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I have not read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer yet, but I plan to do so.  Here is an interesting write up on it from Touchstone

Will the Real Bonhoeffer Please Stand Up?

Eric Metaxas’ new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been getting a good deal of attention since its release, and justly so. My review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy appears in the current issue of The City. With minor criticisms, I judge the book to be “comprehensive and thorough, with a level of close examination that most other biographical works on Bonhoeffer have not achieved, and certainly not with this level of readability and accessibility.”

As with so many things related to Bonhoeffer (see an instance here on Bonhoeffer and his view of abortion), there is in this case some disagreement with such an assessment coming from the ranks of the professional Bonhoeffer experts. Victoria Barnett, general editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition, says that Metaxas’ book is “badly flawed.” She points to his “evangelical” reading of Bonhoeffer, which in her view amounts to an ideological imposition: “Bonhoeffer’s theology, precisely because it was the theology of a devout, reflective, and faithful Christian, was far more complex than the narrow ideological confines to which Metaxas tries to restrict him.”

As many have noted, in the years since Bonhoeffer’s death there have been ongoing attempts to appropriate the Bonhoeffer legacy for a wide variety of purposes, from the patron saint of lesbian theology and forerunner of the ‘death of God’ theology to an adherent of Barthian ‘orthodoxy’ and evangelical martyr.

Bonhoeffer’s story is a complex one, and his story is not identical with the history of the reception of his work in the English language (for more on this, see my review essay in Christian Scholar’s Review, “Bonhoeffer in America,” Summer 2008). In my view, Metaxas’ book provides an important voice and corrective to the story as told by many other popular biographies. Metaxas’ book is a complement, and not a replacement, for the longer and scholarly biography by Bonhoeffer’s friend Eberhard Bethge (which appeared in updated and revised edition recently, a project overseen by Victoria Barnett).

That’s not to say that Metaxas’ book isn’t lengthy. But if President George W. Bush can brave the 600 pages(!), then you can too.


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