Book Reviews, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Book Review: “Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Laura M. Fabrycky

The intersection of the scholarly and the intimate is a rare gift. At first, some readers may think that scholarly works simply cannot be intimate. How can someone be so closely associated with a topic while also writing in a serious, academic way? Laura M. Fabrycky’s work, Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer shows how that can be done related to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By integrating her personal experiences of leading tours at the Bonhoeffer Haus and in Germany with insights into the background of Bonhoeffer’s life, Fabrycky manages to create a unique read in the field of Bonhoeffer scholarship.

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is a kind of memoir, exploring Fabrycky’s own interaction with Bonhoeffer through her time in Germany. Because of this, it offers a deeply personal look at many aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life. But alongside that, Fabrycky also offers scholarly details to go along with her reflections such that a compelling narrative-driven exploration of Bonhoeffer. But the book provides more than that–it is much more a kind of look at Bonhoeffer’s place and how that impacted his life and decisions. Seeing how locations in Germany were set up helped to understand certain points in Bonhoeffer’s life more thoroughly. 

Fabrycky’s style is excellent. The chapter on learning to ride bikes and finding locations related to Bonhoeffer’s life while navigating the strange world (to Americans) of European rules regarding bikes was an absolutely fascinating read. Time and again, Fabrycky’s style drew this reader in to the extent that it truly felt like riding along the streets with her while exploring the interior of Bonhoeffer’s life through buildings and places. Another example of this was her note of the roadside crucifixions, which, contextually, were used by the Nazis to bolster anti-Semitism in portraying the Jews as those to fully blame for killing Christ. 

But a strong sense of place and personal reflection are not all that is offered in this fascinating work. Fabrycky continually draws readers’ eyes and imaginations to reading alongside and experiencing alongside Bonhoeffer, examining concepts of friendship, how Bonhoeffer read Scripture, and concepts of loyalty and nationalism. Because these are integrated into a broader, personal narrative, it once again presents readers with a feeling of sitting next to Fabrycky and exploring and experiencing these things oneself. One example is related to Bonhoeffer’s use of Moravian watchwords, called Die Losungen (see Kindle locations 1718ff). Fabrycky writes, “These were, and are, daily Scripture meditations published every year by the Moravian Brethern, a Protestant group that traces its religious heritage to a pre-Reformation movement of pietists who were committed to Scripture, prayer, an evangelism… Bonhoeffer and many others used their so-called watchwords… as a daily devotional practice, and it was one he commended to others as well” (ibid). After reading this, this reviewer looked it up, and it turns out one can subscribe to these to this day via email, and it has been edifying practicing a religious discipline Bonhoeffer himself commended. After reading this from Fabrycky, moreover, this reviewer was reading in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works and noticed several times these very watchwords were mentioned in letters and elsewhere. It was a fascinating insight that let this reader focus more on aspects of Bonhoeffer’s works that had been missed before. These kind of insights are found in abundance throughout Keys… and make it an invaluable look at Bonhoeffer’s thought life.

One critique I have is of the portrayal of church and state in Lutheran theology. Fabrycky writes, for example, that Bonhoeffer’s pacifism challenged Lutheran ideals in German society. She also writes that “Being a good Lutheran and a good German meant inhabiting two worlds at the same time… the spiritual… and the secular…but these worlds were fully compartmentalized from one another” (Kindle Location 3922). Much debate has gone into Bonhoeffer scholarship regarding Two Kingdoms theology, and Fabrycky here aligns herself with those who read as Lutheran what others read as distortions of Luther. This may be semantics, but many (such as Trey Palmisano in Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, review here) have argued that Bonhoeffer’s stance on church and state is the genuine Lutheran position. Further, several have argued that Bonhoeffer’s position is both consistent and draws directly from Luther to offer a corrective to the notion of Volk that turned the Two Kingdoms doctrine into a justification of essentially any state action (see Michael P. DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, review here). I also favor an approach that sees Bonhoeffer’s theology of church and state–the Two Kingdoms doctrine–both as genuinely Lutheran and consistent, such that his view of pacifism would have challenged those Lutherans who had effectively ceded the Two Kingdoms doctrine to a carte blanche for the state. 

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is an enthralling, captivating read. It reads as though one is exploring Bonhoeffer’s world through the mind of one who has been deeply impacted by close connection with his physical world, even decades removed. It will give readers insights into Bonhoeffer that this reader, at least, hasn’t found elsewhere. It’s the kind of unique work that even the most thorough reader of Bonhoeffer’s life and related works will likely find fresh and insightful. Highly recommended. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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