Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer: A Biography impressed me from the start. I was skeptical coming in because I had heard negative reviews of Metaxas’ Amazing Grace, mainly that it was overly academic sounding while attempting to be a popular level biography. I had not read Amazing Grace, and my only experience with Metaxas was when he came to Union University and spoke in chapel, which frankly, the only thing I remember is that he came. On of my professors at Union, Greg Thornbury, is a good friend of Metaxas and spoke highly of him, but more importantly, over the years I have greatly enjoyed history of World War II Europe and have come to appreciate Dietrich Bonhoeffer greatly.

Coming in with my skepticism, I was immediately impressed, not only with readability but the high amount of detail woven into a single narrative. Metaxas weaves together personal accounts to show the character of the family and of Dietrich himself from a young age, showing his vivaciousness and sensitivity to both God and to others. He was always a servant to others, putting everyone else before himself. While this was in many ways simply his moral compass, he knew from an early age that he would study theology, and persevered even through opposition from his overly rationalistic family. He maintained his character throughout his life, even through the hardest of ethical choices during Hitler’s rule over Germany. I'll let you read the rest yourself. This is a great book that paints a great picture of such a hero of the faith.


Zahir Blue said...

I wish I could agree with you. The subject is fascinating and worthy of a good biography, but this wasn't it. The people and times never come alive, major issues are not discussed (such as why others might genuinely disagree with Bonhoeffer about anything) and I found some fact errors that were fairly glaring (especially vis-a-vis Nazi Germany, about which I've done a fair amount of research). My impression was of someone using this fascinating man to advance a personal agenda rather than simply tell the truth.

Wickiser said...

Sorry that I haven't made this comment sooner, but I'm curious about the factual errors you mentioned. I haven't run across any that I have noticed.

On the quality of the biography other than that, I disagree. Bonhoeffer really has come alive in my reading of it. Some characters haven't, but that happens with any book. I think the he also brings the times across well. Realize, this isn't a fictional narrative, it isn't going to be lively.

About issues that are not discussed: this is a book about his life, not a book on different views of Bonhoeffer's thought. He does talk about disagreements people did have with him at the time, which is warranted, but I find no reason a biography should go into all his thought and discuss pros and cons.

I don't think this will become the definitive scholarly biography of Bonhoeffer, but it is a good biography to read on his life. And Eric Metaxas's worldview shows in his writing, but I don't think this disqualifies him from writing a biography.