Reviewing Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. details the anti-Nazi theologian and pastor’s first visit to America and its “dramatic effects on his outlook and career”:
This is Marsh’s own turf: previous scholarship (including the Grawemeyer Award-winning book God’s Long Summer) prepared him well to understand and to relate something of the impact of Bonhoeffer’s encounter with black Christians in Harlem and during his travels in the South. Indeed, Marsh details well the change wrought in the rather fussy, elitist, and insulated young scion of the German haute bourgeoisie as Bonhoeffer encountered the likes of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., his Abyssinian Baptist Church, and Negro spirituals and blues, as well as the indefatigable campaigner Reinhold Niebuhr; the combination of these forces called Bonhoeffer down from reflection in his ivory tower into action on the street.
This change is the guiding thrust of the book, in fact. Bonhoeffer never stops being the theological Wunderkind, but he is converted to a practical, even pragmatic, Christianity. He never loses his interest in the highest reaches of German idealistic philosophy (he is still reading Kant and lesser lights in Tegel prison), but he increasingly asks questions about religion on the ground, and in the future. “The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask,” Marsh quotes Bonhoeffer saying in one of his most famous lines, “is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live.”
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