This is one of those books that stays in your mind and begs to be reread. It’s wise, informative, inspiring, and totally captivating. In fact, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is the best book I’ve read this year.
Why? Well, first of all it is about Bonhoeffer, a great figure in 20th century Christianity. His profound and practical struggles concerning the significance of church, the meaning of nationalism, the importance of obeying God, and the role of organized religion are fascinating reading. Even more gripping is the story of how he applied these ideas in his tireless struggle for truth in the German church and equality in Nazi Germany. From his earliest stand against the mistreatment of Jews, to the conspiracy against Hitler which led to his death, Bonhoeffer passionately followed the implications and demands of the gospel.
Brilliantly combining old documents with a compelling narrative, Metaxes tells the story of Bonhoeffer’s life, a life full of contrasts stemming from his commitment to follow God. Although he was the intellectual son of a highly cultured family, Bonhoeffer became a committed mentor to the roughest boys of the area. Despite being a brilliant theologian, he learned to apply his faith in a basic and radical way to everyday life. Although he was a spy and influential conspirator against Hitler, he hid behind the façade of a naïve other-worldly pastor. He never married, but his fiancée brought great joy and hope into his life while he was imprisoned. Even in prison he was so busy helping other people that he sometimes felt overwhelmed by time pressures. And in prison, too, his courage, calmness, trust, and unfailing good nature captivated even his Nazi guards.
Bonhoeffer’s struggles against entrenched ideas in Germany elucidate, to me, the great mystery of Nazi popularity in an otherwise civilized society. Metaxas carefully outlines the situation in the German church and nation, incomprehensible to us but an unquestioned part of reality at the time. Not knowing God’s Word well, German citizens were easily swayed by the charisma of a man who promised to restore national pride after the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. It is easy for us to feel smugly superior to that deluded nation, but unless we know our Bibles and are willing to stand up for truth, we, too, may make sickening errors in judgment due to personal, national, or cultural blind spots.
Caution: You may wish to avoid pages 509 to 514 which graphically describe ‘medical experiments’ performed by the Nazis.