Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: Irenaeus of Lyon

Teaching faithfully, traveling frequently, and writing fervently, the Apostle Paul was one man who took Jesus Christ's command to make disciples seriously. In his first letter to his disciple, Timothy, he closed with these endearing, fatherly words of exhortation:

"O Timothy, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith" (First Timothy 6:20).

Paul repeats his exhortation and continues this thread in a second letter to Timothy, even going so far as to mention, by name, specific people who had turned away from the glorious, saving truth of the Gospel. Paul's warnings to Timothy were not unique; he also warned many others to whom he wrote. Sadly, false teachers presented a frequent challenge in the early days of the church. As a result, Paul instructs Timothy, saying:
"...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
Paul was not the only apostle with concerns for the purity of Jesus Christ's teaching. The Bible reveals that Peter, John, and others also warned against false teaching and sought to equip faithful men and women who would continue to preserve the faith and defend it when it was attacked. Where the Bible leaves off, church tradition informs us of those who imitated the pattern such as John who discipled Polycarp of Lyon who went on to disciple Irenaeus and so on up to our present day.

Thankfully, in our generation, Simonetta Carr has taken up the baton of faithfully teaching the Gospel and of sharing the accounts of those throughout history who have done likewise. The latest title in her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series focuses on Irenaeus of Lyons but also features faithful saints such as Polycarp, Justin the Martyr, Blandina, and Pothinus who stood firm on the truths of the Gospel, even in the face of persecution. Each of these believers sought to faithfully serve God in their generation, guarded the good deposit that was entrusted to them, and taught others to do the same. Ms. Carr shows us that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us!

Church history is never dull when Simonetta Carr takes up her pen. She seeks to write about aspects of her character's lives that will be interesting and relatable to her audience. In Irenaeus of Lyons, she relays aspects of his education, travels, friendships, strengths, and weaknesses. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Irenaeus's life was his sense of humor. It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't be amused by some of Irenaeus's antics for proving the absurdity of false teaching, especially when Ms. Carr includes a comical photo of a royal Gourd, Melon, and Cucumber. Less relatable to most Christians in America, but no less dull, are the age-appropriate accounts of persecution and martyrdom faced by the saints of which she writes.

Most importantly, Ms. Carr relates accounts that demonstrate his commitment to the Scriptures and its over-arching redemptive story line as demonstrated by this quote:

"Most of Irenaeus's arguments, however, were based on the Scriptures, which he quoted freely. God, Irenaeus said, has revealed Himself in the Bible, giving all the truth men and women need to know about Him and our relationship with Him. And the Bible teaches that there is only one God, in both the Old and the New Testament, and He is good, perfect, and just. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation we read one long, beautiful story: how God saved His sinful people" (38).

Time and again, Simonetta Carr succeeds in going "beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" in an age appropriate way (2). As with previous titles in the series, readers of Irenaeus of Lyons will encounter a carefully researched account that is edifying complete with a  map, a timeline, fun facts, and an excerpt from Irenaeus's major work, Against Heresies. Captivating artwork and an abundance of vivid photos on thick, glossy pages in a sturdy hardcover make this book yet another collectible title that will endure many years of enjoyment.

Irenaeus of Lyons is a thought-provoking children's biography that is sure to encourage many to guard the good deposit entrusted to them, reading "...the Scriptures faithfully and with humility, seeing both the Old and New Testaments as one unified story" (54). I pray that many will be motivated to preserve the faith handed on by the apostles, to entrust it to faithful men and women who are able to teach, and to defend it when it is threatened by false teachers just as Irenaeus and those who followed him sought to do.

Simonetta Carr maintains a delightful website where you can discover more about her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" including insightful videos of the writing/illustrating process, activity and/or notebook pages for several existing titles (Augustine of HippoJohn CalvinAthanasius), 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 Irenaeus of Lyons in exchange for my honest opinion!

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