My Chicagoland buddy Trey Morris recommended I read a book that a friend of his wrote, "Bonhoeffer". While I have read and admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings from the 1930's and 40's, I knew only a few of the major historical facts about the man. His books, "The Cost of Discipleship" and "Life Together" are foundational to a Christian education, a part from them, you have missed two of the gems.
When I received the 560 page book by Eric Metaxas I was unsure of my commitment to reading a biography of such length. If this were Augustine, Aquinas, Edwards or Calvin I would understand, but so much about one dude? I was unsure of the investment of time and my limited attention span.
After completing the first two chapters I was hooked like a catfish that swallowed a treble hook. I had a weekend in the Hill Country with my family where all I did was read the book. My wife was not happy with my disconnect from them as they floated around the resort, but I could not put the book down and was compelled to continue, even knowing the reality that Bonhoeffer is hung in the end for his plot against Hitler.
I've spoken in past blogs about the "Democracy of the Dead", and in this book, Metaxas allows Bonhoeffer to speak truth from the grave into our modern society as he speaks of his love and struggle for the church that was bowing to the signs of the times and forsaking orthodoxy. As he watched a nation of Christian people remain apathetic and self protective, as Protestant and Catholic alike endorsed The Fuhrer and his politics, Bonhoeffer was not completely alone in his opposition, but it must have felt like it.
The Bonhoeffer family were all intellectuals. Dietrich's brother worked with Einstein. His father was a leading physiologist in Germany, he followed in his grandfather's theological footsteps.
His letters are included throughout the book, and Metaxas connects time lines and thought patterns so well that you would wish him to include more writings and not less.
You watch a man in his theological studies not come to faith with the Prayer of Confession, but through a mind and heart that falls in love with Christ and the finished work of the cross. Then you watch a man who comes to a prophetic understanding of his call. His call to good theology, his call to a love of God, his call to fight at all costs, even death, for the sake of others.
In the last chapters Bonhoeffer is shuffled in a van from location to location with fellow conspirators and other traitors of the state. You know his moment is coming, and the few eye witness accounts of the pastors last days are powerful. Much as the soldier at the cross shares his observations of Christ, so the inmates and soldiers share theirs of Bonhoeffer in a statement of truth about the man in his final moments.
In my mind I heard the drop of the floor and the yank of the rope as I read...my heart sank and I wished for a different ending. I wished Bonhoeffer had escaped. I wished he had the opportunity to write more books. I wished he'd had the opportunity to restore truth and good theology to Germany. I wished his voice would echo more loudly in the ecumenical church.
The American pastorate has much to learn from Bonhoeffer as well as us laymen.
Our willingness to stick our necks out for truth, love and others is limited by our American self preservationist will. We fail to speak out for others or orthodoxy for fear of losing our jobs, our tax exempt status, our tithes. I'll be expanding on these thoughts in the near future.
I have encouraged others to read Metaxas' work of art, and consider the words and life of Bonhoeffer and what he is teaching us today. Others that have started the book have shared with me that they've had trouble putting it down.
Bonhoeffer is a hero of the faith. Take some time and study his life and writings
A few notable quotes from DB:
"It is far too easy for us to base our claims to God on our own Christian-religiosity and our church commitment, and in so doing utterly to misunderstand and distort the Christian idea."
"It's much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity."
"At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and its decisions."
"Hence the American intolerance, or rather indifference to dogmatic questions. A warlike encounter is excluded, but so too is a true passionate longing for unity in the faith."
"Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death"
"Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior"