Like many Christians, I have great regard for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I've read many of his works, am a subscriber to his Complete Works, took a class on Bonhoeffer in seminary, have read Eberhard Bethge's monumental biography, have read several others including John Moses' study The Reluctant Revolutionary, which I reviewed for the Christian Century, and Ferdinand Schingensiepen's new biography from T & T Clark (a review of which has been submitted to the editor of the Christian Century blog). It is from that background that I sat down one day to skim the wildly popular "biography" of Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas. Just skimming through the book, aided by the index, I was horrified by what I found. Bonhoeffer was none other than a conservative American Evangelical, whose battle with the German Christians can be compared to the battle between Intelligent Design folks (good people) and Evolutionists (bad people). Barth is good, Harnack is bad -- though the Barth he describes seems far distant from the one I've read and studied.
Now I didn't have the patience or desire to read the entire book, but I had hoped someone would write a response. That response can be found in the most recent issue of the Christian Century. Although the online version is available only to subscribers, Clifford Green, the Executive Editor of the English edition of Bonhoeffer's works offers a strongly worded and greatly needed response (is rebuke too strong a word) noting in some detail how Metaxas has hijacked Bonhoeffer in the name of rescuing Bonhoeffer from liberals, which, Green suggests is accomplished by downplaying Bonhoeffer's time spent at Union Theological Seminary and even more importantly basically dismissing the theological work he did while in prison. Green writes:
Worse, if possible, [Metaxas's attempt to redefine Bonhoeffer's pacifist leanings] is Metaxas's embarrassment about Bonhoeffer's writing in Letters and Papers from Prison about "religionless Christianity." In a Trinity Forum interview he even stated that Bonhoeffer "never really said it," but then had to retract that because, well, Bonhoeffer did say it. But, Metaxas continues, he wrote it privately in a letter to Bethge and never intended anyone to see it because it was " utterly out of keeping with the rest of Bonhoeffer's life." He calls Bonhoeffer's theological prison reflections a "few bone fragments . . . set upon by famished kites and less noble birds, many of whose descendants gnaw them still" (CC, pp. 37-38).
As Green points out those "few bone fragments" are directly connected to Bonhoeffer's Ethics. While a lot of bad interpretation has taken place over the years, two wrongs don't make a right, and Metaxas's interpretation is at best self-serving. Dietrich Bonhoeffer deserves much better!
If you want to truly know the nature of Bonhoeffer's life, then you would be better served reading Schlingensiepen's biography. It may not be as rip-roaring a ride, but you'll get a better sense of the real Bonhoeffer than you ever will from Metaxas!