Monday, January 20, 2014

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas: A Review

If you happened to see telecast of the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast you may have known that the author of this book was the keynote speaker. And if so, I think you'll agree with me that Eric Metaxas is a compelling figure in his own right. His work on Bonhoeffer only legitimizes his voice.

This comprehensive history of Dietrich Bonhoeffer traces his life from the origins of his parents, to his untimely death by execution at age 39. One of the most helpful insights into the complex difficulties of second World War Germany is the detailed correspondence between the various religious leaders, especially of the 'Confessing Church'. This exclusively German religious entity literally shaped the essence of the conflict between Nazi ideology and the prominent conservative protestant bodies of faith. I found it particularly insightful regarding the particular and singular uncomfortable and confusing position that a man of Bonhoeffer's education and intellect must have experienced, as a somewhat wealthy German theologian and as a person with Jewish relatives. 

Perhaps the surprise for me was the gradual and fluid nature of the escalating climate of madness in a country which was not only historically the seat of reformed Protestantism, but also known for its high priority on proper order and precision in daily life. It is easy to  form a simplistic view as an American looking back with the full benefit of hindsight, and quite another thing to live in the center of a maelstrom, (as Bonhoeffer did) and make sense of what is happening around you.

Bonhoeffer's choice to 'work for the enemy' was one that not everyone could make. I find the cunning with which he juggled this and the role of fully engaged and compassionate pastor and theologian as perhaps the most fascinating element of his life.The book left me permanently riveted to the study of World War II
Germany. I highly recommend it. There is also a movie which provides a rather chilling picture (less warm than Metaxas depiction) but a good companion to the book. 

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