Tag Archives: Review

Review: Dad, God, and Me: Remembering a Mennonite Pastor and His Wayward Son

by Mary Ann Smith and Terry Smith

Ralph Friesen tells of how his father, Peter D. Friesen, grew up in the KG/EMC and served as a minister and, later, the lead pastor of Steinbach EMC for years while supporting his family as a businessman. His Dad suffered a stroke in his 50s and lived uncomfortably for several years before dying in his early 60s. As Friesen said in an interview elsewhere, the book intertwines two stories: his father’s and his own. Continue reading Review: Dad, God, and Me: Remembering a Mennonite Pastor and His Wayward Son

Book Review: Love in a Time of Hate

Hanna Schott, Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the Village That Said No to the Nazis (Herald Press, 2017). ISBN 9781513801254 (paperback). $22.95. Reviewed by Myra Kroeker (EFC Steinbach), BA, wife and mother.

This book challenged and inspired in various ways, mainly from Matthew 25 where Jesus says, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was in prison, and you came to me.” Continue reading Book Review: Love in a Time of Hate

Book Review: Recollections of a Sectarian Realist, A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century

J. Lawrence Burkholder, Recollections of a Sectarian Realist: A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century. (AMBS/Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2017), 272 pp. $22.45 USD. Reviewed by Henry Friesen (The ConneXion), MPhilF, and former member of the BCM.

This is a fascinating story of a life well lived. Burkholder’s early years were in unincorporated settlements in Pennsylvania, but his life includes years of relief work in India and China, and studies as well as teaching in Goshen, Princeton, and Harvard. Interspersed with these international and cosmopolitan experiences Burkholder recalls self-supporting pastoral work in his early years, a rich family life that sadly includes the death of a son at age 25, and an enduring fascination with flying.

A noteworthy and delightful feature of this work is the way that reflections on the philosophical and theological implications of mundane matters are integrated into the biographical account. Reminiscing about a childhood Sunday School teacher includes a recognition of the significance of clearly defined terms to philosophical discourse, and an astonishingly accessible excursus into ontology, generally encountered only as a highly abstract philosophical concern. Regrettably, Burkholder did not elaborate on his eminently justifiable and repeated refusal to sign Goshen’s statement endorsing inerrancy.

This biography ranges over an immense range of theological practice from pastors required to leave ministry because they married a person from another Mennonite congregation, to a requirement that Burkholder himself relinquish a life insurance policy in order to retain a pastorate, to making potential life or death decisions for others while engaged in relief work.

The book concludes with Burkholder’s “Musings on the Pressing Issues of My Time.”

Recollections of a Sectarian Realist offers something for almost everyone. It is a biography that includes intriguing cerebral detours instigated by experiences in daily life.


Book Review: God’s Country, Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church

Bradley Roth, God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church (Herald Press, 2107). ISBN 9781513801612. $22.99. Reviewed by Kevin Wiebe, pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (Tilbury/Stevenson, Ont.) and a member of the BCM.

The word that comes to mind is “refreshing.” Brad Roth writes in way that is thoughtful, reflective and that is almost devotional in nature. His illustrations and points linger in my mind for a long time as I continue to reflect on his thoughts.

Yet this book is also challenging in all the right ways. Roth refuses to slip into the common stereotypes of the rural/urban divide. He resists the temptation to look at the rural church in overly romantic ways, but neither does he scornfully dismiss it. Rather, he writes of both the joys and challenges, the strength and weaknesses of the rural church and how important it has been, is now, and will continue to be to the work of God in the world.

Roth doesn’t speak pejoratively of the urban church either, but as it is a book about the rural church, much of the focus stays there. Where Roth does exhibit a large dose of skepticism, however, pertains to modern church growth tactics.

He seems to be picking up on a growing frustration among many pastors (in my circles, at least) with the church growth industry. In a world where the mantra is that bigger is better and smallness equates to failure or inadequacy, many small-town pastors feel they don’t measure up and are failures in ministry because their church is not a mega-church.

Roth does acknowledge that the number of people in our churches matters, not because we are supposed to be obsessed with numbers. It’s because numbers represent people—and it is for those people that Jesus died. Roth reminds the reader, however, that this is a very different thing than the empire-building notions that are found in much of the church growth literature available today. He reminds readers that the church is called to be a church, not an industrial complex or a power-hungry organization.

Personally speaking, I resonate very deeply with God’s Country because it challenges and encourages me in the context where I find myself as the pastor of a small rural church. I would highly recommend this book, especially to anyone involved in or even interested in rural ministry.


Book Review: Anabaptist Essentials

by Pastor Jacob Enns (Leamington).

Anabaptist Essentials: Ten Signs of a Unique Christian Faith, Palmer Becker (Herald Press, 2017). 180 pp. $12.99 USD (paper). ISBN 9781513800417.

In a time when culture seems to increasingly dissect and compartmentalize faith and practice, a message of faith and life integration is welcome. Palmer Becker in his book, Anabaptist Essentials, gives a very clear picture of what Anabaptism is at its core, where it is different from, and what it has in common with other protestant and catholic faith expressions.

From reading his book I have come to the conclusion that much of what we take for granted as Anabaptists has already been lost to the young generation and needs to be brought back to the table. The book is not written for the purpose of pointing out flaws in other faiths.

Palmer focuses on giving a very detailed rationale for the Anabaptist distinctives, and about the social and cultural impact they have made in various places and times in the past and are still doing today. It was these Early Church distinctives that the 16th century Reformers rediscovered, took as their own, and lived by often at great cost.

In a Christianity where people can decide to be “saved” but not serve Jesus as Lord, Palmer points back to the life of early Anabaptist faith where there was no such separation and compartmentalization. It was either people were “followers of Jesus” or they were not. To be saved, but not serve Jesus was not part of their understanding. In Anabaptist faith, faith means obedience. Faith and works cannot not be separated and compartmentalized. He mentions that his father was perplexed by the question, “Are you saved?” His answer was: “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.” It was all one unity. He was baptized on that confession of faith.

At a time when personal autonomy is gaining ground, the Anabaptist view draws people together into community in all aspects of faith expression, from Jesus being the central focus of our love, and radiating that outward to serving one another, being accountable to, and holding one another accountable, sharing ourselves with one another, and even suffering for one another. I suggest this as a good resource for Sunday School classes and small groups.


Review: Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity

Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, Katherine Willis Pershey (Herald Press, 2016). 224 pp. $21.49 ISBN 9781513800172. Reviewed by Rebecca Roman (Stony Brook), BA (SBC), wife and mother.

Various descriptors spring to mind when reflecting on Katherine Willis Pershey’s book Very Married. Among them are honest, authentic, real.

If you’re looking for a how-to book on marriage, this is not the book for you—although Willis Pershey does at times stray into the territory of how-not-to in describing the history of her own marriage. With no seeming attempt to gloss over her flaws, she openly shares of the struggles and beauty that come from two attempting to become one in a marriage relationship.

Particularly poignant is one scene where Willis Pershey and her husband, Benjamin, work together to scrub a kneeler in preparation for a wedding ceremony. While Willis Pershey is feeling sorry for herself that this is how they are spending their wedding anniversary, Benjamin says, “This feels very marital.” In our society where so much of the focus on marriage is on romance, this brief glimpse allows readers to be reminded that much of the joy and satisfaction in marriage is to be had in the everyday moments of working together.

Very Married also includes Willis Pershey’s thoughts on the state of marriage both as it is today and as it should be. Chapter 17 includes some sociological research on the decline of marriage within black communities in the U.S., and how socioeconomic disadvantage contributes to this. (I wonder how these statistics would compare to First Nations communities in Canada.) Willis Pershey concludes these reflections by saying, “If we want to wax poetic about the virtues and benefits of marriage, we must also advocate for policies and benefits that empower people to access those virtues and benefits for themselves.”

While some readers may be put off by Willis Pershey’s views on same-sex marriage (she is in favour of it), this is worth setting aside to gain benefit from the insights she brings to the timeworn, yet exciting, institution of marriage.

Review: Menno Simons, Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit

Menno Simons: Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit (A Study in the Problem Areas of Menno Scholarship), Abraham Friesen (Fresno, CA: Xlibris, 2015), 397 pp. $31. ISBN 9781503562813. Reviewed by Dr. Lawrence Klippenstein (formerly of Steinbach EMC), retired historian-archivist. A longer version of the review appeared in Mennonite Historian (March 2016).

This volume is challenging, timely, and to the point. Theology is not everyone’s “bag.” The part on Menno himself (141 to 388) is an easier read.

The introduction sketches the content and provides a more detailed composite portrait of the main actors of the drama. The list begins with Augustine and continues through eighteen brief biographies to assist in the long, sometimes tortuous journey of theological discussion.

The main text begins with a chapter on the social, economic, and political aspects of society in need of reform. Then follows a longer section on the effort to set up the Muenster “kingdom,” directed by persons, also known as Anabaptists in those days, seriously dedicated to carrying on God’s work as called for in Scripture “alone.”

Jan van Leyden and associates believed they were led by the Holy Spirit to storm the city and become His servants helping to usher in God’s reign on earth. It was a moment of extremes and violence that came to a tragic end, including the death of Menno’s brother Peter. The impact on Menno was life-changing and led to intense study of Scripture that turned him to his lifetime work for God as a man of non-violence and peacemaking.

Was Menno’s theology “derivative ” and dangerously revolutionary or did it go beyond that? Friesen says that Menno learned a lot from others, including Luther and Erasmus, but found his personal direction and guidance for leading the church in his own Spirit-led studies of the Scriptures.

Depending on your interests, give parts—or all of it—a go. Some might read the last section first and then decide what to do with the rest.

Book Review: Mayflower, A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin, 2006). 463 pp. $20. ISBN 9780143111979. Reviewed by Terry Smith, minister and executive secretary.

Ever hear of “King Philip’s War”? Darryl Klassen’s question and suggested book title led me to this look at the Pilgrims’ first few decades (about 1620 to 1676) in what is now the U.S.

Canadians know that First Nations helped the first Pilgrims in the U.S. to survive and about the first Thanksgiving feast they celebrated together. As Darryl has said, Mayflower puts a different spin on traditional images. In my view, if they had known what was ahead, the First Nations people might have let the first Pilgrims starve or freeze to death.

The Pilgrims, who had left the Anglican Church in England, sought to establish a pure, separate lifestyle in the New World. Their ideals hit the reality of living in a mixed European community and the struggle for survival. The second generation of Pilgrims forgot how reliant their parents were on the First Nations. The European population grew; the fur trade and spirituality declined; and, as farming developed, more land was sought.

Some First Nations, observing their loss of lands and control, began a short-lived war (1675-76), partly under Philip, who had adopted a European name. In response, the Europeans distrusted even the “Praying Indians,” converts to Christianity; they were exiled to an island where harsh conditions killed many. As Praying Indians began to be trusted, they were used, with Mohawks, to turn the war.

The ugliness of war, not one-sided, is revealed here. Only rare voices on various sides can be found to object to the conflict, or to advocate for social justice for First Nations and show spiritual concern for them. Nor did the ugliness end with the war; when the war was over, many First Nations people were shipped as slaves to the West Indies.

Philbrick’s assessment tempers mythology with reality.

Review: Kingdom Come: Living What Jesus Taught

Kingdom Come: Living What Jesus Taught (Irwin, Ohio: Conservative Mennonite Conference, 2014). $35 Can. Reviewed by Lisa Schau (St. Vital), homemaker and educator.

This 13-week curriculum would be fascinating to do with older teens or adults. The lessons start with the history of God’s covenants with his people and move through the development of group identities (us versus them), to biblical view of lifestyles and relationships, and then the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The lessons are interactive, mixing video clips (of songs, interviews, man-on-the-street, story-telling), role-play, choric readings, trivia games, and scripture readings with group discussions and prayer.

There is far more material available than could be covered in one session, which allows the leader the freedom to choose activities suitable to the group’s interests and comfort-level. This requires more preparation on the part of the leader, since simply pressing “play” will take you to a menu of very different options. Depending on the group, certain options will be more appropriate and helpful in stimulating discussions than others.

The content of the stories told comes from across history to current day, in North America and around the world. Expression of the concepts comes not only in the didactic style of definitions, doctrine or theory, but also in the form of art, poetry, and music.

The best experience would certainly be to go through this curriculum as a group, because the variety of media will touch different people in different ways, and so the discussion portions of each lesson will allow for a richer interaction with the material for all.

A great strength of this material is that the wide cross-section of personal experiences explored makes it necessarily deeply personal for the participants. This is no theoretical exercise; this study is meant to evoke change in the attitudes and actions of those who engage.

Note: This is a teacher led curriculum with more than 70 video clips. The topics are:

  1. Fill’er Up: Covenant—Old to New
  2. Free at Last: Righteousness—Law to Grace
  3. Pledge of Allegiance: Identity—Nation to Church
  4. Away from Home: World—In It but Not Of It
  5. The In-Group: Belonging—Bloodlines to Choice
  6. Give It Up: Posture—Self-Ambition to Servanthood
  7. Real Simple: Lifestyle—More to Less
  8. Peace on Earth: Relationships—Enemies to Friends
  9. Blowing in the Wind: Empowerment—Flesh to Spirit
  10. Appetizers: Epilogue—From Earth to Heaven

Book Review: People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, Preston Sprinkle (Zondervan, 2015). 224 pp. $19. ISBN 9780310519652. Reviewed by Jessica Wichers, BCM chair. 

The Bible is very clear.” When confronted with the hotly debated topic of the Church and homosexuality, evangelicals may be tempted to quote Bible verses and come to hasty conclusions. But do they really know what the Bible says? It’s too important an issue for quick answers.

Preston Sprinkle’s book People to Be Loved is an in-depth biblical analysis of homosexuality, which employs historical context to study scripture passages used to affirm or condemn homosexuality. Sprinkle demonstrates both affirming and non-affirming arguments, making the reader work for the conclusion that marriage was designed to be between a man and a woman.

He then discusses whether same-sex attracted individuals were “born this way” and the factors that contribute. Sprinkle gives stories of people who have gone through the struggles of same-sex attraction. He identifies ways that believers can show love to LGBT individuals, acknowledge their humanity, and make the church a safe place for them to experience the love of Christ. Sprinkle reminds pastors that their pews are filled with more same-sex attracted people than they realize, and they need to choose their words carefully when they teach.

Sprinkle suggests that evangelical believers may need to modify their attitudes about certain things. For instance, same-sex attracted individuals may choose to glorify God by remaining celibate., but the Church tends to overlook unmarried people. An environment that values singles will also be a place where same-sex attracted people may find a chance to thrive.

People to Be Loved is a helpful addition to the conversation about homosexuality and the Church. It is written by a person who upholds marriage to be between a man and a woman (as I do), and I believe the book is a well-balanced exploration of a most urgent and essential topic. It deals thoroughly with what the Bible says about same-sex attraction and marriage in a tone that is engaging, humble, and respectful. It is a recommended read for any believer.