Tuesday, August 23, 2011

131 Christians Everyone Should Know - Book Review

Review of 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that I just posted over at Amazon.

"131 Christians..." really proved to be something of a hit or miss title for me.  I started to incorporate it as part of our family worship, but ultimately abandoned it entirely for a number of reasons.  First is that most of these biographies, far from being captivating insights into these people's lives, actually reads like a droll, static textbook from a secular college.  Even otherwise exciting accounts of people like Hudson Taylor and David Livingston are here presented as somewhat cold and factual, without some of the more exciting episodes or accounts of the miraculous (Taylor in particular, whom I've read a number of biographies of, has some thrilling accounts of God's miraculous provisions, but the 'Christian History' editors decided to leave those out, which is a little bit telling of the ambiguity of their genuine Christian perspective.

The thing I realized is that this isn't "131 Vibrant, Faithful Christians of a Solid, Biblical Testimony", but rather a breezy overview of 131 folks, some stupendous (Calvin), some not so (Finney), that these editors somehow thought worth of writing dull biographies of.  The flavor seems cold on Calvinism, mild on the historic misdeeds of Roman Catholicism, and at times leans favorably towards mystical flavor - which today appeals more to the new agey crowd (and shoppers at Lifeway stores) but not necessarily to me.

Notably missing, much to the detriment of this book, were Christians like John Owen, Richard Baxter, J. Gresham Manchen, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Cornelius Van Til, or even missionaries like Amy Carmichael or George Mueller, and yet the book included T.S. Elliot and Billy Sunday?

Most troubling is the inclusion of Henry VIII, who's section the editors ridiculous titled as "Defender of the Faith" (a title given to Henry by a Pope, mind you.)  Henry was a murderous adulterer, with an awful track record and hardly what I'd consider a "Christian" that I "must know".  I'm surprised the authors of the book didn't give "Bloody Mary" a chapter with another Papal-approved title such as, "Mary, Darling of Roman Catholicism".  The lack of genuine Christian history is really showing here as the authors completely overlooked Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII's martyred daugher who had a powerful testimony of faithfulness during her short life, and would truly belong in a book about Christians that you should know.  This book is genuinely about "Man for All Seasons" bad theological history going on here.

One star simply because this serves as a mediocre overview of some historical figures throughout church history, but there have been far better biographies written.  In fact, much more highly recommended would be John Piper's Christian Biographies at Desiring God.  These are far more energetic, emotional and edifying, unlike what the Christian History editors have presented here.  In fact, some comments from Piper on Erasmus really seem to fit the spirit of how the writers presented this "131 Christians" book.  These Christian History edits, as with Erasmus, seem to have a "touch of irony, a superior ambiguity", as if "to be dogmatic about the full theology of Christ was to be distasteful, below the best, elite humanist heights."  I think Piper nailed it with Erasmus, and the glove fits this stale title as well.

Skip it, and check out Piper's bios instead.

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