Book Review: Saint Francis by Robert West

Thomas Nelson has published several biographical works in a series called, Christian Encounters.  As a part of that series, Robert West has written the biographical account of Francis of Assissi titled, Saint Francis (Christian Encounters Series).  Reading this biography will certainly challenge Christians to consider what it means to follow Jesus.

West has a background in the theater and therefore has provided a biography that differs from those written by other historians.  This difference shows up early in the book as the early life of Francis is recounted.  Due to a lack of primary or secondary material that is specific to this period of Francis’ life, West uses an artistic license to tell a story that might have been.

Once the reader moves along in the book, it becomes more evident that West has acquainted himself with the source material about Francis’ conversion, ministry, life and death.  In short, Francis was born into a merchant’s family and lived life guided by his appetites rather than by any sense of duty or calling.

Francis’ life took a very dramatic turn after he met Christ.  He spurned his luxuries and appetites to live a life of a beggar and an preacher.  Francis gave away all that he had to the poor and lived by asking alms of those to whom he would minister.  As people began to realize that he was not a man who had lost his mind, his reputation began to spread.  Others followed him by giving away all they possessed and imitating the life of Francis.

A religious order was formed for those who chose this manner of life.  Strict rules of admission and living applied to each of these followers.  Eventually an order was established for women and another for married couples.

While most of us would bristle at or disagree about the discipline by which Francis lived, we would do well to consider Francis’ motivation for such a drastic lifestyle.  He genuinely longed to spend time with God and be like Christ.  He did not want to give any cause to accuse him of selfish gain.  Humility was a virtue which he focused his attention until the end of his life.

Francis loved The Scriptures, but his affinity for strange visions should be a cause of concern for us.  West provides us accounts of Francis being spoken to by moving lips from a statue of Jesus and several other subjective visions.  According to the author, Francis is history’s first bearer of the stigmata.  That is, many thought Francis actually bore the marks of crucifixion in and on his body.  West does provide alternative views on the stigmata.

As a result of reading this biography, today’s Christian should crave to spend time with our Lord void of any distractions.  For those who are preachers, Francis’ preaching should be a spur.  It was said of Francis,

That he preached repentance to all with simple words, but it struck his listeners like a “blazing fire” in their hearts (p. 86).

Francis, himself, explained the task of preaching,

The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that in themselves are cold (p. 137).

This type of devotion demonstrated and taught by Francis, makes this biography worthy of your consideration.

Disclaimer: This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson.