I Still Believe: A Memoir of Wreckage, Recovery, and Relentless Love. Russ and Tori Taff with Mark Smeby. Post Hill Press. 240 pages. 2019.
I’ve enjoyed Russ Taff’s music from his days in the Imperials through his excellent 2018 album Believe. This book is a companion to the film Russ Taff: I Still Believe, and is about his life of childhood trauma, depression and addiction to alcohol, and the impact on his wife Tori and their children. The book is written in both Russ and wife Tori’s voices. It also includes a number of reflections from family members and friends from the Christian music industry, as well as lyrics from many songs that Russ and Tori wrote over the years. The authors write that the purpose of telling their story is to “unflinchingly shine a light on the devastating, long-term effects of trauma, abuse, and addiction—and bear witness to other hurting families that recovery, forgiveness, and restoration are truly possible.”
Russ, who was born in California, writes about his father, who had been a hard drinker during his army years, but stopped when he got saved. He felt called to the ministry, and was at various times a Pentecostal pastor of a local church, and at other times would preach revivals for a month in Arkansas and Missouri. Russ writes when his father was in the pulpit was the only time he felt good about himself. After a prescription for pain medication ran out, Russ’s Dad began drinking again. Their home life swung from one extreme to another. His father would be in the pulpit preaching a hard holiness gospel one day, then another day he would just disappear getting drunk. The family home with all its dysfunction (alcoholic father, depressed mother, verbal and physical abuse, etc.) was not a safe place for Russ and his young brother Earl (who would die from addiction at age 45).
When Russ was fifteen the family moved from California to Arkansas. It was there that he and a few guys from his church formed a band called Sounds of Joy. The band would open for the Imperials at a concert in his hometown, which would lead to an opportunity to try out with the band later.
Russ was able to experience a revival at his high school, with 85 percent of the student body professing faith in Jesus the year he graduated.
After high school Russ attended Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas. He was only able to stay one semester until he was called home with the family in shambles again. The family decided to move back to California, while Russ stayed in Arkansas, where he moved in with the Smedleys, which changed his changed my life as he got to see what a normal family looked like.
Russ became the youth and music pastor at a new church. It was at a church event that he would first meet Tori.
He then worked with evangelist Jerry Savelle, leading worship for two years, which he writes were some of the best years of his life. From there he joined the Imperials, one of the top contemporary Christians groups at the time. It was disappointing to read that Russ was not treated well during his time with the group, getting paid poorly and being threatened that there was a line of singers would love to replace him. He writes that it was like he was back in his house in California, trying to earn approval and show that he was worth something. He writes that after spending two and a half years with Jerry Savelle, who was a caring, encouraging person, he joined a group where it wasn’t like that anymore. He did reconcile with a member of the group shortly before leaving the group just before their 1987 album Priority was released.
Tori writes that she started noticing differences, such as mood changes, in Russ in the first year and a year of their marriage. He would eventually be diagnosed with depression.
The early days of their marriage, when Russ’s career was taking off, were good days for the Taffs, as Tori often traveled with the Imperials and with Russ when he started his solo career.
Russ writes of starting to drink, which made the pain of the childhood trauma and covert incest go away. The alcohol softened the edges and his life didn’t feel so hopeless. But after a relatively short amount of time, the alcohol turned on him, and he didn’t feel the euphoria anymore. The drinking began to increase the pain because there was so much guilt.
He kept this from Tori for a number of years. She started sensing that he was becoming secretive, that he was hiding something. She saw it come out as anger and later lying. She felt something dark and shadowy in him for the first time. He was moody and deeply, but quietly angry. She could feel their marriage crumbling, but couldn’t identify the enemy because he was leading a secret life. He then began to smoke, which made no sense to Tori.
Some of the best times for them were also some of the worst times. A successful album like Medals, and tour, was immediately followed by a drop into sullenness and despair.
Eventually Tori would become aware of his addiction to alcohol. Russ had been diagnosed with a disorder called dysthymia, a long-term chronic form of depression that causes people to lose interest in normal daily activities, have low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. He had probably suffered from it most of his life. Over time, the depression and alcohol sucked the life out of their marriage. Russ was destroying everything around him, his marriage, other relationships and his career.
From this time, Russ would seek out rehab treatment three times, attending AA meetings, with Tori attending Al-Anon meetings. But he would continue to have relapses when difficult times happened, such as the death of his father. This was difficult for Russ to process as he writes that he was raised in a denomination where you were told to pray it away and fast it away. A major event in his story is when he appeared drunk at the Timeless: Concert of Faith & Inspiration event in which he was to reunite with the Imperials.
Finally, Russ was told that his core problem was untreated trauma and PTSD, and until that was truly dealt with he was going to continue to relapse every time the pain got to be unbearable. He then travelled to the Life Healing Center in Santa Fe, California for 65 days of treatment. It was there that he could finally see his parents as damaged people who had unwittingly passed their generational wounds on down to their children.
Tori’s role in this story is very important. Through it all, she continued to love Russ, and stay with him, when many, if not most wives, would have left. She writes that Russ’ trauma was his childhood and her trauma was Russ’ addiction. Russ writes that Tori is the true champion of this story, as she fought for him when he couldn’t fight for himself.
I enjoyed the part of the book in which Russ took a break from the story of his depression and addiction to write about his music.
The Taffs have two daughters – Madeleine Rose and Charlotte. Russ tells us that he is finally telling his story so God can get the glory for all that he has done for him and his family.
The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey by Michael A.G. Haykin. Reformation Trust Publishing. 157 pages. 2018
In the latest book in the Long Line of Godly Men series, Michael Haykin profiles William Carey, known as the founder of modern missions. He writes that the goal of the book is to display the way that friendship was central to Carey’s life.
Carey was born to poor parents in 1761 in a tiny village called Paulerspury in the county of Northamptonshire, England. In 1781, he was among the founders of what would eventually become Hackleton Baptist Church. Shortly after this, he married Dorothy Plackett, a marriage that was to end sadly.
He writes about the friendship of Andrew Fuller, whose friendship was particularly important to Carey: Fuller was his chief supporter in England, and Fuller’s theology lay at the heart of Carey’s missionary vision. Carey had been helped in his early Christian life by the friendship of strong Christians including John Warr, Thomas Chater, and Thomas Scott. Carey’s relationships with these men were relatively short lived, but by his own testimony, the impact they had on him was long lasting.
In 1786, Carey was formally ordained to the ministry of the gospel, and accepted his first pastorate at Baptist church in Moulton. Ryland, Fuller and Sutcliff were pillars of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) that sent Carey to India. Hyper-Calvinism was a major challenge with which Carey and his circle of Baptist friends had to contend. Carey was a Calvinist, an evangelical one, similar to John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The author tells us that without understanding Carey’s consistent delight in Calvinism throughout his life, we cannot understand the man, his motivation, or eventually the shape of his mission.
Between 1783 and 1789, Carey made three significant friendships. First, with John Sutcliff, who was his pastor for a period of time during these years. Second, with Andrew Fuller, who may well have been his closest friend in the years that followed. Third, with John Ryland Jr., who baptized him as a believer. These friendships helped Carey mature as a Christian and brought to bear on his life a treasured tradition of Christian literature, especially the writings of Jonathan Edwards. When Carey sailed to India, among the few books he took with him was a volume of Edwards’ sermons.
The author writes about key steps in Carey’s path to mission in India: two sermons from Sutcliff and Fuller, as well as Carey’s 1792 tract An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. Carey would provide leadership for what was an unprecedented step among Calvinistic Baptists—the formation of a missionary society, which would become known as the Baptist Missionary Society.
The story of Carey’s wife Dorothy is certainly a sad one. She was initially unwilling to go to India. Once in India, Dorothy began to lose her grip on reality when one of their sons died. Over the next few years, Dorothy reached the point where she was completely delusional. She would die shortly after giving birth to a daughter who would live less than a month. After Dorothy’s death in 1807, Carey married two more times. In 1808 he married a Danish Christian, Charlotte Rumohr. Charlotte was extremely frail, however, and died in 1821. A year later, Carey married Grace Hughes who cared for the aged missionary in his final days.
Carey spent five years in the remote village of Mudnabati, a time of isolation and great trial. During the lonely days in Mudnabati, Carey drew solace from the letters that came from his friends, most of whom were in England. These letters usually took at least six months to reach India, but were received with much joy, none more so than the letters from Samuel Pearce. In the midst of Carey’s discouragements, Pearce sought, by means of his letters, to shine a ray of hope and light.
In late 1799, Carey moved with his family to Serampore, a Danish colony about a dozen miles from Calcutta. There he linked up with two new missionary friends who had recently arrived from England. The first, William Ward, was a printer, who would become the best preacher at Serampore. The second, Joshua Marshman, would assume the role of apologist for the mission. The Serampore Mission was based around the partnership of these three men, a partnership that the author writes has few parallels in Christian history.
Carey’s principal contribution to the Serampore Mission was through his remarkable linguistic ability. His deep conviction was that the Word of God had to be available to the various peoples that he was trying to reach. By the time he moved to Serampore, Carey had acquired an extensive knowledge of both Bengali and Sanskrit. The Bengali New Testament was published by 1801. In 1808, the New Testament in Sanskrit was published. Carey believed that a translation should be geared as much as possible to the grammatical structure and wording of the original Hebrew or Greek. Unfortunately, because of this belief however, his translations failed to make the Scriptures effectively communicate in the living language of the people of India.
The author writes of the many conversions at the mission at Serampore, including the first convert, Krishna Pal, who would go on to be one of the finest preachers of the Serampore Mission.
During the entire time that Carey was in India, from 1793 till his death over forty years later, he regularly pleaded with God in prayer for the destruction of slavery. The slaves were finally freed in 1833. He also began a garden and started researching ways to improve the agricultural lot of Bengali farmers, which would eventually result in Carey’s becoming a leader in agricultural reform.
Carey gave explicit instructions that apart from his date of birth and death, nothing was to be inscribed upon his tombstone but these words from a hymn of Isaac Watts: “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.”
The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson. Reformation Trust Publishing. 2015. 184 pages.
I’ve read most of the books in the Long Line of Godly Men Profiles series, edited by Steven Lawson. Like his other books in the series, the author gives us an efficient and fast-moving account of the life and ministry of his subject.
In this book, the author profiles William Tyndale, known as the father of the Modern English language for his work in translating the New Testament from the Greek and much of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Tyndale was also widely regarded as the father of the English Reformation.
The author begins by giving us an overview of Tyndale’s life and ministry, and then in succeeding chapters tells us in detail how Tyndale went about his translation work, before he was arrested and martyred.
In England, it was a capital crime to translate the Bible into English. Those found guilty would be condemned as heretics and burned at the stake. A spiritual night had fallen over England. If the Reformation were to come to England, there must be the translation of the Bible into the English language for the people to read.
Tyndale studied at Oxford for ten years. While there, he was ordained into the priesthood, though he never entered a monastic order. In 1519, he went to study at Cambridge. Cambridge was becoming the training ground for future reformers and martyrs. Tyndale came to the realization that England would never be evangelized using Latin Bibles. He was a remarkable scholar, proficient in eight languages. The mission before Tyndale was clear. An English Bible was not optional, but mandatory. However, opposed by both the English church and crown, Tyndale realized he must leave the country and undertake his epic work elsewhere, never to return. He would live underground as a condemned heretic and hunted fugitive for the last twelve years of his life.
In the spring of 1524, at age 30, Tyndale sailed to the European continent to launch his translation and publishing endeavor. He would do so without the king of England’s consent, a clear breach of the established law. As a result, every biblical text he translated, he translated illegally. Tyndale began the work of translating the New Testament from Greek into English in Wittenberg, completing it in Cologne in 1525. Tyndale would ship his Bibles, hidden in bales of cotton, along the international trade routes to England. Church officials immediately declared the purchase, sale, distribution, or possession of this Bible a serious crime that would result in severe punishment.
Tyndale, after growing in his knowledge of Hebrew, began to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into English in Marburg, all the while a manhunt for him was underway. He published the five books of Moses in January 1530 in Antwerp. The translation of the English Bible by Tyndale was a demanding work that did not occur all at once. It came in successive stages over an entire decade.
Both the translation and printing were done under the shroud of absolute secrecy.
In England, a man named Henry Phillips was offered a large sum of money to travel to Europe and locate Tyndale. Phillips established a fake friendship with Tyndale, only to betray him. After translating Joshua through 2 Chronicles, Tyndale was arrested through the deception of Phillips and was executed on October 6, 1536. Tyndale’s final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” That dying prayer was answered two years after Tyndale’s death, when King Henry VIII ordered that the Bible of Miles Coverdale was to be used in every parish in the land. The Coverdale Bible was largely based on Tyndale’s work.
As we read our Bibles, I doubt that many of us realize the sacrifice that was made to provide us a Bible in English. Here are some of the facts I found interesting about Tyndale and his work:
- Tyndale’s translation, and those based on it, formed the basis of the King James Version in 1611, and through it, nearly every English translation since.
- A complete analysis of the King James shows that Tyndale’s words account for eighty-four percent of the New Testament and more than seventy-five percent of the Old Testament.
- Tyndale’s New Testament was the first English translation from the Greek text. His Pentateuch was the first portion of the Old Testament to be translated into English.
- Tyndale wrote with the aim of bringing the truth of Scripture to the masses of common people. Tyndale wrote in everyday language for the average person. Herein lies the broad appeal of his translation work.
- Tyndale’s revised 1534 New Testament proved to be the greatest of his works.
- As a skilled linguistic scholar, Tyndale introduced many words into the English language.
With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace by Nikki Haley. St. Martin’s Press. 272 pages. 2019
Nikki R. Haley served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2019. She had previously served as Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, and in the South Carolina South Carolina House of Representatives from 2004 – 2010. With All Due Respect covers highlights from primarily her most recent positions, and includes a number of leadership and life lessons.
Haley, the proud daughter of Indian immigrants, was raised in the religion of Sikh, and converted to Christianity in her 20’s. Her strong faith comes through in this book. She writes that her family felt the sting of ethnic and racial discrimination, but that they have also seen the South change in this regard. She describes South Carolina, her home state as a place of faith, values, and patriotism.
The book includes a number of very interesting subjects. She writes of her relationship with President Trump. She states that their communication was straightforward. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but he always took her calls, listened to her and they usually agreed. He trusted her. He also knew she would be honest with him when she disagreed, and he appreciated that.
She writes about an avowed racist opening fire in a Charleston, South Carolina church while she was the governor. Nine African American worshippers were murdered. She writes of how it shattered her world, and how she responded, including leading the effort to take the confederate flag down from the South Carolina capitol building. She writes that it was by God’s grace that she made it through that time, and that her faith deepened because of it.
Though she had a good relationship with President Trump, she writes of her interactions with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, moving in the opposite direction. The issue was that Tillerson and the president didn’t agree on much when it came to policy. Haley writes that when the president made a decision, she would follow it. On the other hand, Tillerson struggled with the president’s decisions. Tillerson and Chief of Staff John Kelly told her that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were just trying to save the country. It was their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America, because the president didn’t know what he was doing. They told her that they were doing the best they could do to save the country. But she counters that by writing that what they were doing was disloyal to the president. More important, it was disloyal to the American people who elected him. She goes on to write that in every meeting of the president’s cabinet and national security advisors, there was a faction that seemed to think they, not the president, should make the final decision when it came to policy.
She writes of her role as being the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. She credits the open and honest communication she had with President Trump as a large part of the successes they achieved at the UN. The United States was not going to get pushed around anymore, at least not on her watch. She was determined that the United States would lead once again at the United Nations.
She writes that in the end, the U.S. was only partially successful in changing the culture at the UN, but what they did succeed in doing was leading again. By showing what American leadership looks like, they opened up new possibilities for progress. She writes that being U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was the honor and the challenge of a lifetime. She left the position in January, 2019, and returned to being a private citizen for the first time in fourteen years.
A few of the items she writes about during her time at the UN were:
- Working with North Korea’s Kim regime to give up its nuclear program.
- The anti-Israel bias at the UN.
- Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
- How many, if not most, of the countries that receive generous U.S. assistance, return the favor with hostile rhetoric and even more hostile actions toward the United States.
- The Iran Nuclear Deal.
- The conflict in South Sudan.
- Free elections for the people of Congo.
- The devastating effects of socialism in Venezuela.
- The UN’s Human Rights Council, which she writes was not a place of conscience, but a place of hypocrisy and corruption. The US announced on June 18, 2018 that they were withdrawing from the Human Rights Council. She writes that the US could not continue to give credibility to an organization that made a mockery of human rights.
Haley is a strong leader of character, courage and principle. My guess is that she will continue to be an influential leader for many years to come.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- I know what it feels like to be different, humiliated, and ostracized for being who you are. The pain of being an outsider—of being judged unfairly—never really leaves you.
- Respecting human rights was something I fought for my entire time at the UN.
- How a country votes at the UN shouldn’t be the only factor in our foreign aid decisions, but it should certainly be one factor, and the disparity we found was shocking.
- I’ve always thought being a woman made me special. I am proud of being a woman, but it doesn’t define me.
- Labeling people based on race, gender, and other characteristics has gotten way out of hand in America today. It’s destructive and, ironically, it’s limiting. We are all much more than the sum of our labels.
- Girls and women can do anything if we let them and if we teach them. And they can be anything if they are respected. And if they are heard.
- The UN Organization (Human Rights Council) officially responsible for monitoring and enforcing human rights is, sadly, the United Nations’ greatest failure.
- There are two opposing models of government vying for dominance in the Western Hemisphere. One is a hemisphere of freedom, and the other is a model of socialism, dictatorship, corruption, and human rights violations.
- The United Nations can be a difficult place for moral clarity.
- I’ve seen how socialism destroys freedom. We all have an obligation to educate young Americans about where socialism leads. It leads not just to poverty, but to oppression. America’s collective amnesia on this point is becoming a real threat. And it’s a threat that comes at us not from abroad, but from within.
- Our immigration system is badly broken. Our country will continue to be at odds over this issue until we fix it.
- In some ways we are all victims, but if we dwell on victimhood, we become a nation of grievances, and that undercuts the greatness of America and robs us of a better future.
- It’s the simple things that make life worth living. So be kind. Don’t judge. Push through the fear. And laugh every chance you get, because you will be challenged.
Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr. Moody Publishers. 320 pages. 2018
This is a well-researched biography of Susannah “Susie” Spurgeon, the wife of the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon. The author writes that Susie was unimpressed the first time she heard Charles Spurgeon preach, finding his hair, suit, mannerisms, and provocative preaching style offensive. Susie was a new convert at the time, but a discouraged one. She was needing spiritual renewal, and Spurgeon sent her an illustrated copy of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a book he would read each year and at least one hundred times in his lifetime.
They would be married on January 8, 1856. So intense was Charles’ love for Susie, the author writes, that he feared idolizing her and thus hindering his relationship with God. He valued her as his wife, friend, and assistant in ministry.
Susie gave birth to twin sons, Charles and Thomas, in September of 1856. They would be the couple’s only children. With Charles’ frequent absences for ministry work, Susie bore much responsibility for training of her sons, and her influence on Thomas and Charles should not be minimized. Eventually, both would serve in pastoral ministry. After his father’s death, Thomas returned to London to serve as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle from 1893 to 1908. Charlie would also go into the ministry and labor as a pastor in Greenwich and then later serve in ministries that his father created.
The family lived a comfortable, upper middle-class life. When Charles died in 1892, there were at least six servants in their home, probably several more.
Susie suffered significant physical pain, which may have been caused giving birth to the twins, and would eventually lead to surgery. The operation gave some relief to Susie, but it was not entirely successful.
During his frequent absences from Susie, for ministry, and for his own physical and emotional healing, at places such as Menton on the French Riviera, Charles wrote love letters to her almost every day. He longed for her to come to Menton as well, but her poor health didn’t allow that. Susie remembered their frequent correspondence as a means that God used to help her through her tribulations. But after her affliction set in, it was only on rare occasions that Susie returned to the Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear Charles preach.
Amidst her trials, Susie discovered comfort, delight, and purpose in a ministry that became her “life work”, serving as “Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund”, a means by which she ministered to poor pastors throughout the British Isles and in other places by providing books (primarily, though not exclusively, written by Spurgeon) for them. The Book Fund began in 1875. Over the next twenty-eight years, the fund distributed 200,000 books free of charge to needy pastors whose libraries were essentially bare. Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund blessed pastors who, in turn, blessed their congregations. The books most desired from pastors sprang forth from her husband’s works such as Lectures to My Students, The Treasury of David, Sermons.
Charles would preach for the last time at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Sunday, June 7, 1891. On October 26, 1891, a long-time dream came true for Charles. On that day, Susie accompanied Charles to Menton, the first and only time that she visited Menton with her beloved, and they enjoyed three months of happiness before Charles death on January 31, 1892 at age 57.
Something that helped Susie through her sadness and suffering was writing. She wrote about her suffering to glorify God, not to exalt her loneliness, physical sufferings, or emotional turmoil. Through her writing, she let people see her weaknesses, struggles, and hardships. The widow years of Susie Spurgeon were a mixture of joy, grief, suffering, and productivity. As a widow, she published five stand-alone books, numerous pieces for The Sword and the Trowel, and was heavily involved in the translation and dissemination of Charles’s sermons.
Like Charles, Susie was a Calvinistic Baptist, believing and finding comfort in the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. She was responsible for planting Beulah Baptist Chapel, Bexhill-on-Sea, and encouraging John S. Hockey to serve as its first pastor.
In the late winter of 1900, Susie underwent another surgery, and, like her first one in 1868, its nature was not revealed. Susie died on Thursday, October 22, 1903, and was later buried alongside her husband.
Susie’s legacy is cast in love for pastors. Beyond the books, she often ministered financial aid and supplied clothing and other resources. The author states that Susie’s greatest legacy is her ministry to, and love for, her beloved husband and her advocacy of his writings and ministry.
An “Afterword” was written by Susie Spurgeon Cochrane, great-great granddaughter of Susie Spurgeon.
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond. Reformation Trust. 138 pages. 2011
While in Edinburgh, Scotland recently, we visited St. Giles Cathedral, and parking space 23, which marks the spot of John Knox’s grave. I was sickened to see a tour guide defaming Knox, dancing on his grave and encouraging his tour group to do the same. He called Knox an anti-Semite and misogynist. What could cause such behavior about someone I consider a hero?
In this book from the Long Line of Godly Men series, Douglas Bond writes that critics have found much in Knox to attack. Like the prophets of old, Knox was hated and feared by some, and honored and respected by others. He was not unaware that even in his own day that he was perceived as a thunderbolt, uncharitable and severe. In addition, Bond tells us that it is fair to say that much of the enduring hostility toward Knox is rooted in his doctrine of predestination. The English Parliament condemned Knox’s books to public burning 140 years after his death, and for the most part, Scotland has resented the life and ministry of Knox.
But Bond tells us that Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness, but who nevertheless wants to serve Christ in a troubled world. Christ was at the center of every dimension of his life. It is this, and this alone, that made Knox mighty in his weakness.
The author gives us an overview of his Knox’s amazing life and legacy in the first chapter, and then in following chapters investigates how he was transformed from weakness to strength in various dimensions of his character and ministry. He writes that Knox’s life teaches that the most-timid saint becomes a formidable giant when strengthened by the almighty power of God in Christ alone.
Knox’s life story is one of being sentenced as a galley slave for nineteen months, suffering physically, being mentored by John Calvin, contributing to the translation and study notes of the Geneva Bible, clashing with Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”), leading the Reformation in Scotland and witnessing extraordinary revival spread throughout Scotland in the summer of 1559, leading a committee of five to complete the Scots Confession in four days, serving as minister at St. Giles in Edinburgh, and writing two Books of Discipline.
The author tells us that prayer was the engine that advanced Reformation in Scotland, and Knox was the foremost prayer warrior in the realm. As minister of St. Giles Edinburgh, he preached sermons three or four times a week, each of which lasted up to three hours. Christ was the unrivaled center of Knox’s message, and the Bible alone was his source for that message. Although manuscripts of Knox’s sermons are limited, the recurring theme of the final triumph of Christ Jesus and the gospel in Scotland is plainly evident. He would rail against tyrants—political or ecclesiastical—who set themselves against the Most High, and he would tenderly call lost sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.
Knox found time to write a great deal—everything from encouraging letters to theological treatises. In his writing, like his preaching, Knox wanted Jesus to be made manifest. His writings display passion, tenderness, and theological clarity.
Knox reserved his thunder for the influential elite. For the commoner, however, Knox had nothing but compassion and patience. He sought to encourage and help all who were needy, but he seems to have had a special compulsion to help women, pastors, and lay leaders in the church.
The book includes two appendices:
Appendix A: Time Line of John Knox and the Reformation
Appendix B: The Scots Confession of Faith
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox is a helpful introduction to the life and ministry of the great Scottish Reformer.
God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies by Costi Hinn. Zondervan. 224 pages. 2019
I first became aware of the author when I saw him in the excellent 2019 film American Gospel: Christ Alone. See my review of that film here. This important new book is partly autobiographical and partly a critique of what has become known as the prosperity gospel, sometimes known as the health and wealth gospel. The author is qualified to write on the prosperity gospel as he was part of it, serving in his uncle Benny Hinn’s ministry. He shares intimate details about the life he was saved from so that the reader can be saved as well or help save others, knowing of course that only the true gospel has the power to save.
He tells us that the prosperity gospel is damning and abusive. It exploits the poor and ruins the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The book is about the true gospel, and no matter the cost, the true gospel is always more important than people pleasing. He challenges the reader to see for themselves whether the prosperity gospel is a gift from God that can make us all rich, or whether it is a weapon for greed mongers and charlatans.
He writes of being born into a Greek Orthodox family, and then his uncle Benny being converted to an extreme version of westernized Christianity. A critical point for Benny was going to Pittsburgh in 1973 with a friend to hear faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman. Over the next year, Benny felt God’s presence visiting with him in his room, preparing him for his special ministry. By 1983, Benny had founded the Orlando Christian Center, and three of his brothers joined him in pursuing church vocations. He built the church by pairing Bible teaching (with his special views added) with a healing ministry (using Kathryn Kuhlman’s methods). The ministry grew quickly, and thousands filled the seats of the church in Orlando. The brother who worked with Benny the longest throughout the years and revered him the most was the author’s father, which is how Costi got so close to the center of the action. His father would follow closely in Benny’s footsteps, taking the same ministry model and planting a church in Vancouver. He writes that crowds came and money poured in, and the family began “living the dream”. Signs, wonders, miracles, and prosperity preaching gave them a life his father only dreamed about as a kid. His father would often tell the family that they were the most special family in the Christian world and they should be proud that their uncle was the most anointed man of God of their day and age. By 1999, Benny Hinn was the most famous and controversial prosperity preacher and faith healer in the world.
Costi’s job in his uncle’s ministry was to be one of his uncle’s personal assistants when they traveled, and to be a “catcher” during the healing services. As a catcher, he stood on the stage with his father or uncle, and when people “fell under their power” (or what many Christians call being slain in the Spirit), he caught them. In less than just two years of working within the movement (not including growing up in it), he enjoyed more luxury than he ever could have imagined. All of it was paid for by donations from desperate people who believed that giving a prosperity preacher their money would result in their living this lifestyle too. He writes of frequenting bars and nightclubs on trips, spending thousands of dollars and enjoying their own version of prosperity living, often times just hours after working in a healing service and putting on a gospel show.
His family would move from Canada to California, keeping their nearly ten-thousand-square-foot mansion in Canada (valued at just over $3 million), and adding a $2 million ocean-view home in California. He writes that with each purchase and lifestyle addition, the demand for funding increased.
The author writes that it had been prophesied over him since he was a young boy that he would carry on the family legacy of faith and propel the family name to greater heights. Over a period of time and through God’s providence, he would begin to see what appeared to be shortcomings of the prosperity gospel, and he began questioning it. He read the book The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, which stated that Hinn was a false prophet and a heretic. He writes that questions swirled in his mind over the course of several years, and eventually the answers came in the most unlikely ways. He writes of going to Dallas Baptist University to play baseball. There, he began to hear the true gospel and the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. He states that the prosperity gospel takes the sovereignty of God and tosses it aside, claiming that we can control the God of the universe.
He writes about dating Christyne, who would eventually become his wife. He was told that if he married her, an “outsider”, because she didn’t speak in tongues, he would lose the anointing on his life.
His theology was shaken when his mother got a brain tumor and no amount of prayer or faith could heal her. He writes that the experience put a serious hole in the prosperity gospel foundation he had come to depend on in the face of adversity. His mother’s tumor became another layer on the mountain of evidence building against the prosperity gospel.
He would eventually leave the prosperity gospel and accept a part-time youth pastor job. He writes that God would strip everything away his and his wife’s hearts in ways they had never imagined. He went from living in nearly ten thousand square feet to living in six hundred square feet. But he finally had peace and could sleep at night.
In preparing for a sermon, using a commentary from John MacArthur, he writes that the gospel suddenly made sense to him. He saw that his life existed for the glory of God, not for his own glory. God’s highest purpose was not to make him happy, healthy, and wealthy; it was to give God glory. He repented of his sins, false teachings, and life of hypocrisy. He confessed to God that he had twisted his gospel for greedy gain, and he asked him to forgive him and give him a fresh start.
As his theological understanding changed, so did his heroes in the faith. He turned to the Bible and studied the trustworthy leaders who stood tall in the New Testament. He writes that it became painfully clear that the Hinn style of ministry was nothing like the real gospel ministry described in Scripture. He also began to read and be influenced by good teachers such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Martin Luther and many others. He then enrolled in seminary. He found that everything that biblical history, church history, and modern-day faithful preachers described about false teachers and greedy church abusers fit the profile of the Hinn style of ministry.
He writes that the modern-day momentum of the prosperity gospel began in the 1950s, and that Oral Roberts was, in many ways, the lead prosperity gospel pioneer of the modern era. He adamantly taught and defended his belief that Jesus’ highest wish is for us to prosper materially and have physical health equal to his peace and power in our souls. One of Benny Hinn’s heroes was Oral Roberts. Throughout the book the author refers to many current prosperity gospel preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar. Today, the prosperity gospel has exploded to become one of the most popular teachings in the world. It has overtaken continents like Africa and South America and is even changing the landscape of Latin America and the world’s most Catholic country—Brazil.
The author tells us that for now, the prosperity gospel is here to stay and is spanning the globe, doing damage to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is an evil that poses as blessing but is truly a curse. It appears to be a loving extension of God’s goodness but is arguably the most hateful and abusive kind of false teaching plaguing the church today. He writes that every church, every pastor, and every Christian should stand against it. He writes that we have to relentlessly call the prosperity gospel what it is: evil. We also have to maintain biblical balance in our understanding of health and wealth.
He shares a list of ten suggestions you can use when navigating this subject with friends and family. Each item on the list contrasts some biblical truths with prosperity gospel deception. As the book ends, the author challenges the reader by asking what we will do about what we have learned in the book?
The book includes two helpful appendices – “Frequently Asked Questions”, the questions most people ask after the they hear the author’s story and “Recommended Reading”, resources that have helped the author find answers to the questions and the confusion brought about by his former false beliefs.
The author plans to use proceeds from this book to fund theological education and resources for pastors and leaders who have been exploited by the prosperity gospel.
Here are 15 quotes from the book that I found helpful:
- In the prosperity gospel world, it is perfectly normal to mix ministry with business and use ministry money to fund business ventures.
- The prosperity gospel certainly denies the sovereignty of God to the extent that it demeans God to the position of a puppet and elevates man to the position of a puppet master who makes confessional demands by faith. It does this by considering faith as a force and God as the one who must respond to our faith. This is a heretical twisting of true faith.
- All roads that the prosperity gospel paves lead to hell.
- Prosperity theology teaches that it’s always God’s will to heal everybody, and that if they are sick, it’s their own fault because they don’t have enough faith or haven’t given a special offering to get healed.
- The prosperity gospel appeals to the deep longing of every human heart for peace, health, wealth, and happiness.
- The prosperity gospel uses Jesus Christ as a pawn in its get-rich-quick scam.
- Whether by passive silence or active participation, we allow false gospels to get a footing. We need to take responsibility together, whether we believe we should or not, to eradicate evils like the prosperity gospel.
- One of the reasons that people are blind to the dangers of the prosperity gospel is they are blissfully unaware of just how anti-Christian it is.
- The prosperity gospel distorts the biblical gospel by making the Good News all about you and all about stuff.
- The prosperity gospel promises people the abundant life that Jesus offers only to deliver a gospel with no Jesus at all.
- The prosperity gospel is obsessed with money and material gain. To argue that is to argue that gravity does not exist.
- It is no stretch to say that there are millions of false converts in the world today who think they are saved, but they are being deceived. That’s why our mission is so vital.
- Prosperity gospel preaching must be outlawed across evangelicalism, and those who preach it and partner with it should be avoided.
- Christian joy is not dependent on circumstances.
- Contentment, not riches, should be the goal of every believer.
Seven Leaders: Preachers and Pastors by Iain H. Murray. Banner of Truth Trust. 296 pages. 2017
The author is my favorite biographer, and I’ve read several of his books. He writes that the book originated in an invitation to speak on the subject of preachers and pastors in 2014. He has previously written biographies of three of the seven men here profiled – Archibald Brown, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John MacArthur. I was familiar with Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur, but not the others included in this volume. The author includes biographical sketches of each man, and then covers important aspects of their ministries, often quoting from their writings.
He writes that we are to learn from leaders yet be imitators of none. While it is his hope that the book will assist younger men called to the ministry of the gospel, it is not meant for them alone.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read through this book. Below are just a few for each man profiled. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, especially for pastors.
John Elias and Revival
- John Elias was a watchman, as well as an evangelist, and warned of dangers of which the succeeding generation failed to regard.
- He knew that if standards of membership are allowed to be relaxed, and worldliness tolerated, then it is only a matter of time before members want a type of elder and preacher suited to their condition.
- Elias believed in divine sovereignty. If no revivals were taking place it was not because the gospel was not being made ‘wider’ and more appealing.
- It was not only Calvinism but the Bible itself which was to be forgotten. In the 1880s Congregationalists in England were at the forefront of what Spurgeon designated the ‘down-grade controversy’. Deploring the change which was taking place, he commented, ‘We used to debate particular redemption, now the question is whether there is any redemption at all.’
- The attempt to gain more influence and unity through a ‘modified’ gospel was a tragic failure in England and Wales. The effects of error may be slow but they are sure.
Andrew A. Bonar: Fellowship with Christ
- Bonar and M‘Cheyne were at the centre of a group of a dozen or more likeminded young ministers which arose in the Church of Scotland in the 1830s. Marked by their close friendship with each other, by their preaching of Christ, and their love for their people, they were prominent instruments in a remarkable era of evangelism and revival.
- To read Bonar is to be convinced that there are great biblical lessons which we are not taking seriously enough.
- In 1878 a larger building had to be built near West End Park, and by the 1890s over a thousand made up the congregation. By that date Bonar had become something of a legend in the city.
- The life of Andrew Bonar shows us how closely the usefulness of servants of Christ is related to the holiness of their lives.
- What a preacher is as a Christian is of greater consequence than his natural gifts.
- Bonar was certain that the more he was filled with the Holy Spirit the more fully would he preach Christ.
The Rediscovery of Archie Brown
- It is therefore surprising to us that his ministry would largely pass from the memory of later generations until it became almost unknown.
- Times of revival always show the same characteristics, and foremost among them, is prayerfulness.
- He shared with Spurgeon in the Downgrade Controversy of the late 1880s, and together they were profoundly moved as so many in the churches ceased to regard all Scripture as God-given revelation.
- There was gospel in this sermon, too, but its burden was for the awakening of the careless. Such preaching is no longer heard from many pulpits.
- The key to Brown as a Christian and a preacher was the teaching of the Holy Spirit on the person and glory of Christ.
Kenneth A. MacRae: Preacher and Pastor
- For usefulness, it is the life of the man himself that matters most, and no one has ever become a true guide to others without a personal preparation at the hands of God.
- In addition to his own congregation, he had the responsibility for three other churches at a distance from his own, where he preached regularly.
- He believed that all that is of first importance for the life and prosperity of the church is already laid down in the word of God. This is a liberating principle.
- Kenneth MacRae preached to within seven months of his death on May 6, 1964. Two days later, Stornoway saw the sight of a Christian funeral such as is not often seen in this world, and which these pages cannot convey. The life of the town stopped still that Friday afternoon.
Understanding Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- The big thing for him was theology, what he believed about God.
- Man’s fallen condition is the biblical starting point for the presentation of gospel. While there is no one pattern of conversion, there is a common order or sequence in the way sinners are brought to Christ.
- To miss out the preaching of repentance because people have no sense of sin, and to speak to them only of ‘accepting Christ’, is to depart from the order of the New Testament.
- The work of the Spirit is not uniform in all periods, and Lloyd-Jones believed there is only one explanation for times of extraordinary blessing, namely, the sovereignty of God in his administration of grace.
- Sermons born out of a concern for unbelievers, and to lead them to Christ, formed half, if not more, of his entire ministry.
W.J. Grier: Against Frittering Life Away
- The result was that on October 15, 1927 the small company gathered at the café in Fountain Street decided to proceed with the formation of a new church organization. By the end of the following month, the name was settled as the ‘Irish Evangelical Church’.
- With James Hunter now in his mid-sixties much of the burden of the new work fell upon Grier. As well as the management of the bookshop, he now had the care of two congregations.
- Another consequence of these years was the maturing of his conviction that the doctrines of the reformed faith need to be spelt out definitely and in distinction from the ‘fundamentalist’ type of evangelicalism then prevalent in Ulster.
- These letters which he wrote to me, beginning before the first Banner publications of 1958, ran to hundreds, and no one played a fuller or more important part in decisions on books thereafter published than he did. A number of the Trust’s reprints had their origin in his suggestion.
- While Jim Grier reached the age of seventy in November 1972, he knew no retirement age for ministers of the gospel. He admired the words of Charles Simeon, ‘I am so near the goal that I cannot help running with all my might.’
- The life of Jim Grier exemplifies what can be seen by those who rely on God’s word and promises when success all seems to point to the need for compromise.
John MacArthur: Preaching and Scripture
- MacArthur was called to Grace Community Church as a twenty-nine-year-old Californian, and in that same charge he remains to this day.
- Obedience, not success, is the great thing. What counts supremely is the truth that is preached and in due course, one way or another, men will reap if they do not faint.
- No subject means more to him than the sufficiency of the word of God.
- Obedience, not success, is the great thing. What counts supremely is the truth that is preached and in due course, one way or another, men will reap if they do not faint.
- On occasion, MacArthur has been prominent in controversies which have divided evangelicals.
- He could never have done what he was given to do had he not also been given the support of a wide circle of fellow Christians.
Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert. Tyndale Momentum. 276 pages. 2014 edition
This is the book upon which the powerful film Unplanned is based. Abby Johnson begins by telling us that her story is not a comfortable one to read. It’s not a comfortable one, but it’s honest and true. The film follows the book pretty closely, but as always, a book can give you much more of the story than can a two-hour film. So even if you have seen the film Unplanned, I would recommend that you still read this book.
The book takes us through Abby’s story from being recruited as a volunteer by Planned Parenthood while a junior on the Texas A&M campus through rising to the position of director of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. She was attracted to Planned Parenthood believing that its purpose was primarily to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thereby reducing the number of abortions. That had been her goal. She wanted to help women in crisis.
The book begins with Abby’s own crisis moment in September, 2009, when she was called into the exam room to help the medical team with an abortion. Though she had been with Planned Parenthood for eight years, she had never been in the room when an abortion had taken place until that time. Those ten minutes would shake the foundation of her values, and change the course of her life. She realized that what she had told people for years, what she had believed and taught and defended, was a lie.
Abby writes that growing up, she had attended church weekly and loved God. But when she went away to college, her behavior had not followed her values. She would get pregnant with her boyfriend Mark, who encouraged her to have an abortion, which she did in Houston in 2000 at age 20. She would later marry Mark, get pregnant and have a painful abortion via RU-486, also known as Mifeprex, the abortion pill, as her marriage ended due to Mark’s infidelity.
As a volunteer at Planned Parenthood, Abby’s first assignment was to escort women who came to the clinic from their vehicles to the clinic doors. An iron fence, which would become an important metaphor in Abby’s story, served to separate the clinic on one side, from the pro-life supporters on the other. Abby would meet Marilisa, from the Coalition for Life – a pro-life organization, on her first day as a volunteer. Marilisa would later meet Shawn Carney, who would assume leadership of the organization. Abby didn’t know it, but God would use Shawn, Marilisa, and others from the Coalition for Life mightily in her life. Abby believed that those on her side of the fence were defending and helping women, as Planned Parenthood protected them from those on the other side of the fence.
Abby would later meet Doug, who like Abby’s parents, didn’t approve of abortion. Surprisingly, he still wanted to marry Abby anyway. At the time, Abby considered herself to be a pro-choice Christian, truly believing that she was helping people, and saving and improving lives.
Abby writes of the Coalition for Life’s first “40 Days for Life” campaign. She states that none involved – neither the clinic workers nor the pro-life volunteers—could have dreamed what God would set in motion through that campaign.
Abby and Doug would attend different churches, one time being denied membership because of her role at Planned Parenthood, and later ending up at a church that was pro-choice. She admits that she was leading an unexamined life, one filled with deep-seated inconsistencies and self-deception. For example, she was opposed to late-term abortions when the baby was viable outside the womb, but was fine with abortions prior to the baby being viable. Her husband was trying to open her eyes to the fact that a human life, whether only six weeks along was just as worthy of life as baby who was viable.
Abby became director of the Bryan, Texas Planned Parenthood clinic. In 2008, she would be named their affiliate’s “Employee of the Year”. Yet, not long after that, things began to change as Abby saw Planned Parenthood begin to focus more on increasing abortion targets and move towards performing late-term abortions. She also began to have conflict with her supervisor who had previously been her supporter and mentor. She was told to get her priorities straight, meaning to increase the number of abortions performed at her clinic. This eventually resulted in her receiving an official reprimand.
As hard as it is for us to believe, Abby was volunteering or working at Planned Parenthood for eight years before she truly saw what the organization did. After her crisis moment witnessing an abortion, she knew that she had to leave. She no longer saw Planned Parenthood as a benevolent charitable organization with the goal of decreasing unwanted pregnancies. She was now convinced that it was an abortion machine in the business of killing unborn babies and meeting revenue goals. On October 6, 2009 she planted her feet on the right side of the fence—the side of life. She left Planned Parenthood and was embraced by the kind people from the Coalition of Life. She was betrayed by good friends from her clinic, lost relationships in her pro-choice church, and was taken to court by Planned Parenthood. But, in God’s providence, a press release from Planned Parenthood accomplished the exact opposite of what they had intended with its restraining order.
Abby writes that God is in the business of changing hearts and minds and using ordinary people for His extraordinary purposes. He had chosen to demonstrate, through her, that He redeems the foolish, the broken, the sinful, and then uses them to accomplish His purposes. Abby would go on to found “And Then There Were None”, a non-profit organization which assists former abortion clinic workers by providing four critical types of support: emotional, spiritual, legal, and financial.
The Bryan, Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, where Abby served as director, closed on August 1, 2013.
Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hillburn. Simon and Schuster. 449 pages. 2018
I’m a long-time fan of Paul Simon and was excited to see this major new biography of him by respected rock music writer Robert Hillburn. Unlike the recent new biography of Tiger Woods, Simon fully participated with the author via more than a hundred hours of interviews and did not insist on editorial control. The well-researched book saw the author interview Simon’s friends, family and colleagues. The result is a fascinating look at one of America’s greatest songwriters
Simon was born in 1941 to Lou, a musician and Belle, a teacher. He played baseball through high school and is a die-hard New York Yankees fan. The family was Jewish, but not very religious, nor is Simon, though references to the Bible have appeared in some of his more recent music, and he has written about science and faith.
Early musical influences for Simon were doo-wop music, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brother and folk music. Simon met Art Garfunkel in the 6th grade. They had some early success as Tom and Jerry, even appearing on American Bandstand. Paul would write some of the songs they played and his father tended to be judgmental of them.
One of the recurring themes in Simon’s story is his on again and off again personal and musical relationship with Garfunkel. They would break up several times, the first being in 1958. Simon would record as a solo artist under the name of Jerry Landis, and would have some early success in England, which remains a special place for him, releasing The Paul Simon Songbook there. Art had hard feelings about this for years. Their musical partnership was on again and off again as they pursued music and their college education.
Simon and Garfunkel were signed to Columbia Records in 1964. They had a key relationship with engineer Roy Halley. The author takes us through each of their albums through 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, pointing out their painstaking process in recording, always slower than the record company wished.
The rivalry between the two and Art’s acting career caused tension in their relationship, and the duo broke up after the 8 million selling Bridge Over Troubled Water. They would get together occasionally over the years to play concerts until Garfunkel wasn’t open about throat problems he was having in 2010. After a disappointing concert at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, a planned tour had to be cancelled, costing each a significant amount of money. Simon felt a lack of trust from Garfunkel’s denial and lack of candor. There has sadly been no personal or professional relationship between the two since that time.
Simon’s solo career allowed him to expand his musical vision with such albums as Graceland (which was controversial for some) and The Rhythm of the Saints. I enjoyed attending an incredible concert on the tour supporting the latter album.
Among the few projects that didn’t live up to expectations were Simon’s movie One Trick Pony and his Broadway musical The Capeman.
The author discusses Simon’s romantic relationships with Kathy Chitty (with whom Simon is still friendly, first wife Peggy (with whom he had son Harper), Shelly Duvall, second wife Carrie Fisher and current wife since 1992 Edie Brickell, with whom he has three children, Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel). We also hear about his friendship with Lorne Michaels and the many times he has appeared on Saturday Night Live.
These days, Simon states that he is grateful for his life, and his passions include family, philanthropic and environmental efforts. He is currently on his Farewell tour and has plans for a Revisit album, new interpretations of some of his previously recorded songs.
Throughout, Simon is vulnerable with Hillburn, at times sad, lonely and depressed. Hillburn does a nice job of including a lot of Simon’s lyrics in the book. I enjoyed listening to Simon’s catalog as I read the book.
Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Thornbury. Convergent Books. 284 pages. 2018.
This is a fascinating book about the singer/songwriter who was known as the “Godfather of Christian Rock”. The author was able to uniquely reconstruct Norman’s story through his letters, diaries, files, and tapes that he was given access to by the Norman family.
The author writes that Norman, who died in 2008, was often misunderstood and harassed, mostly by fellow Christians, and was often involved in controversy. He tells us that Norman pretty much did as he pleased. He sang about what he wanted to, made a living doing what he loved, was subject to no local church authorities, and died a cult hero whose followers and family had to clean up the messes he left behind.
I found the story of Norman to be a very sad one, one in which he was looked up to by many publicly, but had very few close personal or professional relationships (example: Randy Stonehill, the band Daniel Amos and his managers), that did not end well, including two failed marriages. The author states that a mistake that Larry Norman would make repeatedly was not separating business from friendship.
Norman did not start out in the Christian music subculture and then break out into the mainstream as is the normal pattern. Instead, he originally signed with Capitol Records, releasing three albums on major record labels while starting his own underground record company. He was credited with what would be known as the “One Way” sign of the Jesus Movement. He was a member of the band People! which had a hit single “I Love You”. He envisioned his One-Way Records, Solid Rock Records and the Street Level Artists Agency (which still exists today, and includes artists such as Michael Card), as an American version of Francis Schaeffer’s Swiss retreat center, L’Abri.
His marriage to model Pam was nothing short of bizarre. They barely knew each other when they got married and neither were ready for marriage. Outwardly they were the perfect couple, but the author tells us that the marriage was troubled from the beginning. Just three months into the marriage, Pam would claim that Larry wanted a divorce.
Norman would later marry his former girlfriend and Randy Stonehill’s ex-wife Sarah. They had a son Michael in 1985 but would later divorce. Still, they partnered in raising Michael together, and stayed close friends, even traveling together.
I enjoyed the author’s writing about Norman’s music, which was very different from what would become known as Contemporary Christian Music, often quoting his lyrics. Norman started a bible study, which would later become the Vineyard Church denomination of more than four hundred churches.
The author gives us a portrait of Norman, warts and all, showing us contradictions in his life. In addition to the many negatives of his life, he writes that Norman’s family discovered that Larry had given thousands of dollars of monthly support to various artists, poets, and homeless people.
A turning point in Norman’s life was on April 15, 1978, when on a United Airlines flight, a ceiling panel came loose and hit him on the head. The author tells us that whether real or psychosomatic, the “plane accident” emerged as a line of demarcation for Norman. His creativity, organizational ability, and drive vanished. In addition, Norman would suffer a major heart attack in 1992.
The author writes that Norman’s main-stage performance at the 2001 Cornerstone Festival could be considered the last time he could perform with a band and still sound like Larry Norman. I saw him in a solo concert late in his career. He lived his remaining years in Oregon in failing health, with his last official concert being on August 4, 2007, in New York City, at Calvary Baptist Church, the same venue he had played thirty-five years earlier at the height of the Jesus movement.
The author tells us that Norman died amidst a brewing and very public scandal about fathering a child back in the late 1980’s.
This is a very interesting book, though I found Norman’s story ultimately very sad. He truly loved God, but lacked in discipleship, and it was heartbreaking to read of his many failed relationships.
Anchored in Hope: Security in the Storm by Donna Marie England. Greenfield Center Press 2019
In her latest book about her faith journey, Donna England assures us that God is in control, and encourages us that getting to the place of relying on Him is a worthy life goal. She has a very pleasing writing style, which gives you the feeling as you read this short book that you are having a conversation with her over a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop. The short chapters are really meditations on various subjects – doubt, Bible studies, an eternal perspective, Christmas, how God has worked in her life, etc. She liberally sprinkles scripture verses and lyrics from hymns in between stories from her life as a child, mother, grandmother, nurse and wife.
The author writes about attending a week of church camp as a fifth grader. When she returned home, she was certain she was ready to confess Christ and be baptized. Her parents attended church each Sunday when she was growing up, and she writes of having mentors that she has had throughout her life that have helped her to continue to grow in her faith.
She writes of losing her first husband Dave to a heart attack in 1984 and being left to care for their three children. She tells us that the kindness of many friends, family and total strangers gave her strength and confidence when she had no clue as to what to do. She states that without her faith, she would not have been able to go forward, reflecting that there is no easy way to reconstruct after loss.
She writes of well-meaning friends who encouraged her to date, leading her to meet Dan, to whom she has now been married for 33 years. Their plan is to seek God’s plan each day for as long as He allows them to live. They hold onto the responsibility to center on Jesus Christ, as He is the anchor in the storm.
I enjoyed reading these stories and insights from the author, who I have known in both the workplace and in the local church.
41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush. Crown. 284 pages. 2014
George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States was the only President in modern times not to write a memoir. His son, George W. Bush the 43rd President, has written this book that he says is not objective, but instead a love story from a son to his father. The book opens with an account of Bush the elder celebrating his 90th birthday with a parachute jump.
George H. W. Bush’s father was an accomplished golfer, United States Senator and investment banker. He started the family tradition of attending Yale. Bush’s mother, who died shortly after he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, was a woman of strong faith.
Bush joined the Navy shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, enlisting on his eighteenth birthday in 1942. He served for three years. During that time, he was shot down by the Japanese in the Pacific and rescued as the Japanese were trying to capture him. At age 78 he would return to the site and meet one of the Japanese soldiers that was there that day. Bush would marry Barbara in 1945, and enjoyed seventy-three years of marriage. They would have six children – George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. George W. Bush was born in 1946. Daughter Robin was born in 1949. She would die of leukemia in 1953. Barbara would die in April, 2018.
After the war, Bush attended Yale. Bush was an accomplished baseball player, serving as the captain of the Yale team that advanced to the College World Series in 1947 and 1948.
After college, Bush went into the oil business as a clerk in Odessa, Texas. In 1949 he transferred to California, where their small family lived in four cities, before transferring to Midland, Texas, where they lived for nine years. The author considers Midland to be his hometown. Midland was a very competitive place during the oil boom. Bush would teach Sunday School at their church in Midland.
Bush then went into the oil business for himself, first with Bush-Overbey and then with the Zapata Petroleum Corporation. The latter company would split with Bush taking the off-shore part of the business, moving to Houston. The onshore part of the business would later become Pennzoil.
Bush lost the 1964 senatorial race to Robert Yarborough, who had the support of President Johnson. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966, and most of the family moved to Washington D.C. He ran for the Senate in 1970, losing to Lloyd Bentsen. He then received a call from President Nixon who offered him the position of the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and the family moved to New York. Later he would become the head of the Republican National Committee, replacing Bob Dole, who he would run into years later in a presidential campaign. After President Ford replaced Nixon, Bush chose to be Liaison to China. The family enjoyed their time in China, but Ford called him back to take over as CIA Director, an assignment he handled until replaced by President Carter.
Bush then decided to serve on the boards of several businesses, before deciding to run for president in 1980. He would lose the nomination to Ronald Reagan, but Reagan would pick him as his Vice President, which he served for two Reagan terms.
Bush ran for President and won in 1988. He chose Dan Quayle as his running mate. The author doesn’t come out and say he disagreed with the decision, but I felt that sentiment come across “between the lines”. We hear of highlights from his presidency – dealing with Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and The Persian Gulf War (which boosted his approval rating to 89%), the collapse of the Soviet Union and a peaceful end to the Cold War, the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Points of Light.
His approval ratings dropped significantly with economic woes and his agreement to a tax increase after his infamous pledge “Read my lips, no new taxes”. He would face challenges from Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot in the election and eventually lost to Bill Clinton, who campaigned on change and the economy.
The author who rarely criticizes his father in this book writes that his father’s campaign was reacting rather than leading, and his speech at the Republican Convention was defensive and flat. In the end, Clinton would get 43% of the vote to Bush’s 38% and Perot’s 19%. Bush felt that Perot cost him the election. In addition, the news of the improved economy appeared too late for Bush. Ironically, Bush and Clinton would go on to have a very close relationship that continued until the end of Bush’s life.
After being rejected by the American voters, Bush at first had a difficult time transitioning out of public life. He was strengthened by his family, and his sons George and Jeb being elected governors of Texas and Florida respectively.
Bush would be diagnosed with Parkinsonism, and confined to a wheelchair. He became very ill in late 2012, and almost died. Fortunately, he made a complete recovery and was present at the opening of the author’s Presidential Library in the Spring of 2013. He would die in December, 2018, with his son George W. Bush giving a wonderful eulogy that was both funny and emotional.
The author weaves in thoughts about himself and his political career throughout the book, something other biographers could not offer. A connection both father and son had was the wars in Iraq. The author mentions ISIS and that the future of IRAQ was uncertain as he was writing. The author also states that if his father had won re-election in 1992, he would not have run for governor of Texas in 1994 and later for president.
The author compares his father’s record to that of Winston Churchill and feels that his father accomplished more in one term than many Presidents achieve in two.
I very much enjoyed this tribute from son to father.
Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles with Joshua Cooley. Tyndale Momentum. 239 pages. 2018
This is the inspiring story of Nick Foles, the backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles who stepped in and led the team to the 2018 Super Bowl championship after the starter went down. I’ve read a lot of books written by sports figures after a remarkable season. But this is so much more than your typical sports book. In Believe It, Foles demonstrates how he integrates his faith with his work as an NFL quarterback, aiming to glorify God in his work. He also writes that he gets his identity from who he is in God, rather than through his performance on the football field. Throughout the book, he also shares lessons he’s learned from his failures, struggles, and weaknesses that have made him who he is today.
Foles shares his story about growing up in Austin, Texas, and playing football one season at Michigan State University. It was at Michigan State that he made a deeper commitment to Christ. He then transferred to the University of Arizona. It was there that he would meet his future wife, Tori Moore.
He would be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. In his rookie year, the Eagles finished last and their head coach, Andy Reid, who Foles thinks very highly of, was fired.
Foles would have a Pro Bowl season in 2013. After stepping in for injured Michael Vick, he ended up finishing the regular season with twenty-seven touchdowns and two interceptions—the best ratio in NFL history—and a league-leading 119.2 passer rating. Even better, the team won six of their final seven games, clinching the NFC East division title.
He writes of his growing relationship with Tori, who would be diagnosed with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system. Years later, they would live together before they were married. Foles is honest in writing that both he and Tori knew what they were doing wasn’t in line with what they believed and what the Bible teaches. After being challenged about this, they decided to get married earlier than expected.
Foles 2014 season was a disappointment, eventually ending with a broken collarbone midway through his first full season as a starter. He writes that he was trying so hard to live up to his prior accomplishments that he put way too much pressure on himself; his play suffered as a result. He was shocked to hear from the coach that he was being traded to the St. Louis Rams. There was a losing culture in St. Louis, having been more than ten years since the Rams had finished over .500, and the franchise was going to be moving to Los Angeles the following season.
He played poorly in that environment and writes of Coach Jeff Fisher benching him without warning and publicly in front of his peers, certainly not a good example of servant leadership. After that season he did a lot of searching through journaling. This kept him close to God and he realized that there was a purpose for everything he was going through, even if he still couldn’t see it.
It was during this time that he decided to retire from football. But Tori and others close to him weren’t sure that it was the time to retire and they asked him to reconsider his decision. He writes of praying with Tori for God’s plan for him and to help him make a decision that would glorify him. He writes of making the decision to try football one more time, and calling his old coach Andy Reid, who was now coaching in Kansas City. He returned to the NFL as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith in Kansas City. He writes that his job that year was simple: to work hard, support Alex as best he could, encourage his teammates, be a positive influence in the locker room, and be ready to step in and play if needed. On a deeper level, his goal was to glorify God in everything he did, and to do it with a joyful spirit.
Foles enjoyed the 2016 season with the Chiefs, even if most of it was from the sidelines. The season also included the birth of the couple’s first child, daughter Lily James. By the end of the 2016 season, Foles had also signed up for two seminary classes through Liberty’s online program, as he planned to be a Youth Pastor after his football career was over.
Although Nick and Tori really enjoyed their time in Kansas City and wanted to stay, football is a business and that didn’t work out. But an opportunity came up for Foles to return to Philadelphia to play the 2017 season with the Eagles. Foles signed a two-year contract. All he wanted to do was be part of an organization that he loved and glorify God in his role, which would be as a backup to Carson Wentz.
Injuries are a part of sports, and Foles got his opportunity when Wentz was injured. The rest of the book takes the reader through the final weeks of the season and then the playoffs, where the Eagles were the top seed in the NFC at 13–3, with home-field advantage throughout. In the Super Bowl, the Eagles would face the New England Patriots and their star quarterback Tom Brady, who already had five Super Bowl titles.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Foles found peace and perspective rereading the Psalms. I enjoyed hearing how he spent the hours leading up to the Super Bowl game itself, including listening to a message from Tim Keller. Nobody expected the Eagles, with a backup quarterback to win the game. But they did, and Foles was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
A final note: all proceeds from the book will go to various churches and organizations.
Here are 10 great quotes from Believe It:
- When my identity was tied to football, I constantly felt the pressure to be perfect. I lost sight of the fact that I don’t have to be perfect—in fact, I can’t be perfect. No one can. Only Jesus is perfect.”
- The true measure of success is to make sure everything I do—the way I act, the way I treat others, the way I deal with disappointment and setbacks—reflects and glorifies God.
- As a Christian, I find my identity, value, and purpose in life in one source—God.
- I’m not just a football player. I’m a child of God who happens to be called to play football, using the gifts and abilities he has blessed me with. Once I finally understood this, I realized that it didn’t really matter which path I chose.
- When we share our faults and weaknesses, not only are we being honest, we also become more relatable—and more human—to the people around us.
- Our frailty and inabilities highlight God’s perfect strength. Jesus himself is the ultimate example of finding strength in weakness. He was fully God and fully human, yet he came down to serve others and sacrifice himself for us. What appeared to be a moment of weakness for him was actually the strongest moment in history.
- We are strongest when we are weak because that’s when we turn to God and put our trust in him.
- Football is my calling now, and if God wants us in Philly for the time being, then that’s where we’ll be. I’ll strive to glorify him, remain humble, and focus on having a positive impact on others—just like I would anywhere else.
- I am a walking example of the “strength in weakness” principle. My whole career arc bears it out. “Backup quarterback who considered retirement leads team to first Super Bowl”—that’s not just a nice underdog story. That’s 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 in action!
- The truth is, we all have different gifts, interests, and abilities that God delights in using. Our job is simply to use those gifts in ways that will glorify him and point others toward him.
Birds of Pray: The Story of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Faith, Brotherhood, and Super Bowl Victory by Rob Maaddi. Zondervan. 208 pages. 2018
There have been a few books written about the 2018 NFL Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. I previously read Nick Foles’ book Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds. This book is written by Rob Maaddi, who started his “Faith On The Field Show” on Philadelphia sports radio in 2017 to give athletes a forum to discuss how God has impacted their lives and to use sports as a vehicle to share the message of Jesus. The author has been covering Philadelphia sports teams full-time since 2000.
In this book, he introduces us to many of the Christians on the Eagles team last season. He writes that winning or losing wasn’t going to define that group of men. Their identity wasn’t rooted in their accomplishments, it was found in Christ.
He writes about players being baptized in the recovery pool at the team’s practice facility. The pool they were baptized in was the same pool a majority of the players on the team go to for healing.
The first section of the book gives us glimpses into these players, often including long quotes from them. He tells us how the players’ strong desire to grow in their faith, to sharpen each other, to hold each other accountable helped this core group of players form an unbreakable bond. Community was also a key concept for the players.
He addresses the controversial and divisive national anthem protests that some of the players participated in as a way to protest against social injustices.
The second half of the book takes the reader through each game of the championship season, including the many injuries that the team suffered, most notably to quarterback Carson Wentz, who was putting together an MVP worthy season.
The Eagles mantra was “We all we got, we all we need”. Backup quarterback Nick Foles would lead the Eagles to an upset win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
I enjoyed reading this book, especially the first half, as the author provides insights into the Christians on the team, and how they integrated their faith and work.
Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry. B&H Books. 208 pages. 2018
Jackie Hill Perry is a 29-year-old writer, speaker and artist, who was born in St. Louis. She writes that she has written this book out of love for what a good God has done for her – loving her and giving her new life and a new heart. She tells us that what God has done to her soul is worth telling. It is to invite us into her worship.
The book is broken into three parts.
Part 1: Who I Was
The author tells us that she was attracted to girls before she knew how to spell her name. After discussing what took place in her second-grade classroom, she writes that in 2006 she was asked by a girl at a high school dance if she wanted to be her girlfriend. She said “no” at the time, but really wanted to. But when she thought of the girl she would think of spending eternity in hell. Her heart was saying “yes” but her conscience was saying “no”. Eventually she gave in, however. Satan told her to do what felt good. She trusted herself more than she trusted God. Sin was better than submission.
The author’s mother and her father, an employee at her mother’s restaurant met at an East St. Louis club in 1988. This would eventually lead to a pregnancy. The author’s mother considered aborting the child. The relationship between Jackie’s mother and father didn’t work out, and Jackie grew up without a father at home. He rarely visited and she was convinced that he didn’t love her. Jackie writes of him dying unexpectedly at a relatively young age.
Jackie was sexually abused by a teen-age family member in a dark basement. As she grew up, her experiences with men in her life were an absentee father and a sexually abusive relative.
As a lesbian, Jackie was manly, and her girlfriend wanted her to play the role of the stud in their relationship. She would have at least one other girlfriend.
At that time, Jackie was an enemy of God. But God was using her conscience. He was, as she called it, ‘hunting her’. In addition, a family member prayed for her. She realized that she would have to choose between God and her girlfriend. She writes about being saved in her room.
Part 2: Who I Became
Jackie writes that she faced a temptation with a beautiful girl the very next day after she was saved. Fortunately, she was sustained by God.
Jackie writes that she wished that she had been told more about the beauty of God rather than the horrors of hell, a good reminder for all of us. She writes of being discipled by a woman in Los Angeles, and moving there from St. Louis. She writes of missing her girlfriend, but God told her that His word was true, even if it contradicted how she felt. She needed to fight sin with the Gospel. Ultimately, she loved God more than the Gay community.
She writes of learning what biblical womanhood was, and starting to dress in a feminine manner. Jackie met future husband Preston at a poet event in Los Angeles. She writes of having hurt him, but he still pursued her.
Part 3: SSA and….
Approximately the last quarter of the book is comprised of chapters that serve as helpful resources for others dealing with Same Sex Attraction (SSA). Jackie writes that our identity is only in Christ, not our temptations, but what Christ has done for us.
• SSA and Identity:
Jackie writes that how you identify yourself will shape how you navigate life. She reviews four categories that will help SSA Christians in their sanctification:
1. Identity of Sin. Sin is not beautiful.
2. Identity of a Saint. You are not your temptations.
3. Identity of the Church. You are not alone.
4. Identity of God. God is better than you can imagine.
• SSA and Endurance
Jackie addresses the enduring and sometimes difficult struggle that SSA Christians will face against temptation.
• SSA and the Heterosexual Gospel (which is not a gospel at all).
1. We are more than our sexuality. We were not ultimately made for sex. We were made for God and his glory alone.
2. Marriage is not the pinnacle of the Christian faith.
3. Singleness is not a curse.
4. Evangelism is about God.
Jackie uses scripture effectively throughout the book. I listened to the audiobook version of the book, which was well-read by the author. Highly recommended.
Through My Father’s Eyes by Franklin Graham. Thomas Nelson. 319 pages. 2018
There are few people that I respected more than Billy Graham. He was a faithful preacher of God’s Word and had a sincere desire that all would be saved. As an evangelist, his theology was Arminian, using invitations to lead to individual decisions, rather than God’s sovereign election.
This book by his son Franklin, has a title that has a double meaning. Though some readers may rightly believe it refers to the author’s earthly father, it also, more so, refers to his heavenly father. The book contains lessons that the author learned from his earthly father. It is part biography and part autobiography and is saturated in scripture.
The author had been working on the book for a number of years. Each chapter starts with a Billy Graham quote. The book covers a wide variety of subjects and contains some wonderful stories. The author addresses controversies in his father’s life, such as comments that led some to believe that he felt that there were multiple ways to get to Heaven, family disagreements about where his mother would be buried and his father’s view of Jewish people.
Some of the topics that are covered in the book include:
- Forgiveness, salvation and the cross
- Warm remembrances of his mother Ruth Bell Graham. He bought both his mother Ruth (who died in 2007) and his father (who died February 21, 2018) wooden caskets made by prisoners at the Angola Prison.
- The Bible
- The church
- Communicating the Gospel through television.
- Sin and the moral decline in America
- Preaching the Gospel through evangelistic crusades
- Letter writing
- Sharing the Gospel in hostile situations
- His leadership of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA).
- Billy Graham’s final TV message “The Cross”
Franklin Graham loves this country. He writes of his “Decision America” tour leading up to the 2016 presidential election. He stated that it was “high noon” for America, as he preached on the steps at each state capitol and led the attendees in prayer at noon during the week. He didn’t endorse either of the candidates, but instead encouraged voters to become familiar with the party platforms and then vote for the party which most closely aligns to biblical principles.
Billy Graham’s death in February was addressed in the Postscript.
I enjoyed this book which covered a large number of topics by a son who loved and was loved by both his earthly and heavenly fathers.
Miracle in Shreveport: A Memoir of Baseball, Fatherhood, and The Stadium That Launched a Dream by David and Jason Benham with Tim Ellsworth. Thomas Nelson. 208 pages. 2018.
This true and inspirational story is about the dream of twin brothers David and Jason Benham. Their dream was to play professional baseball. With their father’s pastoral salary, the family couldn’t take elaborate vacations growing up, so each year they would travel from their home in Garland, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia to visit their Mom’s family. On their route was Fair Grounds Field, home of the Shreveport Captains minor league team. As the family would pass by the stadium each year, their father Flip would lead them in prayer that God would one day allow his two boys to play in that very stadium as professionals and on the same team. Now that’s quite a dream. The boys and their father placed that dream in God’s hands.
The book tells the story of the two boys and their respective baseball careers, their successes and setbacks. As their father taught them to be faithful as baseball players, they watched him model faithfulness as a father even more.
The twins had great success in high school, but on a pastor’s salary, would need full-ride scholarships if they were to play baseball in college. God answered that prayer with full scholarships to play baseball at Liberty University. The boys had a dream of leading Liberty to their first ever win in the NCAA regional tournament. They also had a dream of being drafted by major league baseball teams, a prayer that God also answered for both David and Jason.
You don’t need to know much about baseball to enjoy this hard to believe story. It’s less a story about baseball than it is about being faithful and trusting God with your dreams. The brothers interject a lot of humor in the book, and there are also numerous accounts of them dropping to their knees to pray.
This was a very enjoyable book and a quick read. I hope to see this book made into a movie in the future.
Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies. Challies. 128 pages. 2018
Tim Challies’ latest book, which celebrates mothers who were used to shape the men who changed the world, began as a series of articles. Rebecca Stark and Melissa Edgington added helpful “Questions for Reflection” for each chapter, and Edgington also adds “A Mother’s Reflection” at the end of each chapter.
He tells us that it may surprise us to learn how many of our Christian heroes were shaped by the attentiveness and godliness of their mothers. Even though they may have had fathers who were present, involved, and godly, they would insist that their primary spiritual influencer had been their mother. In this book, he takes a brief look at some of them. Below are a few items I highlighted about each of the remarkable women profiled in this short book:
The Hidden Strength of a Weak Mother – John Newton
- Elizabeth consistently trained her son in Reformed theology.
- Elizabeth prayed and hoped God would call him to ministry.
- As biographer Jonathan Aitken says, “The spiritual lessons the boy had learned at his mother’s knee were never forgotten. They become the foundation for Newton’s eventual conversion and Christian commitment.”
The Prayer of a Godly Mother – Hudson Taylor
- She determined to pray for her son until she came to a sense of assurance that God would save him.
- Rightly would he be known as one of the great Christian missionaries. And his story cannot be told without giving due credit to the power of a praying mother.
The Unbreakable Bond of Training and Tenderness – J. Gresham Machen
- It was on her knee that he had first learned the Bible and that he first learned of the Christian life through The Pilgrim’s Progress. In line with her Presbyterian roots, she diligently trained her son in the Westminster Catechism, leading him to understand and embrace its historic, Reformed theology. She consistently prepared Sunday afternoon Bible lessons and discussions for her boys.
The Perseverance of a Godly Mother – Christopher Yuan
- Little did he know that Angela had been praying. For years, she had been earnestly pleading with God to save her son.
The Power of a Godly Mother’s Surrender – William Borden
- Every day before school, he and his mother would pray together on their knees, asking that William would experience Christ’s power in his life.
- She had consecrated him to the Lord’s service and now had to surrender him.
- All through William’s life, he and his mother had prayed that God’s will would be done. And somehow it was, though not in the way either one had anticipated.
The Lasting Influence of a Mother’s Devotion – Charles Hodge
- She herself took the lead in their Christian education, tutoring them especially in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
- This early theological training laid a foundation that would mark the rest of Charles’s life.
The Quiet Grace of the Ordinary – John Piper
- Her consistent example left John with a love of hard work.
- No one had a deeper spiritual influence on John than his mother, so it seems fitting that when John was 6, it was Ruth who knelt with him and led him in prayer as he received Christ as his Savior.
- She shaped the way he approached life. Through her willingness to bear any burden, through her simple but tenacious faith, through her tender empathy, through her ordinary life, she made an immeasurable impact on her son.
The Virtue of a Pleading Mother – Charles Spurgeon
- Some of Charles’s earliest memories are of his mother gathering the children to read the Bible to them and to plead with them to turn to Christ.
- He paid tribute to her for being his foremost teacher and for being the one who had so often begged God for the gift of salvation.
The Patience of a Godly Mother – Augustine
- It was God’s good plan to use the patient and persistent prayers of Augustine’s mother to draw her son to faith.
- She was his first teacher, his first instructor in Scripture and sound doctrine.
The Impact of a Hard-Working Mother – D.L. Moody
- Betsy was committed to attending church and taught her children from the only books in the house—a Bible, a catechism, and a small devotional.
No Greater Accolade – Timothy
- Timothy’s mother and grandmother had introduced him to the Bible. And the Bible had done its work in him.
- Timothy was a man of the Word because he had been raised by a woman of the Word.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton, Lara Love Hardin, and Bryan Stevenson
I first became aware of Bryan Stevenson and the work on the Equal Justice Institute through Stevenson’s excellent book Just Mercy. Stevenson tells us that Anthony Ray Hinton was released from prison after spending nearly thirty years in solitary confinement on Alabama’s death row. Hinton is one of the longest-serving condemned prisoners facing execution in America to be proved innocent and released. Stevenson tells us that no one that he has represented has inspired him more than Hinton. Hinton tells his both heart-breaking and inspiring story in this book. It includes themes of survival, justice, perseverance, and forgiveness.
Hinton writes that he was working the night shift in a locked warehouse when the manager at a Quincy’s restaurant fifteen miles away was abducted, robbed, and shot. Hinton was mistakenly identified. The police claimed an old .38 caliber pistol owned by his mother was the weapon used. The State of Alabama claimed this gun was not only used in the Quincy’s robbery and attempted murder but also two other murders in the area where restaurant managers had been robbed at closing time, forced into coolers, and then murdered. Hinton was arrested and charged with the murders. Hinton was extremely close to his mother and his best friend Lester. They never doubted his innocence.
The prosecutor was McGregor. He was able to consolidate the cases, relate them to a third, and put the death penalty on the table. Perhacs, Hinton’s court appointed attorney did a poor job in defending him, especially in selecting an expert ballistics witness who was blind in one eye. Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. Providentially, by sentencing him to death, he would be guaranteed an appeal and some representation by his attorney. If he had been sentenced to life, he would have had to hire an attorney to appeal.
He tells his story of growing up in segregated schools in Praco, Alabama, before being bussed to a white school in Birmingham. He had been happy in Praco, but experienced racism in Birmingham. He was the youngest of ten children.
Everyone who lived in Praco either worked in the coal mines or for the mining company in some way. His father had worked in the coal mines until he got hit in the head and had to go live in an institution. After that, his mother was in charge of the family. She made sure that they went to church. He eventually ended up working the coal mines for five years.
His weakness was women. He attended church with his mother, and prayed for forgiveness, but was back with the women on Monday. He and his mother would later move to Burnwell, near Praco. He was the youngest child and it was expected that he would stay with his mother and help her out. He got in some trouble with the law by stealing a car. He eventually turned himself in and served a few months in a work release program in 1983.
Hinton was indicted for the murders by a grand jury on November 8, 1985. He insisted on his innocence, asking to take a polygraph test, which concluded that he was telling the truth – that he was innocent.
But it only took the jury two hours to find him guilty, and just forty-five minutes to determine his punishment, death. His prison cell on death row at Holman Prison was only five feet wide and about seven feet long. He writes that no one can understand what freedom means until they don’t have it. He writes that he was afraid every single day on death row. He also found a way to find joy every single day. He learned that fear and joy are both a choice.
It was during this time, that he turned his back on God for a few years. He felt that God had forsaken him, failed him and left him to die. He threw his Bible under his bed. He felt a darkness in himself that he had never felt before as he imagined how he would kill McGregor if given the chance.
Perhacs would be replaced by Santha Soneberg, then Alan Black and later by Bryan Stevenson. He writes that there are some people you meet and you know they are going to change your life forever. Meeting Bryan Stevenson was like that for Hinton.
He writes of fifty-four people who were executed during the time he was on death row, and the terrible smell that was in the air afterwards. He got the warden to approve a book club on death row. Only six men were allowed to participate at a time, but the books were shared widely and discussed with those on death row.
He came to a point that he could forgive McGregor, indicating that his sins were between him and God. He also forgave the rest who lied leading to his arrest and conviction. He forgives because that’s how his mother raised him, and because he has a God who forgives. He would pass the time on death row in his imagination traveling to exotic locations, spending time with beautiful women and playing championship sports.
Hinton writes that “Until we have a way of ensuring that innocent men are never executed—until we account for the racism in our courts, in our prisons, and in our sentencing—the death penalty should be abolished.”
Stevenson would work with Hinton for more than fifteen years, eventually reaching the United States Supreme Court. Hinton writes that Stevenson cared about him so much that it moved him in a way that was beyond words. He knew that Stevenson was doing everything he could to save his life. He writes that there is no way he can repay him. His friend Lester visited him in prison every week that Hinton was in prison. Hinton writes that the world had changed, but Lester’s friendship always remained the same.
Today Hinton is grateful to be alive and grateful to be free. He is a voice for the men still on death row and for justice. He wants to end the death penalty.
He ends the book with a list of all who sit on death row as of March 2017. He writes that statistically, one out of every ten men on the list is innocent.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau. 354 pages. 2014.
Lecrae is one of my favorite music artists. His new album All Things Work Together is brilliant, and one of the top releases of the year. Recently, he announced that he is “divorcing ‘white evangelicalism’”. Read John Piper’s response here. I was saddened when I read this, and reached out to Lecrae. He suggested a number of books I could read to help with understanding where he was coming from. From those books, my wife Tammy and I chose to start with Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This well-written and powerful book weaves in some stunning statistics about the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., while telling the heart-breaking story of Walter McMillian (and many others) from thirty years of his work. It’s the best book I’ve read this year.
Bryan’s story began in 1983 as a 23-year old student at Harvard Law School working with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). SPDC’s mission was to assist condemned people on death row in Georgia. When he finished his internship he was committed to helping the death row prisoners he had met. He returned to law school with an intense desire to understand the laws and doctrines that sanctioned the death penalty and extreme punishments.
His time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system. This is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
He writes that there are more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, with an additional six million people on probation or parole and an estimated sixty-eight million Americans with criminal records. Other statistics about the U.S. prison system that I highlighted from the book were:
• We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
• One in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.
• By the mid-1980s, nearly 20 percent of the people in jails and prisons had served in the military.
• Convincing empirical evidence that the race of the victim is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty.
• By 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children—thirteen or fourteen years of age—were black or Latino.
• Over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness.
• Most women on death row are awaiting execution for a family crime involving an allegation of child abuse or domestic violence involving a male partner.
• The number of women sent to prison increased 646 percent between 1980 and 2010, a rate of increase 1.5 times higher than the rate for men.
• Most incarcerated women—nearly two-thirds—are in prison for nonviolent, low-level drug crimes or property crimes.
• Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison opened every ten days. Prison growth and the resulting “prison-industrial complex”—the business interests that capitalize on prison construction—made imprisonment so profitable that millions of dollars were spent lobbying state legislators to keep expanding the use of incarceration to respond to just about any problem.
• We are the only country in the world that imposes life imprisonment without parole sentences on children.
• Lethal injection had become the most common method for the sanctioned killing of people in virtually every death state. But questions about the painlessness and efficacy of lethal injection were emerging.
After graduating from law school, Stevenson went back to the Deep South to represent the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. He writes about McMillian’s case, which taught him about the system’s disturbing indifference to inaccurate or unreliable verdicts, our comfort with bias, and our tolerance of unfair prosecutions and convictions.
Stevenson tells us that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. He states that the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.
The EJI opened in 1989, dedicated to providing free, quality legal services to condemned men and women on death row in Alabama. He writes of developing a maturing recognition of the importance of hopefulness in creating justice. The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power.
He writes of the realization of his life being full of brokenness. He worked in a broken system of justice. His clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger.
In their broken state, they were judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice. He began to understand that he didn’t do what he did because it was required or necessary or important. He did it because he was broken too.
You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it. He states that there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. He writes that when you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise.
He writes of EJI’s work – in trying to stop the death penalty, to do something about prison conditions and excessive punishment, to free people who’ve been wrongly convicted, to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice, to help the poor and do something about indigent defense and the fact that people don’t get the legal help they need, to help people who are mentally ill, to stop them from putting children in adult jails and prisons, to do something about poverty and the hopelessness that dominates poor communities, to see more diversity in decision-making roles in the justice system, to educate people about racial history and the need for racial justice.
He writes that the power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering.
Important victories have been won by EJI in the U.S. Supreme Court. The number of death row prisoners in Alabama for whom EJI had won relief reached one hundred at the time of the writing of this book. He believes that much of our worst thinking about justice is steeped in the myths of racial difference that still plague us.
There is some hope, however. He shares the following statistics:
- By 2010, the number of annual executions fell to less than half the number in 1999.
- Alabama’s death-sentencing rate had also dropped from the late 1990s, but it was still the highest in the country.
- For the first time in close to forty years, the country’s prison population did not increase in 2011. In 2012, the country saw the first decline in its prison population in decades.
So, did the book help me understand where Lecrae is coming from in divorcing white evangelicalism? No, not really. However, we did get to read a really good book – the best I’ve read thus far this year. It will make you angry, and yet hopeful for the work that EJI is doing. Well-written and powerful, reading this book will be well worth your time. You may find yourself asking what you can do to help.
Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened by Clinton Heylin. Lesser Gods. 320 pages. 2017
The author writes that this book is very much about Dylan’s own response to both his newfound religious beliefs and the reaction it engendered by a cynical media. It serves as an excellent companion to Dylan’s recently released eight-disc edition of Trouble No More: The Gospel Years (The Bootleg Series Vol. 13). I enjoyed listening to the 102 songs on the box set as I read this book.
I had only been a Dylan fan for only a few years, and not yet a Christian, when Slow Training Coming was released in 1979. Dylan would follow that album with the poorly recorded Saved in 1979 and Shot of Love in 1981, in what has become known as his controversial “Gospel Period”. I saw two of the Midwest shows on his 1981 tour.
The author provides a detailed look at this fascinating period, detailing these three recordings, and the various other songs that Dylan wrote and recorded, many of which have just now been released. He also provides a very interesting look at Dylan in concert, from the early shows in which he only performed his new Christian songs and none of his older songs.
So, what really happened? The author states that Dylan, through the ministry of the Vineyard, accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized. He then attended an intense three-and-a-half-month course studying about the life of Jesus and principles of the faith. Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth seems to have been a significant influential part of Dylan’s discipleship. This was a particularly prolific time of songwriting for Dylan.
The author tells us that the reaction from the fans and critics on the first night in San Francisco when he played only his Christian songs, would set the tone for six months of shows and define the likely critical reception when Slow Train Coming’s follow-up album, Saved, was released the following June. For that album, for the first time in his career, Dylan planned to go straight from the road to the studio. Although the album had some very good songs on it, the official release was poorly recorded, with little of the passion the songs had in concert. It was also a critical and commercial failure, and included cover art that Dylan’s label wasn’t happy with. The cover art was later replaced.
During this time, Dylan would often offer mini-sermons, or “raps” as the author refers to them. Many of them had to do with the end times. Later, Dylan would begin to do some of his older songs. It is not described why he made the change to begin including his older songs.
The author spends a good deal of time on the recording of the Shot of Love album. Again, Dylan had several good songs, but the officially released album was a disappointment, not including “Caribbean Wind”, a song he had spent a lot of time on. The author calls the album an “atrocity”, and indicates that Dylan would often show up three hours late to the recording studio, keeping everyone waiting. On both Saved and Shot of Love, Dylan would frustrate his producers with the way he approached recording an album. Dylan’s “Gospel Period” would end with a concert in November 1981, with him indicating that he had no plans to tour again until 1984.
The book contains a helpful appendix that details a chronology of concerts and recordings, and one that contains some alternate “raps” (mini sermons) delivered in concert.
Dylan fans who would like to know more about his Gospel period, and those who buy the new Bootleg Series project will enjoy this book.
Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 296 pages. 2017
The author is one of our best current biographers having written major works on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, as well as shorter biographical works. In this book he aims to separate the facts from the myths about the great Reformer’s story, as he looks at Luther “warts and all”. Assuming that most are familiar with the main points of Luther’s life, I’ll focus on unique aspects of Luther’s story that this book offers.
The first myth he addresses is that Luther’s family were humble peasants. In reality, he writes, Luther’s father was a miner. Another myth that the author dispels is that Luther’s father was harsh, strict and severe.
The author writes that others (Wycliffe and Huss, for example), sought to reform the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther, though few remember much about those early Reformers, compared to what we know about Luther.
The author as is his custom, fully embraces his subject giving us a detailed life of Luther. However, much of what he dispels as myth, I’ve learned from Luther scholars such as R.C. Sproul, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves and Roland Bainton.
As a monk, Luther dealt with the issue of how are we to be forgiven of our sins. A 1,600-mile round-trip to Rome was key for Luther. There he wondered “Who knows if it is true?” There he saw the immorality of the priests, with them doing masses in as little as 9 minutes.
Metaxas gives us a different take on Luther’s famous breakthrough about justification by faith in Romans 1:17. Basing his speculation on Luther’s own words, the author speculates he may have had this breakthrough while sitting on the toilet.
The author also speculates that perhaps Luther actually didn’t nail his famous “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Church door after all, but that this was posted by a custodian.
At the Diet of Worms Luther was asked to recant his writings. After asking for time to consider the request he delivered his response the following day in both German and Latin. His response included his famous “Here I stand” and appealed to his conscience. The author tells us that conscience in Luther’s time did not mean what it means today (appeal to our own truth). Instead, it meant appealing to God’s truth.
Another myth that the author dispels is Luther’s famous throwing of an inkwell at the Devil. The author indicates that event never happened.
Luther, a former priest and monk, would marry Katie, a former nun. The story of the escaped nuns being smuggled in fish barrels is a myth, according to the author. Luther grew to deeply love Katie, and would sadly lose two daughters to death. The author states that he valued women more than most men at that time.
The author highlights conscience, dissent and freedom as he discusses Luther’s legacy. The book includes some adult language; most, if not all, from Luther’s writings. The audiobook version is well-read by the author, who brings his characteristic wit to the task.
The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves. B&H Publishing Group. 211 pages. 2013
The author, who has written extensively on the Protestant Reformation, states that the Reformation was a revolution, and revolutions not only fight for something, they also fight against something, in the case of the Reformation, this was the old world of medieval Roman Catholicism. He states that most Christians at the time were looking for the improvement, but not the overthrow, of their religion. They were not looking for radical change, only a clearing-up of acknowledged abuses. He tells us that the Reformation was not principally a negative movement about moving away from Rome, but a positive movement about moving towards the gospel.
In this fast-moving history, the author, using his knowledge and wit to introduce us to John Wycliffe (who organized a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English), indulgences, Luther nailing his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on All Saints’ Eve, Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Mennonites, John Calvin and his ministry in Geneva, and William Tyndale, whose life’s work was translating the Bible from its original Greek and Hebrew into English.
He writes about John Knox, the history of the English Reformation, including the Puritans, who thought that the Reformation was a good thing that was not yet complete. We are introduced to the preacher Richard Sibbes, the Westminster Assembly and John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. And much, much more.
The author asks if the Reformation is over. He writes that Roman Catholicism continues its belief in purgatory and indulgences, sure signs that the traditional Catholic doctrine of justification is at work. He states that without doubt, there has been something of a change in Rome, but concerning those theological issues that caused the Reformation, no doctrine has been rescinded. As a result, while attempts to foster greater Christian unity must be applauded, it must also be recognized that, as things stand, the Reformation is anything but over.
The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo by Walter Lord. Open Road Media (Reprint edition). 370 pages. 2017
I read this book after watching Christopher Nolan’s excellent film Dunkirk. This is a very detailed and well-researched (written source materials, more than 500 interviews) book. I appreciated the book, but some may get lost in all of the details.
The book tells the amazing story of approximately 400,000 Allied troops that were trapped against the coast near the French port of Dunkirk. Hitler’s advancing tanks were only ten miles away. On May 26, “Operation Dynamo” began. By June 4, more than 338,000 men had been evacuated safely to England in one of the great rescues of all time. It was a crucial turning point in World War II.
The book tells the reader the backstory of Dunkirk, and fills in the gaps that the movie viewers may have had. How did the troops get to the beach and into an evacuation situation in the first place? I read about the surrender of the Belgian Army, and the at times contentious relationship between the British and French.
There were many challenges in evacuating the troops across the English Channel to Dover. There was the difficulty of loading at water’s edge. Once loaded, the departing boats faced bombings from the air by the Germans, running into underwater mines or encountering German torpedo boats.
It was Captain Tennant who came up with the idea of using the eastern mole or breakwater of Dunkirk harbor as an improvised pier. A steady stream of destroyers, minesweepers, ferries, and other steamers would ease alongside the mole, load troops, and then head for England. Dinghies, rowboats, and launches would load at water’s edge and ferry the troops to small ships waiting offshore. These would then ferry the men to the growing fleet of destroyers, minesweepers, and packets lying still farther out. When filled, these would head for Dover. It was a practical, workable scheme, but it was also very slow.
The author writes about a mass of dots coming over the horizon that filled the sea on May 30. The dots were all heading toward Dunkirk. The “dots” were every kind of boat manned by regular British citizens, many without any navigational equipment or experienced captains. They were joining in the rescue effort for Operation Dynamo.
The author states that there were several miracles of Dunkirk.
- The weather. The English Channel is usually rough, and rarely behaves for very long. Yet a calm sea was essential to the evacuation, and during the nine days of Dunkirk the Channel was a millpond. He writes that “old-timers” still say they have never seen it so smooth.
- Hitler’s order of May 24, halting his tanks just as they were closing in for the kill.
- Another miracle was provided by the German bombers. The German planes rarely strafed the crowded beaches. They never used fragmentation bombs. They never attacked tempting targets like Dover or Ramsgate.
He writes that whatever the reasons, these lapses allowed additional thousands of men to come home.
Britain lost 2,472 guns and 63,879 vehicles were abandoned, but 224,686 men returned home safely. The rescue electrified the people of Britain, welded them together, gave them a sense of purpose that the war had previously lacked. The author writes about the sense of national participation that Dunkirk aroused.
When the evacuation began, Churchill thought 30,000 might be saved. In the end, over 338,000 were landed in England, with another 4,000 lifted to Cherbourg and other French ports still in Allied hands.
Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham. Revell. 448 pages. 2017
Steven Curtis Chapman has been one of the most successful Contemporary Christian Music artists, with 11 million records sold and 48 #1 Christian radio songs. He and his wife Mary Beth have also experienced the loss of a child, of which he writes that 95% of marriages don’t survive. In this book, Chapman takes the reader on a journey of God’s grace and His faithfulness through the mountains and valleys of his life. Throughout the book he is very open about the struggles he and Mary Beth have experienced in marriage, serving as a testament to others that marriage is worth fighting for and persevering in.
The now 54-year-old Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky. He has one brother (Herbie) who was actually conceived before his parents were married. His parents struggled early in their marriage and decided to have another child (Steven) to try to help their marriage. Chapman’s parents would eventually divorce.
Although Steven has a very good relationship with his father, he writes of words that his father spoke to him when Steven broke the pool skimmer, that still damage him today.
A revival at their church was an important time in the Chapman’s lives as his father and brother Herbie confessed Christ and Mom rededicated her life. A few months later, at age 8, Steven confessed Christ.
The first song he wrote was based on Jesus’ parable of the talents. Dallas Holm was an early influence. Early on, he would often play music with brother Herbie as the Chapman Brothers. Herbie was the better singer and was the lead, with Steven on guitar. He would eventually get a publishing deal with Bill Gaither, and had his songs recorded by the Imperials, White Heart and Sandi Patti.
He met his future wife Mary Beth Chapman, while they were both at Anderson College, where they shared a mailbox. On their first date, he showed up two hours late because a concert he was giving ran late. When he did show up, he greeted her with a big kiss.
Throughout the book, Chapman is open and transparent about his and Mary Beth’s struggles in marriage. She was used to order and structure growing up, and his life as a musician was anything but that. Mary Beth would become pregnant 8 months into their marriage.
He recorded First Hand, his first album in 1987 and his first single was “Weak Days”. His first number one song was “His Eyes”.
Many of Chapman’s songs come from his real-life experiences and God’s grace. He wrote “I Will Be There” for Mary Beth around the time of his parents’ divorce.
As success (awards, sales, etc.) continued to come, Chapman was conflicted between the adulation he received and ministry.
He writes of Mary Beth’s depression and the positive influence in his life of his pastor Scotty Smith and best friend and fellow music artist Geoff Moore.
The Chapmans would adopt three girls from China to go along with their three biological children. They would later begin an adoption ministry Show Hope.
He writes of the night and circumstances in which he wrote his classic song “Cinderella” about his daughters.
He writes of daughter Maria wanting to go to God’s Big, Big House (after learning the song by Audio Adrenaline in school). She and her sister Stevie Joy professed faith in Christ at age 4 on February 20, 2008. Just three months later, Maria would die after an accident that took place in the driveway of the family home on May 21. Chapman writes of the dark days that followed Maria’s death for the family, including marriage counseling from Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. Later, they would introduce Maria’s Big House of Hope, a medical care center in China that provides health care to orphans with special needs.
Chapman’s story is one of God’s grace in his life through the good times and the dark times. This is a powerful read, certainly difficult at times, but one that I highly recommend.
J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray. Banner of Truth. 275 pages. 2016
I was excited to read this new biography of J.C. Ryle, a respected 1800’s theologian/author, published on the 200th anniversary of his birth by Iain Murray, an author who I always enjoy reading. Ryle was born into a family that were leaders in the emerging new merchant class in Macclesfield, England, his grandfather having built a prosperous silk mill, and upon his death left an immense fortune to his son, John, J.C. Ryle’s father. John would become one of the best-known figures in the county, being elected to Parliament.
J.C. was raised in the greatest comfort and luxury, and had everything that money could buy, but his father took little notice of his children. He would be sent to a private preparatory school for three and a half years, twenty miles from home. He would next go to Eton College, which was twenty-one miles west of London, where he spent nearly seven years and begin his love of the sport of cricket. In 1834 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he spent three years. During his first 18 years he writes of being barely exposed to biblical Christianity in his home.
He did not know the exact date of his conversion, but his turning point took place in 1834. He would return from Oxford a different man.
He was attracted to the legal profession in London, where he stayed for just six months due to poor health. His father’s bank would be ruined and all of his wealth would be lost – his properties, bank, and silk mill. J.C. writes of his life being turned upside down and thrown into confusion, stating had he not been a Christian at this time, he may have committed suicide.
He became a clergyman because that would bring him some income. At Exbury, he would visit each home in his parish at least once a month, but stated that he didn’t really learn how to preach until he was 50.
Resigning due to poor health, he would be offered the rectory of St Thomas, Winchester, serving some 3,000 people in 1843, where he would stay for only five months.
He would meet and marry Matilda in 1845. She would die just three years later of lung disease. He would marry Jessy in 1850, who would become ill six months into the marriage, dying just ten years into the marriage. He would again become a widower with five children. He then married Henrietta in 1861, and they would enjoy long years of happiness together before her death in 1889.
Of the significance of Ryle’s writing (tracts, addresses, books), Murray writes that they must be appreciated in their wider historical context. He states that at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were few popular writers in the Church of England. Most of his books came about in the same way: Holiness in 1877, Old Paths in 1878, Practical Religion in 1879, Coming Events and Present Duties in 1879. All brought together material previously published as separate tracts. By 1888 it is said that between 200 and 300 tracts of various lengths had been published, with over 12 million issued. From his first tract at Helmingham in 1844, the primary intention was evangelistic and pastoral. He produced a large amount of writing in his difficult years at Helmingham. Murray writes that he could produce so much of enduring value, and that in the midst of many trials, is indication enough that he was himself being fed from rich sources. Ryle would become the vicar at Stradbroke in 1861.
In 1869, he would become a rural dean of Hoxne which involved a measure of oversight for twenty-five other parishes, and in February 1872 he was made an honorary canon of Norwich.
At age 63. Ryle would become the Bishop of Liverpool. Murray writes of challenges that Ryle faced in his leadership. For the sake of unity and better relationships with other Churchman, he urged toleration over what was not fundamental. He encouraged attendance at mixed gatherings such as Convocations and Church Congresses.
One of the greatest disappointments in his life, would be his son Herbert aligning with the opposition theologically. His father saw the strength and unity of the Church in a return to definite evangelical doctrines. Herbert saw the Church attaining peace and unity by the allowance of a broad doctrinal liberty. Murray writes that despite their differences, the bond between father and son had not failed, and that they would remain close.
Ryle was to express regret that he had not come to Liverpool as a younger man when he would have been able to do more. By the beginning of 1899 Ryle’s health was in evident decline. On January 8, 1899, he preached at St. Nathaniel’s on John 17:15. It would be his last time in that pulpit. Passing his 84th birthday on May 10, he would die on June 10.
The book includes appendices on extracts from Ryle and on son Herbert.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The Penguin Press. 818 pages. 2004
This detailed and well-written biography of an important figure in the founding of our country inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly successful (11 Tony Awards, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama) musical Hamilton. I read the book to find out more about Alexander Hamilton and to better understand the musical, which I will be seeing soon.
Hamilton was born in the West Indies, the exact date not known, with the author using the year 1755. Hamilton was around slavery growing up, and the theme of slavery comes up throughout the book. As his parents were not married, he would forever be referred to as a bastard by his enemies, such as second President John Adams. Hamilton’s experienced difficulties early on with his father abandoning the family, his Mom dying of a sudden illness and the first cousin he and his half-brother would go to live with committing suicide.
Hamilton was self-taught, and his Christian faith was strong early in his life, waning in the middle years, and becoming strong again late in his life. He wrote poems, the first of which was published in a newspaper in 1771. This would lead to being given the opportunity to go to America for an education, eventually landing at Kings College (now Columbia University).
Hamilton excelled in his speeches and writing. One of the things that impressed me about Hamilton was his voluminous writing. He would also excel in military service, becoming a Captain the Battle of New York. George Washington would ask him to join his staff as his secretary, with a rank of Lt. Colonel, serving more as what we would know as a Chief of Staff. The author states that it is difficult to conceive of their careers apart from each other. They would have a mutual respect which grew even stronger late in Washington’s life. The author takes us through the events leading to the development of our nation, beginning with the Boston Tea Party.
Hamilton would leave Washington’s staff, frustrated that since he was so valuable to Washington, the president had blocked several possible other opportunities for him. He would become an attorney, as did Aaron Burr, whose grandfather was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. Several times the author will show how Hamilton’s and Burr’s lives intersect.
Hamilton would be instrumental in founding the Bank of New York, the oldest stock still being traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and later a new Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the oldest continuously active paper.
Hamilton would marry Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, a Dutch Reformed Christian, and they would have eight children. By this time, Hamilton had drifted from the faith of his youth, and he would never have a church affiliation.
Women were attracted to Hamilton, and this would later lead to one of his major failures, a long-time affair with Mariah Reynolds, a married woman. This would lead to blackmail payments to her husband. Hamilton was suspected of financial collusion with Mariah Reynolds’ husband. James Monroe would later be involved in making the documents of Hamilton’s affair public, something Hamilton would never forgive him for, and would later lead to both threatening a duel.
The author shows Hamilton “warts and all”. He was against slavery, but may have owned a few household slaves. He made an ill-advised 6 ½ hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, wrote a long pamphlet about his affair and another long one against Adam’s presidency. He also had a long time association with William Dewars, a man of questionable character.
I enjoyed reading about how our government was put together (Congress, Supreme Court, Electoral College, Bill of Rights, Coast Guard, our financial system, etc.), so long ago and yet relatively unchanged in 2017. The controversial Alien and Sedition Act brings the current day issue of immigration into the story. Hamilton wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, with help from Madison and a little from John Jay.
Hamilton would become Treasury Secretary and have conflict with Madison over the debt issue. He would also have ideological differences with Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of State under President George Washington.
The French Revolution plays prominently in this story. We read of the Jay Treaty protest in New York City, where Hamilton’s temper got the best of him and he threated to resort to violence.
Washington chose not to serve a third term as president, leading to the first contested presidential election. Adams was elected, but felt that Hamilton was disloyal to him. Adams would take many low blows at Hamilton, and would become another of his political enemies.
Hamilton would speak out against Vice President Burr’s quest to become the Governor of New York in 1804, leading to murderous rage in Burr, which eventually led to their duel and Hamilton’s death. Ironically, the author states that without their political rivalry, the two lawyers could have been good friends.
This fascinating book contains a number of recurring themes such as slavery, Aaron Burr’s role in Hamilton’s life, Hamilton’s political relationships – positive (Washington) and negative (Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Clinton and Burr), his affair with Mariah Reynolds, his poor judgment regarding William Dewars and the faith of Hamilton and wife Eliza.
Reading this book really helped me to be able to follow and understand the excellent Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical Hamilton. Recently, the Hamilton Mixtape was released, executive produced by Hamilton creator/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and featuring performances of some of the songs from the musical by popular artists such as Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, John Legend, and the Roots. Both releases contain adult language, though a “clean” version of the Hamilton Mixtape is available.
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini with Rebecca Paley. Ballantine Books (2016 Edition)
I decided to read this book after starting to watch Leah Remini’s fascinating Scientology and the Aftermath documentary series. The book is both an autobiography, in which she talks about her family and career as an actress, and an interesting and disturbing look inside the world of the multi-billion dollar organization Scientology, in which she spent thirty-plus years. The author was just nine years old when her mother joined the Church of Scientology, and as a result she began being raised as a Scientologist.
Scientology is a “religion” that is difficult to understand. There is no god that the members of the “church” worship. It was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, and actor Tom Cruise is its most famous member. The author writes that Scientology offers a clearly laid out scientific process that helps you to overcome your limitations and realize your full potential for greatness. It is presented as a well-defined path to achieving total spiritual freedom and enlightenment and a full understanding of yourself and others.
As a Scientologist you are expected to spend a significant time studying and/or in counseling. The author writes that she spent close to $2 million for services and training, and donated roughly $3 million to church causes. Where that money goes is never specifically explained to church members, who regardless of their income, over a lifetime in the church spend upwards of $500,000 to get to the highest levels, which often takes more than twenty years. The author states that during this time, they are required to purchase roughly 300 books, 3000 lectures, and 100 courses.
The author speaks of Scientology’s terms such as a “Suppressive Person”, “Knowledge Reports” and “Disconnection”, “Fair Game”, etc. The religion is based on thousands of policies that leave no room for interpretation. Your actions are either “on policy” or “off policy.” Levels, OT is short for “Operating Thetan”—are the secret advanced levels of the Scientology Bridge that you move onto only after you achieve the State of Clear. The goal of Scientology is to get the whole planet up to Clear. The author was asked to pledge herself for an eternal commitment to the Sea Org for a billion years in order to bring ethics to the whole universe. In accordance with Scientology beliefs, members are expected to return to the Sea Org when they are reborn over time in multiple lives.
The author writes of her acting jobs on television series such as Head of the Class, Who’s the Boss, Living Dolls, Cheers, Fired Up, and the role she is best known for, as Carrie Heffernan on The King of Queens, which ran for nine seasons. She would later work for one season on the show The Talk.
The author married Angelo Pagán in 2003. He had three sons from previous relationships. The couple has one daughter together, born in 2004.
Although the author has always been outspoken, she began to have concerns about what she was seeing in Scientology when she attended the 2006 wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. She had concerns about the church’s hypocrisy shown toward Cruise, questions about where the Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife was (she still hasn’t been seen for years), physical abuse of church members at the Hole, and at times physical abuse dealt out by the Chairman of the Board (COB) Miscavige, etc.
When she eventually left Scientology in 2013, she writes that all of those whom she considered to be her extended family, and many more, turned their backs on her. Even those who at first said they would stand by her, eventually disconnected. Fortunately, from her immediate family, she received nothing but support, though some other family members did disconnect from her.
She writes that most Scientologists are in the church because their hearts are in the right place and they really believe they’re helping the planet. She writes that the big mistake she made was in trying to change the system instead of just changing herself.
So where is Lemini today regarding Scientology? She has been declared by the church to be a Suppressive Person because she questioned, spoke out against, and refused to abide by the hypocrisy that had become her life. Still, she writes that she’s able to ascertain which concepts and precepts were helpful to her, and still apply them. Discerning believers reading the book will see that Scientology bears no resemblance to biblical Christianity or any other world religion.
This a well-written and informative book. It explains the basics of Scientology in language that is easy to understand. Unfortunately, the book does contain a significant amount of adult language.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Simon & Schuster 528 pages. 2016
This was quite simply one of the best memoirs that I’ve read. Springsteen writes, often poetically, about his life from a small boy in Freehold, New Jersey, to the current day, when in his 60’s, he has suffered from significant periods of depression. His narration of the audiobook version is outstanding, less like reading the book, than actually talking to us about his life. He is transparent and humble, as he talks about his music, his depression and long-time therapy, his failed first marriage to Julianne Phillips, his long-time relationship and marriage to Patti Scialfa, his three children and his relationship with his father.
As he writes about most (some in great detail), though not all of his albums (noticeable exceptions were Human Touch, Lucky Town and Working on a Dream), I went back and listened to the albums, reminding myself why I loved his music in the first place. A companion album to the book, Chapter and Verse, was released, including 18 songs personally chosen by Springsteen to reflect the themes and sections of the book.
Springsteen writes of growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, in the shadow of the Catholic Church. His music has often included religious imagery. He attended Catholic school in the fifties, which left a mean taste in his mouth and estranged him from the church, though he writes that though he doesn’t often participate in his religion, he came to realize that once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic.
He writes lovingly of his grandmother, mother (who was his protector from his father), and sisters, and throughout the book he writes much about his complicated relationship with his father, who he admits he hasn’t been completely fair to in his music.
He takes us through his early bands – the Castiles, Child, Steel Mill, then the Bruce Springsteen Band, and eventually meeting the members of what would become the E Street Band. Early influences were doo-wop music, Elvis and the Beatles. He also writes of his appreciation of artists such as Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones and U2.
He writes of auditioning for John Hammond and Clive Davis, being signed by Columbia Records and hearing one of his songs (“Spirit in the Night”) on a car radio for the first time. He writes that he still enjoys hearing his new music being played on the radio. Jon Landau, who famously wrote in 1974 “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen” has been Springsteen’s long-time manager and friend. Springsteen writes of being on the cover of Time and Newsweek magazines the same week and his painful contract dispute with Mike Appel.
He writes that his music first started being political on Darkness on the Edge of Town, with his liberal views later showing up particularly on Magic and Wrecking Ball. He writes of how some of his songs have been misunderstood, particularly “American Skin (41 Shots)” and “Born in the USA”.
Springsteen has never been predictable musically. After the full band sound and success of The River, he returned with the stark, recorded at home, Nebraska. Similarly, after his most commercially successful album Born to Run, he returned with the solo, recorded mostly at home Tunnel of Love.
I most enjoyed hearing his reflections of his music. His reflections about his relationship with his father, and in particular their later years together was moving, as were his reflections about Clarence “Big Man” Clemons and Danny Federici, E Street Band members who have died.
The book unfortunately includes a significant amount of adult language.
My reflections on Bruce Springsteen:
So what should Christians think of Bruce Springsteen? I’ve enjoyed his music for about forty years. The first album of his that I bought new was 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town while I was in college. I’ve seen him in concert a few times, and although U2 and Paul McCartney are close, Springsteen is the best live act I’ve ever seen.
I wouldn’t agree with his political views, but there are other artists that I don’t agree with as well (John Fogerty and James Taylor, for example). I was disappointed that he cancelled a concert in North Carolina last year on short notice in protest of the state’s “bathroom law”.
Interestingly, some of the working class people that he has sung about over the years, those depicted in J.D. Vance’s excellent book Hillbilly Elegy, have recently moved from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
Springsteen writes “As funny as it sounds, I have a “personal” relationship with Jesus. He remains one of my fathers, though as with my own father, I no longer believe in his godly power. I believe deeply in his love, his ability to save . . . but not to damn . . . enough of that.” But Jesus said “I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). You can’t have it both ways. You can’t just see Jesus as one of your fathers. Either Jesus is who he said he was (God), or as C.S. Lewis said he was a liar and a lunatic.
So my recommendation is that we enjoy his music and the immense talent that he has been blessed with and also pray for him that he will be “Blinded by the Light”.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Harper. 272 pages. 2016
The author admits at the start that it is a bit strange for a 31-year old who hasn’t really accomplished anything to be writing his memoir. But I respectfully beg to differ with him. He has accomplished something – a lot; J.D. Vance is a survivor.
He writes that he almost squandered all of the talents he had, until he was rescued, primarily by a few key members of his family. Admitting that he has a complicated relationship with his parents (his father gave him up for adoption, and his addict mother subjected him to living with man after man, many of them she would marry), he tells his and his people’s story of growing up in the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky and then later in the Rust Belt town of Middletown, Ohio. Because of the instability of his mother, he was primarily raised by his beloved (and foul-mouthed) grandmother (Mamaw), who claimed to be a Christian, but despised organized religion and didn’t go to church, and her husband Papaw, the most important man in his life. He would teach J.D. that the measure of a man is how he treats the women in his life. Papaw voted for Reagan, but after that, only for Democrats. His sister Lindsay, who once looked after both of them when she was just out of high school, is very dear to him as well, along with his Aunt Wee.
Vance, a political conservative, and professing Christian, writes of his people – Scotch-Irish (Hillbillies, Rednecks or Hill People), and their migration from Kentucky to Middleton along the “Hillbilly Highway”. Poverty would follow them from Kentucky to Ohio.
As he grew up Vance would see Middleton and the neighborhood he grew up in deteriorate. As industry left town, shops closed. Armco, which he states pretty much built the town, was purchased by Kawasaki Steel Corporation in 1987.
Vance’s story reads like someone who has been in the foster care system. He had no overall stability, bounced from living with his mother (and various men), to his grandparents, and even his biological father, who was by then a devout Christian. But he never did go into the foster care system, writing that he once lied to a judge to save his mom from imprisonment, which allowed him to continue to live with her and his grandparents.
J.D. grew up amongst much irrational behavior (drinking, drug use, violence, etc.). His Mom tried to commit suicide and once threatened to kill J.D. At one time, she demanded that he provide a urine sample for her so that she wouldn’t lose her job.
Education was not valued in Middleton overall, but it was a value strongly emphasized in his grandparents’ home. At one time, J.D. nearly flunked out of school. However, after Papaw died, J.D. would spend three years living with Mamaw. Those three years changed his life. His grades improved and he got his first job as a cashier at a grocery store.
He would then join the Marines for four years, including time in Iraq. He writes of how his perspective changed when he was in the Marines, from being mad and resentful to thankful. It also changed the expectations he had for himself. When he returned to Middletown for a time after the Marines, and before enrolling at Ohio State University, he found that while he was optimistic, his old friends were pessimistic.
After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Ohio State, where at one time he held three jobs, he attended Yale Law School, where he would meet future wife Usha. At a point in time he began to see himself behaving with Usha just as his Mom had in her relationships. He was always ready for battle, and used his words as weapons. He attributes this to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).
He indicates that he had never tried sympathy with his Mom. He tried to better understand her as he increasingly saw her behavior in himself. He asks where blame stops and sympathy should begin, and wonders if people like himself can ever really change.
As he tells his story, he offers commentary on his people, the white working class. He states that among his people, there is a love of country, but also a distrust of government and of President Obama in particular. He writes of the Hillbilly white working class beginning to move to the Republican Party with President Nixon. He also writes that we need to adjust how social service systems handle families like his.
Vance writes that he is lucky. I say that he is a survivor, and a successful one at that. He writes of how many variables had to fall in place in order to give him a chance. He writes of role models (family members and mentors) who have helped him. He wonders where he would be without them.
Note, the book includes a significant amount of adult language throughout, most, but not all, from the mouth of Mamaw.
Settle for More by Megyn Kelly. Harper. 352 pages. 2016
The star of Fox News’ The Kelly File tells her story – from growing up in upstate New York with loving parents to becoming a successful lawyer on the way to partnership, to a career change that led her to becoming one of the most recognized news personalities hosting her own show on Fox News and her relationship with President-Elect Donald Trump. Along the way she comes across as confident, yet transparent about her insecurities. She reads the audiobook version of the book well.
Kelly was born in nearby Champaign, Illinois in 1970 and her family moved to the Syracuse, New York area shortly after. Her parents were devout Roman Catholics. She writes lovingly of her university professor father who loved religion and philosophy, and her humorous (both intentionally and unintentionally) mother.
She was told to be who you are. There was no false praise growing up. Her father loved the song “Today”, made popular by John Denver. She writes of being overweight and an “ugly duckling” growing up, and being bullied in the 7th grade, which would foreshadow attacks she would get from Trump years later.
She tells of an argument about an expensive high school class ring she had with her father just before Christmas. She went up to bed angry at her father, who would have a heart attack and die a few hours later. She still has regrets about her final words with her father, which led her to realize how little time we really have here.
Kelly would attend Syracuse University, where her Dad had taught, and later Albany Law School. Her first job as a lawyer was at Bickel & Brewer, later moving to Jones Day. She would meet Dan, a doctor, and they would be married. However, both devoted a lot of hours to their careers, to the expense of their marriage. Kelly wasn’t happy nor fulfilled. She didn’t have meaning in her life.
She would often watch reruns of Oprah at midnight. Dr. Phil McGraw was a guest on one of those shows. Something he said spoke personally to her. He said “The only difference between you and someone you envy is you settled for less”. She took the advice to pursue being a journalist/broadcaster, eventually being hired by founder, Chairman and CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes for Fox News in 2004. Brit Hume was her supervisor and has been the greatest influence in her career in news. She would eventually be promoted to America’s Newsroom with Bill Hemmer, America Live, and in 2013, The Kelly File.
She writes of a significant stalking situation, and indicates that it will not be the last time she was physically threatened.
She met her second husband Doug Blunt, now a best-selling author, on a blind date. They have three children, ages 2, 5 and 6. She writes that becoming a mother is the most profound thing that’s ever happened to her. Being a mother has helped enhance her relationship with God.
Kelly spends a good deal of time on the 2016 Presidential campaign, which started with the first GOP debate in Cleveland in August of 2015. A few days before the debate she addressed a report that Trump had raped previous wife Ivana. Trump wasn’t happy and told her that he would unleash his “beautiful Twitter account” against her, which he would in fact do, and often, inciting his followers. This would begin one of the most difficult years for Kelly, what she refers to as the “Year of Trump”, which included death threats.
She writes of being sexually harassed by Fox News’ Roger Ailes, “the most powerful man in news”, beginning in 2005. She brought the issue to a supervisor at the time, who encouraged her to avoid Ailes. After that, the two would work together without incident for nine years. However, she would eventually bring this information forward in the 2016 Fox News investigation of Ailes. She writes that she “paid it forward” to the women coming up behind her.
What are Christians to think of Megyn Kelly? I enjoy her television show and like her even more after reading this book. She comes across as confident, yet vulnerable, openly sharing her insecurities as she writes about dealing with adversity. However, even though she states that she goes to church most Sundays, she did live with both husbands prior to marrying them and started dating before she was divorced from her first husband. She admits that she and her first husband focused more on their careers than their relationship, leading to their divorce; perhaps she has learned from that. And, her “Settle for More” life philosophy comes across as an application of Joel Osteen’s “Better Life Now” than it does in any way come across as living her life for God. On the other hand, she comes across as a very caring mother, and we can learn from her about following our true calling.
Kelly includes some adult language in the book, which she refers to as “dropping a good swear”. Despite some minor concerns, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to Kelly’s fans and those interested in politics.
Note: unlike any other book I have reviewed, this one has been polarizing. Immediately upon its release, 80% of reviews posted on Amazon were “one star”. Read how Amazon dealt with this. My own positive review of the book was trashed by others, giving it many “unhelpful” votes. Twice, I had my positive review of the book removed by Amazon with no explanation, the first time I have had that happen. As a result, you will not find my review on Amazon.
I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir by Brian Wilson. Da Capo Press. 336 pages. 2016
Brian Wilson is the 74 year-old genius behind the Beach Boys. Although much has been written and said about him and the band, this is his long-awaited autobiography. It’s a warm and transparent book about his music, and the pain of mental illness and key relationships in his life.
I most enjoyed what he wrote about writing and recording his classic songs, especially the Beach Boys’ 1966 Pet Sounds album, widely considered one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. Also the planned follow-up album Smile, which was eventually completed and released in 2004, but shelved for many years as Wilson dealt with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, spending large amounts of time in bed, etc. that began with an incident at the Houston airport in 1964.
Wilson is open about his mental illness and the voices in his head that say they are going to kill him. He tries to explain his difficult relationship with his father Murry. He states that the story of his father is connected to his entire life. Murry introduced Brian and his brothers Carl and Dennis to music, but who was also abusive. Brian would eventually take over producer responsibilities from him and the band fired him as their manager. Despite the pain, Brian would collaborate with his father later on the song “Breakaway”.
He also gives his side of the well-publicized relationship with Dr. Eugene Landy, who completely controlled and abused Wilson for years with 24-hour therapy and 100% dependency which was depicted in the 2014 film Love and Mercy.
He writes about missing his brothers Carl (who died of lung cancer) and Dennis (who drowned while drinking). He wonders why they died and where they went. He writes of his drug and alcohol use, weight gain, years of minimal involvement with the Beach Boys and his regrets about not being a good father to his two daughters from his first marriage to Marilyn. He states that his songs have helped him with his pain.
If there is one complaint I have with this book, which overall I enjoyed a great deal, is that it jumps around a lot chronologically. Wilson may be talking about the time he is living near the Chicago area in the 1990’s one minute and then it’s back to growing up in Hawthorne, California and then back again.
Wilson is now married to second wife Melinda and they have five children. He seems happy and optimistic. The creative juices are flowing again and he loves being back out in front of audiences performing his music, including the entire Pet Sounds album on the 50th anniversary of its release.
I was interested to see what he would say about cousin and fellow Beach Boy Mike Love, who he states was like a fourth Wilson brother. Overall, Wilson devotes little time to his relationship to Love, briefly mentioning his lawsuits and ego, or his disagreements with the band.
Wilson writes about the people he has collaborated with over the years, such as Carole King, and those he would like to in the future, such as Paul McCartney, who told him that “God Only Knows” (from Pet Sounds), was one of his favorite songs. He was greatly influenced by Phil Spector and his song “Be My Baby” and the Four Freshman. His next album may be one of songs that have influenced him, and he is also continuing to write new songs.
Wilson writes a lot about songs that are spiritual, which is a word that can be used in many ways. The one that he describes that I most appreciated along those lines is his song “Walking Down the Path of Life”, in which he sings “Touch me, heal me, wash my sins away”, but he doesn’t elaborate on any spiritual/religious beliefs he might have. He states that it is the doctors, medications and the people he has around him that is important.
Despite all that he has been through, the book finishes on an optimistic note. He misses those who are gone, mostly brothers Dennis and Carl, but he is a survivor, and greatly enjoys performing his music for his fans and spending time with his wife Melinda and his children.
The book does include some adult language and abuses of God’s name.
The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino. Thomas Nelson. 208 pages. 2016
This book tells the fascinating story of Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s popular Fixer Upper television series, now in its third season, and how God has worked in that story. The book is written by both of them, with Joanna taking the lead. The audiobook version is well-read by the authors.
The book begins with the incredible story of how they got their television series to start with. We also hear how God worked in their lives to get the property for Joanna’s first store in Waco, Texas, an unexpected loan of $100,000 from a friend when they were literally broke, as well as how they got the 40-acre farm they live on with their four children as well as the old cotton mill where their new Magnolia Market is located.
Both Chip and Joanna go back and give us a glimpse of their lives growing up. Chip was an entrepreneur. He was known as the “Mayor of 3rd Street” in Waco, about a mile from the Baylor University campus. He was a star athlete in high school and would go on to play baseball in college. Joanna’s mother is Korean, and she writes of some difficult times she endured in high school because she looked different from the other girls. Chip and Joanna are opposites in many ways, but write of how they have used their individual strengths to be good together.
The authors write openly of their faith and how God has led them along their journeys, oftentimes referring to His still, small voice leading them.
Joanna writes about being inspired by visits to boutiques she visited in New York City, eventually leading to the opening of her own shop (The Magnolia Shop), which she closed in 2006 to concentrate on her family. But other businesses would follow, a home furnishing brand and Magnolia Homes, which really took off after their first shop closed.
Life changed significantly for the Gaines when the pilot of Fixer Upper aired in 2013 and with the show’s first season in 2014. Joanna would later feel led by God to open Magnolia Market, bringing in her father to assist with the business.
We read that the Gaines have never had a television in their home in the thirteen years they’ve been married, and that they do better as a couple the more time they spend together.
Joanna shares some of her thoughts about design and decorating as well as philosophies about life, such as:
- Thrive, don’t just survive
- Focus on thankfulness and contentment
- Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you are happy
- Don’t worry about always keeping the house clean
This is a quick and enjoyable read, especially for those fans of the TV show Fixer Upper.
Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Co. 336 pages. 2016
This is the sixth book in Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing series, with previous volumes on Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton and Reagan. Next to the book on Lincoln, this book, which addresses the events leading up to the end of World War II, has had the most impact on me. As with the other books, this one provides day-by-day, and at times hour-by-hour accounts of the events leading up to the end of the war. The central character in the book, in my opinion, is not a person, but the atomic bomb.
The book contains graphic depictions of war violence and war crimes – killing, beheading, rape, the abuse of “comfort women”, kamikaze pilots flying suicide missions, and the almost unbelievable destruction and devastation from the dropping of the atomic bomb first on August 6, 1945 on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and three days later on the city of Nagasaki.
The book begins with President Roosevelt in failing health. Harry Truman is his Vice-President, and he will take over as President when FDR dies. The authors depict the Japanese attack on the Philippines and the war crimes they committed in Manila.
FDR had authorized the $2 billion Manhattan Project, which would develop and test the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer, who would be known as the “father of the atomic bomb” led the effort in New Mexico. He referred to the bomb as his “gadget”. He was a devotee of Eastern philosophy and nicknamed the bomb “Trinity”, after three Hindu gods.
Although FDR had authorized the development of the bomb, it was Truman to whom the military and moral decision fell as to using it on an enemy so close to surrender – a weapon with the power equivalent of 20,000 tons of dynamite. Truman would give his approval to use the bomb as he felt that there would be significant US casualties if they went forward with an invasion of Japan.
The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan is still debated today. The authors asked the living U.S. Presidents to weigh in on Truman’s decision. Although Presidents Obama and Clinton failed to respond, letters from Presidents Bush, Bush and Carter are included in the book affirming Truman’s decision.
The book includes much about General Douglas MacArthur and his rocky relationship with President Truman, which eventually lead to MacArthur being relieved of his command in 1951.
I enjoyed reading about American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist and subject of the upcoming film Hacksaw Ridge, single-handedly saved 75 men on Okinawa.
As I have with the other books in this series, I listened to the audiobook version well-read by Robert Petkoff who also read Killing Reagan. Small portions of the book at the beginning and near the end, are read by Bill O’Reilly. The book ends with a summary of what would later happen in the lives of the major characters from the book. The book also features a good use of footnotes.
I learned a lot about the ending of World War II from this book. Again, the development, testing and use of the atomic bomb is what will most stick with me from it. The authors tell us that nine nations now have power to wage nuclear war, a sobering thought.
For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton. Penguin Press. 400 pages. 2016
Award-winning British sportswriter Duncan Hamilton has given us a wonderful gift in this new biography of Olympic Gold Medal runner, missionary and evangelist Eric Liddell, known as the Flying Scotsman and Flying Parson. Many of us know Liddell from the 1981 Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire, which depicted his rivalry with Harold Abrahams at the 1934 Olympic Games, and which I watched again while reading this book. More than half of Hamilton’s book covers Liddell’s life after the period covered by the film.
Liddell was born in China to missionary parents. His father was a minister and his mother a nurse. They were missionaries with the London Missionary Society (LMS). Liddell told people that he decided to be a missionary to China himself at age 8 or 9. Eric and his two brothers and sister would later move to Scotland. Eric would only see his parents once between 1908 and 1920.
Liddell’s athletic mentor was Tom McKerchar and spiritual mentor D.P. Thompson, who first asked him to speak in churches, which he would do often. Hamilton writes of his unique way of running with his head thrown back.
If you have seen the film, you know that in the 1924 Olympics, held in Paris, Liddell, favored in the 100 meters, chose not to run because the race was going to take place on a Sunday. He was criticized for his decision, but held fast to what he believed the Bible taught. Instead, he ran the 400 meter race on another day, setting a world record, winning with his unique way of running with his head thrown back.
Hamilton writes that Liddell had many opportunities to financially capitalize on his win, but instead chose to return to Tientsin, China to serve the Lord with the LMS, the same missionary organization as his father, who was still well-known and respected there.
Liddell would teach science and sports at the Anglo-Chinese College. He was gifted as an evangelist, and served in that capacity in Siaochang. Liddell married Florence in 1934. He had first met her when she was only 14, almost 10 years younger than him. They would have three daughters, including one that Eric would never meet in this world.
Florence returned to Canada in 1941, while Eric remained in China. Eric fully expected to be released from China and move to his next assignment in China, but Hamilton writes that only the wealthy were able to leave. Instead, with the Japanese invasion of China, Liddell and others were confined to concentration camps like Weihsien, where he worked hard and cared for fellow prisoners under difficult conditions. In his letters to Florence, Eric portrayed things more positively than they actually were in the camp. His health declined, and he was diagnosed as having had a nervous breakdown. This bothered him a great deal, as he thought that as a Christian he should have been able to deal with everything he was facing. What was unknown was that he had a brain tumor, which was the cause of his death at age 43 in 1945. The location of his grave is unknown.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was Liddell’s manifesto. His favorite hymn was “Be Still My Soul”. He also preached the absolute surrender to God. Liddell’s commitment to athletics was second only to his commitment to the church. Hamilton’s account of Liddell’s life is glowing, a wonderful tribute to a true role model, and one of my top books of the year.
Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman. Little, Brown and Company. 864 pages. 2016
The author, who has previously written books on the Beatles and John Lennon, begins and ends this detailed look at the life of Paul McCartney with two meetings he had with him, nearly 50 years apart. Norman had been critical of McCartney in the past, turning down an opportunity to interview him, writing a mean piece about him on the release of “Mull of Kintyre” and stating that John Lennon was ¾ of the Beatles when promoting his book Shout. So Norman was surprised that when he decided to write a comprehensive biography of McCartney, that the former Beatle gave his tacit approval of the project and even said he would help to connect the author to key people.
Norman provides the reader a fair, but mostly positive look at the artist that he states has been underestimated by history. Many McCartney and Beatles fans will be familiar with the details of the Beatles years. Norman takes us from McCartney’s birthday 74 years ago, up to almost the present day, including the horrendous marriage and following divorce to Heather Mills and his current marriage to the former Nancy Shevell.
Paul was born in 1942. His mother died in 1956 of breast cancer at the age of 47. His father James would have to raise Paul and his brother Michael by himself. Paul met John Lennon, who he would feel a life-long competition with, at a Quarryman gig at a church, where the real Eleanor Rigby was buried in the church cemetery. Paul was later asked to join the band, with George added later. The band’s first single was Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” on the “A-side” and the only credited McCartney/Harrison composition “In Spite of All The Danger”, which McCartney is playing on his current “One on One” tour. Ringo would later replace Pete Best on drums, as their name changed to the Silver Beatles and then the Beatles. Norman writes about the influence on them of Elvis, Skiffle music and Buddy Holly.
The importance of producer George Martin is hard to estimate. The first single he worked on was “Love Me Do” and Martin would continue to work with the Beatles and McCartney through the 2006 Love remix project.
Norman not only details McCartney’s musical life with the Beatles, Wings and solo, but also his personal life, including time with girlfriend Jane Asher, and wives Linda, Heather and Nancy. He doesn’t shy away from his use of drugs, including his bust in Japan in 1980 that resulted in the cancellation of a tour that he was planning there.
He touches on a few of his and the Beatles failures, notably the Magical Mystery Tour and Give My Regards to Broad Street films, and is honest about the critical reaction to his post-Beatles music, which has at times been inconsistent.
He spends a good deal of time documenting the end of the Beatles, both as a band and a business. He writes that Paul was furious with what producer Phil Spector did to his songs “Let it Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which will be appreciated by McCartney and Beatles fans. The audiobook edition was well-read by Jonathan Keeble.
I Used to Be Little by Donna Marie England
I first met the author many years ago when she was a nurse at the organization that I still work at. In fact she writes that her career path into nursing may have been influenced by the second-grade program she and her classmates participated in as polio vaccine pioneers. I’ve gotten to know her more as the years have gone on as we attend the same church.
The book is a collection of true stories from the author’s childhood, mostly up to age 7, though she does share about getting a bicycle at age ten and later learning to drive a car. The author originally wrote the stories out by hand and was going to share them with each of her grandchildren. After her husband read them, he suggested that they put them into book form to be shared more widely. Their granddaughter, a recent university graduate in art and design, designed the book cover.
The author was born in 1946 to John Courtland Ranson and Elsie Marie Wachs in Evansville, Indiana. She writes that toys were few, but always special. She writes about both happy and sad events during this season of her life.
The author includes photos that go along with many of the stories, adding to the reader experience. The stories show the foundations of the author’s strong Christian faith. She writes “Now it was not long after this that in our kitchen a conversation occurred in which I was told by Mother that I, even I, was a sinner. I went to Sunday school, got pins and paper for attendance and for the life-of-me did not understand this sudden pronouncement. I count that time as the real start of my journey to get to know Jesus. Mother knew Him well. And all who got to know her got to know Him too.”
In these stories originally intended for her own grandchildren, of her own grandparents her fondest memory was looking for them one evening to say good night and finding them on their knees in prayer beside their bed in their small bedroom. She write that it was then that she realized those many church attendance pins they had collected represented their allegiance and faith in God.
I could relate to her story about draining transistor radio batteries by falling asleep to rock and roll music and the battery being dead in the morning, though for me it was listening to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games, promising my Mom that I would definitely turn off the radio before falling asleep.
The author has a gift for storytelling. I hope she continues with a further volumes in her story.
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Alex Taunton. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. 2016
The attraction of this fascinating book is not so much that it is a biography of one of the “New Atheists”, Christopher Hitchens – though the author, an Evangelical Christian and Founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, does provide us with a biographical sketch of Hitchens – but rather it is the author’s personal recollections of their unlikely friendship. Taunton paints Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer in 2011, as a man of contradictions, who kept “two sets of books” – one being his private life and the other his public life. In his private book, which Taunton was privileged to know, Hitchens was open to discussing spiritual issues with him, including studying the Gospel of John on two road trips they took late in Hitchens’ life. They were unlikely friends who respected each other.
The author tells us that Hitchens had little respect for his father, and a contentious relationship with his brother, Peter, who left atheism for Christianity. His mother had abortions both before and after Christopher was born, and eventually committed suicide with a boyfriend.
He writes of Hitchens being a man of contradictions. On the one hand, being a socialist, having homosexual encounters and protesting against the Vietnam War, but undergoing significant changes after the 9/11 attacks in which he recognized real evil. He would then be supportive of President Bush’s “War on Terror” and invasion of Iran and Afghanistan, and also become pro-life. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.
The publication of his 2007 book God is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything, would ironically start Hitchens on a type of spiritual journey, as he offered to debate anyone taking an opposing view as a way to promote the book. He would debate Christians such as Doug Wilson and John Lennox. This is how the author came to know Hitchens, as he would coordinate the debates and eventually the two would debate each other.
The author writes of their friendship, and by far the best part of the book is his recounting of their two road trips – one through the Shenandoah Valley and the other through Montana and Yellowstone Park. Both of the trips took place after Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer and he knew he was dying. It was on these trips that the two would read and study the Gospel of John together. Hitchens was attracted to Marcionism (accepting some parts of the New Testament but denying Christ’s corporality and humanity and condemning the Creator God of the Old Testament).
Taunton writes that Hitchens was counting the cost, was looking at half measures and would have had to negotiate down the cost of discipleship; he didn’t want to have to discount the majority of his life. As the author states, “Did he have to fling himself headlong into the abyss rather than give up his pride…. Or did he? His courage failed him in renouncing his hatred of God.” During their last trip together they reached the John 11:25-26 passage in the King James Bible they were reading from:
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
Larry Taunton turned to Christopher Hitchens and said, “Do you believest thou this?” Hitchens replied, “It’s not without appeal to a dying man”.
Although Christians would like to believe that Hitchens surrendered his life to Christ (and atheists just the opposite), there is no evidence that Hitchens ever became a Christian, although as the author writes, we don’t know for sure. This is a fascinating book about friendship and evangelism.
Unashamed by Lecrae. B&H Books. 256 pages. 2016
I first heard about Lecrae when he was mentioned by John Piper and blogger Tim Challies several years ago. He is one of my favorite artists, and I have seen him in concert three times. I was very excited about his first book which has a theme of him being an outsider, never fitting in. He is an introvert, and writes about a life-long struggle for acceptance, and a lot about identity and calling as well.
The autobiography starts with the 2014 Grammys, where Lecrae was a nominee, but still an outsider on the red carpet and at the Grammy parties. As a “Gospel” or “Christian” rapper, he wasn’t respected. He is an unashamed believer, but doesn’t like the “Christian” or “Gospel” tag added to what he does.
He doesn’t fit in the music industry today and writes that he never has. In fact, he states that as Christians, we don’t fit in, whether it is at work, in our neighborhood, etc.
Lecrae’s Mom got pregnant with him and married Lecrae’s father, who had anger and addiction problems. She would raise Lecrae on her own. This led to pain and anger for Lecrae as he longed for his father, thinking that he must not be worthy of his love. Uncles and cousins filled some of the gap, but it was hip-hop that he turned to. Rappers became his heroes.
At age six, he began being sexually abused by his seventeen year old female babysitter. That led to a pattern of being sexually active. He went through sexual, physical (from his mother’s boyfriend) and verbal abuse.
His grandmother “Big Momma” (to whom the book is dedicated) was a good influence and took him to church. On the other hand, his uncle Chris a bad influence, introduced him to guns, gangs and trouble. Growing up, Lecrae lived in Houston, San Diego, Denver and Dallas.
Lecrae smoked weed, stole, drank and was a hoodlum. He tried to find satisfaction in sex, resulting in getting and passing on an STD. He writes of searching for God by checking out a number of different religions. He repeatedly ran away from home and one time threatened to kill himself, but somehow had hope if he could just hold on. Later, he actually did try to commit suicide.
His Mom gave him a Bible, but he angrily ripped out pages from it as she looked on. She told him, “only God can help you now”.
He would attend and graduate from the University of North Texas. Although he looked on this as a fresh start, he soon was back to his pattern of drinking doing (and selling) drugs, and sexual activity.
He was invited to attend the Impact conference in Atlanta and surrendered his life to Christ at age 19. After a spiritual high of a few months, he became two people – the legalistic Lecrae with his Christian friends, and the life of the party Lecrae with his non-believing friends.
Lecrae sadly writes about convincing a girlfriend to have an abortion. He continued to battle with anger and rage, drugs, sex and depression, eventually checking himself into rehab before he either killed someone or himself. It was here that he read the Bible intensely, specifically focusing on Romans 6.
Lecrae had been trying to earn God’s favor. Having been abandoned by his early father, he worried whether his heavenly Father would also abandon him. He writes about the difference between a contract with conditions and a covenant. He honestly writes about his self-righteousness.
He briefly mentions the start of Reach Records, something that I would have liked to hear a lot more about.
At 25, he went into hip-hop music full-time. He married Darragh, whom he had known for seven years. They moved to Memphis, did ministry and lived in an area of the city with much crime. He began performing at churches and conferences and took several missions trips. He writes that he didn’t devote the time he should have to his marriage and displayed a self-righteous attitude. The couple sought marriage counseling.
When challenged that he didn’t have a biblical worldview, he read books by Nancy Pearcy (Total Truth) and Andy Crouch (Culture Making). At that time, he primarily made music for Christians, but as he discerned his calling, he realized that he was not intended to just make music for believers. Early on, he writes that he was often the hero of his songs. He was focused on behavior modification, rather than worldview transformation.
He and Darragh would move to Atlanta. With the album Rehab, his writing began to change, to become more authentic, real and deeper. As he began to make friends and collaborate with non-believing rappers, the criticism began, with Christians saying he had sold out and perhaps wasn’t even a Christian any longer. That criticism continued with the first of his now three Church Clothes mixtapes, which introduced him to a larger audience, leading the success of the Gravity and Anomaly albums.
He writes that greater opportunities and mainstream success has also led to greater temptations. (1 John 2:16), and that he still battles the desire for acceptance, needing to daily deal with that. There is pressure to conform.
In discussing his identity, he states that he is unconditionally loved by and rescued by God.
He ends the book by encouraging us to engage with our culture, to use our gifts in whatever jobs we are in, not breaking it down into a sacred/secular distinction, as there is not anything on this planet that God is not ruler over.
Each chapter of the book begins with a Lecrae song. In the audiobook version of the book, which Lecrae reads with passion, the actual song is played or he raps it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I hope it is the first of many from Lecrae as he is true salt and light in the hip-hop culture today.
Simply My Window by P.K. Hodel. Xulon Press. 396 pages. 2016
Rarely have I been moved by a book as I was with this one by P.K. Hodel. This eloquently written poetic autobiography is open and at times almost painfully honest as she tells her story. It is written in such a manner that you really feel you know this incredible woman when you get to the end as she shares the amazing life that she and her husband and three children have lived to date. Although she shares some very difficult times in her life, the book is ultimately hopeful.
Hodel effectively uses the metaphor of a window to describe each season of her life story. She tells us that the book is simply her interpretation of what she has seen from the windows of her life. I enjoyed her use of “Beauty” for God and “Ugly” for Satan. In addition, the names of her husband, children and some others in the book are changed for a variety of reasons. She offers poetic “Lessons Learned” at the end of each chapter.
Each chapter of the book takes the reader to a different place and time in the author’s story, beginning with Wapello, Iowa where she grew up. She tells us that joy in sorrow and alone in happiness would be a primary window of her life, a life that would be marked by early losses where she would find herself in the front bench of the church. She writes “The reality is, we take turns here on the front bench of funeral services. We have a few turns here on the front bench, several to many in the succeeding benches, and then one in the casket. It’s just how it works.”
Her seven year-old brother Teddy died of leukemia and her mother, who never got over the loss of Teddy, died of cancer at only forty-nine, both in the same Burlington, Iowa hospital. Her mother lived for a year after being diagnosed with cancer, a year in which the author writes that her mother taught her to “live one day at a time, living each day to the fullest, simply because we have it to live”. P.K.’s father would live to marry two more times, women that P.K. loved.
She writes of the church environment in which she was raised, one with Anabaptist roots and a separatist, self-contained Christian culture. She writes that visiting other churches, for example “was questioned, even frowned upon by our church culture. I remember hearing it referred to as ‘spiritual adultery.’”
She writes of beginning her career as a nurse in the Intensive Care unit. Throughout her life she has also done much teaching in many different locations.
We are introduced to Harrison (not his real name, but there is a reason for choosing it), who would become her husband. In their tradition, the proposal and response was communicated through their elders, not directly to from Harrison to P.K. Harrison, who has had a variety of jobs throughout his still young life, farmed with his four older brothers and their father. He and P.K.’s brother Jacob went together on trips to Haiti and Ecuador. Even at this early stage, in God’s providence, P.K. and Harrison were being called to missions. Their first missions’ assignment was in Dodoma, Tanzania, an aviation base for Mission Aviation Fellowship U.K.
P.K. tells us about their children, two girls (Cherith and Elizabeth or Lizzie), and a boy (Tobin). She also writes of a boy (John) from Tanzania that they love as another son.
P.K. and Harrison have been well-equipped for their work. They attended the Word of Life Bible Institute in New York (she writes that going to Bible college simply was not done in their church culture), and Harrison would later attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Years later, P.K. would attend Illinois State University at the same time Lizzie was attending cross-town Illinois Wesleyan University, and later get her Master’s Degree from Wheaton College near Chicago.
P.K. writes of a painful meeting with the elder of their church at a coffee shop, where they were told that for the sake of unity and keeping the body pure, he would have to remove them from the church. They were being excommunicated.
She tells us that like myself, she found that she had a lot in common with the unforgiving brother of the prodigal son. She also tells us of kneeling in the bathroom prayer closets at many other windows of the world, something that would become her custom.
In all, the Hodels spent fifteen years in Africa before returning to America. She writes “But we were not the same people at all – we had all been changed in the process. Hopefully, for glory and for beauty.”
She writes of their children, their education and jobs, and the different places they would live. At one time, the five family members were each in a different country. Later in her story, she writes of the three “struggling, separately and together, to make a go of it in this foreign country of our homeland.”
In several places in the book P.K. writes of Pastor Bob, who has been her pastor through many windows of her life. She writes that his “message of grace was a balm of healing to our work worn hearts and Harrison especially, rarely, maybe never, listened to these messages of grace without his eyes filling with tears of thankfulness.”
P.K. and Harrison would move on to Teach for Asia (TFA) and later to Laos to teach English at their National University in Dongdok. She writes that as she stood in front of those Lao students telling them the Good News of Jesus Christ she knew instinctively knew that it was for this that she was born.
She writes of perhaps the most painful window of their lives when they were told via a Skype call that their time in Tibet was finished and that P.K. was being accused of spiritual abuse. During the upcoming dark times, P.K. writes that Beauty never left or forsook them as they began the months-long healing process in California at Link Care, which she describes as a Beauty-ordained setting to restore those wounded in the battle. She writes of the pain from the fact that she could do nothing to remedy the damage she had caused in the lives of those most precious to her, which brought her more sorrow than any she had experienced in life.
Harrison would then go to Liberia, West Africa, while P.K. completed her Master’s Degree at Wheaton and spent time with her brother Adam in Indiana, whose wife had shocked him by filing for divorce. P.K. would then join Harrison in Liberia and later face the Ebola crisis before returning to America.
I’m so thankful for the author sharing her experiences, her windows, in this book. Beauty has been a constant companion of hers from early losses through excommunication and charges of spiritual abuse. Yet she can say with confidence that the best is yet to come.
Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places by Tim Keesee. Crossway. 240 pages. 2014
I recently heard Tim Keesee speak at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference. I was so moved by his short address, that I bought this book the next day and completed it within four days. I hope to watch the related DVDs soon.
Tim has a ministry of visiting gospel workers on the front lines. In this ministry, he has spent years crisscrossing the globe, visiting and supporting and documenting the church around the world. This book allows us to follow along with Tim on his journeys over the past several years as he travels from the former Soviet Republics to the Balkans, from China to Southeast Asia, from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, from the Horn of Africa to Egypt, from Afghanistan to Iraq. Tim’s wife Debbie took the dozen or more journals that he scribbled across four continents and turned them into a working manuscript for the book.
This was a book that I just couldn’t put down. It is ultimately encouraging to see what saints around the world are doing for Christ, but it is also heartbreaking at times as some of Tim’s friends and co-laborers pay the ultimate price. The author writes that in difficult places he has met brothers and sisters living like lambs among wolves. He tells us that these are “stories of kingdom advance—dispatches written along the way, often scribbled in the moment, praising our Captain’s brilliance, describing his victories, and telling of his gracious, sleepless care as he walks among us on the front lines.”
I affirm what Justin Taylor writes in the Foreword: “This is a dangerous book to read, for you may never be the same.” Highly recommended whether you go to the mission field or support missionaries who go to the front lines.
J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. Crossway. 432 pages. 2015
This is a well-written and researched portrait of the great evangelical theologian J.I. Packer, written by Leland Ryken, who teaches at Wheaton College. Throughout the book, which is divided into three major sections, Ryken calls out his personal connections to the 89 year-old Packer (teaching, writing, the Puritans), calling them kindred spirits. He writes about Packer, warts and all, with a great deal of affection, calling him a “modern day Puritan”.
Ryken approaches the significant task of writing about Packer’s life and accomplishments by dividing the book into sections looking at his life, Packer the person and life-long themes. Some, especially those who have read Alistair McGrath’s 1998 J.I. Packer: A Biography (which Ryken writes that he is indebted to and often references of which I have also read) will be familiar with the biographical details of Packer’s life. I was most interested in the controversies in Packer’s life (which Ryken details in the final section on lifelong themes), especially those which led to a breaking of fellowship with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and R.C. Sproul, two of my theological heroes. Both of those controversies were related to Packer’s ecumenism. Packer looks to the great preacher George Whitefield as his role model for ecumenism. Packer’s split with Lloyd-Jones came after his participation in the book Growing into Union. I didn’t know previously that the two had planned to meet in 1981, but Lloyd-Jones died before that meeting could take place. Packer’s split with Sproul, which is ongoing, was over his participation in the Evangelical and Catholics Together (ECT) effort in 1994.
Packer sees his role as the General Editor of the English Standard Version Bible Translation Team as his most significant accomplishment. He has long been a member of the Anglican Church, having faced controversy in that church in England and Canada.
Ryken writes about the providential circumstances of Packer meeting his future wife, a nurse. Surprisingly, Packer’s wife is mentioned relatively little in this 432 page book.
Although Packer has had many roles, he sees his primary calling as theological education. He is best known for his 1973 book Knowing God. He moved to Canada and Regent College in 1979. He began a role with the magazine Christianity Today in 1958. He was evicted as a minister in the Canadian Anglican Church for his stance against homosexuality.
In part two on Packer the person, Ryken talks about Packer’s generosity, being a champion for the ordinary person, a traditionalist and a latter day Puritan. I enjoyed the insights about the lesser known Packer, including his love for jazz music and murder mysteries.
In part three on lifelong themes, Ryken looks at themes such as the Bible, the Puritans, writing, Anglicanism, theology, preaching and controversies.
The book ends with an Afterword from Packer himself.
This significant book is a detailed and respectful look at the life, work and person of one of the most significant evangelical figures of our lifetime. Ryken offers helpful summaries at the end of each major section.
A Doctor in the House by Candy Carson. Sentinel. 213 pages. 2016
Although Candy Carson has worked with her husband Ben (acclaimed neurosurgeon, author and Republican Presidential candidate), on a few recent books, this is the first book that she has written on her own. It is a loving tribute to Ben, who she first met when they were both attending Yale University in the early 1970’s. She writes that she liked Ben the day that she met him, and has loved him for more than forty years. She states that their life hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. Together, they have been through poverty, tragedy, disappointments, joy, successes, and wealth. Although I knew Ben Carson’s story well from his books, I learned a lot of things about him and his family in this book that I didn’t know previously.
In this book, Candy talks about her early life – She had an alcoholic father who changed after attending Alcoholics Anonymous when she was two years old, never taking another drink after that; her baby sister Sinena died in a fire; her mother was a teacher and Candy was gifted in music – as well as telling Ben’s life story.
While at Yale, she began attending Ben’s Seventh Day Adventist Church, where she sang in the choir, as well as Bible Study (Sabbath School) and church on Saturday. She writes that it was pretty clear to anyone who knew Ben in college that he was special. She indicates that some might wish that she point out Ben’s flaws from those early years to balance out his virtues, but other than his constant teasing of her, she can’t think of anything.
Ben would go to Medical School at the University of Michigan after graduating from Yale and they scheduled their wedding for the summer after Candy graduated from Yale. They married at Ben’s church in Ann Arbor, Michigan in a simple ceremony. After that Ben was accepted for residency at Johns Hopkins, where he was the first black neurosurgery resident. She writes that in those days the average workweek for a neurosurgery resident was 130–140 hours. In 1983, the couple left for Perth, Australia to serve there for a year before returning to Johns Hopkins as attending surgeon and later the director of pediatric neurosurgery, working twelve to twenty hours a day. This put a lot of pressure on Candy as she managed their growing family.
Early on the couple was committed to helping other young people get good educations and realize their potential. They continue that commitment today with their Carson Scholar Fund organization.
Candy writes that Ben’s favorite book of the Bible is Proverbs. He reads from that book each morning and evening. She states that it helps him to focus and gives him a sense of peace.
She tells of how his address at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast (his second invitation to speak there) with his ideas about America energized people and led to a campaign for him to seek the presidency.
Candy includes tributes of Ben from others (family members, co-workers, his mentor, etc.). She writes that he has “blessed others, in his family, at work, and abroad, and has truly been blessed in return. His bosses, subordinates, friends, and former “enemies” alike praise his character, confirming that the man I see at home is the same man everywhere he goes.”
I enjoyed this quick read about Dr. Ben Carson as seen through the loving eyes of his wife Candy.
I was so excited to see that John Fogerty, the incredible singer and songwriter behind Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and acclaimed solo artist would be writing his autobiography. And I was not disappointed. As an added bonus, Fogerty reads the audiobook version of the book, which adds a lot to the experience. This book will be loved by CCR/Fogerty fans, as he tells his side of the story, which conflicts with the stories told by others, most notably his former bandmates. As I went through the book, I enjoyed listening to the CCR and solo albums he discusses in detail in the book. It’s an autobiography about his dreams coming true in music (and ultimately in life), but also details the heartbreaking betrayal of his record company (Fantasy) and his bandmates, which included his brother Tom.
Fogerty grew up in California. His father was a writer and a dreamer whose dreams never translated into success. His father had a nervous breakdown and his parents would divorce. Both were alcoholics. Mom would later eventually remarry.
Fogerty was influenced early by Black music (R&B, gospel). Other early music influences were Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Duane Eddy, Rick Nelson, and Pete Seeger. He also writes of his respect for the music promoter Bill Graham. He would begin playing music with drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook, who he met in junior high. John played guitar. His brother Tom was four years older than John. Their first band was the Blue Velvets, and they started by playing instrumentals.
They would sign a fateful contract with Fantasy Records in 1964. All of the band members were underage at the time, except Tom. The contract, and Fantasy owner Saul Zaentz, would cause John much pain and suffering over the coming years. The label would change the band’s name to the Golliwogs for their first single. The guys hated that name. Fogerty married Martha Paiz in 1965. He was drafted and shares his strong feelings about the Viet Nam war and more recent wars that the U.S. has been involved in, which he writes are all about money.
The band would eventually come up with a new name. Fogerty’s explanation of how he came up with the name “Creedence Clearwater Revival” was interesting. Their cover of “Susie Q” would be their first hit. The band would become known for two-sided hits, not just the hit on one side and a throwaway song on the flip side.
I really enjoyed Fogerty describing his thought process in coming up with what would be later well-known as the CCR sound, and also the process he goes through when writing songs. He admits to being a perfectionist. Although Tom was the original lead singer of the band, John would begin taking over those duties and the band would become “his band”. He would eventually take on the role of manager, publicist, writer, singer, arranger and producer for the band. This would lead to internal problems a few years later.
Of “Proud Mary”, Fogerty writes that he feels that the song was “given to him”. He knew when he wrote it that it would become a classic. He also writes that perhaps he has been someone else in a previous life, indicating that he could believe in the concept of reincarnation.
He writes that Green River was his favorite CCR album. When you look at the songs on that album, it has more hits on it than many band’s Greatest Hits albums do. It is a rock and roll classic. He writes that the first three CCR albums were incredibly made for a total of less than $5,000.
An important part of Fogerty’s story was when Saul Zaentz went back on his word to tear up the band’s original contract for a better one should the band become a success. Instead, he offered to invest their money in a shady Bahamas entity (Castle Bank), which Fogerty would find out years later had ties to the Mafia.
A key turning point in the story was a band meeting that took place before the recording of their album Pendulum. Despite being the biggest selling band in the world at the time behind the Beatles, the other band members demanded to write and sing their own songs. John reluctantly agreed, but Tom still left the band, leaving CCR to carry on as a trio. This led to the sad ending of the band, with the album Mardi Gras. Each band member did three of their own songs and the album was a critical failure. A trio tour followed. Doug and Stu engaged in unrestrained debauchery (women, drinking, damaging hotel TVs, etc.). Fogerty left the band after the tour. That was a difficult time in his life. He separated from Martha and lived with Lucy in Denmark for a year. He would reunite with Martha for another 14 years before they eventually divorced. They had three children together but Fogerty writes that their relationship was dysfunctional.
After the breakup of CCR, Fogerty admits that he was not in a good place. For the next several years, he would be involved in lawsuits with Fantasy records and his band. He admits that he was not a very nice person and he drank too much. This impacted his music as well, hitting a low point when Asylum Records rejected his album Hoodoo. Since then, he has asked for forgiveness from many who he encountered during that time.
The album Centerfield in 1985 was a huge comeback success, both critically and commercially. It was a “one-man band” album, with Fogerty playing all of the instruments and doing all of the vocals, something he has done on several of his albums. When he wrote the song “I Saw it on TV” for the album, it was the first time he had been able to write a song in eight years.
He would meet future wife Julie Kramer in a bar in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1986 after a concert – Julie was 26 and Fogerty in his 40’s. Both were married at the time with Julie going through a divorce. Fogerty turns over parts of the book to Julie at this point as she tells their story from her perspective.
Tom died in 1990 of AIDS. They tried to reconcile while their mom was still alive, but failed. At the end of his life, Tom would tell John that Saul was his best friend. Despite all the hurt, John now forgives Tom and says that he loved his brother.
For about 15 years, up until 1987, John wouldn’t sing any of his CCR songs.
Blue Moon Swamp was another triumph, though it took ten years overall, and five in the studio, to make. This caused a good deal of stress with Julie and the children. He writes that “Joy of My Life”, written for Julie, was the first true love song that he had ever written. The album would win a Grammy Award.
He writes about when CCR was being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and why he refused to perform with Doug and Stu. They, along with Tom had sold their rights to Creedence songs to Zaentz, allowing Creedence songs to be used (in movies, on compilation albums, etc.). This went against their agreement that all band decisions had to be unanimous. Later, Doug and Stu would form Creedence Clearwater Revisited, which led to more lawsuits.
Wrote a Song for Everyone, his latest album was Julie’s idea. He reached out to artists he loved and did his songs with them. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album a 5-star review.
He wraps up the book, which includes a good amount of profanity, with how he would like to be remembered. He writes that love is the most important thing in the world and that he is the luckiest man in the world because he found Julie.
Fogerty’s solo career has been inconsistent, with some excellent albums (Centerfield, Blue Moon Swamp, Revival, and Wrote a Song for Everyone) and some that did not match his incredible talent (Eye of the Zombie, Déjà vu All Over Again and the label rejected Hoodoo).
In the Epilogue, Fogerty writes about “Mystic Highway”, one of the two new songs from Wrote a Song for Everyone, and the song he states that he has worked on the longest in his career. He writes that the song is very spiritual and reverential (and includes a great gospel verse by the way), with a “whole lot of God in there”. The song is spiritual, though not from an orthodox Christian perspective, but more of an “Oprah spirituality”. He writes that there are all kinds of different ways to think of what God is. He states that the entire universe is God, and therefore we are all God. In the song he sings that he’s lately begun to wonder how it is all going to end. The stars in the heavens have been there to light his way on his often painful journey. Although he doesn’t know where he’s going, he’ll probably get there anyway. He sings that he is heading to the light, and asks the mystic highway that he is on to take him home.
I really love John Fogerty’s music and thoroughly enjoyed this book. His music has meant so much to me over the years. I can still remember buying the “Up Around the Bend” single at a “five and dime” store in Hayward, Wisconsin on a family vacation in the summer of 1970. We were fortunate enough to finally see him in concert on the tour Willie Nelson opened for him that he describes in the book. His is an incredible story, and I’m so glad that he has found peace and happiness with Julie and his family. I pray that he will also find Jesus, the true light.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Over the past few years Eric Metaxas has become one of my favorite authors with major biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Miracles and 7 Men. He’s an excellent writer overall, and he seems particularly excellent at telling the stories of people, or biographies.
This book is similar to 7 Men, this time Metaxas writing short biographies of seven woman from history. He looks at their successes and weaknesses, their motivations, and the heart of their missions. He puts the seven women he chooses to profile, some more well-known than others, in chronological order as he did the seven men in 7 Men.
Here briefly are a few thoughts about each of the women he profiles:
Joan of Arc
I wasn’t very familiar with her story. She was never taught to read or write, but was devoted to God. She received messages from angels, demonstrating that she knew things nobody else knew. She prophesized, worked miracles, led a French army against the English, was captured, put on trial and burned at the stake. She was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.
Susanna was the mother of the famous John and Charles, and is considered the Mother of Methodism. She was the daughter and the wife of a pastor. She married Samuel, who it turns out she had little in common with, but who would leave her in financial problems for most of her life. She would birth nineteen children and educate those who survived. She twice endured the loss of her home by fire, and caused a stir when she read her father’s and husband’s sermons.
Hannah Moore is a favorite of Metaxas, who first wrote about her in his biography of William Wilberforce, whom she helped with the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. Metaxas writes that her role in these movements cannot be underestimated. She was a playwright, and was friends with Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, the latter of which would publish her works for 40 years. She was a part of the high society in London who changed when she came to a deeper faith. One of John Newton’s books was important in bringing her to that faith, and she would later become friends with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday Metaxas wrote a full-length biography of Moore.
Saint Maria of Paris
I was not at all familiar with this woman from history. Metaxas begins by mentioning several parallels she had with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Maria wrote poems and was married and divorced twice, having three children. When she came to a deeper faith she felt God’s calling her to the poor and outcast. She demonstrated humility and brought the caring of a mother to this new calling. At the same time, her writing took on a change. She became a nun and started a home for Russian emigrants in Paris. She was an unorthodox and controversial nun in her dress and the fact that she smoked. Mary died a martyr in prison and became a saint in the Orthodox Church in 2004, along with her companions Priest Dmitri Klepinin, her son George and Elie Fondaminsky.
Corrie ten Boom’s story is more well-known, from the book and later film The Hiding Place. Corrie, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. She, her father and sister Betsy were imprisoned for their actions. Her father died after just ten days in prison. Corrie and Betsy were in the concentration camp for about two years, with her sister dying toward the end of that time. They saw God’s protection of their ministry many times during their imprisonment. Corrie was mistakenly released from the camp and would eventually travel the world for three decades telling her family’s story and God’s forgiveness. She would die in 1983 at age 91.
Rosa Parks is considered the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. Faith and the church were at the center of her family’s life as she grew up. Unfortunately, they experienced racism as well. Rosa would use scripture verses to comfort and protect her. She would marry Raymond, a member of the NAACP. When she was 42 years old, Rosa would become a key figure in the civil rights movement in the 1955 stand against the segregated bus rule in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus driver was James Blake, who had put her off his bus 12 years earlier. She was arrested, found guilty, ordered to pay a fine and lost her job. The resulting boycott of city buses was successful however, lasting 381 days. Rosa would have to move to Detroit due to many death threats. Many honors would come to her later in life. She died in 2005 at age 92.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born 1910. Her father died early. When she was 12 she felt God was calling her to a religious life. She left home at age 18, never to see her mother again. She took a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience in 1937. She then felt God’s call to leave the convent and live among the poor in Calcutta, where she would form the Missionaries of Charity Order. At the time of her death, there were more than 4,000 nuns in the order, along with others in related organizations she founded. Metaxas writes of her boldly speaking against the evils of abortion when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., in front of the noticeably uncomfortable Clintons and Gores.
I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written book and can’t wait for further volumes in what I hope becomes a series.
I’ve always enjoyed flying and still think it’s amazing that we can cross the country in a matter of hours at 35,000 feet in the air at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. I remember many years ago how excited my Dad was the first time he flew on a business trip to New York City.
After seeing this book on the summer reading list of some leaders I respect I decided to check it out myself. I listened to the audiobook version, which was read by the author. McCullough’s voice isn’t the strongest, but I always prefer an audiobook that is read by the author, so I enjoyed McCullough’s reading of it.
The book tells the incredible story of brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio. Life-long bachelors, the brothers lived with their father Bishop Milton Wright and their sister Katharine. Katharine was a graduate of Oberlin College and a high school Latin teacher. Bishop Wright was an itinerant preacher. His wife Susan died of tuberculosis in 1889. There were two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, who married and did not live in the same house with the Bishop, Katharine, Wilbur and Orville.
Wilbur and Orville were inseparable and worked hard six days a week, always taking Sunday off. They had a unity of purpose and were determined. Wilbur was older by five years; he was more dominant, serious and seemed to be a natural leader. Orville could become moody and irritable, but was the better mechanic of the two brothers; he was also shy, gentle and more optimistic.
At age 18, Wilbur was hit with a hockey stick by a man later executed for murder. He had planned to go to Yale, but those plans had to be cancelled. Instead he became a recluse for three years, suffering many physical problems.
The Bishop, Katharine and the boys all loved to read books. Ironically, after reading the writings of an agnostic (Robert G. Ingersoll), the boys stopped regular attendance of church services. The boys also started their own newspaper, the West Side News.
Orville was struck by typhoid fever. During his recovery, he read about gliders, and Otto Lilienthal, a German engineer. Lilienthal built gliders designed to imitate the wings of birds, but died in a crash in 1896. The brothers also loved to read about birds and aeronautics.
They started their own successful bicycle shop in Dayton. At the time, Dayton was a leader in inventions and patents. In 1899 in a room above their Bike Shop, the boys began developing their first flying machine. They soon began working on a manned glider.
As they looked for a place to experiment with their machine, the wind was an essential element. Kitty Hawk, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, was chosen for its steady moderate winds, soft sand beaches and isolation. Wilbur was the first to go there in September 1900 and the boys would have their first Kitty Hawk flight in 1903. They observed the local birds at Kitty Hawk, and learned from them; they loved their time there.
The boys were not daredevils. They approached their work with low risk. They did not have college degrees, friends in high places or much money. They pretty much did everything on their own, even when they were mocked by some in the media for attempting to do something that was thought to be impossible.
They would enter into a relationship with Octave Chanute, exchanging several letters over the years. They would hire Charles Taylor to run their Bike Shop for them. Taylor would be instrumental later in developing a lightweight engine for their flying machine. They would return to Kitty Hawk several times over the next few years constantly improving their machine. They applied for a patent for their flying machine in March, 1902. They later moved their testing to Huffman Prairie, near Dayton.
We hear about the Wright brother’s competitors, including Samuel Langley and his failed flights. Langley used $70,000 of public money on his flights, while the Wright brothers spent less than $1,000 of their own funds.
An interesting aspect of the Wright brothers’ story is that Washington was not interested in their flying machine for the longest time. Instead, there was interest from England and especially France. Later, they would sign a deal with a French company, and hold public demonstrations there and in Washington.
Orville was badly hurt in a crash in Washington, and spent five weeks in a hospital there, accompanied by Kathryn, before returning to Dayton. Meanwhile, Wilbur was in France for months where he became a celebrity. Kathryn and Orville would join Wilbur in France in 1909 and all three would become extremely popular in Europe.
Wilbur and Orville would finally receive the recognition they deserved in America with President Taft presenting them medals and a grand celebration being held in Dayton. They would eventually sign a contract with the War Department.
Much of their time afterwards would be spent with patent infringement lawsuits. Unfortunately, Wilbur’s typhoid fever would return, and he would die at age 45 in 1912.
As I read the book I enjoyed hearing about each new record achieved – length of time in the air, height, speed, etc. McCullough’s book is very detailed and he used hundreds of sources. It is so detailed it gives the reader the feeling that you were actually there observing what he is writing.
I have very much enjoyed Steven Lawson’s short A Long Line of Godly Men series biographies published by Reformation Trust, the latest of which is on William Tyndale. This new biography is not part of that series but is in every way identical to those books (which already had a biography of John Knox written by Douglas Bond). Lawson dedicates this book to his “fellow laborer and friend” Sinclair Ferguson. It was encouraging to see Lawson sitting in the first row at Saint Andrews Chapel on February 22 when Dr. Ferguson preached on Galatians 2:20.
This book is in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Knox, born 1514. He is known as “the Father of the Scottish Reformation” and “the Founder of the Scottish Protestant Church”. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called Knox the founder of the English Puritan movement.
Lawson writes: “If Martin Luther was the hammer of the Reformation and John Calvin the pen, John Knox was the trumpet”.
Lawson tells us that Knox was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church by the Bishop of Dunblane in April, 1536, and that by the end of March 1543 he was committed to the Christian gospel. George Wishar was a powerful Reformed preacher who began a preaching itinerancy in southern Scotland. Knox became one of his closest disciples and followers. From Wishart, Knox learned boldness and courage in ministry, as well as faithfulness to Reformed doctrine in preaching.
Lawson recounts the details of Knox’s life and ministry in this fast moving account of his life as England and Scotland go from Roman Catholic to Protestant leadership. You will read about Knox as a pastor and his friendship with John Calvin in Geneva. Knox sat under the teaching of Calvin and also studied Greek and Hebrew in Geneva.
You will read about him serving as a galley slave in the hull of a French battleship for nineteen months, during which there were repeated efforts made by his French captors to drive Knox back to Catholicism. You’ll read about his many confrontations with Scotland’s brutal Roman Catholic Queen Mary, known as “Bloody Mary”. Lawson writes: “Throughout Knox’s tempestuous life, this rugged Scot was never any bolder than when he stood before Mary, Queen of Scots. Whenever summoned to appear in her royal presence, Knox asserted that he spoke to her in God’s presence. He never once backed down from her, nor did he ever hesitate to speak frankly. Knox was raised up by God to be the primary instrument in the preservation of the Protestant cause in Scotland.”
Knox was married to Marjory. In December 1560, she would die at only twenty-seven years of age. She left behind their two young sons, Nathanael and Eleazar. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Bowes, would continue to live in the household and assist in raising the children. On Palm Sunday, 25 March 1564, Knox married his second wife, Margaret Stewart, the daughter of his old friend Lord Ochiltree. Knox was aged fifty and Margaret just seventeen. During the sixteenth century, this age discrepancy was not uncommon. Margaret Stewart would bear Knox three daughters and would survive her husband by some forty years.
Knox was associated with a new English version of the Bible known as the Geneva Bible. This translation would be the Bible of choice for the Reformers and Puritans during the next century and the Bible that the Pilgrims would take to the New World in 1620. In 1995, R.C. Sproul would serve as the General Editor for the New Geneva Study Bible (later renamed as The Reformation Study Bible).
Lawson concludes the book with the lasting impact of John Knox: “The strong character of John Knox’s ministry of the Word resonates across the centuries. The commitments described below are worthy guideposts for later generations of preachers as well.
- First, Knox believed he had been personally called by God to preach the Word.
- Second, Knox believed that the Bible is the infallible Word of the living God.
- Third, Knox was profoundly aware that on the last day, he must give an account of himself as a preacher to the One who had called him into the ministry. This sobering reality filled him with reverential awe for God and made him unshakable before men and women. Because Knox feared God, he did not fear humans. He preached so strongly because he feared God so deeply.
- Fourth, Knox was gifted with a brilliant mind, which he devoted to the diligent study of Scripture.
- Fifth, Knox often preached through entire books of the Bible, or at least through extended sections of them.
- Sixth, Knox was firmly committed in his preaching to the sound doctrine of the Reformers.
- Seventh, Knox strongly asserted the absolute sovereignty of God over all things.
- Eighth, Knox believed that the highest aim of preaching the Scripture must be the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
- Ninth, Knox was known as a fiery preacher of the Word of God.
- Tenth, Knox was a preacher who regularly petitioned God in prayer to bless the proclamation of His Word.”
If you are looking for a great biography to read, check out John Knox: Fearless Faith by Steven Lawson.
John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. Crossway. 2007. 400 pages. Audiobook read by Jonathan Aitken.
Before reading this book I didn’t know too much about John Newton. What I did know was that he was the author of the much-loved hymn “Amazing Grace” and that he was a friend of William Wilberforce, who led the effort to abolish the slave trade in England.
The author of this book is a former Member of Parliament. After he pleaded guilty to perjury he went to prison where he was converted to the Christian faith. In some ways you could say the author has also led a life of disgrace to amazing grace. He was once considered a possible Prime Minister, but he fell into disgrace with prison, divorce and bankruptcy. In prison he was assisted by Chuck Colson, who was also converted in prison.
Aitken tells us that Newton had an unhappy childhood. His mother Elizabeth died of consumption when John was only 6. His strict father was largely absent at sea. His mother loved Reformed Theology and wanted her son to become a minister. After his mother’s death his father quickly remarried and kept John at a great distance. John was sent to boarding school and his formal education would end at age 10 when his father decided he would go to sea. Throughout the book the author recounts events in Newton’s life that Newton would attribute to divine providence.
Newton’s early life was one of blasphemous bad behavior. A press gang found him and forced him to serve in the Royal Navy when he was out for a walk. Although he was given a promotion, he lost the favor of his captain because of his bad behavior. He deserted the Navy, which was punishable by the death penalty. He was stripped and whipped, degraded in rank and moved to the lower deck with the men he had treated so poorly when he had a higher status. During this time he had thoughts of suicide. He was eventually dismissed from the Navy and got a job on a ship with someone his father knew. But he mocked the captain and was described as being exceedingly vile.
He then went to work on a slave trade ship to Africa. He was falsely accused of stealing from the captain and punished severely. As a result, he was treated as a slave himself. He was then hired by another slave trader. There was sexual promiscuity with the African women. His father asked a friend to rescue him. On the trip home Newton read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis and the Bible, though he was still a blasphemer. When he returned he began to believe the Gospel and attend church, but reverted back to his old ways within a few months. He would never see his father again.
Newton, who had long desired to marry Polly, then took a job on a slave trade ship. He received a positive response about marriage from Polly before leaving on the ship. When he returned he married Polly and became a slave trade ship captain. Newton would always be concerned about his love for Polly becoming idolatry. He would continue to fight against his lust for African women. On the ship he would begin reading works of theology. He also would implement worship services on his ship on Sundays, before having to resign as a captain due to health issues.
He would be mentored by George Whitefield and John Wesley, and accepted a good position as Surveyor of the Tides in Liverpool, the busiest slave trade port in England. As others had done, he would receive gratuities from ship owners, stopping this practice after reading Wesley’s writings.
Once Newton felt the call from the Lord to become a pastor, he faced six years of rejection trying to be ordained by the Church of England because he was a Methodist. He would write his autobiography – An Authentic Narrative, which would become a best-seller and is still published today. It was part adventure story, love story and spiritual story. He was at last ordained by the Church of England and would become the Curator at Olney, where he would serve for sixteen years. It was here that he would meet William Cowper, one of the greatest poets of the 18th century. Cowper would be one of his closest friends and partners in ministry. The two wrote the hymns included in the Olney Hymns. Newton was a dear friend to Cowper who battled with depression and multiple suicide attempts.
The author spends a good amount of time discussing Newton’s famous hymn “Amazing Grace”, which was written to supplement a sermon he preached. Newton wrote the words to the hymn. The music was called “New Britain” (author unknown). William Walker put the lyrics and music together.
The final verse, which begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years….” was not written by Newton. It first appeared in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The song is special to many, and especially to my family as we sang it holding hands around my mother’s hospital bed as she was removed from life support in 1996.
Newton’s influence – due to his books and Olney Hymns – would extend his influence and popularity well past his Olney congregation. As his influence outside of his church grew, it diminished inside his church, as many began attending other churches. He received many offers to leave Olney, eventually accepting a position at St. Mary Woolnoth in London. In London, he would help to found the Eclectic Society, a discussion group. He received some criticism as he got involved in political issues. He criticized the British actions against the colonies.
He and Polly would adopt their 5 year old niece Betsy as their own daughter when Newton was 50. Polly, suffered from health issues during most of their marriage. They would also adopt Elisa, a niece dying of consumption. Elisa lived with them for two years before dying at age 14.
Some wanted to call Newton a Calvinist, a Methodist or a Puritan. But he didn’t like labels. He would serve as mentor and pastor to William Wilberforce. He convinced him to stay in politics and make a difference there, rather than going into “full time Christian work”, a great example of someone integrating their faith and work. He partnered with Wilberforce on the movement to abolish the slave trade in Britain.
Toward the end of his life his lost Polly to cancer, as well as his friend and benefactor John Thornton. He would also preach the funeral of long-time friend Cowper. Adopted daughter Betsy and her husband would provide care for Newton, who preached until his mind no longer permitted it.
Some of Newton’s last words were: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
I highly recommend this well written book on the life of John Newton.
I have read several fine books by Iain Murray, the most recent being a biography of John MacArthur (whose wife Patricia wrote the Foreword to this book). I also saw him speak on revival several years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed this short biography of Amy Carmichael, someone I was aware of, but did not know much about prior to reading this book.
Amy was born in 1867 in Ireland. She would meet Robert Wilson, who Murray writes gave Amy a closer knowledge of overseas missions. Amy left for Japan with the China Inland Mission in 1893, where she stayed fifteen months. Some of her experiences during this time would mark the rest of her life.
On October 11, 1895, she left Britain at the age of twenty-seven never to return. She moved to serve in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). She responded to an opening in the work of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society in India. She would need to learn the Tamil language.
Murray writes of Amy meeting Thomas Walker, a clergyman of the Church of England, working with the Church Missionary Society in the Tinnevelly district of south India. The Walkers invited her to join them in Tinnevelly, to study the language. By the end of 1896 Amy was with the Walkers, beginning one of the strongest influences in her life.
Murray writes: “In 1900 Thomas Walker had decided that a disused Church Missionary Society mission station at a place thirty miles north of Cape Comorin—India’s southern point—would be a better and quieter site for the ordination classes he took for divinity students. This was Dohnavur, a ‘Christian’ village which he had first visited in 1886. The strength of Walker’s leadership in the early days at Dohnavur was vital but, before 1904 ended, Amy had to take on that role herself. Walkers left for England in December 1904.”
Carmichael’s most notable work, beginning in 1901, was with girls and young women, some of whom were saved from forced temple prostitution. By June 1904, seventeen children, six of them former temple children, were in Amy’s care, and even when the number was depleted by the death of three babies, Murray writes that it was clear that her evangelistic travels had to end.
To all the children Amy was known as ‘Amma’ (mother). The children came to nick-name her ‘the Hare’. She would use a tricycle to move even faster between the various buildings. Not a child went to sleep at night without a kiss from Amy.
Murray writes that Amy Carmichael’s life was one of times of refreshing and then of trials. In part she explained that demonic activity follows the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through the years of the First World War, and on into the 1920s, the work at Dohnavur grew, more land was bought, and by 1923 there were thirty nurseries, each with a mother for the children. By 1926 there was to be a boys’ compound with some seventy to eighty children. By the 1940s there were some 900 children and grown-ups, including between forty and fifty helpers. The hospital work grew to such an extent that a medical superintendent was needed, as well as three doctors.
Murray writes about Stephen Neill, who in 1939 would become Bishop of Tinnevelly. Neill didn’t adhere to the inerrancy of scripture. As a result, he was asked to leave by Amy.
At the age of sixty-three Amy broke her leg, dislocated an ankle and twisted her spine. After this time, her life would be spent very largely in her room. Through most of the years which followed she wrote a short daily message to the whole family with some scriptural truth and often bearing on the necessity of unity. Amy was a gifted writer who produced many books and hundreds of hymns and poems. Among the thirteen books Amy wrote after her accident, seven were on what it means to live with Christ in all the circumstances of trials of life. Murray writes that in these she wrote not of her own experience but out of it.
A fall in her room in 1948 meant a virtual end of movement for the last two and a half years of her life. She turned 83 on December 16, 1950 and died on January 18, 1951. She was buried according to her instructions in the garden beyond her windows. It was ‘God’s Garden’, for here were buried the babies, children, and grown-ups who had gone before. There was to be no memorial stone.
Murray does address some possible concerns with Carmichael. One of them was in taking direction from a single verse of Scripture, rather than guidance from general scriptural principles and prayerful reflection.
Murray writes that two main features stand out both in Amy Carmichael’s life and in her writings. The first is the place of quietness in the life of the Christian. The second feature of her life was love.
Murray states that today, while rescue from temple prostitution in India is no longer needed, 15 million women in India are still living in slavery. As a shelter for needy children, Dohnavur continues its work, on the same principles with which it was founded, and is led entirely by Christians of Indian nationality. No appeal has ever been made for money, only for prayer, but many, through the years, have sent sacrificial gifts. Never has an unprotected child been refused for lack of funds: never has a patient needed to be turned away because he or she could not pay for medical help. You can find out more about the Fellowship and Amy Carmichael at the following sites:
I didn’t know too much about the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli’s life before reading this book, learning most of what I did know in a church history class with Dr. David Calhoun at Covenant Seminary several years ago. This entry in the Bitesize Biographies series from William Boekestein, an author and pastor in Pennsylvania, is a fast moving account of Zwingli’s important life and accomplishments.
The author writes that Zwingli’s battle was against the abuses of the Catholic Church, never against the church itself. Zwingli’s two sisters would become nuns and they would all eventually renounce the vows they had taken.
The author writes that in a certain sense the Swiss Reformation began in the University of Basel. As higher learning flourished, the abuses of the Catholic Church came under greater scrutiny.
Zwingli was ordained as a priest and read his first mass at Wildhaus in 1506. He added Greek and Hebrew to his knowledge of Latin and the Vulgate, a fourth century Latin translation of the Bible. He would become closely acquainted with Erasmus of Rotterdam.
He became pastor at Einsiedeln in 1516. Here he read the Church Fathers and hand-copied the Scriptures. He also started preaching against the sale of indulgences, the worship of Mary and other papal abuses. Many scholars date the start of the Reformation in Switzerland in 1516, a year ahead of the German Reformation.
Zwingli was not only a religious leader, but a political one as well. He strongly opposed the concept of Swiss men serving as mercenary soldiers abroad.
Personally, Zwingli was suspected of having inappropriate intimate relationships with several women. He would unsuccessfully petition the bishop of Constance for permission to marry. He would eventually live in a secret marriage. Such secret marriages were sanctioned by the Catholic Church until they were outlawed by the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
He would then become pastor to the leading church in Zurich, one of the chief cities of the confederation, where he would begin verse-by-verse preaching. Eventually, the sermon would replace the mass in Zurich. His preaching included denouncements of the monks, of the veneration of saints and of feast days. He raised questions about purgatory, the damnation of unbaptized children and excommunication. He would provide the Zurich City Council with advice about religious images used as objects of worship. He would work to reform the liturgy, removing the organs and Latin choirs. In 1525, a new Lord’s Supper liturgy would replace the mass. Later a new liturgy would replace the Catholic baptismal ceremony. By the middle of 1525 the Zurich church was no longer Catholic. The Zurich Protestants were now considered heretics.
The author details the Anabaptist controversy. The Anabaptists believed that Zwingli was failing to take his principles to their logical conclusion. Zwingli was now considered the conservative, while the Anabaptists were the revolutionaries.
He would be relieved of many of the routine duties of a priest so that he could devote himself to preaching and instructing the city in the evangelical faith.
The author reviews three Disputations in Zurich. Although Zwingli considered himself to be a conservative reformer, to his opponents he was a revolutionary. He would have threats on his life.
Zwingli did much writing (80 books and tracts in German and 59 in Latin), but the author states that he tended to write quickly and thus they are not as well done as Calvin, for instance. As an example, his Commentary on the True and False Religion was not revised over the years as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was.
I found the Lord’s Supper debate between Luther and Zwingli to be particularly interesting. I was familiar with the debate, but not that Luther considered Zwingli to be a notorious heretic. Boekestein writes “The conflict between Luther and Zwingli on the subject of the Lord’s Supper is one of the great disappointments of the Protestant Reformation”.
From 1530 until his death, Zwingli participated in more purely political affairs than he had previously. He was a trained fighter and had no misgivings about employing force to defend the gospel. The author states that he occasionally resorted to unbiblical use of force. Zwingli was killed in the second Kappel War. Zwingli’s successor would be Heinrich Bullinger, who would serve in Zurich for more than forty years.
The book includes no footnotes, which would have been helpful considering all of the information that the author presents. Zwingli’s Sixty-Seven Articles from 1523 are included as an appendix.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about the leaders of the Reformation.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a free review.
Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. HarperOne. 320 pages. 2007. Audiobook read by Johnny Heller.
Eric Metaxas is one of my favorite authors. Of the four books of his that I have read, three have been biographies. His 2013 book Seven Men: And Their Secrets of Greatness features a much shorter biography of Wilberforce than provided here. This book was the official tie-in book to the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which was made to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s anti-slave trade legislation.
This book tells the amazing story of the man who was responsible for first the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and ultimately the abolishment of slavery there altogether. Metaxas tells Wilberforce’s story weaving in a number of characters such as John Newton (who would see him as a son), John Wesley, Henry Thornton (his cousin and closest friend), William Pitt (who would become the youngest Prime Minister at 24 years of age), Granville Sharp, Charles Middleton, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah Moore (a popular writer), and many, many more.
Wilberforce changed history, but is largely forgotten today. Metaxas gives us a detailed look at the life of who he refers to as perhaps the greatest social reformer the world has known. At the height of his political career, God would get ahold of Wilberforce and change his life.
Wilberforce began his political career in 1780 when he was elected to Parliament at age 21. His social standing improved, resulting in him being invited to many social clubs, where he would show off his excellent singing voice and enjoy drinking and dancing. Wilberforce would later look at these years as years he wasted. He would use his powerful voice to become a great orator.
Wilberforce went through a gradual conversion experience, much like Augustine, rather than the sudden conversion of the Apostle Paul. Thinking that he needed to go into full-time Christian ministry, Wilberforce felt he would need to leave politics. But John Newton and William Pitt would encourage him to stay in Parliament and use his influence to do good, which he agreed to do.
After being born again, he would have new attitudes about money and time. He resigned from all five of the social clubs he belonged to. He returned to Methodism to the chagrin of his mother.
Wilberforce’s focus would become twofold: the suppression of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners (habits or attitudes). British society at that time was vulgar and violent. Twenty-five percent of the unmarried women were involved in prostitution. Wilberforce wished to bring self-respect and civility into the society.
Wilberforce would come to the point where he felt that abolition was the cause God was calling him to devote his life to. His work to abolish the slave trade would take 26 years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. During this time he would receive many death threats.
In 1797 Wilberforce would publish a book on the Christian faith and the state of what it was in British society. The 37 year old Wilberforce would meet 20 year old Barbara Spooner, 20 and newly serious about religion. They were married less than a month after meeting and would go on to have six children.
Wilberforce stood only 5’3”, and suffered from lifelong stomach problems, resulting in him using opium much of his adult life. His deteriorating health (eyesight, curvature of the spine, etc.), would lead him to appoint Thomas Buxton to take the lead in the emancipation fight. Wilberforce announced his retirement in 1825.
Among Wilberforce’s many other accomplishments was leading the crusade against cruelty to animals, British missionary work in India and the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone. Wilberforce would give away much money over his lifetime – to help the poor, etc. At the end of his life he was nearly destitute. He and Barbara would end his life without a home of his own, living with their sons, both ministers.
Emancipation was finally approved just three days before Wilberforce’s death with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. A year later 800,000 slaves would be freed as a result.
I encourage you to read this well-written book about the little man who has made such a big difference in history.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Crown & Covenant Publications. 128 pages. 2012. Audiobook read by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
I first started hearing the name Rosaria Butterfield a few months ago, and then got to hear her tell her story last month at the 2015 Ligonier National Conference. You can watch her conference message “Repentance & Renewal” here.
This is not your typical Christian testimony/autobiography. For one, it is very well written. Rosaria is a very intelligent and opinionated individual, earning a PhD at Ohio State and then serving as a tenured English professor at Syracuse University, where she taught courses in Women’s Studies, specializing in Queer Theory and was a popular conference speaker. She gives insights – often painful – about how gays and lesbians perceive evangelical Christians.
At the time, Rosaria, who was raised Catholic and named after the rosary, was in a lesbian relationship with T (she uses a single letter to identify certain people throughout the book, while using names for others), and the two of them owned two homes together. She attended a Unitarian Universalist Church.
Rosaria was doing research for a book on the Religious Right, when she wrote a piece for the local newspaper criticizing Promise Keepers. She received much fan mail and hate mail from the piece. However, she received one letter that fell into neither category from Ken Smith, pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. That started a respectful dialogue between the two. Ken invited Rosaria to his home for dinner with him and his wife. Rosaria was impressed that neither shared the gospel with her, nor invited her to church. Rosaria would continue to meet with Ken and his wife over the coming months. Pastor Smith provides us a good example on how to engage respectfully with gays and lesbians as friends.
Ken would eventually share the gospel with Rosaria several times over a two year period. She would later stop her work on the book on the Religious Right and break up with her girlfriend. She met with Ken to talk, read and study the Bible from 1997-1999. During this time she was providentially given a theological library by a former Presbyterian pastor who was now living as a woman.
I listened to the audiobook which was well read by Rosaria. She states that her journey out of ten years as a lesbian was messy. Ken’s wife and other women from the church were very helpful to her. She writes that she had a false understanding of gender and that pride and not sexual orientation was her root sin.
She writes of how deeply she disappointed the students at Syracuse who had looked up to her. She was seen as a traitor in the gay community. Rosaria continued to teach at Syracuse, but now she taught classes such as hermeneutics. There was an overwhelming interest in these classes.
She writes of becoming involved with R, a troubled man who also dealt with sexual sin. He was a pastoral intern at Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. She would get engaged to him while he was in seminary. She prepared for a two year leave from Syracuse while he finished seminary. She rented out her apartment and took a teaching position at Geneva College, where R was completing seminary. Out of the blue, R contacted her and told her that he was not ready to be married and was probably not a Christian. Rosaria was disappointed that the Session did not take any action on this issue at the time, though they later would.
Rosaria was deeply hurt by this turn of events as she left Syracuse, which she loved, to go to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and Geneva College, for what she planned to be a year. She writes that she lost everything except her beloved dog Murphy.
She also began to teach at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry in Pittsburgh, which she loved. She found a new church and made new friends. She had weekly counseling sessions with her pastor, entered into a mentoring relationship, and had a ministry with the students. When asked to give her testimony at the church she initially refused, but later gave it, reading a ten-page paper.
Many of her friends asked her why she would align with the Reformed Presbyterian Church denomination. As she researched the denomination, Kent Butterfield, a seminary student, was the only one to take her questions seriously. She talks about the regulative principle of worship, the reason the denomination only sings the Psalms in their worship services, the Westminster Confession of Faith, etc. Rosaria would later marry Kent.
She includes in entirety the charge from her pastor at their wedding, including what scripture says about marriage and love. Rosaria was 39 years old when she married Kent. They have adopted four children and fostered others. They served at a church plant in Virginia, working closely with the college students.
Rosaria writes of the painful loss of a child (S), that they wanted to adopt because the child was African American and they were white. She writes about a brief emotional reunion a year later as the church plant was closing down.
After the church plant closed, Kent took a government job, and would also fill pulpits as needed. Rosaria would home school the children and they would serve as foster parents. She speaks about adoption and how all believers have been adopted by God. She speaks highly of Russell Moore’s book Adopted by God.
As the book ends Kent has been called by a church, the call they have been waiting for. He is now serving as the pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham. You can find out more about Rosaria, and access a free study guide for this book, at her website.
I was inspired to read this book after seeing the movie Hoovey, which was based on the story Jeff Elliott tells in this book about his son Eric “Hoovey” Elliot. Like most films that are based on true events, there are some differences between the film and the book that it is based on. “Hoover” or “Hoovey” was a nickname affectionately given to Eric when he was younger. At two years of age, he had his forearm sucked into a Hoover vacuum cleaner, and the nickname stuck with him since.
Eric was very athletic, playing numerous sports, including baseball and basketball at nearby Olympia High School. Jeff writes about Eric complaining of his vision looking blurry. After a trip to the eye doctor, his doctor confirmed that Eric needed a correction and would wear glasses. Then came Eric’s lack of coordination that didn’t fit his usual athleticism. A return trip to the eye doctor revealed that his vision had worsened once again, the third vision change in six months.
This eventually led to Eric having a CAT scan of his head. Months later, they discovered that the CAT scan ordered was for the frontal view of Eric’s head. The following month, in December of 1998, Eric woke up every morning with headaches, nausea, and/or vomiting. Sometimes it went away after eating something, and other times it lasted all day.
Later his mother Ruth noticed something wrong with Eric’s eyes. Eric’s eyes had become crossed, and he was complaining of seeing double. Ruth called Eric’s eye doctor, who instructed them to take Eric to the emergency room at Bro-Menn Hospital as soon as possible.
During this time there was a significant snowstorm taking place. On the way to the hospital Jeff’s truck slid off the side of the road into a drift. He could not get the truck to move at all. All of a sudden he writes that the truck exploded out of that drift as if they were being pushed by a Mack truck. He asks how it was possible that they had escaped from that drift. As he pulled onto the main highway, he knew that something special had just happened. Later that night Ruth would tell him that she had a vision of angels descending from Heaven pushing the truck as she prayed.
A neurosurgeon Dr. Kattner revealed that an MRI has detected a very large tumor, about the size of an orange at the base of Eric’s skull. For the surgery, Dr. Kattner would be assisted by Dr. Anne Stroink, a well-known neurosurgeon here in Bloomington.
There were risks to the surgery. The pressure on Eric’s brain was extreme. Releasing the pressure off the medulla could send him into a coma, leave him in a vegetative state, and possibly result in his death. Dr. Kattner would later admit that in all of his prior surgical cases, he had never seen a person survive with that much pressure on their brain.
Eric survived the surgery. He needed to wear a patch to eliminate his double vision. He would alternate the patch from one eye to the other. Eric was released with orders not to be active for the next six months.
Eric had been home about a month when his sister Jennifer developed an ear infection and a temperature of 105.2 degrees. She would be diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and would need an immediate spinal tap.
Jennifer turned out to be allergic to the Rocephin and to Penicillin, leaving Chloramphenicol as her final option. However, use of that drug had been discontinued on a regular basis in the late 1970’s because of a chance that it could produce a deadly side effect known as aplastic anemia. If Jennifer contracted that there would be no cure. It would destroy her bone marrow and she would die. Fortunately Jennifer would survive, spending eleven days in the hospital battling meningitis.
During the next several months, Jennifer’s condition continued to improve. By the start of her junior year she was back at school and doing well.
Eric spent countless hours in therapy working on his coordination. His double vision continued for some time. His dream was to return to the Olympia High School basketball team and eventually earn a scholarship to play college basketball.
In December of 1999, Eric’s first “routine” MRI was scheduled. The MRI showed evidence that a small residual piece of the tumor remained in Eric’s brain. Dr. Kattner would monitor the tumor for any future growth with a semi-annual MRI. If no growth occurred, they would proceed as normal.
At the base of Eric’s head was a two inch long piece of skull about the width of a piggy bank slit, which was missing. Due to the location of several blood vessels at the incision site, Dr. Kattner was unable to replace the bone or even graft a plate in its place. With this piece gone, Eric could not take a blow to the head.
Eric would make the golf and basketball teams. He struggled with basketball, often falling as he struggled with his coordination. The doctor recommended that Eric be taken to a sports enhancement program. After consulting with the head trainer at the clinic, he agreed to work with Eric on a trial basis for three months. After three months, the results were phenomenal. Eric had increased four inches on his vertical jump, gained ten pounds, and most importantly had all of his coordination back. As he ran up and down the basketball court, he no longer fell. More than a year after his surgery, Eric still defied the odds and showed improvement where none was to be expected.
The next season Eric found himself a starter on the junior varsity basketball squad. As a junior he would start on the varsity and receive an invitation to try out for the U.S.A. Junior Nationals at the season’s end. Out of one hundred boys who tried out sixteen would make up two Illinois teams. Eric was one of them. With each success Eric came closer to making his dream a reality. He wanted a scholarship to play college basketball.
During his senior season the varsity coach was new and with the change came a new philosophy. Very rarely did any of the players play more than half of the game. Instead, most of the ten players shared playing time fairly equally throughout the game. Eric led the team in scoring, averaging 9.6 points per game, but it was a far cry from what college scouts were looking for in terms of statistics. Regardless, before the end of the school year Eric had two solid scholarship offers to play for Division II junior colleges. He chose Carl Sandburg Junior College in Galesburg, Illinois with a full tuition scholarship.
Jeff writes as he watched Eric play college basketball: “The young man I was watching on that basketball court was the boy who overcame double vision. He was the boy who couldn’t run without falling yet now performed aerial acrobatics while driving to the basket. He was the boy who shot the basketball four feet to the right of the rim, who now swished three pointers with consistency. He was the boy who had become a man, who had overcome all obstacles in his path to achieve what all of his doctors said he would never do again.”
Eric is now nearly 30 years old and works at a local firm in Bloomington.
Louis Zamperini was a son of Italian immigrants, a U.S. Olympic runner, World War II bombardier, and POW survivor. After the war, he returned to the United States to found the Victory Boys Camp for at-risk youth and became an inspirational speaker. Zamperini’s story was told in his 2003 autobiography Devil at My Heels, as well as in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 biography Unbroken and the film version of Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie.
Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, just two days after the manuscript of this book, written with David Rensin, was submitted to the editors. Rensin had collaborated with Zamperini on his 2003 biography Devil at My Heels, and in 2013 resumed his collaboration with Zamperini on this book, which had been put on hold while Zamperini assisted Laura Hillenbrand with Unbroken, which is one of my favorite books.
Zamperini starts out the book with a brief overview of his incredible life, including his conversion at a 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles. That led him to return to Japan to meet and forgive his former prison guards.
He writes that in 1956, a publisher asked him to write an autobiography, which was titled Devil at My Heels. The book was written quickly and Zamperini wasn’t crazy about it, but Universal Pictures bought the rights for Tony Curtis to play him. Curtis made Spartacus instead, and his movie never happened. Zamperini and Rensin completely rewrote the book and published it in 2003. The result shared very little with the original book—except the title. Just before Devil at My Heels was published in 2003, author Laura Hillenbrand wrote to ask Zamperini if she could write his biography. He originally said no, as he had just finished his own book. But seven years and hundreds of hours of interviews later her book, Unbroken, came out in 2010, and has been on the New York Times and other bestseller lists ever since. Then the movies called again, and this time it happened, with Angelina Jolie directing the film version of Unbroken, which was released Christmas Day.
Zamperini says that he is often asked three questions:
- What did you do after the war?
- What’s your secret for a good life?
- How does your faith play a role?
Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In is his answer to those questions. He states that the answers aren’t always simple but they have recurred throughout his life.
I highlighted a number of passages in this book, which is comprised of several short chapters, and I read in a single day. I’ve listed some of them for you below:
- Thanks to Pete (brother), who helped guide me in a positive direction, and my own developing positive ambition, I turned my life around. Pete helped out by training with me, which meant he ran behind me and swatted my butt with a switch to keep me moving.
- I’ve had many years to wonder why I caused so much mischief and I’ve come to the conclusion that what I really wanted was recognition. That’s not the same as wanting attention. Attention comes and goes, usually quickly. Recognition lasts longer. I wanted to be accepted by the good kids, admired for something.
- Positive self-esteem must be preceded by self-respect. To get self-respect you have to do something good. Causing mischief wasn’t good.
- Running was—and it was the first positive thing I did for myself, however reluctantly.
- Sometimes things look up, sometimes down, but in the end all things work together for good.
- Survival, in any situation, from the outdoors to the office, depends on education, preparation, and anticipation. You’ve got to think ahead.
- The great lesson of my life is perseverance. Never give up. It’s like my brother said, “Isn’t one minute of pain worth a lifetime of glory?”
- You must have hope. It rejuvenates your whole being. You can’t allow negative thinking—even if you know your chances are slim. I’m not saying that it’s easy to do, but the ability to envision the road to successful completion is what keeps you alive. Hope provides the power of the soul to endure.
- When you get down to it, your reputation and character are all you have.
- I survived the war, but then I had to survive myself coming home from the war. Despite the good times and all the attention, I was under a cloud that kept growing darker. I couldn’t stop hating. And worse, my marriage to Cynthia had reached a breaking point.
- A neighbor couple knew we were in distress and tried to get us to go to hear a new evangelist speak. I wanted nothing to do with it.
- When Cynthia got home, she seemed to glow. She was so enthusiastic about what she’d heard and experienced that she announced she would not seek a divorce. I was relieved. But then she began to press me to go with her the next time.
- Halfway through his sermon, I got mad. When I heard that everyone was a sinner, I got defensive. I knew I was, but I didn’t need him to remind me. I walked out.
- But when I reached the aisle I could no longer resist. I just let my instinct take over and instead of leaving I went forward. Turning toward the stage was the crucial moment, the fork in the road. At the stage I fell to my knees, emotionally overcome. I asked for forgiveness and invited Christ into my life.
- When I awoke the next morning I was stunned to realize that I hadn’t dreamed about the Bird. And to this day I haven’t. In fact, I forgave him because the ability to forgive is a major result of my transformation.
- Cohen (mobster) eventually got his way, though. According to Time Magazine in April 1957, after getting out of prison in 1955, Cohen, who said he was trying to go straight, met with Graham in Manhattan. Graham wasn’t crazy about the publicity but he did say he’d gone to work on Mickey in 1949, “and I have high hopes that Cohen will repent in earnest.” Cohen never followed through. As far as I was concerned he just had the makings of a great con artist.
- Sometimes what we see as a loss turns out in the end to be a gain, and sometimes a gain is a loss. I try not to be too swift to pass judgment on any situation, preferring instead to be patient and take the long view because I believe that in the end all things work together for good.
- One great reward of running Victory Boys Camp was quite unexpected. I’d be speaking at a church or on a cruise ship when a middle-aged guy would stand up and say, “I was in your camp when I was fourteen. You really turned my life around.”
- People often ask me what I’ve learned in life that is worth remembering and passing on. Here’s something I say, especially to young people: It will be tough to amount to anything unless you commit to your goal and stay the course. You can’t give in to doubt. You can’t give in to pain.
- This is the great lesson of my life: Never give up. If you want to be a champion you have to go after what you want tooth and nail. This requires perseverance. If you’re on the right track, stay on that path until you’ve finished.
- The one who forgives never brings up the past to that person’s face. When you forgive, it’s like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total. Of all the wonderful results of changing my life, perhaps the best is my ability to forgive.
- Carrying the torch through the town where I was a prisoner of war was both thrilling and touching.
- I’m a thankful citizen of America who just wants to be remembered for his charitable heart.
- On July 13, 2014, eleven days after Zamperini passed away at 97, the family held a private memorial to celebrate his life. Among the speakers: Louie’s daughter, Cynthia; son, Luke; grandson, Clay; 60 Minutes producer and long-time friend Draggan Mihailovich; Angelina Jolie; and Kyle Gauthier, whose reflections appeared earlier in the book. Each shared emotional memories of the man who had so enriched their lives.
My recommendation would be to read Unbroken first, and then read this book.
41: A Portrait of My Faith by George W. Bush. Crown. 304 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by George W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States is the only President in modern times not to write a memoir. His son, George W. Bush the 43rd President, has written this book that he says is not objective, but instead a love story from a son to his father. The book opens with an account of Bush the elder celebrating his 90th birthday with a parachute jump.
Bush’s father was an accomplished golfer, United States Senator and investment banker. He started the family tradition of attending Yale. Bush’s mother, who died shortly after he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, was a woman of strong faith.
Bush joined the Navy shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, enlisting on his eighteenth birthday in 1942. He served for three years. During that time he was shot down by the Japanese in the Pacific and rescued as the Japanese were trying to capture him. At age 78 he would return to the site and meet one of the Japanese soldiers that was there that day.
Bush would marry Barbara in 1945, and next year will celebrate seventy years of marriage. They would have six children – George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. Daughter Robin was born in 1949. She would die of leukemia in 1953.
After the war, Bush attended Yale. George W. Bush was born in 1946. Bush was an accomplished baseball player, serving as the captain of the Yale team that advanced to the College World Series in 1947 and 1948.
After college, Bush went into the oil business as a clerk in Odessa, Texas. In 1949 he transferred to California, where their small family lived in four cities, before transferring to Midland, Texas, where they lived for nine years. The author considers Midland to be his hometown. Midland was a very competitive place during the oil boom. Bush would teach Sunday School at their church in Midland.
Bush then went into the oil business for himself, first with Bush-Overbey and then with the Zapata Petroleum Corporation. The latter company would split with Bush taking the off-shore part of the business, moving to Houston. The onshore part of the business would later become Pennzoil.
Bush lost the 1964 senatorial race to Robert Yarborough, who had the support of President Johnson. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966, and most of the family moved to Washington D.C. He ran for the Senate in 1970, losing to Lloyd Bentsen. He then received a call from President Nixon who offered him the position of the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and the family moved to New York. Later he would become the head of the Republican National Committee, replacing Bob Dole, who he would run into years later in a presidential campaign. After President Ford replaced Nixon, Bush chose to be Liaison to China. The family enjoyed their time in China, but Ford called him back to take over as CIA Director, an assignment he handled until replaced by President Carter.
Bush then decided to serve on the boards of several businesses, before deciding to run for president in 1980. He would lose the nomination to Ronald Reagan, but Reagan would pick him as his Vice President, which he served for two Reagan terms.
Bush ran for President and won in 1988. He chose Dan Quayle as his running mate. The author doesn’t come out and say he disagreed with the decision, but I felt that sentiment come across “between the lines”. We hear of highlights from his presidency – dealing with Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and The Persian Gulf War (which boosted his approval rating to 89%), the collapse of the Soviet Union and a peaceful end to the Cold War, the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Points of Light.
His approval ratings dropped significantly with economic woes and his agreement to a tax increase after his infamous pledge “Read my lips, no new taxes”. He would face challenges from Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot in the election and eventually Bill Clinton, who campaigned on change and the economy.
The author who rarely criticizes his father in this book writes that his father’s campaign was reacting rather than leading, and his speech at the Republican Convention was defensive and flat. In the end, Clinton would get 43% of the vote to Bush’s 38% and Perot’s 19%. Bush felt that Perot cost him the election. In addition, the news of the improved economy appeared too late for Bush. Ironically, Bush and Clinton would go on to have a very close relationship that continues to this day.
After being rejected by the American voters, Bush at first had a difficult time transitioning out of public life. He was strengthened by his family, and his sons George and Jeb being elected governors of Texas and Florida respectively. At the time of this review Jeb is considering a 2016 presidential run. Could it be another Bush/Clinton battle?
Bush would be diagnosed with Parkinsonism, and confined to a wheelchair. He became very ill in late 2012, and almost died. Fortunately he made a complete recovery and was present at the opening of the author’s Presidential Library in the Spring of 2013.
The author weaves in thoughts about himself and his political career throughout the book, something other biographers could not offer. A connection both father and son had was the wars in Iraq. The author mentions ISIS and that the future of IRAQ was uncertain as he was writing. The author also states that if his father had won re-election in 1992 he would not have run for governor in Texas in 1994 and later for president.
The author compares his father’s record to that of Winston Churchill and feels that his father accomplished more in one term than many Presidents achieve in two.
I very much enjoyed this tribute from son to father. Highly recommended.
Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Co. 368 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by Bill O’Reilly.
This is the third book in Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing series, with previous volumes on Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Jesus. I’ve enjoyed all three a good deal. If this one is not my favorite, it comes in a close second to Killing Lincoln. The books read like a fast moving and exciting novel. I have listened to the audiobook versions of the books which are well read by O’Reilly.
Patton’s nickname was “Old Blood and Guts’. He is a simple man who wears emotions on his sleeves. We are told that he had many enemies. As the book begins it is 1945. Patton is in the hospital, following a serious accident in which his vehicle was hit by an American Army truck in Germany under suspicious circumstances. Patton is in serious condition, but is expected to survive. However, he dies in the hospital. There is no autopsy performed, and he is buried in Luxembourg. Some don’t believe his death was an accident. The authors put forth their ideas (which I won’t spoil for you here).
The book covers the final months of World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge and Patton’s pivotal role in winning it. The authors weave in a number of famous characters – Patton, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, Truman, Bradley, Marshall, Montgomery, Anne Frank, etc. as they tell this story. Many of the main male characters in the book (Patton, Eisenhower, Hitler, Stalin and Roosevelt) are known to have mistresses.
Roosevelt and Churchill work closely in a trusting relationship with Stalin, though Patton believes this is a mistake. Of course he will be proved right on that, but his outspokenness probably limits his post-Germany war career.
Unfortunately, I am not well versed in the history of World War II. But I was fascinated with the accounts in this book, including the Battle of the Bulge, the Siege of Bastogne and Patton’s crossing of the Rhine River.
Patton is a man of faith, an Episcopalian. The authors capture a few prayers of his from his diaries. Patton refers to God as “Sir”. He believes faith is needed to do the impossible. But he sees no conflict with meshing his faith with his belief in reincarnation, believing he was a great warrior in many past lives.
Patton’s affair is compared with that of King David, as he sends his mistresses’ boyfriend to the front ranks, just as King David did.
The author’s go into detail about what was known about the accident that would eventually kill Patton. They call for an investigation into his death to be opened.
An interesting Postscript is included which details what happened to all of the main characters from the book.
I recently read this autobiography of Ben Carson. Prior to that I had read his newest book One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future and his 2012 book America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great.
This book details his life story from his birth in Detroit. His father left the home when he was only 8. Later he would find out that his father had another “wife” and other children that Ben knew nothing about.
Carson writes that part of his mother Sonya’s strength came from a deep-seated faith in God. She would work 2-3 jobs at a time to provide for Ben and his brother Curtis. She was the earliest, strongest, and most impacting force in his Ben’s life. He states that over a period of years, with their mother’s constant encouragement, both Curtis and Ben started believing that they could do anything they chose to do.
Several months after his father left, Ben’s mother told Ben and Curtis that she was going away for a few days to see relatives. He was an adult when he discovered that his mother had actually checked herself into a mental institution, the separation and divorce plunging her into a terrible period of confusion.
Ben had his first religious experience when he was baptized at 8 years old. He was then, and still is, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. That same day he decided he wanted to be a missionary doctor.
Ben was the worst student in his fifth-grade class. Halfway through the year he had an eye exam and got glasses. His grades improved immediately after that.
Ben’s mother limited Ben and Curtis on the amount of television they could watch and insisted that they read at least two books a week, and submit book reports to her (even though she could not read them).
By the time Ben reached the seventh grade he was at the top of his class, later becoming a C student when being part of the in-crowd became more important to him than his studies. He also developed what he called a pathological temper which led him to knife his friend, almost killing him. He cried out to the Lord to take his temper away and has never had a problem with his temper since.
He joined the ROTC, which helped to get his life back on track. Soon his grades improved and during both the eleventh and twelfth grades he ranked among the A students again. He did very well in the ROTC, becoming a colonel even though he had joined late. He was later offered a full scholarship to West Point. He ended up going to Yale in the fall of 1969, with a 90 percent academic scholarship.
But he took it easy in his first semester at Yale, and faced the likelihood of failing chemistry which would have ended his dream of staying in the pre-med program and becoming a doctor. He tells of how the Lord miraculously guided him through the final exam, allowing him to pass the course.
He writes of meeting Candy at Yale, who would become his wife. Candy graduated from Yale in the spring of 1975, and they were married July 6, between Ben’s second and third years of med school.
While operating a crane on a summer job, he became acutely aware of an unusual ability—a divine gift, he believes – of extraordinary eye and hand coordination. And the gift of eye and hand coordination has been an invaluable asset in surgery, as he is able to “see” in three dimensions. He writes that it is the most significant talent God has given him and the reason people sometimes say he has gifted hands.
He then went to med school. It was during his second rotation—his fourth year of med school—that he became aware that he knew more about neurosurgery than the interns and junior residents.
He writes: “All the facets of my career came together then. First, my interest in neurosurgery; second, my growing interest in the study of the brain; and third, acceptance of my God-given talent of eye-and-hand coordination—my gifted hands—that fitted me for this field. When I made my choice for neurosurgery, it seemed the most natural thing in the world.”
He was then accepted into the neurosurgery program at Johns Hopkins. After his year of internship he faced six years of residency, one more year of general surgery, and five of neurosurgery. He and Candy would spend a year in Australia. In that year he got an incredible amount of surgical experience. Within months after his return to Johns Hopkins he became the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at age 33.
He writes of performing his first hemispherectomy, which took about ten hours to complete. He shares a number of stories of successful surgeries and also one in which a patient ended up dying.
He shares the story of the first successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the head, a complex surgery which took 22 hours. The twins used 60 units of blood—several dozen times more than their normal blood volume. The extensive head wounds measured approximately 16 inches in circumference.
At the time of writing, Ben was active in his church as an elder and Health and Temperance Director. He and Candy had three children. They started the Carson Scholars Fund in 1994. It gives scholarships to students in grades 4–11 for academic excellence and humanitarian qualities.
In 2008 Ben was awarded the President Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. He has become a popular conservative figure and is considered a possible candidate for the 2016 presidential election (he would get my vote!). Though to date he hasn’t felt called to pursue the office, supporters are trying to encourage him at http://www.runbenrun.org/adpetition3?recruiter_id=318839
Jerry Bridges is one of my favorite authors. In this, what may be his final book (though he doesn’t state that), at age 84, he tells his life story in light of the doctrine of the providence of God. Bridges originally intended to have this become a published book explaining and exalting the providence of God. But the more he worked on it, the more he sensed it was too personal to become a book, so he changed his mental audience to family and close friends. However, some people at NavPress read the story and thought it could be useful to a larger audience. Bridges’ prayer is that this book will be helpful to his readers to see how the providence of God can work in the life of a very ordinary individual.
Bridges states that the purpose of the story is to explain, illustrate, and exalt God’s providence. Bridges intends his life story is meant to be only a backdrop and a series of illustrations of specific acts of the invisible hand of God so that many believers will come to recognize and appreciate more of God’s work in their own lives.
When Bridges was born he had four physical defects (crossed-eyes, deafness in his right ear and deformities in his breastbone and spine). His parents were financially poor, education dropouts, and religiously and socially isolated.
Bridges looks at three truths that are necessary to understand biblically the events of his life and the lives of most Christians. These truths are:
- The providence of God
- The common grace of God
- The instruction and guidance of the Holy Spirit
Bridges writes that God’s providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people. His common grace is an expression of His constant care for all of His creation.
The primary means that the Holy Spirit guides us is through His authoritative Scriptures. The Spirit may also instruct, or guide us, in particular situations through direct impressions on our minds. These impressions may be a strong sense of urging that we should do something or a strong sense of restraint that we should not do something. A third way the Holy Spirit instructs or guides us is through precise words planted in our minds, so precise that it seems as if another person is speaking to us. Bridges calls this the “inaudible voice” of the Holy Spirit.
Bridges tells his story of salvation, his time at the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a degree in general engineering, his 26 months of active duty in the Navy, and a lifetime of service with the Navigators ministry.
“Through these twists and turns in my own life, I finally came to a principle which I articulate as the principle of dependent responsibility. We are responsible. We cannot just let Jesus live His life through us, but at the same time we are dependent. We cannot make one inch of progress in the Christian life apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. This became a major emphasis in my teaching.”
He writes about becoming a Calvinist, describing a Calvinist as one who believes in the sovereignty of God in all things, including the salvation of sinners.
He discusses his developing a relationship with Eleanor, which led to marriage. He details some of his most significant accomplishments with the Navigators and the beginning of his writing ministry with his first book The Pursuit of Holiness, published in 1978.
Bridges write that the period 1984–1994 was difficult for him. There were significant issues at work with the Navigators and the death of Eleanor in November 1988 just three weeks after their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He would marry Jane a year later.
He reflects on the seven most important spiritual lessons he has learned in over sixty years as a Christian. They are:
Lesson One: The Bible is meant to be applied to specific life situations.
Lesson Two: All who trust in Christ as Savior are united to Him in a living way just as the branches are united to the vine (see John 15:1-5).
Lesson Three: The pursuit of holiness and godly character is neither by self-effort nor simply letting Christ “live His life through you.”
Rather, it does involve our most diligent efforts but with a recognition that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to enable us and to bless those efforts. I call this “dependent responsibility.”
Lesson Four: The sudden understanding of the doctrine of election was a watershed event for me that significantly affected my entire Christian life.
Lesson Five: The representative union of Christ and the believer means that all that Christ did in both His perfect obedience and His death for our sins is credited to us.
Lesson Six: The gospel is not just for unbelievers in their coming to Christ. Rather, all of us who are believers need the gospel every day because we are still practicing sinners.
Lesson Seven: We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to apply the life of Christ to our lives.
Bridges concludes the book with a helpful summary/review of the significant acts of God’s providence in his life that have been recounted throughout the previous chapters. The book includes helpful questions for reflection, discussion and application for individual or group study
I can’t say I was ever an Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF) fan, though my wife Tammy was. My interest in this book was the author, Philip Bailey, now 62, a member of the band, who also released four Contemporary Christian Music albums between 1984 and 1991. I found out about the book when Bailey recently sat in with Roots, Jimmy Fallon’s excellent Tonight Show band. The book is an autobiography for Bailey and a history of the band.
Bailey’s upbringing was not the best. He was born and raised in Denver. He hardly knew his birth father, who was not married to his mother, who he refers to by her first name Elizabeth. But Bailey did not run into racial discrimination until years later.
He studied bass and percussion and sang in gospel choirs through high school. He played in clubs several nights a week and was exposed to older women who wanted to have sex with him before he was old enough to drink. He got his girlfriend Janet pregnant and married her at age 19. He was in a local R&B band in Denver called Friends & Love.
Maurice White formed EWF in Chicago in 1969. After two albums, the band broke up and White reformed it. Bailey was invited to join the band in 1972 after Bailey had moved to Los Angeles. White’s mission for the band was to bring people to a higher consciousness.
White introduced the new younger band members to health foods and Eastern philosophies. As the band became more and more successful and popular, Bailey would have a woman in every city. He and a few others band members decided to visit a church in Chicago, partly to check out the women who attended. It was there that God drew Bailey to Him and his life was changed. Later, a woman sitting next to him on a plane asked him if he had a personal relationship with Christ.
When EWF toured with Santana, Bailey studied the Bible with Leon Patillo, who would later go on to record several albums in the Contemporary Christian Music market. With Bailey’s newfound faith, he was no longer on the same page as White. Bailey describes White’s beliefs as universalism. I would describe them as syncretistic – a mixture of many different religions and philosophies.
Despite being a believer, Bailey had an affair and got the woman, a member of the Emotions, pregnant. His womanizing and almost constant absences put a strain on his marriage, leading Janet to turn to drugs.
As the band was having incredible success (they once sold out the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles for five consecutive nights), Bailey began to realize that there were two standards for the band financially – White and everyone else. This caused tension within the band. Overall, the band would have seven top 10 albums on the Billboard Top 200 album charts and seven top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts.
In 1983, White abruptly broke up the group to record a solo album. He had minimal solo success, while Bailey did have some success, including a huge hit “Easy Lover”, a duet with Phil Collins. Bailey also recorded three Contemporary Christian Music albums (a “Best Of” was also released), and toured with acts such as Amy Grant.
In 1987, Earth, Wind & Fire reunited and released Touch the World. They toured to very small crowds. White wasdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the late 1980’s and no longer tours with the band. As a result, Bailey became the onstage leader of the band.
I enjoyed the book, finding out more about EWF, one of the most popular bands in the 1970’s and about Bailey’s faith, though I would have preferred more of the latter. The book does include some adult language and talk of sexuality.
Along with the rest of the group, Bailey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (by Paul McCartney) in 2000. In 2010, he became a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has also won seven Grammy Awards.
Bailey has not been so successful with his personal relationships. He was married to Janet for 31 years before divorcing. He remarried and was divorced again. He remains friends with both women. He has seven children with three women.
I enjoyed listening to Bailey talk about the songs that made the band famous, particularly those that he had written or sung lead on. That led me to pick up the band’s Greatest Hits compilations at the local library after finishing the book. For more information on Philip Bailey and EWF, go to the official sites below:
I first heard about this book during a profile of the subject (Louis Zamperini) on a news program on Christmas Eve, 2010. I actually began to tear up as I heard about and saw an interview with this man who:
• Was an Olympic runner who had met Hitler at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin
• Was planning to run in the 1940 Olympics but joined the Air Force when World War II broke out.
• Went into the ocean when his “Green Hornet” plane went down in the ocean while searching for a lost plane
• Reported as dead by the Air Force
• Survived 47 days on a raft in the ocean
• Was “rescued” by the Japanese and then tortured in a POW camp
• And so much more
I ran to our computer to look up this book only to find that it was sitting at #1 on the Kindle charts. I couldn’t wait until my January term seminary class was finished so that I could read this book. I wasn’t disappointed. It was one of the most fascinating stories that I have ever read – almost too hard to believe. But it is true and Zamperini is still alive at age 93. And he is a Christian, thanks to his wife convincing him to attend Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles campaign.
The book is written by Laura Hillenbrand, whose previous book was Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Hillenbrand herself has a story. She has suffered for 23 years from chronic fatigue syndrome. With her two books she has taken her own life struggle and given us two irresistible stories about athletes who overcame handicaps to achieve victory. The book, which is one the most inspirational books I’ve ever read, is being made into a film that will be released this Christmas. Here is a link to the film’s site: http://www.unbrokenfilm.com/
This book is part memoir and part commentary on aging, as Crystal turned 65 in March, 2013. The book covers losses (his father died suddenly when Crystal was only 15), and his career – doing stand-up, appearing for the first time on the Tonight Show and being called over to sit with Johnny Carson after his routine – almost unheard of for a first time comedian, portraying the first open gay character on the television series Soap, hosting and being a part of the cast on Saturday Night Live, hosting the Academy Awards telecast nine times, acting in movies (City Slickers, When Harry Met Sally, Analyze This, The Princess Bride, 61, etc.), his love of baseball and playing for his beloved New York Yankees in a 2008 Spring Training game, and his famous “You look mahvalous” phrase.
His commentary on aging is funny, but is unfortunately liberally peppered with the “F-word”, which was both surprising and disappointing. The book is sprinkled with adult language throughout, which lowers my rating for it by a full star.
I enjoyed his stories about his close relationships with Muhammad Ali, Mickey Mantle and Sammy Davis Jr., among others. His stories about being a grandpa, watching his first daughter get married and losing his Dad’s brother were heartwarming. Near the end of the book he also looks at death. In some ways however he is just angry – about a lot of things, including conservatives, Republicans and fat people. And he’s not such a big fan of Joe DiMaggio either.
Crystal is Jewish but doesn’t have a lot of faith that there is a real God. He writes that as they age, most people want to find comfort in God. Although he likes some aspects of Judaism — fairness, education, respect and kindness – he is unable to believe in a God that took his father at 15, or caused Vietnam, World War II and Hurricane Sandy (which destroyed his hometown of Long Beach, NY). Despite this, Crystal wants to reconnect to God. “I want something to hold on to because I want to believe there is something better, something after this.”
I listened to the audiobook version of the book, read by Crystal, which received a Grammy nomination in the Best Spoken Word Album category. The winners will be announced at the Grammy Award ceremony on January 26, 2014. Portions of the audiobook were narrated in front of a live audience at the Cantor Film Center at NYU, his alma mater, with the proceeds going towards a scholarship named after his late mother. The live and recorded portions of the program are integrated using music that was composed specially for this production by Freddy Khaw, who was selected for this project by Crystal.
I have long been a fan of Ashley Cleveland’s music. When I first saw her at the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, she immediately reminded me of Bonnie Raitt. I have all of her albums and have seen her in concert several times over the years, including a few times locally at the Jesus House in Bloomington, Illinois.
Ashley has quite a story to tell and she does it in a very transparent manner. Her writing style is as effective as her songwriting is. She writes that her parents divorced early and her father, though he never admitted it to Ashley until late in his life, was gay. After he died, Ashley was surprised (and thrilled) to hear that he had professed faith in Christ. Her mother was an alcoholic who remarried, but now is recovering through Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the years, Ashley shuffled between her parents, her Mom in California and her Dad in Tennessee.
Ashley fell into alcohol and drug addiction and was promiscuous, getting pregnant and becoming the young mother of Rebecca. She tells her story of faith, addiction (drugs, alcohol and food), and a longing for love in this book. She tells us of her active involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous, her marriage to guitarist Kenny Greenberg and their two children together Henry and Lilly. She is now a runner, running sixteen to twenty miles a week, and loves dogs. She volunteers at a homeless ministry called God Almighty.
She has now released nine albums and won three Grammy Awards. She writes: “I operate off the radar most of the time, in both the Christian and mainstream marketplaces, but I belong to neither and am largely unknown as an artist”.
And that is a tragedy my friends.
Ashley ends the book with: “I am ever reminded that I am the little black sheep who was rescued by the One who is the Shepherd and the Lamb of God; the Redeemer who lived in human frailty and easily inhabits mine. To live is Christ; to love is Christ. Christ is all and in all.”
Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada, with Larry Libby. Zondervan. 2013
Joni Eareckson Tada is the well-known and loved author, speaker, artist and founder of Joni and Friends, an international ministry to the disabled. After a diving accident when she was a teenager, Joni became a quadriplegic. There are not many people in this world that I admire more than Joni. I have seen her speak twice – once many years ago at ISU’s Braden Auditorium when her message was “Trust and Obey”, and once at Ligonier Ministries National Conference.
This book is about her marriage with Ken Tada. At the end of the book Joni writes that it is really Ken’s story, and I don’t disagree with that. It is a very honest look at a marriage that has not been easy and at times has gone through difficult times. It is written in the third person with Larry Libby’s assistance. One slight criticism is that the continual use of flashbacks in the book disrupted the flow of the book. This did make the reading at times confusing, even though the authors clearly stated the date for each event in the section header.
Ken and Joni met at Grace Community Church in California, where John MacArthur was and still is the senior pastor. Ken was a high school teacher and football coach. Joni was already well-known in evangelical circles through her books. They were married in 1982 by MacArthur and Joni’s longtime friend Steve Estes, who helped officiate the ceremony.
Joni’s life has been one of suffering. In addition to her paralysis, she has suffered intense chronic pain, breast cancer, a radical mastectomy, radiation and pneumonia, which she nearly died from. The fact that she has continued to minister through all of this is truly amazing.
The book tells of how their marriage changed over time, with each of them almost co-existing in the same home, Ken withdrawing into grading papers and fishing on the weekends, and Joni immersed into her many ministry responsibilities.
We learn that Ken never measured up to his father’s high expectations, even though he became a successful high school teacher and coach. For much of their marriage he served in the background of Joni’s ministries.
John Eldredge and his book Wild at Heart have had a significant impact on Ken’s life. Ken read that Eldredge said that every man had an adventure to live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to rescue. We read that Ken got a message from God that “Joni is the most precious gift I have given to you. Take care of her.” Ken’s love for Joni grew deeper from that point on. It allowed him to really be there for Joni when she was diagnosed with cancer.
The authors state: “The change was obvious to everyone, and especially to Joni. And cancer or no cancer, she thought it was one of the best things that had happened in their almost thirty years of marriage. Joni had always felt loved. But now she felt treasured. Cherished. Even beautiful.”
The authors write that if there were any lessons to be learned from the years of pain and now cancer; if there were any insights to be gleaned, it was this: suffering had been — and would continue to be — the thing God would use in their lives to draw them closer to Jesus. And it resulted in Joni and Ken falling in love all over again.
Joni, in a short section at the end of the book offers the following:
“If I were sitting next to you this very moment … wherever you are … I know what I would say to you. I would say, “Oh, please pray for your partner.” Hands down, it beats any how-to marriage manual or nationally renowned couples’ conference. Pray that your husband or your wife will eventually join you in prayer.
It’s why this book was written. For many people, maybe most people, I think all of our lives are spent looking for and wanting to go home. But what if it were as close as the hand of your spouse? That would make for a contented and complete marriage.”
Although at times a difficult book to read, I recommend this for all married couples and also though who are disabled or suffer from chronic pain.