Category Archives: Biography Book Reviews

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.

The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny with Jerry B. Jenkins

MathenyMatheny, Mike and Jerry B. Jenkins. The Matheny Manifesto – A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life. New York: Crown Archetype, 2015. 226 pp. $24.00. Purchase for less at Amazon. Also, for Kindle.

Introduction

Mike Matheny is a form Major League catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants. He is currently the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals having replaced Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa after an epic run to become World Series Champions in 2011.

Jerry Jenkins needs no introduction to most readers of Christian books. He has authored or co-authored over twenty New York Times bestsellers and has helped a number of athletes write their autobiographies.

Summary

Divided into three parts over fourteen chapters, Matheny, with the help of Jenkins, brings to completion something he inadvertently started when asked to coach a youth baseball team. Part one looks at the problem of youth sports which feeds into the problem for so many young adults in the “real world.”

The second part lays the foundation for a better way to handle youth sports, and, consequently, youth in general. Along the way he pays homage to arguably the greatest coach of all time – John Wooden.

The final, and largest part of the book, offers eight keys to success. These include a proper understanding of leadership, having confidence (not arrogance), the ability to work together as a team, and the importance of faith. Further, he continues to explain the necessity of character and class as well as toughness and humility.

Review

The title, while long, is straight-forward. The reader pretty much knows exactly what is coming. Matheny, however, interweaves his own life’s story to show the reader how he arrived at what amounts to his philosophy of life. He does not shy away from his faith in Christ. As a matter of fact, he makes is extremely clear from the outset that this is foundational to everything he is and has become as a man and as a manager.

What he does well is to show how his life, and yours, does not take place in a vacuum. He gives credit to a number of men and women along the way that helped to shape him as well as reinforce what his parents taught him.

He writes with a conversational tone that almost makes the reader feel as though he is engaged in a conversation with Matheny. He is almost didactic in that approach as he seems to anticipate questions throughout the book. He even goes so far as to ask the questions himself and then proceed to answer them. Again, this helps you remain engaged.

My only criticism is that the picture of he and Jenkins on the inside dust jacket was taken at Wrigley Field. As a lifelong Cardinals fan, this is unacceptable. (OK, that does not really count as criticism, but it is extremely close!)

In the end, Matheny has authored a concise autobiography that can be used for all coaches and parents and yes, even business leaders. The fact that he has built on the foundation of Christ is very obvious as you read this book. In fact, I believe Romans 10:9-21 would make an excellent biblical summary of this biography.

Recommendation

I really enjoyed reading this short book. I believe you will as well. This book is highly recommended to anyone who has children, is involved in the lives of children, or once was a child. It is for both Christians and non-Christians.