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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

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About the Book

That ten years have passed since this book appeared is hard to fathom. Though a cliche, it’s nonetheless a rude certainty that as time passes it accelerates, until years skip past with the disconcertingly blurring rapidity of subway cars. I first observed this, albeit secondhand, in 1973 at age ten when my German grandmother saw a newspaper mentioning the tenth anniversary of JFK’s assassination. “Ach!” she said, incredulous. “Can that be ten years already?” And her observation—still so fresh and vivid to me—is itself nearly a half-century old.

The accelerating passage of time is as dismaying and as unnatural to our eternal souls as is death; and even when we try slightly to arrest the progress of a passing moment, if only to appreciate it the better, we are dismayed to see it cannot be done—except, perhaps, after some fashion in art. But even in art the ancient Greeks depicted Kairos, the god of opportune moments, as a man with a longish forelock, bald in back, so that as he approached you might attempt to grasp him, but once passed he was maddeningly ungraspable—forevermore.

Something about art—even the art of historical narratives like the one you hold in your hands—transcends time, magically pulling us away from the pinched present and into a larger realm partaking of eternity. But does not even that taste of eternity make us ache to enter eternity more truly and fully, at the same time knowing that we simply cannot, any more than we can lick the horizon?

Since this book is about him, should we not here admit that something about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in particular exacerbates these longings? His charm and intelligence make us want to be in his presence which, of course, we cannot be; but even more it is that he himself pondered the secret to undoing the Gordian knot of our time-cursed estate and claimed to have discovered the one path by which we may defeat death and slip beyond time.

But how?

Who better to face the greatest evil of the 20th century than a humble man of faith?

In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, New York Timesbest-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.

In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich, Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer’s heart-wrenching 1939 decision to leave the safe haven of America for Hitler’s Germany, and using extended excerpts from love letters and coded messages written to and from Bonhoeffer’s Cell 92, Metaxas tells for the first time the full story of Bonhoeffer’s passionate and tragic romance.

Readers will discover fresh insights and revelations about his life-changing months at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and about his radical position on why Christians are obliged to stand up for the Jews. Metaxas also sheds 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.

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.

“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. …A definitive Bonhoeffer biography for the 21st century.”

Kirkus Reviews

“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…. Metaxas reminds us that there are forms of religion—respectable, domesticated, timid—that may end up doing the devil’s work for him.”

The Wall Street Journal

“For anyone whose faith has been strengthened by the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this is the biography you have always wanted. Eric Metaxas has written a rich, detailed, and beautiful account of the great pastor and theologian who gave us The Cost of Discipleship and sacrificed his life for opposing Hitler. Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer is a monumental achievement and a deeply important work.”

Greg Thornbury, PhD, Dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University

“A captivating and inspiring read from start to finish. Sets the record straight on Bonhoeffer’s commitment to Scripture and his unyielding passion for truth that led him to give up his life in the battle to save the Jews of Europe. Buy it. This book could change your life.”

James N. Lane, Founder, New Canaan Society; Former General Partner, Goldman, Sachs & Co.

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s great gift is that his understanding of faith in times of conflict speaks to generation after generation. Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer is the biography for this generation. A masterpiece that reads like a great novel and weaves together in one opus an understanding of Bonhoeffer’s theology, the complex and tragic history of 20th century Germany, and the human struggle of a true Christian hero. Eric Metaxas is claiming his place as the preeminent biographer of Christianity’s most courageous figures.”

Martin Doblmeier, Filmmaker, BONHOEFFER

“With great skill, energy, and warmth, Metaxas reminds us why the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands as a rebuke both to believers and skeptics. Rarely has the story of a Christian martyr been told with such realism and depth. It’s a gem of a book.”

Joseph Loconte, Lecturer in Politics, The King’s College, New York City; Editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm

“A stunning achievement recounting Bonhoeffer’s life with lucidity, historical detail, and a concretely contextualized handling of Bonhoeffer’s often misunderstood theological legacy. …Metaxas masterfully distills Bonhoeffer’s eventful and complex life into a true narrative biography that is comprehensive and vivid without being overwhelming.”

Matthew Miller,