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Archive for the ‘biography’ Category

George

Pastor Steve Lawson provided a biographical sketch about one of the most treasured figures in church history that often goes neglected.  That figure is George Whitefield.  He was treasured by men like Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Martyn Lloyd Jones, etc.

Pastor Lawson gave 7 qualities about Whitefield that made him such a prolific preaching figure.  For more information about Whitefield, please see Pastor Lawson’s new book called, “The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield.”

  1. Uncommon piety
  2. Uncompromising Gospel
  3. Preached with unquenchable fire
  4. Unrivaled theology (seen in his calvinism).
  5. Unrelenting evangelism
  6. Unconquerable drive
  7. Unleashed power

 

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I wanted to apply Christian principles of reading a non-Christian, non-theological book in light of a biblical worldview as it’s been expounded in this series.

first family adams

I like the direction that the author Joseph Ellis has taken in this book by focusing on John Adams and his relationship with his wife Abigail. Many biographies can easily focus too narrowly on the individual while neglecting the family life or see it as a side-line to the story even though family life might not be (or should not be) as peripheral in that individual’s actual day to day life. As a Christian, I find biographical sketches that discusses an individual’s family life helpful in that it reveal more about a man or woman’s character and who they really were versus their public persona; while this also serves as a helpful tool to “demythologize” our heroes whom our hearts (an idolatrous factory indeed) are prone to make into a idealized figure rather than the historical person with flaws, idiosyncrasies, etc. This makes Ellis’ book all the more interesting since it explore the relationship of John Adams and his wife! The author does this largely by studying John’s and Abigail’s written correspondences over the span of several decades. Those decades cover some of the most important moments during the founding of America by an influential figure involved in charting the new nation’s direction. The author makes it clear that the archive of the Adams’ correspondence is rather unique—in terms of the volume of letters that survived and how much the two wrote to one another compared to their contemporaries. These correspondences were also unique in that Abigail was quite informed and involved in John Adams’ political career than most wives were during the era. She freely shared her opinions about political matters in her discourse. This does not mean that Abigail fit the modern notion of a feminists; Quite the contrary her letters demonstrated that she was incredibly submissive to her husband’s decisions that was difficult for her especially those concerning long separation for the sake of John’s legal and then eventually political career. It gave me a deeper appreciation of the risks and sacrifices that the founding father took in the war of independence. For the sake of personal curiosity, I was keeping my eye out in the book for any information on John and Abigail’s spiritual life and I wished the author could have explored that more.

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Have you ever wondered what it was like for the first Christian missionary to go reach out to the Muslims?  Who was that first missionary anyways?

You can read about this first missionary name Raymund Lull online for free if you click HERE.

The author himself, Samuel M. Zwemer, was also a missionary to the Muslim people.

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This is the first time I have ever read anything by Warren Wiersbe, but I have always seen his devotional books in the library and used book store, even though I must confess I do not know much about him. Ironically, in a book about other Christians I’ve also learn something about the author, that he was a former pastor of Moody Memorial church! In this work (which is an adaptation of a larger work on more Christians we should know), the author gives a short introduction to ten individuals every Christian should know. With the chapters arranged chronologically of when they were introduced into history, I’ve enjoyed the first chapter on Matthew Henry largely because I know nothing about the biography of this famous man whom I am only familiar with being the authority of a commentary bearing his name. It was interesting to know of him as a man that not only preach the word in the church but a man who practice family worship, in which some of the materials his commentary was based (much of his work was gather from his exposition after his death, since he only worked on it for 10 years before his death). Other chapters I’ve enjoyed include Jonathan Edwards, J.B. Lightfoot, Hudson Taylor, Spurgeon, Moody, Amy Carmichael and Oswald Chambers. I do have some concern with some of the other chapters though. I question whether John Henry Newman was that important to have been included in a book for Evangelicals to know–especially because he is a Roman Catholic and the author himself admits that he does not give a solution to man’s guilt. In the chapters on Tozer, Wiersbe spent more time talking about other works of mystics more than about the man Tozer himself or his theology. Wiersbe gets a little weirdy when he tells readers to buy “devotionals” featuring Kierkegaard and others without the caution about their ideology. I’m not against reading these works to understand the times, for apologetics concern, etc, but I do not know if it is wise to recommend these works as “devotional” reads to get into the grove of being Christian “mystics” (Wiersbe’s own words). He even recommends to his readers to read works by Evelyn Underhill, whom the author informs to the readers was a “British mystic” though “unfortunately she was never quite sure of her theology,” and “confessed to being ‘a modernist on many points.’” Again, for a work for a largely general audience, I don’t know what good it is to recommend as devotional readings these works and his appraisal of it. It’s for these reasons that in the end I have to say that I cannot recommend this work.

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this biography, though the author insists throughout the work that this is really not a biography of Spurgeon per se, and was written to fill in the gaps that is often left out concerning the real Spurgeon that is contrary to the popularized image of Spurgeon according to the perception of mainstream Evangelical  and some biographies out there.  In commenting about the deficiency of some of the biographies about Spurgeon, this work notes how some of the popular biographers have not grasp or understood the significance of the theology that have driven Spurgeon.  Spurgeon in his life was a man of God that was not only a gospel preacher to the masses but also a man of God who would take a stand for the truth of God’s Word.  Throughout his lifetime, the “forgotten” Spurgeon was involved with three major controversies which the book discusses about, concerning baptismal regeneration, hyper-calvinism and the Down Grade Controversy.  A fascinating fact that I was not aware of before reading this book was the author’s observation that in the baptismal regeneration debate, Spurgeon did not expected much support from certain religious quarters which ironically did affirm and supported Spurgeon’s concern, while in the Down Grade Controversy Spurgeon expected support from certain quarters (Evangelicals) that in the end not only materialized but turned out to be against him.  Even his own brother who was a minister disagreed with him and readers might be shocked to learn of this contrary to the image of Spurgeon as always being popular.  It is the down grade controversy which most people remember of the three, but knowing what the others were about also allow readers to better situate Spurgeon in his context, and perhaps a more balance understanding of Spurgeon when it comes to controversy.  Perhaps the part of the book that I found most fascinating what the closing chapter that talked about the fate of Spurgeon’s church after his death.  It was a painful thing to hear of how those who took up the ministry after him including his son, moved away from the theology that Spurgeon has embraced.  It is probably the most sobering part of the book for me, as I think back to campus ministries that I have been involved with in the past that has been so strong biblically and numerically only to have it handed off to others that eventually would not agree with your distinctives or emphasizes (and even hostile against it, or disregard what precious truths that has motivated the first “generation”!).  It was saddening to read this last portion of the book.  I cannot help but to think of the historical lesson here as it relates to our day and age.  This is the second work that I read by Iain Murray, the first being his most recent work on John MacArthur.  I think Murray is a great biographer, and I can’t help but to think about Grace Community Church after John MacArthur, or any other famous pastor for that matter (John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, etc).  The ending of the book allow me to have some soul searching of whether or not as a young pastor, my goal should be to become a famous great preacher.  It made me think about how some people follow preachers just for the sake of the man’s fame rather than really seeing the man’s theology coming from the Scripture itself.  The real tests at times, seems to come about after a man’s death and his ministry/church carries on without him; where will the direction go?  Will the saints still be faithful to what is biblical?  Who will take over and will they be able to fill the mighty shoes left behind, while being faithful to the Word of God and have the ability to lead the body?  It makes me think much about the issue of a Christianity that is driven more by personality and charisma though those that lead are orthodox; as in the case of the Hebrews escaping Egypt in the Exodus, people have an uncanny way of making their own idols even in the midst of God’s great works.

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The author Iain Murray, a wonderful Christian biographer, has taken up the task of writing a biography of the preacher John MacArthur. Even at the very beginning of the book, Murray makes it clear that the work is intended to be just a sketch of MacArthur…’s life and that a full complete biography evaluating his life and contribution is probably best done after MacArthur’s passing. Coming at 240 pages, this “sketch” reminds me of William White’s biography of the great apologist Cornelius Van Til while he was alive; the more critical biography that evaluates everything after all is said and done came later. One thing I did appreciate of Murray’s biography of MacArthur here is that while Murray is appreciative of MacArthur’s ministry, the work is not just about hero worship of this preacher. In fact, Murray in the book gently questioned MacArthur’s dispensationalism (the author is Covenantal in his theology), and wished that MacArthur would have addressed styles of worship more (the author favors more congregational singing without instrumental accompaniment). Given the rift between Covenantal and Dispensational camp, the fact that this work was by one who lean Covenantal in his theology is intriguing to me. Murray’s biography was overall charitable and saw the admirable thing about MacArthur was his high devotion to the Word and preaching the Word accurately. One thing I did like about this book is that it gave the background and a more complete story beyond just rumors and hearsay behind several important events that MacArthur was involved with (the famous Supreme court case concerning the “clergy malpractice,” the response to Packer and the ECT, Lordship controversy, Charistmatic Chaos, etc). One further appreciate MacArthur as an Evangelical leader from these snippets in the book. The other thing I appreciated about this book is that the book is as much about John MacArthur as it is about the men of God and family behind John MacArthur that made his ministry what it is. The author’s discussion of important and humble helpers throughout his life should remind the reader that MacArthur’s status as an Evangelical leader was not the result of a one man celebrity show. In fact, reading the biography one can’t help but to note how normal much of MacArthur’s life is at times. Here is where the readers need to acknowledge that whatever success MacArthur has in his in his ministry is really the result of God’s blessing. The wise men who are MacArthur’s advisers, editor, fellow elders and day to day men and women of his church with the hunger of God’s Word and sharing God’s Word used his materials and shared the products of his work to their friends and eventually all across the world. Many people around the world still benefit from his free sermons online and hearing him on the radio as the book make it clear going over several letters sent to the Grace to You program. I know this to be true in my own life as well, when as a fifteen year old unchurched atheist in a buddhist household, I started reading the Bible for the first time and listening to MacArthur and many other preachers on the radio that the LORD eventually used to save me a sinner, who now trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior from my sins. That is not to say that I can’t wait for a biography that’s more critical in it’s full evaluation years down the road when MacArthur is at home with the Lord (what are we to make of the Driscoll affair? should MacArthur throw down the gauntlet that every self-respecting calvinist should be premillennial? etc), something that is like John Muether’s biography evaluating Cornelius Van Til decades after his death. But this should not take away the legacy of this preacher and what he has contributed to the kingdom of God for all of eternity. I imagine that when MacArthur finally passes away, we will still be amazed at how many people have gotten saved, grown, discipled and challenged by this preacher and author. I know I am one of them. Read this book…don’t worship a man, but thank the Lord for a servant of His Word and flock.

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