Review: Friends of Calvin

Summary: Twenty-four biographical sketches of Calvin’s closest friendships
This wasn’t a page turner but I’d still recommend the book because the chapters are short and the topic of friendship is sparse today in Christian literature. I should say books on godly masculine friendship are rare, not this.
Friends are often best at pointing out another’s weaknesses. Calvin knew he didn’t always have an easy personality. His friends undoubtedly noticed as well. But Calvin also seemed to value friendship more than most because his marriage was short and he had no children. Friends filled in the gaps.
Strengths: There were a number of interesting points about Calvin’s friendships. For example, most of his friends were not from Geneva where he ministered most of his life. Many Genevans were his enemies. His bond with Viret (over four hundred surviving letters between them) was built on trust—Calvin confiding in him some of his most embarrassing sins.

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Review: John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides

John G. Paton, Banner of Truth, 1897/2013, 538 pp. 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of an island of cannibals, their journey out of darkness, and the man who led them to the light.

John G. Paton stands as one of the great missionaries in church history. He was an icon in his day—a household name in Great Britain and Australia. Contemporaries such as C. H. Spurgeon called him the ‘King of the Cannibals’. Continue reading

Review: The Courage to Be Protestant

David Wells, Eerdmans, 2008, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-47-47-amThe Courage to Be Protestant condenses the central points of the author’s previous four volumes (No Place for TruthGod in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtueand Above All Earthly Powers) and emphasizes the same five themes: Truth, God, Self, Christ, and Church.  Wells argues it takes no courage to call oneself a Protestant but much of it to live Protestant truths. This book is a damning and unfettered critique of modern-day evangelicalism. Continue reading

Review: Jan Christian Smuts, A Biography

 J.C. Smuts, Heinemann and Cassell, 1952, 568 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 4.04.57 PMJan Smuts’ son clearly portrays the brilliance of his father in this hagiographic biography.

Smuts (1870-1950) was a renaissance man. As soldier, at the age of 31 he was General of the Boers during the Second Boer War and later commanded Allied troops against German East Africa. As statesman he was prime minister of South Africa (his terms separated by 15 years!) and helped found the League of Nations. As author he wrote Holism and Evolution that no doubt colored his view of other-colored people.

During the Boer War in South Africa Smuts would used his rifle to kill Brits by day then rummage through his saddle bag and read his Greek New Testament by night. The British in turn put a monstrous price on his head, forcing upon him numerous narrow escapes. England “won” the war, felt guilty, paid millions of pounds in compensation and ended up giving South Africa an independent republic a few years later.

Smuts was Afrikaans but thought in English. His son paints his father as a moderate, separate from the Afrikaans “bitter-enders” and willing to work with the English. To the dismay of many, he and Botha were behind the 3000-carat Cullinan diamond as a gift to the English king. He was given the US Order of Merit and honorary degrees from 27 universities.

This was book was published in the heyday of apartheid, meaning all modern day politically correct speech is absent. The most alarming chapter was “The Native Problem”, where even back then Smuts said blacks could see “the days of emancipation approaching.” Everyone knew apartheid wouldn’t last.

Contrary to modern thought, Smuts most likely was not a Christian, though he was handy with his Bible and believed Jesus to be a remarkably gifted man. His son wrote of his father: “Whether he believed in God depends on the implications of the question. He certainly did not believe in a supernatural being in the form of a man…but he did believe in some deity” (292).

As a young man Smuts had studied and mastered Darwin and became a convert to his concept of evolution (336). Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us that he said: “The Bushman, like the Australian Aborigine, [is] a freak survival from some primitive age. We have never accorded this small evolutionary enigma an equal status” (305). He believed the facial bones of blacks pointed to Neanderthals.

At other times, however, he spoke positively of blacks, calling them “the only happy human I have come across” (307).

Regarding gun control, there is much alarm among Afrikaners these days. Bravo. But they must remember they were the first ones to initiative such measures. Smuts writes: “We must prohibit non-Europeans from possessing firearms, or the training in their use. Manufacturing industry, wealth and education must be kept in white hands” (306).

In sum, Smuts should be admired for his brilliance and accomplishments, while chastised for his foolish acceptance of Darwinian evolution and the even more foolish system of apartheid that flowed from it.

Book Review: I Write What I Like

Steve Biko, Picador, Africa, 243 pages

UnknownAt age thirty, Steve Biko was killed while in police custody. Before his demise he was known as a political activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. But after his untimely death he became a symbol of heroic defiance against apartheid in South Africa. In his college days he wrote columns in the student journal under the pseudonym “Frank Talk”, which later became this book.

Biko writes intelligently and with conviction. On every page he fights against white supremacy and racism, defined as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation. “Black Consciousness” (BC) encouraged blacks to take pride in being black. Even today, T-shirts with the BC slogan are everyone in our village: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation—being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

There is biblical truth in this. Christians should seek unity with all races, because all Christians—regardless of skin color—will join the same choir one day (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Scripture doesn’t tell blacks or whites to give up their cultural identity in order to appear like another race or people (1Co. 7:18-19).

Let me make two points where Biko’s reasoning is flawed. Economically, I wonder how he can maintain the superiority of tribal land and the inferiority of private ownership and yet talk of “theft”. How can there be “theft” without private property? How can you say “our” land was stolen, if no one owns anything? And how does he determine to whom South Africa belongs? Those who were here at the creation of the world? Those who were here first? If the latter, then South Africa belongs to the Khoisan, whom the dominant Bantu of today’s South Africa displaced long ago. Biko also paints South Africa with utopian strokes, saying before the whites came, “poverty was a foreign concept”. History says otherwise.

Biko’s attempt to use Black Theology to make Scripture relevant to the African is the problem, not the solution. Indeed, the Bible is relevant to Africans! But Biko, instead of pulling out those applications already in the text, removes those items that do not fit the worldview Africans currently possess. This is exactly what the Prosperity Gospel does today, leading Africans to hell by the millions. Biko denies hell and man’s depravity and espouses the inherent goodness of man. He blames the weakening of cultural values on missionaries and calls Christianity “cold and cruel.” As a missionary in South Africa, that struck me as inaccurate.

No missionaries are perfect. If some were racist and refused to teach that all believers, regardless of race, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (1Co. 12:13), let history and Scripture pronounce them in error and sin. But I suspect that the vast majority of missionaries loved the blacks, leaving kin and country to show them Christ’s love, and should be lauded as the instruments God used to bring many of them to Christ.