Review of Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years: With Authorities and Extracts, by John Wesley Hanson

Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years: With Authorities and Extracts

by John Wesley Hanson

Universalist Publishing House, Boston and Chicago, 1899. 321 pages.
Starred Review

The title of this book well sums up what it’s about. This is not a book for the general reader. This is a reprint of a book in the public domain, originally published in 1899. The language is dense and old-fashioned.

When it first dawned on me that George MacDonald was teaching that all will (eventually) be saved, I was surprised. He clearly believed this is what the Bible teaches. But how could he think that? Doesn’t the Bible teach that the wicked will perish and burn eternally? Isn’t that what all good Christians think?

So, I reread the Bible and saw how much was open to interpretation. At the time, I thought the case for either view was about equal. (Since then, I think it’s actually stronger for universalism.) I chose to believe the view that I thought had a higher view of God. If it bothers me that God would send people to burn in hell forever and ever, should I believe in that God? It also meant that I can’t write off other people nearly as easily as before.

But I still thought I was bucking tradition believing this. So I was amazed and delighted to read this book, showing with many examples that the early church believed all will be saved. That the “mainstream” view was not at all mainstream until about 500 years after Christ. In fact, when the church was dominated by those who spoke Greek, it was also dominated by Universalism.

Now, this book is dense, as I said. It’s only for people like me, whose biggest obstacle in believing in Universalism is thinking that it’s not Biblical, and is against the mainstream view of the church. This book shows that not only did a deeply spiritual man like George MacDonald think that Universalism is Biblical, so did Christ’s first followers. It’s for people who deeply believe in the authority of Scripture.

I had to laugh when I read this paragraph in the Foreword:

“The first form of his manuscript contained a thousand copious notes, with citations of original Greek and Latin, but such an array was thought by judicious friends too formidable to attract the average reader, as well as too voluminous, and he has therefore retained only a fraction of the notes he had prepared.”

I laughed because the book is still formidable indeed, and not at all for the average reader. But there’s excellent information here, and Christians who wonder about the Biblical basis for Universalism will have their eyes opened.

Also in the Foreword, the author states:

“The purpose of this book is to present some of the evidence of the prevalence in the early centuries of the Christian church, of the doctrine of the final holiness of all mankind. The author has endeavored to give the language of the early Christians, rather than to paraphrase their words, or state their sentiments in his own language. He has also somewhat copiously quoted the statements of modern scholars, historians and critics, of all shades of opinion, instead of condensing them with his own pen.”

This is why the book is formidable, but it’s also why it is most convincing and thorough.

The author’s purpose is not to present the Scriptural evidence for Universalism. “Neither is it the purpose of the author of this book to write a history of the doctrine; but his sole object is to show that those who obtained their religion almost directly from the lips of its author, understood it to teach the doctrine of universal salvation.”

When my pastor talked about Love Wins, by Rob Bell, which teaches Universalism, he said that he did not agree with Rob Bell’s conclusion. But I loved that he said, “Shouldn’t we want to believe it?” In many ways this book gives me permission to believe that all will be saved. After all, if the early church fathers believed it, how can I possibly contend that it’s not Biblical?

The book goes into great, convincing, and, yes, tedious detail. I’ll present a few of the points.

First, he looks at the oldest creeds. There’s simply nothing about everlasting punishment.

“Thus the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides.”

He does look at the teachings of the church fathers listed above in great detail. I’ll list some paragraphs that give some insight into his arguments:

“The talismanic word of the Alexandrian fathers, as of the New Testament, was Father. This word, as now, unlocked all mysteries, solved all problems, and explained all the enigmas of time and eternity. Holding God as Father, punishment was held to be remedial, and therefore restorative, and final recovery from sin universal.”

“The Greek Fathers derived their Universalism directly and soley from the Greek Scriptures. Nothing to suggest the doctrine existed in Greek or Latin literature, mythology, or theology; all current thought on matters of eschatology was utterly opposed to any such view of human destiny. And, furthermore, the unutterable wickedness, degradation and woe that filled the world would have inclined the early Christians to the most pessimistic view of the future consistent with the teachings of the religion they had espoused. To know that, in those dreadful times, they derived the divine optimism of universal deliverance from sin and sorrow from the teachings of Christ and his apostles, should predispose every modern to agree with them.”

I thought this part about the Greek words used was fascinating:

“When our Lord spoke, the doctrine of unending torment was believed by many of those who listened to his words, and they stated it in terms and employed others, entirely different, in describing the duration of punishment, from the terms afterward used by those who taught universal salvation and annihilation, and so gave to the terms in question the sense of unlimited duration.

“For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. The called it eirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement).

“The language of Josephus is used by the profane Greeks, but is never found in the New Testament connected with punishment. Josephus, writing in Greek to Jews, frequently employs the word that our Lord used to define the duration of punishment (aionios), but he applies it to things that had ended or that will end. Can it be doubted that our Lord placed his ban on the doctrine that the Jews had derived from the heathen by never using their terms describing it, and that he taught a limited punishment by employing words to define it that only meant limited duration in contemporaneous literature?”

The author goes on to give many examples of the different terms used in Greek at the time of Christ.

“Had our Lord intended to inculcate the doctrine of the Pharisees, he would have used the terms by which they described it. But his word defining the duration of punishment was aionion, while their words are aidion, adialeipton and athanaton. Instead of saying with Philo and Josephus, thanaton athanaton, deathless or immortal death; eirgmon aidion, eternal imprisonment; aidion timorion, eternal torment; and thanaton ateleuteton, interminable death, he used aionion kolasin, an adjective in universal use for limited duration, and a noun denoting suffering issuing in amendment. The word by which our Lord describes punishment is the word kolasin, which is thus defined: “Chastisement, punishment.” “The trimming of the luxuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful.” “The act of clipping or pruning — restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement.” “The kind of punishment which tends to the improvement of the criminal is what the Greek philosophers called kolasis or chastisement.”

This close look at the Greek background makes it all the more interesting that the teaching of Universalism prevailed while the church fathers were primarily Greek-speaking.

Some other interesting points:

“Not a writer among those who describe the heresies of the first three hundred years intimates that Universalism was then a heresy, though it was believed by many, if not by a majority, and certainly by the greatest of the fathers.

“Not a single creed for five hundred years expresses any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of endless punishment.”

“While the councils that assembled in various parts of Christendom, anathematized every kind of doctrine they supposed to be heretical, no ecumenical council, for more than five hundred years, condemned Universalism, though it had been advocated in every century by the principal scholars and most revered saints.”

“The first defense of Christianity against Infidelity (Origen against Celsus) puts the defense on Universalistic grounds. Celsus charged the Christians’ God with cruelty, because he punished with fire. Origen replied that God’s fire is curative; that he is a “Consuming Fire,” because he consumes sin and not the sinner.”

Believe me, the author goes into excruciating detail to back up these, and many other points. He looks at a multitude of ancient writings and commentaries on the writings.

So, reader, you will know if this book would be interesting to you. It was definitely interesting to me, though I had to take it slowly! But I feel much much less out of the mainstream than I did before. To me, it definitely establishes that a Christian can believe the Bible and still believe in Universalism. After all, is there anyone who would say those early church fathers were not Christians? And if those native Greek speakers believed the Bible taught universalism, who are we to say different?

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Review of Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise, by Tomie dePaola

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise

by Tomie dePaola

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011. 30 pages.

In June, I got to see Tomie dePaola receive the Laura Ingall Wilders Medal for his substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature. I was struck by the fact that he’s a man who radiates love and joy. In this lovely little book, you can share some of that joy with your young children.

The text in this book is very simple and overtly religious, with pages that say things like this:

“Dogs, cats, all animals and creeping things on earth, praise God.”

The colorful pictures show the parts of creation named as they praise and bless God. I love that an outstanding children’s illustrator created this book for a big commercial publisher. This is a lovely little book for parents of any religion that worships God to share with their young children.

It’s simple. It’s joyful. It’s lovely.

Praise God!

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Review of Heaven Is For Real, by Todd Burpo

Heaven Is For Real

A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

by Todd Burpo
with Lynn Vincent

Thomas Nelson, 2010. 163 pages.
Starred Review

I gobbled up this book in one afternoon. It’s not long, and the story it tells is truly amazing.

My first reaction was that this story would be a hard one for an atheist to explain away. However, I was quickly informed that is not the case. This concerns a little boy’s testimony. As for me, I think his way of talking about it totally rings true, but the fact that he was so young does allow skeptics to propose that he may have been swayed without realizing it.

However, if you do believe in Heaven, this book will encourage you tremendously. And anyone who has suffered a miscarriage, or lost a beloved parent will find themselves incredibly touched.

Colton first gave them a clue that something unusual had happened when they drove to the city where he almost died.

“‘Do you remember the hospital, Colton?’ Sonja asked.

“‘Yes, Mommy, I remember,’ he said. ‘That’s where the angels sang to me.'”

A little while later, they asked him more about it.

“Then he grew serious. ‘Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.’


“I glanced at Sonja again and saw that her mouth had dropped open. I turned back to Colton. ‘You mean Jesus was there?’

“My little boy nodded as though reporting nothing more remarkable than seeing a ladybug in the front yard. ‘Yeah, Jesus was there.’

“‘Well, where was Jesus?’

Colton looked me right in the eye. ‘I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.'”

That’s in the intro, to give you an idea of what’s in store. Then they tell about their crisis, where it looked like their four-year-old son was really going to die. Appendicitis wasn’t diagnosed correctly, and by the time a doctor at a second hospital figured it out, it should have been too late.

Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, is a pastor. But this was the latest of a series of trials, and he found himself yelling at God. “Where are you? Is this how you treat your pastors?! Is it even worth it to serve you?”

But miraculously, Colton recovered. And it was enough of a miracle that they noticed an awful lot of nurses coming to his room and just staring at him in amazement. One of them pulled his Dad aside.

“‘Mr. Burpo, I’ve worked as a nurse here for many years,’ she said. ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but we were told not to give your family any encouragement. They didn’t think Colton was going to make it. And when they tell us people aren’t going to make it, they don’t.'”

It wasn’t until four months later that Colton told them about hearing the angels sing.

“It was that conversation in which Colton said that he ‘went up out of’ his body, that he had spoken with angels, and had sat in Jesus’ lap. And the way we knew he wasn’t making it up was that he was able to tell us what we were doing in another part of the hospital: ‘You were in a little room by yourself praying, and Mommy was in a different room and she was praying and talking on the phone.’

“Not even Sonja had seen me in that little room, having my meltdown with God.”

They continue to ask Colton about his experiences, trying not to ask leading questions. They found out things from a child’s perspective that matched what they would expect from the Bible.

Some of the things he said were very striking. I loved this one:

“Suddenly, he piped up again. ‘Daddy, remember when I yelled for you in the hospital when I waked up?’

“How could I forget? It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. ‘Of course I do,’ I said.

“‘Well, the reason I was yelling was that Jesus came to get me. He said I had to go back because he was answering your prayer. That’s how come I was yelling for you.’

“Suddenly, my knees felt weak underneath me. I flashed back to my prayers alone, raging at God, and my prayers in the waiting room, quiet and desperate. I remembered how scared I was, agonizing over whether Colton would hang on through the surgery, whether he’d live long enough for me to see his precious face again. Those were the longest, darkest ninety minutes of my life.

“And Jesus answered my prayer? Personally? After I had yelled at God, chastising him, questioning his wisdom and his faithfulness?”

Later Colton had more bombshells for them. He talked about meeting his sister — the child he’d never known about, who had miscarried. He claimed to have met her in heaven. He also spent time talking with his Dad’s father, Pop, whom he had also never met on earth. He didn’t recognize a picture of Pop as an old man — but then later he spotted a picture of Pop young and newly married — and Colton knew him right away!

I also love the way he tells his Dad the pastor that the Holy Spirit “shoots down power for you when you’re talking in church.” He says the Holy Spirit showed him, that Colton got to watch the Holy Spirit “shooting down power.”

But I think my personal favorite of all the things Colton says is when he’s describing God’s throne:

“‘It was big, Dad . . . really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is. And he really, really loves us, Dad. You can’t belieeeeve how much he loves us!'”

Read this book to be encouraged and inspired. At the end of the book, Colton sums up what he wants to tell people:

“I want them to know that heaven is for real.”

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Review of When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd

When the Heart Waits

Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions

by Sue Monk Kidd

HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. 217 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another book by a woman exploring the deep questions and issues of facing midlife. Those always resonate with me. This one, with the theme of waiting, of slow growth, seemed particularly apt.

She uses the image of spinning a cocoon and having radical transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly. It takes time. And when the transformation has been made, even unfurling your new wings is difficult.

Here are some passages I especially liked, to give you a taste of the wisdom in this book:

“When it comes to religion today, we tend to be long on butterflies and short on cocoons. Somehow we’re going to have to relearn that the deep things of God don’t come suddenly. It’s as if we imagine that all of our spiritual growth potential is dehydrated contents to which we need only add some holy water to make it instantly and easily appear.

“I received a letter recently from someone who was feeling impatient about taking the long way round. She wrote, ‘Pole vaulting is so much more alluring than crawling.'”

“Most of us Christians don’t know how to wait in pain — at least not in the contemplative, creative way that opens us to newness and growth. We’re told to “turn it over to Jesus” and — presto! — things should be okay.

“But inside things usually aren’t okay. So on top of everything else, we feel guilty because obviously we didn’t really turn our pain over or else it wouldn’t still be with us. Or we decide that God wasn’t listening and can’t be trusted to deliver on divine promises.

“How did we ever get the idea that God would supply us on demand with quick fixes, that God is merely a rescuer and not a midwife?”

“If you want to be impressed, note how often God’s people seem to be waiting….

“I came to the parable Jesus told about the ten maidens waiting for the bridegroom…. I’d always thought that the point of the story was that we should be prepared. But in my reading after the retreat, it seemed to be just as much about waiting. Waiting through the dark night. The idea is that waiting precedes celebration. If you don’t show up prepared to wait, you may miss the transcendent when it happens.

“Most stunning to me was the picture I began to get of God waiting. The parable of the prodigal son would be more aptly named the parable of the waiting father. It tells us much more about God than anything else — a God who watches and waits with a full heart for us to make our homecoming.”

“Shifting from a self-centered focus to a more God-centered focus is terribly hard. I think we’ve gone wrong by assuming that such a radical movement can be achieved simply by setting our jaw and saying one or two prayers of relinquishment.

“Letting go isn’t one step but many. It’s a winding, spiraling process that happens on deep levels. And we must begin at the beginning: by confronting our ambivalence.”

“Looking back, I’m aware of several experiences that sifted together to bring me quietly to the place of letting go. They had the effect of slowly and gently uncurling my grip, finger by finger.”

She takes us through her midlife journey, including many painful moments. But then comes the time of unfurling the new wings:

“When the time is right, the cocooned soul begins to emerge. Waiting turns golden. Newness unfurls. It’s a time of pure, unmitigated wonder. Yet as we enter the passage of emergence, we need to remember that new life comes slowly, awkwardly, on wobbly wings.

“I waited many long months before I felt newness begin to form, and many more before it began to unfold in my life. Gradually — oh, so gradually — my waiting season came to an end. The pain began to diminish bit by bit, as if it had peaked and now was giving way to something new. Many of the questions I’d lived with began to sprout little seeds of insight. Light trickled in. A new vision and way of life began to take shape not only in my head but in my heart and soul as well. It was as if I’d discovered a new room inside myself — a wider, more expansive place than I’d known before, but a room that had been there all along.”

This book will uplift and encourage anyone going through a similar journey. She offers us Hope:

“Hope for you and me and the journeys we undertake. Hope that we would trust our waiting hearts enough to risk entering them, that we would listen for the Voice that bids us come to the edge, and that we would welcome the gentle push of God, who is both our wings and the wind that bears them up.”

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Review of Feel, by Matthew Elliott


The Power of Listening to Your Heart

by Matthew Elliott

Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. 266 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Other Nonfiction

My home Bible study group leader picked out this book for our group to study for several weeks, and I thought it had some beautifully revolutionary things to say.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it preached: “Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice.” Or I’ve heard sermons about the Fact-Faith-Feeling train — that “Feeling” is supposed to be the caboose in our Christian lives. Matthew Elliott says that such teaching is missing out on a full and rich Christian life. God wants us to feel.

Here’s what he says in the first chapter:

“The second thing that has gone terribly wrong is that we have become indoctrinated in the belief that emotions are unreliable, dangerous, and bad. Philosophy, psychology, our scientific culture, and the church have taught us that logic and reason must reign supreme, while feelings are trivialized and seen as something to be suppressed or ignored. Many successful contemporary writers have brainwashed us into believing that we must stifle what we feel in favor of what we think.

“The messages I have read recently in popular inspirational books include the ideas that emotions leave us in a fog and cloud our thinking; the notion that in order to live a godly life, we must control our emotions; and the belief that following our emotions often leads us to sin.

“I’ve heard nationally known speakers assert that anger, sorrow, and jealousy are signs of spiritual weakness; that our feelings cannot be trusted; and that God cares about what we believe, not what we feel.

“These are all myths. None of them are true; none of them hold up to good science; and none of them are from the Bible….

“I have come to believe that our emotions were given to us by God to drive us to our best.

“I have come to believe that emotions are among the most logical and dependable things in our lives.

“I have come to believe that emotions give us a window to see truth like nothing else.

“I have come to believe that the true health of our spiritual lives is measured by how we feel.”

Those surprising assertions (Emotions? Among the most logical and dependable things in our lives? Really?) are all supported convincingly in the pages that follow. I came away with completely new ideas about what constitutes a growing Christian life.

The author spoke from the same kind of Christian background I’d grown up in, teaching that love in the Bible is not really a feeling, but more of a duty. He points out:

“There is no special category for ‘Christian love,’ that agape kind our Christian leaders like to talk about — intellectualizing an emotion into a philosophical ideal. Love, hope, joy — and even hatred — in the Bible are not lofty ideas and concepts; they are feelings and emotions, just as we know them in our own lives and talk about them with our families and friends….

“It occurred to me that our spirituality is all about how we are feeling — whether we are feeling life or are numb to it. If we are not feeling as we should, something is really wrong with our relationship with God.

“Paul takes no time to explain what he means by love and joy and hope and hate and sorrow. He doesn’t try to tell us that joy is not a feeling or that love is just a choice. He speaks in plain language and assumes that emotions are simply recording our feelings — the stuff of life that God has given us. Paul assumes we will know what joy and love feel like, and he exhorts that if we live by God’s standards, there are certain kinds of feelings that will fill our lives.”

There’s so much that’s so good in this book. Most of it, I had not thought of before, but how it rings true! I like this part about obedience and duty:

“One of the things we sometimes get confused is the difference between being duty driven and obedient. God calls us to obedience, but somehow we make that into a rote thing. It’s as if we don’t consider it real obedience unless it feels hard and tough and bad….

“Having positive emotion for doing what we’ve been asked to do makes all the difference in how we obey the command. When we see the reason for it, when we enjoy doing it, or when we want to please the one giving the instruction, we are much more likely to obey, and to obey with energy and enthusiasm….

“As we grow in our faith, we will be driven more and more to obey God’s commands, not because they are things we should do, but because they are what we want to do, and we desire in our deep places to do them. As we learn how good they are for us and those we love, we will see how it is a joy to obey. As we grow closer to God and know more of his great love for us, our desire to please him will grow deeper and wider and all-consuming in us….

“Not only will it be easier to obey, but we will obey more fully with greater passion and results.”

Another thing Matthew Elliott points out which I’d never thought of that way is that, far from being irrational and illogical, our emotions are often ahead of our thoughts in judging a situation correctly.

“Emotions are a complex judgment or evaluation of someone or something in light of the past, present, or future. Hope, for example, is the expectation that something good is going to happen in the future to something or someone we love; whereas joy is felt when something good has happened in the past or the present.

“Emotions can do what a wise counselor does, what a veteran mentor does, or what a spiritual advisor does — help you make right decisions from complex information. Emotions carry truth and wisdom, just as a good friend does….

“To say that emotions are connected to thinking does not mean they always come from conscious, intentional thoughts. Rather, emotions have a wisdom all their own, which is naturally informed by our circumstances, situations, and relationships. They speak to us about truth that we cannot always know rationally or even think thoughts about….

“It’s not uncommon for people to feel fear when they enter their house while it is being robbed, even when they have no direct knowledge that someone else is in the house. They step inside, and all of a sudden they’re afraid. They know something is wrong. This feeling has saved many a person from harm, as they have acted on that fear…. That is the realm in which emotions operate, which can make it difficult to figure out exactly why we are feeling what we feel.

“Our tendency when emotions surface is to decide that we shouldn’t feel them, so we dismiss them, ditching them in the first mental trash can we can find. But our emotions often tell us things that our rational processes cannot get to, things we desperately need to hear.”

I don’t want to write out every great point the author makes in this book. I hope this review has given you a taste of all the rich and revolutionary thoughts found in its pages. Here’s a paragraph that sums up some of the ideas:

“God wants us to be emotionally mature with emotionally full lives. Becoming emotionally mature is not, as many teach, about becoming emotionally controlled. It is about becoming emotionally adept, emotionally wise, and emotionally skilled. It is about having lives that are chock-full of wonder and feeling — and then having the ability and practiced skill to live well and wisely in a richly emotional world.”

I’ll close the review with a line I just love:

“God wants you to soar. He wants a ‘you’ more full of vitality and spirit than you’ve ever imagined.”

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Review of Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldredge

Love & War

Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of

by John and Stasi Eldredge

Doubleday Religion, New York, 2009. 222 pages.
Starred Review

I recently filed for divorce, more than four years after my husband abandoned me. Why would I torment myself by reading a book on marriage?

I have a few reasons: First, is that I want to know what went wrong so I don’t repeat the same mistakes. I still believe that God told me that some day our marriage would be restored, and I would want that marriage to be a harmonious partnership before God. It’s inspiring to read about how that can happen.

Actually, I picked up the book ready to quickly turn it back in if I found the contents painful or not applying at all. But I avidly read the whole book, liking it more and more the further I read.

I like everything I’ve already read by John & Stasi Eldredge, particularly Captivating, and The Sacred Romance. I like their way of taking the big picture when talking about the Christian life. They see the Christian life as a grand fairy tale, and I love that approach, as is evidenced by the fact that I’m also reading secular books talking about what fairy tales teach us about life, such as Once Upon a Midlife, by Allan B. Chinen, and Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

The authors tie into that concept right away. In the introduction, Stasi describes watching her husband John conduct a wedding ceremony.

“No matter how many weddings I attend, there is something inexplicably stirring about all this — the ceremony, the making of vows, the great cloud of witnesses, something about this remarkable act feels — how does one describe it? Mythic.”

She gives some of John’s message to the crowd:

“‘Dearly Beloved, you see before you a man and a woman. But there is more here than meets the eye. God gave to us this passion play to reenact, right here and now, the story of the ages. This is the story of mankind, the one story we have been telling ourselves over and over again, in every great myth and legend and poem and song. It is a love story, set in the midst of desperate times, set in the midst of war. It is a story of a shared quest. It is a story of romance. Daniel and Megan are playing out before you now the deepest and most mythic reality in the world. This is the story of God’s romance with mankind.’

“I’m curious what the audience is thinking. When John speaks of love and marriage as deeper than fairy tale, what does our heart say in reply? I know the young women listening just said in their hearts, Oh I hope that is true! I long for that to be true! The young men are wondering, If that is true, what is this going to require of me? The older women filter this through the years of our actual marital experience; they are thinking, Hmmm. (It is a mixture of Yes, I once longed for that, and, Perhaps it will come true for her; I wonder if it still might come true for me.) And the older men sitting here now are simply thinking, I wonder if the reception will have an open bar.

“‘You don’t believe me,’ John says. ‘But that’s because we don’t understand fairy tales and we don’t understand the Gospel which they are trying to remind us of. They are stories of danger; they are stories where evil is very, very real. They are stories which require immense courage and sacrifice. A boy and a girl thrown together in some desperate journey. If we believed it, if we actually saw what was taking place right here, right now, we would cross ourselves. We would say desperate prayers, earnest prayers. We would salute them both and we would hold our breath for what happens next.'”

I love John’s charge to the couple:

“Daniel, Megan, in choosing marriage you have chosen an assignment at the frontlines in this epic battle for the human heart. You will face hardship, you will face suffering, you will face opposition, and you will face a lie. The scariest thing a woman ever offers is to believe that she is worth pursuing, to open her heart up to pursuit, to continue to open up her heart and offer the beauty she holds inside, all the while fearing it will not be enough. The scariest thing a man ever chooses is to offer his strength without knowing how things will turn out. To take the risk of playing the man before the outcome is decided. To offer his heart of strength while fearing it will not be enough.

“A lie is going to come to both of you, starting very soon, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It can’t be done. It’s too hard. We had unrealistic expectations. It isn’t worth it. The lie to you, Megan, will be, ‘You are nothing more than a disappointment.’ And the lie to you, Daniel, will be, ‘You are not really man enough for this.’ And so, I have two words for you today. Words that I want you to keep close in your hearts as you go forward: You are. Megan, you are radiant, you shimmer, you shine, you are a treasure of a woman, a gem, you are. Daniel, you are a man, you are strong, and you are valiant. You have what it takes. Hold this close to your hearts. It can be done. And it is worth it.”

Early on in this ordeal of my marriage falling apart, I found help and encouragement from One helpful lesson they taught me right from the start is that my spouse is not my enemy. Instead Satan himself is the enemy of our marriage. John and Stasi Eldredge echo that message. The “War” in the title is the battle that a man and his wife do together against the Enemy of their marriage.

Right away, they give us tips about how that battle is carried out, with lies. A wife starts believing the lie that she is not valuable, and so she gets petty about wanting her husband to do more around the house, to show that he values her. Then her husband, in turn, doesn’t feel like his wife thinks he is an adequate man, and resentment builds up on both sides.

This isn’t a book about communication techniques or about how to get your spouse to treat you right. This is a book with stories to explain how you can see marriage as a team effort against a mutual enemy. John and Stasi give stories from their own marriage to show how this can play out — both failures and successes.

Love & War is a wonderful book for romantics. It tells you that a great marriage is indeed possible. It gives you a lofty vision and inspires you to work with your spouse to go after it.

And don’t we all start out in marriage as romantics?

Read the book! I won’t try to summarize each chapter, since I would have too much to say. I’ll finish the review with some inspiring words from the authors at the end of Chapter One:

“Because marriage is hard, sometimes painfully hard, your first Great Battle is not to lose heart. That begins with recovering desire — the desire for the love that is written on your heart. Let desire return. Let it remind you of all that you wanted, all that you were created for.

“And then consider this — what if God could bring you your heart’s desire? It’s not too late. It isn’t too hard. You are not too far along nor are you and your spouse too set in your ways. God is the God of all hope. He is, after all, the God of the Resurrection. Nothing is impossible for him. So give your heart’s desire some room to breathe.

“What if the two of you could find your way to something beautiful?

“That would be worth fighting for.”

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Firstlight, by Sue Monk Kidd


The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd

GuidepostsBooks, New York, 2006. 227 pages.

Sue Monk Kidd got her start writing for Guideposts. She wrote many inspirational pieces for them and for other publications for many years.

Firstlight is a collection of some of her early writings. They make an inspiring, uplifting collection. I made a habit of reading a section or two in the morning during my devotional time.

I think her philosophy is summed up by these words:

“I believe in stories. The world has enough dogma. It’s stories we need more of, stories that reverence the still, small voice that sings our life. As Anthony de Mello observed, “The shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” Jesus, himself, told stories about the most common things in the world: a lost sheep, a seed that falls on rocky ground, a woman who sweeps her house in search of a coin, a man whose son runs away from home.

“All personal theology should begin with the words: Let me tell you a story.

Sue Monk Kidd writes her devotionals as stories — stories that illustrate the hand of God, or perhaps a lesson about life, or perhaps a reminder of joy.

This book will give you something to smile about as you start your day.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Source of Miracles, by Kathleen McGowan

The Source of Miracles

7 Steps to Transforming Your Life Through the Lord’s Prayer

by Kathleen McGowan

A Fireside Book (Simon & Schuster), New York, 2009. 201 pages.
Starred Review

When I saw this book on our library’s “New Books” shelf, I was interested, but a bit skeptical. Promising miracles and life transformation sounded a bit New Age-y and trendy to me. But our pastor had recently challenged us to do some extra reading and thinking about the life of Jesus, and I thought reading about the Lord’s Prayer couldn’t help but give me insight into Jesus and who He was.

I ended up liking the book so much, I read a chapter each day during my devotional time. Kathleen McGowan suggests establishing a practice of praying the Lord’s Prayer every day. Using Christian tradition and the image of the six-petaled rose in the maze at Chartres Cathedral, she suggests seven ideas to think and pray about when going through the prayer.

These concepts are basic and fundamental ideas in Christianity, or indeed in most other religions. I certainly like the idea of making a practice of thinking and praying about them, and appreciate Kathleen McGowan’s imagery that will help me bring them to mind.

The concepts are Faith, Surrender, Service, Abundance, Forgiveness, Overcoming Obstacles, and — in the heart of it all — Love. She has excellent illustrations and quotations about each “petal” of the rose and ties each one to lines from the Lord’s Prayer.

One thing I like about this book is that even if you don’t agree with every single point of the author’s theology, the Lord’s Prayer will still have impact on your life. As the author says about some people who take issue with her theology:

“I am willing to bet that we have one thing in common: we all know the Lord’s Prayer. If you put the three of us in a room together, this is the common ground we could find. And so I hold on to the belief that this perfect, beautiful prayer can unite all of us in loving God and loving each other.”

This is an inspiring and uplifting book.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

And the Rest…

At the start of 2010, I had 43 books I’d read in 2009 that I wanted to review. I’ve been madly writing reviews, without posting them to my main site, waiting until I’ve caught up. I have eight books left from 2009. They were all very good, and worth mentioning, but in the interests of time, I’m only going to mention them with a short blurb in this post, and not give them a full page on my main site.

Once I finish them, I have another stack of seven books that I finished reading already in 2010. After I have caught up on writing those reviews, I hope to post all of the new reviews to So here goes!

Children’s Fiction

These first three books I read as part of my class on the Newbery Medal. They are all historical novels, set in medieval times, and all well-written though just a tad old-fashioned. As Newbery Medal winners, you will be able to find more information about them than these reviews.

The Trumpeter of Krakow
by Eric P. Kelly

Scholastic, 1990. First published in 1928. 242 pages.
1929 Newbery Medal Winner.

Here’s a tale of intrigue and danger set in old Krakow. There are some strange sections about alchemy, and you can tell if someone is bad or good based on how they look, but despite its old-fashioned feel, this book still is very interesting. It’s almost more for teens, because the language is at a high reading level, and the main character is almost grown up, but he is still treated like a child, so the book has the feel of a children’s book.

Fifteen-year-old Joseph Charnetski and his family are fleeing to Krakow. As they almost reach the city gates, someone shows interest in an especially large pumpkin, which his father is not willing to sell.

They use an assumed name and find a hiding place in the city, near an old scholar and his daughter. Joseph’s father takes a job as the city trumpeter. The trumpeter is also the watchman, tasked to raise the alarm if there is a fire in the city. They never play the last three notes of the trumpet call in honor of an old trumpeter who gave his life keeping the call going during an invasion.

Joseph learns the call as well as his father, and as danger approaches, he finds a clever way to raise the alarm.

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Adam of the Road
by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Scholastic. First published in 1942. 320 pages.
1943 Newbery Medal Winner.

Adam of the Road is the story of a minstrel’s son in medieval England. The book starts out at school, with Adam waiting for his father to pick him up after some time apart, to go to London and back on the road. Adam has gained a beloved dog, Nick, who can do tricks and help with their act.

Along the way, a sinister rival minstrel steals Nick. As Adam’s chasing after him, he loses track of his father. He ends up wandering across England on his own, trying to find his father and his dog, and having various adventures along the way.

This is a good story that has stood the test of time. Adam is awfully young to be on his own, but people are kind to him, and he cleverly makes his way, never in real danger. A light-hearted and enjoyable adventure tale for kids interested in medieval times.

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The Door in the Wall
by Marguerite de Angeli

Yearling Newbery (Bantam Doubleday Dell), 1990. First published in 1949. 121 pages.
1950 Newbery Medal Winner.

The Door in the Wall is another story of a boy on his own in medieval times. Robin’s father went off to the wars, expecting his son to go train to be a knight. His mother went to be the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, expecting John-the-Fletcher to come soon to take him to Sir Peter de Lindsay, to train as a knight.

But Robin gets sick, and when John-the-Fletcher comes, he is not able to go along. For a month he is bedridden, unable to move his legs. He is lame and will never be a knight now.

Some monks take Robin under their wing. They help him learn to swim, to strengthen his arms, and eventually to walk with a crutch. They take him on a journey to meet his father, and they have adventures along the way. By the end of the book, only Robin is able to get a message out and save an entire castle.

This book is shorter than the others. It’s a fairly simple story, but interesting with the medieval setting and inspiring as Robin overcomes his handicap, and learns that his life still has significance.

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Growing Wings
by Laurel Winter

Firebird (Penguin Putnam), 2000. 195 pages.

All her life, Linnet’s mother has touched Linnet’s shoulder blades before she tucks Linnet into bed. One day, when she’s eleven, Linnet learns why. She’s itching horribly, and she has strange bumps on her shoulders.

Linnet’s mother assures her she doesn’t have cancer. She is growing wings. Linnet’s mother also grew wings when she was Linnet’s age, but her mother cut them off. Linnet’s mother is determined not to do that to Linnet, but she doesn’t know what to do to hide them.

Linnet finds a community of others with wings, living in a house in the wilderness. Some adults who are “cutwings” are in charge. So far, none of the teens with wings have been able to fly. They are trying to learn, but also to stay hidden.

This is an intriguing story, with plenty of conflict in the community of winged children. Linnet explores her heritage and wonders what she can make of her life. Will she have to spend her whole life in hiding?

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Miss Zukas and the Island Murders
by Jo Dereske

Avon Books (HarperCollins), 1995. 258 pages.

This is the second mystery about Miss Zukas, librarian extraordinaire. In this book, Miss Zukas and her exotic friend Ruth arrange a twenty-year reunion on an island in Puget Sound for their high school class from Michigan.

While they’re preparing, she gets threatening letters that refer to the long-ago death of one of their classmates. Once they’re on the island, naturally a storm strikes, isolating them, and a murder occurs. Can they solve the murder and keep from getting killed themselves?

This is a fun mystery. Miss Zukas’s librarian nature didn’t come up as much in this book as in the first one, and I felt that she leapt to conclusions without a lot of reasons. But she’s an entertaining character to read about. Gotta love a librarian detective!

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A Way of Life

by Louise L. Hay and Friends
compiled and edited by Jill Kramer

Hay House, 1996. 312 pages.

This book is full of essays about gratitude, written by many notable people. How can you possibly go wrong? I went for quite awhile, reading one essay per day. It’s a nice way to put your day on track.

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The Bait of Satan
Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense

by John Bevere

Charisma House, 2004. First published in 1994. 255 pages.

In this book, John Bevere teaches that Satan’s biggest trap is taking offense. What’s more, you feel justified and in the right!

“Pride causes you to view yourself as a victim. Your attitude becomes, ‘I was mistreated and misjudged; therefore, I am justified in my behavior.’ Because you believe you are innocent and falsely accused, you hold back forgiveness. Though your true heart condition is hidden from you, it is not hidden from God. Just because you were mistreated, you do not have permission to hold on to an offense. Two wrongs do not make a right!”

This book looks at many different ways the devil deceives us into taking offense, and encourages you in many different ways to overcome and find forgiveness. A valuable, helpful book.

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Write Is a Verb
Sit Down. Start Writing. No Excuses.

by Bill O’Hanlon

Writer’s Digest Books, 2007. 212 pages. DVD included.

This is a book about getting it together and actually writing. I read it after I had already made and was keeping a resolution to write at least fifteen minutes per day, every day, so this book only reinforced what I had already determined to do.

If you want to write, and are having trouble motivating yourself, this book has some great ways to think through your motivation and ideas for marketing yourself. Think of this as a great pep talk, complete with a DVD so you can see and hear an additional pep talk.

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Review of Captivating, by John & Stasi Eldredge


Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul

by John and Stasi Eldredge

Nelson Books, 2005. 234 pages.
Starred Review.

Here’s another book I’ve been meaning to review for a very long time. I’m so thankful to my sister Marcy for giving it to me. I reread it again in 2009 in order to enjoy it again and to review it fresh in my mind. I think it blessed me even more the second time around.

Take it from me, this is a wonderful book to speak healing to a rejected and abandoned wife. And I suspect that any woman would be deeply blessed by these words. The basic message is that God has created you captivating and beautiful.

I’m usually leery of books that fit men and women into stereotypes. I think this book escapes that. Here’s what the authors say in the introduction:

“So — is a true woman Cinderella or Joan of Arc? Mary Magdalene or Oprah? How do we recover essential femininity without falling into stereotypes, or worse, ushering in more pressure and shame upon our readers? That is the last thing a woman needs. And yet, there is an essence that God has given to every woman. We share something deep and true, down in our hearts. So we venture into this exploration of femininity by way of the heart. What is at the core of a woman’s heart? What are her desires? What did we long for as little girls? What do we still long for as women? And, how does a woman begin to be healed from the wounds and tragedies of her life?

“Sometime between the dreams of your youth and yesterday, something precious has been lost. And that treasure is your heart, your priceless feminine heart. God has set within you a femininity that is powerful and tender, fierce and alluring. No doubt it has been misunderstood. Surely it has been assaulted. But it is there, your true heart, and it is worth recovering. You are captivating.”

The book talks about how God made us beautiful, but we get wounded and believe lies about ourselves. But God romances us Himself. Here’s a section I like:

“We have all heard it said that a woman is most beautiful when she is in love. It’s true. You’ve seen it yourself. When a woman knows that she is loved and loved deeply, she glows from the inside. This radiance stems from a heart that has had its deepest questions answered. “Am I lovely? Am I worth fighting for? Have I been and will I continue to be romanced?” When these questions are answered, Yes, a restful, quiet spirit settles in a woman’s heart.

“And every woman can have these questions answered, Yes. You have been and you will continue to be romanced all your life. Yes. Our God finds you lovely. Jesus has moved heaven and earth to win you for himself. He will not rest until you are completely his. The King is enthralled by your beauty. He finds you captivating.”

There is also a theme in this book of how God made you the particular woman You are, and that is beautiful. Here’s a lovely paragraph in the final chapter:

“Whatever your particular calling, you are meant to grace the world with your dance, to follow the lead of Jesus wherever he leads you. He will lead you first into himself; and then, with him, he will lead you into the world that he loves and needs you to love.”

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