In Review: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes

Bonhoefferwas my first e-book purchase in the Amazon store for my new Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi.  What a way to break it in!  It is a fairly tough read spanning 591 pages in the print version and chronicling the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor/prodigy who came into his prime just before and during Hitler's reign over the country.  It's a story deep in theology and heavily weighted toward a Christian point of view as you might expect.  Bonhoeffer was part of the German civilian minority that opposed Hitler's rise to power from the very beginning.  The Bonhoeffer family has a deep and influential history in Germany that provided Dietrich with the means and connections to maximize his effectiveness in his efforts against Hitler inside and outside of Germany and later would influence his treatment in prison. Bonhoeffer's view on Hitler's rise to power is best summed up in an excerpt from Timothy Keller's forward to the book.

"How could the 'church of Luther,' that great teacher of the gospel, have ever come to such a place?  The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace, had been lost.  On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism.  That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn't really matter much how you live.  Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace.  On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works.  Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good disciplined life.  Both of these impulses made it possible for Hitler to come to power."

Bonhoeffer was an early detractor from the Nazi regime as was his upper class and highly influential family.  He ministered to people inside and outside of Germany both before and during Hitler's rise to power and used that as a platform to help spread the word on the atrocities that Hitler and the brutal SS were committing.  In the beginning of the war and to some extent until the end many of the horrific acts by the Nazis went unnoticed by the world.  Bonhoeffer would eventually play a role in the assassination plots to kill Hitler, including the famous Valkyrie plot that would seal his fate.

I found the book inspiring at the deepest levels.  Dietrich was devoted to his ministry, his family, his country and his friends until the very end.  Even at the moment of his own execution, by direct order from Hitler himself in one of his final self-centered moves in the last weeks of the war, Dietrich remained true to his values and dedicated in his faith.  A German doctor overseeing the executions observed, "I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.  At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed."

As I said before this book is build upon a theological foundation and accommodates the Christian reader though I would recommend it for anyone as the story is a remarkable account about a selfless man who died for a purpose greater than himself without hesitation.  Once you get through the thorough background of his life and the detailed build up necessary to understand the extent of his sacrifice you will be rewarded with a moving, purposeful ending that will leave you wondering if you can ever read another book again.

Here's a YouTube video summary.

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