Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2021

The Value Added to Your Life in Reading About Others’ Lives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

You’ve already met Jeff Snow several times on this blog. He wrote about being a campus minister, did a book review for us, and twice we ran his 3-part series on the impact of divorce. Jeff is a voracious consumer of books in general, but especially biographies, the ones which focus on sports history, Canadian history, and key people in Christian history. What’s the attraction to biography? I asked him if he would share that with us.

guest post by Jeff Snow

I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Most fiction I’ve read are books I was made to read in high school. I wasn’t actually much of a reader when I was young, but the genre I did gravitate to then, and even more now as I’ve become more of a reader, is the genre of biography.

A well-written biography can be a number of things. It can be interesting. A well-written biography about fascinating person can be as riveting as any fictional book.

A biography can be inspirational. As you read about a person’s character, their story can serve as inspiration for our own lives. One of my professors in seminary made us read biographies of a number of people from church history. His goal, he said, was to help us find “dead mentors”. Biographies can introduce us to people who can inspire us in our Christian walk and in other areas of our lives.

A well-written biography can teach about history. A good biography sets the main character in the context of their times, teaching us not only about the person but also about the historical era he or she lived in.

A biography of someone from the past can educate us about our decisions in the present. Reading about both the triumphs and the mistakes of great people in the past informs us as we make decisions and draw conclusions about our present day lives. As revisionist history and “cancel culture” take root in our society more and more, it is important to sink our teeth into reputable biographies from the past so that we can make sound judgments in the present.

My tastes in biographies tend to be a bit narrow, but allow me still to share five fascinating and interesting people that I think you would benefit from knowing through biographies.

1) Billy Graham. Those of us who are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not realize that there is quickly coming a generation who may never have heard of Billy Graham or understood his impact on evangelism, the worldwide church, and even on American politics. An important “dead mentor” for all pastors and evangelists, and for all Christians.

2) Jackie Robinson. Here I betray one of my narrow interests – baseball. But the story of Jackie Robinson transcends sports. In 1947, Robinson broke the “colour barrier” that existed in baseball and became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. A man of Christian faith, Robinson’s battle against prejudice and racism went beyond the baseball diamond and into business, politics, and activism. An important civil rights pioneer whose philosophy is summed up in the quote on his tombstone: “A life is not important except in the impact if has on other lives.”

3) Abraham Lincoln. You will not have a hard time finding biographies of Lincoln. He is probably the most written about person from the 19th century. His is a story of how great leadership evolves. He went from a young lawyer who refused to take out membership in a church to a president whose 2nd inaugural address reads like a sermon. From having a grade 2 education to being the most powerful man in the USA. Even his attitudes toward slaves and African-Americans evolved. As a self-assured president, he gathered together most of the men he ran against and put them in his cabinet. His was a life we can learn from in many ways.

4) Sir John A. MacDonald. MacDonald more than anyone else had a vision of what Canada could become as an independent country that stretched from sea to sea to sea. He was a complex man. He had his faults, as the subjects of all important biographies do. They should not be glossed over, nor should they serve to overshadow one’s positive contributions. His treatment of natives was in some ways deplorable, yet in other ways he was far ahead of his time, as in his desire to give them the vote. As MacDonald increasingly becomes a victim of today’s cancel culture, it is even more essential for us to understand the full extent of his unparalleled contribution to the Canada we know today.

5) Alexandra Deford. You probably never head of Alex, but you need to get to know her. Her father, Frank Deford, was one of the top sports writers in America in the late 20th century. Alex was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and her father chronicled her life in a book called “Alex, Life of a Child.” It’s the only book written about her life, and it may be hard to find, but if I had to choose only one biography for you to read, this is the one. A heartbreaking story, yet one of incredible courage and grace. Have tissues handy.

There are dozens of others I could recommend, but part of the fun is the discovery. So consider your interests, find a person that connects with them and start reading about their life. Between the covers you will find interesting stories, inspirational mentors, historical guides, and people who will impact the way you look at the world today.

April 24, 2020

Eric Metaxas Continues the “7” Series

Filed under: books, Christianity, Religion, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:29 pm

I have to give him credit. Eric Metaxas knows how to take biographical data and make it interesting and relevant to the greatest number of people. In a 2007 interview he said that his books, “don’t touch upon anything at all where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians differ. They express just the basics of the faith, from a basic, ecumenical Christian viewpoint. They only talk about the Christian faith that they have agreement on.” 1

Back in 2013 I reviewed 7 Men and the Secrets of their Greatness, and in 2015 I also covered 7 Women and the Secrets of their Greatness. (You may read those here and here.) Those two titles are also now available in a single volume. This time he’s back with the hardcover release of 7 More Men and the Secrets of their Greatness (Zondervan; this time co-authored with Anne Morse.)

As with the other two, it’s not necessary to read the chapters in the sequence they appear, but I started with the first, Martin Luther, but then found the chapter of George Whitefield (pronounced whit-field) even more engaging. The man was a bit of a superstar in “The Colonies” and on his home turf in England. While I was aware of him, I had never taken the time to learn about his life or ministry.

And that’s the problem. There are people, including those in vocational ministry, who never are confronted with some of these figures in church history. That George Whitefield was mentored by John and Charles Wesley made him all the more interesting to me, but I was saddened to learn that towards the end they differed over “predestination and election.” It’s the same old song today, isn’t it?

Whitefield’s passion and appreciation for preaching in the streets was shared by William Booth the Salvation Army’s founder, and so I skipped ahead to chapter four. While this was shorter than other accounts I’ve read of William and his wife Catherine, I never tire of them. There are certain “must read” books that are recommended to young Christians, but not to discount those, I would suggest that a biography of William Booth should be near the top of that list. This chapter would only whet your appetite for more about William and Catherine.

Then it was back to chapter three for George Washington Carver. I knew next to nothing about this man, a certifiable genius who literally rocked the agricultural world with discoveries that affect us to this day. Sadly, he grew up amid the segregation in the U.S. South, but that only made him more determined to better the lives of both his own people, and all of us. Appearing before Congress, he was asked where he learned all of his various food applications. He told them he got them from a book. When asked what book that was, he said, “The Bible.”

Next, I was off to chapter six, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I must confess that this was also an author I only knew superficially and reading this account of his life is almost exhausting as the man is moved from prison to prison for his crime of daring to critique the Soviet regime. I wasn’t sure about his faith. Was he a Christian or simply a deist? That became more clear toward the very end of the story, and his roots in the Orthodox church would certainly resonate with Metaxas. Later in life he turned his attention toward the United States with messages that were prophetic in nature.

Chapter five is about Alvin York, among the most decorated soldiers of World War I, and chapter seven is about Billy Graham, and consists mostly of material culled from Graham’s autobiography, Just as I Am.  Sections on Graham’s interactions with U.S. Presidents and world leaders was where I hoped Eric Metaxas would find his own voice, especially with his background working for Chuck Colson, but these are succinct biographies and Metaxas stuck closely to the script. Billy Graham is still very much with us, so there were fewer things here I had not already seen, but I didn’t remember reading that Graham himself had been encouraged to run for President. His wife, Ruth, told him that if he did she would divorce him!

Overall, I enjoyed this volume every bit as much as the two previous “7” books in this series. Maybe even more. But what was the secret of their greatness? I think the question is a bit of teaser, with readers left to figure that out for themselves for each of the men profiled.

This is a great gift to give to a man, not for the obvious reason in the title, but because the pacing of the writing and the concise nature of the shorter chapters lends itself to even those who consider themselves non-readers. It’s available now wherever you shop for great reading.


1Greek News: Eric Metaxas and the God Question

 

 

 

March 6, 2010

Those Who Don’t Learn The Lessons of History…

…are doomed to make fools of themselves.

Once and for all, the difference between Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m always astounded how often this confusion appears, as though out of nowhere, in the middle of conversations. But it is especially lamentable when it takes place among Christian people. I mean the 16th Century reformer doesn’t really look a thing like the 20th Century civil rights activist.  Both were revolutionaries; you could get a high-school term paper out of some similarities, I suppose.

Things could be worse, however:  The last time this came up, later in the discussion, the person thought my reference to Jehovah’s Witnesses using the term “JW” was actually my way of saying “Jew.”

I’m thinking of starting a website as an alternative to TotallyLooksLike.com, that will be called TotallyDoesn’tEvenResemble.com (the domain is available…)

September 11, 2008

God and Governments (plural)

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:02 am

Last week I rather accidentally stumbled on a blog page that is more of a private blog for members of a youth group.  I didn’t realize that at the time, but couldn’t resist jumping into their discussion.   I’ve decided not to link to it, since it’s not really a public blog, but here’s the question they posed:

[We were visiting a] church in Fort Worth this past Sunday. The sermon was about Christians and government. The preacher brought up a point that I have been wrestling with for three days now and I wanted to hear your thoughts. He stated (from scripture) that all governments were put in place by God. He stressed ALL governments…even someone like Hitler or Pol Pot. He implied that even if we don’t understand it, God has his purposes for installing some governments. I am sort of OK with that point (not really, but it wasn’t what bothered me most). He backtracked on himself and said that God works in two ways. Basically his argument went like this. If it is a good and just government then God actively worked to put it in place and if it an evil government then God passively allowed that government to take power for some reason. I just can’t get my head around that. It seems to me that either God is working actively in the world to bring about His purposes or He is allowing things to happen on their own and working through those events. I just don’t think that you can have it both ways. It seems like by doing that we are giving God a kind of revisionist history, making Him exactly what we need Him to be without Him becoming too scary or reproachable.

I wrote back:

The center of Jewish life was the prophets until the people asked for kings, because the surrounding nations had kings. God granted them this request, but promised them that there would be days it would bring regret and sorrow.

God is the most powerful force in our world, but not the only force. The fact is, the surrounding nations had kings first. As Christians we tend to focus on our Jewish roots, which include Kings, but the notion of Kings did not begin with the Jews.  As a theocracy, the prophets originally held the highest place in the hierarchy.  Then came the time of Kings.

Nonetheless, we’re commanded in scripture to respect those in authority over us (I Peter 1) whether in government, the workplace or families, but I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that God put specific leaders in place, except insofar as everything happens under God’s broader sovereignty.

I’d like to know how this pastor would deal with the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was part of the group who attempted to assassinate Hitler.

God gave us a notion of hierarchical government (singular) but it’s not right to say that God put all governments (plural) in place. I’m not saying the logic of the message is faulty, but there are certain nuances to it that might have been fleshed out more clearly.

Jesus also said to ascribe to government the things that belong to government, and ascribe to God that which is of God. We obviously face a choice of allegiances.

What was the purpose of that message? What was the “take away” life application?

So what do you think?   Did that pastor have a point to all this?

September 9, 2008

5,000 Years of Religion in 90 Seconds

Filed under: Christianity, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 pm

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world’s most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go!

~from the preamble to “5,000 Years of Religion in 90 Seconds”

We tried, many, many times to embed this here like bloggers Frank Turk and Jim Upchurch did last week, but without success.   So we’ll simply tell you to link here.   It’s certainly worth it.

When you get there, you’ll see a 90-second flash presentation from Maps of War which shows the spread of the major religions of the world geographically.   It might take about a minute to load.

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