Women of the New Testament

Title: Women of the New Testament
Author: Abraham Kuyper
Pages: 111
Star Rating: ★★★★

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A few months ago, I was standing in a thrift shop perusing their book section. As I scanned through the religious section (mostly Rick Warren and Billy Graham – esque stuff), I saw the name Kuyper printed onto the binding of a book. Surely that’s a different Kuyper, I thought, pulling it off of the shelf, but it’s still worth checking. But it wasn’t a different Kuyper. It was the Kuyper. I stood and stared at the book, checking the back cover and the inside leaf to make sure I wasn’t experiencing a visual illusion. I’m sure I looked amazingly idiotic to anyone who was watching me.

But here Kuyper was in flesh and blood paper and ink! I’d heard much about him and his application of Biblical principles to the government of the Netherlands, but I’d never expected to find one of his works in a cheap thrift store! I lit into this book with fervor.

With fervor… and fear. It has been my experience to find studies on the women of the Bible to be loathsome in their misrepresentation, elaboration, and application. Often these studies preach a whiny psycho-babble of self-justification, affirmation, and empowerment. They promote the idea of spiritual supremacy and leadership for women rather than encouraging the self-effacing service of Jesus’ original followers.

But all of my fears were in vain. Mr. Kuyper presented sound, humble, realistic sketches of twenty-nine different women who each played roles in Christ’s ministry (or those of his apostles’). Rather than focusing in on the thought life of these women, he emphasized their love of and dedication to the Lord, and explained the significance of their actions in light of historical context.

Also, Mr. Kuyper did not content himself with merely recounting their lives; he also addressed any controversy that surrounded his subjects. He rejected the Roman Catholic view of Mary, pondered the identity of Mary Magdalene, and chastised those who view Martha, sister of Lazarus, with disfavor.

At the end of each chapter is a series of questions for group discussion. Although I read Women of the New Testament on my own, and thus had no one to discuss it with, I still found these questions to be helpful; they reinforced what I had learned in each chapter.

Conclusion. A good study for those seeking to gain a clearer understanding of the Women of the New Testament.

The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen

Title: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen
Author: Jane Austen
Editor: Dominique Enright
Pages: 162
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Jane Austen. The name which, over the last few centuries, has been synonymous with the ideal romance novel. The name which has been adored by a gaggle of Darcy-stricken females. The name which has been equally detested by those who consider themselves to be above the trivialities depicted in her writings. The name of a woman who, although she never married herself, has nevertheless preached a philosophy of love to her millions of readers. The name of an author.

A remarkable woman, Jane Austen. A first-rate penetrator of foibles. An acute observer of human nature. And, above all, a woman who was amused with the world.

I do not consider myself to be a Jane Austen aficionado. It is true that I have read all seven of her completed novels, some with great enjoyment. I am not an ‘adorer’ – but I am an ‘appreciater’. I appreciate Austen’s wicked sharpness as she describes the faults of pride, self-pity, and out right idiocy. I appreciate the intricate personalities and elaborate communities which she stroked into existence. I appreciate that she created, not merely stories of love, but stories of life. Are her stories of life true to life? Not always. But when they are, they are deathly accurate.

This book was in a sense a tribute to Jane Austen, and in another sense, an offering from Jane Austen. It is a collection of her wit at its finest moments. The most enjoyable section, I found, was the very first – her ‘Early Exuberances’. I learned here that, what was later refined into a poignant wit began as an outrageous sense of humor. Her descriptions of melodramatic heroes and heroines madly rushing about and fainting on cue kept me laughing throughout the entire section. The first two quotes in the next section are examples of these exuberances.

Quotes.

“[Elfrida] flew to Frederic and in a manner truly heroick, spluttered out to him her intention of being married the next day.

Frederic’s reply is less than encouraging:

“Elfrida, you may be married tomorrow, but I won’t.”

This answer distressed her too much for her delicate constitution. She accordingly fainted and was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another.” [Frederic and Elfrida]

:) “spluttered out”, indeed…

Edward’s friend and husband of Sophia, Augustus, returns from a solitary walk:

Never did I see such an affecting scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.

‘My life! My soul!” (exclaimed the former) ‘My adorable angel!’ (replied the latter), as they flew into each other’s arms. It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself – We fainted alternatively on a sofa.” [Love and Freindship, 1790]

The rest of these quotes, saving the very first, are all taken from letters written by Jane Austen. She must have been an amusing correspondent!

Happily [Mr. Woodhouse] was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it. – Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons’ understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them. [Emma, 1816]

“Charlotte Craven… looks very well, and her hair is done up with an elegance to do credit to any education.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 20, 1813]

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. [Letter to Anna Austen, September 28, 1814]

I could no more write a [historical] romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life, and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.” [Letter to James Stanier Clarke, April 1, 1816]

“Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret and only known to half the neighborhood, you must not mention it.” [Letter to Cassandra, September 5, 1796]

“Charles Powlett gave a dance on Thursday, to the great disturbance of all his neighbours, of course, who, you know, take a most lively interest in the state of his finances, and live in hopes of his being soon ruined.” [Letter to Cassandra, December 1-2, 1798]

“If Mrs. Freeman is anywhere above ground give my best compliments to her.” [Letter to Cassandra, February 9, 1813]

I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 31, 1811]

Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end. [Letter to Cassandra, January 21, 1801]

Cautions.

Early in her career, Jane Austen wrote a letter from the perspective of “a Young Lady, whose feeling being too Strong for her Judgment, led her into the commission of Errors which her Heart disapproved.” In the letter, the Young Lady confesses to having murdered both her parents and planned to murder her sister.

Mistresses are mentioned twice, and Jane claims to having detected an adultress at a party. She also writes that a certain person’s object in life was “to be seductive”. Reference is made to Mr. Wickham’s seductive activities as well.

A reference is made to naked cupid statues.

‘Damme’ is used once.

Conclusion. A delightful read for those who appreciate wit, The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen is a succinct collection of her most pithy observations.

A Token For Children

Title: A Token for Children
Author: J. Janeway & Cotton Mather
Pages: 146
Reading Level: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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When I found A Token for Children at a Goodwill, I had a hard time convincing myself that it was written by THE Cotton Mather. I mean, how often do you find books by Puritans at your Goodwill? This must be written by an imposter! It was only after I stopped to reflect that I came to the conclusion that probably nobody else in the history of the world was named ‘Cotton’, so I purchased it. Once I got it home, I noticed that it was printed by Soli Deo Gloria.

#howdidimissthat

A Token for Children is a collection of short biographical sketches intended to edify, challenge, and exhort young readers. The subjects, rather than being great statesmen, soldiers, or authors, are those young children who, at an early age, dedicated themselves to seeking God and His righteousness. Many of these children were converted at as early an age as three and each of them died before the narration had ended.

Although Cotton Mather and James Janeway are show as co-authors of A Token for Children, this not a book which they sat down and wrote together. Rather, A Token for Children consists of three parts. The first part is the original book which James Janeway published. The second, an extra set of stories which he promised to add if his first volume met with encouragement (which, apparently, it did). The third part is collection of similar stories written by Cotton Mather, who, inspired by Janeway’s theme, attached his set of stories to Janeway’s in the first New England edition.

Now, do not be confused by my calling them ‘stories’ – both Mather and Janeway claim that every account contains the absolute truth written with no exaggeration whatsoever. I was grateful for the adamancy of their claims, for, frankly, if they had been less assertive on this count, I would have concluded that the narratives had been embellished to fit their purposes. Let me explain.

The children in these sketches are godly – very godly. Godly almost to the point of being unbelievable. Here are a few paragraphs which I offer as examples of what I mean. This of a three to four year old.

A certain little child, when he could not speak plainly, would be crying after God, and was greatly desirous to be taught good things.

He could not endure to be put to bed without family prayer, but would put his parents upon duty and would with much devotion kneel down and with great patience and delight continue till duty was at an end without the least expression of being weary. And he seemed never so well-pleased as when he was engaged in prayer.

As he grew up, he was more and more affected with the things of another world – so that, if we had not received our information from one who is of undoubted fidelity, it would seem incredible.

He quickly learned to read the Scriptures and would with great reverence, tenderness, and groans, read till tears and sobs were ready to hinder him.

When he was at secret prayer, he would weep bitterly.

He was inclined, oftentimes to complain of the naughtiness of his heart, and seemed to be much grieved for the corruption of his nature, and for actual sin.

He had a vast understanding in the things of God, even to a wonder for one of his age.

He was much troubled for the wandering of his thoughts in duty, and that he could not keep his heart always fixed upon God and the work he was about, nor his affections constantly raised.

He kept a watch over his heart, and observed the workings of his soul. He would complain that they were so vain and foolish and so little busied about spiritual things.

As he grew up, he grew daily in knowledge and experience. His carriage was so heavenly, and his discourse so excellend and experimental, that it made those who heard it astonished. [pg. 10-11]

You get the idea. Every single child is described in similar language and his particular virtues are extolled. After reading several dozen pages worth of this material I began to ask myself – What makes this seem so unbelievable, so utterly unreal? I came up with two reasons.

1)      The Writing Style. Anyone who has read the works of Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson knows that the language of past centuries was often more flowery, sensational, overdrawn… What’s the word I want? Melodramatic.  When I stripped the excessive language away from the little girl who

“was exceedingly dutiful to her parents, very loath to grieve them in the least. If she had at any time (which was very rare) offended them, she would weep bitterly.” [pg. 3]

I found a young child who understood God’s commandment of obedience and repented when she had transgressed it. Well, I know a youngster who often feels this way! When I focused in on the little girl who

“was a child of great tenderness and compassion to all, full of kindness and pity. Whom she could not help, she would be ready to weep over.” [pg. 16]

I discovered a child who has a tender heart and derives joy from blessing people. I know a child like that, too! And yet, the book still felt unauthentic. Why?

2)      The Unalloyed Righteousness. Each of these children was shown amidst a multitude of virtues, not the least of which was their quickness to denounce their own sins. But what were these sins? These are never detailed. The typical ‘perverseness of heart’ is denounced, but the fact that this ‘perversity’ (of which we have no practical knowledge or evidence) is denounced is held up as itself a virtue! Now, I know many children and there are some between the ages of two and eleven with whom I am able to hold serious doctrinal conversations. These children (especially the two year old) often shock me by the depths of their observations and their obvious grasp on the topic being discussed. But these kids all have weakness – real weakness which I have seen. Sure, they fight them, but sometimes they’re tired. Sometimes they let down their guard. Sometimes that little sin sneaks out and displays itself. Not so with Janeway’s children – they are all so sanctified that they’re practically glorified. Which, as a side note….

Every single one of the children given as examples by Mr. Janeway and Mr. Mather died before completing their twentieth year. Each  of them gave great glory to God and professed themselves to have great assurance in Christ, but it was still a bit depressing. Also, it made one wonder – does being so righteous so young make a person more susceptible to death?

All of that to say that I am of a very mixed opinion in regard to this book. I absolutely approve of the goal of the book – to set before children characters worthy of emulation, to exhort children in godliness, and to prove that children have deep spiritual needs long before we usually recognize them. But while I admired the examples of these children, I found myself repelled by the high-toned rapturous language which was used to describe them.

Conclusion. I’ve offered many different opinions in the above review, but I cannot set forth a unified whole from among them. I found the language of A Token for Children difficult to stomach, but others may be able to tolerate it and thus benefit from the sterling examples set forth by the children of this book.

David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony

Title: David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony
Author: Daivd Brainerd
Editor: Walter Searle
Pages: 117
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Prior to picking up David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony, I knew that David Brainerd had written a journal. I’d even consigned it to my enormous ‘to-read’ list. And then I forgot about it. When I saw this book for $ .39 at a Goodwill, I purchased it thinking, David Brainerd was the person who evangelized Indians in the 1730s, right? Right.

David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony contains selections from his Journal and Diary. As such, it did not present the full story of Brainerd’s relationship with God. But it presented enough of it for me to be awed.

Walter Searle, the editor, specifically chose material from Brainerd’s Journal which he felt would best encourage Christians in their prayer life. So, most of the entries spoke of prayer, rather than Brainerd’s life. But by reading his prayers, Brainerd’s heart and life are laid bare. His many cries for the souls of the heathen and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom proved how genuinely he desired these things. Here is a typical entry.

Lord’s Day, April 18
I retired early this morning into the woods for prayer; had the assistance of God’s Spirit, and faith in exercise; and was enabled to plead with fervency for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and to intercede for dear, absent friends. At noon, God enabled me to wrestle with Him, and to feel, as I trust, the power of divine love, in prayer. At night I saw myself infinitely indebted to God, and had a view of my failure to duty. [pg. 19]

Strangely enough, I found myself encouraged not only when Brainerd wrote of his success in prayer, but also when he wrote of his discouragement and doubts. Why did I find consolation in this? Because it showed me that I am not alone in doubting my motives before God, in struggling constantly with my hypocrisy, and in despairing over the hardness of my heart. When I say that I was encouraged, I do not mean that I was reaffirmed in my weakness. I mean that it reminded me that these feelings do not mean that I am not in fellowship with God. What they mean is that I am engaged in the great battle. It is a battle that has been fought by many before me, and knowing this encouraged me to come before God with more boldness, decrying my own sinfulness, and praying for God’s righteousness to fill the earth, beginning with me.

More than anything, David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony encouraged me towards two things. One, to pray more frequently and with more fervency. Two, to find a copy of David Brainerd’s complete journal.

Conclusion. A sober, edifying read, David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony will encourage Christians to be more genuine in their relationship to God and, especially, to pray more fervently.

From the Claws of the Dragon

Title: From the Claws of the Dragon
Author: Carroll F. Hunt
Pages: 134
Star Rating: ★★★★

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From the Claws of the Dragon. Doesn’t that title arrest you? Doesn’t it make you wonder what happens within the covers of this book? It certainly stopped me in my tracks. Well, actually, I was sitting in front of a book case examining the lowest shelf when I found this book, so I didn’t stop in my tracks, but my eyes stopped roving. I yanked it from its place. The dragon on the front snarled an encouragement to me. So I added it to my stack.

From the Claws of the Dragon turned out to be the biography of Harry Lee, a Christian who suffered under the Communist regime in China.

His Life.

In Novemeber of 1925, Harry Lee kicked his way into the world. It was a world dominated by instability – China’s political structure was in a state of upheaval, and the Lee family of Shanghai could not escape its consequences. However, Harry was able to experience a happy childhood; he attended Public & Thomas Hanbury School, a British institution, where he made several close friends. Together they began attending evangelistic meetings where they learned about Christianity and eventually committed their lives to serving Christ.

After Harry’s father died, Harry became the leader of his family. The Lees struggled to maintain their way of living and circumstances forced them to sell furniture and clothing. One by one, Harry’s siblings found unimpressive jobs, but Harry continued in his schooling because he thought that with a graduation certificate he would be able to earn more money and thus support his family better. After World War II, Harry divided his time between his accounting job and working with the local church.

It was during this time that Harry felt called to pastor God’s people. He became ordained as a deacon and began to pray that God would help him escape from China to attend seminary in Hong Kong (then controlled by Great Britain). But various political factions were waging a power struggle, and officials regarded Christians as conspirators. Government agents denied Harry’s application for passport, and when he attempted to escape, they arrested him and sentenced him to seven years in prison.

These were more than seven years of insipidity behind stone walls; after Harry refused to lie and give false confessions, his jailors began torturing him. They attempted by various methods – physical and mental – to coerce him into doing their will, but he refused.

Although only condemned for seven years, his ‘intractability’ caused his jailors to send him to a prison farm. There, Harry toiled over fields and tools to provide food for Chinese troops. Although he assumed that this would be where he spent the remainder of his life, Harry praised God for his goodness and mercy. And four years later, eleven years after his first imprisonment, Harry was set free. Officially, free. Yet he was not free. Although he yearned to retire to a quiet corner and live the rest of his life in ease, he knew that he was still bound by the will of God. He was to go to seminary.

Upon his twenty-seventh application for passport, Harry finally acquired the slip of paper which released him to follow God’s calling. On May 25, 1984, Harry Lee graduated from Western Evangelical Seminary. He was fifty-eight years old.

Now as I look back, I know He has given me a message written in blood, sweat, and tears; more of a message than if I had had my way, quietly living my little life in my little church hidden away in a corner of Shanghai. I won’t say God caused the Cultural Revolution because of Harry Lee, but I will say He used it to widen my heart and my world. ~ Harry Lee as quoted on pg. 129

Discussion.

The book begins as a five-year-old Harry kicks and screams out against going to school as his grandmother wishes him to. A few pages later he complains that she makes him dress like a sissy. I have no idea whether this really occurred.

The author of From the Claws is Arminian and uses several phrases such as ‘inviting Jesus into your life’.

Harry’s guards inflicted various tortuous punishments on him, but I found that Mrs. Hunt presented them very carefully. She left enough detail to impress you with the sobriety of the situation and Mr. Lee’s endurance, but not enough to be revolting.

Conclusion. Harry Lee has not left as impactful a legacy as that of Richard Wurmbrand or Corrie ten Boom, but his great struggles and immense faith are worth reading. Purchase a copy here.

Harriet Tubman

Title: Harriet Tubman
Author: Laurie Calkhoven
Pages: 124
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I had read several picture books about Harriet Tubman as a child, but never a full-blown biography.

Her Life.

No one really knows when Harriet Tubman was born. It was sometime during the early months of either 1820 or 1822, but because slaves weren’t important enough to have celebratations for their birthdays, their owners rarely recorded them. But we do know that her birth name wasn’t Harriet Tubman. It was Araminta Ross.

Minty (as Harriet was called) lived through a tough childhood. When she was somewhere around five or six, her owner decided that she was old enough to be hired out to different masters. Many of them were cruel and punished her unmercifully for her mistakes, regardless of whether they were accidental or through ignorance. It was these mistreatings that first caused Minty to run away.

She didn’t make it very far; growing cold and hungry, and being to young to think of any other solution, she returned to her home and received another beating. But Minty’s yearning for freedom never left her. As she watched one after another of her siblings being sold further south, she plotted how to escape with her family to freedom.

In 1944, Minty married John Tubman. At some point – again, unknown! – she changed her name to Harriet, and thus became Harriet Tubman. Harriet was very happy with her husband – she loved him very much – but as a slave, the threat always hung over her that she would be sold away from him. She determined that she would be free.

So, in 1949, Harriet escaped and traversed through Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania with the help of the Underground Railroad. In Pennsylvania she halted her journey, rested a while, and finally decided to dedicate her time to helping other slaves escape their masters.

It is thought that Harriet aided something around three hundred of her fellow slaves in their escape from freedom. Each of her runs was fraught with danger; posse hunters and bloodhounds dogged her tracks, and there was always the possibility that she might run into a person that would recognize and report her. Many of her conductor friends were viewed with suspicion, and this made receiving help from them especially difficult. But in spite of all this, Harriet was never caught.

Although it is for this effort that she is most widely known, it was not the only work of her life. She also played the role of a spy for the Union Army, using her skill of stealth and her familiarity with dark forests to steal past confederate pickets and penetrate their cities. Later, she invested a great deal of time fighting for the suffragette cause and aiding the poor. She died of pneumonia in 1913. She had lived into her early nineties and left behind the legacy of a very full life.

Cautions.

I found Harriet Tubman to be a very fair, open biography. Any elements that I objected to were the documentation of actual facts. For example…..

As mentioned in the biographical sketch above, Harriet Tubman not only championed the cause of slaves, but she was also a suffragette. After slavery was abolished she dedicated the rest of her life to winning women the right to vote. She was good friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leaders of the suffragette movement.

While still making her railroad runs, Harriet began wearing bloomers. This was probably much more practical than wearing skirts, and I don’t mind it, personally, but it was portrayed as a step towards the “liberation” of females.

Sojourner Truth, a female preacher, is mentioned.

When she was young, Harriet married a man named John Tubman. There was no official certificate, and when Harriet ran away John refused to come with her. He later married another woman but she lived unmarried.

It is mentioned that Harriet was beaten as a child. It isn’t bloody.

As a teenager, Harriet was struck over the head with a heavy weight. This caused her to suffer from headaches and coma-like sleeping for the rest of her life.

Also, probably due to this incident, Harriet began to have ‘visions’ which she thought were from God. She relied upon them to lead her in life, and she thought that they foretold the future. This only obtruded into the story occasionally.

Conclusion. A solid biography about an important figure in our country’s history. Purchase a copy here.

Skeptics Who Demanded a Verdict

Title: Skeptics Who Demanded a Verdict
Author: Josh McDowell
Pages: 106
Star Rating: ★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Skeptics Who Demanded a Verdict is a set of biographical sketches describing the lives of Charles W. Colson, C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. Its intent is to briefly describe the intellectual journey of these men (who were each hardened skeptics) as they studied the issues which surrounded Christianity.

Charles W. Colson.

I found this to be the most interesting of the three pieces. Perhaps this was because it was written by the actual man (unlike C. S. Lewis’ biography) and described momentous historical events (unlike Josh McDowell’s).

Charles Colson was a promising young lawyer who was working his way up through the political system. Happily married with children, he had reached the status of special counsel to the President in Nixon’s first term in office. Life was full of happy expectations. Then came the scandal.

At first Colson thought that nothing very big was going on; a few freedom fighters had been arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices. But surely this was campaign spying – criminal, yes, but nothing truly scandalous or career threatening. And then the full extent of its ignominy began slowly to come to light.

As panic spread through the White House, the situation turned into an every man for himself blowup. As each man tried desperately to save his own skin regardless of how they tainted the reputations of those around them, Mr. Colson was struck by their disunity

This is why the Watergate experience is so instructive for me. If John Dean and the rest of us were so panic-stricken, not by the prospect of beatings and execution, but by political disgrace and a possible prison term, one can only speculate about the emotions of the disciples. Unlike the men in the White House, the disciples were powerless people, abandoned by their leader, homeless in a conquered land. Yet they clung tenaciously to their enormously offensive story that their Leader had risen from His ignoble death and was alive – and was the Lord. [pg. 43]

In this way God used the corruption of man to bear witness to the truth of the Scriptures. Although Colson had formerly sought happiness through power and prestige, he now realized that these would give him nothing but exhaustion and heartache. He began to search again for meaning in life and God sent it to him – through a friend’s testimony in the salvific power of Christ. Through different resources and the reading of God’s Word, Mr. Colson was convinced. The case had been proven.

C. S. Lewis

Although he spent a year of his life as a soldier in WWI, C. S. Lewis was primarily a book man – a thinking man. When he returned from the war he was delighted to once again immerse himself in his beloved sagas and myths which were the only romantic recreation Lewis allowed his tersely atheistic mind.

It was through these stories that Lewis most often experienced joy, which he described as a blissful sense of yearning desire for something. But he could not understand what that something was, nor what made him yearn for it. Although he did not specifically set about to find out, that would be the great discovery of his life.

Lewis’s was not a sudden conversion. He was led to theism kicking and screaming, partly through his readings and even more importantly, through the testimony of his closest friends. He read and studied, haggled and hassled endlessly with himself and others over the Incarnation, Resurrection, and other Christian doctrines. And finally, one day, it happened.

His realization of belief did not come with a clatter and a bang. There were no bolts of lightning or explosions of fireworks. He simply believed. His mind had been redeemed.

But what of joy – the thing upon which Lewis had once focused all of his attention? He says,

The old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once had given it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While the other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods, the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. [pgs. 75-76]

With his new understanding of reality, Lewis ascribed ‘joy’ as signposts directing him to God.

Josh McDowell

Josh McDowell wanted happiness. He wanted peace. He wanted answers to the questions life posed to him. So he set about to find answers.

He searched in churches. He searched in prestige and power. He searched at the university and found a group of students – happy people; people who were able to rise above the hassle of university life and just live. So he asked them what their secret was.

As a committed atheist he has horrified by the answer they gave them. The reason for their contentment they said, was Jesus Christ. Half sickened and half suspicious that they were playing some sort of joke on him, Josh accepted the challenge they offered him; to examine the proofs of the Resurrection.

His initial goal was to fire the joke in their faces, demonstrating the laughableness of Christianity’s claims. But as two years went by and Josh studied the evidence, the Lord convicted his heart.

Finally, after gathering the evidence, I was compelled to conclude that my arguments against Christianity wouldn’t stand up. Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God. [pg. 90]

Josh became a Christian dedicated to sharing the credibility of Christianity to the unbelieving world. His mind had been renewed.

Discussion.

What Mr. McDowell seems to imply in this book is that any person who approaches the proofs for the resurrection objectively is sure to be convinced of their veracity. If any skeptic were mentioned who was not convinced, the answer would be that they were not ‘open-minded’ enough. But I believe that the difference between those who are convinced and those who are not is not that they made themselves open-minded, but that God opened their minds. For really, sinful man can never be truly open-minded about anything; their every thought and action is with the intent of ‘suppressing the truth’ and denying their own guilt.

So, while studying the proofs of the resurrection is a helpful and noteworthy task, it can do nothing to save a man except as God uses it. Ultimately, a man could study these things all of his life, and in the end, still be an unbeliever.

There were several Arminian statements and concepts throughout the book; accepting Jesus, going forward at crusades, etc., but these didn’t bother me terribly. What did amuse me was the ‘Special Feature’ at the end of the book containing The Four Spiritual Laws. Here’s how they go:

  1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Thus, he cannot know experience God’s love and plan for his life.
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

Actually, these were printed in all caps, but I didn’t want to pain you with too much accuracy. I won’t make a full evaluation of the above ‘spiritual laws’, just throw out a few comments.

— Where does the Bible ever state these ‘four spiritual laws’? I mean, Mr. McDowell titles them like they’re the ten commandments or the twelve disciples, but nowhere do the Scriptures talk about ‘the four spiritual laws’.

—  Just because man is sinful doesn’t mean that he’s not experiencing God’s love or plan for his life. I mean, God planned out Jezebel’s life, prophesying how she would be killed down to the where and how. Also, while unregenerate sinners are not experiencing God’s redemptive love, they do experience His love (does not the sun shine on the good and bad alike?).

— The entire focus of these ‘four spiritual laws’ is on man – what we can get out of God instead of His providence, grace and glory.

My last thought on the book is that I’m not sure that I would have chosen these three men to hoist before the world as representatives of Christianity. Mr. McDowell chose to do so, and they were not the worst he could have chosen, but these three men do not represent my favorite theologians or theology. (I do not mean this in any way as an insult to these men.)

Conclusion. An interesting book, but not something I would advise you to go out of your way to get.

Tortured for Christ

Title: Tortured for Christ
Author: Richard Wurmbrand
Pages: 169
Recommended Ages: Mature Readers
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I would venture a wager that every one of us is familiar with the dramatic story of Corrie ten Boom as told in her autobiography The Hiding Place. But how many of us have heard the story of Richard Wurmbrand as told in his book Tortured for Christ? Whatever the number, it is too few.

His Life.

Richard Wurmbrand was born on March 24, 1909 in the city of Bucharest, Romania. Although Jewish by nationality, his family was devoid of any religious affiliation or interest. After living through the harsh poverty brought on by WWI, Richard became a devout Communist who hated the concept of a masterful God whom he should have to obey.

But though he hated God, he was strangely drawn to churches. He would often sit through sermons and prayers; sermons which taught about a God of love and prayers which addressed a God of mercy. Richard came to wish that such a God did exist, but his mind had been convinced that this was impossible.

Some years later, Richard visited a small mountain village where there lived a carpenter. This carpenter was a Christian, and he had made it his prayer before God that one day he might lead a Jew to Christ. When the carpenter discovered that Richard was a Jew he “courted me [Richard] as never a beautiful girl had been courted.” [pg. 13] God used the faithful witnessing of this carpenter to bring Richard to Himself. Richard’s wife Sabrina was saved a short while later. They immediately began evangelizing, seeking to share with others the immense joy which was now theirs. Then came WWII.

Prior to reading this book, I had assumed that the Nazis were the apex of cruelty in the twentieth century. But Mr. Wurmbrand says,

“The Nazi terror was great, but only a taste of what was to come under the Communists… Beginning August 23, 1944, one million Russian troops entered Romania and, very soon after this, the Communists came to power in our country. Then began a nightmare that made suffering under the Nazis seem easy.” [pgs. 13 & 14]

By this time, Mr. Wurmbrand was an ordained minister in the Lutheran church. The Communists sought to subvert the institutional church by persuading its leaders to join their regime. To this effect, a congress was convened where four thousand priests, pastors, and ministers gathered in compromise and swore loyalty to and compatibility with the new government. Mr. Wurmbrand alone stood and spoke the truth of God’s word. It was a worthy speech but a costly one.

For the next four years, Mr. Wurmbrand and his wife worked covertly forming an underground church. They often infiltrated the Russian barracks under different pretexts and evangelized the soldiers there who had never heard the name of Christ save in blasphemy or ridicule. They risked their lives in this enterprise, but their rewards were great.

Then, on February 29, 1948, Mr. Wurmbrand was kidnapped by the secret police. Here is his account of the event.

“A van of the secret police stopped in front of me, four men jumped out and pushed me into the vehicle. I was taken to a prison where I was kept secretly for over eight years. During that time, no one knew whether I was alive or dead. My wife was visited by the secret police who posed as released fellow-prisoners. They told her that they had attended my burial. She was heartbroken.” [pg. 33]

While Mr. Wurmbrand’s family and friends mourned his death, he endured worse than death. He endured torture. Mr. Wurmbrand tells of being placed into icebox-like ‘refrigerator cells’ so cold that ice formed around the edges. Left there until symptoms of hypothermia manifested, his torturers would drag him from the cell, thaw him out, then cast him back into the cell. Other times Christians were hung upside down and beaten with sticks. Other tortures attacked the mind rather than the body. The Russians brainwashed their prisoners by constantly broadcasting phrases designed to demoralize the Christians Communism is good! Communism is good! Christianity is stupid! Christianity is stupid! Give up!

Preaching to the other prisoners was strictly forbidden. But as Mr. Wurmbrand writes,

“A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us – so everyone was happy.” [pg. 41]

After eight and one half years in prison, Mr. Wurmbrand was released under strict injunctions to never preach again. Mr. Wurmbrand promptly resumed his work with the Underground Church, using his scars to strengthen his message of the grace of God. He was rearrested and sentenced to twenty-five years. Five and one half years later a general amnesty was granted to the prisoners, but even this was no guarantee that Mr. Wurmbrand would not be rearrested. So, two Christian organizations – the Norwegian Mission to the Jews and the Hebrew Christian Alliance – ransomed him from the Communist government for $ 10,000. The standard amount for a political prisoner was $ 1,900.

The leaders of the underground church persuaded Mr. Wurmbrand to accept the ransom and travel overseas to be their voice to the western world. He labored faithfully at that task for thirty-seven years, testifying before Congress, writing and distributing materials, and founding Voice of the Martyrs a missions group dedicated to increasing Western awareness of persecution in other countries.

Discussion.

Several interesting points were raised in the course of the narrative.

I’ve always understood the word ‘martyr’ to refer to a person who is killed for their belief in a religious system. And it has come to mean this through common usage. But the Greek base word martus means ‘witness’ – one who bore public testimony to his beliefs. In this sense, Mr. Wurmbrand and millions of others who are never actually killed for their faith are nevertheless worthy of the title ‘martyr’.

After speaking of the Russian Communists’ absolute dedication to their philosophy, Mr. Wurmbrand remarks,

“I learned from them. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would leave not the smallest place for Satan in mine.” [pg. 36]

Writing on why Communists believed that Christianity was such a threat to their system, Mr. Wurmbrand states,

“They knew that if a man believed in Christ, he would never be a mindless, willing subject. They knew they could imprison the physical body, but they couldn’t imprison a man’s spirit – his faith in God.” [pg. 31]

Whenever orthopraxy is emphasized in teaching, people are quick to retaliate that we should only be focused on ‘the gospel’. But as Mr. Wurmbrand rightly asks in the following quote, just was is ‘the gospel’?

“Some tell me ‘Preach the pure gospel!’ This reminds me that the Communist secret police also told me to preach Christ, but not to mention communism. Is it really so, that those who are for what is called ‘a pure gospel’ are inspired by the same spirit as those of the Communist secret police?

I don’t know what this so-called pure gospel is. Was the preaching of John the Baptist pure? He did not say only, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (Matthew 3;2). He also ‘rebuked [Herod]… for all the evils which Herod had done’ (Luke 3:19). He was beheaded because he didn’t confine himself to abstract teaching. Jesus did not preach only the ‘pure’ Sermon on the Mount, but also what some church leaders would have called a negative sermon: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … Serpents, brood of vipers!’ (Matthew 23:27,33). It is for such ‘impure’ preaching that He was crucified.” [pg. 75]

The following snippet reminded me of Philippians 1:15-18. “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”

“The Underground Church knows how to use atheistic literature, too, feeding upon it just as Elijah was fed by ravens. The atheists put much skill and zeal into ridiculing and criticizing Bible verses.

They published books called The Comical Bible and The Bible for Believers and Unbelievers. They tried to show how stupid Scripture is and, to do so, quoted many Bible verses. How we rejoiced over it! The book was printed in millions of copies and was full of Bible verses, which were unspeakably beautiful even when the Communists ridiculed them. The criticism itself was so stupid that no one took it seriously. In the past, ‘heretics’ burned by the Inquisition were taken to the stake in a procession, dressed in all kinds of ridiculous clothes with hell-flames and devils painted on them. And what saints were these heretics! In a similar way, Bible verses remain true, even if the Devil quotes them.

The Communist publishing house was very glad to receive thousands of letters asking for reprints of atheist books that quoted Bible verses to mock them. They did not know that these letters came from the Underground Church, which had no other opportunity of receiving the Scriptures.” [pg. 92]

Mr. Wurmbrand ended his book with this clarion call to Christians in the Western world.

“When I was beaten on the bottom of the feet, my tongue cried. Why did my tongue cry? It was not beaten. It cried because the tongue and feet are both part of the same body. And you free Christians are part of the same Body of Christ that is now beaten in prisons in restricted nations, that even now gives martyrs for Christ. Can you not feel our pain?” [pg. 150]

Cautions.

As has already been noted, Mr. Wurmbrand experienced extreme tortures at the hands of his jailers. I have explained a few of them but there were others, far more dreadful which I left between the covers. These are of such a nature as must prove disturbing to younger readers.

One of Mr. Wurmbrand’s main emphases in this book is the importance of ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’. This is one of those phrases which is used in an attempt to succinctly and pithily state a doctrine which is in fact, far more complex. It can often be confusing and leads to the idea that a man can be defined apart from his actions.

Conclusion. Tortured for Christ is a highly readable and sobering autobiography of a man who dedicated his every breath to Christ. Buy a used copy here or receive a free copy from Voice of the Martyrs here.