For those of you who were interested in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas but were scared of the 624 pages, you should pick up a copy of Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness (April, 2013), which is only about 200 pages.
I read the Bonhoeffer book, and enjoyed it immensely, but it would have been a better book without about 150 pages (don’t ask me which 150 pages to cut, though).
In Seven Men Metaxas tells the story of, yes, you guessed it… seven men. The 624 pages of Bonhoeffer is condensed into a chapter of 24 pages, alongside similarly sized chapters telling the stories of George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Charles Colson.
Before going any further, I must say I’ve loved reading Seven Men and will recommend it to the rest of my family, particularly my two teenage sons.
While it is not obvious from the title, Metaxas focuses on the faith of these individuals, which include two athletes (Liddell, Robinson), three politicians (Washington, Wilberforce and Colson) and two professional Christians (Bonhoeffer, JPII). I would have liked to know how he decided upon these seven–why these seven?
And while I might be tempted to critique him for not including great Christian men from all over the globe, I appreciate the fact that he didn’t just include 7 Americans. He chose:
3 Americans (Washington, Robinson and Colson),
2 English (Wilberforce, Liddell),
1 German (Bonhoeffer) and
1 Pole (JPII).
Here are some of the best bits (no spoilers yet, although see below):
1) Washington: The Father of our nation had no sons of his own. He could have made the US into a monarchy with him as king. Shortly before he died he rewrote his will to free all his slaves.
2) Wilberforce: Metaxas wrote Amazing Grace the book because he was invited to do so by a publisher so that it would coincide with the film, Amazing Grace, that was already in the works. Wilberforce memorized Psalm 119 (and I can’t even finish writing my blogs on the chapter).
3) Liddell: He discovered that the 100 meter trials would be on Sunday, not on the boat (as in “Chariots of Fire”), but the previous fall. The story of him in the internment camp in China at the end of WWII was deeply moving. He was scheduled to be freed in a prisoner swap shortly before the war ended, but he gave his place up to a pregnant woman.
4) Bonhoeffer: He was willing to learn from people he disagreed with, like liberal academics like Adolf von Harnack at Berlin University. An African American from Alabama (Frank Fisher) had a deep impact on him while he was in New York and Fisher brought Robinson him to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. While in NY, he attended there every Sunday.
5) Robinson: His faith was crucial to his ability to not respond violent to horrific racism. Branch Rickey (GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers) guided Robinson to the Sermon on the Mount to help him deal with racism (“turn the other cheek”).
6) Pope John Paul II: Before JPII, it had been 456 years since a non-Italian was chosen as Pope (Adrian VI, a Dutchman). I love that Metaxis, a Protestant, chose a Catholic in this list. I’m sure he’ll take flack for that decision. I applaud it.
7) Colson: He single-handedly took a creative image of 2nd birth from Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus (John 3:3) and transformed it into a catchy book title (Born Again), which then became a cliche in Christian culture. His conversation was surprisingly emotional for an ex-Marine / Nixonian Watergate hatchetman. Metaxis and Colson had a close personal relationship.
An unexpected perk, the hardback version stayed open nicely while I was riding on my exercise bike.
Spoiler alert: All seven have now died.
So, who are your top seven?