Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Several months ago, because of "small world" connections, I was given the opportunity to review Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxes.

I was intrigued by the book after discovering Metaxes' previous biography - Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. This book, and subsequent movie, moved rapidly up my "keep and read (watch) multiple times."

A chance to listen to a podcast presentation Metaxas made at Asbury Theological Seminary (my alma mater), helped confirm that I wanted to read his newest work.

I'll admit. This biography of Bonhoeffer is no mind-candy offering. Instead of plowing through it within a few days, it took me more than a month to absorb Metaxes' story of Bonhoeffer's as a pastor, and later as a spy and martyr. 

In fact, several months later, I still find myself thinking about the book and Bonhoeffer's story. A recent news story that former President George W. Bush is currently reading this biography reminded me that this review/post is long overdue.

If you compare books to food (I often find the analogy helps put things into context for the students I  work with), this book is not "cotton candy" for your brain. It is premium "steak and potatoes," and it definitely will take some time to digest.

Reading Bonhoeffer's story of struggle - and his desire to serve God no matter what - left me convicted. It made me question what I would do if found in his situation. It also left me struggling to view current issues within his framework of social justice and personal holiness.

I am struck how scarily similar some of our current political situations mirror pre-WWII Germany - especially the polarizing and anger-filled political arena. In fact, Metaxes has written a few posts on his website, including this one, that might indicate American politics are sliding down a slippery slope once traveled by the German people. (Click here to read more.)

In the end, as I finished reading this biography, I was left with several questions. (I originally hoped to include an interview with Metaxes with this post, but scheduling changes - his book is a hit on the national scene - made that impossible.)

So, what can we learn from Bonhoeffer? I think we can learn that sometimes "black and white" answers don't work. Sometimes a person must rely on their faith, rather than what the world says is right. I think sometimes we have to go against popular opinion to do the right thing. I also think that we have a moral and social obligation to take stands on issues, regardless of popular/cultural opinions.

I also think we need to remember that even as Bonhoeffer worked to overthrow Hitler, he steeped his life deeply in prayer and personal devotions. He never turned his eyes off of the "main" thing - God - and because of that, he never lost focus on what was most important.

He also asked tough questions related to who/what was the church and what was the church's response to the blatant abuse of minorities (his neighbors) by a government.

I also think, just like Bonhoeffer asked the "Jewish" question (what should a Christian church/pastor's response be to how Hitler's government treated Jews), we, as Christians need to look at how minorities - specifically illegal and legal immigrants, alike - are treated.

I think ultimately, Bonhoeffer's tale, published on the 65th anniversary of his death, is a timeless tale of how one man (among many) stood up for his believes, regardless of the consequences.

I'm still learning a lot from Bonhoeffer. I hope his words continue to resonate in my mind. He definitely reminds me that one person can make a difference.

More About The Author
In a decidedly eclectic career, Eric Metaxas has written for VeggieTales, Chuck Colson, and the New York Times, three things not ordinarily in the same sentence. He is a best-selling author whose biographies, children’s books, and works of popular apologetics have been translated into Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, and Macedonian.

Metaxas has been frequently featured as a cultural commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel; and has discussed his own books on C-Span’s Book TV and Hannity & Colmes. He has been featured on many radio programs, including NPR’s Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation, Hugh Hewitt, the Bob Grant Show, Janet Parshall’s America, Monica Crowley, and The Alan Colmes Show.

He is the founder and host of Socrates in the City: Conversations on the Examined Life, a monthly event of”entertaining and thought-provoking discussions on ‘life, God, and other small topics’” that features such speakers as Dr. Francis Collins, Sir John Polkinghorne, Baroness Caroline Cox, Dana Gioia, Os Guinness and Peter Kreeft, and which was mentioned in a front-page story in the New York Times. The New Canaan Society, of which Eric is a founding and current member, was also mentioned in the article.

His acclaimed biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery was published by HarperSanFrancisco, and is the “official companion book” to the feature film, also titled Amazing Grace. The book was #23 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and has been lauded by Stanley Crouch (”…a superb history of the British fight against slavery”; Former NYC Congressman Floyd Flake (”magnificent… will stand as a living landmark…”); John Wilson (”a crackling bonfire of clarity and truth.”); Rudy Giuliani (”better than the movie!”), and many others.

Metaxes' Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask), came out in 2005, and was praised by Ann B. Davis, Alice on The Brady Bunch (”I am absolutely smitten with this book!”), Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (”The difficulty is not to gush.”). The sequel, titled Everything ELSE You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask) was published in 2007.  A new book in the series titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (The Jesus Edition) was published in hardcover by Regal in January 2010.

Metaxes attends Calvary/St. George’s Episcopal Church, and lives in Manhattan, New York, with his wife and daughter.  Read more about him at: http://www.ericmetaxas.com.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Eric Metaxes. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

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