By LeRoy Lawson
Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story
Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013
On Point: Four Steps to Better Life Teams
Charleston: Advantage Media Group, 2012
God According to God: A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along
Gerald L. Schroeder
New York: HarperOne, 2009
What I like best about Joni & Ken is that I have finally learned more about that shadowy figure who has for more than 30 years been husband, caregiver, friend, and source of strength for one of modern Evangelicalism’s leading ladies. From the moment she began sharing her story as a young woman, Joni Eareckson Tada has captivated us with her faith, courage, beauty, and her many talents. The teenager who broke her neck in a diving accident and wanted to commit suicide rather than live as a helpless quadriplegic has inspired millions. No longer young, she still inspires with her writing, broadcasting, speaking, and painting. We love Joni.
But who is Ken? What kind of man would pledge his life to a woman who can do almost nothing for herself? It’s not as if this teacher and coach didn’t already have a full life. How much can be expected of a guy?
Joni and Ken are convinced that God brought them together and kept them there. Yet theirs is no Cinderella tale, stepping from the altar to live happily ever after. They have had enough stresses and strains to sink the best of marriages. In this story, Cinderella didn’t marry the prince, but a footman. Joni is always the celebrity, thronged by adoring crowds. How much of being Mr. Joni Eareckson can a man stand?
This man has stood a lot; he knows much about the Spirit of Christ.
And like Jesus, Ken is experienced in foot washing. His wife cannot bathe herself, brush her teeth, attend to the details of the toilet, turn herself in bed to prevent sores, and on and on.
Then, after 28 years of marriage, comes breast cancer. Now Joni’s condition is not only uncomfortable and discomforting, but life-threatening. One paragraph summarizes Ken’s plight:
For Ken, the prospect of losing Joni to cancer had changed everything, making all the baggage relating to her disability seem minor. Quadriplegia? It was so minor it was hardly worth mentioning. Chronic pain? Oh, my, they could deal with that. The major thing now was saving her life. As John Eldredge had said, Ken had a battle to fight and a beauty to rescue. Drawing deeper on divine resources, Ken took his caregiving skills into overdrive. He was at Joni’s side through her mammogram, biopsy, mastectomy, recovery, and chemotherapy. He was her constant companion for countless hospital visits and oncology appointments, and her counselor as they sought out second and third opinions. He was on the phone with doctors, haggling with insurance companies, and keeping a meticulous record of everything in his spiral notebook. He was on this.
As for Joni, this is how the book summarizes her plight:
Crushing pain on top of paralysis.
Cancer on top of crushing pain.
Radical mastectomy on top of cancer.
Chemotherapy on top of mastectomy.
Pneumonia on top of chemotherapy.
And intense spiritual warfare with dark, malevolent spirits on top of it all.
Not a happily-ever-after fairy tale, Joni & Ken is a compelling story about a love that will not let go, that deepens through trials, that discovers God in the midst of pain. It is love as communion of souls who are strong where the flesh is weak.
The story is told dramatically—even melodramatically by my tastes. Still, I’m glad I read it. Joni I knew; now I’ve met Ken.
My favorite coach? He’s Del Harris, NBA Coach of the Year when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, coach also with the Houston Rockets, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Texas Legends (a Dallas Mavericks affiliate), which he now serves as general manager.
You will question my objectivity when I add that Harris is a graduate of Milligan College, where I was once vice president (after Harris had graduated). And if I add that Harris helped us build a new student center at Hope International University during my tenure there. And then add how he has also later helped Milligan and Dallas Christian College. He’s “one of us” and loyal to his roots.
I wanted to read Harris’s new book On Point: Four Steps to Better Life Teams because I so respect this man for openly living his faith before the public and his players—including those on the Chinese National Team he coached in the 2004 Olympics.
In On Point, the coach delivers his pep talk on leadership. After 50 years of coaching, he has earned the right to be heard. His illustrations are mostly from basketball, naturally. There isn’t anything radically new here; there are only so many leadership principles, after all.
What I didn’t expect, though, and was delighted to discover, is Harris’s immersion in Scripture. The second half of the book is a virtual Bible study. The coach turns to it repeatedly because these Scriptures, not the sports world, provide the real foundation for his “four steps to better life teams.”
Faith of a Scientist
Gerald Schroeder is ambitious, if nothing else. A three-time graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including a PhD in physics and the earth sciences, Schroeder is both scientist and Orthodox Jewish theologian. His subtitle’s claim—that he has discovered the truth about God that the rest of us may have missed—boasts the good professor has boldly gone where most have feared to dare.
Usually I’m turned off by such claims. Really? All theologians until now have been duped? Come on.
Ignore the hype, then, but not the substance. Schroeder has done his homework. So when . . .
• he studies the origins of life and finds good reasons to believe there is a God
• he stands in awe of how intelligently God placed planet earth to sustain life in an otherwise hostile galactical environment
• he argues persuasively that God gave nature a mind of its own
• he says God wants you and me to debate with God as Abraham and Moses did . . .
. . . well, you are impressed with Schroeder’s argument in spite of yourself.
He is a conservative, a very conservative, reader of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) in particular and the Bible in general. He pays attention to the Hebrew. He wants to know in particular what the words mean and how their meanings form (or should form) our understanding of God.
He makes a strong case—and he returns to it like a motif running throughout the book—that when Moses demands to know the name of God, the typical rendering of God’s response (“I am that which I am”) should more correctly be, “I will be that which I will be.” That’s not a subtle difference. All at once our picture of God who is unchanging, unmoved, and unmoving, becomes a God who is flexible, responsive to new situations, and in dynamic partnership with his creation.
What I found provocative is the author’s refusal to box God into our Western enlightenment categories: God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient—all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing—and unchanging. He says such a God is simply not to be found in the Bible. There God appears in dialogue with humanity, alive and responsive to the created world. He understands why atheists hate the God usually presented to them. He has little use for that God also, but reverence for God “according to God.”
Reading the Bible with Schroeder as guide, we meet a God who regrets (the flood of Noah), who wrestles (argues) with us (Jacob), who changes his mind (Moses convincing God to spare the Israelites), and who gives and takes away and gives again (Job).
I couldn’t absorb all this in my first reading, so I’m going to read it again. Few books compel me to do so.
LeRoy Lawson is international consultant with CMF International and professor of Christian ministries at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. He also serves as a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.