Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Authenticity. I have always been drawn to people who ooze authenticity.
In grade school, a favorite aunt gave me a biography of Winston Churchill—an authentic war hero and statesman (Malkus 1957). I was hooked. Reading biographies and listening carefully to the life-stories of the people around me became a life-long passion. Author John Savage (1996, 82) calls stories from the past with current meaning rehearsal stories. In more recent years, I have been repeatedly drawn to the story of Abraham—a biblical story of an authentic man of faith who continues to inspire me. So when the leader of my church’s men’s group gave me a copy of Charles Swindoll’s Abraham, I knew it would be a page turner.
Swindoll sees 4 reasons why biographies are worth studying:
- A good biography translates truth into life.
- A good biography creates a closer kinship with people we have admired from a distance.
- A good biography offers stability when we go through similar experiences.
- A good biography helps us maintain a divine perspective on life (viii-x).
This idea of a rehearsal story is actually part of the Lord’s Prayer: we pray that “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In other words, we take the biblical pattern, such as seen in the life of Abraham (a shadow of heaven), as a pattern for our own lives (here on earth). Are you excited yet?
Swindoll sees Abraham as interesting because:
Out of this mass of theologically aimless humanity, one man emerged who began to proclaim what we might call “radical theism.” The man we know today as Abraham not only claimed that one true Creator existed and that all other gods did not, but he also stacked his entire life on this belief (xi).
In other words, Abraham oozed authenticity.
Abraham’s authenticity was apparently attracted a loyal following who were not, per se, his slaves or relatives. Swindol writes:
Abram attracted a large number of loyal followers because he was a wealthy, influential man. His household grew in numbers because people saw how his community enjoyed provision and protection. (43)
Today we might describe this phenomena as an entourage—people just wanted to be with Abraham. Abraham’s faith was part of the attraction.
Part of Abraham’s attraction was that he was a fearless and cunning warrior. Swindol writes:
Genesis 14 would make an exciting action movie. It contains all the necessary elements of a great story. A riveting plot. Villains. A crisis. A hero. Strategy, swordplay, and acts of daring. A surprising twist and—just as critical to good storytelling—meaningful character development. (42)
Abraham defeats the superpowers of his day at their own game in spite of being vastly outnumbered and he rescues his nephew, Lot, from a life of slavery. Having beaten the superpowers, Abraham refuses to grab Canaan (including Sodom and Gomorrah) by force, preferring to wait on God’s timing to claim God’s promise of land in Canaan.
Charles Swindol was senior pastor of churches in Texas, Massachusetts, and California. He is the former president and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary and has led a radio ministry, Insight for Living, for many years. Swindol’s writes a comprehensive account of Abraham’s life and spiritual journey in 20 chapters.
Based on Abraham’s life, Swindol offers this closing advice:
Wherever God leads, follow.
Whatever God promises, believe.
Whenever God tests, trust.
However God blesses, share (260).
May this book bless you and may you, in turn, bless others.
Malkus, Alida Sim. 1957. The Story of Winston Churchill. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.
Savage, John. 1996. Listening & Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
 Review: Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-4e)
 Interestingly, later in Genesis 18:22-33 he argues (prays) that God spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction for the sake of the righteous people found there, including his nephew.
This is a paraphrase of Genesis 12:2-3 which I have used in signing my own book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality (T2Pneuma.com).