I recently finished reading Peggy Noonan’s When Character Was King, a life of Ronald Reagan. Noonan is a former speech writer for Reagan and an unabashed admirer of her former employer. While her account of his life is hardly objective, it is nonetheless fascinating, at least in part because Reagan himself was a fascinating individual who led the world’s most powerful nation during a pivotal period of history.
I believe that if you read a whole book and take away one or two ideas, one or two points of reflection, it has been well worth the effort. Reagan’s life offers far more lessons and encouragements than that, though I will want to read another, longer, more objective biography before I make a determination of how I feel about his policies and his presidency. When Character Was King was a place to begin, but not the final word.
There is one quote from Reagan that, more than any other, stands out in my mind. Like so many other of America’s presidents, Reagan was a man who honored the Bible, though I am not convinced that he truly understood the gospel (Noonan never makes it clear). Washington, Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower and Bush, among others, had a commitment to the Bible and read it through their lives and presidencies—often quoting it and often showing evidence that it made some impact on their lives—though few of them appeared to be genuine Christians. Likewise, Reagan read the Bible and held it in esteem. Inevitably he absorbed at least some of its lessons and some of its way of interpreting life and reality. This seemed to form the basis of some of Reagan’s humility, a character trait many have pointed to.
Noonan, like many others, considers Reagan one of the great men of modern history, yet in a response to one of her questions Reagan said about himself,
I never thought of myself as a great man, just a man committed to great ideas.
I love these words and I love what they convey! The men (and women) of history that we consider great are those who are committed to great ideas, remembered not for who they were in the abstract, but for what they did in pursuing those ideas and the goals beyond them. There are no great men except those who pursue great ideas.
May the same be said of—and said by—the Christian leaders we look up to and admire. May it be said of them that they were great not because of who they were, but because of the ideas they were committed to and, even more so, the Savior who was the end and goal of those ideas.