Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction Biography
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: April 18th, 2021
Pages: 608, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In 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―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.

Around fifteen years ago, I watched a wonderful documentary about Bonhoeffer on PBS. I was intrigued by this Lutheran theologian who defied the Nazis. His integrity, his struggle with the nationalism and racism he witnessed both in his home country of Germany and in the United States, and his sincere desire to share his message of faith and salvation came shining through. While I may not agree with some of his theological points, I admire his actions during WWII.

This is not that Bonhoeffer, at least not entirely. The Bonhoeffer we meet in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is a creation of Eric Metaxas, taking specific writings of Bonhoeffer and filtering them through his personal lens of evangelicalism. Metaxas has a passion for Bonhoeffer bordering on idolatry, and that’s a problem in a biographer. Metaxas has little understanding of the social and economic influences during Bonhoeffer’s life, and dismisses the prevalence of anti-Semitism.

He also does not curate the work well. Much of the book is a data dump of Bonhoeffer’s works, with entire letters filling multiple chapters.

It’s a disappointment. It’s not the first biography I’ve read written by someone with an axe to grind, but it’s a shame it happened to the story of this wonderful theologian.

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