In this lively, inspiring, and sometimes humorous synopsis of the lives of seven men, Eric Metaxas explores the secret of their greatness. From the onset, Metaxas declares that his “own personal greatest role model is Jesus,” and he sets his discussion of greatness within the context of humanity’s sin and Jesus’ offer of salvation and sanctification.
Metaxas points out that “the idea of manhood has fallen into some confusion in the last decades.” His goal in showcasing the lives of George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Charles Colson is to deal with that confusion by answering two questions: What is a man? And what makes a man great?
Historically, people have looked to role models and heroes to answer that question. But this is no longer the case. Part of the reason for this change, Metaxas says, is that since the 1960s, society has adopted the notion that no one can really say what is right or wrong. In other words, all authority is questionable. He points to both the Vietnam War and Watergate as two watershed events in American history which contributed to this state of affairs.
When all legitimate authority is questioned, society suffers. Metaxas sums it up this way: “This is a very bad place to end up, and in our culture we are paying a harsh price for it. As I’ve said, people need heroes and role models. Those of us who take the Bible seriously believe that mankind is fallen and that no one is perfect except Jesus. But we also believe that there are some lives that are good examples and some that are bad examples. Can we really believe that certain lives aren’t worthy of emulation? And that others are cautionary tales? Aren’t we really unwilling to say that we shouldn’t try to get our children (and ourselves) to see that Abraham Lincoln is worthy of our emulation and Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin are not?”
Metaxas’ concern is for young men growing up in a culture where violence is sensationalized and domination is celebrated. In that context, two false choices about manhood run rampant. The first is the choice to be a macho, domineering big shot; the second is the choice to be emasculated – “to essentially turn away from your masculinity and to pretend that there is no real difference between men and women.” Obviously, neither is God’s idea. The Bible teaches that men and women are made in God’s image and it celebrates the differences between them.
So, within this biblical context, why did Metaxas choose these seven men? He makes it clear that his choices do not comprise a definitive list, and there are many others he could have chosen. However, the quality he found in common amongst these seven was “that of surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept.”
For example, George Washington gave up a chance to hold extraordinary power – in fact he refused to become a king – so that the American democracy could take shape. William Wilberforce could have been a prime minister of England, but he refused the opportunity in order to take up the fight against slavery. Eric Liddell, whose story was told in the movie Chariots of Fire, gave up the opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal in order to follow his conscience. More remarkably, in a story less familiar, Liddell gave his life in service to Christ as a missionary in China. Metaxas also explores what Bonhoeffer, Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Colson gave up for a greater goal.
Metaxas’ introductory exploration of biblical manhood and his stories moved me deeply. Where lives of both men and women are rooted in God’s conception of greatness – embracing servant leadership – incredible stories emerge. I recommend this book for men of any age, but especially for younger men who need authentic and inspiring role models.
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