Problems Exist with Eric Metaxas’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography Which Contain Academic Concerns

Eric Metaxas is known for his work on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However that biography has not stood well against the test of time. Quality issues and shoddy work are now associated with it. Eric Metaxas who once had promise is now seen is an individual involved in the evangelical culture wars and fringe politics. This post is designed to draw attention to some of the issues with his work on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

“I completely scorn the falsifying, the sanctimonious, the cheap and the shoddy.

Ralph Thomas Walker

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 NLT

Eric Metaxas

Several years back I acquired in a bookstore Eric Metaxas’s “Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness.” It looked good and diverse in the subject matter. In the book Metaxas looked at what made seven unique men great. Some of those men included Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, William Wilberforce, George Washington, Detriech Bonhoeffer, Chuck Colson and Eric Liddel. I used to lie in bed at night and slowly work through it. Then I became distracted by another book (I studied a lot of German history in college and grad school) and proceeded to get involved in reading Antony Beevor‘s “The Fall of Berlin in 1945.” Beevor is well known for his academic work on World War II. After I finished the book I considered going back to Metaxas and began to notice problems and issues with his academic work. And it wasn’t just me but other people were starting to point out the problems in the quality of Metaxas work. Some of those issues included bringing an agenda to a topic and not allowing history to be explained and interpreted. When I did primary source research in grad school I could never bring an agenda to a topic. My goal was to let the evidence speak for itself. Other issues with sourcing began to emerge and he became increasingly political. Honestly Metaxas looked good and scholarly but by 2016 he went downhill. I stopped reading the book and tried to figure out what to do with it. Usually I give stuff away but I didn’t want to encourage someone to read a problematic author. So I took Metaxas’ book and put it in the trash. 

 

Who is Eric Metaxas? 

Eric Metaxas is an influential evangelical Christian author who originally comes from the Queens, in New York City. Eric grew up in Danbury, Connecticut and then attended college at Yale University. He edited the Yale Record and according to my research grew up Greek Orthodox but attends Calvary-St. George Episcopal Church since 2001. He has written for Veggietales earlier in his career. Eric published several books over the years. Some of those works include, “Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery” , “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask)” , “Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving” ,”Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life“, “Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness” , “Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness” , “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty ” , “Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World” , “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.”  and “Donald Drains the Swamp.”

Eric Metaxas also holds a radio show and has had controversial individuals like Dinesh D’ Souza, Peter Hitchens and Russian spy Maria Butina on air.  In 2012 he was the speaker for the National Prayer BreakfastHe has written for multiple publications in the past to include the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Eric has also gotten involved in fringe right politics. He has been a regular speaker over the past few years at CPAC at National Harbor in Maryland. Over the course of time, in this writers opinion, Eric has moved to the far right.

 

Academic Problems with Eric Metaxas’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Work and how he Uses the German Theologian 

Eric Metaxas’  work has had some serious issues and has not stood up well against the passage of time. While his work is popular with Evangelical Christians, among the academic community it contains deep issues and concerns. The chief issue against Metaxas is that he brings an agenda to the topic of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For example Bonhoeffer is made to be an evangelical Christian when he can’t fit that mold. That is the book’s weakness. One of the critics against Metaxas is Andy Rowell who is the Assistant Professor of Ministry Leadership at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He wrote about the issue and provided links here. In case those links disappear these are the original articles. Most of the reviews raise issues, while Alan Wolfe gave a positive review. 

  1. Andy Rowell, “Bonhoeffer: The Evangelical Hero.” 
  2. Victoria Barnett, General Editor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition and Director of Church Relations, U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Review of Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich (Nashville: Thomas Nelson,
    2010), pp. 608, ISBN 1595551387.” 46-218-1-PB (1)
  3. Clifford Green, Executive Director of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Christian Century, “Hijacking Bonhoeffer.” 
  4. Richard Weikart, Department of History, California State University, Stanislaus and author of The Myth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Is His Theology Evangelical? “Metaxas’s Counterfeit Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Critique.”
  5. Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, New Republic, “Grounds of Courage.” 
  6. Nancy Lukens is a retired Professor of German and Women’s Studies  at the University of New Hampshire. She has translated works by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothee Soelle, and East German church leaders involved in the nonviolent opposition of the 1980s. Her review is in Sojourners and is called, “Misrepresenting the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”
  7. Tim Challies, “Counterfeit Bonhoeffer.” 
  8. Jason Hood in Christianity Today, “Redeeming Bonhoeffer (The Book)’

Since those reviews there has been other concerns about Metaxas that have come to the surface. Warren Throckmorton has been diligent in writing about many of these issues. In 2016 Eric Metaxas promoted a false Bonhoeffer quote during the 2016 election  which you can read about here. Shortly afterward he said that he was joking around on Twitter. It then later came to light that one of the most quoted Bonhoeffer quotes that Metaxas used could not be attributed to Bonhoeffer. That quote is, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Warren Throckmorton in contacting Bonhoeffer scholars can’t attribute that quote to the famous German theologian. You can read about that in detail here. Then Eric Metaxas started to regularly and aggressively block critics on Twitter. You can read about how he blocked Christian college professors here. Later on in time I asked some questions about Eric Metaxas book and academic peer review and he blocked me as well. So I am a part of the Eric Metaxas blocking party as well. As the 2016 election dragged on Eric Metaxas stated on Twitter that opposition to Hillary Clinton was similar to Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the Third Reich. When challenged he doubled down and defended his position. After the Access Hollywood tape where Trump boasted of grabbing a women’s pussy broke in time Metaxas defended Trump in a Wall Street Journal editorial.  Eric Metaxas support for Donald Trump can be read about in this Daily Beast article. Warren Throckmorton wrote that Metaxas logic gives credibility to Mark Noll’s theory on the scandal of the evangelical mind. That Metaxas still continued to use that misattributed quote of Detrich Bonhoeffer reveals that the evangelcial author still struggles with understanding facts and being honest with them. Eric Metaxas illustrates some of the key problems with evangelical theology. As time passed there would be more criticism and concerns about Mataxas book on Bonhoeffer. The evangelical author responded by saying that those who opposed the book were liberals. Even those who were conservative theologically were lumped into that category and accused of being a liberal. For me that is disappointing that he would chose to act like that when he claims to be a professional.

 

Why is Evangelical Christian Material Substandard in Contrast with the World? 

This is not the first time I have written about Eric Metaxas. I have written about him previously in, “A Closer Look at Eric Metaxas and His Comments on Mass Shootings and Impeachment. Plus the Fallacy of Intellectual Evangelicalism” , “Why Did Eric Metaxas Defend Maria Butina a Russian Spy Who Tried to Subvert American Culture?” and “Preserving Andy Rowell’s Twitter Thread on Eric Metaxas and Maria Butina.” Eric Metaxas was pushed in evangelicalism for his quality and his work. That is why I picked up his book early on years ago. He then went down hill and became a political hack pushing illiberal and autocratic individuals. Eric Metaxas doesn’t write history. He spins propaganda. Its been disappointing to watch but one has to accept the facts and deal with the current situation.

But I am left with this one question that haunts me. Why do so many evangelicals accept and buy into substandard material. Stop and consider evangelical culture. Books are not deep or intellectual to give you something to feast on. Have you looked at Evangelical Christian music and then looked at secular or music outside the bubble? Christian television is subpar and not close to regular television. Ever seen some of the Evangelical Christian movies that have come out over the years. I still haven’t psychologically recovered from watching Kirk Cameron in Left Behind in 2000. But as I tie this back to Eric Metaxas why do so many evangelicals accept shoddy work? Why do they subsidize and give money to an industry that has failed and has deep problems? This question has long since bothered me deeply. And in Eric Metaxas I see the issue again.