Mini-Reviews #4

September 6, 2011

Here is another batch of reviews for books I’ve recently read. Not all are recently published. Some are a few years. Still, I think they are good and relevant today:

Just As I Am by Billy Graham

I’ve always wanted to read this book. I’m intrigued by the biographies of well-known evangelical leaders. A couple of months ago I was in our newly reorganized church library and saw this on the shelf. I pulled it down and began reading. What a treasure it was. I have always known Billy Graham as, well, Billy Graham, famous evangelist. The zenith of his ministry was well before I was born. This book gave me a newfound appreciation for God’s work in his life. I’m amazed at how God took the son of a dairy farmer and used him to bring millions to Christ, influence world leaders, and help usher in this era of evangelicalism. What I like about this book is that Billy is very candid about his ministry and his shortcomings. I think it would do younger folks to read this book to get a sense of God’s work in this remarkable man.

The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

After reading Just As I Am I immediately purchased The Preacher and the Presidents, which expands on Billy Graham’s influence over U.S. Presidents from Truman until George W. Bush (the book was written before President Obama took office). I love U.S. History, especially Presidential history, so this book scratched that itch. What was interesting about The Preacher and the Presidents is just how involved Billy Graham was in American politics, especially in his early days. At one point there was a serious draft movement to get Dr. Graham himself to run for President. He steadfastly refused, knowing God had called him to ministry. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t heavily involved in influencing politics and policy, especially in the early years. Looking back, he views much of his involvement as a mistake and in later years disciplined himself to being simply a trusted confidant of the Presidents. What is so moving about Billy Graham’s work with each leader is his trustworthiness. He was the guy they were down, when someone passed away, when they needed spiritual leadership. Billy Graham put himself in a position to minister spiritually to these men, who often felt isolated and alone in the White House. And he shared Christ and led most of them to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We can only praise God for this aspect of Dr. Graham’s ministry and perhaps Christians today can emulate his kindhearted love of even the most despised politicians.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

I’m not sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, it’s a work of staggering literary genius. Cron writes like a poet. HIs prose is so beautiful and tight and rhythmic. And his raw telling of a life growing up with an alcoholic father is a powerful read for young fathers today. I found myself, at times, weeping at the aching hole in Ian’s heart left by a Dad who wasn’t a Dad. It motivated me to be the kind of father my children need and to be grateful for the good father my own dad was.

That having been said, I wouldn’t draw too many theological conclusions from Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. There are passages where Ian’s experiences in church smack of extrabiblical emotionalism. And those who deny the Catholic and Episcopal doctrine of transubstantiation–the communion wafer becoming literal Christ–will be uncomfortable.

Still, this is a worthy book to read, if only for the story and the beautiful way in which Ian retells his childhood. It could be a challenge to every man to ask God to give him the grace to be the kind of hero his family needs.