Book Review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy


Eric Metaxas, who is already familiar to aficionados of Christian biography through Amazing Grace, his biography of William Wilberforce, has written a fast-paced and informative portrait of Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who resisted the Nazis even unto his death in a concentration camp in April 1945. This book, while not nearly as long as Eberhard Bethge’s 1000-plus page authoritative biography, is still a substantial 542 pages, not including endnotes.

While Metaxas relies heavily on Bonhoeffer’s own words to tell his story, one way in which he keeps the pace fast is that he does not enter into a detailed discussion of Bonhoeffer’s written work, which one can get elsewhere. It seems that Metaxas is far more interested in showing the real-life consequences of Bonhoeffer’s theology, instead of giving a lengthy exposition of it.

This is a wonderful book, and a real page-turner, but there were a few problems that might have gone away with more vigilant editing. For example, it mentions that Bonhoeffer’s brother Karl-Friedrich studied with Alfred Einstein and Max Planck in the 1920s. Karl-Friedrich was a physical chemist. Alfred Einstein was a musicologist. I can only assume that Metaxas meant Albert, the more famous Einstein? Also, there is a quote from Matthew 10 that says it is from the Sermon on the Mount – but Matthew 10, while part of Jesus’ teaching, is not part of the Sermon on the Mount. These are minor errors, and didn’t seriously impede my enjoyment of the book.

This book will not replace Bethge’s biography; after all, it is hard to get closer to Bonhoeffer than his best friend. But what Metaxas does is introduce Bonhoeffer to a new generation that will greatly benefit from knowing that such a man existed – a man who was obedient to God (not merely to a set of principles), even when that obedience brought him into deadly conflict with his church and his country.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

  1. dawnomite May 21, 2010 / 5:55 am

    I see that you’re reading Peace Like a River. I’ll be interested in your review. It was a book club selection a few months ago. I only read the first third – in part because I was too busy, and because it was slow-going for me. I didn’t think negatively of it, yet I just couldn’t get into it.

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