Book Review: Bonhoeffer Abridged

Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

Some time ago I asked what must have seemed like an arcane question to my readers: What would Dietrich Bonhoeffer do [1]? Given the contents of this book, Dietrich Boenhoffer would do the following things: keep himself busy studying, teaching children, writing prolifically, and yet managing to have enough time to involve himself in politics opposing Hitler’s regime while also managing to find himself involved in the exact same sort of personal and romantic drama that I do. He would stubbornly avoid opportunities to escape danger and work to serve the exploited and stand up for unpopular targets of hatred and abuse and put his own life and safety in danger. Alarmingly enough, the question “what would Dietrich Boenhoffer do” has the answer “what I would do.”

I have had the chance to read articles by Eric Metaxas before about the subject of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his relevance to contemporary Christians, and this book is a worthy abridgment of its subject. The mission of an abridgment of a biography (presumably longer than the 200 pages this book takes up) are as follows: Does it convey the essence of the life of its subject? Does it make one want to read the entire book? Does it allow certain unfortunate readers to identify far too much with their subject and recognize the alarm of our contemporary political situation? This book succeeds on all counts, allowing readers the chance to see how even a privileged man from an intact family with a social background that included one of the most famous professors of psychology in all of Europe could run afoul of Hitler’s regime because of their principled rejection of anti-Semitism [2]. Those days could very easily return.

And it is this point that makes this book worth reading the most. The book reminds us that there were good Germans, something that can easily be forgotten [3], and that in our abhorrence of Hitler’s regime, and evil governments in general, we cannot demonize everyone in a society. Even if Hitler had many willing (even if sometimes reluctant) executioners, he also had many opponents like Bonhoeffer who even if pacifist were unwilling to even countenance any approval of the behavior of their leader, even if it cost them their freedom and their lives. As the apostles said while being beaten and harassed by the Sanhedrin, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). This scripture remains no less true today, and where the requirements of godliness and the laws and behavior of our societies are in opposition, we must obey God and accept the fact that this will lead to the potential of serious harm here on earth. Reading biographies like this one reminds us that intellectuals like Bonhoeffer were flesh and blood men who fell in love awkwardly, who had a passionate stake in social justice and church politics, and whose dedication to principles led them to risk death in order to remain loyal to God as they understood Him. Someday we may be called upon to do the same. Will we be as brave, as principled, and as stubbornly determined to do what is right no matter what the cost? Let us pray we never have to find out.

[1] See:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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