Category Archives: Biography Book Reviews

George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore

George Whitefield. Dallimore, Arnold. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010. 225 pp. $17.99. Purchase at Westminster for $12.05.

Introduction

George Whitefield (1714 – 1770) hardly needs an introduction, but for those who do not know, he was “the greatest evangelist of the 18th century revival.” He was a contemporary of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles as well as Jonathan Edwards. He was much admired by Benjamin Franklin for his ability to speak even though they did not share the same theological convictions.

Arnold Dallimore (1911 – 1998) was the pastor of the Baptist Church at Cottam, Ontario for nearly 24 years. He has written numerous biographies which can be found here.

Summary

George Whitefield is actually a condensed version of the much larger two-volume edition published by Banner of Truth. In this particular edition, Dallimore sought to share the many memorable and exciting matters in Whitefield’s life. His hope in publishing this condensed version was to draw people to read the larger two-volume work.

In this shorter work, we read of Whitefield’s birth and conversion as well as how his preaching was so powerful that it “startled” a nation. His journeys to the young United States are well documented as is his open air preaching in London. Also, the reader will be introduced to the divisions that doctrine can (and most likely will) bring to friends even if the Lord uses both to bring about great revival.

Review/Recommendation

For those who have never read about George Whitefield, I strongly suggest you begin with this smaller volume. It is well written and not dry. The anecdotes and stories will keep you turning the pages until you have reached the end. Once you reach the end of this book, you will want to read the larger two-volume work to learn more. Be careful, though, as you read this book. You will either be convicted of your lack of working for the kingdom of God and yearn to do more or, if you are an unbeliever, you may very well become a believer after reading the central message of faith in the gospel that George Whitefield held.

Embezzlement by Kevin Cross and Steven White

Cross, Kevin with Steven White. Embezzlement: A True Crime Story. Alachua: Bridge-Logos, 2010. 228 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Amazon for $10.19 or less.

Introduction

Kevin Cross has already authored one insightful book, Building Your Financial Fortress in 52 Days, which I have reviewed here. In Embezzlement, we read how Kevin came to understand the biblical principles for managing money. You can find out more about Kevin’s ministry, Cross Stewardship Ministries at account417.com or read more about this book at Embezzlement.com.

Summary

Embezzlement

is an autobiography of a snot-nosed punk who thought he could get away with everything only to discover that he could not. It is a story of how God reached into one man’s life and intervened at the most opportune time. This not only saved Kevin’s life physically, but it ultimately saved his life spiritually.

The story begins simple enough. A young man wanting to climb ladders gets aggravated with his current standing in life. To rise from the ashes as it were, he decides to begin stealing money. He and a friend are able to hatch a plan to embezzle money from the Broward County Sheriff’s office and filter it all into one of two phony bank accounts.

All is going well until he gets drunk one night and spills his guts to two of his friends who want to know how he is suddenly making all of this money. They then run to the mafia (of which they are related) and let them know. The mafia in turn decides they want in on the action. They kidnap the two kids (19-year olds at this time) and threaten their lives and the lives of their family if they do not pay up.

After this close scrape with death, someone (Kevin still does not know who to this day!) alerts the sheriff’s office to Kevin’s schemes. He and his buddy get arrested (his buddy has not talked with him since) and thrown into separate prisons. While in prison, Kevin comes across a Bible and is saved while reading Matthew 11:28-30 (from the Message).

After losing everything, Kevin starts over determined to build wealth and pay his debts the proper, God-honoring way. He gets a couple of jobs that he cannot stand and then begins a tax service out of his mom and dad’s house. Ultimately, God has blessed Kevin and now through this book and his ministry, Kevin wants to return the blessing to others.

Review

What I enjoyed the most about this particular biography was just how real it was. While I am sure much language was changed (I am pretty sure it would be R-rated if language was used!), many of Kevin’s short comings were front and center.

At some level, he truly believed he was doing a good and honorable thing by stealing the money from the sheriff’s office. After all, he did plan to invest some of it and return all the money he actually stole with a nice little profit (keeping some for himself and his friend) to show the sheriff that he was doing a service for the county and the office.

Kevin and Steve never try to dull the edges. Rather, they show the stupidity of his ways and then how God (note, not Kevin) has brought him up from the grave—almost literally to what he is today. Throughout the book, the reader feels as though he is listening in on a man reflecting back on his horrible decisions in life but then realizing that the exchange that Christ made for him on the cross was not only more than he deserves, but the ministry that was given him is for Christ’s glory alone. If you ask me, it sounds much like Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:30 who while discussing his past of how great he was in the world’s eyes, counts it all as trash when compared to the riches and glories found in Christ (Phil. 3:8ff).

Recommendation

Kevin Cross, with the help of Steven White, has authored two very enjoyable books. Embezzlement was written second, but is the very foundation for Building Your Financial Fortress. It shows that Kevin is not speaking from behind a desk without any experience. Rather, he has “been there, done that” and has the criminal record to prove it!

If you are looking for a biography that will inspire you in the area of finances, this is certainly worthy of your reading. While Kevin Cross is not a “dead theologian” or a pastor, he is a Christian who has a wonderful story of God’s grace and mercy. To read his biography is to, in a very real way, peer into the heart of each and every one of us who has at some point felt as though we deserved more and took matters into our own hands only to learn that what God has and wants for lives is oh so much better. Read this biography

The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson

Anderson, Courtney. To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1987. 530 pp. $17.00. Purchase at Amazon for $13.60 or less.

Introduction

This book was originally published in 1956 by Little, Brown and Company and was recently republished by Judson Press in 1987. The language from the first edition has not been updated and is therefore a little anachronistic but still very readable.

Courtney Anderson (d. 2001) was a teacher, author, film writer, and in the U.S. governemnt for over five decades. This particular book, To the Golden Shore is “considered to be one of the greatest Christian biographies ever written.”

Summary

The detail of Judson’s life as found in To the Golden Shore is breathtaking. His testimony of salvation is given in full detail–it alone is worth purchasing the book. His call to the mission field is abundantly evident and one that he would look back on with great rejoicing as he encountered trial after trial and death after death during his travels.

Ultimately, the life of Adoniram Judson points to one thing and one thing only–the glory and magnificence of Christ our King. By looking at the overview of Judson’s life, the reader can peer behind the curtain as it were to see God’s sovereignty in most every trial that Adoniram and his family faced. It is easy to get caught up the “awesomeness” (my word) of God’s working in one man’s life, but we must realize that the discipline of one-minded devotion to Christ was the catalyst for the life that is being celebrated in these pages.

For a much shorter (by about 525 pages!) biography of Adoniram Judson, check out WholesomeWords.org.

Review

What more can be said about To the Golden Shore that has not already been said? This was an excellently written and researched biography. It is evident that this biography was not written in a hurry and was written at a time when great care was taken in research. I can only imagine the hours that went into the writing of this magnificent book.

Anderson does an excellent job of giving God the glory through the lens of Judson’s life. Every page shouts praise to God and that is the way Adoniram would want it.

Recommendation

If you are a Christian, I commend this book to you. If you are thinking about going on the mission field, then this book becomes a must read. I can think of only one other missionary biography that has moved me the way To the Golden Shore did. That was The Diary of David Brainerd. The only reason I believe that the book on Brainerd “has called more people to the mission field” is because it was written before To the Golden Shore. Pick up a copy today and be blessed in reading it.

Christian Encounters–John Bunyan by Kevin Belmonte

Belmonte, Kevin.  Christian Encounters: John Bunyan. Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2010.  172 pp.  $12.00.  Purchase at Amazon for $8.64 or less.

Introduction

The Christian Encounters Series from Thomas Nelson features biographies of men and women like Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, Johann Sebastian Bach, and many more.  It is a fascinating series that brings to life many well-known and some lesser-known Christians in history.  This particular biography is not so much about the man as it is about the book.  That is, the book everyone has heard of but few have actually read–The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Summary

In an interesting prologue, Kevin details the many men and women who have been influenced by Bunyan’s magnum opus.  Men like George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton.  Women like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot).  It is very fascinating to see the far reaching effects of Bunyan’s work down through the centuries since he wrote the book.

Throughout the book we are given a picture of the world in which Bunyan lived as well as those who influenced him.  We see how his mother died and his dad quickly remarried and how young John struggled to accept this.  We read of how he became a master tinker and how, because of his status as a tinker, was not able to attend school much beyond grade school.  His vivid imagination comes from the handful of books he was able to read over and over.

We are able to turn back the clock and discover how the Second Part to The Pilgrim’s Progress was almost not written.  Yet, Bunyan had to write the second part because imposters were trying to swoop in on his success with the first part.  In the end, you meet with all sorts of inspirations for the various characters and places in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Review

As I stated earlier, this is more of a biography for a book rather than a person though, as was seen throughout this book, The Pilgrim’s Progress was sort of a biographical sketch of Bunyan’s Life.  Now, we all know that Grace Abounding was his autobiography.

Personally, for me, I wish there would have been more regarding the spiritual impact of The Pilgrim’s Progress as well as John Bunyan’s ministry.  For the most part, Belmonte dealt primarily with the literature aspect of this great work.  It was overall a fascinating read and greatly educational insofar as seeing where many of the images and persons originated in Bunyan’s life.

Recommendation

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an introduction to the life of John Bunyan.  If you have read The Pilgrim’s Progress, you will find this book to be a valuable edition to your library.  Over and over I found myself recounting the story of Christian on his journey to the Celestial City.

Augustine of Hippo by Simonetta Carr

Carr, Simonetta. Augustine of Hippo. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009. 64pp. $18.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for $12.60.

Introduction

This is the second book in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr. The first book was on John Calvin (read review here). I know the third book in the series and will say I am uber-excited about the third book! For now, I turn my attention to Simonetta’s treatment of Augustine.

Summary

Simonetta takes a simple approach for the children to easily see the life of Augustine. She offers chapters on his childhood and young adulthood and his search for wisdom and becoming an extremely articulate young man in Italy. She shares how Augustine’s mom prayed for his salvation daily and how he ultimately did become a Christian and followed God into the ministry even if it was against his will! She concludes the biography with chapters on the difficult times that Augustine faced and what he did in the last days of his life.

The book is full of colorful illustrations and even includes a time-line and a “Did You Know?” section for kids who want to know more about the man many call a saint.

Review

I am really enjoying these children’s biographies. They make for great read aloud’s and offer excellent introductions to some great divines that many believe to be beyond the grasp and understanding of children. The colorful illustrations help the kids to “see” the events in Augustine’s life.

The chapters are short enough to read aloud and keep the children seated but just long enough to offer enough detail to pique the curiosity of your kids.

Recommendation

If you are looking for great books or biographies for your 7-12 year old to read, I highly recommend beginning with these. For younger children, I have discovered that these biographies make great read-aloud’s. Even more, I am confident that many adults reading these books will want to know more about the men being discussed.

John Calvin: Man of the Millennium by Philip Vollmer

Vollmer, Philip. John Calvin-Man of the Millennium: A Family Read-Aloud Biography. San Antonio: The Vision Forum, Inc., 2008. 389 pp. $20.00. Purchase at Amazon for $15.60.

Introduction

John Calvin needs no introduction to anyone. You either love him and his doctrines or you hate him and his doctrines. Even non-Christians know who John Calvin is and everyone ties one word to him–predestination. With 2009 having been the 500th anniversary of his birth, there were a plethora of books published in celebration. I reviewed two of those: John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor and Christian Biographies for Young Readers: John Calvin. Therefore, I am assuming a book on John Calvin needs no real introduction.

Summary

The book is similar to any John Calvin biography in that it traces how God worked in Calvin’s life through his early years up to the Reformation. We read of his becoming a fugitive because of his faith, his ministry in Geneva and Strasburg as well as the controversy with Servetus (for which he still pays dearly for today!). The biographical information concludes with his pastoral work, the founding of the Genevan University and his death.

What separates this biography from others is 1) this is designed to be read aloud with your family, and 2) the author takes special care to explain the many different aspects Calvin. These include John Calvin as theologian, preacher and pastor, educator, statemen, and a promoter of church union (an interesting chapter given he was a leader of the Reformation that led to the different Protestant denominations). There is a special chapter dealing with the doctrines of Calvinism–from a true historical perspective. The book concludes with Calvin’s influence on the world with separate chapters dedicated to Switzerland and Germany, Holland, England, Scotland, and America.

Review
I love that this book is formatted as a family read-aloud. Most of the chapters are less than 10 pages long allowing a chapter to be read easily in one sitting as a family. However, once you leave the actual biography and move into what is more of a commentary (chapters 17-30), it gets a bit difficult to read aloud. The biography, chapters 1-16, comprise 106 pages of the 308 pages of text. While the “second half” is very educational (and needs to be read), it is not as conducive to reading aloud as the first half.

With that said, reading aloud to your younger children the biographical information will cultivate an interest in the history of the church. As they grow older, they will want to know “the rest of the story” that is found in the final 2/3 of the book. I greatly enjoyed the insight provided in the “Influence” chapters (26-30). It was pretty amazing to see just how much John Calvin has influenced the world.

Recommendation

I am stoked that Vision Forum has published these read-aloud biographies. There is a movement within many churches and home school groups where families reading aloud is becoming more and more common. John Calvin-Man of the Millennium is an excellent addition to the library for both adults and children. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading it a few more times with my children.

Jonathan Edwards-40% off at LOGOS June only

Save 40% during June 2009 at LogosDuring the month of June, LOGOS is selling the complete works of Jonathan Edwards $79.95!  This product usually sells for $129.95.  Simply enter EDWARDSJUNE in the coupon code box when you place your order.  This offer expires June 30.

Key Features Included

* Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards
* Henry Rogers’ “Essay on the Genius and Writings of Jonathan Edwards”
* Complete family tree and list of descendants of Jonathan Edwards
* Letters and correspondence


Electronic Titles Included

Volume 1

* Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards
* A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will
* Dissertation on the End for which God Created the World
* A Dissertation on the Nature of True Virtue
* The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended
* A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections
* Narrative of Surprising Conversions
* Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England
* Inquiry Concerning Qualifications for Communion
* Misrepresentations Corrected and Truth Vindicated, In Reply to the Rev. Solomon Williams
* A History of the Work of Redemption
* Five Discourses on the Soul’s Eternal Salvation
* 925 pages

Volume 2

* Twenty nine sermons, including “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
* Eighteen Theological Discourses
* Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God
* An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement
* Life and Diary of the Rev. David Brainerd
* Observations on Important Theological Subjects
* Remarks on Important Theological Controversies
* Observations on Angels
* Types of the Messiah
* Notes on the Bible
* Seventeen Occasional Sermons
* 972 pages

John A. Broadus – A Living Legacy by David Dockery and Roger Duke

Dockery, David S. and Roger D. Duke. John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy Studies in Baptist Life and Thought, ed. Michael A.G. Haykin.  Nashville:  Broadman and Holman Academic, 2008.  260 pp.  $19.99.

Introduction to John A. Broadus – A Living Legacy

This book is first in a series of books that looks back at the history of Baptist life and thought.  The series editor is Michael Haykin who is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality as well as the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This particular book is edited by David S. Dockery and Roger D. Duke.  Dr. Dockery currently serves as the president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  Dr. Duke is assistant professor of religion and communication at the Baptist College of Health Services in Memphis, Tennessee and is an adjunct assistant professor at Union University.  More importantly, Dr. Duke is a new contributor to Said at Southern Seminary. Continue reading John A. Broadus – A Living Legacy by David Dockery and Roger Duke

The Life of John Newton by Josiah Bull

Bull, Josiah.  The Life of John Newton.  Edinburgh:  Banner of Truth Trust, reset edition 2007.  322pp. $14.00. Buy From Westminster Bookstore

As best I can tell, Josiah Bull only wrote this biography of John Newton and edited another book entitled The Letters of John Newton.  This biography was first published in 1868 under the title But Now I See.  It was first published by Banner of Truth in 1998 with the title But Now I See:  The Life of John Newton. This particular edition consists of a resetting of the typeset; i.e., the font was changed.

Summary of The Life of John Newton

Bull breaks down Newton’s life into three parts:  Early life and residence at Liverpool, Curate of Olney, and Rector of St. Mary of Woolnoth.  In 20 pages, we move from his birth in 1725 to his marriage to Miss Mary Catlett on 12 February 1750.  Glossing over some of the finer details of his life, we learn that he went to sea with his dad when he was only 11.  His dad passed away and he later transferred to a slave ship where he was abused by the commander.  He was rescued and became commander of his own ship.  His conversion took place on 10 May 1748, a day he would celebrate for the rest of his life.  He “quitted the sea” in 1754 where he had served as a slave trader due in large part to a serious illness.

By 1757 he was struggling with a call to the ministry upon which he answered that call in 1764 when he became the Curate of Olney.  Josiah shares with us how Newton sympathized with the likes of Whitefield and Wesley and how he longed to be a part of spiritual awakening that was taking place.

Newton suffered much for his faith during this time.  For example, he lost all of his property, his wife became very ill, he became extremely ill, he watched as his friends began to pass away from various illnesses, and he faced charges of meddling with politics (see Wilberforce).  In 1779, he accepted a call to become the rector of St. Mary Woolnoth.  Of special note to most readers is that it was during this time at Olney that Newton wrote Amazing Grace.

He continued his work for the final 27 years of his life at S. Mary Woolnoth where he died a gradual death in 1807.  During his life, John Newton “ran with the big dogs” if I may use that phrase.  He became friends with the likes of William Cowper, William Wilberforce, William Carey (a lot of William’s!), George Whitefield (who became a mentor of sorts to Newton), John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards though he really didn’t get to know Edwards as much as the rest.  It was almost as if John Newton was a “Forrest Gump” type because he never sought to be what he became.  John simply wanted to see the grace of God explode among the nations during the awakening that was happening during his life.  The aim of his regenerated life was to share the gospel and give all glory and honor to God.

While Newton is most known today for his being a slave trader saved by grace and then writing the ultimate song about grace, there is so much more to the man that must be understood to better appreciate his works (especially his hymns).

Critical Evaluation of The Life of John Newton

Can one begin to be critical of a work such as this?  I was unable to find anything that would pose a negative to the reading of this book.  I am intentionally sketchy on the summary because there is so much in the book that I did not know that would be of interest to the modern reader that a simple summary would not suffice.  It is my prayer that you would pick up a copy of this book to read.

Banner of Truth has done us the favor of keeping the original language from 1868.  This helps us to “feel” the life of John Newton even if it may be difficult at times to read.  By the time this book was written in1868 there were already a handful of biographies of John Newton.  Josiah Bull felt it was necessary to write this one because a diary that was unknown to previous biographers had been found.   Another element that Bull added was an oral history handed down by friends and family that the other biographers did not have access to.  For these reasons, and the test of time, this biography of John Newton stands, in my humble opinion, over all the rest.

Conclusion

For fourteen dollars, this is a must own biography of one of the giants in the faith.  It is important that the modern Christian understand that John Newton was more than a slave trader who wrote a great song.  By reading this biography, they will quickly see what drove the man to do such great things.  John Newton can be called as David was, “A Man after God’s own heart.”  His entire regenerated life had the aroma of a living sacrifice as per Romans 12:1.  To be able to peer into the life of John Newton is amazing grace indeed.

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

Duriez, Colin.  Francis Schaeffer:  An Authentic Life.  Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 2008.  221pp.  $24.99. Buy From Westminster Bookstore

Introduction

Colin Duriez was fortunate enough to not only have studied under Schaeffer when he was younger, but he was also able to interview him about his life when Schaeffer was near the end of his time here on earth.  In this authoritative biography of one the great philosophical minds of the 20th century, Duriez writes from much oral history from many around the world who knew Francis Schaeffer.  He also used the archives found in the Presbyterian Church of America as well as the many other writings by Francis Schaeffer and other family members.  Needless to say, the subject of this book was studied and researched exhaustively before pen was put to paper.

Colin Duriez has written numerous other books ranging from literary works (six books) to biographies (three if you include this one) and a history book entitled AD 33:  The Year that Changed the World. When Duriez writes a biography, you get the feeling that he attempted his best to walk a mile in that man’s shoes.

Summary of Francis Schaeffer:  An Authentic Life

The book is a bit different in that it approaches the earlier life and “career” of Francis Schaeffer with much more detail than most other biographies.  The chapters are broken down chronologically into eight sections.  The first six sections comprise the first forty-eight years of his life (before L’Abri) while the final two chapters blitz one through the last twenty-four years of his pilgrimage.

Colin spends a chapter detailing his childhood leading up to Schaeffer’s role as a pastor and denominationalist in what would later come to be known as the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America).  Of interest to some readers may be learning how much J. Gresham Machen influenced the young Schaeffer in his ministry.  During this time in his life, he resided in St. Louis, Missouri.

The middle chapters detail the travels of the Schaeffer family from Holland to Switzerland and stops in between.  By the end of the book, we wind up in L’Abri where Schaeffer set up a school of sorts to teach people how to wrestle with the culture and to look at situations from another’s point of view.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is at the very end where Duriez shares his interview with Schaeffer from 10 September 1980.  In this interview, Schaeffer takes a very introspective look back at his life.  This conversation is an interesting peek into the person we know as Francis Schaeffer.  What is most amazing is to see how Schaeffer lived what he believed and how what he believed impacted his worldview thus changing his life forever.

Critique of Francis Schaeffer:  An Authentic Life

I thought Duriez did a wonderful job of showing the early life of Francis Schaeffer to an audience that may not be aware of how the man came to be the man we know.  What I would have liked to have seen is a bit more detail on the final twenty-four years of his life.  I realize there is quite a bit of writings regarding this time frame in Schaeffer’s life, but I believe we all would have been blessed all the more to have read it from the detailed mind of Colin Duriez.

The writing style was extremely engaging.  I could tell that much of what was written down came through oral history and conversation.  Rarely was there a dry paragraph in the book.  What I mean by “dry” is that most biographers feel the need to quote extensively from the works of the person about whom they are writing.  While Duriez does quote extensively from Schaeffer, he does so strategically and with great care.

Conclusion

This is a must read for anyone who wants to know what made this prophet of the 20th century tick.  Not only is this book a quick read, but it could easily serve as a devotional of sorts.  Many Christian college students would do themselves a favor if they were to pick this book up and read it from cover to cover and plumb the depths of one of the greatest minds (not limited to just Christianity) in the 20th century.

Francis Schaeffer still helps people understand what they believe and why they believe it even 25 years after his death.  We would all do well to sit at his feet and learn how God used this man to reach so many people.