Read: as a review copy from BookSneeze (Thomas Nelson, 608 pages, originally published April 2010)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (finished 12/4/10)
Synopsis (from Publisher’s Weekly): In this weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas offers a comprehensive review of one of history’s darkest eras, along with a fascinating exploration of the familial, cultural and religious influences that formed one of the world’s greatest contemporary theologians. A passionate narrative voice combines with meticulous research to unpack the confluence of circumstances and personalities that led Germany from the defeat of WWI to the atrocities of WWII. Abundant source documentation (sermons, letters, journal entries, lectures, the Barman Declaration) brings to life the personalities and experiences that shaped Bonhoeffer: his highly intellectual, musical family; theologically liberal professors, pastoral colleagues and students; his extensive study, work, and travel abroad. Tracing Bonhoeffer’s developing call to be a Jeremiah-like prophet in his own time and a growing understanding that the church was called “to speak for those who could not speak,” Metaxas details Bonhoeffer’s role in religious resistance to Nazism, and provides a compelling account of the faith journey that eventually involved the Lutheran pastor in unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Hitler. Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology.
Overall Impression: Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of those names that shows up a lot in Christianity; for instance, he seems to get quoted a lot in church bulletin notes (he’s very quotable). But, as Metaxas lays out in his biography, Bonhoeffer was so much more than just a theologian with a penchant for proverbs. Bonhoeffer was an incredible man.
Although this book is weighty and long (600+ pages — it took me months to work my way through it), I highly recommend it. Bonhoeffer is a remarkable example of what it means to shine a light into the darkness. He and too few others stood up to the Nazi regime, over and over again denouncing their reign of terror. Finally, he became part of the resistance to kill Hitler, which ultimately lead to his own martyrdom. Metaxas lays out many inspiring things about his life — his adoration of God, his heart of prayer, his love of the Jewish people, his knowledge of theology, the beauty of his writing, his love of his family. It made me reconsider almost every part of my own life to see if I could live more closely aligned with God’s heart for the people around me.
The book also touched on a lot of moral issues that Bonhoeffer and his colleagues wrestled with. For instance, is murder ever justified – killing Hitler to save millions? Is suicide ever justified — killing yourself to save your family from being tortured and killed? Is lying justified — to pretend to be on one side, when you’re actually collecting information for the other? And because he wrestled with these ideas, I found myself wondering as well. It provoked a lot of interesting conversations with my friends about these difficult issues.
The only thing that bothered me was every once in a while Metaxas seemed less than objective. It was clear he respected Bonhoeffer, and it made question whether anything was either pronounced or played down because of his love of his subject.
Pros: Highly readable, even with the dense subject matter. Metaxas really brings Bonhoeffer to life, and shows him to be someone all Christians should know about.
Cons: It felt a little biased in places, but it wasn’t too bad.
Other blogger opinions:
Somewhere North: “First of all, it would be a disservice to say that this book is simply the biography of one man…Metaxas also carefully outlines the global, national, ecclesiastical and family context within which Bonhoeffer developed his theological thinking and, most importantly, acted upon his convictions that “theology must lead to the practical aspects of how to live as a Christian.”
While We Sojurn: “There are a few books that, years after I have read them, I realize have had a great influence on me. This is sure to be one of them.”
Steven Hovater: “In my own judgment, part of the reason the book works is that, despite its simplistic view of Bonhoeffer at times, you can’t help loving him as the story progresses.”
Other books I’ve read by Eric Metaxas: none
Legal gobbledygook: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of their BookSneeze program. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”