Tag Archives: Crossway Books

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper

Piper, John. Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007. 76 pp. $7.99. Purchase at Westminster books for $5.99.

Introduction and Background

John Piper, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, has become a noted biographer in recent years because of his 4-volume Swan Series books where he takes a quick look at the lives of some of the saints that have gone before us as well as his more in depth looks at the life of Jonathan Edwards and Andrew Fuller just to name a couple. This book on the life of William Wilberforce is along the lines of the others. It is short and full of information. In no way does John Piper pretend that this is an exhaustive sketch of the life of Wilberforce.

Summary of Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

Piper introduces this biography by asking the question, “What made him tick?” The answer, “was a profound biblical allegiance to what he called the ‘peculiar doctrines’ of Christianity” (p.20). These peculiar doctrines were so important to Wilberforce that he wrote a book entitled, A Practical View of Christianity, that set forth the necessity of these doctrines for the Christian believer. He then spent the rest of his life and career seeking to establish these as a way in which one should live their life at all times.

Wilberforce’s early life was a bit troubling. He was orphaned at age nine and sent to live with his aunt and uncle. It turned out that God was in this, as Wilberforce would later acknowledge, because one of the family friends wound up being a man they called “Old Newton.” This was none other than John Newton.

The story of how he met his wife is impressive to read because of how fast it happened. He had been a believer for about 12 years when he met a woman named Barbara on 15 April 1797. “He fell immediately in love. Within eight days he proposed to her, and on May 30 they were married, about six weeks after they met” (p.28). They stayed married until William passed away. “In the first eight years of their marriage they had four sons and two daughters” (p.28).

His conversion came about during a time of travel with a friend, Isaac Milner, in 1784. It was at this time that Wilberforce reached a biblical view of man, God and Jesus at an intellectual level. However, his intellectual assent slowly became deep conviction. He later referred to this move from intellectual assent to deep conviction as “the Great Change.” After his conversion, Wilberforce struggled with whether or not he should leave politics altogether and go into the ministry.

A visit to “Old Newton” helped him to see that he was better able to serve God in politics than if he were to leave politics. Through this meeting, Wilberforce began the process of the abolition of slavery in Britain. Though this is what he is most noted for, Wilberforce was involved in much, much more. He was active at one point in his career in sixty-nine different initiatives. He also sought to evangelize his fellow politicians with the gospel.

Getting back to the abolition of slavery, Wilberforce began his quest in 1787. After numerous defeats, he witnessed the abolition of slave trade in 1807. He was able to see a complete abolition of slavery in 1833 just before his death in the British colonies. Thus, William Wilberforce was allowed, by the grace of God, to begin and see the completion of the total abolition of slavery in Britain.

Critique of Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

Though this short biography was very informational, I did note two areas that I thought detracted from the book as a whole. First, there is a discrepancy in terms of the timing of the complete abolition of slavery and the death of Wilberforce. Jonathan Aitken, who writes the foreward says that Wilberforce died three months after slavery was outlawed (p. 15). John Piper says that his death took place three days after the abolition of slavery (p. 19).

I do not believe this would have been noticed had it not been for the mere four pages between the two statements. However, since it occurs so close to the beginning of the biography, it can cause a little bit of concern as to the historicity of all the facts presented. This is especially true because Aitken is Wilberforce’s biographer and Piper has become known for his biographies. I was unable to find much resolution as to the date of the abolition of slavery in relation to Wilberforce’s death, but am not too concerned because they all have the same year (1833).

I offer the second critique with the qualifier that I completely agree with the doctrine of Calvinism that John Piper discusses in the context of his biography. However, I do not see why he believed this to be necessary to insert into the biography-especially in the context that he did. In discussing what other people thought about William Wilberforce, John Piper says the following:

Hannah More, his wealthy friend and a co-worker in many of his schemes for doing good, said to him, ‘I declare I think you are serving God by being yourself agreeable…to worldly but well-disposed people, who would never be attracted to religion by grave and severe divines, even if such fell in their way’ (p.61).

Piper continues,

In fact, I think one of the reasons Wilberforce did not like to use the word “Calvinist,” is although the faith and doctrines he expresses seem to line up with the Calvinism of Whitefield and Newton, was this very thing: Calvinists had the reputation of being joyless (p. 61-62).

Piper gives a lengthy footnote as to the use of the word Calvinist as well as to the friends Wilberforce kept. The last sentence of footnote 17 found on page 62 says, “As I completed his book, A Practical View of Christianity, I could not recall a single sentence that a Calvinist like John Newton or George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon could not agree with” (p. 62).

As I said, I am in complete agreement with these doctrines myself; however, I do not see how this is important to the context of the life of William Wilberforce given that this is only a 76 page introductory biography. It gives an appearance that John Piper wants Wilberforce to be a Calvinist even though he never came out and said as such.

Conclusion

As a short biography of one of the great Christian men in the history of the world, I would recommend this book. It is extremely readable and can be read in one sitting perhaps during an evening. I also think it would serve in a school situation where a student is learning about slavery and/or a history of Britain.

This book has whet my appetite personally to learn more about William Wilberforce and to read his book A Practical View of Christianity. This short biography can also interest the reader into wanting to know more about great men (and women) of the faith throughout history. Piper’s writing style is just conversational enough and full of just enough historical information that you feel as though you are dialoguing with a historian.

Tell Me About Heaven by Randy Alcorn

Heaven For Kids Randy Alcorn BookAlcorn, Randy. Tell Me About Heaven. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007. 59pp. $19.99. Purchase at Amazon

Introduction

Randy Alcorn was a pastor before founding Eternal Perspective Ministries in 1990. His ministry is dedicated to teaching Biblical truths. According to their website, www.epm.org, the ministry exists “to meet the needs of the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled and unsupported people around the world.” Randy has and his wife, Nanci, are the parents to two grown daughters, Karina and Angela. They have four grandsons, Jake, Matthew, Ty, and Jack.

Tell Me About Heaven is a children’s book by Randy Alcorn and illustrated throughout with the paintings of Ron DiCianni. This book can be read to your children or can be read by your children. It is designed to explain the doctrine of heaven in such a way that even the smallest of minds will be able to capture the grandeur and awe of God’s home.

Summary of Tell Me About Heaven

Jake’s Grammy has recently passed away and now he is on his way to spend two weeks with his Papa like he does every summer. This time, though, it will be different because Grammy will not be there. Immediately, we see Jake struggling with what happened to Grammy as well as how this particular visit is going to go with Grammy not around.

Over the course of the two week visit to Papa’s house, Jake asks a lot of questions about heaven and Grammy. Jake begins with hesitation as he first states that he doesn’t think he would like heaven. However, as Papa explains from the Bible what heaven is all about, Jake begins to understand that life in heaven is going to be so much better than life here on earth.

The book concludes with Jake confessing to Papa that he does not want him to ever die, but is now looking forward to learning more about heaven and can’t wait until his whole family is reunited there-Grammy and Papa and everyone.

Critique of Tell Me About Heaven

I must confess that I was skeptical about a children’s book that would attempt to explain what heaven is like. Given all the recent discussions of how much a kid can learn and should know about Jesus, his crucifixion, and other biblical truths, I was afraid that this book was going to be a disappointment even though it is authored by Randy Alcorn. I was extremely impressed with what I read in the pages of Tell Me About Heaven.

In this children’s book, the reader (or hearer) is introduced to the doctrine of inherited sin, the Incarnation, Penal Substitution, Hell, resurrected bodies, and more. The central theme of the book is that heaven and earth will pass away and God will replace them with a New Heaven and New Earth. Papa quotes scripture heavily (especially Rev. 21 and 22) in explaining what heaven is like to his grandson, Jake.

The story is very believable and at one point, I began wondering if this was a rehearsal for Randy Alcorn as he may have this discussion with his grandsons. The story line is pretty forthright and does not dance around the issues. Nowhere does Papa state something as truth if it is not based in the Bible. At one point, he corrects Jake and says that he is to always pray to Jesus and not Grammy. It is subtle, but significant in that many young children are told to pray to their loved one. However, that is not in the Bible and therefore, Papa (Alcorn) explicitly says that this should not happen.

The greatest aspect of this book is that the gospel message is presented clearly and concisely in the story itself. However, at the end of the book is a page devoted to the Roman Road along with a brief explanation of the gospel. It is very clear that the goal of this book is to be used as a tool for evangelizing children (and perhaps the adult reading to the child) as well as explaining what awaits them in the life to come.

If there is a negative to be found in this book, it is of no significant value. There are some assumptions made that I do not personally agree with, but nothing that causes any concern. For example, in a discussion about pets and animals in heaven, Papa tells Jake that he thought Moses (the dog) would be in heaven because animals were in Eden. I don’t see that as biblical precedent, but I also do not see that as a bad thing. On page 32 of the book it is said, “It’s always about God, isn’t it?” That is perhaps the best way in which to explain the book: It is always about God, isn’t it.

Conclusion

In asking my pastor and some other men in the church I attend about how much their children know about heaven, they said not much. I admit that I have not told my son much about heaven, either. That is, until now. I have already told a these men I talked with to pick up this book and am telling you that if you have children or are involved in children’s ministry, this book is a must own. It explains the doctrine of heaven in a way that a child can understand and a parent can be interested in. The book is solidly rooted in the Scriptures.

Also, throughout the book, there are hints (I say ‘hints’ because certain phrases like “penal substitution” and “inherited sin” do not appear) of other doctrines as mentioned above that will help to lay a foundation for biblical doctrine to be learned as the child grows. As a seminary student, I appreciated Alcorn’s ability to break down systematic theology into easily understood doctrines that do not require a degree to understand.

The conversational tone makes for a good story time book to be read at night, as part of family worship, or during story hour at church or a daycare. I would also highly recommend this book for a young child grieving the loss of a grandparent or parent. It would be a great resource for those who council children after the death of a loved one. This book is worth owning multiple copies of to give away during these times.