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Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Why read biographies?

More importantly, why stop? Any Christian who reads the Bible has been already been reading biographies. Let’s start with Genesis, where we read about the call of Abraham and his response; the prodigal son Jacob and God’s pursuit of him into the land of Laban; or the exile of Joseph, his life as a rather successful stranger in a strange land, and his return to Canaan several hundred years after his death. The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and the prophets are filled with biographies of judges, kings, queens, governors, and prophets. The New Testament has biographies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and plenty of autobiography of His most famous follower, Paul, as well as history of the work of Peter and other apostles. Perhaps you are thinking that none of these count as biographies, since their purpose was not to recount the life of a famous person, but were instead intended to reveal God in his covenant love for the seed of the woman, and to show us our sin and the one Way to salvation. Fair enough – but that should be at least one of the purposes of all Christians’ biographies. Christ at work So, one benefit of biography is to show Christ at work defending, preserving, and increasing His people. The natural question at this point might be why we should read any biography beyond those God gives us in His word. The answer is that God didn’t stop saving people at the end of the Book of Revelation. We can gain great comfort by seeing just how active Christ is in his Kingly work after the close of the New Testament period. For example, what is often called the first autobiography is Augustine’s Confessions, written between 397 and 398 A.D., showing both how far he wandered from his Christian upbringing, and how the Lord brought him back. Augustine’s life is a great source of comfort for those who have family members straying from the faith, as his mother Monica prayed for his return for twenty years – and her prayers were answered. Many Christians’ biographies and memoirs have a similar purpose – to reveal just how God moved them toward their conversion. C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy shows the three main stages in his spiritual journey.  First, he was raised within a very nominal and cold “Christian” upbringing.  He went through a period when what he thought was his reason contradicted Christianity. Finally, by the grace and providence of God, he came to the realization that reason and faith both point to Christ as the Son of God. (A great follow up to Surprised by Joy, is Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, his updating of Pilgrim’s Progress – it shows the hero John, like Lewis, overcoming intellectual stumbling blocks on the road of faith.) A less famous and more recent conversion story is David Nasser Jumping through Fires: The Gripping Story of One Man's Escape from Revolution to Redemption. Nasser tells how in childhood the author’s family escaped the religious fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, how he at first therefore rejected all religion as dangerous and fanatical, and how Christian love showed him that the way of Christ is something different altogether. A similar type of journey out of the grip of Islam toward Christ is shown in Mosab Hassan Yousef’s Son of Hamas, about the son of a major Palestinian leader. Yousef goes from seeking to kill his Israeli enemies to seeking to love them. This revelation to the reader of a new purpose for his life brings up a second reason to read autobiographies – to learn from great examples of Christians being used by God for His purposes. Great examples Let’s go back to Augustine for a moment. Like Nehemiah’s Bible book, Augustine’s Confessions is directed first of all to God. Thus, beyond showing God at work, both of them also give us models for our prayer and praise in response to God’s work. Many Christian biographies show us that there are many ways beyond prayer and praise to respond to what God has done. Some more recent ones show us just how big God’s call is on our lives, how we can serve and represent Him in so many different places and stations in life. For example, we all sense that the army is a noble way to serve your country, but both movies and the day-to-day routine of army life may bring a sense of skepticism about the possibility of a Christian serving there. As an example, the movie Black Hawk Down captures the cost of the American military’s mission in Somalia in 1993, but the language in the movie certainly would not make it one worth recommending. (The cliché “swearing like a trooper” has some truth to it.) However, the story of Captain Jeff Struecker’s actions in that crisis in his memoir The Road to Unafraid tackles many of the same issues of fear, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice for teenage guys (and others) without the problem of inappropriate language. In his autobiography Struecker makes us aware that you can serve both God and country. Two books that can inspire teenage girls are Abby Sunderland’s Unsinkable and Bethany Hamilton’s Soul Surfer. Sunderland reveals how a teenage girl’s faith in God strengthens her as she seeks to circumnavigate the world – solo – by sailboat. (We’ll look at the wisdom of that quest later.) Hamilton reveals how a teenage girl copes with the loss of her arm due to a shark attack while surfing, and how she found God’s purpose in the aftermath of that terrifying event. What makes Soul Surfer particularly intriguing is that Hamilton is so normal: her story is broken up by lists of her favorite surf spots, favorite things about her home of Hawaii, and a history of surfing. Yet in the midst of all that typical teenage stuff is the awareness that God is helping others through her willingness to share her experiences. Sharing experiences Which brings us to a third reason for reading biographies. Someone once said that experience teaches us the stuff that we needed to know to avoid the problems that experience brings us. In other words, the school of hard knocks is a really strict school. Biographies can help us learn about the tough stuff without having to go through it ourselves. Remember Unsinkable? Some people have really questioned the wisdom of Abby’s parents in letting her sail around the world alone. Reading the book thoughtfully can bring us to some reflection on whether such a trip is too high a risk – whether it contradicts what the Catechism says about the command “not to recklessly endanger ourselves.” There are countless biographies about a period of history that we all hope will never return to endanger anyone – the Second World War. A quick list of such books from my school’s library would include Diet Eman’s Things We Couldn’t Say, Jan de Groot’s A Boy in War, Albert VanderMey’s When a Neighbor Came Calling, J. Overduin’s Faith and Victory in Dachau, Hermanus Knoop’s Victory in Dachau, and Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Why do we need to know about that time? First, we need to honor our grandparents, great-grandparents, and others who went through those years, with the strength that God gave them, in a way that honored Him and served their oppressed neighbors. Second, we need to understand the currents that led to the oppression of that time, to make us aware that it could happen again. Biographies can show us both the ideas that led to the devaluing of human life then, and the urgency of the struggle against those ideas now. A biography that shows us the path toward the Nazi rule of Germany, from the perspective of teens living there at that time, is Eleanor Ayer’s Parallel Journeys. Her book shows how a member of the Hitler Youth and a Jewish girl who survived the Holocaust eventually joined to show the horror of that time to audiences now. Hard experience shared can also show us that the danger is not over. David Gibbs was the attorney who fought to keep Terri Schiavo alive when her husband wanted to prevent her from receiving any treatment after a stroke. Gibbs’ book Fighting for Dear Life shows us just how far the promotion of euthanasia has gone. Another threat to human life that is still so often taken for granted is abortion. Abby Johnson’s Unplanned shows us her journey from being a director of the abortion provider Planned Parenthood to acting and praying against abortion. Conclusion One of the fruits of the Reformation was that Protestants stressed, as one writer put it, that God’s people should be a reading people. Reading biographies, in particular, can inspire thankfulness for Christ’s heavenly work on behalf of His people; give us courage to face difficult circumstances; and provide us with wisdom to know where to begin, by God’s grace, to change the world around us.

This was first published in the July/August 2012 issue.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

By what standard? God's World...God's rules

Documentary 2019 / 110 minutes RATING: 8/10 The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and has a generally Calvinist leaning though that not always so. Four decades ago, it was a question as to whether the denomination might slide into liberalism, denying the truthfulness of the Bible, and following a path many other large denominations had traveled before it, or whether the SBC would turn back. In a pivotal 1979 annual meeting where God corrected their course. But now the home of Albert Mohler and also Beth Moore, has been wrestling with the issues of complementarianism, social justice, sexual abuse, and also something called “Critical Race Theory.” This two-hour documentary certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is eye-opening in showing how troubling worldviews can sneak into the Church via the best of intentions. One example: we are all agreed that sexual abuse is sinful and that we should act to prevent it. But in the SBC some have linked complementarianism with sexual abuse – one pastor said that preventing women from preaching denigrates them and teaches men that women can be abused. There we can see how, under the guise of doing something good – preventing sexual abuse – a biblical truth is attacked. You can watch a 14-minute preview below, or watch the whole film for free at Founders.org/cinedoc.

News

Saturday Selections - March 28, 2020

John MacArthur on the coronavirus crisis (17 minutes) While the coronavirus quarantine led to the canceling of the Ligonier conference, it freed up some time for one of the featured speakers to address how Christians can respond to this crisis and use it as an opportunity to witness to how the Gospel is good news to us, as well as to any who respond to Christ in faith. Tips for talking to your kids about sex I once heard a pastor share what he called "The Law of First Explanations" – that one reason parents have to be the first to talk about sex with their kids (and be the first to talk with them about any other important topics) is because our kids will sift all subsequent information they get on that topic through the filter of the first explanation they get. Parents will often notice the impact of this law when they come in second (or third, or fourth...) because now, whatever we have to say, is going to be tested against the filter of "But my teacher said..." or "But my friends all think..." But it works in our favor too, when we act early. Or, as the article author puts it, "Better a year too early than five minutes too late.” In addition to the article above, a helpful book series – one you can read along with your daughter or son, with different books for different ages – is the "Learning about sex for the Christian family" series put about by Concordia Publishing House. Getting creative... When government restrictions made it impossible to gather inside our church buildings, one congregation came up with a creative way of still meeting together at their usual time. This past Sunday, the Christ Community Church in Blaine, WA met outside, singing and listening to the sermon from inside their cars, assembled in their parking lot. Teaching our kids how to manage their devices Tim Challies titled this article "When Parents Feel Like We Are Mostly Failing Most of the Time" because, when it comes to helping out kids figure out how to use their phones, tablets, and computers to best effect, we know we aren't doing it right. There's plenty of reasons for it, not the least of which is as trailblazers in this area (this is not something our parents could teach us how to teach our kids) we are bound to get it wrong. But that also means there is plenty of ways to improve. So, for the love of our kids, let's be the parents and take that leadership role. And Challies has some wonderful help to offer. How the coronavirus has revealed what's core to Roman Catholicism An Italian pastor explains how the Catholic Church's response to the coronavirus is revealing what's core (and consequently what's deficient) in their doctrine. In related news, the Pope has said that, due to the crisis, Catholics can confess their sins directly to God...at least until they can reach a priest once again. Choice42 with another tool for the pro-life toolbox (1 minute) There is a truth about the unborn that needs to be shared – that they are every bit as valuable as you and I because, just like you and I, they are made in the very Image of God (Gen 1:26-27, 9:6). And there are also lies that need to be knocked down – many, many lies. And as she shows here once again, Laura Klassen, and her crew down at Choice42, are among the very best at knocking down those lies.

News

Saturday Selections - May 11, 2019

The world is rated R (50 minutes) It is a parental impulse to shelter our children. But is our end goal to give our children comfortable lives? Or do we want children who can take a hit, who'll talk smack with giants (1 Sam 17:45-47), who'll demolish inflated opinions (2 Cor. 10:5), and who'll just generally be itching to get out there and glorify God no matter how many bruises will result? How to say "This is cr-p" [i.e. garbage] in different cultures If you can overlook the crudity in the article's title, it offers an insight useful to "plain-spoken" Dutchmen who are surprised when folks from other cultures find us brusque or rude. Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019) This article has been pulled, so an additional item has been added below. How the government might take your children This is not a clickbait headline. "Imagine if tomorrow, a judge in the most liberal state in the country announced children no longer belong to their parents... From henceforth, says the decree, kids belong to the state. Outraged parents would take to the streets! Angry and refusing to capitulate. "Well, that’s not how it goes. Instead, parental rights are taken a little at a time." McDonald's and the minimum wage Unskilled workers used to always be able to find a job at the fast food giant. But after the US government mandated increased benefits and salaries for McD's workers, the restaurant chain has had to get more out of each employee to pay for those increases. That's meant turning to automation. And that's meant a dramatic drop in the number of McDonald's employees. Christian: If evolution is true, life is meaningless Evolutionist: How dare you sir! Eric Metaxas recently said, "If you actually believe we evolved out of the primordial soup and through happenstance got here, by accident, then our lives literally have no meaning.” In response, a prominent evolutionist said that was a "crock" and that he had hundreds of people giving him responses explaining the meaning and purpose they find in their lives. But a look at those responses makes Metaxas's point. A wonderful example of getting the unborn heard! When New York State passed a law increasing access to late-term abortions the question for pro-lifers was, how can we protest as loudly as possible? Focus on the Family responded by broadcasting a live ultrasound in the world's busiest intersection, Times Square. They called the event "Alive from New York." https://twitter.com/FocusFamily/status/1124798996818612225

AA
Current Issue, Magazine
Tagged: Current Issue, featured, Magazine

Jan/Feb 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: The great moon hoax of 1935 / “Seven Wondrous Words” book excerpt / Why we should be life-long learners / Complementarianism is not misogynistic / This isn’t your parents’ Katy Keene…or Archie Andrews / “The Gospel comes with a house key” review / The case for biblically-responsible investing / Canada has no “right to abortion” / When the Word of God is not preached / Christian fantasy fiction for teens and adults / What you should know to survive and thrive in your secular science class / Four films to see for free online / I started my business for the wrong reasons / and much more…

Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF


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