Not all of us grew up enjoying history as students in school. It may have been boring or seemed irrelevant with the life we were living. Often our view of the subject was impacted by the teachers we had. I was one of those who had some amazing history teachers (as well as a dad who loved history) so the subject was no chore for me. Sometime during my senior high school American History class, my teacher shared the quote by George Santayana from his work, The Life of Reason, written in 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Even if you are not a history lover, you may well have heard the quote as it has often been repeated by such notables as Winston Churchill. I was reminded of those words again when our pastor noted in his sermon, “You must look at the past to understand the present,” as he spoke about the presence of God on the earth beginning in Genesis before we enter the Christmas scene with Jesus being born. He noted that there were many times He is on the earth in many moments before that night we now move toward celebrating.
That message is front and center in the newly released book by Eric Metaxas, Letter to the American Church. This bold book offers crisp insights into the German church of 1932 and 1933 and parallels what the author sees with the American church of today. As one whose research into this era in Germany before writing his epic work, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, he is uniquely qualified to observe comparisons most might miss and more of us would prefer not to see. But Metaxas implores the reader to courageously see and note what he points to as clear similarities knowing that not unlike the German church of that period, we would prefer to not look at or deny what seems evident.
Metaxas defines the American position in the world as follows in the introduction, “We should underscore the idea that the centrality of our nation in the world does not mean that we are intrinsically exceptional, but that rather God has sovereignly chosen us to hold the torch of liberty for all the world and that the Church is central to our doing this.”
“We must also remind ourselves that when God chooses anyone – whether the nation of Israel or a single person – to perform any role or task, it is not something to be celebrated, as though the one chosen has won a contest. Quite the contrary: it is a grave and fearsome responsibility.”Eric Metaxas
So it is with this understanding, Metaxas calls upon the American church to look without flinching at where it stands now, its call from God, and what we are missing as we speak of evil always being present in the world .
“The evil of today is different from the evil of yesterday or of tomorrow, and when Jesus enjoins us to be ‘shrewd as serpents,’ it means we must understand this. We must not be thoughtlessly sucked along into the mainstream of popular thinking, since that is often the broad road that leads to destruction. We have to take care to read the signs of the times. And no one understood this and lived it out better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”Eric Metaxas
Anyone familiar with the work of Metaxas will not be surprised by the bold writing they will find in this book. Though some who read it may squirm or disagree, it seems evident the author will rest in the surety that he has fulfilled his responsibility to point out how little by little over time the American church and its leaders have become more silent (even as the German church of the early 1930’s) as the culture of the nation with its failings and lack of moral compass has infected the church more than the church has informed and impacted the culture.
In a chapter entitled “The Spiral of Silence,” Metaxas writes, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. God will not hold us guiltless.”
Page by page, the reader is challenged to examine what he or she believes versus what we claim to believe, to be sobered and recognize what we truly believe will be evident in our choices, our actions, and our behaviors. And Metaxas makes clear that what is evident should reflect the God we say we believe in rather than the cultural view of what is right and good, or wrong and evil.
Make no mistake, this 139-page book is a challenge and a call to see what we would prefer not to see and repent of failing to live out what we say we believe, what we repeat in our creeds in our places of worship, and what we will be judged on. It is an important book with praise from notables such as Anne Graham Lotz, Edwin Lutzer, Allen Jackson, Michael Youssef PhD, Wayne Grudem, and David Engelhardt.
“So we must ask ourselves: Does how I live show God that I actually believe what I claim to believe? Or does how I live show God that I do not actually believe what I claim to believe?”Eric Metaxas