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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by…

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010)

by Eric Metaxas (Author), Martin Hillgartner (Narrator)

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2,221772,912 (4.31)53
Title:Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Authors:Eric Metaxas (Author)
Other authors:Martin Hillgartner (Narrator)
Info:Blackstone Audiobooks
Collections:Digital library, Read
Tags:biography, christian, history, non-fiction

Work details

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (2010)

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  2. 00
    Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (AmishTechie)
    AmishTechie: Get the real inside story of being a Pastor, Theologian and sometime resistance fighter, facing death. What does he do? He ministers to others! A soul stirring companion volume to Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
A solid read, but I wouldn't use it as my only source on Bonhoeffer. A good introduction nonetheless.

Overall Bonhoeffer is a good biography tarnished by Metaxas' desire to present Bonhoeffer as a bona fide evangelical. D. Bonhoeffer isn't a person easily put into a box, and that's exactly what makes him compelling. He is theologically liberal, yet at times stubbornly conservative, living truly as one who considers God and His will in all his daily dealings. Metaxas illustrates this second part well. He really makes Bonhoeffer come alive as a person, although I'm tempted to believe that he glosses over some more controversial aspects of B's life. His apologetic of the "religonless Christianity", for example, was weak - an anachronistic reiteration of the well-meaning but entirely fallacious evangelical cliché that "Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship". Truth is, we don't know exactly what Bonhoeffer meant by that; the quote in context kind of points to a death of God theology, although that seems to belie Bonhoeffer's own life and actions. He died too early to develop many of his theological intuitions, and we shouldn't use that as pretext to project our own beliefs onto him. He was what he was; let's appreciate him for that and for all the ways in which God used him.

The works appears to be well-sourced and has a good quotation-to-narrative ratio. It draws extensively on Bethge, which I have no issue with, although there are people who question Bethge's take on Bonhoeffer's involvement with the plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer is well-constructed and well-told, but Metaxas tries a bit too hard to seem clever, dropping weirdly obscure words into otherwise average sentences.

I was missing a bit more information on Bonhoeffer's theological writings and thought. I felt like that would have illuminated B's actions more clearly, since I often wasn't sure where Metaxas was drawing on sources to explain B's motivations, and where he was simply conjecturing. I don't know if the book had extensive notes which documented this, since I only listened to the audiobook. ( )
  bulgarianrose | Mar 13, 2018 |
The writing quality is only fair--as my friend Annette said, the author seems to have been unwilling to leave or edit a single piece of research out of the book. However: theology and fighting Nazis. Pretty fantastic combination. I enjoyed it and am glad to know more about Bonhoeffer. ( )
  LauraBee00 | Mar 7, 2018 |
You’ll hate me; I forgive you.

Bonhoeffer: Trying to kill Hitler is an improvement on serving Hitler, but it’s not the gospel. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” And the gospel is not void in wartime, although some people do make war their idol. (Churchill, most European politicians since, say, 1648?) Now, Bonhoeffer did have some deep thoughts—some of which Metaxas pulls back from, as they didn’t all involve going to church and conforming— but “I hate Hitler; hating Hitler makes me good” is not a sound argument, it’s an *emotional* argument.

We’re presented with a hero—someone to nullify Hitler for you— but the hero is not completely free of pride and wrath (the older-brother deadly sins). Which leads me to:

Metaxas: Metaxas deserves some respect as a guy who likes to line up his footnotes like a scholar, instead of ranting like a talk radio show host, but that doesn’t make him perfect. I feel like he wrote the book to make a conservative Christian hero to nullify the Hitler factor. He does point out the the National Socialists were decadent moderns who didn’t care about the gospel. Fair point: nobody cares about the gospel, least of all the church, but this does include Hitler. “Yes, everybody talks about Jesus on this continent. Funny, because he wasn’t German. Well, whatever. Gotta go watch mythology opera, remember to fight the good fight for the folk!” He certainly didn’t love his enemies or refrain from judging. Who could have taught him that? But there is another point too. The National Socialists were the Ultra-Nationalists, the literal “Nazis”, and they were racists who vehemently hated both other races and any smart Alec who was international or not folksy or who for any reason didn’t fight the good fight for the folk. For Metaxas this means it’s a wash: they weren’t Christians (right-wing ideal) and they weren’t international (left-wing ideal). “Who’s to say what caused Hitler? A little hating the Jews here, a little hating the Marxists there, a little rebuking the feminists to top it all off, pretty soon we’re somewhere near the center.” But it’s not a wash, and being a racist is not a cute little academic point to put in a footnote.

But I also submit to you— well, it’s from the 90s cartoon, “Doug”: the wise old father says, “Show me a man who resorts to violence, and I’ll show you a man who’s run out of good ideas”— that it’s also not a good enough excuse for planting bombs, even if they’re meant to obliterate Adolf Hitler—or national and cultural shame.

Germany, the West, created Hitler. He wasn’t educated by bombs, he was educated by the culture. The culture can’t just fling a bomb at him and say, Die, shame.

You hate me. I understand.


So much for the great ideas. Much of the book is more absorbed in detail and story, for good or bad. “After preaching on Sunday, he took three days off to visit his cousin.” It’s not really something that you agree or disagree with.


Did you know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once ate a potato?

(Did you know I’m the greatest researcher in the world!!!)


As to Bonhoeffer himself, I don’t agree of necessity with everything he says, but I don’t dislike him. German academics are cute. They like to talk. “Why are you afraid of me? Come back, I just want to talk with you!”

It’s just unfortunate, the bean-counter approach to biography. Even Germans fall in love.... It’s like reading Mark Lewisohn. Which isn’t to say that the actual lives of the Beatles, if you really understood them, would match up to the fantasy and the illusion created by the music. But there is something more to feeling than the effect on your bank account of the world tour that mythologizes those feelings. “John and Paul ate cereal for breakfast. It cost so many pounds. It consisted of so many ounces. They talked about girls. Oh, and the cereal contained so many grams of sugar. The more details, the greater my knowledge.”

And even with Bonhoeffer, he might say, Pride is a sin, but it’s hard to say if he really bore the fruits of that knowledge, or whether it remained a sort of dormant knowledge. [He mouthed the words that the prostitute’s prayer is better than the proud prayer, but he couldn’t even deal with church socials in his visit to America, so far from scholarly Germany.] I hate to say it, but you have to be a little crazy to think that you can save the world; it’s a little grandiose, and often ends in violent death. “(I may be a time traveler, but really I’m a human being just like you. I can’t save the world.) I can’t kill Hitler.”

.... “The Church burned the Gnostic gospels, thus saving it from the error of “leaving my body just to live in my mind”—and that’s why there are no airy idealists in Germany today. Gotta slay those Gnostics, gotta get on that. Who’s with me?” “I am!” “I am!” “Right after I finish my doctoral thesis and slay evil forever!”


Commenting on “Anna Karenina”, somebody said, “In Russia there are thousands of Levins.” Something similar could be said about Bonhoeffer; he was something like a German national type. Everybody knows there are plenty of academics in Germany; the issue is that the public didn’t care, thought them too pedantic. Hitler wasn’t pedantic. We all know he had that flare for public speaking, that anger that’s easy to understand. Even when he wasn’t losing his mind with anger, his speeches are easy to follow. ‘Democracy is bad; Marxists like to break windows; the race is a fine thing.’ “The people—the race—is the primary thing.” There’s Adolf Hitler in a breath. But you can’t get Dietrich Bonhoeffer, even in many breaths. He gives this rambling speech, you know, wouldn’t it be nice. ‘Today people want power out of a leader, but wouldn’t it be nice if the leader limited his own power, blah blah blah.’ And it never ends; there’s no flare to it. There’s no rousing call to Anglo-American democracy, or any call to action, really, about anything. German academics don’t do marketing. I don’t think Bonhoeffer impressed anybody. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the leader were nice.’ To a lot of people, this would have sounded a lot like “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” Even today, if most people had a choice between Brian Wilson/Mike Love for president, versus Adolf Hitler/Stormy Daniels, they’d choose Hitler, in a minute.... And if it were Justin Bieber vs Hitler, a giant mob would shoot Justin Bieber, and that would be the end of that. Of course Hitler persecuted the Jews, and every other race whose favorite things didn’t involve schnitzel with noodles and warm apple strudels. People like insanity, and of course when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you. But if you’re going to fight a war, you might as well win: otherwise, do something else. And, you know, you think that you’re going to go against the heavy metal-head monster with your Beach Boys record, and you think that the monster’s not going to eat you....

I suppose that fighting a war isn’t the only response to fascism. In Spain, they did their best to round up all the fascists and shoot them, only to get shot in their turn. But if you’re going to fight a war, you might as well win it: otherwise do something else. If your idea is to fight a popular movement with a bloody-minded determination to ‘solve’ the ‘social problem’, with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Shakespeare Club—the academic theologians, from academia, even less popular than Shakespeare, really—then do something else.

If you’re Sheldon Cooper, don’t pretend that you’re James Bond.


(Metaxas) It takes a really brave man to say that Hitler is nothing like you and everything like your enemies. Very brave, no doubt, although perhaps a little common too.

.... Hitler may have been bad, but I think we can all agree that the real force behind the Third Reich was Thomas Jefferson. After all, he changed the Bible. Which clearly proves that when the church burned the Gnostic gospels, they were only trying to stop the Nazis from doing the same thing.

Of course, now this is all even more delusional than it was in 2010, when the book was originally published.

.... Although, fine, less sarcastically—preferabe to getting really angry but not perfect— if Hitler uses Christianity, it’s okay because that’s not Real True Christianity, because he’s not a real true Christian. That’s Standard One: ready for Standard Two? If Hitler reads, I don’t know, “Zen in the Art of Archery”, it proves that all Japanese people have fascism in their blood forever, and the Buddha was the first fascist. After all, he’s not in the Bible. Just like Thomas Jefferson.

Make sense?

.... “We will prevent Heretics from oppressing the Jews. Heil Orthodoxy!”

“Aren’t Jews heretics, sir?”




“What’s the difference?”

“Shot in the skull, or shot in the brain.”


But it’s important to read some things you don’t like.
  smallself | Mar 3, 2018 |
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had integrity. Metaxas has written his biography to reflect that integrity. As most critics have said, this is a definitive biography. Here comes my personal prejudice. I just don’t like biographies that detail the historical context and then afterward talk about the person. I don’t want a 50-year history of Germany. I just want to know about the major events in a person’s life. Therefore, I skimmed through the first half of the book because I was interested in Bonhoeffer’s war activity. However, as I skimmed through the pages, I began to see a connection between Bonhoeffer as a theologian and his personal choices. It was interesting to learn just how well-educated, well-connected and well-respected he was as an intellectual. I was not aware of the extent of his personal struggles to encounter grace, to conquer depression, to live boldly and act boldly in an evil world. I didn’t realize how much his spirituality had meant to him. His decisions to first, support the Jewish people, and later to become involved in the German counter-intelligence movement ran deeply, and he acted with great conviction that what he was doing would further the kingdom of God here on this planet we’ve been given. When I had this epiphany, the book and the events to which Metaxas lent narrative came together. My first thought was that this book is a must-read for anyone interested in theology and/or authentic Christian living. My second recommendation would be for historians who study Germany between the wars. The lives of the upper-middle class and German aristocracy led by families such as the Bonhoeffers are not told often enough. The feelings of the German people as a whole are often overshadowed by Hitler’s evil deeds. It is somehow comforting to know that many thousands of Germans were not satisfied and did not welcome him as the leader of their country. It’s comforting that many of them were pro-active from the inside in trying to stop him. The extent of Bonhoeffer’s personal involvement in Valkyrie will never be known, but since he was implicated and killed for it, I’m sure there are many brave deeds and sacrifices the reader will never know. Knowing Bonhoeffer was ready to die for his convictions still doesn’t make up for the earthly contributions he could have made to Christianity had he lived. I don’t think he would like to be idolized or made a martyr by those he left behind. I think his legacy would be for each of us to work out the gift of salvation on earth with genuine acts of devotion and compassion. His story makes me want to be a better person. ( )
  MsKathleen | Jan 29, 2018 |
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
  Lake_O_UCC | Sep 17, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
In this fine biography, Metaxas stays close to the story and refrains from any efforts at theory. All the more reason to read it: when it comes to the strengths and the limits of post-Kantian liberalism, we already have theory aplenty. But be careful what you read it for....
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Peace had at last returned to Europe.
His soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison . . . [Bonhoeffer] had always been afraid that he would not be strong enough to stand such a test but now he knew there was nothing in life of which one need ever be afraid.

(Above is Payne Best's quotation, and below are Bonhoeffer's.) 

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 to being released from bodily existence.  

Whether we are young or old makes no difference.  What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God?  And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal?  . . . Why are we so afraid when we think about death? . . . Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it.  Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word.  . . . .

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith.  But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.
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"Bonhoeffer" presents a profoundly orthodox Christian theologian whose faith led him to boldly confront the greatest evil of the 20th century, and uncovers never-before-revealed facts, including the story of his passionate romance.

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