Reposting this review because the publisher has this as well as three others from the series on sale this week for $1.99. The two other books from the same series on Francis Schaeffer and BB Warfield are also on sale.
Summary: Best short introduction to Bonhoeffer’s theology I have read.
Bonhoeffer is arguably one of the most important theologians of the 20th century. It is not just his writing that has made him important, but his life and death and how his theology and Christian understanding was lived out.
I have read a number of books by and about Bonhoeffer. And I think one of the biggest problems with Bonhoeffer studies is the attempts to make Bonhoeffer reflect the author’s ideals. This was clearly a problems in the late 20th century as many liberal scholars attempted to claim Bonhoeffer as a late 20th century liberal. And over the past decade some Evangelicals have essentially done a similar thing by trying to make Bonhoeffer into a 21st Century American Evangelical.
But Stephen Nichols, while clearly writing for a primarily Evangelical audience, manages to write for an Evangelical audience while allowing Bonhoeffer to be a early 20th century German.
Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life is not a biography (although there are a number of biographical details included in the book), instead it is an introduction to Bonhoeffer’s theology and work.
The book opens with an introduction to Bonhoeffer. This is the most biographical section, but even so Nichols focuses on introducing the reader to Bonhoeffer’s work. Throughout the book I appreciate that Nichols allows Bonhoeffer to speak, using a wide variety of Bonhoeffer’s own writing. It is clear that Nichols has read Bonhoeffer deeply and thoroughly.
The next section focuses on the two primary drivers of Bonhoeffer’s theology, his Christological focus and the importance of the community to the life of the Christian. These two interlocking focuses for Bonhoeffer come up over and over throughout the book and by the end of the second section the reader is clear about why Bonhoeffer was so important not only to Germany, but also to reclaiming a living Christian faith as important to the church, the academy and to the life of the Christian that is living in the world.
The third section looks at different aspects of how Bonhoeffer understood Christian Disciplines (Bible Reading, Prayer and Confession). Nichols uses these disciplines, and how Bonhoeffer personally practiced them, taught them to his seminary students, and proclaimed them in his pastoral roles. These were not abstract disciplines but central to Bonhoeffer’s theology and work.
The fourth section is as much about correcting misunderstandings about Bonhoeffer as anything else. It is here that Nichols talks about the role of freedom, worldliness (and religionless Christianity) and love to the Christian. Nichols supports his reading of Bonhoeffer well, but also argues for a reading that is historically a part of Christian orthodoxy. He manages to do this without remaking Bonhoeffer into a North American Evangelical of the 21st century.
The final section of the book gives suggestions for follow up reading. And I think one of the best things I can say about the book is that after reading it I am inspired to read more Bonhoeffer. I have read several biographies, several of Bonhoeffer’s original books and several books on Bonhoeffer’s theology. So I am not new to the Bonhoeffer, but if you are new to Bonhoeffer, this is a very good place to start. I still think I would recommend a biography, or Bonhoeffer’s Life Together as the first thing you read. But this would be the first thing I recommend as a survey of his theology.
——-An ebook was provided by the publisher for purposes of review.
Related Bookwi.se Reviews