My wife and some other friends have enjoyed reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. There have been some negative reviews of Metaxas (see this post), and it seems it can be boiled down to one thing: certain Liberal critics believe that Bonhoeffer belongs to them, that he is part of their heritage: he is a liberal like them, so evangelicals find inspiration in Bonhoeffer only illegitimately because he believed, among other things, in biblical criticism. Therefore, Metaxas portrayal of Bonhoeffer is wishful thinking, a reading into the history of Germany his own sentiments.
Why are they saying this? And why are liberals, who don’t hardly even believe in Jesus, claiming the author of The Cost of Discipleship as one of their own, when they hardly even desire to be disciples of Christ and mock those who do? My hunch at this point is that liberals are running from their terrible legacy in Nazi Germany and they want to hold up Bonhoeffer as their own because he is the most famous theologian that opposed Hitler.
Liberal theologians are largely distinguished from orthodox Christians by their questioning of tradition: this includes both scriptural (the Bible) and ecclesial traditions (the creeds). They also have a tendency to insist upon evolution as the only means to explain the origin of the species, and they also tend to believe in human progress and the ability of government to provide solutions to social problems (statism, socialism, etc.). Well it doesn’t take much research to see which side the liberals were on in Nazi Germany. They were often anti-semitic–since they themselves belonged to the more evolved Arian nation race–and generally supporters of the Third Reich.
Against them, the more conservative Christians with whom today’s evangelicals can mostly identify–affirmed the reliability and authority of Church tradition, including both the Bible and the historic creeds. Bonhoeffer signed the Barmen Declaration which claimed the exclusivity of Christ and opposed both the liberal church and the Nazi state; he belonged to the Confessing Church which remained faithful to the authority of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, against the liberal German Christian Movement which denied it. Then, Bonhoeffer went further and was involved in a plot against Hitler. If Bonhoeffer wasn’t an American evangelical, he wasn’t an 21st century liberal either. But the liberals of today, who constantly question the reliability and authority of the Scriptures stand closest not to Bonhoeffer, who affirmed these basic truths, but to the Harnacks and the Wellhausens, the anti-semites, whose theology led to the support of Hitler and the genocide of the Jews. This is a terrible legacy and it is no wonder that some liberals would want to revise history and expropriate Bonhoeffer for themselves.
Appendix: I made the following comment at the City of God to Dan’s post: News flash: Non-evangelicals are non-evangelical, which suggested that Bonhoeffer and C. S. Lewis were not evangelicals, depending on the definition, and which occasioned my above reflexions: