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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.

News

Saturday Selections - March 14, 2020

The only question that matters in the abortion debate Greg Koukl shows how to simplify the abortion debate Christian myths and other famous quips (26-minute podcast) In this episode of the Abounding Grace Radio, Pastor Chris Gordon addresses three Christian myths: God helps those who help themselves God will never give you more than you can handle God is a gentleman who would never force Himself on anyone How to make your marriage blossom Ray Comfort, evangelist and closet comedian too, has 7 great tips. Coronavirus may lead to a mass homeschooling experiment? With school years being disrupted all over, will parents find out they don't need the government to teach their kids? Polyamory and the Overton Window How did homosexuality start getting "normalized" in evangelical Christian circles? With Christian leaders muddying what homosexuality entailed, giving them the opportunity, then, to condemn it only in part (the physical act itself), even as they praised what they called other aspects of it. Now we can see this same approach being used with polyamory. Don't be fooled! (Since posting this, it has been noted there has been some back and forth dialogue going on online. The article linked to in the title, by Denny Burke, critiqued this one by Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler. And now Sprinkle and Parler have responded to Burke and other critics here. And one of the critics they respond to, Douglas Wilson, responds to their response here. Lots to read, but it is well worth the time invested - this is the newest front.) C.S. Lewis on the Coronavirus "Lewis never faced the coronavirus, of course, but in the late 1940s, the world was coming to grips with another threat..." Are women more important for business than family?  Joseph Backholm went to the Women's March to ask, do businesses need to have both men and women on their boards, and "is it equally important for men and women to be represented in the lives of children?" (ie. do kids need a mom and dad). His interviewees thought equal representation was important in only one of those situations.

Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

Some pro-life arguments are not pro-life arguments

Editor's note: the short pro-life film Crescendo is very well done – it is compelling, emotional, and has wonderful musical accompaniment. It’s very clear why it has won so many awards.  But this pro-life film is also notable for what it is missing, or, rather, what it gets wrong. As Rob Slane explains below, while the argument in the film is a common one in pro-life circles, it is a message completely at odds with the truth. https://youtu.be/CafJJNETvqM

*****

Have you ever heard the Beethoven argument against abortion? It runs something like this:

"If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already – three who were deaf, two who were blind and one who was mentally retarded – and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion? You would? Well congratulations – you just killed Beethoven!"

I have heard this argument used many times as an argument against abortion and I must say it tends to leaves me with a thoroughly unappealing taste in my mouth. The problem with it is that in trying to establish the dignity of human life by using the idea that you might end up killing a genius if you abort babies, the argument ironically ends up completely undermining the dignity of human life. That's not what we believe The reasoning behind this little nugget is that by killing the unborn, you might just kill someone who, had you let them live, would have been great and who may have possibly brought great joy and happiness to millions. But the subtle subtext behind this argument is that the value of human life can be measured by success, or accomplishments, or by a person's genius. This contradicts the whole pro-life argument, which is based on the principle that all human life is special and of great value, not because of what a person may or may not do, but rather because each person is made in the image of God and so is automatically sacred – irrespective of future accomplishments and successes. Human dignity does not come from us. Ours is an objective dignity, given to us by our Creator and not by ourselves. It is not earned on the basis of what we do or by what we achieve, and it cannot be forfeited by reason of our sin. It is true that we often appear to do all we can to forfeit this dignity by our sinful nature and behavior, yet no amount of sin can alter our status as bearers of the Imago Dei, so we remain the possessors of great value. All sin does is to highlight how far we fail to live up to the dignity that God has given us. The proper perspective Having said this, I don't think we ought to abandon this line of reasoning completely. With a little tweaking and tinkering here and there, it could be used to good effect. Something like this:

"If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one who was mentally retarded, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion? You would? Well congratulations – you just killed Mrs. Dorothy Anne Tweed of 55 Jameson Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.

"What? You've never heard of Mrs. Tweed? Did you expect to hear that a somebody had been killed off, rather than this nobody? Maybe Beethoven or Einstein, for instance? Well sorry to disappoint you. I have to admit that Mrs. Tweed's resume doesn't look quite as impressive as Ludwig's. No choral symphonies to be found! No string quartets! No fate knocking at the door at the start of an awesome fifth symphony!

"Yet despite not being one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known and despite her clear lack of musical accomplishments, I am confident that Mrs. Tweed is as fully human as Ludwig ever was and has as much right to life as Ludwig ever did.

"So tell me – would you consign her, along with millions of others just like her, to death just because they aren't Beethoven?"

Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here.

News

Saturday Selections - March 21, 2020

How is the moon's design evidence for creation? (6 minutes) The unique characteristics of our moon – its size and distance from us relative to the sun's size and distance, the plane of its orbit, the ratio of its mass compared to the Earth, and more – make it a perfect aid to study our sun's corona and to stabilize our planet's rotation. RC Sproul's Ligonier Ministries makes all their teaching series free The best response to coronavirus fear? Learn more about our good, trustworthy, sovereign God. So as their response to the coronavirus crisis, RC Sproul's Ligonier Ministries is making their entire library of hundreds of teaching series free to stream online. C.S. Lewis on Modesty Lewis chips in on the Christian modesty discussion/debate. There's more to be said, but this is a helpful contribution. Eviction rights: "My building, my choice"? In this spoof of the abortion rights argument, reporters ask a political candidate about the "My Building, My Choice!” campaign that has the US government proposing rules to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants. How far is too far? When Christian young people are dating, "The question, 'How far is too far?' is often asked with the wrong motive. The real question usually being asked is, 'How much can I get away with?' Purity doesn’t ask that; purity asks, “How can I honor God in this relationship?” Many a reader won't agree with one of the suggestions in this article: no kissing before marriage. But whatever you think of that particular outworking, there are biblical principles here well worth discussing. 15 Reformed theologians on anxiety and fear The folks at the Westminster Bookstore have done something special, collecting key chapters from 15 Christian authors addressing the topic of anxiety and fear and then distributing those chapters for free (at the link above). These chapters include, in order: EDWARD WELCH - A small book for the anxious heart (4 daily readings) PAUL TAUTGES - Anxiety - Knowing God's Peace (4 readings) SARA WALLACE - Created to Care: God's Truth for Anxious Moms (Chap 8) MARK VROEGOP – Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Intro/Chap 1) JOHN CALVIN - Everyday prayer (Ps 130, 143) DAVID POWLISON - God's Grace in your Suffering (Intro) DALE RALPH DAVIS - In the Presence of my Enemies (Ps 29 - Chap 6) DAVID GIBSON: Living Life Backwards (Chap 1) JOHN MURRAY - O Death, Where is Thy Sting (Chap 13) PURITANS - Piercing prayers ALISTAIR BEGG - Pray Big (Chap 2) CHARLES SPURGEON - The Promises of God (5 daily readings) PAUL DAVID TRIPP - Suffering (Chapter 11) IAIN M. DUGUID - The Whole Armor of God (Chap 1) GROVES + SMITH - Untangling Emotions (Chap 13) TIMOTHY KELLER - Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Intro) Crisis, Christ, confidence and the coronavirus (27 minutes) Two professors from the Westminister Theological Seminary, a doctor, and Martin Luther, weigh in on how God would want us to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

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Love is…

Love is a mostly misunderstood word – it’s mistaken for sex, for sentimentality, for some sort of chemical thing that just happens, or doesn’t, and either lasts forever, or doesn’t. Some think it’s effortless. Some even think it can be bought for money.

Christians too, are confused. We know love is more than sex, more than sentimentality, and more than chemistry, but most of us are still trying to figure out whether love is a feeling or an action!

So what is love then? God tells us that love is…

sacrificial

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

Some misunderstand love as a math formula, where things are supposed to work out even on both sides of the equation: if you give a friend a thoughtful present, you should be able to count on getting one in return; if you give your spouse a backrub, they should get up and make you coffee; tit for tat, back and forth, even-steven. But Christ demonstrated the complete inequity of real love – He loved us, so He gave himself up for us, even though, in return, we can offer him nothing.

Loving is giving with no thought of getting.

something you do

“Let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

Love is more than a feeling, more than an attraction, more than arousal or sentimentality. Love is expressed in what we do for one another. We can say we love our brother, but if we won’t visit him when he’s lonely or help him when he is troubled, there is no love.

Love is an action.

not a duty to be performed

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).

Doing is not enough – it’s not enough to give to the poor, go to church twice each Sunday and read the Bible regularly if we are not doing this out of our love for God. A daughter can take her aging father to medical appointments, help him with his shopping and pop by regularly for a cup of coffee, but this, by itself, isn’t love – the very same tasks could be done by hired staff. Love is more than just a verb. A husband can play the part of a loving spouse – he can do all the right things, but love is more than just action, more than just duty. It is an attitude…

Love is a feeling.

not God

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The Beatles got it backwards when they sang, “All you need is love.” All we need is God, and while God is indeed love, that doesn’t make the reverse true – love isn’t God. The Beatles aren’t the only ones to get it backwards though. Our society is in love with love – they insist it’s the only way to bring meaning to our lives so it must be pursued no matter what the cost. Affairs, naturally, have become commonplace; if love is god, nothing should stand in the way of it, not vows, not spouses, not family. Instead of pursuing the God who is love, our society pursues love itself had has made an idol of it.

But love is not God.

from God

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but the He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God commands us to love our neighbor, and it’s a command most of us find easy to do. Or at least easy to do with old Mrs. Todd, our next-door neighbor who bakes cookies for us every Thanksgiving. But this command isn’t as easy to obey with that neighbor two doors down, who always steals our parking spot. Or the guy right next door who leaves beer cans on our lawn. Love these guys? Maybe we would if they were only a bit more lovable.

But of course, the love God is commanding here is of a more godly sort – the love that comes from Him. We need to humbly remember that we love, only because God loved us first. He, after all, didn’t love us because we had first in some way earned or prompted his love. No, He loved us first, sending his Son to die for us even while we were his enemies. And it is because He loved us first, that we can now love Him, and our neighbor.

Love comes from God.


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