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Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
Eric Metaxas
Thomas Nelson, 2013
240 pp., $24.99

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Interview by John Wilson


7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness

A conversation with Eric Metaxas

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That's the case with almost all of the men in this book, and it's vital that we let young men especially know that these men existed and did these things. It works against the cynical idea that all leaders are venal and self-serving; instead it can inspire others to do the right thing when the chips are down. I think the denigration of the heroic is a large part of why young men, especially, are confused about life and not sure what they were created for. They were created for greatness and for things like what Washington and these other great men did, but they need to know about these great men and what they did.

Sorry to go on, but that's the main thing I think instructive about Washington and why he's in the book. Now can we talk about The Rifleman some more? And if ye kin spare the time, I'm hankerin' to chew the fat with ye over Gunsmoke and Johnny Yuma and some of them other shows what featured plenty o' gunplay and brawlin' and didn't have a lotta bookish types in 'em neither! Why, in them shows, th' only feller who wuz called "Perfesser" was the fella what played piano in the cathouse! Or is a-mentionin' that too rough for yer gentrified readers?

Help me apply Washington's example to choices that are made by men who will never be in the position Washington was. Because the point—right?—is not to emphasize how great Washington was (even as we honor him) but rather to say you can act as Washington did, in the circumstances of your own life.

First let me say that a number of the men in 7 Men made similar sacrifices and "did the right thing" when everything was pushing against that. Jackie Robinson gave up the right to fight back against what were the most despicable insults, and sometimes actual physical attacks. But he did this because as a Christian he believed in Jesus' command to "turn the other cheek," and also because he knew that the success of integrating baseball depended on his being completely above the fray. Chuck Colson gave up a plea bargain that would have kept him from going to jail, because he was unwilling to lie and say he'd done something he hadn't done. And he went to jail. Eric Liddell gave up a guaranteed gold medal in the Olympics because it would have required him to run on a Sunday, something that he simply couldn't do, since his Scottish Presbyterian tradition said that he couldn't. In each of these cases the temptation is different and the circumstances are different, but you see strength and courage and nobility. Everyone has moments in his life when he will be tempted to cut a corner or to do something he really shouldn't. These stories are meant to show us that there are men who did the right thing, and that's an encouragement to us in our own lives, whatever the circumstances.

Yes. And there's a nice twist in the chapter on Eric Liddell, about running on Sunday, which doesn't at all undermine his uncompromising stand in that famous instance but which shows another quality worthy of emulation.

You must mean where he says "Dude, rules are made to be broken!" Sorry, I couldn't resist. But seriously, folks, that moment to which you are referring is so touching. I don't want to spoil it for the reader, but you do see his heart in that. He was obviously not some overserious legalist. He was a truly wonderful man. I've actually met someone who knew him, who was at that time a boy in the Chinese prison camp when Eric Liddell was during World War II. The kids loved him, and of course I talk about that in my chapter about him as well.

Yes, and your account of Liddell's time in the prison camp is very moving. In fact, there are powerful stories in every chapter. But I wonder: Why do we hear almost nothing about the flaws of these men?

Because most of them were so genuinely wonderful that it would be a disservice and a distortion of the truth, especially in a short chapter. If someone asked me about you and even though I think tremendously well of you I felt the need to think of one negative thing to say, just to be "fair," that would in fact be deeply unfair and wrong. For example, shall I tell everyone who asks me about you that you stole from those dear elderly people you were visiting? Besides, you needed that jewelry, didn't you? Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, it's nobody's business.

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