Tag Archives: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix

Faithful SpyIn every age, during times of greatest crisis, there are unlikely heroes quietly sacrificing themselves for the greater good. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one such man, a theologian and pastor who died trying to assassinate Hitler before he could slaughter more innocent people.

There are many excellent biographies of Bonhoeffer, and he was a prolific writer himself, but John Hendrix has created an entirely new type of work by producing a graphic novel biography for teens. In just green, red, black, and white, the pages convey danger and tension, with emotive drawings and hand lettering that tell the story of Dietrich’s childhood and young adulthood, his travels to Rome and the United States, and his evolution of thought and faith that brought him to his resolution to join a plot against Der Führer. At the same time, Hendrix spins a brief but enlightening backstory of Germany’s history from World War I to the rise of Hitler: how the German people were demoralized and struggling, and the ease with which a dictator can gain power when the people are looking for a savior.

Hendrix succeeds at my top criterion for Bonhoeffer biographies: he is open and honest about Dietrich’s active participation in a political plot without denying, twisting, or trivializing his faith. There are no easy answers here. Bonhoeffer was a pastor of the underground, “confessing” church, a man whose Christianity was the center of his life, but also a man who was determined to kill another man. How he reconciled those two realities is the subject of endless speculation and rivers of ink, but some writers deal more honestly than others.

My only problem with The Faithful Spy is that the printing is sometimes less clear than it should be. Particularly for some passages of very fine print, the coloring makes it nearly illegible. Perhaps teenagers’ eyes will handle this more easily than mine.

In a time that cries out for heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the best. He was brave, intellectual, kind, willing to learn, and yes, faithful. Teens and adults will also enjoy Eric Metaxas’ more comprehensive biography, reviewed here. As noted, there are many books and collections of writings by Bonhoeffer himself. His most famous is probably The Cost of Discipleship, but for an introduction to his thought, the two slender volumes Life Together and Letters from Prison are quite accessible.

John Hendrix is also the author and illustrator of the dazzling picture book biography, Miracle Man, reviewed here.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Plot to Kill Hitler, by Patrica McCormick

plot-to-kill-hitlerDietrich Bonhoeffer was an unlikely assassin. This educated, well-to-do young pastor was everything genteel and intellectual until the rise of Adolph Hitler and the takeover of the German church drove him to join a group of conspirators who were actively plotting Hitler’s death until the Nazis captured them just before the end of World War II.

Patricia McCormick has taken on some difficult topics in the past, including self-harm in Cut and human trafficking in Sold. Here, she takes the very complex life of a German theologian and somehow makes it understandable for young readers. She includes two of the turning points in Bonhoeffer’s life: when he travels to Rome and realizes that Christianity is for all nations, not just Germany, and when he goes to the United States, visits an African-American church, and comes to understand that faith in Christ is not just memorizing theology, but involves the whole individual, including the emotions. McCormick conveys Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and motivations in a way that is accessible to young people, while remaining profound and authentic. She shows how the course of events around us can change our personal lives, and how one, single life can change the course of history.

Teenagers today are growing up in an increasingly polarized and secularized world. They are being forced to adhere to a narrow set of beliefs in the name of tolerance, and they will never escape these strident voices if they receive their cues from social media. Rather, let them read books with great heroes and heroines, so that they will grow strong in character and free in thought. Until they are old enough to read Eric Metaxas’ masterful biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Patricia McCormick provides a compelling story of a young man who is a great role model for all of us.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which is now available to the public. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Bonhoeffer & Metaxas, Part 2

So, now that you know that I have been immersed in everything Dietrich Bonhoeffer this year, I must also tell you about the author of his recent biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. In the spirit of “What else ya got?” I Googled Eric Metaxas— as every good librarian would— and found a mountain of stuff! First of all, Mr. Metaxas lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. I know that is a shocking place of residence, but apparently he is suffering for the sake of the gospel, so okay. Furthermore, he runs an outfit called Socrates in the (aforementioned) City, in which groups of intellectual types get together for drinks and dinner and talk about life, the universe, and everything. Some of the videos are posted on the website, http://www.socratesinthecity.com/, and are well worth watching.

Wait, there’s more! Mr. Metaxas has led a life crowded with incident, including writing for and doing voice acting for Veggie Tales. We love Veggie Tales! At the moment, he can be heard on BreakPoint, the ministry founded by the late Chuck Colson. He is also the author of a biography of William Wilberforce, who led England to outlaw slavery, and several books on apologetics.

The most fun Metaxas moment you can find on the internet, though, is his keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this year. Go to his own website here for the link. There he is in front of President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and thousands of Christian leaders giving a speech that is simultaneously very serious and hilariously funny. He does not mind poking fun at anyone, but is so self-effacing that it doesn’t hurt. This is the source of the famous picture of President Obama holding up a copy of Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas had an opportunity to say some courageous things on behalf of the gospel, and he did not waste it. He led a room full of (let’s face it) stuffy people to sing “Amazing Grace” together.

This is what we need in the church and in the world today: serious intellectuals who truly love the Lord and have a sense of humor! Yelling and screaming just does not get it done. Let’s all have dinner and drinks and chat, instead.

Metaxas is also very, very, very active on Facebook, and apparently, Twitter. (I refuse to use Twitter, because I have to be able to say “I have a life” with a straight face.) He does get into all kinds of current events on Facebook, so if you would be offended, be forewarned. He is always kind and sensible, though.

Now, go. Have fun.

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Bonhoeffer & Metaxas, Part 1

bonhoeffer-metaxasOf the fifty-five books that I’ve read so far this year, one has affected me far more than all of the others—and there have been some heavy hitters in the lineup! Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great and John M. Perkins’ memoir, Let Justice Roll Down, were both wonderful, but did not achieve the top spot. No, the book that had all of my colleagues, family, and friends asking me to “shut up, already” was Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

In the past year, it seems as if I kept on hearing about Dietrich Bonhoeffer on every side. It is my belief that this was the Lord trying to tell me something, and I am often unfortunately slow on the uptake. He has to hit me over the head, it seems. I had read some of Bonhoeffer’s writings in the past, but it had been a while, and I only had a Wikipedia-sized knowledge of his life. I needed more, so I searched our library’s catalog and found a recent biography by a guy I’d never heard of: Eric Metaxas. Now, I was really worried about the viewpoint of the biographer. Don’t tell me a writer is neutral; it’s impossible. If you really didn’t care about your subject, you wouldn’t devote a huge chunk of your life to researching and writing about him. And if you care about your subject, you’ve got an opinion. I wanted a scholarly bio, but the writer would have to understand Christianity well in order to tell me what I wanted to know about Bonhoeffer’s beliefs.

To tell the truth, when I found out that Eric Metaxas was a Christian, I was skeptical that he could be scholarly. Isn’t that crazy, since I am a Christian? However, the last time I read a nonfiction book by a Christian, I was trying to find out information about a topic, but the writer seemed to think that he had to give an altar call at least every third page. It was difficult to wade through the evangelism to get to the information, and I did not want to repeat that experience.

Not to worry. Mr. Metaxas is a graduate of Yale, and used plenty of primary sources in the book. A bio filled with quotations and excerpts can be stilted and dry, but this book read like a great story. And since Metaxas is a serious Christian, he was searching Bonhoeffer’s soul in the same way I would, working through the agonizing decisions and rejoicing in God’s love with him. I couldn’t wait to get back to it each day. Since I work in a library, we are constantly sharing our current reading, and for several weeks I drove my colleagues nuts by saying, “Still reading Bonheoffer.” I didn’t want to rush it.

Although I started the book to find out about Bonhoeffer’s spiritual journey, I was fascinated by the things I did not know well. Starting with his childhood with many brothers and sisters, his scientist father, and his early education, Metaxas shows us why Bonhoeffer’s decision to go into the ministry was a surprise to those who knew him well. Further on, we read about his life-changing trip to the United States and his interaction with the black church in Harlem. When he returns, we learn about his early ministry, and then his work with the Confessing Church in Germany, including leading a secret seminary in a remote area and working internationally to try to build understanding with other Christian leaders about the real situation in Germany. Later on, we move into even more familiar territory when Bonhoeffer makes the terrifying choice to work from within the Nazi party, and finally, we read of his imprisonment and execution just weeks before the end of World War II. If you’re not sobbing by the end, you don’t have a heart in your chest.

Even though we know how the story ends, Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t. He lived a full and joyful life. He had a large and loving family and many friends. He was an active, athletic man who was interested in many things, and more than anything, he had a deep and abiding love for Christ. Everything in his life was defined by his love for God and his desire to do God’s will no matter where it led. He seriously considered the thought that he could end up dying and came to terms with it. And what Christian would not have to wrestle with the decision to assassinate the ruler of a nation, knowing full well what Paul wrote to us in Romans 13? I am so glad that Bonhoeffer wrote prolifically— books, yes, but also sermons, letters, and journals. His was very much an “examined life,” and we are all enriched by his reflections.

Next time, I will write more about Eric Metaxas, but if you’d like to know more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you can read Metaxas’ biography, of course, which is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Also, Bonhoeffer’s own books are: The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, Ethics, Letters and Papers from Prison, and other smaller works, particularly devotional volumes. They are all widely available.


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