Bonhoeffer for Today: A Q&A with Biographer Eric Metaxas

posted by Jana Riess
FINAL cover - hi res Bonhoeffer.jpgFlunking Sainthood is delighted to talk today with author Eric Metaxas, whose study of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer sets a new standard for popular biography. It’s well-written! It’s fascinating! And it’s large enough to insulate your home!

Eric, when Thomas Nelson sent me your book, I thought there must be two or three books in the package, it was so thick. Then I opened it to find a single doorstopper. Wow! How long did it take to research and write this biography?

Yes, it’s a big book, much longer than the one I thought I would write. But I’m extremely happy to report that a huge number of people all have said they were initially daunted by its size, but once they started it they just couldn’t put it down. Publishers Weekly even called it “riveting”! It’s in extremely bad taste for an author to quote his own reviews, but when you’ve written a long book, it means everything that so many people are really enjoying it. The previous big biography, by Eberhard Bethge, is actually twice as long and weighs five pounds, so compared to that, my book is a dime-store paperback… I wanted my book to be definitive, but also accessible, and I hope I’ve succeeded in both of those things.

I wrote it during a period of the most concentrated effort I’ve ever made in my life. It was as if I were sprinting a marathon and praying that God would give me the strength not to collapse. He did; so I didn’t.

Why did you want to write a life story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the first major biography to be published in 40 years? How does his life speak to you?

I first heard the story of Bonhoeffer in 1988 and was simply staggered. The idea that a devout Christian in Germany would stand up to Hitler and get involved in the plot to kill Hitler and be killed in a concentration camp was just amazing. My mother grew up in Germany during those awful years and my grandfather was killed in the war (I dedicate the book to him), so that period of history has always haunted me. Still, I never thought I would write a biography on Bonhoeffer. But after the success of Amazing Grace, my biography of Wilberforce, everyone kept asking whom I would write about next. There’s only one person whose life captivates me as much as Wilberforce’s life did, and that man is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He’s about as authentic a person as I’ve ever encountered and I know that his life speaks powerfully to us in a number of ways. He’s sort of the ultimate hero and his story is so inspiring I just had to tell it to a new generation of readers.

One of the coolest things about your biography is that you’re drawing on letters and journal entries that have never been published before. What were some of these, and what do they add to the story you’re telling?

There is an extraordinary 16-volume series of Bonhoeffer’s works published by Augsburg Fortress Press. It contains every letter and journal entry and everything else he ever wrote and most of the volumes have finally been translated into English, so I had access to everything.

Read more: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/flunkingsainthood/2010/07/bonhoeffer-for-today-a-qa-with-biographer-eric-metaxas.html#ixzz3kcp5Xyh4

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