Mini-Reviews #7

December 6, 2011

Okay, I’m back with another installment of mini-reviews. Today I review four books, including a children’s book and an older biography.

Bloodlines, Race, the Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

This is a profound work by the gifted theologian. I know there are a lot of Piper-files, who soak up all of his books. I haven’t been one of those, though I respect his impact on the body of Christ. There are also quite a few who dislike Piper, because they dislike his Calvinist theology. I’m not one of those either.

Regardless of you are on that spectrum, you would be wise to read Bloodlines in its entirety. This is a brave and important book, tackling head-first the issue of race. I suspect this book will have a wide impact, because Piper’s largest sphere of influence is among conservative, mostly white, evangelicals. I believe it may got a long way toward racial reconciliation.

There are three things I like about Bloodlines: First, it is profoundly gospel-centered. Piper grounds his views of race on the gospel story. It is his motivation for writing the book and it is where he finds the solutions for racial problems. Second, Piper is intensely personal, offering his own Southern upbringing and previous racist tendencies as a test case of what the gospel can do in a man. He is not speaking as an enlightened finger-pointer, but as a man whose on a journey with Jesus to love his fellow brother more deeply. Third, Piper leans neither left or right, black or white. He has read widely from perspectives on all sides, knocks down falsehoods in every camp, and charts a biblical, gospel-centered way forward.

I came away, as a young, white, conservative evangelical with a broader understanding of racial reconciliation as laid out in Scripture. I felt the chapter on intermarriage is worth the price of the book itself. It’s a book I feel every pastor should have in his library.

The Prodigal Comes Home, My Story of Failure and God’s Story of Redemption by Michael English

This book came out almost four years ago, so why read and review now? Well sometimes I like to read books that are older that perhaps I wanted to read in the past but never had the chance. The backstory is that my wife and I attended a Gaither Homecoming a few weeks ago and I heard Michael English share his story of redemption live. I had the chance to meet Michael afterword. There was something about hearing his story that provoked in me the desire to hear more about it beyond the news clips and assumptions and gossip I’d heard when his issues were in the news. So while my wife was using the restroom at the concert during intermission, I used the Amazon app on my iPhone to buy a used copy of the book. Then I read it in a couple of days.

What I found in English’s story was far different than I expected. When Michael fell from grace in the 90’s due to an affair with another singer, I reacted with the typical mix of judgement and anger. I castigated all of contemporary music as one big fraud. Then when he continued to make the news with arrests and other behavior, that added more weight to my opinion. So when his book came out in 2008, I sort did an eye-roll. Whatever, now he wants to sing again? When Bill Gaither asked him to rejoin the Gaither Vocal Band, I wondered if this was a good idea.

But hearing Michael sing–my wife and I typically watch the Gaither homecomings–and now seeing him life has given me a different perspective. Michael seems genuinely humbled and grateful for his second chance and his life is a picture of God’s amazing grace.

So I began reading this book with fresh eyes. And I was surprised by the content of the book. This is not a man giving excuses for his behavior, this is a man genuinely repentant, humbled, and full of grace. He is surprisingly candid about his poor choices. offers no excuses or justifications, and is thoroughly sorry for the people he hurt. He’s also very honest about the trappings of being a Christian celebrity and how easy it is to hide your real self.

It’s a gut-wrenching read in many parts. Michael spares no detail in describing his journey through addiction to prescription drugs. He talks of the ups and downs, the fits and starts, the depths to which an addict plunges in his quest to satisfy himself.

This is a wonderful book, a remarkable story of God’s pursuit of his children, through the mire and the muck. It’s a beautiful story of God’s great grace in restoring what sin destroys. I highly recommend it.

The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R.C. Sproul and T. Lively Fluharty.

This is a wonderfully-written, beautifully illustrated children’s book. It tells the 500-year old story of Martin Luther’s book,  A Simple Way to Pray. Apparently, Luther wrote this book to answer a question his barber had about his prayer life. It’s a great read for children in that it gives the family a great model for prayer–praying through the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and The Ten Commandments. And yet it is a tremendous read for adults as well.

I am always looking for substantive books to read to my children. We enjoy the silly ones, of course, but books like The Barber Who Wanted to Pray are always creative ways to instill Scripture and character into our kids. I also liked the fact that this book includes all three–Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments in the back in case parents want to begin helping their children memorize.

This is a beautifully illustrated, well-written family discipleship tool. Highly recommended.