I finally finished Bonhoeffer. It took me longer than a month though… Close to Two.
I can say that it’s a really good book, but it might be one of those that you break up in sections. Again it was a biography, and not of the miniature variety like in 7 Men. I’ve never read a biography this long.
It helped that it was centered around someone who led a remarkable life (funny how books get written about those people) in a remarkable time.
Metaxas does a great job giving us seemingly every detail of Bonhoeffer’s life. I tried to take notes after every chapter in an effort to retain what I was reading, but I missed a few chapters in the rush of being close to the end. I was tempted to just post my chapter highlights as the review but even that would have been nearly 1000 words.
One of the things which stood out to me regarding Bonhoeffer’s early life was how intentional it seemed his parents were in the way they taught their children. Their parents were consciously grooming their children’s world view. This would seem to have set a very firm foundation for Dietrich for his entire life.
Bonhoeffer grew up in an incredibly intelligent family. As in his brother worked with Einstein. The Einstein. This removed the option for Dietrich to be a lazy Christian, his father was an atheist, but his mother was a Christian. While his father wasn’t critical of his family’s faith, he was very critical of poorly thought out views. This led Dietrich to think through his decision to follow Christ.
His choice to pursue a pastoral career seemed to stun his family. They were still supportive of his decision none the less. One of his first jobs was the youth pastor for a church in Spain. He said that if you can’t explain Christ to children they you are making it too complicated. While he was in Spain we begin to see the foundations of his faith. One of his jobs while there was to preach for the pastor while he was away, I imagine the for the congregation it would be like expecting to go to mass and instead hearing from John Bevere for the summer.
Metaxas explains the nuances of the German church, the evangelical movement hadn’t started yet and Martin Luther was one of the primary influences on the protestant church. While Martin Luther did some really good things, it seems he fell of the rails in his old age. He was the embodiment of the Church Curmudgen twitter account. He said some hilarious poop related things though for what it’s worth. (Moral of the story, if you’re going to go off the rails do so comically)
Martin Luther going off the rails is important to know because the Nazi’s would take those statements and run with them later.
Bonhoeffer also spent some time as a professor, coming from an highly educated family this would be no shock at all. Part of his educational career brought him to the US right after the great depression. Bonhoeffer instantly noticed how the liberal churches blatantly avoided the Gospel of Christ, and focused on the happenings of the world or on charity. The hope he found was in the black churches in America, he found people who believed God’s word, and were living it out. I think you could say that were it not for the Spirit stirring in the black churches of America Dietrich Bonhoeffer would not have been the man he became. The black churches lit a fire in his soul. Seeing what a relationship with Christ really looked like caused Bonhoeffer really dig into the word. He’d accomplished much for the Kingdom of God and he didn’t even really know God! He realized the Bible is the literal Word of God, and treated it as such.
Side note, he invented the quiet talking method when trying to talk to a group of unruly kids. (Maybe not, but I’ll give him credit for using it)
Bonhoeffer continued to preach as Hitler came to power, and it’s rather shocking that he wasn’t arrested sooner seeing as how viciously Hitler handled most of his opponents. Two days after Hitler was elected Bonhoeffer gave a speech regarding what a real leader was. A real leader has been appointed to that position by God, and understands that they are ultimately subject to His authority, that is the only manner from which just rulers may lead. Otherwise the leader will essentially take up the role of God, a role which a human is not equipped to handle. Hitler would provide ample opportunity to prove that true. This is something that is painfully obvious as we watch the 2016 elections. It seems none of our options realize where true power comes from.
With Hitler now in power the rate of change from normal Germany to Nazi Germany was viewed as staggering, I assume it was similar to the whiplash effect of the gay rights movement in the last few years. This culminated with the Germans burning books authored by Jews in a nearly pagan ritual as they marched through the streets with torches on a pagan holiday.
Metaxas deftly puts to bed the idea that Hitler was in anything other than title a Christian, he gives the following quote from Hitler “It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
Hitler would go to great lengths to portray himself and the Nazi party as Christian, but there was a schism between Christianity and the Nazi party.
It also describes how Hitler and his crew had used the church to further their cause all the while reviling what the church stood for. The Nazis tried to twist the scripture so much that eventually they gave up and said the Old Testament was wrong and the New Testament wasn’t that hot either. They commanded that the church remove the crosses and replace their Bibles with Mein Kampt. This was accompanied by a more Nazi friendly Jesus.
During all of this Bonhoeffer was still preaching. He actually started a Seminary that would eventually forbidden by the Germans, not one to quit, Bonhoeffer kept running the seminary, but they moved it deep into the woods, and conducted their lessons in secret.
Bonhoeffer’s focuses were on more than just the German church. He left Germany to preach and teach in London for a stint, and even remained there against the wishes of one of his role models Karl Barth. Bonhoeffer’s time in London would prove to be beneficial though, he would gain rapport with influential people in the international church setting. This would come of use during the Fanos meeting. The Fanos meeting was a multinational church meeting where despite Boehner’s attempts the German Church and the Confessing Church were categorized as groups within the German body, thereby including the heretical German Christians in the fold. Bonhoeffer wanted to make known the heretical German church had gone off the rails and that the Confessing Church (Bonhoeffer’s church) was the only true church left in Germany.
While Bonhoeffer was in London Hitler had hundreds of political opponents killed in the middle of the knight in an event that was known as the “Night of Long Knives.” This was to prevent anyone that Hitler didn’t control from stepping into a leadership position.
It was around this time that the German folk realized this Hitler guy wasn’t that great. By that time though, Hitler had decided that the real church had outlived its usefulness, and began going after them, arresting pastors in the middle of the night and even during sermons. This and the schism inside the church caused even some of Bonhoeffer’s friends to leave him.
During all of this there had been many who were trying to stage a coup. They had everything in place as Hitler was poised to attack Czechoslovakia. Things looked very bad for Hitler, but then a bumbling dignitary of Chamberlains waltzes in and offers him a way out. That spoils the coup attempts, and gave Hitler time to build his army and further persecute the Church, it also kicked off his terrorizing the Jews.
When they realized the Coup wasn’t going to happen Bonhoeffer’s friends pulled together and managed to help Bonhoeffer escape Germany to the US. Their plan was for him to come back when Hitler was gone and be the architect of the rebuilt German church. But as Bonhoeffer was on the ship to the US he felt God telling him to go back. He couldn’t sit in safety while his Christian brothers were being persecuted. So much to the surprise of his friends who had taken great risks to help Bonhoeffer escape he returned just at the dawn of WW2.
Hitler dressed a Jewish prisoner in an SS uniform and had him killed along the Polish border. He claimed they had started the war and he was simply defending Germany.
There are 10 more chapters, but I stopped taking notes here. So I’ll very briefly sum it up. Bonhoeffer eventually joins the German version of the CIA working undercover for someone who was a sympathizer to overthrow Hitler. During this time he gets to keep preaching as part of his cover. His group eventually determines that they must kill Hitler. This was a decision that brought a lot of grief to Bonhoeffer, his theological roots made it hard to violate the do not murder. Bonhoeffer did not make any attempts at Hitler’s life, but he acknowledged that his participation in the planning of the events was the same as if he had. He also advocated lying to the Nazi’s. Bonhoeffer’s choices put him at odds with the letter of the law theologians, and I wish I could better summarize his reasoning but you’ll have to read that for your selves.
The final chapters talk about Bonhoeffer’s engagement, and death. His engagement was kind of sad as he was arrested just a few months into it. While they remained hopeful that he would be released, after the Valkyrie attempt on Hitler’s life it became apparent he wouldn’t be released until the end of the war. Bonhoeffer remained in captivity until just days before the end of the war. The entire time he was a captive it was apparent to everyone that he came into contact with that he was devout follower of Christ, wholly submitted to Christ’s will for his life.
1: A family that makes their kids think through things and loves them is vital to raising a Bonhoeffer.
2: The slide to a totalitarian regime is slow at first and then sudden. Just like bankruptcy.
3: When churches are being silenced things are going to get ugly.
4: When churches preach more about what’s going on in society rather than what the bible says you’re asking for trouble.
5: Even when you have the worst leader in history, we are still called to be Christians.
5B: Christians have the duty to lie to unjust governments to save lives (I can’t decide if that can be extrapolated to not paying my taxes to avoid funding Planned Parenthood though)
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This book was long.