The Trump Will Set You Free

Free to criticize that is.

In 2014 when Charles Marsh’s highly acclaimed biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer came out, the author avoided taking on Eric Metaxas. In an interview with John Fea, this is the worst he could do:

I’m pleased that Eric Metaxas has inspired such a spirited and intense conversation on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy. Nevertheless, I wanted to tell the story anew by relying primarily on a treasure of recent archival and scholarly discoveries, on letters, journals, and other documents, as well as my own interviews. I spent a lovely afternoon in the home of Eberhard Bethge, shortly before his death, talking candidly about aspects of Bonhoeffer’s character that had been largely ignored. Metaxas’s book also offered me a cautionary tale on the political misuses of biographical writing; had I not been able to see what havoc his own heavy-handed political agenda wreaked on the telling of Bonhoeffer’s life I might have been inclined to tweak it in the direction of my partisan biases.

In his review of Marsh’s book for the Wall Street Journal, Christian Wiman even faults Marsh for failing to correct Eric Metaxas’ popular biography of Bonhoeffer:

Mr. Marsh does not even mention the Metaxas book or the enormous attention it brought to Bonhoeffer. He is a scholar, and Mr. Metaxas is a popular biographer, and it’s possible that Mr. Marsh found no new information in the Metaxas book that he needed for “Strange Glory.” Still, though Mr. Marsh deals quite well with the intractable contradictions of Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and actions, he misses the chance to situate the theologian and his ideas more clearly within the contemporary context. A simple preface would have helped.

That is why Marsh’s recent post about Metaxas was a surprise:

WRITTEN WITH BUT the slightest familiarity with German theology and history, Metaxas’s best-selling Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was published by Thomas Nelson in the spring of 2010 and launched at the Young Republicans Club of New York City. Christians in the United States needed to learn some very important lessons from Bonhoeffer’s story, and Eric Metaxas, who some followers call “the American Bonhoeffer,” had been called by God to deliver these lessons in our own hour of decision: It is not the role of the state to take care of people. America is the greatest nation in the world. People can take care of themselves; small government is the best government. Germans turned to Hitler to do the things that other people ought to be doing, and we in America are in danger of the same mistake. People who like big government don’t believe in God; they’re secularists and can be compared to the Nazis. We need Bonhoeffer’s voice today—Metaxas told an interviewer—“especially in view of the big government ethos of the Obama administration.”

With a literary background that includes a popular biography of the abolitionist William Wilberforce and the VeggieTales children’s series, Metaxas said that his purpose in writing the book was to save Bonhoeffer from the liberals, from the globalists, the humanists, and the pacifists. His Bonhoeffer was a born-again Christian who espoused traditional family values.

This is complete nonsense.

What explains the change? Metaxas has endorsed Trump and Marsh disapproves. The Trump will set you free.

But the editors at Religion & Politics and Dr. Fea should remember that just because Marsh is agreeable about Trump, it doesn’t make him right about Bonhoeffer. In fact, both Marsh and Metaxas may reflect their own “American” perspective. Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, a German biographer of Bonhoeffer, sure thought so:

Marsh and Metaxas have dragged Bonhoeffer into cultural and political disputes that belong in a U.S. context. The issues did not present themselves in the same way in Germany in Bonhoeffer’s time, and the way they are debated in Germany today differs greatly from that in the States. Metaxas has focused on the fight between right and left in the United States and has made Bonhoeffer into a likeable arch-conservative without theological insights and convictions of his own; Marsh concentrates on the conflict between the Conservatives and the gay rights’ movement. Both approaches are equally misguided and are used to make Bonhoeffer interesting and relevant to American society. Bonhoeffer does not need this and it certainly distorts the facts.

Years ago Charles Marsh described his Bonhoeffer biography project. This reviewer remembers a passage about him wanting to approach the topic in a more ‘writerly’ way than Bethge, using a talent for storytelling for which the Southern States are famous. It is true that his book surpasses that of Bethge in terms of writerly skill, but is has become ‘A Life of Bonhoeffer’ that never existed in this form. A number of mistakes found in Marsh’s book have been referred to above. There are more, but I have deliberately concentrated on those that do most to distort the picture of Bonhoeffer.

I have no doubt that Schlingensiepen would disapprove of Trump. I do doubt he would let his view of Trump inform his understanding of the past.

Move Over David Barton, Make Room for Eric Mataxas

Donald Trump has struck a nerve. Why even I had a hard time not thinking of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee when last week reviewing a book about nineteenth-century Protestantism in the U.S.

Trump is the nearest reason I can fathom for the pronounced attention Eric Mataxas has received from two prominent evangelical historians. Because Metaxas endorsed Trump, because evangelicals seem to be moving their support increasingly to Trump, and because evangelical historians identify with evangelicalism but evangelicals not as much, some professors may feel the need to create distance between their public persona and the larger evangelical feng shui.

Now it turns out that one of those historians has joined other historians in signing a letter opposing Trump’s candidacy. That same historian, John Fea (don’t mean to pick on you today, big fella), wonders about the intellectual chops of Metaxas when he writes that Metaxas’ book is “an intellectual mess” that demonstrates the ongoing validity of Mark Noll’s lament about the scandal of the evangelical mind.

What about the intellectual coherence of the historians who oppose Trump? They start this way:

Today, we are faced with a moral test. As historians, we recognize both the ominous precedents for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and the exceptional challenge it poses to civil society. Historians of different specialties, eras and regions understand the enduring appeal of demagogues, the promise and peril of populism, and the political uses of bigotry and scapegoating. Historians understand the impact these phenomena have upon society’s most vulnerable and upon a nation’s conscience. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against Trump.

Do these historians really want to invoke morality when it is evangelicals and the social conservatives who regularly complain about America’s moral decline? Invoke morality selectively? Like when it’s about professional duties but not about what happens sex happens. And is the work of historical understanding really a moral enterprise? Did we somehow go back to the days of the academic Protestant establishment when Jews and people of color were scarce on university and college campuses? Those were times when professors sometimes talked about morality.

But let morality go. What about the intellectual prowess that historians bring to assess Trump? What part of the past do these historians draw upon to show the dangers of populism (or even fascism)? I read the letter and I don’t see any — ANY!!! — historical references. Believe it or not, it’s all about Trump:

Donald Trump’s record of speeches, policies and social media is an archive of know-nothingism and blinding self-regard. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a campaign of violence: violence against individuals and groups; against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.

The Trump candidacy is an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve. No less than his sham “Trump University,” Donald Trump’s contempt for constructive, evidence-based argumentation mocks the ideals of the academy, whether in the sciences or the liberal arts. Academia is far from the only profession endangered by Trumpism. Donald Trump bullies and suppresses the press, and seeks to weaken First Amendment protections as President. Trump singles out journalists for attack and mocks physical disabilities. Both the judiciary and individualjudges face public threats from Trump. Non-white, non-male professionals and civil servants are irredeemably compromised in Donald Trump’s eyes.Judges are disqualified from service because of their ethnicity; women Presidential candidates succeed only because of their gender; the President of the United States is under suspicion as illegitimate and alien because of his skin color and heritage.

Those are all fair points. But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. or tenured job in history to notice those defects in Trump’s candidacy. So what gives? Why is Trump so much inside so many’s heads?

To John Fea’s credit, he tries to explain why he signed:

I signed this document because I believe that historians, as historical thinkers, have a LOT to offer when it comes to critiquing political candidates. The emphasis in the letter on evidence-based arguments, the respect for the dignity of all humanity, the importance of context, the uses of the past in political discourse, the commitment to a civil society (rooted, presumably, in the kind of empathy that historical thinking brings), and the very fact that making America great AGAIN is ultimately a statement about the past. Trump runs roughshod over all these things.

But all the letter says about context and evidence is to say that historians affirm that stuff and they do so in a not so self-deprecating way:

We interrogate and take responsibility for our sources and ground our arguments in context and evidence.

And if historians are so good at context, where have they been on the context for relations between blacks and police? It’s not like cop shootings and cops being shot has not been in the news.

Like I say, Trump changes everything (and I’m still not voting for him).

Support for 2K is Growing (and it’s hardly rrrradical)

From the moderate regions of mid-western evangelicalism:

This conflation of the church and the nation characterizes the rest of the book. In defining (and I would say, exaggerating) the cultural influence of evangelist George Whitefield, Metaxas says that Whitefield’s preaching had the effect of turning colonists into Americans. To be an American (not a Christian, but an American), was to accept certain religious truths about one’s status in God’s eyes. As Metaxas concludes in summing up Whitefield’s significance, “the Gospel of Christ . . . created an American people.” Strange, I somehow thought that Jesus promised to build his Church on that foundation, but I guess he meant the United States.

Although Metaxas focuses on the colonial and Revolutionary eras, he does allow Abraham Lincoln to join the conversation as well, and as it turns out, Lincoln agreed John Winthrop that the United States has a “holy calling” to be an example to the world. Minimally encumbered by evidence, Metaxas notes that Lincoln understood that “America had been called by God,” and that “to be chosen by God—as the Jews had been chosen by God, . . . and as the messiah had been chosen by God,” was a “profound and sacred and even terrifying obligation.” I’m not sure which is scarier: the analogy of the United States to Israel—God’s new chosen people—or the analogy of the United States to Christ.

The latter reminds me of a trenchant observation in Hugh Heclo’s fine book Christianity and American Democracy: “If America is the redeemer of nations and time, then America is the Christ of history,” Heclo writes. “This notion may be inadvertent, but it is blasphemy all the same.”

And from the topsy-turvy world of unraveling Europe:

It seems as though many church leaders think that we have the right, the knowledge and the ability to use our position to advance particular political positions, which we equate with the Kingdom of God. This is across the spectrum, from liberal to evangelical, from low church to Catholic – it has been disturbing to see just how many church leaders seem to think that speaking a prophetic word means speaking a political word, even use the same political codes that the secular world use. And even more astonishing is how the Internet makes constitutional, financial and political experts of us all. ‘It’s only advisory’, ‘the Scottish Parliament has the power to block’, ‘£100 billion will be wiped of the markets’, ‘thousands will be killed in Northern Ireland’….and these are some of milder prophecies. I don’t have any problem with church leaders advocating political positions in public as private citizens (I often do it myself), but we have no right to commit our churches to those positions, nor to equate them as being part of the Christian message.

And 2k doesn’t even force you to identify one kingdom with God the Father and the other with God the Son.


New Year's Sobrieties

In observance of the seventy-seventh anniversary of J. Gresham Machen’s death (Jan. 1, 1937), what follows is an excerpt from a Westminster Seminary commencement address (1931) that reflects a measure of sympathy for an otherworldly Roman Catholicism that embodied it in significant cultural expressions, and has the added benefit of exposing the provincialism of evangelical Manhattanophiles.

About one week ago I stood on the one hundred and second story of the great Empire State Building in the very city of New York. From there I looked down upon a scene like nothing else upon this earth. I watched the elevated trains, which from that distance seemed to be like slow caterpillars crawling along the rails; I listened to the ceaseless roar of the city ascending from a vast area to that great height. And I looked down upon that strange city which has been created on Manhattan Island within the last five or ten years — gigantic, bizarre, magnificently ugly. It seemed like some weird, tortured imagination of things in another world. I came down from that building very greatly impressed.

But as I reflected upon what I had seen, there came into my mind the memory of other buildings that I had contemplated in the course of my life. I thought of an English cathedral rising from the infinite greenness of some quiet cathedral close and above the ancient trees. I thought of the west facade of some continental cathedral, produced at a time when Gothic architecture was not what it is today, imitative and cold and dead, but a living expression of the human soul; when every carving in every obscure corner, never perhaps to be seen by human eye, was an act of worship of Almighty God.

As I revived these memories, certain thoughts came into my mind. The modern builders, I thought, can uplift the body; they uplifted my body in express elevators twelve hundred and forty feet in record time. But whereas the modern builders, in an age of unbelief, can uplift thee body, the ancient builders, in an age of faith, could uplift the soul. As one stands before the tower of a medieval cathedral — with one century laying the foundation there below, another century contributing its quota in the middle distance, and another century bringing the vast conception to its climax in a spire greater than the twelve hundred and forty feet of the Empire State Building; one is uplifted not by some rebellious tower of Babel seeking to reach unto heaven by human pride, but rather on the wings of faith, up and up until one seem to stand in the very presence of the infinite God.

I am no medievalist, my friends; and I do not want you to be medievalists. I rejoice with all my heart in the marvelous widening of our knowledge of this mysterious universe that has come in modern times; I rejoice in the wonderful technical achievements of our day. I trust that you, my brethren will never fall into the “Touch not, taste not, handle not” attitude which Paul condemned in his time; I hope you will never fall into that ancient heresy of forgetting that this is God’s world and that neither its good things nor its wonders should be despised by those upon whom, through God’s bounty, they have been bestowed. I trust that you will consecrate to God not an impoverished man, narrowed in interests, narrowed in mind and heart, but a man with all God-given powers developed to the full.

Moreover, I cherish in my soul a vague yet glorious hope — the hope of a time when these material achievements, instead of making man the victim of his own machines, may be used in the expression of some wondrous thought. There may come a time when God will send to the world the fire of genius, which he has taken from it in our time, and when he will send something far greater than genius — a humble heart finding in his worship the highest use of all knowledge and of all power. There may come a time when men will wonder at their former obsession with these material things, when they will see that these modern inventions in the material realm are in themselves as valueless as the ugly little bits of metal type in a printer’s composing room, and that they true value will be found only when they become the means of expressing some glorious poem. (“Consolations in the Midst of Battle,” Selected Shorter Writings, 203-205)

If You Needed More Reasons to Resent New York City

Upstate New York is lovely. Long Island has its charms. Even New York City has appeal — until the boosters start whooping. Christian boosters are even tougher to take because of that little matter of pride. This leaves me wondering if New York exceptionalism is worse than American exceptionalism. For the history of Presbyterianism, New York wins hands down. All of American Presbyterianism’s major controversies started over New York’s excesses — Old Side-New Side (Edwards and Tennent), Old School-New School (Barnes), fundamentalist-modernist (Fosdick), Old Life-New Life (Keller).

But now we hear that New York is experiencing a spiritual renaissance:

As the 80’s came to a close, a man considered by many to be one of the most influential pastors of our time answered a call to New York City to start a church: Tim Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian, hailed as one of the most vital congregations in New York City.

By that time, the abortion rate in New York City had skyrocketed. Through the planting of Redeemer, a need for a crisis pregnancy center was identified. Subsequently, Midtown Pregnancy Support Center was founded. Other Redeemer members saw the need for a classical Christian school in New York City. So, the Geneva School was formed. That brought families into the city that wanted their children to attend that school.

As the year 2000 neared, New Yorkers saw more than the turn of a new century; they found ways to intellectually examine faith.

The King’s College opened its doors in a 34,000 square foot space the Empire State Building—after a short period of closure—in 1999 (the school is now located in the financial district). This placed the next generation of Christian thinkers in the hub of New York—and American—culture. Because of the placement of The King’s College, hundreds of young people are flooding the churches in the Big Apple.

In 2000, Metaxas started Socrates In the City, a monthly forum that facilitates discussion around “the bigger questions in life.” This event has seen growth over the 13 years in existence, and consistently attracts what Metaxas calls “The cultural elite.” Topics covered at these forums include: the existence of evil, the implications of science in faith, and the role of suffering.

In 2001, New Yorkers saw the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. “These events focused hearts on New York City,” said Metaxas. “This caused a lot of people to move to the city and start churches and other ministries.”

A post-September 11 New York City would see the emergence of many new churches, such as Journey in 2002, Trinity Grace in 2006, and Hillsong NYC in 2011—representing a wide variety of theological and worship styles. More parachurch organizations, like Q, have popped up. Founded by Gabe Lyons in 2007, Q exists to help church and cultural leaders engage the Gospel in public life.

“Now, there are so many churches in town, I don’t know the names of all of them. I know that the Lord is in all of this,” said Metaxas. “I am convinced we are on the verge of some kind of faith renaissance in New York City that will blow a lot of minds.”

A curious feature of this story is that the writer is Joy Allmond, “a web writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and a freelance writer. She lives in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband, two teenage stepsons and two dogs.”

No offense to Ms. Allmond, but I’d take her piece a little more seriously (though mainstream journalists usually put religion stories in the features sections where tough questions seldom go) if she actually lived and breathed in New York. On the ground in the Big Apple, the story is not Christianity but the new mayor, the Democrat, Bill deBlasio, and there the story even has a religious dimension, though Keller, Metaxas, and Thornbury are nowhere to be found. (Parenthetically, World magazine did report on the Republican loser, Joe Lohta, and his meeting with Tim Keller in September.)

First the numbers:

Protestants were the largest religious segment of voters in the Democratic primary, making up 31% of the voters. Because evangelicals make up the great majority of Protestants in the city, most likely the large majority of the Protestant Democratic voters are evangelical Protestants. Over two-thirds of evangelical Protestants are African American or Hispanic. Over one-third of evangelical Protestants reside in Brooklyn.

Catholic voters were the next largest religious segment of voters in the Democratic primary, making up 25% of the voters. The Catholic voters were less likely to vote in the primary elections. Most surveys have found that Catholics make up around 40-44% of the city’s population. Catholic charismatics, who were endorsed by Pope Paul II, are similar to Pentecostal Protestants in their values and voting behavior.

Jews were the third largest segment. Although Jews make up perhaps 10% of NYC’s population, 19% of the Democratic primary voters identified themselves as Jewish. The proportion of Jews who vote is significantly higher than that for the other main religious groups.

Was it a decisive turn to the left?

So de Blasio did not win the votes of unprecedented number of New Yorkers. And many of those who did vote for him also supported Bloomberg. That doesn’t mean that they like everything Bloomberg did. But there’s no evidence here of a progressive tsunami.

What about de Blasio’s career? The tabloid press paid a great deal of attention to de Blasio’s visits to communist Nicaragua and the Soviet Union as a young man. More recently, however, de Blasio worked as a HUD staffer under Andrew Cuomo, and as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. De Blasio took liberal positions during his tenure on the city council, particularly on symbolic issues involving gay rights. But this is not the resume of a professional radical.

It’s true that de Blasio made “a tale of two cities” the central theme of his campaign. As many observers have pointed out, however, he lacks the authority to enact his signature proposals: a tax increase on high earners, to be used to fund universal pre-K. Nothing’s impossible, but the chances of the state legislature approving such a tax hike are slim. The same goes for several of de Blasio’s other ideas, including a city-only minimum wage higher than the state’s minimum and the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

The real issues under the de Blasio’s administration will be matters over which the mayor has some direct control. That means, above all, contracts with city workers, and policing. Will de Blasio blow the budget to satisfy public employee unions? And will he keep crime under control after eliminating stop-and-frisk ?

Where is New York City’s spiritual renaissance in all this?

For one thing, Keller focused his church plant on the city’s urban professionals, a class of people who, by definition, don’t necessarily mesh well with either the city’s dwindling stock of middle-class earners, or its increasing number of people of even lowlier social standing. If de Blasio is going to start playing class warfare, Redeemer’s target demographic may tire of being perceived as an economic liability.

For another, ministry in urban markets already struggles with the intense impermanence of career-chasing members who transition into and out of cities at the behest of job opportunities. Should de Blasio give New York’s corporate citizens a cold shoulder, there’s little keeping many companies in the city other than the recruiting edge they get from Gotham’s hedonistic urban allure. Such intangibles could become prohibitive quickly if companies are forced to re-evaluate their balance sheets.

Plus, socially liberal urban politicians are not known for embracing quality-of-life issues as much as their suburban counterparts are, or for their crime-fighting discipline, or their concern for traditional, proven educational practices in public schools. As it is, private schools in New York can cost more than $40,000 per year per pupil, demand is so great.

Indeed, you’d have to be an exceptionally devoted – and brazenly idealistic – New Yorker to not be concerned that the Big Apple’s rewards risk renewed marginalization under de Blasio’s management.

Although it’s not exactly a sin to increase taxes to pay for pre-K programs, or lawyers for renters going to Housing Court, such tactics do not represent a mindset of thrift, expediency, and personal responsibility when a city’s budget already requires astoundingly high tax rates. Such proposals by de Blasio indicate that just as Giulianni and Bloomberg might have given too much leeway to certain business leaders, a renewed emphasis on social liberalism may undermine the city’s economic vitality and endorse certain lifestyles that pose an economic liability for taxpayers.

There’s little in de Blasio’s manifesto that doesn’t presume individual citizens to be more righteous than those they may be accusing of wrongdoing. If equity is something voters thought was missing in the way Giulianni and Bloomberg governed, de Blasio is simply turning the tables towards a different sort of inequity. An inequity that likely will be much more expensive to maintain.

It’s an inequity that could also validate the suspicions that New York’s native poor have towards interloping rich whites, the type of people attending Keller’s various congregations throughout Manhattan. It’s also an inequity that banks on charity not as an opportunity for advancement, but as simply another enabler for attitudes and lifestyles that perpetuate poverty cycles instead of break them.

None of this adds up to a decisive point about urban ministry or the alleged renaissance in Gotham. It does indicate that the hype surrounding Christians in New York City is far removed from the realities of the very city for which they perform cartwheels. If they were spirituality of the church guys, then being silent about the city’s politics and economics in cheers for the revival might make sense. Even then, just as Charles Finney figured, we have natural ways of explaining what appears to be spiritual vitality. Reporters from North Carolina, however, aren’t going to help with those explanations.

Shouldn't You Let Others Say This?

While Detroit burns, it’s heady times in the Big Apple (even though the editors at New Yorker and New York Review of Books haven’t received the press release):

A good friend of mine, Greg Thornbury, says we need to learn how to change culture from the CENTER of culture—not just from the margins. And where do we find the center of culture? Places like Hollywood and New York City, where I live.

Greg, to my great delight, was recently appointed president of The King’s College, an evangelical school located in the heart of New York City. It’s a small college—just 500 or so students—but its new president may be onto something big.

And King’s is important to the spread and influence of Christianity. Why? Because, as Thornbury explains, “Movements do not typically progress beyond or rise above the defining academic institutions of their cause.” And “the most important and strategic [colleges] in this country are located in or near major urban centers. But for some reason, Christian higher education does not seem to have gotten this message.”

Many Christian schools are, instead, tucked away in small towns away from centers of influence—that’s not a criticism, just an observation.
Thornbury echoes the teaching of sociologist James Davison Hunter, who writes that real cultural change won’t happen without strong links between networks of top-drawer intellectuals and leaders. Astonishingly, in the last decade or so, these links have begun to form among evangelicals right here in New York City—a place not exactly known for being a hotbed of evangelical fervor. Greg calls the formation of these links “a remarkable and unprecedented renaissance of Christian life and thought.”

As an example, we see Tim Keller’s hugely popular Redeemer Church—the kind of evangelical church that nobody thought could flourish in the Big Apple. It’s attended by many of the city’s movers and shakers; and then there’s Socrates in the City, a forum for busy professionals to help them examine life’s big questions, founded by yours truly.

Greg also reminds us of the importance of Christians in the arts. “At the level of high culture,” Greg notes, “the people that shape the ideas that wind up becoming a worldview are people in the arts, [as well as] people in the university.” It may surprise you to learn that New York has its share of Christian artists—there’s my friend Mako Fujimura, and my friend, the writer Sally Lloyd-Jones. There’s also Carolyn Copeland, producer of the off-Broadway hit “Freud’s Last Session,” and who is now working on a Broadway show about John Newton, the former slave-trader and author of “Amazing Grace.” Oh yes, she’s also a friend!

Even if (BIG I BIG F) it were true, this is unbecoming. But who will intervene when the New Yorkers are so high on themselves?

The Gospel Coalition and Race, Part II

It has been a while, but Justin Taylor posted a couple of items that might suggest the Co-Allies are not the best judges of their own attitudes toward race (as suggested in a previous post) or ethnicity. Some may want to read this post as mean-spirited, whose aim is to make the Coalition look bad. Others might say (myself among them) that the Gospel Co-Allies may want to consider better how they come across, in which case this post could be a free piece of advice from an outside consultant about the thorny realm of the politics of identity. I provoke, you decide.

The post in question here refers to the children’s book that Eric Metaxas wrote a few years ago about Squanto, the native American who saved the Pilgrims during the first informal observance of Thanksgiving. Taylor doesn’t say much, but he provides links to the Amazon cite for the book and to a CNN interview with Metaxas from a few years ago.

This is the Amazon book description:

This entertaining and historical story shows that the actual hero of the Thanksgiving was neither white nor Indian, but God. In 1608, English traders came to Massachusetts and captured a 12-year old Indian, Squanto, and sold him into slavery. He was raised by Christians and taught faith in God. Ten years later he was sent home to America. Upon arrival, he learned an epidemic had wiped out his entire village. But God had plans for Squanto. God delivered a Thanksgiving miracle: an English-speaking Indian living in the exact place where the Pilgrims land in a strange new world.

In his interview, Metaxas tells the host that this story was a “beautiful thing,” a “picture of the harmony we had right at the beginning of our history.”

Maybe I’m jaded or simply Reformed, but I am not sure that this story is where you want to go to pull the rabbit out of the hat of “God will and does provide for his people.” Calling it a miracle without addressing the pain and suffering does seem too sunny-side up and it hardly comports with the narratives of the Old Testament. It reminded me of the Sunday school stories I would hear where teachers spared students from the dark side of human suffering or the troubling realities that did not fit with a Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know view of the world. And there is plenty of dark in this story — slavery, European treatment of native Americans, and possibly even racism (if you want to go there). And yet Justin encourages us to view this with the tidy bow of God’s miracle in saving his people? Does it not take a little insensitivity to ignore the brutal treatment of native Americans? Or should not a Christian at least talk about the hidden ways of God? Instead, we get an “inspirational” story that allows us to feel warm about our turkey dinners and the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Here’s a piece of advice to Justin: take this post down before someone who cares about social justice, racism, and the rights of native Americans — at least those outside the genteel and rosy Coalition circles — sees it. (Or at least change the graphics since I am not sure native Americans are supposed to look so European.)