Holly's Reviews > Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
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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.
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Reading Progress

December 26, 2016 – Started Reading
December 26, 2016 – Shelved
December 29, 2016 –
December 30, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-reads
December 30, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Christy (new)

Christy Excellent review and analysis. Interesting comment about Barth.

Holly Thanks!

message 3: by Michael (new)

Michael Perkins I've read most of Bonhoeffer's writings and other biographies of him. I would suggest that the conservatism you perceive in this volume is more the perspective of the author (who has an evangelistic purpose with this book) than Bonhoeffer himself. Do a bit of background on Eric Metaxas and I think you'll see what I mean. The reality is that the conservative Christians of that era went along with Hitler, as did many of the conservative academics.

Holly Not a surprise about the conservativism, I guess. Can you recommend another Bonhoeffer biography, Michael Perkins?

message 5: by Michael (new)

Michael Perkins I would suggest these two:


this one is the classic one by Bonhoeffer's comrade in the Confessing Church, but very long.


message 7: by Ned (new)

Ned Fine review!

Holly Thank you for the titles and links, Michael. The Schlingensiepen looks very good. I also have the Charles Marsh biography (Strange Glory) on my to-read list.

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