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Living to Die Well: A Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Eric Metaxas, known for his impeccably researched and nuanced biographies, has produced another one worth the time a large book takes. It’s Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and it has become a nightly reading ritual for me of late.

While many biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian killed by the Nazis at the end of WWII have been told, this latest publication is providing a new opportunity for more of us to appreciate one of the richest lives of the 20th—or any—century.

Regardless of our religious views or persuasions, Bonhoeffer is worth knowing. Born into one of the leading families of Germany—his father was the most important psychiatrist of his day, Bonhoeffer followed his passion for theology, earning his doctorate in the subject in quick strides.

Early on, his professors marked him as Germany’s next great academic theologian, but Bonhoeffer was a man of the heart as well as of the mind. So he moved toward the pastorate, assuming ministerial duties at a number of congregations in Germany and abroad.

At the same time, Bonhoeffer became the spiritual, pastoral leader of the group of high-ranking German officials plotting Hitler’s death. Their assassination attempt failed on July 20, 1944, and the probe into the conspiracy meant a death sentence for Bonhoeffer and many others. He was one of the last prisoners executed by the Nazis before the Allied liberation.

So many aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life strike me as deeply important, not the least of which are the lessons I am learning even now from him about the importance of living to die well. That’s one of the key reasons why the study of his life continues to draw more interest. Bonhoeffer shows us how to die well.

During the last several months of his imprisonment, with his execution looming ahead, Bonhoeffer probably touched and changed more lives than he did in the previous 38 years of his living. He reached out to fellow prisoners to comfort them. He show great mercy and care for the guards over him. He wrote letters to family, friends, and strangers alike offering strength and encouragement. He drew deeply upon his faith in Jesus Christ, and prayed through a Psalm daily.

At the end, when his body swung lifeless from the gallows, the prison doctor –a Nazi atheist—was moved to claim Christ and faith for himself because the doctor said he had never seen a man die like Dietrich Bonhoeffer died. It was the way Bonhoeffer died that led another to want to live.

Living to die well, that’s one of the great legacies of this 20th century martyr. Don’t miss out on reading about him soon.

Mark Graham is the Senior Pastor at St, John’s Lutheran Church located at 4608 Brambleton Ave. Visit them on the web at:

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