Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

I came across the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer several years ago when several of my parishioners wanted to start a monthly prayer group. We wanted to begin our prayer group with some outside reading in order to create our "mission statement" of why we were doing what we were doing. One woman suggested that we read Bonhoeffer's little book Life Together, a book exploring the basic foundations of community life in a Christian context. Since then I have been reading Bonhoeffer's essays, sermons, and writings and have used Bonhoeffer's work in college classes on Contemporary Christian Spirituality. Bonhoeffer's writing is lucid, inspiring, and prophetic. When I first started reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010) I knew that I was in for a treat.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, and Spy is a big book. Coming in at nearly 550 pages it is not a quick read. However the reader will not be disappointed. Metaxas has poured over hundreds of documents such as Bonhoeffer's own writings, letters, essays, sermons, and interviews of people who knew Bonhoeffer personally. Metaxas has managed to digest this material and show us the many sided aspects of Bonhoeffer's life, as the subtitle says: pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy.

A blog is not the proper forum for a full review of this book, however, needlesss to say the book is full of background information on Bonhoeffer's domestic life and upbringing, his friends and teachers at seminary and graduate school, and his work as a pastor and leader in the Church. Metaxas also includes numerous photographs of Bonhoeffer's home and family as well as the prison where he died in 1945.

While reading the biography I was drawn to Bonhoeffer's bouts with depression and melancholy. Numerous times Metaxas mentions that Bonhoeffer confessed this part of his personality to his long-time friend and companion Eberhard Bethge who later on would write his own biography of Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer suffered in this earthly life, yet somehow he managed to use this suffering for the building up of the Church and the courage to speak truth to power. Many leaders have long-term bouts with isolation and lonliness. This suffering was transfigured into courage as Bonhoeffer never ran away from the eventual fear of being arrested and imprisoned for plotting to kill Adolf Hitler.

Of course I can go on and on about this book. Rather than do that, I encourage you to read this wonderful biography for yourself. Savor its pages as you would savor a fine wine. Finishing this book I was inspired to go back to Bonhoeffer's own writing agains, especially his Letters and Papers from Prison as well as his sermons. Those of us who work in Church ministry need inspiration, and I can find no other writer who inspires me as does Bonfhoeffer.