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You can read part one here. This is part two of the Review of the Book: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martr, Prophet by Eric Metaxas

Obvious the point of a biography is to help you understand the person.  To put a person in context and give you an understanding of background and historical development so that you can see the full picture.  In this post I just want to briefly talk about some character traits that I felt were compelling about Bonhoeffer.

1. His belief in the authority of Scripture.  In contrast to much of the world of academia that Bonhoeffer was involved with in both Germany and the United States, the man felt that Scripture was more than just something to be dissected.  Instead it was to be understood, believed, and lived.

2. His view of logic. From the biographers description Bonhoeffer comes off as an individual who believed people could be persuaded through logical teaching.  It seemed as if the idea of manipulation (that is seen more often than I like in preaching today) was something Bonhoeffer felt was not compatible to truly understanding and doing God’s will.

3.  His disciplined life.  Specifically, his discipline in prayer, study, and meditation.  It is interesting that a person possessed with such a logical mind and one upholding the need for logical instruction, also possessed an enriching life practicing spiritual disciplines.  Bonhoeffer had set times in which he prayed and studied and would meditate on a particular Scripture throughout the day.

4. His stress on community. This is most likely due to the influence of Karl Barth (or at the very least the two reached the same conclusions).  Bonhoeffer held a high view of the Christian life being a “life together” (The title of a book he wrote on the subject).  This community stress was seen in how Bonhoeffer slanted his theology as something not for academics, but for the church.  It was also seen in how he included others in his practice of the spiritual disciplines.  When he prayed on schedule he knew that others close to him were also praying, studying, and meditating.

5. His willingness to think through complex ethical decisions. The ethical decisions Bonhoeffer had to make are some I hope I am never involved in.  We might not agree with Bonhoeffer’s decision to be involved in the assassination of Hitler.  Or maybe we do agree with his work as a double-agent and conspirator.  Either way it is remarkable to see someone attempt to handle these complex decisions seeking to know the will of God in a particular situation.

6 . Positive view of the Christian life. Bonhoeffer believed that it was important for Christians to do something.  Sometimes we define Christianity by the things we do not do or participate in.  Bonhoeffer felt that it was more important to view Christianity through the lens of positive service to God.  As risk taking for the cause of Christ.

7. His evaluation of the church. Bonhoeffer was an evaluator.  He would look at the church situation and attempt to discern what was going on.  This is seen in both how he evaluated the German Church, which was co-opted by the Nazis, and in his evaluation of the American church.  He felt both had the same root problem–an unwillingness to submit to the will of God. The German church was more concerned with finding favor with the dominant culture of their day, i.e. the Third Reich.  The American church (at least the ones in the New York Circles Bonhoeffer ran in) was more concerned with the dominant culture of its day, i.e. modernism.  They were more willing to please the culture than to please God.

So what do you think of these character traits?  Do you feel you need to add these to your life? And if you have read much of Bonhoeffer or even this book, what would you add?

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  1. Hey, I very much enjoyed Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer. However, I think there are a few legitimate criticisms. It seems to me that Metaxas put a very “evangelical” spin on Bonhoeffer. While the theology of Bonhoeffer was well developed and he did not buy into the excess theological liberalism of Germany, he nevertheless was neo-orthodox in his ideology regarding scripture. He also, in my opinion, had a low view of ecclesiology. While we can certainly admire the courage and conviction of Bonhoeffer and appreciate his stand against nazi theology, I don’t think everything about his theology should be embraced. Again, I like him a lot and have read cost of dis., life together, and several of his essays. I also believe my own theology has been developed thanks to his profound theological insights… I however cannot fully condone his soteriology, ecclesiology, nor bibliology. Just my opinions – Thanks!

  2. Wesley

    September 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I would agree with your criticisms. And having read some of the criticism of Metaxas work I think he might have been too “quick” and enthusiastic in his Evangelical Appraisal of Bonhoeffer.

    I also would agree that I have an higher view of Scripture than does Bonhoeffer and would differ with him as well on the issues of salvation and the church. However, putting him into his context I think he is far more serious about the Bible than those who were his academic companions. And in fact his view of Scripture amongst German theologians would have been radical.

    My praise of his ecclesiology was more to his willingness to critique that which he saw was weak, than to em-brass what he actually held (in all honesty haven’t read much about his ecclesiology stuff.)

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