His end is what most people recall of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the creeping light of first dawn in a barren yard of Flossenbürg concentration camp where he—theologian and spy, pastor and conspirator—was hanged until dead by a thin wire. Mere days before, Bonhoeffer and his fellow captives heard the great booming march of American guns across the German landscape, and dared to hope for freedom. But he met a different freedom on that chill morning, one for which he was well prepared.
With such a story, it is tempting to view Bonhoeffer’s life exclusively through the lens of his death, and more than one chronicler of his story has done so. It is as if, peering through history with a 20/20 hindsight machine, we see him from boyhood ordained to die, a born martyr if there ever was one. Yet this discerning biography tells the story of a life lived, not in fear of death, but in defiance of it. Bonhoeffer, the author of Christology, plainly saw his life this way, and it is tempting to think that he would have agreed with Winston Churchill: “Although prepared for martyrdom, I prefer that it be postponed.” Bonhoeffer is a rich, colorful portrait textured with the small brushstrokes of daily living—a humane portrait of a humane man.