I attend meetings of Pinnacle Forum (pinnacleforum.com). It is centered in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I live. It is a national, evangelical, para-church organization dedicated to the purpose of “Transforming Leaders to Transform Culture.”
Phoenix-based Jerry Colangelo is also a member of Pinnacle Forum. Jerry is a former manager and owner of the NBA Phoenix Suns. “Mr. Basketball” is one of this valley’s most prominent celebrities. Jerry often speaks publicly of his Christian commitment.
So, Pinnacle Forum decided to have a public lecture series here in Scottsdale, and Jerry Colangelo agreed for it to be named after him. The first lecture was today in Scottsdale. Eric Metaxas (ericmetaxas.com) was the speaker, and I attended it. For some time, I have been watching “Socrates in the City,” an engaging, weekly television program hosted by Eric Metaxas and aired by the NRB television network. (NRB is the National Religious Broadcasters, a Christian group.) On this program, Eric interviews guests; sometimes, he debates them. Although Eric is not an academic, he can hold his own when it comes to Christian theology and philosophy. He also is known for his wit. Living in Manhattan, Eric also has a podcast that airs ten hours per week on radio.
Eric Metaxas is the author of 30 children’s books. Lately, he has authored biographies. Two have garnered critical acclaim as New York Times bestsellers: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. But today, Metaxas spoke on his new biography entitled Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. The book was released last month in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which Martin Luther ignited on October 31, 1517.
Eric Metaxas began his presentation by briefly mentioning some current events as evidence that he believes the USA is undergoing a critical time in its history. One event he mentioned was the mass shooting at a Baptist church last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas, near San Antonio. It resulted in 26 deaths and 20 injuries. Eric then quoted a scripture and applied it to that event. It was Romans 8.28: “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
That struck me as odd. I’m quite familiar with Christians–especially Presbyterians with their understanding of “God’s sovereignty”–believing that everything that happens to Christians happens for a divine reason no matter how bad those things are, primarily due to Romans 8.28. I’m not sure I agree with that understanding of that text. It then made me wonder if Eric is Presbyterian.
Eric Metaxas was raised Greek Orthodox in Danbury, Connecticut. As an adult he has been an interdenominational evangelical. Lately, he has followed in the footsteps of Chuck Colson who was U.S. President Nixon’s “hatchet man.” He did time in prison, had a dramatic Christian conversion, and afterwards became a significant voice in America. It was appropriate for Metaxas to speak to Pinnacle Forum since he is heavily involved in America’s culture wars. His wife Susanne directs the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center in Manhattan. They have a daughter who just started college.
Eric then said that this morning he put on his Twitter Feed, “America Needs God.” Someone responded, “America Needs Christ.” Eric then said to us, “Well, yeah, but Christ is God.” Those who read my blog know that I would argue with that. (See my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, and secondarily a list of my 100+ blog posts on this subject on October 4, 2015.)
Metaxas then began telling us what his book says about Martin Luther. Luther was born in 1492-4 in Germany. His father was a hard-working, successful businessman. According to his father’s wishes, Martin attended law school to become a lawyer. But one day at age 22 he was walking in a storm when lightning struck near him. The young Catholic man cried out, “St. Anne, save me and I’ll become a monk.” Days later he quit law school, entered a monastery, and didn’t tell his father. Skinny Martin prayed a lot and fasted some. Luther later claimed he was trying to earn God’s favor. yet getting miserable doing so.
The printing press was invented in about 1440. In time, it made the Bible available to the average parishioner. By Luther’s time, only some intellectuals read the Bible. But Luther turned to it, and it changed his life and the world’s. Romans 1.17 was a key text that enlightened Martin: “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith” as a gift.
The rest is as they say–history. Luther wrote his “Ninety-Five Theses,” much of which was an objection to indulgences. He (supposedly) nailed it to the Wittenberg Castle church door on October 31, 1517. Metaxas says Martin’s Roman Catholic Church “responded poorly.” In 1521, it tried Luther in court at the Diet of Worms, concluding that he must stop such writing and preaching. Luther replied, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” The result was the Protestant Reformation. Eric said of this Lutheran reply, “that cracks out all over medieval Europe.” Indeed, and it resonated with people.Martin Luther then utilized the printing press perhaps like no other. Throughout the Common Era, Christians often have taken advantage of the latest technological advance in order to get their message out. Eric said Martin Luther now has the sublime realization that “the pope, the church, can make errors.” Eric explained that “in Luther’s day, people felt so disenfranchised. Luther was saying what people thought.”
Eric Metaxas then concluded his somewhat brief presentation and invited a Q&A session. Informed people may have guessed what the first question might be. The questioner mentioned Martin Luther’s book, The Jews and their Lies, cited Eric’s Bonhoeffer book, somewhat compared Hitler to current U.S. President Donald Trump, and criticized Eric for supporting Trump politically. Gulp! I didn’t know Metaxas was a vocal supporter of Trump for president. I think the majority of those in attendance were aghast at the questioner’s comparison of Hitler and Trump.
Eric replied boldly, “Well, you’re wrong.” Eric Metaxas is a humorist who can get away with such an answer. But then, the question, which was not really a question, had been even more bold than that.
Metaxas explained that he has long lived in New York City where the intellectual liberal elites are in control. He included among them former President Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. He says they are misguided like Germany’s Nazi Party was. Wow! I thought sparks might fly. But everything remained calm. That was a Christian witness right there. Or did many of the attendees agree?
Eric said he has ten pages in his Dietrich Bonhoeffer book on Luther’s anti-Semitism. Eric explained that the Nazis justified their anti-Semitism by citing Luther’s Jews and their Lies while ignoring the other 110 volumes Martin Luther wrote. Well, of course, Nazis would do that because they were not Christians interested in theology.
Eric then admitted, “Luther was screwed up in some ways.” Yet Eric still defended him with the old saw that Martin Luther wrote that book in his old age when he may have been a little demented. (However, friends warned Luther not to publish it.)
Eric Metaxas then sounded like a five-point Calvinist when he asserted, “Jesus is Lord over all reality. Every atom [surely meaning in the universe] belongs to God.” That first sentence stings when you consider the Holocaust and that Metaxas has written two biographies in which the subject of anti-Semitism is prominent.
How can Eric Metaxas say Jesus is “Lord of all” when that Son of Man, to begin Passion Week, viewed Jerusalem and bemoaned, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate” (Matthew 23.37-38). “House” refers to the temple. Jesus surely had in mind what he predicted days later to his apostles about Jerusalem. He indicated it would be destroyed (as it was by the Romans in AD 70), saying explicitly that all the huge stones of the temple would be “thrown down” (24.2).
I think Metaxas has too much Calvinism in him. Jesus clearly wanted Jerusalem to repent, as he preached, but it refused. Jesus meant that if it would have done so, he would have protected the city like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings. Plus, as I recently have posted (“Does God Control this World?“), God now reigns in the lives of his people when they make him Lord, and he sometimes makes people kings and removes their kingship (e.g., Daniel 4.17), but he generally will not reign over this earth until the end of the age and subsequent world-to-come (Revelation 11.15-17; 19.6). To assert otherwise is to make God a monster and become entangled in theodicy.
The next questioner lightened the atmosphere as he asked Eric about his William Wilberforce book. Eric explained that during the time of Wilberforce, “25% of all females in London were prostitutes, and their average age was 16.” Metaxas soon alleged, “A lot of Christians think God only cares about souls, not culture. That’s wrong…. Wilberforce spoke to culture.”
You have to respect Metaxas for his focus on impacting peoples’ lives for the better. But it’s when it gets into politics that I get a little queasy. I’ve seen firsthand how politics can separate Christian brethren. But then, like they say, talk about anything in mixed company except religion and politics. Put them together, and the sparks can really fly.
Eric concluded, “The Left, including Democrats, have sided with the secular, humanist view of the world that is bullying people of faith, and not just Christian faith.”
I departed the gathering thinking that whether or not you agree with the intelligent, humorous, handsome, five-foot-eight-inch Eric Metaxas, he has a winsome personality. And you take notice that he is having an impact on America with his brand of Christianity.