Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy [Book Review]


Bonhoeffer Abridged alongside the unabridged edition of Bonhoeffer

Today is Reformation Day, the day we remember Martin Luther’s famous act of nailing his 95 Theses to the door of The Church of All Saints, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Luther is far from the only famous theologian to come out of Germany. In his recent book Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas tells the story of another German theologian who made a significant contribution to the universal church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a fascinating individual who lived during a challenging period of German history. Born in 1906, he was coming of age as World War I was wrapping up. Bonhoeffer had an intimate view of the political and social unrest that followed due to his family’s prominence and connections. It was during this time that he developed a passion for theology, thanks to his mother’s influence, and began pursuing pastoral ministry.

During his twenties, Dietrich had the opportunity to travel to Rome, Barcelona, New York, and London, where the foundations for his theological thought was laid and cemented. He began teaching at the University of Berlin in 1932, a year before Hitler was elected, initiating the most challenging time in the life of Bonhoeffer. 

Eric Metaxas does an exceptional job of laying out the larger context of what was happening in Germany (even in this abridged version) in order to demonstrate why Bonhoeffer believed what he believed and did what he did. Like Luther before him, Dietrich was providentially placed by God to be the right man for the church in his time. Bonhoeffer defied the liberal movement known as the German Christians, helped form the Confessing Church, founded a seminary to train pastors in the truth of God’s Word, and wrote important works on ethics, discipleship, and the relationship between the church and the government. He helped to promote and preserve the true church in Germany in one of the nation’s darkest hours.

Bonhoeffer’s thoughts, words, and actions put him at odds with the increasingly powerful and bold Nazi government, leading him to oppose “the Nazi movement not merely from a theological or philosophical point of view but with directness of action.” He eventually joined a group of conspirators who patiently worked and waited to overthrow Hitler and peacefully transition to a stable government. Several of the conspirators worked within the Germany spy agency who later hired Bonhoeffer to be a spy, which allowed him to continue his pastoral ministry and protected him from being drafted into the military.

The conspiracy was eventually discovered and Bonhoeffer was arrested, Bible in hand, by the Gestapo on April 5, 1943. For the most part, he was treated well in prison given his family’s prominence and connections and was allowed several privileges that others were denied. This too allowed him to continue his pastoral ministry.

As World War II was coming to an end, Bonhoeffer was transferred to the prison camp at Flossenburg on April 8. Hours after leading a service for his fellow prisoners, he was hung on the gallows. Even in his death, he was an ambassador for the gospel. As the camp doctor later testified: “I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

This abridged version of Metaxas’ larger Bonhoeffer biography is perfect for people who rarely read biographies. At 256 pages (compared to 624 for the unabridged edition), Bonhoeffer Abridged contains enough details to provide a context in which to place Bonhoeffer’s theology and actions, while maintaining a quick pace that highlights the most important events of his life. Bonhoeffer Abridged brings the reader face-to-face with the famous German theologian and inspires the reader to be a bold disciple of Jesus Christ in the face of incredible pressure to compromise.

Lawson’s Rating: V out of V

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

More book reviews by Lawson:
Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke
The Post-Church Christian by J. Paul and Carson Nyquist
The Dude’s Guide to Manhood by Darrin Patrick
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About Lawson Hembree
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6 Responses to Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy [Book Review]

  1. Dr. Bryan E. Galloway says:

    Reblogged this on bonhoefferblog.

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