After the construction of the Constitution, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Do we have a monarchy or a republic?” Franklin replies, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Echoing the words of Benjamin Franklin, Eric Metaxas is helping the reader to remember that we cannot simply take America, or the promise of America, for granted. Yet, many Americans have fallen asleep to what that even means. While reading If You Can Keep It, I went through a wide range of thoughts. I nearly felt fickle as I tried to decide what I thought of If You Can Keep It as I read it, but couldn’t make up my mind. For this review of the book, I want to try and sort out some of those thoughts. I’ll begin with sharing one of my favorite quotes from the book, then go from there.
“If one’s thoughts were regulated by the power of the state,
how could one really be free?”
~ Eric Metaxas
America. Based on your story, on the narrative that has been part of your life, just to say American is bound to bring up all different kinds of thoughts and feelings. Am I proud of my country? Disgusted with my government? In an election year where nobody seems happy with our choices, considering what The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty is seems very timely.
One of the major themes of the book is American exceptionalism. Admittedly, I am working through my own thoughts on this. In America we have freedom, democracy, liberty… well, at least some of us do. Can America really be exceptional with all of the blood on her hands? Let’s face it. There have been a lot of atrocities that have occurred on American soil and by Americans. Metaxas says to focus only on America’s successes while ignoring her faults is as much as a fallacy to avoid as to only focus on her faults without acknowledging her successes. He handles this gently while never dismissing any one persons or groups plights and sufferings.
There are so many issues today, it can feel like there is no point in trying to be an influence. I believe the approach Eric Metaxas takes in If You Can Keep It is a macroview assessment of America. We must balance all of our experiences, the truth of America’s history, against not who the USA is on the world stage, but the PROMISE of America. The promise that the Statue of Liberty reminds us of.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
When I read those words, I love them. But can I say this is my American experience? Even as I’m here because my great ancestors saw those words for themselves and came to America’s shores in search of liberty, it is not my experience that many people carry that sentiment. I haven’t. I think that is Eric Metaxas’s point: we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten the promise of America. When we forget and cease to live by these virtuous truths, when we cease to live for others and live for ourselves instead, we cease to be America. We will implode. Metaxas is encouraging us to remember who we are, a nation who exists – in promise – to bring liberty to our neighbors.
The urgency of If You Can Keep It is to love our country. That may seem difficult with a look at the headlines of today or the past. The praiseworthy should be praised, and the hideousness should be acknowledged and repented from. We must not forget. If we the people of America further forget who we are intended to be, we will cease to be the fullness of who we were meant to be and become a shell. America in name only.
How can we remember? What did our founding fathers want? They were escaping from the tyranny of oppression coming from Britain. They wanted to be their own people group with their own freedoms to govern themselves. Despite their many faults, this should strike a chord with many of us. We desire the freedom and promise of America. Too good to be true, you say? We are not there, but we must remember and believe in THAT America.
Personally, as a Christian, there is some tension for me while reading the book. I see that I am in exile in this world, and where I’m at in this world is America. My true kingdom is God’s country, and He will bring it about. At the same time, I need to acknowledge that what freedoms I have here are God given and a foretaste of that great country that awaits for me. America may or may not become a shell of the true American promise, but whatever happens, America will always be a shell of God’s eternal city. I don’t know what role America will play in the timeline of history. I don’t believe that America is a continuation of God’s people of Israel in the Bible, though I would be curious to know what position Eric Metaxas holds on that thought. Regardless, the best of what is America should make us long for heaven, and allow us to enjoy God through the gift that He has made America is to its people. With eternity in mind, as a Christian, we should seek to bring as much of the future into the present as we can. We should fight to taste those eternal shores of the justice and truth of God’s country while we are still waiting for it. Eric Metaxas did not go this direction in the book, but it is the direction and extent that I would take with what he wrote.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. I propose that if you are of no earthly good, you are not heavenly minded enough. It is with one eye on heaven that we should proclaim “all men are created equal!” and seek to bring the future into the now, even though we know full reality of reconciliation between God and man, and man and man, will not occur until heaven.
One of the main threads Eric weaves through If You Can Keep It is the Golden Triangle, inspired by Os Guinness. The three points of this are freedom, virtue, and faith, all of which are dependent on one another for a truly free society. I found it interesting how even Benjamin Franklin was a part of this, as he did not seem to have a faith of his own. The section on leaders and virtue was excellent.
Some of the other discussions I thoroughly enjoyed were on Nathan Hale, statues in Central Park, and the veneration of heroes. The exposition of The Midnight ride of Paul Revere made me realize just how much I had forgotten the promise of American liberty. Later in the book, the section on Abraham Lincoln and his leadership on the brink of the Civil War was truly inspiring, especially on how America will either live forever or die by suicide. The Lincoln quotes that Metaxas gives us are a wealth of wisdom. Even on a microlevel, I was convicted and encouraged at the same time with how can I specifically love my brothers and sisters here.
As the book was coming to a close, I found myself thinking, “This is all great and inspiring information, but what am I supposed to do with it?” What Eric Metaxas proposes we do with the information he gives us in If You Can Keep It is surprisingly simple, but profound and impactful. How can we love our country, love the liberty we have, and exist to use our freedoms for the benefits of others? It will go beyond how we act in the public square, but will get right down to how we will inspire and govern ourselves as individuals.
For me, I found myself asking the question, “How now shall I live?” The answer, which I believe is a natural extension of If You Can Keep It, was found in the book of Micah in the Bible.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 ESV
You can read more about If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty at http://ericmetaxas.com/books/if-you-can-keep-it/
*Disclosure: I was accepted to be part of the Launch Team for If You Can Keep It by the publisher. I was asked to give my honest thoughts, but in no way did this require a positive review for the book.