Book Review: Answers to Life’s Problems

Book Review: Answers to Life’s Problems

Author: Billy Graham

Date: 1960-1988

Publisher: Chicago Tribune / Word / Grason

ISBN: 0-8499-0642-3 (Grason, 1988)

Length: 306 pages plus 6 pages of index material

Quote: “For nearly thirty years I have been writing a newspaper column called ‘My Answer’…My answers are based on what the Bible says.”

My copy of Answers to Life’s Problems was published in the year Billy Graham turned seventy. At the time when I wrote this review, more than twenty years later, the voice of twentieth-century American Protestantism was still alive and still, occasionally, preaching. Some people who buy books from me feel that this fact alone represents some sort of supernatural seal of approval on Graham’s work.

Graham may also be the best known American Protestant minister whose public career has not been marred by scandal. Although the position of this blog is that anyone can choose to avoid the tacky little sins that have discredited so many other preachers, the extravagances and adulteries and desperate bids for attention, I’ll agree that any of us who manage to avoid public displays of tackiness during public careers as long as Graham’s will have had some sort of supernatural help.

Not every Protestant will agree with every one of the interpretations of the Bible that shape this book, but as a general rule, if you want to know what most Protestant ministers would say about a given issue, Answers to Life’s Problems is a good book to consult. There is a great deal of plain common sense in this book; there is remarkably little divisive doctrine.

In fact, so closely does this book reflect the consensus of Protestant opinion that, if you are a Protestant of a certain age, you may feel that this book has little new to tell you. You may find yourself anticipating what Graham was going to tell each respondent and feeling that, in many cases, if you’d memorized the Scripture reference you would have told a young person the same thing.

Then again, if you’ve never given much thought to some of these questions, Answers to Life’s Problems may be a good reference to consult before giving advice.

Most of the common questions that touch on the practice of Christian religion are covered in this book. A few of the answers have a censorious tone, but even in those cases, contrasting the tone of Graham’s answers over time is a valuable study of how we can learn to express firmly held opinions in a modest and compassionate way.

Some of Graham’s Answers to Life’s Problems may surprise Christian-phobics who might imagine that the book would be full of fire and brimstone, judgment and doom. Respondents considering abortion are advised not to consider it. On the other hand, respondents confessing past abortions are advised to trust God’s forgiving love.

I’m particularly favorably impressed with Graham’s courage to print what was becoming bait for terrorist-style violence in the 1980s. Clearly and unequivocally he told a “gay” correspondent: “Homosexual behavior is wrong in God’s eyes, but [God] still loves you.” This is congruent with his advice to others tempted by the sins of the flesh. Nobody is told that carnal indulgence is unpardonable; nobody is told that it’s okay. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”

Far be it from me to suggest that homosexuality is worse than the careless procreation of unwanted babies, the false promises, the sadistic little “mind games” and the physical cruelty, to which heterosexuals are tempted. In some cases it may be less bad. A church where the Bible is sincerely and seriously read will have to welcome homosexuals in precisely the same way it welcomes adulterers, embezzlers, tax cheats, Sabbath breakers, and all the rest of us…without giving the claim that “gay is just as good as straight” any more credence than it would give a claim that “drunk is just as good as sober.”

Moral standards are not brickbats to throw at people’s heads; they are the solid brick foundations of healthy, happy lives. Answers to Life’s Problems is an excellent description of how these foundations are built.

Middle-aged Christians who read this book will find room to expand and update some passages. Because each question and answer originally had to fit into the space of a newspaper column, even though some of the questions suggest situations that call for in-depth counselling, it would be possible for several of Graham’s answers to be expanded into full-length books. It’s even been done. For example, Gary Chapman’s study of The Five Love Languages adds a great deal to Graham’s advice to a “desperate housewife” on pages 43-44.

Some of us may even think of a question that’s not addressed in this book. Anthony Campolo once claimed to have identified Twenty Hot Potatoes That Christians Are Afraid to Touch. Graham does discuss racism in Answers to Life’s Problems (he’s against it), but he offers no further advice for those trying to integrate a church dominated by a different ethnic group.

Anyway, Answers to Life’s Problems is an excellent basic book about the Christian life. It is particularly recommended to two types of readers. One is the teacher, preacher, counsellor, or evangelical Christian who needs a quick roundup of the basic Protestant positions on questions like cheating in business, what to pray about, and whether pets go to Heaven. The basics, with plenty of Bible quotes, are all there.

The other is the person who wonders what Christianity has to say to him or her, perhaps on a subject this person wouldn’t want to discuss with a client or co-worker. If you want to know whether Christian counselling can help you, this book will provide a good general idea of where Christian counselling is likely to lead.

Answers to Life’s Problems sold well and is easy to find secondhand. Billy Graham is alive and directing a staff (including some of his children) to continue writing and even Twittering in his name, although questions were raised, even when “My Answers” was a newspaper column, about the extent to which Graham actually wrote (or even dictated) “his” answers versus supervising the people who did. Therefore, Answers to Life’s Problems is a Fair Trade Book. Send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address at the lower left side of the screen. We count this as $10 per book, although you could order four copies at one time and pay only $25 total, and will send $1 per book to Graham or a charity of his choice. (Yes, if you ordered four copies for $25, Graham or his charity would get $4.)

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Book Review: Welcome Holy Spirit

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Welcome Holy Spirit

Author: Garrie Fraser Williams

Date: 1994

Publisher: Review & Herald Publishing Association

ISBN: 0-8280-0852-3

Length: 365 one-page devotions, 6-page scripture index

Quote: “Spend a year studying everything in the Bible on the Holy Spirit.”

More than 365 Bible passages mention the Holy Spirit. Williams has considered some verses that appear close together as one passage, and some as more than one, to get 365 one-page commentaries. The passages appear in the same order they appear in the Bible. Like most writers who choose Review & Herald Publishing, Williams is a Seventh-Day Adventist minister writing primarily for other Seventh-Day Adventists, to whom this orderly sequence will be natural and easy to follow.

He doesn’t try to address all denominations impartially. There’s what might be called a mainstream view of the Holy Spirit, and what might be called the charismatic view. Adventists take the mainstream view, and Williams writes within that view throughout his book. He does, however, refer to the history and literature of other Christian denominations.

He also makes some typically S.D.A. mistakes. On page 54 Williams cites, as an example of “satanic attack,” the following incident: “A pastor who became depressed was asked, ‘Why don’t you practice what you preach?’” It’s not unusual, Williams continues, for Christian people to find themselves, “for no fault of their own, the objects of insult, suspicion, and ridicule.” It is not unusual for those people, later, to ask their verbal abusers why they don’t practice what they preach. It is unusual in mainstream society, yet quintessentially typical of verbally abusive Adventists, for verbal abusers to call this natural consequence of their actions a “satanic attack.”

Further internal evidence suggests to me that Williams may have been the pastor who received that particular “satanic attack,” or prophetic message, depending on how we look at it. On page 87 William shares what “a pastor” learned from a bout with depression as a symptom of a physical disease. “‘I went in bitterness, int he heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.’—Ezekiel 3:14, NKJV. God’s Spirit does not operate in our lives on the basis of our feelings but rather in response to our willingness.”

There speaks a man who has found the same Great Key Principle I’ve found in depression-as-symptom: Fix facts first; feelings follow. If Williams has never cured or recovered from a depressing disease, and watched the depression, which Positive Thinking never helped, just melt away, he has at least learned something from someone who has.

This book is recommended to mature Christians who know how to read the religious writings of our fellow mortals, comparing each idea against reason and revelation, taking the good ones and leaving the bad ones. Welcome Holy Spirit is the earnest effort of an ordinary fallible mortal. He has taken the trouble to assemble 365 Bible texts that are worth reading comparatively, as a set, whether you bother to read his commentary or not. If you read only the Scripture at the top of each page, this will be an enlightening book for any Christian.

Williams is alive and well; he even has an e-book, also about the Holy Spirit, available on Scribd. Therefore this early work of his is a Fair Trade Book. If you send $5 per book + $5 per package to salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, which we count as a total of $10 even if you order four books and send a total of $25, we’ll send $1 per book to Garrie Fraser Williams or a charity of his choice.

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