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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, prolific writer and theologian. In his relatively short lifetime, he was murdered at age 39, he accomplished a lot. In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas details this hero’s life and the courage he had to stand up against the Third Reich.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

From a young age, Bonhoeffer wanted to be a theologian. His family was wealthy, educated, and highly connected. But they didn’t all share his views on religion. Still, he was always close to his family, and they supported his decisions.

When Hitler came into power in Germany, it began a slow and then rapid division of the German church. This division led to Bonhoeffer creating and leading the Confessing Church. “To ‘confess the gospel’ simply meant to speak forth the good news of Jesus Christ.” As things progressed, Bonhoeffer made it perfectly clear that this “new” church was in reality the only church of Germany. There were not two churches as the one that the Third Reich had taken over was heretical.

Before World War II broke out, Bonhoeffer had spent time in America and England amongst other places. He made many connections that would later bring him into a conspiracy to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer, from early on, had inside information as well as personal insight into how evil Hitler was and the atrocities he was committing.

“Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As the group of conspirators grew, Bonhoeffer was brought into the Abwehr, a German military intelligence group comparable to the CIA. In this capacity, he became a spy against the Gestapo and the Third Reich. He would learn more about Hitler’s evils and become further determined that the Fuhrer must be eliminated.

Bonhoeffer’s direct involvement in the plot against Hitler was not the reason he was eventually arrested in 1943. This was due to a different event in where he assisted the escape of a group of Jews. The charges were weak and centered around money laundering.

Prior to being arrested, Bonhoeffer was engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, a much younger woman who he fell quickly in love with. While in prison, Bonhoeffer would write profusely, including many love letters to Maria. These would eventually be published as Love Letters from Cell 92. He also worked on his masterpiece, Ethics while in prison.

Bonhoeffer’s prison experience almost seems like a monkish retreat. Yes, he was a prisoner. But along with his writing he was able to read an incredible amount. He mentioned specifically enjoying Adalbert Stifter’s Witiko, a historical novel he compared to being in the league of Don Quixote. Interestingly enough, Don Quixote is referenced in Ethics.

He was also able to perform some pastoral duties for other prisoners and became well liked by the guards. He could not attend the wedding of his best friend, Eberhard, to his niece, Renate, but he did write a beautiful wedding sermon for them. He had many visitors over the time in prison, including seventeen from Maria.

As always, Bonhoeffer prayed a lot and read his Bible. He spent much of his time working out his theology and sharing it privately with Eberhard. Much of these working ideas were shared after his death and produced some controversy which I am only mentioning but dismiss otherwise.

With the amount of evil amongst them, Bonhoeffer knew that principles of right and wrong “…outside of God and obedience to his will is impossible.” He held strong convictions on many issues but realized too that God’s grace remained even when wrongs were committed. On the issue of abortion:

“Destruction of the embryo is the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics

Eventually, Bonhoeffer was moved to a much nastier prison, where he was held with a group of notorious “enemies of the state”. This motley crew included a doctor that was directly involved in hideous human scientific experiments. But of course, Bonhoeffer got along with everyone.

As the days passed, it became more and more clear that Germany was going to lose the war and soon. It is sad to read how close Bonhoeffer was from possible liberation. Despite knowing the outcome, you are almost hopeful that he will indeed make it out and be reunited with his finance.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is the second masterpiece I’ve read by Eric Metaxas. The pages fly and you can feel a deep understanding of who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was. And who he was, was an amazing Christian who knew that he was passing from his human life to his eternal life with Jesus.

“After what we have been through during the war, we hardly dare admit that we should like death to come to us, not accidentally and suddenly through some trivial cause, but in the fullness of life and with everything at stake.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer