A BOOK REVIEW OF ERIC METAXAS’ 7 MEN

41O-YGasrxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Eric Metaxas’ book, 7 Men And The Secret Of Their Greatness, is an educational read, and it is designed to be that way. As the title suggests, it is an examination of seven different men, with specific emphasis upon their unique contribution to the world because of their faith in Christ. The seven men highlighted are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson. In addition to chapters on each of these, there is an interesting introduction in which Metaxas argues that the idea of manhood is really in his sights.  He writes that he wants the book to not talk about manhood, but instead be one that, “shows it in the actual lives of great men” (Introduction, xiv). The book comes in at 211 pages, including a healthy notes section and topic index.

On a personal note, I am incredibly jealous of the photograph on the book jacket. I included it here, from his Amazon page. I someday aspire to have such a manly, regal, well-put-together author photo. Maybe. Someday.41BNUFkZCYL._UX250_

The most significant strength of this book is the actual history of the individuals. Particularly strong are the chapters on Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Eric Liddell. Even though I’d read about these people before, Metaxas displays the faith these men had, and how it impacted their decisions, better than anything else I’ve seen.

Another strength of the book is its readability. Metaxas has written biographies of both Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer (for a review of that book, click here), but both of those are major efforts. These chapters, however, are crisp, to the point, yet they miss none of the essence. Indeed, it felt to me that the book was written with middle schoolers in mind. That is how easy it is to read.

There are weaknesses, though. I did not like the chapter on George Washington. Metaxas overplays his hand here in what I think was an attempt to appeal to patriotic book buyers.  A second weakness was the last chapter. Metaxas, to his credit, freely admits his close connection to Charles Colson, but this connection colors his view. I am not saying the chapter is bad. The weakness is not in the writing or in the power of Colson’s testimony. The weakness is that Colson’s life does not measure up to the other men in this book. A third weakness is that he doesn’t give us valuable insight into what might be these men’s weakness. Jackie Robinson had a temper and Eric Liddell might have had a messiah complex, but Metaxas washes any analysis of these weaknesses out of his hero stories. The truth is, manhood (and womanhood, for what its worth) is really more about overcoming our weaknesses, and facing them straight on. His book would have been better if he’d included more of this.

Those who would enjoy this book the most are people who love history and biographies. I can see where it would be a great book for students, particularly students in a Christian learning environment, or maybe a Christmas present for a boy who loves to read.

TOP THREE BOOKS: BIOGRAPHIES

Who doesn’t like a great story about a great life?  Well, almost no one.  That is why biographies and autobiographies have always been and continue to be big sellers.  I have read many bios over the years, but my first one was The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.  I read it for a book report in grammar school.  Years later I saw the movie with Cicely Tyson and that as one of the earliest moments of my life when I was aware of the snobbish feeling of having read a book that lesser people will only experience through the lesser medium of film.  If that feeling is a sin, I apologize for it, but it is still something I enjoy, for one of my favorite lines ever is, “But in the book . . .”

Sadly for Ernest J. Gaines, his history of Jane Pittman does not make my list of top biographies because I later tragically learned that there is no real Jane Pittman, so there is no autobiography.  The whole thing was a novel under the guise of false pretenses, which is very clever way to fool a 5th grader.

You can be sure, though, that my top three biographies are legitimate.

Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas

Dietrich BonhoefferMetaxas is simply one of the better writers in the world right now, Christian or otherwise.  This exhaustive biography of the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer brings the background of a familiar story to life.  It is inspiring, convicting, and deeply moving.  Bonhoeffer’s story itself is great, but Metaxas gentle and slowly growing drumbeat to rising action accentuates the tragedy of Bonhoeffer’s death.

My Review of Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

My Review of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers

Crazy Horse, Larry McMurtry

Of all the biographies I’ve read, this is probably the thinnest.  The truth is we don’t have a lot of information about Crazy Horse, the famed Sioux warrior, but that doesn’t stop McMurtry from making the most of what we do know.  He lays out the lies and betrayal of the United States, the diabolical conundrum before the Sioux and other native peoples, and the inevitable sacrfices of culture that come with the passage of time.

I have another reason for loving this book.  McMurtry relates the devastating toll of relying upon white people with the example of fishing hooks.  For generations past, Native Americans made fishhooks from bone.  When they started trading with white people, they began to use metal fishing hooks.  A generation later, and only a generation later, when conflict arose between the two, the Sioux went hungry because they had already forgotten how to make fishing hooks from bone.  All it takes is one generation for institutional memory and competency to vanish.

I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This, Bob Newart

Memoir would be a better word for this than biography.  Since I will not be having a memoir section, this will have to do.  Celebrities have memoirs, and Bob Newhart is a celebrity.

Shouldn’t is a very funny book, but that is not the only reason I love it.  I love it because it illustrates that success isn’t always instant and doesn’t always happen when we are young.  In this memoir Newhart details how it was relatively late in life before he had any real success at all in entertainment.  That is encouraging to us all, but especially those of us who are over forty and wondering if the best is not already behind us.

So these are my three top biographies.  What three biographies do you recommend as the best?

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEBATE TWITTERS OR TWEETING DEBATES

Last night was the last of three presidential debates, but it was the first one I’ve been able to watch in real time.  All the others, including the VEEP debate I watched after I got home from work.  Please keep in mind, I am completely nonpartisan when it comes to this stuff.  There are things I like about both candidates, and things I don’t like about both candidates.  I believe Jesus is the hope of the earth, not politics or any nation, and I believe that only Jesus and his church are indispensable.

But I do enjoy the political talk, the posturing and the election season.  Now that the debates are over, the only thing left is election day.  I live in Washington so we really don’t have an election day because it is vote by mail (which I hate!)

I had fun last night, though, as I tweeted during the debate my thoughts.  Here are my tweets and retweets, and some of the responses I got.  These do not include private messages, most of which were about Romney’s hair or the President’s pink bracelet.  I kept retweeting Eric Metaxas because his observations were, to me, hilarious.   Also, please note, the tweets are in reverse order, so the beginning is at the bottom, so you might want to start there and read up.  I was too lazy to cut-n-paste them in chronological order.

Thomas McKenzie ‏@thomasmckenzie

I love America, but Jesus is the hope of the earth. #debate

i agree, tie goes to to romney. he went toe to toe.  RT @edstetzer: I am terrible at this, but I call #TheDebate a tie. What do you think?

debates over–wow, 7-0 giants. go west coast!

@Roger_Sharp but his hair looks great. nation building at home starts at the barber.

Romney has a hair out of place.

romney’s tie is giving me vertigo. #debate

pink bracelet. nonverbal communication.

this #debate wound be more fun if #ron Paul were on the platform.

Obama looks angry. paging dr. banner.

every time they say “crippling sanctions” it hurts my knees. #debate

Iran has a choice. the red pill or the blue pill.

fewer horses and bayonets! awesome! nicely played mr president.

yep. RT @MaxLucado: One of these two guys is a week away from the biggest job in the world. Let’s be praying! pic.twitter.com/W339cQSV

4th graders in mass. the key to foreign policy. #debate

did Obama just claim he was a small business?

thanks for sharing Romney. we’ve never heard your plan before. #debate. so rehearsed

danger mr president, danger. mentioning oil and gas not a plus for you. $5 a gallon gas?

“Okay, this is boring. Let’s lose the desk, duct tape your wrists together, & give you each a switchblade.” – Schieffer #debate

governor, America cannot bring peace. that can’t be our purpose!

the president’s hands are huge.

Romney uses the word partners. Obama uses friends. interesting.

Is it me, or is Romney’s tan getting deeper and deeper and deeper! It’s mesmerizing! I think my meds might be playing a role here…

wow-romney’s lapel flag is 3x the size of the president’s. overcompensating for lack of knowledge?

nice! after the election…nice references.

yep RT @Greg_S_Miller: @jamiedgreening I wish Obama would say what he would do, together than just slam Romney

yeah, the president never sends mixed messages.

first point to Obama. #debate. citing un scholars not a good idea.

“we can’t kill our way out if this mess” sounds like a video game slogan.

Romney is tipping his masseuse right about now…

Retweeted by Jamie Greening

LETTERS AND PAPERS

Yesterday I finished reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison.  I had read selections in the past, but never had I read the whole book.  My methodology was steady.  I began reading it back in February and I read small snippets every day as a part of my regular devotion plan.  That is why it took me so long to read it.  For me this was very difficult because my instinct was to devour it.

The book is a compilation from Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment by the Nazi’s from 1943 to 1945.  The letters are primarily between him and his parents, his fiance, and Eberhard Bethge.  The letters to his parents reveal the portrait of a devoted son who is annoyed that his parents are living in such troubled and violent times.  His writings to Maria, his fiance, are harder to follow, at least for me.  They lack the emotional zeal one might expect for unrequited love.  Don’t get me wrong, he clearly loves her, but he doesn’t speak of it in the emotive way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The letters to Eberhard Bethge, however, which are the most numerous and the longest, are fascinating.  Bonhoeffer speaks more of his soul and heart to Bethge than anyone.  Bethge was a student of his at the illegal seminary in Finkenwalde and later married his niece Renate.  It is to Bethge that he discusses theology, philosophy, and his view of where the world was, is and is going.

Maria Von Wedemeyer

The letters humanize Bonhoeffer for me in a way that Life Together or Cost of Discipleship, or even Metaxas wonderful biography do not.  He is constantly asking for his family to bring writing paper, tobacco, and in one letter he even asks for a laxative.  In letter after letter he insists that his family not send him food; that they should eat it and he gives instructions on what to do with his things or even, most frequently, which books he’d like them to bring for him to read.

The coded spy language also stood out to me.   The edition of the book I have has great notes at the end of each section that detailed what was really meant.  Some of the letters were smuggled illegally, and you can tell which those were by the tone, but many went through the hand of censor and Bonhoeffer and Bethge used careful allusions and codes to refer to their secret work of trying to assassinate Hitler.  I also found clever, especially early on, how his letters were written more to the censor than to others, hoping to convince his captors that it was all a mistake that he was imprisoned.  However, by later all of this pretense is dropped as Bonhoeffer knows the end is coming.

In his theological reflections Bonhoeffer was working on a hypothesis that the human race was “growing up” out of adolescence and into a spiritual and intellectual adulthood.  He seemed to view the war, the Nazi’s and the present evil he lived in as the last gasp of teenage type angst.  The adulthood would be a Christian community which was more mature and that had grown past the trappings of “religion.”   Because he never had time to properly work through his ideas it is hard to know exactly what he had in mind, but to me it seemed he thought Christ-followers had come to a place where “religion” and “church” had become so co-opted by people not interested in following Christ at all that something new was needed–something that was “religion-less”.

There were several times that I broke down and wept while reading, or that I would find myself praying backwards–“Lord, comfort this man in his imprisonment and in his affliction.”  On April 9, 1945 at the concentration camp in Flossenburg he was executed.