Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

This was on my reading list for the honeymoon (which was awesome by the way!).

Before reading Eric Metaxas’ latest book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,  I have to confess that I knew very little of the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Never had I read one of his works, nor had I known of his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler during the reign of the Third Reich. However, after reading this utterly thorough biography I feel as though I lived and breathed the same air as this man. If you are considering your options for what to read next, look no further.

For a biography, Metaxas has created a work that reads much like a novel. As a reader, I never found myself bogged down in long-winded details of historical fact. Woven throughout the narrative are journal entries and letters from Bonhoeffer to his family and friends, which make for an intimate connection to the brilliant mind behind them. The true gold of this book however is not in the writing or the story alone, although both are excellent. Rather, it is in Bonhoeffer’s belief that faith in God means more than simply avoiding sin. Christians are to fix their eyes upon the Lord and follow Him wherever He leads no matter the personal cost. For Bonhoeffer, it led him to hanging from a noose outside of a Gestapo prison. Nonetheless, it is in this deeper theme of the book that the reader finds himself confronted with personal conviction and the need for thoughtful engagement. After all, the theological work behind Bonhoeffer’s decision to become involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler is, at a very minimum, challenging and complex.

The young German walked with ferocity for the Gospel and love for humanity. He once expressed fear that those who lived with one foot in the world would also live with only one foot in Heaven. After all, “God wants to see human beings, not ghosts who shun the world.” He rose as a leader in the German church and was respected as a sharp theologian. His life began to take a turn when Hitler came to power. There was no confusion for him over who this man was and where he would take the country. For Bonhoeffer, commitment to one’s country was important, but commitment to the Kingdom was always a higher priority. His battle became one of persuading the biblically ignorant masses of his day and leaders in the German church away from Hitler and back to the Gospel. From a worldly point of view, it was a battle he did not win. Over the years, he grew tired with the church’s compromising actions towards Hitler and later the Nazi-oriented German Church that was birthed. Ultimately, his convictions and actions in opposition to Nazism landed him in prison and resulted in his being hanged.

The camp doctor who was present during the execution remarked, “In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” Bonhoeffer was a gifted teacher and an eloquent preacher of God’s Word. His messages are challenging to anyone reading them today. He constantly preached a message of obedience as he was convinced that our beliefs lead to conclusions which ultimately lead to action in life. Otherwise, the belief is not real. It is a weighty challenge to those claiming the name of Christ. In this, he agrees with James who said, “faith without works is dead” (2:17).

Bonhoeffer knew a the holy and majestic God of the Bible who did not ask His followers to cast away the temporal as wickedness, but to engage it as ambassadors for His ministry of reconciliation. We would be wise to model his selfless giving of himself to others in discipleship and his relentlessly focused devotion to God’s will in this world.

You can find Eric Metaxas’ book by clicking here.

“No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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