A couple of months ago I had the pleasure to read and review an interesting children’s book written by William Boekestein: Faithfulness Under Fire. I was intrigued by the concept and thought it would be fun and beneficial to interview William. He graciously agreed to answer 7 Questions.
1. I recently had the opportunity to review your children’s book on the life of Guido de Bres. I am a history nerd, but honestly until I picked up this children’s book I had never heard of him. So, I’m curious of all the historical figures that you could have picked why Guido de Bres?
The short answer to this is, I have young children, I love church history and our denomination (the URCNA) uses Guido de Bres’ Belgic Confession as a secondary standard of doctrine. From my vantage point the choice made a lot of sense. On the other hand, De Bres’ lived such a fascinating life that even without those three criterion he’d be worth writing about. In addition to this, it can be rewarding to “unearth,” so to speak, the history of an obscure personality from the past.
2. Some may consider the subject matter a little too intense for the books target audience. The cover is not one that you would typically see in a preschool section of the book store. Most parents shy away from books that have flames under a guy climbing up a ladder. Explain a little about your philosophy of not sheltering children from the realities of life and persecution.
De Bres’ story is a bit graphic. We did try to gear the language toward young children and modify some of the images so they wouldn’t be too scary. That said, some of the themes of the book might seem to be too mature for young children. I address that concern in a note to parents on the last page:
The life of Guido De Bres is not exactly a pleasant read. The story is sad, and, in our age of tolerance, at times it is uncomfortable. Yet we believe his story is important because it really happened. In fact, it happened a lot! In other words, De Bres was not all that extraordinary. He was one of countless Christians who spent their lives in devotion to the Lord and in commitment to His Word.
We should say a few things about the graphic details and references to historical religious conflict in this book. First, the reader should know that every reasonable attempt has been made to avoid gratuitous, unsavory detail. It would be impossible, however, to tell the story of De Bres apart from the theme of suffering. We have also tried carefully to avoid unnecessarily inflammatory religious rhetoric. However, the fact remains that right up to the present, strongly held convictions will produce conflict. Even young children experience this.
Second, we don’t believe it is necessary to shield even young children from the ugliness of life as long as we also provide a context in which this life can be lived victoriously. Guido de Bres thrived in tragedy because he was hoping in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel (or good news) of Jesus is this: because of His perfect life and sacrificial death, those who repent of their sins and trust in Him have God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life (John 3:16). As this promise is realized in our lives, we too will approach life with the same hope that De Bres had. We will be equipped and motivated to spend our lives for God’s glory as we look to an eternal reward of grace.
This is the value we see in teaching our children about Guido de Bres—not to glorify him, but to be drawn by his example to live to the glory of God.
In addition to this, Christianity is rooted in one of most graphic stories ever told. I wonder how many Christian parents would disallow their children from hearing the passion narratives read? When we hold up the story of Guido de Bres with other stories in Scripture it doesn’t look that extreme.
3. You have written a bible study on the life of Jonah and you have also written a couple of children’s books now. Which do you prefer? What is a unique joy that you have in writing children’s books as opposed to books geared towards adults?
I do enjoy both. But children’s books are really fun. I think it has actually been helpful to do both. I used to think that books for adults don’t have to be interesting; especially theological books. I know that’s not true but it still isn’t easy to remember the rule of “show don’t tell.”
4. How many more of these children’s books from RHB can we expect?
That’s hard to say. “The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism” (see the FB page for this book) is due to be released in early Fall. I would love to see RHB publish the final book in this “series” on the story of the Canons of Dort. Who says that the story of a 400 year old theological deliberative assembly meeting can’t be engaging for young children?
5. I noticed that you recently had your third annual Life Reformation conference. Can you explain a little about the vision behind these conferences? Where are they located?
Our area (northeast Pennsylvania) has a very small evangelical population (it has been estimated at under ten percent. Our intention behind these conferences is to encourage those who do belong to evangelical churches and to offer robust, winsome theology in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. We would love to see more people attend these conferences but we are also aware that in the theological culture with which we are surrounded we need to be building for the future.
6. I can tell from much that you have written that you are passionate about families. How does your church minister to families?
We are still working on this one. One of the main ways we minister to families is through the preaching. One of the benefits of preaching in a small church is that you don’t lose sight of the “trees in the forest.” Each Sunday I’m preaching to 10-15 families. I need to communicate Scripture to them as fathers, mothers, children and siblings.
Our elders also have a commitment to visit every family in the congregation on an annual basis. This gives an opportunity to connect with, encourage, teach and if need be correct our families on a more personal level than is afforded during public worship.
Is mine that much different than Knox’s? I guess I’ll keep working on it. I have a lot of respect for men with beards. If I lived in Scotland and my wife would go for it I would probably try to give Knox a run for his money.
Thanks for taking the time on these questions and may the Lord cause great growth in your life…both spiritually and in regards to your aspirations to have a Knox beard.