by S.T. Karnick April 10, 2015
As a Christian, he never ceased to stand by those who suffered, even when it cost him his life. Editor’s Note: To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrch Bonhoeffer, NR is reprinting S.T. Karnick’s review of Eric Metaxas’s biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy from the June 21, 2010, issue. The too-brief life of the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been the subject of much film and literary interest in recent years, and Eric Metaxas’s insightful biography of this heroic figure helps us understand why. Bonhoeffer’s life vividly demonstrated the natural and indeed inevitable tensions between the individual and the modern state, and it pointed toward a response based firmly in Christian thought. There are two powerful presences throughout the book: Bonhoeffer himself and Adolf Hitler, as the two head for the great confrontation in which the theologian engaged in an ambitious conspiracy to kill the Führer and topple his regime. Metaxas’s book makes the reader acutely aware that the same nation that produced Hitler engendered this heroic opponent and many others of similar integrity. His family’s unusual religious life was a huge formative influence on Bonhoeffer. The Bonhoeffers seldom attended church, Metaxas writes, but their “daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing, all of it led by Frau Bonhoeffer.” In addition, the children learned that a real love of God must be manifested in one’s actions. “Exhibiting selflessness, expressing generosity, and helping others were central to the family culture.”

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