“As an author, it means very much to you to have your work read by anybody,” New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas said. “The idea that I would come to a place where most of you have encountered my work really is a deep blessing and in many ways a real dream come true. So I praise the Lord for that.”
Metaxas was welcomed to campus Thursday, Jan. 12, in Benson Auditorium as he gave a presentation — the third American Studies Institute Distinguished Lecture Series program of the 2016-17 school year.
“This is overwhelming,” he said. “I only wish my family could see the size of the crowd, so hold on a second.”
Metaxas pulled out his phone to photograph the laughing audience.
“You don’t have your book with you do you?” he joked with them as several books popped up in the audience. “That would be even better.”
In summer 2016, President Bruce McLarty announced the start of a campus read program called Harding Read to begin fall 2016. He chose Metaxas’ book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery as the selection for the school year, and Metaxas discussed the book, his faith and the life of Wilberforce during his presentation Thursday night.
“Wilberforce would not have been Wilberforce without Jesus,” Metaxas said. “This man dedicated himself to living out his faith in Jesus to help people. Jesus changes everything. If he doesn’t change everything, then he hasn’t touched everything. And you need to give him whatever it is he hasn’t changed.”
Amazing Grace chronicles the life of Wilberforce and his heroic battle to put an end to slavery. Wilberforce received word of the abolition of slavery three days before his death.
“This man dedicated himself to living out his faith in Jesus to help people,” he said. “The Lord knows what is in you that you yourself don’t know. The Lord knows why he made you. But you need to know him, and you need to obey him. The Lord will do things with you that there’s no way you could do on your own.”
Michael Crouch (’09) has been facilitating online discussions on Amazing Grace for alumni throughout the semester, and he said he was challenged by Metaxas’ messages and encouraged to find more inspiring stories to learn from.
“One insight that stuck with me and formed the conversations that I had after the talk was the simple idea that someone can claim to be of faith yet totally ignore the changing power of Jesus,” Crouch said. “For those ‘Christians’ of the late 1700s who had no space for being changed, especially when it went against the interest of their pocketbooks. How true is that today? We still have space for reform. Wilberforce is the perfect example for a culture looking for leadership.”
Something that stood out to Josh Hurt, senior exercise science major and student executive vice president of ASI, was how similar Metaxas’ experience of developing his faith was to Wilberforce’s story. As he shared key points of the life of Wilberforce, Metaxas made parallels from Wilberforce’s story to his own life.
“Both were influenced away from their faith by secular colleagues when they were young adults, and both eventually found their faith again,” Hurt said. “With that renewed faith, they both began to share that faith through their gifts — Wilberforce in Parliament and Metaxas through his writing.”
Hannah Johnson, a sophomore nursing major, said she learned even more about Wilberforce and the impact he had on the world because of his faith.
“Metaxas had many thought-provoking ideas that he included in his presentation,” she said. “However, my favorite quote of the night was, ‘The Lord used one man who was obedient to God.’ Metaxas talked about how nobody is better or more righteous than anybody else. The only thing that defines a Christian is his relationship with God.”
McLarty moderated a question and answer period with Metaxas. Instead of taking questions from the audience, McLarty read thought-provoking questions that had been submitted by deans from the University’s various academic colleges.
“He was engaging, friendly, witty, informed and full of faith,” McLarty said. “He walks around so comfortably in the history of Wilberforce, and he uses biography to make very compelling points about how we should respond to the challenges of our own time. He was inspiring, entertaining and convicting all at the same time.”
“I think that learning about Wilberforce has been a great thing for campus,” Hurt said. “He is a very prominent man in history that most of us hadn’t heard of. I think the crowd turnout speaks for how excited people were to hear the author of Amazing Grace speak.”
“I’m thankful for Harding University, Eric Metaxas, and William Wilberforce, for the opportunity to learn more about God’s love for us,” Johnson said, “and I pray we all strive to obey God’s plan for our lives.”