Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance
  • Ferdinand Schlingensiepen
  • 2009
  • T.& T.Clark

With God we do not take up a stance — we walk along a path.

Thank you to LisaNotes for bringing Dietrich Bonhoeffer to my attention!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 is an English translation of a recent German biography of Bonhoeffer. I decided to go for this rather than the American biography Lisa reviewed after reading some of the comments on Amazon (.co.uk & .com). The gist of the comments was that the Metaxas book was written from a particular American Evangelical perspective. As I am in the UK, and I’m mildly interested in German literature & philosophy, I thought the Schingensiepen might speak to me more.

Really, there was so much in this book. To do it justice in a review I’d have to read it again.

The depiction of the whole cultural & political milieu leading up to and during the Nazi period was very good. Perhaps especially as it was written by someone writing about their own culture. The completely ineffectual coup attempts and the author’s handwringing reminded me very much of the Decembrists. I imagine an American author might be rather less sympathetic.

Being with Bonhoeffer himself was absorbing, draining almost. His writing, his conscience is clear and simple and direct, unpretentious and even ordinary. This made the effect of being immersed in his sensibility very strong. I’m not primarily thinking of his situation. I found myself applying his words and his seriousness to my own life: not as judge of the past but as guide for the present. Stronger than “guide”.

Some quick comments:

  • The “faith and works” issue was prominent obviously. Works as a symptom of faith, rather than as an extra obligation.
  • The Old Testament. I had been thinking less and less of the Old Testament. The Reich State Church’s banning of the Old Testament and all the “Jewish” parts of the Bible gave me a shake. The Old Testament is a vast treasure. I like the developing conception of God; all the very different types of narrative; the age and the frank strangeness of it. Carrying the promise of a kind of transcendental humanism that was fulfilled in Jesus.
  • In prison Bonhoeffer’s favourite author was Adalbert Stifter (especially his novel Witiko). Reading the Wikipedia page I see Thomas Mann was also an admirer. So, I might see if I can find any of his work in English.
  • Church. Bonhoeffer writes powerfully about the church — both as a formal institution and as the community of Christians. In a different way LisaNotes writes powerfully about the Church too (e.g., 2014/08, 2013/08, 2013/07/31, 2013/07/17). … but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

I think this book would be worth reading again and studying, and perhaps reading the American biography (by Metaxas) as a comparison.

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3 Comments

  1. An awesome book review. It’s such a sign of a good book (to me) when you can make these kinds of statements: “Really, there was so much in this book. To do it justice in a review I’d have to read it again.”

    Describing being with Bonhoeffer as “draining” made me smile; I can understand that. He lived a dense life, with such a scarcity of frivolity, that it makes for heavy reading/listening/absorbing. But good, nonetheless.

    Reply
    • Thank you! You are too kind, though. I’ve been putting off posting these scrappy notes.

      Reply
  1. My 2014 in books | Luke 7:39

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