Eric Metaxas’ “Replacement Theology” Once Again

Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It, encourages our culture to consider the legacy of American exceptionalism. I like a lot of what Metaxas has to say. But does he take us down the right road theologically?

Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It, encourages our culture to consider the legacy of American exceptionalism. I like a lot of what Metaxas has to say. But does he take us down the right road theologically?

It appears that Eric Metaxas is not taking the criticisms by leading evangelical historians in the best way, regarding his latest book, If You Can Keep It.  You can follow the story from an evangelical historian at Messiah College, John Fea, here. Frankly, I do not understand why Metaxas fails to see what the problem is.

Fundamentally, the issue is one of promoting confusion among evangelical readers. For example, a dedicated follower of Veracity came up to me yesterday and asked if Eric Metaxas is promoting some type of Eastern religious philosophy and mysticism. I had to go back and read my previous post to figure out what he was talking about.

Now, I can assure you. Eric Metaxas is not promoting the New Age Movement, or any other type of Eastern mysticism. But he is confusing people by making statements about American history that are not consistent with established facts.

In his book, Metaxas claims that founding father John Adams was a “committed and theologically orthodox Christian” (p. 56). However, according to the evangelical historian, Gregg Frazer, at the Masters College, John Adams believed that “orthodox” theology can be gained from reading the Hindu Shastra. I think most evangelical Christians would agree that what the Bible teaches and what Hinduism teaches, while sharing some overlapping themes and ideas, represents fundamentally different views regarding the nature of God. So, why then does Metaxas make the strange claim that John Adams was a “committed and theologically orthodox Christian?”

Metaxas’ critics, such as John Fea in the article linked above, say that it is Metaxas’ use of sources which is the problem. Sadly, Eric Metaxas makes uncritical use of the works of popular evangelical spokesperson, David Barton, to put forward many of his claims. In 2012, David Barton had one his books pulled from publication by the publisher, Thomas Nelson, due to numerous errors. So then, why is Metaxas making such heavy use of David Barton? As John Fea, Gregg Frazer, and many other evangelical historians argue, David Barton has some real problems assembling historical material together.

Again, I like Eric Metaxas. I am sure Eric Metaxas sincerely wants to serve the wider Christian community (and others) by raising historical awareness regarding the Christian heritage of America. But he does a great disservice to his readers when he spreads historical misinformation. Having the right intention is no excuse for confusing his readers with historical “facts” that distort the past. Have I made my point?

Christians, of all people, should be those who pursue and promote the truth at all costs. Should we not?

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

12 responses to “Eric Metaxas’ “Replacement Theology” Once Again

  • Lynn David

    Metaxas, like Barton, seems to be of the thinking that their work is a ministry which thus cannot be flawed. Then neither will accept any sort of criticism, since such could only be derived from some one or some place which is ant-religion or even satanic. I’m not sure if that is overt self-righteousness or simple pride in their work.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Lynn David: Thank you for commenting on the Veracity blog.

      You raise a very good point. I find it exhausting trying to read David Barton, simply because I can never be sure if what he is saying correct or false. I always have to rely on some external reference to try to verify his claims. It really isn’t worth all the effort.

      The fact that Eric Metaxas admits to relying so heavily on Barton is truly distressing. In my mind, Metaxas is an eloquent, intelligent, and engaging popularizer. I think he should know better.

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  • Tom Van Dyke

    Eric Metaxas makes uncritical use of the works of popular evangelical spokesperson, David Barton

    No, his book never cites Barton. You owe him a retraction.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Tom Van Dyke,

      Thank you for stopping by Veracity.

      Perhaps Metaxas does not explicitly cite Barton in his book, I am not sure. However, if you follow the link to the John Fea article referenced above, you will find the reference to the interview with David Barton on Eric Metaxas’ show. There you will hear Metaxas explicitly saying that he looks to Barton to get 50% of his stuff on this topic.

      I believe this is the direct link to that show.

      Your quarrel is with John Fea’s reporting, or Eric Metaxas himself. Not with me.

      Blessings to you.

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    • Tom Van Dyke

      Attacking Metaxas on Barton rather than engaging his thesis is ankle-biting. Although it’s true he was not an orthodox Christian–mostly re the Trinity–Adams would agree with Metaxas’s thesis about virtue and its necessary correlation with religion.

      “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

      That is the important part. To focus on errors rather than truth betrays a dishonest agenda.

      As for the intimation that Adams found the Hindu shastras interchangeable with the Bible, no. That’s a vast overreading of a single passage he wrote in a letter well after he retired from public life.

      http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/72/Letter_from_John_Adams_to_Thomas_Jefferson_1.html

      Adams was a theological dilettante, his enthusiasms ebbing and flowing in his dotage. The public man appeared quite Trinitarian.

      http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/06/john-adams-and-trinity.html

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Tom Van Dyke,

      With all due respect, you are missing the entire point of my post. The ends does not justify the means. If someone uses erroneous details as supporting arguments to support a thesis, it does not nullify the thesis by itself. But it does cast a harmful shadow on the whole project, that is completely unnecessary and confusing to the reader.

      In general, I have no desire to attack Metaxas’ thesis, since for the most part, I am largely in agreement with it. If you read my previous post on the topic, you will note that I consider the thesis, on the whole, quite noble. As a student of history, I do not like it when people misread history to make an argument. There is no need to read anything more into than that. As believers, we should be committed to the truth, and resist the temptation to take shortcuts, even with a noble thesis.

      It is just like with the Bible: if someone misinterprets the Bible, even when making an otherwise good argument from the Bible, it is still misinterpretation of the Bible.

      The only issue I addressed of Metaxas’ thesis, in the previous blog post, is that I view Metaxas’ handling of Matthew 5:14, regarding America as a “city upon a hill” to be in error. You can not simply “replace” the church (or Israel) with the American nation, and still remain faithful to the intended meaning of the Gospel writer.

      As for your understanding about Adam’s view of the Bible and the Hindu Shastras, that reading I am putting forth comes from Gregg Frazer, not me. But I would say that to suggest that the Hindu concept of creation, as in the quote you provided from Adams, is identical to the Bible’s concept of creation, is something which very few evangelical Christians would agree to be true. This would take another blog post to try to address adequately. Perhaps Adams’ read the Shastras through an untrained lens. You could be right. But his theological assessment would still be suspect.

      As to Adams’ appearing to be “Trinitarian,” you might as well as well say that the 4th century arch-heretic, Arius, appeared to be “Trinitarian” when he made favorable references to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Council of Nicea thought otherwise, and this is the profound judgment of Christian orthodoxy.

      Speaking of Gregg Frazer, the historian other than Fea, that I alluded to in this post, and linked to in the previous post, I find him to be quite conservative. In fact, I do not know how much more conservative, even politically, you can even get with Frazer. In my understanding, Frazer advocates for Young Earth Creationism, though my understanding is formed merely by the fact that he teaches at John MacArthur’s Masters College. Do you have a beef with him, too?

      In sum, if Metaxas corrects the details of his supporting arguments, and pulls back from his “replacement theology,” I have essentially no difficulty with accepting the bulk of his thesis. You may call my criticism “ankle-biting.” I call it a matter of faithfulness to the truth.

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    • Tom Van Dyke

      And my point is that to ignore Metaxas’s thesis–as Throckmorton does and I think John acknowledges but slights–is to lose the forest for the trees. Metaxas didn’t write a history book.

      Do Metaxas’s errors subvert his thesis? I argue no. As we’ve seen, Adams explicitly gave the same thesis [“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”]. GWash too [“And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion”].

      A more dangerous error–and one Metaxas has made noises about walking back–is about religious freedom in Puritan New England, which as we know was not pluralistic. As for the “city on the hill,” I believe that goes more to opinion and interpretation and thus you are speaking as Christians and not with the authority of the scholar.

      I personally favor Metaxas’s, insofar as I do believe we were a Christian nation of some recognizable sort, at least that we aspired to be on God’s side even as we prayed he would be on ours–and thus when we were unChristian, we shamed the faith before the world. If the Chosen People could be sent into exile for their infidelity, so could an “almost” chosen people pay for her sins with rivers of its blood in the Civil War.

      Anyway, just asking for a little mercy for the poor fellow. FTR, I didn’t like the book very much and so haven’t reviewed or recommended it. But I also think when reviewers are hostile they search for error rather than truth. When it’s one of their ideological allies, all of a sudden the errors get a brief summary in the 14th paragraph.

      Please do stop by my American Creation groupblog, devoted to religion and the Founding [when not bashing David Barton]. I post sparingly, but am the ubiquitous in the comments sections. 😉

      Thx for a fine exchange.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Tom Van Dyke,

      My views on the errors of this type of “replacement theology” are not my own. I owe much to Wheaton College’s Robert Tracey McKenzie, who is a recognized scholar in the field of historical studies.

      Thank you for elaborating on your position, as it was not as clear at first. Your comments might help the readers of the Veracity blog to better appreciate the complexities and nuances of this ongoing debate. So, I thank you also for the fine exchange.

      Clarke

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    • Tom Van Dyke

      My views on the errors of this type of “replacement theology” are not my own. I owe much to Wheaton College’s Robert Tracey McKenzie, who is a recognized scholar in the field of historical studies.

      Again, Thx for the forum. Hope you’ll come visit American Creation, perhaps even guest post.

      Yes, I read McKenzie on this as well. I return to my core demurral, that experts on history are not theologians or political philosophers and certainly not popes. Their opinions are scarcely more valuable–and often crappier–than those of normal people.

      http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/05/mark-noll-when-historians-attack.html

      http://reformclub.blogspot.com/2016/07/historians-against-trump-vs-dart.html

      http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-experts-are-almost-always-wrong-9997024/

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  • Tom Van Dyke

    Speaking of Gregg Frazer, the historian other than Fea, that I alluded to in this post, and linked to in the previous post, I find him to be quite conservative. In fact, I do not know how much more conservative, even politically, you can even get with Frazer. In my understanding, Frazer advocates for Young Earth Creationism, though my understanding is formed merely by the fact that he teaches at John MacArthur’s Masters College. Do you have a beef with him, too?

    Yes, Gregg is a friend of American Creation and we have butted heads often. 😉

    I find his definition of “Christian” to exclude the unitarians perhaps religiously appropriate, but above the pay grade of the historian. Like Locke, I find a belief in the Bible as Divine Writ and Jesus as the Messiah close enough for rock’n’roll socio-historically speaking. The Founding era wisely tabled soteriology and restricted itself to the concerns of this world, not the next.

    I have argued to Gregg’s face that to accept his history requires accepting his theology [Jesus died for your sins, etc.] and I accept neither.

    http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/02/who-were-unitarians.html

    Thx for asking. Heh heh.

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  • Hank van der Heijden

    Hi,

    I stumbled onto your article on the internet after googling the words “Eric Metaxas New Age”. Why did I do that you may ask? Having recently watched a number of presentations of “Socrates In The City” by Eric Metaxas on youtube, some of which I have enjoyed, (Os Guinness, Stephen Meyer, John Lennox, David Berlinsky (an admitted skeptic)),my attention was drawn to an interview by Eric Metaxas, of Christian Wiman, a poet. It had to do with Christian Wiman’s book “My Bright Abyss: Meditation Of A Modern Believer”.
    I was very disappointed by what I saw and heard. At the same time I was not surprised. It was clear that Christian Wiman, in attempting to describe his “faith” made it clear that he has no faith whatsoever. A confused man who was given a post to teach theology at Yale University??? It appears that confusion has become the new absolute.
    Having studied the new age, new spirituality, syncretism, universalism, false ecumenism, pantheistic beliefs etc which have flooded the post modern west, the message coming from Christian Wiman, and persons and statements he referred to, was simply another expression of the deception that is at it’s root. Human intelligence, human wisdom, reason, intellectualism provides no immunity from deception, particularly spiritual deception. “hath God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?” 1 Cor 1:20.
    Although I was saddened for this man (and I pray he will find true faith in Jesus Christ Himself), what concerned me was the apparent personal deception that Eric Metaxas (supposedly a believer) displayed in this interview, by agreeing with a number of his guests comments and commending himon them. While watching the interview I was hoping that Eric was simply trying to be gracious to his guest with regard to some of the obvious deception that was exposed. Sadly I do not believe that that was the case.
    It is disturbing that more and more people are falling for this global spiritual deception that threatens the body of “believers”.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Hank van der Heijden,

      I am not familiar with Christian Wiman, so I do not have an informed response to your comment. I would say that I do respect a lot of the work that Eric Metaxas is trying to do. However, as the public intellectual as he is, I imagine it would nearly impossible to fact check everything that he encounters when picking and interviewing guests. Nevertheless, it would help if there was a bit more discernment on his part.

      Thank you for stopping by Veracity.

      Like

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