The City: Fall 2010

Page 87


T HE M ANY B ONHOEFFERS ,the0misunderstood< Jordan Ballor Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas. Thomas Nelson, 2010. was discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer once with a Dutch friend of mine, and he remarked that Bonhoeffer was very wellrespected on the European continent, especially for his academic learning. Most readers, he said, never could get beyond the depth and complexity of his early work, Act and Being. I opined that the perception is basically different here in America, where Bonhoeffer is principally known for his resistance to Hitler and his somewhat more pious works, especially Discipleship and Life Together. In his new biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas provides special insight into how these differing perspectives on Bonhoeffer came about. For in addition to Life Together and Discipleship, the latter in which we find Bonhoeffer’s well-known concept of “cheap grace,” America’s first popular introduction to Bonhoeffer came through the publication of Letters & Papers from Prison, which contained his reflections during his imprisonment in the final years of World War II. These letters are characterized by deep intimacy, soul-searching, and theological exploration. They contain references to strangesounding ideas like the “arcane discipline” and “religionless Christianity.” This latter phrase, as Eric Metaxas observes, became the motto of many radical theologians in the 1960s. In other cases Bonhoeffer would add rhetorical flourishes, like the claim that every sermon must have a touch of heterodoxy. “Many seized on that phrase to claim that Bonhoeffer was unconcerned with orthodox theology,” writes Metaxas. “Bonhoeffer often fell into such traps, and for this 86