Bonhoeffer--A Book Review


Last night, I did it. I finally finished Bonhoeffer

When I use the word finally, I don't mean to sound scary. But I have a job where I sometimes have to read an entire book in one day, so when a books takes me two and a half months to finish, I feel it's appropriate to say finally. 

I'm not going to beat around the bush; this book is dense. It's important you know this, because if you do choose to read it, you need to be aware of what you're getting into. That being said, it's been a while since I've felt so accomplished upon finishing a book. 

In case you didn't know, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an historical figure from the WWII era. He was a German, a pastor, a theologian, and, ultimately, a martyr, killed for his role in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Though I'd heard of the man himself and knew about him from my religion classes in college, I soon realized I didn't really know much at all. 

I expected this book to be about the man, Bonhoeffer. And it was, for the most part. But what I loved about this book--what, in a word, surprised me the most--was that it wasn't just about this one person. Bonhoeffer taught me about Germany and showed the rise of Hilter through the eyes of the German people. It was truly fascinating. For one thing, I didn't know that many of the top German officials didn't like Hitler, that it was actually the men who got close enough to see the real Fuhrer who hatched a plot to bring him down. 

Germans in general have a bad rap, but the real story is more complicated. It involves feelings of humiliation and anger over the treatment of their beloved country after WWI and an intense patriotism for their homeland. Bonhoeffer had an uncanny, almost prophetic, glimpse of a future Germany under a man like Adolf Hitler, and he was one of the first and only to speak out against him, attempting to convince others of what he was already so sure. They eventually started listening, but it was already too late.

Another thing I loved about this book is that it was beautifully written. The language, the style, and the word choices all came together, and even when I was tired and felt a bit bogged down by the amount of material contained in each paragraph, I still loved reading it because of how it was written. 

I couldn't help but think about the hours upon painstaking hours it must have taken Eric Metaxas to compile this information. I appreciated that he not only wrote about Bonhoeffer, but he included snippets of Bonhoeffer's sermons, parts of letters written both to and from Bonhoeffer, and quotes from those who knew him personally, such as his twin sister, Sabine, or his fiance, Maria.

(This same style was used in the last book I read, Unbroken, which I also greatly enjoyed and reviewed in this post. Apparently I've gotten myself on a WWII kick.)

I found myself wondering what it would have been like if Bonhoeffer had survived. (Don't worry, this isn't a spoiler. The author mentions his death in the prologue. And also, hello, it says martyr on the cover.) What would this man have thought of the sermons being preached in 2011? What would it have been like to hear him preach? I honestly don't know, but the beauty of the thing (as least for me as an editor) is how much I cared about Bonhoeffer, enough to think about him as a real person and wonder what it would be like if he stood in front of me.

Earlier in this post, I said that after I closed the final pages, I felt accomplished. This is in part due to the size (almost 550 pages), but also because this was not a book I expected to like. Yet when I finished and started thinking about what I wanted to write in my review, I realized that this book, cheesy as it may sound, enriched my life. I learned about a period of time that's been widely discussed and written about, but this time I felt as though I was on the inside, viewing it not from across an ocean but from the same room. 

In closing, it seems fitting that I copy a few quotes from the book itself. I hope you enjoy, and maybe if you have a month or two, pick up a copy of Bonhoeffer. It's not a quick read, and it most likely won't make you gasp or burst into laughter, but I promise you won't be sorry you did.

[383] "Yet the Lord makes no mistakes. Whomever God calls home is someone God has loved." (Bonhoeffer, in a letter referencing the death of a few close friends)

 [446] "'Who stands fast?' he asked. 'Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God--the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life and answer to the question and call of God.'"

[473] "It will be with me for a long time now--the memory of having the four people who are nearest and dearest to me with me for a brief moment...I found myself repeating over and over again, 'This is really great!' I always hesitate to use the word indescribable about anything, because if you take enough trouble to make a thing clear, I think there is very little that is really 'indescribable'--but at the moment that is just what this morning seems to me."

(I loved this passage not for it's theological wisdom but because it shows a bit of his humor and also his literary mind.)

And finally, part of a sermon he preached while a pastor in London

[531] "Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up--that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death?... Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him...Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death."

And so, it sits no longer on my nightstand but back on the bookshelf, waiting for Jordan, I think

dgreese said...

Great review amanda! I felt exactly the same way about all the historical information. The book painted a brilliant picture of post WW1 Germany with all it's shame and desire to reestablish itself as a powerful nation.

I also loved how Metaxas really showed the reader a picture not of a superficial Bonhoeffer, but offered an inside look into who he was both in his struggles and triumphs.

I would also add a disclaimer for anyone who wants to read the book not to measure your life up to Bonhoeffer's, because you will fail majorly. Simply put Bonhoeffer was brilliant and immensely blessed by God. With all his gifts he wasn't arrogant, but humble and silently powerful. What a stud!

LHawk said...

Such a great review—and now I for sure want to read it.

Also, I love that the book is now sandwiched between the Bible, Amazing Grace...and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That made me laugh.

Amanda said...

Daniel, glad you agree! You make a really great point about not measuring our lives by Bonhoeffer. He was certainly blessed. I also loved how Mextaxas showed Bonhoeffer's stuggles. It really made him more "human." Btw, I totally read it because of you. Glad you recommended it!

Laura, it's definitely a good read. And yes, we have some odd book placement on our shelves :)

Anonymous said...

You freakin' Reeses and your obsession with disclaimers! I've had enough! Stop it already!

Anyway...sorry. On to my comment. Great review. I'd like to read it. That is all.