Book Review – Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – by Eric Metaxax

Dietrich Bonhoeffer died for his faith. He came of age in WWI Germany and was a highly regarded pastor and author by the time Adolf Hitler came to power prior to WWII. His faith in Christ was remarkable; his unwavering belief that God would lead him in his actions here on earth was extraordinary. His entire life, although spanning only 39 years, is truly inspiring.

Although Dietrich Bonhoeffer had what could easily be described as a charmed and affluent childhood (both his father and mother came from long lines of respected scientists and theologians, respectively), his ability to build relationships with people from any background and stage of life was remarkable. For example, when he worked as a youth minister and Sunday school teacher in the slums of Berlin during his early 20’s, he not only fulfilled his obligations within the walls of the church, but also spent numerous hours with students and their families, building relationships, getting to know them and understanding their lives, and dedicating much time to additional studies and classes within his home. He found pure joy in the relationships that he built with people. Bonhoeffer truly lived out Paul’s attitude as reflected in 1 Corinthians 9: 22b: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Historically, this book was eye-opening. I knew about the basics of WWII of course, but this book provided a real inside perspective from the citizens of Germany, and the struggles of the church. Adolf Hitler’s “German Christian Church” replaced all crucifixes with swastikas and pictures of Saints with pictures of Hitler. Of course, it wasn’t a church at all – Hitler being an atheist – but rather Hitler’s way of convincing the German people that God was with him. In response, Bonhoeffer was a key founder of the Confessing Church, which proclaimed that the Bible is God’s living word and that only through God’s grace and faith in Christ’s redemptive death on the cross could one be saved. Defying Hitler in this way was an extremely dangerous move for Bonhoeffer and his fellow theologians, since Hitler’s church basically preached that salvation is earned through loyalty to Hitler and the German state.

Finally, and most inspiring, was Bonhoeffer’s complete reliance on meditation and prayer, and his belief that all answers in his life could be achieved by listening for God. Bonhoeffer spent hours in scripture, much of it in Psalms, which he saw as perfect prayers to God. He meditated and listened for God’s leading in his life, and strove to take that path, no matter the cost. Bonhoeffer was not without doubt. When his Confessing Church friends saw a way to get Bonhoeffer safely to America to avoid arrest by the Nazi’s, he took it, planning to stay as a guest professor and pastor for at least a year. He realized his error within a month and returned to Germany to support and suffer for his beloved people and his church. Bonhoeffer also struggled with his decision to become part of several plots to assassinate Hitler. On one hand, he was a pacifist; on the other, Hitler was pure evil. These two decisions ultimately led to Bonhoeffer’s arrest and execution. When he knew he would die, Bonhoeffer wrote, “This is the end…for me the beginning of life.” What pure faith.

These few paragraphs do not do this book justice. This is by far one of the most important books I have ever read. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is such an inspiration. His fellow theologians were so crushed by his martyrdom, but I think that through his writings and the way in which he lived his life, we are left with an amazing legacy of a man who had a true heart for God. I highly recommend this book.