Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of attending Michigan’s Prayer Breakfast in Lansing, Michigan. It was a morning of faith and fellowship, where most of the attendees were religious or political figures, businessmen, or educators. It was great to see so many important public figures together, joining in prayer for the citizens of Michigan. Along with the fellowship and prayer, many came to hear the keynote speaker, Eric Metaxes.
For those of you not familiar with Metaxes, he is a New York Times best-selling author of two books: Amazing Grace and Bonhoeffer. He has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast, CPAC, and on several major news networks. Metaxes also founded and hosts “Socrates in the City” speeches regarding culture and religion – a seemingly Christian-conservative opposition to TED talks. He is most definitely one of the premier Christian authors and conservative commentators of our decade.
In his speech, Metaxes started with his personal story, beginning with the significance of his Greek and German heritage and then to his time as a student at Yale. Metaxes remarked his mistake was going to Yale with an open mind. Subsequently, he never thought about anything “transcendent” and was unsure of his meaning in life. It was not until Mr. Metaxes met a friend who witnessed to him that he started to ask serious questions about Christianity. Soon after, God revealed himself to Eric in a dream. After embracing his new-found faith, Metaxes’ writing career took off.
After writing Amazing Grace, a biography of William Wilberforce, a name that kept coming up to Eric was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He felt as though Bonhoeffer’s story was one that needed to be told, because of how unknown it was.
In brief, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prominent German theologian whose faith changed during a trip to observe an African-American Baptist church in New York City. Here, Bonhoeffer realized that the congregation acted as the body of Christ and the living word of God; a radical theological idea for its time. It was upon his return to Germany that Bonhoeffer noticed his people seeking hope in nationalized socialism and not in their faith. Bonhoeffer took it upon himself to wake Germany up and warn his people of the dangerous tautology of a Fuhrer-led Germany. The rise of the Nazi Party paralleled the rise of secular state orthodoxy, violating the religious freedoms of the Germans. Metaxes interestingly points out contemporary similarities in America that threaten our religious freedoms: the HHS Mandate and the redefinition of marriage.
Bonhoeffer refused to fight in the upcoming war because he deemed it unjust, and he escaped to America in fear of prosecution. Not soon after arriving in America, however, Bonhoeffer felt God directed him to return to Germany. When he returned, he joined the Valkyrie plot against Hitler – another act God seemingly led him to do. After he was arrested under suspicion of smuggling Jews out of Germany, the Valkyrie plot was exposed and Bonhoeffer was indicted. Just three weeks prior to the end of the Second World War, on April 8, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed.
Metaxes raises important questions about our faith. “What do you believe? Are you following God through life?” Certainly, Bonhoeffer was following God through his life and sustained his faith to the very end. As Metaxes put it, Bonhoeffer “went to the gallows with the peace of God” and never wavered.
The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one all should know, no matter where you stand in your faith or politics. Bonhoeffer epitomizes truth through clear thinking and honor through faith in God. Bonhoeffer was a man whose theology was advanced for its era: unlike many German Christians, Bonhoeffer recognized the ideologue, tautology, and racism of the Nazi’s and prophesied it’s dangers and consequences. He conspired against them – and died a martyr – but did so honoring God. Bonhoeffer understood “death was not the end”; because of his faith he would live for eternity.
Bonhoeffer once remarked:
No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence.
Metaxes took it upon himself – perhaps because it was God’s will for him to do so – to tell Bonhoeffer’s story. The most crucial thing I learned from Metaxes’ speech was how important it is to know what you believe in, act upon it, and live it out – just as Bonhoeffer did in his lifetime and Metaxes learned to do when he discovered his faith. If we are to learn a more political lesson from Bonhoeffer, it should be to recognize the ideologues, tautologies, racisms, indoctrinations, and despotism of our contemporary sociopolitical landscape and steadfastly oppose them with the faith and heritage of our Founding Fathers in mind.
To do his speech justice, please take the time to watch Eric Metaxes’ speech at the Michigan Prayer Breakfast, here.
Derek Draplin | University of Michigan | @DDraps24