Master Robert Bruce–A Nice New Biography!

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A Banner of Truth biography simply stands out in our day. In one way, you can wonder how they are so popular? They publish as many on people you’ve never heard of as they do on those you have. Let me give you a hint that I’ve picked up on: make a special effort to grab these beautiful biographies of those you don’t know as quickly as those abounding with fame. Take for instance this book on Master Robert Bruce. I’ll confess upfront that I had never heard of this Scottish preacher of yesteryear. I’ll also confess this: a book about an unheard-of pastor like this can sometimes encourage me more than those of the well-known heroes. In the back of my mind, I often think of those heroes as far beyond my league, but in biographies like this one, we get to watch a pastor with all the ups and downs of a ministry be faithful to Christ. That’s a bona fide challenge for me!

Even though this book was first published several years ago, the author, D. C. Macnicol, writes well. His style is not exactly that of modern biographers, but that may be to advantage in this case. The book seems to transport you back to those days. That is not to say the book is hard to read, however, because the writing still flows beautifully.

I love the rawness of the book. There are a few instances in his life that you might wonder if he exactly made the right decision. But that is life and ministry, isn’t it? Events don’t unfold with perfect dimensions and easy answers. Even if you wonder if he could have chosen a different solution at some point, you will never doubt his faithfulness as you read. If he was slightly emotional at times, you will never doubt his fidelity to our Savior. Why the book is so challenging is that we know we will not get through the ministry with perfection, but can our lives be evaluated as faithful?

Let’s not forget the quality binding and beautiful dust jacket that will look so attractive on the shelf that now adorns all modern printings of hardbacks by Banner of Truth. You will enjoy this biography and so would your pastor!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir by Ned Stonehouse

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Banner of Truth bolsters their impressive array of Christian biographies with this reprint of Ned Stonehouse’s biography of J. Gresham Machen. While I was aware of Machen’s reputation as a stalwart defender of conservative Christianity, I really didn’t know much about his life. Perhaps my not being a Presbyterian had me more out of the loop on Machen’s impressive career, though I had read some of his works with profit before. Don’t worry if your beliefs don’t exactly line up with that of a reformed Presbyterian, because his contribution to the faith extends to all who hold unwaveringly to the veracity of the Bible and a vibrant personal relationship with Christ.

Stonehouse was a colleague of Machen over the last years of Machen’s life when they served together at Westminster Theological Seminary. Without a doubt, Stonehouse is as sympathetic a biographer as you could have and clearly reveres his subject. I realize that can derail some biographies, but I felt I knew Machen so well by the time I finished this volume and Stonehouse proved to be an excellent biographer. If you find the first few chapters on the Gresham and Machen families a little slow, just hang on because I promise the life of Machen proves enjoyable reading.

I’d be tempted to describe Machen as a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but there was enough spirituality, particularly in his mother, to have greatly strengthened Machen for his extensive ministry. There was enough money in the family, however, for him to get whatever level of education he wanted and he made the most of it. His time in Germany and the wrestling of his faith was extremely interesting as all the learned names of Germany in that generation popped up in the story. When his faith became more settled, he had as much struggle determining his career path. In both these cases, the sympathetic biographer did an outstanding job opening up these facets of Machen’s life. Since many people wrestle with similar issues, this was powerful spiritual reading.

After he got on his feet at Princeton and was ordained to the ministry, World War I came up. That part of his life story though he was neither a soldier nor an actual chaplain was absolutely riveting. It was so unusual and yet it really helped the reader to understand Machen’s character. As a side note, after proving so adept with both the German and the biblical languages, I was amazed to see that he gave some theological lectures in French before he left France!

His ongoing career and his book writing showed an upward career path with outstanding literary accomplishment. The demise of Princeton’s allegiance to orthodoxy could almost serve as a parable of religious corruption. This same battle has played itself out in so many cases and places. You might find this portion of his life as a blueprint for how to stand when everyone around you wants to run away from God and his word. The ultimate step of creating Westminster showed the thoroughness of his dedication. He wisely saw that orthodoxy in missions was as important as orthodoxy at the academy and he fought valiantly on that front as well. His early death in an unexpected place and way was sad history but interesting biography.

This book holds attention throughout. Perhaps all it lacked was an appendix of all his literary works, but it was thorough without ever falling victim to being boring. The book itself is another of those exquisitely produced hardback editions that we so appreciate from Banner. This book was insightful on how to deal with corruption, spiritual on how one man so well lived the Christian life, and interesting as a biography. I must say that I really enjoyed this book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Pastor of Kilsyth by Islay Burns–A Nice Biography

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So you’re never heard of W. H. Burns? Neither had I. Before I began reading this lovely biography, I noticed that the publishers put out an advertising blurb about this being a great biography for our celebrity-driven age. It’s clear what they meant. I can be challenged by a biography of a Christian celebrity to some degree, but not in the sense that I can ever do what they have done or will be what they have been. This biography is of a simple believer who was a pastor whose faithful life though unknown to the world gave off a glory that redounds unto the Lord Jesus Christ. That you and I can do. And that is why this biography is of the stripe that is especially needed today.

W. H. Burns was a pastor from the heralded Scottish orbit of outstanding preachers. That Iain Murray called this one of the best Scottish ministerial biographies we have carries much weight as his own biographies that are so often unassuming still have more impact than so many modern biographies.

Not only will you trace faithful ministry, but this volume can also be placed in your revival literature. God blessed Kilsyth with revival. I don’t know about you, but I always am blessed by that type of reading. Later chapters even give insight on what is needed for revival, though the perspective that revivals come from God is never denied. There are descriptions of how the revivals were carried out as well that can be insightful. The book even ends with four sermons that are imbibed with a revival atmosphere.

Banner of Truth is one of the modern Christian publishers that most takes publishing books seriously. Their hardbacks are of a quality that has surpassed most others and their dust jackets are always attractive. They still produce books that your grandchildren can own. I’m glad not everyone has caved to the idea that digital will own the future. I believe there still is a market and a future for books like this one. This book is a great biography for pastors and Christian families!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Pastoral Rule for Today by Burgess, Andrews, and Small

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This book is designed to bring pastors back to our core work. A trio of authors, John Burgess, Jerry Andrews, and Joseph Small, take seven historical characters to remind us of what ministry is supposed to look like. This work was an initiative by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and certainly has the flavor of that body throughout the book. Since I’m not a Presbyterian, I found myself at odds with the authors on some of their conclusions. On a more important note, however, I did pause to reflect on some areas of my own ministry that I feel was truly profitable for me. The biographical section on the historical theological figures was enjoyable as were several of the ultimate admonitions for those in ministry. Sometimes the path by which they reached those admonitions was something not particularly scriptural to my mind. Further, the authors seem to have an overblown reverence for the monastic lifestyle. While taking the time to truly meditate on God’s word and remove yourself from the hustle of life is of the utmost value, monastic life has not led to a superior spirituality in many documented cases. It is, then, with a caveat that I recommend this book.

The historical figures used to illustrate what the authors call pastoral “rule” were Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John Calvin (no surprise), John Wesley (a little bit of a surprise), John Henry Newman (a questionable choice for some of us), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of the best chapters in the book). The introductory chapter on why pastors need a “rule” was intriguing. Augustine was used to describe that monastic life while Benedict was used to illustrate obedience “in the context of community”. That obedience as well as what was shown in the life of John Calvin turned out to be the most overtly Presbyterian chapters in the book as it pushed a church hierarchy that fits well with their system. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of its lack of scriptural support. Gregory the Great was mined to show the importance of disciplined prayer. The chapter on John Wesley was extremely timely for our generation as it showed the importance of choosing your words carefully. While I’m not a big fan of John Henry Newman, the principal shared about the need for serious study of the Scripture was well taken. The chapter on Bonhoeffer, who wrote Life Together, had the best insights on community in the book. The concluding chapter on making a contemporary pastoral rule had many helpful insights.

As I said above, this book did get me to thinking about some things that needed addressing in my own life and ministry. You can add a star if you are Presbyterian or hold to the author’s overall views about ministry. Worth pondering!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Legacy of Preaching–A Great Two-Volume Set!

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Every preacher will want this set! Occasionally, a book about the history of preaching will come along and serve as a mighty motivating force for preachers. Dedication, zeal, power—all put on display in the lives of the best preachers of days gone by. It’s been at least 20 years since a book that blends biography and preaching counsel in a way that makes you want to grab a biblical text and get going has come along. This set, edited by Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, and Dwayne Milioni, has filled that lacuna for our generation.

Improving on the works of previous decades, this book employs a winning design. First, specialists on the subject were secured to pen each entry. Second, each writer had to follow the same format: historical background (biography), theology of preaching, methodology for preaching, and contributions to preaching. There’s even a helpful bibliography for each entry. This format was particularly helpful. You got to know the preacher and his preaching. You could say that the approach maximized the impact you could glean from each one.

Volume One covered the Apostles to the Revivalists. You got to think of Paul and Peter as preachers before heading into some of the Church Fathers. Next, Medieval times were covered including Bernard of Clairvaux, John Huss, and Girolamo Savonarola. The Reformers including Luther, Tyndale, and Calvin as preachers were given a look next. Puritan greats Perkins, Baxter, Owen, Bunyan, and Henry were great selections in that group of preachers. Only four revivalists were covered including Edwards, Wesley, and Whitefield, but they were preaching giants.

Volume Two that covered the Enlightenment through modern times was even better. I love Nineteenth-Century British preaching and so was Part One here was my favorite in either volume. Alexander Maclaren and Charles Spurgeon are two of my favorite preaching heroes and real insights could be gained from their entries. I’ve read much on both of them, but I learned more here. The story of Gipsy Smith surprised me too.

Many more outstanding entries finished out the book. You might quibble over a few selections or omissions, (Where was G. Campbell Morgan?), but these volumes are pure gold. Mark them off as must-have books for the preacher! I’ll be consulting my set many times in the coming years I’m sure.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Mentor’s Wisdom by Moyer

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This is a special kind of book. It’s not hard to read. In fact, you may find it relaxing. By that I don’t mean it’s fluffy in any way, but that it’s reflective. Larry Moyer reflects on things he picked up from his mentor, Haddon Robinson, and it’s a journey that will likely help you reflect on your own life. If you happen to be a preacher like both the author and his subject, the scope of your ponderings will be even greater.

Admittedly, a book of this design would have little hope of success unless it had what this one does – a full-orbed life with Christ where both a deep immersion into the Bible and a life of trying with all its trial and error. Mr. Robinson is just such a man. Mr. Moyer had decades of interaction with Mr. Robinson and he was able to strike the perfect balance between admiration and reality.

Mr. Robinson has written some of the most influential books on preaching in print today. For that reason, he has an automatic respect by many preachers who will pick this book up and hear what he had to say. I suspect that even those who are not familiar with his writings will find respect easy to grant on these pages.

The book contains 45 statements that the author heard Mr. Robinson say at different points of their relationship. They range from the author’s school days all the way to Mr. Robertson’s last days. Mr. Moyer gives the background for when the statement was made and with additional insights that he had from their frequent association brings the statement alive. None of the statements or explanations ever came across as forced, trite, or corny. There’s even a Bible verse with every saying that matches what it’s trying to say. In a way, these sayings and their explanations were like devotionals throwing light back on the Bible.

The statements are arranged in categories with life lessons, work counsel, spiritual advice, public speaking and preaching, leadership, and evangelism. The advice ranges from broad help for life to detailed counsel. A preacher will carry away a few extra gems, but any Christian will receive thoughtful help. There were a few that I’ve heard people say that I now know they got from Mr. Robinson!

The author was real on these pages. At times he would describe how he initially struggled to accept what Dr. Robinson had said. There was inside to be gained and how his own wrestling’s brought him around to see things the same way Dr. Robinson did.

I liked all the sayings, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be number 9 (“time is your enemy. You must work to make it your friend”).  The Bible verse was Ecclesiastes 3:1. As I read that section, the thought struck me that there is enough time to do what God wants me to do.

This is not an academic book. This will be a book for you – your life, your spirituality, your heart. If you are like me, you know you need a few books like that along the way, and A Mentor’s Wisdom: Lessons I Learned from Haddon Robinson is just such a book.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Demanding Liberty by Brandon O’Brein

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This book is hard for me to categorize. The author, Brandon O’Brien, warns us in the preface that that might be the case, but I had no idea that it would be thus to such a degree. It’s not exactly a biography, though I came to know Isaac Backus much better. It’s not exactly a historical treatise, but I found places where my historical understandings were off. It’s not exactly a political statement, but I wondered if there might be one just below the surface. I found myself asking what this author was up to quite early in the book, though I never was sure I could answer that question. To be sure, I found the book deeply interesting and hard to put down.

If the author desired to only overturn the applecart of our neatly packaged conclusions, this book was a smashing success. If he had some conclusion he wanted to take us to, then not so much. The titles alone of his previous books, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes and Paul Behaving Badly, had me wondering if he was something of a provocateur. When he admitted that he was a Baptist who had become a Presbyterian and now was writing on a Baptist hero, I wondered if he was something of a rabble-rousing raconteur too. As a Baptist myself, when some of his first comments seemed to overplay the lack of education of the early Baptists, I was sure that it was so. But alas, he was quite fair to the Baptists overall and even seemed to have a real admiration of their dedication and of Backus himself.

He did prove to me that I have been something of a reductionist in how I view the Christian heritage of my country. It was much more of a battle than I carried in my convenient memories, but I retain my amazement at where it landed. On a few occasions, he took that premise a little too far. I’m not convinced that the Jefferson described in the introduction was as anti-religion as he was portrayed, nor do I see the full weight of the parallel of conservative Christians today to their forebears with “a difference between being marginalized and feeling marginalized.” Still, there might be enough truth in it to call for some introspection.

This book held my attention until the last page. I’m still not sure whose side the author is on, or if he even knows. He did, however, ask good questions. My conclusions are ultimately the same, but I would have to admit that my views are a little more nuanced after reading this book.

We are at the point of this review where I’m supposed to give a recommendation. Perhaps if you’ve read this far you already have all the recommendation that I could give you. Clearly, this book influenced me. Maybe you will want to find out if it will have that effect on you.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower by Gary Moon

 

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This biography is a joy. It has both an interesting subject and a skilled examination of the person that creates life upon the pages. If you’re tempted to think a biography of a man who is a philosopher and a college professor is too dull for pleasant reading, I challenge you to prove yourself wrong by reading this book. Dallas Willard’s life never allows the reader to become complacent. His journey twists and turns and yet follows an upward trajectory. As a reviewer, I probably come from a different vantage point than most in that as much as I love to read I’ve still never read any of Dallas Willard’s works. I suppose many readers are drawn to this biography because they love his writings, but you may be like me and have this biography entice you toward his writings.

Part one covers the first 30 years of his life in seven chapters. His Missouri upbringing deeply influenced him. His mother’s death and other family situations that required his moving around were expertly probed without resorting to psychoanalysis. As a reader, you will be emotionally attached to Mr. Willard by the end of this rendition of his first 30 years.

Part two looks at the middle part of his life. There was always some sort of gravitational pull toward the Lord and the ministry in Mr. Willard’s life. Earlier, he went to Tennessee Temple University under the direction of Dr. Lee Roberson, which was also the place he met his wife, and loved many aspects including their zeal and revival emphasis but grew to have a problem with the “view of salvation that is complete when one has publicly professed (put forward an understanding of) the gospel and which only has a past tense.” It was that middle section of his life where he developed his much-appreciated thoughts on communion with God.

The latter part of the book gave much detail on how each of his books came together. Believe it or not, that was interesting and shed more light on who he was as a person. I could not agree with every conclusion that Mr. Willard came to hold, but I found him to be genuine, sincere, and a person who would be interesting to either talk to or pray with. This biography didn’t obscure his weaker traits, whether it be his nomadic nature or his family struggles, but a man who loves the Lord shone through. I really can’t imagine how Mr. Moon could’ve made this biography any better.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Leopard Tamed by Vandevort

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I’ve never read a mission story quite like this one. Missions stories make some of the most challenging reading to bolster faith, so I’ve read several such titles over the years. While it’s clear the Lord was at work in this mission story just like I expect in such tales, the frank honesty of the difficulties makes this volume by Eleanor Vandevort unique. The author didn’t even hide the hard questions she had for God in this book. When the back cover says that this book “was too honest for many in 1968”, you can see that this statement is not mere marketing hype once you read the book for yourself. Whoever suggested rereleasing this volume in the 50th-anniversary edition did a favor for us all.

You will do well to read all the preliminaries. Both the Forward by Trudy Summers and the introduction to the 50th-anniversary edition by Valerie Elliott Sheppard as well as the introduction to the original edition by Elizabeth Elliott give the kind of background and perspective that makes the reading of the book more meaningful. Plus, if you’re like me you had not heard of the author, but at least had heard of Elizabeth Elliott. Since I respect Mrs. Elliott, and since she has deep confidence in the author of this book, I began reading this book with complete confidence about the character of an author I’d never heard of.

The author comes out of the gate in riveting fashion when she describes going to watch the rite of passage that young men in Sudan face that entails six horizontal lines being cut in parallel rows on their forehead. I loved how she confessed her original feelings of repulsion for what appeared to be a dark, hedonistic act. It was in this first chapter that she makes us aware of her ability to probe deeply into the meaning other cultures find in certain acts. She was able to separate our faith that we receive from God and should take to the world for our culture that we sometimes confuse with it. That accomplishment alone makes this a book worth reading. Even better, she doesn’t preach at us for confusing our culture with the gospel but just explains the wrestlings in her own soul. Her journey was instructive.

There are all kinds of other thrills. Yes, there’s a scary snake story but as is the case with this author, she looks deeper at their overall view of death and how the young boy would miss out on his markings that proclaimed to the world he was a man. It was a loss the whole family would feel, yet a different sort of loss that we would feel in our culture.

You don’t get very far into the book before you meet Kuac Nyoat, a young man who came to Christ and was trained for the pastorate in the ministry where the author worked. Without a doubt, Miss Vandevort loved, admired, and respected this young pastor. It was through his life that she told her story and tried to separate culture from the gospel. In no way did she sugarcoat his struggles or even his failures. What she was able to do, however, is get to the end of the book with me respecting him just as she did.

This book has the requisite excitement but forces you to do a lot of important thinking too. You will likely enjoy the story so much that you won’t even mind. It’s a beautiful paperback edition and is written so that anyone from a teenager to a seasoned Christian would consider reading it time well spent. It’s a winner that I highly recommend!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. 

The Reformation in England (2-volume set) by D’Aubigne

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What a classic! I’ve heard of this jewel for years and am excited to see this reprinting by Banner of Truth. D’Aubigne is an able historian who writes with spiritual fire. These volumes lived up to the hype I heard and I was not disappointed!

Volume 1 was made up of 4 books and took us all the way back to the earliest days of Christianity in England (2nd to 6th Centuries). I enjoyed the fine Introduction to the writer and this work. When we jump into the text, we hear of St. Patrick, the early infiltration of Rome, Wycliffe, the Lollards, and the very origin of the Reformation in England. There’s amazing, inspiring tales of martyrs for Christ. The latter part tells how the divorce of Henry and all that led up to it had an amazing impact on the Reformation. He won’t allow you to believe that the Reformation is a secular event, though, but rather the Lord working through amazing means.

Volume 2 was made up of 3 books and takes us on through Henry VIII’s death as the author sees that as the ultimate birth of the Reformation in England. Henry was a despicable, unstable man! His treatment of his wives was heinous. Still, it’s clear that the Lord works behind the scenes to free England from its religious darkness through these political events. It’s incredible how much blood was spilled along the way. If you’re a Baptist like me, you will love the respectful way he mentions the Anabaptists.

This 2-volume set is well-written, captivating, and illuminating. The author clearly knows what he’s talking about and knows how to tell us. He reads much better than some of the usual heavy reading of that time period. As with other Banner titles, the set is beautiful and bound to last. Frankly, I loved it. It’s THE title for those with an English background for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.