Category Archives: Books

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

This weekend I finished reading Eric Mataxas’ biography about Dietrich Bonhöffer, a German pastor and theologian who was eventually executed for his role in a plot against Hitler.  If you’re looking for an incredible story of sacrifice, faithfulness, and leadership by example, you really ought to read this book.

Bonhöffer is probably best known for his classic little book, The Cost of Discipleship, and if I had to pick one quality about Bonhöffer’s life that most stuck out to me as I read his story, it would be his dogged determination to find God’s will and follow it as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.  Though he strived to promote Christian unity, he was a man who was willing to stand alone against fierce opposition when he was convinced that it was the right thing to do.

In this respect, it’s easy to trace a common thread back from Bonhoeffer to Metaxas’ first biography, Amazing Grace, which tells the story of William Wilberforce and his opposition to the slave trade.  Both works focus upon great men who held firmly to their convictions against the majority of people in their own nation.  In both cases, history has served as vindication of their work.

A second aspect of Bonhöffer’s life that really stuck out was his seemingly prophetic ability to see the full implications of nascent ideas and policies.  Metaxas never spells out the source of Bonhöffer’s clarity of thought, though it seems to me that Bonhöffer’s prophetic gift likely arose from a mixture of intellectual brilliance and a pious devotional life.

I guess the last thing I would say about this biography is that it resonated with me at a very personal level.  I think I could have been friends with Bonhöffer.  There was something about his thought process, his sense of calling, and his general disposition that reminded me of aspects of my own personality and interests.

The biography is very well written.  It’s entertaining – intense at some points, humorous at others, inspirational throughout.  Pick it up and give it a read if you get the chance!

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The Odd Couple: Calvin and Luther in the Reformation

As part of a new habit of reading biographies and memoirs, I recently read biographies on Martin Luther and John Calvin.  I had read theological works by both of these leaders of the Reformation, but I didn’t really no much at all about their personal histories.

Reading a biography of each, back to back, was pretty interesting.  In some ways, they were so similar.  They both had a keen awareness of the currents of thought in their day.  They saw issues very clearly and seemed to be able to recognize the ultimate outworkings of big ideas.  They were both quite resolute in their theological convictions.

Both Luther and Calvin went about their work with a seriousness that reflects the sense of calling that both men possessed – very ambitious, very devoted to their work.  They both dealt with chronic illnesses, though I guess that could be as much a reflection of the time in which they lived as anything else.  Both men became more cantankerous in their old age, perhaps an unfortunate consequence of a lifetime spent on debates and disagreements.  Neither seems to have finished strong.

In other ways, Luther and Calvin couldn’t have been more different.  Luther was a rural pastor in Germany, Calvin a cosmopolitan theologian from France.  Luther had a larger than life personality.  Calvin was more reserved.  Each faced very different challenges as reformers.

The differences between the two men are a great reminder that God accomplishes amazing things through all kinds of people, and their similarities drive home some practical lessons about both the price and the value of courage and conviction, the importance of clear thought, and the danger of becoming jaded under the weight of personal attacks.  Neither man was perfect, but Western Culture owes a great deal to the legacy of Calvin and Luther.

Next up on the biography list – Cornelius Vanderbilt!