Many have been looking for something to “do” during this time in which many of our black brothers and sisters are hurting and protesting about racial injustice. One thing that you can do to start with is to read good books, as well as watch good videos. Below are a few recommendations:
Just Mercy, rated PG-13
Just Mercy is a powerful and emotional film about the work of Bryan Stevenson, based on his book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”. (I would highly recommend the book. Here is my review).
The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), who also wrote the film with Andrew Lanham (The Glass Castle, The Shack), based on Stevenson’s book.
Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Black Panther, Fruitvale Station), portrays Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has just graduated from Harvard Law School. Rather than taking a position with a large law firm, which is what his mother would have wanted, he has a desire to help the poor. He moves to Alabama in 1988 to start the Equal Justice Initiative, where he works with local advocate Eva Ansley, played by Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room, Captain Marvel, The Glass Castle, Short Term 12) in a relatively small role. Stevenson visits the Holman State Prison in Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee, author of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He meets six men on death row, one of whom is Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral). He was convicted of murdering a young white woman, even though there were two dozen witnesses who indicate that they were with him, or saw him, during the time of the murder, and thus he could not have been the killer. But Walter was found guilty by a jury of 11 white men and one black man, based on the testimony of convicted criminal Ralph Myers, played by Tim Blake Nelson (O, Brother, Where Art Thou?). Stevenson is interested in helping McMillian, but Walter is suspicious of lawyers who take the money his family pays them and are never seen again. Stevenson will have to first of all, win over Walter as well as his family. Then, he will have to work through the systemic racism and corruption he encounters in law enforcement and the justice system in Monroe County.
In the prison cells on either side of Walter on Death Row are Anthony Ray Hinton, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) and Herbert Richardson, played by Rob Morgan (Mudbound). Note: Hinton has written an excellent book “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row”. Here is my review).
The film includes a significant amount of Christian content (prayer, a church scene, hymns). Themes in the film include injustice, racism, faith and faithfulness, corruption and mercy. Content concerns include some adult language, including language of a racist nature. The music in the film by Joel P. West (Short Term 12), is effective. The film features strong performances by Foxx and Jordan. The film moves along relatively slowly and is dialogue based, but that is not a criticism.
Just Mercy is a powerful film based on the true-life story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who specializes in defending people on Death Row. The film is emotional and at times heart breaking. This is an important film that you need to see.
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.
The Gospel According to God by John MacArthur. Crossway. 224 pages. 2018
This is respected pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur’s fourth book in his The Gospel According to series. This book looks primarily at Isaiah 53, which he tells us includes the whole story of salvation in prophesy. He states that this is the most remarkable chapter in the Old Testament. Augustine called it the “Fifth Gospel”, and Luther thought that every Christian should memorize Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.
The author tells us that Isaiah is the most quoted Old Testament prophet in the New Testament. His prophesies, written more than seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, were so accurate, that critics have claimed that multiple people had to have written the book.
There is a significant amount of doctrine included in Isaiah 53, including the penal, or substitutionary atonement of Jesus, the sovereign initiative of God and the justification of many. The author tells us that this is the doctrine of the Protestant Reformers, the Puritans and their heirs, but is challenged by some within the church today. For example, one writer has called the substitutionary atonement of Jesus “child abuse”.
The Ethiopian eunuch was reading from this chapter when Philip came upon him in Acts 8: 26-39. The chapter is a magnetic description of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. The author believes Isaiah 53 is the most important text in the Old Testament but tells us that many Jews are not familiar with it, as the passage is never read in their worship.
The author provides a brief overview of the entire book of Isaiah, the life, times and politics (kings) of Isaiah the prophet, a mysterious figure, and a detailed exposition of Isaiah 53. The book explains the prophetic words of Isaiah 53 verse by verse, highlighting connections to the history of Israel and to the New Testament.
This book is a wonderful, clear exposition of the prophesies of the suffering and glory of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Servant of God, who was slaughtered by God for us. A sermon of Charles Spurgeon “The Man of Sorrows” is included as an appendix.
The author has been a faithful expositor of God’s Word for fifty years. I highly recommend this book for not only believers, but also skeptics and those of the Jewish faith. The audiobook version is well-read by Bob Souer.
- Christian Audio Free Audiobook of the Month. This month’s free is an excellent one, Reset by David Murray.
- A Christian Case for Transgenderism? Andrew T. Walker writes “Unfortunately, Transforming isn’t a trustworthy guide to help the gender-confused individual understand their gender identity in relationship to the lordship of Christ. In fact, the book scuddles efforts at finding one’s true identity in Christ. Transforming, tragically, lies so far outside biblical Christianity that basic Christian truths and even the very words of Christ become unrecognizable.”
- 2018 Christian Book Award Finalists. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) named 58 finalists in eleven categories for their annual book awards. Nominees include books that I have read and recommend by John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, Burk Parsons, Andy Crouch, and Keith and Kristyn Getty.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
In this new book, step by step, phrase by phrase, Dr. Mohler explains what the words in The Lord’s Prayer mean and how we are to pray them.
Here’s the notes from Chapter 4: Your Kingdom Come
- The Lord’s Prayer is for revolutionaries, for men and women who want to see the kingdoms of this world give way to the kingdom of our Lord.
- What is the kingdom of God? That question is one of the oldest and most hotly contested theological issues in the Christian church.
- Among these attempts at explaining the kingdom of God, Augustine’s City of God has proven the most helpful and the most in line with the teachings of Scripture.
- They demonstrated that in Scripture the kingdom of God must be understood as something that is already here on earth but not yet fully present. In other words, the kingdom of God has been inaugurated but not yet consummated.
- In our current stage in redemptive history, therefore, God’s kingdom is made up of those who believe in Christ (God’s people) gathered in local churches across the world (God’s place) under the law of Christ and partaking of the new covenant (God’s rule and blessing).
- Thus, while we are indeed in God’s kingdom, we still await God’s kingdom in its fullness. We still await the completion of the Great Commission. We still await the coming of the king and the destruction of all wickedness. We long for the day when we will no longer be the church militant, but the church triumphant.
- God’s kingdom is essentially his reign over his people for their good and his glory. God’s reign is not just his absolute sovereignty; it is also a redemptive reign that transforms hearts and creates obedience.
- Jesus is clearly referring to God’s revealed will. He is asking the Father to reshape the hearts of every single person such that God is obeyed and glorified by men on earth as the angels obey and glorify God in heaven.
- Praying “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” also reorients our own sense of personal autonomy and sense of control over our own lives and situations. This petition causes us to forfeit all our personal claims of lordship and sovereignty over our lives. This petition expresses a humble resignation to and desire for the reign and rule of God. It is no longer “my will” that is preeminent, but his.
- One of the reasons we must pray for God to advance his kingdom is because we, in and of ourselves, cannot cause the kingdom to come.
- The rapid disappearance of cultural Christianity in our own time will mean that Christians may soon find themselves in a situation similar to that of the early church in Rome or the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. Praying for the coming of God’s kingdom will be considered culturally and politically subversive.
- So, what are we asking when we say “your kingdom come”? We are asking for something wonderful and something dangerous all at the same time.
- This is indeed a radical prayer. We must not take this petition lightly. But, as we have seen, this petition also carries great hope.
Here’s my favorite books that I’ve read this year, not all of which were actually published in 2017. I read and/or listened to more than 65 books this year in a variety of genres, from faith and work, biography, theology and sports. These are my favorite books of 2017. How about you? What were some of your favorites?
Top pick – Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. This book was suggested to me by Lecrae to help me understand his decision to “divorce white evangelicalism”. My wife Tammy and I read and discussed this powerful and well-written book.
Here are the rest of my favorite books (in no particular order):
- The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols
- From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership – Scott Sauls
- The Mythical Leader: The 7 Myths of Leadership – Ron Edmondson
- The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings – John MacArthur
- Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God – Courtney Reisigg
- Learning to Love the Psalms – Robert Godfrey
- Calling to Christ: Where’s My Place? – Robert Smart
- Discipleship with Monday in Mind: How Churches Across the Country Are Helping Their People Connect Faith and Work – Skye Jethani and Luke Bobo
- Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story – Steven Curtis Chapman
- Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture – Mark Miller
- Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work – Bill Peel and Walt Larimore
- Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear – Scott Sauls
- Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture – David Murray
- Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
See what I’m reading now.
Author of the Year – Scott Sauls. Scott is my author of the year for his two books Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear and From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership. I also enjoy reading his blog, which you can read here.
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading