Greetings once again friends! This is Episode 31 of the podcast. The title of this week’s episode is “Eric Metaxas: Conservative Christian Author.”
Eric Metaxas was born June 27, 1963 in Queens, New York, New York. He attended Yale University, and graduated in 1984 with a B.A. in English. Although he was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, he has most recently attended the Central Presbyterian Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Metaxas is a prolific author, with publications written for children as well as adults. Unfortunately–in my view–he seems to have also taken a hard-right political stance in recent years. Since I am a dedicated centrist, both in political and religious ideas, I was quite disappointed to learn of his forceful positions in some of the current controversial issues of our day.
That being said, however, I have been greatly edified by several of his major books. I’ll share some thoughts about that as we work our way through the podcast today.
I first became acquainted with Mr. Metaxas’ work through a subscription I had several years ago with Audible.com. I was searching for a good biography when I came across his book Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. I thought it looked pretty interesting, so I used part of my bank of Audible credits to purchase the audio edition. I could only listen 15-20 minutes a day, so it took me a long time to finish! However, as I listened I knew I needed a hard copy of this book on my library shelf so I could easily refer to the contents later. I gladly headed over to Amazon to place my order.
Later, I also downloaded and listened to two more of Metaxas’ biographies: Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, plus several of his smaller publications.
Most recently I saw an advertisement for his newest book—Is Atheism Dead—and ordered a hard copy. I’m currently about a fourth of the way through it. I’ll say more about that in a bit.
But now, what I want to do is take you on a quick survey of those larger books I mentioned. I’ll talk about each of them, one at a time, in the order I read them originally, although the publication order is different.
(BTW, if you click on the pictures of the individual books the link will take you directly to that book’s info page on Amazon.)
Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World
This book was released in 2017 in the 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
Because I grew up in a Protestant church I was very aware of Martin Luther’s story at an early age. The preachers in our pulpit often talked about his “Here I stand” appearance before the Diet at Worms, extolling his courage, integrity, and faithfulness to the Bible as the only legitimate “rule of faith and practice” for Christians. Staying true to one’s conscience was high on our church family’s list of core values.
After graduating from high school, I chose a path in education that would prepare me for Christian ministry. Subsequently, over many years I accumulated a B.A. in Theology, a Master of Divinity (MDiv), and a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree. All of those courses included requisite classes in church history—and specifically people and events surrounding the Protestant Reformation.
However, listening to Metaxas’ audio book on Luther I discovered fascinating details about the great Reformer, and the Reformation itself, that I had never known previously. The author is a master of pulling together a universe of data, anecdotes, historical records, personalities, and myriads of other details, weaving everything together into what I found to be a compelling telling of a most pivotal moment in history.
If you—like me—enjoy a long book with a powerful true story which literally changed the course of history for millions of people, you owe it to yourself to check out Metaxas’ biography of Martin Luther. Yes, it is long—451 pages, not including the endnotes, detailed bibliography, and complete index.
And, there is an Appendix with the story of a prophetic dream (supposedly) experienced by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, on the morning of October 31, 1517 the very day Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door. I don’t have space to tell you the story here, but it is truly amazing if it actually happened. Do an Internet search for “Frederick of Saxony’s Dream,” and you can find it easily. The story of the dream is not long, but—if true—very significant!
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
If it were not for William Wilberforce, a Member of the British Parliament who lived from 1759-1833, the scourge of legal slavery could still be a reality—even to our time today.
Slavery was an ever-present fact of life in every culture throughout human history. The ancient Wonders of the World—places like the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Wall of China, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and the Roman roads extending from one end of the Empire to the other—all were built on the backs of slaves.
Wilberforce began life as a nominal Christian, but in 1785 at age 26 he experienced a personal conversion which changed his life forever. He had been elected to Parliament five years earlier in 1780, but after his spiritual awakening he became an evangelical Christian which precipitated many changes to the way he lived. His newfound faith drove him to seek and institute social reforms that were desperately needed in late-18th century England.
William became most focused and passionate about the innate cruelty and abhorrent realities of the then-current slave trade. He labored intensely for many years in Parliament to get slavery outlawed in Britain. It didn’t come easily. All the momentum of many millennia in which slavery was just a fact of life everywhere pushed hard against his efforts.
To illustrate the horrors of the slave trade, Wilberforce commissioned and published drawings of actual conditions aboard British ships.
Previously, those who defended slavery contended that life for the slaves was much improved over life in the jungles of Africa. When these drawings appeared in publications read by the general public, the outcry was so great that Parliament was forced to act. They passed the “Slave Trade Act of 1807,” but it was another 26 years before the “Slavery Abolition Act of 1833” was passed. Wilberforce died just 3 days after seeing the success of his life-long crusade against slavery become a reality.
It took another 32 years, but the United States eventually followed Britain’s lead. In 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and in 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was passed and signed into law, forever abolishing the institution of slavery as a legal practice in America.
The godly influence of one man’s life changed the world forever. William Wilberforce truly made a difference for millions of people in his lifetime. The world is a better place because he was here.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
In my book My Seven Essential Daily Prayers, I included a chapter for the third prayer, “Integrity in My Life.” Toward the end of that chapter I wrote about choosing a life’s motto which, in addition to providing a theme for day-to-day living, could also be used as an epitaph for my grave marker–assuming my family would deem it appropriate.
What I eventually came up with was Vivere Cum Integritas, a Latin phrase meaning “To Live With Integrity.”
Reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I got the feeling that here was a man for whom integrity was an absolute core life value. He lived by his conscience, and in the end it cost him his life.
Bonhoeffer was extremely gifted intellectually. He saw through the weaselly hypocrisy of German Christians supporting Hitler, and helped form a “Confessing Church” in opposition to the “official” German Christian church.
During the war years he taught underground seminary classes, and worked tirelessly to both oppose the excesses of the regime and still preserve the true faith of German believers as they had received it from Martin Luther and other Reformers.
At one point when it seemed he was in the greatest danger, he fled to New York where he had briefly studied several years earlier. However, he felt so anxious for the condition of things back in Germany he only stayed in the States for a short time. He went back to minister to those who needed him in the middle of the Nazi terror.
Things were so bad that their only hope was the removal of Der Fuhrer. A bombing attempt to assassinate Hitler failed, and the individuals involved in the plot were tracked down and imprisoned. Bonhoeffer was one of the conspirators. He spent a year and a half in prison, and was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945 by order of Hitler himself.
Three days later, the prison where he died was liberated by Allied forces. Germany surrendered, ending WWII in the European theater May 8, 1945.
But it was too late for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He died a martyr’s death, yet the influence of his life lives on. His book The Cost of Discipleship has become one of the greatest classics of Christian literature.
Is Atheism Dead?
This is Metaxas’ most recent book. As I write/record this, I am about halfway through reading it.
(BTW, I discontinued my Audible account several months ago. I discovered I get far more pleasure out of holding a physical book, turning pages as I read. Listening works just fine for many people. But, I seem to be a reader more than a listener. If listening works for you, go for it! The important thing is consuming information—in whatever way is best for your needs.)
Quite frankly, I wasn’t too impressed with the first section of this book where he talks about the “fine-tuning” of nature, from the entire Universe to molecular phenomena here on Earth. My objection wasn’t so much about the data he described as it was his (to me) seemingly flippant attitude toward scientists who see things differently. Metaxas often presents as “scientific fact” information or ideas that are only at the hypothetical stage of exploration. And, beyond that, he uses a very casual writing style—including some colloquialisms that don’t reflect the importance of the subject matter. At least, that was my impression.
Nevertheless, he does present some astounding thoughts very few people have even considered. These are very valuable to his overall argument. I just wish he would have written them in a more professional tone.
That being said, as I have progressed further in the book, I’ve found it much improved—to my way of thinking! The second section on archeology is fascinating. The stories of “accidental” discoveries and coincidences are amazing. I especially enjoyed the accounts of how the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Silver Ketef Hinnom Scrolls came to light. If you’re not familiar with these stories I’d encourage you to do an Internet search and read about them. There are many others as well.
Or . . . here’s a thought–you might even have to order this book! Of course, you don’t have to buy it from Amazon. Any other outlet—online or local—can get it for you, as well as any of the other books I’ve shared in this post.
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next week’s episode — “Favorite Christmas Stories.”
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