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Tim Challies

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biography

7 years 4 months ago
At a recent conference I met a gentleman who happens to edit one of those airline magazines that always competes with your legroom in an airplane. A short time ago he sent me an email and asked if I had heard of a book called Same Kind of Different as Me and recommended that I read it. He seemed like a good enough guy and the book had a great cover, so I went ahead and ordered it sight unseen (or nearly so). And what a book it turned out to be.

Same Kind of Different as Me, a book that is factual but could just as easily be fiction, tells the unlikely story of the unlikeliest of friends—Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Told in two voices, the book alternates between telling the story from the perspective of Ron and Denver.

Ron Hall is a wealthy international art dealer who travels the world buying and selling rare and expensive works of art. He has grown rich but has also grown selfish and has grown away from his family. When Ron Hall reluctantly volunteers at a homeless shelter (at the insistence of his wife) he soon comes into contact with Denver, a man his wife is convinced is going to change the city. Denver grew up as a sharecropper in Louisiana, living a life that seemed little different from the life of his ancestors one hundreds years before. He eventually walked away from the cotton fields and found that, while life on the streets of Fort Worth was difficult, it was easier than being a sharecropper. It was here, in a homeless shelter, that the two men met, one serving food and the other being a reluctant recipient of this charity.

Chef Jim and Deborah chatted easily while I mentally balanced the ledger between pleasing my wife and contracting a terminal disease. I had to admit that his idea seemed like an easy way to start—serve the evening meal once a week, and we’d be in and out in three, four hours max. We could minister from behind the rusty steel serving counter, safely separated from the customers. And we could enter and leave through the rear kitchen door, thereby minimizing contact with those likely to hit us up for money. The whole arrangement seemed like a good way for us to fulfill Deborah’s desire to help the homeless without our touching them or letting them touch us.

Her bright laugh pulled my attention back into the room. “I think that sounds great, Jim!” she was saying. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t start tomorrow. In fact, let’s just say you can count on us to serve every Tuesday until you hear otherwise.”

“Praise the Lord!” Chef Jim said, this time giving Deborah a great big Baptist hug. It did not sound great to me, but Deborah had not asked me what I thought. She never did do much by committee.

 

At first unable to crack Denver’s stony personality, Hall eventually prevails and strikes up a friendship with a man worlds apart. They become fast friends who endure a tragedy together and who soon grow in their love, respect and admiration of each other. Each man teaches the other about life and faith. Somehow the story of the relationship between these two men is fascinating and inspiring. It offers a glimpse into two worlds that are nearly opposite and shows what happens when these worlds come into contact with each other. I can still hardly believe this was not a novel.

While the book showcases a fun sense of humor, there is also plenty of heart.

And yet for all the courage I knew she had, she had shown this glimmer of fear. Oh, how I loved her then. Fiercely. The passion you feel down in your guts where no one else can see and only you know its frightening force. I could remember that there were times in our nearly three decades of marriage that I had loved her less than at that moment, and guilt pierced me like a spike. Though she had always given unconditionally, I had often not been willing to do so in return, She has deserved better than she’s gotten from me, I thought, and nearly drowned in a wave of regret thirty years deep.

Between the heart and the humor is some good theology, but, unfortunately, also some that would require believing the word of the author rather than finding any basis in Scripture. For example, there is talk of a “visitation” where a dead person returns to earth, however briefly, to offer comfort and encouragement. This is not something the Bible tells us we can or should expect. There was also some theology that was suspicious and seemed to reveal an understanding of the gospel that was somewhat incomplete. I found these distracting and disappointing, but not fatal to the book.

So while Same Kind of Different as Me is not necessarily a book I’d recommend for its theology, it is a book that I’d recommend for a stirring and unforgettable story, and for the pure joy of reading it. This one caught me by surprise and I enjoyed every minute of it. I can pretty well guarantee that someone will buy the movie rights to this story, so why not buy it now so you can say that you read the book before you ever heard of the movie!

7 years 5 months ago
I love church history. I consider it absolutely tragic that so few contemporary Christians have any real sense of their heritage. They know a little bit of New Testament history, can list hundreds of today’s best and worst teachers, but know almost nothing of the 2000 years between.

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World is one of a long line of books authored by Stephen Nichols, professor at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Nichols is a prolific author who seems to be releasing books with impressive regularity. To this point all of his books have centered on church history. He has written several works on Jonathan Edwards, one each on Martin Luther and Gresham Machen, and one providing a guided tour of classic Christian writing. This new title “goes behind the scenes and uncovers the human side of the larger-than-life Reformers through user-friendly narrative stories on the Reformation.”

The book is built upon two ideas, both of which I agree with entirely. The first is that the Reformation matters (which indicates that all of church history matters). Nicholas provides four reasons why: first, church history provides lots of examples of Christians from all walks of life who labored to bring their faith to bear upon the world in which they lived; second, church history can be humbling as we realize that we are not a whole lot better and smarter and godlier than people in the past; third, we are humbled by the spiritual insight and spiritual depth of our predecessors in the faith; fourth, we learn what matters most to the Christian faith when we look to church history in general the the Reformation in particular. The second idea behind this book is simply that history can be fun. Though teachers of history can take the fun out of it, this does not indicate that history is just plain boring. When taught well, history is a joy and can bring about many benefits.

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World serves as a brief and popular introduction to the Reformation, and in particular, to the key figures in each of the nations involved. We first meet Martin Luther and learn about the Reformation in Germany where it began. From there we move to Ulrich Zwingli and Switzerland and then to the Anabaptists. From there we go to John Calvin, Thomas Cramner and other English Reformers, and then we meet the Puritans. The final chapter introduces many of the women of the Reformation, both those notable for being the wives of the Reformers and those who made substantive contributions on their own. A few appendices introduce Reformation-era creeds, prayers, and other writings. One section I appreciated was one dealing with the question of “Do we still need the Reformation?” Answering historians like Mark Noll who argue that the Reformation is over and that unity between Protestants and Catholics can now be achieved, Nichols affirms that the theology at the heart of the Reformation was the very gospel and that we are not at a place where we can have ecumenical unity.

All-in-all, this book serves as a wonderful, popular-level introduction to the key persons and events involved in the Reformation, surely one of history’s most pivotal times. It makes for a great springboard to deeper appreciation and thus deeper study of both people and events. It is exactly the kind of book I would put in the hands of new Christians, or simply Christians who have no appreciation of the church’s history, so they can benefit from knowing and understanding the history of the church and thus the history of their faith. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

7 years 5 months ago
It is easy to be skeptical about the faith claims of politicians. It is rare for a politician to claim to be anything other than a Christian and yet so few of them show any real evidence of the faith they profess. Of course there are undoubtedly some who rise to power that truly are genuine Christians. In The Faith of Condoleeza Rice, Leslie Montgomery shows Condoleeza Rice to be one of these.

Though this is a book about a woman who has made her mark as a politician, it is not a book about politics. Rather, it is about the faith the of Condoleeza Rice and the legacy of faith that was passed down to her by her family. Growing up in a family of Presbyterians, many of whom were clergy, Rice seems to have always considered herself a believer. She was born into a remarkable family, the only child of parents who gave everything they had to give her everything she needed to be one of the most influential people in the world. As the book traces Rice’s life, it also traces the history of racial tension and reconciliation in the United States. Rice was born into the geographic and chronological heart of the Civil Rights Movement. While her parents kept her largely sheltered from the strife surrounding them, she certainly did notice the world changing around her.

I was intrigued by the intellectual nature of Rice’s faith. While in many ways she has a simple faith and says she has never doubted the tenets of her faith, at the same time her faith has become remarkably developed in her mind as she has reflected on the Bible. The parts of the book in which the author discusses the particulars of Rice’s faith, and especially those that are drawn directly from interviews with her, make for fascinating reading. While the book attempts to portray Rice as a spiritual hero I am not so sure that the author succeeds at this. She certainly appears to be a Christian, but to consider her some kind of a spiritual giant would seem to be overstating it. After all. Rice’s faith, while certainly driving and motivating her, is not what she is known for. Her faith is an important part of who she is, but it is something she must necessarily keep in the background much of the time.

The book moves quite quickly and, thankfully, unlike many biographies, does not dwell upon things like the books Rice has written. While they are mentioned, the author (rightly, no doubt) assumes that readers will have no interest in knowing just what Rice had to say about Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft. It is well-written, fast-moving, and is certainly an enjoyable read.

So while I would not be likely to read this book as an attempt to peer in the life of a spiritual hero, I would gladly recommend it as an interesting glimpse into the life of a woman who is extraordinarily gifted and who has not risen to a position of great responsibility and great authority despite her faith, but, it would seem, because of her faith.

7 years 6 months ago
My mother is one of several people I know who eschews all of the Christian Living type of books that dominate the Christian publishing industry. Apart from her Bible (the most beat-up, ink-covered, personalized Bible you’ll ever see) and a few commentaries, she reads only biographies. She feels that by reading about the lives of great Christians of the past, she will learn far more than what most of the Christian Living books can teach her. As much as I love reading books in a variety of genres, I can’t help but think that mom might just be right.

Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God is Noel Piper’s second solo effort that is targetted at an adult audience (she has previously authored Treasuring God in Our Traditions and has written the children’s book Most Of All, Jesus Loves You.). The book contains five short biographies of five faithful women: Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare.

I particularly enjoy short biographies of this type as they provide only a glimpse of a person. If one of the people particularly intrigues me, I can seek out a more exhaustive biography. This book serves as an introduction to five particularly fascinating servants of the Lord - women who have in some way had a significant impact on the author. While the women are bound by a common thread, their zeal in serving the Lord, they represent several countries and hundreds of years of Christian history. Sarah Edwards lived in the New World during the mid-1700’s and was best-known for selflessly supporting and extending the ministry of her husband, Jonathan Edwards; Lilias Trotter grew up in Victorian England but served God as a missionary in North Africa; Gladys Alward left her native England in 1932 so she could serve the Lord in China; Esther Ahn Kim stood strong among the persecuted ranks of believers during the Japanese occupation of Korea; Helen Roseveare became a doctor to the native population of the Congo, remaining there through years of war and bloodshed. Each of these women suffered in their own way, but did so joyfully, knowing that they suffered for the Lord.

A great deal of the value of this book lies in the author’s closing comments for each of the sections. Piper adds a personal touch to each biography, describing what it is about the person that has so touched her. She ends each of the chapters with a dedication to a person whose life and faith exhibits the same qualities as the woman just described. For example, at the end of the first chapter she writes, “Just as Sarah Edwards had little idea of the ongoing generations she would influence through her interaction with Samuel Hopkins, there are two women who probably have little notion of their impact on me and therefore also on my husband, children, friends, and church. Long before my husband was called to a pulpit ministry, I admired our pastors’ wives, one in California, one in Minnesota. God used them to help prepare me for my future role that none of us yet expected. And so this story of Sarah Edwards is dedicated to Deloris Hoeldtke and Ann Ortlund.”

I was transfixed as I read of these faithful women, and in some ways was also transformed. As I came to understand the faith of these Christians who gave so much, I came to see where I have been giving less than everything; less than what God asks of me. I came to understand that the religious freedom we enjoy as North Americans sometimes allows us to have a lazy faith. As I came to understand these women, I came to understand God just a little bit better. And if that is the ultimate purpose of any Christian biography, which I believe it ought to be, Noel Piper has done well with Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God. I am glad to recommend this book to you and trust that you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

7 years 7 months ago
I never really caught on to the VeggieTales craze. I was introduced to them by friends when I was in my late teens but couldn’t bring myself to watch and enjoy a kids’ show featuring talking vegetables. I could appreciate some of the humor, but I usually opted out of the VeggieTales evenings others enjoyed. At that time I had no idea, and nor did anyone else, I suppose, what a phenomenon the Veggies would become.

VeggieTales was created by Phil Vischer in 1990 with the first video being released three years later. It was a significant film as it was on the cutting edge of computer animation and was, in fact, America’s first widely-distributed computer animated video production. Where’s God When I’m S-Scared? marked the founding of an empire that has gone on to sell over 50 million videos and countless plush toys, games, neckties and every other conceivable piece of merchandise. The flagship product of Vischer’s Big Idea Productions, VeggieTales was meant to be only the first franchise produced by a media empire Vischer hoped would soon rival Nickelodeon and Disney, but bringing Christian values into a marketplace saturated with a complete lack of values. Writing about these competitors, Vischer says:

By the mid-1990s, the media industry had consolidated so aggressively that the vast majority of children’s entertainment was controlled by just three companies - Viacom, Time Warner, and Disney. Each employing more than 50,000 people, these companies were now so large that one industry analyst described working with them as more like working with nation-states than companies. The problem with these giant, publicly traded media goliaths isn’t that they are immoral, but rather than they are profoundly amoral. They are valueless. They are simply too big to focus on any specific value system or moral code, and instead must be all things to all people. … Why do they sell good values to preschoolers? Because there is money in it. Why do they sell lousy values to the same kids ten years later? Because there is money in it. When faced with the choice between doing what is beneficial and doing what is profitable, these companies chose profitable every time. Their shareholders require it.

Convinced that he was fulfilling God’s dream for his life, Vischer attempted to rival these companies but was shocked to see the empire crumble and fall into bankruptcy just as it seemed at the pinnacle of success. Big Idea was eventually bought out of bankruptcy by Classic Media, the company that now owns the rights to all things VeggieTales. This book, Me, Myself, & Bob is the story of Phil, Big Idea, and VeggieTales. It begins with the author’s birth into a devout Christian family and ends with him wrestling with what the future will hold now that his beloved vegetables are outside of his control.

Laced with the trademark humor that helped make VeggieTales a success among both children and adults, this book is fun and enjoyable to read. There are many laugh out loud moments. And yet there are also plenty of poignant moments, particularly as Vischer begins to see his world crumble and loses the company he worked so hard to build. He makes many astute observations about himself and human nature, admitting that it was his own sin (not just his shortcomings or mistakes, but sin) that contributed to the company’s downfall. He accepts responsibility for causing Big Idea to crumble and apologizes for this.

And then he looks to the future. Unfortunately, in the days since Big Idea, he seems to have spent a great deal of time reading books by authors such as Henri Nouwen and Henry Blackaby. While he feels that these authors have equipped him to live life in a way that will not allow him to repeat the sins of his past, I’m not so sure, based on his reflections, that he is a lot further ahead. The final chapters discuss “living in the center of God’s will” and other troubling concepts associated with men like Blackaby (I’ll admit that these include concepts that may be more troubling to me, as a cessationist, than they would be to my continuationist friends.). And so the final chapters, those that wrestle with the “how?” and “why?” and “what now?” are a mixed bag. There are some valuable and mature reflections, but others that just don’t seem to measure up.

Me, Myself, & Bob was a book I was not expecting. It showed up in the mail and I immediately consigned it to the “don’t bother” pile. I soon thought better of this and was rewarded with what I found to be a fascinating, funny and enjoyable book. While I would not necessarily recommend it for its theological precision, it does contain fascinating biography of Phil Vischer, the company he built, and the characters he created.

7 years 8 months ago
As I began to review Speaking the Truth in Love, a biography of Roger Nicole, I felt uncertain how to introduce the subject. Nicole is a theologian whose impact is felt widely in the church, and yet one whose name is largely unknown. It occurred that David Bailey, the author of the biography, must have felt the same uncertainty. Here is how he chose to introduce Nicole:
Do you know Roger Nicole? If you are a Reformed Baptist you might, though probably not. Southern Baptists, whose latter twentieth century denominational record was one of intense struggle over the nature of Scripture, owe a debt to Roger Nicole that most would not recognize. If you have ever read from the NIV Bible, you have encountered him, for he was an assistant translator for that version. He was a founding member of both the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Theological Society (of which he is a past president). His family history, academic career, and Christian statesmanship are the stuff of legend. Perhaps most lists of influential twentieth-century theologians would overlook this remarkable “man of God,” a title conferred by no less an evangelical commentator than David F. Wells…. If this oversight should occur, I am convinced it would be the result of a regrettable unawareness of the man and of his impact on Christian theology.

It does seem regrettable that a man whose influence is felt as widely as Nicole’s would be unknown to so many. And yet I’m sure he would prefer that we know and believe the theology he has impacted than be aware of his involvement in defending and formulating it. It seems that Nicole is largely content to remain behind the scenes, out of view of the public eye that extends to so many other theologians.

Bailey’s biography of Nicole is an excellent one. It aptly portrays the life of this man of God, from his birth as a Swiss citizen in Germany, to his retirement in Florida. It interacts with the theology Nicole wrestled with and helped formulate, but does not become bogged down in it. Thankfully, the book does not focus undue attention on egalitarianism, the doctrine for which Nicole may have gained the most notoriety. The book moves quickly through the 180 pages of biography which are followed by five appendices and an annotated bibliography complete with Nicole’s own notations. Because Nicole has such a wide grasp of theology, he has written about issues covering the broad span of Christian doctrine. Here are a few areas that jumped out.

Speaking of the doctrines of grace and, in particular, the doctrine of particular redemption or limited atonement:

I had not realized fully how very damaging universal atonement, in the final analysis, is to the work of Jesus, so this is one doctrine in which I “bathed myself” increasingly. And the more I bathed myself there, the more I saw the other position does not really do justice to the work of Christ. My independent study of the atonement really convinced me of its definite nature. In my opinion, the strongest point of Calvinism is that Jesus Christ died to redeem his people. The ultimate issue is the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, and that is the whole purpose of creation as I see it: from beginning to end there is one purpose for God, and in spite of the dereliction from the ideal path he has traced for us, he still carries out his purpose.

Here are two of seven conclusions he reached when considering the importance of culture after touring around the world:

First, every human culture has certain elements that are positive and helpful to those who live in it. This is due to the gift of God’s common grace in the world that restricts the development of evil. Every human culture, by virtue of the corruption of sin and the hardness of the natural human heart, also has damaging elements that the spread of the gospel should address and curb. This would not of necessity curb the good elements.

Second, it is extremely difficult for people who are steeped in one culture to achieve a level of impartiality that would entitle them to offer a proper evaluation of another culture. Obviously there are elements that are so bad that an exposure to the gospel would necessarily cancel them (e.g., offering human sacrifices or sacred prostitution). But how to remedy certain problems would surely need at least a substantial participation of those who live in that culture (e.g., the problems raised by polygamy or how the choice for a marriage partner should be determined). Regulations drafted by a mission board that is foreign to a country should probably not be put in force without an influential participation of indigenous people.

 

In an appendix he writes about the importance of pondering the past:

There is a biblical injunction about musing: Deuteronomy 8:2 - “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way…” More than fifty times in Scripture, we are challenged to remember, perhaps supremely in the Lord’s Supper: “in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Thus our knowledge of the past must serve us in our decisions in the present. Our experience in the past is an important element in our preparation for the future. It should help us to avoid repeating the mistakes that we made previously. Memory is the bond that unifies the series of experiences and decisions that constitute our life.

If you know of the contributions of Roger Nicole, you will appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the debt of gratitude we owe to him. If, like so many people, you are unaware of his contribution to contemporary Christianity, this biography will allow you the opportunity to meet a man whose influence will be felt for many years to come. To echo the endorsement of Dr. Michael Haykin, “Read this book and praise God for this extraordinary servant of the Lord Jesus.”

7 years 8 months ago
Biography: An account of a person’s life written, composed, or produced by another. Hagiography: A worshipful or idealizing biography. I suppose it is not always easy to determine where biography ends and hagiography begins. But in the case of The Rise of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen, I am quite certain Richard Young has crossed the line.

Lakewood Church was founded by John and Dodie Osteen on Mother’s Day 1959. A former Southern Baptist pastor, Osteen left the Convention after adopting charismatic beliefs. A leader in the charismatic movement and author of many books, he continued to pastor this church until his death in 1999. Without a successor in place, John’s son Joel decided to try his hand at preaching. And the rest, as they say, is history. Lakewood has risen to become the largest church in America with tens of thousands of people attending services every weekend. The services are broadcast around the world on television and through the Internet to millions more. Osteen’s first book, Your Best Life Now became a New York Times bestseller selling millions of copies. Joel Osteen, the smiling pastor, has become one of the most recognized and recognizable faces of Christianity.

The Rise of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen, as we can deduce from the title, traces both the rise of the church and the subsequent rise of Joel Osteen. Each of these emphases receives roughly half of the book’s 240 pages. And where Young seems to be enthusiastic about John Osteen, he is enraptured with Joel. The author’s bias is never in doubt. He is captivated with Osteen and seems to feel no need to display any objectivity. The book is filled with hyperbole (though, sadly, this may well be unintentional hyperbolism). “Joel Osteen is one of the great marketing geniuses in the history of the Christian world;” Lakewood Church’s opening weekend in the Compaq Center was “one of the greatest weekends in American church history;” “Together, the team at Lakewood is probably the greatest ministerial team in America.” These superlatives grow tiresome and are especially ridiculous when understood in the context of Joel’s ministry. He succeeded his father in 1999, meaning that his ministry has not yet even spanned a decade. His ministry has seemingly only just begun.

Young dedicates a small portion of the book to discussing Osteen’s critics, but he does so in a condescending way and never once interacts with the most important criticisms—those drawn from the Bible. In the introduction to this book he describes a typical Sunday at Lakewood and, when writing about the worship service, says “I couldn’t help but notice a well-dressed, gray-haired gentleman. His arms were folded, his mouth tightly closed, and he seemed to be looking around, passing judgment on all around him.” Later he summarizes Osteen’s critics like this: “Those who criticize Joel are just people who take a different approach to this teaching [that Christianity has a temporal benefit, not merely an eternal one] and don’t approve of those not like them.” Never once does he interact with serious theological concerns except to affirm that Joel believes in a set of basic Christian doctrine but that he chooses to dwell on what is positive rather than what is negative. Much like in Osteen’s ministry, the word “sin” is only mentioned in this book in a negative sense when describing cliched caricatures of evangelicals. Even in discussing Victoria Osteen’s well-publicized tantrum on an airplane he will admit no wrong-doing, only misunderstandings and media that is set against Osteen. In discussing Osteen’s infamous “media miscue” on the Larry King Show, he admits “Joel made a major mistake” but assures us this was not a mistake based on conviction, but on a desire to ensure that neither unbelievers nor critical Christians would be offended.

Also strangely absent from this book is any real assessment of what Osteen offers the wider church, unless it is merely a message that is positive. But many other pastors have shared a sin-free, positive message before Joel. The word “gospel” appears a handful of times but is never explained, never declared. Young does not discuss how Osteen has impacted the church at large and how other pastors and leaders are emulating him. And yet Young considers him the next great Christian leader. He writes “the Lord has raised a man up in each generation to be a leader and impact that generation. There is a straight line from Charles Finney to D.L. Moody to Billy Sunday to Billy Graham. Who will be that man for this generation?” According to Young it will be Osteen.

Young aptly summarizes Osteen in quoting a woman who watches his program on television. “Most preachers you hear make you feel bad about yourself and they talk about the worst part of yourself. Joel Osteen talks about the best part of yourself.” Young writes, “Statements like this show that Joel is becoming a huge force in Christianity who is reaching out to people far beyond the standard Christian market.” He is, indeed, reaching beyond the typical Christian audience, but this book makes it clear that he is reaching with a message that shares only part of the gospel. Osteen shares a message of God’s love, but, because he will not speak of sin, does not share our desperate need for God’s love and forgiveness. His message, like this book, is incomplete, sharing only half of the story.

With Osteen’s meteoric rise to prominence we can be sure that he will be the subject of many biographies. This is the first, but will certainly not be the last. Surely it will not and cannot be the best. While it provides a good deal of interesting information and succeeds in providing an outline of the rise of Lakewood Church and the subsequent rise of Joel Osteen, it does so in a way that is so clearly biased, so one-sided, that it is difficult to take it seriously. It is not a book that is without value, but it is one that should be read with discernment and with a clear understanding that this is as much hagiography as it is biography.

7 years 8 months ago
Shaun Alexander is undoubtedly one of the best football players in the game today. Though he plays for the Seattle Seahawks, a team that does not get the attention of some of the franchises in the major markets, his name is known to any football fan. Last year he set a new single season touchdown record, scoring an amazing 28 times (though it appears that this record will stand for only one season as LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers seems likely to overtake it. With 4 regular season games remaining, L.T. has already scored 27 touchdowns and has thrown for 2 more!). Since his sophomore campaign in 2001 he has been a force to be reckoned with, piling up the yardage and scoring at least 16 times in each season.

While Alexander is an exceptionally talented athlete and may be one of the best to ever play the game, this is not what he wants his legacy to be. Touchdown Alexander tells his story of “faith, football, and pursuing the dream.” Written with Cecil Murphey, who co-wrote the bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven, this is Shaun Alexander’s autobiography. While it is not particularly well-written, it is enjoyable nonetheless.

Born into single-parent family, Alexander began to play football in the second grade. It did not take him long to get noticed as a talented athlete and, by high school, he was a star, destroying record after record. He chose to attend the University of Alabama where he was a standout and where he still holds 9 different records. He was drafted in the first round of the 2000 NFL entry draft (behind names such as Sebastian Janikowski, Ron Dayne, Plaxico Burress, Jamal Lewis and the first selection overall, Courtney Brown) and began his career as a Seahawk. While he played little in his first season, he broke out in his second and has been a superstar ever since.

Despite the millions of dollars he earns (he recently signed a contract that will pay him over $60 million and earns millions more in endorsements) and despite the endless accolades, he refuses to define himself by what he does. “My name is Shaun Alexander, and I’m a running back for the Seattle Seahawks football team. That’s what I do, but that’s not who I am. Football is something I’m good at, but it isn’t my total life. I’m also a husband, a father, and a Christian man. I’m a mentor to younger men as well, because they are our future.” This book is framed around those two aspects of Alexander’s life: who he is and what he does. He focuses both on his faith and on his profession. He often focuses on the times where his faith intersects with his profession. And really, it’s quite a good story.

While Alexander’s faith is made clear in this book, it is also shown to rely heavily on mystical aspects. He speaks often of hearing directly from God, of receiving revelatory dreams, and so on while seeming to receive less guidance from the Bible. He speaks often of mistakes, but never of sin. While he seems to know and to love the Word, the gospel is never clearly presented. And to be honest, at times the book seemed to lack just a little bit of the humility we’d hope to see in the life of a believer. I know that it is difficult to write an autobiography that portrays humility, yet this one often seemed just a little presumptuous.

Despite a few misgivings, this book was an enjoyable read and one I would have little trouble recommending to others. It may be especially well-received by fans of the game and by teens who are eager for a little light reading. Alexander’s story is not a story of tragedy and overcoming. Rather, it is a story of redemption and, as he makes clear, a story of God’s incredible outpouring of blessing in one man’s life. And so far it seems to be a life well-lived.

7 years 12 months ago
A biography is an account of a person’s life written by another person. An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person. We would assume that a biography would be written in the third-person and an autobiography would be written in the first-person. Through reading hundreds of books, that has been my experience. Or it has been until I read Flight Path, A Biography of Frank Barker Jr.. A biography of Frank Barker written by Janie Buck and Mary Lou Davis, it is written in the first person. In the final chapter the authors explain this innovation: “Writing the life story of Frank Barker has been a process of ‘slash and burn.’ So much material that could, and probably should, be included was left out. There is no way to record all the great things God has done in and through him. Therefore, I have written about the man and not his voluminous accomplishments. After two years of collecting information and praying, God led me to write as if Frank was telling his own story.”

I had never heard of Frank Barker until I read this book. Yet it seems that I probably should have heard of him. Barker founded Briarwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Birmingham, Alabama—a megachurch long before America was littered with hundreds of them. It must surely still be one of the few Presbyterian megachurches. As surprising as it is that, what is more surprising is that a man like Frank Barker would be the one to begin and nurture such a church. Born into a believing home, Barker fled from the Lord. He lived hard during his teenage years and eventually joined the Navy, becoming a fighter pilot. He continued his hard living until he was radically saved by the Lord and felt called to the ministry.

In the summer of 1960, Frank Barker agreed to help the Birmingham Presbytery start a church in Cahaba Heights. Just a couple of months later, Briarwood Presbyterian Church was officially chartered. Barker led the church for four decades before retiring near the close of 1999. Flight Path is Barker’s story, beginning with his childhood and ending with his post-“retirement” career as a speaker and leader.

John MacArthur says of this book: “The story of Frank Barker is an amazing account of how God uses the faithful and the humble. In a marvelous way Christ sought him, saved him, and made him an effective instrument for the building up of the church. What a remarkable and encouraging legacy!” I was struck as well by the way Christ sought Barker, how He saved him, and how God raised him up to begin such a great work. So often it seems that God chooses the most unlikely people to do great things for Him, whether it be in choosing Moses, who was terrified of public speaking, to be His mouthpiece; choosing Paul, who persecuted the church, to be the one who would relay the theology of the New Testament; or Frank Barker, a man who lived for his own pleasure and satisfaction, to be the man who built a church that God used to save so many.

An interesting book that tells a fascinating life-story, Flight Path was an enjoyable read and one I am glad to recommend.

8 years 2 months ago
It is said that, during World War Two, the village of Le Chambon in southern France was the safest place in Europe. It was this small village where Andre Trocme, a Protestant pastor, charged his church and his entire village with the task of protecting refugees, and primarily the Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi oppression. The story of this man and, to a lesser extent this village, is told in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, written by Philip Hallie, a philosopher and ethicist whose study of the horrors of the Second World War had driven him to near despair.
Across all these studies, the pattern of the strong crushing the weak kept repeating itself and repeating itself, so that when I was not bitterly angry, I was bored at the repetition of the patterns of persecution. When I was not desiring to be cruel with the cruel, I was like a monster—like, perhaps, many others around me—who could look upon torture and death without a shudder, and who therefore looked upon life without a belief in its preciousness. My study of evil incarnate had become a prison whose bars were my bitterness towards the violent, and whose walls were my horrified indifference to slow murder. Between the bars and the walls I revolved like a madman. Reading about the damned I was damned myself, as damned as the murderers, and as damned as their victims. Somehow over the years I had dug myself into Hell, and I had forgotten redemption, had forgotten the possibility of escape.

But in his own search for redemption, Hallie found a story that finally broke through the walls of bitterness and anger. He found the story of Le Chambon and of Andre Trocme. When he found out about this town and this man, he knew he had to write about it, not as an example of goodness or moral nobility; not for an abstract end. Rather, he was going to use “the words of ethics to help me understand my deeply felt ethical praise for the deeds of the people of Le Chambon.”

And so Hallie shares the story he discovered. And it is an amazing story, the subject of which is a small village of men and women, the vast majority of whom were of Huguenot stock. Andre Trocme, their pastor and leader, was clearly a strange and unorthodox man. He seems to have been driven primarily by his love for Jesus and his respect for the teachings of Jesus, especially as they related to peace. Trocme was a pacifist whose standards of morality were strict. While he might carry a forged identity card, he would refuse to give a false name for himself. He was morally opposed to the war and to all violent forms of resistance. Yet at the same time he was a man of violent temper who often quarrelled loudly and angrily with his wife. And yet he was a man who was more than willing to lay down his life for those who were in danger.

Like many biographies of Christians that are written by unbelievers, it is difficult to know just what to believe about the man. Naturally, an author who is not filled with the Holy Spirit cannot fully understand one who is. I know little of Trocme other than what Hallie tells about him, yet if Hallie is to be believed, Trocme rarely preached about anything other than pacifism. He loved Jesus, but rarely seemed to discuss many of the great truths of the Christian faith. Is this the truth or is this merely Hallie’s understanding of the truth? Did Trocme understand the gospel or was he merely a “good man?” Were his actions an expression of the Spirit’s work in his life? It is difficult to know and this book offers few definitive answers.

What we do know is that Trocme was, in many ways, a tortured individual. Sadly, the death of his eldest son, the one whom he expected to carry on his work, left Trocme deeply suspicious of God so that he lived the last thirty years of his life after the war with a terrible skepticism. “[N]ever again would he believe that God protects precious life. Never again could he pray to a Protector-God. From now on, God and Jesus were to him powerless, suffering, limited. God was still the Father, but He was as powerless as Trocme the father was. God could only join us in our grief, not save us from it. He never recovered from the loss of his son and, tragically, never did his wife who, it seems, never did turn to Christ as her Savior. At this time she “turned her back on all religion, and on her husband as pastor, so that their marriage for a while was very painful, and later her criticisms of religion went back to their old severity.”

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed is a book that is at the same time inspiring and tragic. The hero of the story is courageous, but deeply flawed. Motivated by his desire to emulate Christ, he accomplished much and saved hundreds or even thousands of lives, all the while holding up the strict standards of morality he felt Christ required of him. This book is a study of character and a study of morality and ethics within the context of great tribulation. While it is not a Christian book and is not written by a Christian author, it does show what God can do through flawed, imperfect people. Sadly, the author seems to have missed the power of God displayed in it. He concludes by saying, “For me, that awareness [of the preciousness of human life] is my awareness of God. I live with the same sentence in my mind that many of the victims of the concentration camps uttered as they walked to their deaths: Shema Israel, Adonoi Elohenu, Adonoi Echod (Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One). For me, the word Israel refers to all of us anarchic-hearted human beings, and the word God means the object of our undivided attention to the lucid mystery of being alive for others and for ourselves.” Surely Hallie’s hero Andre Trocme would disagree.

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