Tag Archives: eric metaxas

Eric Metaxas on Martin Luther

 

October, 2017 is a big month for Christians, as we remember the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses to a Wittenberg church door, kickstarting the Protestant Reformation.  In a secular world, where spiritual topics are often taboo, talk of Martin Luther can be a great conversation starter for Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox… even with unbelieving friends, co-workers and family members. Luther is big everywhere. Even though Germany is mostly nominally Christian now, Luther is still recognized as a national hero. For Westerners in general, Luther is a prominent historical personality, regardless of one’s religious identification (or lack thereof).

But, if you are clueless about Martin Luther, where do you start to learn more?

Eric Metaxas is a popular Christian author and talk show host. He is a type of public intellectual, who keeps things down on “the bottom shelf.” Plus, he is funny. As author of bestselling books on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas writes in a very accessible style. His latest book, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, would be a good introduction to those who look upon the Protestant Reformation as an unfamiliar, foreign country. Though I do not agree with everything Metaxas writes, his popularization of scholarly research is nevertheless very engaging.

Roland Bainton’s 1950s classic, Here I Stand, is still my favorite biography on Luther. But if I get a chance to dip into Metaxas’ new book, I might revise that. In the following video, Eric Metaxas, who comes from an Eastern Orthodox background, gives a talk summarizing his new book on Luther, at a recent National Religious Broadcaster’s meeting. As Metaxas says, Luther “rediscovered God and changed the world.” For a cheery take on Luther, please enjoy!

 


Kirk Cameron’s Revive Us National Family Meeting

Last night, I went with members of our small group to a local movie theatre, to view Kirk Cameron’s Revive Us, a film urging Christians to pray for America, and be involved in the political process. Along with former Presidential candidate and brain surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson; public intellectual and Charles Colson BreakPoint radio commentator, Eric Metaxas; and inspirational author/speaker, Jennifer Rothschild, who has been physically blind since a child; Cameron led what he called a “national family meeting.”

I had some mixed thoughts about the movie event. It was actually better than I thought it would be. But let me tell you about why what Kirk Cameron is doing is significant, then speak to the difficulties I had with the film, and then close by telling you what I thought was really good about Kirk Cameron’s Revive Us.

Unless you have been disconnected from the power grid for the past year or so, you have probably heard something about the 2016 Presidential campaign, perhaps one of the most …. errrh ….. uuhmmm…. “interesting” cultural events I can ever recall in my American life. Lurking underneath the present national discussion is a very profound cultural shift going on in American culture, that has been having repercussions in evangelical Christian communities. Christian leadership has been undergoing great change, as elder statesmen, like Billy Graham, are no longer providing the type of glue needed to keep evangelical Christians together. Denominational barriers are breaking down, but with the fast pace of information exchange brought on by the Internet and 24×7 social and news media, Christians are finding it difficult to figure out what really brings us together. If doctrine is not able to unite us, then what does?

Most of the news we hear in these media outlets is bad news. Christians are anxious about the nation’s future, as the presence of some critical, assumed Christian values in the culture at large appears to be rapidly disappearing. For many, the voting process is about deciding over the lesser of two evils. “Where is our culture going, and why does it look like God is not doing much about it,?” as many of my Christian friends might put it.

Into the breach steps in Kirk Cameron, an outspoken, Christian movie actor. Frankly, I was a bit nervous about what Cameron might do. Though I will have to give him credit. He admits that he is not the smartest guy in the world, and he has a lot of passion about what he cares about, and I share many of his concerns. But I was a bit embarrassed by some of the factual and interpretive missteps in his 2012 cinematic attempt to “correct” popular errors in American history, Monumental. When we attempt to fix false understandings of history by passing on further misinformation, where key facts and ideas are misrepresented, it only leads to further confusion.

So, I really had a rough start, in the first twenty minutes or so, of Revive Us. Dr. Ben Carson suggested to Kirk Cameron that Americans need to learn the “real history” about America. Carson is a brilliant brain surgeon, but “real history?” I can give him some leeway here, but this is coming from a man who believes that the pyramids of Egypt were built to store grain, from the days of the Biblical Joseph, instead of accepting the well-known archaeological research, showing that the pyramids were actually burial tombs.

But when Cameron interviewed Eric Metaxas in Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there were moments I wanted to crawl under my seat. Yes, the importance of religious freedom as being essential to the American experiment, and that only a virtuous people can keep democracy, are two basic ideas that we are losing in an age when the knowledge of America’s past is being forgotten, as many young people seem more interested in their iPhones than they do in learning about history. As I have noted before, Metaxas is to be commended on this account, but he injudiciously passes on half-truths to an eager Kirk Cameron, according to historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, a Christian scholar teaching at Wheaton College. Metaxas misled the audience when he recalled that Benjamin Franklin, hardly an orthodox Christian, called for prayer at the Constitutional Convention in the late 18th century. Metaxas conveniently does not tell Cameron that Franklin’s call to prayer was ignored by most of the other participants at the Convention. Franklin later wrote, “The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary” (Eric Metaxas: That is kind of an important detail to leave out, do you not think?).

Furthermore, Metaxas wrongly attributes the aphorism, “America is great, because America is good,” a phrase currently serving as a motto for the 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate (who also gets it wrong as well), to Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French observer of American culture in the early 19th century.

Thankfully, pastor Francis Chan finally got the evening back on track. Chan reminded Kirk Cameron that the central issue regarding the plight of the American nation is ultimately a problem with the American church. Pray for the nation, yes, but the real battle is to pray for revival in our churches. For too long, Christians have looked to the state to provide assistance in promoting Christian values. Instead, we as the church, as Christ’s body, are to  lift up His name. Then and only then, can we expect God to move among our secular neighbors and institutions, throughout our nation.

So, by the time, we got this idea straight…. at least, I hope we got this straight… I felt much, much better about Cameron’s “national family meeting.”  Sure, it was a bit weird to think of going to the movie theatre, watching a film recorded from the week before (apparently, this was a second showing… presumably the first showing was a live event), and trying to maintain a sense of worship. For those Christians who treasure the classic hymns, you might have stumbled a bit with the contemporary worship music Cameron had lined up, nearly all played in U2-style, with lots of drums, guitars, and acoustic delay.

Furthermore, Cameron’s urging that all Christians should get out and vote on November 7, referring audiences to lookup MyFaithVotes.org, failed to account for the theological reasons why some Anabaptists would conscientiously object to voting. But the nuances required to address issues like these were not in Cameron’s purview. Cameron’s goal has been to encourage Christians, who do not think too much about wider issues in the culture, to start thinking more about these things, and engage these issues instead of waiting on the sideline.

Thankfully, neither name of the main Presidential contenders were mentioned during the nearly two-hour film. No flashpoint issues of public policy distracted from the main theme. In this way, I was glad that this was not a “political” event, despite the undercurrent of American election controversies that are difficult to ignore. To the extent that Cameron was able to encourage Christians to view the question of America’s future as really a question about the condition of evangelical churches, and the need for revival in our homes and churches, I would then say that Cameron did well to call this “national family meeting.”


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?


The “Replacement Theology” of Eric Metaxas?

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, passionately 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?

While your hot dogs are grilling and you wait for the fireworks…

There is much talk about “replacement theology” in the church today, as I am exploring in this summer’s blog series on Christian Zionism, concerning how national Israel relates to the Christian church. However, as the Fourth of July is nearly upon us, I wanted to briefly tackle a more pressing kind of “replacement theology” that dangerously threatens Christianity today. There is a disturbing trend among some Christians, who, in a sense, see the American nation as somehow “replacing” either the church or national Israel, or possibly both, within the plan and providence of God.

Popular Christian author and public intellectual, Eric Metaxas, has written a new book based on a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. When asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A Republic or a Monarchy?,” the elder statesman replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Metaxas’ If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, is a spirited defense of American exceptionalism, the idea that the American nation has a special, unique and even divine calling in world history.

Now, let me first say that I highly recommend Eric Metaxas to you as an astute public thinker. His Socrates in the City interviews with other thinkers are very helpful and stimulating. He has written one of my favorite biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But when I read two reviews of Metaxas’ latest book, first by Wheaton College historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, and the second by the Masters College  historian, Gregg L. Frazer,1 a question was raised in my mind.

In If You Can Keep It, Metaxas’ reviewers note that the author makes a number of historical errors that hamper his otherwise noble thesis. One of the most egregious errors concerns a common misreading of Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Metaxas misreads the famous line by Winthrop, that “we shall be as a city on a hill,” to be a reference to the American nation for all time. However, the original context of Winthrop’s sermon is concerning the witness of Winthrop’s particular Christian community, going back to the teaching of Matthew 5:14. In other words, Winthrop is teaching about the church, not about America as a nation.

Think about it: By replacing the church as the “city on a hill” with the American nation, does this not radically change the message of Matthew 5:14?

Furthermore, Metaxas proclaims that Founding Father, John Adams, was a “theologically orthodox Christian.” However, an observant reader in colonial American history will know that Adams rejected a number of core tenets of orthodox Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ, the atoning work of Christ for salvation, and the belief in the Triune nature of God.2 Adams also preferred the Hindu Shastra as the best source for “orthodox” theology.

Think about it: Does remaking the great patriot, John Adams, into an honorary evangelical Christian really help Metaxas’ case? Does not this mishandling of historical data, at the very least, confuse the reader?

So, while I am very sympathetic to Metaxas’ call to virtue and the role of Christian values in public life, his reworking of some details of American history raises this  disturbing question: Is Eric Metaxas promoting a kind of “replacement theology,” whereby the American nation replaces either the church or national Israel in the message of the Bible? For starters, read those two book reviews, previously linked above, read Winthrop’s sermon, or even allow Eric Metaxas to make his own case. Examine the evidence, think about it as you enjoy your hotdogs and the fireworks this weekend, and then come to your own conclusion.

Notes:

1. The Masters College is affiliated with the ministry of Southern California pastor and teacher, John MacArthur.

2. Concerning Adam’s views on the Trinity, popular evangelical speaker and writer, David Barton, has also made the same error on numerous occasions, suggesting that Unitarians prior to 1839, like John Adams, actually believed in the Trinity. Really??? Is not the whole point why Unitarians have historically called themselves “Unitarian” is because they reject the Trinity?


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