In a remarkable Yahoo News article, Jon Ward gives the public a look into the thinking of Eric Metaxas as he defends himself against his critics.
Metaxas is the author of books on Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce and most recently Martin Luther. Much to the puzzlement of many, Metaxas is also a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump. In his email exchange with Metaxas, reporter Ward sowed sharp questions about Metaxas’ support for Trump and reaped Metaxas’ whirlwind of projection and self-justification. You must read the whole thing at Yahoo and then hop on over to Medium where Jon reproduced the email exchange in full.
I could pick out many aspects of this exchange, but Ward’s piece is so clear that little commentary is needed. I will simply hit one or two high spots and then end with some commentary on Metaxas’ rant about Messiah history professor John Fea.
House of Mirrors
Ward summarized the email exchange:
To read Metaxas’ email was like entering a house of mirrors. It was not Trump who had aroused and played upon xenophobia as a candidate by his endless talk of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and his slur of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his talk of banning all Muslims from entering the country. Rather, “Beltway and Manhattan elites” were engaged in a “new and accepted tribalism and xenophobia” against “white European ‘Christian’ varieties” and in favor of Islam.
Ward really captured the contradiction in Metaxas later in the article:
Metaxas firmly planted himself on the side of the common folk against “elites.” He protested the “patronizing” and “fundamentally un-American” attitudes of media gatekeepers, who he said believe “many Americans are too uneducated or too gullible to properly understand all that confusing news in its raw form.” But when it came to the topic of Trump’s many racially charged comments dismissing or demeaning minority groups, Metaxas didn’t hesitate to take the view of an elite who knew what was better for those communities than they did themselves.
Trump, Metaxas said, “has been perceived as wrong by certain groups, by many groups. We need to take that perception seriously, but just how seriously is the larger question. Are we not living in a time when everyone is far too easily offended, so much so that we are taking our eyes off what actually matters, off actually solving the real problems of people rather than giving politically correct lip service to those problems?”
When you attack Metaxas or Trump, you’re patronizing. When Trump attacks, the other side is too easily offended.
More contradiction comes via Metaxas’ opinion of Hillary Clinton. On one hand, he wrote to Ward:
Christians who think the Church in America might have survived a Hillary Clinton presidency are something like the devout Christian Germans who seriously and prayerfully thought it unChristian to be involved in opposing Hitler because to do so would have dirtied their hands with politics,…
He even once tweeted “Hitlery Clinton” but in the email exchange he told Ward: “Nor do I mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, but the principle at issue is the same nonetheless.” If he didn’t mean to compare Hillary to Hitler, then why bring up Hitler?
John Fea and the Beast of Revelation
Despite his complaints of being pilloried, he did not hesitate to pillory. His response to a question about historian John Fea’s spot-on critique of his book If You Can Keep It is a case in point. Ward asked in part:
The greater point is that Fea thinks you make a common mistake of many evangelicals, that of confusing America with the kingdom of God. This is a complex and nuanced point. A firm rootedness in one’s citizenship in heaven should not produce passivity or fatalism about one’s community or nation here on earth. But the critique of culture warriors often is that they cling too tightly to worldly outcomes because the two categories (kingdom of God and America) have become almost unintelligibly mixed or combined. Do you think you have done this in any way?
Metaxas snorted in response:
Mr. Fea’s critiques have not only not persuaded me, they have helped me see more clearly why what I said in my book If You Can Keep It is necessary to communicate to as many Americans as possible at this time in history. If I could give a copy of that book to every American — or at least to every young American — I would do so. Mr. Fea’s misunderstanding on this central issue — one that particularly seems to plague academics — is at the heart of our problems as a culture and as a church.
To mix these very separate categories is a great sin indeed, but such sins must be in the eyes of the beholder. I am afraid Mr. Fea has committed the opposite sin in being so enamored of a certain anti-populist and anti-American narrative — which view is so trendy in the Academy that he should be concerned about having accepted it himself — that he falls into the category of those who find any healthy celebration of patriotism as like unto worshipping the Beast of Revelation.
Metaxas did not answer the question. All he did was attack Fea’s character and his patriotism. If Metaxas wants to elevate discourse among Christians, perhaps he should start with himself.
Those new to the criticisms of Metaxas’ historical errors in If You Can Keep It should go back and read the many critical reviews of the book by Christian historians (here, here, here, here, here). These critiques documented the many historical problems in the book. At the time, he doubled down on the errors and aligned with David Barton against the critics.
I believe historians writing about this period of history will find Ward’s article quite helpful as a window into the evangelical split over Trump. Agree or disagree with Metaxas, I think and he and Ward deserve thanks for being willing to put this conversation before the public.