George W. Bush and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gustav Niebuhr is reporting that George W. Bush is reading Eric Metaxas’s new biography of German theologian and anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  (I saw Laura Bush mention this over the weekend during an interview on Book TV).

Niebuhr is not surprised that Bush is reading or that he is reading about Bonhoeffer.  He does wonder, however, what Bush is “getting from his reading.”  Niebuhr asks: “Does Bonhoeffer challenge, confirm or add to the former president’s understanding of Christianity?”  He continues:

Which Bonhoeffer is George W. Bush encountering? As noted, with his dedicated focus on Christ, Bonhoeffer has long appealed to people who lean toward the theologically conservative, especially American evangelicals. His commitment to social ministry inspires many ranks of more liberal admirers. And Bonhoeffer’s clear status of an a man of action, who put all at risk to defy Hitler–well, who doesn’t find that moving?

I guess I want to know what Bush does next. Will he move on to Bonhoeffer’s own works, including his prison writings? Will he be so intrigued as to make a trip to the library to check out Eberhard Bethge’s comprehensive biography of Bonhoeffer, re-published a decade ago by Fortress Press? Talk about going to the source! Bethge was a student of Bonhoeffer and later married the theologian’s niece.

Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography clocks in at somewhere under 1,100 pages. As an ex-president, Bush must have some time on his hands.

5 thoughts on “George W. Bush and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  1. While I have not read the book myself, I certainly got the impression from the lecture that there was a subtle attempt to make Bonhoeffer something of an evangelical hero. I would also say that Metaxas attempts to do something similar with Wilberforce in Amazing Grace. At the very least he adamantly rejected the notion that Bonhoeffer could be interpreted as a left leaning theologian despites his flirtations with pacifism.


  2. Tim: One more thing–I am glad to hear that Metaxas was the Staley Lecturer at SBS. I would like to think he is following in some good footsteps–I was the Staley Lecturer there in 2006 (or maybe it was 2007!).

    It is probably more likely that SBS raised the bar a bit on their choice of Staley lecturers!


  3. Tim: I had never heard of Metaxas until this Bonhoeffer book came out. It is really all the rage in evangelical circles. Russ may have a good point about the way evangelicals have remade Bonhoeffer in their own image. I know he is a big favorite at SBS, or at least a favorite of your headmaster.

    I wish I could say that I am going to read Metaxas's book, but 600 pages in the middle of the semester is a bit much. Perhaps this summer.

    I hope all is well.


  4. Metaxas was just the Staley Lecturer here at Stony Brook and we read his biography of William Wilberforce for summer reading. I'd love to hear some thoughts on Metaxas' work as a historian.


  5. I haven't read Metaxas, but it's interesting how evangelicals have reimagined Bonhoeffer in their own image, not so far from how they've remembered the founding fathers.


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