I ordered Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy after reading a review in Christianity Today this summer. I had never read anything about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, though I had read a couple of his books (The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together). Since his writings are thought-provoking for me, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about his life and the influences which led him to oppose the Third Reich and participate in an assassination plot against Adolph Hitler. This biography did not disappoint.
Bonhoeffer’s parents each came from families of influence in Germany; together they established a home filled with laughter, music, warm family love and a strong commitment to learning. He decided at age thirteen to study theology, a path from which he never wavered. As was customary for young persons of his socioeconomic standing, he traveled extensively within Europe and even to the United States following World War I. Time spent in Rome led him to a deeper and richer appreciation for the place of the church in God’s economy, an appreciation that, in turn, shaped his decision to stand against Hitler’s successful efforts to co-opt the German church into supporting his pro-Aryan, anti-Semitic agenda. Bonhoeffer played a pivotal role in forming and leading the Confessing Church as it endeavored to speak out in opposition. His decision to join the plot to take Hitler’s life alienated him somewhat even from the Confessing Church, however. In the final analysis, his was a lonely path of discipleship that led ultimately to his death by hanging only a few days before the Allied armies liberated Germany in April 1945.
The Big Takeaway for me? Bonhoeffer’s life is itself a picture of the cost of discipleship. He had multiple opportunities prior to and during World War II to leave Germany and thereby continue his ministry of writing and teaching from abroad. In 1939, friends in the United States pulled strings to secure a teaching position for him; after a few short weeks in the States he abandoned that “safe” road and returned to Germany, sensing the need to stand with and minister to his people in the coming crisis. He thought much about the Christian’s and the church’s relationship to the state and did not hesitate to act upon his deeply-held convictions. These questions ought to engage every Christian in every culture at some point in his/her life; emulating the willingness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to wrestle with such issues is not a bad example to follow.
As far as what I might read next, I have already ordered Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce, another Christian who put his faith to work to accomplish cultural change. I have just finished a short book by Abraham Ruelas on the work of women in Wesleyan and Pentecostal American higher education (Women and the Landscape of American Higher Education: Wesleyan Holiness and Pentecostal Founders, published by Wipf and Stock). While I worked at Azusa Pacific University, I did a great deal of research on the earliest presidents of that school, all of whom were women; this book includes some of that research, as well as information about other Wesleyan Holiness schools. Another book on my short list to read is The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death and Atheism by Mary Eberstadt; this was also reviewed recently in Christianity Today. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals awaits on my eBook reader.
My academic interests run toward what I might call “cultural exegesis” – understanding our culture and finding ways to engage it appropriately as the church for the sake of the gospel. Leadership in organizational settings, especially in the multicultural environment, and gender issues in leadership are other academic interests. What do I like to read for fun or inspiration? Tony Hillerman mystery novels and books about historical events, eras or persons.
Dr. Tamsen Murray's role at Hope, since July 1, 2010, is Associate Vice President for Educational Effectiveness. She also worked here from 1985 to 2003 in several roles: Dean of Students, Registrar and faculty member (not all at once).
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson, 2010) .
Available from Thomas Nelson, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Better World Books.
The book may also be ordered through the HIU Bookstore.