I’ve only just finished this book – what an amazing life story! I had seen this book reviewed on a few sites, so decided to grab a copy. I had maybe heard the name once or twice – but I never realized the importance of Bonhoeffer not just for the time he was in, but to the church as a whole since then.
As a quick preface, I would call myself ‘reasonably interested’ in the World War II period – there are just so many stories and so many take aways for life even now, that it has remained an interest of mine for some time. I just find it amazing the story of one man – Hitler – who would grow to such power and prominence in the world, despite his views. And also to see the responses of the other nation states in the world over time. Lastly, it is a time of personal sacrifice and perseverance, and there are so many amazing stories. As someone born almost 30 years after the end of the war, it is still something that I find interesting.
To the book!
As with most historical works, this being a recent addition allowed the author access to greater resources than some of those before him. He was able to see many parts of Bonhoeffer’s life and provide a great overview – from his childhood, to his final days in a concentration camp. As with anyone, their thoughts, theology and writing are never done in a vacuum - they are affected by the time they are in and their situation in life. By covering his life in such a broad fashion, it allows the reader to understand better some of his Theology and other writing.
For those who have not heard (and that was me recently!), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian, born to an aristocratic family and background just after the turn of the century. In his time, he grew up to become a passionate pastor and theologian. These traits lead then to his place as a spy and rebel against Hitler’s regime, and ultimately, to his death – just before the end of the war. In a way the books title measures up to the content (which isn’t the case with all books!) – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
Throughout the book, and especially the second half where the war is prominent, I was amazed by Bonhoeffers complete trust in God. He appeared to have absolute faith that God had a place for him to be, and that whatever the outcome, Gods will would be done. Even in the face of death, when he was given multiple opportunities to escape to a safer life, he took what he thought to be his place – with the German people struggling against Hitler. At one point he actually makes it back to New York – but knows that is not the place for him. From the moment he is there he is very uncomfortable – and knows that his place is back as a pastor to the German people and the Confessing Church. Rather than life in safety, with the promise of a prosperous life as a theologian and speaker in America, he takes a ship back home – to his people, where God had called him to be.
Metaxas uses the third person to narrate the book – almost like an observer to the actual events. You can see he has drawn extensively from books by those close to Bonhoeffer, and his research pays off as the story seems very complete. In the times where there is little or no information he doesn’t invent stories or make theories, but honestly says that not much is known of this time or event.
Whilst this is a lengthy book, I think this is a great book for Christians to read. It gives an interesting perspective on not only the war, but God working through people during that time. And I think a great example of ultimate faith and trust in God – no matter what the circumstances or outcomes.