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

I finished the biography by Eric Metaxas on Dietrich Bonhoeffer  recently. It was very well written, and I had many moments for reflection and connection throughout. I’ve not been a big reader of biographies, but I found this treatment of the young German theologian inspiring and instructive. I’ll share a few insights here which I hope might whet your appetite to read it for yourself.

Bonhoeffer worked to shine light on what Hitler was doing by communicating to his allies in London specifically Bishop George Bell and a number of other ecumenical leaders. He bravely took a stand against the German Christian “church” which was being raised up as a pagan religion or replacement for true Christianity, attempting to expunge any connection to its Jewish roots. When Hitler ordered the Night of the Long Knives in June of 1934, Nazi hit squads went through and murdered anywhere from 400-1,000 people. After this people who disagreed with National Socialism or Hitler began to fear for their lives. If you spoke up against Hitler or his policies you could very well end up dead. Through all this Bonhoeffer remained steadfast in his stand against the pollution of the church and the pull of the German Christian movement to paganism, anti-Christian, and anti-Jewish sentiment as well as the fusing of the church with the state.

Hitler never spoke against the church as he rose to power. He was very politically astute to know that would not do. However, once he was fully in control of Germany he moved to break down the church and rebuild it in his own image. He supported the group called the German Christians who warped orthodox theology to make Jesus out as anti-semitic and basically return Germany to its pagan roots. Hitler himself despised Christian teaching and preferred the coarse power of the ancient germanic  pagan religions coupled with Darwinian naturalism. Within his inner circle, Goering and Himmler cultivated occult practices among the SS and incorporated them into the Nazi death camps.

Bonhoeffer attempted to rally groups of churches both within and without Germany to speak out against what the “German Christians” were doing. However, Nazis used control of information and communications to divide their enemies. This made different churches who had been allied with Bonhoeffer to split away. The Nazi divisive tactic whittled down and essentially liquefied their opposition. This has some connection with our current political battle. If churches and the righteous cannot unite against our common enemy of godlessness and immorality, no one will stand. If we divide our forces and become fractured and diffused, we will lose.

More than anything I am struck by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s unyielding commitment to the rational pursuit of the conclusions of his faith. He did not back down from thinking things through to their logical conclusion, then taking action as necessary. I pray that we American Christians would do the same.

Have you read this stirring biography? What were your reactions?

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