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- Publié sur Amazon.com
On the morning of April 9, 1945, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp. The camp doctor, H. Fischer-Hullstrung, later remembered:
[Just before the execution] "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to God...so certain that God heard his prayer...I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
Others testified that, up to his last day, the 39 year old Bonhoeffer remained cheerful. He knew what he had to do, was reconciled to God's will, and was able to climb the steps to the gallows "brave and composed."
Who was this man who died so bravely--who Hitler himself, from his bunker beneath Berlin just three weeks before his suicide, ordered to be "destroyed?" He's the subject of best-selling author Eric Metaxas's new biography, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy."
Shortly after his conversion in 1988, Metaxas read Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship and learned the story of the young man who, "because of his Christian faith stood up to the Nazis and ultimately gave his life." From then on, he was determined to tell the story to others. And tell it he has.
Metaxas takes readers, in 592 pages, through Bonhoeffer's entire life, from his parent's courtship to his memorial service. No corner of the subject's life is left unexplored. Through the author's use of Bonhoeffer's personal letters to family and friends, earlier biographies, interviews with those who knew Bonhoeffer, and other thorough research, readers get a comprehensive and balanced look into one of recent history's greatest theologians.
Appropriately, Metaxas emphasizes Bonhoeffer's theology and how it played out in his life. In contrast to "cheap grace," Bonhoeffer believed that true grace influences all aspects of a Christian's life. Christianity is more than formal religion, and it requires believers to be willing to sacrifice everything to God. Christianity is also more than legalistic morality. Ethics, according to Bonhoeffer, can't be reduced to a set of rules. These beliefs are what led this humble and devout follower of Christ to be involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler.
How Christianity and assassination plots can be reconciled is hard for many to fathom--especially those who have lived only in peace and safety. We must consider Bonhoeffer in the context of his life, his country, and the war that he had no choice but to be a part of. Ethics, once so clear, become unclear. Do we lie to the Nazis, or do we give them information that leads to the deaths of innocents? Do we obey our nation's laws, or do we defy them by leading Jews into safety? Do we fight in Hitler's army, or do we refuse, knowing that we will be beheaded and leave our family destitute? These are some of the questions Bonhoeffer faced.
But readers can sympathize with Bonhoeffer. Metaxas masterfully puts us in his world. We celebrate with him in his family's parlor. We study with him in his illegal seminary. We watch with him as his world unravels. And we see him agonize over decisions, decisions that are not so clear, and decisions that he often had to make without the support of others.
Metaxas's "Bonhoeffer" will be one of the best books of the year. I've learned, as expected, much about the life of a great and inspiring Christian. But I've also learned about the world, sin and evil, what it really means to be a Christian, and what it really means to live. There are a few books that, years after I have read them, I realize have had a great influence on me. This will be one of them. You can't go wrong with this book; I give it my highest recommendation.
I received a free review copy of this book through the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze program.
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George P. Wood
- Publié sur Amazon.com
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote those words in The Cost of Discipleship, which was first published in 1937. Eight years later, on April 9, 1945, he answered Christ's bidding and was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg concentration camp for conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler the previous year. Bonhoeffer's last words, appropriate to a Christian facing death, were hopeful. "This is the end...For me the beginning of life."
In Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas sets out to narrate Bonhoeffer's life for a new generation of Christians, who are unacquainted with the 1967 biography written by Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's closest friend. Metaxas is the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (2007), which was subsequently turned into a movie. His biography of Bonhoeffer is well written, well paced, and very insightful, especially regarding the theological, spiritual, and ethical evolution Bonhoeffer experienced in his conflict with the Nazis, which consumed the latter third of his short life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of eight children born to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, and the youngest of five boys. He was the scion of illustrious families on both his paternal and maternal sides. His father Karl's ancestors included prominent politicians and scientists. Karl himself was chair of the department of psychology at the University of Berlin--in effect, the leading psychologist of Germany. His mother Paula's family included military leaders and theologians, including her grandfather, the prominent liberal church historian Karl August von Hase, and her father Karl Alfred, the erstwhile chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Bonhoeffer followed in the footsteps of his von Hase ancestors, studying at Tubingen before achieving a double doctorate in theology at Berlin. Following his studies in Berlin, Bonhoeffer did a year of postgraduate work at Union Theological Seminary of New York, where he attended and taught Sunday school at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, then under the able leadership of Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. Bonhoeffer was unimpressed by Union's scholarship, but his involvement with Abyssinian gave him a deep love for "Negro spirituals" and important insights into how segregation damages both minorities and the majorities who oppress them.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, when Bonhoeffer was just 27 years old. From the get-go, the Nazis attempted to subvert and control every traditional institution in Germany, including the German Evangelical (or Lutheran) Church. This attempted subversion drew Bonhoeffer into the opposition to Hitler that would eventually cost him his life. The struggle would also radicalize him in numerous ways. He increasingly realized that being a good German and being a good Christian were not coterminous. He increasingly began to practice a free-church ecclesiology in the midst of a state-church nation. And he increasingly realized that passivity in the face of evil was complicity with evil.
Most of Bonhoeffer's work in the 1930s and 40s was professorial and pastoral. He helped found the Confessing Church, which was formed to oppose the Nazification of the state church. He helped found and lead the Confessing Church's underground seminary at Finkenwalde. And throughout this time, he wrote what have become classics in theology and spiritual formation: Life Together, The Cost of Discipleship, and Ethics (which he completed toward the end of his life).
But all along, he was drawn increasingly into the conspiracy against Hitler. Bonhoeffer's social class and family were deeply involved in this struggle. His older brother and two brothers-in-law were also executed for their involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler. Interestingly, they undertook this conspiracy from within the government and military, not outside of it. At one point, when Bonhoeffer was about to be drafted into the Army, his family friends arranged for him to work for the Abwehr, or Military Intelligence. To many of his Confessing Church comrades, it appeared that Bonhoeffer had sold out. In reality, this position saved Bonhoeffer from military service and allowed him to continue pastoral work under the guise of doing assignments for the Abwehr.
On July 20, 1944, General Claus von Stauffenberg placed an explosive device under a table at a meeting with Hitler. The explosion killed several people, although Hitler lived, scathed but otherwise unharmed. Bonhoeffer was already in prison, although his role in this conspiracy wouldn't become known for some time. Indeed, at one point, his uncle, General Paul von Hase, was able to get him special accommodations in the military prison just outside of Berlin. With the failure of Stauffenberg's bomb, however, the plot unraveled. Several thousand people were arrested, often because they were family members of conspirators, and several hundred were executed. The conspirators were aristocrats, military leaders, and civil servants--the traditional leaders of pre-war Germany. Why had they tolerated Hitler for so long? They had been working against him from the beginning, Metaxas makes clear, but Hitler's foreign policy and military successes made him very popular, and thus very difficult to work against.
Bonhoeffer had seen this difficulty nearly from the beginning. In a sense, he was a prophet who foresaw where Hitler's regime would lead Germany, and counseled more radical action than conservative German's traditional leaders--religious, military, or civil--could tolerate, until of course it was still late. He, and they, paid for their dereliction with their lives.
If I have made much of Bonhoeffer's involvement with the plot against Hitler, it is only because this is the most well-known thing about him. But Metaxas reveals the layers of theology, spirituality, politics, and commitment that characterized Bonhoeffer's life. His biography is well written and highly recommended.