What, then, is the verdict on Metaxas? We all make mistakes. Perhaps teaming up with a really boring historian (they are plentiful!) could be a welcome course correction. We need those stories told accurately. But we need them told vividly as well, and we can hope that Metaxas will not abandon history. We need heroes, in all their glory and grime.
Carl Trueman's conclusion is spot-on advice for studying historical figures: "Of more value than 'Was he an evangelical?' is surely 'How can I learn from him how better to be a Christian?'" Carl models this by being confessionally Reformed but still using the word "hero" with respect to Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman, citing much that he has learned from him.
As Stanley Fish reminds us in his recent New York Times review of True Grit, heroes are not always victorious and triumphant, for "the universe seems at best indifferent, and at worst hostile" to heroism. The lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that "Someone like us stood up to Hitler" or "Someone with our theology did something great." The lesson is that someone who sat at Jesus's feet was willing to risk comfort, acceptance, and freedom for what was right.
Jason B. Hood is Scholar-In-Residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis and blogs at The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology.
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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Collin Hansen interviewed Metaxas about his biography last year.
Christian History has a section on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Previous Christianity Today articles on Bonhoeffer include:
Bonhoeffer Stood Fast | Martyred German pastor showed theology has consequences. (May 5, 2010)
CT Classic: Bonhoeffer in Love | Letters from 1943 to 1945 between the theologian and his fiancée reveal the other half of a costly discipleship. (February 1, 2001)
Christian History Corner: Agent of Grace | PBS's Bonhoeffer film shows us a theologian in action. (June 1, 2000)