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I am Bonhoeffer – a credible life

Fortress Press, 2008

Reviewed by Don Whebell, a retired Uniting Church minister.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and witness have been a source of inspiration for Christians for many years. His theological legacy in such books as Ethics, Christology and for many most notably, The Cost of Discipleship, have nourished many a Christians’ faith and witness.

His books I Loved this People and Life Together have provided rich sources of reflection and Letters and Papers From Prison continues to stir the faith-visions of many with Bonhoeffer’s writings from his prison cell.

Books about Bonhoeffer abound and here’s another one! This, however, is very different to any other.

Author Paul Barz is a journalist and historian. He is also a very astute theologian. He brings all those skills together in this novel about Bonhoeffer.

From deep immersion in Bonhoeffer’s writings, awareness of the political and ecclesiastical scenes in the world of the1930s and ’40s, and a gift for incisive writing, Mr Barz brings to life the people whose lives interacted with Bonhoeffer: his family, fiancée, friends, fellow-theologians (such as Barth and Bethge) theological students, confirmation class, those involved in the emerging World Council of Churches, fellow-prisoners, collaborators, and interrogators.

Mr Barz senses the dilemma: Bonhoeffer the pacifist is also a participant in a plot on the life of ‘s ruler.

He enters into the life of the illegal seminary Bonhoeffer ran, which was important to the life of the new Confessing Church.

Anyone who has read Bonhoeffer will enjoy meeting him again in these settings. Those who do not now know who he was will appreciate this introduction.

Each chapter of I am Bonhoeffer closes with ‘Tegel’ reflections.

Tegel was the prison where Bonhoeffer was held and wrote what became Letters and Papers From Prison before he was taken to Flossenberg and executed on 9 April 1945.

In Mr Barz’s visioning of Bonhoeffer’s interactions with fellow prisoners we hear Bonhoeffer reflecting theologically on his own life and the life and mission of the church.

These reflections are compelling reading as we in the Church today are also confronted by the need for engagement with the world with a discipleship that is clear and costly.

I am Bonhoeffer opens with Bonhoeffer’s deeply moving prayer Who am I? which re-surfaces many times throughout this remarkable novel about a extraordinary Christian.