Friday, November 15, 2013

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

What do an African-American baseball player, a Catholic pope, a British MP, and a United States general have in common?

Not much, perhaps, on first glance. But they all share one book, for starts, and read the book and you'll find that they all share a similar faith, and a common commitment to manly behavior.

Put the Catholic priest on hold, and I'll get back to him. I know some of you are wondering.

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness
When I saw this release in the catalogues, it piqued my interest on first sight. Due to a very lovely birthday gift and a couple of nice long Sunday afternoons, I was able to finish it up in fairly short order. I loved every moment. Metaxas never disappoints, and if you're overwhelmed by sight of his larger tomes, this is a much more manageable read. Metaxas tells the biographies and spiritual lessons of seven great men who shaped the Church, the nation, the world, and the athletic field. These men are George Washington, first president of the United States; William Wilberforce, the man who ended the slave trade; Eric Liddell, the man who wouldn't run in the Olympics on Sunday; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who considered it his Christian duty to attempt an assassination on Hitler; Jackie Robinson, who broke the color divide in professional baseball; Pope John Paul II, who brought reform to the Catholic Church; and Chuck Colson, the man who gave himself to Christ after being embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Each of these men were different. Some, like Robinson, had strong physical prowess. Others, like Wilberforce, had the gift of eloquence rather than physical power. Not all made the right choices the first time around. But all of them were dedicated to the Lord, and made huge changes that impact the society we live in today.

Metaxas had one purpose in writing this book, and chronicling the lives of these men: to call this generation back to a real standard of manhood.

To quote his introduction:
In a world where all authority is questioned and in which our appreciation of real leadership--and especially fatherhood--has been badly damaged, we end up with very little in the way of the heroic in general. As we've said, the idea of manhood itself has become profoundly confused. And as a result of this, instead of God's idea of authentic manhood, we've ended up with two very distorted ideas about manhood. 

Metaxas says that men today are taught that manhood is either macho--domineering strength and bullying--or emasculated--there is no difference between men and women. But God designs men differently from women, and he gave them strength in order that they may 'protect and bless those who are weaker'.

So, Metaxas decided to write a book about manhood. But not just any abstract theories. On the contrary:
So this is a book that doesn't talk about manhood but that shows it in the actual lives of great men. You can talk about right and wrong and good and bad all day long, but ultimately people need to see it. Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to behave and how not to behave. We need heroes and role models. 
Sound like a good book? It is. It definitely is.

My Thoughts
There is an eighth man's biography in this story, one that you won't see divided into a chapter or given much fanfare. It just appears, and weaves through them all, and brings personal meaning to each of these historical men. The eighth man, of course, is Eric Metaxas himself. After reading his work on Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) and his work on Bonhoeffer, I wondered who exactly this man was. Was he liberal? Was he conservative? I couldn't quite tell. He's unique like few men can be, that's certain. Very few people could pull off with dignity a biography sentence such as "Metaxas has written for Chuck Colson, Veggie Tales, and The New York Times." Yeah, he's that type of man, and proves something I've suspected for a long time: that the greatest intellectuals are often just slightly quirky. How can the same person work for Veggie Tales and then pull out a 600 page biography on Bonhoeffer? I have no idea--or rather, I think I might.

It's called being a writer. They can, on occasion, express that artistry in very odd ways.

Eric Metaxas' personal story weaves it's way through the book as he tells how each of these men impacted him. For instance, his mother was German, and his maternal grandfather enlisted and fought under Hitler in WWII, dying in the conflict. When Eric heard about Bonhoeffer, a dedicated German Christian, it answered many questions he had over Hitler's regime and how we should respond to such evil. Metaxas also introduced Chuck Colson in Colson's last speech before his death, and laid a hand on his shoulder so he could feel a human touch as he waited to be put in the ambulance. Metaxas was a young highschool student when the Roman Catholic church went through the startling death of Pope John Paul I, scarcely over a month after he was chosen for the position, and watched with the rest of the world as they chose a little-known Italian stranger to lead as the Pope's successor. Each man this book showed Metaxas, newly converted after being a agnostic college student, what the Christian life was really like.

After reading this book, I have a high respect for each man Metaxas chose. They are manly men, leaders in the world and the Church, and we owe heavy debts to their sacrifice. But I also have a great respect for Metaxas himself. He is no longer a shadowy biography writer in my mind, but a man I know much better, and a man I think is great in himself. I should like to meet him someday.

On the copyright page of this book, the publisher gives a warning notice that concerned me at first: "Highly offensive racial slurs occur in Chapter 5. As this language is an integral part of Jackie Robinson's story, the publisher has decided to let the language stand, contrary to our general policy. If the reader finds the language uncomfortable, that is as it should be." At first I wondered what in the world it could possibly be. I read the chapter, and there are insults there, though they aren't too obscene to my knowledge, from a language standpoint. Racial slurs are sadly still in use today, and highly degrading to a fellow human being created in God's image. But I think Metaxas handled this appropriately. The publisher was wise to give a warning, but there's no need for it to drive readers away.

The man who gives rise to the most question in this book, is of course, Pope John Paul II. For lack of space here I'm going to have to direct you to the chapter itself to do justice to it. Metaxas explains himself pretty well. Also, I wrote an article not too long ago on the portrayal of Roman Catholicism in literature, which would give some bearing on this point. Pope John Paul II led the church in a highly influential time in history; his scholarly achievements alone are astounding coming from the poor family that he did, and his example of gentle leadership and love for his flock are well worth reading about. John Paul II fought hard for the life of the unborn, and continually urged George Bush the younger against continuing in stem cell research projects. He's a man worth knowing, even though his beliefs weren't perfect, and I think he is justly included in this book.

It's hard to choose a favorite role model from all the men here. I love William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer very dearly, but after reading this book, I think I highly esteem every single one of the men Metaxas chose. They all fought for a cleaner and a better world, and looked to the Lord for strength in their weakness, turning down money, fame, power, and comfort for the sake of their faith. They are truly great, worthy of the time it took to learn about them, and then some.

Both men and women will benefit greatly from reading this book. Women should read this book to learn how to affirm and build up the men in their life, rather than to control them. The wives of these men are worth observing as well; every one of these men had a woman upbuilding and affirming them, and though an unspoken part of the story, they had a huge impact on their husbands. (Except, of course, the Pope.) And though not a man myself, I think men will be encouraged by Metaxas' call to courage and dominion in a culture that often manipulates and discourages leadership.

We need men. We need to value the men we have. And 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness seeks to show America that if these men throughout the centuries can overcome great obstacles for their Lord, then today's men can as well.

A must-read. I highly recommend it.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Sounds very good! I remember you looking up when you were reading it and saying to our mom, "You remember that book you got me?"
    "Oh, it's REALLY good!"
    :D :D :D
    It looks excellent and I'd like to read it someday. ;)

    1. I was pretty excited, wasn't I, Junior B? :D :D It's a great book, and you could definitely read it.

      Thanks so much for your comments, Sister! I always enjoy them. ;) *hugs*


  2. To echo CG: "It looks excellent". Another book makes it onto my "to-read" list. Wonderful review, Schuyler. :) I'm glad to see a book on this topic--especially in a culture that warps the Biblical concept of manhood (and womenhood).

    1. You would like it, too, Kaleigh! I was very impressed with the way Metaxas came out so strongly on the issue of biblical manhood. I didn't know where he stood before, but he hit the nail right on the head in his introduction, and I hope this book gets into the hands of as many people as possible--including yours! :)


      P.S. Maybe I should take my copy with me for safekeeping while I'm gone. Someone has threatened to lay hands on it in my absence. :wasntme:

  3. This looks like a wonderful book. I'm so thankful for Mr. Metaxas and his writing. There are so many stories of God working through faithful people that are untold or little-known, and he is doing a good job bringing some of them to light.

    ~The Philologist

    1. I remembered that you folks had Bonhoeffer. Did you read that one? :) I love Metaxas' writing, and the amount of research it takes for each of his biographies is quite impressive. But even more than that, learning about the people themselves is the best part, and I can't wait to see what Metaxas' next project will be.

      I would bring my copy of this book to let you look at it, but Collin already claimed it for when we are gone... ;)



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