Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
Thomas Nelson, 2013
240 pp., $24.99
Interview by John Wilson
7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
Editor's note: Eric Metaxas and I first met almost 20 years ago, and we've been friends ever since. This conversation was conducted via email. When I got in touch with Eric to suggest that we talk about his new book, he was in Germany. By the time the conversation actually started, he was 30,000 feet in the air, en route to Texas. ("I'm on the plane to Austin now …," he emailed me. "I'll land in ten minutes and have dinner with a new friend and then go to bed and tomorrow I'm speaking at the National Conference of Holocaust Organizations about Bonhoeffer. Then I fly to Dallas so that the next morning I can fly to Ottawa where I'm speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast of Canada. No kidding. Happy to continue this as I am able.") And he did continue. By the time our conversation concluded, he'd been to Redding, in Northern California, then to San Francisco, and was about to fly home to New York. If some of his answers seem a bit incoherent, please consider the circumstances and cut him some slack.
Why a book called 7 Men? Sounds like The Seven Samurai. Are you working the shtick perfected by John Eldredge, Mark Driscoll, et al.? Why not 3 Men & 3 Women?
First of all, how about a hello? A smile don't cost nothing, friend. Anyways. Well, the reason the title of my book is 7 Men is that it is actually about seven men. Perhaps that strikes you as overly literal, but I can be that way sometimes. For example, when Jesus said "I am the door," I believe he meant that literally. But that's another story. Also, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not a Kurosawa fan and barely got the Seven Samurai reference. I much prefer Hal Roach as a director. Or Jerry Lewis. As for the shtick I'm working to perfect, it is my own shtick entirely. In fact, I suspect Eldredge and Driscoll et al. are drafting off of my shtick, to use a bicycling term. Not "shtick," but "drafting off of." I believe "shtick" comes to us from the world of taxidermy. Finally, three and three make six, not seven. I'm flabbergasted that you didn't know that. I strongly suggest an abacus before we go any further.
The Rifleman, yes. Doesn't the intro to every episode feature him cranking shots from his custom-made rifle, sort of like a 19th-c. version of an assault weapon? This is what we need today "to communicate what it means to be a real man, a good man, a heroic and brave man"?
Dude, you're harsh! By the way, I think you have to clue the folks who are reading this into the idea that I mention The Rifleman in my introductory chapter. I don't wanna tell you how to do your job or nothing … but yes, of course, The Rifleman opened with Chuck Connors blasting away. It was awesome! It was a show mainly geared toward boys, of course, and the reason I mention it in my intro is it always showed that a man should use his strength nobly, to protect the weak, and should to stand up to bullies—not you specifically!—and that there was evil in the world and that real men stood against it with courage. Every episode seemed to have a theme along those lines. There was real nobility and heroism in it, much as you and your over-educated hash-smokin' friends might like to sneer at it! I take that back; you're not over-educated. I'm sorry. I've had too much coffee.
You know, my brother has worked for decades with what they call "at-risk" kids. And a lot of those kids have been at risk because their fathers are absent (sometimes in prison), or dead, or failing to live up to the minimum daily requirements of fatherhood. Let's bracket out the question of whether watching The Riflemen would help them to do better, and take a look at the seven men you highlight, starting with George Washington. What might a man in 2013—an ordinary man, insofar as any human being is "ordinary"—learn from Washington's example?
The main reason for putting Washington in the book—and really it's at the heart of why I put all of these men in the book—is that at one or more points in his life he made an extraordinary sacrifice. I'm thinking most specifically of when in 1783 he turned down an offer of virtually unlimited power. It's staggering that he did that, but true.
The officers around him were all angry that Congress wasn't paying them. They'd sacrificed enormously over the years of the war and now weren't even being paid and might never be paid. As far as they were concerned, their leader, Washington should simply lead a military coup and take charge of the fledgling country. He'd practically created it with his bare hands and he deserved it. And he would be a noble leader, not a tyrant. He could style himself King George of America and everyone would be happy. They certainly had the ability to pull off a coup at that time. They had the sheer military strength, and most Americans would probably have applauded them. And we have to keep in mind that the globe was covered with monarchs. The thought of a democratically elected president didn't even exist. But with all of this, Washington flatly refused the offer. In fact, he was deeply offended at it, saying that the principles for which he had fought the war must not be compromised. The nobility of what he did at this juncture is truly historic and stunning. It deserves our notice and our celebration and undying gratitude. But most school kids today hear nothing of this. Of course they should know about this, that a man who had great power voluntarily gave it up and that despite tremendous temptation, he did the right thing.