Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
By Eric Metaxas
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a wanderlust that carried him throughout pre-World War II Europe, across the Atlantic to the United States, and even as far south as Mexico City. It was not the sights he saw that shaped Bonhoeffer’s worldview, so much as the people he met.
In this thorough biographical account of a Christian martyr, Eric Metaxas reviews the tapestry of relationships Bonhoeffer used to understand basic human rights, all in the context of one who also had a deep understanding of Scripture. But while Bonhoeffer availed himself of opportunities to minister in locations from Spain to England to the United States and beyond, he always felt called back to his homeland of Germany, where the church was yielding to the call of patriotism over allegiance to Christ.
When the Nazis began taking over the German Lutheran Church, Bonhoeffer was instrumental in establishing the Confessing Church as an answer for those who were distressed by the Lutheran church’s capitulation to the Third Reich. Over time, however, even the Confessing Church was contaminated by church leaders who were unwilling to stand for truth and righteousness.
While he watched brothers in ministry fall by the Nazi wayside, Bonhoeffer maintained his convictions. He publicly feigned a “simplistic” understanding of Romans 13, while he was also involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government. As Metaxas notes:
Little did these theologically ignorant Nazis know that the man with whom they were dealing had worked out a theological defense of deception against the likes of them. In some ways he was their worst nightmare. He was not a “worldly” or “compromised” pastor, but a pastor whose very devotion to God depended on his deceiving the evil powers ranged against him. He was serving God by taking them all for a long ride.
Officially working for the Abwehr (German Intelligence), Bonhoeffer’s allegiance was to the resistance. While some wrestled with the theological issues surrounding such deception, Bonhoeffer looked to the greater good that could be served, or as Metaxas wrote, “It forced him beyond the easy legalism of truth telling.”
Bonhoeffer didn’t live a theoretical existence. He dealt with conflicting issues of right and wrong each day. Metaxas’s book brings those conflicts to light.
Brad Dupray serves as president of Church Development Fund, Irvine, California. His column, “CHRISTIAN STANDARD Interview,” appears monthly in CHRISTIAN STANDARD.