I love to read about people in the past. I like big, detailed books, like 500 page biographies that leave no question about the subject unanswered. I also quickly recognize that a great number of people look at a book like that with horror. They could not fathom having the time, energy or interest in plumbing the depths of a tome like that.
Yet there is often much to learn from a well-written biography, especially a biography of a fellow Christian. While we are obviously called to spend our lives following Christ and not other believers, learning how other believers put their faith into action can be incredibly encouraging to our own faith. After all, it is what the apostle Paul taught when he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
With that in mind, let me introduce you to Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness. Metaxas is well-known for his excellent biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as his contribution to the Breakpoint radio commentaries. In this book, Metaxas provides 7 short (about 30 pages each) biographies of seven men who, in living out their faith, became men to admire in unique ways.
The seven men highlighted in the book may by surprising. Some of the men come from recognized evangelical faith traditions. William Wilberforce was a force behind stopping the slave trade and reforming manners in England. Eric Liddell, made famous by the film Chariots of Fire, was a world-renowned athlete and a committed missionary. Charles Colson, the former Nixon White House “hatchet man” came to Christ and founded Prison Fellowship.
Others come from a faith tradition outside of what is commonly understood as evangelicalism. George Washington, America’s first president, lived out his belief in a quiet, faithful way that demonstrated what leadership should be like. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran, faithfully resisted the scourge of Nazism and ultimately lost his life for being implicated in an attempt to end Hitler’s evil power. Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church, displayed his greatness on a world stage and changed people’s perception of the world’s largest church tradition.
Perhaps the most surprising man in the book is Jackie Robinson, the first African-American man to play baseball in the major leagues. Metaxas tells a story that is significantly different than the one laid out in the popular movie 42. In the movie, Jackie Robinson displays incredible endurance and grace in the face of racial hatred. Metaxas provides a broader picture, also displaying Robinson’s endurance and grace, but grounding those characteristics in the Christian faith he had trusted since his childhood.
All and all, 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness is well worth a read. In these days when our society glorifies celebrities that are not on any way worthy of emulation, 7 Men is a valuable reminder that there still are admirable men out there. True heroism and greatness is on display in each of the lives portrayed in this book. And where does that heroism and greatness come from? It flows from the faith of these men and the transforming work of Christ in their lives. 7 Men is a wonderful reminder to all who read it of the power of God to make sinful, flawed human beings truly great.