INTERVIEWS | Tess Holgate
Friday 15 April 2016
Eric Metaxas is a #1 New York Times bestseller author, speaker, host of radio programme the Eric Metaxas Show, and a vocal defender of Christianity in the public sphere. Eternity caught up with Eric to talk about faith, Christianity in the West, and why he doesn’t believe voting for Donald Trump is “unchristian”.
What does your Christian faith mean for you in your daily life?
Everything I do, I hope, is affected by my faith. But that’s really a joy, because I think that’s the whole point, that belief in the God of the Bible gives your life meaning.
It’s not just a private thing, or this little thing that I put in a corner, but it affects everything. So it affects how I see the world, I hope it affects how I treat other people, how I see myself. And certainly in terms of what I do – writing, broadcasting, speeches – it all really comes directly out of my faith.
[My faith] is all consuming, but I really think that’s the nature of Christian faith. God wants us to give him every part of our lives, so that it affects everything about us, all the decisions we make. And it’s a freeing thing as opposed to a constricting thing.
Do you think it is becoming more difficult to be a Christian in the West?
Absolutely. In some ways there’s no question about that. There used to be a cultural consensus, which was vaguely Christian. That has declined, more quickly in Europe than in the United States, and I assume Australia is closer to Europe in terms of that. But there’s no question that the mores of the average American (and I really do think this goes for all of the West) are different than they used to be.
The most dramatic example of this is the sexual revolution. In a way, that changed everything. Sex outside of marriage, and children out of wedlock—those things were beyond the pale for most people, really until the 1970s. I think that’s what began to change everything, and it is indubitably still being played out in the culture.
Many people perceive Christian faith as being constricting to them, or Christian values as being constricting to them. So it’s a very strange time, but it can be bracing and refreshing in a way, because it forces us to think about what we really do believe and how we should express it. So I think that in some ways it’s a privilege to live at a time when our faith isn’t taken for granted.
Does this social change amount to Christian persecution?
There is no doubt that it can be persecution and is sometimes persecution. In the United States, the idea that declining to photograph a same-sex marriage could be interpreted as some kind of bigotry is fascinating, because that’s brand new for people.
It’s so new, and I think that the people on the other side of this ideological divide really feel strongly and emotionally about this. This is not something that is moving slowly; they really feel strongly that to disapprove of this or that lifestyle is bigotry. I would say it’s not, but that’s the challenge for Christians.
And when you talk about persecution and when you talk about whether it’s difficult, I mean clearly for people in the Middle East, Christianity is infinitely more difficult. They’re being killed now.
So it’s a strange time but we know that God has all things in his hands, and I think we have to know that. We shouldn’t pretend as though it’s up to us to change it. It’s up to us to react the way that God would have us react. It’s not something that we should worry about.
You have written biographies of two heroes of the faith: William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Can you think of any more recent example of people who might be considered heroes of the faith?
I think there are so many heroes of the faith at present whom we don’t know. I think there are people daily being persecuted for their faith, all around the world. Every one of us is called to live his or her faith every single day, and there are people today for whom that was very, very difficult.
Would American Christians vote for Donald Trump?
Many Christians will vote for Trump, and many Christians will say that voting for Trump is unchristian. I really think that the latter group is absolutely wrong.
There are people who say, ‘I would never vote for Donald Trump,’ and I think to myself, they may not like Trump, and there are many reasons not to like him, but they have to be realistic. If the choice is Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, for example, Clinton, whether she realises it or doesn’t, wants to bring about an America, which of course will affect all of the West, and the whole world, that is not in keeping with the big vision of the founders of the United States.
If you’re given a choice between someone like Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, if you hate Trump you still have to hold your nose and vote for Trump because even on his worst day he is not intending to destroy the America that the founders created.
Donald Trump at his worst would do better than Hilary Clinton at her best. And so, for people who don’t like Trump, I still think it may be wise to vote for him, if you care about people around the world, if you care about the disenfranchised in America.
What can Australian Christians learn from the experience of American Christians?
When something like same sex marriage gets approved, and lets assume it will in Australia, the question is not, and never has been, only whether it should be legalised. The question is, “what are the ramifications?”
In the United States, for example, when the Oregon bakers refused to bake a wedding cake, they were fined $130,000. Clearly religious freedom has been abrogated. Religious freedom is something that is at the heart of the freedoms that the founders of the United States gave us and I think the question is: Will Christians be persecuted if they don’t go along with this? How will Christians be treated? How will anyone be treated?
Whether I’m for or against same-sex marriage, I should be troubled when the government is imposing a way of thinking. Religious liberty is something that has been mischaracterised in recent days in the United States and I find that troubling for the whole culture, not just for Christians. It’s something that affects everybody’s liberty and will affect everybody’s liberty.
Liberty itself is being threatened. If somebody has weird views, I would stand up for that persons weird views, not because I agree, but because that person has the right to those weird views unless he is harming another person. It’s something we’ve always taken really seriously in the United States, and I see under the Obama administration particularly, we’re not taking this very seriously, and I worry about all of our freedoms.
Humour plays a key role in much of your writing, speaking and broadcasting. How do you see the interaction between humour and living publicly as a Christian?
Humour for me is naturally who I am; I have always been that way. But it developed more when I was in college; I started writing for the Yale humour magazine.
I’ve always enjoyed humour, but it’s really only in the last 15 years or so that it’s [become] the way I express myself, or it’s the way you can know if the audience is with you—if they’re laughing at your jokes.
I mean it to be disarming as a way of connecting to people, letting them know that I’m transparent, that I can laugh at myself, that I don’t take myself too seriously, and that I don’t take my faith so seriously that I can’t laugh.
I think some people think that being a Christian means maybe being over-serious, and I think very religious people (and I use religious in the negative sense) are over-serious. They have missed the deep point of what it means to have faith, which is that there is supposed to be joy, and we’re supposed to want to connect with others. It’s not just about moral performance.
If you were addressing a college graduation what advice would you give to young people?
Life is not about making money or succeeding. Those are wonderful things, but that’s not what life is about. Life is about leading a good life, being a good spouse, finding someone you are willing to commit to for the rest of your life and raising children with that person. Those are the things that matter, ultimately, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go for the brass ring, but clearly, you will never find your joy in that.
For me, there’s no question that faith comes into it. If you don’t know who you are, that the God who created the universe created you and loves you, it will really be impossible to ever be satisfied, because you were created by someone who created you to want to be satisfied by him and by his will for your life, which as I say is a freeing thing.
It’s a joy to know what is God’s will for my life because he happens to know more about me than I know about myself.
And I think that if you don’t have that, you’re always flirting with absurdity, you’re flirting with meaninglessness, and you’re trying to create your own little worlds of meaning, but they really can’t sustain you for very long. They may sustain you for a little while, but eventually you’ll see the limits.
So I think that faith in the God of the Bible, for me there’s just no question that [faith] gives you such a deep meaning that no matter what you face, what difficulties you face, you have the tools to face that difficulty. God is with you in those difficulties.
No matter what happens, whether you have great success or great trials, faith is the only thing in the universe that can actually sustain you, and I think that to walk through life without that is to miss the whole reason for why we’re on the planet.
Eric Metaxas will be speaking at events on the East Coast of Australia between April 21-27. Find out more and book tickets.