Sara Heist

About Sara Heist

Sara's Blog
Sara is a newly-minted high school teacher with a love for reading across genres and languages. When she isn't reading or grading, she enjoys memorizing Scripture, running, and spending time with friends. Her favorite book of the Bible (If that's allowed) is Hebrews because it exalts the Lord Jesus Christ far above anything that might compete with Him. She longs to love Him as perfectly and completely as He deserves.



The Gospel Comes with a House Key Book Review

The Gospel Comes with a House Key Book Review

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

by Rosaria Butterfield
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (220 pages).
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

The Gospel Comes with a House Key combines doctrine, Scripture, and personal testimony to challenge the modern church to evangelize the world around them through “radically ordinary hospitality.”

Who Should read this?

Every Christian needs to read The Gospel Comes with a House Key, from households like the Butterfields’ and church leaders seeking more authentic outreach in the community, to young, single Christians who want to use their time and resources to effectively evangelize those around them. Butterfield’s message has conviction and insight for all believers.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key Book Review 1SUMMARY

Butterfield writes about Christian hospitality from a unique vantage point. As a pastor’s wife and a homeschool mom, she lives the life that many Christian families do, balancing the needs of the family with church responsibilities and education. Despite the familial cost of sacrificial hospitality, she and her family live this hospitality daily, yielding multiple testimonies of its effect on themselves and their neighbors.

Furthermore, she has also been the object of Christian hospitality, as an unbeliever drawn to the beauty of Christ through the loving, prayerful outreach of His people. Once a vehemently anti-Christian, lesbian English professor, Butterfield has personally experienced the evangelistic influence of gentle Christian hospitality. From both inside and outside, Butterfield is intimately acquainted with the “radically ordinary hospitality” that fills the pages of her book.

Even without the author bio on the dust jacket, Butterfield’s graceful writing style alludes to her background in English higher education. Her text structure exhibits attention to detail and a pleasing ear for language. The tone is clear, direct, and disarmingly honest. At times, the story itself is deeply personal. That level of vulnerability encouraged me, as a reader, to more honestly examine my own heart.

After all, the author herself is willing to share these details, to invite me, figuratively, into her home and express personal thoughts and feelings to a stranger (me). How could I not respond with a similar level of openness as I look into my own heart? The tone, text structure, and subject matter depict a winsome image of Christian hospitality.

This book is written to address a failure in the American church and offer practical steps for its reversal. Although a search for “hospitality” on a popular Christian book selling site yields 324 results, I know very few Christians who are willing to engage in the kind of hospitality that Butterfield describes, even toward fellow believers.

At a cultural moment where many mistrust Christians and label us as “bigots,” “haters,” and “_____phobics,” now is precisely the time to throw open our doors and invite the world to come and see who we really are from day to day. (Unless, of course, we have coddled and ignored the very sins of which we are accused…)

The Gospel Comes with a House Key establishes a doctrinal basis for Christian hospitality, supports that doctrinal basis with personal testimony about hospitality’s spiritual impact, and finishes up with practical pointers for implementing Christian hospitality in your own life. Butterfield’s work offers a practical way to build relationships with unbelievers and show Christ’s love to them daily, rather than exhibiting a gospel like the dead faith in James 2, which says, “ If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (vs. 15-17).

While more impersonal evangelistic tools have a place in the spread of the Gospel, they are not the only ways, or even the most effective ways, to share the Gospel. The “radically ordinary hospitality” that the Butterfield family practices is agreeing to offer people spiritual, physical, and emotional sustenance in any way you can. It is using everything you have in pursuit of the kingdom of God in your own sphere of influence, under the auspices of the local church.

The most prolific support for Butterfield’s exhortation about hospitality is personal experience. Since her book is not an exposition of the biblical teaching on hospitality, I did not find this bothersome. On the contrary, hearing another believer’s personal testimony was both instructive and encouraging.

Not a single story is superfluous; Butterfield’s sense of purpose constantly drives her narrative toward conviction and exhortation about hospitality. In fact, the varicolored patchwork of stories taught me more about hospitality than a simple list of motivations and Bible verses ever could have done. Through Hank’s story, I learned that hospitality is a slow process.

Through Rosaria’s mother’s stay with them, I was reminded that family is not exempt from this hospitality. In all of the stories, I saw that each situation demanded different sacrifices and produced different results. These experiences gave me a more realistic expectation of the use and impact of hospitality in my own community. However, if you are looking for a succinct exposition of the biblical teaching on Christian hospitality, this book is not your best choice.

To support her call to wholehearted hospitality, Butterfield also turns frequently to Scripture, citing both passages and narratives to buttress her argument. Her scriptural interpretation is both contextual and consistent—the applications she draws take the passage’s immediate context into consideration, as well as its place within redemptive history.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I finished The Gospel Comes with a Housekey over two months ago, turning its message over in my mind since then. I wanted to see what points distilled in my mind, what meditations eventually migrated into my daily life. The theme of practical, selfless, and constant hospitality beautifully embodied the love of Christ. I felt unable to participate but convinced that I was under a Biblical command to do so.

However, in meditating on the meaning and application of hospitality in my own life, I have realized that the following instruction from 1 Peter applies to me as well. The Apostle exhorts believers, “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they revile you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” I realized that this passage succinctly summarizes the message of Butterfield’s work. We, as Christians, can live moral lives while circulating in exclusively Christian circles.

We’re leaving the salt of the earth neatly packed into the shaker while society rots around us. Too often, I concentrate on having my conduct “honorable,” studying the word, praying, and going to church, but forget that Peter added “among the Gentiles.” Do I intentionally create hospitality in my life in the name of reaching those who do not yet know my Savior? How do I winsomely display Christ’s love and grace through hospitality?

That conviction led me to find ways to be hospitable, rather than excuses. Now in a new apartment, my mind is already buzzing with ways to make that hospitality a vital part of my Christian life. An unsaved friend was looking for roommates, and I happened to need an apartment. Now we share rent and a roof—a daily opportunity for Christian hospitality.

Armed with a thrift-store crock pot, I’m also preparing for a college ladies’ lunch after church every Sunday, since I have more space to set up portable tables and chairs. If my own life is any proof, Butterfield’s well-crafted manifesto has convinced me to embrace hospitality more fully than I did before.

Strengths:

Convicting – The best Christian books are the ones that sting a little bit (or a lot). Hospitality is not a common topic for Christian books, and I have never heard a sermon or a Bible study about hospitality. This was an area where I did not even know I needed to be convicted. The Gospel Comes with a House Key not only convinced me of the biblical mandate to hospitality, it also showed me how effective it can be in evangelism and church ministry.

Relevant – This book is relevant in both timing and authorship. In our polarized and increasingly secular national climate, Christian hospitality can carry the message of the gospel to people who would never walk into a church, allowing them to see others rejoicing in the word of God and living according to its precepts. The world has no mandate to come to the church; we have a mandate to go into the world. Furthermore, Butterfield’s unique perspective as a former lesbian gave me concrete tips on lovingly reaching out to friends in the LGBTQ community in ways that communicate love and compassion. Other Christians who are unfamiliar with these communities will benefit as well.

Weaknesses:

Disjointed – The book weaves together multiple chronologies and narratives, using all the stories to illustrate biblical instruction or underscore a point about hospitality. Butterfield provides clear headings to preface sections, but occasionally I found myself needing checking back to these section headers or even paging to previous chapters to refresh my memory about the last installment of the current narrative, which had just cropped up a chapter or two later. Readers who are unused to tracking several different narratives may find it helpful to mark pages or take margin notes to easily pick up a story from where it left off in previous chapters.

A Disclaimer – I hesitate to call this a “weakness,” but readers should be aware that Butterfield embraces a staunchly Reformed theological worldview. For example, some readers may be put off by the idea of “covenanting” with a church, concerned with an allusion to infant baptism, or adhere to a different understanding of the sovereignty of God. Although I found that the covenantal perspective strengthened the message of the book rather than hindering it, I am aware that some may find Reformed doctrine unfamiliar or disagree with its tenets. I encourage you to tackle this read anyway—there are still spiritual riches to be gained.

CONCLUSION

Although there were hundreds of other book results for the keyword “hospitality” when I searched for Christian materials on the subject, Butterfield’s contribution to the conversation stands out in its commitment to self-sacrifice and its radical rejection of cultural norms in favor of a more biblical model.

Butterfield’s “radically ordinary hospitality” is no Friday night coffee with friends or a get-to-know-the-new-couple dinner, but a deliberate, daily outpouring of love, to the point of arranging your schedule, budget, and home to more readily accommodate Christian hospitality. This hospitality is no “add-on” to the Christian life. It is a reconstruction of the Christian life to more fully reflect Christ Himself.

 

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“Often, Christians ask me, ‘How can I love my neighbor without misleading her into thinking I approve of everything she does?’ First, remember that Christians cannot give good answers to bad questions. No one approves of everything that others do. No one. It is a false question.” (33)

“[Hospitality] is going to come from the people of God acting like the family of God. God intends this blessing to come from you. And real Christian hospitality that creates real Christian community expresses authentic Christianity in deep and abiding ways to a world that thinks we are hypocrites.” (97)

“Esteeming others more highly than ourselves…means starting where you are and looking around for who needs you. It means communicating Christian love in word and deed. It means making yourself trustworthy enough to bear burdens of real life and real problems.” (166)

“Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.” (214)

five-stars
By | 2018-08-09T07:21:13+00:00 August 9th, 2018|

Discipline Book Review

Discipline Book Review

Discipline

by Elisabeth Elliot
Length: Approximately 5 hours. To read (155 pages).
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Elliot’s Discipline grapples with the flesh’s desire for Laodicean lukewarm living and expounds a vital truth: to be Christ’s disciple means committing to discipline. In that “glad surrender” is true freedom and fellowship with the loving Savior, who also is our Lord and Master.

Who should read this?

This book is not intended as an academic treatise on Christian disciplines or as a stiffly accurate analysis of everything the Bible has to say on discipline. Rather, it is an informal devotional book to help Christians in the personal reflection and confession of undisciplined living. Any Christian who senses a greater need for discipline should read this book.

Discipline Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The path of trial and difficulty that the Lord chose for Elisabeth Elliot before her death in 2015 certainly gave her a rich personal experience from which to speak about discipline. The daughter of missionary parents, Elliot went on to be a missionary as well, first as a Bible translator in Ecuador, then as the wife of missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred with four other men in the 1950s.

In the years between meeting each other and marrying, the couple stringently disciplined themselves to obey God’s calling first, rather than their own desires, as Elliot further expounds in The Shadow of the Almighty and Passion and Purity. Later, after Jim’s martyrdom, Elliot remained with the Auca tribe for two more years, evangelizing despite her grief.

She later lost another husband to cancer. Each of these difficulties brought fresh challenges to remain disciplined, to use time wisely, to be led by the Spirit rather than tumultuous emotion, and to rely on God for comfort, guidance, and strength. Elisabeth Elliot certainly can teach me something about discipline.

Given that Elliot learned spiritual discipline by personal experience, it’s no surprise that her book should have a reflective, devotional tone. It is organized not by exegetical exposition or rigid outline, but by an organic flow of thought that ranges from personal experience to Scriptural narrative to epistolary exhortation within one short chapter.

Wisely, Elliot begins not with the “how-to” of discipline, but by speaking about the call of God. Once she establishes that every Christian is divinely called to obedience, she moves on to the practical application of discipline.

The final two-thirds of the book are devoted to discipline in all areas of life. Elliot begins with “Discipline of the Body” (an important chapter for believers steeped in our hedonistic culture) and ends several chapters later with “Discipline of Feelings.” Although readers will benefit from each chapter, this topical organization makes it easy to reference one’s personal areas of weakness quickly and easily. The manageable length and approachable format made Discipline an inviting read, even after a long day of teaching.

In her later years, Elliot devoted her life to passing on the many important truths that she had learned while walking with the Lord. Many of her works ran contrary to the prevailing thought of her day, to put it mildly. Passion and Purity, which I read in high school, directly contradicts the emphasis on self-gratification and flimsy morality popularized during the Sexual Revolution.

Let Me Be a Woman, written to answer second wave feminism, defends the Biblical perspective on womanhood. Each of these books offers godly devotional thoughts to counter the glittering deceptions offered by the world.

Discipline: The Glad Surrender responds to another lie that the church has found it all too easy to believe: that we can know Jesus as Savior without accepting Him as Lord. In Elliot’s words, she is attacking the notion that “we might be a Christian without being disciples.” Christianity, Elliot insists, is not a two-level process between “Christian” and “committed Christian.” Elliot passionately defends the assertion that our faith is an all-or-nothing call to die, that we might truly live.

Elliot’s book divides neatly into two sections: the why of Christian discipline, and the how of Christian discipline. Wisely, she chooses most of her evidence from scripture. In the first section, she selects examples from both the Old and New Testaments to show that God’s call to discipline applies to all His people, not just a group of super-spiritual ascetics.

Then, she discusses what the “call of God” looks like in a believer’s life. In Elliot’s opinion, the call of God is profoundly simple: the natural answer of creation to its Creator. No mysterious voices or mystical experiences are necessary to hear and respond to the call of God, she argues. Rather, the Christian ought to hear Christ’s call just as clearly from the pages of Scripture as the disciples did by the Sea of Galilee.

Lest the reader be intimidated by the demands of discipline, Elliot then addresses the results of discipline, showing that God has designed the Christian life to be most fulfilling when we are disciplined and obedient to the Bible. Through discipline, we find true freedom.

After establishing that all Christians must respond to the call of God on their lives, Elliot methodically addresses seven distinct areas of life in which Christians ought to be disciplined. Beginning with the discipline of the body, she presents an argument comprising an eclectic blend of allusions to pop culture examples fresh from the 1970s, commands from Scripture, analogies, and personal experience and opinion.

How does a Christian discipline his or her body? Elliot argues that healthy eating, fasting, exercise, self-control, and sufficient sleep are all necessary parts of a properly disciplined body.

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ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I intentionally chose Discipline as a supplement to my personal devotions because I struggle to be disciplined in several key areas of my life. I found Elliot’s work offered plenty of remonstrances from the word of God, a very helpful thematic organization style, and some personal exhortations that struck hard at some strongholds of sin in my life, such as the disciplines of time and the body.

Elliot’s book reminded me that true discipline focuses not on self-improvement or self-care, but on honoring my Lord and Savior by using His resources wisely. The motivation for discipline, I am reminded, is just as important as discipline itself.

Elliot certainly offers an excellent practical resource for discipline. When I finished, I had experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit, who had in his wisdom applied specific pieces of Elliot’s eclectic text to my personal spiritual walk.

Strengths:

Practical Organization – By arranging the chapters according to the categories of discipline, Elliot allows readers to more readily understand how discipline should manifest itself in the Christian life. Often, we understand “Christian discipline” in a very strict sense, limiting it to prayer, ministry, and Bible reading. However, Elliot neatly and clearly outlines the broad borders of Christian discipline, which extend to every area of the Christian life.

Sound Advice – At the risk of sounding preachy, Elliot offers practical advice for practicing discipline in the Christian life. Although some of these comments may sound overly simplified or as if Elliot is elevating her own personal convictions to the level of a Christian discipline, I personally found the practical applications to be a good starting point for my own personal reflection on implementing disciplines in my own life. All too often, I find it easy to make good resolutions to be “more disciplined with my time” without practically defining what that looks like. I appreciat Elliot’s decision to include practical steps toward discipline for each of the areas.

Weaknesses:

Clarity – Since Discipline is a devotional book, not a systematic study, I did not expect a high degree of organization, but occasionally I got confused about the chapter’s topic in the middle of the text. Tangents are not uncommon, and sometimes the book lapses into a tone that almost seems like a stream of consciousness. While sometimes the informal, loosely organized internal structure of the chapters strengthened Elliot’s message, sometimes it obscured it instead.

CONCLUSION

Discipline: The Glad Surrender offers plenty of practical advice about implementing this Christian virtue. It puts the proverbial cookies on the lower shelf, with its informal tone, clear chapter structure, and impossible-to-miss recommendations for life changes.

Elliot presents a water-tight case that should convince any Christian of his or her need for discipline, and then lays out a relatively clear set of suggestions for becoming more disciplined. When combined with the power of Elliot’s personal testimony, Discipline certainly adds a compelling voice to the call for a disciplined Christian life.

 

FAVORITE QUOTES:

“We need never ask the question, ‘How do I know I’m called?’ We ought rather to ask, ‘How do I know I am not called?’” (21).

“We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies for ourselves” (45).

“Christianity teaches righteousness, not rights. It emphasizes honor, not equality. A Christian’s concern is what is owed to the other, not what is owed to himself” (85).

“Let us lift up our work as we lift up our hands, our hearts, our bodies—a sacrifice, acceptable because it is lifted up to Him who alone can purify” (128).

four-stars
By | 2018-05-31T23:19:05+00:00 May 27th, 2018|

A Skeleton in God’s Closet Book Review

A Skeleton in God’s Closet Book Review

A Skeleton in God's Closet

by Paul L. Maier
Length: Approximately 10 hours. To read (336 pages)
TCB Rating:
three-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

A Skeleton in God’s Closet uses narrative to underscore the importance of Jesus’s bodily resurrection. In witty prose, Maier creates an archaeological dig where Jesus’s bones have been unearthed. The ensuing chaos, doubt, and danger offer a meaningful, if slightly predictable portrait of a Christianity with a dead Christ.

Who should read this?

This fictional narrative is light reading, but some content may make it more appropriate for high school and adult readers.

A Skeleton in God's Closet Book Review 1

SUMMARY

How:

Maier’s neat, witty prose style has impressed me over and over. Many fiction books lean heavily on the plot to engage readers, since they have a relatively weak sentence structure and descriptive technique. Maier is a refreshing exception. His similes and metaphors are striking—no clichés or trite comparisons here. Coupled with these descriptions, Maier’s dry humor is sprinkled throughout the narrative. It frequently brought a smile to my face, and made me want to keep reading, even when the plot itself was, well, a bit cliché.

The engaging dialogue also makes this book enjoyable. Each of Maier’s characters has a distinct voice because the author has intentionally tailored vocabulary and sentence structure to reflect age, nationality, and education level. Furthermore, Maier has a unique sense of natural dialogue. The conversation he constructs seems quite natural, hardly ever stilted or unrealistic.

The only major weakness in this book is the plot itself. Billed as a “fast-paced thriller” on the back cover, it only evoked a jump from me (an easily scared reader—no Stephen King for me) once. The book also includes what seems like an obligatory romance, which seemed to make A Skeleton in God’s Closet triter than it could have been otherwise.

Why:

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (NKJV). Many theological books take on this theme in the abstract, hypothesizing about the implications of the resurrection, the ways that it impacts the Christian life, and its centrality to our faith. However, Maier’s story explores the nightmarish “What if…” scenario in a way that a theological treatise never could.

In the author’s own words, “The plot in this novel has been crying for publication for the last nineteen centuries.” This story serves as an interesting parable to illustrate the Apostle Paul’s message.

While a theological work can only speculate on the appearance of the world without a risen Christ, Maier shows it to his readers in vivid detail, as the bones of Jesus are supposedly unearthed at an archaeological dig in Israel. When the findings are accidentally made public, despair, depression, and disillusionment reign in a world where the hope of the resurrection seems to have breathed its last before the church was even born. Some Christians in Maier’s tale give up, unable to continue serving a Savior who has apparently been dead for two centuries.

Others turn to bribery, murder, and cover-up plots to try to conceal the evidence that has been unearthed. Both groups vividly manifest Paul’s observation that “If Christ is not risen…you are still in your sins!” Without a risen Savior, we have no goodness, no hope, and no future. The portrait of a Christ-less church is perhaps the most disturbing part of Maier’s “thriller.”

What:

The story follows globally respected biblical scholar Dr. Jonathan Weber, who is both celebrating the success of his latest book and mourning the recent death of his young wife. He goes on a sabbatical to Israel, where he goes to work with a former professor who claims to have made a great discovery.

The tomb is indeed a huge find—evidence suggests that it is the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Soon, though, Dr. Weber’s careful eye leads him to a greater find. The discovery of this skeleton, though, is terrifying rather than exciting. The skeleton has markings consistent with crucifixion, and a letter from Nicodemus to Joseph of Arimathea is in a clay jar nearby, explaining that the body of Jesus was indeed stolen on Easter morning, and the resurrection never occurred.

I should mention that as the archaeological drama unfolds, Dr. Weber makes another fascinating discovery: Shannon, the daughter of the dig’s head archaeologist. Their love story is woven throughout the rest of the narrative.

The rest of the book chronicles Dr. Weber’s search for any evidence that might suggest a hoax and save the hope of billions of Christians around the world. As he searches, Christian groups from around the world paint him as the enemy of the faith, plead with him to invent an error to console despairing Christians, and try to destroy the evidence themselves. In short, chaos ensues.

I will not spoil any of the surprises of Maier’s narrative by giving more detail. In the end however, archaeological evidence confirms that Jesus is risen (bodily) from the dead. That does not count as a spoiler.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I truly enjoyed Maier’s book because it fed my need for pleasure reading while challenging my mind and spirit. Instead of mere mind candy, Maier provides a narrative with an engaging premise and thought-provoking depth. The backdrop to the narrative is well-researched; I learned quite a bit about archaeology, dating, and historiography from the book. Maier is a thorough author, taking painstaking care to research the subject he writes about. The detail lends credibility and interest to the tale.

Only occasionally does Maier lapse into the pitfalls of trite Christian fiction. One noticeable instance is the romance between the Dr. Weber and Shannon, which I found to be a rather predictable and gratuitous addition to the novel. Although that is surely a petty flaw in an otherwise intriguing novel, it did detract from my personal enjoyment.  

Strengths:

A Modern-Day Parable A Skeleton in God’s Closet serves a necessary and neglected area of Christian fiction—illustrating the truths of Scripture. Like the parable of the Prodigal Son, which touchingly illustrates the compassion of God, novels like this one offer a vehicle for meditation on the truths of the Bible. Readers can see an author’s imagination of what the world would be like without the resurrection and more deeply appreciate its spiritual implications.

I found myself vicariously considering the impossible dilemma—if Jesus’s bones were found, would I try to deny what appeared to be the truth, clinging blindly to my faith despite the evidence to the contrary? Would I despair, since without a risen Christ my hope of resurrection would disappear? Furthermore, do I value the resurrection and understand its centrality to my own faith? It’s a fitting topic to ponder in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday.

A Well-Written Tale – As I’ve already stated, Maier has a refreshingly mature writing style, with none of the awkward phrases and wordiness that plague plenty of popular fiction. His work is engaging and distinctive, set apart by thorough research, realistic dialogue and believable character development.

Weaknesses:

Triteness – In some types of fiction, like fairy tales and epics, authors must follow a certain set of guidelines to adhere to the traditional structure. Outside of those narrative structures, too much predictability mars the plot. From page six, where Dr. Weber first winces at his late wife’s memory, the reader braces for the cute girl to enter from the wings. The stage cue comes by page twenty-three, and from then on, the reader knows precisely who the love interest will be, and presumably, how it will work out (this is, after all, Christian fiction).

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CONCLUSION

Maier has certainly achieved his stated goal—to address through fiction the necessity of the Resurrection. The book grabbed and held my interest until the last page. The premise was intriguing, the research convincing, and the tone consistently amusing. Even several weeks after finishing the book, I find myself returning to the glory of the risen Christ, a shining joy against the bleak backdrop of a world without Him. The story reminded me of an old hymn:

“If I gained the world, but lost the Savior,
Who endured the cross and died for me,
Could then all the world afford a refuge,
Whither, in my anguish, I might flee?
O what emptiness! —without the Savior
’Mid the sins and sorrows here below!
And eternity, how dark without Him!
Only night and tears and endless woe!
What, though I might live without the Savior,
When I come to die, how would it be?
O to face the valley’s gloom without Him!
And without Him all eternity!”

Truly, if Christ is not risen, we are of all men most pitiable. But, to the eternal praise of God, the apostle Paul concludes, as Maier’s tale does, that “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NKJV). Perhaps this work of Christian fiction may help you to appreciate that truth in a new way as we look forward to celebrating the Resurrection next month.

three-stars
By | 2018-03-24T07:44:00+00:00 March 25th, 2018|

Goforth Of China Book Review

Goforth Of China Book Review

Goforth of China

by Rosalind Goforth
Length: Approximately 12 hours. To read (364 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Goforth of China is the humbling personal testimony of two lives utterly poured out for the sake of the gospel in China. The testimony of saints who counted everything loss to follow Christ challenges readers to examine their own love for the Savior.

Who should read this?

This biography offers encouragement and challenge for every Christian, especially those who want a deeper appreciation for the heritage of faith that earlier saints have passed down to today’s Christians.

Goforth of China Book Review 1

SUMMARY

How:

Written by Jonathan Goforth’s wife, Rosalind, Goforth of China simply and clearly relates the testimony of their lifelong ministry in China. Much of the narrative is eyewitness account, as Rosalind comments in the foreword, but she supplements the story with her husband’s letters, journals, and the testimony of those who knew him.

The text is simple and straightforward, usually told in the third person, but occasionally lapsing into first person. Between chapters, Rosalind places a verse of scripture and a quotation intended to explain the chapter’s contents. Many of the quotations she chose will stay with the reader long after the book is closed, such as the following insight from Hudson Taylor: “How often do we attempt to work for God to the limit of our incompetency rather than to the limit of God’s omnipotency.” Jonathan Goforth’s life was extraordinary because he did precisely the opposite. Only God’s omnipotency limited his vision.

Why:

The purpose of many secular biographies is to exalt the subject and proclaim his or her accomplishments. Drawn away by this example, some Christian biographies can tend toward the same vein, getting close enough to pridefulness to qualify as a book-length “humble-brag.” In this sense, Goforth of China is a decidedly different sort of biography.

As his wife explains in the first chapter, “It was remarked that of the many wonderful tributes paid to the memory of Jonathan Goforth…there was not one but could be traced back to the abounding grace of God in him” (18). Rosalind stays faithful to this objective, constantly giving glory to God for His ministry through herself and her husband in China.

What:

Beginning in Canada, Rosalind relates Goforth’s childhood conversion and subsequent call to ministry. The narrative follows Goforth to his education at Knox College, selecting certain stories and experiences to emphasize Goforth’s devotion to the Lord and his desire to spread the gospel faithfully.

The bulk of the biography understandably focuses on the Goforths’ ministry in China, which lasted nearly fifty years, beginning before the Boxer Revolution in China and lasting until 1936. Since the Goforths’ ministry lasted so long, telling even one or two stories from each year of ministry would make a massive account. From among the memories, writings, and testimony available to her, Mrs. Goforth chooses some of the most memorable, illustrative, or miraculous to give the reader an impression of those years of ministry on the mission field. Each story is remarkable in its own way, showing over and over again how much God can do through poor sinners who submit to Him.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I normally read biographies rather quickly. Even though they may be lengthy, the material tends to be relatively light and straightforward: birth, childhood, life accomplishments, a few notable moments, and so the cycle goes. When I picked up Goforth of China in my church library a few weeks ago, I was expecting to learn more about one of my childhood heroes (so I might be a bit biased…), but I was not prepared for the power of what I actually found.

The simplicity of the text does not detract from the profundity of the testimony it relates. While reading, I found myself unable to continue at points, needing to stop and digest what I had read before continuing. I have rarely read a Christian testimony as powerful as this one.

Jonathan Goforth led a life, from what his wife tells, wholly submitted to the call of God to tell others about the saving power of Christ. He lived and ministered according to Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 2: “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

Nothing has been more encouraging to me as a twenty-something Christian than to read about Jonathan Goforth’s committed faithfulness to the truth of God and the preaching of the gospel, no matter what it cost him. Like a little kid, I find myself thinking, “I want to be like him when I grow up!”

Goforth of China certainly struck some convicting personal chords for me. As I read this biography, I was/am working through Lou Priolo’s Pleasing People (watch for it in an upcoming review!). Hence, it may be easy to guess what one of my besetting sins might be (two words, starts with “pleasing…”). Reading this biography made me contrast my own life with that of Jonathan Goforth, and I realized how my fear of people prevents me from wholly submitting my life to the Great Commission.

That conviction smarts. Furthermore, as a private school teacher, my days are filled with the importance of man’s wisdom, of shaping students’ minds, and encouraging deep thinking and learning. Goforth of China reminded me that although God has given us creativity, education, and wisdom, we must be careful to lift the cross of Christ high above all other things, especially in our evangelism and discipleship. That emphasis on the Word of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit allowed Jonathan Goforth to see God save hundreds of thousands of people during his ministry in China.

Strengths:

Personal insight – No one would be more qualified to write a book about Jonathan Goforth than his wife, who shared in his ministry from the very beginning. Mrs. Goforth brings knowledge and information to the book that other authors would be hard-pressed to discover.

Spiritual conviction – It’s one thing to hear an author insist that God works miracles or read an academic and theological case for fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s quite another thing to hear that encouragement from a missionary couple who buried five of their eleven children on the mission field, who lost all of their personal belongings at least five times, who were nearly killed during the Boxer Rebellion, and who spent forty-eight years of their lives preaching and teaching for hours every day. Paradoxically, the overall impression I have drawn from Goforth of China is one of joy and contentment, not exhaustion. This biography carries an unusual power of conviction.

Weaknesses:

Age – This book was written nearly a century ago, so some of the writing style and language are understandably dated. For some readers, the dated language might be a significant drawback. I wrote this review based on the Bethany House edition, so the newer Wipf and Stock version may contain other adjustments to make the text more accessible and reader friendly.

Content – Those looking for an extremely personal insight into the Goforths’ lives will probably be disappointed. This book is the story of Jonathan’s ministry. Rosalind even minimizes her own role in it, although the testimony of others alludes to her own significant contributions to the work. Very little is mentioned of their family life, so in some sections the book reads as a brief overview of ministry work.

Personal Insight – From my perspective, Mrs. Goforth does a reasonable job of seeing her husband’s flaws and imperfections. However, the reader should constantly keep in mind that she is hardly an unbiased reporter.

Goforth of China
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CONCLUSION

Out of everything that I have read in my life (and as a former English and Spanish major, I’ve read quite a bit!), only a handful of books have changed me as a person. In high school, Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot and Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss both impacted me deeply. As I read Goforth of China, I realized that it was joining the list of “life-changers.” Its attributes, though, are fittingly supernatural. The writing style is clear, but unremarkable.

The brightly-colored cover is definitely a product of the eighties. Occasionally the narrative lacks personality and depth. Yet the power of God is everywhere on display in the Goforths’ ministry. As his wife puts it, “[Jonathan’s] whole soul burned intensely, that our Lord’s promise, ‘And greater works shall ye do,’ might be fulfilled in him. It might truly be said of Jonathan Goforth that he ‘delighted to do God’s will’” (177). Truly, my spiritual life is richer for his testimony of faithfulness. I pray that yours will be as well.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “A peace there is in sacrifice secluded,

    A life subdued, from will and passion free

    ‘Tis not the peace that over Eden brooded,

    But that which triumphed in Gethsemane.” (128)

  • “We saw our Almighty God used His own prerogative to glorify His name whether in the glorious martyrdom of some or in the miraculous deliverance of others.” [In reference to their surviving the Boxer Rebellion] (130)
  • “It is appalling how God and souls are defrauded because we know so little of His saving Word.” (252)
five-stars
By | 2018-02-20T07:01:45+00:00 February 21st, 2018|

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