Category Archives: Biography Book Reviews

Huckabee: The Authorized Biography by Scott Lamb

HuckabeeLamb, Scott. Huckabee: The Authorized Biography. Nasville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2015. 336 pp. $24.99. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for  less.

Introduction

This is Scott Lamb’s second biography. His first was co-authored with Tim Ellsworth and was entitled Pujols: More than the Game and third book overall as he coauthored Whatever the Cost with David and Jason Benham. Scott currently serves as the executive director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and is the president of Reformation Press in Nashville. He is also a personal friend of mine and operates a website to which I sometimes contribute. It is called A Christian Manifesto.

Mike Huckabee is most noted for being a politician. You can read more about Mike at his website.

Summary

From the publisher’s description:

For the first time, the former governor of Arkansas opens up the vault to friend and biographer W. Scott Lamb to tell his life story. In this thoroughly unique biography of one of the most likeable, influential leaders in America, Lamb covers the entire scope of Mike Huckabee’s life and career. With full, unfettered access to Governor Huckabee’s personal library, files, and family records, fans will finally get the definitive account of one humble man’s rise to political prominence.

Readers are introduced to young Michael Dale Huckabee, son of a local fireman in Hope, Arkansas. Huckabee would soon share the same grade school teacher as Bill Clinton, who is nine years his senior. Huckabee’s collegiate aspirations took him to Ouachita Baptist University, where he graduated in two and a half years and met his future wife, Janet. Huckabee also honed his musical talents, becoming a bass player and forming the band Capitol Offense. Later he would also serve at the side of television personality James Robison during the early years of his television ministry. He hit his ministerial stride in the early 1980s, when he took the helm of Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, from 1980 to 1986.

Most people, however, know Mike Huckabee as a politician. In 1994, he became lieutenant governor and faced the now infamous Whitewater scandal that sent then-governor Jim Guy Tucker into court to face felony charges of corruption and fraud. In the interim Huckabee decided to run for governor, but not before Tucker would change his mind at the eleventh hour and cause a statewide constitutional crisis that challenged Huckabee to the core. Huckabee’s courageous handling of the debacle endeared him to the hearts of many citizens, causing him to serve as the forty-fourth governor of Arkansas from 1996 until 2007.

Huckabee also takes a good look at other difficult decisions he faced. In 2000 he granted clemency to prisoner Maurice Clemmons, who, while on parole, moved to Washington State and murdered four policemen in 2009. Huckabee was forced to field question after question about this case during his 2008 presidential bid—a race in which he finished second to John McCain.

Today, Mike Huckabee is known for his television program on the Fox News channel and as a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. His many fans will now have the opportunity to get to know the man behind the famous, reassuring smile.

Review

The first thing I noticed as I read this book is how much better the writing style was compared to his bio on Pujols. It is obvious how much Scott has grown as an author. One aspect of this growth is the creative way in which he titled the chapters. Playing off of Mike’s love of music, every single chapter is a song title.

Yet another way Scott has grown is his interlacing of current and past information seamlessly and effortlessly throughout the bio in order to show how events from Mike’s past shaped who he is today. It will also be of interest to the reader that much of Huckabee’s political thinking was forged in his youth and in his calling to itinerant gospel preaching. Nonetheless, Huckabee continues to think critically through a biblical worldview today as the culture is ever changing.

He also shows how other cultural phenomena (like Woodstock, the Apollo missions, Vietnam, etc.) shaped Mike’s understanding of the culture and what he thought was a proper response. Furthermore, and Mike Huckabee has never been shy about this, we see how his faith and his salvation has been ground zero for everything he does as a politician and as a man. I write in that order because for most people, they will pick up this biography because they know Huckabee as a politician. What they will find is that he is a genuine man and truly what you see is what you get.

This is lost on most today as the basic assumption of all politicians being liars and cheats is held by most in the public. Lamb even traces this back to the Watergate Scandal with Richard Nixon. While Lamb does offer a favorable view of Mike Huckabee, this is not because he wants to paint a different picture than the public persona we all know. Instead, he offers a favorable view of Huckabee because that is simply who the guy is.

He is not perfect, and you will quickly understand that as you read the biography. What you will find is a trustworthy man who has a calling to a public office that many do not. You will also discover a man who tells it like it is even if it is not popular.

Recommendation

If you are interested in biographies, you will thoroughly enjoy this one. If you are a fan of Mike Huckabee, then this is must reading. Regardless, to be able to peer behind the curtain and see what makes a man tick is always interesting. To see that the person you know in public, especially if he is more famous, is the same person in private is quite rare. Mike Huckabee is a rare man. Scott Lamb shows us why.

The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen

The Printer and the PreacherPetersen, Randy. The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George Whitefield, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015. 320 pp. $26.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Every American knows Benjamin Franklin. Most every Christian knows George Whitefield. Many know they were friends. Very few know the story of their friendship. Randy Petersen, a former editor and writer for Christian History magazine, offers insight into this friendship upon which America was founded.

Summary

Divided into twenty-four chapters and three appendices, Petersen starts at the beginning of how a man in American and a man in England formed a bond that would span thousands of nautical miles and the years of the infancy of the United States.

He follows three major segments of their lives: before they met, when Whitefield was in America, and then possible times they met and their correspondence together.

Throughout the course of the book, you will get a peak at what life was like in colonial America from the vantage point of secularism and faith.

Review

A little slow moving but very informational. It was an enjoyable read that brought two streams, often not studied in tandem, together in a way that helps to explain perhaps the original intent of the separation of church and state.  It is also beneficial to see how a man of faith and a man of politics interacted with one another unlike many are able to do today.

The book is heavily researched as evidenced by the fifteen pages of end notes and, I thought, well told. It is part biography of Whitefield, part biography of Franklin, and all biography of the Colonial United States.

Recommendation

For those interested in history of America, Franklin, or Whitefield, you will enjoy this book. For those who simply want to peer back in time at two men who genuinely helped forge the American identity, this book is for you. I recommend it to all people regardless of faith.

The Voice of Faith by Peter Beck

The Voice of FaithBeck, Peter. The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Prayer. Ontario: Joshua Press, 2010. 336 pp. $29.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Dr. Beck is assistant professor of religion and director of the Honors Program at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina. He has become a notable scholar on Jonathan Edwards.

Summary

Divided into eight chapters, Beck offers an “internal” and “external” look at Jonathan Edwards. He begins with a chapter on the prayer hearing God before offering a chapter on the early life of Edwards. The third chapter looks at the excellent Christ while the fourth chapter gives detail on Edwards’s conversion.

The fifth chapter looks at the importance of understanding the true spirit of prayer before moving into the final third part of the external biography of Edwards – that of his controversy and dismissal from North Hampton.

The final two chapters offer insight into Edwards’s congregation, their happiness, and how all of this assimilates into a deeper understanding of what motivated Jonathan Edwards…communion with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Review

If you are interested in Jonathan Edwards, you will thoroughly enjoy this heretofore little studied aspect of the life of Edwards. I greatly appreciated the interweaving of biography with academic study. It helped to locate the theological growth of Jonathan Edwards in its proper context.

While many will know about the life of Jonathan Edwards through many excellent biographies available, not as many will have studied his prayer life. In fact, according to many of the endorsements, this is the first book that intentionally studies the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards. That alone is worth the price of the book.

Further, this book does not read like an academic paper though it is obviously that. It does elucidate many unknown qualities about what drove Jonathan Edwards and will leave a fresh imprint in the mind of the reader today to strive toward a closer communion with the Lord through prayer.

Recommendation

If you enjoy reading Jonathan Edwards and have benefited from his works, I highly recommend you read The Voice of Faith by Peter Beck. It may be more instrumental in your walk with Christ and will certainly bring to life the wisdom of Jonathan Edwards in a radical way that will cause you to reread what you have of Edwards already.

The Very Heart of Prayer by Brian G. Najapafour

The Very Heart of PrayerNajapafour, Brian G. The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming the Spirituality of John Bunyan. Mountain Home: BorderStone Press, LLC., 2012. 122 pp. $19.95. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Note: I recently found a box that has been unopened since before I moved to take a pastorate in Mexico, MO back in March 2013. Inside that box was a few books I was in the process of reading for the purpose of review. This is one of those books.

Introduction

Brian G. Najapfour has written or edited a few books that are worth your time. Since October 19, 2012, has been pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan. You can read more about his ministry and writings here.

Summary

Divided into three chapters, Najapfour looks at John Bunyan’s place in history, his position on prayer, and his pursuit of piety. It is a work that is historical, biographical, and theological all at once.

Review

This is a short read that packs quite a lot of theological insight. Many today have limited their reading of John Bunyan to only his most famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress. Brian does Christendom a favor through writing this book. In it you will find what made John Bunyan tick. That was prayer.

If you read much of Bunyan at all, you will know that his theology ran deep and his piety even deeper. Najapfour illustrates this and introduces one of the greatest of Puritans to a new generation.

Recommendation

By reading The Very Heart of Prayer, the modern-day Christian will be introduced to a stalwart Baptist who has largely been forgotten except for Pilgrim’s Progress. I highly recommend this book to all interested in knowing more about John Bunyan.

Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr

Marie DurandCarr, Simonetta. Christian Biographies for Young Readers – Marie Durand. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. 64 pp. $18.00. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Simonetta Carr is back with the 9th volume in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series. You can read reviews of many of her books as well as interview here.

Summary

From the back of the book:

In 1730, nineteen-year-old Marie Durand was arrested and taken from her home in a village in Southern France for the crime of having a brother who was a Protestant preacher. Imprisoned in the Tower of Constance, Marie would spend the next thirty-eight years there. Simonetta Carr introduces us to the inspiring life of a woman who could have recanted her Protestant faith and gained release, but held fast to the truth and encouraged others to do so as well. Beautiful illustrations, a simply told story, and interesting facts acquaint young readers with the challenges facing Protestants in eighteenth-century France and show them that even a life spent in prison can be lived in service to Christ and others.

Review

I honestly had never heard of Marie Durand until reading this children’s biography. Simonetta expertly tells the story of the 18th century wranglings between the Protestant and Catholic churches in France from the perspective of Marie.

Through the retelling of her life, children today will learn that faith does indeed cost and sometimes the price exacted is more than we think. In the end, God will reward one’s faith in Him as only He can.

Recommendation

As with all of the biographies in this series, I highly recommend this to all readers of any age. There are many stories to be told about God’s faithfulness in the lives of His children. Many stories have gone untold until now. The church remains indebted to Simonetta Carr for her work on this series. Pick up a copy today and you will see why.

Richard John Neuhaus by Randy Boyagoda

NeuhausBoyagoda, Randy. Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square. New York: Image, 2015. 480 pp. $30.00. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Randy Boyagoda is a Canadian writer, intellectual and critic best known for his novels Governor of the Northern Province and Beggar’s Feast. He is also President of PEN Canada.

Summary

Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was one of the most influential figures in American public life from the Civil Rights era to the War on Terror. His writing, activism, and connections to people of power in religion, politics, and culture secured a place for himself and his ideas at the center of recent American history.

William F. Buckley, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith are comparable — willing controversialists and prodigious writers adept at cultivating or castigating the powerful, while advancing lively arguments for the virtues and vices of the ongoing American experiment. But unlike Buckley and Galbraith, who have always been identified with singular political positions on the right and left, respectively, Neuhaus’ life and ideas placed him at the vanguard of events and debates across the political and cultural spectrum.

For instance, alongside Abraham Heschel and Daniel Berrigan, Neuhaus co-founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam, in 1965. Forty years later, Neuhaus was the subject of a New York Review of Books article by Garry Wills, which cast him as a Rasputin of the far right, exerting dangerous influence in both the Vatican and the Bush White House. This book looks to examine Neuhaus’s multi-faceted life and reveal to the public what made him tick and why.

Review

Having come to faith in 2001 and then joining the Southern Baptist Convention by conviction in 2003, I was not familiar with the life of Richard John Neuhaus. While I obviously would not have agreed with him much theologically, I found his political views and stances extremely thought provoking.

His transition from Lutheran to Roman Catholic made sense to me as I watched it unfold through the lens of Boyagoda. His transition from liberal to conservative, however, was not as evident to me. His propensity for social justice would have seemed to keep him a life-long liberal given his political leanings. In the end, it was obvious his theology drove his politics and not vice-versa.

I though Boyagoda did a masterful job of telling the life of this lightning rod of a theologian. He was sympathetic to the subject, Neuhaus, and allowed him to speak for himself wherever possible. In most other cases, he would let close friends speak when they could. With over forty pages of end notes, this biography is well researched in addition to being well-written.

Recommendation

If you are looking for an interesting biography to read on an influential theologian in the public square in the 20th century, then you will thoroughly enjoy this biography. It is lengthy, but a good story of a thought-provoking life takes time to tell. I recommend this biography to all.

You Must Read – Books that have Shaped Our Lives

You Must ReadYou Must Read – Books that have Shaped Our Lives. Compiled by bookkeeping accounting. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015. 307 pp. $18.00. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Have you ever wondered what influences have shaped the preachers, teachers and authors you respect? You Must Read brings together more than thirty well-known Christian leaders and gives them the opportunity to talk about a book that has made a lasting impact on their lives. Their personal narratives and recommendations of the literature that has moulded and matured them combine to produce a book full of interest from start to finish, but also one that can be ‘dipped into’ for occasional reading. Best of all, You Must Read will be an indispensable guide to some of the truly great books that have transformed, encouraged, instructed and challenged countless Christians’ lives.

Summary

A total of 35 individual chapters (3 “chapters” comprise the epilogue) are written by 35 different men and women. Each chapter looks at that contributor’s most influential book they have read published by The Banner of Truth Trust.

Review

This is an unusual book in that it is a book about books. The draw will not necessarily be the books discussed. Rather, the draw is the many “heroes” today sharing why a particular book resonated with them and how it has shaped their respective ministries. To that end, this book is extremely fascinating.

Perhaps a critique of the book may be that all of the books that have been influential have been published by The Banner of Truth Trust. This is to be understood, however, since this book was compiled by the Trust itself. That being said, not all of these books were originally published by the Banner.

The end goal according to the introduction is an eagerness “that others will discover what we have been privileged to discover.” In essence, then, this work is not only about how particular books, now published by the Banner influenced some of the greatest Reformed minds today, but also how the Banner has selected what works to bring back into publication in order that others may be influence.

Recommendation

If you are Reformed in your thinking at all, or have been influenced by any of those who contributed to this resource at all, you will want to read this book. If you were to begin a library consisting of You Must Read and then adding to it the books discussed, you will find that your library will have one of the most solid foundations for a library ever. I highly recommend You Must Read to all interested in quality resources about the Christian faith.

Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory Edited by Michael A.G. Haykin

Joy Unspeakable and full of gloryJoy Unspeakable and Full of Glory: The Piety of Samuel and Sarah Pearce. Edited by Michael A.G. Haykin. Ontario: Joshua Press, 2012. 248 pp. $21.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

The Classics of Reformed Spirituality series is a series designed to provide choice selections from various Reformed writers, rich in spiritual nourishment, to stir deeper insight into the Bible and to cultivate a greater desire to seek after Christ’s glory and blessed presence. The series is edited by Michael A.G. Haykin.

Summary

Samuel Pearce, a young eighteenth-century English pastor, was described by his friend and biographer Andrew Fuller as “another Brainerd”—a reference to the celebrated American missionary David Brainerd. Pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, England, during the tumultuous 1790s, and a close friend of pioneer missionary William Carey, Pearce played a key role in the early days of the Baptist Missionary Society. In the providence of God he died at just thirty-three, but in the eyes of many of his contemporaries, he seemed to have condensed a lifetime of holy and joyful ministry into a single decade.

His marriage to Sarah Hopkins was one of deep love and mutual respect, and she joined him in his passion for the salvation of sinners—both at home and abroad. Through excerpts from Samuel and Sarah’s letters and writings, we are given a window into their rich spiritual life and living piety.

Review

With the 42-page biography of Samuel and Sarah Pearce beginning the work, the reader is introduced to a largely forgotten, though very influential man of God in his life time. By looking at the chronology of his life, we quickly understand how much he accomplished in his short 33-years on this earth.

Where the work really strikes a chord is in the selections from his letters and writings which comprise the majority of the book. Here we see that his flame burned brightest for Christ and His church but also for his beloved bride, Sarah. Further, we read of Sarah’s devotion to the same.

Though there is a slight language barrier for today’s reader, one quickly adapts to the writings and finds himself immersed in the life of Samuel Pearce from his own perspective through his pen. Though most would not know much about the wives of the great men of history, Haykin has done a huge favor for the church today by including her own correspondence because she was “deeply interested in all that interested” her husband.

These letters will take you to another place and time though they spring from a love and passion for the timeless truths as found in the Word of God.

Recommendation

If you are not familiar with Samuel Pearce, I highly recommend you begin with this work. Unfortunately, not many will read this because he has largely been forgotten. To read Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory is to peer through the corridors of time and see what a genuine Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated piety looked like.

Grief Undone by Elizabeth W. D. Groves

Grief UndoneGroves, Elizabeth W.D., Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2015. 224 pp. $17.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or for Kindle.

Introduction

Elizabeth Groves teaches Hebrew at Westminster Theological Seminary. She has written Becoming a Widow. She also has four children and four grandchildren.

Summary

With eighty-nine chapters in only 224 pages, one quickly realizes this is more like a diary of the author’s journey that emphasizes her husband’s battle with cancer. The book is divided into a number of subsections such as life before (the cancer), winter ’06, spring ’06 until his death in winter ’06-’07.

The largest portion of the book is Elizabeth’s immediate life following the home going of her soul mate and husband (chapters 61-83) and then a final section looking back on this most difficult period in her life (chapter 84-89).

Review

Grief Undone is a diary chronicling all the human emotional, mental, physical and spiritual struggles every human faces in life. In this case, it was the all too common battle against cancer. To that end, it must be noted how difficult it is to critique one’s raw emotions and their own personal experiences since it is so personal and private.

Perhaps that is what makes this work so valuable. On every page, you see the struggles of the flesh. You witness first hand the life of a believer in the midst of terrible strife. And on every page you see God-given faith and perseverance. You see humility. You see courage to face the world with a satisfaction of knowing that the God you worship is sovereign over cancer and other illnesses. Further, you see that there is a comfort in knowing that though this cancer may take your life in this world and, as is the instance for Elizabeth, leave you “by yourself” to await your own home going, it is not the end by a long shot.

The faith and hope poured into these words on the pages in this book are a comfort to the believer today. Why? Because we all must struggle with sin and the effects of sin in this world. Elizabeth Groves has written a wonderful and transparent book that will be an aid to all pilgrims striving to get to the Celestial City.

Recommendation

If you have cancer or know someone who does, I highly recommend this resource to you. If you struggle with the trials and tribulations of life, I highly recommend this resource to you. While Elizabeth is certainly someone we can all learn from in dealing with cancer and death, she ultimately points us to the One who helped her and will help you.

The Serpent Beguiled Eve by Acacia Slaton

Serpent Beguiled EveSlaton, Acacia. The Serpent Beguiled Eve: Healing the Wounds of Abandonment, Betrayal, and Shame. CreateSpace, 2014. 148 pp. $13.99. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Acacia has written a children’s book entitled, Mommy, Am I Still Your Princess. This one, however, is deeper and more biographical.

Summary

A young married woman with two daughters deals with her husband’s infidelity and his struggle with homosexuality. She seeks spiritual counsel, but when he refuses to cooperate with spiritual leaders-other than on a surface level-she has to make the most important decision of her life.

Review

From the start,  you know this book is going to be a tough read given the sensitive nature of the topics discussed. From adultery to divorce to homosexuality, the reader is confronted with real-life in this ever changing culture of what is acceptable behavior.

I need to qualify this review with a note that there is much I disagree with in terms of ecclesiology (church stucture), some of the teachers that influenced the main character (Joyce Meyer, etc.) and the evident charismatic (see TBN-esque Pentecostalism) influences in her life. That being said, I am also aware that a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

I struggled with the life story of betrayal as both a husband and father and perhaps as a pastor myself. I hated to read what was going on in her life as well as how he failed to lead both himself and his family. The warning was clear, however, we must always be on guard and must continue to put our faith in Christ alone.

Slaton pours her heart and soul into this work and explains how it was (and is!) only God’s grace that brought her through this horrendous storm. Furthermore, near the end of this book, I think she best summarized why she, as a Christian, must strive to forgive as imperfect as she might be able to do. She realized that because God had forgiven her so often in her unfaithfulness to Him, she in turn, must seek to forgive her ex-husband despite the pain and her unwillingness. Her transparency in her struggles is to be commended and modeled.

Recommendation

In the end, I found this book to be genuine and God-honoring though I personally disagree with many secondary (albeit, important) issues theologically. The heart of the book is one of our need of God’s grace each and every day. To that end, and understanding one must read with discernment, I recommend this book to those who are hurting.