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Tim Challies

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biography

3 years 7 months ago

Albert Pujols is a phenom. 10 years into his career he has already broken the 400 mark in homers, he has driven in more than 1200 runs and has maintained a batting average of .331. The closest player comparisons to him are men who inhabit the baseball pantheon—Frank Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Ken Griffey. But there’s more to Pujols than his dominance of the game of baseball. He is also a committed Christian who seeks to submit all that he does to the Lord. Pujols happens to be the subject of Pujols: More Than The Game, a new biography written by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth.

A baseball player’s career on the field is easily tracked by numbers. Statisticians have found innumerable ways of measuring and dissecting every component of the game, from the plate to the field to the base paths and everything in between. A man’s entire career can be distilled to a handful of numbers—a few lifetime statistics followed by a number that represents his career earnings. And then he retires and gets old and is forgotten, replaced by the new young superstars. What cannot be easily measured is his impact on those around him—his family, his teammates, his fans. What is special about Pujols is his desire to be an example not just in his statistics but in his life and his legacy. He is seeking to build a legacy not just of phenomenal numbers, but of gospel impact.

Born in poverty in the Dominican Republic, Pujols immigrated to the United States at 16 and immediately began to dominate the game of baseball, first in high school and then in college. Drafted by St. Louis, he spent just one year in the minor leagues before graduating to the big show where he quickly won Rookie of the Year honors (batting .329, hitting 37 homers and knocking in 130 runs; amazingly, that was to prove his weakest season). And he was just getting started. He has played for the All Star team in 9 of his 10 seasons, has won a World Series and has taken home MVP honors 3 times. And heading into his eleventh season he is only 31—just getting warmed up.

But there is far more to Pujols than baseball. He says, “In the Pujols family, God is first. Everything else is a distant second.” And he seeks to bear that out. He is known for continually seeking to point others to Christ, including the guys who end up standing beside him on first base, many of whom have heard him ask, “If you were to die tonight, where do you think you would go?” He is firmly committed to his wife, Deidre, and to their four children. He heads up the Pujols Family Foundation which seeks to “promote awareness, provide hope and meet tangible needs for families and children who live with Down syndrome.”

However, while Lamb and Ellsworth provide many examples of Pujols saying things like “I do everything to glorify God,” they do not offer a lot of fascinating examples of him doing that. But I think that’s okay, because at the end of the day Albert Pujols isn’t a whole lot different than you or me. He can hit a baseball like few other men and he gets paid vast amounts of money to do so. But at the end of it all, he leads a pretty normal life and does pretty normal things in it. I don’t find his life a whole lot more inspiring than the life of any other brother or sister in Christ. His career and fame have brought him a few unique opportunities, but the scale of his response does not seem to be above and beyond (which is to say that 10% of a $100-million contract is still just 10%—no more than the Lord requires). In that way he does not strike me as a true sports hero in the vein of an Eric Liddell. He’s a normal guy who has an extraordinary talent in a game that offers an unbelievable amount of money and fame.

It must be noted that this biography comes early in Pujols’ life and career. Though he has already established himself as a superstar and as one of the all-time greats in the game, he is only 31 years old and should have another 8 or 9 years of production left in him, including what may be some of this best seasons. And even then he will be only 40 years old with a lot of living left to do. That makes this a very different biography from, for example, James Hirsch’s excellent biography of Willie Mays. And it makes it very different from Andre Agassi’s Open, an autobiography that offers a career retrospective—to draw comparisons to a couple of recent bestsellers in the same genre.

This book is a wee bit formulaic (many of the chapters follow a very similar pattern, mostly notably those that lead the reader through a season of baseball) and it is occasionally a bit melodramatic (“But for the man at the plate wearing jersey number 5, the ‘perfect opportunity’ pitch was the delivery he looked for, the delivery he knew would come. Only then would he swing his maple bat in an arc of geometric beauty and poetic power.”). But it’s well-written and, for this baseball enthusiast, an interesting read.

Pujols is a baseball player and a Christian. This biography is likely to appeal largely to those who love Christ and (not or) those who love baseball. Being a fan of Pujols or the Cardinals will make it even more enjoyable. The season-by-season descriptions of Pujols’ feats are interesting to baseball fans, but will not play so well with those who who have no love for the game.

More Than the Game stands as an interesting description of the first couple of acts from the life of Albert Pujols. I’ll look forward to seeing how this story progresses in the years and decades to come.

3 years 8 months ago
There can be a very fine line between genius and insanity. Such was the case with Bobby Fischer—perhaps the greatest chess master to ever play the game, but a man who seemed to live his life teetering on the brink of insanity. Fischer is the subject of Endgame, a compassionate but honest new biography written by Frank Brady. It offers an insightful look into the life of a strange, tortured individual whose intellect was matched only by his pride.

Bobby Fischer grew up fatherless, raised by a caring but doting mother, one who was convinced of his brilliance but unequipped to deal with him on her own. Fischer was an obsessive child who, from a very young age, was drawn to puzzle games. He viewed the game of chess as the ultimate puzzle—one that could not be solved, but one that could be mastered. And he sought to master it, dedicating almost every waking hour, year after year, to honing his skills. Even as a teenager he made his mark on the chess world, steadily rising through the ranks and eventually rising to the pinnacle as the World Chess Champion.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Fischer, apart from his brilliance, is his ego—an ego that seemed to know no bounds. He was remarkably self-assured and utterly convinced that he was the most brilliant chess player in history. All honor, all adoration, all acclaim belonged to him alone. He would demand recognition and demand honor. When he felt he had been slighted in any way he would respond with fury and outrage. He would turn down tens of millions of dollars if accepting the money would in any way prove a blow to his pride.

As it turns out, that kind of outrage soon consumed his life. He spent decades lost in a morass of self-pity and fury. He frittered away money he had won, eventually ending up homeless and wandering through Skid Row. He returned to fame for a widely-celebrated match in the early 90’s but that match only deepened a growing paranoia as he came to believe that the Soviets were after him, that the United States government was out to get him, that he would be assassinated by someone. He steadily lost his grip on reality.

Fischer’s wavering faith proves an interesting study. During his life Fischer was drawn first to Judaism, then to the Worldwide Church of God and finally to Roman Catholicism. He died without faith and without hope. He died an angry, embittered man who had turned against those who loved him most. He took and rarely gave, he was the center of his existence, his own god. By the end of his life he was firmly antisemitic despite his Jewish ancestry and adamantly anti-American despite being American. He cheered every disaster on 9/11 and called for the eradication of American Jews. He died in Iceland, an adopted home, the only country that would take him in. He died with few friends—friends he had wronged constantly but who, for some reason, remained strangely loyal to him.

Endgame is a fascinating character study. The Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death. And Fischer’s life is marked by death—by the due consequence of his sin. There can be a fine line between brilliance and insanity. Fischer proves that the two are not mutually exclusive.

3 years 8 months ago
A.W. Tozer is a man whose ministry has long fascinated me. A man who held closely to biblical, Protestant theology, he was also a man who loved the old Catholic mystics. He had little formal education, yet had the ability to hold the most educated of men and women at rapt attention. He had a single-minded devotion to Christ and the highest respect for the Scriptures. Reading A Passion for God has only increased my fascination with him, for here we see more strange and seemingly irreconcilable opposites. Biographer Lyle Dorsett has written a study of the man that deals as honestly with his faults as with the areas that are laudable. And in this case the faults are almost shocking.

Tozer was a man who loved Scripture and loved nothing more than preaching its truths to all who would listen. “A.W. Tozer heralded biblical truth. He loved the Bible and unflinchingly preached what he believed people needed to hear, regardless of what they wanted.” Yet he was a man who neglected the mission field in his home. “On and off over the years, Aiden exercised his role as head of the family by encouraging times of family devotions. These never lasted more than a few weeks. As one son explained, the children just did not want it and they were seldom all together for extended periods in any case.”

Tozer was a man who dedicated himself to reading, study and prayer and who delighted to be in the presence of God. “There is no way to measure the hours he spent in a typical day or week reading books and wrestling with ideas, but it was substantial. In a similar vein, we know that he increasingly devoted many hours each week praying, meditating on Scripture, and seeking deeper intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. During the 1930s Tozer read voraciously, and he also developed a magnificent obsession to be in Christ’s presence—just to worship Him and to be with Him.” Yet he was a man who was emotionally and spiritually distant from his own wife. “By early 1928 the Tozers had a routine. Aiden found his fulfillment in reading, preparing sermons, preaching, and weaving travel into his demanding and exciting schedule, while Ada learned to cope. She dutifully washed, ironed, cooked, and cared for the little ones, and developed the art of shoving her pain deep down inside. Most of the time she pretended there was no hurt, but when it erupted, she usually blamed herself for not being godly enough to conquer her longing for intimacy from an emotionally aloof husband.”

These strange inconsistencies abound. Tozer saw his wife’s gifts for hospitality and encouraged her in them; yet he disliked having visitors in his own home. He preached about the necessity of Christian fellowship within the family of Christ; yet he refused to allow his family or his wife’s family to visit their home. For every laudable area of his life there seemed to exist an equal and opposite error. This study in opposites leaves for a fascinating picture of a man who was used so greatly by God, even while his life had such obvious sin.

Though certainly not an exhaustive biography (weighing in at just 164 pages before the indexes and appendices) A Passion for God is nevertheless a good and valuable one. Those who have enjoyed Tozer’s writings will find here the life of a man who can and should be much admired for his deep spirituality and for his overwhelming love for Scripture. They will find here also the sad reality that Tozer, as have so many men before and after him, was willing to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry. They will wrestle with the great irony that as Tozer grew closer to his Savior he seemed to grow more and more distant from his wife and family. His life stands as both an inspiration and a solemn warning.

3 years 8 months ago
Of all the made-for-TV celebrities, I’m not sure that there are many stranger than Duane “Dog” Chapman. He’s a study in opposites: a tough guy who cries, a foul-mouthed dude who quotes Scripture, a family man who has had twelve children by at least five wives. His show, Dog the Bounty Hunter, has developed a strong following, making Chapman a rather unlikely and unusual celebrity.

In 2007 Chapman released his memoir, You Can Run But You Can’t Hide, a book that shot straight onto the New York Times list of bestsellers and sent him on a nationwide book tour. That this book would end up on the bestseller list is culturally significant. Just two years later he released Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given, a second memoir. That seems odd unless you know what has been going on in Dog’s world.

In 2006 Dog was arrested by U.S. Marshalls and very nearly deported to Mexico to face some old kidnapping charges. Near the end of 2007, just as that situation was being resolved in his favor, his son released to the National Enquirer a tape in which Chapman repeatedly used the word “nigger.” The outcry was deafening and resulted in the immediate suspension of production of Dog the Bounty Hunter. Chapman made all of the right apologies and even went on a kind of Apology Tour. After it all, when his penance was complete, the show resumed production and continues in production today. Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given is based around these two episodes. It covers each of them in some detail with occasional intermissions to discuss hunting down a particularly noteworthy criminal. It is, then, an update to the last book and one that gives an adoring audience a further glimpse into the life of their hero.

If you’ve ever seen Dog the Bounty Hunter you’ve undoubtedly noticed that Dog considers himself a Christian, always pausing to pray before a big hunt and often rebuking criminals with words from the Bible. That faith factors significantly in this book. It is full of phrases like this, supposed explanations from Scripture that come with not a shred of understanding of the text’s true meaning: “In the Bible, there’s a verse in Hebrews that says ‘God will give you the shaking that comes on your spirit when things are not right internally.’” Of course in that case I can’t even imagine what text he is referring to. I’ve read and studied Hebrews and I’m quite confident stating that such a verse does not exist, especially when this is the way it manifests itself in a life: “For the first time in years, I was able to catch my breath because I felt I no longer had to worry about my lawyers. In finally felt that I had three lawyers working for me, and that was a good feeling–really good.” In aftermath of the “n-word” controversy Dog says this: “The Bible says ‘the unsaved watch us all the time.’ They’re judging everything we say, do, and whether or not we will live up to the standards they’ve set for us. I have tried to live by my convictions, my morals and values. If you are willing to sacrifice yourself for what you believe in, God will be there, and so I finally had my answer and knew what I had to do.”

This strange brand of mysticism mixed with Christianity pervades the book. He claims to often hear from God, directly and verbally, receiving instructions on what to do, what to say, how to act and react. When he is not quoting (or misquoting) the Bible, Chapman is quoting his hero Tony Robbins. Somehow he misses the contradictory messages of Robbins’ New Age, self-help mysticism and the Bible’s message of faith alone. In this way Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given stands as an example of the kind of spirituality that so often passes for Christianity. It is a buffet line kind of faith, one that takes a little bit of this, adds a dash of that, and combines them all into a strangely muddled whole that may seem satisfying but which has no internal cohesion. It is ultimately a religion that places self in the center and moves God to the periphery. How could it be otherwise when we ourselves stand as the arbiters of what is true and what is not? There is no external standard to look to, no outside authority. Dog has tried to live by his convictions, his morals and his values. But how are we to know whether these are also God’s convictions, morals and values?

One quick aside. When Chapman discusses the fallout from his use of the “n-word” he talks about the role of the smarmy Hollywood spin doctors. There he reveals an interesting fact: that as soon as the news broke, he was told to head to rehab. Never mind that he needed no rehab (exactly what kind of rehab would help in this situation?). When a celebrity makes a major gaffe or is caught in a particularly egregious sin (think Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, etc) the first thing they do is head to rehab. Chapman reveals that this is usually not because they seriously believe they need any rehab but, rather, because the public is then quick to forgive them. As soon as we see that there is a therapeutic answer to their problem we assume that there is also a therapeutic reason for it. And then we are quick to forgive and forget and that celebrity can exit rehab and move on with his life. After all, it’s not really his fault. It’s all a big scam. I think we already know this, but it is interesting to hear it from the mouth of just that kind of celebrity (and, to his credit, one who refused to play that particular game).

Dog is fantastically entertaining; there is no doubt about that. There is something comical about watching him bash down doors with nothing but a can of mace in his hand; something funny about him treasuring his bounty hunter badge as if it is a sign of any true authority; something bizarre about the whole nature of his business in which he bails people out and then makes himself rich and famous by capturing them again. As we Canadians are so fond of saying, “Only in America…”

4 years 4 months ago
“I look back upon him with awe, as on the saints and martyrs of old. A holy man, in spite of all his delusions and errors. He is now with his God and Saviour, whom he wronged so much, yet, I am persuaded, loved so sincerely.” So said Robert Murray McCheyne of Edward Irving. And in those words McCheyne aptly summarizes the legacy of Irving, a man of unusual ability, a man who by so many appearances genuinely loved the Lord. And yet he was a man who had some very strange and dangerous beliefs and a man who was fascinated with spectacular manifestations of spiritual gifts. He was the forerunner of the contemporary charismatic movement.

Born in 1792, Edward Irving was a Scottish preacher, a man who had inherited the legacy of a deeply theological faith. Licensed to preach in the Presbyterian churches, he quickly became noted as a speaker and preacher for his intellectual and eloquent sermons. But he was also known as a kind and attentive pastor who found great joy in visiting the homes of the people in his care. He loved these people deeply and was committed to them. He was at times shockingly arrogant and at other times deeply humble.

In 1822, after several years of ministry in Scotland, Irving was invited to take the pastorate at Caledonian Church in London. His eloquent speech was soon noticed by many of the London elite and Irving’s star rose quickly until his church was one of the most popular in the city. In these years Irving became interested in, and then obsessed with, prophecy and the charismatic gifts. And it was not long before these emphases dominated his ministry and dominated his church. Services became a cacophony of tongues, of prophecy, of elements that began to overtake the preaching of the Word.

As Irving’s church grew, it became increasingly dominated by the mysterious, the charismatic, the manifestation of God’s special gifts. In 1832 his church moved to a grand new building and in 1833 he was deposed from the ministry by the Church of Scotland, having been found guilty of the charge of heresy for believing that Christ was in some way less than perfectly sinless. Irving’s remaining two years were painful ones as friends began to doubt the validity of all of the manifestations of the Spirit and as the prophets Irving had raised up took over his church and demanded the place of superiority. Burned out and disheartened, Irving died in the closing days of 1834, still quite a young man.

These few words of biography hardly do justice to the man and to his impact both short-term and long-term. Arnold Dallimore’s Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement: The Life of Edward Irving does a far better job. Dallimore describes the man in all his highs and lows, in all his strengths and weaknesses. I found it a particularly helpful book in that most of the biographies I read are of “good guys” or “bad guys.” Most of them are black or white, easy to understand. But when it comes to Irving there are such strange goods and bads that I hardly know how or if to categorize the man. His spiritual strengths shine through and I was left with a picture of a man who genuinely loved the Lord. And yet he had some horrible blind spots, some aspects of his ministry that were terribly unbiblical. This biography, more than any other I’ve read, bends the mind and presents a figure who was at times brilliant and at times hopeless.

But in the end I had to conclude, along with Dallimore (and McCheyne) that Irving did love the Lord. Though he was so often wrong, he was sincerely wrong. His life offers lessons that we can continue to learn from today—the danger of accepting sources of authority outside the Bible, the dangers of creating a kind of two-tier faith in which some have further gifts while others do not, and the dangers of seeing all sickness as a mark of sin rather than a result of sinfulness. All three of these mark the charismatic movement today to various degrees.

Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement differs substantially from Dallimore’s other biographies (Spurgeon, Whitefield, etc) in that it deals with a figure who is as notable for his weaknesses as his strengths. And yet it retains what makes Dallimore’s biographies so good: it offers a clear picture of the subject, explains the impact of his life and offers lessons we ought to learn from it. I highly recommend that you read it.

4 years 4 months ago
Now that I pause to think about it, I don’t know that I’ve ever blogged about the always-contentious issue of the consumption of alcohol. If you must know, I don’t touch the stuff but that is more out of preference than conviction. I just can’t stand the taste of alcohol in general and beer in particular. But I have no moral qualms with those who drink in moderation and am actually quite pleased to see a general drift in that direction amongst evangelical Christians. It is a sign of the times, I think, that a Christian publisher would print a book about beer.

In The Search for God and Guinness author Stephen Mansfield offers “A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World.” If there is hyperbole in that subtitle, it is only slightly so. One of the world’s most successful brands of beer for almost 250 years now, Guinness has a long and dignified history as both a product and as a company. Today more than 10 million pints are consumed every day. What many people do not know is that the company has long been a force for social good and that the Guinness name has created a long line of faithful men who have served the Lord even while brewing their beer.

This biography is told from the perspective of an author who is searching for the history of a company and seeking to learn about the men who have led it. He quite often turns to the first person perspective and includes photographs of himself in various significant locations. It is, then, something of an informal biography if, indeed, it can be considered a biography at all. Given the subject matter, such a casual format works quite well.

Of all the Guinness’s Mansfield introduces in this book, it was Henry Grattan Guinness that I most enjoyed reading about. He was a grandson of Arthur Guinness, the man who founded the original brewery (and, if I have my facts straight, great-grandfather of author Os Guinness). Henry was a preacher and one of the foremost evangelists of the awakenings and revivals that occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century. His name was often mentioned alongside the likes of Moody and Spurgeon. He knew Hudson Taylor and even offered to serve with him in China before eventually founding the East London Missionary Training Institute which trained and sent missionaries overseas. He was, by all accounts, a godly man and one the Lord used greatly in his service. He is a man I would love to know more about.

Many of the other Guinness family members are likewise interesting for one reason or another. Some were politicians, some were philanthropists, many remained in the family business, growing it into a worldwide phenomenon. Arthur Guinness, the founder of the company, began the very first Sunday schools in Ireland and championed social causes such as a ban on dueling. Henry Guinness wrote a book predicting not only the end of Ottoman control of Jerusalem in 1917 but also the restoration of Israel in 1948. They were and remain, from top to bottom, a fascinating and exceptional family.

So I suppose the beer, the product for which the family has gained notoriety, is only a small part of the story. The brand continues to grow and continues to thrive; it continues to be a favorite beverage for millions. And yet, when all is said and done, there are other contributions by the Guinness family that seem sure to last far longer than the beer.

Let me be honest and say that this is not the best “biography” you are likely to read this year. While largely well-written, it still offers quite a cursory look at many different people, providing more of a snapshot of the Guinness family than a serious evaluation of any one of them or of the product they created. Nevertheless, what it does, it does quite well. It’s certainly an enjoyable read, even if not a life-changing one. Why not grab a copy this summer and enjoy it out in the sun, with or without a Guinness in-hand.

4 years 4 months ago
It was several years ago now that I began meeting regularly with a few Christian guys who live in this area. We would read through good books and then get together once a week to discuss them. Every Friday morning at 6(!) AM, we would meet in a local coffee shop and spend time dissecting and digesting classic books. It was in this effort, in this precursor to Reading Classics Together, that I first encountered Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship was the second book we read together, moving through it week by week, chapter by chapter. Like so many people before and since, I was introduced to the man by what most people consider his greatest work.

Bonhoeffer is the subject of an extensive new biography by Eric Metaxas who is probably best-known for his biography of William Wilberforce (read my review) which was the official biography that accompanied the 2006 film by the same name. Interestingly, this is one of two lengthy biographies of Bonhoeffer to be published this year (the other, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen is due to hit store shelves in a couple of weeks). Metaxas sets the bar high with his Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy. While it may not be one of the top three or four biographies you will ever read, it is nevertheless a very solid effort and with much to commend it. It’s entirely possible that if I went ahead and ranked my ten favorite biographies this would be somewhere on that list.

I find Bonhoeffer a fascinating figure. There may be some bias toward him because of my fascination with the period of history in which he lived and, even more so, the period of history in which he died. Though he had quite a lengthy ministry before the outbreak of the Second World War, it was during that great conflict that he came into his own, that he made his mark on history. It was during the war that he showed that he was willing to endure hardship and even death for the sake of what he believed. While I am not quite sure that he qualifies for the label of “martyr” (since he was killed more for his political decisions than for his religious beliefs, though I’ll grant that his faith informed his politics) he was still an inspiring figure who preached the gospel fearlessly and unashamedly even in his nation’s darkest hour.

There are a few things about Bonhoeffer that stood out to me as I read this account of his life.

I was struck that, though Bonhoeffer’s theology was sometimes a little bit suspect, and at times slightly exaggerated, it seems clear that he was the right man at the right time. Metaxas does a very good job of explaining the cultural and religious context in which Bonhoeffer grew up and in which he ministered. With such a background it was almost inevitable that some of his beliefs would seem strange to us; and yet it’s difficult to see how he could have arrived at any other beliefs. He was a product of his time, of his culture, of his church. There are some who can see only what Bonhoeffer got wrong, but such people are not being fair to all of this context. From all I could see in this book, Bonhoeffer knew and treasured the gospel. And what’s more, he shared it unapologetically at a time when to do so was to put oneself at odds with the nation, its church and its government.

I saw as well how seriously Bonhoeffer took life, how he was radically sold out to his Savior. He loved the Lord deeply and honored him in all of life. Like so many great Christians, he was fully committed to honoring God in a holistic way. He had a deeply personal faith, one that led him to commit to extensive periods of personal Bible study, meditation and prayer. But he also had a public faith, one that delighted in and was committed to Christian community. I cannot think of many great Christians who have not been wholehearted in their devotion.

And I saw what a pastor’s heart Bonhoeffer had. Even in his last days he was acting as a pastor, teaching others and preaching the gospel. In his last moments, when he could do nothing else, he preached the gospel through his silent submission to the Father’s will, going to the gallows without struggle and without bitterness. He knew that he was going to be with the Lord and that is exactly where he wanted to be. As he left his friends, taken away by the Gestapo he said to them, “This is the end. For me the beginning of life.”

The only real negatives I would offer about this life of Bonhoeffer (and even then with some hesitation) are these: that author sometimes uses colloquial expressions that seem oddly out of place in a formal biography; and that the author occasionally relies on extensive quotations where it seems that a summary quote might suffice better. At the same time, and in his defense, this is not a biography where the reader is forced to learn about the subject only or primarily through those long quotes. Bonhoeffer’s books and letters figure prominently, of course, but they do not form the substance of the book. And it’s better this way, I’m sure.

I’ve often said that there are two kinds of biographies: those where you feel like you’ve learned about the subject and those where you feel like you’ve actually met the subject. It is the latter that are the great biographies and Bonhoeffer is among that number. As you finish this biography you will know the events of Bonhoeffer’s life; but even better, you’ll feel like you’ve come face-to-face with the man himself. That is the mark of a good biography and about the highest praise I think I can offer. This is truly a good biography and one you’ll benefit from reading. And I suggest you do just that; it may just be the best biography you read this year.

4 years 6 months ago
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can in no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.
Then while we live, in love lets so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

I have always loved that poem. It conveys such sweet and pure and simple love. In contrast to our day—a day when husbands and wives are encouraged to be assertive and scornful toward one another—it conveys a passion and intensity that is charming and endearing. Anne Bradstreet loved her husband and she was not afraid to tell the world.

Anne Bradstreet is the subject of Faith Cook’s latest biography. Cook has previously written about John Bunyan and Lady Jane Grey, among others, establishing herself as one of the foremost contemporary Christian biographers. And in Anne Bradstreet she does nothing to cast doubt upon such ascendency. This is a good and rather straightforward biography of the Pilgrim poet—America’s first notable poet and still one of her best. Born Anne Dudley in Northampton, England, Anne emigrated to the New World in 1630, but not before marrying Simon Bradstreet at the tender age of 16. She lived and died in Massachusetts, discovering her gift for verse and becoming successfully published along the way.

Bradstreet suffered greatly in life and yet she rejoiced in her Savior. Her poetry often discusses such themes, reflecting on living for the Lord’s glory in a life filled with pain. She loved dearly, thought freely, worshiped greatly and recorded it all through her poems. A biographical introduction like this one helps explain her poems and allows the reader to meet her, though centuries lie between. To read this book is to understand her poems better and to appreciate them all the more.

Several months ago I was asked to pen an endorsement for this short volume. And here is what I wrote: In this telling of the life of Anne Bradstreet, viewed primarily through the legacy of her poems, Faith Cook continues to prove herself one of today’s foremost Christian biographers. I highly recommend it.

4 years 7 months ago
From his earliest days, Mosab Hasson Yousef had a view of the inner workings of Hamas. The son of one its founders, from childhood he was immersed in the shadowy world of Middle Eastern terror and politics. Arrested time and again by the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal intelligence service, he eventually made the decision to become a double agent, working for Israel instead of against her. For ten years, from 1997 to 2007, he lived like this, deeply embedded within Hamas, suspected by no one, yet passing vast amounts of information to Israel. In this way he prevented assassinations, stopped suicide attacks and provided information leading to the arrests or killings of many terrorists. He was Shin Bet’s most valuable source of information about Hamas.

In 1999 he had a chance encounter with a British visitor who invited Yousef to learn about the Christian faith. Curious and intelligent, Yousef took this opportunity and was immediately struck by the difference between Jesus Christ and Mohammed, between the Christian faith and the Islam he had inherited from his fathers. In the months that followed he made a slow conversion to Christianity and was quietly baptized.

Eventually Yousef grew tired of his double life and convinced the Israelis to release him from his position with them. With some reluctence they agreed and allowed him to move to the United States where he continues to live today. Son of Hamas is the story of his life, “A gripping account of terror, betrayal, political intrigue, and unthinkable choices,” according to the rather verbose subtitle.

And it’s a good story that is told well. Yousef offers a uniquely interesting perspective on Hamas and on the political background and context in that area of the world. His story involves just enough action and intrigue to keep it interesting. At times it is almost (but not quite) unbelievable.

One thing I found interesting is that Youself reveals the Israelis not as the good guys but as the less-bad guys. He develops some level of respect for them when he sees that they are fighting for their lives against a host of nations bent on their destruction. But still he shows how they are every bit as willing as the surrounding nations to torture and kill to further their own ends. Their respect for life is not much greater than that of their enemies. So the Israelis really are not the good guys in this story.

And of course I enjoyed reading not just of Yousef’s conversion to Christianity but also the long process and the inner turmoil that got him there. It was only through much soul-searching that he was able to see Jesus Christ not just as a prophet but as the Son of God who died for the sin of the world. So often I read books like this and am disappointed to see that the author finds joy in everything but Christ. But here Yousef finds rest and joy and peace only when he submits his life to Christ.

Yousef does not want to be a hero to Christians. At the end of the book he admits his own unsuitability for that task. He is a new Christian and one who is unskilled—still a novice. And yet he is one who has now written a book about his conversion that has landed on the New York Times list of bestsellers. His testimony is powerful and I both hope and expect that God will use it to show others the light that can be theirs if they turn to Christ.

This one is well worth reading. Buy a copy and marvel at God’s grace. Marvel at how God will go to great lengths to draw his people to himself.

 

5 years 1 month ago
There are certain things I never get tired of hearing. I never get tired of hearing Tom Cheek’s call of Joe Carter’s home run—the one that won the Blue Jays the World Series in 1993 (“Touch ‘em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”). I never get tired of hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” performed by a world-class choir. I never get tired of hearing the laughter of little children (Okay, this is a lie, and especially so when I hear kids laughing and giggling with hyperactivity in that witching hour before dinner). And I never get tired of hearing testimonies of God’s grace in the salvation of his people.

Glory Road is a book of testimonies that describes the journeys of ten African-Americans into Reformed Christianity. Now let’s first make clear that a journey to the Christian faith and a journey to Reformed theology are not the same thing. Yet in order to come to the Reformed faith (which I, like the men in this book, believe to be the most biblical explanation and understanding of the truths of Scripture) one must be saved. And ten times and in ten ways this book describes a journey from darkness to light and then a journey into a deeper understanding of Christian truths. Ten men each describe a miraculous work of God’s grace. They are: Reddit Andrews, Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Bradley, Anthony Carter (who is the Editor of the volume), Ken Jones, Michael Leach, Lance Lewis, Louis C. Love Jr., Eric Redmond and Roger Skepple.

It struck me as just a bit of a surprise that, in the book’s opening pages, there is a dedication to R.C. Sproul (“To R.C. Sproul. When God inspired 1 Corinthians 15:58, we believe he had men like you in mind.”). But as I read these testimonies, time and time again it was Sproul’s name that appeared. Often the men would be saved and then, a year or two later, when searching for something more than the expression of the faith they were part of, they would find a book or radio program or video series featuring Dr. Sproul and in his teaching they would find a whole new faithfulness to Scripture. Their eyes would be opened to grand new vistas.

It was also interesting to observe how often and how prominently just a few names appear in these testimonies—names like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur and John Piper. These men are in many ways considered the “old guard” of the “new Calvinism” and in a book like this it becomes clear why that is. Long before Calvinism was the phenomenon it is today these men were holding firm to the Calvinist distinctives and teaching them to others. This book stands as a testament to their faithfulness and, more, to God’s faithfulness through them.

As I said earlier on, I never grow tired of hearing accounts of God’s work. And this book, drawing from a very clearly-defined demographic, describes ten such stories. It is a remarkable read because every story of such acts of grace is remarkable. Read this small book to be encouraged at God’s great grace.

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