Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Bonhoeffer; Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Not very often do I read a book that I feel compelled to write a blog post about it.  The last one I did was on a biography of Thomas Merton.  Once again, I am writing about a biography I read.  This time it is on a man whose convictions led him to do many drastic things in his life.  This man was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

A few years ago, I read one of his prized works, The Cost of Discipleship.  It was a great book and had a great breakdown of the Sermon on the Mount found in the gospel of Matthew.  In it there was a brief history of Bonhoeffer.  I was captivated by the few pages written about this man who had written the book I was about to read.  Somehow in my studies in college, I never heard much about this man.  Since then, I had desired to learn more of this man that became a martyr during the rule of the Third Reich.

While I was at a friend's house around Christmas, I noticed this thick, blue book with the word Bonhoeffer written in white letters on the spine.  I pulled the book off of the shelf to take a look.  This interested me.  Here is this massive biography of a man that I want to learn more about.  After forcing myself to not open the book and start reading at that moment, I placed it back on the shelf and logged it into my memory as something I must read one day.  A few days later I find myself at the bookstore hoping to find The Crucified God by Moltmann.  They didn't have it.  I should not have expected a normal books store to have in stock a book that even most Christians know nothing about.  What did catch my eye that night was the thick, blue book with Bonhoeffer written in white on the spine.  I quickly picked up that book and proceeded to the check out.

This book quickly sucked me in to the story and life of Dietrich.  Though it starts off with a bit of a history not of Dietrich himself, but of his family and lineage.  We learn that his grandfather was a great theologian, that his father was an honored psychiatrist of the day and of many other family members that were influential during their own lives in Germany.  From the start this man is from good, German stock.  Something that one of his opponents would have been proud.  We also get a great glimpse into the early life of Dietrich and the rest of his immediate family.  One thing that is very clear from the start, this family was very close, they were well educated but also knew how to enjoy the wonderful things in life.

While Dietrich was still young, World War I broke out.  Metaxas, the author, gives a great view into the historical and sociological context during this period of Germany.  With the defeat of Germany in the war and the restrictions placed upon them from the treaties, Germans felt humiliated.  This led to many changes in government and how daily life happened after the war.

The author also notes the brilliance of Bonhoeffer during his academic career.  During this time, classical liberalism, particularly in the field of theology was the popular view.  He was one of the few that opposed those views but did so with great dignity and respect from his teachers and colleagues.  After achieving his doctorate in his early 20's Bonhoeffer began traveling to work with congregations in different parts of the world.  His travels took him to Rome, Spain, America, and London.  These travels influenced his love of the art and his enthusiasm for the ecumenical movement.  It was fascinating to see how all of this information shaped this young man.

As most you will know, the National Socialists (Nazis) came into power under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.  As time went on, this government would slowly change the government, society, and church in Germany.  Bonhoeffer was one of those that opposed the changes made particularly within the church.  Along with other pastors and leaders, they began the Confessing Church.  Dietrich also used his ecumenical ties with pastors and leaders in England, Switzerland, and American to let the world know of the horrors that were happening in Germany during this time.

Through all of this, the Nazis became more powerful and started to use their forceful tactics to get people to fall in line.  Eventually, Bonhoeffer traveled back to the U.S. to teach and lecture.  This was short lived because he knew his place was in Germany with his suffering brothers.  Through a friend, he was able to become a government agent for Germany.  He used this position to eventually rebel against the Third Reich.  Many of those people that Bonhoeffer was close to were a part of the resistance even though they were high ranking military and government officials.  They also planned many assassination attempts on Hitler, with them all failing.  After the failed attempt on July 20, 1944, which the movie Valkyrie is based, many in the resistance were arrested, Bonhoeffer included.  Eventually, he was killed only days before the camp he was being held in was liberated by the Allies.

Though he is known for his resistance to the Nazis, that is not what stood out to me the most.  It seemed that everywhere he went, he enjoyed life and took every opportunity to learn new things, broaden his knowledge and impact the people he was in charge of.  While he was a professor in Berlin, he would often invite his students to "hang out" as it were.  He became involved in their lives.  He did this same thing with a class of confirmants he was assigned to.  This also led to similar practices when he started two illegal seminaries in Germany.  I also enjoyed what seemed to be a great balance of academia along with living his life as close to what Jesus did.

Though I feel that I told you a great deal about his life, the details found in the book bring this man to life in the words of the pages.  After a few chapters, I felt connected to this man who lived over 70 years ago.  I hope that you will be able to read this book in the near future.  I would say that it was one of the best books I have read in my life.  I have said that about many previous readings but none have been so inspiring as this.  If you have read it, tell me what you though about it.

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