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.


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!   


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.  

The Books on My Shelf 2020

I read books much like Sam from the iconic Green Eggs and Ham who could eat the green stuff here and there. I can read pretty much everywhere. In 2020, I have read books in a plane and on a train. I’ve read them within a car and in hotels from afar. And I would read them with my wife and with PhD students who play the fife. In short, I do so like good books. I hope you too will try a good book or two soon. Below are the four tastiest volumes that I read in 2020.

If you feel the urge to stop reading this post, finding books scary, I encourage you to stay with me for another minute or two. Investigate the books below. Though you may not like books much today, I encourage you to heed the advice of Sam-I-Am who profoundly said, “Try them! Try them! And you may.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

John M. Barry

I began the year unaware of this book. But a pandemic and a well-timed tweet by my fellow PhD. student John Blackman later, the book became my favorite volume of 2020.

When the Coronavirus swept across our shores, I found myself completely unprepared for the virus. I did not know how to think about a virus. My grandparent’s stories which dipped into the 1920s knew nothing of pandemics or plagues. Barry’s book provides the historical context that I needed to make sense of these times. In the 546-page book that reads like a novel, the author traces the conflict that erupts as scientists seek to conquer the mysterious and every changing world of microbes that are killing thousands. As the story flows from rural Kansas, to France, and then back to urban New York and to a host of other locations, Barry clarifies many misconceptions that have distorted our understanding of the Spanish Flu, the benefits of epidemiology, and the power of modern medicine. He also draws connections between the 1918 pandemic and other medical crises such as Polio and the Swine Flu, noting both the advances of modern medicine and its frustrating limits. Modern medicine still fails to definitively answer our questions. Barry notes, “They knew so little. So little. They knew only isolation worked.”

At times, Barry’s own biases bleed into the story. But his biases against Christianity do not impede his overarching commitment to leave no stone unturned. He examines Presidential files, small town newspapers, and private correspondence. The research that produced this book has captured the attention of Presidents on both sides of the political spectrum. I would encourage you to listen to Barry as well.


And they lied for the war effort, for the propaganda machine Wilson had created. It is impossible to quantify how many deaths the lies caused. It is impossible to quantify how many young men died because the army refused to follow the advice of its own surgeon general. But while those in authority were reassuring people that this was influenza, only influenza, nothing different from ordinary “la grippe” at least some people must have believed them, at least some people must have exposed themselves to the virus in ways they would not have otherwise, and at least some of those people must have died who would otherwise have lived.

J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone

Iain H. Murray

As the world around him descended into darkness, J.C. Ryle remained fixed to the light of Christ. In the space of 273 pages, historian Iain Murray chronicles the life and discusses the theology of one of the greatest British theologians of the nineteenth century. Ryle overcame his nominal Christian roots and was transformed into the famous grace inspired pastor we know today because of his single-minded devotion to Christ. Murry writes, “The gospel itself was ever the most important part of whatever he spoke or wrote, and the gospel meant the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (133).” He clung to it when his wives died, when the Church of England drifted from the truth, and when his son wrote off the historic Christian faith as being archaic. Through all the disappointments, criticisms, and sorrows, Ryle rested happily upon the rock of Jesus Christ, extending love to friend and foe alike. One contemporary described Ryle as “that man of granite with the heart of a child.” Though the church of England sank into liberalism, Ryle’s ministry bore great evangelical fruit. He opened 44 new churches and installed more than 100 new clergy in his diocese. The relevance Ryle’s son, Herbert, sought through theological innovation, J.C. Ryle achieved through the proclamation of the historic faith. Murray’s work is a valuable and encouraging read.


Faced with difficulties of many kinds, Ryle had no doubt where his priorities lay: ‘my first and foremost business, as Bishop of a new Diocese, is to provide for preaching of the Gospel to souls now entirely neglected’…From the time of his conversion he had believed that nominal Christianity – ‘churchianity’ without personal experience of Christ – was ‘the greatest defect of the Christianity of our times.’

Know the Creeds and Councils

Justin S. Holcom

Using only 192 small pages, Holcom accomplishes the herculean task of providing his readers with helpful introductions to more than thirteen creeds and doctrinal statements. Each of his chapters chronicles the historical background, the content, and the relevance of documents such as the Apostle’s creed, the Council of Trent, and the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. At the end of each chapter, the author provides his readers with discussion questions and a list of books for further study, making this the perfect book for both the pastor and the lay person. Though no book of this size could comprehensively deal with every issue tied to these documents, Holcom provides his readers with a meaningful introduction to those movements that both indirectly and directly shape their theological practice. For example, he details Nicaea which solidified the church’s understanding of Jesus and the Council of Trent which explains why protestants cannot rejoin the Catholic Church. Though Jesus’s church does not need councils and theological documents to be the church, these statements prove to be more helpful than most Christians realize. Holcom writes, “Creeds aren’t dogmas that are imposed on Scripture but are themselves drawn from the Bible and provide a touchstone to the faith for Christians of all times and places.”


The fact that Christianity developed – that the sixteenth century, for instance, looked very different from the third, and that both looked very different from the twenty-first – can sometimes lead us to wonder what the essential core of Christianity is. As a result, some people decide to ignore history altogether and try to reconstruct “real Christianity” with nothing more than a Bible. But this approach misses a great deal. Christians of the past were no less concerned with being faithful to God than we are, and they sought to fit together all that the Scripture has to say about the mysteries of Christianity – the incarnation, the Trinity, predestination, and more – with all the intellectual power of their times. To ignore these insights is to attempt to reinvent the wheel, and to risk reinventing it badly.

The Heart of Christ

Thomas Goodwin

The sweetness of Thomas Goodwin’s 1651 book has become all the fuller with age. Instead of being driven to the edge of irrelevance by the busyness of the modern world, Goodwin’s exposition of God’s love for his people proves to be acutely applicable to our day. The first part of the book reveals how heaven amplifies Jesus’s love for his disciples, reminding readers that the God who extended grace to the bumbling Peter readily extends grace to you and me. Goodwin notes, “now that he is in heaven, his heart remains as graciously inclined to sinners that come to him, as ever on earth (4).” In the second and third part of the book, Goodwin unpacks the heart of Hebrews 4:15 which declares the Jesus is a high priest who “was in all points tempted like us, yet without sin.” He also traces Christ’s love for his people throw the Trinity, amplifying the love of God exemplified through the mercy and grace of God.

Goodwin’s recounting of God’s love for his people proves a refreshing correction to the works righteousness that dominates much of the evangelical world. Though the author’s old English could prove a little cumbersome for some readers, Goodwin’s small book will prove to be a powerful dose of encouragement for souls worn down by sickness, relationship difficulties, and the pressures put upon them by well-meaning religious folks who think God’s love flows through choir practices, painting projects, and Wednesday morning Bible studies. We don’t need those things to earn Jesus’s love. Christ’s heart is always towards his people.


But then, some greatly distressed souls might question thus: Though he pities me, and is affected, yet my misery and sins being great will he take them in to the full, lay them to heart, to pity me according to the greatness of them? To me with this thought therefore, and to prevent even this objection about Christ’s pity the apostle sets him out by what was the duty of the high priest, who was his shadow; that he is one that ‘can have compassion according to the measure of every one’s distress’s…Thy misery can never exceed his mercy.