Eric Metaxas is one of the better writers in evangelicalism. When he tackles a topic—such as the recent award-winning Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery—he does so with an enthusiasm that spills onto every page. Throughout 2010 evangelicals blurbed and eagerly awaited his book on Bonhoeffer. When Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy appeared, Joseph Loconte wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a 'humanist' or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable."
Did the passion outrun the theological sophistication (or historical record)? As Metaxas told CT earlier this year, "Bonhoeffer is more like a theologically conservative evangelical than anything else. He was as orthodox as Saint Paul or Isaiah." Scholarly reviews have now filtered down from the ivory towers, leading to significant recent discussion, especially over Metaxas's portrayal of Bonhoeffer as an evangelical.
Blogger Tim Challies worked through a number of scholarly reviews, struggling with the implications for both the book and the significance of Bonhoeffer. But Metaxas misses that DB is a liberal with some evangelical sympathies or leanings.
Such mistakes are easier than one might think. Even something as simple as the title of the liberal Lutheran Church in German can be confusing: "Evangelical," inherited from the Reformation, when "evangelical" was the common term shared by Protestant Reformers and their heirs. Bonhoeffer can easily strike one as more evangelical than American ...1
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