Review of Faithfulness Under Fire: The story of Guido de Bres

I received an email the other day offering me the opportunity to review the book Faithfulness Under Fire: The story of Guido de Bres. Of course I jumped on it, and am glad I did.

Faithfulness Under Fire does a remarkable job of telling a short, but robust story, of the short, but robust story of a man named Guido de Bres. Pronounced “Gee-doe de Bray,” this remarkable man lived in Belgium in the early to middle 1500’s. Influenced by the Reformation truths of justification by faith alone, and the protestant discovery that you could read the bible for yourself, he soon became a marked man. On several occasions he fled to different countries like England and Switzerland to study and learn God’s Word under Calvin and Company. Eventually he married and returned to Belgium. He began pastoring and preaching in secret, though those longing for the spiritual milk of the Word began to number in the thousands. You can’t be too discreet with those numbers! 

Dodging the Holy Roman Emperor King Phillip II could last only so long. Eventually he was imprisoned and hung for his faith.  Yet during his short life time of 44 years, he penned what became known as the Belgic Confession of Faith, still used by many Reformed churches today.  

The illustrations in this short children’s book really make Guido’s story come alive today. My spirit truly stirred within me. I personally hadn’t ever heard of this man before, but upon reading this story, I now have a greater appreciation for the story behind the Belgic Confession. I’m quite guilty of looking at such confessions as though they appeared out of nowhere. Familiar with the story and creation of the Westminster Confession (part of our denomination’s constitution), I know little of the blood, sweat, tears, and martyrdom which often accompany many such articulations of faith. Such documents are more than documents: they are doctrine not just penned by authors but sealed and spread by the very blood of those who believed in such doctrine.  Nowadays such formulations and articulations of doctrine cost us very little. But that was not always the case. Faithfulness Under Fire moves us to a simple, but greater appreciation of such confessions.

As a children’s story, I think the book also succeeds in telling the story of someone very much in love with the person of Jesus. He loved Jesus so much he was willing to die for him. I didn’t find the details overly graphic or morbid, but instead felt they helped illustrate the true battle for the gospel. A battle which sometimes, and in may places today, gets more heated than it does here in the States. Boekstein does a good job of capturing the past Protestant struggle against an oppressive Catholic Empire without trying to re-cast the present day Roman Catholic church in the same light. 

With every biography, we must take pains to not make it a hagiography. In a short book like this, no flaws in de Bres were addressed. And that is OK, because we don’t get a picture of flaws in the book of Daniel either. Biographies, as with bible stories where the “main character” is Noah, David, or Daniel, must point us and our little ones to the true Hero behind the story. The Jesus Storybook Bible uses language like, “God sent someone to deliver His people” and then concludes the David v. Goliath story pointing to One who would later come to deliver His people for good. I don’t know if we can expect a short children’s book to explain all of this or completely contextualize this story in the larger story of redemption. Parents can do this with any book or story very easily.

So provided the parent provides this framework, this and other short biographies can be very powerful to show that Jesus’ love for us truly does compel and empower us to live boldly and not even shrink before death, much less peer pressure. He writes, “By God’s grace, Guido lived a life of total service to God.” It is clear to the reader where this power came from. But as a parent, we need to be intentional at certain points in the story. For instance we must regularly ask such questions with biographies and stories like, “How did this dude get so bold? How was she able to persevere?” These kinds of questions can transform a biography to a true Christ-centered teach devotional.

On the last page Boekstein gives some instructions for thinking through this story and how to read it to children. 

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.

I think there is much value in reading biographies ourselves, as well as teaching them to our children. The goal is not to make much of Guido but make much of Jesus for His work in Guido. Yet we also need not ignore the great examples in church history of what it actually looks like to follow Jesus in this world. I learn what forgiveness looks like not simply by studying a passage, but also by reading As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda.

We’ve been surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both in the present and in the past. We would do well to learn about them. Not for the simple goal of emulation, but to encourage us that Jesus testimony is true: he can save a life from not only the punishment of sin, but also from the power of sin and fear. 

This review is quite a bit longer than the actual book itself, which I commend to you. For more information, check out the you tube trailer.  

4 thoughts on “Review of Faithfulness Under Fire: The story of Guido de Bres

  1. My sentiments exactly, and my vision beyond my series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers. I have written a few thoughts along these lines in my blog too. I really like how you stress that parents need to point children to God as the hero while discussing biographies. I also liked your honesty in admitting that sometimes we see the confessions as appearing out of nowhere. That's why I recently wrote a children's bio on Athanasius, related to the Nicene Creed. I am excited to see that more parents share the same vision.

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