Friday, August 24, 2012

A Book Review: "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich"

Eric Metaxas has penned a magnificent biography of a brilliant 20th century man of God who was executed for his opposition to Hitler's Third Reich.  I read the very long book (almost 600 pages) in a matter of days, much of that reading accomplished during my vacation.  The book is so good I found it very hard to put down especially when I reached the accounts of Bonhoeffer at the beginning of the 1930s.

Prior to reading this work I was familiar with the life of this man.  I had briefly studied him in college and have read a couple of his works (including "The Cost of Discipleship").  But Metaxas' book brings out many aspects of Bonhoeffer's life which had previously eluded me as well as some of his reasoning in the decisions that he made.   I strongly recommend this book to everyone!

There were several portions of the book which I underlined and marked but here are a few samples:

1.  Bonhoeffer writing about part of his visit to America in 1930.  Observe his wisdom and foresight:

"The theological atmosphere of the Union Theological Seminary is accelerating the process of the secularization of Christianity in America.  Its criticism is directed essentially against the fundamentalists and to a certain extent also against the radical humanists in Chicago; it is healthy and necessary.  But there is no sound basis on which one can rebuild after demolition.  It is carried away with the general collapse.  A seminary in which it can come about that a large number of students laugh out loud in a public lecture at the quoting of a passage from Luther's De servo arbitrio on sin and forgiveness because it seems to them to be comic has evidently completely forgotten what Christian theology by its very nature stands for." (p. 105)

2.  Near the end of 1942, shortly before his arrest, Bonhoeffer wrote an essay which is an assessment of all he and his associates had experienced over the ten years of Hitler's reign.  Again, note his reasoning:

"One may ask whether there have ever before in human history been people with so little ground under their feet--people to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile, who looked beyond all these existing alternatives for the source of their strength so entirely in the past or in the future, and who yet, without being dreamers, were able to await the success of their cause so quietly and confidently. ...

"The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts.  For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity, or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil. ...

"Who stands fast?  Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God--the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God."  (pp. 445-446)

3.  Although he never married, Bonhoeffer, as a pastor, did perform marriages and understood well the nature of marriage.  Consider this simple yet profound statement:

"It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on the marriage that sustains your love." (p. 458)

4.  Bonhoeffer was working on a book on Ethics when he was executed.

"Those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand--from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem:  'How can I be good?' and 'How can I do something good?'  Instead they must ask the wholly other completely different question:  'What is the will of God?'" (p. 468)

5.  Lastly, here is his famous quote on the matter of abortion:

"Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life.  To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue.  The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.  And that is nothing but murder."  (p. 472)

Outstanding book and well worth the time to read!

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