Eric Metaxas knows greatness when he sees it. His biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010) details the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and was named Book of the Year by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association in 2011. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (HarperOne, 2007) is a biography of the great abolitionist who brought an end to the British slave trade. The book is the official tie-in to the movie Amazing Grace from Walden Media.
Now Metaxas uses his knowledge of great men in history to confront what he feels is a crisis of manhood in today’s culture. His newest book, Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness (Thomas Nelson, April 30) features profiles of what Metaxas calls “a subjective list of seven men whose lives are worth knowing about.”
Adding to some of what he wrote about Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce, Metaxas profiles five other greats, including George Washington, Olympic runner Eric Liddell, baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles W. Colson, with whom Metaxas worked before Colson’s death. Metaxas is now cohost of BreakPoint, the radio commentary started by Colson in 1991.
“These are great men whose lives are worthy of emulation,” says Metaxas. “I am trying to answer the questions, ‘What is a man? What is a great man? What is God’s idea of a great man?’ Faith is at the heart of what these men did and why they did it.”
The idea for Seven Men had its genesis in a conversation with a friend in Berlin a little over two years ago. His biographies of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer were thorough studies, but Metaxas knew many people wouldn’t read longer books, yet needed to know their stories. “Both chapters approximate what I would say about Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer in about 45 minutes,” says Metaxas.
Among the five new profiles, Metaxas chose Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the major leagues, because of Robinson’s personal sacrifice for the greater good. (Metaxas wrote with no knowledge of the movie 42, in theaters now.) “Why does God make men strong?” Metaxas asks. “So we can use what we have for a larger purpose, whether to help our own family, those around us, or an incredibly broader scope like Jackie Robinson, who sacrificed his personal good for the millions who would benefit.
Metaxas, who lives in New York City with his wife and daughter, has a number of ideas for his next book but hasn’t started anything yet. Instead, he’s busy getting the word out about Seven Men and working with a screenwriter on a Bonhoeffer movie. He’d love to do another book featuring great men, and perhaps one featuring great women.
“I think this is an important issue, and I hope Seven Men gets into young men’s hands and into the larger conversation about who we want to emulate and why,” says Metaxas.