Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

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Overview

WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH?

As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a pastor and author. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life—the theologian and the ...

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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

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Overview

WHO BETTER TO FACE THE GREATEST EVIL OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAN A HUMBLE MAN OF FAITH?

As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a pastor and author. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life—the theologian and the spy—and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer’s heart-wrenching decision to leave the safe haven of America to return to Hitler’s Germany, and sheds new light on Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in “Operation 7,” the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland.

"Bonhoeffer 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. Includes Readers’ Guide “[A] beautifully constructed biography.”

—Alan Wolfe, The New Republic

“Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer’s story with passion and theological sophistication. . . .”

Wall Street Journal

“[A] weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. . . .”

Publishers Weekly

“Metaxas presents Bonhoeffer as a clear-headed, deeply convicted Christian who submitted to no one and nothing except God and his Word.”

Christianity Today

“Metaxas has written a book that adds a new dimension to World War II, a new understanding of how evil can seize the soul of a nation and a man of faith can confront it. . . .”

—Thomas Fleming, author, The New Dealers’ War

“Metaxas has created a biography of uncommon power—intelligent, moving, well researched,vividly written, and rich in implication for our own lives. Or to put it another way: Buy this book. Read it. Then buy another copy and give it to a person you love. It’s that good.”

—Archbishop Charles Chaput, First Things

"A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century."

Kirkus Reviews

  • 2011 ECPA Book of the Year
  • 2011 Canterbury Medal by the Becket Fund recognizing courage in the defense of religious liberty
  • 2011 Christopher Award winner highlighting the power of faith, courage, and action

"A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century."

-Kirkus Reviews


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas (Amazing Grace) offers a comprehensive review of one of history's darkest eras, along with a fascinating exploration of the familial, cultural and religious influences that formed one of the world's greatest contemporary theologians. A passionate narrative voice combines with meticulous research to unpack the confluence of circumstances and personalities that led Germany from the defeat of WWI to the atrocities of WWII. Abundant source documentation (sermons, letters, journal entries, lectures, the Barman Declaration) brings to life the personalities and experiences that shaped Bonhoeffer: his highly intellectual, musical family; theologically liberal professors, pastoral colleagues and students; his extensive study, work, and travel abroad. Tracing Bonhoeffer's developing call to be a Jeremiah-like prophet in his own time and a growing understanding that the church was called "to speak for those who could not speak," Metaxas details Bonhoeffer's role in religious resistance to Nazism, and provides a compelling account of the faith journey that eventually involved the Lutheran pastor in unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Hitler. Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45) is high on any list of Protestant saints: a gifted pastor-theologian, he resisted Hitler's Nazification of the German Church, worked tirelessly to organize the dissenting Confessing Church, and was ultimately hanged following his involvement in a failed plot on Hitler's life. Despite these credentials, fundamentalists have traditionally warned students of the dangers of Bonhoeffer's liberalism. Metaxas (Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign To End Slavery) offers a moving, comprehensive, and engaging biography of the martyr's life, sensitively playing up those aspects of Bonhoeffer that will evoke evangelical sympathies, while dismissing radical theology's appropriation of Bonhoeffer as unjustified. Metaxas tells a compelling story, but his portrayal of theological issues is weak and slips into caricature. Nonetheless, his book will communicate with its intended evangelical audience. VERDICT Recommended, but readers seeking more nuanced scholarship may prefer Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906–1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, due out in June. Those interested in Bonhoeffer's theology (especially his ethics) should turn to Larry Rasmussen's Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL
Kirkus Reviews
A welcome new biography of one of the 20th century's leading lights. Metaxas (Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God: The Jesus Edition, 2010, etc.) magnificently captures the life of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who "thought it the plain duty of the Christian-and the privilege and honor-to suffer with those who suffered." In the finest treatment of the man since Eberhard Bethge's Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (1970), Metaxas presents a complete, accessible picture of this important figure, whose story is inspiring, instructive and international in scope. Coming of age in Germany at the close of World War I, the precocious Bonhoeffer quickly became a rising star on the international theological scene. In the 1930s he became a leader of the Confessing Church movement, which stood against Hitler, and helped organize its underground seminary. He also joined the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency in which foment against Hitler was most active. Bonhoeffer took part in the conspiracy to kill Hitler, which caused his imprisonment and eventual hanging, just weeks before the end of the war. Throughout this period he also wrote some of the greatest works of practical theology to come out of the first half of the 20th century. Metaxas rightly focuses on his subject's life, not his theology, though readers will learn plenty about his theology as well. The author makes liberal use of primary sources, which bring Bonhoeffer and other characters to vivid life. For the most part, Metaxas allows this epic story to play itself out, unhindered by commentary; where he does add his own voice, the conclusions are sage. A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595552464
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/30/2011
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 23,213
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Metaxas is the author of New York Timesbestseller Bonhoeffer and isthe voice of BreakPoint, heard across 1,400 radio outlets by an audience of 8 million. Helives in New York City with his wife and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

BONHOEFFER

PASTOR, MARTYR, PROPHET, SPY A RIGHTEOUS GENTILE VS. THE THIRD REICH
By ERIC METAXAS

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2010 Eric Metaxas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-138-2


Chapter One

FAMILY AND CHILDHOOD

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 had come to Breslau-today Wroclaw in Poland-three years earlier, to work as the assistant to Karl Wernicke, the internationally renowned professor of psychiatry. Life consisted of working at the clinic and socializing with a few friends from Tübingen, the charming university town where he had grown up. But after that memorable winter evening, his life would change dramatically: for one thing, he immediately began ice-skating on the canals in the mornings, hoping to meet-and often meeting-the captivating blue-eyed girl he had first beheld that evening. She was a teacher, and her name was Paula von Hase. They 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. Paula Bonhoeffer's parents and family were closely connected to the emperor's court at Potsdam. Her aunt Pauline became a lady-in-waiting to Crown Princess Victoria, wife of Frederick III. Her father, Karl Alfred von Hase, had been a military chaplain, and in 1889 he became chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm II but resigned after criticizing the kaiser's description of the proletariat as a "pack of dogs."

Paula's grandfather, Karl August von Hase, loomed large in the family and had been a famous theologian in Jena, where he taught for sixty years and where his statue still stands today. He had been called to his post by Goethe himself-then a minister under the Duke of Weimar-and met privately with the eighty-year-old national treasure, who was composing his Faust, Part Two. Karl August's textbook on the history of dogma was still used by theological students in the twentieth century. Toward the end of his life, he was awarded a hereditary peerage by the Grand Duke of Weimar and a personal peerage by the king of Württemberg.

The maternal side of Paula's family included artists and musicians. Her mother, Clara von Hase, née Countess Kalkreuth (1851-1903), took piano lessons from Franz liszt and Clara Schumann, wife of the composer. She bequeathed her love of music and singing to her daughter, and these would play a vital role in the Bonhoeffers' lives. Clara's father, Count Stanislaus Kalkreuth (1820-94), was a painter known for his large Alpine landscapes. Although from a family of military aristocrats and landed gentry, this count married into the Cauer family of sculptors and became director of the Grand Duke's School of Arts in Weimar. His son, Count leopold Kalkreuth, improved upon his father's success as a painter; his works of poetical realism today hang in museums throughout Germany. The von Hases were also related to the socially and intellectually prominent yorck von Wartenburgs, and they spent much time in their society. Count Hans ludwig yorck von Wartenburg was a philosopher whose famous correspondence with Wilhelm Dilthey developed a hermeneutical philosophy of history, which influenced Martin Heidegger.

The lineage of Karl Bonhoeffer was no less impressive. The family traced itself to 1403 in the annals of Nymwegen on the Waal River in the Netherlands, near the German border. In 1513, Caspar van den Boenhoff left the Netherlands to settle in the German city of Schwäbisch Hall. The family was afterward called Bonhöffer, retaining the umlaut until about 1800. Bonhöffer means "bean farmer," and the Bonhöffer coat of arms, still prominent on buildings around Schwäbisch Hall, pictures a lion holding a beanstalk on a blue background. Eberhard Bethge tells us that Dietrich Bonhoeffer sometimes wore a signet ring bearing this family crest.

The Bonhoeffers were among the first families of Schwäbisch Hall for three centuries. The earliest generations were goldsmiths; later generations included doctors, pastors, judges, professors, and lawyers. Through the centuries, seventy-eight council members and three mayors in Schwäbisch Hall were Bonhöffers. Their importance and influence may also be seen in the Michaelskirche (St. Michael's Church), where Bonhöffers are marmoreally and otherwise memorialized in baroque and rococo sculptures and epitaphs. In 1797, Karl's grandfather, Sophonias Bonhoeffer, was the last of the family born there. Napoleon's invasion in 1806 ended the free city status of Schwäbisch Hall and scattered the family, though it remained a shrine to which subsequent umlautless generations repaired. Karl Bonhoeffer's father took his son to the medieval town many times and schooled his son in the details of their patrician history, down to the "famous black oak staircase in the Bonhoeffer house in the Herrengasse" and the portrait of the "lovely Bonhoeffer woman" that hung in the church, with a copy in the Bonhoeffers' home during Dietrich's childhood. Karl Bonhoeffer did the same for his own sons.

Karl Bonhoeffer's father, Friedrich Ernst Philipp Tobias Bonhoeffer (1828-1907), was a high-ranking judiciary official throughout Württemberg, and he ended his career as president of the Provincial Court in Ulm. When he retired to Tübingen, the king awarded him a personal peerage. His father had been "a fine hearty parson, who drove about the district in his own carriage." Karl Bonhoeffer's mother, Julie Bonhoeffer, neé Tafel (1842-1936), came from a Swabian family that played a lead role in the democratic movement of the nineteenth century and was devotedly liberal. Of his mother's father, Karl Bonhoeffer later wrote, "My grandfather and his three brothers were plainly no average men. Each had his special trait, but common to them all was an idealistic streak, with a fearless readiness to act on their convictions." Two of them were temporarily banished from Württemberg for their democratic leanings, and in a telling coincidence, one of them, Karl's greatuncle Gottlob Tafel, was imprisoned in the Hohenasperg fortress. He was there at the same time as Dietrich's great-grandfather Karl August von Hase, who before embarking on his theological career went through a period of youthful political activity. These two forebears of Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to know each other during their mutual imprisonment. Karl Bonhoeffer's mother lived to be ninety-three, and had a close relationship with her grandson Dietrich, who spoke the eulogy at her funeral in 1936 and treasured her as a living link to the greatness of her generation.

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.

And so in 1898 these two extraordinary lines intermingled in the marriage of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, who brought eight children into the world within a decade. Their first two sons came into the world 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.

All of 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. On New year's Eve the year Susanne was born, he wrote in his diary, "Despite having eight children-which seems an enormous number in times like these-we have the impression that there are not too many of them! The house is big, the children develop normally, we parents are not too old, and so we endeavor not to spoil them, and to make their young years enjoyable."

Their house-at 7 Birkenwäldchen-was near the 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. They dug caves and climbed trees and put up tents. There was much visiting between the Bonhoeffer children and Grandfather Hase, who lived across the river, a branch of the oder. His wife died in 1903, after which his other daughter, Elisabeth, looked after him. She, too, became an important part of the children's lives.

Despite his busy schedule, Karl Bonhoeffer took much joy in his children. "In winter," he wrote, "we poured water on an old tennis court with an asphalt surface, so that the two oldest children could try skating for the first time. We had a big outbuilding meant to hold a carriage. We didn't have a carriage or horses, but we did use this outbuilding to keep all kinds of animals." There were animals in the house proper as well. One room in the house became a zoo for the children's pets, which included rabbits, guinea pigs, turtledoves, squirrels, lizards, and snakes, and a natural history museum for their collections of birds' eggs and mounted beetles and butterflies. The two eldest girls had another room set up as a dolls' house, and on the first floor the three eldest boys had a workshop, complete with carpenter's bench.

Their mother presided over the well-appointed home; the staff included a governess, a nursemaid, a housemaid, a parlor maid, and a cook. Upstairs was the schoolroom, with desks where Paula taught the children their lessons. It was somewhat shocking when Paula Bonhoeffer chose to take the teacher's examination as a single woman, but as a married woman, she used what she learned to great effect. She was openly distrustful of the German public schools and their Prussian educational methods. She subscribed to the maxim that Germans had their backs broken twice, once at school and once in the military; she wasn't about to entrust her children to the care of others less sensitive than she during their earliest years. When they were a bit older, she sent them to the local public schools, where they invariably excelled. But until each was seven or eight, she was the sole educator.

Paula Bonhoeffer had memorized an impressive repertoire of poems, hymns, and folk songs, which she taught her children, who remembered them into their old age. The children enjoyed dressing up and performing plays for each other and for the adults. There was also a family puppet theater, and every year on December 30-her birthday-Paula Bonhoeffer put on a performance of "little Red Riding Hood." This continued into her old age, when she did it for her grandchildren. One of them, Renate Bethge, said, "She was the soul and spirit of the house."

In 1910 the Bonhoeffers decided to look for a place to spend their holidays and chose a remote idyll in the woods of the Glatz Mountains near the Bohemian border. It was a two-hour train ride south of Breslau. Karl Bonhoeffer described it as being "in a little valley at the foot of Mount Urnitz, right at the edge of the wood, with a meadow, a little brook, an old barn, and a fruit-tree which had a raised seat with a little bench for the children built into its wide branches." 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.

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. Klaus, the youngest of Dietrich's brothers, was five years older than Dietrich. So his three brothers and two older sisters formed a natural quintet, while Dietrich found himself grouped with Sabine and their little sister, Susi, as the "three little ones." In this trio, Dietrich enjoyed his role as the strong and chivalrous protector. "I shall never forget Dietrich's sweetness of character," Sabine later wrote, "which showed when we gathered berries on the hot summer slopes. He would fill my little pitcher with the raspberries he had toiled to collect, so that I would not have less than he, or share his drink with me." When they read together, "he pushed the book in front of me ... though this made his own reading difficult, and was always kind and helpful if asked for anything."

His chivalrous bent went beyond his sisters. He adored Fräulein Käthe van Horn, their governess from infancy, and "of his own free will he assumed the role of her good spirit who helped and served her, and when her favourite dish was on the table he cried: 'I have had enough,' and forced her to eat his portion too. He told her: 'When I am grown up I shall marry you, then you will always be with us.'"

Sabine also remembered when, at about age six, her brother marveled at the sight of a dragonfly hovering above a stream. Wide-eyed, he whispered to his mother: "look! There is a creature over the water! But don't be afraid, I will protect you!"

When Dietrich and Sabine were old enough to be schooled, their mother turned the duty over to Fräulein Käthe, though she 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?"

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. Founded by Count Zinzendorf in the eighteenth century, Herrnhut continued in the pietist tradition of the Moravian Brethren. As a girl, Paula Bonhoeffer had attended Herrnhut for a time.

Count Zinzendorf advocated the idea of a personal relationship with God, rather than the formal churchgoing lutheranism of the day. Zinzendorf used the term living faith, which he contrasted unfavorably with the prevailing nominalism of dull Protestant orthodoxy. For him, faith was less about an intellectual assent to doctrines than about a personal, transforming encounter with God, so the Herrnhüter emphasized Bible reading and home devotions. His ideas influenced John Wesley, who visited Hernnhut in 1738, the year of his famous conversion.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from BONHOEFFER by ERIC METAXAS Copyright © 2010 by Eric Metaxas. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xv

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 Family and Childhood 5

Chapter 2 Tübingen, 1923 41

Chapter 3 Roman Holiday, 1924 49

Chapter 4 Student in Berlin, 1924-27 58

Chapter 5 Barcelona, 1928 69

Chapter 6 Berlin, 1929 88

Chapter 7 Bonhoeffer in America, 1930-31 99

Chapter 8 Berlin, 1931-32 119

Chapter 9 The Führer Principle, 1933 138

Chapter 10 The Church and the Jewish Question 150

Chapter 11 Nazi Theology 165

Chapter 12 The Church Struggle Begins 176

Chapter 13 The Bethel Confession 183

Chapter 14 Bonhoeffer in London, 1934-35 195

Chapter 15 The Church Battle Heats Up 204

Chapter 16 The Conference at Fano 234

Chapter 17 The Road to Zingst and Finkenwalde 246

Chapter 18 Zingst and Finkenwalde 261

Chapter 19 Scylla and Charybdis, 1935-36 278

Chapter 20 Mars Ascending, 1938 302

Chapter 21 The Great Decision, 1939 321

Chapter 22 The End of Germany 347

Chapter 23 From Confession to Conspiracy 358

Chapter 24 Plotting Against Hitler 380

Chapter 25 Bonhoeffer Scores a Victory 394

Chapter 26 Bonhoeffer in Love 405

Chapter 27 Killing Adolf Hitler 423

Chapter 28 Cell 92 at Tegel Prison 432

Chapter 29 Valkyrie and the Stauffenberg Plot 475

Chapter 30 Buchenwald 504

Chapter 31 On the Road to Freedom 517

Afterword: The One Thing I Regret About My Book 543

Notes 545

Bibliography 567

About the Author 571

Epilogue and Errata 575

Index 577

Reading Group Guide 593

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 437 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 7, 2010

    Inspiring....

    BONHOEFFER Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is really, really great. This is a heavy book. Yes, the subject matter is serious, but I mean this book is heavy, like three pounds. Metaxas is so detailed in his description of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life that's it feels like you are reading every possible bit of information that could be found on him. Metaxas did all the work for us and wrote an amazing biography. This book covers Dietrich's upbringing, family life, spiritual formation, ministry and eventually his involvement in the plot to end Hitler's life and ultimately Bonhoeffer's execution.
    Bonhoeffer's insistence that a spiritual life is a life fully lived, in service to God and others, not a life split into sacred and secular divisions seems especially relevant in a culture where we too easily fall into the trap of a lifestyle of consumption and compartmentalization.
    I would definitely recommend this book. It was fascinating to read about this theological giant, and about the world he lived in, his thoughts on what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus, and the struggles he dealt with as he saw the church sit idly by while evil men had their way.
    I received this book as a part of Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program.

    82 out of 84 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2010

    Great Book!

    I just finished this powerful book. It's amazing how a man's entire life can be reduced to a mere 542 pages. But what a life! This German Pastor came from a prominent family. His father was an anti-Freudian psychiatrist, his older brother worked with Einstein to split the atom! Dietrich? Well, he just fought Hitler. He pastored, taught seminary and wrote extensively as well, but amazingly, he was involved in three of the fifteen attempts on Hitler's life. He was arrested on a trivial charge, but evidence was eventually discovered by the Gestapo that illuminated the true depths of his involvement in the widespread intrigue against Hitler. It is widely agreed that Hitler himself ordered his execution, which was carried out mere weeks before the Americans reached the prison where he was being held.

    Bonhoeffer gave us terms like "cheap grace" (forgiveness with little or no repentance) and "religionless Christianity" (in which one maintained a relationship with God as opposed to observing "religious" rules and customs). Two of his famous works were assigned to me in seminary: The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics. I also recommend them to you. The book is not light reading, but life-changing materials rarely are. Do yourself a favor, get this book and meet and get to "know" Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you'll be the better for it.

    30 out of 30 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "This is the end...for me the beginning of life."

    As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis slummed the depths of amorality in an effort to quite literally take over, and ethnically "cleanse", the world, there were those whose faith in a greater good led them to take a stand against evil incarnate. One of these men was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who wrote The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, and Ethics.

    Metaxas begins this true tale from the very beginning, Bonhoeffer's birth as a twin to sister Sabine on February 4, 1906. By meticulously gathering memories and written documentation of Bonhoeffer's childhood, Metaxas paints the picture of a child that would grow into a man who would later become the recipient of a martyr's crown. We discover that Bonhoeffer knew from the age of thirteen that he would study theology. At the time he felt this was an intellectual pursuit, but as time would show, he would become not only an intellectual theologian, but a man who truly and wholeheartedly lived out his faith every day to the smallest detail. He would become as much of a model of the Christian life as a fallen human can be, and he would become humble and tenderhearted, always thinking of others, and of Jesus Christ.

    Bonhoeffer was also a scandal to liberal theologians of his day, and in a ironic move that was quite Lutheresque, he would openly oppose and expose the growing unorthodoxy of the German state church which began to fall more in line with Hitler's ideas of racial inferiority and superiority and less in line with the biblical mandate of loving one's neighbor. This was no small argument and in fact fed into the frenzy that became Hitler's train wreck. Years before anyone openly saw the path Germany was on, Bonhoeffer seemed to have a pretty good grasp of what lay ahead and he had a Rock to stand on even though the winds of opposition blew on every side.

    Metaxas explains Bonhoeffer's life in such a way that readers can understand exactly what his theological leanings were and also peer into the very heart of an intensely private man - no easy feat. From the private journal of Bonhoeffer, we see a real and relatable man. We see the most private side of Bonhoeffer, that of his love for his fiance, Maria, through his and her own letters to one another. Bonhoeffer touched people in ways he likely never imagined; the statements of those who observed him and spoke about him after his death show that people were deeply affected by Bonhoeffer's utter submission to his God.

    The final chapters leading up to the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer are written particularly well and with quite abit of firsthand information. Bonhoeffer was always selflessly encouraging others, right down through the anxiety of regular air raids. The day before his death, he lead his fellow motley crew of prisoners through a sermon they had requested of him. Metaxas blesses us with these last pastoral words of Bonhoeffer, lovely in their manner; just right in reaching the hearts of those around him given their circumstances. Literally upon concluding, prison guards came for him...he did not know he was being led to his death, yet he knew. His final words in this group were, "This is the end, for me the beginning of life."

    This is one of the best biographis I have ever read, not only because of the extraordinary life it chronicles, but because of the scholarly and respectful manner in which the telling of this life is handled. Metaxas makes a solid contribution to sharing the life of Bonhoeffer.

    22 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2010

    A Must Read for every Christian serious about their faith!

    This is a fascinating story of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The story is different in that we see the life of a prominent German Aristocrat Theologian from inside Nazi Germany during the time and trials of Hitler and his evil regime.

    It is an honor to learn of the life of Bonhoeffer, as he stays true to God, no matter his circumstances, or situation. He endures many hardships, trials, and tribulations, and remains true to the Gospel and to God throughout his life.

    Even more fascinating is the attitude which is portrayed of Bonhoeffer throughout this book. This book is carefully crafted, and painstakingly detailed to where the story is given great light and credibility to the reader. This is a story of encouragement in the face of grave danger and peril. Eric Metaxas does a great job in portraying this martyr for Christ, and every Christian who is serious about their faith should read this great work of nonfiction.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 19, 2010

    BONHOEFFER - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood on God's word as he stood against and was martyred by the fascist regime of Hitler's Nazi Germany. Like many, I knew what Bonhoeffer did, but I did not know who he was. Metaxas allows us to see how God had prepared Bonhoeffer for the greatest test of his life. A life he would give in order to stand on the absolute truth of God's word.

    However, it wasn't the Bonhoeffer that went against the wishes of his parents and older brothers by studying theology that would be martyred for his faith, it was the Bonhoeffer that came to America and was transformed by his time worshiping at Abyssinian Baptist Church and Community House in Harlem - an African American church led by Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., the son of slaves. In fact, Bonhoeffer was such a transformed man upon his return to Germany that some believe it was during his time at Abyssinian that he was born again.

    This is a great book for not only obtaining a historical perspective about one of the giants of our faith, but to be encouraged by the example of how God can use anyone who is willing to, by faith, obey Him. Thomas Nelson provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my reviewing it, but with no obligation as to whether or not I would recommend it to others. I wholeheartedly give it my recommendation.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2010

    Bonhoeffer: a BookSneeze review

    We throw phrases around so easily these days, especially in the sphere of gushing blog reviews. I know that, but I'm about to write a gushing review and there's a phrase I'm in need of that has been overused, but that applies so perfectly to this book. The book I'm referring to is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (which I'm reviewing as part of Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze.com program). The phrase I'm needing to use is "the author weaves a rich tapestry", which Metaxas really does.

    Though the central figure of Bonhoeffer shines brightly from the 542 pages of biographical writing, there are multiple threads that flow throughout the narration. There is an overview of the Third Reich, a history of the Confessing Church, a great section on Luther and the abuse of his later writings, and much in the way of family relations. The vision of early 20th Century Germany is much more complex than the movies have often made out, and we see Metaxas evaluate how Germany came to be under the authority of an evil dictator. The author does a solid job of informing without condoning, but neither does he blindly condemn all of Germany. Instead, I found myself immersed in the confusion and disturbance of a nation torn. It really was a quite remarkable experience!

    Most compelling to me was the tracing of Bonhoeffer's theological path, and the centrality of his devotion to the Word and prayer. That, in the midst of suffering, confusion and upheaval, a man could maintain his discipline, and even be sustained by it is inspiring and convicting.The writing itself is fluid, with both beauty and truth expressed clearly. I love how the excerpts of letters and other varied writings are used within the narration, letting people tell their own tales but maintaining the flow. Metaxas is a skilled and passionate author, that is for sure!

    Ultimately, the proof of this text is twofold: firstly, at a practical level, I've never been much of a history buff, nor one to read biographies, but I could not get away from Bonhoeffer; secondly, reading about the man's life and thought compel me to read his own works, and I am sure that I shall gain that much more from them having read Metaxas' book.

    Highly engaging, expertly crafted and destined to take a top spot in my reading list of 2010.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Bonhoeffer: the best biography ever

    Eric Metaxas's "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" is the best biography I ever read. It consists of many facts about Dietrich Bonhoeffer I was unaware of. This book contains a lot more than Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the greatest theologian in the history, a believer of God and a Hero. Metaxas takes us from the early childhood of Bonhoeffer to his martyrdom in a sequence of chronological events which erects in front of us the complete world of that time. The author has done a tremendous research work which is portrayed in the book by involvement of Bonhoeffer's letters to the family and friends and interviews of the people who lived at that time and experienced such an influential personality in the history.
    Bonhoeffer's life sets an example to know the will of God through the medium of world and making a true sense out of it. In a world of evil and sins he stood against the Hitler and Nazis and sacrificed his life for the path of truth on which he believed. He was accused of involvement in a conspiracy against Hitler but he was stood against the evil at the time when the church failed to sustain.
    Every aspect of Bonhoeffer's life is beautifully pictured in these 544 pages, giving all the events that mould his character and beliefs. Whether you are a fan of biographies or not, this is truly a must read.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2011

    Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

    Hello, there! I've just received a new book from booksneeze called "Bonhoeffer" by Eric Metaxas. Before I get started, however, I simply must let you all know that I have received this book for free from the booksneeze blogging program through the Thomas Nelson publishing company. I am under no legal obligation to give this book a positive review, and anything I say is my honest, legitimate opinion in regards to the book. Now, on with the show! So, anyway, I've heard of a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer in passing- but I've never really known who exactly he was. When I got this book, I was astounded at this man. His story, his testimony, and the way God used him just amazed me. I quite literally rejoiced at his victories and cried at his death. This is one man that I honestly look forward to meeting when I meet him in heaven. This book was extremely well written and I would suggest it to nearly everyone, especially those who love history, who find World War II interesting, or who love hearing a good story or learning about Christian martyrs. I give this book a solid five out of five stars.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2010

    The Man Sets a Standard for Living in Keeping with the Word of God

    I must be honest and say that I have NOT read this bood as of yet. HOWEVER: I was listening to a radio program in which they were interviewing Metaxas and when I found out the subject matter of the book, I immediately became excited! When I graduated from a Mennonite High School- 27 years ago- the commencement speech had many quotations from Bonhoeffer himself. He was the subject matter in many of my faith classes. This mans life, lived out by his sincerely held beliefs in the standards set forth in the Bible, by God- made a HUGE impression on me! At 44 yrs. of age, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the life I have chosen to lead, has been based in my faith, but has also gleened from the examples of the saints that have gone on before me- for example Bonhoeffer. I am MOST excited about reading this book! In listening to Metaxas' interview, I was taken by his enthusiasm and explanation of his years of study and digging up information re: Bonhoeffer. The fact that Metaxas seemed to not be able to get enough and was so impacted by this man- well- it's rare that one finds that in a biographer. That fact alone made this a book I can't wait to pick up! Based on my knowings of Bonhoeffer and what I learned from this interview- I highly suggest that this be a read for your summer- it's sure to be a winner! A review upon reading will follow!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2011

    Excellent book about an inspiring life

    Bonhoeffer was a martyr, yes. That much is obvious. But behind the martyr was a man. A human being. A guy with feelings, with family dedications, with a propensity toward love. A man who loved greatly and lost just as much.

    What surprised me about this lavish volume was that it was not a boring history book, studded with facts and dates repeated. It began with the beginning -- with Dietrich Bonhoeffer's birth and childhood -- with his relationships with his siblings. Reading about his childhood would make anyone pine for such an idyllic upbringing -- he had the best of many worlds. It is this solid foundation that granted him the strength, wisdom, and fortitude to endure what his future would bring.

    Following is a natural progression into his academic life. I did find the extensive descriptions about his theological research, thesis, and dissertations a bit over my head. It was nice to see the timeline of his written works, though, and see how his current life situations led to each of them being written (or paused and later completed).

    The book began to grow more exciting as it told of Dietrich's involvement in the resistance against Hitler in his homeland of Germany. He as partly spurred ahead into this movement due to a short visit to the United States where his faith was ignited and vision for the church was vastly expanded. Bonhoeffer's subtle influences within the famed Valkyrie plot are also unpacked.

    Love letters between he and his fiancee (which somehow I knew nothing about) and hopeful letters to home are also included in this excellent timeline of Bonhoeffer's life, including his subsequent stints in prisons and concentration camps.

    Though I knew what lay at the end, my heart still ached when I got to the finish of his life's story. It is inspiring to read about someone whose convictions and faith held so strong to the very end, even to that final day on earth. I have much more knowledge of and respect for Bonhoeffer, his family members, and close friends now that I have read this account of his life.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2010

    Great Read

    This book is a gem.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    I couldn't put it down!

    The new Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas is one of the most comprehensive biography's written on the man. It is also a fast and fascinating read. The scope of research that plays into this biography is vast, it needs to be in order to understand the moment in time into which Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived. This book includes church history, politics, psychology, and interesting personal anecdotes from Bonhoeffer's life. Most other biographies seem to cover only one aspect of Bonhoeffer. But, as the subtitle of this book indicates, he was a pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy. I can not recommend this book enough. If you take one look into the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer you will provide yourself with enough questions not only to get through book club but to get through life.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2012

    Warning for nook buyers - no photos included!

    Superb biography, but be forewarned that the nook edition contains none of the many photographs included in the print edition. This can be especially frustrating for a biography.

    Please: can BN list this information in advance of purchase?!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2011

    A Must Read!

    Eric Metaxas delivers an extensive biography of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas chronicles Bonhoeffer's life from childhood, through his academic years, his pastoral years, time spent with the German Resistance against Hitler, and finally ends with his execution. Throughout the biography, Metaxas inserts letters and writings that further help us to understand the thought process behind Bonhoeffer's actions. Additionally, Metaxas includes a lot of history to help the reader understand the culture and times in which Bonhoeffer lived. I LOVED this biography. I would HIGHLY recommend it to everyone I know. I haven't read much Bonhoeffer, but reading about his life and the small snippets of his writings makes me want to immediately go out and read everything he's ever written. This work was inspiring and often quite convicting. There were times when Metaxas was very wordy and he really enjoyed using clichés, but I was willing to look past all that because of how incredible the story was. And the fact that Bonhoeffer actually lived and did all these things rather than just being some made up hero figure is what really makes this biography so great. It shows us that we can live truly powerful lives if we completely commit ourselves and our wills into God's hands. Don't be daunted by how long this book is. Every once in awhile it seems to drag, but it is truly worth the time. I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2011

    Bonhoeffer = greatness!

    Read through the Bonhoeffer book. Funny thing is I actually had this book in my hand to buy a week before it was sent to me. What an incredible story. What an incredible man. I wish this was made into a movie. Some of the junk that comes out today... this would be a great break from the stuff that hollywood puts out. I was struck that, though Bonhoeffer's theology was sometimes a little bit suspect, and at times slightly exaggerated, it seems clear that he was the right man at the right time. Metaxas does a very good job of explaining the cultural and religious context in which Bonhoeffer grew up and in which he ministered. With such a background it was almost inevitable that some of his beliefs would seem strange to us; and yet it's difficult to see how he could have arrived at any other beliefs. He was a product of his time, of his culture, of his church. There are some who can see only what Bonhoeffer got wrong, but such people are not being fair to all of this context. From all I could see in this book, Bonhoeffer knew and treasured the gospel. And what's more, he shared it unapologetically at a time when to do so was to put oneself at odds with the nation, its church and its government.

    I recommend this book wholeheartedly!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    Fascinating Read

    As other reviews have noted, this is an outstanding biography of a 20th century theologian who battled Nazi Germany. Eric Metaxas provides a gripping account of Bonhoeffer's efforts to fight the influence of the Nazi regime on the German Lutheran church. For the most part, the narrative flows like a gripping novel. Even knowing Bonhoeffer's fate, I found myself hoping for (and almost expecting) a different end.

    But this book functions as so much more. It provides a historical glimpse of Hitler's and the Nazi regime's propaganda machine; the German conspiracies to assasinate Hitler; and the struggle for the German Lutheran Church's soul. It is a sociological study that touches on both a nation's struggle with its pride and shame and the struggle of individual citizens of that nation as they come to terms with the evil that was Hitler and the Nazis. It presents both theological and philosophical discussions on the nature of religion, God and Christ, and their relationship with man.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent introduction!

    I've only read the introduction and could not help but post a reply here. Bonhoeffer stated the church was "lost" during Hitler's rise to power. As they say, "history repeats itself!" Today's church is asleep as well. Pastors have become politically correct, not wanting to "offend" anyone from the pulpit and are preaching to those who have itching ears to hear "feel good" messages of prosperity and what is nothing more than mere psychology to "inspire" people, entertain people with wild Christian "rock music," "hip plays" and sermonettes designed to make those who came leave feeling good about themselves. Gone are the mention of man's fallen condition, the need for redemption, Jesus' costly sacrifice of the shedding of His own Blood to redeem us. Bonhoeffer was correct when he called the messsage a "cheap grace." History is being repeated and the church needs to wake up. The "Man of Lawlessness and Perdition" is waiting in the wings and he will fool mankind into believing that he is the awaited "messiah." Because of the "cheap grace" being taught, man will fall for it. Bonhoeffer was a prophet in that he did alert the church. We need another Bonhoeffer! I'll be posting a true review upon completting my read of this book!

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2010

    Bonhoeffer

    I enjoyed this book immensely! It gave an insiders view of what went on in Hitler's Germany - and of Hitler himself.
    At times the reading was difficult because of the way the author was brought up (to thoroughly think through what one wished to say before speaking) and, because he had to think through any repercussions there might be.
    It was a beautiful portrait of a man who loved the Lord, and who, selflessly, helped many people.
    The author quoted many sources of information that were relevant to the subject of the book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy - A Religious Gentile Vs. The Third Reich

    by Eric Metaxas
    Thomas Nelson Publishing

    This story is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer - A theologian from Germany who came of age during the rise of the Third Reich, played a part in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, and died wholly devoted to the God he served with all of his heart.

    I have never read a biography of such an incredible man before, and the task seemed daunting at first. The size of this book is tremendous and, despite all of the work that went into this story, I have no doubt that even more could have been written. A two and a half page bibliography and 20 pages of notes simply add to the flavor and rich texture that was Bonhoeffer's life.
    Eric Metaxas has compiled a vast amount of information and put it together in a very well written story that flows as though you are reading a novel. As you read through the pages you will find yourself immersed in the life of one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of intense devotion, determination, and tragedy. I highly recommend this book.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    christian patriot

    "bonhoeffer" is a very new and exciting bestseller that I found very hard to put down. I had always enjoyed reading about his life and the many books that he had wrote but had always wanted to read a very detailed bio of this brave patriots life . the arthur eric metaxas has done a wonderful job on the life of dietrch bonhoeffer it is so richly detailed there are even alot of never before seeen photos and writings included in this book also. this book gives details of bonhoeffers ministry and challenge to the nazi movement and his life in the underground and his family and I really got to know this very special patriot as well as showing what I do with my faith . this book would make a great gift for a friend family member or pastor friend.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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