In a world littered with the bodies of work of men and women deigning to speak for the Almighty the weary listener longs for the refreshment of a believer who is really something new in Christ. Where are these New Men, the ones who are hollowed out inside and filled not with vacuity but with Someone wonderful? We need not the verbose but the profound – those who live and breathe a fresher air than most and speak from experience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was such a man.
Upon first introduction I was unsure about him. Perhaps as theologian his belief would cause me an allergic reaction. Perhaps as a writer his biography would fail to reflect the resounding words he wrote. And yet, as with scripture, the greatest proclamation of truth comes not so much for a life as from a life. Bonhoeffer’s thought was not just the driving force of his life but his life drove his thought.
Eric Metaxas’s 2010 book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy traces Bonhoeffer’s life from his recent ancestors until his funeral in 1945. This is Metaxas’s second biography, following one of William Wilberforce in 2007. The work is well-researched yet doesn’t bog the reader down in details. Metaxas does not take the time to describe anyone’s personality (except Bonhoeffer’s) and yet as a narrative the book flows along nicely with tributary chapters on the historical context of events and the lives of the actors involved. The final chapter makes Bonhoeffer feel quietly distant from the reader and yet one feels almost in the midst of his last days of life. Metaxas gives the impression that we have gotten to know this great man and yet wish we had really met him as we mourn and admire his death.
The book cannot be called unbiased. Of course it might be difficult to write an unbiased work which deals so closely with the Nazi Reich but it is very clear that Metaxas is a conservative Christian writing about a personal hero. If you are looking for a highly academic historical and clinical study of a third-party theology in the midst of a third-party political system this is not the book for that (for example, Metaxas often characterizes the Nazi leadership as various animals such as shoats). But it is a heartfelt and honest portrait of Bonhoeffer by someone who can understand what he is seeing. If you want to learn to appreciate a painter you may want to talk to a painter of the same school since he knows what he is looking at.
I encourage you to find a copy of this book and get to know the man who knew what it was to follow Christ.