Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Want to Read a Bonhoeffer Biography?

Here's a simple formula if you're thinking about reading a Bonhoeffer biography some time in 2011 (and I highly recommend everyone do so). Read the original biography by Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography if you have the time for a long and wonderful and loving biography. Read Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's recent biography if you want a briefer and up-to-date and accurate biography that takes into account all the recent research and new translations of Bonhoeffer into English.

Avoid, at all costs, the popular but deeply problematic biography by Eric Metaxas.

And if you're feeling ambitious, start investing in the fifteen volumes that now make up the Fortress Press Bonhoeffer's Works Series.


  1. Can you give me a little more as to why I should "avoid, at all costs" the Metaxas Bonhoeffer biography? My congregation's book club has it listed as book to cover this year. I haven't read it yet and would like to steer them toward one of the other options if Metaxas is problematic. But, like me, they'll ask "why not read Metaxas?"

    I apologize if you've already written a review. Point me there, if that's the case.

  2. He works with very few (or a limited set) of the primary source texts, works very little with Bethge, tries to frame Bonhoeffer in terms that would be appealing to an American evangelical audience, and includes many historical inaccuracies.

    For reviews of the book that give the magnitude of these problems and address them in detail, see reviews in Sojourners, Christian Century, and I believe First Things.