Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


7 years 2 months ago
We Will Care for Any Baby
“Last weekend an Atlanta pastor made a promise that stunned his congregation and most of the people who heard it. In a speech that discussed abortion, the President, and the sanctity of life, the most provocative statement from Pastor Vic Pentz of Peachtree Presbyterian Church came towards sermon’s end: ‘I make a promise to you now and I don’t want you to keep this a secret,’ the pastor pronounced, ‘the Peachtree Presbyterian Church will care for any newborn baby you bring to this church…’”
I Refuse To Be Bored
Jollyblogger on Ben Franklin and boredom: “The experience of ‘boredom’ says far more about the one claiming to be bored than about the speaker, the event or whatever the alleged cause of the boredom. ”
Pray the Bible
Be sure to take a look at this new site. “The aim of the online publication of this ‘old-made-new’ monograph is to assist and encourage modern Christians in both public and private prayer.”
JC is not PC
John MacArthur is a guest voice in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column. “Let’s be brutally honest: most of Jesus’ teaching is completely out of sync with the mores that dominate our culture.”
Office Hours: A Podcast
Office Hours is a new podcast that comes courtesy of Westminster Seminary in California. “Season I of Office Hours introduces you to the faculty of WSC through personal, 30-minute interviews, discussing biblical and exegetical questions, historical and theological questions, pastoral matters, and Christian living. ”
Redeemer Seeks New President
Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, is seeking a new President. Information at the link for those interested.
Deal of the Day: Banner of Truth Sale
For a limited time, Monergism has reduced the prices on all of their Banner of Truth titles to the lowest you’ll find anywhere online.
7 years 9 months ago

In 2006, Reformation Trust published Steven Lawson’s Foundations of Grace, the first volume in a promising series titled “A Long Line of Godly Men.” Though the original publication schedule called for a new book every year or two, the second volume, Pillars of Grace has been repeatedly pushed back and is now listed as a November 2009 release. However, while we’ve been awaiting that title, we’ve been treated to two volumes in a companion series called “A Long Line of Godly Men Profiles.” The first of these told of The Expository Genius of John Calvin while future releases promise to focus a spotlight on an aspect of the ministries of Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and other notable pastors and theologians. The most recent volume, the second in the series, looks to the “Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards.” These short biographical sketches look to only one aspect of what made the subject so great in his time and so mightily used by God.

“Considered the towering figure in American Colonial church history—arguably the greatest pastor, preacher, philosopher, theologian and author America has ever produced—Edwards lived with an enlarged desire to experience personal godliness. In this pursuit, he became a model of discipline worth of our emulation.” As a young man and a recent convert to the faith, Edwards drafted a list of seventy resolution, purpose statements that he carried with him throughout his life. These statements and his stubborn desire to keep them, shaped his life. “Here is the key,” says Lawson, “to his spiritual growth—Edwards disciplined himself for the purpose of godliness. He understood that growth in holiness is not a one-time act, but a lifelong pursuit, one that requires a daily determination to live according to the truths taught in Scripture. In accordance with his ‘Resolutions,’ Edwards consecrated himself in all things in order to glorify God and gain the incorruptible crown.”

Because those Resolutions so shaped Edwards’ life, Lawson uses them to structure this book. After a brief biographical sketch of Edwards, he introduces the Resolutions, grouping them under six main headings: Pursuing the Glory of God, Forsaking Sin, Making Proper Use of God-Allotted Time, Living with All His Being for the World, Pursuing Humility and Love and Making Frequent Self-Examination. As the book progresses, each of these headings becomes a chapter and in each chapter, Lawson discusses a few of the associated Resolutions. As he looks to Edwards’ life and legacy, he shows that Edwards is one of those men who belongs not just to his age, but to all time. “Edwards possessed a rare combination of Reformed theology, extraordinary giftedness, and fervent piety. However, it was this latter virtue—his true spirituality, marked by a fixed resolve—that positioned him to be used so mightily by God. Few have equaled his relentless pursuit of personal holiness. Edwards’ godliness fitted him to be the mighty instrument in the hand of God that he was.”

In the opening pages of The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, Lawson writes “The ultimate goal of this book is to challenge a new generation of believers to pursue holiness in their daily lives. My aim is to fix our sights on how we must be disciplined in this pursuit.” He achieves that goal well. Though short, this book offers a valuable survey of Edwards’ thought. The reader learns that what set Edwards apart was not necessarily an enlarged intellect or an abnormal family heritage, but rather an enlarged desire to submit his life to his Savior. This was his motivation and this was his joy: to bring glory to God.

Though we hardly suffer from a shortcoming of biographies of Edwards, this one finds a niche and fills it well. It would not be out-of-place in any collection.

Buy it at Monergism BooksBuy at Monergism Books

Related: A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards | Jonathan Edwards: A Life

7 years 10 months ago

It’s probably not a good idea for a drug addict to work as a pharmacist. Actually, I’d say it’s definitely not a good idea for a drug addict to work as a pharmacist. And yet, in 1996, when Jared Combs graduated from school and became a licensed pharmacist, he was heavily addicted to all kinds of drugs—any kind of drug, really.

As is so often the case, Combs had to be brought low—very low—before he could see any substantial change and healing. In his case, Combs had to spend time in prison for stealing and consuming drugs. He was twice arrested and twice fired from jobs he loved. And yet today he is a testimony to grace. He has been sober for several years and once more practices pharmacy, this time at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. He is the father of three young children and is a committed husband. The strangely-titled Incomprehensible Demoralization is Jared Combs’ story of addiction and recovery. It is a story of one man’s transformation from a hopeless alcoholic and drug addict on the fast-track to a lifetime behind bars to a sober, church-attending family man.

Incomprehensible Demoralization is a self-published work but one that is quite well-done, at least as far as self-published works go (I’ve long since learned to lower my expectations for such books). Though it definitely could have benefited at times from an editor’s pen, it remains readable and well-written. Combs does a good job of sharing the trials and cravings of an addict. He shows well what it is like to be willing to do anything or give anything for one more fix. He shows that not even a clean-cut person working a good job is exempt from this kind of temptation.

The difficulty in writing a book of this nature is properly balancing the “before” and the “after.” In some ways, a person’s life as an addict is more interesting to the reader than his life after addiction. And this is, sadly, the undoing of Incomprehensible Demoralization. Though I truly did want to be able to recommend this book, I do not feel that I can do so in good conscience. I base this on several concerns. First, where Combs gives goes into great detail about his life as a drug addict, he gives far less attention to life in recovery. He describes sin far more than he describes grace. Second, and of greater concern, is the fact that the gospel is almost entirely absent from this account. While Combs ascribes his victory over drugs and alcohol to God’s grace, never does he describe the power of the cross or the power of God’s forgiveness. Never does he preach the gospel as God’s power over sin. He turns often to Alcoholic Anonymous’ Big Book but never does he quote the Bible. Third, mostly below the surface but sometimes in plain view is an understanding of his addiction as being somehow tied to genetics—that the disease of alcoholism is the cause of moral deficiency. A look at Scripture, though, reverses this, telling us that moral deficiency is the ultimate cause of alcoholism and any other kind of sin and addiction. Fourth, never does he adequately deal with the spiritual implications of living the way he did—as an alcoholic, drug addicted thief. And finally, the book is sometimes crude, using expletives needlessly and relying too much on sarcasm that, at best, borders on rudeness.

The book is interesting as a biography and as a story of recovery. But as a spiritual biography it is disappointingly lacking. While Combs rightly ascribes his victory over addiction to the power of God, never does he really prove this or describe how it came to be. This could almost as easily be a story where the hero is Alcoholics Anonymous rather than God.

8 years 3 weeks ago
Of all genres of books, memoirs may be the toughest to review. After all, how is a reviewer to evaluate the life experiences of another person? What is the measure of a good memoir and what is the measure of a poor one? Ultimately, as a reviewer, I can judge only the power and effectiveness of the writing, the truthfulness of what the author claims as fact, and, more subjectively, the personal impact of the person’s life-story. And with these criteria in mind, I turn to Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by novelist Anne Rice.

The fact that Rice has rediscovered the faith of her childhood is well-documented; it is seen most clearly in the transition of the subject matter of her novels. Gone are the stories of vampires and in their place is her multi-volume account of the life of Christ (click to read my review of the most recent entry in the series, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana). In this book, a confession of sorts, she explains why she walked away from her faith to begin with and how, decades later, she recovered it. She says in the first chapter, “I want to tell, as simply as I can—and nothing with me as a writer has ever really been simple—the story of how I made my decision of the heart. So here is the story of one path to God. The story has a happy ending because I have found the Transcendent God both intellectually and emotionally. And complete belief in Him and devotion to Him, no matter how interwoven with occasional fear and constant personal failure and imperfection, has become the true story of my life.”

Called Out of Darkness gets off to quite a slow start, buried in the details of Rice’s earliest days growing up in ultra-Catholic New Orleans. She was raised in an extremely devout Roman Catholic family and she expends a great deal of effort in describing this period of her life. Though I found the first few chapters burdensome, I understand their importance; Rice wishes to set the stage, really clearly set the stage, for the return of her faith later in life. Despite the Church playing a crucial role in her early life, she soon pushed it aside. It was as a young adult that Rice walked away from her faith, not because of scandal or deep-rooted doubts, but because she wanted to know more of the modern world than her church would allow her to see and to experience. Like so many young people, she found that her faith could not survive her college years. It was not until she was fifty-seven that she would find it again.

As we’d expect from Anne Rice, Called Out of Darkness is largely well-written though it is perhaps a tad verbose or melodramatic or unnecessarily atmospheric at times, and especially so at the beginning (e.g. “The sky during these trips was often bloodred, or purple, and the trees were so thick that one could only see hundreds of fragments of the sky amid clusters of darkening leaves. The color of the sky seemed to me to be connected with the song of the cicadas, and the drowsy shadows playing everywhere on the margins of what was visible, and the distinct feel of the humid air. Even in winter the air was moist, so that the world itself seemed to be pulsing around us, enfolding us, holding us as we moved through it.”). But Rice is a gifted author and she more than compensates for occasional verbosity with prose that is at times good and at times even exceptional.

Some of the most interesting passages in the memoir have Rice describing her own books, explaining and interpreting the characters and the themes. There is much of her and much of her life story in these books and she does a great job of showing how her characters have always been a reflection of herself. In this context we understand that, once she rediscovered the faith of her childhood, she was able to retire her faithful old characters and turn to new subject matter.

In the book’s final pages, Rice describes what her faith looks like today and how she lives it out. She bewails the way Christians disagree among themselves about what she considers petty issues. This was of particular interest to me. A few weeks ago I reviewed Crossbearer, a memoir by Joe Eszterhas. One thing I noted in that review was that Eszterhas had discovered Roman Catholic faith, but had done so in a pick-and-choose manner, accepting what resonated with him and rejecting what had not. To some extent the same is true with Anne Rice; she found herself unable to consent to the Church’s teaching on several issues. Of great concern to her are the issues of gender, sexuality and homosexuality (though, ironically, she says that Christians ought not to have such an interest in these matters). “Try as I might,” she says, “I can find nothing in Holy Scripture that supports this contemporary obsession with sex and gender on the part of our conservative churches.” She makes the rather audacious statement that “Jesus Christ Himself cared nothing about gender at all” and that he insisted upon equality for all people. This is true, in a sense, and Jesus did revolutionize the way men and women were to perceive one another. However, while Jesus insisted in equality of worth and value, this does not necessarily mean that men and women are to have identical or interchangeable roles. A look to the New Testament epistles will reveal what Jesus says through His people about how men and women are to serve in the church and it will reveal what Jesus says about sexuality. The emphasis on these subjects in both Catholic and Protestant circles proves their critical importance; the emphases on these subjects in Rice’s own book proves their importance.

Called Out of Darkness will undoubtedly appeal to the bona fide card-carrying Anne Rice fans and to those who are interested in spiritual memoirs. Even to me, one who has read her works only sparingly, this was an enjoyable memoir and one I am glad I read. It is an interesting glimpse into an interesting life and, at least to this reader, sounds a warning against what seems to be a natural human tendency. It shows once again a faith that submits to some kind of transcendence and that gives its adherent peace and comfort but that, at one point or another, resists the extrinsic authority that seeks to shape and define it, whether it be the authority of Scripture or Church or, in this instance, both.

8 years 1 month ago
I have often expressed my love of biographies. I consider them to be among the most helpful of resources in helping equip Christians in their lifelong quest for Christ-likeness. We can learn much from the examples of those who have run the race before us. We can learn from what God taught them, learn from their triumphs and learn from the times they were defeated. I have a passion for biographies. I also have a passion for the English language. I love to see how we can use the language to craft works of art. I cannot express myself in the fine arts - music and art are both disciplines that escape me. But I consider myself a wordsmith-in-training. These two loves come together in Jack, a biography of C.S. Lewis written by a veritable master of the English language.

George Sayer had what was probably a unique privilege - he met C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at the same time. He studied English under the tutelage of both of these men while at Oxford University. He became friends with Lewis, growing closer as they grew older. As a friend he provides a unique perspective on what is surely a unique individual.

I have never had the interest in and respect for C.S. Lewis that so many Christians afford him. Perhaps it is that I tend to see in black and white. Lewis exemplified some of the best and yet some of the worst in his understanding of Christianity. It seems that for every major doctrine he so brilliantly defended, there was another that he denied. For every brilliant insight there is a terrible oversight.

Jack provides a glimpse into Lewis’ life. This, combined with penetrating analysis from one who knew him well, makes this biography not only fascinating, but very credible. Sayer covers all of the foundational parts of Lewis’ life - the death of his mother, his education, his infatuation with Mrs. Moore and his conversion to Christianity. The author looks also at most of Lewis’ major writings. Having spent so much time with his subject, Sayer is even able to describe an average day in the life of C.S. Lewis - just the type of detail that is interesting, but is absent from most biographies.

The detail, while interesting and often even necessary, is sometimes almost uncomfortable. Sayers goes so far as to detail Lewis’ personal struggles with masturbation and fantasy as a youth, and his later fascination with his wife’s body. Yet he does this not merely for the sake of being explicit, but always to help us better understand Lewis. He seeks to help the reader understand Lewis not just as an author, but as a person. He wants to show Lewis in the good times as well as the bad. He seeks to show Lewis as he really was.

Thoroughly-researched and exquisitely-written, this is a brilliant biography of a figure whose importance to Christianity seems to be growing, even forty years after his death. With a major movie series coming to theatres beginning this year, we will surely hear a lot more about Lewis than ever before. While many biographies have been written about him, I would have trouble believing any could be better than this. No matter your opinion of the man himself, Jack, as a book, is a gem; a jewel; an absolute triumph.

8 years 1 month ago
The story has been told time and again. C.S. Lewis once walked into a room where a lively debate was in progress. A small group of people had been discussing the various world religions, seeking to understand what made them different from Christianity. As Lewis entered, they looked to him and asked for his response. His answer was simple and it was immediate. “Grace.” Grace marks the great difference between Christianity and every other religion. Grace is a concept foreign to religion; foreign, that is, unless granted by God. We seem to have a natural desire to work for our salvation—to offer to God what we have in repayment for His gifts. Christianity is the only faith that rejects works and insists on grace. Only by God’s grace, declares the Bible, only by God’s grace can we be saved; only by grace can we enjoy a right standing with God; our works merit us nothing.

Unlike C.S. Lewis, Joe Eszterhas may not be a household name, but you probably know of his work. His films have grossed over a billion dollars. You have heard of some of them, I’m sure: Showgirls received an NC-17 rating and Eszterhas gained infamy by suggesting that teenagers use fake IDs to view it. Basic Instinct captured a base but infamous screen moment that shocked viewers. His movies celebrated sex and violence and often the intersection between the two. He was once known as “the most reviled man in America.” He was a peddler of smut who grew wealthy writing it and who pursued that same smutty lifestyle with a devil-may-care attitude.

But it all changed in 2001. In March of that year he and his wife moved their family, their four sons, from Malibu to Ohio, where they had both grown up. Only weeks later Aszterhas was diagnosed with throat cancer brought about by a lifetime of smoking and hard drinking. If he were to live to see his children reach adulthood, he would need to change his lifestyle and change it now. He made the difficult decision to do so. After a month, he says, “I was going crazy. I was jittery. I twitched. I trembled. I yelled and Naomi and the boys. My heart was skipping beats. I had no appetite. I had trouble swallowing anything. The trache was still down my throat. I was nauseated, my knees were weak. … All I thought about every hour of every day was having a drink and a cigarette.” Overcome, he left the house and walked through his neighborhood trying to outwalk his addictions and cravings. Crying, hyperventilating, he fell to the ground and, to his own surprise, heard himself calling out to God. “Please, God, help me.”

“And suddenly my heart stilled. My nerve endings stopped torturing me. I stood trembling and twitching. My hands stopped dancing. I realized that I wasn’t jittery. Even the damn mosquitoes and bugs went away. My knees felt strong. I got up off the curb and stood up. I opened my eyes. I saw a shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands. I wiped my eyes and opened them. The brightness faded back to day. I walked back home.”

In this moment Eszterhas was “saved”—a term he shied away from at first, but soon came to embrace. The man who had written movies glorying in sex and violence found religion. What was he saved from? “From the darkness that I had been drawn to most of my life, the evil I had spent so much time and effort studying and analyzing from the time I was a young man. … A child of the darkness, I wallowed in it…all of it…”

Eszterhas soon returned to the church of his youth—the Roman Catholic Church—which he had abandoned so many years before. There he found peace and comfort, or some peace and comfort at any rate. This book chronicles his growing understanding of this new-found faith and the challenges he faced as the peddler of smut who was no longer drawn to such darkness. It is fascinating to hear him wrestle with his decision to remain in the Catholic church. He hates the shallowness of much of the Catholic faith; he despises the empty homilies; he sees the same prevalence for immorality among priests today that he saw as a young child in his native Hungary. He has utter contempt for the Catholic hierarchy which has always worked to hard to cover up the vast scandal of pedophile pervert priests. At the same time, he is drawn to the Mass, admitting that while a local Protestant church offered much better teaching, he felt empty without the Mass. While at first he resisted adding Mary to his “pantheon,” (his term) he soon found joy in venerating her (believing, as his mother taught him, that while God is often too busy to hear his requests, He is never too busy to hear from His mother). Yet for all his respect for the Catholic Church, he goes to great lengths to ensure that his boys are never, ever, allowed to spend time alone in the presence of its priests and he reacts with disgust when a bishop is transferred to his town from Boston to escape the heat of scandal in that city.

Joe EszterhasThe faith he finds and the faith he describes is really an amalgam of Roman Catholic theology and personal preference. He loves the Mass but hates the Roman Catholic insistence that homosexuality is unbiblical and wrong. He loves Christian community but dislikes so many church-goers. He seems to have swallowed the buffet line faith so prevalent in our culture. In a day where personal preference reigns supreme, Eszterhas quickly assembles a faith that suits his preferences even if not his church’s.

At times it is difficult to know whether the things Eszterhas writes about are symptomatic of a man who has yet to grasp the depth of his faith or if his faith allows behavior that sometimes seems to be in conflict. For example, four letter words are present throughout the book, though usually in a form such as “eff” instead of writing the word itself. He remains harshly and shockingly irreverent towards God, Christianity and other people. He seems to delight in sharing stories of attacking and humiliating others. Yet while the memoir is raw at times, it is never short of interesting anecdotes. Eszterhas has led an interesting life but also one filled with hardship and pain. Some of this has been of his own making; some has simply been the hand he has been dealt, so to speak. He is a fantastic writer and, while the book rambles, it always remains interesting.

There is one thing, though, that doesn’t quite add up. In Crossbearer Eszterhas makes it sound as if, post-conversion, he was unable to write. He tells of sitting at his typewriter day after day and coming up dry. But then, rather by surprise, he typed the opening words of this book and the rest of it began to flow as if driven by someone or something outside himself. But if his conversion was in 2001, how can he account for his first memoir, Hollywood Animal? This book was a tell-all tale that detailed his Hollywood exploits from the boardroom to the bedroom and everywhere in between (or so I gather from reading the book’s description and reviews). It was, by all accounts, graphic, lewd, and somewhat short of apologetic. And how is such a book consistent with his desire to no longer celebrate the profligate life he was saved from? It is an odd inconsistency.

I began this review with “grace.” Grace is the defining characteristic of the Christian faith. Sadly, for so prominent and so defining a characteristic, there seems to be little of it on display in Crossbearer. Its absence is this books’ greatest weakness. While we may delight in the fact that Eszterhas has found life beyond sex and violence and sexual violence, I could not in good conscience recommend this book as a spiritual memoir.

8 years 4 months ago
I think it is safe to say that, of all theologians contemporary or ancient, few have had as profound an affect on my life as Francis Schaeffer. Though I’ve read little of what he wrote, though he died when I was only a young child, and though I have never heard even one of his sermons, I know that my faith has been shaped by him. He was, after all, a major influence on my parents and on so many of their friends. Shortly after their conversion, my parents went three times to various European L’Abri locations, spending upwards of a year at them. In so many ways Schaeffer shaped their fledgling faith just as they later shaped mine. I am indebted to him as I am to them. And in this I am hardly the only one. Though it has been almost twenty five years since his death, Schaeffer’s impact is still felt throughout the Christian church.

Despite my indebtedness, and despite his influence over me, I know so little about Francis Schaeffer. Though widely admired, it seems that few people have taken on the challenge of documenting his life (his son’s recent attempt notwithstanding). It was with great interest, then, that I turned to Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, a new biography written by Colin Duriez, who has previously written accounts of the lives of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The publisher’s description aptly summarizes the content. “From his working-class childhood in Pennsylvania, to the founding of L’Abri, his personal crisis of faith, and his latter years as a compassionate controversialist in the worldwide spotlight, all the eras of Schaeffer’s life unfold within these pages. But Duriez, who studied under and interviewed Schaeffer, also takes a deeper look, revealing those distinct life phases, as well as Schaeffer’s teachings and his complexities as a person, within their historical context so that contemporary readers may better understand all of who Schaeffer was—and why he still matters today.” Duriez depends largely on oral history he gathered—upwards of 150,000 words of it, to describe the life of this great Christian.

I find that there are at least two kinds of biographies. There are some where the reader closes the cover and feels as if he now knows a lot about the book’s subject; then there is the occasional sublime biography where the reader closes the book and feels as if he truly knows the subject. While I wanted this biography to fit in the latter category, I feel that it fits instead in the former. This is not meant as a critique as much as an honest assessment. Though the book has undoubtedly increased my knowledge of Francis Schaeffer, my respect for him, and my understanding of his impact on the church, I do not feel as if I really know him, as perhaps I did with Jonathan Edwards after reading Marsden’s great account of his life or with Whitefield after enjoying Dallimore’s two-volume masterpiece.

Yet the book stands on its own merits and it stands well. It is thorough without being burdensome and grapples well with the complexities of Francis Schaeffer, his life, and his ministry. It describes a man who had a unique gift for teaching and a deep, reverent love for his Saviour.

The best and, to my knowledge, the only full-length biography of Schaeffer available today, this one is well worth the read. I do not think it will stand in history as the definitive account of Schaeffer’s life, but it is still a very good account and one that will bless you as you read it. If you have been influenced by Schaeffer or if you have sought to understand his ministry, you will want to secure a copy for yourself.

8 years 4 months ago
The Snake Charmer is one of two books I plucked from Dr. Al Mohler’s suggested reading list for dads. It is a book that is rather unlike any I’ve read before. It is a biographical account of the life of Joe Slowinski, one of the world’s great herpetologists. Slowinski dedicated his life to studying snakes and, in particular, poisonous snakes.

In 2001, Slowinski led an expedition of biologists and botanists as they traveled through the jungles of Burma. It was there that he was bitten by a many-banded krait, the most deadly snake in Asia and one of the most deadly snakes in the world. A world away from any kind of hospital or clinic, Slowinski knew that his chances of survival were slim. It was this quote, provided by Dr. Mohler, which gave me an interest in reading the book:

As his friends gathered around, Joe calmly explained what was happening to him. No one in the world knew more about the venom of Bungarus multicinctus than Joe Slowinski. He described the effects of a slowly deepening paralysis: The snake’s venom works on several different parts of the nervous system simultaneously, blocking the nerve impulses that transmit instructions to the muscles, including those required to maintain life. There will be no pain, he told them. “First my eyelids will drop; I won’t be able to hold them up.” Soon he would lose the ability to speak and move his limbs, he said. Within a few hours, his respiratory system would shut down: The paralyzed central nervous system would be unable to instruct the diaphragm to breathe, causing a swift death by asphyxiation…

As the morning wore on, Joe’s physical condition deteriorated precisely as he had predicted it would. In stark contrast to the hysteria that prevailed after Joe was bitten by the cobra when he was filming with the National Geographic team, the scene at the schoolhouse in Rat Baw was wonderfully calm, even solemn. Joe lay down on his sleeping bag in his tent, with Moe Flannery and Guin Wogan lying next to him to provide human warmth and comfort. The men quietly gathered nearby. Joe asked someone to find an Ace bandage he could wrap around his right forearm to slow the traffic of blood and lymph in his hand, though by now the toxin had passed throughout his body. There was nothing more to be done except wait and see how serious the bite was.

Written by Jamie James, The Snake Charmer is a good and interesting account of the life of this man. He is a man who is hard to like—he was brash and immature and obnoxious; he was committed to understanding nature through a Darwinian lens and had only venom for creationists. Yet he was a man who loved God’s creatures and who fought to understand and preserve them. Woven into the book are many interesting facts about some of God’s least-understand and most-feared creatures. This book is an easy read and a perfect selection for a warm summer day outdoors.

8 years 4 months ago
A.W. Tozer is a man whose ministry has 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.

We are so accustomed to reading that we often give little attention to the book as a physical object. We interact with its words and phrases but think little of the art involved in actually putting together the book. In this case I thought it was only fair to draw attention to the exceptional design qualities of this title. The cover, the design, the printing, the details are all top-notch. The book is a pleasure to read both for the content and the book itself.

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.

8 years 5 months ago
I knew I had to read Out of the Black Shadows after I came upon Philip Ryken’s brief review of the book. Ryken wrote, “The book is a great read for Christians of all ages. The members of our book club would put Out of the Black Shadows in the very first rank of spiritual autobiographies.” The book tells the story of Stephen Lungu, now an evangelist serving with African Enterprise.

Stephen was the oldest son of a Zimbabwean teenage mother forced to marry a much older man. When he was only three his mother deserted Stephen and his two siblings, leaving them to be raised by an unwilling aunt. At the age of eleven, like so many impoverished African boys, he ran away and began life on the streets. There he was eventually recruited into a violent gang known as the Black Shadows. They were little more than thugs, senselessly assaulting people and stealing what they needed to survive. They were recruited by revolutionaries who taught them that their poverty was the fault of the white man and the white religion. They were encouraged to take whatever they wanted from their oppressors.

One day Stephen and his gang set out to firebomb an evangelistic tent meeting and then to gun down anyone who tried to escape. He entered that tent with every intention of wreaking havoc—but first, to heighten his enjoyment of the moment, he decided to listen to just a few moments of the sermon being preached that evening. And his life was forever transformed. That was in 1962. By 1965 Lungu was preaching the gospel under the banner of Dorothea Mission and in the forty years since he has not stopped. Today he serves as a Senior Team Leader for African Enterprise and is based in Lilongwe, Malawi. He travels around the world preaching the gospel.

I might hesitate to place this book within the first rank of spiritual autobiographies, but having said that, I cannot deny that it is unusually powerful. Lungu’s testimony is powerful; his love for the gospel and his joy in sharing it is inspiring and contagious. Also, I find great value in reading biographies of Christians from such different backgrounds. It reminds us of the important fact that our experience of God in North America is an experience within a particular context. While the message of the gospel remains the same throughout all of space and time, there is no doubt that God sometimes chooses to work differently in different contexts. In the story of Stephen Lungu, as in so many stories originating from that part of the world, we see God working in undeniable but unexpected ways.

Out of the Black Shadows is an autobiography that is well worth reading and one that will leave you praising God for the great work He did in this man’s life, and in your own.