Readers' Reviews

March, by Rep. John Lewis

In honor of Black History month, Reader's Review is reposting March, the graphic novel written by civil rights pioneer and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

Reviewed by Tracy Troxel

Even as a kid, I never found comic books or graphic novels to be particularly appealing. But when my daughter gave me the March Trilogy Series by John Lewis for my birthday this year, I couldn’t stop reading.

March, a black-and white, graphic novel described by book reviewers as a “memoir trilogy,” is the riveting account told in three books about the Civil Rights activist and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga), and his work to fight injustice using non-violent methods of protest. Here are just four of several good reasons to read this series, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions 2013, 2017):

  1. The graphic novel format of March enables the story of John Lewis’s life to be told in a compelling way, which makes it accessible for anyone over the age of 12. March has won four prestigious book awards, became the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. 
  2. It is vitally important for all of us to own our shared history as Americans.  That history is not pretty, but sharing our history is a crucial step in becoming real communities of people who can understand and relate to one another in healthy ways.
  3. March encapsulates the history of the Civil Rights Movement through the retelling of one man’s story, John Lewis.  This personalizes history so that it comes alive.  John Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers who has served in the U.S. Congress since 1987, was present at many of the key events of the Civil Rights Movement:  Selma, the March on Washington, the desegregation efforts in Nashville, etc.
  4. The commitment to non-violent protest to see injustices exposed and righted will remind the Christian reader of the Gospel.  John Lewis suffered unjustly, but took the suffering without retaliating against his oppressors.  He was so badly beaten during the protest march on Selma that he thought he saw death. Lewis’s firsthand experiences force the reader to think about our response to injustice in the world around us and how we should respond. 

Lewis’s life will push you to think soberly and engage in profound personal reflection. I strongly recommend this book a “must-read” for you and your family before the end of the summer. Since I have been working on the Koinonia Team at Stone Hill, my daughter, who’s 29 and works for “Little Lights,” a non-profit in Washington, D.C. that focus on literacy and racial reconciliation, have shared books, YouTube clips, papers, etc. It has been a wonderful sharpening of one another over the past three years.  I think she’s about my growth in these areas—it’s always fun to surprise your kids!

To learn more about the book:

The source of John Lewis’s inspiration for March.

A November 2017 interview on YouTube with John Lewis, his co-author and illustrator.

U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-Ga). 

Public Library/Barnes & NobleAmazonIndieBound

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Reviewed by Sylvia Kocses.

In honor of Black History month, this recent review of We Were Eight Years in Power  deserves a second look, if you didn't catch it the first time it published.

In 1967 during my freshman year in college, I had to read Walden by Henry Thoreau. As I studied, outlined, re-read and memorized passages of this book, Thoreau challenged me to examine my priorities, my values, and my cultural assumptions. I realized I didn't want to live a life of quiet desperation as a slave and prisoner of others’ expectations, nor find my purpose in the pursuit of material possessions. I was motivated to change by Thoreau’s thoughtful essays: Few books are that profound.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World Publishing Co., 2017) rises to that level. The book contains eight essays he wrote from 2008 to 2016 for Atlantic magazine on issues of race, historical injustice, white supremacy, and Barack Obama's presidency. Each original essay is introduced with a blog-like commentary about the election of Donald Trump. 

All 16 essays focus on the myriad of difficult issues facing our country today. "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" addresses the National Football League’s controversy over singing the national anthem. The fourth essay "How We Lost to the White Man") explains Black America’s historic intellectual divide between the "Twice as Good" mantra espoused by the African-American educator Booker T. Washington and the protest movement of Black Lives Matter today. The final essay (“Fear of a Black President”) is a critical analysis of the effectiveness and legacy of Barack Obama.

The author’s prose is lyrical, scholarly, poetic—and brutal. He is "the arsonist who burns with his pen, regardless," sing sings the rapper Whiteface Killah in “Daytona 500." You can't escape the heat this book generates. We will not all agree with the author’s views on reparations, immigration or the political policies of President Trump, but these topics need to be discussed.

Coates, an atheist, expresses a bleak picture of race relations today. "For most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives. Biraciality is no shield against this; it often intensifies the problem."

As a believer in Jesus Christ and in the power of God to change hearts, I will remain hopeful. James 1:19 commands believers to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." Civility, mutual respect and healthy debate can guide us in the hopes of finding compromise and solutions to our deep problems.

Learn more about the book:

The author’s website

A review of Eight Years on the black culture website The Root

An interview with the author on YouTube

Review of The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency by Randall Kennedy

Public Library/B&N/IndieBound/Amazon

Perfectly Human, by Sarah C. Williams

In light of new legislative actions in several states allowing, or considering, the loosening the restrictions on late-term abortions, this November 2018 review by Pastor Matt for is well worth a second read and discussion.

By Matt Ristuccia

The unforgettable story told in Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian by Sarah C. Williams (Plough Publishing House, 2018) is based on a premise that could change the world if wholeheartedly believed; specifically, that the intrinsic worth of every human being is prior to and irrespective of anything else about them.

That premise is basic Biblical truth. All human beings, from the moment of conception onward, are made in the image of God and therefore infinitely precious. Our worth is independent of anything else about us. Imagine—if you can—a world in which everyone believed and lived that. Evils such as intolerance, murder, racism, bullying, elitism, human trafficking, and abortion would rapidly melt away, like ice under an August sun.

Perfectly Human is the true story of a family in Oxford, England, that was called to live out that very premise at great cost. Sarah Williams, her husband, and their two daughters were thrilled with the news that another Williams was on the way. But during her routine 20-week ultrasound, Sarah’s joy turned to horror:

The technician put her hand on my arm and said the words that every expectant mother hopes she will never hear: “I am so sorry. There is something wrong with the baby. We need to fetch the consultant.”

“But there can’t be,” I responded immediately. “I saw the face. The baby looks fine to me.”

In several minutes, the diagnosis was delivered, with kindness but terrifying clarity:

This baby has thanatophoric dysplasia, a lethal skeletal deformity that would certainly result in death shortly after birth.

Some children survive, but, as the story plays out, the doctor, technician, and consultant were correct: Cerian Williams did indeed die immediately after her birth.

But the death of Cerian is not the main subject of this short book. Instead, this book is about the noble and godly choices Sarah and her family made to carry little Cerian to term. After all, she was already a “perfectly human” being inside her mother’s womb. And because of her family’s faith, Perfectly Human is an uplifting and inspiring book. It affirms the value of the unborn, the handicapped, the dying, and all those who do not fit the standards of a vicious culture that insists on strength, not weakness, as its ticket for admission. Through all the twists and turns of its narrative, the book builds courage to believe and live afresh the Christian conviction that every human being is made in the image of God.

Read More About This Book:

Public Library / Barnes & Noble / Amazon / IndieBound

YouTube interview, “Finding Christ in the Ups and Downs of Life.”

Plough Publishing House.

Grant, by Ron Chernow

Reviewed by Tracy Troxel

I have always been fascinated by history, and, in particular, American history.  In college, I majored in history and my history professor used to say, quite frequently, “The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.”  Unfortunately, that is a tragic reality in many cases.  But what if the history we are taught is largely inaccurate, which makes our attempts to learn even more difficult?

That’s why you should make a serious commitment to read Ron Chernow’s massive work (1,104 pages) on Ulysses S. Grant, Grant (Penguin Press, 2017).  More than a few of my history teachers and professors diminished Grant’s accomplishments as the general who won the Civil War and as a two-term President of the United States.  He was portrayed as a mediocre general who won simply because he had more manpower and equipment that overwhelmed the South.  His presidency was also dismissed as eight years of continuous scandal and ineffective leadership.  And in any of these historical presentations, a key emphasis was Grant’s struggle with alcohol.

As he did in presenting a radically new perspective on Alexander Hamilton, Chernow helps us to see Grant in a different light. The author rehabilitates Grant from the historical revisionism of both defeated Southern supporters of the Confederacy and apathetic Northerners, who allowed the gains that African-Americans made following the Civil War to deteriorate into worse conditions. Chernow doesn’t glorify Grant by any means, but clearly shows us that Ulysses Grant was a first-rate strategist as a general, a dogged defender of civil rights (no President comes close to matching his efforts until Lyndon Johnson), and, while he struggled with alcohol, largely overcame this battle.

It takes the author over a thousand pages to accomplish this task, but the effort is well worth it. One of Chernow’s critical contributions is his use of quotes from Confederate generals to show that Grant’s strategies, techniques, and bold actions struck fear into the heart of every Southern army that Grant faced.  Chernow also honestly confronts Grant’s struggle with alcohol, but shows him achieving a growing sobriety through the years.  And, most importantly, Chernow ably demonstrates that General Grant and President Grant implemented policies that produced appreciable strides towards equality for African-Americans.  In fact, if the country had allowed President Grant to lead as he envisioned, the racism we continue to see today may have been largely avoided.

Yes, it’s a long book, but well worth the effort.

To For further reading:

Barnes & Noble / Amazon / IndieBound

Don't Waste Your Life, by John Piper

Reviewed by Katie Trainor.

Are you seeking God and using the life He has given you—or are you wasting it?

Piper doesn’t tiptoe around issues, but rather tackles them head first. His bold words leave his audience desiring more change in their own Christian lives, and encouraged and convicted to make the necessary changes. Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway Books, 2003) is no exception.   

John Piper, one of my favorite pastors, writers, and speakers of the Christian faith, educates, organizes, details and, above all, uses Scripture to back up his points of what a wasted life might look like for a Christian. Piper discusses topics that every believer can relate to in some way, such as: Christ being our ultimate joy, boasting only in the Cross, taking risks for the Kingdom, and living our lives for Him, even in our 9-5 jobs.

He argues, “If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full” (page 10). Being a follower of Christ isn’t easy, the task is weighty and difficult, but ultimately there is much joy. Piper pushes the reader to think more of their relationship with Christ, to get up and get out into the world and live for the Lord.

Piper discusses a passion to live for Christ, a love for Him, and a desire to worship Him. These topics are more important than other things we may focus on, and waste our lives with, in this world. Pastor John speaks with wisdom and guidance. Don’t Waste Your Life is filled with beautiful Scripture references that are applied to each section thoroughly and completely. This text pushes the reader not only to be convicted, but to truly desire change in their own lives, regardless of how they are living. This book is easy to read and a sure page-turner. Piper does not disappoint.

Learn More About This Book:

Public Library / Barnes & Noble / Amazon / IndieBound

John Piper’s Ministry: Desiring God / Desiring God (YouTube)

Don’t Waste Your Life (YouTube)/

 

Mary Through the Centuries, by Jaroslav Pelikan

Reviewed by Marcus Gibson

In the 500 years since the start of the Protestant Reformation, few issues continue to divide Protestants from Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians as the doctrine of Mary, mother of Christ. Where the latter two groups see Mary as the one who is “full of grace,” “higher than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,” even the “Mother of God,” Protestants tend only to see idolatry. And while much progress has been made to bridge theological divides in other areas, with respect to Mary, both sides continue to caricature the other.

Into this void of understanding steps Jaroslav Pelikan’s Mary Through the Centuries (Yale University Press, 1998) a readable overview of the development of thought and doctrine about Mary in the East and the West, Catholicism and Protestantism, Old World and New World. One of my favorite features about this book is that it is not a catechesis meant for dogmatic instruction. Rather Pelikan, considered the greatest Church historian of the 20th century, simply presents the historical facts: what doctrines mean, where they came from, how widely they are acknowledged, and how they influenced the life of the Church. For example, Pelikan notes how the Virgin Birth has historically been a matter of crucial importance for Christian doctrine: Mary’s virginal conception by the Holy Spirit is the assurance of Jesus’s divinity; that Jesus takes on Mary’s flesh is the assurance of His humanity.

In addition to offering theological analysis, each chapter looks at how ideas about Mary have been incorporated into art and culture at various times and places. He also looks at how Marian doctrine has played an important role in the lives and faith of the poor across the centuries, and how Mary has been, since her “Magnificat” in Luke 1, the earliest Christian proponent of social justice.

Whether you believe Mary is the “Great Example” or the “Great Exception,” there is much to be learned about how Christians over time have understood and honored her. There are opportunities to grow in our own faith, especially as we move into the Advent season, waiting alongside the expectant mother of the coming Emmanuel.

Learn more about the book:

“Jesus on Safari: The Legacy of Jaroslav Pelikan” (First Things)

“The Mary We Never Knew” (Christianity Today)

Preview Chapter 1 of the book

Public library / B&N / IndieBound / Amazon

Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany

By Emily Lo Gibson

It is the second week of Advent, and December has already been a tough month. The Christmas season can be a grief-filled time, without the cheer so often promised. Yet Malcolm Guite’s Advent devotional, Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd., 2015), uses the expansiveness of art and language to quietly help us make room for hope, in the midst of these challenges.

Some friends recommended this devotional for its marriage of poetry, essay, and scripture. Each day (Advent through Epiphany) presents a poem by both classic and contemporary poets, Christian and secular. One day it might be an earthy piece by contemporary Christian poet Luci Shaw. Another day it might be an offering from well-known bards like Keats and Milton. Some poems are lighter in tone, embracing the joy of a crisp snowy day or the warmth of an embrace. Others are darker in nature, reflecting on the cold and the broken. They all reveal the complicated facets of the human experience.

In each case, Guite, a British priest and poet, chaplain at Cambridge University, walks the reader through the poem, offering literary analysis and his reflections on themes like darkness and light, hope and redemption, the divine and lowly humanity. While his essays are sometimes more on the technical side, I have found Guite's insights to be thoughtful and fruitful – always with an invitation to explore the poems further, investigate our faith deeper, and see how these ponderings apply to our daily lives.

This is the second year my husband and I are reading through this devotional. We read these poems aloud before bed: once through as an introduction, the second time for better understanding. Even if we have no clue what the poem means, Guite’s musings do an admirable job of showing the way. Sometimes my heart feels heavy at the start of a reading, but I am lifted by the end – guided back to the profound beauty that is Emmanuel, God with us, in this broken world.

“Though winter night will soon surround us here,

Another Advent comes, Dayspring is near.”

- From today’s poem,

“Launde Abbey on St. Lucy’s Day” by Malcolm Guite

Learn more about the book:

Perfectly Human: nine Months with Cerian, by Sarah C. Williams

Editor’s Note: As Advent begins, and we ponder the mystery of the Incarnation, this week’s book review is an especially timely one to ponder.

By Matt Ristuccia

The unforgettable story told in Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian by Sarah C. Williams (Ploughing Publishing House, 2018) is based on a premise that could change the world if wholeheartedly believed; specifically, that the intrinsic worth of every human being is prior to and irrespective of anything else about them.

That premise is basic Biblical truth. All human beings, from the moment of conception onward, are made in the image of God and therefore infinitely precious. Our worth is independent of anything else about us. Imagine—if you can—a world in which everyone believed and lived that. Evils such as intolerance, murder, racism, bullying, elitism, human trafficking, and abortion would rapidly melt away, like ice under an August sun.

Perfectly Human is the true story of a family in Oxford, England, that was called to live out that very premise at great cost. Sarah Williams, her husband, and their two daughters were thrilled with the news that another Williams was on the way. But during her routine 20-week ultrasound, Sarah’s joy turned to horror:

The technician put her hand on my arm and said the words that every expectant mother hopes she will never hear: “I am so sorry. There is something wrong with the baby. We need to fetch the consultant.”

“But there can’t be,” I responded immediately. “I saw the face. The baby looks fine to me.”

In several minutes, the diagnosis was delivered, with kindness but terrifying clarity:

This baby has thanatophoric dysplasia, a lethal skeletal deformity that would certainly result in death shortly after birth.

Some children survive, but, as the story plays out, the doctor, technician, and consultant were correct: Cerian Williams did indeed die immediately after her birth.

But the death of Cerian is not the main subject of this short book. Instead, this book is about the noble and godly choices Sarah and her family made to carry little Cerian to term. After all, she was already a “perfectly human” being inside her mother’s womb. And because of her family’s faith, Perfectly Human is an uplifting and inspiring book. It affirms the value of the unborn, the handicapped, the dying, and all those who do not fit the standards of a vicious culture that insists on strength, not weakness, as its ticket for admission. Through all the twists and turns of its narrative, the book builds courage to believe and live afresh the Christian conviction that every human being is made in the image of God.

Read More About This Book:

Public Library / Barnes & Noble / Amazon / IndieBound

YouTube interview, “Finding Christ in the Ups and Downs of Life.”

Plough Publishing House.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been, by Jackie Hill Perry

Reviewed by Katie Trainor:      

Sexuality, a topic kept hidden and quiet for a long time, has now surfaced and been brought to the attention of the church.  

Jackie Hill Perry, a 29-year-old, African-American hip-hop and spoken word artist, boldly addresses sexuality in her memoir Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been (B&H Publishing, 2017).  Her testimony is raw, real, and encouraging. She is unafraid to discuss homosexuality and encourages the church to become more involved in the conversation.  

Jackie also tells her testimony in the beautifully-crafted movie, The Heart of Man, a modern-day retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where she talks about some of her struggles with sexuality and entering into a heterosexual marriage. The movie is available to Stone Hill church members on RightNowMedia.

Jackie gives her testimony of growing up as a woman with same-sex attraction, entering into a committed relationship with a woman and then ending that relationship to take on the best relationship of her life—one with Christ. Jackie’s book does more than discuss sexuality: Gay Girl, Good God shows the deep call of the Savior to His people. No sin is too great for Him not to work in and through.

Gay Girl, Good God is an encouraging and inspiring story for both those struggling with same-sex attraction and those looking to love these individuals.  Jackie, who was abused as a child, grew up in a fatherless household. The book tells the beautiful story of redemption that occurred in Jackie’s life, from her struggles with same-sex attraction to her marriage in 2014 to fellow hip-hop artist Preston Hill and the birth of their daughter.

I personally enjoyed reading this book after being a fan of her music and ministry, which focuses on inspiring women within relationships.  Hill’s openness and honesty provides a platform that allows for discussion, which is critical to encouraging others to commit their lives to Christ.

To see how the Lord cares for His children and can change any and all circumstances is beautifully shown through Jackie’s story. The road God brought her along was difficult, but there’s something to encourage everyone in Jackie’s testimony about the transformation that took place in her life. If you’re looking for a story about someone who overcame adversity and endured many twists and turns in life, but rose above it all as a result of the awesome power of Jesus—this is the book for you.  

Gay Girl, Good God will not disappoint. Once I picked up Jackie’s book, I had a difficult time putting it down. This story of redemption shows how great, and powerful, and perfect is our God. Truly, nothing is too small for Him.

Learn More about This Book:

Public Library / Barnes and Noble / Amazon / IndieBound /

YouTube Videos from Jackie

Jackie’s website

 

Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia

Over the past 50 years, Christianity has truly become a global faith. While in retreat in the West, Christianity is blooming and advancing in the global South and East: Africa, Asia, and South America.

On Nov. 10-11 at Stone Hill Church, Christel Lamère Ngnambi, who works with the European Evangelical Alliance representing more than 50 national and international evangelical Protestant organizations in Europe,  will speak about Africa. Reader’s Review recommends two books by Regent College historian Mark A. Noll to read:

This year’s global ministry conference rounds out the picture that we began looking at during our 2017 global ministry conference, which focused on Asia. Reader’s Review challenges you to read Noll’s books this weekend, followed by Eastern Voices: Volume I, a collection of stories written by 15 leaders of the Christian church in Asia and published by the ministry Asian Access (2011), reprinted here.

Eastern Voices allows us to listen to, and learn from, godly Christian leaders who serve in Asia and for whom a country in Asia has always been home—whether Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Myanmar, or Sri Lanka. The challenge in Asia is huge: Almost 60 percent of the world population lives in Asia, and its backgrounds are, as one missiologist puts it, “complicated, diverse, and spiritually overwhelming.” Here are some highlights on how God is at work in Asia and what the people of God are learning:

  • Learn about a Gospel awakening in Japan from Pastor Yoshiya Hari of Saikyo Hope Chapel, who describes the spiritual impact of the 2011 tsunami.
  • Ponder the prophetic assessment of so much of today’s worship in Sri Lanka by Adrian De Visser, founder of Kethu Sevana Ministries. He raises questions about worship in his cultural context that relates directly to us in ours.
  • Be inspired by the chapter written by Kavitha Emmanuel, founder of Women of WorthThank God for using our sister to stand up to the evil of skin-color bias in India.

Read all 15 leaders’ stories. Be instructed. Be transformed.

Learn more about the book:

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