Op-Ed: Look to Bonhoeffer to Unearth Metaxas' Trumpian Reasoning
I met Eric Metaxas at a speaking event at St. George’s Church during my freshman year at The King’s College. He was lecturing about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a proud member of the House of Bonhoeffer and a fan of Metaxas’s biography of Bonhoeffer, I attended with the hope of learning more about one of my personal heroes. For the most part, I do not remember what Metaxas said that night. What I do remember is how he answered the following question: “What do you have to say about all the critics of your book, people who say that you’ve misrepresented Bonhoeffer?”
“Well, they’re probably on crack and waiting to get their next fix," Metaxas said.
At first, I thought this was an isolated incident. This sounded like a completely unacceptable way to address criticisms of one's work. But, over the past several years, as I have read more about the topics that Metaxas writes about as well as more from Metaxas himself, I have discovered that he has a continual habit of dismissing his critics without engaging them.
For starters, look at Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. The book was roundly criticized by scholars for distorting Bonhoeffer’s theology. Clifford Green, Executive Director of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, and Richard Weikart, a historian of modern German history who teaches at California State University, Stanislaus, offered biting critiques, pointing out Bonhoeffer’s skepticism of the inerrancy of scripture, his rejection of apologetics and his pacifism, all of which Metaxas either ignores or denies in the biography.
Besides Metaxas’s dismissal of critics-as-crackheads recounted above, the only response of his that I can find to these criticisms is here, where he describes them as “ideologues” who are “annoyed at reality, not at [his] depiction of reality.” This is dismissal, not engagement. Elsewhere in the blog post linked to above, he merely asserts that “[t]he facts are what they are,” repeating his claims about Bonhoeffer’s theology without providing evidence for them.
Fast forward to this past summer, during which Metaxas released If You Can Keep it: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. Historians criticized the book for its gross historical inaccuracies and lack of citations. Warren Throckmorton, Professor at Grove City College, wrote the following in a review for the Daily Caller, a conservative online publication:
"To support his vision of America, Metaxas selectively refers to events in American history. When one is attempting to teach lessons from history, one should make sure the facts are right. Throughout the book, Metaxas is careless with facts and as a consequence misleads his readers and calls his conclusions into question."
John Fea, Chair of the History Department at Messiah College, agrees, calling the book “an intellectual mess” in a blog post from July. Robert Tracy McKenzie, Chair of the History Department at Wheaton College, writes that “[the book’s] grasp of American history is weak, and the theological implications of its argument are frightening.” In a more sympathetic review, Gregg L. Frazer, Professor of History and Political Science at the Master’s College, writes that he “cannot help thinking that [Metaxas’s thesis] deserves a much more accurate presentation.”
One would think that Metaxas would take criticism from professors at evangelical Christian colleges to heart, especially since they are broadly sympathetic to his beliefs. Alas, he does not. In a clip from his radio show, Metaxas describes to Ann Coulter, with what sounds like bewildered amusement, the scholarly criticism of his book’s errors: “I have a sentence that… I could just change that sentence and everything would be okay. They have written essays about this sentence…”
But as his critics point out, it is not just a sentence. The errors persist throughout the book. Metaxas minimizes his mistakes and mocks those who point them out in order to convince his listeners that the problems with his work are not problems at all. And it works. He is an immensely popular figure in conservative evangelical Christian circles. People trust him, because he says exactly what they want to hear oh so convincingly.
And now he insists that voting for Donald Trump is a moral duty for every American Christian.
Because Clinton laughed about freeing a guilty child rapist, he says, except that she did not. Because she solicited donations from repressive regimes as Secretary of State, he says, except that these allegations are not proven, concerning though they may be. Because if she is elected, he says, the Supreme Court is ruined “[n]ot for four years, or eight, but forever [emphasis added].”
It is, sadly, archetypal Metaxas — failing to perform fact-checks, asserting unproven allegations as fact and resorting to melodramatic hyperbole. All to convince Christians that God will judge them if they do not vote for Donald Trump.
I am not convinced, and you should not be either. Through his refusal to heed and engage with his critics over the years, Metaxas demonstrated that he cares less about the truth than he cares about his ego. Thus, it should not surprise us that he also puts his candidate before the truth.
Editor's Note: Davis Campbell was The King's College 2016 Graduating Class Valedictorian.