The Story of the Story: A Review of the Boys in The Boat

Poughkeepsie. Most sports fans have never heard of this word that once filled the sports pages of the major newspapers. Those industrious enough to do a quick Google search of the term will discover a short definition of the word, a map, and a Wikipedia page that contains a few paragraphs about a sleepy town at the edge of the Hudson River. The amazing sports history tied to this term has almost completely faded from the American consciousness.

A Quick Overview

In all honesty, I too knew nothing of the word until I discovered the book, The Boys in the Boat, written by Daniel James Brown. In the span of 403 pages, Brown introduces his readers to the Poughkeepsie regatta and to the western college boys who overcame a world of adversity to best the Ivy League rowing crews at Poughkeepsie before securing Olympic gold in Berlin. I commend the author for rediscovering and then retelling this heroic tale of fortitude and perseverance that was accomplished by Joe Rantz, Roger Morris, and seven other determine, college students. As the pages turn, Brown places the reader on the edges of the Lake Washington, the Poughkeepsie and of the Grunau as he recounts the Washington University’s team’s various training exercises and multiple victories. Brown’s vivid details allow the reader to feel the boys’ powerful strokes as their racing shell, the Husky Clipper, glides past its competitors boats one seat at a time. Brown’s fulfills his mission to tell the narrative of the boys in the boat who made the 1936 Olympics. It is a story well worth remembering.

The Story of the Story

Though the book was phenomenal, I found the need for the book to be as thought provoking as the story printed on its pages. 

As Brown notes, rowing has not always been an obscure pastime. The author reminds us that, “In the 1930s and 1920s, collegiate crew was wildly popular, often ranking right up there with baseball and collegiate football in the amount of press it received and the crowds it drew.” In 1939, 125,000 fans came to watch the Poughkeepsie regatta. Radio listenership for the major rowing races came to rival the Kentucky Derby, the Rose Bowl, and the World Series. Kids even swapped trading cards of their favorite crews.

What exactly happened to the sport of collegiate rowing pushes beyond the bounds of this book. But its modern obscurity remains a fact. Where it not so, this book would not be necessary. The author recounts in the prologue how Joe Rantz’s gold medal had gone missing only to be discovered years later in a squirrel’s nest tucked away behind a wall. Picking up on the anecdote, Brown writes, “it occurred to me that Joe’s story like the medal, had been squirreled away out of sight for too long.” I am thankful that Brown was able to retrieve the story of the Husky Clipper.

Fame Does Not Last

But the fact that Joe and his boat could almost disappear from the American, public consciousness reveals that the philosopher Albert Camus was on to something. Our earthly legacy does depend a great deal on those who survive them. If one generation forgets us, our story can be lost from the halls of history forever. If a team of world-renowned fame can almost completely disappear from the modern consciousness, most of us average Joe’s and bland Betty’s face even worse odds. To quote the wise king Solomon who was reflective in his own right, “the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten (Ecc. 9:5).” If you doubt Solomon, I challenge you to recall the name of your grandmother’s grandmother without referencing your genealogy. How did that go? Don’t feel bad, I can’t do it either. We can all be easily forgotten. To quote Solomon again, “a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecc 9:4).”

To his credit Joe Rantz was happy to be forgotten. The man who was content to let a squirrel steal his gold medal while he hauled logs down a mountain lived for much more than the fame of the moment. He enjoyed life with his bride and his children whom he loved deeply as evidence by their ability to share Joe’s various stories with Brown. To some degree, I think Joe Rantz understood that life was more than sports fame which can be lost far easier than it can be won.

Solomon also understood this principle, declaring most things to be vanity except the fear of the Lord. The story of Joe’s story reminds us all of the importance of heeding Ecclesiastes 9:13 which offers this overview of human life, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Sports Fame is fleeting. The Fear of the Lord lasts forever. Choose wisely.

Final Thoughts

The story of Joe Rantz and the boys in the boat could easily be one of the best sports stories of all time. Brown should be commended for having preserved this captivating tale for yet another generation of readers. But I find the epistemological meaning found within the story of the story to be of even greater value. To stand atop the platform of eternity, men and women must do more than strain for earthly gold. To achieve that which cannot be destroyed by rust or faulty memories, men and women must heed the wisdom of Solomon and pursue righteousness, trusting God to care for the rest.

In other words, don’t waste your life pursuing that which can be stolen by a squirrel.

Life In Two Kingdoms: A Review

The seas of political and cultural engagement have proved treacherous for the Christian soul. If it sails too close to the shore of faith, it can run aground upon the reefs of non-involvement. But if it sails into the depths of secular thinking, it can drown in a whirlpool of political partisanship. Both a lack of involvement in the world and an over preoccupation with politics can harm both the Christian and his or her witness to this lost and dying world.

In the span of 322 pages, Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones charts a path through these dangerous waters that is guided by his exegesis of Romans 13. The passage serves as a compass for his view of limited cultural engagement, a view that both promotes Christian involvement in the secular world and protects the believer from being consumed by political platforms.

Overview

Lloyd-Jones or the Doctor (he was an MD prior to entering the pulpit and happily would look after one’s physical body as well as one’s soul when asked) believed Christians should engage the political and secular world because God had instituted both culture and government and remained involved in the workings of men and women. Since God had ordained the state to promote human flourishing and to restrain evil, Christians could vote, serve in parliament, and overthrow unjust political institutions that used their power to abuse and harm citizens.

But such political and social involvement was never to become the believer’s guiding star. All governments remained concerned with the limitation of sin. The State could not positively legislate the Sermon on the Mount because gospel change flowed through the channel of the church in accordance with the faithful preaching of the gospel. Membership in the Church and the expansion of God’s kingdom depended upon one’s spiritual birth. Rebirth remained untethered to that person’s earthly citizenship and family heritage. After providing a somewhat oversimplified history of how the Church and state have interacted through the ages, the Doctor rightfully concluded that the state should not dominate the doctrines of the Church nor should the Church control the politics of the state. When the separate spheres of the state and the church were foraged into one distorted circle, the witness of the Church would begin to rot.

Because of sin, the Church could never advance through the state, protests, or cultural institutions. Though the Christian was to care for his or her neighbors, he or she was always to remember that only the gospel could overcome sin and bring lasting change. The local pastor was not to tell politicians how to best care for their citizens. The Church had no special insights into how to best regulate speed limits, drainage problems, or international trade. But she did possess the gospel of Jesus Christ which showed men and women their sin, pointed them to salvation, and then laid out the principles by which Christians could live loving and just lives. Instead of organizing marches, Lloyd-Jones called the local church to declare the “principles” that governed life. As the Doctor concluded,

“It is always wrong to talk about Christianizing anything. No such thing is possible.”

Instead of campaigning, preach.

The Doctor spent the second half of the book discussing the second coming of Christ. He showed readers the necessity of Christian suffering, the predictableness of human failure, and the hope of Jesus’s return. The Christian was not to think in terms of political cycles or sports seasons but in terms of eternity. Jesus would one day return to liberate the world from the curse of the fall. All other efforts to establish world peace and to final reform society would fail. Only the gospel could change the soul. And only the return of Christ would bring the gospel to bear on the entire universe. The Christian lived for eternity!   

Conclusion

The Doctor first shared the thoughts that became this book in a series of lectures that ran from November 1966 to May 1967 in his church located in London. Though Lloyd-Jones’s words are more than 50 years old, they prove ever relevant because they direct the reader’s soul back to the gospel. Moreover, like a good bottle of port stashed in a ship’s hull, the Doctor’s words have become sweeter and more poignant with age. Lloyd-Jones’s ideas reside in the realms of principle and cannot be dragged down into the particulars of any modern political debate. Readers do not have to fear that the Doctor has some hidden agenda or favorite candidate to prop up. In an age of rushed opinions and unrelenting political fury, Lloyd-Jones’s books serves as a harbor of refuge where readers may safely consider how to best bring the gospel to bear upon their political and cultural system. Even if you reject the Doctor’s view of limited political engagement, his arguments will undoubtedly help you chart your own voyage through these shifting waters.

If you only read one book this year, I encourage you to make it the The Exposition of Chapter 13: Life in Two Kingdoms.

May we all make it safely to Jordan’s Sunny shores.  

3 Helpful Advent Devotions

To keep Christ in Christmas, we need to do more than wear catchy slogans woven into tacky Christmas sweaters. We need to commit to reading the Scriptures, reflecting on the Biblical themes of expectation, fulfillment, peace, salvation, and redemption (to name a few) that comprise the Christmas story. I have found Advent devotionals to be useful tools. They have helped me and my little family to pause and reflect upon the glorious realites wrapped up with baby in the manger. If you are looking for a Christmas devotional that you or your family could use this December, I encourage you to grab 1 of the 3 titles below. If you currently don’t gather the kiddos or spouse for family worship, I encourage you to make use of this Christmas season. Grab a devotional and start a new tradition on December 1 built on the eternal truths of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we be faithful to make much of Jesus today and always!

Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

John Piper packs 25 meaningful devotions into this 63-page book. Each devotion extends across 2-3 pages, beginning with a Scripture passage and ending with helpful applications that challenge our hearts. I came into contact with this book shortly after its publication in 2013 and have repeatedly returned to the volume because Piper writes with a simplicity and potency that beautifully illuminates the purpose of Christmas. April and I have used this book for our family devotions on more than one occasion. I encourage you to grab a copy of the book here. It gets even better. If your Christmas Bank Account has run dry or if you simply want to preview the book before committing to it, you can download it for free here.

Joy Upon Joy: An Advent Devotional

This short 128-page book features 25 Advent readings taken from the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. In typical Spurgeon fashion, the devotionals feature a short verse or phrase and then two pages of Spurgeon’s commentary on the meaning of the words followed by a few lines for notes and personal reflections. Spurgeon has a unique way with words that draw out the deep truths of Christmas. If you love Spurgeon, reading sermons, or desire to see Christmas through a slightly different and yet profound perspective, I encourage you to grab a copy of this devotional here. If you can handle reading the occasional old English phrase out loud, this book can well serve your family worship time. If you wish to explore Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons in more depth, I encourage you to visit the Spurgeon Library Website at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here. And then, search for “Christmas”

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas

In this 142-page volume, editor Nancy Guthrie gifts her readers 22 devotions taken from sermons that have helped Nancy reflect upon the richness of Jesus’s birth. She taps into a wide selection of authors, featuring the thoughts of Augustine, Martin Luther, J.C. Ryle, Alistair Begg, and many more. The chapters feature a Scripture reading, followed by 3-5 pages of reflection, encouragement, and admonishment. Nancy designed her book to serve as a short evangelical Anthology of Advent that provides readers with the space and theology to taste the glories of Christmas anew. Though the volume does not translate well into family worship settings with little kids, I have benefited with the depth of this book and have referenced during my sermon prep. I encourage you to grab a copy here.