The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty - Part 2 (Transcript)

Dr. Dobson: Well, hello everyone. I'm James Dobson and you're listening to Family Talk, a listener supported ministry. In fact, thank you so much for being part of that support for James Dobson Family Institute.

Ryan Dobson: Hi, I'm Ryan Dobson and I'm thrilled to be a part of this monthlong look at Family Talk's best programs from its first 10 years. Happy anniversary to my dad and the entire staff at the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute. And a big thanks goes to you for supporting Family Talk by making this program part of your day. Well, we've heard from some outstanding guests this month, each representing a particular period within this ministry's first decade. And the man you're about to hear from is one of the most popular guests to sit across from Dr. Dobson in the studio. He's bestselling author and radio talk show host Eric Metaxas. In 2016, Eric examined the fading pride in American freedom and the growing despondent nature of our Christian republic. The basis for their conversation was Eric's book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise Of American Liberty. Here again is Dr. Dobson with part two of this interview with Eric Metaxas, today, on Family Talk.

Dr. Dobson: Well, Eric, I can't wait to get started talking about your book again, this is an outstanding text. I do hope that our listeners will go out and get a copy of it and share it with your children. I haven't seen it yet because today is the street day. [crosstalk 00:01:51] Today is the day it's released?

Eric Metaxas: Yes, today.

Dr. Dobson: So, I haven't had a chance to read it, but I know from what you've said, I'm going to be cheering about this particular book. Tell me if teenagers and junior-highers can understand what you've written.

Eric Metaxas: Well, the original title for this book was Letters To A Young American, because I said, we have to communicate these ideas, these basic fundamental ideas must be passed onto the next generation. So yes, young people can read it depending on their aptitude level or their interest level, but it's not a tough read.

And there are a number of wonderful stories in it. I mean, the story of Nathan Hale and the story of Paul Revere and the story of Washington in 1783. We have got to pass these stories on. They are so beautiful and they really, they're just undeniably inspiring, but you've got to teach them to the next generation. So that's a big piece of what I'm trying to do here.

Dr. Dobson: I want you to talk about George Whitfield and the role that he played, because he died before the Constitution was written. And before the Declaration of Independence, I think it was 1770.

Eric Metaxas: He died in 1770.

Dr. Dobson: And he had an enormous impact on this entire-

Eric Metaxas: I mean, listen, I actually say in the book that this is another one of these things that when I really understood this, I was embarrassed. I said, "How is it possible that I have missed this?" Or that a lot of us have missed this. George Whitfield really paved the way for America to come into being. Now, people who don't know who George Whitfield is, this man was an evangelist, unlike any that has ever lived. I mean, he makes Billy Graham and Paul, the Apostle Paul, look lazy. This guy was preaching four times a day, every single day, for decades. I mean, the man was beyond anything that has ever existed. And you realize that he came to this country, he was a very young man in his early 20s, invited by the Wesleys, Charles and John Wesley who were friends with him at Oxford, invited him. It's such a story.

So he comes and he starts preaching and no one had ever heard anything quite like it. He's preaching the purest kind of gospel of grace, and people who'd been used to kind of moralistic sermons, dour, fatiguing, depressing sermons that tell you what a wretch you are. And you know, you've got to try harder. He was really delivering the sunshine of the gospel of Jesus. Thousands would come to hear him. Now it's inconceivable to us. Thousands would come to hear him. And this man did this up and down the 13 colonies all across on horseback, for years and years and years and years. So we learn that eventually 80%, now this is not a typo and I'm not misspeaking, 80% of every single person alive in the colonies had heard him in person, not on the radio.

There was no radio in the 18th century. 80% heard him in person. And he became, if you can think of it, I would say the only celebrity who was not local. In other words, this was a man who, if you talked to somebody in Maine, in Connecticut, in New York, in Virginia, all the way down to Georgia, they all loved George Whitfield. They all knew about George Whitfield. He was a phenomenon, and this man was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wasn't just talking about anything. He was preaching the gospel and at the heart of it, you touched on it before, the message was, we have a direct relationship with the only King, Jesus. And therefore we can question our earthly leaders. And if we're being ruled by a tyrant, we can overthrow that tyranny. We have no obligation as Christians.

Dr. Dobson: So, he laid the foundation for the understanding. He influenced the founding fathers-

Eric Metaxas: No doubt.

Dr. Dobson: ... in the ideas and the theology that he was expressing.

Eric Metaxas: I would say it's not so much that he influenced the founding fathers as he influenced the people so that when the founding fathers put this together, they knew the people already got it. And they got it because of Whitfield. Not because of Benjamin Franklin, not because of Sam Adams or John Adams or any of those guys, they got it because of Whitfield.

This man was broadcasting these ideas in a distinctly religious vein. He wasn't talking about Montesquieu and John Locke. He was talking right out of Scripture and these ideas, this is the big surprise for so many of us. These ideas of freedom come right out of the Scripture. So this man laid the foundation all across those 13 colonies so that when it was time for the founders to say, "Okay, here it is. If you can keep it." They were ready to keep it. They understood it. They got it. But that is because of George Whitfield and is only because the gospel was preached, that the people of those colonies were ready to govern themselves. That's what is so astounding. And that I'm astounded that I didn't know this. And most people, my generation never heard of this stuff.

Dr. Dobson: Pardon my ignorance. But did he come out of or influence the second great awakening?

Eric Metaxas: Oh, absolutely.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah.

Eric Metaxas: That's precisely that ... This man, his preaching caused revival. I mean thousands and thousands and thousands of people would come. I have a passage in the book, first person passage, I quote the whole thing at length, of one farmer from, I think, Middletown, Connecticut, riding and riding and riding on his horse with his wife to hear Whitfield preach. They were just mad.

Dr. Dobson: And we don't have recordings of him. What a shame.

Eric Metaxas: It's unbelievable. And the thing is that the revival that broke out all across the 13 colonies, Franklin and others understood that when people get touched by whatever this man is preaching, they behave better. In other words, even if he didn't buy into the whole Jesus thing, or if he didn't buy into the theology, you just noticed. Franklin said, "Whenever this happens, people, crime goes down. What is going on?" So, this country was prepared because of the Great Awakening, because of Whitfield-

They were prepared to govern themselves. They didn't need overlords. They didn't need masters over them with a gun saying, don't steal. They governed themselves, miraculously. And it actually was miraculously. Because it's because of the grace of God. And they said, "I'm going to do what is right, because it's right. Not because somebody's forcing me to do what is right."

Dr. Dobson: If you don't have that virtue, there are not enough policemen and can't be enough members of the Army and all the other restraints, you can't have enough of that.

Eric Metaxas: But that's exactly what has happened in the last 40 or so years. Is that the reason we're losing liberty, because as people cease to govern themselves incrementally, okay, if we're less virtuous, what will happen is the government must increase. The government must grow. It's the horror, right? If we govern ourselves, we push government out. We don't need government, but if we don't govern ourselves, the government very naturally fills the vacuum.

And that is why our government has grown and grown and grown. At least that's one of the major reasons-

Dr. Dobson: [crosstalk 00:09:06] vacuum. What we've got right now is spiritual vacuity. And our leaders in Washington have stepped in there and began telling us how we're going to live.

Eric Metaxas: If we had not forgotten all the stuff that's in this book, we would have never tolerated this. In fact, it never would've happened in the first place because he wouldn't have had the arrogance to do it. Because most Americans, if they understood this stuff, they would rise up and say, "Hey, hey, excuse me, you are not the King. You are elected by us. And there are severe limits on what you can say."

Dr. Dobson: You didn't even talk to Congress. You didn't find it in the Constitution.

Eric Metaxas: It is bizarre.

Dr. Dobson: It didn't come from a court.

Eric Metaxas: I have to tell you, it is so bizarre. And what makes it more bizarre and more horrifying is that Americans did not ... I mean, in a civil society, when this kind of thing happened a couple of centuries ago, people threw tea into the harbor, they went crazy. They said, "We will not tolerate this." We, in this day because we've forgotten these principles. We tolerate it. We ought to rise up and say, "Excuse me, sir. There is not a chance we are going to abide by this. We are a free people. You are not a King."

Dr. Dobson: Let me tell you my own experience. I have watched this deterioration for many, many years. And when the left began telling the Boy Scouts, how they would run their private organization, funded by private funds, I thought to myself, well, they've really gone too far now. People are going to rise up on this one because what more venerated organization is there than the Boy Scouts? And there wasn't a peep. You come on down through the years and we come to 2015 and the Supreme Court redefines marriage, which has been honored in practice and law throughout the world for more than 5,000 years, every single continent on earth. And you got five members of a court who said, it's not going to be that way anymore.

I thought, boy, they've done it now. They have really pushed too far. Next thing I know, most of the Republican presidential candidates were saying, it's the law of the land. Supreme court does not create law, it interprets law.

Eric Metaxas: If you ever wanted to know, why are we are where we are politically speaking, you can understand, and you have been talking about this for a long time, the frustration at these Republicans, because they seem to lack spines. They seem to have no guts. And so I think that's why people say throw the bums out. They are not doing the basics, the absolute basics. If our elected leaders don't understand these things, can you expect the citizenry to understand these things? But actually I think that it's an opportunity for the citizenry to rise up now and to say, "We really, we have to take our government back." And it almost doesn't matter who is president. And that doesn't mean that I don't think this election is important, but what I'm saying is that we're really at a point where we need a true, popular movement where people have to say, to be an American means these things. We have to teach these stories to our kids. We've got to do it because our leaders have failed utterly.

Dr. Dobson: Well, I think that's got a lot to do with what's happening politically in this country at this time. It explains the uprising, the irritation, the way people are responding politically.

Eric Metaxas: There's no doubt about that. And I could say a lot more. And this, in fact, I do say a lot more on my own radio program. So if people want to know the details of my political views, they can listen to the Eric Metaxas Show, which they can find at

Dr. Dobson: That's a Salem.

Eric Metaxas: That is a Salem station. And I talk about this all the time, but you're absolutely right. There's no doubt about it.

Dr. Dobson: Let's go back to George Whitfield's influence and especially the way the founding fathers viewed virtue and religion. Obviously they did not want this to be at theocracy.

Eric Metaxas: Well that's right.

Dr. Dobson: But they also knew that you can't have a free people, self-government unless there is goodness within people. And that takes us right to the Christian faith.

Eric Metaxas: Well, it takes us to religious liberty because they understood, this is what's so fascinating, is that if you believe the Christian faith is true, then you're not afraid of competition. You say, if we have a fair competition, anybody can preach what they like. There's total religious freedom. Because we believe that when you really have a level playing field, people will choose that thing. They will hear it. And they say, "Yes, that is right." And so they said, "We've got to have religious freedom in this country. We cannot coerce it." If you coerce it, even if you try to force people to believe what's true, it's not real belief. You cannot force belief. So religious liberty was at the very heart of everything. They understood it. And when we say religious liberty, not just freedom to worship, because freedom of worship is meaningless, freedom to live out your faith.

Once Sunday is over, once you leave your house of worship, that you live your faith out in the marketplace, in the school, wherever you are, the founders understood that this is not just a good idea, it is necessary. And in fact, if you look at our history, it has been people of faith, of serious faith in the Scriptures, that have stood against the slave trade, that stood against slavery, that stood against Jim Crow. Over and over you see the role that religion has played in appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. It happens over and over. The founders understood that without people of faith, this will not work.

Dr. Dobson: Well let's quote some of them. And this comes right out of your book. John Adams said, "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."

Eric Metaxas: Can you imagine?

Dr. Dobson: John Adams.

Eric Metaxas: I mean, this is John Adams. And several of them said the same thing. They understood there is no way that this works ... Now, again, this is our history. If we are not teaching our history, and if we ourselves don't know our history, how can we possibly continue? We are, I would say, I have said that we're at the end. It's like a cut flower that unless you are connected to your roots, you are dying. And this nation we've, for the last 40 or so years, as I keep saying, has been disconnected from our roots. These are our roots. This is history. You don't even have to like it, but you have to acknowledge all of the founders saw things this way.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah. Alexis de Tocqueville has another quote in your book. "America's great because she's good."

Eric Metaxas: Yeah, he didn't actually say that, but that's the substance of what he said.

Dr. Dobson: He was a French man who came over here to see what in the world's going on in the New World.

Eric Metaxas: And that's his number one observation. Again, he didn't say it in exactly those words, but in so many other words, he basically observes that what makes America this amazing phenomenon of that day ... I mean, he looks at it. They all looked at it and said, how is it possible that this nation is thriving, 50 years after the revolution, it's thriving. And he saw that at the heart of it all was the churches. The people who believed in virtue, believed in helping others, all of these Christian ideas, he recognized what was at the heart of our success.

Dr. Dobson: We have to remember what was going on in Europe at this time. I mean, just shortly before this, you have the French Revolution where people are beheading their leaders. And a war came out of that, Napoleon and what he wreaked on the people in Europe.

Eric Metaxas: No question.

Dr. Dobson: And of course, a little bit before that in the 1600s, they had a civil war in Britain that wound up with the King being beheaded, King Charles I. So all of that chaos is going on in the rest of the world. And here, these men are sitting in a civil way in the Constitution Hall and talking about freedom and liberty and self-government, I mean, that came right out of the Christian faith.

Eric Metaxas: And they all would have said, all of the founders would have said that God's hand was involved in this, even though the ideas come out of Scripture and everything, they believed beyond that, God was miraculously involved. I tell a number of stories in the book of these miracles, that when you understand these things, you see it really does seem kind of obvious that God's hand was on the creation of this nation. I mean, you can't prove it, but I think a fair minded person says there is something here that goes beyond what people were able to [crosstalk 00:17:56].

Dr. Dobson: The best proof of it is that we've walked away from Him now, and look at the chaos that we have.

Eric Metaxas: To my mind it's strong evidence for this over and over again that we have been great because we have been good. And if we want to be great again, we have to be good. Honestly, we cannot make America great unless we the people understand this idea of what it means to be good, what it means to love our enemies. It doesn't mean we agree with them, but it's a whole different way of doing business that we have been doing since the beginning. We have been a different kind of country, and we need to understand what that means.

Dr. Dobson: Take us back to something you said in the first program, what we did yesterday, that I didn't focus on or discuss with you. I want you to elaborate on it. What is the golden triangle?

Eric Metaxas: The concept originated with our friend Os Guinness. I dedicated the book to him because I don't want him to sue me since I ripped off all of his good ideas. That's a joke. He's a friend, but he came up with this concept. Now all the founders understood this, but they never referred to this phrase, the golden triangle of freedom, that's his own coinage, but it says that freedom requires virtue. Virtue requires faith and faith in turn requires freedom. And that's the heart of how this works. If you want to have true freedom, self-government, you have to have virtue. People will not govern themselves. They will need to be governed from above unless they have virtue. But if they have virtue, they can have freedom. Where does virtue come from? Virtue comes typically from faith. There's just no question about that. Even if you have faith in some larger order and God's not involved, there's no question that people aren't just virtuous because they're nice people. It has to come from buying into something. And in most of the cases it's people's Christian faith.

Dr. Dobson: All right, that leads us to this most important question. Where is America going? There's already so much anger and hostility. People are killing each other in Chicago and other places.

Eric Metaxas: This is the thing is that these things are in God's hands. But on the other hand, I'll say this, the Lord put these things in our hands. We have the ability. And when I say we, I mean, specifically the church. God says to his people, "You do what you like, but here's what I would like you to do. And if you do what I ask you to do, the nation will be saved." And when we're talking about America, let's face it, we're talking about the whole world. We have been a beacon of light and liberty to the entire world. So if you care about people in third world countries, you need to care about America.

And I really do believe that it's going to be the church first. Now everything that's in this book is for everyone. It's not just for Christians. And I really believe we kind of need both. In other words we need civic education. And that has nothing to do really with private faith. Or at least let's say it's not directly connected, but you need both. You need revival, and then you need civic instruction. Everyone in America should be able to read this book and say, "Yes, we have forgotten this. We need to teach this." And then the level of faith, that's up to people in their families. But you know and I know that, unless there is a Holy remnant and unless there is revival, none of this other stuff can be sustained. So, it's a book I've written for believers and nonbelievers, because I think that historically, even if you aren't yourself much of a believer, you look at this and you say, historically, this is true.

Dr. Dobson: And what you're talking about, not only is America but the whole world because of the role that America has played.

Eric Metaxas: Well, I'm glad you brought that up because I have to say it. It has to do with that idea of what is true patriotism, patriotism is to believe in what does God love in this country? What did he put in this country? If you love those things, then it's not about me. It's not overweening hubris and pride and arrogance. On the contrary, it's that I've been given a holy privilege to do things that will affect people beyond our shores. And the Lord always says, "you are blessed to be a blessing. The blessing is not just for you. If you don't bless others, I will cease to bless you." As a nation we have blessed others around the world and therefore the Lord has continued to bless us.

And as we ceased to do that, and as we have ceased to do that, because we have forgotten all of these things, the Lord removes his blessing. So this is about the rest of the world. I say that we're the nation for others. The whole world is looking to this nation to be a light of liberty and to be the nation that reaches out beyond itself, which is a fundamentally biblical concept.

Dr. Dobson: We've been talking with Eric Metaxas in these last two days about a subject of incredible importance. I've said this before, but I'll say it again that I think this is the most important program that we have broadcast in many years, because it relates to the very foundation of this country, and the title itself says it all: If You Can Keep It, which speaks to the fragility of freedom and Liberty, and the subtitle is also extremely important, The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. Get this book, share it in your Sunday school classes, share it with your friends, share it with your children. Those old enough to understand this.

Begin to lay the foundation again for how we got here and why this has been the most blessed country on earth, and the prosperity that we have enjoyed is only a piece of it. This ability to make our own choices and live our own lives without the interference of a tyrannical government. That is also what I fear for the future if we don't awaken. Eric, thank you for writing this book. Was it Os Guinness that turned you onto these ideas?

Eric Metaxas: It was Os Guinness that really that woke me up to these things. That's a few years ago. And since then I've been talking about these things here and there and more and more, I find myself talking about them. And then eventually I said, "I've got to put this into a book." I felt this holy burden to put this into a book and by God's grace, I've done it. And I cannot tell you, I thank the Lord for you and for all you have done, not least for giving me this opportunity because as you know, this is something that goes way beyond us. So this is a privilege for us to get to talk about these important things, but I'm so grateful to you in particular. Thank you.

Dr. Dobson: I love you, my brother.

Eric Metaxas: I love you, too. Thank you.

Ryan Dobson: I'm Ryan Dobson. And this has been a fascinating discussion about protecting our American liberties. My dad's guest these last few days has been bestselling author and conservative radio host Eric Metaxas. This next generation of young people just don't understand the unique beauty of our democracy created by our founding fathers. But as my dad and Eric pointed out today, those freedoms can be quickly lost if we're not careful. Learn more about Eric's book, If You Can Keep It on today's broadcast page at There you can also connect with Eric's popular radio program, as well. Find all this when you go to, then tap on the broadcast page. Next week, more of my dad's classic interviews from the past decade. I hope you'll tune in then. I'm Ryan Dobson. Have a blessed weekend, everyone.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.
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