Burying the Talent: A Review of “Letter to the American Church”
Burying the Talent: A Review of “Letter to the American Church”
Written By Mae Arthur   |   08.29.23
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Most people, if given a glimpse of a future event that was going to cause harm to their friends, family, community, and nation, would use every means possible to alert those around them to the danger.

From time to time, there are real, best-case scenario examples of this, such as when someone shares a tip with law enforcement or the intelligence community and a mass killer or terrorist is stopped before he can enact his deadly plan.

But what about those afforded the benefit of hindsight, who see in the pages of history a foreshadowing of events they are living?

Is our track record of sounding the alarm in these cases as good? Sadly, it seems many people; indeed, many Americans, wrongly believe man only needs to reach a new level of enlightenment to rightly execute wrong ideas. For too many, as time passes, the horror of certain events seems more like a story and less like the real devastation that touched, in some cases, millions of people.

As difficult as it is to believe, even the events of World War II and the Holocaust seem to be suffering from the effects of time in the minds of many. As members of the Greatest Generation and survivors of the Holocaust dwindle, so does our collective memory.

And even as many can recognize the horrors wrought by Adolf Hitler specifically, they may not know or understand what events made possible his rise and eventual rule.

The church in America is in crisis.

In an age of confusion about the fundamental truths concerning what it means to be not only a member of our society as outlined in the Constitution but also what it means to be HUMAN, much of the American church has no answer or, worse, has begun to champion the very lies that threaten her future and that of the nation.

Threats against pre-born life, biblical sexuality and the family, and religious liberty may seem far removed from the existential threat posed by the Third Reich, but the attitude of much of the German church at the time (which enabled Hitler’s evil rule) bears a striking resemblance to the grave errors being made by the church in America today.

This cautionary tale forms the basis for Eric Metaxas’ latest book, Letter to the American Church.

Eric Metaxas is the keynote speaker at IFI’s upcoming annual banquet
on November 3rd in Bolingbrook.
Click here for more information.

In this slim volume, Metaxas pulls heavily from the research he conducted while writing the 2010 biography, Bonhoeffer, about the German Pastor-turned-co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was ultimately martyred in a Nazi camp for his part in the failed plot, but he left behind a large body of work in the form of books, letters, and sermons.

As Bonhoeffer tried to warn the German church of the coming evil, so too does Metaxas sound a prophetic call to Christians in America amid the chaos of this age.

You may or may not be aware that despite the warnings of Bonhoeffer and a few others, the vast majority of German pastors shrunk from fulfilling their role as leaders and prophets in their culture and time.

As Nazism spread and Hitler climbed the ladder to eventually become chancellor and self-styled Führer, many were silent, “seeing which way the wind would blow,” as Metaxas says. In one passage, he gives a short history of the Reformation and Luther in particular, who it seems loomed larger than even Christ in some congregations.

Because Luther had famously (and shortsightedly) embraced Romans 13 as the final word on relations between church and state, so had they. In a later chapter called “Be Ye Not Political,” Metaxas applies this stunted theology to the present day, saying that even now,

“some mistakenly believe Romans 13 makes silence… the only safe biblical option.”

In later chapters, Metaxas digs further into the theological atmosphere that made possible the abdication of responsibility by pastors and Christians throughout the nation of Germany. In the chapter called “Who Do You Say God Is?,” he takes to task those Christians who have believed the lie that God is primarily a harsh judge and not a loving father.

The outgrowth of this is people who believe avoiding sin and maintaining “theological purity” is preferable to “getting one’s hands dirty” and risking God’s judgment if it is not done perfectly.

In the following chapter, perhaps the most important and convicting of all, Metaxas builds on the theme of the previous chapter, using the Parable of the Talents to demonstrate practically how a wrong understanding of God’s character effectively crippled the German church (and is doing the same to the American church).

He shows that the two faithful stewards took their master’s money and behaved with it as he would have, taking calculated risks and thus reaping a reward. But the wicked steward was so afraid of doing something wrong that he did not walk in the authority his master had given him, and so earned judgment and wrath.

It is a stinging rebuke to an American church that, in many places, is so hung up on appearing righteous that we don’t boldly act, standing for truth without fear and trusting in the grace of our merciful master to cover the places where we will, inevitably, fall short.

There is much more to recommend in Letter to the American Church, but not enough space to do it justice here. It’s noteworthy that while many Christian conservative commentators in our day take a defensive stance, calling out specific trends, movements, and people groups for their failures, here Metaxas chooses rather to simply hold out the 1930s German church as a warning, largely allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions and recognize the parallels that exist between the failure of so many German Christians and what we are seeing in large swaths of American Christianity today.

There is an oft-repeated story about the Holocaust in which a boxcar train filled with Jews bound for a death camp passed a German church during Sunday service. The cries of the captives could be heard by the congregation but, rather than intervene in some way, the men and women inside the church simply sang their hymns louder to drown out the sound of their neighbors being led away to the slaughter.

Whether anecdotal or true, this story is a devastatingly accurate representation of how many pastors and, by extension, congregations, responded to the abject evil wrought by Hitler.

Thanks to Metaxas’ excellent work, we too ought to consider if we are simply singing louder, shrinking back from the call God has placed upon us in this time.

Letter to the American Church offers a bracing rebuke to the timidity and apathy of so many modern Christians in America. As we face radical forces that seek to marginalize, cancel, and silence the truth, and thereby lead many of our fellow Americans to confusion, depression, and both physical and spiritual death, we have a decision to make.

Unlike the German Christians, who would not allow themselves to fathom the evil they were allowing to flourish, we have the sobering opportunity to view and learn from their mistakes. As Metaxas closes the book, he exhorts the reader, asking,

“Will we … fight with all we have? Or will we … hang back and see which way the wind is blowing, and in our inaction, guarantee that evil prevails?”

May we fight, trusting in our merciful Father to work through our obedience and cover us with His grace as we do so.

To purchase Letter to the American Church, click here.

Mae Arthur
Mae is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a former staff member at a Washington, D.C. conservative policy group. An Illinois native, she now lives in south-central Pennsylvania with her husband and two children....
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