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Publishers today know they can't make much money trying to sell history to Christians. That's especially true of a hardcover book about a German theologian that runs 600 pages and costs $30.

But some 160,000 copies later, Eric Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges the publishing maxim that the Christian market does not support serious history.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, published by Thomas Nelson, has sold briskly through mainstream outlets. Christian bookstores were slower to pick up the book when it debuted in April 2010, according to Thomas Nelson publisher Joel Miller.

Bonhoeffer doesn't match the profile of spiritual growth and practical-living titles that fill these outlets. But now they are featuring the book prominently, Miller said.

"Bonhoeffer's life was so compelling," Miller said of the Lutheran pastor who participated in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and died in a Nazi concentration camp near the end of World War II. "He was sold out for true and authentic Christianity. He's a person with whom to identify in that move from history to today."

Scholars devoted to studying Bonhoeffer's complex theology have widely panned the work by Metaxas, who previously wrote the best-selling Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. But critical reviews have hardly dampened the enthusiastic popular response.

Metaxas, who found the courageous Bonhoeffer to be "more like a theologically conservative evangelical than anything else," appeared on Glenn Beck's Fox News show in December. If anything, the allegations that Metaxas portrays Bonhoeffer as too conservative fit Beck's common refrain that ...

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Profiting from the Past
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March 2011

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