Posted in book review, theology

Girl, Wash Your Face (Book Review)

By Elizabeth Prata

1. HOW (CHRISTIAN-ISH) PEOPLE GET FAMOUS

It’s no longer just movies or television that launches the latest It Girl celebrity. It’s social media. A person who starts a blog, web page, Instagram, Twitter or myriad other social media platforms, if they hit the right note, the right moment, and persevere with quantity (and hopefully quality content) they can gather thousands if not millions of “followers”. From there, Publishers take note. Someone who already has a built-in audience is more attractive to them as a potential client than someone who is not.

Rachel Hollis is a Los Angeles event planner turned entrepreneur turned podcaster turned TV guest commentator, social media darling, and author. Almost ten years ago she started her blog, The Chic Site. Her honest voice and her winsome (and savvy) ability to connect through writing and speaking about lifestyle, has launched Hollis to front place on bestseller lists, top entrepreneur lists, and most any other list you can list.

Though Hollis has written several novels in the Romance genre, her latest book has hit the bestseller lists like a tsunami. It’s a How-To/Advice book called Girl, Wash Your Face. Seventeen weeks ago, it vaulted to the top of the Advice/How-To NY Times bestseller list and has stayed there. Published 6 months ago as of this writing, the self-help advice book has over 4,000 reviews, 96% of them 4 or 5-star. It’s currently #4 on Apple’s iBooks list.

2. ABOUT CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING

Thomas Nelson Publishing published Girl, Wash Your Face. Thomas Nelson writes of the book,

With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.

So, according to Hollis, I’m supposed to be having a joy filled life of exuberance but the world has lied to me and I’m not living that life but Hollis is going to help me achieve it with her advice. Rachel Hollis is 35 years old.

Publisher’s Weekly says,

Hollis implores readers to stop worrying about external pressures to always do more and, instead, to find fulfillment by getting in touch with their own desires and feelings.

Wasn’t getting in touch with her desires what got Eve (and Adam and all of humanity) into trouble with God? (Genesis 3:6).

Longer ‘About the Book’ from Thomas Nelson:

As the founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Rachel Hollis developed an immense online community by sharing tips for better living while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own life. Now, in this challenging and inspiring new book, Rachel exposes the twenty lies and misconceptions that too often hold us back from living joyfully and productively, lies we’ve told ourselves so often we don’t even hear them anymore.
With painful honesty and fearless humor, Rachel unpacks and examines the falsehoods that once left her feeling overwhelmed and unworthy, and reveals the specific practical strategies that helped her move past them. In the process, she encourages, entertains, and even kicks a little butt, all to convince you to do whatever it takes to get real and become the joyous, confident woman you were meant to be.
With unflinching faith and rock-hard tenacity, Girl, Wash Your Face shows you how to live with passion and hustle–and how to give yourself grace without giving up.

Do you see the problem? As the book blurb describes, as we women grew up, the world lied to us. We believed it. So now we cannot live productively or joyfully unless we give ourselves grace, use our own strength and tenacity to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and be who we were meant to be.

All without a solid mention of Jesus in the book.

What is Thomas Nelson’s Christian mission?

Thomas Nelson is committed to one central mission: inspiring the world by meeting the needs of people with content that promotes biblical principles and honors Jesus Christ.

3. MY THOUGHTS ON THE BOOK

I read the introduction, Table of Contents, chapter 1, 2, and 3, the end notes/acknowledgements, and the study guide.

Mrs Hollis is definitely a skilled writer. For those of you who are moms, especially millennial moms, this book may well appeal to you. Hollis structures her book by titling each chapter with one of the “lies” women “have been told”, spends the chapter discussing that “lie’s” impact on her upbringing and life, and concludes with ‘helpful tips’ on what helped her overcome the “lie”. I’m placing the word “lie” in scare quotes for a reason that will be discussed in the Conclusion. Here are the chapter titles.

Introduction: Hey Girl, Hey!
1. The Lie: Something Else Will Make Me Happy
2. The Lie: I’ll Start Tomorrow
3. The Lie: I’m Not Good Enough
4. The Lie: I’m Better Than You
5. The Lie: Loving Him Is Enough for Me
6. The Lie: No Is the Final Answer
7. The Lie: I’m Bad at Sex
8. The Lie: I Don’t Know How to Be a Mom
9. The Lie: I’m Not a Good Mom
10. The Lie: I Should Be Further Along by Now
11. The Lie: Other People’s Kids Are So Much Cleaner/
Better Organized/More Polite
12. The Lie: I Need to Make Myself Smaller
13. The Lie: I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon
14. The Lie: I’m a Terrible Writer
15. The Lie: I Will Never Get Past This
16. The Lie: I Can’t Tell the Truth
17. The Lie: I Am Defined by My Weight
18. The Lie: I Need a Drink
19. The Lie: There’s Only One Right Way to Be
20. The Lie: I Need a Hero

I hesitated to include these chapter headings that represent ‘the lies’ we as women have been told, (or that we believe on our own impetus) because they speak to the common experience of many women. It’s not that to which I object. It’s the fact that she fails to identify the “lies” as a secular worldview with all that entails, and her solutions are self-sufficient and not Jesus-oriented.

The section on her brother’s suicide brought tears to my eyes. Rachel is transparent, holding nothing back about her own foibles and mishaps. She is real. She’s engaging, and that is always the trouble with popular female speakers and authors. Sometimes, being empathetic and nurturing, we women focus on how winsomely the story is told and how it made us feel rather than comparing it to the Bible to see if it is so.

Regarding the spiritual aspects of the material I’d read, I did not see much mention of Jesus as our only aid. Nor His grace as the strength we need. His word wasn’t appealed to as the source of wisdom and truth. Of the practical life’s how-to aspects, I read a lot of self-effort, self-care, and self-truth. For example:

The truth? You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are. That’s the takeaway. (Girl, Wash Your Face, p. xi, preface)

I wish she had written that the takeaway for the book was that Jesus is our Lord and Master and that I am ultimately and solely responsible for my sin and my response to it. Or that I am responsible for obeying Jesus and it is obedience to Him that brings joy. But, she didn’t say either of those things nor anything close to it in the parts I read.

As a little girl (a preacher’s daughter, no less) the fruits of the spirit were drilled in early. For those of you who aren’t familiar, one of the apostles (Jesus’ BFF’s) listed out these nine attributes that Christians should have. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22. But the thing is, these are attributes we should all have regardless of where you grew up or what you believe in. And so I wanted to make fruit of the spirit bracelets and I thought that we could all wear them as a reminder of the attribute we most need to work on in our own lives. Source: The Chic Site

I’ve personally never heard a Christian writer refer to the Apostles, on whom the foundation of the Church is laid (Ephesians 2:20) as “Jesus’ BFFs”.

That aside, it is error to say that love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are attributes we should all have regardless of what one believes in. We all do not have those attributes. People who are unsaved mimic those attributes. It is only a mimic because the genuine article comes from Jesus. If one is unsaved the goodness one displays does not please God because it is born of the flesh, not borne of the imputed righteousness God sees when He looks at us and our works. (John 15:5). The two are night and day.

Judging each other actually makes us feel safer in our own choices. Faith is one of the most abused instances of this. We decide that our religion is right; therefore, every other religion must be wrong. Within the same religion, or heck, even within the same church, people judge each other for not being the right kind of Christian, Catholic, Mormon, or Jedi. I don’t know the central tenet of your faith, but the central tenet of mine is “love thy neighbor”. Not “love thy neighbor if they look and act land think like you.” Not love thy neighbor so long as they wear the right clothes and say the right things. Just love them. (Girl Wash Your Face, p. 40)

This paragraph teaches blasphemy and idolatry. One cannot call one’s self a Christian and accept the false religions as part of the pantheon. Worse is to dismiss the differences. The central tenet of Christianity is faith in Jesus and repentance of sins. It is-

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

Sadly we women are told repeatedly that judge not and love thy neighbor IS the faith. This is simply more claptrap from Hollis.

In sum, the book is about lies women have been told by society, media, family, or the devil and author Hollis dispels those lies by assuring women they are strong and courageous and beautiful and warrior and made for more, and all that.

via GIPHY

CONCLUSION

Takeaways from this essay:

1. Just because someone calls themselves Christian and is really, really famous right now, doesn’t mean they have an orthodox Christian message to share. As a matter of fact, the warning in Luke 6:26 indicates just the opposite.

2. While there are many good Christian Publishing Companies (Westminster Books, Banner of Truth, etc), Christian Book Publishers for the most part…aren’t. Just because a company calls itself “Acme Christian Publishing Company,” doesn’t mean they are selling you edifying books. Discernment is important. Usually, the more popular a book or author is, or the more the secular world knows about him or her, it means the opposite. See #1.

3. The “lies” Hollis claims to be busting is simply the secular world view. That’s normal, the whole world is in the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The world lies to us. Always. That Hollis is giving you engaging self-help tips on how to deconstruct those lies and push on toward higher/better/more clear living, absent the Bible’s instruction, is just more lies. She is sending you from one end of a secular world view, to another. You will come full circle.

Picture it this way. Being inside her world is like being in a balloon. She is sending you all around inside it, from one end to another. But it’s always the same view because you’re always inside that balloon. ONLY the Bible is the sword that pierces soul from spirit. (Hebrews 4:12). It punctures that false world view and exposes your eyes and mind to the truth, which is outside the balloon (flesh).

Look at Hollis’ Twitter bio. What’s missing? And what’s there?

Nothing about being a mother. Nothing about Jesus. The ‘Ms.” speaks volumes.

When you wash your face and look in the mirror, do you see a sinning but forgiven, meek, humble woman with a Christ-like countenance of Jesus reflecting back? Or do you see a strong, empowered, warrior princess grrrl, living a life of self-sufficient ‘passion and hustle?’ If you see the latter, you’re being lied to.

Girl, Wash Your Face: Not recommended.

 

Posted in book review, Uncategorized

Book Review: Above All Things

My summer began at Memorial Day. My summer break from school ended a month ago, when I returned to work on July 31. I’d been making the most of the time off, after spiritual duties and pleasures, to engage in some of my favorite past-times: reading and movie watching. Here is a review of one of the books I read this summer, Above All Things.

I reviewed Randy Alcorn’s Deadline previously

Amazon’s Above All Things synopsis:

Expecting their first baby, Judd and Evette McGlin are thrilled at the prospect of becoming parents. But their marriage faces the ultimate test when Judd learns he already has a child: a six-year-old bi-racial daughter, born amid secrets and lies. Now, Evette must decide if she can accept the child—and forgive Judd. She thought she was open-minded—until hidden prejudices threaten the future of an innocent little girl, Evette’s marriage, and the very notion of the woman she’s believed herself to be. Above all things, this child needs acceptance and love. Needs Evette to discover what being a mother truly means. Needs Judd to face his past. And needs them both to discover what it truly means to be a family.

above all things
Review:

I’ve never read any of Deborah Raney’s books. I bought Above All Things for the Kindle because it was free. I haven’t had the best of luck with the freebie notices that BookBub sends me. When a Kindle book is free there’s usually a reason. But sometimes a good one is stuck in there so I keep trying. This was one of the good ones.

BookBub “is a free daily email that notifies you about deep discounts on acclaimed ebooks. You choose the types you’d like to get notified about — with categories ranging from mysteries to cookbooks — and we send great deals in those genres to your inbox.” BookBub is like Honey or Camel Camel Camel but strictly for books.

My favorite genres tend toward the more manly fast paced thrillers, detective, or legal genres than the Christian ChickLit, which Above All Things definitely is.

I enjoyed how the author set the foundation at first and introduced her Christian characters by showing, not telling. I enjoyed how she brought us through their issue, the unknown daughter Judd had 6 years ago and the other issues of pre-marital sex, betrayal, and blended family that come with it. Included in their issues to work through was also the biracial aspect. The characters were well-drawn, including the daughter, grandmother and in-laws. Raney’s depiction of the change of heart and Christian growth were realistic. I especially enjoyed the scene where the couple is counseled by their pastor.

All in all, I was tremendously surprised when I looked up the length for the print version and saw it was 308 pages. It felt shorter.

Raney has been a Christy Award finalist and her first book, A Vow To Cherish earned a Silver Angel from Excellence in Media and was made into a movie of the same name. The print version of Above All Things was self-published. The writing wasn’t nuanced or tremendously complex. It is a good, free book. All in all, a good vacation read.

Posted in book review, Uncategorized

Book review: Randy Alcorn’s Deadline

My summer began at Memorial Day and for most people the summer still has 5 weeks to go until Labor Day, the traditional ending of the travel and stay-cation season. My summer break from school ends on Monday, when I return to work on July 31. I’ve been making the most of the time off, after spiritual duties and pleasures, to engage in some of my favorite past-times: reading and movie watching. Here is a review of one of the books I’ve read this summer.

deadlineRandy Alcorn’s Deadline

First published in 1994 and re-released in 2009, I’d bought this book on sale for my Kindle.

Alcorn has written The Treasure Principle, a small book of his that I have and We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven which I have read. Alcorn is most well-known for his book Heaven, which explores in detail descriptions of heaven gleaned from all over the Bible, along with quotes and commentary from famous preachers and authors. Coming in at 560 print pages, Heaven is a hefty book, one which I’ve also read. Deadline was the first piece of Alcorn’s fiction I’ve read.

Deadline starts well with a fast-paced scenes setting the foundation of three men’s life-long friendship, all of whom figure prominently in the book, though reporter Jake Woods is the central character. The other two characters are Doc (Gregory) and Finney. As we learn of each man’s background, Alcorn also does well describing the scenes where Woods served in Viet Nam, getting inside the head of a soldier and a man. All three characters have been friends since grade school, and now all of them are near 50, established in their careers, married (or in Jake’s case, divorced) and have children. Along the way Finney has become a born-again Christian, while Doc (Gregory) has evolved into an atheist. Jake is on the fence. Alcorn does well showing the difficulty in maintaining friendships with people who do not share Christ as a unifying thread.

Early in the book, there is an car accident with the three men in the car. The rest of the book is consumed with unraveling the mystery surrounding the car accident, which Jake learns was no accident.

Finney and Doc eventually die. The rest of the book shows scenes in heaven where Finney is, and one short scene where Doc is shown in his place of torment. Meanwhile on earth, Jake and his police friend Ollie Chandler work to solve the car accident mystery that killed his two friends.

Review:

On a Kindle you don’t know how many pages you’ve read, only percents. I’d noticed that the first 1/8 of the book moved fast, the opening scenes among the men, jungle in Viet Nam, and the accident itself were very interesting and gripping. And then it bogged down. I read and slogged and read and noticed that I was only 17% through. I looked up the page length online and the print version is 448 pages.

Using Jake’s interview and columnist skills as a pulpit, Alcorn exposits and expounds and preaches endlessly. As Jake the reporter gathers information for his column and interviews Planned Parenthood abortionists or NOW women, his interviews go on for pages and pages, exposition that exists only to preach at the choir and do not push the story forward, are laden throughout the book. These lengthy scenes explore journalistic bias against conservatives, abortion, AIDS (it was 1994), homosexuality, and teen sex.

The book could have been cut by 200 pages and been fine. I noticed that Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a good review in its original version but mentioned that Alcorn “is long-winded”. I agreed with Amazon readers’ few one and two-star reviews all mentioning the same thing- long winded preachy narrative bogs the book down.

  • “The book is more about “preaching” than it is about a story. I wholeheartedly agree with his stances, but way too much of it for my literary taste.”
  • “Can you say…Get to the point…”
  • “I found this book to be boring and “preachy”. The author goes on and on about abortion, teen sex, and the consequences of each. I am a Christian and I don’t need a 300+ page book to tell me of all the arguments against abortion and pre-marital sex. This is like preaching to the choir, if I wanted to read on the subject I would buy a NONFICTION book on those subjects.”

Since this was his first fiction book I thought maybe a good editor would help Alcorn with his next book in the trilogy, Dominion. Nope, Dominion is longer, coming in at 626 pages. The third book in his series, Deception, is 490. Really, no one needs to write a fiction book at 600 pages except maybe Stephen King.

I really enjoy a good Christian yarn but haven’t read a good one since (and don’t flog me for this) Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. Alcorn can write well, as mentioned, the scenes in Nam and of the accident were great. The scenes at the end where the killers are hunting Jake are excellent, and several the scenes in heaven were breathtaking. But man, Alcorn needs a really good editor.

Not recommended.

Posted in book recommendations, book review, valley of vision

Book review: Don’t like devotionals? Then I have THE one for you, The Valley of Vision

Christians often speak of “Devotions” or of doing a “devotional.”

CARM.org defines devotions this way:

Devotions are times when you focus on the person of God in prayer and/or the Bible and set your heart and mind on his divine truth. Devotions are quiet times of reflection, confession, examination, and worship. Our devotions must be Christ centered and seek to move us into a more intimate and personal relationship with our Lord.

GotQuestions defines devotions:

Daily devotions” is a phrase used to describe the discipline of Bible reading and prayer with which Christians start or end their day. Bible reading can take the form of a structured study using a devotional or simply reading through certain passages or perhaps reading through the Bible in a year. Prayer can include any or all of the different prayers—praise, confession, thanksgiving, petition, and/or intercession. Some people use prayer lists for their daily devotions.

There are lots and lots and lots and lots of devotion books out there. Some are good, some are great, and some are bad-to-demonic. Jesus Calling is at the top of the bestseller lists but falls under the umbrella of “imperiling your soul” category.

Excellent devotionals would be,

Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest
John MacArthur’s Drawing Near (or any of his others)
Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening series or Faith’s Check-book
We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven by Randy Alcorn

They can be found online for free as well as in hard copy.

I own or owned all of the above. Yet I have never been able to get on the devotional bandwagon. I read the bible and pray, listen to sermons and read theology books, but I’ve never consistently been able to devote myself to a devotional.

Until I found The Valley of Vision.

This is a collection of anonymous devotional prayers written by Puritans. The book description says,

The strength of Puritan character and life lay in prayer and meditation. In this practice the spirit of prayer was regarded as of first importance and the best form of prayer, for living prayer is the characteristic of genuine spirituality. Yet prayer is also vocal and may therefore on occasions be written. Consequently in the Puritan tradition there are many written prayers and meditations which constitute an important corpus of inspiring devotional literature. Too often ex tempore prayer lacks variety, order and definiteness. The reason for this lies partly in a neglect of due preparation. It is here that the care and scriptural thoroughness which others found necessary in their approach to God may be of help. This book has been prepared not to ‘supply’ prayers but to prompt and encourage the Christian as he treads the path on which others have gone before.

Yet the book really defies description. Just as John Bunyan’s 1678 publication of Pilgrim’s Progress is thought to be “as important as the Bible as a Christian document”, and “one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written,” The Valley of Vision remains one of the most important and influential prayer books ever penned and published.

Testimony after testimony speak to the book’s moving language, the convicting attitude, the poetic yet humble manner in which the words both pierce and comfort.

A Reviewer at Banner of Truth said,

In the mornings when I endeavor to set my heart on God, it is often difficult to awaken my mind and heart when still shaking off the lingering effects of a night spent sleeping. After a brief prayer, I have found the prayers in the book kindle the flame in my heart to seek His face anew. Often, after I’ve read through a prayer, slowly and deliberately, I’m left with tears standing in my eyes, and an “Amen” whispering from my lips. In my heart I say to the Lord, “Yes. Make that my prayer too, Lord.” When you have difficulty finding the words to pray, this book can be used of the Spirit to bring them out for you. I thank God for these prayers. They are timeless, and a means of grace to me.

Or this testimonial,

The prayers in this book just touch my soul and enrich my spirit every morning. This is a must have for those who are truly born again.

Or this one,

“I cannot commend enough The Valley of Vision, which is a compilation of over two-hundred pages of Puritan prayers (each of which are one page in length). I pray through one of these prayers every day. Sometimes the prayers are so meaningful and relevant that I will pray through the same prayer for days. This is a wonderful aid to supplement one’s own prayers. Indeed, these prayers will also teach one how to pray, and, at the same time, they teach theological truth. I cannot think of any Christian who would not benefit from these prayers.” – G. K. Beale, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary

Here is but one sentence to give you a taste:

Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me chastely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.

Uniformly, the reviews and comments on The Valley of Vision contain effusive praise for the theology, the writing, and the simply beautiful devotion each author had for our tremendous Savior. The prayer devotionals are sophisticated yet accessible, timeless and powerful. I add my commendation to the chorus of praise echoing through the centuries, and urge any and all who truly want a deep, moving, and powerful devotional to purchase The Valley of Vision today.

The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Available through Banner of Truth Trust, Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore, and Amazon.com

———————————

Further Reading:

Appreciating the Genius of Puritanism

Posted in adopted son, beth moore, book review, God, jesus, Michael

Book Review: "Things Pondered," Beth Moore’s story of adopting a boy and giving him back

Beth Moore published a book in 2004 called, Things Pondered: From the Heart of a Lesser Woman. It is a book of vignettes and poetry, recollections and descriptions of the various events in Beth Moore’s life from young womanhood as a bride through early days of her marriage, becoming a mother, and her adopted son. This book review pertains to the kindle version. Moore’s words from the book are in italics.

~Beth Moore & Privacy~

For all of Beth Moore’s outward seeming openness, her frequent discussions about herself, her thoughts, trials, self-esteem issues, sexual molestation, motherhood, and hysterectomy, she rarely if ever speaks of the fact that she adopted a son at his age of 4 and then at age 11 gave him back to the birth mother.

Her public persona is one which creates a (false) sense of intimacy with women, of being open and transparent. Her books and conferences strive to create an atmosphere of a slumber party, sharing secrets, and giggling over the love of our Groom Jesus. But when it comes time to be transparent in one-on-one situations, Moore is quite zipped up. Moore is “closely protected by assistants who allow very few media interviews. After several interview requests from CT, her assistants allocated one hour to discuss her latest book and ask a few questions about her personal life. Each question had to be submitted and approved beforehand, I was told, or Moore would not do the interview. Follow-up interview requests were declined. I was permitted to see the ground level of her ministry, where workers package and ship study materials. But Moore’s third-floor office, where she writes in the company of her dog, was off limits.” (Christianity Today)

There is some curiosity from people regarding the little-known topic of the son Moore adopted, named Michael. Though Things Pondered is about other events in Moore’ life too, the bulk of it is about Michael, and so will this review.

~Mary~

The title of the book refers to Mary’s thoughts when the angel told her she would bear a Son. (Luke 2:19). Moore speculates on what Mary was thinking, the nuts and bolts of Mary’s ponderings. Such speculations are not good and not bad. It all depends on the point of view from which they make the speculation. Moore is a contemplative navel gazer who talks about herself constantly and thus her p.o.v. stems from herself. Therefore the thoughts she imagines Mary to be thinking were also about herself. To wit:

In that moment a host of memories must have been dancing in her head. The angel’s appearance. His words. Her flight to the hill country of Judea. Elizabeth’s greeting. Their late-night conversations. The first time she saw her tummy was rounding. Joseph’s face when he saw her. The way she felt when he believed. The whispers of neighbors, the doubts of her parents. The first time she felt the baby move inside her. The dread of the long trip. The reality of being full-term, bouncing on the back of a beast. The first pain. The fear of having no place to birth a child. The horror of the nursery. The way it looked. The way it smelled. …The following is my response to her worthy example.”

Except, that in reading the things Moore believes Mary was pondering, you would never know Mary was bearing the Son of God.

Here is the same verse with a mature preacher of the word also speculating on what Mary was pondering. Please compare.

It [verse 19] takes us into the heart of Mary. It says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This is just mulling them over, contemplating them deeply. She went much deeper, believe me, than the amazed people in verse 18. I mean, this is just…this is just beyond comprehension. Here is a 13- or 14-year old girl, she’s looking into a feed trough and she’s seeing there a baby that’s come out of her womb. She’s never known a man. This baby was conceived and born without ever knowing a man. This baby is the Son of the Most High God. This baby is the rightful heir to the throne of David. This baby is the Savior of the world. This baby is the anointed Messiah. This baby is God, the Lord.

I mean, it’s all so mind-boggling in the common world of human beings. Mary must have wondered, you know, when is He going to start saying profound, theological things? Tomorrow? Is He going to do miracles? What’s going to happen here? What am I to expect out of this child? Will I have a normal relationship with this child that a mother has to a baby? Will I nurse this child as mothers do? Will I raise this child as mothers do? What will this child be like? And when will He enter into His glory? When will He take His Kingdom? When will that all happen? And how am I going to be a mother to a child that is God? She must have wondered all those kinds of things. Must have wondered even about discipline, setting an example. How do you set an example for God? I mean, anything that would come into a mother’s mind must have come into her mind. She just pondered it. She just thought deeply about it. And she thought deeply about God’s redemptive purpose and how God had promised a Savior and a Savior had finally come.” (source)

Moore instills self-ponderings in Mary. They are self-focused. Dr MacArthur’s are Jesus-centered. So if Moore is following “Mary’s worthy example” as she stated the purpose of the book to be, you see the focus of the book is off-kilter already.

~Michael~

In Things Pondered, Moore says she and her husband wanted a son but several years passed and they assumed they were not going to receive one. Then on February 14, 1990 the Lord answered their prayer and her husband “gave the gift of a boy” for Valentine’s Day.

In her 2005 memoir, Feathers from My Nest, Moore said her husband saw “urgent needs of a certain little boy that “could really use a home.” … We were oblivious, I had nothing but romance in my eyes. Happily ever afters. Utter certainty that love will conquer all.

I searched for clarity in the book and got none. On one page Moore said Michael was “orphaned”, on the next she said that his birth parents “gave up on each other and on him”, and that the “marriage of his second guardians collapsed”. After 7 years, Moore says the mother (Anne) “resurfaced,” even though she was “a close family member“, “strongly desiring” her son back. However, there was no mention of any legal proceeding nor any custody battle, even though she consistently said in the book that they had adopted him. Chapter 3 is called “The Adoption.” On page 54 Moore said she sat in a restaurant with Anne and after assurances that this was what Anne wanted, Moore said that Anne “granted him to us.”

Moore says his birth mother was “a close relative” named Anne. No other details, but later in the book Moore said that “I didn’t love him like an aunt… I loved him like a mother.” Perhaps the boy is her sister’s son.

Very early on Moore says the family saw the emergence of Michael’s angry behavior. She said she “envisioned the adoption to be a glorious romance” but was instead the family became increasingly traumatized by his “fits of violence and anger”. There were many school disciplinary hearings, and many nights Moore and her husband were at a loss on how to deal with him. In his 4 short years prior to being adopted by the Moores, she wrote he was continuously abandoned, abused, neglected, and had Child Protective Services intervening on a rotating basis. When Michael entered the Moore home at age 4, it wasn’t long before they knew they had a long haul on their hands. Fear of abandonment again raised its head while during the day he refused to cry, laugh, or love. Yet at night he insisted on falling asleep by holding Moore’s head and chanting “Mommy please don’t leave me.” Finally Moore said they were “stretched to the point of ripping”.

Screen shot from “Things Pondered” by Beth Moore

It’s more than unsettling to see a woman who had committed to adopt a boy but then lay down conditions for his continued residence, which if not adhered to would result in giving him back. More unsettling still is that Moore set the condition very early on in Michael’s tenure. Most unsettling to me is the way she phrased it- “he refuses to be helped,” putting the onus onto the boy.

Here is a similar real-life case from a couple of months ago. Please compare.

“Ohio Couple, Give Back Adopted Son After 9 Years “
An Ohio couple who authorities say returned their 9-year-old adopted son to the county after raising him since infancy have been charged with abandoning the child…the parents said the boy has aggressive behaviors and would not agree to get help….County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said Thursday that he doesn’t usually seek indictments in misdemeanor cases but views this as “reckless” abandonment. “When you are the parent and you recklessly abandon a child or children, there are criminal consequences,” Gmoser said. “These children don’t have a return-to-sender stamp emblazoned on their forehead.” … “If your 9-year-old needs help, you get him help,” Olivas told the newspaper. “It is not a question of a 9-year-old wanting it or not.

In the book, Moore explains in the next scene that her husband convinced her to let Michael stay. A short while later Moore was complaining in her book again. She said Michael “needed more than they had.” She asked “Why hadn’t God given him to parents who really knew what they were doing? Who didn’t have such demanding lives already? Who didn’t have other children?

They decided to stick with it and just and love him. They kept him for 7 additional years and his behavior slowly but inconstantly improved. Cut to years later-

Screen shot from “Things Pondered” by Beth Moore

It is hard to gain a settled clarity as to the what the author is saying, when one reads a sentence that says they knew they needed to find someone else, not them, to help Michael, and in the next sentence that “to their shock and utter dismay, God confirmed” that Michael needed to go.

If you add up the timing, when Moore says Michael’s alarming behaviors surfaced he was approaching pre-adolescence. If he was “granted” to the Moores at age 4 and they returned him 7 years later at age 11, then the approaching preadolescence must mean age 10. He was at most 10 when he evidenced behaviors that alarmed them.

She wrote this book ten years ago, but Moore refuses to add to the narrative or be any more open than she already has been. Though Moore has famously been open and clear about other situations in her life that are equally as emotionally difficult to discuss, such as her self-esteem issues, her sexual molestation and her hysterectomy, Moore adamantly refuses to discuss with any clarity or detail about the Michael issue. In her book published a year later titled Feathers from My Nest, Moore said the adoption engendered “complexities of circumstance and emotions like nothing I have ever known” (unlike sexual molestation?) and that she is “fiercely and unapologetically private about it” but she “could not possibly write about my children without writing about all my children…even one who was only “mine for a season.

So there is another internal inconsistency that fails to clarify the situation and instead muddies it further. ‘I’m private about Michael but I could not possibly NOT write about him.’

Other statements in Things Pondered don’t add up. For example, was Michael orphaned as stated on page 27? Or abandoned as stated on page 35 and 41? Did the mother “strongly desire” her child returned, or did she demand “custody”? Was it a legal “adoption” as stated on page 29 or private matter of a family temporarily taking in one of their own as described on page 54?

Moore’s whole book, and subsequent responses to inquiries about him could be reduced to an easy one paragraph with clear language and Christian transparency: “My sister Anne couldn’t handle being a mother so I agreed to raise her son as my own. Seven years later Anne got her life together and wanted Michael back. With a mixture of sadness and relief, we gave him up. To this day we still aren’t sure if it was the right decision.”

See how easy it is to be transparent and clear?

How did it all turn out? Moore said Michael is now a tattoo artist covered in tattoos and that she is very, very proud of him.

Moore’s penchant to be overly dramatic in her live studies carries over to Things Pondered. Kim at Upward Call blog said this of Moore and I agree,

My personal reaction to Moore may not be the same as others. She is overly emotional and dramatic. I find that tedious. I don’t want tear-jerking stories. I want the Word of God. I don’t want forced allegorizations; I want to know God more. Her style, I’m told, is quite dynamic. I listened to a few of her broadcasts. I don’t care for her “dynamic” style. I am immediately on guard with speakers who rely on their dynamism. Let’s say Moore goes through a personal trial and she loses her edge. Let’s say she becomes rather mild and sedate. What will she be relying on then?

One of the best speakers I have ever heard is S. Lewis Johnson. He spoke with such a calm, quiet, authoritative tone and manner. I learn so much from him. A bible study should NOT rest on the strength of the speaker; it ought to rest with the strength of how God’s Word is presented and explained. When we rely on style alone, it becomes a matter of taking the Scripture and adjusting it to make us look more dynamic.

The same is true of Things Pondered. From the opening explanation I was disappointed. Moore’s perspective of Mary’s ponderings unfortunately showed the shallowness and earthliness of Moore’s own ponderings. Her hyper-drama, the soaring language of forced dynamism, the promise of transparency but ultimately the muddiness of the issue of her son, I was hoping to learn more about the adoption issue and like all of Beth Moore’s material, simply came away with less understanding and more questions.

In conclusion, the book is not something I enjoyed. Moore’s foundational perspective I’d described, being from herself about herself, to herself, is circular. It ultimately excludes Jesus. And if you don’t believe Moore is not Jesus-focused, a simple look at the numbers will tell you. In Things Pondered, she mentions Jesus 8 times. She mentions God 117. My recommendation is to ponder no further and read a better memoir.

Tim Challies reviewed and recommends the following books for women:

Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman
The big question Furman explores is simply this: How does the gospel change the way a woman lives out her calling as a homemaker?

Fierce Women by Kimberly Wagner. Wagner’s concern is for women to embrace their “fierce” qualities and to use them for God’s glory instead of for destructive ends.

Desperate by Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae – This one is written especially for the mother of young children.

Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan, Susan Hunt – Duncan and Hunt focus specifically on the unique opportunities women have to serve in the life of the local church.

One popular book for women [Challies] does not recommend is Created To Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl.

Challies recommends you get to know these women (biographies):

Lady Jane Grey by Faith Cook. Here is the short, tragic life of Lady Jane Grey.

John & Betty Stam by Vance Christie. Christian martyrs who sparked a great resurgence of missionary fervor.

Posted in book review, charles sheldon, christian books

Book Review: In His Steps by Charles Sheldon

I’ve been talking lately about how hard it is to remain pure, because even with a strict filter on my computer for myself, avoiding most television, refusing to attend movies, etc, there are still images and concepts that enter in and pollute.

Christian books today may be pure, or they may not be pure, many are badly written and in some cases, just slow or clunky. So in attempting to find some kind of entertainment for myself, I stepped back to find some classics to read. In His Steps is one such classic.

It was written in 1897 by Charles Monroe Sheldon. It has sold more than 30,000,000 copies, and ranks as the 9th best-selling book of all time. It is where we got the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?”

The book begins with Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of First Church of the town of Raymond, in somewhere USA. He is self-satisfied, pleased to be pastoring a church with the best people. The town’s pillars attend his church, and all of them are pleased with the sedate regularity with which the pastor runs things. From the bell-like voice of Rachel Winslow ringing from the choir, to the heavily laden offering plate, all of them come in each Sunday, warm the pews, and leave, their Christianity never having been challenged.

Until one day a man who had been looking for a job all around town stumbles into the church, calmly and pleadingly asks the congregation to think of extending their Christian compassion to the wretched likes of him, and he collapses in front of the pulpit and dies a few days later at the Reverend’s home.

The Reverend is struck and pierced and pricked in his conscience by this. He proposes to the congregation that they undertake a project for one year, to do nothing except thinking first “What would Jesus do?” To the best of their ability to answer that timeless question before making every decision, based on their biblical understanding of His precepts, and to move in that direction no matter what the cost. We Christians, the Reverend preaches, need to count the cost.

The first third of the book is this opening, from the man who acts as the lighting bolt to shake them from complacency to the initial applications of the question, and their effects. We read of the scenarios in which the Christians who had committed begin to act according to first century Christianity. The Newspaper editor looks at the content of his paper differently. Rachel wonders how her bell-like voice can be used- for operatic entertainments or to sing to the poor in the book’s version of Hell’s Kitchen or the Bowery? The Reverend himself begins to preach according to the Bible without regard for the drop in offerings or flak from congregants.

It is this part that is most compelling. The author does a good job of bringing the first century Christian’s eyes to modern life. The book is not so dated or arcane in language that we can’t see how this works. The newspaperman asks whether Jesus would put out a Sunday edition. Would He promote saloons via advertisements, or write the articles in yellow journalism prurient language. The singer asks if it violates His precepts to heap money unto herself by accepting a fancy singing position or whether it is better to sing directly for Him during evangelistic revivals in the bowels where the wretched sinners lay in the gutter- literally. The preacher wonders about his contract if he moves forward with provoking his people. The rich business owner decides to hold discipling sessions with his blue collar workers at lunchtime even though he is kind of afraid of them- but would never admit it. All these are still modern scenarios that we’re still dealing with 115 years later.

The characters continued to attend church, and they added prayer, lots of prayer whether individual or corporate, to their weekly schedule. All these things are good.

In my opinion however, the book begins to bog down about halfway through. The people to whom the question was posed begin to apply their question, “What would Jesus do?” to a Social Gospel. The Social Gospel was a real movement in the turn of the last century, reaching its peak at just before WWI. The book characters also apply their question WWJD to the Temperance Movement, which had its peak success in the passage of the 18th Amendment, in 1917, which prohibited the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol.

Wiki explains, “The Social Gospel movement is a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the early 20th century United States and Canada. The movement applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as wealth perceived as excessive, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.”

The book’s characters campaigned for closure of saloons, ran for office, and got involved in causes. In my opinion the Social Gospel re-directs Christian energy from individuals worshiping corporately, distracts them from personal discipling, and reduces proper witnessing. The question in the book “What would Jesus do? when applied to “Would Jesus run for City Council” was not explored adequately or applied to biblical precepts. They just thought He would. The issue of WWJD became self-limiting and caused an emphasis on social gospel instead of Gospel. Then it drifted toward Law.

That is the second criticism of the book “In His Steps.” There were no actual Bible verses or even much reference to them. The characters asked the question, and then said, “Yes I think Jesus would do this,” or “Jesus would not do this” with no further exploration as to how they arrived at the decision from a biblical standpoint. Their decisions were based on speculation and not Bible. Gradually their benchmark was simply to think Jesus would do this or that, and gravitate away from biblical precepts, into more and more Law.

The sudden introduction of a new set of characters and a new city two-thirds of the way through sort of did me in. I stopped reading and only skimmed to the end. It was interesting to note the level of authenticity the author carried through. For example, not all the characters who committed to the one-year WWJD experiment stayed with it. Some quit. Some only pretended. Others did stick with it but counted a heavy cost in personal relationships and in finances. Others seemed to be blessed in this life as they increased in relationships or finances. That was realistic. They stayed praying throughout, and continued to ask the question throughout. All good.

I recommend the book for the first one-third to a half. It makes one think. Sheldon does a good job in setting the question before our eyes and comparing a lukewarm, self-satisfied Christianity with the fervent, go for it, all-out Christianity the bible commands us to.

Let me know what you think, if you come across a copy. Happy trails.