Last July, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, 12 young people were senselessly murdered by a gunman named James Holmes. Of all the things that have been said about this tragic event, what struck me most was that in three cases, young men died protecting their girlfriends from the madman's bullets.
What led them to risk their lives for these young women? And what does their sacrifice say about manhood?
In these three young men, we have a picture of strength expressed as love. They used their strength to protect those more vulnerable than themselves.
My newest book, Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness, is about men who — like those three brave men in Aurora — understood that at the heart of what it is to be a man is selflessness. One of those men was German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died 68 years ago tomorrow at the age of 39.
I first heard of Bonhoeffer the summer I turned 25 when a friend gave me a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 into a highly educated Lutheran family. His father, Karl, taught his children the importance of thinking clearly and logically, and the Bonhoeffer children were also taught to act on what they believed. As I write, “From an early age … Dietrich understood that ideas were never mere ideas but the foundations upon which one built one's actions and ultimately one's life. Ideas and beliefs must be tried and tested because one's life might depend on them.”
While he applied this to his personal life, it was only after becoming a theologian that he had an epiphany that changed everything.
During a visit to the United States, he attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. There, among the poor, black congregants, Bonhoeffer “witnessed something ... more palpable and visceral than anything he had seen in a church before.” The pastor “exhorted his hearers not just to have a genuine relationship with Jesus, but also to translate that into action in their lives,” such as caring for the poor and working for civil rights. “For perhaps the first time in his life, Bonhoeffer seemed to link the idea of having deep faith in Jesus with taking political and social action.”
It was this idea that led Bonhoeffer to publicly criticize the growing oppression of the Jews when he returned to Germany. It was this idea that led Bonhoeffer to try to awaken Christians to the danger of the Nazified state “church” established by Adolf Hitler. It was this idea that led him to leave the safety of America in 1939 in order to go back to Germany to be with his people through the dangers of war. And it was this idea that drew Bonhoeffer into a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler — an action that ultimately led to his death on the gallows just three weeks before the war ended in Europe. He went to his death with the peace of God, knowing that obeying God — even unto death — was the only way to live.
Today we’re witnessing increasing attacks on Christians for speaking out against another great social evil: so-called same-sex “marriage.” In order to understand the cost of such battles, we ought to heed the witness of those who’ve gone before us — especially of a young German theologian who put his heart and soul into fighting against the social evils of his day — at the cost of his life.
If you know young men who could benefit from examples of heroic manhood, I hope you'll consider giving them copies of my book Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness. You can find out how to get it at BreakPoint.org.
Through the lives of these men, they'll learn that true manhood means putting one's greatest strength at God's disposal.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: April 8, 2013