By Eric Metaxas
It’s strange that it has been 40 years since the last major biography of one of the 20th Century’s most famed Christian martyrs. However, Eric Metaxas – author of the hugely popular book, Amazing Grace, which was made into a film – has more than made up for the long gap with a superb biography that is at least the equal of his work on William Wilberforce.
Many Christians today have some understanding of Bonhoeffer’s importance both as a theologian and as the person who came to symbolise German Christian resistance to Hitler’s evil regime. Yet Metaxas shows us there was a lot more to this complex and highly intelligent man.
Metaxas delivers a fast paced and tightly written account of Bonhoeffer’s life.
We see him challenging the religiosity of the 1930s German church and opening people’s eyes to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer, however, didn’t believe in “cheap grace” and his commitment to the cause of Jesus and the Church would cost him his life.
His importance as a theologian was already well established by the time he became a leading figure in the Confessing Church, the German Protestant movement that broke away from the German Church and its Hitler-appointed flunkies.
Metaxas portrays a man of intellect, strong and uncompromising will and extraordinary courage. Bonhoeffer could have remained in the United States for the duration of the War but chose to return to an uncertain future alongside his colleagues in the Confessing Church inside Germany.
We learn of his equally extraordinary family, who all opposed Hitler right from the outset, of his work as a double agent for the anti-Hitler German military intelligence, of his writing and – for the first time – something of his passionate and doomed romance.
Most fascinating is the story of the split in the ranks of the German Church over allegiance to Hitler and the growing strength of the anti-Hitler faction within Germany.
Metaxas portrays Bonhoeffer as being part of a surprisingly influential and widespread plot against Hitler – one that was largely unknown to both Hitler and the Allies until it all started to unravel in the wake of the failed Valkyrie plot (recently the subject of a film starring Tom Cruise).
Inevitably, the Gestapo closed in and Bonhoeffer, already in prison, is transferred into their hands. Metaxas describes Bonhoeffer’s last days using eyewitness accounts of those who were in prison with him. To the end, Bonhoeffer remained true to his God, witnessing and comforting cellmates before facing his own executioners, brave and composed, knowing he would soon be united with the Jesus he loved.
This is, without a doubt, the best book I’ve read this year. The story avoids getting bogged down in theology and politics but still covers the important themes. The tension increases with every page as the story moves relentlessly to its tragic, yet triumphal, conclusion.
– Duncan Pardon