Review: Strange Glory

Marsh, C. (2014). Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (p. 528). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is somewhat of a biographical Mr. Potato Head when it comes to the amount of interpretations his life has taken on, a fact which Charles Marsh does not hide in Strange Glory A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.What we do know of Bonhoeffer is that he was born the son of a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Berlin. Karl Bonhoeffer became a prominent psychiatrist and opposed the euthanasia program put in place by Hitler in 1939. This bold stance taken by his father may have led to the ethics Bonhoeffer developed later in life. 

While studying at the universities of Tübingen and Berlin, Bonhoeffer was influenced by Liberal Theologians like Adolf Von Harnack, Karl Holl, and most importantly Karl Barth.  This closeness to Barth shows up most in his doctoral thesis titled, The Communion of Saints, in which he tried to tie together a social and theological understanding of the church. In another of his famous works, Act and Being, Bonhoeffer traces the influence of transcendental philosophy and ontology, along with a Kantian and post-Kantian theory of knowledge, through Protestant and Catholic theological understandings. A few years before the Nazi party rose to power, he found himself the lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin, where he would protest the regime, and a leading spokesman of the Confessing Church which would make their mark as the center of German Protestantism revolts against Hitler. 

Marsh does not reveal to us something here that has not been overdone anywhere else. He recounts the basic timeline of Bonhoeffer as others have done, but goes beyond them to portray a figure who was both theologically complex and human at the same time. He does not cast Bonhoeffer in a single spotlight but takes snapshots of a life full of opposing characters. This biography of Bonhoeffer, perhaps offering the best researched bio out there, is full of keen insight and clarity of thought. Marsh gives us a view into Bonhoeffer which resembles a close friendship with him, as though we were reliving the events as they happened. 

I appreciate this rare look into a man who stood against Hitler and his ideals, losing his life in the process. The theological engagement and the ease of transition between them is very helpful in keeping together the thoughts of the men Bonhoeffer would point to in shaping his life. This biography will appeal to not only theological minded individuals but also clergymen and historians interested in an insight you’ll find nowhere else. Here we have Bonhoeffer in all his glory.

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