Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you know anything about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you probably know that he was a German theologian who conspired with others in several futile attempts to assassinate Hitler. That's about all I remembered when I saw that the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes was available as an audiobook download on My Media Mall. Wow. I had no idea how riveting this man's life story is.

Born to a distinguished German family in 1906, Bonhoeffer was an extraordinary intellect; by 21 he had already earned his doctorate in theology. He could have settled into a privileged life in Germany, but instead, open-minded and open-hearted, he traveled the world. Nothing moved him more than his time with African American Christians in Harlem in the 1930s. The politically-active, emotionally-charged Abyssinian Baptist Church showed Bonhoeffer a new kind of Christianity, one that called him to be profoundly engaged with the suffering and struggle of the world. His first-hand experience seeing US racism proved a horrible foreshadowing of what was to come in Germany, and it would change forever the commitment he would have to fighting injustice, even when it meant tremendous personal sacrifice.

Bonhoeffer's life is profoundly intense. The description of his return to Germany after Hitler's rise to power made the horror of those times vividly real to me - the chilling tightening of the noose as Nazi brutality takes hold, the unbelievable double life Bonhoeffer led as a double agent, the suspenseful history of the multiple plots to kill Hitler.

Metaxes is a fantastic writer who quotes liberally from Bonhoeffer's letters back and forth to friends, family, and, most poignantly, his fiance. In addition to being moving biography, Bonhoeffer's life poses the deep questions: How are we to respond to the injustice of the world? What does it mean to be fully alive? In the face of great wrongs, will we show courage?

I had this book on my mind for days after I finished it. Perhaps you'd find it moving as well.

(Other books by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found here.)

No comments: