Wednesday, May 19, 2010

BookSneeze Review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me-
and there was no one left to speak for me."  

These words were penned by Martin Niemoller after eight years of imprisonment in the concentration camps of Adolf Hitler.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was among the first Christian pastors in Hitler's germany to speak out for the Jews, for the Truth, for Jesus in the midst of arguably history's most evil times.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is principally an exhaustive biography of the iconic Christian pastor who dared stand against the Third Reich- even unto death.  But Bonhoeffer is also much more than a biography of a man.  In detailing Bonhoeffer's life, Metaxas gives the reader a window into the events and worldview that led to the rise of Hitler and the willingness of the German people to follow him until it was too late.  The peace terms for Germany after WWI, laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, were harsh and humiliating.  When Hitler rose to power, the German people were ripe for a leader who would be able to restore pride to the Fatherland.  Even when some of Hitler's vile tactics and ideologies were becoming known, many Germans were willing to close their eyes to the truth and laud Hitler as the one who was saving Germany.

We are also allowed glimpses into Bonhoeffer's own heart through journal entries and letters to family, personal friends and his fiance.  To read the doubts and wonderings of a man who ultimately trusted God and acted in accordance with His plan was, for me, inspiring.  For example, as he sailed away from his homeland in May of 1939 to America in order to avoid putting the Confessing Church in the crosshairs of the Nazis by refusing to serve if drafted, he penned these words to his friend and confidant Bethge, clearly wishing He had heard definitively from God about his decision: "If only the doubts about my course had been overcome."  He goes on in the letter, "So too one day we shall see quite clearly into the depths of the divine heart...and see a name: Jesus Christ."  Bonhoeffer was, like I am, a human being whose heart at times was unsure but who was willing to take God at His word.  If he could not see clearly now, he was sure he would see in eternity!  Is this not the Christian walk?  Paul spoke similarly in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  Yes, Bonhoeffer was great and he was also just a man in need of God's constant grace and guidance.  

In Bonhoeffer, Metaxas also whets the reader's appetite for further study of Bonhoeffer's teachings and theology. We learn how the ordinands in the Confessing Church were instructed not only in doctrine but discipled into lives of devotion to Christ through the practices of Scripture memorization and meditation, confession one to another, and prayer- all practices that Bonhoeffer instituted at the outlawed seminaries he oversaw.  We hear how he uses orthodox theology to wrestle with (and help others do the same) the monstrous situation in which they found themselves.  Metaxas does a splendid job describing Bonhoeffer's wrestling with the idea of truth, for example, as he retells the process by which Bonhoeffer rejects the "easy religious legalism of never telling a lie" and enters into a deception that "stemmed not from a cavalier attitude toward the truth, but from a respect for the truth that was (so) deep."  I really enjoyed Metaxas' forays into Bonhoeffer's teachings and writings.  I was challenged to think deeper about God and His ways than I have done in the past.  I am eager to read some of Bonhoeffer's original works such as Life Together and Discipleship.  

The final chapters of Bonhoeffer are fast moving and full of detail and intrigue about the Resistance movement within Germany, of which Bonhoeffer was a major player.  Bonhoeffer's engagement to Maria von Wedemeyer and their relationship is also explored in these chapters.  As I read their love letters to one another, another book went on my list for future reading.  The details around Bonhoeffer's arrest, imprisonment and eventual murder lend the reader more insight into just who this man was.  The final chapter of Bonhoeffer is aptly entitled "On the Road to Freedom."  Metaxas explains, "We know that Bonhoeffer thought of death as the last station on the road to freedom."  As a pastor in London years before his execution by the Nazi's Bonhoeffer had himself preached in a sermon, "No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence."

As I stated at the beginning, Bonhoeffer is an exhaustive biography and it did take me quite some time to finish it.  It was always interesting and well written.  I am so glad I persevered because it has truly expanded my view of God and enriched my walk with Him.  I highly recommend you take the time to read it.  

***I wrote this review after reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookSneeze program for bloggers.  In return for the free book, I agreed to write a review and post it on my blog as well as a consumer website.  My review is my honest opinion of the book.  ***

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