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Stephanie purchased this book for me about six years ago. You may not be able to see it in this picture, but Bonhoeffer is just under my left elbow in this picture of me studying during seminary.Why did it take me so long to read Bonhoeffer? It was not because I did not want to read it. I tend to read books in the order I receive them, so I had many books to read before I got to Bonhoeffer. Occasionally I jump a book ahead of those that were purchased earlier, but it happens rarely.
I recommend this biography of a conflicted man living during challenging times who made a decision to take action against Hitler and Nazism. I will admit to having not quite finishing the book yet, but I wanted to make this recommendation now instead of waiting another week to finish the book.
Bonhoeffer did not start out the way he ended. He did select to become a theologian as a teenager from a family of high achievers. The funny thing is they were devout, but rarely went to church. They prayed, they studied Scripture, they believed in God, but Bonhoeffer did not have an active church like.
I found this quite amazing as most of the biographies of titans within Christianity also point out how they spent an inordinate amount of time in church, but Bonhoeffer did not. This changed in his 20’s, but I was struck by how much Bonhoeffer seemed to enjoy theological discussions, but the idea of evangelism and active church membership was never part of his equation, until he visited America.
Bonhoeffer is quite critical of the church in America in the 1930’s, claiming it was theologically poor and focused more on nationalistic messages than the Gospel. Then Bonhoeffer visited a black church in New York city and he experienced a vibrant message from the pulpit and a people that were clearly in love with God. Bonhoeffer made frequent visits to black churches after this and found them the foundation of Christianity within America, even if society still considered African Americans second class citizens.
Bonhoeffer visited Mexico and Cuba during his year in the US before returning to Germany. I want to argue it was Bonhoeffer’s year in the United States that opened his eyes to the state of the church in Europe. Upon returning Bonhoeffer was a different man. He spent time in church and preached against the state of the church in Europe, calling their church services eulogies for the dead.
Bonhoeffer may not have enjoyed his experience in the “white” church in America, but what he experienced in the “black” church opened his eyes to the power of the Gospel to change lives and those around them, especially when persecuted. So when he returned to Germany in the mid 1030’s and Nazism was on the rise and the church was effectively dead, Bonhoeffer found within the Bible the tools and wisdom necessary to fight ignorance and foolishness, only his fellow Europeans were not interested in either.
I struggled to sleep again after reading this because I am watching a similar decline occurring in the US. The Scriptures and Church are taking a back seat to politics and government, which is skewing the thought processes of people to think government and politicians have their interest in mind, when in reality government and politicians only their interest in mind and your interests and mine do not compute in their world view.
So, I would like to recommend Bonhoeffer because the US is heading in the same direction; politics, war, and government are not going to heal the deficit in the moral corruption of society, they are the conduit of Satan to corrupt. The Scriptures and Church can heal people through belief in Jesus, but only a small segment of society are looking for the biblical answers to their problems.
So buy the book, share it with your family after you have read it and look at the modern parallels.