CHICAGO (RNS) — The biggest reaction Eric Metaxas got from students this week at Hudson University in suburban Elgin was when Judson President Gene Crume introduced him as one of the writers and voices on “VeggieTales,” a popular Christian animated series many millennials grew up watching.
Metaxas, who co-wrote an episode called “Lyle the Kindly Viking” and narrated another on Queen Esther, has had quite an eclectic career.
A well-known talk radio host, he’s written popular biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther. He’s also written books for kids, including “God Made You Special,” featuring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber of “VeggieTales,” and a forthcoming humor book, “Donald Drains the Swamp,” referring to President Trump, whom he has vocally supported.
“I want to stress to you that I’m very confusing,” he told students, with a smile on his face.
As the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution passed this month, Metaxas was one of two popular evangelical Christian authors who offered competing views on university campuses in the Chicago area of whether America was founded as a Christian nation.
On Wednesday (Sept. 26), Metaxas was at Judson to talk about his book “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty” for the school’s annual Constitution Day chapel service.
He shared the anecdote from which the book gets its title. As Benjamin Franklin was leaving Independence Hall after signing the Constitution, he was asked what kind of government they had created, Metaxas said.
“A republic, madam, if you can keep it,” was his reply, according to the author and speaker.
“You’ve got to understand that the Constitution doesn’t keep itself,” he said. “We the people have to understand it and keep it. We have to keep the republic. It’s up to us.”
Historian John Fea is skeptical of Metaxas’ views on American history and his support of the current administration.
A couple of days before Metaxas spoke at Judson, Fea was in Chicago to talk about his new book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” during a taping of the “Things Not Seen” podcast Monday at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on the University of Chicago campus.
Though he teaches American history at Messiah College, an evangelical school, he rejects the idea, popularized by evangelical writers such as Metaxas and David Barton, that America was founded as a Christian nation. Countering that claim is a difficult task. But, he said, it’s important for evangelical Christians to see a different view of early American history from a fellow evangelical.
“Because, you know, frankly, Barton and Metaxas especially are much more popular than people like me who are trying to push back,” he said.
Fea argues that the Founding Fathers’ view of religion was “much more nuanced and complex than people on the left and the right make it.”