Title: Bonhoeffer Student Edition
Author: Eric Metaxas
Major Themes: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Germany, World War I, World War II
Synopsis: The life story of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is told, with many side notes to help children learn about Germany, World War II, and how these things apply to their own lives.
I have found myself quite interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a number of years. He is a very controversial figure, and I really don’t agree with the conclusions he came to about the Christian’s duty in times like World War II, but at the same time I have to admire him for acting on his convictions. When I came across this Student Edition of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, I remembered hearing my daughter talking about the author, so I decided I’d read the book. I not only wanted to read about Bonhoeffer, but I wanted to find out if the author was someone I was interested in reading more from.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, the fifth of seven children—his twin sister was only a few minutes younger than he was! As a young child, he experienced World War I, and learned that war was not glamorous when his older brother died. By the age of 15, the young man had decided that he wanted to become a theologian, and he never questioned his decision. Time in New York City among the African-American churches changed him forever, and he determined to infuse new life into what he saw as the dying Lutheran church in Germany.
A large part of this book talks about how Hitler became the Fuhrer of Germany, and how World War II began. I found that history very interesting. Of course, Bonhoeffer’s story is inextricably connected to the story of the Nazis and the war. Bonhoeffer struggled for a time with the ethics of resistance to the government but finally came to the conclusion that at times it was right to stand up for the right against corruption, even if it meant killing the leader. He joined a plot to assassinate Hitler—but unfortunately, was caught and imprisoned until nearly the end of the war. This is the point at which I differ from Bonhoeffer. From what I read in the New Testament, it is never right to kill anyone. Also, we are commanded to obey and pray for our government—and the person who wrote that, the Apostle Paul, was living under one of the worst of the Roman Emperors, Nero, who ended up killing him as well as thousands of other people. All the same, as I have said above, I do admire Bonhoeffer’s strength of conviction and his willingness to die for those convictions.
There are some features of this book that I felt really enhanced its usefulness. Each chapter begins with a timeline and ends with several questions to help you think about Bonhoeffer and how his story can apply to your life, as well as definitions of words and brief descriptions of people mentioned in the chapter. There are boxes of notes throughout the chapter to add more information and help you think about your life, as well. This is quite an educational book about World War II and Germany, although with my concern about Bonhoeffer’s theology, I would be careful about which children I handed this book to. They need to be well-grounded in their beliefs before reading this. Oh, and the original reason I wanted to read this book? I like Eric Metaxas’ way of writing history. He has written a very readable biography, and I would enjoy reading more of his books.
I received a free ecopy of this book from NetGalley and chose to write a review.
WARNING: As in paragraph 3.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15