This weekend Skip Olson came to Tupelo for the Keep Believing board retreat. During our time together he asked me to recommend four biographies that I thought he might enjoy reading in 2008. I decided to pass along my recommendations for the benefit of those looking for some good reading during these winter months.
Reg Grant has done a masterful job of retelling the story of Martin Luther in his book Storm
. The metaphor is apt because Luther and his teaching created a storm of controversy with a burst of lightning that ignited the Protestant Reformation. This particular book of historical fiction does a masterful job of transporting the reader back to Germany in the early 1500s. To his credit, Reg Grant doesn’t depict Luther as a plaster saint but as a man who determined to stand for what he believed to be right. Although we often talk about changing the world, few of us will ever do it. Five centuries later the world is still changed because of Martin Luther’s courage.
My second book also deals with the Reformation, albeit from a different standpoint. Stephen J. Nichols has written a delightful sketch of the leading personalities of that turbulent period in a brief book called The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
. From that title, you might think it is only about Luther, but actually the book introduces the reader to John Calvin, Martin Zwingli, the leaders of the Anabaptist wing of the Reformation, the English Reformation, and the leading women of the Reformation. Writing this sort of survey can sometimes produce a book that is dry as dust. Not in this case. Using a sprightly touch, and with chapter titles such as "Some Middle-Aged Men and a Sausage Supper," he brings history to life and along the way reminds us that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
A few months ago Crossway Books released Jonathan Aitken’s John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace
. The book traces Newton’s conversion from his career as a slave trader into a follower of Jesus Christ. Then it tells of his influence on William Wilberforce, the leader in the movement to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Along the way we learn a great deal about evangelical church life in England in the late 1700s. Aitken gives a detailed accounting of "Amazing Grace," perhaps the most popular hymn ever written. Near the end of his life, he told a visitor that though his memory was fading, he was certain of two things–"That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior." The book nourishes the mind and the soul, which is what a good biography should do.
When I spoke at Mount Hermon Conference Center in California a few years ago, I was pleased to meet John Hammond, an elderly gentleman who told me he was working on a book that included a chapter on William E. Blackstone, one of the first evangelical leaders to call for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. I had a great interest in anything relating to Mr. Blackstone because he lived for many years in Oak Park, IL, the Chicago suburb where I pastored for sixteen years. A year or so after meeting Mr. Hammond, he sent me a copy of a privately printed book called These Four Made a Big Difference to Entire Nations
. Besides Blackstone, the book profiles George Wishart, John Witherspoon and Charles E. Fuller. These short chapters are meant to inspire the reader to "seize the day" for God as these four men did.