excellent on the 3rd reading as it was on the first 2. Highly highly recommended. What struck me at this reading was how Bonhoeffer's family was privy to so much that was happening in the German government so far ahead of when the average German seemed to find out. I am reading "The Storm of War" now, and it is fascinating to see the military issues set in contrast to this much more personal view of history in Germany at the time. ******************************************************* Feb 2011 Review -- I am reading the library copy of this book, and it is due tomorrow. I have not finished it, but am about 1/2 of the way through. I have read many books on Bonhoeffer in the past, and have read a substantial number of books written by Bonhoeffer himself. He has always fascinated me. A Christian, a pastor, a German, living in the time when Hitler came to power. What did those Christians in Germany see, or not see, about what was coming? If they saw, what did they do? Or not do? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as the author has aptly written in the title of his book, was indeed a "prophet". Only two days after Hitler was democratically elected chancellor of Germany (Jan. 30, 1933), Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a radio address on February 1, 1933 called "The Younger Generation's Altered Concept of Leadership" where he examined and dissected the fundamental problems with leadership by a Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer saw, and he acted to inform Christians as he preached and taught. He also was led to act to remove Hitler from power. His courage in speaking as a prophet and in acting led to his arrest and eventual execution in the waning days of WWII. Hitler himself ordered Bonhoeffer's execution, a mere three weeks before Hitler himself committed suicide. While not finished with the book, I have already ordered it from amazon. This is one book that will be worthwhile to have and read and study. A fascinating book to read in conjunction with Viktor Frankl's books. I recommend this book with 10 stars.... or more! I wonder how many more stars I'll add when I get to finish it?! I'll update the review when I do. Some fascinating things about the Bonhoeffer family: Christel Bonhoeffer, Dietrich's older sister, married Hans von Dohnanyi. Their son Christoph von Dohnanyi was born in 1929 and is a well known German conductor. He was for over 20 years the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Hans von Dohnanyi was a schoolmate and friend of Klaus Bonhoeffer, Dietrich's older brother. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging using piano wire on April 9, 1945. Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi (husband of Christel) was executed by gunshot on April 8th (or 9th), 1945. Klaus Bonhoeffer was executed by gunshot on April 25, 1945. Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicheter (husband of Ursula Bonhoeffer) was executed by gunshot April 25, 1945. Of the 8 children that Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer had, three of their 4 sons died in war. Walter, the 2nd oldest, was killed in WWI. Karl and Dietrich were executed by the Nazis in WWII. Only their oldest son, Karl Friedrich, outlived them. Of their 4 sons-in-laws, two were executed by the Nazis in WWII. Only the daughters Sabine and Susanne had husbands who died natural deaths.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Full review at http://bookwi.se/bonhoeffer-pastor-ma... Short reviews: I keep going back and forth between 4 and 5 stars. I think this was a very good biography. And it left me wanting more, which I think is a good sign. Metaxas did a good job pulling Bonhoeffer out of the boxes that he is often put into. He was more than just a theologian or writer, or part of an assassination plot. But there were some editing errors and lots of strange descriptions. I called them Dan Ratherisms in my full revie Full review at http://bookwi.se/bonhoeffer-pastor-ma... Short reviews: I keep going back and forth between 4 and 5 stars. I think this was a very good biography. And it left me wanting more, which I think is a good sign. Metaxas did a good job pulling Bonhoeffer out of the boxes that he is often put into. He was more than just a theologian or writer, or part of an assassination plot. But there were some editing errors and lots of strange descriptions. I called them Dan Ratherisms in my full review. They were descriptive, but distracting. On the whole though, this was a great biography and if you have any interest in Bonhoeffer you should pick it up. ____ After a couple years, all of the digital ink spilled about the accuracy and more reading here are my modified thoughts. There are issues with Metaxas trying to make Bonhoeffer into a modern US Evangelical. On the whole, if you have the money I would suggest that you buy and read Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's biography "Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945" My review http://bookwi.se/1906-1945/ or Charles Marsh's biography Strange Glory http://bookwi.se/strange-glory-a-life... The problem with that biography is that it is expensive. I got it on a one day sale and it is way better than Metaxas biography. Schligensiepen is from Germany, knew and worked with many of the characters of Bonhoeffer's life and is a renowned Bonhoeffer scholar. Metaxas is none of those things. Metaxas is a decent writer and he has written a much needed popular biography of Bonhoeffer.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John

    Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Boenhoeffer is a marvelous page-turner of a biography. Metaxas portrays Boenhoeffer in a very heroic manner. He clearly admires Boenhoeffer and his life's work. It is not hard to see why, though his lack of criticism is the most striking failure in the book. Metaxas is an outstanding writer--throughout the book he enlivens the history with his turns of phrase and witty style. The Boenhoeffer that Metaxas portrays is the kind of man that a good modern-day American Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Boenhoeffer is a marvelous page-turner of a biography. Metaxas portrays Boenhoeffer in a very heroic manner. He clearly admires Boenhoeffer and his life's work. It is not hard to see why, though his lack of criticism is the most striking failure in the book. Metaxas is an outstanding writer--throughout the book he enlivens the history with his turns of phrase and witty style. The Boenhoeffer that Metaxas portrays is the kind of man that a good modern-day American evangelical church would call to be their pastor. This is an unlikely and hard to believe portrayal of Boenhoeffer, as he was nothing of the sort, growing up in Lutheran Germany in the wake of the higher criticism and liberal theology. To be fair, Boenhoeffer is critical of the German church and theological liberalism, but he's also very much a part of it, as evidenced by Barth's influence on his theology. This is not something that Metaxas studies at all. The uncritical reader would be left under the impression that Barth is a theological conservative which he most certainly was not. Metaxas seems to go to great pains to not only honor the ecumenical legacy of Boenhoeffer, but to exercise the same ecumenicity himself in this book. The church does need more of this, but the lines need to be defined and issues like Barthianism need to be examined--Metaxas does not do this. The Boenhoeffer family is utterly remarkable, and in a way that is almost non-existent in the modern world. The Boenhoeffers are an aristocratic, highly educated, and highly influential family in Germany. Boenhoeffer grew up in a very conservative (at least for Germany) family, with a strong Christian influence--particularly in his mother, though they are not a church going family. In fact Boenhoeffer seems to only have begun attending church regularly once he became a pastor. He was educated at the extremely liberal Berlin University and continued his studies at very liberal Union University in New York City. His influences all seem to be quite liberal. Yet he always takes the Word of God far more seriously than his teachers and fellow students. He seems to have a true Christian calling upon his life and evidences this everywhere he goes, bearing greater fruit in each successive stop along his minsterial journey. As the Nazis rise in power, he like many in the aristocratic class are alarmed, but confidently believe that Hitler's popularlity will quickly wane. It does not. Boenhoeffer and the Confessing Church are harassed and oppressed constantly by the state church. Metaxas makes one comment stating that ministers fear losing the state funding and this is an obstacle in their speaking out against the Nazis. It seems as though this could have been explored more, though perhaps the influence wasn't as great as one would imagine. Without knowing much about Boenhoeffer's participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler I was a bit put off by Metaxas's claim that Boenhoeffer was actually a "spy." But it is very clear that he was that and more. He was a conspirator actively working in the resistance movement against Hitler. His role in the assassination plot does not seem to have been great, but he did have a significant role in the resistance and as a spy working for his fellow conspirators. This is one of the more interesting and significant aspects of the book. Metaxas goes to great lengths to understand and articulate why Boenhoeffer decided to work in the plot to kill Hitler. At first I was very sympathetic to the idea of killing Hitler, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea after reflecting upon it more. The fact that so many Christians were involved in the plot gives me pause. Part of honoring our forebearers is in being slow to criticize fellow Christians in such difficult circumstances. That being said, it seems far too bold to attempt to kill the leader of a nation--even one so wicked as Hitler. The conspirators knew that to simply kill Hitler would likely result in one of his henchmen gaining power. They had to accompany the assassination with a coup to seize power in the chaos of the killing. Yet even this was a very frail plan as it hinged on far too many things out of their control. If the nation was not firmly against Hitler and Hiterlism, the attempt was futile, not to mention morally problematic. Still, one must respect Boenhoeffer and his fellow resisters for what they did under the circumstances. They felt God's leading in their actions and it is easy for modern Americans to criticize their decisions. It is not so easy to know what God would have his people do in such trying times. Metaxas places Boenhoeffer's legacy firmly in the halls of confessing Christians, perhaps casting the anachronistic evangelical characterization on him. Yet Boenhoffer's words seem clear enough. He was a Christian, living in a different world than modern evangelicals could imagine. Yet he remained true to Christ and is a remarkable example to all who are willing to listen to his words and deeds.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    A fine biography, if heavily sanitized. The book's greatest strength is that it reads like a novel. Everything, from Bonhoeffer's academic lectures to his love life, is woven together into a simple but entertaining storyline. I usually have a hard time finishing a biography, but I read this one easily. If you're just looking for an engaging book, this one fits the bill. The book also makes for easy reading--maybe even too easy at times. I don't think that things were really as straightforward as A fine biography, if heavily sanitized. The book's greatest strength is that it reads like a novel. Everything, from Bonhoeffer's academic lectures to his love life, is woven together into a simple but entertaining storyline. I usually have a hard time finishing a biography, but I read this one easily. If you're just looking for an engaging book, this one fits the bill. The book also makes for easy reading--maybe even too easy at times. I don't think that things were really as straightforward as he portrays them. But for the most part, it's great that the book is so accessible, even for people who don't know anything about Bonhoeffer, World War II, or church history. Bonhoeffer really is a fascinating person. In one of the darkest and most senseless periods of modern history, he consistently did what most others were unwilling to do; he saw what most others were too shortsighted to see. Metaxas also does a good job covering the less well known parts of Bonhoeffer's life, such as his pastorates and professorships. Metaxas serves as the book's omniscient narrator. He frequently tells you what Bonhoeffer "must" have been thinking; it sounds very authoritative, but it's all just speculative. Likewise, he sometimes tells you why Bonhoeffer performed a given action, but in reality there is scholarly debate over the issue (though to be fair, this is goes back to one of the strengths...the book is easy to read precisely because Metaxas doesn't get bogged down in these nuances). The author's language can get a little dramatic (even incendiary) at times. The atrocities of the Nazis speak for themselves; it's neither scholarly nor objective to call people "miscreants," "demons," and "invertebrates." Even though Metaxas has produced a decent biography, his style sometimes makes it sound like a hatchet job. There is also a degree of bias. If you happen to follow Bonhoeffer scholarship, you're probably already aware of the controversy that this particular book has caused. Apparently, it's an attempt by the author to reinterpret or ignore some of the most significant parts of Bonhoeffer's life in order to portray him as a conservative, Evangelical guide for modern day American culture wars. Still, all history is somewhat subjective. History is a collection of unchangeable facts, but how we interpret those facts--and what we decide that the facts mean--can be different for different people. This book is definitely a conservative interpretation of Bonhoeffer's life, and the author puts that spin on things. Metaxas calls Bonhoeffer "a conservative" several times, he goes on a long digression on Bonhoeffer's opposition to abortion, he ignores Bonhoeffer's "liberal" characteristics like rejecting biblical inerrancy, and in one place he even says that liberal Christianity explains Hitler's rise to power. I didn't always agree with Metaxas's interpretation of the evidence, but it certainly doesn't rise to the level of conservative propaganda or anything like that. If you finish this book and want the other side of the story, or you're serious about really getting to know Bonhoeffer, you can always read the massive book by Bonhoeffer's nephew-in-law (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography); that book is usually considered the definitive biography anyway. Metaxas also ignores Bonhoeffer's 1933 Christology lectures, in which he claimed, "The biblical witness is uncertain with regard to the virgin birth." Bonhoeffer also rejected the notion of the verbal inspiration of scripture, and in a footnote to his "Cost of Discipleship" he warned against viewing statements about Christ's resurrection as ontological statements (statements about real events). Bonhoeffer even rejected apologetics, which he thought was misguided. Also, Metaxas portrays an image of Bonhoeffer reading the Bible every single day of his life, even though Bonhoeffer admitted this to be untrue in one of his letters. And way too much of this book is written in silly language. Of the abortive 1943 plot to blow up Hitler's airplane, Metaxas writes: "Brandt gave the package [containing the bomb] an inadvertent jerk, nearly causing Schlabrendorff to have a heart attack and to expect a belated [?] and unexpected ka-boom." And after the unsuccessful July 20 bombing, we read, "Hitler was fine and dandy, albeit cartoonishly mussed." But Metaxas reserves his real eloquence for the Nazis: "the superlatively despicable Heinrich Himmler"' "Heckel... pursuing a strategy of double-barreled flatulence" (what?), "Hitler kicked his bejeweled Arsch upstairs", "the cadaverous Heydrich" (Heydrich is also referred to as "the albino stoat") and so on. Pseudo sophistication is another painful issue: "Bonhoeffer's cultural standards were obviously high". One is also confused by odd phrasings which must be colloquial, but somehow fail to communicate: "Le mot oncle"? "fumfering inaction"? "That was another bag of peanuts"? The list of this sort of thing is endless, and it makes for quite painful reading.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    I give the man Bonhoeffer 5 stars. I know the rating system is for the book, but without the man, again, we would have no book. Jew,Gentile and Christian alike should all take time out for this courageous and prophetic person, esp.in these times. From this book one can learn how to Be. Bonhoeffer used everything that was given him in his life to the betterment of all.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    It's very late. I gained an hour for daylight savings time, but lost it thinking about what to write in the review. And then I lost another two hours to boot. And here's where I'm worried about the review: I listened to the book - mostly while I was driving. So I didn't have as much time to process as I would have had I read it. And I didn't take notes for the most part. So I'm worried that I missed a lot. (If I didn't follow something, I backed it up and listened again... but... well, you know.) It's very late. I gained an hour for daylight savings time, but lost it thinking about what to write in the review. And then I lost another two hours to boot. And here's where I'm worried about the review: I listened to the book - mostly while I was driving. So I didn't have as much time to process as I would have had I read it. And I didn't take notes for the most part. So I'm worried that I missed a lot. (If I didn't follow something, I backed it up and listened again... but... well, you know.) And more than missing a lot, I'm worried I'm going to misquote, or that I misremembered something, and I'll look like an idiot here when my wife (who also read the book) reads the review. So, even though I learned a TON, fear is holding me back in this review. It seems that both the Right and Left want to claim Bonhoeffer (both theologically and politically.) I'm reading him as if he was a Lutheran with a Christocentric hermeneutic, but I imagine my Baptist incarnation would have read him as having a Historical, Literal, Grammatical hermeneutic. What gives? (I need to read more of Bonhoeffer's own writings, for sure.) But Metaxas (maybe unintentionally) drew the line down the middle for me as well. I'm not one of these, "Trump is Hitler" types. Though, I'm solidly in the Left. And I think I mentioned in several other recent reviews that I'm getting Holocaust fatigue - yet continuing to read books about the time period. (Quick synopsis that I should have written earlier: Bonhoeffer was a Christian pacifist who was executed in Flossenburg Concentration Camp for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler.) I say that Metaxas maybe unintentionally drew the line down the middle because he's a Pro-Trump, Evangelical Conservative. (See here.) Maybe it's just good writing on his part, but I wasn't convinced Bonhoeffer would align himself with the Right (or Trump) today. Quite the contrary, actually. On the other hand, I didn't leave the book thinking he would be a Liberal, either. I realize I'm repeating myself. Basically, Bonhoeffer was this great contradiction that everybody loves. He was a pacifist engaged in an assassination plot. He was from the upper class, but fought for the poor. He stood up against oppression, but didn't condemn German soldiers who fought in WWII. (At least, not at first - keeping in mind he was a German citizen who saw the war as an inevitability... Versailles, being unfairly blamed, and all that. It wasn't for him to fight, but he wouldn't condemn others for fighting for their country.) (See what I mean about a giant contradiction?) He stood up for the Jews. As a Christian he opposed "The Church" and helped set up "The Confessing Church." (Christianity is a big umbrella.) It was a good book. I want to go back and reread it again, because in listening to it, I saw a lot of parallels between the rise of the Right and Nationalism in Germany and things that are going on today. (I'm writing this shortly after the shooting up of the Pittsburgh synagogue, for instance, and I've heard "America First" and "Blood and Soil" and other veiled (veiled?) xenophobic and anti-Semitic lines thrown out more these last two years than the rest of my life.) There was way too much to write about in a review that you're already tired of reading. But the book is worth it. I'm definitely going to read The Cost of Discipleship because of it. He certainly lived out his understanding of that cost. But how do we peg him? When everybody loves someone, everybody wants to claim him as their own. But Bonhoeffer doesn't belong to any of us.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Lindell

    There are few books that come along that are so powerful as to tilt the direction of your life. This is one of them. There were a number of significant themes that are critical for Christian of the 21st century to understand and not repeat the mistakes of the 20th. Liberal Theology - The German church of the day was stepping away from the orthodox roots of Christianity and divorcing Jesus from the scriptures. Seminaries got lost in cold academics and lost sight of the hope of the gospel. Bonhoeff There are few books that come along that are so powerful as to tilt the direction of your life. This is one of them. There were a number of significant themes that are critical for Christian of the 21st century to understand and not repeat the mistakes of the 20th. Liberal Theology - The German church of the day was stepping away from the orthodox roots of Christianity and divorcing Jesus from the scriptures. Seminaries got lost in cold academics and lost sight of the hope of the gospel. Bonhoeffer while starting down this road had a powerful change of direction and poured his life and heart into knowing the incarnate Christ and rightfully positioning The Church. Veiled Politics - Metaxas paints Hitler as an incredible deceiver as the world has never known. He justified his actions as defensive measures to protectionist. He harshly censured debate and sought to marry the church with state and thereby make it impotent. And yet, while he was killing millions of Jews, the German masses still loved him. The Failed Church - The church in Germany split and yet both parts failed. The German church married itself to the Third Reich and sold its soul to the devil. The Confessing church (by and large) was afraid to speak up and decry the evils of Hitler while they were still able. Many rationalized Hitlers actions and justified them against scriptural teaching. The Pastor - I was moved by how Bonhoeffer, a man of incredible intellect, heritage, and means gave himself to Christ and others. He invited others to share with him in what he called "Life Together" He consistently gave of himself and poured into the lives of others; his pastoral letters from prison were prolific. I won't say that I don't struggle with some of his ethics and thinking, how he came to a place of plotting murder. Yet, I will humbly acknowledge that I haven't read his full discourse on the matter and weighed it against scripture. This is a must read for the Church of today.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    A fresh take on a largely unknown backstory of WWII Germany that involved Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All in all a well researched biography and well written. This time on a minor figure in Germany who saw the evils of Nazism and anti-semitism earlier than others, then split from the National Church of Germany which had been co-opted by the SS. Finally when he realized he could not stop the Nazi party and subsequent holocaust through normal clerical and political channels he helped conspire to assassin A fresh take on a largely unknown backstory of WWII Germany that involved Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All in all a well researched biography and well written. This time on a minor figure in Germany who saw the evils of Nazism and anti-semitism earlier than others, then split from the National Church of Germany which had been co-opted by the SS. Finally when he realized he could not stop the Nazi party and subsequent holocaust through normal clerical and political channels he helped conspire to assassinate Hitler. If you are generally interested in micro-history of largely unknown but fascinating people or events, like I am, or are a WWII buff etc. I think you will find this an excellent read. One of the tragedies of WWII driven home by this story, in those waning months when it was clear that Germany would lose, is the level of pure evil that it took to murder so many people just days before the camps were liberated. Sheer depravity. Not quite as inspirational as Schindler’s List perhaps but reading this book did give me more faith in humanity. I’ve also read Metaxas’ biography on Wilberforce, an abolitionist from England in the early 19th century, also very well written. Many similarities in the moral character of both Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer. A solid 4 to 4.5 stars.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    I'm not sure why it was held the fifth star the first time. Wow! We learn to know a remarkable man. We learn to know the cultured times into which he was born, and the precipice off which those times dropped. Though he was not prepared for depravity as expressed in the 20th century any more than Henry Adams was, God's grace perseveres through Dietrich Bonhoeffer in remarkable ways. When Bonhoeffer needs to be stern in the face of evil, he is stern. When he needs to acknowledge his weakness and l I'm not sure why it was held the fifth star the first time. Wow! We learn to know a remarkable man. We learn to know the cultured times into which he was born, and the precipice off which those times dropped. Though he was not prepared for depravity as expressed in the 20th century any more than Henry Adams was, God's grace perseveres through Dietrich Bonhoeffer in remarkable ways. When Bonhoeffer needs to be stern in the face of evil, he is stern. When he needs to acknowledge his weakness and lean on his God, he is candidly so. Remarkably, when he needs to encourage others with his humor at the most unlikely times, God, as Bonhoeffer puts it, loans him these qualities so that he can provide them to others. As we get to know this character through his times and his works, getting to know him through his remarkable writing is almost a bonus. Even separated by 60 years and a difference in native language, his prose is forceful and compelling.

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