A Bonhoeffer Moment: Q&A with Eric Metaxas

Author and commentator talks life, liberty and the 2016 election

A Bonhoeffer Moment: Q&A with Eric Metaxas

Author and commentator talks life, liberty and the 2016 election

Best-selling author and commentator Eric Metaxas has written a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. He discussed the premise of the book and the state of our nation in a recent interview with Decision.

Interviewed by Jim Dailey, executive editor

Q: In what ways do you believe “American exceptionalism” has defined our country? 

A: It’s all quite shocking when you think of it. America was the first country in the history of the world that was based on an idea: liberty for all. It was also the first country in history to say that people could govern themselves. These ideas have become so common that we no longer clearly see them as wild and unprecedented and daring.

As a result of these ideas we have been a beacon of liberty to the whole world and have spread out ideas of freedom beyond our borders so that many people around the world enjoy religious liberty and economic freedom. There is simply no nation in history that has done these things, and in many ways we have been a missionary country, one that felt it had a mission beyond its borders, and one that believed we were chosen by God to do these things. To the extent that we’ve lost that view of ourselves, we have ceased to be that, and I’ve written my latest book with the intention of helping us rediscover that vision of who we are.

Q: The moral descent of our culture has accelerated at a rapid pace over the past decade—e.g., same-sex marriage rulings, the transgender agenda, the decline of millennial participation in religion, and a worldview that is increasingly hostile to traditional Christianity. What has led to the quickened pace?

A: The reasons are many. At some point around the 1960s, a number of things happened. For one thing, a widespread misunderstanding took hold about the separation of church and state. Instead of the founders’ idea that the state should stay out of the business of the churches, some pushed the false idea that churches should cease to have influence in the public square. This profound misunderstanding has been tragic. It led to our abolishing prayer in schools, among other things, which sent a signal that America was a secular idea, which was never true. American freedoms can never flourish in a secular environment, and to the extent that we’ve turned away from faith we have seen them falter. Technology also helped the downward spiral because the birth control pill made it possible to divorce sex from childbirth. This was a fatal breach in a holistic view of human beings and it played a major role in destroying marriages and families, which have always been at the center of our healthy culture.

Q: The premise of your latest book, If You Can Keep It, is taken from a conversation with Benjamin Franklin following the Second Continental Congress. What must our nation do to keep the freedoms that we have been so generously blessed with throughout our unique history?

A: That is precisely why I wrote this book, because the most important thing to do right now is to educate ourselves about what America is and what the founders gave us. In the book I talk about all of those things and about some of the stories of our history, stories about the heroes who sacrificed their lives and much else, so that we could have what we have. These things have not been taught in schools for the last 40 years, so we desperately need to revisit them, and that’s precisely why I put all of them in this book, so that you could just say to someone, “Here, read this and then let’s discuss it.” I want to start a national conversation on these things. We desperately need that right now.

Q: How can a culture that is growing decidedly unmoored from Biblical values promote true freedom and make the course corrections needed to preserve our union? And if virtue is necessary to liberty, from where might that virtue rise? 

A: Again, we need first of all to teach about these ideas. We need to explain this crucial idea that virtue and freedom are connected, that the kinds of freedoms we have in this country simply cannot exist without virtue. That’s why I devoted a chapter to the “Golden Triangle of Freedom.” Every American desperately needs to know that. So first we need to talk about it and we need to let people know that it cannot work any other way. If we don’t see this connection between virtue and liberty, we will never feel the need to promote virtue.

So yes, I wrote this book hoping to reignite a conversation in America about virtue and the importance of it in our way of life. And out of that conversation I sincerely hope we could begin encouraging virtue. The most important thing is that we understand that without God, we are lost. He is the one who inspires us to virtue, and He is the only one who can help our country rediscover its virtue. This is not optional. It’s at the heart of who we have been as a nation, and it’s unavoidable. I included a chapter on George Whitefield which makes that clear.

Q: The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Texas abortion law revealed some staggering bias on behalf of several Supreme Court justices. Justices Thomas and Alito both commented that the court basically now makes law based on pure ideology without any reference to the law itself. That bodes nothing but ill for the future, does it not? 

A: There was a time when the Democratic Party still had many pro-life voices, but that is obviously not the case. If we don’t make sure that our next president sees the importance of life in the womb, and the importance of appointing constitutionalists to the Supreme Court, we are done for. Anyone who says they’re not going to vote in this election simply doesn’t understand what’s at stake. It’s all hands on deck. God forbid we should sit this one out.

Q: You have spoken of this moment in our nation’s history as a “Bonhoeffer moment.” What do you mean?

A: I mean that we all need to face where we are and make difficult choices. Even voting in this election presents what for many is a deeply unpalatable choice, but if we are to come out of this difficult time we need to make that choice and other choices. God is sifting the wheat from the chaff. So many in Bonhoeffer’s day couldn’t be bothered with politics, for example, but God raised up Bonhoeffer to blow the trumpet and call God’s people to stand up to injustice. Few heeded the call.

The question today is whether God’s people will step aside or will stand in the breach and pray and act in a way that shows God we really do care about those who are suffering as a result of our government’s policies. So many are suffering, not just in the United States but around the world. We cannot pretend that inaction and despair is a viable option. Voting is just a start. There’s much more to do, and it’s people of faith who must lead the way.

Q: A number of Christians have lost their businesses because of government’s failure to protect freedom of conscience. The Supreme Court just refused to hear the case of the Washington pharmacist who, for conscience sake, refused to carry an abortifacient, even though it was available through dozens of other pharmacies in a five-mile radius. Is there any hope this will stop? 

A: This will only stop when Christians all get involved and realize that if they don’t speak out and take action, they are not obeying God’s commands to be a voice for the voiceless. We must speak against these injustices because they affect every single American and those beyond our shores as well. If we do not take action—whether that means political action or civil disobedience—God will blame us for these developments.

He wants a people who fight injustice, not just when it affects them, but when it affects anyone. This is all about loving our neighbors and for Christians, it’s not optional or extra credit. ©2016 BGEA

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