Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Eric Metaxas’ award-winning biographyof the young pastor and theologian who sacrificed his life opposing Hitler
With a new afterword about what happened to Bonhoeffer’s fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer
Barnes & Noble - One of the TOP 10 Non-Fiction BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Kirkus Reviews - One of its TOP 25 Non-Fiction BOOKS OF THE YEAR
As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a pastor and author, known as much for such spiritual classics as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, as for his 1945 execution in a concentration camp for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
In BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (August 2011; Trade Paperback; $19.99; 624 pages; ISBN 9781595552464) the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life—the theologian and the spy—and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents—including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts—to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology never before seen.
Highlights from the book include:
• Fresh insights and revelations about his life-changing months at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and about his radical position on why Christians were obliged to stand up for the Jews in Germany.
• Bonhoeffer's infamous phrase "religionless Christianity" is fully explained in the context of his whole life and theology, making this biography the first fundamental reassessment of his theological and historical legacy in over forty years.
• The first detailed account of Bonhoeffer’s 1939 trip to New York City, when he made the historic and life-changing decision to leave the safety of America and return to the life-threatening dangers of Nazi Germany to become involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
• New light on Bonhoeffer’s reaction to Kristallnacht, his involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in “Operation 7,” the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland.
• The full telling of Bonhoeffer's romance and engagement to the 18-year-old Maria von Wedemeyer. Much new information on this subject became available in 1992, with the publication of von Wedemeyer’s correspondence with Bonhoeffer (Love Letters from Cell 92), but this material has not been used to tell a coherent narrative of their stormy courtship and subsequent relationship.
BONHOEFFER gives witness to one man’s extraordinary faith and to the tortured fate of the nation he sought to deliver from the curse of Nazism. It brings the reader face to face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfully—even to the point of death. BONHOEFFER is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil.
What they’re saying about BONHOEFFER
In this weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas (Amazing Grace) offers a comprehensive review of one of history's darkest eras, along with a fascinating exploration of the familial, cultural and religious influences that formed one of the world's greatest contemporary theologians. A passionate narrative voice combines with meticulous research to unpack the confluence of circumstances and personalities that led Germany from the defeat of WWI to the atrocities of WWII. Abundant source documentation (sermons, letters, journal entries, lectures, the Barman Declaration) brings to life the personalities and experiences that shaped Bonhoeffer: his highly intellectual, musical family; theologically liberal professors, pastoral colleagues and students; his extensive study, work, and travel abroad. Tracing Bonhoeffer's developing call to be a Jeremiah-like prophet in his own time and a growing understanding that the church was called "to speak for those who could not speak," Metaxas details Bonhoeffer's role in religious resistance to Nazism, and provides a compelling account of the faith journey that eventually involved the Lutheran pastor in unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Hitler. Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology. (Apr.)
Wall Street Journal
“… In "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," Eric 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. In ‘Bonhoeffer’, we meet a complex, provocative figure: an orthodox Christian who, at a grave historical moment, rejected what he called "cheap grace"—belief without bold and sacrificial action.”
A welcome new biography of one of the 20th century's leading lights.
Metaxas magnificently captures the life of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), who "thought it the plain duty of the Christian—and the privilege and honor—to suffer with those who suffered." In the finest treatment of the man since Eberhard Bethge's Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (1970), Metaxas presents a complete, accessible picture of this important figure, whose story is inspiring, instructive and international in scope. Coming of age in Germany at the close of World War I, the precocious Bonhoeffer quickly became a rising star on the international theological scene. In the 1930s he became a leader of the Confessing Church movement, which stood against Hitler, and helped organize its underground seminary. He also joined the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency in which foment against Hitler was most active. Bonhoeffer took part in the conspiracy to kill Hitler, which caused his imprisonment and eventual hanging, just weeks before the end of the war. Throughout this period he also wrote some of the greatest works of practical theology to come out of the first half of the 20th century. Metaxas rightly focuses on his subject's life, not his theology, though readers will learn plenty about his theology as well. The author makes liberal use of primary sources, which bring Bonhoeffer and other characters to vivid life. For the most part, Metaxas allows this epic story to play itself out, unhindered by commentary; where he does add his own voice, the conclusions are sage.
A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century.
Awards bestowed upon BONHOEFFER include:
Kirkus Reviews - one of its TOP 25 Non-Fiction BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Kirkus also named BONHOEFFER as Pleasant Surprise of the Year
Barnes & Noble - one of its TOP 10 Non-Fiction BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Christopher Award (Non-Fiction book - The Christopher Awards honor writers, producers, directors and illustrators in the publishing, film, TV and cable industries whose work affirms the highest values of the human spirit.
Canterbury Medal for Religious Freedom – The Canterbury Medal, awarded annually by the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, recognizes courage in the defense of religious liberty.
2011 Retailer’s Choice Award
2011 John C. Pollock Award for Biography – awarded by the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham Alabama.
RELEVANT MAGAZINE – one of the TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A Q&A with Eric Metaxas about BONHOEFFER
What led you to write a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
I'd first heard of Bonhoeffer in the summer of 1988 and was simply amazed I'd never heard his story before. It haunted me for years, not least because my mother is German and lived through the war in Germany, and because my grandfather was killed in the war at age 32, reluctantly fighting for a regime he hated. The idea that Bonhoeffer stood up for the Jews because of his Christian faith staggered me and I always thought that someday I would dig deeper into his life.
What were some of the special insights you discovered about the Bonhoeffer family?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't arise out of a vacuum. He came out of a family that as a whole was at the very center of the conspiracy against Hitler from the beginning -- from the early Thirties. It's hard to fathom, but Bonhoeffer (at age 27) himself gave a speech denouncing the Nazi idea of "The Leader Principle (Das FührerPrinzip)" just four days after Hitler became Chancellor in early Feb. 1933! The radio broadcast was cut off before he could finish it, and it's thought the Nazis were behind that. His whole family had an innate sense from the very beginning that Hitler was the worst thing that had ever happened to Germany and that he would destroy the nation of Shiller, Goethe, and Bach. So Bonhoeffer's family plays a huge role in shaping who he was and how he lived.
Were there some unusual or unique sources that you were able to utilize?
There is a spectacular 2003 documentary on Bonhoeffer by Martin Doblmeier. He generously gave me permission to use all of the many interviews that he did with Bonhoeffer's relatives and friends, most of which did not make it into the final cut of the film. The interview with Eberhard Bethge sheds light on Bonhoeffer's attitude toward what happened at Kristallnacht, and it explains how Bonhoeffer could have gotten involved in a plot to assassinate the head of state. The latter, especially, has long needed more explanation and from this interview especially, I feel I've been able to provide that. I also had the privilege of interviewing two people who knew Bonhoeffer. One is Renate Bethge, the widow of Bonhoeffer's best friend and biographer. She was also his niece and figures centrally in much of my book. The other is the elder sister of Bonhoeffer's fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer.
You mention the romance that Bonhoeffer experienced that spanned his final days in prison? Who was the “object of his love”? What is known of their romance?
My book offers the first full accounting of their relationship. That's because the letters between them were not published until 1992 -- by Bonhoeffer's fiancée’s elder sister, whom I met -- but no one ever used that material to tell their story until now. Maria von Wedemeyer was only eighteen when they fell in love. Bonhoeffer was literally twice her age -- 36. Her mother was strongly against their engagement and by the time they were officially engaged Bonhoeffer had been arrested and taken to Tegel prison. Their romance is an incredibly beautiful story, but a sad one, too.
You quote some fairly strong words that Bonhoeffer wrote about the state of Christian faith and practice that he witnessed in the U.S. in the training of pastors. Why did he go to Union Theological Seminary? What were the things that he saw which were redeeming?
Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian who studied under some of the finest theologians in the world in Berlin. What was being done for theology at Union was, for him, extremely disappointing, and he said so -- but he said it in his typically gracious way. He went to Union mainly for the experience of being in American and New York for a year. He was too young to be ordained and wasn't sure what to do with the year and his brother had studied in America, so Bonhoeffer thought it would expand his cultural horizons.
When Bonhoeffer used the phrase “religionless Christianity” what did he mean? Why has this been a source of controversy?
After his death, Bonhoeffer's theological legacy became confused because of his few comments in letters to a friend on what he called "religionless Christianity." Some overzealous post-war theologians took these comments far out of context and ran with them, effectively muddying his theology and legacy for two generations. Without trying to, I felt that just by quoting Bonhoeffer and putting things in context I was able to clarify some things in a helpful way for future generations. In many ways it seems clear that Bonhoeffer is not the person who he has been portrayed to be, and I'm happy that the facts can at last speak for themselves. What Bonhoeffer was asserting is that churchgoers in Germany were fixated on "being religious" in the superficial sense, and not on living a life of obedience to the teachings of Christ. This attitude lacked the moral rigor to stand up to the Nazi’s plan that led to the Holocaust, and added to the great tragedy of German history. Bonhoeffer would have been horrified at how his meaning was distorted. His best friend Eberhard Bethge, who wrote the first biography on Bonhoeffer in 1967 and to whom Bonhoeffer wrote his letters containing the thoughts on "religionless Christianity" desperately tried to rectify the misunderstanding. Bethge was simply unable to stem the tide of post-war "God is dead" theology that miscast the real Bonhoeffer.
Does Bonhoeffer have a message for people today?
Faith in God -- and obedience to God, by taking action for what is right, is the only solution to true evil. What Bonhoeffer faced with the Third Reich was simply not something most Germans knew how to deal with and most of them failed in one way or another. Bonhoeffer saw the Nazis for what they were and faced them with an extraordinary faith, which manifests itself -- among other things -- as courage. Bonhoeffer's writings and his whole life were uniquely integrated. One sees that his whole life is the very incarnation of his theology. For him – and this is the main point -- if you don't live the things you claim to believe, you don't really believe them at all. He believed what he wrote and what he taught, and his life and death are the spectacular and clear evidence of that.
Eric Metaxas is a New York Times best-selling author whose biographies, children’s books, and works of popular apologetics have been translated into Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, and Macedonian.
Eric’s book and movie reviews, essays, humor pieces, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Christianity Today, Beliefnet, First Things and other national publications. Woody Allen said the humor articles are “quite funny” and the musician Moby has called Eric "one of the funniest people I know.”
Eric has written for the Veggie Tales series, and is the author of over 30 children's books, including the bestseller Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. His newest, It’s Time to Sleep, My Love had a printing of 175,000, and was hailed as a “Goodnight Moon for the 21st century.” Sally Taylor, the daughter of Carly Simon & James Taylor, wrote and recorded a lullaby song to Eric’s words.
The prestigious Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony awarded fellowships to Eric for his writing. His book EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD (but were afraid to ask), was acclaimed by Ann B. Davis (Alice on The Brady Bunch), Dick Cavett, and George Gallup. He has written two sequels, Everything ELSE You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (The Jesus Edition).
Eric is a cultural commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel. He has been featured on many national radio programs, including NPR’s Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation, Hugh Hewitt, the Bob Grant Show, and The Alan Colmes Show.
He is the founder and host of Socrates in the City: Conversations on the Examined Life, a monthly New City event with “entertaining and thought-provoking discussions on life, God, and other small topics.”
Eric’s acclaimed biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery was published by Harper SanFrancisco, made the New York Times Bestseller List, and is the “official companion book” to the feature film, also titled Amazing Grace.