Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Bonhoeffer Biography

Prominent among Christian martyrs of modern times is the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in April 1945, just before the arrival of the allied armies, was executed on Hitler’s orders. Bonhoeffer became known not only for his heroic opposition to Hitler, but also and especially for the fact that this opposition was motivated by his allegiance to Christ. Resistance to the Nazi regime was for him a matter of following the Christ who (as Bonhoeffer writes in one of his books), when he calls a man, “bids him come and die.” His theology was a theology of discipleship and therefore not of triumph or worldly comfort, but of the cross.

The standard biography of Bonhoeffer was written shortly after the war by his friend and former student Eberhard Bethge. Since then many commentaries have appeared on Bonhoeffer’s life and work but no full-fledged new biography. That gap is now filled by Eric Metaxas (the author also of a recently published and highly acclaimed biography of William Wilberforce). In his Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010), Metaxas makes use of Bethge’s work but comes with additional material and with new insights as well. In my review I draw attention to similarities between this biography and James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, which I reviewed earlier. Although there are important differences between the two books, both have much to teach us about the Christian life in the world of today, and I hope that both will be read and studied among us.

For the review see our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

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