Nearly everyone admires Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and nearly everyone wants to claim him for their cause. He is the only theologian Richard Dawkins has every quoted, with approval, as far as I know. In the 60’s the theologians of the “God is dead” fad appealed to him for his remarks on “religionless Christianity.” Elton John sang about that fad in the song “Levon” (I think that was the song: “and the NY Times say ‘God is dead’ and the war’s begun . . .)
The new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas is attracting a lot of attention and selling well. Metaxas claims Bonhoeffer for American evangelicals.
Bonhoeffer did part with German liberal theology–but not without a sympathetic respect for what it attempted to accomplish. He was impatient with those who would simply dismiss it.
Clifford Green, editor of the authoritative “Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition” project, doesn’t care for Metaxas’ interpretation of Bonhoeffer. (Review here)
Victoria Barnett, another editor of the Bonhoeffer Works, also finds Metaxas’ portrait one-sided. She has an interesting insight on why Bonhoeffer appeals to people at opposite ends of the theological spectrum:
Bonhoeffer was deeply pious in a way that some liberal Christians (again, in the contemporary U.S. sense of that word) might find hard to connect with and it’s that piety that speaks directly to evangelicals around the world. At the same time, he was a highly intellectual and critical Christian, and therein lies his appeal for Christians on other points of the spectrum. More importantly, Bonhoeffer had witnessed firsthand what happens when faith and ideology converge.
I haven’t read Metaxas’ new biography yet, but it is on my list, along with one by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, newly translated from the German. (Reviewed by Bob Cornwall)