Wednesday, October 24, 2012

History Lives Series: Courage and Conviction

I am excited!

I seldom go to our local Christian book store. I have to work up the courage to walk through aisles of self-help, fluffy titles and mainstream movies on the video shelves in hopes of finding something decent (and sometimes truly Christian). I find fewer and fewer reasons to go in. However, every once in awhile I will poke my nose in the door and see if I might stumble across a treasure. Some time back, on one such venture, I came across Courage and Conviction: Chronicles of the Reformation Church on the severely and ridiculously marked down rack. Usually, if it's ridiculously marked down rack, I consider it to have great promise as it's deemed "not popular" and so I immediately snatched it up. (Yes, I'm being snarky. But I think I have good reason to be.) I noted that this particular title was Book 3 in the "History Lives" series and I asked if there were any additional titles from the series hidden in the shop. No, there weren't. So I decided that I would read this title and, if I liked it, would grab the rest on Amazon. I finally got around to reading this one (in preparation for Reformation Day which is next Wednesday - the 31st) and I promptly ordered the entire series on Amazon. And it will be worth every penny at the non-bargain price.

I'm in love with this series.

There are five books in the History Lives series which are written by husband and wife team, Brandon and Mindy Withrow. The series is geared towards middle grade/YA readers to introduce them to church history in an artfully appealing way, making history relevant and inspiring for young Christian (or otherwise!) readers. The history that they write about is not just church history but it is world history as well. Book one - Peril and Peaceh - covers from the birth of Christ to 590 A.D. Book five - Rescue and Redeem takes the reader "from 1860 to tomorrow." I'm waiting for the rest of the books to arrive in my mailbox and then I will devour them - in order - one by one with glee and gladness! (I'm enormously in love with this series!)

In Courage and Conviction we are escorted back to the years 1500 to 1700, from the build up to Martin Luther's actions in 1517, through the very beginning of the Enlightenment period. In order to build a proper concept of who lived when, did and said what and to what purpose - the Withrows divide this period of history into chapters which highlight particular people and what they are most known for. Did anyone out there ever read the We Were There series? I'm dorky enough to have loved those series as a child. (Yes, I have always loved stories from history!) The History Lives series reminds me a great deal of my love and enjoyment of the We Were There books. The Withrows set factual situations and true historical figures, quotes and happenings into a fictionalized setting to bring history to life.

The book opens with a Reformation Church Timeline to give you an overview. Then you receive an explanation of what the Reformation Church is. From there you proceed, chapter by chapter, to read about the key players and events. For example the chapters are laid out as follows:

  1. Desiderius Erasmus: The hen that laid the egg of Luther
  2. Martin Luther: A conscience captive to the word of God
  3. The Catholic Reformation
  4. Menno Simmons: A kingdom of peace
  5. John Calvin: To take a wife
  6. Big Changes in the Reformation World
  7. Katherine Parr: For such a time as this
  8. Thomas Cranmer: Candles in England
  9. Etc.

For those of you even a little familiar with church history will recognize that the Withers are taking us from Europe to England (and then on to the Americas later in the book) showing how, by person, the Roman Catholic Church was challenged and how Reformation changed the way that the entire world looks.

The Withers do not try to make anyone look perfect in this books and this I like. In fact, on their website they say that this is not a series about the "heroes of the faith" but is "about some of the flawed human beings that make up the story of Christianity from its beginning." They tell you that Calvin and Luther didn't get along. They share Thomas Cranmer's moments of weakness. They make you feel pity at times, sorrow in others and excitement in most. (I really find history exciting. I love this series. A lot.)

Let's face it - history can often times be very confusing. Time lines, numbers and facts can be oh so dry and boring if the teacher of it is not extremely careful. Woe to the dull history teacher who kills any desire to learn about where we've been and why we are where we are now. All of these "facts and figures" are important so it is extremely regrettable that they go down so distastefully most times. The Reformation period alone can be confusing. Did Luther start it? Did he end it? Why are we suddenly talking about Calvin having a say? And what were their differences?

While the History Lives series doesn't answer every question (you can be go as deep as you like in your studies) they do piece together the history in an understandable timeline, letting the reader comfortably know which of the Reformers were contemporaries of one another and what their more specific ideas led to. I liked that they hopped countries to further explain the "dangerous teachings" which Luther and others presented to the people. Luther wasn't the only one who was challenging the Catholic Church and he didn't go as far in his dislike of the church as other people did. Those who spent time studying the writings of the Reformers and considering their teachings put their own lives at risk and the Withrows explain this brilliantly in their layout.

Although these books are written for ages 9 to 14, I dare say a good many adults would enjoy them as well. Although these are facts set into a fictional situations at times, the Withrows really manage to get across timeline and the importance of individuals and teaching.

As we're approaching Reformation Day, I'll highlight Courage and Conviction as a fantastic resource to explain to your younger readers why this day is so meaningful and what this day represents to us as Christians and as humans. (And as Americans. And as individuals. And, and, and...)

You can learn more about the History Lives series on their website.

You can purchase the series as individual titles on Amazon:
Peril and Peace
Monks and Mystics
Courage and Conviction
Hearts and Hands
Rescue and Redeem

The series is also available as a box set (as well as individual titles) from Westminster Bookstore.

The titles are also available on the Kindle. I tell you that because I love this series so much that I don't care how you read them, but that you read them. Yes.

Forever gratefully giddy that our local Christian bookstore decided to stock these books once upon a time. They should bring them back. Because history does live and it is entirely relevant.


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I have a couple of these but haven't read them. I should remedy that!

Mandy Withrow is also a book blogger!

Ticia said...

So I'm not the only one who goes into Christian book stores and feel discouraged by the titles.

Barbara H. said...

Unfortunately none of my history teachers made the subject come alive until my freshman year of college, and that, unfortunately, was my last history class. This sounds like a great series.

That reminds me I should go to the Christian bookstore more often to check the markdowns. I don't go often because most of their stuff is ridiculously expensive -- one item I went in for specifically because I had a coupon was still more expensive than I could find it online.

Sky said...

Ha! Christian bookstores give me the heebie-jeebies. All those titles of self worth and positive thinking. *shudder*
I am putting this series on my list, it sounds most excellent!

PS I haven't bought a book from an overpriced "Christian" book store since book 14 in the Mandie series!
We went in to buy the boys a special Bible and I was so appalled at the prices that we walked back out again. The kids wanted to know why so many portrayals of Jesus gave him blue eyes... So much explaining to do!

Stephanie Kay said...

I haven't been into the 1 Christian book store in RI in 2 years? 3 years? It's been a long time.

I'm excited about this series!! My oldest (9 yrs) loves history as much as I do. He sits and reads our historical books for pleasure! I picked up some biographies of famous Christians but I'm finding the writing is horrendous. Clearly the authors did not care about the subject and their bias comes through the writing. I bought them at a used book sale so I'm not out much in the way of money. But I've been looking for good alternatives. I think these might suit my purposes!

Cassandra said...

I love your snarky comment about books having potential if they are in the markdown bin. ;) I haven't been to a Christian bookstore in years. Maybe 8 years ago? I think the last time I went was to buy tickets for a DCTalk concert... not an experience I care to repeat!

Annette Whipple said...

It wasn't until family camp that I became interested in the Reformation.

These sound really good!

Diary of an Autodidact said...

This does sound interesting. Bonus points for including Menno Simmons. (I have Mennonite ancestry on both sides of my family.)

Also bonus points for not deifying Luther and Calvin, but presenting them as flawed individuals that God used for His purposes.

Beth said...

I have been eyeing this series for a while, but wasn't sure if I would like them. Thanks for the review. These will be going on my "to buy" list.

Stephanie said...

I've emailed my husband links to these books - they may need to be added to our shelves. They look great!

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