I am continuing on in my attempt to read 50 books this year. This month I read books on miracles, marriage, a famous medical anomoly (I think you have heard of them), and J.I. Packer (sorry, I couldn't come up with another "M).
The Two: The Story of the Original Siamese Twins
This was a very long, but very interesting and detailed story of Chang and Eng, a very famous pair of co-joined twins, from which the expression “Siamese twins” originates. I was interested to read this book because of the Thai connection (I live in Thailand) but only the first chapter deals with their early years in Siam (now Thailand). The rest of the book chronicles their life in the United States, painting a vivid picture of both their unique circumstances and claim to fame, and also rich descriptions of daily life in mid-19th century America. After touring for a number of years, the twins settled down in North Carolina and married two sisters (who were not twins) and had numerous children. The authors did a massive amount of research, and the book is filled with tons of excerpts from primary sources, which gives a nice historical feel to the book. The authors say very little about the twins' religious faith, although it seems that they were nominal Buddhists as young men in Thailand, and became nominal Christians as a result of living in the United States
Miracles: A Journalist Looks at Modern Day Experiences of God’s Power
Long-time “Christianity Today” journalist Tim Stafford says that he did not write this book as an apologetic to win over those who deny the possibility of miracles, nor did he write it to dissuade those who rejoice at every miracle they hear about. Rather, he wrote it for people (like me) who believe in miracles but are skeptical about reports of miracles because they often turn out to not be true. This book chronicles the author’s own search for understanding, combining the personal experiences of himself and others, a survey of the biblical data about miracles, interviews with various church members and ministry leaders, and critical reflection on all of the above. The final chapter summarizes the author’s conclusions, the majority of which are solid and biblical, providing a hopeful faith-filled attitude towards expecting miracles, but is also grounded in a holistic view of God’s providence that emphasizes the various ways in which God works, both natural and supernatural. His sections on the nature, purpose, and frequency of miracles are especially good.
The one weakness of the book is that the author goes too soft on some extreme Pentecostal pastors and prophets who, in my judgment, go beyond the Bible and twist Scripture. His desire to be fair and even-handed is commendable but he is too generous to various miracle ministries and ministers, even as he often goes on to express disappoint with their exaggerated claims and abuse of Scripture. It seems that the author wants to counteract the unbiblical and unsubstantiated claims made by these ministers without turning off readers who like them. The fact that this book was put out by charismatic publisher Bethany House tells me that the author’s target audience is broadly charismatic/Pentecostal and evangelical.
This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence
When I got married ten years ago, I read a few books on marriage but none of them were as deeply theological and biblical as this one by John Piper. Over and over again, Piper pounds home the point that the main purpose of marriage is to reflect the unending covenant love of Christ for the church, and the church’s faithful response to that love. THAT is the point of marriage, and Piper fleshes out the implications of that grand truth for the roles of husbands and wives, parents and children, and single people (including never married, divorced, and widowed). A number of months back a senior missionary gently rebuked me after I admitted that I hadn’t read a single book on marriage since before I got married. With that in the back of my mind, it was a happy providence that I ran into this book free online a couple weeks before I had to preach on marriage at my church. It was a great help in my own thinking and reflection for both my own marriage, and also for preaching on the subject.
J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life
This was a long but very interesting bio that I listened to on audiobook. I have read some Packer books over the years and have had a high respect for him as a theologian and writer. This recent biography by Leland Ryken does a good job of focusing on Packer's career as a teacher, writer, theologian, and controversialist, placing him in the context of British and American evangelicalism from the 1950s onward. I was most fascinated by two aspects of his life: 1) He had the mind to excel in academia but the vast majority of his writing was aimed at lay Christian readers, to strength them in the essentials of the faith. That is a model I would like to emulate. 2) Packer regularly opposed error and false teaching in the church, and lamented the state of the church today... yet, he maintained an eternal optimism about what could be and worked diligently at reform. As I see so many problems today in both the American church and the church in Thailand, this is a reminder that I should be realistic, yet not cynical, and optimistic but not naive. The weakness of the book is that the author barely talks about Packer's family. You hear a bit about his parents when Packer was a child and Packer's wife is given some brief mentions early on, but then you hear nothing more about her from the 1960s on. Is she still alive? Did Packer have kids? The book doesn't say and Google wasn't much help either.