Friday, August 8, 2014

Strange Glory:a review

I've read several things BY Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but “Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Charles Marsh (Knopf 2014) is the first book ABOUT him that I've read. Drawing from a wide variety of sources, including some of Bonhoeffer’s personal papers Marsh paints a picture of the Lutheran pastor that will surprise some and upset others.

First, my critique of the style – some sentences were Proust-like in length, and the attention to detail at points was overwhelming. From this reviewer’s perspective at least, reading the book was laborious rather than a labor of love. I was exhausted at the end of the book, and found myself glad that it was finished. Although I would have preferred less minutia, I was glad that Marsh took the time and made the effort to provide a comprehensive picture of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer’s theology didn't develop in a vacuum, and the references to other theologians and how they impacted Bonhoeffer were especially enlightening.
I mentioned that I've not read other biographies, but I have read and heard some things about Bonhoeffer, and same sex attraction is never one of the things that came to the surface. As Marsh wrote about the friendship with Herr Bethge, I expected to read that Bonhoeffer was forced to wear a pink star, or about antics in some of the Berlin clubs that catered to a certain type of clientele.

From an obnoxious and precocious teen to a brilliant scholar and theologian, Bonhoeffer seems to have written his own rules along the way, and in doing so was able to see things as they were, rather than as someone else would like them to be. The travel stories, his fondness for the arts, friendships and familial relationships that Marsh describes allow us to see Bonhoeffer as a human being, intimately involved in the issues of the day and in the lives of those around him.

In addition to the details about the theologian’s life, this book reminds us that some of the issues that we face in society and culture today are not new. Almost 100 years ago people were dealing with shifting mores and learning to adapt. Politics, sociology, history, and yes theology play a part in each person’s development; Marsh has done a fine job of tying things together in a way that shows that the whole, in this case, is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

This is probably not the book for a casual reader, but the serious scholar of Bonhoeffer’s life will want to add this book to his bookshelf.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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