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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Abraham" (Charles R. Swindoll)

TITLE: Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith
AUTHOR: Charles R. Swindoll
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014, (288 pages)

The Bible is not a book of fairy tales or ideal characters. It is very much a book about reality and real life. Right from the first patriarch of Israel, we learn about a biography that is not simply showing the positive sides of a person, it reveals warts and all. The popular writer, Charles Swindoll uses the story of Abraham to drive home four points about a good biography.
  1. That they translate truth into life
  2. That they develop "closer kinship" between people then and people now
  3. That they offer modern readers a closer identification with the characters in the story
  4. That they help us maintain a "divine perspective on life." 

In this book, Swindoll does much more. Let me note some of his highlights on the life of Abraham. First, he paints the cultural contexts of the day of Abraham to show us the difficulties and temptations that Braham faced. He points out that the time of Abraham is quite similar to our times because just like us, Abraham lived in a time of great idolatry and unbelief. Even Abraham then lived a life of half-faith, stumbling through fear about his life, uncertain about God fulfilling his promise of giving him offsprings, and him being influenced more by the cultures around him instead of God's promise, rushing to Egypt instead of rushing to God. Like our day, more people are greedy rather than generous. Readers are reminded not to put Abram on a pedestal as if he is a perfect guy for an ideal case study. Second, Swindoll has a keen eye on characteristics of "great" people. He supplies four of them: genuine unselfishness; self-sacrifice; an absence of greed; and gentleness. In Abraham, we find such qualities which are why it is right to revere Abraham too. Third, we see how Abraham and God interacted like friends. I appreciate the keen insight that Swindoll has with regards to the intimate conversations between God and Abraham, and how he is able to draw out five "blessings of friendship." Fourth, we read of how human Abraham is, struggling with the messiness of living. Swindoll notes that the path of holiness needs time, and brilliant expounds the faith dilemmas Abraham had to go through. He uses this to counter our modern society's infatuation with speed. He expands on this humanness of the person and stretches it to the span of ups and downs in life. Fifth, he weaves in elements of prayer and shows us how we can learn to pray. While not all the petitions of prayer are drawn directly from the character of Abraham, we learn how the story of Abraham exposes us to the breadth of responses from God and the range of opportunities the petitioner can learn about God's character. Sixth, Swindoll also does a character comparison between Abraham and Lot and contrasts the different ways they approach decision making, the horrible choices made, and the depth of sin in the places they were living in. The example of Lot demonstrates what happens when one gets sucked in and thoroughly influenced by worldliness. Unlike Abraham, Lot had a gross lack of convictions. Seventh, Swindoll spends time to talk about Sodom and Gomorrah, and warns us about modern Sodoms and Gomorrahs. He shows us the five characteristics in "decaying cultures" similar to Sodom and Gomorrah,  pointing to  the rise of "alternative forms of marriage"; feminist movements that undermined complementary roles of women; public disrespect for parenting; where adultery more and more tolerated; and increased tolerance for "incestuous and homosexual sex." Eight, readers are warned about being passive in a world of sin that we fail to give of our very best. The waters are flowing underneath us and if we are unaware or do nothing about it, we can be swept with the worldly tide. Nine, we read of God's hope for the world, and how God provides Abraham with a son despite the uphill struggles. We note the promises of God and Swindoll teaches us to identify them with patience; with faith; and with increasing certainty of God's fulfilling His promise. Ten, Swindoll helps us to appreciate Abraham as one who straddles between human weakness and divine strength. Heroes are not perfect. Only God is.

The single biggest lesson for me in reading this book is how human Abraham is. He is not exactly a pious man that has no fault. He is one who has stumbled, makes bad decisions, lacks courage at times, and while is a man of faith, is similarly a man who lets his doubts take control. If God can help Abraham become such a great person, surely God can do the same to any one He chooses. Abraham simply responded to God's call and stumbled each step of the way. It is very much a story of God's grace upon Abraham, and how it is completely God's initiative and mercy that enabled Abraham to be the father of all nations that he was called to be. What makes Swindoll's writings so powerful is that it is very accessible to the lay person. There are many pointers for each chapter. There are also many applications for our modern world.  Highly readable and at times very thought provoking, this book strings together the different phases of the first patriarch of Israel and demonstrates to us how relevant the book is for us today.

I note that there is an absence of discussion questions. Perhaps, the publisher can include them to trigger fruitful reflections and further research.

Great stuff!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers via Tyndale Blogger Network and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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