Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have been an evangelical if he lived today. I (Michael) am kidding of course, but this could be one of the themes you infer Eric Metaxas is attempting to include in his 2010 biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Those who have studied Bonhoeffer’s life and theology actually critique the book for this theme, but I am uncertain if this is really what Metaxas is trying to get across.  I would say this massive look at the German theologian, pastor and spy working against Hitler and the Nazis, is perhaps more of an attempt to show Bonhoeffer engaged a wider theological perspective in his day than many other theologians in Germany at the time. If Bonhoeffer was alive today, would he be considered a Liberal theologian (with all the baggage that entails)? I think he probably would. But what this biography attempts to show, is that in spite of the theological currents of his day, Bonhoeffer’s theology was strongly Christocentric. The incarnation was central to all Bonhoeffer believed and really influenced his Christian ethic, which would ultimately lead to his opposition of Hilter, and his own death.

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As I approached this book, my thoughts of Bonhoeffer were associated with reasons for non-violent resistance: in my thinking, he served as an example of using violence to stop violence. When his efforts failed, more violence was caused. Though my stance on non-violence has not changed, I am forced to take a different perspective on the kind of evil Bonhoeffer saw around him, and I have come to a greater understanding as to why he believed the assassination of Hitler was the only solution to the problem Germany faced. In Bonhoeffer, Metaxas writes of how Bonhoeffer believed it was possible and almost necessary to pursue obedience to what you believed God was calling you to do, to such a degree that in your zeal, you might sin or fail. When I think of  the evil of Hitler and his followers, I can understand that in defense of the defenseless, one might do that which equates to missing the mark and failing, but at the same time, doing nothing out of fear of not being forgiven, would also amount to sin. To this point I am leaving this book with a lot to think about.

I believe for both myself and the author, Bonhoeffer’s interest in living the Christian life together hit a chord. For me, some of this comes from living in a Christian community of shared rhythm of life in YWAM, but it also points to something that, when staff and students leave YWAM, find difficult to find in the “outside world.” There is something about eating together, worshiping together, praying together, and working together that creates community and a common faith, in a way that the isolation of suburban living cannot find. Not to say that every conversation I have around the dining room table is deeply theological or that I pray for someone everyday, but there is space for deeply theological conversations and opportunities to pray more often than not. I am challenged to see my faith expand beyond the YWAM campus and into the world around me, both here in Alberta and around the world.

It took me about six months to read, but I would highly recommend giving Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy a read.

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One thought on “Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

  1. I listened to this from my local library and loved it. Prior to hearing the book I did not know much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I was really inspired by his life, and his choices. The links that you found with YWAM are certainly interesting, as I have been in YWAM for 15-years, and can see a lot of what you said…

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