Check out Jon Ward‘s recent piece at Yahoo News on court evangelical Eric Metaxas. In addition to Ward’s profile, he also posted a series of e-mails he exchanged with Metaxas. Those e-mails include Metaxas’s responses to several of Ward’s questions.
Here is one of the questions Ward posted to Metaxas:
Have you engaged much with John Fea’s critique of your book? He makes a persuasive argument that you have airbrushed the American founding into an airbrushed version that exaggerates the role of Christianity as the sole source of virtue (not one of several), that exaggerates the extent to which there was religious liberty at the founding (Seamus Hasson’s “Right to Be Wrong” is best I’ve read on this topic), and treats the American experiment as more of a miracle detached from anything before it than it was. Fea writes that America built on the democratic principles at play in British life, which is something of a subtle point, but an interesting one which tempers exuberance over American exceptionalism as some kind of divinely ordered miracle. He also believes you give the Great Awakening too much credit for how it influenced American politics. 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?
And here is Metaxas’s response to Ward:
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.
I am glad Metaxas is familiar with my critique of his book If You Can Keep It and he no longer just sees me as “some guy.” You can read my critical posts here and decide for yourself. As you will see from those posts, I don’t think it is a good idea to give a copy of this book to every American. You can also read my 2016 piece on Metaxas at Religion News Service. I still stand by both pieces.
I also wrote this on August 5, 2016. Here is a taste:
…I get fired up about bad history. This, for example, is why I wrote a six-part review of Eric Metaxas’s book If You Can Keep It. I am not suggesting that Metaxas set out to tell blatant lies about the past, and his errors are certainly not as egregious as Trump’s, but I do think that much of his argument is based on a misunderstanding of historical facts. The claims of his book are built on a very weak foundation. They are not just cosmetic errors, they are historical errors that affect the entire structure and message of the book.
I know its easy to dismiss historians as idealistic ivory tower-dwellers with too much time on their hands. I get this criticism a lot, but I have never accepted.it. Perhaps the late historian of the African-American experience John Hope Franklin put it best when he said: “One might argue the historian is the conscience of the nation,if honest and consistency are factors that nurture the conscience.”
Now back to the Olympics. I am thinking about staying up late tonight to cheer on the U.S men’s curling team. I wonder if this counts as “healthy patriotism.” 🙂