“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,” wrote theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer during Nazi rule in his native Germany. “God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
University of Virginia professor Charles Marsh’s in-depth biography of the devout pastor who stood up to Hitler’s laws won the 2015 Christianity Today Book Award in Biography/History.
Christianity Today’s editors selected the biography as one of two dozen books in several categories “most likely to shape evangelical life, thought and culture.”
Douglas Sweeney of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School wrote, “Marsh’s sensitive portrayal of a clearly flawed saint doing great things for others in the name of Jesus Christ yields a rare combination of delight and moral urgency.”
In “Strange Glory,” Marsh analyzes the pivotal moments of Bonhoeffer’s formation, including his first visit to America for 10 months in 1930, when he spent time with social reformers, Harlem churchmen and public intellectuals. The visit set the stage for Bonhoeffer’s denouncement of the Nuremburg Laws upon his return to Germany and his dangerously vocal support of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis, as he struggled in vain to fight the Reich’s takeover of the Lutheran church. Undaunted, he continued conspiring against the regime until his arrest, and continued producing his luminous theological reflections until his execution at the age of 39.
With a keen understanding of Bonhoeffer’s multifaceted writings – often misunderstood – and the imperfect man behind the saintly image, Marsh has put forward a nuanced, exhilarating and often heartrending portrait that lays bare Bonhoeffer’s flaws and inner torment, as well as the friendships and the faith that sustained and finally redeemed him.
Dartmouth professor Randall Balmer’s New York Times review said “Marsh ... renders Bonhoeffer’s life and thought in exquisite detail and with sympathetic understanding, and in the course of more than 500 pages, we see Bonhoeffer’s transformation from pampered scion and theological dilettante to energetic churchman and Christian martyr, all against the backdrop of cataclysmic changes in Germany.”