Misrepresenting the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Sojourners

Misrepresenting the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Photo via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings, his prophetic Christian witness amid criminal abuses of power, racial persecution, terror, and genocide by his own government, and his martyrdom for participating in the coup to overthrow Hitler continue to inspire and provoke important questions and actions. The global following for this German pastor and theologian includes agnostics and atheists, evangelicals and liberal Protestants, Catholics and Jews, and people of many political persuasions, young and old alike.

By the same token, Bonhoeffer has been claimed by quite different, indeed opposite, religious groups, individuals, and political leaders to support their purposes. George W. Bush invoked his name before the German parliament in 2002 to justify the invasion of Iraq. Nelson Mandela read him in prison on Robben Island before his release in 1990. East German youth sang verses of his prison poem "By Powers of Good" before the fall of communism, without necessarily knowing he was a Christian.

The very titles of two biographies of Bonhoeffer that appeared within a few weeks of each other in 2010 suggest the diversity of those who may be drawn to him. While Eric Metaxas' book title, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich (Thomas Nelson), and his engaging style give his book the accessibility and appeal of a novel, it is stunningly flawed as a biography. Metaxas misleads readers both by his title and by his presentation of Bonhoeffer as a lone heroic figure. Yes, Bonhoeffer's covert position with a military intelligence office gave him the cover needed to travel abroad on behalf of the resistance, but a James-Bond-like "spy" he was not. Nor does Metaxas ever explain in the book the use of the term "righteous gentile" in the title. This designation is bestowed by Yad Veshem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, to those who aided Jews in the Holocaust. Does Metaxas know that Bonhoeffer has not been given this honor?

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine February 2011
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $3.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!
for more info