Letter to the American Church by Eric Metaxas–Book Review

I was interested in reading this book since Eric Metaxas is well-known for this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I agreed with some of the things he had to say, but the book as a whole seemed a little “off.” I couldn’t articulate exactly what was bothering me, so I had my husband, who is a Lutheran pastor, review it. He feels that Metaxas has an incomplete grasp of Lutheran theology and that’s what I was picking up on. His review is below.

Eric Metaxas has published a new book entitled Letter to the American Church. Metaxas is well- known among Christians in the U. S., especially for his best-selling biography of Dietrich Bonhoffer. In this latest work he uses information he gathered for the biography of the Lutheran martyr to argue that the American Church today is in danger of following the German Church of the 1930’s into a dark period of quiescence in the face of evil political and cultural trends. His answer to the problem is strongly encourage Christians to be active in the public square, serving as a conscience to the nation. This would include a more aggressive preaching by pastors against cultural trends and actions by government, up to and including supporting one politician against another.

While I and many others would agree with his position against this present darkness in America, there are serious theological problems with his reasoning. First, he opposes the Lutheran concept of the kingdoms of the left and right, even saying that Luther’s use of Romans 13 was overblown and should not be used as an excuse not to be politically active. His concept of the Gospel is overly broad, including many things that are Biblical but not necessarily Gospel. For example, Metaxas argues that Luther “over-emphasized’ grace and faith as the content of the Gospel. This position then leads him to attack “theologically fussy” pastors who argue that their task is to proclaim Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sinners. He names several such “fussy” preachers include John MacArthur and John Piper. The times, Metaxas contends, call for new ways to preach the Gospel and teach the Bible.

VERDICT: I cannot, from a Lutheran perspective, recommend this book.

For more book reviews see:

Three Mile an Hour God by Kosuke Koyama — Book Review

Memories of a Devil: My Life As a Jesuit in Dachau by Father Chester Fabisiak–Book Review

Loving People Who are Hard to Love by Joyce Meyer–Book Review

Eric Metaxas on Death

“…we say we believe that Jesus defeated death on the cross. Do others looking at our lives get the impression we believe that we genuinely do not fear death because we know that Jesus really has defeated it, and not merely as a metaphor? Or do we look like we are hedging our bets?”

Eric Metaxas, Letter to the American Church

For more about the crucifixion see these posts:

Crucify Him!

United with Christ in Death and Resurrection

Were You There?

Fish Out of Water by Eric Metaxas–Book Review

Fish Out of Water: A Search for the Meaning of Life by [Eric Metaxas]

Eric Metaxas is known to many for his biographies of Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this new memoir, he turns to his own life for material. Starting at a young age, Eric feels like a “fish out of water” — he never quite belongs. His mother is German and his father is Greek — so he does not completely fit into either community, and as the son of immigrants he never feels entirely “American” either. He skips a grade early in elementary school, becoming for years the smallest boy in his class. He is the working class boy at an elite college (Yale) and finally an evangelical Christian who is misunderstood by both his Greek Orthodox family and his intellectual friends.

Metaxas writes well and with great humor and candor. However, I have to admit I was often bored with the details of his childhood and family history. After 100 pages, I was close to giving up, because I still hadn’t gotten to what for me was the “good” part — his conversion and spiritual life. In fact, there isn’t much about that until the last few chapters. He admits that “The rest of the story–and the many stories–of what happened to me after my dream in 1988 (his conversion experience)–must be told in another book.” I’m assuming there will be another book, and I’ll probably enjoy that one much more.

There are some interesting observations about our secular society and the things that we really worship. In that respect, it reminded me of another book I read recently — You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith–Book Review I also admired the author’s openness and ability to appreciate different kinds of people, even those with whom he disagreed strongly– maybe that was because he often felt different and unaccepted himself.

VERDICT: 3 STARS. In his own words, this book is “only the first part of my story, ending with my crossing the starting line of my life with God.” I’m looking forward to the next installment.

For more spiritual memoirs see:

Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey–Book Review

Nothing is Wasted by Lore Cottone–Book Review

Suffer Strong by Katherine & Jay Wolf–Book Review