Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is a long, but worthwhile, biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a dissident in Nazi Germany who was imprisoned and killed shortly before the end of World War II.
Eric Metaxas maintains a readable style throughout the book, although at some points the level of detail might be a bit much unless you’re really into the nuances of mid-20th century theological developments. Overall though, the book presents a different and useful perspective on World War II.
First, I think Metaxas did an excellent job of putting German anti-Semitism in global context. At the time the Nazis first rose to power, American racism was far, far more entrenched and violent than German anti-Semitism (Bonhoeffer and his brother studied in America in the interwar period and were deeply appalled by what they witnessed), and anti-Semitism and xenophobia were wrapped up with the hyper-nationalism that England and European nations also possessed at the time. What struck me as I read the book was how close any of our countries were to the same tipping point Germany faced. Given a different government, America or England or France could have been as evil as Nazi Germany. As World War II becomes more distant history, I think it’s so important to remember that the Holocaust happened because of people, not because of German people.
Beyond the general historical context, Metaxas also fleshed out what led the German church to (largely) remain silent as essentially pagan Nazi policies took over. This was an angle I hadn’t known much about, and I feel like my understanding of the time period is much richer and more nuanced now that I’ve read about this aspect of German society. Metaxas traced out how the church operated in Germany from the days of Luther, and what missteps led to theological and practical confusion about how Christians and the church should respond to governmental evil. Knowing the background and social religion he grew up in made me much more impressed with Bonhoeffer’s resistance.
I’d recommend Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy because of its accessible style and in-depth look at lesser known aspects of the interwar and World War II eras, although some readers might find it too much information in parts.
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