To Live is Christ (by Beth Moore)

I don’t remember how I came across a series of free downloads for my Kindle from the American Christian writer Beth Moore about three years ago. I had heard of her in context with devotional writing and teaching, and was interested to see what her studies would be like. I selected this particular one almost at random, and started reading a chapter most days while I was away in the middle of January, and have just finished it.

‘To live is Christ’ contains fifty short chapters about the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. The author has done a great deal of research, and is knowledgeable not just about the Bible passages that feature him, but about the typical life of a Jewish family in the first century. So the earliest chapters set the scene: she acknowledges that some of what she writes is speculation, but based on historical evidence it’s likely to be reasonably accurate.

It was interesting to read some of the details about how Paul - or Saul, as he was known as a child and young man - would have been welcomed into his family, and what kind of education and life he would have led before becoming enraged with the new ‘heresy’ - or so it seemed to him at the time - involving a risen Messiah.

The book moves seamlessly into what we know about the apostle from the Bible, particularly the book of Acts, but also some of his letters. It’s essentially a biographical account fleshed out with Beth Moore’s knowledge and research, and with plenty of application to modern believers. As we see Saul’s dramatic conversion, his changed lifestyle and his continual growth and development, there’s a great deal to reflect on.

The writing is good, there are some interesting personal touches here and there, giving insights into the author’s own life, and on the whole I thought it excellent. The only chapter that made me cringe a little was the one where racism is addressed, but I’m aware that, in the South of the United States, there are still people who see other nationalities or skin colours as different ‘races’, rather than different flavours of the human race.

Beth Moore herself writes against the evils of racism and the need to treat everyone the same, but I found it shocking that her friends and daughter asked whether a ‘Hispanic’ young man could be acceptable as a boyfriend to a white American. I couldn’t imagine why he would not! Still, this perhaps helped me to see some of what Paul was up against in the bias of early Jewish Christians against the Gentiles, something which is also hard to comprehend in the 21st century.

My other mild irritation was with the author’s assertion that Luke, author of the Gospel bearing his name and of the book of Acts, was the doctor who travelled on some of Paul’s journeys. While that’s the traditional view, and may be correct, modern scholarship suggests that it’s likely not to have been the same person. In any case, to draw any conclusions based on the traditional view isn’t particularly helpful.

However, those were blips in what was otherwise a well-written and sometimes thought-provoking book. I liked it so much, on the whole, that I’ve now started reading another one by the same author.

Note that the Kindle version of 'To live is Christ' is no longer free, and there are several variations in print: leaders' guides, audio books, members' guides, and so on.  So it's important to check exactly what you're getting if you order this online!

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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