Last month marked 65 years since the doomed Nazi regime hanged German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. Christians across the theological spectrum continue to revere him. Some remember his advocacy for Jews, others his teaching on "costly grace," and still more his aid to officers plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
But his legacy has been disputed over time. Some have championed him as a post-Christian prophet of ethics that transcend confession. Pacifists claim Bonhoeffer because he expressed scruples about war and his help with killing a head of state, even one so evil as Hitler. Many evangelicals revere him as an opponent of "cheap grace," champion of Life Together, and model of The Cost of Discipleship.
Eric Metaxas clears up many misconceptions, giving priority to Bonhoeffer's own words and actions, in a massive and masterful new biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. During a harrowing time when many churches adopted Nazi ideology and others buckled under government pressure, Bonhoeffer stood strong, if sometimes alone. Metaxas presents Bonhoeffer as a clear-headed, deeply convicted Christian who submitted to no one and nothing except God and his Word. In short, Bonhoeffer's life shows that theology has consequences.
Bonhoeffer earned his doctorate at Berlin University in 1927 when he was 21. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of liberal theology, once served on the school's faculty. But while Bonhoeffer studied there, Adolf von Harnack reigned in his waning years. Harnack dismissed biblical miracles as fictitious and denied canonicity for the Gospel of John. Bonhoeffer highly esteemed Harnack, though they often reached differing theological conclusions. Bonhoeffer tended ...1