Meditation 11: "Bonhoeffer," by Eric Metaxas: A Book Recommendation for the New Year
In case you are looking for a good read, I commend for your consideration Eric Metaxas's "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." It is a masterfully written biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At 542 pages, it borders on a tome, but is still only half as long as the 1000+ page definitive biography written by Bonhoeffer's closest friend, Eberhard Bethge. The book is at once gripping and exhausting! Metaxas gives us a wonderfully comprehensive (albeit distilled) portrait and narrative of Bonhoeffer's character, life, and theology. Interestingly, throughout the book, Metaxas also draws special attention to Bonhoeffer's prophetic instincts and intuition which I think you'll find are particularly prescient.
Until I read the book, I had little appreciation for the incredibly complex moral and ecclesial questions with which Bonhoeffer was confronted. Some of these questions were thrust upon him by the exigencies of historical circumstance, others by his indefatigable pursuit to discover and live out the will of God as it applied to the corrupted church and culture in which he lived. Metaxas does a fabulous job of drawing the reader into Bonhoeffer's heart and mind as he wrestled with the ecclesial conflicts that led him to advocate establishing the Confessing Church, and as he grappled with the grave moral dilemmas that eventually compelled him to become a spy and co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate Hitler!
One of the many important lessons I take from Bonhoeffer's life is that he believed it was the call -- indeed, the duty -- of the Church not to compromise with Evil, but rather to confront it with moral clarity, unbending will, and relentless resolve. As Bonhoeffer's erstwhile pupil and closest friend, Bethge, put it, Bonhoeffer opened the eyes of the Church to the truth that at some point we must go beyond confession (that is, beyond sermonizing on or calling out the Evil of our day) to resistance (that is, to action). There comes a time when we must move beyond resisting Evil by way of confession to confessing Evil by way of resistance!
I'm sure many of us have gleaned wonderful wisdom and inspiration from some of Bonhoeffer's well known writings. But as Metaxas so ably demonstrates through this biography, there also is much wisdom and inspiration to be reaped from his life!
I end with a brief excerpt of some of Bonhoeffer's provocative insights on the state of the Western Church:
[T]he most grandiose of all human attempts to advance toward the divine [is] by way of the church. Christianity conceals within itself a germ hostile to the church. It is far too easy for us to base our claims to God on our own Christian religiosity and our church commitment, and in so doing utterly to misunderstand and distort the Christian idea.” . . . The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this. (Bonhoeffer, pp. 84, 260).