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Tim Challies

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biography

8 years 10 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. She may 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 holding back. 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.

While this book has equal appeal for men or women, I would suggest it may make an excellent text for a five- or six-part study for women’s groups. My wife is reading it right now with a view to using it for just that purpose.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Very strong theology throughout.
 
Readability
Written to be accessible to nearly anyone.
Uniqueness
Quite a unique book as biographies go.
Importance
I can’t stress too much the value of learning from the lives of other believers.
  Overall
I recommend this book to any and all believers.
More About Ratings & Reviews

 

9 years 6 days ago
Considering the wild popularity of Rick Warren, as pastor, author and leader within Evangelicalism, we know surprisingly little about the man. It would seem that he has deliberately withheld information about himself, which of course, fits the theme of his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life which is, “it’s not about you.” A Life With Purpose, subtitled “Reverend Rick Warren - The Most Inspiring Pastor of Our Time” is, as far as I know, the first published biography of Warren. It is not a strictly chronological biography, but instead is more topical. I have to admit that I felt quite skeptical as I began this book, knowing that it was written by George Mair, an author whose previous titles include, Paris Hilton: The Naked Truth, Inside Hbo: The Billion Dollar War Between Hbo, Hollywood, and the Home Video Revolution , Excelsior! : The Amazing Life of Stan Lee and Under the Rainbow: The Real Liza Minnelli. I was interested in seeing how an apparent tabloid author approached Rick Warren.

This book is surprisingly light on biographical details, primarily because such information is not widely available. I would estimate that truly biographical facts would comprise only 20 pages of the book. Mair conducted no interviews with Warren or anyone close to him. Instead, he seems to have relied primarily on secondary sources, collecting whatever details he could find in books and publications. The book contains no footnotes or list of sources cited. A Life With Purpose, then, represents less of a biography and more of a collection of the facts about Warren that are publically available. It also contains extensive commentary on the programs and books Warren has written.

Allow me to address the author’s commentary. After reading the book I am still uncertain as to the author’s religious background and beliefs. Generally when I read a biography of a Christian personality, it has been written from a professed Christian and the perspective is clear. In this case it seemed that Mair was perhaps even professing to be a believer. He lavishes praise on Warren throughout the book and often speaks positively of evangelism and other facets of Warren’s programs. However, he makes many clear doctrinal mistakes and rash oversimplifications that seem to cast doubt on his understanding of Christianity, both in history and theology. For example, the book begins with a short introduction to Christianity in America that immediately betrays the author’s ignorance. He mixes Christianity with New Age, and often oversimplifies. “Protestants experienced a divide between modern thinkers, who identified with modern Bible critics, and fundamental thinkers, who followed the Bible literally” (page 17). Later, when addressing “change vs status quo,” he writes, “But if we assume that everything, including religion, needs to be able to change in order to survive, then it becomes clear that status-quo churches are only destroying what they are so desperately trying to hold on to. Though the success of the mall church model can’t be completely equated to Rick Warren’s success at Saddleback, they share the passion for growth and change that some older churches lack. They are willing to take risks, to challenge the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crowd” (page 122-123). He portrays traditional churches as blindly clinging to tradition, and thus to the status quo, rather than more accurately clinging to the instructions of the Bible. A final example is within the author’s commentary on Week 3 of The Purpose Driven Life. “Although God creates us all, we don’t immediately become a part of His spiritual family. We must have a second birth through baptism to truly become children of God” (page 145). This is neither a traditionally Protestant understanding of baptism, nor would it be Warren’s understanding. Beyond these concerns, the author also makes several factual mistakes and I was often left with the impression that he had filled-in details about Warren’s life where such information was missing.

Having addressed my concerns, allow me to comment on the book’s positive aspects. Mair rightly identifies Robert Schuller as being a profound influence upon Warren, and Norman Vincent Peale being a primary influence in Schuller’s life. He briefly traces the confluence of theology and psychology through Peale and Schuller and suggests that Warren has taken the models developed by those two men and brought them to new levels of popularity. Though he provides only a cursory examination of the topic, I have little doubt that many others will address this topic in detail in the future. He also examines other formative influences, such as Donald McGavran and Gilbert Bilezikian. Second, Mair did enough research that he was able to collect many facts that were previously unknown to me, and surely to many others. As such, this book does provide as much information about Warren as we are likely to know until the publication of an official biography. Finally, I enjoyed the author’s secular perspective. He lauded many of the aspects of Purpose Driven methodology that concerned Christians highlight as being more secular than sacred. Having read far too many Christian examinations of Warren’s ministry, it was interesting to read one that seemed to be written from outside the church.

While far from a perfect biography of Rick Warren, I still found this book interesting and somewhat informative. I am not convinced that the research is entirely honest, nor that the author truly understands Warren and, even more importantly, Christianity. Yet if you are interested in knowing more about Rick Warren, this is the only show in town, and for that reason I will provide a tentative recommendation, but a recommendation premised on the warnings above and founded more on my interest in the subject matter than in the quality of the publication. The book is quite short, at 210 pages (but with large font, wide spacing and many blank pages) and easy to read, despite poor editing for a major publishing company. In the end, it seems that this is a book designed to cash-in on the success of The Purpose Driven Life, but it is one that is not entirely without value.

9 years 1 month ago

George Muller is known as a man who lived by prayer. During the course of his life he believed he had seen some 50,000 answers to prayer. He fed, clothed and housed over 10,000 orphans during his life and distributed millions of tracts, books and Bibles. He also supported missions organizations and spoke to Christians around the world. He did all this without once asking any person for money. Instead he took his supplications to God and trusted Him to provide his every need. Never once did God let him down. Muller stands in church history as a testament to God’s providence and the value of believing the promises of Scripture that God will take care of our every need.

Apart from a preface and occasional commentary by Jim Elliff of Christian Communicators Worldwide, A Brief Account of the Life and Labors of George Muller is written almost entirely by Muller’s second wife (known in this volume only as Mrs Muller). The first section is a reprint of a short biography of Muller first published in 1883 and the second lengthy section isentitled George Muller on Money and Possessions. In this part of the book Muller provides insight on some of the Scripture’s teachings on money, possessions and a life marked by trust in God.

As this is the first biography I have read on Muller I could not help but be impressed by the depth of the man’s faith. It must have taken extraordinary faith and courage to assume such responsibility while doing so little (outwardly) to support his endeavours. Yet because he knew that all he did had to be in God’s strength and not his own, he was able to trust in the Provider. It struck me that what he did in eschewing fundraising was neither necessary nor sinful. Surely God would not have condemned him if he had decided to actively seek funding from others. But if he had not maintained his resolve, he would not stand as an inspiration to so many other Christians. Clearly God used him in a powerful way to become an example of the value of faith, and even more importantly, of the faithfulness of God to His promises.

This book is certainly not exhaustive and at only 161 pages can serve as merely an introduction to Muller’s life, especially when compared to his first biography which was published in three volumes and spanned over 1600 pages. This short volume stands as an interesting primer to Muller by the one who knew him best. And having introduced him and having shared the most important aspects of his life, the book turns to Muller himself, and allows him to provide the insights God taught him in how to live by faith.

9 years 1 month ago

“If there is a hell, Hitchens is going there for this book.” So said the New York Press in respose to The Missionary Position, subtitled Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Written in 1995, during the height of Mother Teresa’s popularity, this book was Hitchens’ attempt to debunk the myth that was, and remains, Mother Teresa.

Written from the perspective of one who clearly is not a Christian, this book has been likened to a cruise missle. It is narrow in scope, yet devastatingly effective, for it strikes right to the heart of the matter. How are we to reconcile Mother Teresa, who cares for the sick and destitute, and Mother Teresa who holds hands and laughs with the wife of a brutal and notorious dictator? How are we to reconcile her desire to live out Christianity when she accepts million-dollar donations from the likes of Charles Keating?

The most significant chapter in this book is one which displays Mother Teresa’s overwhelming hypocrisy. The author reproduces a letter that was sent from Mother Teresa to Judge Lance Ito, seeking clemency on his behalf. She suggests that while she knows nothing of his business dealings (in which he defrauded people of $250,000,000) what is more important is the service he has rendered to the poor. She asks that the judge to do what Jesus would do, which she evidently believes would be to let him free. Los Angeles deputy D.A., Paul Turley wrote a response to Mother Teresa, suggested that she should return the $1.25 million dollars given to her by Keating, promising he would return it to the rightful owner. He received no response.

Many others have written about Mother Teresa and have chastised her for this type of hypocrisy. Many have validated the claims that her care for the poor was more in providing a comfortable place for people to die than in seeking to heal them. Many have shown that she hoarded tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for no apparent purpose when these funds could have gone to build the finest hospitals and orphanages in India. And many Christian writers have shown that her faith bore only a passing resemblance to Christianity. But, as far as I know, this is the most significant (and only book-length treatment) of the subject, though at a mere 98 pages it reads more like an essay than a book.

As one who reads primarily books written by professed Christians, I was taken aback by Hitchens’ prevailing attitude. “Given how much this Church allows the fanatic Mother Teresa to preach, it might be added that the call to go forth and multiply, and to take no thought for the morrow, sounds grotesque when uttered by an elderly virgin whose chief claim to reverence is that she ministers to the inevitable losers in this very lottery” (page 59). He is cynical, angry, hateful and sarcastic all at once. He despises the hypocrisy he sees in Mother Teresa and seems happy to extend his disillusionment to religion in general. He attacks not only Mother Teresa, but also Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, and even further, extends his attacks to Christianity and the Bible, especially Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life. And throughout, he uses only four footnotes, providing little evidence to support his claims. Despite all that, he argues effectively and some may even say, devastatingly.

In some ways this subject hardly seems to matter anymore, now that Mother Teresa has long since died. Yet her legacy lives on. Mother Teresa is still lauded as a hero by Catholics, Protestants and people of every other creed. It seems amply clear to those who are willing to look that her legacy is largely ficticious.

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