Following Eric Metaxas’ life from the undersized child of immigrants to the author of a New York Times best-seller is full of twists and turns few could anticipate and yet all of us can relate to.
Metaxas is best known for his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” By no means a one-hit wonder, the writer has gone on to pen similarly successful books exploring two other historical Christian icons, Martin Luther and William Wilberforce.
Instead of examining another figure from history, Metaxas’ new book, “Fish Out of Water,” looks inward.
Desiring to share the seminal moment in his existence, the moment when “eternity broke into [his] life,” Metaxas meticulously, albeit eloquently, leads readers to that point, from when his parents met up until his spiritual awakening in adulthood.
“This is, without any question, dramatically different from anything I’ve ever done. It’s a literary memoir. It’s not, you know, a faith story. There’s no politics or faith in it, really. It’s just me growing up,” Metaxas told The Western Journal.
“But in a way, I feel like that’s a very important story to tell, because most people have preconceived notions about any writers or figures who are in any way public. And I think it’s important for us to know the whole person, to know where they’re coming from, where they’ve come from, what their influences are.
“And I know that my parents raising me in an immigrant household, that was really the most fundamentally formational part of my life.”
Indeed, Metaxas’ family life is one of the most intriguing aspects of the book.
The author’s mother hailed from Germany and his father from Greece, ultimately creating a cultural hodgepodge of a family with many eclectic mores unfamiliar to most, although the traditional dynamics between family members are all-too-relatable, often to the point of hilarity.
“Part of the reason I want to write this book also is because I think that there are so many hilarious stories in it,” Metaxas said.
“I’ve just been dying to tell these stories for years because they crack me up and they crack up my family and friends. And I’ve been dying just to tell the stories and, in a sense, to humiliate myself and to say, look, we are all part of something, you know, the human condition is hilarious, it’s tragic and sad and it’s also hilarious, funny, meaningful, puzzling.”
While these family dynamics play a big part in the story, Metaxas doesn’t shy away from tackling bigger issues as well.
For example, another reoccurring subject found in “Fish Out of Water” is cultural Christianity.
Although Metaxas’ family, who regularly attended church, identified as “Christian,” he said they never truly understood that God is a knowable being who seeks to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us.
This sentiment, lightly sprinkled throughout the book, is reminiscent of a famous interview with Protestant preacher Francis Chan, wherein Chan asserted there was no such thing as a “lukewarm Christian” and agreed that many churches across America are “full of people who aren’t actually Christians” and “it has always been that way.”
“I think that there are many people who have this idea, like, ‘I’m not a Jew, I’m not a Buddhist, I’m not a Muslim, I’m not an atheist. OK, I guess I’m a Christian.’ And you realize, no, that’s not how it works,” Metaxas told The Western Journal.
“And if you grow up in a community that doesn’t understand that, you really put the details to the side.”
One of Metaxas’ primary motivations for writing his memoir was a desire to highlight those issues within Christendom and the United States in general.
“And I do think that there are many people in the United States, many people around the world, who have a kind of tribal identity, cultural identity. But what happened to me at the end of the book, of course, is a dramatic departure from that. And once you make that departure, you think, ‘My goodness, what have I been thinking all this time? What have I been?’ And it’s baffling and takes time to work out. It took me years, really, to come to terms with it,” he said.
Although Christ finds his way into the core of the book, “Fish Out of Water” isn’t the typical story one might find in the Christian section of the bookstore.
The pages aren’t permeated with constant allusions to Scripture or incessant testaments to God’s grace, yet his presence can be sensed within every chapter.
Metaxas’ story is much more tactile, more emotionally true to the experiences of the majority of Americans who’ve been raised in our increasingly secular society.
It is precisely because the story avoids typical Christian tropes that readers can truly feel the presence of Christ in Metaxas’ life.
This is especially the case in the story’s conclusion when he details the precise moment that made him a follower of Christ.
“There is only one thing to make of it if you’re intellectually honest — and that is that the God of the universe wants to have a personal relationship with every person that he created and his ways are mysterious, very frustratingly so, sometimes maddeningly so at other times,” Metaxas told The Western Journal, “but nonetheless undeniable.
“I wanted to tell the story in such a way that you don’t really see this coming, because I didn’t see it coming. And I thought, as a creative literary writer, I don’t want to ruin the joke. … I want to tell the story exactly so you’re tracking as I was tracking and you don’t know what lies ahead.
“And that’s why I think I go into a lot of the stuff that I do, is to kind of lay down a bed of context so that the person doesn’t come to it without really appreciating who I was at that moment.”
This is where the true beauty in “Fish Out of Water” lies.
Metaxas achieved everything he aimed for within its pages.
And what was that revelation for Metaxas? What transcendent vision pushed him toward accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior?
You’ll have to purchase a copy of “Fish Out of Water” to find out. Visit EricMetaxas.com to purchase a copy.
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