Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review: Reformation Women

"Death comes when our work is done, not before or after" (pg. 113).

Rebecca VanDoodewaard has done the church a wonderful service in revising, expanding, and correcting James I. Good's 1901 work, Famous Women of the Reformed Church. Originally appearing as a series of magazine articles, each chapter succinctly presents the life of one saint as a "…biographical sketch--an introduction to a woman who could be the subject of an entire book" (pg. xv). Through Reformation Women, VanDoodewaard successfully whets one's appetite to learn more about the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us!

In her Introduction, VanDoodewaard attempts to set the stage by detailing "…major events, documents, and figures…to provide a larger context" (pg. xvii) so that each chapter can focus on a specific woman. Unlike many modern works, she selected "…believing women who helped form our Reformed faith but who are largely unknown now" (pg. xi). Throughout Reformation Women, VanDoodewaard highlights the beauty in the diversity of God's people:

"A range of personalities, abilities, and positions gives us a sample spectrum of what faithful, strong service to Christ and His church looked like then. These same principles and examples are invaluable for helping women today bear fruit within the broad boundaries that God gives us in His Word" (pg. xi).

Within the Preface and Conclusion, VanDoodewaard considers some of the characteristics that were common to all of these believing women: they were devoted, faithful, brave, compassionate, and self-sacrificing; given to hospitality; stewarded their intellectual abilities to understand Scripture, theology, correspond, etc.; and sought, above all, to glorify Christ and build His Church. They weren't always right, but God was faithful to use them to influence, protect, and multiply His church. Reformation Women illustrates that change truly is a process, not an event. VanDoodewaard honestly allows us to see both the good and the bad in the lives of these saints so that God gets the glory rather than merely elevating humankind.

One of the things that I appreciate about this book is its emphasis on truly biblical womanhood. Through these women, VanDoodewaard shows us that "Real femininity is strength--a uniquely feminine strength that is tough and ladylike" (pg. xiii). She shows us what Christ-centered, healthy marriages look like (and some unhealthy ones!). She shows that there are times when it is appropriate for a woman to submit to her husband and authorities (church and government) and times when she should obey God rather than man. These women were not doormats or mindless. Education was a high priority with God's Word being of utmost importance. For example, Charlotte Arbaleste was involved in an odd case of church discipline in which,

"She genuinely believed that the local church was overstepping its bounds and was willing to argue the point to keep her biblical freedom and clarify procedure. She could only do this with integrity because she knew her Bible and church polity. The fact that she was a woman in no way diminished her responsibility to understand the denomination's ecclesiology and to speak out when it was being abused" (pg. 59).

We desperately need examples of women who submit to godly leadership, as well as, examples of women who know when to stand their ground and fight for what is right, regardless of the consequences.

The "…women of that day were not just sitting around waiting for their husbands to do things: they were reading, writing, and ruling. They were teaching children, sheltering refugees, and balancing husbands. They directed armies, confronted kings, and rebuked heretics" (pg. x). They comforted, encouraged, served, and studied. As VanDoodewaard records:

"These women were not hanging out on social media or mommy blogs, waiting for spiritual maturity to happen. They actively pursued it: Bible reading, prayer, attendance at worship (often several times a week), fellowship with the saints, theological study and discussions, and conscious self-denial matured them into usefulness that God blessed. Personal projects, comfort, and plans were subservient to the mission of the Great Commission" (pg. 113).

Reformation Women isn't a book that seeks to merely entertain the reader but is immensely practical. Many chapters close with a practical application for modern Christian women, and the Conclusion fittingly brings the book to a close by outlining seven application points that will strengthen the church today based on common facts about these women's lives. Among them, she shows how these women were able to live the way that they did:

"Their goals were not a great weekend, or seeing kids through college, or even helping with grand-children. Their goal, in different spheres, was the establishment and flourishing of a strong and faithful church that would be there long after they were gone. Because they were aiming for things beyond their life spans, it gave perspective and purpose to their everyday actions. Thinking long term gives us the ability to act meaningfully in the short term" (pg. 113).

That being said, Reformation Women isn't a "preachy" book. These women's stories are absolutely fascinating. Filled with accounts of joy, sorrow, and humor; victory and defeat, loyal friends and plotting enemies, I could hardly put this book down. VanDoodewaard highlights both unusual deeds (fleeing in disguise, preventing war, enduring persecution, and resisting arranged marriages) as well as everyday faithfulness in the mundane. It is encouraging to see how God faithfully intervenes in people's life circumstances to bring them to the Gospel and use them for His glory, especially when it seems unlikely from a limited, human perspective.

Throughout this book, I found myself longing for more details and jotting down questions for further study. Mrs. VanDoodewaard successfully whetted my appetite for further study, indeed. I would love to know more about how these women balanced their many responsibilities, educated their children, managed their homes, etc., and because her sources are well-documented in footnotes, I know just where to turn for additional information!

Most importantly, VanDoodewaard uses Reformation Women to point us to Christ and His all-sufficiency in the midst of life, whether that's joy or sorrow, peace or anxiety, prosperity or poverty, comfort or persecution, affliction, exile, and/or death.

I'm grateful that Rebecca's husband brought her Good's book, as well as, other resources and supported this project with peanut butter cups and pizza for supper. I pray that many will be encouraged to faithfully use what God has given them and where He has placed them for His glory and trust that many will be blessed by Mrs. VanDoodewaard's labor and sacrifice! :)

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for sending me a complimentary copy of Reformation Women in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: Pray About Everything

"If a man walks with God for 100 years, he remains a pupil in the school of prayer" (pg. 39).

In Pray About EverythingPaul Tautges shares with his readers seven brief meditations that are faithful, Biblical expositions of various passages of Scripture. Originally shared with his church as they began prayer meetings, these messages can be read relatively quickly. Although topics are not treated exhaustively and may leave the reader with some unanswered questions, they are thought-provoking and would serve as a good starting points and/or discussion starters.

Mr. Tautges rightly recognizes that the God of the Bible isn't a cosmic candy dispenser. Nor is he a giant genie who jettisoned his magic lamp. For the one, true, living God to answer our prayers, we must come to Him on His terms. We would do well to ask, "What are these terms?" and "What makes prayer effective?"  These are just some of the questions that Paul Tautges addresses in his book, Pray About Everything.

While there are already a number of published books on prayer, Pray About Everything sets itself apart by placing a more significant emphasis on the importance of congregational prayer than other books on the subject, many of which, while very good, tend to focus on the private, personal discipline of prayer. Although this book is intended for the average Christian reader, numerous appendices are provided for those who lead prayer nights, small group studies, etc. Pray About Everything is a Gospel-centered, biblical book that will aid the reader in praying according to God's will as revealed in Scripture. These are the kinds of prayers that God promises to answer.

This book can be purchased from many retailers including:

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Shepherd Press for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Book Review: Martin Luther

"Have you done enough to please God?" This was the question that terrified Martin Luther as he desperately sought peace with God and peace of mind. Simonetta Carr's most recent work, Martin Luther, displays God's grace in the life of Luther as his mind was opened to understand the truth of Scripture, answering the question, "How can a person be right in God's eyes?" As Mrs. Carr relays, this knowledge drastically changed the course of Luther's life and, subsequently, Christendom.

Luther's life is anything but boring, and Mrs. Carr tells his story well. Although he desired to bring about positive change within the Roman Catholic Church, many leaders remained steeped in tradition and were unwilling to change in spite of Luther's constant appeals to Scripture. Yet, "While many others attacked the abuses and corruption of the church and the pope, Luther went to the root of the problem, which is man's sinful heart, a problem that only God can solve" (pg. 54). Though Luther's writings merely sought to remedy ignorance of the Scriptures, the Church perceived him as a threat. Soldiers, swords, and kidnapping make for a particularly intriguing account. Ultimately, Luther's work ignited a split in Christendom that remains today.

Luther's life is instructive for us, displaying the importance of diligently studying the Scriptures, as well as, the writings of earlier Christians and discussing these matters with other believers. From Luther, we learn the necessity of "ordinary" Christians standing firmly on the foundation of God's Word in the face of opposition, even if that opposition is from church authorities (pg. 25-26). Like the apostle Paul, Luther refused to compromise the truth of Scripture as he was brought before authorities. Though he risked imprisonment and death, he was no longer held captive by fear but had faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

When Martin Luther arrived in our mail, my ten-year-old exclaimed, "Oh! It's one of my favorite books! Can I read it?!?" Her enthusiasm was contagious, and the rest of the children were soon vying for a turn with the tenth and latest book in the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series demonstrating that it remains one of our family's favorite church history series for children.  As I've written before, Ms. Carr is a very gifted author whom I cherish. Her writing uniquely has a purpose and depth which exceeds that found in much of written material for children today. I am overjoyed that she continues to add to this delightful series!

As with previous volumes in the series, readers of Martin Luther will encounter a carefully researched account that is edifying.  A map,  timeline, and portion of Luther's Small Catechism are included. Additionally, there are abundant illustrations and vibrant photos, as one can see from the sample pages which Westminster Books has provided. What can't be conveyed in these samples is that these sixty-four thick pages are contained in a   sturdy hardcover with a stitched binding, making this book a collectible title that will endure many years of enjoyment, as we've come to expect from this high quality series.

Christian Biographies for Young Readers 10 Book SetMartin Luther is an engaging biography that is sure to encourage many as they rejoice in the Biblical truth that Luther discovered; " ' the righteousness of God' in this verse [Romans 1:17] is not a righteousness God demands, but a righteousness God gives in Jesus Christ" (pg. 24). I pray that the faith of all who read this book will be strengthened as they, like Luther, rest in the salvation that comes through Christ's perfect life and death in our place.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.' " (Romans 1:16-17, ESV).

Those who are interested can learn more about Simonetta Carr's "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" here. This website includes interesting videos of the writing/illustrating process, activity and/or notebook pages for several existing titles (Augustine of HippoJohn Calvin, Athanasius), as well as, a study guide for John Owen.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused ReviewsReformation Heritage Books, and Simonetta Carr for providing me with a complimentary copy of Martin Luther in exchange for my honest opinion!