The question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life
by Armand M. Nicholi Jr.
Adult biographies, Theology
A passage from "The Hiding Place" I can't manage to read out loud...
Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical The Hiding Place is best known for its account of her war time experiences. But one of the many powerful sections in the book is about something that happened decades before, in the year 1919. Corrie's describes her Tante Jans as a Christian social activist, who helped the poor, and also wrote tracts and pamphlets decrying such evils as mutton sleeves and bicycle skirts. In other words, a busy, well-meaning, but generally humorless lady, who was trying to earn her way to heaven. When the doctor diagnoses her with diabetes it is quite a shock as there was no real treatment at that time. It meant that Tante Jans had very little time left, maybe a few years. Her response? "And from then on she threw herself more forcefully than ever into writing, speaking forming clubs and launching projects." But then one day her weekly blood test came back black. Black meant she not longer had years or months, but merely days, three weeks at most. The family learns this before Tante Jan, and as they consider how to tell her Corrie's father hopes that: "Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!" So upstairs to her room they all go. "Come in," she called to Father's knock, and added as she always did, "and close the door before I catch my death of drafts." She was sitting at her round mahogany table, working on yet another appeal... As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test. “My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!” “All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured. “Your writings…,” Mama added. “The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie. “Your talks…,” I began. But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”
Adult biographies, Book Reviews
i am n
Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists by the Voice of the Martyrs 293 pages / 2016 The “n” in the title is Arabic shorthand for “Christian,” and Islamic extremists will paint it on houses owned by Christians as a means of intimidation. It is, in some places, the equivalent of being marked for death. This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone." So I started reading out of a feeling of duty. However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down. Encouragement It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind.
"I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare.With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game. There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing.
"During the final evening of [a bible] conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists.Challenging Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord. In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'" Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers.
"Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'"This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord. Awe-inducing Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't? They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough! Cautions When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would do. But we also know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines. At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings. Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic. Conclusion I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10. The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44). I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God.
This review first appeared on the Dykstra book blog www.ReallyGoodReads.com.
Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction, Remembrance Day, Teen fiction
5 books to help us never forget
Next week will mark Remembrance Day, and to help us remember these men and women – many in uniform, and also many who were not – here are 5 books about their courage and conviction. There is something here for every age. By reading these – especially together with our children, or maybe in a book club with friends – we can be inspired and prepared. These stories remind us of why some wars need to be fought, and through these stories we can better appreciate those who fought for us so long ago. They provide us examples worth imitating for the battles, big and small, physical, and in our cases more often spiritual, that still need to be fought today. The reviews that follow have been arranged by the age of the intended audience - youngest to oldest - though all of these would be enjoyed by adults too. The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh 40 pages / 2012 How did poppies become the symbol for Remembrance Day? This beautifully illustrated (I love the water colors in this book - it's a treat just to look at it!) and well-researched children’s picture book tells the story of Moina Michael, who was 45 when World War I broke out. She was a teacher at the University of Georgia’s Normal School and realized that every home in America would be affected. “Her girls” would see fathers, brothers and sweethearts sent to the war front. As the war progressed, she did what she could to help. Her motto from a young age was “Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might." When she read John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” she knew what she had to do for all her beloved soldiers. She went on a search for poppies and found one large red poppy and 24 small ones in a department store. She put the large one in a vase in the YMCA canteen and gave 23 away. From that small, significant gesture, the Poppies have become a symbol of remembrance and bring much needed funds to help the veterans. The book has an epilogue that is helpful for teachers or parents who wants to tell children more about the history of the poppy. This book would be an asset to any elementary school library. – reviewed by Joanna Vanderpol Innocent Heroes: Stories of animals in the First World War by Sigmund Brouwer 186 pages / 2017 Animals had a bigger role in WWI than most of us realize. Author Sigmund Brouwer has taken heroic stories of these animals and, in the interests of making a continuous, compelling storyline, fictionalized the details, placing all the animals in just one Canadian platoon, the Storming Normans. While each chapter is built around the story of a particular creature –a cat, a bird, two dogs, a horse, a mule, and a lion – the book's main characters are three fictional Canadian infantry soldiers. In the trio of Jake, Charlie, and Thomas, the author gives us soldiers who couldn't have more different backgrounds, with Jake a farm boy, Charlie the city-dwelling millionaire, and Thomas a Cree Indian. With this “odd couple” friendship Brouwer injects his story with humor even in the midst of the horrors of war. It also allows him the opportunity to educate readers as to how Natives were treated on the front lines and back home in Canada during this period. My highest praise for a book is that it is so good I have to read it to my family – we’re loving it! Brouwer has weaved these animal stories together into a compelling book that tackles some tough topics at an age-appropriate level for pre-teens and teens. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond 273 pages / 2016 "Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don’t know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God. Now when men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is good reason, and plenty of time, to talk about life's most important matters. Bond gives Lewis a fellow junior officer – Second Lieutenant Johnson – who won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their back and forth sparring is brilliant; Bond has pulled the points and counterpoints right out of Mere Christianity and other books Lewis wrote when he became the world’s best-known Christian apologist. Bond has crafted something remarkable here, capturing in grim detail what it must have been like to live, eat, and sleep barely more than a stone’s throw from enemy troops hidden away in their own trenches. I think older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis are sure to enjoy War in the Wasteland. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra Prison Letters by Corrie Ten Boom 90 pages / 1975 This is a collection of the correspondence between Corrie Ten Boom and her family while she and her sister Betsie were being held in prison by the Nazis during World War II. If you haven’t already her remarkable wartime biography The Hiding Place, then you must read that first. It recounts how her family hid Jews, not because they were brave or courageous, but simply because they were obedient to what they knew God was calling them to do. We see how God sustained them. It is a book of doubts being answered, and God being found sufficient even in the most trying of circumstances. If you loved The Hiding Place (and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t) then this collection of letters will act as a moving appendix to that remarkable book. It is the same story, but told a very different way, one letter at a time. However, because no correspondence was allowed in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where Corrie and Betsie were sent last, the book ends abruptly. So, this will be a wonderful supplement to The Hiding Place, but it is not one to read simply on its own. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 - May 5, 1945 by Mark Zuehlke 2010 / 552 pages This book is a detailed account of the Canadian Army’s advance into the Netherlands and northwestern Germany during the last phase of World War Two. It is written in a popular (rather than academic) style and frequently relies upon first-hand reports provided by the soldiers themselves for a vivid narrative of combat and other experiences of frontline troops. For this part of the war, the Canadians were superior to the Germans in almost every way, but the terrain heavily favored the German defenders. The ground was frequently too soft for military vehicles so they were confined to roads, making them easy targets. As well, there were a large number of rivers and canals that had to be crossed to reach objectives. The Germans would blow up bridges as they retreated, and time after time the Canadians would have to cross by boat in the face of enemy fire. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the frequent accounts of heroic actions by individual Canadian soldiers. When the chips were down and the situation looked grim, some responded with acts of bravery that could be straight out of a Hollywood-style movie. For example, when Major Harry Hamley found his unit pinned down and threatened by a German attack he grabbed a large machine gun.
Charging into the face of enemy fire, Hamley burned through a magazine as he ran, shooting eight Germans dead, wounding several others, and scattering the rest.There were many such real-life heroes. We learn here that the Canadians were not reluctant combatants. When Dutch authorities requested that Canadian forces undertake a particularly dangerous mission, the Canadian commander consulted his troops about their willingness to attempt it: “There wasn’t the slightest hesitation or any objection raised, they were prepared to lay it on the line for the Dutch people.” Author Mark Zuehlke goes into much detail about individual army units and their experiences as they move from one objective to another, fighting much of the time. Many of the events described occur simultaneously in different parts of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. At times it can be difficult to keep track of how each event relates to the others. This is not the fault of the book so much as a reflection of the large battlefront continually in action. Thankfully, there is a series of maps at the front of the book, making it possible for the reader to keep track of events as the Canadian Army advances over a broad geographical front taking in numerous cities, towns and villages. There are also two sections with photographs. In short, this book lucidly describes a period of history that will make any true-blooded Canadian feel proud, and anyone of Dutch roots so very grateful. – reviewed by Michael Wagner
Adult biographies, Remembrance Day, Teen non-fiction
BOOK REVIEW: The Hiding Place
by Corrie Ten Boom 1971 / 225 pages This was such an encouraging story, and in so many ways. If you know only the barest details of Corrie ten Boom's life story you might mistake her for a superwoman. After all, this is a lady who lost her father and sister to the Nazis, and who had to endure deprivation and cruelty of a German concentration camp and yet she still managed to forgive the very people who did her so much harm. That certainly doesn't sound like any ordinary person! However, while Corrie was most certainly a special woman, her biography is all about God's greatness and not her own. HER WISE EARTHLY FATHER... In the first third of the book she sets the scene, telling of her early life, and sharing the sage wisdom of her father. Once, when she was a little girl she overheard someone talk of "sex sin" so she went to her father and asked him, "Father what is sexsin?"
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At least he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it up on the floor. "Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning. "It's too heavy," I said.
"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a heavy load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied– wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions – for now I was content to have them in my father's keeping....POINTED HER TO HER HEAVENLY FATHER Later she, still as a child, she has her first encounter with death – a small baby in an apartment on her same block has passed away - and she can't stop worrying about what she would do if her father and mother died. She can't eat, and can't stop crying. In response, her father points his little girl to her Heavenly Father.
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. "Corrie," he began gently, "when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?"
I sniffed a few times, considering this. "Why, just before we get on the train."
"Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will looking into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time."And that is just what Corrie finds, when years later this ordinary woman, who led such a quiet life for her first 48 years, finds herself as the leader of a Resistance cell, hiding Jews and members of the underground, stealing ration cards from the Nazis, and providing whatever help she could to whoever came asking. And that is what she found still in the midst of the Nazi concentration camp, surrounded by cruel guards and biting fleas. God gave her just what she needed, just when she needed it. This is a wonderful story that will be encouraging to anyone contending with discouragement, sickness, or the death of someone close to them. Miss ten Boom wants us to know that God never stops being good, even when we ourselves are wavering as things around us go so very badly. We can trust Him. We can count on Him. He loves his children! I'd recommend it to anyone 16 and up and suggest it as a very good offering for any reading group - it would foster some wonderful discussions. There is also a "young reader's edition" which has been abridged to about half the length. But they accomplished this feat by taking out all the charm. The original reads just as you might expect an older Dutch lady to talk, but the abridged version has only a flat, generic narration to it - Corrie's unique voice is gone. So give it a skip, and go with the original, even for "young readers."
Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com.
Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction
Shocked by Augustine's Confessions
There are many classics I mean to read in my life, but I just haven’t yet. Fortunately this summer, while laid up with an injury, I found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked – not by any of his confessions, but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But whatever the case, this classic is engaging. FREE TO QUESTION The best thing about the first few chapters is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (such as ‘Why does a good God allow evil?’) and then immediately answer it, Augustine just begins with posing questions. Many chapters start with a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God. I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two – for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time? AN ATTRACTIVE HUMILITY The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of many of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert. It was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims. But Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the Church after him should follow…even though the Church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers. [caption id="attachment_5448" align="alignright" width="197"] Some translations of Augustine’s "Confessions" can be easily found online and downloaded for free. But the free versions often have older language, with "Thees" and "Thous." A more current, very readable (but not free) version is Benigus O’Rourke’s translation pictured here. – JD[/caption] This is not to say Augustine is completely uninterested in answers. No, in fact much of his search for God is driven by his dissatisfaction with the answers given by his pagan worldview. And finding a few answers was central in his conversion – he explores answers more and more the further you delve into his book. However, the questions never stop. In the end, he is willing to have faith without answering every question that could be asked about God. QUESTIONS ASKED IN FAITH The second really cool thing about Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to all of them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the ones they love. I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day. If someone had wanted me to read Confessions before now, they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should have said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar. And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them:
“Let [people] ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”
Adult biographies, Assorted, Book excerpts
When gray hair meets green
Age has its privileges and the freedom to dish out sympathetic sarcasm is one of them
****Half his head is shaven. The middle part is green and the right side bright orange. He is clean, very clean. His red jeans are ripped, to show his boxer shorts. His torn T-shirt is white and clean. Lots of piercings; huge earlobe holes, like some African tribesman. Have not seen that since 1954. He is talking to an old crying Native man. I see him going to the coffee counter and returning with a coffee and a bun and giving it to the Native man. That was the last I saw of him that day. Two weeks later he wandered into the kitchen while Sue and I were trying to figure out how to feed about 80 people on 30 eggs and 72 buns. First we decided the staff would not eat that day. No worries there as this allowed me to stick to my diet plan. Someone brought in a hot apple strudel, six inches by twelve. We looked at it and just laughed. He stood in the doorway as we boiled the eggs - very small eggs, not meant for sale and therefore donated to the shelter. He got in my way as I was peeling the eggs. Suddenly he found himself with a spoon and knife in his hand. "Cut the eggs right through the middle and scoop out the egg, dump it in the green bowl." The old lady, me, had spoken. He looked at me funny and went to work. One of the guys ran out and got a jar of Mayo. In no time at all, we had egg salad on the buns and got the kid to bring out the trays to the hungry. When all the buns were gone and the apple strudel still on the counter, the kid got busy. He ran to the back freezer and came back with ice cream – two half full pails, chocolate and strawberry. It was just the two of us in the kitchen. He found the styrofoam soup bowls and plastic spoons. We divided the strudel into some 60 pieces and added two kinds of ice cream. When he carried the first tray out, he was greeted with a shout of "Dessert!" Sue came back and took the second tray. He came back into the kitchen and again it was just the two of us working together. When everything was gone, he suddenly said: "The way I live I have about 10 to 15 years to live." "So do I,” I informed him dryly. He glanced up at me with a stunned look on his face. Then he started talking again. "I’ve had fun. Got drunk every day, that's why I’m here. Community service. Can't wait to get back to drinking." "First time?" I asked him. "No, the second and the last time," he said. I agreed and told him that the third time would probably be jail and even more fun. He asked, "Well did you have a fun life?" "Sure did and no splitting headache in the morning. Besides that, I can even remember the fun I had." I asked him if he’d ever played in a band, toured Europe by motorbike, or traveled all over the world. I told him that I completely understood that going to a bar and spending the evening drinking and then staggering around with a splitting headache was, of course, much more fun. But at least I had fun for more years than he had had. We cleaned the kitchen, no longer talking. Before he left, he told me he had six more hours to serve and probably would not see me again. I agreed with him and told him I realized that it would be jail for him. He left but came back a little while later. "Look,” he said, “if I ever want to be told off, can I look you up?” "Sure, be glad to,” I replied. We grinned and shook hands! So now there is another kid in my prayers and I do not even know his name.
This is a chapter from Gerda Vandenhaak’s book “Geertje: War Seen though the Eyes of a Child as an Adult” which is available at www.gerdavandenhaak.com or Alder and Elm Christian books (1 587-988-1619)
Adult biographies, Adult fiction
The Betrayal: A novel on John Calvin
by Douglas Bond 383 pages / 2009 If you want to get an understanding of the times Calvin lived in, this novel is better than any biography. Douglas Bond immerses readers in the day-to-day details of living in France in the 1500s by telling Calvin’s story through the eyes of a life-long, entirely fictional, companion named Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis is born in the same village as Calvin, and for a time goes to the same school. But while Calvin’s intellectual gifts set him apart early, Jean-Louis is an average fellow living an ordinary, though rather brutal existence. Like many in the 16th century, he loses his whole family and his livelihood to the Plague. Left without a home or money, he falls back on his one extraordinary ability: Jean-Louis can lie without shame or qualm of conscience. It is this “talent” that gets him close to Calvin again, securing a job serving the Reformer. And it is this trait that allows him to act the role of loyal servant even as he vows to work against God’s servant. This is a fascinating read, but one that takes some effort. Though Bond is known as a teen fiction author, the weighty theological dialogues interspersed throughout The Betrayal make this a novel best suited for adult Calvin enthusiasts. It is available at Christianbooks.com and has also been translated into Dutch as Het verraad.
The life of John Calvin: A Modern Translation of the Classic
by Theodore Beza 148 pages / 1997 This biography has two strengths. First, it is short. Because it was originally written as an introduction to Calvin’s last published work, his Commentary on Joshua, it weighs in at only 144 pages. That could also be considered a weakness – the small size means it doesn’t have the detail or scope of most other Calvin biographies – but the slim size makes it more inviting than its 400 or 500 page rivals. This is a biography that can be read in a few days, rather than a few weeks. Second, this is an eyewitness account. Theodore Beza was a friend and disciple of Calvin and wrote his account as a tribute. That too could be considered a weakness; Beza’s admiration of Calvin made him incapable of seeing, or at least incapable of recording, any of his mentor’s faults. But this same admiration made Beza the best chronicler of Calvin’s gifts, the God-given talents that made the man a giant of the Reformation. The Life of John Calvin is available in a number of different editions but, because the original is over 400 years old, some translations are dated and simply dreadful. Fortunately Evangelical Press books have done “a modern translation of the classic” that can be found without too much digging on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
The Legacy of Sovereign Joy
by John Piper 160 pages / 2000 Meet the giants! In this slim volume, John Piper tells the tales of Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin with a very specific purpose. He aims to encourage modern-day believers by showing how God’s grace overcame each man’s flaws to provide the church with the gift of their work and example. Augustine was arguably the most influential church father after Paul. He was also a favorite of John Calvin, who quoted him 342 times in the Institutes. He spent the early years of his life enslaved to lust, living with a concubine, and drinking in the philosophical ideas of his day. His eyes were finally completely opened and God became his “sovereign joy.” Augustine spent much of his life and energy defending the centrality of God’s grace against the Pelagians, who taught that, “though grace may facilitate the achieving of righteousness, it is not necessary to that end.” His complete dependence on God is perhaps best summed up with his prayer: “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” Martin Luther’s story is generally well-known among Reformed folk, and is another striking example of the grace of God at work in history. Luther had an extremely high view of the Bible as the very words of God, and thus spent countless hours reading and wrestling with the Word. It was this relentless study that God used to open Luther’s eyes to the wonder of grace, which freed him from bondage to the works righteousness of the Roman Catholic church. This view of God’s Word also led Luther to warn against spending all one’s time reading commentaries and books and never going beyond this to the Word itself. Doing so makes us “like men who study the signposts and never travel the road.” John Calvin, another well-known Reformer, shared Luther’s view of God’s Word, and was awestruck at the majesty of God present in the pages of Scripture. B.B. Warfield once wrote that, “No man ever had a profounder sense of God than he.” Calvin had visions of spending his days quietly as a biblical scholar. However, God called him to pastoral ministry through the imprecations of William Farel and later Martin Bucer (contemporary Reformers). Calvin continued to dig through the gold mine of God’s Word, producing an astounding number of sermons, commentaries, and his well-known Institutes of the Christian Religion. This book is certainly not an exhaustive historical treatment of each of these men since it serves a more pastoral purpose of encouragement. Throughout the book Piper makes generous use of original quotations from these men, and, although some quotes are unnecessarily reused a number of times, they overflow with a love and zeal for God. In fact, they may stir the reader to reading the originals. Overall, an easy and encouraging read for anyone. To make it even more appealing, John Piper is giving the e-book version of it away free. You can download the pdf by going here.
Adult biographies, Teen non-fiction
This was John Calvin
by Thea B. Van Halsema 224 pages / 1959 I’ve read four John Calvin biographies and this is by far my favorite. It is tightly written at only 224 pages, and interspersed with dozens of illustration, but what sets it apart are the many minor details the author includes. One example: other biographies will mention that Martin Luther read and greatly respected what John Calvin wrote about the Lord’s Supper, but in This Was John Calvin we discover how Luther first learned Calvin’s thoughts. He picked up a Latin copy of Calvin’s Little Treatise On The Holy Supper Of Our Lord in a German bookstore. It’s only a small bit of additional detail but it is this sort of extra tidbit that makes history come alive – now I can picture the large Luther ducking through the small front door of a local bookstore, scanning the shelves of the Religion Section and plucking from the titles a slim volume by this young Calvin fellow he had heard so much about. That’s fun to imagine. Another example: every Calvin biography will note that half of Geneva’s citizenship opposed the Reformer, many of whom were constantly scheming to get him expelled from the city. Van Halsema goes further, spending 3 chapters (out of the book’s 36) to tell the story of Geneva before Calvin’s arrival, and explain the historic reasons for the division in the city. She also provides a helpful background to Calvin’s encounter with Michael Servetus – a heretic that Calvin is sometimes accused of murdering. Servetus was burnt at the stake by the Genevan authorities for denying the Trinity, and while Calvin agreed with his execution, Van Halsema notes that most everyone at that time did too. In fact the Roman Catholic town of Lyons had previously burnt Servetus in effigy, only substituting a dummy because the man himself had escaped their grasp. To sum up, this is a great, readable biography that will be enjoyed by anyone in their late teens or older who has even the tiniest bit of interest in church history.
Jon Dykstra blogs on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com
Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada
by Michael Wagner 128 pages / 2016 Feeling like you're the last true conservative left in Justin Trudeau's Canada? Then you need to read Michael Wagner's True Right and find out that all through Canada's history great, solid, courageous conservative men have stood up to the socialist hordes. What is a genuine conservative? How’s this for a definition? Someone who knows who God really is, and knows the government ain't Him. That comes out in the book, which is divided into 17 short biographies of political leaders who shaped Western Canada, some of whom were conservative another who were not. There's controversy to be had in the "weren't" camp, where the author places some big and well-loved names...but his reasoning is hard to argue with. Among the 13 who were, their faith in God is often evident. In this latter group most readers will find a pleasant surprise or two, meeting stalwart gentlemen who they'd not previously known. You might differ with Wagner on some of his assessments – I think in noting these men's strengths, he's sometimes overlooked a notable shortcoming or two – but you'll most certainly come away encouraged. Yes, even in Canada there have always been true conservatives, good and godly men, who were willing to stand up and fight, win or lose.
"True Right" can be purchased here.