Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Mataxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  For those who don't know who he is, you should.  He was man of great faith and knowledge who had the task of calling his beloved country, Germany, out of madness.  Born of the wealthy level of society, born of a traditional family whose morals were strict and whose practice of faith was  mixed.  He made one unconventional move after another feeling compelled by God to rethink the way his German Lutheran heritage lived its faith.  Those moves led him to conspire to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

This biography is actually two biographies: one of Pastor Bonhoeffer and the other of his homeland Germany.  Not only are we given a insight into the man but an insight into how a country could have fallen under the spell of a madman like Adolf Hitler.  Central to both was the German Church which had grown to be a deaf and toothless watchdog.  The lines between faith and nationalism were drawn and one had to chose a side.  Hitler had managed to deftly merge the two for a marriage of convenience to a bride he hoped to dispose of with when the time was right.

In this biography, we are able to see the multiple influences upon him: family, friends, scholars, and faith.  In the last, we see he could not be sated with the status quo; he often would ring a clarion bell to which few, especially within his church, would heed.  We see a man who strove to maintain his Christian witness, even to the moment of his execution.

On the one hand , we are given an insight into the toxic mix of nationalism and vengeance that became Nazi Germany.  We see a people so angered by the ill formed Treaty of Versailles that anyone who could exact revenge would be followed.  We see a people reduced to poverty who were so hungry for a savior, even if that savior was a murderous fiend, they would follow.  We see a country whose political and religious institutions were ill equipped to deal with such frustration.  We see that the churches were already emptying, that faith was more a private devotion, and faith was easily disposed with when a false messiah took the stage.  We are left to gasp at the rise of evil as the world had never seen prior.  We will see that venomous recipe be dumped across the world through war and genocide.

Yet at the same time, we are introduced to Bonhoeffer and his friends and co-conspirators who would not go quietly into that good night.  We see incredible faith and bravery in the cast of characters.  We see a man who knew that faith could not be regulated to the cold pews of a Church, but had to be transported as well into the world at large...that the only way to prevent such evil was to live the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ in the fashion of the Sermon on the Mount.  We see a man and his compatriots who found the Final Solution as evil and something worth laying their own lives down to stop.

The reader is left asking some very disturbing questions about the world today.  The circumstances which allowed for the totalitarianism of National Socialism are still with us.  For us Americans, as we see the tactics of a Saul Alinsky played out (tactics identical in many ways to the rise of the Third Reich) in our society and politics, as we see our society fractured and straw men villains erected for our disapproval, as we see a government who wants us to surrender our freedoms bit by bit, who will be the Bonhoeffers in our midst?  Who will stand and be counted among those who will not allow our society to be dragged into madness?  Who will hold firm on their Christian beliefs and stand against the victimization of entire segments of our society (the unborn for example)?  Who will see what the popes since WWII have begged us to do and live our faith not just for an hour on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the week as well?  Who of us will stand for the unpopular truth, even if it means suffering and sacrifice?  As in the time of Bonhoeffer, we need heroes to arise and stand defiantly courageous!

Mr Metaxas use extensive writings of Bonhoeffer, public and private, to paint not just the man but the world in which he lived.  We see the passage of time and necessity to respond to situations as they devolved.  It is a morality tale as much as a biography.  It is a tale we would do well to listen.

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