Monday, October 10, 2011

A Must Read - Bonhoeffer by Edward Metaxas

Statues  of martyrs at Westminster Abbey in London, England
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is on the far right.
     I have just completed one of the most interesting and encouraging books I have ever read by Eric Metaxas.  The book is entitled "Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy".  While a lengthy tome, the detail concerning the life of this man of faith is outstanding and well-researched.
     Dietrich Bonhoeffer was raised in a prominent family in Berlin.  His father had been a distinguished professor at the university.  From his earliest days, Dietrich had been single-minded and intense in his study for the ministry.  He could have easily taken an academic post and taught theology but Dietrich felt a call to preach and teach.
     A providential trip to the United States led him to a church in Harlem which kindled a deep fire in his soul to make a difference in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler.  Many pleaded with him to remain safe in the United States or to go to England where he had ministered to a German congregation earlier in his work.  However, Dietrich felt his call was to return to his homeland to strengthen the Christians there against the tide of compromise he witnessed as the government interfered with the churches.
     Bonhoeffer was a leader in "The Confessing Church" which stood in opposition to many of the false teachings being propounded by the state church.  He worked hard to teach other pastors at a seminary in Finkenwalde (an unauthorized seminary)  until this work could no longer be carried out.
     Eventually, this man of faith made the difficult decision to enter a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler as a means to saving his country from destruction and to prevent further death of Jews and others under this reign of terror.  Unfortunately, the plot was uncovered resulting in his imprisonment.
     Prior to his arrest, he had worked with many of the top generals in this plot and even found time for romance in his life.  He had become engaged just before he went to prison, and within this book, there are letters written to his fiancee filled with hope for their future.  Indeed, the Allies were closing in on Hitler's Germany and the war appeared to be drawing to a close.
     On April 9, 1945 after preaching a Sunday service to fellow prisoners, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg Concentration camp.  This occurred just weeks before the Allied troops brought the war to an end.  The doctor at the concentration camp remembered:  (Just before the execution) "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to certain that God heard his prayer...I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
     This is perhaps the first time I have seen with clarity what it was like to live in Germany under the Nazi regime.  Quite often, people believe that all Germans supported Hitler and his henchmen, but this was not the case.  Many of the top leaders in the military were alarmed at the invasions of other countries and especially of the invasion into Russia.  Likewise, those who served in the military deplored the wholesale slaughter of women, children and men by the SS squads.  Within the pages of this book, we see another side to history through the eyes of a Christian leader who chose to take a stand.
     Every detail of Bonhoeffer's life was covered with depth so that we could really see who the man was.  The author, Edward Metaxas became a believer himself in 1988 and became interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he read the book "The Cost of Discipleship".  As his interest in this young pastor grew, he set out to tell his story.
     While the book is lengthy, it gives the most well-rounded and balanced description of Bonhoeffer's life.  The author even addresses issues of criticism that Bonhoeffer faced from other theologians of his day.  There apparently were many misunderstandings of just what he believed and stood for which are cleared up in the book.
      Being an outstanding theologian doesn't seem to square with Dietrich's involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.  However, as a person reads the context in which Bonhoeffer, his family and friends lived, we come to understand the need for action.  If there had been another way, I am certain Bonhoeffer would have taken it.  The choice before him, though, was to allow an evil government to go on murdering innocent people or take a stand to enter a conspiracy to stop the madness.  Bonhoeffer chose the latter believing it was the right thing to do.  If we have never been pressed into such a situation,  it is hard to imagine.
     Edward Metaxas does a wonderful job of helping us see inside the life of this man of faith.  We see his weaknesses, his strengths and his growth.  His stand for Christ is without question, and I promise you that you will see things in a different perspective once you have read this well researched book.
     I am a lover of history and especially of Christians within history.  I derive so much encouragement and faith by reading about the fearless stand others are willing to take.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was such a person.  He, along with others, was willing to take up his cross and follow Jesus.  May we be as strong in our faith should we be called upon to give our all.  Selah!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1930's
I welcome your thoughts here.  Please feel free to leave a comment.

Picture of Dietrich Bonhoeffer courtesy of Wikipedia.

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