Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

4.3 3
by Eric Metaxas

From the New York Times
best-selling author, Eric Metaxas, an abridged version of the groundbreaking biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century, a man who stood up to Hitler.

A definitive,
deeply moving narrative, Bonhoeffer is a story of moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. As Adolf


From the New York Times
best-selling author, Eric Metaxas, an abridged version of the groundbreaking biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century, a man who stood up to Hitler.

A definitive,
deeply moving narrative, Bonhoeffer is a story of moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a young pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer become one of the first to speak out against Hitler.
As a double agent, he joined the plot to assassinate the Führer, and he was hanged in Flossenberg concentration camp at age thirty-nine. Since his death,
Bonhoeffer has grown to be one of the most fascinating, complex figures of the twentieth century.

Bonhoeffer brings the reader face-to-face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfully—even to the point of death. It is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil.

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Bonhoeffer Abridged

Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy


Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Eric Metaxas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-1619-7




The rich world of his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer's own life. It gave him a certainty of judgment and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation. He grew up in a family that believed the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical heritage and intellectual tradition.

—Eberhard Bethge

In the winter of 1896, before the aforementioned older couple had met, they were invited to attend an "open evening" at the house of the physicist Oscar Meyer. "There," wrote Karl Bonhoeffer years later, "I met a young, fair, blue-eyed girl whose bearing was so free and natural, and whose expression was so open and confident, that as soon as she entered the room she took me captive. This moment when I first laid eyes upon my future wife remains in my memory with an almost mystical force."

Karl Bonhoeffer and Paula von Hase married on March 5, 1898, three weeks shy of the groom's thirtieth birthday. The bride was twenty-two. Both of them—doctor and teacher—came from fabulously illustrious backgrounds. In fact, the family trees of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer are everywhere so laden with figures of accomplishment that one might expect future generations to be burdened by it all. But the welter of wonderfulness that was their heritage seems to have been a boon, one that buoyed them up so that each child seems not only to have stood on the shoulders of giants but also to have danced on them.

They brought eight children into the world within a decade. The first two sons came in the space of a year: Karl-Friedrich was born on January 13, 1899, and Walter—two months premature—on December 10. Their third son, Klaus, was born in 1901, followed by two daughters, Ursula in 1902 and Christine in 1903. On February 4, 1906, their fourth and youngest son, Dietrich, was born ten minutes before his twin sister, Sabine, and he teased her about this advantage throughout their lives. The twins were baptized by the kaiser's former chaplain, their grandfather Karl Alfred von Hase, who lived a seven-minute walk away. Susanne, the last child, was born in 1909. Dietrich was the only child to inherit his mother's fair complexion and flaxen-colored hair. The three elder brothers were dark like their father.

All the Bonhoeffer children were born in Breslau, where Karl Bonhoeffer held the chair in psychiatry and neurology at the university, and was director of the hospital for nervous diseases. The Bonhoeffer house—at 7 Birkenwäldchen—was near Karl's clinic. It was a gigantic, rambling three-story affair with gabled roofs, numerous chimneys, a screened porch, and a large balcony overlooking the spacious garden where the children played.

Their mother presided over the well-appointed home. Upstairs was the schoolroom with desks, where Paula taught the children their lessons. It had been somewhat shocking when she chose to take the teacher's examination as a single woman, but as a married woman, Paula Bonhoeffer used what she had learned to great effect. When they were a bit older, she sent the children to the local public schools, where they invariably excelled.

In 1910, the Bonhoeffers decided to look for a place to spend their holidays. They chose a remote idyll in the woods of the Glatz Mountains near the Bohemian border, a two-hour train ride south of Breslau. The name of this rustic paradise was Wolfesgründ. It was so far off the beaten track that the family never saw another soul, save for a single odd character: a "bigoted forestry official" who wandered through now and again. Bonhoeffer later memorialized him in a fictionalized account as the character Gelbstiefel (Yellow Boots).

We get our first glimpses of Dietrich during this time, when he was four and five years old. They come to us from his twin, Sabine:

My first memories go back to 1910. I see Dietrich in his party frock, stroking with his small hand the blue silk underskirt; later I see him beside our grandfather, who is sitting by the window with our baby sister Susanne on his knee, while the afternoon sun pours in in the golden light. Here the outlines blur, and only one more scene will form in my mind: first games in the garden in 1911, Dietrich with a mass of ash-blond hair around his sunburnt face, hot from romping, driving away the midges and looking for a shady corner, and yet only obeying very unwillingly the nursemaid's call to come in, because the immensely energetic game is not yet finished. Heat and thirst were forgotten in the intensity of his play.

Sisters Käthe and Maria van Horn came to the Bonhoeffers six months after the twins were born, and for two decades they formed a vital part of the family's life. Fräulein Käthe was usually in charge of the three little ones. Both van Horn sisters were devout Christians schooled at the community of Herrnhut, which means "the Lord's watch tower," and they had a decided spiritual influence on the Bonhoeffer children.

When Dietrich and Sabine were old enough to be schooled, their mother turned the duty over to Fräulein Käthe, though Paula still presided over the children's religious instruction. Dietrich's earliest recorded theological inquiries occurred when he was about four. He asked his mother: "Does the good God love the chimney sweep too?" and "Does God, too, sit down to lunch?"

The place of religion in the Bonhoeffer home was far from pietist but followed some Herrnhut traditions. For one thing, the Bonhoeffers rarely went to church; for baptisms and funerals, they usually turned to Paula's father or brother. The family was not anti-clerical—indeed, the children loved to "play" at baptizing each other—but their Christianity was mostly of the homegrown variety. Daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing, all of it led by Frau Bonhoeffer. Her reverence for the Scriptures was such that she read Bible stories to her children from the actual Bible text and not from a children's retelling. Still, she sometimes used an illustrated Bible, explaining the pictures as she went.

Paula Bonhoeffer's faith was most evident in the values that she and her husband taught their children. Exhibiting selflessness, expressing generosity, and helping others were central to the family culture. Still, their good behavior did not always come naturally. Fräulein Käthe remembered:

Dietrich was often mischievous and got up to various pranks, not always at the appropriate time. I remember that Dietrich specially liked to do this when the children were supposed to get washed and dressed quickly because we had been invited to go out. So one such day he was dancing round the room, singing and being a thorough nuisance. Suddenly the door opened, his mother descended upon him, boxed his ears right and left, and was gone. Then the nonsense was over. Without shedding a tear, he now did what he ought.

Karl Bonhoeffer would not have called himself a Christian, but he respected his wife's tutelage of the children in this and lent his tacit approval to it, even if only by participating as an observer. With the values that his wife taught the children, he was entirely in agreement. Among those values was a serious respect for the feelings and opinions of others, including his wife's. She was the granddaughter, daughter, and sister of men whose lives were given to theology, and he knew she was serious about her faith and had hired governesses who were serious about it.

"There was no place for false piety or any kind of bogus religiosity in our home," Sabine said. "Mama expected us to show great resolution." Mere churchgoing held little charm for her. The concept of cheap grace that Dietrich would later make so famous might have had its origins in his mother; perhaps not the term, but the idea behind it, that faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God.

The Move to Berlin, 1912

In 1912, Dietrich's father accepted an appointment to the chair of psychiatry and neurology in Berlin. This put him at the head of his field in Germany. It's hard to overstate Karl Bonhoeffer's influence. His mere presence in Berlin "turned the city into a bastion against the invasion of Freud's and Jung's psycho-analysis," in the words of Eberhard Bethge, a close friend of Dietrich's. Karl Bonhoeffer never publicly dismissed Freud, Jung, or Adler and their theories, but he held them at arm's length with a measured skepticism borne of his devotion to empirical science. Bethge quoted Karl Bonhoeffer's friend, Robert Gaupp, a Heidelberg psychiatrist:

In intuitive psychology and scrupulous observation Bonhoeffer had no superior. But he came from the school of Wernicke, which was solely concerned with the brain, and permitted no departure from thinking in terms of cerebral pathology.... [He] had no urge to advance into the realm of dark, undemonstrable, bold and imaginative interpretation, where so much has to be assumed and so little can be proved.... [He] remained within the borders of the empirical world that was accessible to him.

The family's move from Breslau to Berlin must have felt like a leap. For many, Berlin was the center of the universe. Its university was one of the best in the world, the city was an intellectual and cultural center, and it was the seat of an empire. Their new house—on the Brückenallee, near the northwest part of the Tiergarten—was less spacious than their Breslau house and situated on smaller grounds. But it had the special distinction of sharing a wall with Bellevue Park, where the royal children played.

In 1913, seven-year-old Dietrich began school outside the home. For the next six years he attended the Friedrich-Werder Gymnasium. Dietrich did well in school, but was not beyond needing discipline, which his parents didn't hesitate to provide. "Dietrich does his work naturally and tidily," his father wrote. "He likes fighting, and does a great deal of it."

"Hurrah! There's a war!"

With the move to Berlin, their Wölfesgrund house was too far away, so the Bonhoeffers sold it and found a country home in Friedrichsbrunn in the Harz Mountains. They spent the summer of 1914 there. But on the first day of August, while the three younger children and their governess were in the village enjoying themselves, the world changed. Flitting here and there through the crowd, until it reached them, was the stunning news that Germany had declared war on Russia. Dietrich and Sabine were eight and a half, and she recalled the scene:

The village was celebrating its local shooting festival. Our governess suddenly dragged us away from the pretty, enticing market stalls and the merry-go-round which was being pulled by a poor white horse, so as to bring us back as quickly as possible to our parents in Berlin. Sadly I looked at the now emptying scene of the festivities, where the stall-holders were hastily pulling down their tents. In the late evening we could hear through the window the songs and shouts of the soldiers in their farewell celebrations. Next day, after the adults had hastily done the packing, we found ourselves sitting in the train to Berlin.

When they arrived back home, one of the girls ran into the house and exclaimed, "Hurrah! There's a war!" She was promptly slapped. The Bonhoeffers were not opposed to war, but neither would they celebrate it.

For the most part, however, the boys were thrilled and remained so for some time, though they were careful in expressing it. Dietrich's brothers wouldn't be eligible to enlist until 1917, and no one dreamed the war could last that long. But they could at least get caught up in the whole thing and talk about it knowledgeably, as the grown-ups did. Dietrich often played at soldiers with his cousin Hans-Christoph, and the next summer at Friedrichsbrunn, he wrote his parents asking them to send newspaper articles about events at the front. Like many boys, he made a map and stuck colored pins into it, marking the Germans' advancement.

The War Comes Home

In time the realities of war came home. A cousin was killed. Then another. Another cousin lost a leg. Their cousin Lothar had an eye shot out and a leg severely crushed. Yet another cousin died. Food grew scarce. Even for the relatively well-to-do Bonhoeffers, hunger became an issue. Dietrich distinguished himself as especially resourceful in procuring food; he got so involved in tracking down food supplies that his father praised him for his skill as a "messenger and food scout." He even saved his own money to buy a hen.

When Dietrich turned eight, he began piano lessons. All the children had music lessons, but none had showed such promise. Dietrich's ability to sight-read was remarkable. At ten he was playing Mozart's sonatas. The opportunities for exposure to great music in Berlin were endless. When he was eleven, he heard Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, under the direction of Arthur Nikisch, and he wrote to his grandmother about it. Eventually, he even arranged and composed.

Most of Dietrich's earliest musical experiences came in the context of the family's musical evenings each Saturday night. His sister Susanne remembered:

We had supper at half-past seven and then we went into the drawing room. Usually, the boys began with a trio: Karl-Friedrich played the piano, Walter the violin, and Klaus the cello. Then "Hörnchen" accompanied my mother as she sang. Each one who had had teaching that week had to present something that evening. Sabine learned the violin, and the two big sisters sang duets as well as Lieder by Schubert, Brahms, and Beethoven. Dietrich was far better at the piano than Karl-Friedrich.

According to Sabine, Dietrich was especially sensitive and generous as an accompanist, "always anxious to cover over the mistakes of the other players and to spare them any embarrassment." His future sister-in-law Emmi Delbrück was often there too:

While we were playing, Dietrich at the piano kept us all in order. I do not remember a moment when he did not know where each of us was. He never just played his own part: from the beginning he heard the whole of it. If the cello took a long time tuning beforehand, or between movements, he sank his head and didn't betray the slightest impatience. He was courteous by nature.

In March 1916, while the war raged on, the family moved from the Brückenallee to a house in Berlin's Grunewald district. Like most homes in Grunewald, the Bonhoeffer home at 14 Wangenheimstrasse was huge, with a full acre of gardens and grounds. It was another prestigious neighborhood, where many of Berlin's distinguished professors lived. The Bonhoeffers became close to many of them, and their children spent so much time together that they would eventually begin marrying each other.

As the war continued, the Bonhoeffers heard of more deaths and injuries among their wide circle. In 1917, their two eldest, Karl-Friedrich and Walter, were called up. Though they might easily have done so, their parents didn't pull any strings to help them avoid serving on the front lines. Germany's greatest need was in the infantry, and there both boys enlisted. Following basic training, the two young Bonhoeffers would be sent to the front.

Walter had been preparing for this moment since the war broke out, strengthening himself by taking long hikes with extra weights in his backpack. Karl-Friedrich actually took along his physics textbook. Things were still looking very well for Germany that year. In fact, the Germans were so confident that on March 24, 1918, the kaiser declared a national holiday.

Walter left in April 1918. As they had always done and would do for their grandchildren's generation twenty-five years hence, the Bonhoeffers gave Walter a festive send-off dinner. The large family gathered around the large table, gave handmade presents, and recited poems and sang songs composed for the occasion. Dietrich, then twelve, composed an arrangement of "Now, at the last, we say Godspeed on your journey" and, accompanying himself on the piano, sang it to his brother. They took Walter to the station the next morning, and as the train was pulling away, Paula Bonhoeffer ran alongside it, telling her fresh-faced boy: "It's only space that separates us."


Excerpted from Bonhoeffer Abridged by ERIC METAXAS. Copyright © 2014 Eric Metaxas. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Eric Metaxas is the author of the New York Times bestseller Amazing Grace, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask), Everything Else You Always Wanted to Know About God, and thirty children’s books. He is founder and host of Socrates in the City in New York City, where he lives with his wife and daughter. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Washington Post, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Marks Hill Review, and First Things. He has written for VeggieTales and Rabbit Ears Productions, earning three Grammy nominations for Best Children’s Recording.

Timothy Keller is the founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. He has also mentored young urban church planters and pastors in New York and other cities through Redeemer City to City, which has helped launch over 200 churches in 35 global cities to date.

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Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
SalinaG More than 1 year ago
My favorite author is Brennan Manning. Throughout his books he often quotes some of his own favorite authors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of them. As a member of the Harper Collins book review team when I had a chance to read Bonhoeffer Abridged by Eric Metaxas I was excited to do so in order to learn more about him. Called one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born the youngest son of eight children. As a young man, Bonhoeffer made the decision to become a theologian, eventually studying at Berlin, and later becoming a pastor. As a pastor, he used his standing in the German church to speak out against Hitler and the Nazi Regime, which lead to years in prison and to his death at thirty-nine. Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer Abridged is just that, an abridged version of his 624 page book published in 2010. This book is a much shorter version of that book. Reading more like a work of fiction, than biography, this book was extremely fascinating. It was a book that I had to read slowly due to the use of so many foreign terms, names, and places, but by the end, I had developed a very strong affection for Bonhoeffer, his family, and his friends. Metaxas did a wonderful job portraying this man who so selflessly gave his life in the name of Christ to protect his family, friends, and nation. As someone who has always been curious about this era in time, this book provided a lot of historical facts, but did so in a way that unfolded more like a movie. I highly suggest giving this book a read.
SUPATRUPA More than 1 year ago
INTRODUCTION: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian pastor in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, was killed for his opposition to the regime.  Born in 1906, and turning to Christ at a young age, Bonhoffer entered pastoral ministry, and stood firm amid persecution.  In the early '40's, he humbly and courageously accepted his fate that was held by the gallows.  This is his story in abridged format. REFLECTIONS: I have mixed feelings when I read biographies like this one.  First, I am discouraged by the eerie shadows of history looming over us, as if history is waiting quietly to "repeat itself".  On the other hand, I am encouraged as I enjoy peering into the lives of courageous men and women who have refused to bow their knees to the tyrant-du-jour, despite facing real threats of execution. Nazi Germany issued harsh ordinances against Christians, forcing allegiance to the Hitler and his Reich (p.119).  Those who rejected it were rewarded with death, while those who paid it allegiance did not fare much better. Still, while many acquiesced, some remained faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them. There seems to be a common thread found among the message of the persecuted in Jesus Christ, and that is the deep faith they have in their Lord.  When Bonhoeffer fled to America in the early 1930's, attempting to find relief from persecution, he wrote of the American church, "In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life" (p.43).  The Church that waters down the message of the gospel faces certain risk of death.  The German church allowed it to happen then, and the American Church has been doing it since.  History suggests that it is only a matter of time before Christians in the West face similar oppression as those under the hood of the Third Reich. In 1937, "more than eight hundred Confessing Church pastors and lay leaders were imprisoned or arrested" (p.112).  And "In Berlin, the Confessing Church planned a service of intercession...two hundred and fifty of the faithful were arrested..." (p.115).  Since the early days of Christ's Church, persecution has only strengthened its resolve against evil.  The Christian under these pressures "must obey God rather than men" (p.113). I was most encouraged by one of Bonhoeffer's statements near the end of his life: "To be sure, God shall call you, and us, only at the hour that God has chosen.  Until that hour, which lies in God's hands alone, we shall all be protected even in greatest danger" (p.145).  What a tremendously powerful proclamation of the sovereignty of God, and it ought to encourage the faithful.  No matter what evil men may conspire against the Bride of Christ, nothing will come other than that which is at God's direction.  Bonhoeffer's words are in line with God's word: "no harm will befall you, and no evil will come near your tent" (Psalm 91). As death loomed over him, Bonhoeffer was a man who was faithful to the end.  As he was led toward the gallows, Bonhoeffer quietly said to his fellow captives, "This is the end.  For me, the beginning of life" (p.208).  Reflecting upon Bonhoeffer's death, one camp doctor concluded, "I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God" (p. 209).  O, when my day arrives, may those words be said of you and me. RATING: I give "Bonhoeffer Abridged" 4 stars out of 5.  I was a good book -- not a "page turner", but certainly worth my reading time. DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers (Thomas Nelson Publishers) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine; they were not forced upon me.  I was not promised anything in exchange for a positive review.
mysterybook_nerd98 More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating read about a good man. It reads more like a thriller than a biography and held my attention. A very good read for history lovers and admirers of Bonhoeffer. The only small problem I had was the author adding his opinions in certain areas but that didn't distract me from enjoying the story. Book Source: BookLook Blogger in exchange for an honest review.