My oldest son is almost nine. My younger son is only five, but it won’t be long before both of them will be young men. Right now I’m probably their hero. Not because there is anything unusually heroic about me, but because I’m their dad, I love them, I spend time with them, and when those three factors are in place, kids almost always admire their fathers. But the time will come when my sons will broaden their horizons and learn that there are other heroes in life worth getting to know. Heroes who are unusual in their exemplary deeds. Fortunately, author and speaker Eric Metaxas has made it easier for us dads to introduce some of the great men of Western Civilization to our sons. Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness tells the story of seven men who found themselves at the right place and the right time in history, but who also rose to greatness because of their strength of character founded on faith in Christ. The purpose of this book is to answer for men and their sons the question: “What makes a great man great?” The answers for each historical figure are essentially the same—each man was great because Jesus freed him from the bonds of selfishness to respond to the call of God. But every hero in this book manifests that greatness in different ways. Each man has his own compelling story of how God’s grace transformed a life into one of particular greatness.
Metaxas offers brief biographies on the following men:
- George Washington
- William Wilberforce
- Eric Liddell
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- Jackie Robinson
- Pope John Paul II
- Charles W. Colson
Each chapter tells the story of how each man became a modern-day hero. While most people are probably familiar with the basic reason each man is famous, every chapter includes intriguing information that is not well-known to the general public. For example, with the recent release of the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, most people who either saw the movie, know something about Robinson’s story, or remember it unfolding in the early 1940s, know that Robinson was a Christian. But most do not realize that it was Robinson’s Christian faith that gave him the courage to withstand the trials and abuse of being a pioneer in a hostile environment. (For that matter, history is content to ignore Robinson’s boss, Branch Rickey, who choose to blaze the baseball integration trail for the express reason of mirroring the justice of God.)
Probably the most unusual choice for inclusion in this book is Pope John Paul II. As the book is marketing to American Protestants, JP2 stands out as the black sheep among famous evangelicals. But Metaxas is right to add the pope to this list of heroes because John Paul II was also a man of profoundly deep and humble faith who became famously popular for his love of young people, his courageous stand against communism, and his prophetic message about the spiritual and societal dangers of materialism and secularism. Driven by the love of God for humankind, he was a voice of compassion in an era of excess and oppression.
Seven Men is a quick read. It is written at a level accessible to young adults but with themes that will keep the attention of most adults. I can imagine reading the first chapter or two to my sons in a few years and then handing the book to them to finish. Dinner table conversation will surely be more interesting talking about Bonhoeffer and the Nazis, Liddell and keeping the Sabbath, or Wilberforce and defending the oppressed.
From the book cover:
What Makes a Great Man Great? Seven Men offers answers in the captivating stories of some of the greatest men who have ever lived. In this gallery of greatness, seven historical figures come to life as real people who experienced struggles and challenges that probably would have destroyed the resolve of most other men. What was their secret? How did George Washington resist the temptation to become the first king of America, and why did William Wilberforce give up the chance to be prime minister of England? What made Eric Liddell cast aside an almost certain Olympic gold medal? What enabled Jackie Robinson to surrender his right to fight back against racists, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer to jeopardize his freedom and safety to defy the Nazis? What gave John Paul II the ability to identify with the most helpless members of human society and even to forgive the man who tried to murder him? And why would Chuck Colson volunteer to go to prison when he didn’t have to? The seven men in this compelling volume evince one particular quality: that of surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept. Having heroes and role models was always tremendously important for society, but in the last few decades this has changed, with seriously troubling results. Eric Metaxas says it’s time to reverse the trend. With vitality and warmth, the New York Times best-selling author restores to the reader a sense of the heroic—the idea that certain lives are worthy of emulation. Get to know these seven men, and your life will be immeasurably richer.