Irenaeus of Lyons - A Children's Biography

I’ve found biographies to be very important for my own spiritual development. Ideas and lives of people who have lived well before my time often provide the wisdom I need to navigate present difficulties. It’s been important to me to inculcate an appreciation of biographies in the hearts of my children. I do this by reading them YWAM biographies in the evenings to my children and also by sharing the excellent biographies from Reformation Heritage Books in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.


The latest entry into the RHB series is Irenaeus of Lyons. Simonetta Carr authored this significant volume about a lesser known by exceedingly important hero of the Christian tradition.

Irenaeus reads a bit differently than some of the other volumes in this series, seeming to be less narrative and more like the sort of non-fiction informational book that young boys often love. This made sense in light of Carr’s comment in the Acknowledgments, “This was probably the hardest book I have ever written, because we know so little about Irenaeus’s life. His theology is very important, but I had to work hard to ensure this book will be good for more than just putting my young readers to sleep.”

Carr’s efforts have borne fruit for, in fact, this book is just as delightful as her earlier volumes like Martin Luther and Marie Durand. Though there are differences in the manner of carrying out her task; we simply know less about the life of Irenaeus, and much of his life has been passed down in sometimes-questionable stories. However, Carr has done well to the story as we know it.

Irenaeus was a very early figure in Church History. He was a student of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John. Irenaeus was, therefore, one of the people trying to sort through Scripture to discern the true nature of Christian doctrine. Among Irenaeus’ most significant works are his Against Heresies, in which he argues in opposition to Marcion’s theological revisionism. Though it is sometimes hard to explain theology to children, Carr does well in bringing the conversation to a level that young children should be able to understand (not to mention their parents).

Irenaeus was not simply a theologian huddled in his ivory tower, however, he was also a pastor engaged in shepherding a congregation in Gaul. This biography relates the story of Irenaeus’ faithful work in an area troubled by persecution and danger from the invasion of the Germanic tribes. The portrait that emerges is of a doctrinally faithful Christian who lived a life devoted to God, which serves as a benchmark for those that come after.

The story is well-told and the book is finely produced. The hardback volumes are durable, which make these books possible to share between generations. The illustrations are colorful, with a mix of photos and paintings. Thus, the reader gets images of how things look now in addition to artistic renditions of the historical scenes. The volumes are really a treasure for the contemporary church.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.

Martin Luther - A Children's Biography

October 2017 will mark 500 years since Luther published his famous 95 Theses, which are often said to have kicked off the Protestant Reformation. A recent children’s biography on Luther by Simonetta Carr provides a delightful way to introduce the early German Reformer to children.

This volume is the latest edition in the series, Christian Biographies for Young Readers, which is published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is a beautifully illustrated, full color volume, that is likely to delight the reader even as it instructs.

Often children’s biography falls into the trap of hero worship. Obviously, a publisher like Reformation Heritage views the Protestant Reformation in a positive light. Thus it stands to reason they would celebrate Luther’s life and contribution to Church History. Carr, however, manages to avoid the pitfall of hagiography by presenting Luther’s story with its good and bad points.

This book critiques Luther for his coarse language and diatribes against the Jews later in his life, but it does not let those real, yet unfortunate failings diminish the impressive and exciting story of the monk turned Reformer. Roman Catholics or others who view the Protestant Reformation as a tragedy, and thus see Luther mainly negatively, will likely balk at the generally positive view Carr presents of his life and work. However, for most Protestant Christians, this volume strikes the proper note.

In recounting the life of Luther, Carr celebrates the recovery of the gospel from the twisted medieval traditionalism espoused by the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. Unlike many histories, this volume rightly argues that indulgences were the presenting problem, but the deeper issue was the loss of the gospel in the regular teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. That is why Luther’s ministry was so important; he was not dividing the universal church, he was seeking to preserve the gospel and was subsequently attacked by the traditionalists who elected to remain in error.

Some biographies work best if told as a story. Because of Luther’s wide range of activities and overall significance, Carr chose to tell his story in roughly chronological, but mostly topical chunks. There are seven chapters with 4-7 pages each. The chapters discuss his early life, clerical training, desire for reform, alienation from Roman Catholicism, attempts at Reform, marriage and family life, and broader ministry. The volume also includes a timeline, a collection of interesting facts about Luther, and a selection from Luther’s Short Catechism. Even young readers will walk away with a sense of the importance of Luther and an understanding of his life and work.

Much like other biographies in this series, Carr’s book about Luther is full-color throughout. Carr combines new illustrations from Troy Howell with historical engravings and paintings, along with photographs of some of the sites as they appear now. This breaks up the text and makes the book as a whole a feast for young eyes. (Older eyes will appreciate it, too, and may have to be reminded this book is for the kids.)

Whether you are looking for a gift for a child, seeking a volume for homeschool history, or simply building your library, this volume is worth purchasing. It is historically accurate, delightfully illustrated, with an appropriately critical tone. It represents both a celebration of the recovery of the gospel with a recognition of the pervasiveness of human sin, even among our heroes. Reformation Heritage Books should be applauded for continuing the series and publishing excellent children’s volumes like this one.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews with no expectation of a positive review.

Marie Durand - The Story of Faithfulness in Persecution

If you haven’t heard of Reformation Heritage Books before today, you’ve been missing out. They produce a number of fine volumes on theology, particularly on Puritan theology.

One of the most significant contributions they are making to the life of the church is the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series. These are fully illustrated, hardbound books that are suitable early elementary through middle school. The books include drawings and paintings of historic scenes as well as contemporary photos of historical sites.


The latest edition in this series highlights the life of Marie Durand. Durand was a French Protestant who was born in the early eighteenth century. As a Protestant in Catholic France, her family was at times tolerated, but later on most of the family was arrested for meeting together and worshipping according to their conscience.

As a result of her faith, which led her to disobedience to the crown, Durand spent thirty-eight years in prison. She lived the first 19 years of her life free, though with threat of persecution through many of those years. Nearly her entire adult life was lived in the small confines of the Tower of Constance, where she and a number of other Protestant women and children were imprisoned. Snow and rain fell through the grating in the roof and through the slitted windows. Their meager provisions had to be augmented by their families and friends on the outside.

Inside, Durand served as a teacher to the children, letter writer for many of the other prisoners, and also spiritual leader because of her ability to read and write better than others. Her role was significant, and yet the reality is that she spent nearly four decades in a small one-room prison with only occasional opportunities to go outside into the fresh air.

While the women, including Marie Durand, were imprisoned, their husbands were made to be galley slaves. Or, like Marie’s brother Pierre, were executed outright if they persisted in preaching the Protestant faith.

And yet they persisted.

Analysis and Conclusion

This is what makes this biography so powerful and timely. Durand’s story reminds us of what real persecution looks like. This is not merely social marginalization but absolute, unfettered, and unreasoning punishment. Many men and women lost their lives in exchange for an unsullied conscience.

This book is written as a third person historical biography. In other words, it is not a story book, but a work of non-fiction directed to the young. This is the sort of story that can provide the sort of vicarious memory that a young Christian may need when attempting to sort through the social consequences of a vibrant Christian faith in the coming years. This volume shows that others have paid a greater price, and that it was worth it.

The author, Simonetta Carr, is a native of Italy with a multicultural background. She has been an elementary school teacher, a home-school teacher of eight, and a writer for newspapers and magazines. The book is illustrated by Matt Abraxas who is an artist by trade who lives on Colorado.

These books are not inexpensive, but they are well constructed. The illustrations draw the reader in and help to make the story come alive. This would be a suitable volume to incorporate into a homeschool unit, or as part of church library. The entire series would make an exceptional Christmas or birthday gift for a young reader. This is the sort of reading that will stick to a child’s ribs and provide encouragement in a time of need.

This is the ninth book in the series. Previous titles include John Calvin; Augustine of Hippo; John Owen, Athanasius; Lady Jane Grey; Anselm of Canterbury; John Knox; and Jonathan Edwards. Hopefully there are more planned in the near future. If the future volumes are as good as this one, the church will be blessed.

Note: A gratis copy of this volume was received from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews with no expectation of a positive review.

The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation

In his 2014 book An Infinite Journey, Andy Davis notes, 

Meditation on Scripture is essential to gaining a deep understanding of the truth of its words. Without meditation, the words of our daily reading can flow through our minds like water in a pipe and make no impact. But by means of meditation, we give the word a chance to settle in our minds and do its work.

Similarly in the recently published Prayer, Tim Keller writes, 

Many have written about the hyperactivity of today’s contemporary society and our cultural attention deficit disorder that makes slow reflection and meditation a lost art. Nonetheless, if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.

Both of these men are pointing in the same direction, a return to a spiritual discipline that often eludes believers in an age of constant connectivity. Both Keller and Davis spend a few pages on the topic with some basic instructions, but there is a room for a great deal more practical instruction in the practice of Christian meditation. David Saxton provides such instruction in his recent book, God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

It may be that the focus on the Puritans will turn some readers off from the beginning. However, that is a thoroughly unfair bias. As Leland Ryken shows in his book, Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, there is a lot more to the Puritans than Max Weber and Nathaniel Hawthorne allow. In fact, while we cannot adopt everything the Puritans espoused wholesale, the contemporary Christian can benefit greatly by exploring the deeply scriptural worldview they developed.

As such, Saxton’s book really is helpful. Saxton is, in essence, bringing the Puritans forward to a contemporary audience and summarizing their perspective on a neglected spiritual discipline. While extremely beneficial to read, the Puritans are often quite prolix at times. This makes books like this a welcome addition to an arsenal of texts on Puritan theology.

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a short book at 138 pages of text. It is divided into twelve short chapters and a conclusion. In a very practical manner, Saxton presents an apology for biblical meditation, differentiates it from unbiblical forms, and demonstrates some of the times that biblical meditation is most helpful and necessary. Thankfully, the book does not leave the reader at the theoretical, but pushes into practical methods for meditation on the Word.

The last six chapters deal with the practical aspects of mediation. Saxton presents some specific instructions on how to choose subjects for meditation, how to be motivated to meditate, what benefits to look for in meditation, and ways to recognize enemies of meditation. The final chapter is an even more basic primer of how to get started developing the habit of meditation.

If you love Puritan theology, you will thoroughly enjoy this volume, which is well stocked with Puritan quotes. If you want to deepen your walk with Christ, you will find this book very beneficial, because it points readers toward practices which are important for becoming more Christlike. If you need encouragement in your walk with Christ, this short text will provide ample exhortation. It is worth your time to read it.

The most significant weakness of this volume, in my mind, is a bias toward Christian separatism. Saxton rightly notes the distraction which our entertainment saturated society can find, but he goes on to cite ungodly friends, by which he means unspiritual ones not merely ruffian acquaintances, and a “failure to decisively separate from the world” as major obstacles to meditation. While these latter factors may negatively impact spiritual disciplines if we never separate from worldly amusements and spend all our time among non-Christians, Saxton seems to be proposing an intentional withdrawal from culture. This may be helpful for maintaining a focus on Christ, but it also removes opportunities for evangelization and influencing a culture which is need of both salt and light. This is not a major emphasis in the book, however, so the value of the volume is not diminished.

Buy the book, apply the technique. There is little doubt that meditating on the Word of God is both biblical and necessary for growing in the knowledge of Christ.

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

I have previously reviewed Andy Davis' book, An Infinite Journey for Themelios, the academic journal of The Gospel Coalition. Click here to read the review.