‘Bonhoeffer’ Offers Intriguing Simplistic View Of Theologian

Seventy years ago today, the Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed at Flossenbürg concentration camp by the Nazi regime for his role in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, author Eric Metaxas looked at the life of Bonhoeffer over a whopping 624 pages.

Enter Bonhoeffer Abridged, a 256-page version of Metaxas’ controversial work from Thomas Nelson.


Metaxas takes his readers from Bonhoeffer’s early, privileged upbringing through his years as a pastor, a professor, and a double agent.

Bonhoeffer was one of the leaders in the Confessing Church movement, which rejected the takeover of the German church by the Nazis. He was outspoken, but largely protected by the prominence of his family. His father was a leading professor of psychology in Berlin.

Even abridged, Metaxas’ work is sprawling. From early piano lessons to his last moments, you feel by the end of the book as if you are losing a man you would very much have liked to know.

Why you might buy Bonhoeffer Abridged:

Metaxas is, quite simply, a great writer. He has an eye and ear for telling detail, and he knows when — and when not to — include primary sources to support his work.

The subject is difficult, but Metaxas never lets us get too depressed as he builds the tension to the story’s tragic end, despite the fact that we know it’s coming.

Metaxas loves his subject, and it shows. Bonhoeffer comes to us as a complex but always likable man, a portrait that seems to be echoed in the people who knew him best.

The book will likely make you want to learn more about Bonhoeffer and read his writings for yourself.

Why you might not want to buy Bonhoeffer Abridged:

It’s an abridgment. There are occasions where the book feels like it’s dabbling in its subject rather than getting to the meat of it. Without having read the full book, it’s hard to know if Metaxas delved deeper or just more broadly.

Metaxas sometimes seems to like Bonhoeffer too much. This is a common problem with biographers, of course. They get so close that they can’t maintain an objective voice. Bonhoeffer surely had critics during his day. It would have been interesting to know what they were saying about him.

The unabridged version of this book has been widely criticized for turning Bonhoeffer into an American evangelical and for ignoring parts of Bonhoeffer’s theology that Metaxas finds inconvenient or opposed to his own.

It’s also been criticized for some fairly serious historical inaccuracies.

In the abridged version of the book, Metaxas doesn’t delve deeply enough into Bonhoeffer’s theology for this to seem like such a large problem. But that is a problem itself. You won’t come away from Bonhoeffer Abridged feeling like you know exactly what Bonhoeffer believed or how his theology changed over the course of his life.

My conclusions:

I’m glad I read Bonhoeffer Abridged, primarily because it made me want to revisit Bonhoeffer’s writings for myself and feel able to put them in their context.

I also want to learn a lot more about Bonhoeffer’s role in the Valkyrie conspiracy against Hitler and the conflict he undoubtedly felt in participating in it, a topic I wish Metaxas had explored further.

Given the criticisms of the longer work, I’m glad I read the abridged version instead, though I’m not usually a fan of abridgments. It gave me just enough information to want to delve deeper, and with other authors.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Bonhoeffer Abridged from BookLook Bloggers. I was not required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.

Consumer Expert Teresa Jackson

I'm a journalist living in Central Oregon. I have two little kids, which for me has meant staying home. And playing board games.

Lots of board games.

I'm also an avid reader and a theology nerd.

You can follow all of my interests and personal quirks on Twitter @teresawjackson and at www.tablebyteresa.com.