I’ve just started reading Eric Metaxas’ exhaustive new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I’ll have much more to say about it when I’ve finished. Metaxas has done an impressive job researching Bonhoeffer’s German roots, and the cultural and familial influences that shaped his thinking. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the greatest Christian theologians of the 20th century, and his important role in opposing Adolf Hitler during WWII was a sterling example of how the gospel of Jesus Christ at times requires Christians to stand in opposition to powerful political and cultural forces, sometimes at great personal risk.
By chance, I stumbled on an interview that conservative radio broadcaster Hugh Hewitt conducted with Metaxas, and I was hooked. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books, especially The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, captivated me when I was a new Christian and student of philosophy at North Carolina State University. After hearing Metaxas tease out just a little of what he had learned about the man, I knew I had to read his book.
In those earliest days of my faith, I made an assumption that I have never strayed from. It seemed to me that if Christianity was true, it ought to be intellectually robust. It should not dodge or buckle under the most difficult moral questions. In fact, I believe the God described in the Bible actually welcomes such questions, because we are made in his image, created like him as thinking, feeling, rational creatures. He gave us inquisitive minds and a deep desire to understand the world we live in. It only made sense to me then, and still does, that he welcomes our inquisitiveness.
So I immersed myself in CS Lewis (Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain), Watchman Nee (The Normal Christian Life), Francis Schaeffer (A Christian Manifesto, The God Who is There, How Should We Then Live), St. Augustine (The City of God), and other great Christian thinkers such as Blaise Pascal, GK Chesterton and Søren Kierkegaard.
Bonhoeffer, though, grabbed ahold of my young mind differently than the others. So much of his understanding of the gospel was forged in the insane heat of Nazi Germany’s abandonment of reason, justice and its proud Lutheran orthodoxy. In the fires of a world war, in a Nazi prison sentenced to death as an enemy of the Third Reich, in one of the world’s most despairing historical times, Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew closer to Christ.
I will be reviewing the book and sharing thoughts from it in the coming weeks. Eric Metaxas is also the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery.
Photo credit: Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland