jasonbwatson

January 30, 2018

A Lesson for the Church: The Other Example We Have Been Given by Rachael Denhollander

Rachael Denhollander is a name probably not many people knew until a year and a half ago. That is when she became the first person to come forward and publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Even then her name was not nearly as well-known as it is now. After her victim impact statement on January 24, it is probably fair to say that not many people have not heard of her.

In 2000, Denhollander was a club level gymnast when she met Nassar at the age of fifteen due to a back injury. Nassar was, in the words of the Boston Globe, “the despicable doctor who systematically, for decades, used his position as a renowned, sought-after, and respected physician in the gymnastics world to sexually abuse countless young athletes under the guise of medical treatment.” Only at that time, no one knew—or, I should say, no one acknowledged—that Nassar was a predator. Others had complained about Nassar before 2000, but nothing had been done. By the time he was arrested his victims numbered in the hundreds. One hundred fifty-six of them spoke at his sentencing hearing, which resulted in a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison.

Denhollander’s courage in coming forward and opening the door that gave voice to so many other victims has received plenty of attention in the media and I am not going to focus on that here. I would simply echo what Tara Sullivan wrote, that Denhollander is “Larry Nassar’s most important victim, his loudest and bravest opponent in the fight to expose his depravity as a serial pedophile disguised as a respected physician.”

What brought perhaps the most attention to Denhollander was her impact statement, nearly forty minutes long, in which she clearly spoke of what Nassar had done, the physical but, more importantly, emotional, damage it inflicted on Denhollander and others, and then shared the gospel with Nassar. Writing on The Gospel Coalition site, Justin Taylor said, “What she said directly to the man—who gratified himself off of her innocence and abused countless other girls in a malicious and manipulative way—is an incredible testimony to the grace and justice of Jesus Christ.” I agree. When I first heard it later that same day I described it as “an extraordinary presentation of the gospel to someone Rachael Denhollander has every human reason to hate and wish eternal condemnation in hell upon!”

Her bold stand against Nassar and her equally bold statement of the gospel to Nassar—and a watching world—has drawn tremendous attention, and rightfully so. In his edition of The Briefing the day after Denhollander spoke, Albert Mohler said,

…what so many in the world missed is that the moral clarity that was so evident in that courtroom yesterday cannot really emerge from a secular worldview. It can only emerge from a biblical worldview. And yesterday it wasn’t just the witness to good and evil that appeared. In the voice of Rachael Denhollander, there was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel that speaks so honestly about sin, and the Gospel that so honestly promises in Christ salvation from sin.

Denhollander has, indeed, set a beautiful example of what it means to be like Christ. To hate the sin but not the sinner. To extend mercy and forgiveness when it is not even remotely deserved—and never could be. Evangelical Christians are sharing her statement and celebrating her testimony and all of that is good. It is as it should be.

Sadly, there is something else about Denhollander’s experience that Christians seem to be overlooking, and we must not do so.

In her statement, Denhollander said,

Even my status as a sexual assault victim has impacted or did impact my ability to advocate for sexual assault victims because once it became known that I too had experienced sexual assault, people close to me used it as an excuse to brush off my concerns when I advocated for others who had been abused, saying I was just obsessed because of what I had gone through, that I was imposing my own experience upon other institutions who had massive failures and much worse.

 

My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.

 

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Denhollander wrote, “I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.”

 

As incredible and beautiful as Denhollander’s courage to come forward and willingness to share the gospel with Nassar may be, that she “lost her church” through coming forward is just as incredible and hideous. I do not know exactly what transpired between Denhollander and her church, but the details here are not important. For her to say, twice, that she lost her church as a result of taking a stand against Nassar says all that we need to know. There is no justification anywhere in Scripture for abandoning a victim. Quite the contrary, in fact. Romans 12:15 says, “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow” (Living Bible).

 

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said that whatever is done “to the least of these my brothers, you have done it to Me.” Commenting on that verse Matthew Poole wrote, that charity, or love, “must be chiefly shown to those of the household of faith.” Denhollander is clearly of the household of faith, yet her church abandoned her. Take note, fellow Christian: that means her church turned its back on Christ.

 

I do not focus on this to condemn Denhollander’s former church alone. I do not even know the name of the church she attended. I emphasize this to bring attention to such behavior that has gone on for far too long, and has been far too tolerated, in the Church in general. How can we claim to follow Christ if we abandon our brothers and sisters who are hurting? John Tillman wrote the following in a devotion on The Park Forum:

 

As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own, identifying with their feelings of powerlessness, of isolation, and of being silenced for so long. …

 

No environment, from Hollywood offices to the sanctuaries of our churches is untouched by the culture of degrading sexual manipulation and abuse. Christians have an opportunity to drop partisan loyalty, abandon “what-aboutism,” and step into this cultural problem with the perspective of the Gospel.

Christians can uniquely offer condemnation for abusive actions and the systems which allowed them, while offering compassion and protection for victims, and even forgiveness and redemption (though not necessarily reinstatement) for perpetrators.

 

Compassion for the victims is precisely what Christians should be offering. Compassion and support and encouragement. There is no room for abandonment or rejection or judgment of victims. In an April 2016 blog post entitled “4 Common Ways Churches Fail Abuse Victims (And What to Do Instead)” Ashley Easter states that the Church must take accusations of abuse seriously, whether made against someone inside or outside of the church, and “recognize how difficult it is for a victim to come forward.” Furthermore, the Church, and those within it, need to “believe and reassure the victim that there is nothing they could ever do to cause someone else to hurt them.”  In July 2015 Boz Tchividjian wrote of his own abuse as a child and the way churches so often respond inappropriately to abuse victims. “A primary reason why victims are afraid of the church is because of the level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church,” Tchividjian wrote. He continued, “There is now an entire generation that has left the church and might not ever return because of the negative impact that the church has had in the lack of understanding and compassion for the broken and the wounded.” Abuse is horrific and cannot be tolerated. But just as wrong and intolerable is this kind of response within the body of Christ.

 

I pray that Rachael Denhollander will be embraced and encouraged and prayed for by the Church even though she was not treated that way be her local church. I pray that she will remain a passionate and articulate voice for abuse victims and for the gospel. I also pray that she will prove to have taught us a significant lesson about abuse and how not to respond to it.

January 20, 2018

The Sanctity of All Human Life

Tomorrow is national Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is held on the Sunday closest to the date when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. In the United States, and indeed around the world, the sanctity of life has become a political issue. Legislatures and courts debate and rule on whether life is indeed sacred and whether or not life can be ended at the whim of a mother or the wish of an old or ill individual. But I am not going to address it politically. It does not matter if you are Democrat or Republican or Independent. I am addressing the sanctity of life because it is a biblical issue. It is, quite simply, a matter of knowing and defending biblical truth.

Since 1973, when abortion became legal under Roe v. Wade, approximately 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States. I live in the Midwest, so to try to put that into context, that would the equivalent today of the combined populations of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Texas.

If each of those babies was represented by an 8×10 photo, their photos would cover 765 acres, almost the exact size of New York’s Central Park, or enough to cover the National Mall five photos deep. Or, put differently, it would be enough photos to paper over Mt. Rushmore.

The good news is that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate is now the lowest that it has been since abortion was legalized in 1973. The not-so-good news is that it cannot truly be considered celebratory to finally kill less than one million babies a year in the U.S. As Jamie Dean put it in WORLD, “When we mark finally killing less than a million children in a single year, such a victory seems as tragic as it is sobering.” Every life saved is worth celebrating, and every woman who chooses not to abort is to be commended and encouraged. But to say that we finally killed fewer than one million children in a year serves really only to show us (1) how depraved and murderous our nation had become and, (2) how much further we still have to go.

According to the American Life League, thirty-two Planned Parenthood facilities closed in 2017. That is wonderful news. Not so wonderful is that Planned Parenthood still operates more than six hundred facilities within the U.S. and partners with twelve other countries around the world. The May 30, 2017 issue of The Washington Times reported on Planned Parenthood’s annual report, released nearly six months late at the end of May. In that report, Planned Parenthood reported that saw fewer patients but performed more abortions than in 2016. How many? According to their own report, 328,348. That is about 900 a day, 37.5 per hour, or one every 1.6 minutes—every day of the year. And you and I helped them do that, since the federal government supports Planned Parenthood to the tune of $500 million annually. That is despite the fact, by the way, that the organization reaped a $77.5 million profit in 2016. Planned Parenthood has infiltrated public schools across the country through sex education curriculums—and in some of those schools it is Planned Parenthood staffers that teach the material. Due to the explicit nature of that curriculum and those sometimes teaching it, Planned Parenthood has tried to go a step further and get itself a permanent space in public schools. In Reading, PA, for example, Planned Parenthood proposed opening a health clinic inside Reading High School. The Reading school board postponed its decision and eventually rejected the idea, but that it was ever even seriously considered is incredibly alarming.

Many who defend Planned Parenthood, and particularly tax payer support of the organization, like to tout all of the other services the organization provides—things like birth control, HIV services, patient education, pelvic exams, cancer and screenings. Does Planned Parenthood do some good things? Sure. So, did Adolph Hitler. Think that’s an unfair comparison? Hitler was responsible for the execution of approximately six million Jews. According to an October 2016 report on CNS News, Planned Parenthood had, at that time, executed 6,803,782 children since 1978 through abortion.

I could go on providing many more facts and figures about abortion in the United States—and around the world—but my primary purpose in this post is not to confront you with those staggering numbers, as important as I think that is. My primary purpose is to explain, from Scripture, why human life—every human life—is sacred. Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, and abortion is an enormous portion of the fight to defend the sanctity of all human life, but it is not the only portion. A biblical view of the sanctity of life means recognizing, defending and advocating for the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death.

Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Humans are created in the very image of God. We are God’s image-bearers. That, by itself, ascribes tremendous value to each and every human being. Nothing else in all of creation bears the very image of God—only humans. Man, woman, boy, girl, every human being who has ever been conceived has borne the image of God.

Now one chapter later, in Geneses 2:7, it says, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

There are two important truths in this verse that I want to focus on. The first is the statement that God formed man. In chapter one of Genesis the emphasis is on the fact that God created everything—the universe, the earth, the skies, the oceans, the mountains, the trees, the animals, humankind—out of nothing. God created everything ex nihilo, from nothing. Nothing in creation is the result of a cosmic explosion that conveniently resulted in parts coming together just so to form the world and the universe around us, and human beings are certainly not the result of incredible accident and happenstance.

According to a BBC report entitled “The 25 Biggest Turning Points in Earth’s History,” this is what happened 4.5 billion years ago:

Earth grew from a cloud of dust and rocks surrounding the young Sun. Earth formed when some of these rocks collided. Eventually they were massive enough to attract other rocks with the force of gravity, and vacuumed up all the nearby junk, becoming the Earth.

Then, after all of that collision and whatnot, life emerges:

Nobody knows exactly when life began. The oldest confirmed fossils, of single-celled microorganisms, are 3.5 billion years old. Life may have begun a bit earlier than that, but probably not while huge rocks were still raining down on Earth. Life may have begun in warm alkaline vents on the seabed, or in open water, or on land. We don’t know, and we don’t know what the first organisms were like.

There are many other fantastic claims that follow, but then, 65 million years ago,

…a huge chunk of rock from outer space smashed into what is now Mexico. The explosion was devastating, but the longer-term effects were worse. Dust was thrown into the upper atmosphere and blocked out sunlight, and in the ensuing cold and darkness Earth suffered its fifth and last mass extinction.

And then, finally, humans come along:

Almost immediately after the dinosaurs were wiped out, mammals evolved the ability to nourish their young inside their wombs using a placenta, just like modern humans. Soon, some of these early placental mammals evolved into the first primates. They would ultimately give rise to monkeys, apes and humans.

This is all balderdash! Human beings were created by God, in His image. Genesis 2:27 says God formed man. God shaped and molded humans to be precisely what He wanted and He designed. It is the metaphor of the potter and the clay, applying pressure where necessary, pushing, pulling, pressing, forming. This Hebrew word is not used in connection with any other creature. Joseph Benson said it “implies a gradual process in the work, with great accuracy and exactness.”

God created the universe, the world, and humans. He created humans in His likeness and He formed humans to His precise desires and specifications.

But the second key truth of Genesis 2:27 is that God breathed into man the breath of life.

According to the Cambridge Bible, “The preceding clause having explained man’s bodily structure, the present one explains the origin of his life. His life is not the product of his body, but the gift of God’s breath or spirit.”

It says God breathed into man the breath of life. The Hebrew word from which we get “breath of life” literally means “the soul of lives.” God breathed into humans a soul—a soul that is different from any other aspect of creation, from any other animal. Humans are both physical and spiritual, both temporal and eternal. God formed our physical aspects and then He breathed into us our spiritual nature. Job references this wonderful truth. In Job 27:3 you will see Job said, “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils….”

The Pulpit Commentary puts it like this: “Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine inbreathing; certainly not an in-breathing of atmospheric air, but…a communication from the whole personality of the Godhead.”

Are you with me? You and I and every human being who has ever been conceived have within us the soul of lives, the whole personality of the Godhead, breathed into us by Almighty God! No other living creature ever has, does have, or will have that. It is that breath of life, breathed into us by God, that separates us, that makes us unique, that is the very reason that all human life is sacred.

Now, having established that, what does it mean for us practically? What does it have to do with abortion or euthanasia or anything else? What impact does that have on our worldview? Quite simply this: everything. The fact that human beings are created in the image of God, formed by God, and animated by the very breath of God, means that every—mark that, now, I said EVERY—human life is sacred. If you believe what I have just shown you from the Scripture you cannot be content with a theoretical knowledge of those facts alone. The application or implication of that knowledge must be a recognition and a defense of the sanctity of all human life.

That has several practical, real life implications.

First, we must be, in the contemporary political parlance, pro-life. You cannot believe that human beings are everything we just saw that they are and also believe that it is acceptable or permissible for any human being to, for whatever reason, decide that a human life in the womb is disposable. Abortion is a violation on the very character of God. It cannot be anything but that if you believe what we have just seen in Scripture. If God created and formed and breathed into humans, and humans are the image-bearers of God, then we dismiss that completely and disregard His character if we support the idea that an unborn child is disposable.

I am not going to go into the details of when life begins. Suffice it to say that both Scripture and science make it clear that life begins at conception. It is, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, an inconvenient truth for those who defend the right to abortion, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. There is no avoiding the fact that abortion is the killing of a child.

We are making progress in the United States in restricting selective abortions. For example, Ohio recently passed a law banning abortions of children with Down syndrome. That’s a wonderful thing—on one hand. On the other, think about the totality of what that means: if you are going to have a baby that the doctor says will have Down syndrome, you many not abort it. But if you are going to have a baby that the doctor believes will be perfectly healthy and you want to abort it anyway, you’re free to do so. Several U.S. states have laws banning sex-selective abortion. That’s good, too—on one hand. On the other, it means that abortionists must ask a woman if she knows what sex her child will be and then, assuming she tells the truth, tell her that it is illegal for her to abort her child based on that information. And what then are the odds that the mother will say, “Oh, that was my reason. I guess I will have to keep the baby.” I feel confident in saying the likelihood of that is zero. Do not get me wrong, I think any restriction on abortion is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, each restriction makes it all the more noticeably ridiculous that abortion is permitted at all.

Second, we must support options and assistance for those who find themselves unwilling or unable to care for a child once it is delivered. We cannot wholeheartedly and passionately defend the right of a child to be born and leave it at that. We must support assistance for the mother who does not want to have the child, but does anyway. We must support—prayerfully and yes, sometimes even financially, the woman or the family that gives birth to a child and keeps it but is not quite sure how to take care of it. We must support adoption—and the families who adopt.

Christians have been pro-life from the beginning. Indeed, in ancient Rome, it was their willingness to take in and care for the rejected newborns that marked them as unique and unusual. In his book The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven writes:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world. Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .

These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

We must, today, be willing to practice the same sort of self-sacrificial actions.

Third, we must change the concept that a child is a hindrance to a woman pursuing her goals and dreams in life. U.S. track Olympian and medalist Sanya Richards-Ross wrote a book that came out last summer entitled Chasing Grace. In that book she wrote, “I literally don’t know another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion, and that’s sad.” I do not know how many track athletes Richards-Ross knows, but I assume that for someone who has competed on the world stage the number is high. And she is right, it is a sad statement. Sadly, though, it is not only female athletes who see potential childbirth as a roadblock to the accomplishment of their career goals. Planned Parenthood, on its website, lists among the reasons someone may choose to have an abortion these two: it’s not a good time in life to have a baby or they want to focus on work or achieve other goals before having a baby. A May 2017 post on Save the Storks cited a 2004 survey of more than 1,200 post-abortive woman that indicated that “three-fourths of aborting women have an abortion because a child would interfere with their life (work, school, etc.).” We must change this mindset. Women who do choose to give up a job in order to stay home and care for their children full time must be celebrated and encouraged. But women who choose to maintain a career and have children must also be celebrated for choosing life.

Fourth, we must forgive, accept, and love those who have had abortions. Abortion is a horrific evil and one that violates the very character of God in a way unlike many other sins. But God does not rank sin. God forgives those who seek His forgiveness. And we must do no less. There is great truth in the cliché that we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. We should hate abortion with a passion. We should do anything we can to oppose it and to try to eliminate it. But we must just as passionately love those who have experienced abortion. Please hear me on this: while abortion is an assault on the character of God, so too is an arrogant, judgmental attitude that refuses to show love and forgiveness toward those who have had an abortion!

Fifth, we must recognize, articulate and defend the truth that every life is sacred. The word “every” leaves nothing out. What this means in practical terms is that there is no differentiation among human beings; no individual and no group is any more important or any more valuable than any other individual or group. All humans were created in the image of God, fashioned by Him and received the breath of life from Him and therefore all human life is sacred. Let me be even more clear:

  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on gender—male and female are equally sacred
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on race – every human life is sacred regardless of whether that life is Asian, Latino, African, Caucasian or any of the innumerable hyphenated options
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on ability, whether physical or intellectual – every human life is sacred regardless of intelligence level or physical capability—or limitation. That means the one with the IQ of 50 is as sacred as the one with the IQ of 180. The one with a physical handicap is as sacred as the one with incredible athletic prowess. The one that is blind is as sacred as the one with 20/20 vision.
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on age. The child that was just conceived moments ago is as sacred as the infant that was born last month. That infant is as sacred as the kindergartener, as the high schooler, as the college graduate, as the 40-year-old, as the retiree, as the senior citizen, as the one who is approaching the age of 100. There is no biblical support for the idea that any life ever ceases to become worth living until such time as God Himself makes that decision. Murder is wrong. But so is suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Bible does not differentiate between the sacredness of the individual that is still fully coherent and capable of caring for him or herself and the one that has lost most of his mental faculties or is confined to a wheelchair or a bed.

I realize that it is difficult from our finite human perspective to accept and understand why some things happen the way they do in this life. Why are some children born with incredible limitations or disabilities? Why are some born healthy and then experience an illness or an accident that strips them of some of those abilities that they once had? Why do some live to a ripe old age with full physical and mental capabilities and others seemingly lose all memory or rational ability at a relatively young age? I do not know the answers to those questions. Accepting that God is sovereign and allows what He allows for reasons that only He may understand is indeed a large part—though an incredibly difficult part—of faith. But I do know that the Bible makes it unmistakably clear that every life has value and purpose. Let me give you quickly just eight verses out of many that could be shared:

  • Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
  • Job 10:11 says, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.”
  • Leviticus 19:14 says, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • And then Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • Luke 12:7 says, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
  • Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory;it is gained in a righteous life.”
  • Exodus 4:11 says, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
  • In John 9, His disciples asked Jesus why a man was blind—whether it was he or his parents that had sinned, and Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Every human life is created by God, formed by God, and given the breath of life by God. Every human life is sacred.

Ephesians 5:7-11 says this:

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

We can expose them through our words, but we can also expose them through our actions, and we must. We are to be salt and light in the world, and that includes defending the sanctity of all human life.

Our responsibility, as children of God and His ambassadors in this world, is to honor and respect the dignity and sanctity of every human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. We must do this through our words and our deeds, within our churches, our homes, our communities, our state, our nation and the world.

Someday, the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday may be unnecessary. I certainly hope so. I agree with Russell Moore, who wrote, “I pray regularly that for my future great grandchildren, a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday would seem as unnecessary as a Reality of Gravity Emphasis Sunday.” But unless and until that day comes, we are called to defend the sanctity of human life—every human life—because God has given every human the very breath of life.

January 1, 2018

My Year in Books – 2017

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Somehow in a year that has perhaps found me busier than ever, I managed to read more books that I have since 2012, finishing the year with 59. Apparently, books are still both my inspiration and my relaxation, my motivation and my escape, the best means of broadening my mind and giving it a break.

As always, my reading for 2017 was primarily in these categories: theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.

Having said that, I do usually indicate which book was the first one I finished in a year, and last year that honor goes to Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila. I have seen the movie Windtalkers and I mention the code talkers every year in my U.S. History course, so I found this book very interesting. The way of life for many of the Navajo boys growing up is hard to imagine—and then for those same boys to willingly serve in the armed forces of a country that had not treated their people well historically or personally is something difficult to wrap one’s mind around. Imagine being told that you cannot speak your native tongue in school—to the point of being physically punished for doing so—and then being asked by the government to use that same prohibited tongue to develop a code that the enemy could not crack. I cannot help but think that my natural inclination would be something along the lines of “no thanks,” although probably not quite that polite. The way in which the code was developed, the speed with which it enabled messages to be communicated and the accuracy the code demonstrated over the course of the war is incredible.

This post will be about 13,000 words long if I devote that much time to each of the books I read last year, so I better transition to shorter summaries and opinions—for my sake and yours.

I will start with history. I read Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, which I would recommend as reading for anyone interested in espionage during the Revolutionary War and particularly for anyone who has also watched the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies. (Another excellent book for anyone in either of those categories would be Tim McNeese’s Revolutionary Spies: Intelligence and Espionage in America’s First War).

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse by Eric Jay Dolin was a fascinating look at what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper but also at what it took to build a lighthouse. I have long been interested in both lighthouses and keepers but I had never given all that much thought to what it took to build the lights. Dolin’s book served only to confirm my notion that other than those individuals with a particular interest in lighthouses, the importance of the lights and the keepers is an often-ignored aspect of American history that really should be more well-known. Tyler Anbinder’s City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York is a compelling narrative about the island purchased from the Native Americans by Peter Minuit in the early seventeenth century became the largest city in the U.S. and a magnet for immigrants from around the world.

Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women is another gripping read. This one tells the stories of women in early twentieth century America who worked in factories applying radium paint to watch dials—only no one grasps the dangers of ingesting radium, which these women do through the process of pointing their brushes. Indeed, they find themselves covered with radium dust, literally glowing when they go home each evening. This is another often-ignored part of American history, one I had never even heard of until seeing a one-act play based on the story last winter and then acting in a full-length version of the same play. Moore’s book has more than five hundred five-star ratings on Amazon, which should serve as proof positive that it is not a dry historical narrative.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is far more than a sports story. It is a look into the realities of life during the Great Depression, the rivalries and attention given to collegiate rowing—a sport a distinct minority of people likely pay any attention to—and the politics of the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany. I highly recommend this book.

John Eisenberg’s The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record is a great read for baseball fans in general and Gehrig or Ripken fans in particular.

I read Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower in February. I had not read it since my sophomore year of high school, though I have thought of it and referenced it often in the interim. Anyone interested in thought provoking contemplation of forgiveness should read this book.

Condoleezza Rice’s Democracy is a unique look at attempts—some successful, others not—for democracy around the world, including some front row perspective from this former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State. Rice offers a look at America, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Kenya, Colombia and the Middle East, as well as chapters on authoritarians and on what democracy must offer in order to take root.  The New York Times said, “Both supporters and skeptics of democracy promotion will come away from this book wiser and better informed,” and I agree.

Mindy Belz, editor and Middle East reporter for WORLD, wrote They Say We Are Infidels, and it provides a glimpse into everyday life in the Middle East among those persecuted by ISIS. It is riveting, saddening, aggravating and infuriating, and a book I strongly recommend for anyone who wants a deeper perspective on this conflict than that offered by the nightly news.

In the autobiography/biography genre last year I read some contemporary first offerings by names very-well-known and some not-quite-so-well-known, second go-rounds by entertainers now in their nineties, an insightful look at a couple of classic American entertainers now both deceased, and a looks at two influential men in Christian history, who died nearly 500 years ago and another who died 280 years ago.

Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show is an insightful look at the lives of both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, before that classic American TV show, during their time together working on it, and after. A word of caution: if you are not prepared to see Griffith and Knotts as they were in real life, preferring instead to think of them always as their affable Mayberry characters, don’t read this book.

Tony Bennett’s Just Getting Started and Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving are the two second go-rounds I referred to above. In reality it is Bennett’s third go-round, as he wrote The Good Life in 1998, but I have not read that one. I did read 2012’s Life Is a Gift, and the 2017 offering mostly recounts the people who influenced Bennett and taught him the lessons he described in 2012. Having turned 91 in August it is certainly unlikely that Bennett really is “just getting started,” but his output does not seem to be slowing down any. In 2011 Van Dyke wrote My Luck Life In and Out of Show Business. In 2017 he followed up with Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging. It is an engaging and humorous book that does offer insights into growing old, though Van Dyke still seems to have the energy and enthusiasm of a kid. Some of his insights on life are very insightful indeed. Some of his thoughts on politics are misguided but not surprising for someone who has spent most of his life among the Hollywood entertainment crowd. His thoughts on faith and what happens after death are confused at best, and saddening for those who have read the 2011 book and know that racism within it is what drove Van Dyke out of the church in the 1960s. But anyone who loves ice cream has to love Van Dyke’s recommended daily helping (with chocolate sauce). Van Dyke, who just turned 92 last month, is married to his second wife (though he had a long relationship that never culminated in marriage with a third woman) and she is 45 years his junior. Bennett is married to his third wife and she is 40 years younger than he. Thankfully there are other seasoned celebrities with long-lasting marriages (92 year old Angela Lansbury was married for 54 years before her husband died in 2003, for example; 87 year old Sean Connery has been married for 42 years and Kirk Douglas, who turned 101 last year, has been married for 63 years, just to name a few) to counter anyone supposing that the secret to Bennett and Van Dyke’s longevity is young spouses!

Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More is well-written. It tells her story as a successful attorney deciding she wanted to do something else—namely, the news business—and how she has persevered and found success in both careers. If for absolutely no other reason, the book’s section on the conflict that emerged between Kelly and Donald Trump after Kelly’s questioning of Trump during the presidential debate provides an inside look at how difficult life can be for someone who appears to have it made when our perspective is limited to their daily time on television. I have met Olympic champion Shannon Miller, so my interest in her book It’s Not About Perfect was a combination of sports fan and personal interest. The book does, of course, tell about Miller’s growing up, training and Olympic success, but it also describes struggles in her personal life and her successful fight against ovarian cancer. Missy Franklin’s Relentless Spirit was written before the Rio Olympics, which certainly did not go the way she would have liked, but it is not written as simply the story of an impressive athlete. While it does include some of that, this book is Missy and her parents talking about sports, childrearing, family and faith.

Lauren Green is the Religion Correspondent for Fox News though, to my knowledge, I have never seen her on television. She is also an accomplished pianist. But her book Lighthouse Faith Green frequently references her pastor Tim Keller and seeks to answer the question of how to have a personal relationship with God in a world, as she describes it, “immersed in fog.” Some of Green’s insights are spot-on. Others tend to ecumenism. Rebekah Gregory was a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing and eventually lost her left leg below the knee after scores of medical procedures and surgeries. Her five-year-old son was sitting just in front of the standing Gregory at the finish line when the bomb went off behind her; fortunately, she took the brunt of the blast and her son suffered only minor injuries. She tells this story, along with the lessons she learned through the experience as well as the rest of her life, and how she has come to realize that God is ultimately in control, in her book Taking My Life Back.

Since 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation I thought it appropriate to read a biography of Martin Luther. I chose Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand, originally published in 1950, which TIME called “easily the most readable Luther biography in English” and R.C. Sproul called “an inspiring summary of the life of the great reformer.” George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life is a comprehensive biography (more than 600 pages with small print) that provides insight into Edwards as well as his time and place. I also read J.W. Hanson’s The Life and Works of the World’s Greatest Evangelist: Dwight L. Moody. This book was republished in 2015 but it was originally published in 1900, and the copy I read was printed not too long after that. A friend came across it and loaned it to me to read.

For theology and Christian living my 2017 reading included several books. Carolyn McCulley’s Radical Womanhood examines the three waves of feminism and how each has attacked God’s design for womanhood, giving readers a clear presentation of the complementarian position. Courtney Reissig’s The Accidental Feminist is another excellent book along the same lines, identifying how the feminist movement has influenced the entire culture whether we readily recognize it or not, and seeking to restore a correct, and joyful, understanding of God’s design.

I read two books by Carter Conlon, lead pastor of Times Square Church, The 180° Christian and Fear Not. The subtitle of the first book is “Serving Jesus in a Culture of Excess” and that gives you an idea of what the book is about. Conlon examines the church in Corinth and the self-centeredness that infected that body. He then suggests that twenty-first century America is not much different, calling on the church to do a 180 and live lives instead focused on serving others. Pastoring in Times Square, Conlon has a perspective on this that few others will have. Fear Not addresses the many ways that Satan tries to put fear and doubt into the hearts and minds of believers, reminding readers that perfect love casts out fear.

Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Is subtitled Making Sense of the Old Testament God, and that is what Copan attempts to do here. I do not agree with all of Copan’s conclusions but the book does offer unique insight into what often seems like a God of wrath and even hatred in the Old Testament, seemingly conflicting with the New Testament God. Richard Phillips argues that the five points of Calvinism are comforting in his short book, What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? But unless you are a committed five-point Calvinist you will likely come away from the book thinking something along the lines of “not much.” In None Other John MacArthur shows how to study Scripture to discover who God really is. This, too, is a short book and not theologically complex.

In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith shows how easily we may be led astray from worshipping God and God alone. The book’s subtitle is The Spiritual Power of Habit, and initially I did not see the book in that light, but Smith ultimately is asking readers to evaluate whether they really love what they think—and say—they love, which is often revealed in habits, so the subtitle fits.

Jacquelle Crow is in the last of her teen years, so her book This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years has an extra level of authenticity for teenager readers. It is a book along the lines of Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris or Totally Infatuated by Jacqueline Pierre. It is short but full of rich truth and I would recommend it for any teenager.

In Why Jesus? Ravi Zacharias calls for an abandonment of relativism and tolerance and a return to biblical truth. R. Albert Mohler, in We Cannot Be Silent, takes that a step further and calls on Christians to embrace biblical truth and to engage the culture with that truth.

Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond is about exactly that and provides valuable insight for parents. Charles Swindoll’s A Life Well Lived is a short book drawing lessons from the book of Micah. J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology is exactly that, proving short (usually two to three page) chapters on almost one hundred questions about theology. There are a handful of those questions on which Packer and I do not agree, but it is a user-friendly and easy to read introduction or overview to theology. The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges is a book I have read before and will likely read again. There is a reason this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies. It is a succinct look at what holiness look like in everyday life. Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem provides a Lucado-esque look at the promises of Christmas. Lucado reminds readers that Christ was born to die—the Christmas is only the beginning of what culminates with Easter. I read this book a week or so after I preached a message on the humble birth and life of Christ, focusing in large part on Philippians 2, a passage I had never heard anyone use in a Christmas sermon, and found that Lucado too thinks it is a beautiful encapsulation of the Christmas message.

John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is addressed at pastors and is specifically a caution to them to avoid seeking to be culturally relevant and “professional” at the expense of being biblically relevant and God-centered. Mark Dever’s Discipling is a short book and easy read and it is relevant for any pastor or lay leader but also anyone interested in what discipleship means. There is a reason why John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin is considered a classic. In it, this seventeenth century Puritan addresses how to deal with the sin nature, focusing primarily on Romans 8.

Andrew Telford’s Subjects of Sovereignty is a book I found among those I received from my grandfather’s collection after he passed away. It is short and I could not find a publication date in it, though Amazon tells me it was published in 1971. Apparently Telford pastored in Pennsylvania, and I am guessing my grandfather must have met him, as the book is signed. I appreciated much of what Telford had to say about adoption, predestination, election and foreknowledge. In seeking to learn more about Telford I found an excerpt of this book published on the site of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, and I definitely do not consider myself an Arminian. Further reason why I am not a fan of labels in general of Calvinism and Arminianism in particular.

Last, and perhaps least, are the works of fiction I read in 2017. I always seem to read James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, and 2017 was no exception. In Cross the Line Patterson continues the Alex Cross saga, this time putting his wife Bree into leadership position and creating some strain in their relationship as they seek to solve the latest crime spree in D.C. The Black Book, written by Patterson and David Ellis, is a stand-alone novel that centers around a cop who loses his memory after being shot but finds himself charged with a double murder. It is an interesting read with plenty of plot twists and an ending that I did not see coming. Haunted was written by Patterson and James Born and is the tenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series. This one finds the Bennett clan vacationing in Maine in a small town that is, of course, caught up in serious drug crime and a local law enforcement officer/former Bennett partner needing Bennett’s assistance.

Baldacci’s No Man’s Land continues his John Puller series and in this book Puller and his brother seek to find out the truth of what happened to their mother. Grisham’s Camino Island was an intentionally different style for Grisham and I found it enjoyable, in no small part because it includes a look into the world of rare books and independent book shops. It does include casual sex but not as explicitly as Gray Mountain. The Rooster Bar, also by Grisham, returns to the classic Grisham model—simultaneously spotlighting the evils of for-profit law schools and the lost-in-the-shuffle madness that poor individuals find themselves facing when they are charged with a crime while also creating an outrageous but just-maybe-possible story of a few law students who profit from that madness and rake in lots of cash—temporarily. Jeffrey Archer’s Tell Tale is a collection of short stories that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Button Man by Mark Pryor is a Hugo Marston novel and a prequel to The Bookseller, which I enjoyed. The Heist is the first of Daniel Silva’s books I have read and it is part of his Gabriel Allon series. It combines espionage and art, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Silva. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas is set in Victorian England. This book read like a blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alex Grecian. Opening Moves by Steven James is part of his Bowers Files series, but it is the first James novel I have read. This one is set around 1997 Milwaukee with a series of copycat crimes going on, including copying Jeffrey Dahmer. The story is well told and even, I suppose, riveting, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings tells the dual story of Sarah Grimké (and her sister Angelina) and Sarah’s slave “Handful.” The story is fictional, but Grimké was real—and she became a passionate abolitionist and member of the woman’s suffrage movement, despite coming from a prominent slave-holding family in Charleston. Kidd is a great story teller, and the book is engaging. It also provides a description of a (real) method of slave punishment I was not previously familiar with, something called a treadmill. Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is a return to the town of Gilead, though I have not read Robinson’s novel by that title, and it tells the story of a homeless girl named Lila who marries the local minister. It is an interesting read and provides unique insights into small town life, a Christian worldview and marriage. Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Brittania Road tells the story of Polish refugees in England after World War II, including the challenges of rekindling a marriage separated for years by war and of the impacts of war on not just soldiers but women and children—impacts felt long after the war is over.

I think that just about wraps it up. As usual, there are two or three other books I read that did not make it into the review because I did not have much to say about them or they did not fit neatly into these categories. I do want to mention briefly, though, a couple of books that I cannot include in the formal review above because I haven’t read them in their entirety so they are not included in my 59 books for 2017. First is Michael Burlingame’s two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life. I read most of these two volumes last summer while I was taking a course on Lincoln and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln. Burlingame has done extensive research and the provides great insight into Abraham Lincoln the man, as well as into Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd and his time as president.

Second is Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”, which I am actually in the middle of reading right now, so it will likely be included more fully in next year’s annual review. The book is subtitled Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage and is addressed at the silliness of using the word “privilege” to shut down debate, and is among The Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2017. As I said, I am halfway through it (almost exactly), but I cannot help pointing out my fondness for a line on page 84 of the book. After quoting an article in which the authors write “students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses. Why not teach incoming students how to practice cognitive behavioral therapy?” Bovy writes, “Or: Why not teach incoming students? (Period. The end.)” I love it….

I hope 2017 found you with ample time to read as well. Perhaps something above will prompt you to pick up one of these books to read it for yourself. Until next year’s annual review, I leave you with this thought from Henry Ward Beecher, one I find to be painfully true for myself: “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”

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