There are few humans that inspire me more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There are those who have moments of courage and then there are those who live a life a courage. Bonhoeffer is the category of the later.
Eric Metaxas has written a brilliant biography on this man from Nazi Germany who is still inspiring Christians and non-Christians alike. Bonhoeffer was one of those rare breed of man who had the mind of a scholar and the heart of a warrior. He thought clearly and he acted decisively and radically on what he believed to be true. Metaxas reveals this wonderfully in his captivating and detailed writing of the life of the fourth and youngest son of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer.
One of the ideas that Bonhoeffer thought and acted on was the Church. How was it to be defined? How was it to be lived out? Metaxas does a wonderful job of tracing this passion of Bonhoeffer back to his late adolescence when he had the opportunity to attend a Palm Sunday service in Rome. It was there, that he first really grasped the Universal nature of the Church. Universal, not in the sense of every human being, but universal in the sense that the Church is made up of people from various cultures, colors, and local fellowships. His conviction for the purity of the Church would later be demonstrated by his involvement in the Confessing Church movement that stood in opposition to the Nazi takeover of the Lutheran German church.
In the midst of World War II Nazi Germany was not a country where its people could find great hope resting in their heart. However, one of the extraordinary characteristics of Bonhoeffer was his unwavering sense of hope that looked to a future. Metaxas does a wonderful job of drawing this out in the accounts of romance and courage in the midst of a war, even in prison. The underpinning of this optimism and courage is traced back to his self-discipline and faith in God.
Much has been made of Bonhoeffer’s involvement in assassination attempts of Hitler. Metaxas merely describes the thought and actions of Bonhoeffer without criticism or affirmation. By doing so, he allows the readers to draw their own conclusions. And I found that part of the intrigue of the book. It allowed me, the reader, to come to my own conclusions on the ethics of his actions.
The text of Bonhoeffer’s letters are scattered throughout the book at just the right moments to enlighten the narrative. So too were the accounts of other in this grand story. One example being the words of Henning von Tresckow a co-conspirator of an assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler.
“A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.”
Convictions, sacrifice, and life – those words most aptly describe the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.