Authenticity appears to be the virtue du jour for many Christians. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer wasn't just talking about authenticity; he was actually living it. The Lutheran pastor-theologian was eventually hanged for conspiring to kill Adolf Hitler. In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson), author Eric Metaxas uncovers the person behind such Christian classics as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. CT editor at large Collin Hansen spoke with Metaxas about Bonhoeffer's life and legacy.
What inspired you to begin studying Bonhoeffer?
My mother grew up in Nazi Germany, losing her father during the war. He was one of many reluctant German soldiers forced to participate in a war he was against. The history of this painful period has always haunted me. When I first heard in 1988 about Bonhoeffer and his death at the hands of the Nazis, I was staggered. I couldn't believe I had never heard about it before. The idea that a man, because of his Christian faith, would stand up to Hitler and would give his life just astonished me.
Would you describe Bonhoeffer as an evangelical? What distinguished his views from the prevailing liberal theology of his professors, including Adolf von Harnack?
That is what's so amazing. Bonhoeffer is more like a theologically conservative evangelical than anything else. He was as orthodox as Saint Paul or Isaiah, from his teen years all the way to his last day on earth. But it seems that theological liberals have somehow made Bonhoeffer in their own image, mainly based on the fact that he studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and that he wanted to visit Mahatma Gandhi, and that he used the phrase "religionless Christianity" in a letter.
But if you look deeper, you'll see ...1