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Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography

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For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer spent two years in Nazi prisons before being executed at age thirty-nine, just a month before the German surrender, for his role i For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer spent two years in Nazi prisons before being executed at age thirty-nine, just a month before the German surrender, for his role in the plot to kill Hitler. The posthumous Letters and Papers from Prison has had a tremendous impact on both Christian and secular thought since it was first published in 1951, and has helped establish Bonhoeffer's reputation as one of the most important Protestant thinkers of the twentieth century. In this, the first history of the book's remarkable global career, National Book Award-winning author Martin Marty tells how and why Letters and Papers from Prison has been read and used in such dramatically different ways, from the cold war to today. In his late letters, Bonhoeffer raised tantalizing questions about the role of Christianity and the church in an increasingly secular world. Marty tells the story of how, in the 1960s and the following decades, these provocative ideas stirred a wide range of thinkers and activists, including civil rights and antiapartheid campaigners, death-of-God theologians, and East German Marxists. In the process of tracing the eventful and contested history of Bonhoeffer's book, Marty provides a compelling new perspective on religious and secular life in the postwar era.


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For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer spent two years in Nazi prisons before being executed at age thirty-nine, just a month before the German surrender, for his role i For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer spent two years in Nazi prisons before being executed at age thirty-nine, just a month before the German surrender, for his role in the plot to kill Hitler. The posthumous Letters and Papers from Prison has had a tremendous impact on both Christian and secular thought since it was first published in 1951, and has helped establish Bonhoeffer's reputation as one of the most important Protestant thinkers of the twentieth century. In this, the first history of the book's remarkable global career, National Book Award-winning author Martin Marty tells how and why Letters and Papers from Prison has been read and used in such dramatically different ways, from the cold war to today. In his late letters, Bonhoeffer raised tantalizing questions about the role of Christianity and the church in an increasingly secular world. Marty tells the story of how, in the 1960s and the following decades, these provocative ideas stirred a wide range of thinkers and activists, including civil rights and antiapartheid campaigners, death-of-God theologians, and East German Marxists. In the process of tracing the eventful and contested history of Bonhoeffer's book, Marty provides a compelling new perspective on religious and secular life in the postwar era.

30 review for Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    I first heard of Bonhoeffer in a talk by D. Todd Christofferson. Christofferson used a Bonhoeffer quote from Letters in Prison concerning marriage, that marriage is more than your love for each other, but a post of responsibility in the eternities. I eventually stumbled upon the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxas, and I was happy to find a biography of Letters from Prison in Lives of Great Religious Books. But I still have yet to read Letters from Prison! The author had some engaging moments, includ I first heard of Bonhoeffer in a talk by D. Todd Christofferson. Christofferson used a Bonhoeffer quote from Letters in Prison concerning marriage, that marriage is more than your love for each other, but a post of responsibility in the eternities. I eventually stumbled upon the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxas, and I was happy to find a biography of Letters from Prison in Lives of Great Religious Books. But I still have yet to read Letters from Prison! The author had some engaging moments, including his discussion of the difficulties of writing a biography of a book and small forays into the personal life of Bonhoeffer. But the vast majority of the text was difficult for me to engage with—some foreign theological debates, a lot of language I wasn’t familiar with, characters I didn’t know. Two people I did become acquainted with more were Bethge and de Gruchy. I was hoping to get into the meat of more themes in Letters, but it looks like I will have to do it myself in the original text. No matter. I will someday. The author mostly spent his time exploring various interpretations of some of Bonheoffer’s most edgy statements—statements that leave the reader wondering what Bonhoeffer really believed, and at their worst proved fodder for “Death of God” types. The phrases were oft repeated: “Who is Christ for us today?” “Religionless Christianity” “The world that has come of age” Jesus Christ as “the man for others” And living “as if without God.” I didn’t connect with the book as much as I would have liked, because the sentiments expressed didn’t ring true with my own experience of Christianity. I find value in the religion part of Christianity—the sacraments, the worship, the inner life of prayer, pondering, and reading. And I don’t see it going away in the world either. But perhaps he gives some ideas about living in an increasingly secular world. Anyhow, I’ll have to dig in to the letters myself. Judging by the quote that Christofferson used, I think there is plenty of common ground between me and Bonhoeffer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Bought this by accident in quar. I found his perspective on East Germany vs West reductive and was disappointed in his analysis of Bonhoeffer’s uptake in liberation theology. However, it was interesting to learn more about the international impact of Bonhoeffer’s book and the continuity of his themes.

  3. 5 out of 5

    James R

    This is rather a fascinating book. It is a biography of a book. A book that is arguably one of the most influential Christian reflections written in the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. On the one hand for me this biography was as dry as dirt written by a highly qualified scholar for people who like himself speaks in “theologian” whose active vocabularies contain words like eschatology, hermeneutics, and Christology scholars who use precise guarded language with This is rather a fascinating book. It is a biography of a book. A book that is arguably one of the most influential Christian reflections written in the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. On the one hand for me this biography was as dry as dirt written by a highly qualified scholar for people who like himself speaks in “theologian” whose active vocabularies contain words like eschatology, hermeneutics, and Christology scholars who use precise guarded language with very nuanced meaning. These are people who are accomplished at splitting very fine theological hairs. On the other hand it is an intriguing study of the history of a book and its continuing journey along the stream of religious, that is Christian, speculation. The subject of this biography is a book whose author was, by almost all accounts, quite a remarkable man of Christian faith who never stopped examining what his faith in Christ and God meant in a rapidly changing modern world. The questions he asked himself and challenged himself with challenge those who care about the eternal questions thinking people of faith confront. It is also, in a way, a book about an enduring friendship between Bonhoeffer and Pastor Eberhard Bethge the compiler and editor of the letters and papers. It is a study of the subjectivity that always seems to be at the heart of interpretation. It clearly demonstrates how people often see in the writings of others what they want to see and interpret events and ideas in ways that enhance their own agendas perhaps consciously and perhaps without actually realizing that is what they have done. If you decide to take on the challenge of this book, remember it is the biography of a book – not of a man. On that score alone it demonstrates how powerful and influential a book can become.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jasonlylescampbell

    This was very enjoyable for someone who was really taken with LPP and especially someone who is young, like me, and didn't get to walk through all the reactions. I knew of Honest to God and the Death of God radicals seizing on the letters, but never quite understood how it happened given his earlier writings and even the general feel of the letters. The couple of other striking learning moments in the book were: 1. Learning about how insane it is that we even have this book. Most of the really pr This was very enjoyable for someone who was really taken with LPP and especially someone who is young, like me, and didn't get to walk through all the reactions. I knew of Honest to God and the Death of God radicals seizing on the letters, but never quite understood how it happened given his earlier writings and even the general feel of the letters. The couple of other striking learning moments in the book were: 1. Learning about how insane it is that we even have this book. Most of the really profound and heartfelt letters were smuggled out of a Nazi prison to be sent to Eberhardt who was somewhere in Italy in the German army! Some of the letters he put in tin cans and buried and later resumed to compile the book. A packet of the last letters he received had to be thrown into the fire as the SS arrested Eberhardt! And he felt so much safer having done it, but later agonized over where those burned and forgetten letters would have offered further clues into his final thoughts. 2. The other aspect was how quickly this book flew around the world. It was very attractive and read in South Africa by those in the Apartied struggle; byu liberation theologions in South America and by those struggling with civil rights in America.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Rack

    Marty's book covers the history of the reception and interpretation of Bonhoeffer's last and most controversial book, "Letters and Papers From Prison." It is an interesting study because the book has such enigmatic and powerful lines, which Bonhoeffer never got to really develop. So they were developed by his successors in wildly different ways. Some took him in a Marxist direction, others found him supporting the "death of God" theologies of the 1960's. Marty tends to me more circumspect and re Marty's book covers the history of the reception and interpretation of Bonhoeffer's last and most controversial book, "Letters and Papers From Prison." It is an interesting study because the book has such enigmatic and powerful lines, which Bonhoeffer never got to really develop. So they were developed by his successors in wildly different ways. Some took him in a Marxist direction, others found him supporting the "death of God" theologies of the 1960's. Marty tends to me more circumspect and responsible, highlighting the continuity of the book with Bonhoeffer's earlier works. Marty doesn't go into it, but I am struck by how Bonhoeffer's words in this book are inspiring the Emerging Church Movement today. (Quotes from Letters and Papers are peppered all through "Christianity After Religion," by Diana Butler Bass. This is a good book about a great book. It clears up a lot for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Short Review: This (and the series) is about the history and influence of great religious books. A helpful look at what happened after Bonhoeffer's death to spread his influence and raise interest in his books. This is overwhelmingly about the spread and history of the book, and only occasionally about Bonhoeffer outside of the book. I thought it was not as good as Alan Jacob's biography of the Book of Common Prayer from the same series. But this is still worth reading. This is also a good examp Short Review: This (and the series) is about the history and influence of great religious books. A helpful look at what happened after Bonhoeffer's death to spread his influence and raise interest in his books. This is overwhelmingly about the spread and history of the book, and only occasionally about Bonhoeffer outside of the book. I thought it was not as good as Alan Jacob's biography of the Book of Common Prayer from the same series. But this is still worth reading. This is also a good example of why I like scribd as an ebook subscription program. This is over $14 on kindle, but I can subscribe to Scribd for $8.99 a month and get access to this. Over the last month I have read this book and listened to 11 audiobooks through scribd. My full review of the book is on my blog at http://bookwi.se/dietrich-bonhoeffers... My review of scribd http://bookwi.se/scribd-a-review/

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    This was the "wrong" book to read. It is the biography of a book, not the actual letters and papers (which I now have on my "want to read" shelf reserved at my local library). It was a fascinating tale of how this book came to be, what it is, what it has been taken for. I am not a student of philosophy. I am of Dave Barry's mindset that any course in which you discuss abstract concepts like "truth" or "right" are not going to get you very far in life. Still, these deep seated theological argumen This was the "wrong" book to read. It is the biography of a book, not the actual letters and papers (which I now have on my "want to read" shelf reserved at my local library). It was a fascinating tale of how this book came to be, what it is, what it has been taken for. I am not a student of philosophy. I am of Dave Barry's mindset that any course in which you discuss abstract concepts like "truth" or "right" are not going to get you very far in life. Still, these deep seated theological arguments that Bonhoeffer triggered with his words were fascinating to study. To see his proper place in German theology, reformed Lutheran tradition, and in the so called "liberty" and "social" theology that exploded in the 1960s and 70s was very helpful. Still, this is a contextual story telling that only whetted my appetite for the real thing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Denise Ballentine

    A scholarly work by Martin E. Marty tracing the "life" of a the book Letters Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bohoeffer. Published by Princeton University press, this volume traces the influences and journeys of this famous piece of religious literature. I found it informative and interesting. A great tool for those wanting to dig deeper in their understanding of Bonhoeffer and his writings. A scholarly work by Martin E. Marty tracing the "life" of a the book Letters Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bohoeffer. Published by Princeton University press, this volume traces the influences and journeys of this famous piece of religious literature. I found it informative and interesting. A great tool for those wanting to dig deeper in their understanding of Bonhoeffer and his writings.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    An interesting idea - tracing the "life" of a book from its origins through the different times and places of its reception. Martin E. Marty, for such a short book, packs in a relatively wide ranging overview of the different interpretations of the "Letters and Papers" in an accessible way. My largest complaint is that I would have like to have seen a full bibliography included as this would have made it easier to follow up on some of the different works and individuals referenced.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Susan Paxton

    Interesting history of the reception of Bonhoeffer's classic - lot in here I had not idea about. A very interesting concept for a book, apparently one of a series planned from this publisher.

  11. 4 out of 5

    The Div School

    Review By Dan Clendenin: http://www.journeywithjesus.net/BookN... Review By Dan Clendenin: http://www.journeywithjesus.net/BookN...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Warren Hicks

    This is a good summary of the arc of Bonhoeffer's thought and the life of the classic "Letters and Papers from Prison"

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joe Kauslick

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda

  15. 4 out of 5

    Catalina Suarez

  16. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Rains

  18. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Rasmussen

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Leca

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve Spencer

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 4 out of 5

    Irene Grysiewicz

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Powers

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  26. 5 out of 5

    Do

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert Boyte

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paul Sparks

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Guidroz

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