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Monthly Book Discussions > March Adult Book 2011 Discussion: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

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message 1: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Hello everyone! This is a discussion board for March's adult book winner, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Feel free to discuss what you loved or hated about this book and the issues discussed in this book.

message 2: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments I have the book requested from the library, but there is a queue ahead of me, so I might not receive the book in time for March.

message 3: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Yeah, I was trying to get this book from the library too, but there are too many people who are also requesting this book. This book must be really popular!

message 4: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Ronyell wrote: "Yeah, I was trying to get this book from the library too, but there are too many people who are also requesting this book. This book must be really popular!"

Bonhoeffer is considered quite a hero to many, and I think the author is pretty well-known. I hope I can get the book from the library, buying it is out of the question, maybe once it becomes available in paperback, but books are an addiction for me and I must be careful, ha, ha, ha.

message 5: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Yeah! Eric Metaxas was actually well known for Veggie Tales and Rabbit Ears, so that's probably why this book is well known. I can't wait to read this!

message 6: by Tammy (new)

Tammy | 49 comments Mod
This book was so good. I hope all of you get a chance to read it!

message 7: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
I just got the book from the library the other day! Hope I get around to reading it!

message 8: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Ronyell wrote: "I just got the book from the library the other day! Hope I get around to reading it!"

I'm still in line, might be a while yet.

message 9: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments Gundula wrote: "Ronyell wrote: "Yeah, I was trying to get this book from the library too, but there are too many people who are also requesting this book. This book must be really popular!"

Bonhoeffer is consider..."

With so many of us in line at the library, would it be a good idea to extend discussion into April while we all wait in line for April's book??

message 10: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Kathy wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Ronyell wrote: "Yeah, I was trying to get this book from the library too, but there are too many people who are also requesting this book. This book must be really popular!"


I would like that, even though I think it might actually be May before I get a chance to read and discuss the book. I'm still planning to read the book no matter when I can get my library copy.

message 11: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
That is a good suggestion Gundula and Kathy! I will extend this discussion through April while at the same time we discuss Jerusalem Springs if you like that.

message 12: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments Ronyell wrote: "That is a good suggestion Gundula and Kathy! I will extend this discussion through April while at the same time we discuss Jerusalem Springs if you like that."

Sounds good to me!

message 13: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
I've just extended the deadline to April 30th. That should give everyone enough time to read this book!

message 14: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments YEAHHH...!

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) it finished it. My review is here:

I can't recommend this book highly enough. What can I say? It's a wonderful book about a wonderful person.

message 16: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Great review Mike!!! It was sad to see that Bonhoeffer died before he seen the end of WWII.

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) Do we discuss spoilers here as this isn't fiction? If you would rather get everything from the book and haven't read it yet stop here.

It was doubly sad for me as he had gotten engaged just before he was arrested and due to his intended's being much younger they had agreed not to see each other for a year. So, they didn't get a chance to see each other before his arrest. She did visit I believe the book said 17 times over the months he was held.

Sad in so many ways.

message 18: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Yes, you can reveal spoilers here Mike. It does sound really sad that Bonhoeffer was engaged and then suddenly, he is arrested! It's just so tragic for such a true hero.

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) Oddly when you read the book you'll see, Bonhoeffer seemed to be completely ready for his death. It had to be hard, to continually expect to be released and then to expect to be killed. For the longest time they didn't know of his involvement in the conspiracy, and they only found out by the barest chance. The witnesses spoke of his calm it seems almost as if he was comforting them as the Nazis took him away.

message 20: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Yeah, I have noticed that some people who know that they are going to die just remain calm about the whole situation and that is so sad that you know that you are going to die and there's nothing you can do about it.

message 21: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Ronyell wrote: "Yes, you can reveal spoilers here Mike. It does sound really sad that Bonhoeffer was engaged and then suddenly, he is arrested! It's just so tragic for such a true hero."

I'm kind of surprised that the Nazis did not simply also arrest his fiancee; they often punished family members, friends etc. (which is why even individuals who were against Hitler were often reluctant to do anything, remember that the members of the "White Rose" were arrested and executed simply for publishing and distributing flyers that condemned the Nazis). Still waiting for my copy of the book from the library, sigh.

message 22: by Mike (the Paladin) (last edited Apr 02, 2011 06:13PM) (new)

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) He wasn't arrested as part of the conspiracy. He was first arrested basically for continuing to preach the gospel and for disagreeing with the "German Christian Church" (that was the name given it, not a description. It was what they called the "accepted state approved church). It was only after the failed bombing that papers were found etc. that exposed other conspirators who had been deeper in the back ground. You'll see when you read the book as here I'm just sketching it out. His family was "prewar" well respected and because of his uncle he had been well treated in prison, but kept locked up mostly because of his preaching and writing. Later, near the end he was finally found to be involved in a way.

It will become clearer as you read the book.

message 23: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments Okay, I've got a long bit to contribute. This was hard book to read as I'm not very religious and I pretty despise politicians for their primary activity in looking out for number one...and, well, Hitler definitely qualified for that activity!

The Story
Essentially this is the biography of a German who fought through prayer against two enemies: Hitler and the casual attitude people had toward religion. The family in which he was raised encouraged their children to speak when they had something to say, not to waste their words on gossip or frivolity, and to be true Christians. I wish there were so many more people like this in the world.

In the prologue, Metaxas writes that "The family trees of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer [Dietrich's parents] are everywhere so laden with figures of accomplishment that one might expect future generations to be burdened by it all. But … seems to have been a boon,…each child seems not only to have stood on the shoulders of giants but also to have danced them."

When Hitler began his rise to power and began interfering with the Lutheran Church in Germany, Bonhoeffer took an early stand and campaigned against this gross interference by the state in the church eventually spinning off the Confessing Church and attempting to make it the only, legitimate church in Germany as a way to get around what was an end run around church authority; Hitler using the church to establish his own rule.

My Take
I began reading this story when my online book club, Readers Against Racism and Prejudice, chose this as our book for March [2011].

On page 38, Dietrich has made his choice to make his career in theology and his brother, Karl-Friedrich is angry that Dietrich is turning his back on science while a friend states that "theology…[was] not highly respected in those circles [the academic elite of the Bonhoeffer family]. Yet, the earlier part of the book goes on and on about how important religious is for the Bonhoeffer family. That, while papa, Karl, was not religious, as he did not believe in anything that could not be scientifically proven he did support his wife's strong religious feelings. So much so that religion took up a large part of everyday life.

Bonhoeffer had such an incredibly nurturing, supportive family who promoted each child's self-confidence!! I want one of those!

I do like Bonhoeffer's comment about the art in Rome that "the current art historians are the worst guides" for their arbitrary interpretation of the artworks. I don't think any art historian or critic can comment on why or what the artist was trying to convey through the art without actual input from the artist. I have encountered too many docents and guides who tell me what the artist is saying when I have been in that artist's studio or involved in a critique session with the artist and what the artist was saying is nothing like what the guide is saying. I have no objection to interpretation and what the guide thinks it feels to him/her but to place that interpretation in the artist's mouth…no.

I like Bonhoeffer's first realization of "church" at the mass at St. Peter's in Rome when he saw the "universality of the church". Isn't it a shame that this cannot be realized in every church no matter what the denomination or origin? ALL Christians should be tolerant of other Christians, Jews of other Jews, Muslims of other Muslims let alone accepting of the different beliefs between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. (No offense to the other religions in the world for not mentioning you; please interpret my comments as incorporating EVERYONE whether you are Buddhist, animist, vaudun, Hindi, +++++.)

Of course, this goes right along with what Barth and the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches says "that race, national identity, or ethnic background have [nothing]…to do with actual Christian Faith."

Oh, now wait a minute…! " be a Christian, one must live with Christians"??? I don't think so. Bonhoeffer must be schizophrenic…he says this earlier bit about Christians and then he believes that Jews are supposed to be part of the German church.

On page 286, Bonhoeffer goes off on the rails as to what he was taught as a child, in my opinion, when he says "Whoever knowingly separates himself from the Confessing Church in Germany separates himself from salvation." I beg your pardon?? What an incredibly intolerant thing to say?

On page 57, he points out that we [Catholics and Lutherans] pray the same Lord's Prayer and share the same rites with the only importance being God's word. That Jews are just as much God's people as are the Germans. Doesn't that mean that it's okay to live with Jews as well as Christians? And, if they're Jews then they probably attend temple…not…gasp…the Confessing Church…

I have to disagree with Bonhoeffer's insistence that reading the Bible is God speaking to me. The Bible wasn't even written until 200 years or so after Jesus died. You can't even get the same sentence to go around a dining table of people and have it come out as the same sentence and that only takes about 10 minutes. How many minutes in 200 years???

Although. On page 136, Bonhoeffer says that one can read the Bible like any other book…viewpoint of textual criticism…[but] that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface". That one must " enter into the words of the Bible". My interpretation of this is that it's the ideas in the Bible that are important not the actual words. More like the moral behind a parable.

I like Bonhoeffer's distinction between "man-made 'religion'" and "the real essence of Christianity". I agree that we seem to have lost our way here. On page 82, he points out that we have relegated Christianity to Sundays for a few hours that "one cannot give him only a 'small compartment in our spiritual life'.

I do agree that Christian life must be modeled. And that doesn't mean going through the outer rituals of church/synagogue/mosque. Bonhoeffer stated "Jesus did not only communicate ideas and concepts and rules and principles for living. He lived." Can you imagine what Jesus would think of our world today??

Then he goes on to say " 'religion' and moral performance are the very enemies of Christianity…because they present the false idea that…we can reach God through our moral efforts" but isn't that part of being a Christian…being moral? And not just for a few hours on Sundays!

On page 447, Bonhoeffer believes that "one must sacrifice oneself utterly to God's purposes, even to the point of possibly making moral mistakes. One's obedience to God must be forward-oriented and zealous and free, and to be a mere moralist or pietist would make such a life impossible". Isn't this pretty what the radical Muslims believe???

Metaxas mentions that Bonhoeffer has a central theme to his sermons—supporting the earthly, incarnational aspect of the Christian faith" as opposed to the Gnostic idea "that the body is inferior to the soul or spirit". Bonhoeffer goes on to say, "God wants to see human beings not ghosts who shun the world". But in some ways isn't the central tenet Bonhoeffer embraces one of giving up on the world? It ties in with my conflict over the whole "turn the other cheek" exhortation. Bonhoeffer fervently believes that prayer is the way to accomplish what is needed and yet, he still engages in campaigning against the Ecumenical Church of Germany for its caving in to Hitler. On the other hand, I'm guessing (I'm only up to page 358) that Bonhoeffer plans to rely upon prayer to get him through jail. I'm so angry that he didn't stay in America [in 1939]. That he felt he had to be in Germany to help. I also understand why he felt he had to be there and I'd like to think I would do the same. I dunno… I like Emmi Bonhoeffer ripping at him for being "unwilling to get your own hand dirty and do it". It's that cheap grace issue Bonhoeffer keeps on about. He mentions that "merely talking about God, but…[not] getting his hands dirty in the real word…was bad theology". And, eventually, he does come to realize that "merely speaking truth", "resisting by way of confession" is a form of cheap grace and is exactly what he's doing which tips him over into joining the conspiracy. Now he'll be "confessing by way of resistance".

Yeah! It is about time!! It's more important to get rid of Hitler and save a heckuva lot of people than it is to try and save a few military asses. Duh…

What an asshole! Winston Churchill been wanting the army guys to commit so they finally make a try and he condemns them????

On page 141, Bonhoeffer points out the difference between "real leadership and the false leadership of der Fürher". Under Kaiser Wilhelm, the state was teacher, statesman, and father with the responsibility of caring for the citizens of Germany with limitations to his authority whereas Hitler saw taking over the leadership of Germany as an opportunity to impose his desires with no rein on his actions…"self-derived, autocratic…[with]…a messianic aspect."

Please, please, please can we keep the lesson of the National Socialists front and center so we never repeat such horrific actions ever again?!? There are many aspects of the start of the Nazi takeover of Germany and its citizens that make me think of Homeland Security with its paranoias. Hitler too started off small eliminating small civil liberties. Disguising the T-4 "solution" with its questionnaires and using the Junkers' natures against them to drive Germany and Germans deeper and deeper into Hitler's pit.

When Bonhoeffer returns to New York in 1939, he mentions that New York is more international than London with its many immigrants and I got to wondering if so many Americans resent them because we feel threatened that they will bring their lives and cultures here and overtake our own.

I don't really understand that as we've had several centuries of immigrants bringing the richness of their own cultures over resulting in it mingling…or melting…into the pot we do have. I certainly wouldn't give up my Christmas tree, Guinness, moo shu pork, tom yum soup, gyros, or falafels for anything…!

I feel so angry that Bonhoeffer manages to escape and then chooses to throw it all away to go back. It 's so hard to choose between safety for self or a sure imprisonment just to be there in the thick of things, although, one does have to live with oneself. I'm not sure I wouldn't have made the same decision. The agony of not knowing what was happening. Believing that one took the easy way out even if one could justify it by publicizing what was happening in Germany, countering Hitler's spin.

If Bonhoeffer knew he would be imprisoned and executed within a few years, would he have stayed in the States?

Separation of Church and State
The more I read, the more grateful I am that America has that separate of church and state. One of the reasons the pastors in the Confessing Church had such a difficult time going against the Nazis was that those same Nazis provided their income. Then there's the fact that the German people saw the kaiser as the father of the church, i.e., the government was the head of the church so it would be fairly natural for them to transfer that view over to their new Chancellor as well. Could you imagine Homeland Security in charge of every church in America?

Oh lord, then Hitler comes up with his plot to invade Poland while painting himself like the poor, put-upon victim. Give me a break! How could this have fooled anyone??

On page 349, when Bonhoeffer writes the letter in which he's "stunned by this news" of brother Theodor Maass' death. Please. It's war. What was he thinking? That people don't die in war? Besides, what the devil do they mean by agreeing to fight in Hitler's war when they know it's wrong?? That's taking the easy way out and supposedly that's what Bonhoeffer's been going on about throughout the en

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) I'm willing to discus the questions you bring up one at a time, but before I try I thought I'd offer as that can get into discussions that people really don't want. So... Let me know.

message 25: by Tammy (new)

Tammy | 49 comments Mod
Kathy, your thoughtful commentary shows incredible reasoning. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I think Mike is the perfect one to discuss this with. I loved this biography. I will admit to some uncertainty with decisions made but I loved the goal of Bonhoeffer to get people to see that piety through scholarly pursuit is not service. I believe in faith and the intent of your heart. No amount of 'Good Works' and religious ritual will get you to heaven IMO.

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) That is one of the questions but I didn't want to start trying to cover the entire range of questions and so on brought up.

On that one it's not an either or situation as some seem to think, as in salvation by works or grace. The teaching is salvation by grace. An actual relationship with God works change from which good works flow.

Of course I'm sure there is more that Kathy might want to go into... On the other hand I don't want to push.

message 27: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments I'm not sure if Bonhoeffer was saying this, but what I got out of it was that you had to physically do good deeds from an intentional heart with no thought of return. His whole living as a, for lack of a better word, Christian.

People who introduce themselves to me as Christians usually send me running in the other direction as they are usually the Ecumenical [German] type Christians. I would like B's type. I sure did love the sound of his family.

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) It's hard to know what your experience has been. The Christian Church is so spread today 2000 years of translations and human nature. We have a basic set of doctrines that "most" of us agree on but even there application changes. It almost requires specific discussion.

In the bio we just read Bonhoeffer's own writings bear out that his own views grew. He originally had a very negative view of American Christians in general only to have to rethink his views when visiting an African American congregation rather than the affluent liberal church he was originally introduced to.

Short version (or is it too late for that LOL). He came to understand that the "Church" (capitol C as in the Body of Christ) is actually spread as individuals throughout many different denominations. It's about relationship with Christ, His Grace and the changes that come from that relationship, which of course lead to the works he was referring to, among other things.

message 29: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments Well, the short version is certainly too late for me!

Yes, that's the idea I got from Bonhoeffer. It makes sense that he preferred the Africa-American version as they were more interested in God whereas the affluent liberal bunch were more interested in themselves and their own agendas.

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) Of course the thing there is that even then Bonhoeffer's experience of Christianity in America was extremely limited, yet he'd made a "gut level decision" about it. It's a very human thing to do.

Have you read any P.G.Wodehouse? There's a character in one of his books, a wealthy English matron who comes to America to make a two week tour, of the entire country (This is during the Edwardian period so we're talking a rail tour) and then she was going to write a "detailed" travel guide for the English. Bonhoeffer wasn't that far gone (LOL) but he was reacting to America based on his own experience of Germany. Again, human.

I am (as you have probably guessed) a Christin. I "try" to keep in mind that I'm going to inevitably end up looking at everything through the prism or "eyeglasses" of my own experience, education and experience. I can't help it. All I can do is try to adjust that as closely as I can to reality.

Bonhoeffer did (I think) a pretty good job job over time of not only adjusting his own views but cogently handing them down. I do wish he'd survived the war, though of course I have no way of knowing what he might have written post-war, but I'm sorry we missed it.

message 31: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments I did a quickie email to my sister, she's been living in Germany for almost 30 years now, to ask her what the church is like there now...because I too was curious as to what it's like some 50 years later. And what it might have been like if B had lived. It's such a shame when we lose someone who is such a power for good!

As you can guess, I'm technically Christian. I simply don't believe in organized religion as they seem to get more concerned with their own particular viewpoint. I think it's what I essentially liked about Bonhoeffer---he was willing to adjust.

Wodehouse?? Oh yeah! I love him. It's always fun to read something from another's perspective. Gives you something new to consider. Have you read any of Bill Bryson's travelogues?

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) No only vaguely aware of them, I may look them up (though like most here I already have a daunting number of "to be read books" LOL).

It would be hard to codify what I believe I suppose as over the years my understanding of God has changed (grown I hope). I'm an elder at our church, that to is a word with different meanings in different denominations. For us it means basically that I'm ordained but not employed by the church. Sort of "preacher without a paycheck" LOL. I don't do any sermons or anything anymore. I stopped any duties when my wife became bed fast some years ago and needed mostly full time care. I haven't taken any back up outside prayer in services and being available if someone wants to call.

I suppose there are places where I disagree with the pastor, well I know we see some things differently though not "basic" doctrines. I would hate to have to find a different denomination as I'd have to find a place to worship where I might disagree more. But the way I look at it is that it's about God and worship of God. There's a Presbyterian pastor on the Radio (I forget which branch of the Presbyterian Church) who says "When we come before God He'll say. I've got good news and I've got bad news. The bad news is, you were all wrong. The good news is, it's okay."

message 33: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments That's more my idea of's okay...

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