Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby by Edith L. Blumhofer

This excellent biography of one of the most prolific and well-known hymn writers in church history is well researched, readable, educational and in many ways encouraging. Crosby was blind from early childhood but never let her lack of sight slow her down. She had an incredible ability to write singable poetry, some of which was political, patriotic, and sentimental. But she is known today for her many hymns (somewhere between 6,000-10,000) which reflected, and perhaps to some degree shaped, the evangelicalism of the 19th century. She lived 95 years (from 1820-1915), staying productive to the end, and died a national and Christian treasure. As with any good biography more is covered than merely the main subject. Blumhofer also carefully outlines the development and key changes in sacred music during the 1800s. Important individuals of the times, men and women most of us know little about now, were instrumental in...

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts,by Douglas Bond, edited by Steven Lawson (Sanford, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, Reformation Trust Publishing: 2013) 164 pp., hardcover $11.99; ebook, 145 pp., $7.20

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is the first book I have read in the “A Long Line of Godly Men Profiles” series, edited by Steven Lawson. Others in the series so far are books on Calvin, Edwards, Knox, Spurgeon and Luther and, if they are anything like this one, they will be a joy to read. The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is part biography, part theology and part explanation of Watt’s lasting legacy as the “father of modern hymnology.” Most of Watts’ hymns were written to go with his sermons (p. 41); as a matter of fact his hymns have been called rhymed sermons (p. 46). Some have even credited Watts with bringing singing back to English-speaking churches (p. 57). Of course, when he introduced hymns to a Christian world in which many believed that singing anything but the Psalms was unbiblical he drew ample criticism. It...

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 162pp, paper, $16.99).

The movie Heaven is for Real opened in theaters on Wednesday, April 16 taking second place in the movie boxoffice for the week. This has renewed interest in the book which had already sold over eight million copies prior to the movie. Heaven is for Real is based on the 2010 best-selling book of the same title, which has moved back to the top of the New York Times bestseller list at #2 in in the “combined print and e-book nonfiction” category and #1 in the “paperback nonfiction” category. On Amazon.com, the Kindle version of the book is at #1 in the “Eschatology” category and #1 in the “inspirational” category. For the paperback version, Amazon.com has it at #2 in “Eschatology,” #4 in “Christian Living,” and #4 in “Religion and Spirituality.” These are astounding numbers for a book that has been on the market this long. The description for...

Our Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, by Faith Cook (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press: 2005), 400 pp., paper $10.99

The stories behind our Christian hymns and the lives of the hymn writers have long fascinated me. Our Hymn Writers is perhaps the finest book I have read on this topic. Faith Cook has carefully researched her subject and provided her reader with a wealth of information which will not only enlighten but encourage the child of God. Cook begins with a chapter of short clips dealing with hymn writers in ancient times, such as Ambrose, Luther, Milton and Baxter. The final two chapters are similar in that she briefly details the lives and works of lesser known and more recent writers of Christian verse. The other thirteen chapters each describe in more detail the lives and hymns of one individual. These include: Watts, Newton, Cowper, Montgomery, Lyte, Bonan, Havergal and Crosby. Unlike most Christian songs being written today, many of the hymns of the past were written due...

John MacArthur, Servant of the Word and Flock,by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2011), 246 pp., Hardcover, $17.49

It is a bit unusual to write biographies about the living, a fact the author recognizes, but Murray apparently wanted to be the first to make such an endeavor for John MacArthur.  Iain Murray is a well-respected church historian and biographer and co-founder of The Banner of Truth Trust.  He has written a relatively brief but faithful account of the high points of John MacArthur’s ministry.  Very little concerning MacArthur’s personal life or family is found in these pages (one small exception being a chapter on his wife Patricia).  Virtually nothing is recounted about his children, either while young or now.  Nothing about family life, socializing with friends or other personal notes of interest are detailed.  This book, therefore, is not so much about MacArthur’s life as an account of his ministry.  In this regard we are given insights into his philosophy of ministry, preaching style, theology and personal...

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd edited by Jonathan Edwards, by Philip E. Howard, Jr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989, 285 pp. paper $12.00

The diary of 18th century missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, is too well known to need much critique from me.  It became world-renown due to the efforts of Jonathan Edwards who edited and published the diary and journal shortly after Brainerd’s death at the young age of 29.  It has since served as an encouragement for spiritual fervor and dedicated service to the Lord for the tens of thousands who have read it. Brainerd did not write his diary with the intent of others reading it.  As such it is a record of his personal struggles and triumphs in his walk with God.  No one, after reading the diary, could ever doubt this young man’s sincerity.  He desired to be all that God wanted him to be and served the Lord so mightily that it most likely broke his health.  But his constant morbid introspection is troublesome. ...

Churchill by Paul Johnson

Winston Churchill is surely one of the greatest men of the twentieth century.  In his lifetime he wrote and published nearly 10 million words and, most likely, as many words have been written about him.  So why another biography on the famous politician, author, orator and military tactician?  Primarily because an excellent and yet short account of Churchill’s life was needed.  In 168 well-written and enjoyable pages Paul Johnson has captured the essence of Churchill’s life.  Most of us do not have the time or interest to read thousands of pages on one man’s life, but a volume of this size is not only readable but gives all the details necessary to grasp who Churchill was and what made him the man who will be remembered throughout the ages.  Johnson does not paint Churchill without flaws, as he clearly shows the weaknesses of the man.  But his admiration for...

Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini

This is one of the most celebrated and helpful biographies of Andrew Jackson available today. Remini pulls no punches, painting Jackson as a great hero, a powerful President of the people, and yet deeply flawed in many ways. Of particular interest at our present time is to observe how an 18th century President dealt with an economic collapse and banking crisis similar to one we are experiencing in the 21st century. Perhaps our leaders could learn a thing or two from Jackson....

John Owen, the Man and His Theology Edited by Robert W. Oliver

John Owen is considered one of the greatest theologians of any era, yet until the reprinting of his Works in the mid 1960s few would have recognized his name (p. 72). John Owen, the Man and His Theology serves as a great introduction to this man and his influence on theological thought. It is written by five scholars, each examining different facets of Owen’s life. Chapter one provides a brief biography while chapter two is an overview of Owen’s theology. The remaining four chapters deal with particular doctrines to which Owen devoted much attention: the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures (in reaction to the newly formed Quakers’ movement) and the church, respectively. Owen thought deeply about and wrestled powerfully with these doctrines and he has left us much to ponder. This excellent little volume goes a long way toward demonstrating why he and his work are...

Jonathan Edwards, the Younger: 1745-1801 by Robert L. Ferm

While almost everyone knows of Jonathan Edwards, very few have heard of his son Jonathan Edwards Junior, although he was an influential theologian and pastor in his own right. His life began as the embers of the First Great Awakening were dying and ended as the flames of the Second Great Awakening were igniting. More importantly, he was a key player during a theologically volatile time, as Calvinism split into old Calvinist and New Divinity camps and the surge of Arminianism changed evangelicalism. Edwards was constantly in the mix of these theological debates attempting to defend his father’s New Divinity position, even as he altered it to a more legalistic stance. Like his father, Edwards also served many years as a pastor and for a short time as a seminary president, but his legacy lies in his contributions to the changing face of the American theological landscape during the...