Eric Metaxas spoke on February 21 at Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta. He is the widely acclaimed author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which has been heaped with awards and praise since its 2010 publication.
It was this book that led Metaxas to meet former President George W. Bush, who has never made a secret of his Christian faith, and then President Barack Obama at the 2012 Prayer Breakfast at which Metaxas was the keynote speaker. Metaxas is also well known for having been a writer on the very popular Veggie Tales series for children and for his work with the noted Christian Evangelical leader Chuck Colson.
Though it was impossible to count all of the other people who had converged in Buckhead on an overcast Thursday night to hear more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian whose opposition to Hitler landed him on the gallows just a few weeks before the end of World War II, I would estimate a crowd of close to two thousand. Surveying the full pews in front of him, Metaxas—an always articulate and funny spokesman—quipped, “For the cerebral Christian, this is what a revival looks like.”
Indeed, much of Metaxas’s speech focused on the idea that Bonhoeffer was a serious intellectual from a family that understood the value of education and rational thinking. In fact, Bonheoffer’s father was an influential psychiatrist and neurologist, and his mother had a teaching degree, which she used to home-school her eight, brilliant children.
In highlighting such biographical facts—and then Bonhoeffer’s own record of study—Metaxas underscored how a man can worship God with not just blind emotion but with an attempt at whole understanding.
This is an important message for people living in a society that often mocks religion.
Having grown up in a church-going house that did not dig into those deeper questions of faith, Metaxas mentioned how he himself had been a young man who went off to university completely unequipped to defend any sense he’d once had of God. With a sardonic smile, he then advised the lesson learned was, “If you go to a place like Yale, don’t go with an open mind.”
Apparently Metaxas felt he had opened himself up too completely because whatever faith he had enjoyed as a child was quickly stripped away in a profoundly secular environment. This set him adrift in the inevitable darkness that shadows the thinking of purposeless atheism.
Yet Dietrich Bonhoeffer, no slouch as an academic, played a large part in reigniting within Metaxas the light that would lead him back to a belief in Christ. After all, Bonhoeffer earned his PhD from Berlin University at the astonishingly young age of twenty-one, and thus had views that were undergirded with serious study and careful consideration.
Personally, I found this point one of the most interesting in the talk.
Consider for a moment that many Americans have a foundation in faith that is cultural and emotional. This was true for Eric Metaxas, and this foundation quickly crumbled under the weight of intellectual challenges.
However, Bonhoeffer’s faith—per our understanding of his life—was always based on reason. When he worshipped in Harlem while studying in New York, Bonhoeffer discovered a more personal and interactive relationship with a living God. It was at this point that emotion was added on top of solid knowledge, and his relationship with Christ only deepened.
In other words, Bonhoeffer’s foundation was intellectual. He had a strong framework of faith that could not be easily shaken by the skepticism that so often topples those who are steeped in ignorance about their own religions. With learning came love.
His beliefs fully cemented, Bonhoeffer could not in good faith stand silent in the face of Nazi oppression. He spoke up for Christianity in even the early days as Hitler’s regime began to hollow out the church and twist it into something evil and unrecognizable.
Further scorning the concept of “easy grace,” he then actively took part in the resistance movement. For this, his corpse would eventually be burned at Flossenburg and mingled with the ashes of the Jews he had been called by God to defend. Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to his death knowing exactly what he was doing.
Ultimately, in bringing attention to this great man’s story, Eric Metaxas is exhorting others to seriously consider the meaning of their own faiths and the extent to which they live their beliefs.
On this front, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is one of clear inspiration.