Book encompasses the life of a pastor, martyr, prophet and spy
By Eric Bacon
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
By Eric Metaxas
(Thomas Nelson) 21.99
If the subtitle of Eric Metaxas’s recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer has the air of a thriller — Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy
— it’s a testament to the German cleric’s exceptional life. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian who is remembered principally for his stand against Nazism. While his execution by the Gestapo at age 39 raises the question of how his theology would have developed, his Christocentric focus and commitment to social justice both in action and in his writings have remained influential.
The book encompasses the totality of Bonhoeffer’s life, from his birth in 1906 to his role in the German resistance.
Metaxas provides an informative summary of the insurmountable challenges facing the church in Nazi Germany. Hitler forced church elections in 1933, and the Nazi-backed German Christian movement, which planned to unite German Protestant churches into the Reich church, won 70 percent of the vote. As a result, Bonhoeffer led the charge to establish the Confessing Church, which was the centre of Protestant resistance to the Nazis.
As early as 1939, Bonhoeffer joined the German resistance movement, and a relative arranged for him to work in German counter-intelligence, where he became a double agent. He soon grew deeply involved with a plot to assassinate Hitler. In 1944, incriminating evidence was discovered and Bonhoeffer’s fate was sealed. He was hanged by the Gestapo on April 9, 1945.
For the reader who is looking for an introduction to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this volume serves as an excellent choice. Bonhoeffer remained a man of unwavering faith in response to the incomprehensible evil of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The moral of this courageous man’s story is summed up in his own words: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Rev. Eric Bacon is chair of The Observer’s board of directors.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The United Church Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!