Bonhoeffer the Brave
A new look at a 20th-century hero


LOPEZ: What did you learn about politics?

METAXAS: For one thing, Bonhoeffer shows us that Christians have to be careful about allying themselves with a political party. Christian conservatives in Germany during this time were very badly deceived by Hitler. He played them for fools and won. It’s a real cautionary tale. But Bonhoeffer also shows us that Christians cannot avoid politics. Sometimes being a Christian means taking a political stand, period. When there is injustice, it is our job to speak out, to act. We can’t pretend that the Gospel does not extend into politics. We might not like that, but the fact is that it does. It must.

LOPEZ: What did you learn about courage from him?

METAXAS: Courage isn’t something we work up, like an emotion. Courage is simply acting on what we believe. Bonhoeffer simply believed Jesus Christ was Lord and everything followed from that. And he challenges Christians to ask themselves: Do we really believe what we claim to believe? If we do, we will live it; we will act on it fearlessly, knowing that God is with us. If we don’t act on it, we obviously don’t really believe it.


LOPEZ: What did you learn about love?

METAXAS: It’s related to the idea of courage. Love is an action, it’s not a feeling. Bonhoeffer’s love of God was neither a mere intellectual assent to some theological ideas, nor was it merely a warm, fuzzy feeling. His love of God was borne out in his obedience to God, even unto death. If you love God and others, you will act accordingly. You will obey his commandments.


LOPEZ: What did you learn about faith?

METAXAS: Again, this is related to the previous two ideas. Faith without action is simply hypocrisy. Bonhoeffer wrote about that in his book The Cost of Discipleship and he lived it. To say that one believes something must mean that one actually lives it. If one does not actually live out what one claims to believe, one obviously does not believe it. And one is, alas, behaving hypocritically. Bonhoeffer challenges us to really examine what is truth and then to act on that knowledge. That’s what faith is.


LOPEZ: What were you most surprised to learn about him?

METAXAS: That he played drums for Supertramp. Just kidding. I think I was most surprised to realize that, contrary to what I’d heard about him, he was a devout Christian all the way to the end. I had no idea what I would find when I did the research, but to really dig into his life and see who he was, was in some ways very, very surprising. He held a service for his fellow prisoners and preached a sermon 18 hours before going to the gallows. So he was faithful to the very end. Bonhoeffer is the real deal, authentic to the bottom. Anyone who has ever dismissed Christianity probably has not encountered Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


LOPEZ: Why isn’t he a household name? Why should he be?

METAXAS: I think in part it’s because he became a darling of the secular Left and was co-opted by them for many decades, as I’ve said, which alienated him from mainstream America, who probably thought of him as effete and aloof. But now that we can know the real story of who he was, of his extreme courage, and of his profound Christian faith, he seems very different, so I do think that he will become much more well-known. We desperately need to know his story. He is a real hero and we need stories like his to encourage us. So stay tuned.


LOPEZ: Do you enjoy writing? You read like you do.

METAXAS: I mostly enjoy having written. But yes, sometimes I enjoy writing very much! I’m glad that’s evident from this book. I particularly enjoyed writing about Hitler and the Nazis, because I hadn’t known this period of history very well. I had many questions about how this all could have happened, and as I began to see answers I had a real passion to share them. This is such a fascinating period! The Nazis provide such a disturbing and clear picture of what happens to human beings when they push God out of the picture completely. The depravity of who we are apart from God is writ large in them, in a way that is powerfully instructive. At least I think so. It’s a warning we need to heed. And Bonhoeffer’s story gives us the full picture, of what can happen and how we need to behave if and when it does happen. I’m happy to think that my passion on this subject comes across in the writing. How many copies may I put you down for?

Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.