Book Review

"Athanasius" and "John Owen" by Simonetta Carr

William Boekestein
Simonetta Carr
Tuesday, May 1st 2012
May/Jun 2012


North Africa was one of the leading centers of Christian thought for most of the first millennium after Christ. Near the heart of early North African Christian influence was a fourth-century Egyptian bishop named Athanasius’a churchman revered by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians alike.

Simonetta Carr's newest book in her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series depicts the life of this hero of the faith. And again, in a way that is both engaging and informative, she has skillfully woven the main character's biography with the doctrine for which he labored. The beautiful layout and art work by Matt Abraxas beckon readers to learn about this man who, though small in stature, looms large on the pages of Christian history.

One of the invaluable themes in this series is the honesty with which the author reveals the struggles of her subjects. To say that Athanasius lived a hard life is a serious understatement. Even before his adult years, Athanasius had lost many friends in the final round of Roman persecution against the Christian faith under Diocletian. After entering the Christian ministry, Athanasius was constantly under attack from ecclesiastical and civil enemies. Before he died he was exiled five times for his defense of the faith.

Despite this opposition, Athanasius was a classic over-achiever. By the age of twenty, he had written two little books that have had a profound impact on the Christian faith (Against the Heathen and On the Incarnation). As an "observer" to the famous Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), Athanasius argued vigorously against Arius and his doctrine that Christ is of a distinct substance from the Father. Although the council formally agreed with Athanasius, the christological controversy was far from over. Apart from his final peaceful years, Athanasius' entire life was characterized by opposition, hence the expression, "Athanasius contra mundum" ("against the world").

Carr's work on Athanasius proves William Faulkner's claim: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." As with the rest of this highly recommended series, Athanasius demonstrates that history is a rich vein of wisdom and experience that can yield great dividends in the present.

John Owen

Simonetta Carr's third book in her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series features one of the most famous and influential leaders of the seventeenth-century English Puritan movement.

John Owen was the son of a Welsh minister of princely descent. When he was only twelve he began his studies at Oxford where he would earn bachelor's and master's degrees by the age of twenty-one. When Owen sided with Parliament at the outbreak of the English Civil War, he disinherited himself from the life and luxury of family nobility. At the same time he began a theological career that would earn him the well-deserved title "Prince of the Puritans." Although Owen was a champion of Calvinist theology, he argued powerfully for the unpopular idea of religious toleration.

Despite what his nickname might suggest, the "Prince of the Puritans" was no ivory-tower theologian. He ministered "in the trenches" as personal chaplain to Oliver Cromwell on several military campaigns. Along with his wife of thirty years, he also endured the unimaginable heartache of burying ten of his eleven children in infancy. At one of the lowest points in his life, Owen was revived by a sermon on Jesus' words from Matthew 8:26, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Carr's biography of Owen is a powerful life commentary on the great gift of saving faith in the midst of fearful circumstances.

As with the rest of this series, this colorfully told story is enhanced with beautiful, well-chosen photographs and original paintings. The book's illustrator, Matt Abraxas, has provided the series' best art thus far. John Owen manages to be informative without being dry, edifying without being moralistic. By avoiding the temptation to be either obtrusive or dispassionate, Carr succeeds in highlighting the value of a thoughtful, courageous, principled life. And in being true to Owen's life she has invited readers to glory in Owen's God.

As my kids and I finished this book, I had the sneaking suspicion that we had concluded the first of many odysseys into this highly recommended introduction to the life of John Owen.

Photo of Simonetta Carr
Simonetta Carr
Simonetta Carr is the author of numerous books, including Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia through a Mother’s Eyes, and the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers (Reformation Heritage Books).
Tuesday, May 1st 2012

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

J. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church