Best-selling author Eric Metaxas shared a compelling story of courageous Christianity with an overflowing audience at a Nov. 7 lecture. Metaxas spoke on his latest book, The New York Times #1 best seller “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” a “biography of uncommon power” that frequented many 2010 Book of the Year lists and earned numerous awards for excellence in biography, non-fiction and evangelism.
The lecture, sponsored by the Messiah College Honors Program, was planned as part of this year’s annual lecture series: “Courage and Conviction for Challenging Times.” President Kim Phipps introduced Metaxas as a credible speaker for such a theme, explaining that his own life has been “characterized by courage and conviction throughout the course of a very eclectic career.”
Metaxas began by sharing snapshots of his own journey, a winding road that took him from Yale University back to his parents’ house, from writing Veggie Tales scripts to meeting two U.S. presidents.
Although he grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church, Metaxas described his faith as merely “cultural Christianity” in which the church served him primarily as an ethnic community. “By the time I went to Yale, I was quite unprepared for what I was facing, because Yale, as you may know, is just slightly secular, just slightly,” Metaxas joked, his sarcasm eliciting a laugh from the audience.
Metaxas explained, more seriously, the effects of attending such an aggressively secular and prestigious university. At Yale, he was surrounded by a worldview that left no room for God: “You’re in a sense told that sophisticated people don’t ask the big questions: Who am I? Where am I going? Where do I come from? Is there more? … And even if you do dare ask those questions, you don’t respond with Biblical answers, because that’s just absurd.”
Metaxas graduated with this mindset that ignores these questions, that hopes for a really good job to distract sophisticates from asking them. “But I wanted to be a writer, which is to say that I did not get a really good job,” he said with a laugh. “I floundered, for a season—and then I drifted, for a season—and then eventually, and this is not easy, I was able to flounder and drift simultaneously. And if you do that just right, and I think I did, inevitably you end up moving back in with your parents.”
Between jokes about his miserable experience, Metaxas shared his conversion story. He met a Christian who engaged him in conversation about life’s big questions and offered substantive answers about life and faith. After praying that God would reveal himself, Metaxas had a dream from which he woke up entirely convinced of the reality and truth of God.
From there, Metaxas explained that God has led him through a very strange career. “I never wanted to write a children’s book, but I’ve written 30 of them,” he said. Diverse experiences have lined his writing career, from writing for Veggie Tales to Chuck Colson to The New York Times.
After appearing on CNN to discuss his apologetic book series, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about God (But Were Afraid to Ask),” Metaxas was contacted by a publisher and asked to write a biography on William Wilberforce, a man who “because of his faith in God, took the Bible tremendously seriously and consequently changed the world.”
The biography, which was released at the same time as the film “Amazing Grace,” proved very successful, and its success eventually led to the composition and publication of another biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a “German who, because of his faith in Jesus, stood up to the Nazis, spoke out for the Jews and was killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp.”
Bonhoeffer: an example of faithfulness
Being half German, Metaxas remembered feeling shocked the first time he heard about Bonhoeffer and angry that he had never heard of him before. Metaxas set out on a journey to share the story of Bonhoeffer’s life, a story that would touch the lives of readers across the globe.
Metaxas’ biography “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” has been translated into numerous languages, and hundreds of thousands of copies of the book have been printed, including one that Metaxas would hand to President Obama after delivering the keynote address at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.
After sharing about his own courageous convictions, Metaxas presented a synopsis of Bonhoeffer’s boldness, taking the audience on a narrative adventure through the chapters of Bonhoeffer’s life from his upbringing to his execution.
Through these stories, Metaxas explained that Bonhoeffer’s courage came from his faith in God and his belief that the Bible is “the living word of God, his love letter to us.”
Metaxas concluded by emphasizing the importance of serving God through leadership that stands up against social injustice in an attempt to affect change. Bonhoeffer lived out this call without fear, even though he knew it might—and eventually did—lead to death. For Bonhoeffer, Metaxas explained, “death was the most terrible thing imaginable apart from faith in the God of Scripture, because faith in the God of Scripture transforms death.”
Story by Mary-Grace MacNeil `13. Photography by Lenora Riley `08.