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Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson

by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey 290 pages / 2017 This is two biographies in one, about the little know relationship between the “Prince of Preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon and a former slave, Thomas Johnson. The men couldn’t have grown up in more different circumstances. Spurgeon was in the United Kingdom, and establishing his reputation as “the Prince of Preacher” while Thomas Johnson was still a slave in the America. Johnson first heard Spurgeon’s name mentioned when the preacher’s sermons and books were being burnt by slavery-defenders in the South. They didn’t like the strong and clearly biblical way that Spurgeon had been denouncing slavery.  When emancipation came and Johnson was freed he also became a preacher. And with his heart inclined to the mission field in Africa, he eventually ends up at Spurgeon’s bible college where the two meet and become friends. Perhaps one reason they became friends was because Spurgeon struggled throughout this life with depression, and his young friend Johnson knew something of that too, borne out of his despair as a slave. As true Christians brothers, they are a help and a companion to one each other. While these two men are both real, I should note this is a fictionalized account. That means that while the broad details are all true, and much of the dialogue is taken from the men’s works, this work should only be enjoyed for the general impression, not the specific details, it provides of their friendship. I’ll give one example of how this mix of fact and fiction does, on the one hand, stay very true to reality, but on the other hand, can give a bit of an inaccurate impression. When we read of how Spurgeon proposes to his wife-to-be, he comes off as quite the Prince Charming with all the right words, the perfect thoughtful present, and just the right timing. However, the authors have compacted the evening’s events from events that took place over more than the one occasion. The facts are true, but this compaction of the timeline, to keep the story flowing, makes Spurgeon seem to be quite the suave fellow – super suave even. Steal Away Home is a wonderfully readable book, and attractively put together too. You aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover but it’s wonderful when a good cover can give a reluctant reader just the encouragement they need to get started. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in Church history, or in knowing more about the American South during slavery and after, or anyone who enjoys historical fiction or biographies. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Assorted

Quotes on the single life

Singles are not second "…the nuclear family should not be the center of church life. Rather, the family of God is the center…. It is the church (not married people) that provides a home where all of us find the stability and rootedness that we need." – Peter and Ginger Wallace, “The Church and Singles” in New Horizons, Jan. 2016 "…in the covenant community of God there are no singles. God calls us family: brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in Christ. We are each to be wonderfully connected to the other as part of a church community, where each person is needed and attached to others in her own family as well as to the broader church family." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "The Bible is clear that singleness is not a second-rate status in the church (1 Corinthians 7:8), and it provides several compelling portraits of singles (Paul, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Lydia, and possibly John the Baptist and even Timothy.)" – Carolyn McCulley "…the Bible refers to Ruth as a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11) with the same Hebrew phrase used in Proverbs 31. Two uses of the same Hebrew phrase give us data points so that we can better understand the term. We can examine the narrative around these data points and use it to draw conclusions. I totally changed how I thought about Proverbs 31 after seeing the data (for you left-brainers) and story (for you right-brainers) of the virtuous woman of Ruth. Once you see that Ruth was known as a virtuous woman when she was a barren widow from a foreign land, we understand that our ability to be a virtuous woman doesn't depend on a husband and children…" – Wendy Alsup, “A Post Mortem on A Year of Biblical Womanhood” posted to TheologyForWomen.org on Jan. 26, 2016 On seeking a spouse "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves "If you want God to provide you with a husband, you have to consider whether you are the kind of woman that the kind of man you want to marry would want to marry. Shall I go over that again? What kind of woman is that kind of man looking for? Are you that kind of woman?" – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "One of the dangers with male/female friendships is that more often than not, one of the two wants something more from the relationship. In the end, usually either a heart is broken or, at the very least, the person with the crush is wasting time not looking elsewhere. If you are holding on to a long-term friendship in hopes that one day it will magically turn to love, you are lying to yourself. The chances that your friend will wake up one day and see you in a totally different and romantic light are miniscule. Save yourself the heartache. Keep friendship with the same sex and save the opposite sex for love." – Hayley & Michael DiMarco, Marriable Men, are you taking the servant-leader role (Ephesians 5:25) in the relationship right from the beginning? In any guy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. Are you willing to stick your neck out for this woman? Are you willing to risk looking the fool, so she doesn’t have to? Or are you waiting for her to take the lead and ask you out? – Jon Dykstra, “Marriable Men” in Reformed Perspective, Dec. 2012 One means… "Marriage is a means, not an end. It is one of the means God uses to glorify His name among us, but it is not His only means." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments Jesus never had sex "The most fully human person who has ever lived, or ever will live, is Jesus Christ, and He never once had sexual intercourse. This can be powerfully liberating to single people who may think at times, “This is one thing I will never have, sexual relations, and in not having it I will not be all I was meant to be.” To this thought Jesus, the virgin, says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). We will always have mountains of truly human Christ-likeness yet to climb, but sexual intercourse is not one of them. For He never knew it. And He is infinitely whole." – John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Foreword xix. Singleness has its own challenges "I was almost thirty-four when I got married, so I know something of the loneliness of adult single life. And even after marriage I struggled with discontentment at our son’s soccer or basketball games because I was at least ten years older than the other parents around me…. I do want you to know that if you struggle with discontentment, I’m right there with you. Whatever situation tempts us to be discontent, and however severe it may be, we need to recognize that discontentment is sin. That statement may surprise many readers. We are so used to responding to difficult circumstances with anxiety, frustration, or discontentment that we consider them normal reactions to the varying vicissitudes of life….When we fail to recognize these responses to our circumstances as sin, we are responding no differently from unbelievers who never factor God into their situations." – Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins "There is nothing in the world wrong with wanting to be married. It is only wrong to be miserable about it. And wanting to be married does not equal discontent. Many women are feeling false guilt about this." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "The apostle Paul, who himself was single, provides encouragement for the unmarried by noting that he himself had to learn the secret of contentment (Phil. 4:11). Paul was not born content, nor was his discontentment eradicated at conversion…. How then did Paul learn this contentment? Like his Lord, he learned contentment through the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8). The apostle admits to the Corinthians that while under Satanic attack, he prayed three times for deliverance. Yet the Lord denied his requests and told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). Singleness may be one of those afflictions tailored to you, but his grace is perfected in your weakness. The single Christian who suffers weakness through unrealized marital aspirations and the disappointments of unanswered prayer may yet find grace at work through the unhappiness." – A. Boyd Miller IV, “Contentment in Singleness” in the January 2016 issue of New Horizons "Avoid trading marital distractions for other distractions. Paul may have been right about our freedom from spousal concerns, but in an iPhone, iPad, iPod, whatever iWant world, single people never have trouble finding their share of diversions. In fact, if you’re like me, you crave diversion and tend to default there, whether it’s SportsCenter, Downton Abbey, working out, fancy eating, endless blogging and blog reading, surveying social media, or conquering the latest game. We might call it resting, but too often it looks, smells, and sounds a lot like we’re wasting our singleness." – Marshall Segal, "Single, Satisfied and Sent" "A discontented woman is also very vulnerable when it comes to receiving attention from men that she knows full well are wrong for her. She rationalizes….she will be more likely to consider someone who will maker her far unhappier than she is now." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "To quote another , 'The main difference (between singles and married folk) is a heightened risk of loneliness, and heightened temptation to self-absorption, leading to selfishness.' The cure for both of these is hospitality and incorporation: being invited to participate in everyday life, and being expected to contribute to everyday life – in the church and in particular families in the church.” – Peter and Ginger Wallace, “The Church and Singles” in the January 2016 issue of New Horizons Singleness has its own opportunities "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband." – 1 Cor. 7:32-34 "I was single when I was senior pastor of a church on the west coast of Canada, and there were all kinds of advantages to that. There were some disadvantages too. But there were some wonderful advantages in terms of the hours I put in, evening visitation, calls when I could get people at home. So there are advantages to being single in the ministry, and singleness should not be despised." – D.A. Carson "Look for ways to serve in the church....What are some ways that you can serve because you are single?" – Peter and Ginger Wallace, “The Church and Singles” in the January 2016 issue of New Horizons "Say “yes” to the spontaneous. It’s just a fact, marriage murders spontaneity — not entirely, but massively. If you haven’t learned this yet, I doubt any of your spontaneous friends are married. One of your greatest spiritual gifts as a single person is your “yes.” Yes to a random phone conversation. Yes to coffee. Yes to help with the move. Yes to stepping in when someone’s sick. Yes to a late-night movie or the special event downtown. You have the unbelievable freedom to say “yes” when married people can’t even ask the question. When the spouse doesn’t exist, you can’t hurt them with your selfless, impulsive decisions. Be willing to say “yes!” and bless others, even when you don’t always feel like it." – Marshall Segal, "Single, Satisfied and Sent"...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Just do something

A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will or how to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung 128 pages / 2009 What does God want me to do with my life? It’s a great question but not one we should get stuck on. Some folks sit around waiting for a sign from God, instead of using the brains they got from God. DeYoung wants Christians to stop contemplating whether this, that, or that other thing might be what God wants most for our lives, and wants us instead to “just do something.” Does that sound...flippant? Careless even? DeYoung's point is that God's will for our life isn't that hard to figure out. We are to: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God. It’s that simple. But because we do complicate things, DeYoung spends another 100 pages, explaining why various approaches to fathom God’s will get it wrong, and then he outlines “the way of wisdom”: using Scriptures to rule out some options (don’t date pagans) and to establish proper priorities (will this job be near a good church?) turning to our parents and other wise counsel for advice asking God for wisdom in prayer proceeding in confidence that we are honoring God in whatever decision we then make There is an older book, a classic by Garry Friesen called Decision Making and the Will of God, that covers the same ground, but what takes Friesen almost 500 pages to tackle, DeYoung does in just 128 pages. It is that conciseness that makes this so very valuable: I've shared it with both young and old, and gotten rave reviews all around. So two thumbs up for a very readable, biblical, and helpful book for this most important topic. A version of this reivew first appeared in the February 2014 issue. Jon Dykstra also posts reviews at the Dykstra sibling book blog where you can find his brother Jeff's longer take on "Just Do Something." R.C. Sproul's "Can I Know God's Will" is another concise excellent book on this subject and while I think it not quite as good as DeYoung's effort, Sproul's is free as an ebook. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Chasing Fireflies

by Charles Martin 340 pages / 2007 This is part murder mystery, part adoption story (times two), and part...well, superhero epic. The murder mystery is an old one, and the person trying to solve is Chase Walker, journalist, and formerly a foster kid who bounced around from one house to another until he arrived on the doorstep of “Unc” and that's where he stayed. The murder victims are Unc's father and first wife, and while the police think the case is settled, Chase is not so sure. The adoption-story-times-two involves Chase, adopted by Unc, and a nameless boy who was so badly abused his vocal chords have been damaged, leaving him mute. With Chase all grown up, Unc has space in his heart, and in his home, for another boy in need. The super-hero of the story is Unc himself, a man so good as to be a bit unreal. That's the story's weakness, but also a lot of its charm. Unc is the father figure that us fathers want to be. He most often knows just the right thing to do or say. When Chase, as a boy, gets it into his head that his father is finally coming to get him, Unc does what he can to sooth the boy’s disappointment. Unc walked up next to me and hung his arms across the fence railing. In his hands he held an empty mason jar with holes punched in the lid. He stood there a long time turning the jar. Inside, a single lightning bug fluttered off the sides of the glass. Every five or six seconds, he’d light his lantern. Unc turned the jar in his hand. “Scientists say that these things evolved this way over million of years.” He shook his head. “That’s a bunch of bunk. I don’t think an animal can just all-of-a-sudden decide it wants to make light grow out its butt. What kind of nonsense is that? Animals don’t make light.” He pointed to the stars.” God does that. I don’t know why or how, but I am pretty sure it’s not chance. It’s not some haphazard thing He does in His spare time.” He looked at me, and his expression changed from one of wonder to seriousness, to absolute conviction. “Chase, I don’t believe in chance.” He held up the jar. “This is not chance, neither are the stars.” He tapped me gently in the chest. “And neither are you. So, if your mind is telling you that God slipped up and might have made one giant mistake when it comes to you, you remember the firefly’s butt.” Maybe Unc is a bit too wise, too patient and too good, but I was okay with that. That’s in part because the author is good at his craft and pulls it off. It’s also because there is something genuine about Unc – this is fatherhood as we want to practice it, this is sacrificial love the way it should be done, and this filling up a kid the way he ought to be. There is truth here. Finally, while Unc may not be entirely realistic, the world he inhabits is. There is some grit here. First off, several people are murdered. Also, one of the people Unc helps is an abused girl who later ran away to become an adult porn star. In addition, the physical abuse the mute boy has suffered is detailed and it included someone pinching and ripping his skin with pliers. That is about as descriptive as it gets, but these elements mean this is a book for adults only. Another caution would be about the hero's faith. While God is made mention of throughout the book, Unc doesn't attend church, though that is in part because he isn't welcome there. He also has a seemingly superstitious understanding of baptism, going to extreme lengths to get someone baptized shortly before their death. But those will be minor matters to Christians with discernment. Chasing Fireflies will likely make you cry, so if you don't like sentimental books, don't start it. On the other hand this is so much better than the average tearjerker because Martin's writing is simply remarkable. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Science - Environment

Environmental Extremism: a one-world view

Christians know there is another Earth coming **** No intelligent and dedicated Christian wants to dispute the idea that we ought to be judicious about how we conduct ourselves with the planet that God has given us to inhabit and enjoy. Reasonable conservation is, of course, nothing more than good stewardship of those bounties. We applaud efforts at reforestation, preservation of Natural Wonders, and the like. We shouldn't think like the secular environmentalists But our views of the earth ought to collide with those of the environmental extremists who are more concerned about snail darters than about the livelihood of hardworking farmers whose efforts to earn a living are impeded by them. As believers, therefore, it is important for us to consider what God, Himself, has said about the matter. I want to suggest that, in passing, Paul makes an all-important statement in Colossians 2:22a that has been overlooked by many of our people. His words rest upon a worldview that simply is not shared by non-Christians. This dissimilarity in views leads to many of the differences that we find between ourselves and the environmentalists. Here are his words: “These refer to things that are intended to be used up and perish.” In the passage Paul is referring to “ascetic” injunctions concerning fasting, various uses of food, and so on, that unbelievers and Judaizers alike sought to impose upon Christians. Paul would have us refuse to follow them. So, in passing – as I indicated above – he says that the things that the world holds sacred, to the Christian, are but items that God has provided for our use. This Earth isn’t meant to last His point is that when they are “used up” that’s OK (assuming they were used in a responsible manner). It is no great tragedy to deplete the supply of fossil fuels, for a species of unusual fish to become extinct, or for the wolves to be banned from lands where they attack and destroy herds of cattle and sheep. “But that is a tragedy,” says someone. “After all, once they are gone – “used up” as your apostle put it – they are gone forever. To lose an animal species or a rainforest is to have suffered an irreparable loss!” Yes, in that objection, you detect quite a different philosophy of existence. Christians should expect outcries from environmentalists about oil drilling in the Arctic, logging in the West, the use of SUVs on our highways, and similar human activities that they believe will noticeably affect the environment. Such objections to these activities are perfectly in accord with the one-world view of the non-Christian. He would be inconsistent to his basic philosophy of existence if he didn’t raise an outcry. “What, then, are you saying,” asks a Christian? No need to cling Simply this. The unbeliever has but one world. He knows nothing of another world to come. He clings to every aspect of the present world‘s assets because, as he believes, once they “perish” they are gone forever. No wonder he is goes to lengths to preserve all that he can. But the Christian looks forward to a new heavens and a new earth that will be so far superior to the present one that he cannot stake everything on what now exists. He looks on the present world as a marvelous creation, in which God had provided all things for us to use and enjoy now – insofar as we can since it is under the curse of sin. Because of that curse, however, nothing will remain forever. Indeed, the book of Ecclesiastes was written to point out that nothing is permanent. And, in that book, like Paul, Solomon tells us to enjoy what we can so long as we are here and the deteriorating world in which we live continues as it is. The clash in opinions that occurs over various environmental issues is, in reality, a clash of a one-world and a two-world view of existence. Dr. Adams has written more than 100 books, on a variety of subjects. This article was originally posted on the Institute for Nouthetic Studies’ blog (www.nouthetic.org/blog) and is reprinted here with permission. Sidebar: Prioritizing the living over the hypothetical by Jon Dykstra Atheists have no future hope – no eternity to look forward to – so they are desperate to hold onto what they have now. That’s true for the unbelieving environmentalist, and equally so for the unbelieving health food fanatic: one is worried about the planet, the other his own well-being, but in both cases they are willing to go to extremes to preserve what they have because it is all that they have. A Christian knows better. We know that while life is precious and death is an enemy to be fought, we have another life coming. So we take good care of the body God has given us – we eat healthy and exercise when we can – but we don’t obsess about eliminating every last kettle chip from our diet, or worry about whether we’re getting enough of the latest superfood. We need to be good stewards of what God has given us, and that includes our life, but we don’t need to cling desperately to it. When it comes to our planet, Christians know that not only is another Earth coming, there is a chance it might come very soon. The unbeliever thinks this is it and there ain’t no more, so he’s willing to impose huge burdens on this world’s present population in the faint hope it will extend the Earth’s best before date. But what about the good that money could do right now? Consider this: if we knew the world was going to end in a decade – let’s say scientists saw a gigantic planet-killing comet on the way – would we spend trillions in the hope of making the planet a cooler place in 100 years? No, of course not. Then the choice would be obvious and even the unbeliever would want to spend those trillions on helping people right now. Well, we don’t know when the Christ is going to return, but we know it could happen any time. When we are weighing the needs of people today vs. the needs of people in the future, Christians need to place a very important and clarifying modifier before those future folk: we need to understand they are “hypothetical.” Jesus could come back tomorrow; we don’t know if there will still be children being born in one hundred years. Now, regardless of whether Christ returns this century or not, prioritizing the needs of real people over potential people is the right idea. That doesn't mean have no thought for tomorrow. It does mean the future is uncertain, and we don’t know what it brings. What we do know for certain is that there are millions of children today who are living in poverty, and dying from hunger and preventable sickness. If we seek to "save the future" by, for example, adopting carbon taxes to combat global warming, then we will make oil and gas more expensive, and that will increase the cost of food, shelter, medicine and more for the world's poor. We will hypothetically help the hypothetical populations of the future by actually hurting the actual poor of today. The point I'm arguing for here is a limited one. It could be caricatured as, rape and pillage the earth today, and who cares about the consequences for future generations, but that's not what I'm saying. I'm trying to counter a future-minded approach that wants to preserve the planet and does so by hurting the poorest today. But if that's the tradeoff – if it has to come down to hurting people today, or risking doing so to hypothetical populations of the future, then we should be standing up for the living, breathing, suffering, actual people of today even at an uncertain cost for the future....

Marriage

Is the Proverbs 31 wife an unrealistic supermom?

In his article "On being a Titus 2 young woman" Rev. Bouwman made a statement that likely had some readers blinking in surprise. He said of the Proverbs 31 woman: "This woman is not the proverbial 'super-mom' but simply a God-fearing woman..." Not a super-mom? Simply a God-fearing woman? Really? That runs counter to the popular understanding of her as so pure, so selfless, so hard-working as to be a completely unrealistic example of what godly womanhood looks like. Sure, it'd be great to be like her, but then again it'd be great to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But is either goal attainable? So who has it right? Is this woman simply unreal, or "simply a God-fearing woman?" To find an answer it will be helpful to grab our Bibles, turn to Proverbs 31 and then look at the passage in a more modern light. We could ask, "What would the Proverbs 31 wife be up to if she was around today?" and update the many tasks she takes on. If we do that, then what we find is a wife: who has her husband's trust at home and in business matters too (vs. 11,16) who honors that trust (vs. 12) who knows how to use a sewing machine (vs. 13) who makes regular trips to Safeway and Costco (vs. 14) who rises each morning, and before her kids are even awake, making their lunches and getting breakfast ready (vs. 15) who has arms grown strong from scrubbing pots, cleaning floors and hauling her children in and out of car seats (vs. 17) who has her own Etsy store, selling good she makes in the evenings (vs. 18-19,24) who makes meals for those in need and, after her kids were all in school, began volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy clinic (vs. 20) who finds good clothing for her family, for every season, and who dresses herself attractively (vs. 21-22) whose hard work makes it possible for her husband to have the time to be an elder or deacon (vs. 23) who is wise, and confident about the future because she recognizes God is in control; and she is able to share her wisdom with others over coffee (vs. 25-26) who manages her household and doesn't spend her afternoons watching the soaps (vs. 27) whose children and husband can't contain their pride in her (vs. 28-29) who is praised not for how she looks, but for the God-fearing woman she is (vs. 30-31) This is certainly a remarkable woman. But doesn't she sound familiar? Isn't this someone you know? While this woman is amazing, we shouldn't dismiss her as unrealistic. That would be a mistake for two reasons. First, because it would be ignoring the God-pleasing example He outlines here – this is an example given precisely for instruction. That Christian women will regularly fall short of this standard doesn't mean it can be ignored. It only means that they – like their husbands – need to regularly go to God in repentance, and ask Him to continue to mold them and shape them to better take on the good works He has laid out for them to do. And, second, dismissing the Proverbs 31 woman as unrealistic would be to overlook what God has given us in the many women we know who bear a striking resemblance to the woman of this passage. As we read in verse 10, their worth is far beyond jewels! So we should never overlook the enormity of the blessing God has given us in these women! Jon Dykstra is the father of three and the husband of one, who is worth far more than jewels....

Apologetics 101

Can God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it?

I have a theory that somewhere out there in this weird, wide world, there exists a laboratory, staffed entirely by atheists, the sole purpose of which is to churn out hard questions for Christians. In the January 2013 issue of Reformed Perspective, Jon Dykstra commented on one such popular riddle: “If God is omnipotent, if He is all powerful, can He create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?” Jon persuasively argued that in asking this question, the atheist misunderstands what we are saying about God’s character. There are many things, such as lying, that God cannot do, not because He is lacking in any way, but because such a proposition would violate His nature. Making a rock too heavy for Him to lift would fit into this category. In addition to the character violation argument, I want to come at the question from another angle, giving another reason why the riddle falls flat. Taxes to Caesar? The question is a bit like one of the conundrums the Pharisees put to Jesus (Matt. 22:15-22). Answer yes and we’ve got you; answer no and we’ve got you still. Can God make a rock so heavy He cannot lift it? Answer with a no, and God apparently disappears in a puff of His own powerlessness; answer with a yes, and again He goes up in a wisp of anti-omnipotence. Difficult conundrum though it may be, it should be borne in mind that it does come directly from the minds of those who believe we got a Universe out of nothing. That ought to tell us something! So what is the answer to the rock question? Well, the simple answer is no, He cannot create something so heavy He cannot lift it. So that’s the end of God, isn’t it? Atheists 1 - Christians 0. Game over. Impossible to give 110% Well not quite. In fact, rightly understood the question actually turns back on itself and becomes a wonderful apologetic for the omnipotence of God. How so? There is a basic problem with the question itself and that basic problem is logic. Or more accurately, the total lack of it. It is perhaps not as easy to see this with the attribute of omnipotence as it is with some of God’s other characteristics, so let’s begin by rephrasing the riddle using another of God’s traits, His infiniteness: “If God is infinite, if He is unlimited, can He use His boundlessness to create something more infinite than Himself?” Now the problem with this is not very hard to see. Infinity is, by definition, infinite, and so there cannot possibly be anything greater than it. Therefore, if God is infinite, the reason He cannot create something more unlimited than Himself is because: Infinity by definition cannot be surpassed. He Himself is that infinity. In other words, it is impossible for Him to create something more infinite than Himself, not because He is not infinite, but rather because He is. Now plug the same logic back into the original riddle: “If God is omnipotent, if He is all powerful, can He create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?” The problem with the question is that it is loaded with the assumption that omnipotence can somehow be surpassed. But just as infiniteness cannot, by definition, be surpassed, nor can omnipotence. It is All-powerful. Not just 90% powerful with a bit of leeway to allow something 91% powerful. It is 100% powerful. That’s what omnipotence is. So the reason the omnipotent God cannot create something that defies his omnipotence is because: Omnipotence by definition cannot be surpassed He Himself is that omnipotence. In other words, God cannot create something too heavy for Himself to lift, not because He is not omnipotent, but rather because He is. Nothing bigger! Look at it another way. If a being is able to create something bigger or stronger than itself, what does that tell you about it? Simply that the being in question cannot possibly be omnipotent, since the thing created is greater than itself. Therefore, the idea of the All-Powerful creating something that trumps All-Power is a total contradiction in terms. But does it follow that this inability of the omnipotent God to create something greater than Himself implies limitedness? Well, it’s a bit like asking whether a genius can create a work of greater genius than himself, and if the answer is no, maintaining that this disproves his genius. Could J.S. Bach or Michelangelo have created works greater than themselves? Clearly this is impossible, but wouldn’t it be foolish for us to then use this impossibility to cast doubts on their genius? So the heavy rock riddle, which apparently refutes the idea of God’s omnipotence, instead ends up establishing it rather neatly. Which other being, besides the omnipotent God, would be unable to make something too heavy for itself to lift? Foolishness to the Greeks But I have my own “omnipotence riddle” for atheists. Just as the heavy rock riddle assumes the idea of God’s omnipotence in order to then ridicule the concept, I would like to assume the idea God’s omnipotence, but this time in order to establish it. Their question is all about big things, but mine is more concerned with somewhat smaller things. So here goes: “If God is omnipotent, can He make Himself small enough to fit into a womb so that He can become the Saviour of World?” Now the atheist, along with the gnostic and the liberal theologian, would like to say no. The incarnation is impossible, unthinkable and absurd. Well if God is not omnipotent then they are right. Such a proposition would be barking mad. But what if there is an omnipotent God? Would the virgin conception, the resurrection and the ascension be feasible then? Could an omnipotent, Trinitarian God accomplish that? Or would such things be too hard for even omnipotence to overcome? The question answers itself. This is why the wisdom of the world will never understand the wisdom of God. The unbelieving mind seeks to disprove the omnipotence of God by asking hard riddles, even ones that propose the illogical and absurd idea of omnipotence trumping itself. Yet God has shown His omnipotence to the world already – not by making rocks too heavy for Himself to lift, but by becoming a baby, then a boy, then a man, all so that the world might be saved through Him. This is a riddle that only omnipotence could accomplish. Rob Slane is the author of "A Christian and an Unbeliever discuss..." and this article first appeared in the April 2013 issue. For another take on this same question, Tim Barnett gives it a go below. ...

Articles, Book Reviews

100+ read-aloud suggestions…

I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and now that they are older we're still reading, ending each day with a chapter or two of something. That means for years now I've also been on the hunt for that next great book to read, talking to others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are and what they might recommend. If you're looking for that next book too, or maybe the coronavirus quarantine has you thinking about reading to your kids for the first time, here are some favorites that our family and others have sure loved. Many of these can be checked out electronically from your local library. Otherwise, consider buying the e-book version of one of the chapter books – it's an investment that'll pay off in the hours you and your family can enjoy these stories together. While there are 35+ recommendations below, some are of books series, so the total number of books recommended amounts to well over 100, and all of them fantastic! PICTURE BOOKS All of these have big bright pictures on every page, and the first three are rhymed, which makes it a lot easier for a beginning Dad to get off to a good reading-out-loud start; these will make you sound good! A camping spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen – it has 2 great sequels. The Farm Team by Linda Bailey – about a hockey-playing barnyard. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel  – a favorite of millions for the last 40 years. Charlie The Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond – while the 10 sequels can't quite match the enormous charm of this, the original, your kids will love them too. Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes – Shirley Hughes has dozens of other wonderful read-aloud picture books. The Little Ships by Louise Borden – this is a stirring WWII account suitable for the very young, about the bravery of ordinary folk. James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with 8 sweet stories for animal-loving children. Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog - 23 books in all. Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – an Abbot and Costello-like duo of Piggie and Elephant getting into all sorts of antics. 29 books, most of which require from the reader only the ability to do just two different voices. BOOKS WITH PICTURES There are pictures in these selections, but not on every page. These are slightly longer, more involved, stories that your children will not be able to read on their own until the later part of Grade 1, or the beginning of Grade 2, but they’ll love to hear them a lot earlier than that. Bruno the Bear by W.G. Van de Hulst – one in a series of 20+ classic books that are impossible to find except here. Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – it’s worth getting the big collected treasury to read and reread again and again. The Big Goose and the Little White Duck by Meindert DeJong – a gruff grandpa wants to eat the pet goose! Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling – the gorgeous Jerry Pinkney adaption is the very best. Prince Martin Wins His Sword by Brandon Hale – epic story, in rhyme - this is just so fun to read out loud, and there are 3 sequels! CHAPTER BOOKS Once the kids are hitting kindergarten or Grade 1 mom and dad can read books they might read for themselves only in Grade 5 or 6, or even as adults. That can make reading aloud more fun for parents, as the stories will be of more interest to them now. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is not the easiest read aloud – the sentences can be quite choppy – but girls everywhere are big fans, and there are 8 sequels. I will note, there was more tragedy (the pet dog Jack dying, Mary becoming blind, etc.) than I was expecting. Still, our girls really enjoyed their mom reading the whole series to them, even though there was, on occasion, tears flowing. The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 13-book Christian fantasy series is that each title leads into the next; it’s one big story with no clear ending in any of the books. But we've read all 13 so far and are eagerly anticipating #14! The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh-out-loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up), with 4 main books, and then a book of short stories too. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – much more of a children’s tale than Lord of the Rings and shorter too (maybe also best for Grade 3 and up). The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - the author is Christian though that doesn't come up directly anywhere; it's just good silly fun. Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson – a clearly Christian grandma talks with her granddaughter, telling stories about way back when she was a little girl. This wouldn't work for boys, but our girls absolutely love it (and there are 3 sequels every bit as good). Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Arleta Richardson Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer – Brouwer has collected true stories about the amazing feats different animals managed while working in the trenches of World War I, and then told them as if they all happened in just one Canadian army unit. This is probably my wife's favorite book on this list, and the girls sure liked it too. There were one or two instances where I had to skip a few descriptive words, just to tone down the tension a tad - war stories are not the usual fare for my girls – but with that slight adaptation, this made for great reading even for their 5-9-year-old age group. The Last Archer by S.D. Smith Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien Sir Lancelot the Great by Gerald Morris The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers Brave Ollie Possum by Ethan Nicolle AUDIO PRODUCTIONS Half of the following are multi-voice and with great sound effects, but even the three that are simply being read are spectacularly well done. These are great for long car rides, and would be appreciated by all ages, though I’ve arranged them here by target audience, youngest to oldest. The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince – Lamplighter Theatre Teddy’s Button – Lamplighter Theatre Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – the LifeHouse Theater production is just 97 minutes, so quite compacted. But it is very well done, and a great first exposure to this classic for young and old alike The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (as done by Focus on the Family theater) Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (and read by Glenn Close) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (as done by Focus on the Family theater) Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Articles, Book Reviews

5 powerful pictures book

Julia Gonzaga by Simonetta Carr 64 pages / 2018 This is another book in Simonetta Carr’s “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series and it is once again a very well researched book with lovely pictures. Julia Gonzaga was born in 1513 into a wealthy nobleman’s family. She was married at age 13 and was widowed 2 years later. She never remarried but became a strong voice for the Reformation in Italy, and supported it financially. In the land of the Pope, the Reformation didn’t take place as it did throughout Europe. In 1542 the pope reopened the Sacred Office of the Inquisition, a court that put Christians on trial who opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Many believers were tortured and martyred. Italian Bibles were outlawed until 1769 when the Roman Catholic Church published a translation of the Latin Bible. I learned that education flourished in the Protestant countries making it possible for the common people to read the Bible. In 1861 only 25% of the people of Italy and Spain, predominately Roman Catholic, could read and write over against 69% in Europe and 80% in USA. Julia Gonzaga is not at all well-known making this book an asset to the many books written about the Reformation in Europe. For children ages 7-12. – Joanna Vanderpol God’s Outlaw: The real story of William Tyndale and the English Bible by The Voice of the Martyrs with A. Paquette 40 pages / 2007 We all have many Bibles in our homes, something we take for granted. But there was a time when no one had that wonderful gift, a Bible which they could read and use to instruct their children. William Tyndale (1494) was a very learned scholar and the reading of the Bible in the original languages was a life-changing experience for him which he wanted to share with all people “even a ploughman.” Against the wishes of the Church and King Henry VIII, he began this task. But soon he had to flee to Germany and from there his pamphlets found their way into the hands of the common people in England. The Church responded by imprisoning and killing many of them. In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed, refused to bow the knee before the church leaders and was burnt at the stake  Just before he died he prayed “Lord Jesus! Open the King of England’s eyes!” And two years later King Henry VIII decreed that the Bible should be available to all people. This book ends with some thoughts and questions for reflection. The pictures are bright and descriptive edging towards the graphic novel style. This is a good book for Primary school teachers to read to their class. This one is not widely available but can be found at Christianbooks.com. – Joanna Vanderpol Something from nothing by Phoebe Gilman 32 pages / 1993 This children’s book, winner of the Ruth Schwartz Award, has become my favorite book to read out loud to my grandchildren. It is adapted from a Jewish folktale and in wonderful, rhythmic language tells the story of Grandpa who lovingly sews a blanket for his newborn grandson to “keep him warm and to chase away bad dreams.” As the boy grows up, the blanket wears out and is altered into a jacket, which is altered into a vest, etc. The pictures are so delightful and add to the story. For instance, we see that mom is pregnant and then a few pages later a little sister appears in the story. A second wordless story takes place along the bottom of each page. Father and mother mouse set up house and as the little mice appear, use the scraps of material from the blanket that falls between the floorboards and make them into clothes for their family and also into blankets and curtains for the wee mouse house. This is a type of story where you want to take your little dear one onto your lap and just warmly snuggle and read, explore the pictures and find lovely little treasures. – Joanna Vanderpol God made Boys and Girls by Marty Machowski 32 pages / 2019 My not even six-year-old already knows that some people think girls can marry girls. And she knows God says that isn’t so. We haven’t had to talk – yet – about folks who think that girls can become boys, but when that time comes, this book will be a help. The story begins with a fast little girl, Maya, outrunning the boys…so one of them teases her that this means she’s going to become a boy. And that gets her worried. Fortunately, this little girl has a great instructor, Mr. Ramirez, who teaches the class that gender is a “good gift from God.” He shares how, if you are a boy, then you are a boy right down to your DNA. And the same is true for girls too. Mr. Ramirez then brings things back to the very first boy and girl, Adam and Eve, and how their Fall into Sin happened because they wanted to do things their own way instead of God’s good way. Today some want to do try their own way – not God’s way – when it comes to their gender too. One of the many things I appreciated about this book was how clear kids were taught what’s right, and then encouraged to act kindly to those who are confused. Finishing up the book are a couple of pages intended for parents, which, in small print, pack a lot of information on how to talk through gender with our kids. One caution: there is one depiction of Jesus, as a baby and with no real detail given, on a page noting that God the Son became a tiny speck inside a girl, Mary, and became a man. I don’t think this a violation of the Second Commandment, but maybe someone else might. The only other caution is in regards to what isn’t tackled in this story: gender roles. God made us different, and He also gave the genders some different roles and also gave us some different general tendencies. So yes, as the book notes, some boys do like dancing, and some girls like car repair…but that’s not the general trend. And because the general trend is never noted in the book, this absence could, if left undiscussed, leave young readers with the impression that no such trends exist. Then they would fall for a different one of the world’s gender-related lies: that other than sexual biology, men and women aren’t different at all. This is not a picture book you are going to read over and over with your children because it is more of a conversation starter than a story. But it is a wonderful help for parents in discussing an issue that none of us ever confronted when we were kids. It is a different world today, and we want to be the first to broach these topics with our kids. Reading and discussing a book with your little one is a fantastic way to do it. - Jon Dykstra Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat by Andrew Wilson & Helene Perez Garcia 32 pages / 2019 The story, written in engaging rhythm, opens with Sophie crying because her sister broke her dollhouse and Sophie, in anger, pushed her over and then yelled at her parents. As she thinks about what just happened and meditates on how bad she is, she looks out the window and sees the Heidelberg’s cat from next door.  Surprisingly, the cat asks her why she is crying and Sophie tells her sad story. He invites her onto the rooftop and as they walk along, they chat. At first I thought, oh no, this is not a Reformed story, as Sophie tells her story and how she tries to be so good but fails. But then the cat sets her straight by explaining that no one can be good because we are all sinful. There is only one person who is good and that is Jesus. Only He can free us from our sins. The cat then uses Lord’s Day 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism and comforts Sophie with the words that “I am not my own” but belong to Jesus.  This is a lovely book for ages 4 and up who can understand the concept of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus. – Joanna Vanderpol...

Assorted

Worldviews and Dogviews: what are they?

“What’s a worldview?” I asked. “It’s a way of viewing the world,” my helpful friend answered. “Um, thanks.” ***** Long before I ever knew what a worldview was, I knew it was an important word. It was even the answer to one of the biggest questions I had ever asked: “How is it that creationists look at geology and biology and physics and other facts and see evidence of God, and evolutionists look at the same facts and see evidence of evolution?” A very wise older individual gave me a short but assuredly brilliant answer to this question. He said, “It’s because creationists and evolutionists have different worldviews.” He was a very smart man, so this must have been a very smart answer, but it didn’t help me. I had to find out what a worldview was first. The dictionary was uninformative. According to it a worldview is: “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” Okay, but what does it mean to “interpret the world”? In the end, it turned out that “worldview” was too difficult a word for me to understand in one giant leap. I had to first learn about a smaller but similar word: “dogview.” Dogview basics If a worldview is “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world” then a dogview is, of course, “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets dogs.” It turns out everyone has a dogview and each person’s dogview can be quite different from their neighbor’s. To put it another way, a person’s dogview contains their basic core beliefs about dogs and answers all the big questions people have about dogs like: why are dogs the way they are, and why do they do the things they do? You could call it the starting point for figuring out dogs. The really remarkable thing about dogviews is that a person’s dogview can sometimes have an incredible effect on how they interpret facts. Take for example, the case of Mel and Nicky, two friends who have very different dogviews: Nicky is convinced that all dogs are nice, while Mel believes that all dogs are mean. THE FIRST DOG One day, as the two of them were out for a walk, a dog jumped out of the bushes just a few feet in front of them. Mel, of course, thought this Pit bull/Doberman-cross looked quite menacing, while Nicky was convinced it just wanted a scratch behind the ears. When she approached to give the brute a pat, it bit her in the ankle and then ran off. While this incident only added to Mel’s belief that all dogs are mean, if you thought this would force Nicky to revisit her "all dogs are nice" dogview, you would be mistaken. Nicky had a very strongly-held dogview so, rather than changing it, she reinterpreted the events to fit her dogview. “The dog wasn’t being mean,” she told Mel, “He was only giving me a love nip.” DOG NUMBER TWO As Nicky and Mel continued their walk, another dog just happened to jump in front of the two friends. With his tail wagging, the St. Bernard bounded forward and leapt up, putting his front paws on Mel’s shoulders. The dog knocked him right over and started licking Mel’s face. After a moment or two of this the St. Bernard, tail still wagging, bounded back into the bushes and disappeared. “See Mel,” Nicky exclaimed, “All dogs are nice. He liked you so much, he was licking your face!” To you or me it might seem this dog was nice and very friendly, but Mel saw things quite differently. His dogview, after all, was that all dogs were mean, so he interpreted the St. Bernard’s actions in light of that dogview. “Licking me, you say! He wasn’t licking me; he was tasting me! Fortunately, I didn’t taste very good to him, so he left to go find someone else to devour.” Mel and Nicky saw the exact same events and yet, because of their opposing dogviews, they interpreted those events very differently. They obviously had messed up dogviews – all dogs aren’t nice, and they aren’t all mean either – but because Mel and Nicky were so dedicated to their incorrect dogviews, they forced the facts to fit. So what’s a worldview? Once I understood the intricacies of what a dogview was, it became a lot easier to understand what a worldview was. As Reformed Christians we understand that God is sovereign over all of life – everything has been made by Him, and the purpose of life is to glorify and enjoy Him forever. That means our Christian faith is the “overall perspective from which we see and interprets the world.” Christianity is our worldview. To put it another way, a worldview is a lot like a dogview, except instead of being just about dogs it concerns the whole world. A person’s worldview answers the big questions that we all have about the world and the people in it like: Why am I here? What is the nature of the universe? Why is there evil or good? A worldview is a person’s starting place, or their foundation for figuring out the world and people in it. And like their dogview, a person’s worldview can sometimes have an incredible effect on how they interpret facts. Christians, for example, see the exquisite complexity of a human eye and understand it as evidence of a Grand Designer. Evolutionists, however, believe that the whole universe is the result of chance (that’s their worldview) so they look at a human eye differently. To them the complexity of the human eye is not evidence of a Grand Designer, but is instead evidence of vast amounts of time. After all, chance couldn’t produce something like an eye overnight – that takes time! Like Mel and Nicky, evolutionists force the facts to fit because the only alternative is for them to abandon their mistaken worldview and look for another. And like Mel and Nicky, most evolutionists hold on to their mistaken view too strongly for them to consider looking at the world in a different way. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that our worldview explains the world like no other worldview can. We can understand subjects like psychology better because we have a good grasp of human nature. Economics, as complicated as it is, is easier for Christians because we know that man is motivated by self-interest. Our worldview helps us have stronger marriages because we know that women are supposed to submit to the authority of their husbands and that men are supposed to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church. We understand events like wars and terrorism better than the world because we know that man is sinful by nature (and that it would be naive to presume all false religions are inherently peaceful). We can face illness and sickness with hope because our Christian worldview explains why illness and sickness exist. Our worldview makes the world understandable. And for that we should thank the One who gave us this understanding, and we should share His gift with everyone we know. Jon Dykstra does not own a dog and is quite happy about that. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

John Hus: A journey of no return

Docudrama 2015 /55 minutes Rating: 7/10 This docudrama covers the last months of Reformer Jan Hus's (1369-1415) life when he was imprisoned and awaiting trial on charges of heresy. His "errors" were of the sort that Luther would preach 100 years later: Hus had a problem with indulgences, and with the corrupt clergy, and he wanted the Bible translated into the Czech language. And, like Luther, he would not back down. It's important to understand that the film is a fictional account based on historical facts. The biggest embellishment is the character Robert Tallio, who is portrayed as an inquisitor – a torturer – who has been brought by his cleric brother to report on Hus. But instead of getting what he wants from Hus, he gets what he needs – Tallio hears the Gospel and becomes increasingly troubled by it. Tallio isn't a complete embellishment – he is based on a sympathetic jailer named Robert that we read about in Hus's letters. Hus even wrote a tract on marriage for him, so their relationship seemed to be a close one. But other than his name, occupation, and his apparent need for advice on marriage, we don't know anything else about this Robert. But it is through this bit of fiction that we get to see a more human face to Hus. We don't just see his courage, but also his compassion, even for his jailer. CAUTIONS The only content caution I can think of would be in regards to Tallio and his love interest, who begins the story as a prostitute. We don't see anything sexual or revealing – I mention it only to alert parents that her occupation is discussed. And, as mentioned it is important to remember that this blending of fiction with fact can't be relied on to give more than an impression of the man. If you want more than a brief, albeit intriguing, overview of the man, it'd be best to turn to a good book about him. CONCLUSION So who would like this? If you have any interest in Church history, this will be an enjoyable hour's viewing. The production values are lavish, the acting solid, and the dubbing from the original Czech, decently done. This looks good! However, if you have no interest in Church history, well, this dialogue-driven movie likely won't be exciting enough to change your mind. You can watch it for free, below. Another older production, 1977's "John Hus," can also be watched for free online, but while just as educational, it is far less professional. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Drama, Movie Reviews

I can only imagine

Drama 2018 / 110 minutes Rating: 8/10 This is the life story of MercyMe singer Bart Millard, or, more specifically, it's the story of what drove him to write what might be the most popular Christian song of the modern era, I Can Only Imagine. It begins with 12-year-old Bart in 1985, listening to ELO tunes on his Sony Walkman, and crafting a cardboard Star Wars fighter helmet. He's a creative dreamer, but his home life is a nightmare. When he gets home that evening his father burns his helmet, and when Bart heads to bed early his Walkman only partially drowns out his parents' yelling. So is this a story about a man succeeding despite a difficult childhood? It's more than that. The focus isn't as much on Bart's transformation from troubled kid to successful singer, as it is about God transforming his abusive father. As Bart tells Amy Grant: "My dad was a monster. I mean that's the only word for it. And I saw God transform him from a man I hated into the man I wanted to become. Into my best friend....I guess I didn't realize God could do that. And so I wrote this song." That's the central story, and added in the mix is the sweet but certainly not simple story of Bart and his childhood sweetheart. Cautions Millard's father is abusive, both physically, which we mostly don't see, and verbally, which we do. While the violence takes place primarily off-screen there are a few brief moments that are scary because the viewer has no reason to presume they are going to be just brief. One example: Millard's father breaks a plate over his head. It's shocking; however, it doesn't escalate. There's nothing here that would scare an adult, but these early scenes of Millard's family life are one reason this film, despite its PG rating, is not appropriate for children. Another reason? Not only is Millard's father abusive, his mother abandons him. Abuse and abandonment aren't thoughts we want our children worrying about. Conclusion This is a remarkable film and a good part of it is J. Michael Finley, a good actor, and an absolutely fantastic singer whose version of I Can Only Imagine got me looking for the film's soundtrack. But every movie has a message, and it's the moral of this story that makes it so special. In Romans 8 the apostle Paul tells us that God works all things out for the good of those who love Him. But so often we have to take that on faith. When a loved one gets cancer, or we lose our job, we're left wondering, "How is God going to turn this to good?" In Millard's story we get a glimpse, almost a look behind the scenes, to see how God can do it and is doing it. We still don't know how He's going to work it all out in our own lives, but this glimpse helps us imagine. While the film is quite true to Millard's story, some dramatic license has been taken in the climactic singing scene. If, after watching the film, you want to know how it really happened, click here and here. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Children’s fiction

5 great chapter books

With the start of summer what parents everywhere need are some fantastic reads for their young'uns. The chapter books below come in all shapes and sizes, so no matter what your son or daughter may be interested in, one of these should grab their attention. All would be good for children who have just completed Grades 1, 2 or 3. And if mom or dad are reading, kids as young as 4 might find these exciting too. Akimbo and the Lions by Alexander McCall Smith 1992 / 66 pages The author, Alexander McCall Smith, is best known as the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency but he does children's books as well. Akimbo is a boy who has access to all the coolest animals in Africa – his dad is one of the rangers in charge of a wild game reserve, which means that from one book to the next Akimbo is having adventures with snakes and baboons and elephants and crocodiles, oh my! In Akimbo and the Lions he accompanies his father to trap a lion harassing a small village. But things don't go as planned – instead they trap a cub and scare the momma away. That means someone needs to take care of this wee little lion, and Akimbo convinces his dad that he is just the boy for the job! McCall does a wonderful job of balancing the tension in the book. There were moments where my 5 and 7-year-old were covering their mouths (and sometimes their eyes) but these moments didn't last too long. This is just a good old-fashioned adventure, perfect for their age group. It is short – a book that can be read in two or three sessions – exciting, sometimes sweet, with gentle humor along the way too. We've tackled the other 4 books in the series and would recommend two of them: Akimbo and the Crocodile Man and Akimbo and the Snakes, though the latter has a passing endorsement of evolution after the story, in the notes. The other two have some more problematic content which you can learn about here. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter & Kathleen Olmstead 150 pages / 2007 I'm not one for abridged classics – why not just read the original? However, there is an exception to every rule. I recently realized that my little ones could benefit from learning about Pollyanna's "glad game" – like her they need to learn how to look for the positive side of things. But they just weren't old enough yet to sit through the original. Fortunately Sterling Books' "Classic Starts" has a very good abridgment. Half as long as the original, it is the perfect size for my girls’ ages, three through seven. Pollyanna is a poor but lively orphan girl who goes to live with her rich, strait-laced aunt. Hilarity ensues as this somber lady is gradually won over by her cheerful niece. There is one shocking/sad moment that could cause young listeners some distress – Pollyanna gets hurt quite badly. I peeked ahead and made sure that the chapter with the accident was the first one I read that night, and then I kept on reading the next couple chapters so we could finish on a happier note. That helped my audience work through this tense section. Andi’s Pony Trouble by Susan K. Marlow 61 pages / 2010 Andi is 5 going on 6, with dreams of owning her very own horse. Andi lives on a farm in the West in the 1870s, and already has a pony, named Coco. But Coco can only trot, and that not fast enough for Andi's liking. So she wants a horse for her birthday. But as little Andi tries to prove she's big enough for a horse, everything goes wrong. Author Susan Marlow, does a good job of interjecting comedy throughout - at one point Andi ends up with eggs on her head, which had our girls giggling. There are 11 pictures throughout, which helps make it an accessible book for younger children too. The author is Christian, and it shows –Andi also gets into some minor naughtiness, but afterwards asks her mom, and her pony Coco, for forgiveness. The only downside is that while Andi knows she shouldn't say disrespectful things, she still thinks them. Quite a lot. That’s okay in small doses, but it pops up more in other Andi books. I would give Andi’s Pony Trouble two thumbs up, but this internal backtalk is the reason why we’re not going to buy the rest of this series. Though we probably will get them from the library. The Adventures of Lancelot the Great by Gerald Morris 92 pages / 2008 This has all the adventure you’d expect from an Arthurian tale, but way more humor. And maybe the best way to review it is to share one of those jokes. Sir Lancelot wants to be one of King Arthur's knights because "They have the bravest hearts, the noblest souls and the shiniest armor in all the world." Lancelot is a little obsessed with his appearance but on his journey to Camelot, (to introduce himself to the King) he gets caught in a rainstorm, and his armor ends up getting "splashed all over with dirty spots." When at last the rain stopped, Sir Lancelot turns his attention to his spattered appearance. Moving his lance to his left arm, he draws a towel from his saddlebags and begins scrubbing at his armored legs. Soon he is absorbed in the task, paying no attention to where his horse is taking him. When he does finally look up, Lancelot sees a knight bearing down on him. Thinking it one of those roving evil knights and "having no time to shift his lance to his right arm...he met the knight’s charge left-handed, popping his attacker very neatly from his saddle." Almost without pause, another knight attacks him, and then another and another, which gets Lancelot quite annoyed, as this near constant assault really interferes with his cleaning efforts. But he quickly dispatches them one after another. This happens 16 times in all, and after the 16th knight was dispatched, Lancelot hears clapping. It turns out he had wandered into a tournament unawares, and won it quite unintentionally while using his lance left-handed. Then when he finds out the King himself is the host of the tournament and wants the noble knight to join the Round Table, Lancelot is distraught. Why? "Look at me! I'm all covered with mud! And I did want to make a favorable first impression!" The rest of the book is more of the same – my girls were laughing out loud, and I was having a great time too. The only caution would be that other books in this series have some magic and supernatural elements that might be of concern to some parents. But this book is just good silly, feudal fun. This could be enjoyed by kids all the way through Grade 5 and 6. The big goose and the little white duck by Meindert DeJong 169 pages / 1938 It begins with a big boy buying his mother a big goose for her birthday present – she's always wanted one for a pet. But there is just one problem: to buy the goose he had to borrow money from his gruff grandfather. Now the grumpy old man was more than happy to loan the money but only because he misunderstood what the big boy intended. He thought the boy was buying it for his birthday – for his eighty-eighth birthday just a few months away. He thought the big boy was buying it so that grampa could, for the first time in his long life, have a taste of roast goose. So the fun in the story is seeing how this can all conclude with a happy ending! It was a great read-out-loud book to share with my young daughters. The big goose is an excitable character, and the grandfather likes to bellow, which means that I got to get loud too. DeJong won both the Hans Christian Andersen and Newbery awards for children's literature, so the man could write. If mom or dad are reading it, this is good for ages 4 and up. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Long Goodbye: The Kara Tippetts Story

Documentary 88 min / 2019 Rating: 10/10 "I feel like I'm a little girl at a party whose Dad is asking her to leave early, And I'm throwing a fit. I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to go." – Kara Tippetts ***** Kara Tippetts started Mundane Faithfulness intending it to be a "mommy blog" that would encourage moms to just love their littles and be there every day for them. But it became something very different when the young mother of four and pastor's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The blog went viral as Kara, bluntly and beautifully, explained her treatments, shared her doubts, and showed how their family was trying to treasure every moment. In posts that were read by tens of thousands, she explained: "I want to be able to share this story that suffering isn't a mistake, and it isn't the absence of God's goodness...because He's present in pain." In Psalm 90 the psalmist pleas with the Lord, "teach us to number our days" (Ps. 90:12) and with her diagnosis, Kara was confronted with a truth the rest of us most often evade: that our days are numbered. She showed us what we should all do: find joy in the moments where they can be found. "Cancer was this gift that exposed to us what is important and what is valuable. Parenting with kindness. Loving your husband. Living well." Then, over the course of the next two years as it became increasingly clear that a cure wasn't likely, Kara showed the world what it looks like to die to God's glory. I gave this the highest rating I could because everyone should see it, and would be greatly benefited by it. Not only will Kara's story remind us to number our days, she teaches us to really think through what our purpose is. The only caution I would offer is that I can't quite imagine what sort of viewing party would work best, as there are just so many scenes here that will have everyone bawling. It's the mix of brokenness, beauty, truth, and God's goodness that'll ensure no one in the room has a dry eye, so if you don't like bawling in public, you won't want to watch this with friends. But you do want to watch it with friends because it will prompt some fantastic discussions about what really matters. So maybe the best approach is to gather a group, turn the lights down low, distribute Kleenex boxes generously, and know that your tear-stained face won't stand out from anyone else's in the group. "The Long Goodbye" can be purchased on DVD or streamed online for a few bucks at innumerable places around the Internet. Kara has also written a The Hardest Peace which I review here. After you've seen the film, you may want to check out this speech by Nate Wilson that makes the same points Kara does, but from a very different direction. Jon Dykstra also blogs on films at ReelConservative.com. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Drama / Christian 98 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 best-selling biography of Louis Zamperini was so good two movies have been based on it. The 2014 adaptation was a major motion picture that made more than $100 million. It was titled, simply, Unbroken. It focused on Zamperini's World War II heroics, and his career as an Olympian. That film shared how he survived getting shot down, and how he spent 47 days on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean only to be rescued by the Japanese. They then imprisoned him in a camp staffed by sadistic guards who tortured him for the rest of the war. What was missing from this Hollywood production was Zamperini's conversion, which gets only a passing mention right as the credits roll. Director Angelina Jolie didn't see it as a significant part of his life. But for Christians who've read his biography, Zamperini's conversion is the obvious climax to his story. The Hollywood production was only half the story, with the best part still untold. In Unbroken: Path to Redemption we get that second half. While this is a sequel of sorts, picking up where the other left off, it stands up well on its own too. The focus here is on what happened after the war when Zamperini returned home, got married, and had to wrestle with nightmares, despair, unemployment, marital troubles, and alcohol addiction. Maybe this is why the first film stopped where it did: Hollywood didn't know what to do with an unbreakable man who gets shattered. But this Christian production does. While the special effects aren't at the level of a major motion picture, the acting is very good. And what makes this the superior adaptation is that it gives God his due. How was Louis able to survive it all? Only because God was there, every step of the way, protecting, pursuing, and forgiving. Some Christian critics have noted Path to Redemption doesn't go far enough into Zamperini's brokenness and as a result, mutes some of what God does for him. That's a fair critique, and I think some of my appreciation for this film is because, having read the book, I was already fully aware of that aspect. So this might be a better film when viewed as a follow-up to the book, rather than as a replacement for it. CAUTIONS There are a few cautions to share. First, Louis has some nightmares about his Japanese torturer. While these scenes aren't gory, they are intense and would scare children under 10 (and maybe some over 10). During another nightmare, Louis imagines that in his sleep he's mistaken his wife for a prison guard and has been choking her. It's all just a dream, but we get a glimpse of it. Also, one scene takes place on the beach with everyone in beach attire, but these are 1940s era bathing suits, so it isn't risqué. Finally, if you're watching this with teens, you might want to mention that this is not a how-to on dating, as it shows a good Christian lass letting herself be unequally yoked to the lapsed Catholic Louis. CONCLUSION This is the film we wanted to see in the first place, telling the full story of the broken man made whole. If you enjoyed the book you'll love this film. And if you saw the Hollywood production then you really need to watch Path to Redemption to get the rest of the story. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Pursuit

Documentary 77 minutes / 2019 RATING: 7/10 "From 1970 until today the percentage of people living at starvations door has decreased by 80%. Two billion people have been pulled out of starvation-level poverty. What did that!?! What did that? That was my vision quest, to figure out what did that." – Arthur Brooks The Pursuit is the story of one man's search for the best way to lift the world's poorest out of their poverty. And what the former French-horn player and current globe-trotting economics professor Arthur Brooks discovered is that it's the free market that did this, that lifted literally billions out of extreme poverty. Brooks makes for an interesting guide for this journey. In passing he identifies himself as a Catholic only to, moments later, start sharing Buddhist wisdom. He takes us to the words of the Apostle Paul, but soon after takes us to the home of the Dali Lama. So why would a Buddhist/Catholic former French horn player make a good guide for Christians interested in learning about economics, and the benefits of the free market? It's because, as much as he might differ from us in big ways and small, his case for free trade is built on principles that line right up with Scripture. He doesn't quote it, but his foundation is the Second Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:36-40) – Brooks is clearly motivated by a love for his neighbor. That same command is often used as a justification for socialism – if we care for our neighbor, why wouldn't we use the State's taxing power to help the poor? But Brooks responds with a very practical, Prov. 27:14 type, counter-argument: good intentions are not enough. He does that by taking us to a coal mining town in America, where the mine has been shut down, to show that however well-intentioned the socialist government programs might be, they don't help in the long run. He also takes us to the slums of India to visit some of the world's poorest. The desperately poor still remain, but Hindol Sengupta, editor-at-large for Fortune India, estimates that if not for market reforms initiated in India three decades ago, 300 million more Indians would still be impoverished. Socialism didn't help – this improvement came about by allowing people the freedom to make choices, sell their own labor and goods, and make the most of whatever (even if they were limited) opportunities that might come their way. This came about via capitalism's free markets and free enterprise, not socialism's compulsion and restriction. So Brook's argument is simple then: if we believe good results are more important than good intentions, we should support the economic system that actually helps the poor. And that's capitalism. ONE CAUTION I'd highly recommend The Pursuit, but it does require a little discernment on Christians' part. We need to remember that despite Brooks quoting Scripture – sometimes quite insightfully – his is not a strictly biblical perspective. So, for example, he makes this good point in citing 1 Tim 6:10: " putting yourself always ahead of other people. I often reflect on the verse in the New Testament that's most often misquoted: 'Money is the root of all evil.' "That's a misquote of the Apostle Paul. Here's the real Scripture: "For the love of money is the root of all evil." This really illuminates the problem of materialism. It's the not the  existence of material things. It's not the abundance around us. That's great! The problem is, not the money, it's the love of money. It's not the stuff. The stuff isn't the problem. It is the attachment to the stuff." This is an important point, but it goes askew when Brooks immediately pairs it with the Buddhist philosophy of detachment. Buddhists are right that money makes for a lousy idol and can't possibly satisfy us, but the answer isn't simply detachment. The proper corrective to false worship isn't merely to stop it; we need to start worshipping the one true God. This is where the film falls short. It is excellent in highlighting problems with socialism, and envy, and covetousness, and hard-heartedness. And The Pursuit even directs us to an economic system that will help many materially. But when it comes to what matters most – Who do you serve? – Brooks is stuck on the Second Greatest Commandment and doesn't bring us to the First: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:35-40). CONCLUSION At a time when 4 in 10 Americans believe socialism is a good thing, and many Christians think it the compassionate approach, there is a need for a film like this, that makes the very practical case against socialism that it isn't actually caring because it doesn't actually work. That message and a charming host make The Pursuit both an important film and a pleasure to watch. The Pursuit is playing in limited engagements across North America (to find locations check here) and can also be rented via the iTunes stores here. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

2 to help us understand the Muslim holy book

WHAT EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE QUR'AN by James R. White 311 pages / 2013 More than ever, Christians need to be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islam.  We often live beside Muslims, work alongside them, and study with them.  It’s good to have helpful resources to inform our conversations with our Muslim neighbors.  Though it is now a couple of years old already, James White’s book on the Muslim sacred text is one of those valuable helps. White is the author of numerous non-fiction books.  He’s well-known as an author, speaker, and debater.  He is an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an organization with a focus on apologetics (done in a Reformed, presuppositional manner). Rather than summarize everything in this book, let me just highlight two points which stood out for me. Qur-an’s caricature of the Trinity shows it isn’t perfect One has to do with what the Qur’an says about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  In chapter 4, White points out that the Qur’an says Christians believe the Trinity to consist of Allah, Jesus, and Mary. Christians are alleged to believe that Allah and Mary had relations to produce Jesus.  This is important because: Everyone affected would affirm that by the early decades of the seventh century, God Himself would have a perfect knowledge of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says. And if that doctrine does not accurately represent His own self-revelation, He would be in the perfect position to refute its falsehoods with devastating precision.  But is this what we find in the Qur’an? The Qur’an doesn’t get the Trinity right, and so the Qur’an can’t be taken seriously as a revelation from God. Qur’an’s claim about itself is patently false In chapter 11, White has a penetrating discussion about the text of the Qur’an.  Muslims claim that it is a perfect, immutable text. Of course, that’s contrasted with the text of the Bible which, they allege, has been mutilated by Jews and Christians.  White gives a couple of examples from Muslim writers. This is one of them: Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an. The above prophecy for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well…It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single the alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries. White demonstrates that this claim is patently false. He notes that “even widely published editions of the Qur’an contain information indicating variations in the very text.”  He cites Yusuf Ali’s edition with its note on Surah 33:6.  In The Hidden Origins of Islam (ed. by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R. Puin), there is an essay by Alba Fedeli on variant readings in early Qur’anic manuscripts.  It is simply not true that there is a single immaculate Qur’an text preserved from the time of Muhammad. Conclusion One question I wish White would have addressed is whether these claims are made in ignorance or deliberately to deceive.  There is a doctrine in Islam known as al-Taqqiya.  This teaching says it is permissible to lie in order to advance the cause of Islam.  This is one of the things making Islam such a threat to western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular.  How can you tell when a Muslim is lying about Islam? I would recommend this book to anyone who has regular contact with Muslims.  Be aware though: most, if not all, of the points raised by White in the book have rebuttals by Muslim apologists somewhere online.  The rebuttals are weak, but if you are going to use White’s material in conversations it would be advisable to prepare yourself beforehand for what your Muslim neighbor may bring back in response. Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. ***** UNDERSTANDING THE KORAN by Mateen Elass 193 pages / 2009 If I were to offer a one-sentence review I'd describe this as the most readable and most loving Christian book on Islam I've yet read, and while it isn't a very big book, there is a lot packed in it. The advantage of this “Quick Christian guide to the Muslim Holy Book” is how much it packs into its small size. The author, Mateen Elass, wanted to craft an introduction to the Koran that anyone could pick up and read, and somehow he's managed to make it both easily digestible and 100% solid meat - there's no fluff here. Elass is a Presbyterian pastor who was raised in Saudi Arabia so he knows what he’s talking about it, and can offer a solid, biblically-grounded insight. He outlines how the Koran is a compilation of muddled Bible stories, Gnostic accounts, and Jewish folk tales, and compares and contrasts Christian views on our Bible with Muslim views about the Koran. The only caution I had regards Chapter 6 “Is Allah a False God?” where the author argues that, like the Samaritans in New Testament times (see John 4:22), Muslims worship the real God, but in ignorance. This is a controversial stance – Muslims insist that Allah has no Son – but it becomes less so when the author makes it clear he isn’t arguing for any sort of equivalence between Islam and Christianity or that Muslims can be saved apart from Jesus. Introductions to Islam can generally be divided into those that have nothing but good to say about Islam, and those that have nothing but bad. One strength of this title is that it takes a third approach – the author is Christian, but one knows and loves Muslims, so while he is direct, thorough, and quite devastating in his critique of the Koran, he always remains calm, and never resorts to rhetoric. Understanding the Koran is small and engaging enough to be read in a few evenings, but the depth of material, and the review questions for each chapter, make this one worth reading a second time at a slower more studious pace. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Drama, Movie Reviews

Gosnell: the trial of America's biggest serial killer

Drama 2018 / 93 minutes RATING: 8/10 "Are you going to be the first prosecutor in American history to charge an abortion doctor with murder?" **** There are some great lines in Gosnell. But it was a film I almost didn't watch. I knew it was the true-life story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist who in 2013 was convicted of killing three babies after they were born. I'd thought it an important story to get out into the public eye, so a few years ago I'd been one of the 30,000 who'd contributed more than $2 million to its Indiegogo campaign. But now, with the DVD in hand, I found myself thinking, "I'm already pro-life so do I really need to sit through a 90-minute film detailing the horrors of abortion?" I'm glad I did, for two reasons. First, the film wasn't the unrelentingly depressing drama I had expected. This felt more like a Law and Order episode, with a mystery that needs solving, and dedicated men and women trying to deliver whatever justice they can. There were some talented people involved in the production, from director Nick Pearcey, who also stars as the defense attorney, to the Daily Wire's Andrew Klaven who had a hand in writing the script. There's no clear star in this ensemble cast, but it might be Dean Cain (Lois and Clark) who is his regular personable self in the role of Detective James Wood, the man who first uncovered what was going on behind the closed doors of Gosnell's clinic. Second, the film is a much better pro-life tool than I ever expected. Gosnell killed thousands so this could have been as hard to watch as Schindler's List (Schindler is in everyone's top 100 list, but has anyone watched it twice?). But by hiding almost all of the gore, and by keeping a quick pace, not lingering in the clinic too long, audiences aren't confronted with the full horror of what Dr. Gosnell did. That makes this a film that can be shared with the undecided; if they can handle network TV, then there's nothing here that'll be too graphic for them. Now, there is a method behind the muted visuals. A gory film would have undecideds walking out or staying away. But the producers didn't intend to pull any punches – they've just been clever enough to lay out their argument in a way that'll be the most likely to reach and sway their intended audience. When Gosnell was being tried, both the prosecutor and the mainstream media emphasized that the case wasn’t about abortion – this was about the murder of already born babies. But in his defense, Gosnell’s attorney shows that what Gosnell did to these babies after birth was not significantly different from what other abortionists were – with the law’s blessing – doing to babies before birth. His reasoning was sound, even if it wasn't enough to get his client off. And seeing an abortion defender make the case that killing an unborn baby differs not a whit from killing a newborn baby is an argument that is sure to hit viewers right between the eyes. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Children’s non-fiction, Children’s picture books

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914

by John Hendrix 40 pages / 2014 I was raised with stories of the Dutch Resistance and the Canadian liberators fighting against the brutal Nazis – war, it seemed, had clear villains and obvious heroes. Later, though, I learned that right and wrong in war can be far more confusing: for example, in recent years we’ve seen US-backed groups fighting other US-backed groups in Syria. John Hendrix’s Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 presents parents with a tool to give our children a more nuanced understanding of war. In a style that is halfway between realistic and cartoon, the author tells us the events of Dec. 24 and 25, 1914. On the day of Christmas Eve, 1914, all along the frontlines, the shooting slowed, and that night the Germans could be heard singing Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht – “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Then the next morning, on Christmas Day, in spots up and down the frontlines, German, British, and French troops spontaneously came out of their trenches and celebrated Christmas together. The next day they returned to killing one another. Does that make this book sound anti-war? I’d say it is more an underscoring of just how horrible war is. Fighting is sometimes necessary, which is why we are grateful for the courage of the Dutch Resistance and the Allied forces in World War II, who understood that stopping the Nazis was worth risking, and even giving, their lives. We need to remember their sacrifice because it was noble, and selfless, and good. But if war gives us examples to admire and imitate, there is also much that is foolish, and which we must learn to avoid. To give our children a more complete understanding of war, we need to show them that there are those who, under the guise of patriotism, rush to war even though war should always be a last resort. There are leaders who do not treat their young men’s lives as precious, and World War One is an example of that right up to the last day when 11,000 soldiers died in fighting that occurred after the peace treaty was signed. Commanders who sent their men out on offensives on that last day – some from our side – should be remembered as murderers. Shooting at the Stars is a gentle way of teaching the ethical complexities of war. It is gentle in that no blood or gore is seen (making this suitable for maybe Grade Three and up). The most war-like illustration occurs on a two-page spread where we see three corpses, as soldiers on both sides work together to bury their dead. What is striking is simply that there were men on both sides who could praise God together one day and fight to the death the next. That is a shocking bit of history. And it needs to be remembered. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Children’s picture books, Parenting

3 picture books that tackle anxiety, anger, and failure

Children get anxious. And angry. And they can get frustrated when they fail. As adults, we often struggle with these same emotions, and sometimes we don't do all that well with handling them. Which makes it that much the harder for us to teach our children what to do. That's why this series of pictures books, from the Christian Counseling and Educational Fund (CCEF) are a welcome resource. Not only are they a tool for parents to help children, they can help us adults too. There is good advice in these pages, pointing us straight to the One who can really help. Zoe's Hiding Place: When you are anxious edited by David Powlison illustrated by Joe Hox 32 pages / 2018 The story is about a little mouse named Zoe who's worried about a school trip to the art museum. The last time the class went, she became so fascinated by one painting that she lost track of where the rest of the group went. Then, when she looked up, no one was around, and "It felt like I was alone forever!" She's scared it will happen again. So now she's retreated to her hiding place – under the covers in her bed. How can Zoe deal with her fear and worry? Her mom begins by listening. That's a good start. Then she explains to Zoe that what she is feeling is understandable. But when worry makes us feel like we're all alone, that's not true – God is always with us, and will never forsake us. Mom tells Zoe she can "turn each fear into a prayer" because God will help her. Her mom also helps Zoe think through ways she can stay with the group and not get separated. In the back of the book, the moral of the story is developed further with a two-page message to parents on "helping your child with anxiety." There the editor of this book, David Powlison – a very well-respected biblical counselor – has included a list of 10 "things to remember that will bring comfort to you and your child." Thoughts include: Recognizing that in this world "We have good reason to be anxious and worried." The most frequent command in the Bible is 'Don't be afraid.' Reminding your child that the Lord has listening ears. This is a wonderful book, meant for kids, but helpful for adults too. And the absolutely stunning pictures make this a pretty special morality tale. Yes, this is more an educational tool than an entertaining read. But it is a pretty entertaining read too. And the pictures are so fun to look at, a couple of my daughters have been paging through it regularly. I'd recommend Zoe's Hiding Place to any parents trying to help a child through worry or fear. With its firm grounding in Scripture, this will be a real help to both the child and the parent. For a 10-page preview of the book, you can check out this link here. Two others There are two other books in the CCEF's "Good News for Little Hearts" series, on failure and anger. Buster's Ears Trip Him Up is about dealing with failure. Buster is a speedy rabbit who thinks that winning is everything, so when his long ears trip him up and he loses the big race, he doesn't know how to deal with it. Fortunately, he has a big sister, and a wise father, who both know how to help him deal with failure. They remind him that God loved us before we had ever done anything so it really isn't about our accomplishments, but rather what Jesus accomplished on the cross. You can read a 6-page sample here. Jax's Tail Twitches is about when we are angry. Jax is a squirrel whose big brother is pestering him and that makes him mad. What's worse, the neighbors next door are taking their nuts without asking, and that makes his dad mad. But even when there is good reason to be angry, our anger is, most often, the wrong response to this wrong situation. This is a lesson that mom and dad can certainly benefit from, even as we share it with our children. You can read an 8-page excerpt here. I'd recommend all three of these book as wonderful tools for parents to read with and discuss with their children. The stories are solid, the artwork incredible, and what it teaches is biblical, helpful, and accessible. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Calvin's Institutes: Which edition should you read?

John Calvin published five different Latin editions of his Institutes, expanding on it with each new edition. The 1536 edition was just 6 chapters long, and the addition of 17 shorter chapters in 1539 doubled the book’s size. Four more chapters were added in 1543, and then only minor changes made in 1550. But the final, 1559 version was fully 80% larger than its predecessor. In addition to these Latin editions, Calvin also created French versions that, while very similar, were not strict translations – they taught the same doctrine, in the same order, but sometimes said things in different ways. It is the final Latin 1559 version that most translations are based on, including the two best-known English-language translations: the 1845 Henry Beveridge, and the 1960 Ford Lewis Battles (edited by John T. McNeill), translations. 1845 Beveridge One advantage of the Beveridge edition is that the copyright has expired on this translation, so it is readily available online for free (there is also a harder to find 1813 translation by John Allen also available online for free – Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3 – as well as in print). Cheap print and e-book copies are also available, but this is where you have to be wary, as some have crisp new type and a beautiful layout, and others look like they are copies of copies of the original 1800s publication, with dark text cramming every nook and cranny of the page. If you plan to be reading the Institutes front to back – all 1,700 some pages of it – then a nice airy, legible layout is important. So buyer beware – be sure that you can take a look at the inside of whatever edition you are buying. 1960 Battles This edition came a hundred years later, so as you might imagine, the language is somewhat more current. The editor, John T. McNeill also provides lots of helpful explanatory notes at the bottom of many pages. However, as Dr. Bredenhof notes in his Institutes review, McNeill's liberal theological bias comes out in some of these notes. 2014 White In addition to being the most modern translation (by Robert White and published by the Banner of Truth) this edition's main feature is one that will be regarded as a strength by some and a weakness by others – it is based on the much smaller 1541 French edition. It clocks in at just 920 pages, instead of the more than 1,700 pages of the final 1559 version. So, this would be the best one for those interested in checking out the Institutes but who would appreciate an abridgment...in this case, done by the author himself! Conclusion While it might seem a trivial thing, I really can't emphasize enough the importance of buying an edition with an inviting layout. You're going to be investing a lot of time with this book, whatever edition you buy, and if you get one with dense text, and a hard to read font, it will wear on you. And on that point, the White edition is beautiful, the Battles/McNeill seems good though not great, and the various editions of the Beveridge run the gamut from beautiful to atrocious. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Children’s picture books

Dance at Grandpa’s

by Laura Ingalls Wilder illustrated by Renée Graef 33 pages / 1994 I'd expect most everyone has heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. Not only are the book loved by children and parents alike, they spawned a 1970-80s TV series that was wildly popular too. If by chance you aren't already familiar, the series is based on the author's own experiences in the late 1800's as a small child living the pioneering life. This picture book, Dance at Grandpa's, is an adaptation of Chapter 8 from the first novel, Little House in the Big Woods. While neighbors are far-flung, they do come together for special events, and this time everyone is invited to Grandma and Grandpa's big cabin. Laura, her Pa, Ma, big sister Mary, and baby sister Carrie, get bundled up in gloves, boots and coats, then covered up with blankets on the sleigh, as they head on their way to Grandpa's. Everyone brings their children so as the big cabin fills, Laura finds that there are "every so many babies lying in rows on Grandma's feather bed." Her pa then takes out his fiddle and the dozens of couples begin to dance and swirl. Laura discovers there's also food of all sorts, including wonderfully sour pickles! When the dancing finally stops Laura heads to bed, and come morning her family heads back home on their sleigh. As with any adaptation the obvious question is, why not just read the original? Our family has previously enjoyed the original novels as audiobooks – from youngest to oldest, everyone liked the novels, and probably more than these picture book versions. So, again, why read the picture book adaptations? There are a couple of reasons. First, my youngest can't read yet, but after going through the picture book once together, she could then "read" through it on her own, which she quite enjoyed. Second, our middle daughter is learning to read and needs books that are easy, but still have an interesting story. Many of the books at her level are so boring she finds they just aren't worth all the effort it takes to read them. But the books in this series are fun and familiar, and she has enjoyed working through a number of them. There are 14 picture book in all in this "My first Little House books" series, all of them based on the first three novels in the original series. The first two novels, Little House in the Big Woods andLittle House on the Prairie, are about Laura's childhood, and the third, Farmer Boy, is about her husband's childhood. One little annoyance we found was that the books were not published in chronological order and aren't numbered, so it was hard to figure out which to read first. For the most part it doesn't really matter, with the exception of the three based on chapters from Little House on the Prairie where one does lead into the next. So you can read most of them in whatever order you'd like, but, if you do want to tackle them in the proper chronological order, this is what it would be: Based on Little House in the Big Woods Winter Days in the Big Woods Christmas in the Big Woods A Little House Birthday Sugar Snow Dance at Grandpa's Going to Town Summertime in the Big Woods The Deer in the Wood Based on Little House on the Prairie Going West Prairie Day A Little Prairie House Based on Farmer Boy Winter on the Farm A Farmer Boy Birthday County Fair CAUTIONS The one caution I'll pass along concerns not Dance at Grandpa's, but another in the series. A Little House Birthday is based on Chapter 5 of Little House in the Big Woods and, just as in the original, the story here is all about how bored Laura is with Sunday. Her parents are very strict: "On Sundays they could not run or shout or be noisy. They must sit quietly and listen while Ma read stories to them They might look at pictures, and they might hold their rag dolls nicely and talk to them. But there was nothing else they could do. One Sunday Laura could not bear it any longer and she began to play with Jack and run and shout. Pa told her to sit in her chair and be quiet, and Laura began to cry. So Pa took her on his knee and cuddled her and told her a story." Eventually, she falls asleep and, waking up the next morning, she realizes with relief, "It was Monday, and Sunday would not come again for a whole week." So she's got quite the attitude about Sunday, and her parents really aren't helping things. Now, a story like this is no big deal when dad or mom are reading it – then we can explain that Sunday isn't a day of "don'ts" but a day of "get tos" – we get to have time off from our daily work and get to spend it together as God's people praising, and learning about, Him. Laura's parents made Sunday the worst day of the week and we can share with our kids that this is simply not the way the Lord's Day should be celebrated. CONCLUSION To this point we've read 11 of the 14 available and enjoyed them all (though we did have to have a talk about A Little House Birthday). I'd recommend them as fantastic books for Grades 1 and maybe 2. With girls as the primary characters, boys might not like most of them, but perhaps they'd be interested in the three based on Farmer Boy (I hope so, but I haven't tested these out on any boys). However, if your girls are anything like ours, they'll enjoy them all. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Media bias

A call for Christian journalists: an interview (of sorts) with Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky has been many things – the Editor-in-Chief of World magazine, a journalism professor, the author of more than 20 books, and a baseball fanatic. Two of those books lay out his radical notions concerning journalism, on how it used to be a Christian enterprise, and how it can be again. This is an "interview" with those two books, and the text in bold are his words as they are found in Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of American News Media and Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism. **** JON DYKSTRA: Let’s start with the title of your first journalism book. What does Prodigal Press refer to? MARVIN OLASKY: The title refers to the relationship that today’s secular press has with the Christian journalism of yesteryear. Though few know it, American secular journalism is the wayward son of Christianity. JD: Do you mean newspapers used to be Christian? MO: Yes, indeed. For example, the New York Times was founded in 1851 by Henry Raymond, a Bible-believing Presbyterian. Throughout the City of New York there was at one time fifty-two magazines and newspapers that called themselves Christian. JD: A Christian New York Times? That is pretty hard to believe. MO: It was a great Christian paper! It became known for its accurate news coverage and for its exposure in 1871 of both political corruption (the “Tweed Ring”) and abortion practices. A reading of the New York Times in the mid-1870s shows that editors and reporters wanted to glorify God by making a difference in this world. JD: The 1800s seemed to be a good time for Christian journalism. Is that when it all started? MO: Oh, it started much earlier than that. You could even say that Luke was one of the first journalists. At that time published news was what authorities wanted people to know. The Acta Diurna, a handwritten news sheet posted in the Roman forum and copied by scribes for transmission throughout the empire, emphasized governmental decrees but also gained readership by posting gladiatorial results and news of other popular events. Julius Caesar used the Acta to attack some of his opponents in the Roman senate – but there could be no criticism of Caesar….The Bible, with its emphasis on truth-telling – Luke (1:3-4 NIV) wrote that he personally had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” so that Theophilus would “know the certainty of the things you have been taught” – was unique in ancient times. New Testament writers comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. JD: But if journalism had a Christian origin, what happened to change things? Most journalism today could hardly be called Christian. MO: There were a number of reasons for the change. First newspapers started shying away from tough stories. Evil unfit for breakfast table discussion or considered unfit to print was ignored and thereby tolerated. Several generations later it was embraced. More importantly, just as Christianity was being attacked by ideas like evolution and materialism, Christianity in North America underwent a period of revivalism that emphasized individualism. Many were saved thankfully, but this emphasis on personal faith did not stress the importance of a Christian worldview. So instead of confronting all problems from a biblical perspective, newspapers pushed Christianity to the sidelines. Furthermore, many Christians began to believe that the general culture inevitably would become worse and worse. They thought that little could be done to stay the downward drift. Christian publications should cover church news, they thought, and ignore the rest of the world. JD: So instead of responding to these attacks, Christian journalists just retreated? MO: Exactly. JD: When did this shift take place? MO: It’s hard to put an exact date to it, but by the 1890s things were underway and by the 1900s journalism had turned rather vicious under the leadership of men like William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. JD: But weren’t Hearst and Pulitzer giants in the newspaper industry? MO: Yes they were, but you wouldn’t want to get on their bad sides. Hearst, for example, was the first journalistic leader to assault regularly those who stood in his path. When Hearst could not get the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904, he called Judge Alton Parker, the party’s nominee, a “living, breathing cockroach from under the sink.”  JD: Nice. Well, if we’ve lost our way, how can we make journalism Christian again? MO: For too long Christians have contented themselves with singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” all the while forgetting that a fortress was an offensive as well as defensive weapon: From it soldiers could make sorties. We have to go out boldly and engage culture, and contrast our Truth with their opinion. JD: But don’t we already have a number of Christian columnists who do just that? MO: We have columnists, but not many journalists.  We need to have people covering the day-to-day news from a biblical perspective. Too often Christian newspapers fill their pages with warmed over sermons rather than realistic stories of successful independent schools or corrupted churches and thereby miss an opportunity to teach boldness. We need to confront culture boldly! JD: Boldness is the key then? MO: Well…no. Boldness alone won’t do it. In fact, none of this will make much difference unless Christian communities view journalism as a vital calling and Christian journalists as ministers worthy of spiritual and economic support. The picture of Marvin Olasky has been modified from one found here, and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. A version of this article first appeared in the March 2008 issue....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Being a witness: an interview (of sorts) with Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) has long since been retired from his earthly duties, but the Presbyterian pastor, philosopher, and apologist was still up for an interview (of sorts) on the desperate need for a clear Christian witness in the public square. The text in bold is his own words, taken from his book A Christian Manifesto. **** JON DYKSTRA: A Christian Manifesto was your last book. Why did you feel the need to write it? FRANCIS SCHAEFFER: It was intended as a rallying cry for Christians, to stand up against the world’s humanist worldview, by offering up God’s own. The basic problem of the Christians in this country…in regards to society and in regards to government is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals. They have gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally, abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality – each thing being a part, a symptom of a much larger problem. have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in…. the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a worldview that was at least vaguely Christian…toward something completely different – toward a worldview based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance.  The phrase “separation of church and state” has been used to push Christians to the sidelines in politics, and we have, for the most part, gone willingly. Christians have forgotten that the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. That includes politics as well. A Christian Manifesto is a call for Christians to reenter the public square as Christians. It argues that the Christian worldview is absolutely vital to civil society and we need to share it with them. JD: Why is it vital? FS: Because it is foundational! In the American Constitution we have the phrase “certain inalienable rights.” Who gives the rights? The State? Then they are not inalienable because the State can change them and take them away. Where do rights come from? Now Christians know there is Someone who gave these inalienable rights, but if you don’t recognize the Giver, how can you recognize His gift? If we ignore God and build our law on humanist assumptions we are left with rights that have no foundation. And if we can’t explain the basis for these rights, how can we complain when they are taken away? That’s why a secular worldview is the road to tyranny. JD: How should Christians respond when their government ignores God? FS: Be a witness! We are where we are today in large part because of the many voters who held to two bankrupt values – personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be left alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world, or across the city. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity – a life made up of things and more things – success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance. Even as voters demand peace and prosperity, we Christians need to stand on principle. We need to speak, even when that is going to cause us trouble, and cost us materially. JD: But are Western Christians prepared for the cost that comes with being a witness? FS: Many are scared. That's because obedience can be scary. I know many among your readership had grandparents involved in hiding Jews from the Nazis. What your grandparents understood is that when we recognize Christ as Lord of All then at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty to disobey the State. That’s why your grandparents were willing to risk the wrath of Man – because they valued the approval of God. And they understood that when Jesus says in Matthew 22:21: “Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” it is not: GOD and CAESAR It was, is, and always will be: GOD and CAESAR The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. JD: You’re talking here about there being a time and place for civil disobedience. What cautions or considerations would you share when it comes to resisting a government imposing wicked laws? FS: Samuel Rutherford suggested that there are three appropriate levels of resistance: First, must defend himself by protest (in contemporary society this would most often be by legal action); second, he must flee if at all possible; and third, he may use force, if necessary to defend himself. One should not employ force if he may save himself by flight; nor should one employ flight if he can save himself and defend himself by protest and the employment of constitutional means of redress. JD: Here in the West we are still free to make use of the first possibility, taking legal and political action. What would you say to Christians who are hesitant to speak out against our society’s humanist worldview, and downright scared about presenting the explicitly Christian alternative? FS: I would tell them the world needs to hear a Christian witness. And until we share that, anything we do is only treating the symptoms. Then I might quote to them a few lines from Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming: You’ve got gangsters in power and lawbreakers making rules When you gonna wake up, When you gonna wake up, When you gonna wake up And strengthen the things that remain? A version of this article first appeared in the March 2008 issue....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye"

Documentary 78 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Aug 3, 2019 UPDATE: This past month Josh Harris used his Instagram account to announce he was rejecting God, separating from his wife, and endorsing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. The review below is of a documentary he made last year, while still a professing Christian, in which he took a critical look at the book that first made him famous, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." While the film's director, Jessica Van Der Wyngaard, is also critical of his book, she is worried that, in light of Harris's apostasy, Christians will now think it dangerous or wrong to ask hard questions, lest doing so lead to the same sort of turning away from God. But as she shared in an email sent to the film's many Kickstarter backers: "This wasn’t the case for me, the rest of the crew, the film's interviewees, or numerous people we spoke to for 'I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.' It is possible to ask hard questions about sexuality, relationships, God’s morality, church culture, marriage, and not lead to the same conclusion as Josh." So, even as the principal figure is now working actively against God, this documentary remains a useful and helpful resource. ***** Twenty-one years ago the then 21-year-old Joshua Harris struck a nerve with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was written for Christian young people by a Christian young person, on a topic that every young person was interested in – how to find that special someone. It sold more than 1.2 million copies and was a big part of a purity movement within the Church that helped shape the way a generation of Christians thought about sex, dating, and looking for a spouse. Fast forward to today, and in a just-released documentary the now 42-year-old author revisits his book and meets Christians who were impacted by it, for good, but also for ill. With a title like I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" it's no surprise that the documentary presents a rather negative overall assessment of the book. Early on Harris's wife Shannon puts it this way: I think it was a good book, and a well-intentioned book...well, I don't know that I can say it was a good book. But it was a well-intentioned book. So why watch a documentary about a seemingly-not-so-good 20-year-old book? Because the film is about much more than a single book. It tackles the Purity Movement overall, and more specifically, what it got wrong. Of course, the Purity Movement got a lot right – hey, they want young people to abstain from sex until marriage, and that's even in the Bible! But it's because the Purity Movement seems so obviously good, that the unveiling of their errors is so instructive. As Spurgeon once noted, discernment isn't the ability to tell right from wrong, but rather to tell right from almost right. The Purity Movement is almost right – if we weren't worried about grammar Nazis we might say they are so very, nearly, almost right. So if we can learn to spot their mistakes, then we'll be able to apply that lesson to most any other well-intentioned, but similarly misguided Christian movement. THE BOOK AND HOW IT'S MISREMEMBERED While I love the documentary, my one big criticism would be that it isn't fair to the book. If you just watched the documentary and hadn't ever read I Kissed Dating Goodbye you would think it was completely against dating, and all about courtship. But after rereading it this week I would describe it as a strong condemnation of dating as it was commonly being done in the Church. Harris was against the recreational dating that had guys and girls paired up quickly, intensely, and most often briefly, with the focus on pleasure or prestige, and no thought spent on how to honor God through dating. He was cautioning against teenagers experiencing too much too soon: too much physical intimacy, too much emotional intimacy, paired with too much immaturity – selfish and uncommitted kids pressuring each other to go further and further. Harris was speaking against turning girlfriends and boyfriends and dating and sex into idols that push God out of His proper place as first and foremost in our hearts. But in taking a stand against an Archie Andrews-type of dating, was Harris pushing the courtship model? Well, there's courtship and then there's courtship. Under one definition, courtship would require a man to first ask a woman's father before he could take her out on a first date. But a broader definition would define courtship as dating done with the specific intent of seeking a marriage partner – dating that isn't done just for fun – and conducted with some level of parental involvement/supervision. In I Kissed Dating Goodbye Harris does encourage more parental involvement, and also intentional, marriage-focussed dating. But the book spends far more space highlighting all that's wrong with modern dating than it spends prescribing a cure. And when it does come to presenting the alternative, Harris is more about general and often clearly biblical principles, than any specific outworking of those principles. He argues at one point: The Bible doesn't provide a one-size-fits-all program for moving from friendship to marriage. Our lives are too different, our circumstances too unique, and our God too creative to have only one formula for romance. While a lot of what he says does align with a courtship model, Harris simply wasn't pushing that model as hard as his critics in the documentary make it seem. THE PURITY MOVEMENT'S FALSE GODS In the documentary, the book serves as the leap-off point for a look at the Purity Movement. It turns out it wasn't just reckless, immature kids who were turning sex into an idol. Strangely enough, the Purity Movement was doing it too. I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" begins with Harris traveling to Washington DC, where he recalls a 1994 conference he attended there with 25,000 other young Christians. A part of the conference was a "True Love Waits" rally. With rubber mallets in hand, young people staked more than 200,000 True Love Waits commitment cards into the lawn of the Washington Mall. These commitment cards read: Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship. As good as that sounds, there's a hint here of the Purity Movement's big mistake. It comes down to one question: Who, or what, is the god here? Calvin noted it is in man's nature to perpetually be manufacturing one new idol after another – we continually put this god and that in God's place. So in this pledge who or what is the "god"? Is it God? No. He's only one of several this commitment is being made to. But this commitment is being made in service to a very specific desired outcome: the securing of true love. That's the "god" here. In a conversation with Christine Gardner, author of Making Chastity Sexy, Harris discusses how the Purity Movement sold abstinence, not so much as a way to please God, but as the way to secure the very best sort of sex. There's truth to what they were saying: studies have shown that on average married people enjoy sex more than sexually active unmarried people - married sex is best. But while "great married sex" can be a reason to stay abstinent, there's a problem when it becomes the reason. The Purity Movement lost its way when it started placing something – even fantastic married sex – ahead of God. FALSE GODS AND FALSE GUILT In setting up a variety of false gods, the Purity Movement also caused people a lot of false guilt. As my wife put it, false guilt happens when we sin against, not God, but the idols we've made. These idols of our own making are often entirely unforgiving. Consider the idol some have made out of maintaining their virginity. Serving this god, they've been told, is the way they can secure the spouse of their dreams (false gods always offer some version of the prosperity doctrine – serve your god in just the way it asks, and you can force it to give you just what you ask). But what of the boy or girl who has lost their virginity? What offering can be given, what forgiveness can be had from this god? You can't become a virgin again. No wonder then, that the followers of this god feel unrelenting guilt – where no forgiveness can be had, guilt remains. Isn't it amazing that we keep setting up these false gods? They bring us only misery and guilt, while the one true God offers us real forgiveness....and we don't have to earn it! CONCLUSION Of course, false gods and false guilt aren't limited to the Purity Movement: money, career advancement, exercise goals, new year's resolutions, the spotless home, the perfectly behaved child – all of them can become idols of our own making. That, then, is what makes this is a must-see documentary. The discernment it fosters is desperately needed in every sphere of life. More could be said: the film also explores legalism, and critiques how Christians will often treat certain books as if they were on par with the Bible itself. And while I have a far greater appreciation for I Kissed Dating Goodbye than the author seems to at this point – the film concludes by noting that Harris and the publisher have agreed to stop publishing I Kissed Dating Goodbye – I'd agree there are some notable flaws....but nothing that would keep me from sharing and discussing it with my own daughters. And I'll be just as enthused to share this film with them, knowing it will be a springboard to all sorts of great conversations. You can watch the trailer for I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" below and watch the whole film for free here. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Articles, Book Reviews, Remembrance Day

5 books to help us never forget

Next week will mark Remembrance Day, and to help us remember these men and women – many in uniform, and also many who were not – here are 5 books about their courage and conviction. There is something here for every age. By reading these – especially together with our children, or maybe in a book club with friends – we can be inspired and prepared. These stories remind us of why some wars need to be fought, and through these stories we can better appreciate those who fought for us so long ago. They provide us examples worth imitating for the battles, big and small, physical, and in our cases more often spiritual, that still need to be fought today. The reviews that follow have been arranged by the age of the intended audience - youngest to oldest - though all of these would be enjoyed by adults too. The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh 40 pages / 2012 How did poppies become the symbol for Remembrance Day? This beautifully illustrated (I love the water colors in this book - it's a treat just to look at it!) and well-researched children’s picture book tells the story of Moina Michael, who was 45 when World War I broke out. She was a teacher at the University of Georgia’s Normal School and realized that every home in America would be affected. “Her girls” would see fathers, brothers and sweethearts sent to the war front. As the war progressed, she did what she could to help. Her motto from a young age was “Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might." When she read John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” she knew what she had to do for all her beloved soldiers. She went on a search for poppies and found one large red poppy and 24 small ones in a department store. She put the large one in a vase in the YMCA canteen and gave 23 away. From that small, significant gesture, the Poppies have become a symbol of remembrance and bring much needed funds to help the veterans. The book has an epilogue that is helpful for teachers or parents who wants to tell children more about the history of the poppy. This book would be an asset to any elementary school library.  – reviewed by Joanna Vanderpol Innocent Heroes: Stories of animals in the First World War by Sigmund Brouwer 186 pages / 2017 Animals had a bigger role in WWI than most of us realize. Author Sigmund Brouwer has taken heroic stories of these animals and, in the interests of making a continuous, compelling storyline, fictionalized the details, placing all the animals in just one Canadian platoon, the Storming Normans. While each chapter is built around the story of a particular creature –a cat, a bird, two dogs, a horse, a mule, and a lion – the book's main characters are three fictional Canadian infantry soldiers. In the trio of Jake, Charlie, and Thomas, the author gives us soldiers who couldn't have more different backgrounds, with Jake a farm boy, Charlie the city-dwelling millionaire, and Thomas a Cree Indian. With this “odd couple” friendship Brouwer injects his story with humor even in the midst of the horrors of war. It also allows him the opportunity to educate readers as to how Natives were treated on the front lines and back home in Canada during this period. My highest praise for a book is that it is so good I have to read it to my family – we’re loving it! Brouwer has weaved these animal stories together into a compelling book that tackles some tough topics at an age-appropriate level for pre-teens and teens. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond 273 pages / 2016 "Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don’t know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God. Now when men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is good reason, and plenty of time, to talk about life's most important matters. Bond gives Lewis a fellow junior officer – Second Lieutenant Johnson – who won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their back and forth sparring is brilliant; Bond has pulled the points and counterpoints right out of Mere Christianity and other books Lewis wrote when he became the world’s best-known Christian apologist. Bond has crafted something remarkable here, capturing in grim detail what it must have been like to live, eat, and sleep barely more than a stone’s throw from enemy troops hidden away in their own trenches. I think older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis are sure to enjoy War in the Wasteland. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra Prison Letters by Corrie Ten Boom 90 pages / 1975 This is a collection of the correspondence between Corrie Ten Boom and her family while she and her sister Betsie were being held in prison by the Nazis during World War II. If you haven’t already her remarkable wartime biography The Hiding Place, then you must read that first. It recounts how her family hid Jews, not because they were brave or courageous, but simply because they were obedient to what they knew God was calling them to do. We see how God sustained them. It is a book of doubts being answered, and God being found sufficient even in the most trying of circumstances. If you loved The Hiding Place (and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t) then this collection of letters will act as a moving appendix to that remarkable book. It is the same story, but told a very different way, one letter at a time. However, because no correspondence was allowed in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where Corrie and Betsie were sent last, the book ends abruptly. So, this will be a wonderful supplement to The Hiding Place, but it is not one to read simply on its own. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 - May 5, 1945 by Mark Zuehlke 2010 / 552 pages This book is a detailed account of the Canadian Army’s advance into the Netherlands and northwestern Germany during the last phase of World War Two. It is written in a popular (rather than academic) style and frequently relies upon first-hand reports provided by the soldiers themselves for a vivid narrative of combat and other experiences of frontline troops. For this part of the war, the Canadians were superior to the Germans in almost every way, but the terrain heavily favored the German defenders. The ground was frequently too soft for military vehicles so they were confined to roads, making them easy targets. As well, there were a large number of rivers and canals that had to be crossed to reach objectives. The Germans would blow up bridges as they retreated, and time after time the Canadians would have to cross by boat in the face of enemy fire. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the frequent accounts of heroic actions by individual Canadian soldiers. When the chips were down and the situation looked grim, some responded with acts of bravery that could be straight out of a Hollywood-style movie. For example, when Major Harry Hamley found his unit pinned down and threatened by a German attack he grabbed a large machine gun. Charging into the face of enemy fire, Hamley burned through a magazine as he ran, shooting eight Germans dead, wounding several others, and scattering the rest. There were many such real-life heroes. We learn here that the Canadians were not reluctant combatants. When Dutch authorities requested that Canadian forces undertake a particularly dangerous mission, the Canadian commander consulted his troops about their willingness to attempt it: “There wasn’t the slightest hesitation or any objection raised, they were prepared to lay it on the line for the Dutch people.” Author Mark Zuehlke goes into much detail about individual army units and their experiences as they move from one objective to another, fighting much of the time. Many of the events described occur simultaneously in different parts of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. At times it can be difficult to keep track of how each event relates to the others. This is not the fault of the book so much as a reflection of the large battlefront continually in action. Thankfully, there is a series of maps at the front of the book, making it possible for the reader to keep track of events as the Canadian Army advances over a broad geographical front taking in numerous cities, towns and villages. There are also two sections with photographs. In short, this book lucidly describes a period of history that will make any true-blooded Canadian feel proud, and anyone of Dutch roots so very grateful. – reviewed by Michael Wagner...

Adult biographies, Remembrance Day, Teen non-fiction

The Hiding Place

by Corrie Ten Boom 1971 / 225 pages This was such an encouraging story, and in so many ways. If you know only the barest details of Corrie ten Boom's life story you might mistake her for a superwoman. After all, this is a lady who lost her father and sister to the Nazis, and who had to endure deprivation and cruelty of a German concentration camp and yet she still managed to forgive the very people who did her so much harm. That certainly doesn't sound like any ordinary person! However, while Corrie was most certainly a special woman, her biography is all about God's greatness and not her own. HER WISE EARTHLY FATHER... In the first third of the book she sets the scene, telling of her early life, and sharing the sage wisdom of her father. Once, when she was a little girl she overheard someone talk of "sex sin" so she went to her father and asked him, "Father what is sexsin?" He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it up on the floor. "Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning. "It's too heavy," I said. "Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a heavy load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you." And I was satisfied. More than satisfied– wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions – for now I was content to leave them in my father's keeping. ...POINTED HER TO HER HEAVENLY FATHER Later she, still as a child, has her first encounter with death – a small baby in an apartment on her same block has passed away - and she can't stop worrying about what she would do if her father and mother died. She can't eat, and can't stop crying. In response, her father points his little girl to her Heavenly Father. Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. "Corrie," he began gently, "when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?" I sniffed a few times, considering this. "Why, just before we get on the train." "Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time." And that is just what Corrie finds, when years later this ordinary woman, who led such a quiet life for her first 48 years, finds herself as the leader of a Resistance cell, hiding Jews and members of the underground, stealing ration cards from the Nazis, and providing whatever help she could to whoever came asking. And that is what she found still in the midst of the Nazi concentration camp, surrounded by cruel guards and biting fleas. God gave her just what she needed, just when she needed it. This is a wonderful story that will be encouraging to anyone contending with discouragement, sickness, or the death of someone close to them. Miss ten Boom wants us to know that God never stops being good, even when we ourselves are wavering as things around us go so very badly. We can trust Him. We can count on Him. He loves his children! I'd recommend it to anyone 16 and up and suggest it as a very good offering for any reading group - it would foster some wonderful discussions. There is also a "young reader's edition" which has been abridged to about half the length. But they accomplished this feat by taking out all the charm. The original reads just as you might expect an older Dutch lady to talk, but the abridged version has only a flat, generic narration to it - Corrie's unique voice is gone. So give it a skip, and go with the original, even for "young readers." Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Family, Movie Reviews

Swallows and Amazons

Drama / Family 2016 / 96 minutes RATING: 7/10 I remember my older brother reading Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons to me when I was very young, and being charmed by it. It was a story of four children - two brothers and their two sisters – making up their own adventures during a summer holiday on the lake, fighting off imaginary pirates and pretend sharks. It was a gentle book. That's why I thought it would make for a gentle movie to share with the family. But while a lot of the book's charm made it to the silver screen, the filmmakers decided that in addition to the children's imagined peril, they had to add some of the real kind – spies! The four Walker children are on a lake for the summer, in 1935 Britain, and they have their parents' permission to take the Swallow, a small sailboat, out to explore a densely wooded island and camp there. But they are not the first to land on the island: a sign, surrounded by animal bones, warns that it belongs to the "Amazons." This is all loyal to the book – the Amazons are a couple of girls with a sailboat of their own, and the two groups get to pretend to be rival pirate gangs. But the island is also home to a real life spy. And there are a couple of other suspicious sorts following him. For a small little island, there's quite the population on it! The additions of the spies adds to the excitement, but brings tension to a story that didn't really have that before. So, if you like the book, you probably aren't going to appreciate this adaptation – it's like adding a couple of spies to Winnie-the-Pooh. Exciting, yes, but not at all in keeping with the spirit of the original story. However, if you don't know the book, or can at least forget it for a bit, this is quite the adventure. There are chases scenes on the water and through the woods, and even through and on top of a train. We see spies following each other, Walkers following spies, and spies following the Walkers. I don't want to give the impression this is all action – there's also the calmer fun of the Walkers learning how to camp, create fire, and catch and cook their own food. It still has the charm of the book. Just with tension added. CAUTIONS There is a bit of language, with one spy saying "Damn it" in his native language, and the movie not so helpfully subtitling the translation for us. The siblings also call each other various names including "duffer" and "idiot." And one girl says, "shut up" a number of times. The only other concern would be some behaviors that we wouldn't want our own children to model. There are a few times where the children do something hazardous (like sailing a boat at night) against their mother's expressed wishes. So mom and dad might have to pause the movie here and there to ask what the Walker children should have done. CONCLUSION While Swallows and Amazons was far too scary for my 8 and under young'uns, I think some 10-year-olds and anyone 12 and up would find this just the right level of exciting for them. It's great movie night material for families with older children, and it's bound to inspire either a camping or sailing request. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Theology

The limits of the “two-books” metaphor

There is an idea, common among Christians, that God has revealed Himself to us via “two books”: Scripture and the book of Nature. The Belgic Confession, Article 2 puts it this way: "We know by two means: "First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature, as the apostle Paul says in Rom 1:20. All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. "Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation." But what happens when these two “books” seem to conflict? This happens in the Creation/Evolution debate, where the plain reading of Genesis 1 and 2 conflicts with the evolutionary account of our origins. So, as Jason Lisle notes, that has some Christians thinking that since: “…the book of Nature clearly reveals that all life has evolved from a common ancestor….we must take Genesis as a metaphor…. we must interpret the days of Genesis as long ages, not ordinary days.” Analogies have their limits But that's getting things backwards. While the Belgic Confession does speak of Creation as being like a book, metaphors and analogies have their limits. For example, In Matt. 23:37 God is compared to a hen who "gathers her chicks under her wings" – this analogy applies to the loving, protective nature of a hen, and should not be understood to reveal that God is feminine. That's not what it is about. Clearly Nature is not a book – the universe is not made up of pages and text, and it's not enclosed in a cover or held together by a spine. The Belgic Confession is making a specific, very limited, point of comparison when it likens God's creation to a book. How exactly is it like a book? In how it proclaims "God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature." It does so with book-like clarity, "so that people are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). But in the Creation/Evolution debate some Christians extend this book analogy in a completely different, and entirely inaccurate, direction. It has been taken to mean that Creation can teach us about our origins with book-like clarity. This misunderstanding then presents us with a dilemma: if we have one book saying we were created in just six days, and another saying it took millions of years, and both are equally clear on this matter, then what should we believe? We need to understand that this dilemma is entirely of our own making. Creation is not like a book when it comes to teaching us about our origins. As Dr. Lisle has noted, it does not speak with that kind of clarity on this topic. Only one actual book here In contrast, the Bible is not merely like a book, it actually is one! It is there, and only there, that we get bookish clarity on how we, and the world around us, came to be. So, yes, the two-book analogy remains helpful when it is used to illustrate the clarity with which God shows "his eternal power and divine nature" to everyone on the planet. But when it comes to the Creation/Evolution debate, the way the two-book analogy is being used is indeed fallacious. God's creation simply does not speak with book-like clarity regarding our origins. We can be thankful, then, that his Word does! Jon Dykstra also blogs on Creation at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

GOODBYE HOLLAND: The destruction of Dutch Jewry

Documentary 90 minutes / 2004 RATING: 8/10 I grew up reading Piet Prins’ Scout books and Anne DeVries’ Journey Through the Night, learning about the courage of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. I also heard stories about how my grandparents and my friends’ grandparents hid Jews from the Nazis. So it with shock that I learned three-quarters of the Jews in the Netherlands didn’t make it through the War alive. This was not the story as I had understood it! But it turns out that the heroes I read and heard about growing up were the exceptions, not the rule. That courage was so rare overall, but more common among our Reformed relatives, says something about the love they had for God. They were willing to risk their lives because they knew that whether they lived or died, they were the Lord’s (Roman 14:8). However there were not many like them. Along with Anne Frank, more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps, and they were often rounded up by Dutch policemen, whose work was overseen by Dutch officials, and they were shipped off on trains run by Dutch engineers. The Dutch weren’t merely silent; many were among the Germans’ most helpful allies. It wasn’t simply apathy; it was betrayal. That’s the point that director Willy Lindwer makes in this documentary. A son of one of the few Jewish survivors, he set out to discover why the Dutch allowed the Holocaust to happen in their country. He interviews both those who had the courage to help, and those who felt they had no other option but to go along with what the Germans were demanding. It is with this second group, those who went along, that some of the most compelling discussions happen. This film was made in 2004, so six decades has passed since the War’s end, and yet some had still not learned anything from it. One 70-something-year-old described his wartime boss as a “righteous man” – this same boss had been a police chief who rounded up thousands of Jews for the Germans. Though about half the film is subtitled (because the interviewees are speaking Dutch) it’s conversations like this that make the film so gripping. Evil men are supposed to look like Hitler, or Saddam – raving, shouting maniacs. But this man looks like your grandpa. LEST WE FORGET The Remembrance Day phrase “Lest we forget” speaks to how we must learn from the past. The value in this film – the reason it is a must-see – is precisely because the evil it uncovers is not at all dissimilar from the sort we see today. Long before orders were given to deport Dutch Jews, they were excluded from government jobs. Then they were kicked out of public schools, and a few months later they were ordered to publicly identify themselves by sewing a Star of David on their coats. It continued step by step. Why didn’t more of the Dutch resist? Maybe it was because each step, on its own, didn’t seem quite so objectionable. When the Dutch restaurant owners were told they had to exclude Jews or risk having their businesses shuttered, how did these businessmen think through their decision? Perhaps they thought, “I have to feed my family. And surely the Jews can…just buy their food at the grocery store, right?” So the Voor Joden Verboden (“For Jews Forbidden”) signs went up. Today we also face a step-by-step mounting pressure to conform to evil. Abortion is the biggest evil of our time, of course. But remember Melissa and Aaron Klein, the Oregon couple who were asked to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? They were fined $135,000 for refusing. So the message the government sent was that Christians bakers can either bake the cake or lose their business. They can spend a few hours making a cake – just flour, sugar, eggs, and some icing – or lose the business that it took them years and piles of money to build. It’s no coincidence that so much pressure was brought to bear on something quite inconsequential – a $135,000 fine for not baking a cake that the same-sex couple could have easily purchased at any number of other bakeries. But the Devil wants to present the first compromise like it’s the only logical course to pursue. BEST TIME TO SPEAK IS NOW We can ask, as one of the film’s interviewees does, why didn’t someone just throw sand in the engine of one of those Nazi’s transport trains? It wouldn’t have taken much to slow down the Jewish deportation if only someone had being willing to sabotage the trains. But the film also acknowledges the fears that drove many to inaction and collaboration. The Jews weren’t the only ones being shipped away to concentration camps – if you helped them, you risked being deported along with them. And yet…there was a time when action wouldn’t have been so costly. There was a time when speaking out might have, yes, cost someone their job, but it wouldn’t have cost them their life. And we can only wonder what might have happened if more had spoken up then. Could the Germans have killed nearly so many if there had been a loud early voice arguing against Dutch collaboration? What we must never forget, then, is that we shouldn’t delay in speaking up for what is right. We need to resist now, because if we wait, the pressure to stay silent and to go along will only increase. We need to speak now, because it is easier to turn things around before we’re heading full speed in the wrong direction. Speaking up doesn’t guarantee success, but it is obedient. It does bring God glory. And because God has chosen to work through us, we never know what changes God might effect through us, if we’re willing to act in obedience. We can shake our heads at the state of our culture, or we can ask, like Paul, how can the world respond to God’s Truth if we’ve never shared it with them (Romans 10:14)? There are so very many reasons to speak now. CAUTIONS The only caution to consider in this film is a perspective it offers on Jewish orphans being adopted by Christian couples. There were more than a thousand Dutch Jewish orphans at war’s end, and a well-meaning Christian group wanted to ensure they all went to Christian homes. They wanted to save these children’s souls, and planned to use adoption as a conversion tool. What this overlooks is that God places us with parents, and He has also gives our larger families a role in raising us too. So should a child’s parents die, then it is because we are Christians and respect the God-given role of the family, that we would arrange for a Jewish child to go their closest relatives, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever it might be. But the director pushes for more than that. He thinks that a Jewish orphan, one with no relatives to adopt her, should still be sent to a Jewish family. But this elevates ethnic ties to the level of family ties. And that is giving ethnicity a status it doesn’t deserve – God doesn’t say we have to stay with people who look and act like us. CONCLUSION One hundred thousand Jews were deported from the Netherlands. It is a shocking figure. It took three years and 93 trains loads to take them all to Germany. And very few did anything to help them. One hundred thousand is also the number of unborn children killed each year in Canada. What are we doing to stand up to the great evil of our time? One place to start might be watching this film together with your family, or in a high school history class, and discussing the place of courage, fear, and apathy in our day-to-day conversations and interactions with the world. Many of our Christian grandparents didn't see the matter of hiding Jews as a question to be weighed and considered - they simply did it because they knew God wanted them to love their neighbors (Mark 12:31). And they were comfortable with placing their families, their fortunes, and their lives in His hands. We have the very same faithful God. Do we have the very same faith in Him? "Goodbye Holland" can be borrowed from many libraries, and US Amazon Prime members can view it for free here. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Ed Welch's "Blame it on the Brain?"

Blame it on the Brain?: Distinguishing chemical imbalances, brain disorders, and disobedience by Edward T. Welch 1998, 208 pages A boy won’t sit still so the doctor wants to put him on Ritalin. An aging grandfather, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, is starting to make inappropriate comments to his grandchildren. A mother is depressed and asks her minister what he thinks about anti-depressants. These days we’re regular confronted with “brain issues” but few of us feel equipped as to what God thinks on these matters. Author Ed Welch notes that while going to the Bible would be the natural thing for us to do with most other matters, it might strike Christians as an odd approach in this case. After all, what does the Bible have to say about our brains? Welch answers that question by noting that God made us, so He knows what we are really like. And what God reveals about us – about how our body and spirit are both distinct and yet impact each other – is foundational to a good understanding of our brain. Blame it on the Brain is divided in two parts. In Part One Welch offers up the theological resources Christians will need to be able to “dialogue with the brain sciences.” These are the biblically-derived principles by which we can interpret and understand the (mostly secular) brain research being done. Once we are outfitted with the proper theology and taught how to apply it, Part Two then explores some “modern diagnoses and experiences, all attributed to the brain, and considers them from a biblical perspective. Then, in Part Two, Welch applies these principles to specific problems including Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, head injuries, depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, homosexuality, alcoholism and more. He groups them under three headings: The Brain Did It Maybe The Brain Did It The Brain Didn’t Do It Where Welch places different conditions will strike some readers as controversial. Doesn’t the world say all of these conditions should fall under the “The Brain Did It” umbrella? It does indeed, because the world think if the brain did it, then our sinful hearts can be excused. “Born this way” is supposed to clear us from any responsibility for our conduct. But Welch’s three-fold division is less controversial when we understand that even conditions with clear physical causes, like dementia, will have a spiritual dimension as well – responsibility persists, even if it is to a far different degree. For example, if a dementia patient’s confusion leads him to believe he has been waiting for his daughter all day long (even though she arrived right on time) she should try not to be bothered if he expresses some frustration. However, if the same patient starts making crude comments to the nurses, then that should not be dismissed as simply the disease talking. As Welch writes, Does the disease create the sinful behavior? Definitely not…. Sexual thoughts, jealousy, private profanity, and anger can be neatly covered when our minds are intact. But when we are intellectually less competent, some of the private events begin to slip out. Dementia isn’t the cause of this sin; it simply reveals what was always in the heart. In a situation such as this repentance should still be be sought. Even when our brain is damaged, we remain both physical and spiritual beings, and as in need of accountability, correction, and forgiveness as the rest of humanity. Cautions The only caution I have is not with what Ed Welch wrote, but with how a couple of passages might be misunderstood. In the first, Welch states that with psychiatric problems there “are always spiritual problems and sometimes physical problems.” I’m afraid that some will understand him as saying psychiatric problems are always the result of sin. That is not what Welch is saying. Sin will sometimes be the cause of spiritual problem, but other times the spiritual problems will be better understood as spiritual needs. Welch notes counselors have to be aware that psychiatric problems almost always involve suffering so the diagnosed person and their family will need to hear from the Scriptures about the hope and compassion that God offers in the midst of suffering. A second matter that might be misunderstood is how Welch designates homosexuality as something “the brain didn’t do.” If he denies the brain dictates someone’s sexual preferences, is Welch saying everyone chooses to be homosexual? No. Welch is only arguing that while the brain may have an influence it cannot be credited as the sole determiner of their sexual orientation – other factors have to be involved. Conclusion This isn’t a large book, but there sure is a lot to love! I must have highlighted half of the pages and I really can’t say enough good things about. Educational, thoroughly biblical, helpful, applicable, and it still manages to be enjoyably readable. This would be a valuable resource for minsters and elders, and a highly recommended read for everyone. We all need to learn how to think biblically about mental illness and matters of the brain and I can’t imagine a better introductory book for this topic. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com, where this first appeared....

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island

Animated / Children 82 minutes / 2018 RATING: 6 out of 10 My kids loved this - we rented it for two nights, and they asked to watch it twice. So why give it just a 6 rating? Because what makes it attractive to gentle, easily scared, children is also what makes it a below average film: there is no conflict. Summer vacation has arrived, and Grandfather Alden wants to take his four grandchildren to an island their family owns. He leaves them there, and with the exception of a couple minutes when the children are trapped in a cave just as the tide comes in, this is an entirely calm film. Grandfather Alden leaves them on the island alone, but the only other "danger" they have to deal with is a leaky roof. This is a sequel to the slightly better 2013 film The Boxcar Children. Both movies are based on the beloved 150+ book series originated by Gertrude Chandler Warner way back in 1924. According to the bonus features on this DVD, Warner set out to make a story for Grade 1 and 2 students that would use the 100 most important words for them to learn. I found that rather telling – it makes the books out to be more about learning vocabulary than presenting kids with a rip-roaring adventure. And if that was her intent, she has succeeded. CAUTIONS The only caution I can think to include is that the movies make no mention of God (Heaven comes up once, but not God) and on such a beautiful island, where it would be hard not to break into song and shout His praises, this is a glaring absence (kids might not notice God's absence, but mom and dad can bring it up). In the series a brief reference to evolution pops up in every second or third book, and that, along with God's absence in the books and films, makes me suspect that author Gertrude Warner was probably not a Christian. CONCLUSION So far I'm not exactly singing the praises of the book series, or this, the latest film based on them. So why recommend the movie at all? Because younger kids, particularly those who are familiar with the Boxcar Children already, will absolutely love it. My critique of the book and this movie is not that there is anything wrong with them; it's only that there is nothing remarkable about them. The acting is okay, the animation is middling, and the story, from a parental perspective, is on the boring side. But on the other hand, there are no language, violence, sexuality, or other concerns. And young children, up to maybe 8 or 9 years old, will enjoy the familiar characters and the cozy comfy safety of this no-conflict story. It is a nice safe film for your family movie night. Kids should learn to endure story tension – their own life's story will not be free of it – but when they are young a small dose of fluff every now and again won't hurt.  Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Pro-life - Abortion

DIRECTION MATTERS: the difference between legal, decriminalized, and regulated abortion, & why we support gestational limits

It has been 30 years now since the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s last abortion law in their R. v. Morgentaler decision (1988). Soon after, the Mulroney government made an attempt to craft a new law. But Bill C-43 was a piece of legislation that would have protected only some pre-born children. Those involved in Canada’s pro-life movement during the early 1990s were divided on whether or not an imperfect law was something they could support. Today this issue is still being debated. On the one side there are those who argue we should not support legislative measures that protect some but not all pre-born children. On the other side we are arguing for advancing abortion legislation one step at a time. We wholeheartedly believe that Bible-believing Christians can, in good conscience, support partial restrictions on abortion, including gestational limits. IN DEFENSE OF DEBATE Trying to save the pre-born is a fight to which many Christians have devoted a significant part of their lives. It is an issue we are passionate about and heavily invested in. It is, consequently, very hard for us to discuss strategy in a dispassionate manner. But when we turn to the Bible we see there is good reason to try. Proverbs 18:17 tells us, “The first to present his case seems right, until a second comes and questions him.” Finding out who is right is often aided by hearing both sides. Proverbs 27:17 makes a similar point: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We need to imitate the Bereans (Acts 17) who were willing to hear, but then went to the Scriptures to test what was being said to them. In what follows, we are going to make our case for the morality of advancing abortion legislation one step at a time. We know some will disagree, but we hope that we can interact, as fellow Christians, in a God-honoring manner, having patience with one another and showing love to each other, as we search for the truth on this matter. WHAT WAS UNCLEAR WITH BILL C-43 IS CLEAR TODAY It’s been 30 years since Canada’s abortion law was struck down and 27 years since its intended replacement, Bill C-43, was defeated in the Senate. Many pro-life organizations celebrated the bill’s defeat. It was a piece of legislation that, according to then justice minister Kim Campbell, abortionists would have “no need to fear.” She wrote: “The legislation is designed to protect a doctor from being convicted under the new law (and) protect nurses and other medical staff acting under the doctor’s direction.” While the bill did offer more restrictions on abortion than we presently have, when compared to the law the Supreme Court had struck down only three years before, it had far fewer protections for the pre-born. There was also some reason to hope that if this bill was defeated it could be replaced with a better one. Few would have expected that for the next three decades no such bill would be forthcoming. But here is the key point: the situation then was far murkier than it is today. Then it was unclear whether a better bill might be passed, and it was unclear whether this bill limited evil or expanded it. Compared to the completely lawless situation they then had, the bill offered some limitations. But compared to the previous abortion law from just three years before, this bill greatly expanded the evil that could be done. There is nothing murky about the situation we now find ourselves in. Today we have had 30 years of unfettered abortion, and 27 years of governmental cowardice – no prime minister has ever again tried to pass an abortion law. So if a bill is proposed today that offers any limitations on abortion, it would be clear what direction this is taking us: towards limiting evil, and away from its expansion. THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT But some pro-life groups are convinced that any law that saves only some is unjust, and can’t be supported. Their argument goes something like this: Since Canada has no abortion law, promoting a law that restricts only some abortions (for example, making abortions after 12 weeks illegal) would mean that we are legalizing and condoning all of the abortions that are not banned (e.g., those happening before 12 weeks). In a January 20, 2014 editorial, The Interim, a Canadian pro-life newspaper, put it this way: We...find politically motivated compromise that creates arbitrary demarcations to protect some human lives but not others to be abhorrent, adding the insult of age discrimination to the injury of death by abortion. Protecting pre-born life requires political action, not political compromise. So the question we have to answer is: if we promoted a law that would restrict abortion to 12 weeks’ gestation, would we be legalizing and/or condoning the abortions that are permitted? ON LEGAL AND ILLEGAL To answer that question properly, we have to understand what is actually meant by the terms legalizing, decriminalizing, and regulating. From there we will explain why we all should support regulating abortion. But by no means should we support abortion being legal, let alone condoned. Confused? It actually isn’t too complicated. Please take a few minutes to walk with us through a few points.  1. What is not illegal is legal In our legal system, unless something is illegal it is presumed to be legal. For example, walking your dog without a leash is presumed to be legal unless and until a bylaw is passed requiring a leash. We could not say, before the bylaw was passed, that walking your dog without a leash was not legal; it wasn’t illegal, and so it was legal. We also need to make a distinction between something being legal and something being legalized. The common use of the word “legal” can simply be interpreted as “allowed” or “permissible.” Similarly, the term “legalized” can mean the process of removing a prohibition against something that is currently not legal (i.e., the process of making something permissible). With abortion in Canada there are no laws that regulate the practice (although some doctors’ manuals might advise some limitations). So, there are no laws regulating which procedures can be used, how late in the pregnancy the procedure can be done, or what information should be shared with the patient. And there are no waiting periods, age restrictions, parental notifications, etc. Generally speaking, we can say that abortion in Canada is completely legal from conception until the child is fully outside its mother. Abortion has yet to be regulated since the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court made it fully legal. 2. New restrictions do not make abortion legal – it is already legal Even if there is no abortion law, abortion remains legal. Adding restrictions doesn’t make it legal, nor does it make abortion more legal. Some of what was legal is now made illegal (e.g., abortion after 12 or 18 weeks’ gestation), thereby saving some lives and limiting evil. That is exactly what the Bible calls the State to do – to limit evil. Some might object, “Wouldn’t a law prohibiting abortions after a certain number of weeks arbitrarily divide humans into ‘protected’ and ‘unprotected’ classes?” The continuum of human life begins at fertilization and ends at natural death. Currently under Canadian law only “born” humans have protection, so our law today already divides humans into “protected” and “unprotected” classes. If the law was changed to reflect increased protection by extending it to “pre-born” humans from 20 weeks to birth, then fewer babies would fall under the unprotected class, thus limiting the injustice of abortion. We certainly do and would support any initiative that would move more humans into the “protected” class. 3. In a country where there are no restrictions or laws pertaining to abortion, regulating abortion is a step toward making abortion illegal  We have already established that abortion is allowed in Canada for any reason. In this case, regulating it does not mean we are granting something that was illegal the legitimacy of legal status. Rather it means limiting and regulating by law something that once had absolutely no restrictions. Note as well that regulating abortion is worthy of support only if we are moving in a direction that limits abortion. In a 1968 Canada, our argument in favor of a gestational limit law would fail: a gestational limit of 12 weeks would have expanded evil, greatly increasing the number of children left unprotected. However, in a 2018 Canada, proposing such a gestational limit is fully in accord with the Bible because such a limit would restrict evil, greatly increasing the number of children protected. It is understandable that pro-life organizations do not like to promote a law that doesn’t protect all pre-born children. We would all much prefer to see a complete ban. But the alternative is to maintain the legal reality of abortion-on-demand. A ban is simply not possible in a democratic state in which the people’s hearts are against God and against life. The Bible teaches us that the role of politics is to restrict The reality is that the law won’t be able to eradicate evil. FURTHERMORE... Two further points need to be made. First, there is a very real sense in which all pro-lifers have already endorsed a step-by-step approach to eliminating abortion, even though these steps will protect only some children. All pro-lifers support efforts to defund abortion. By doing so, they support a process that would protect some children, but not others. Under defunding, abortion remains legal as long as the mother or the father pays for the abortion. Someone could argue, “I won’t support that defunding law because it only saves poor babies while all the babies of rich mothers who can afford the abortion will still be terminated.” That may be so, but defunding abortion is a step in the right direction. Such a law does not say that abortion is right; it does say (implicitly) that you can do it as long as you pay for it yourself. So consistency demands that those opposed to gestational limits should also object to abortion defunding. Or that those who support defunding also support gestational limits. Second, one of the objections to this step-by-step approach is that it supposedly condones the death of those we cannot yet save. But saving some does not mean we condone the death of those we can’t save. As Jonathon Van Maren pointed out in a 2012 article, many Jewish children were saved during the Second World War (including by some of our parents and grandparents) because they were small enough to hide in the homes of brave families who took them in. Not only could they hide, more could hide in a small space than adults or seniors. Nobody would ever say – or even think the thought – that, because these families saved children and not adults, they were condoning the deaths of the adults that they couldn’t save. Clearly then, when we can save only some, saving them does not condone the death of any others we could not save! OUR CHALLENGE In this article we’ve explained that gestational limits would not legalize abortion because it already is legal. We’ve also argued that saving some does not condone the death of those we cannot yet save. And we’ve tried to show that all pro-lifers already support legislative efforts that will protect only some children (in this case, the children of poor mothers). We want to conclude with a challenge. If you think we are wrong, please address these points one by one and explain why. Be specific. Please show how abortion in Canada is, in any sense, not already completely legal right now. Show how a gestational limit that will protect only some differs morally from a defunding effort that will protect only some. And explain why those who saved Jewish children weren’t condoning the death of their parents (who they couldn’t save), but today when we try to save some pre-born children (via a gestational limit) we are supposedly condoning the death of the children we aren’t able to save. CONCLUSION In Canada we have opportunity right now to save some of the many pre-born children being killed by abortion. We value them all. However, in today’s political, social and legal climate, we can’t save them all – we can’t eliminate this evil. But we can take steps to limit it. We can take steps to protect more and more children. We can save some now, while continuing to push for further protection for all children in the womb. Gestational limits would be a step in the wrong direction in any country in which abortion was currently banned. But in a country such as Canada, where all abortions are legal, this is a step in the right direction. This would restrict evil. So direction matters – it makes all the difference. Of course, political and legal action in the pro-life cause can’t happen in isolation, so this is certainly not the only pro-life work that needs to be done. Far from it! The political/legal action discussed above must happen in concert with continued education, abortion awareness, cultural engagement, prayer, crisis-pregnancy counseling, adoption efforts, etc. Together, and by God’s grace, we can work towards the end of state-sanctioned abortion in Canada! This is an updated version of an article that first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Reformed Perspective. Mike Schouten is the director of WeNeedALaw.ca, Mark Penninga and André Schutten are both with ARPACanada.ca, and Jon Dykstra is the editor of ReformedPerspective.ca....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Visual theology for young and old

VISUAL THEOLOGY: Seeing and understanding the truth about God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers 2016 / 155 pages I’ve read and reviewed several systematic theologies. These books were geared towards pastors, theologians, or theological students. They follow the same basic structure and, because they’re Reformed, they tend to say the same things in mostly the same way. Visual Theology has “theology” in the title, and it generally steers in the Reformed direction, but that’s where the similarities end. Visual Theology is decidedly not directed at the ivory tower – though scholars will certainly reap spiritual benefits if they read it. Instead, it’s for regular people in the pew. It also recognizes that some of those regular people are more visual in their learning style. So, Tim Challies delivers clear prose and Josh Byers illumines with effective infographics. All up, it’s not only a beautiful book, but also pedagogically powerful. Conventional systematic theologies cover such topics as God, creation, salvation, and the last things. Visual Theology is different; it has four parts: grow close to Christ understand the work of Christ become like Christ live for Christ. It’s Christ-centered and relationally oriented. It’s theology that, as Challies says, “is about growing in godliness.” You can only grow in godliness in a healthy relationship with Christ. Visual Theology shows why and how. I found valuable insights new to me (especially in the third section on hating and fighting sin), but also many familiar truths expressed or illustrated freshly. As I mentioned, generally this book leans Reformed. For example, the use of creeds is affirmed; the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of sin is quoted; the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is affirmed; and justification is properly defined as a declaration of righteousness. Commendably, Visual Theology teaches a monergistic view of salvation which includes unconditional election. By the authors’ own admission, the book “is not a thorough introduction to Christian doctrine.” Some readers will detect gaps. Allowing for the intent of the authors, but also for full disclosure to readers of this review, let me mention two. Visual Theology is almost completely positive in its presentation of biblical teachings. That means there’s not much, if anything, in the way of exposure or addressing of errors. Next, its relational framework is a plus, but it is surprising that the biblical framework for a healthy relationship between God and humanity is missing. There’s no explicit mention of the covenant of grace. I have one noteworthy concern: the authors are Baptists and this becomes evident in the description of baptism: “The water of baptism represents the washing away of sin, while going into the water and coming back out represents death and new life.” The first part of that sentence is true, and the second part can be true, but more needs to be said. The authors assume immersion of the believer as the norm for baptism. As one would expect from Baptists, the sprinkling of babies is not even in the picture, nor is the relationship between baptism and the covenant of grace. However, this is one short paragraph in an otherwise great book and it is far from being a polemic for the Baptist position. This book could be useful as edifying reading for a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it could also be used as a textbook for an adult education class. For those who might use it in an educational setting, there’s also a website with the infographics available as PowerPoint slides and more: visualtheology.church. Visual Theology is innovative in its approach, almost entirely reliable in its content, and attractive in its presentation. You’ll find it both enjoyable and edifying! And you can view dozens of samples of what's in the book on Tim Challies' Pinterest page here. – Wes Bredenhof ***** GOD'S TIMELINE: The big book of Church history by Linda Finlayson 80 pages / 2018 This book will be a well-used treasure for Christian families and classrooms. It combines text, color, symbols, visuals, infographic timelines and photographs to illustrate how Christ has been building His Church since AD 33. Finlayson divides the time from AD 33 to 2010 into five periods: Early (33-500), Medieval (497-1500), Reforming (1500-1685), Missionary (1700-1900), and Modern (1900-2010). These are further divided into sub-periods on the timelines. This book is intended for ages 9-15, but it is helpful for any learner including adults. Within each chapter there are definitions of special terms: heresy, council, creed, canon, Islam, crusade, the five “solas,” ecumenical, etc. The history ranges over all the major denominations and leading personalities of each of the smaller timelines. Some minor criticisms: The maps could be a little larger, and there is little or no mention of the Black Church, Martin Luther King Jr., etc – the ending of the slave trade is there but not their churches or history. The Missionary and Modern chapters need to be expanded to reflect the building of the church of Christ in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Overall, the book covers all the major events, issues, and personages that are always recounted. This is helpful for the intended audience. And the bibliography gives great resources for further study. You can find a couple sample pages here. – Dennis A. Bratcher   ***** JUST THINKING: 95 doodles to noodle over by Jason Bouwman 2017 / 188 pages If you’re a regular reader of Reformed Perspective you may recall some of the Just Thinking “cartoons that have appeared in our pages over the last few years. Author Jason Bouwman, a graphic designer by trade, and a theologian by inclination, has collected 95 of these “theological doodles” and paired each with an appropriate quote, or a few words of explanation, and made the most remarkable book out of them all. Every two-page is a complete though – doodle on one side, reflection on the other, and together they grab the readers’ attention and then hold it. This is a book that can’t be read through quickly – each spread is worth contemplating. To put it another way, this is theology with an artistic flair, and a devotional of sorts. This is that rare book that would make the perfect high school grad gift, as well as a fantastic birthday present for a seminary professor; we’ve given copies to our teenage nephews as well as to our 80-year-old aunt. Bouwman has crafted something remarkable here, somehow managing to package “insightful and challenging” with “accessible and creative.” I can’t recommend it enough. You can order a copy and see sample pages at JustThinkingBook.com. – Jon Dykstra *****...

Drama, Family, Movie Reviews

The Seahawk

Drama / Action 109 minutes / 1940 RATING: 8/10 While The Seahawk is set in 1585, and pitches Spain against England, this film was all about the politics of its day. Spain is clearly a stand-in for the Germany of 1940, and King Phillip could only have been more Hitler-esque if they had given him the small patch mustache. The story begins with Phillip laying out his plans for world domination. He demands from England that they refrain from building a fleet and offers his friendship, if they give in to his demands. Queen Elizabeth does her very best Chamberlain imitation, refusing to prepare for the clearly hostile Spain. She chooses to appease the tyrant, even as Phillip is building an armada. Then there is Captain Thorpe (Errol Flynn) with his own stand-in role. He has his own ship, which is part of an English privateer fleet, the Seahawks. Even as Elizabeth appeases Phillip, the Seahawks raid Spanish towns and sink Spanish ships. Thorpe is channeling at least a little Churchill, urging the queen – and through her, the nation of England – to prepare for war. That makes this film fascinating on two very different levels. It is a fantastic swashbuckling film all on its own, and it is also a wonderful bit of anti-Nazi propaganda, intended to rally the nation to resist. Queen Elizabeth concludes the film with a speech that is a clear call for America to come join the war. "When the ruthless ambitions of a man threaten to engulf the world, it becomes the solemn obligation of all free men to affirm that the earth belongs not to any one man, but to all men." Cautions There is a lot of fighting, with folks getting stabbed and shot. But there is no gore. Conclusion I had an opportunity to watch The Seahawk with a group of friends who, as a general rule, don't watch black and white films. A few exchanges struck them as a bit corny – acting in the 1940s did sometimes take a melodramatic turn – but the swashbuckling action and the self-sacrificial hero, the Second World War subtext, well, it swept away all their resistance. They simply couldn't help themselves: they had to love it! Jon Dykstra also reviews movies at ReelConservative.com where some of these reviews first appeared. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

DNA BATTLES: Were Adam & Eve historical?

Documentary 59 minutes / 2018 RATING: 7/10 In 2011 the Christian evolutionary group Biologos made a splash with widely published views that questioned whether Adam and Eve were historical. This documentary is a rebuttal. It tackles primarily the scientific front but also touches the theological front too, addressing their claims that Christians have to accommodate our views to the “reality” of evolution. While the theologians share answers to objections you may have heard before, the seven consulted scientists are sharing quite recent developments in biology that now show how certain evolutionary assumptions have been proven untrue (like Junk DNA). This is a great documentary, with books worth of material condensed into a one-hour presentation. But it isn’t going to be for everyone – you’ll need to remember some of your high school science to really be able to follow along. But for any viewer interested in the subject matter, this is going to be fascinating and worth multiple viewings. What this most reminded me of was Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, the very best creationist documentary I’ve seen. DNA Battles doesn’t quite rise to that level, but anyone who enjoyed Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels will certainly appreciate this one too. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Sexuality

The transgender debate isn't about washrooms

Or, how to argue like a Christian Here’s the scenario: there’s a fellow in front of you wearing a little black dress. And he wants to know your thoughts on the transgender debate. You’re considering two possible answers. 1) “This is a debate about what feelings can and can’t do. God says He determines our gender (Gen. 1:27, 5:2, Matt. 19:4, Mark 10:6) but now many people are saying that it’s our feelings that do that. Do feelings have that power? I don’t think so. What we know about our feelings is that they often run counter to reality. We can feel attracted to people we know wouldn’t be good for us. We can feel pulled to do things we know we shouldn’t, or to put off things we need to get done. Sometimes scarily thin girls can feel fat, and bullied boys can feel worthless. We can feel angry when we have no reason to be, or feel happy when the more appropriate response would really be shame or regret. In everyday life our feelings can, so often, prove to be a horrible guide for us. Our feelings don’t shape reality, so we need to shape our feelings and emotions to conform to the world as it is. And that’s what God tells us when it comes to gender too (Deut. 22:5). He chose our gender, and we have to shape our feelings to fit that reality.” 2) “We’re worried that some guys will pretend to be transsexual just so they can get access to the women’s washroom. So, for the sake of the women and children, we can’t let biological males use women’s washrooms. It’s a matter of safety.” Which answer do you choose? Most Christians seem to be going with the second answer. It’s not without controversy – Red Sox legend Curt Schilling got fired from his ESPN job for arguing this point – but it’s nowhere near as controversial as the first. The second also has some clear advantages. It is shorter, and when it’s important to say things just so, brief is better. And it focuses on the safety of women and children, which is a hard point to object to. But it doesn’t mention the Bible or God. Some might think that another advantage. After all, our country has rejected God, so they don’t care what He says. If we bring up God, aren’t we just setting ourselves up to be ignored? Wouldn’t it be better to present neutral/secular arguments, to increase the odds that we’ll be heard? Secular arguments can’t stand on their own The short answer is, no. The longer answer is “Nooooooooooo!” Secular arguments might be less controversial, but they have no foundation. They are based on a worldview that is insubstantial. Thus there is a very practical objection to relying on them: they can’t stand on their own. Already, we can see the shaky nature of secular arguments in our bathroom debates. The US department store Target was hit with a one-million-signature petition protesting their decision to let transgender customers use the washroom of their choice. But as one commentator noted, the vast majority of Target stores have single-stall family restrooms. If we’re worried about the safety of our wife, or our children, then all we need to do is use these single-stall facilities. A gay legislator from Alabama took down the safety argument a different way. Patricia Todd noted that most sexual assaults occur “…in locations where children gather, school, church, parks, etc…. So if you really want to protect your children from child predators, don't take them to school, public parks, church or allow them to play sports or use the Internet.” We can also predict that if we keep talking about safety the other side is going to counter with safety concerns of their own. They are going to start sharing stories about dress-wearing guys who got harassed in the men’s washroom. Or, rather, we’re going to hear stories about dress-wearing boys, and crewcut girls who were hassled. If we’re all about safety, then what about these children’s safety? Canada’s recent past provides an even better example of the shortcomings of the purely secular argument. During our country’s gay “marriage” debate I did a presentation in one of our churches and asked the audience to list all the best arguments for our side. We came up with a half dozen or so, and some in the crowd seemed to get worried when I rebutted all but one of them. The reason I could do that is because all but one of them were based on secular reasoning. I could slap them down as quickly as they were raised because they were all built on this quivering, crumbling secular foundation. “Marriage has been this way for thousands of years.” “Slavery was in vogue for millennia; does that mean it was right? Some traditions need to be abandoned.” “Most Canadians are against changing it.” “Sometimes the majority can be wrong. And besides, will you support gay marriage if/when the majority approves?” “We shouldn’t let judges force this on us.” “So if we vote it in you’ll be fine with it?” Christians rose to the defense of tradition, and democracy, and stood against judicial activism, but how often did we speak about God’s perspective? Not very. So we lost. And we lost, in part, because the arguments we were relying on simply didn’t measure up. They couldn’t stand on their own. Secular arguments miss the point But there is a still bigger problem: secular arguments don’t fight the battle that really needs to be fought. When a big culture-wide kerfuffle erupts we need to see this for what it really is. Christians need to ask: “What part of God’s truth is being attacked this time?” We have to understand we’re in a war, and the other side’s objective is always to attack God’s people, His Word, and His Truth. So yes, safety is a concern in the transgender debate, but that’s not what the battle is really about. This bathroom ruckus is only a distraction – it’s the enemy trying to get us to direct out attention to the symptom rather than the disease. What they’re coming after – what they want to overthrow – is Genesis 1:27b: “male and female He created them.” Safety is a concern. We’re already hearing in the news about sick guys taking advantage of these policies to head into women’s washrooms, to peep, or take pictures, or expose themselves. It’s predictable. It’s ridiculous. But what’s the cause of this craziness? God says He made us male and female, and the other side says, “No, we can create our own genders – God lied.” That’s the real fight. That’s the truth they are attacking, so that’s the truth we need to defend. Christian arguments have a firm foundation So how do we get at it? We begin with God. We lead with Him and His truth. The world doesn’t want to hear about Him, but He’s what they need. Canada’s gay “marriage” debate provides a good example of how a good Christian defense can look. During the 2004 election a Christian Heritage Party candidate I was working with gave his riding a solid Christian defense of marriage. Ed Spronk sent a brochure to every household that presented God as the Standard-Maker. Spronk explained that if we abandoned God’s standard for marriage then soon enough we would be left with no standard at all. He then shared news items from around the world to show how this was already happening, with people marrying multiple spouses, marrying objects, and even marrying themselves. Spronk didn’t win the election, but he was heard – his brochure was the talk of the riding. The structure of his argument went like this: Here’s what God says on this matter. What God says is true, so we’ll see supporting evidence in the world. Here’s some of that evidence. A few of the illustrations he presented were the exact news items other Christians were using as standalone secular arguments. For instance, many were pointing to the woman who married herself as an example of what would happen next if we let gay “marriage” happen. But the response to this as a standalone argument was mixture of apathy and disbelief: “Who cares?” and, “It will never happen.” Once again the secular argument couldn’t stand on its own. Spronk used this same incident, with a difference: he placed it on the firm foundation of God’s truth. He started by explaining that it’s God Who defines what marriage is and isn’t. Then Spronk used this self-marrying single lady as an example of the craziness that ensues when we deny God’s standards for marriage. It supported his main point, but it wasn’t his point. It was simply one bit of supportive evidence and his core argument – his explicitly Christian argument – would continue to stand with or without it. In the transgender debate I began this article began with two possible answers. The first might not look all that similar to Ed Spronk’s traditional marriage defense, but it actually has the same basic structure. Sproink's and this first answer are both built on an explicitly Christian foundation, and both then stack supporting evidence on top of that Christian foundation. This is how that first answer looks like broken down: Here’s what God says on this matter: your feelings can’t determine your gender; I do. What God says is true so we’ll see supporting evidence in the world. Here’s some of that evidence: examples of when our feelings have run counter to reality, without ever changing it. This is what a good Christian argument looks like. We need more like this. Does that mean we have to abandon our bathroom arguments altogether? No, but we need to place them on a Christian foundation. That’s the key. They don’t stand on their own, but they can work well as supportive evidence for God’s truth. Here’s how that might look in a letter to your local paper: Dear editor, I’m writing regarding the recent article series you had on children who say they are transgender and want access to surgeries and puberty suppressing drugs. As a Christian I know all of humanity is made in God’s image, so that means we are all worthy of respect. That, of course, includes people who identify as transgendered. That is why I cannot go along with cultural move to treat gender as something that is subjective, tied to how someone feels, rather than an objective reality. Our gender is not something that our feelings can change; feelings don’t have that power. Our gender is determined for us, by God, and is written into us right down to our DNA. And if we won’t recognize that men are men and women are women and the two can’t switch places, then all sorts of craziness will ensue. Craziness will happen because craziness always does when we reject reality. We will see: Peeping Toms claiming to be women to gain access to women’s washrooms High school boys showering with high school girls * Perverts of various sorts taking full advantage Men applying for spots in women’s dormitories A demand for women’s sanitary bins in male toilets “for men who menstruate” * A demand for urinals in women’s washrooms Men competing on women’s sports teams * Men obliterating the women’s records in weightlifting, shot-put, high jump, etc. and etc. Men winning “Women of the Year” awards * Men attending women’s colleges * Sexually abused women feeling unsafe in all public washrooms Women cutting off their breasts and men cutting off their penises Children being given high doses of hormones to suppress their normal maturation There will also be others who will extend this same “I am whatever I feel like I am” logic to other areas including age and race (this is already happening) and maybe even height and species (and, yes, this is also already happening). We need to reject that idea that our feelings can remake reality. I respectfully ask you to stand firm against the notion that “wishing does make it so.” Yours, in God’s service, Jon Dykstra Here the bathroom argument serves as just one bit of supportive evidence for our overall argument that God determines our gender, not our feelings (and if we reject God’s sovereignty over gender, then craziness will ensue). The structure is again the same as we saw with Ed Spronk: our foundation is what God says on the matter, and then because we know that what God says is true, we are able to find supportive evidence in the world around, so we share some of those examples. Conclusion  When we present God’s truth to an audience we don’t need to hit them with a sermon – we can be brief. But God’s truth needs to be our foundation. The battle we’re in isn’t about bathrooms. It’s about God, and how He determines our gender, and all of reality. That’s the truth that’s under assault, so that’s the truth we are called to defend. May the Lord grant us the courage to fight where the battle rages....

Articles, Book Reviews

4 great Christian novels

If the fiction section in your local Christian bookstore is all-Amish all the time, then here are 4 recommendations of a very different sort: a fictional biography, a modern-day myth, a Western of sorts, and a super hero epic....sort of. What links them all is that they are all Christian adult fiction, and they are all really good reads! Redeeming love by Francine Rivers 1997 / 464 pages They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that was never more true than with Francine River’s novel Redeeming Love. When it first appeared on bookshelves it was marketed with a schmaltzy romance cover. Two Reformed ministers told me it was fantastic, but I couldn't get over the cover. I only got around to reading it a year or two later, after it came out with a much more subdued cover, one that I could walk around in public without all the other boys making fun of me. It was worth the wait. A powerful, poignant, even brilliant novel, it tells the story of Michael Hosea, a settler in the California of 1850. The story is inspired by the biblical book of Hosea, and the true power of the story is in how it forces the reader back to the Bible to reexamine a small prophetic book many have overlooked. You can’t help but study the book of Hosea after reading this novel. If you are well acquainted with Hosea you’ll understand why this novel comes with a “PG-13” rating. The prophet Hosea, after all, marries a prostitute, and Francine Rivers closely parallels those facts in her account. So some disturbing subject matter is dealt with that probably isn’t suitable for young teens. Now, I'm always leery of books that purport to be fictionalized retellings of biblical stories, and with good reason. I remember one novel about the apostle Paul that left readers with the impression that he and James actually disagreed as to the importance of works, which is entirely untrue. Francine Rivers also has a number of fictionalized biographies of biblical characters and because fact is mixed with fiction it is so very hard, after reading one of those stories, to remember just what the Bible really says. So, I don't think fictionalized Bible tales are a great idea. But because this is inspired by, rather than purporting to be, the book of Hosea, Redeeming Love is something else entirely. It would be hard to confuse this with the original source material. And yet, it is an insightful parallel of Hosea that might make this somewhat mystifying Bible book a little more understandable for some readers. Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey 290 pages / 2017 This is two biographies in one, about the little know relationship between the "Prince of Preachers" Charles Haddon Spurgeon and a former slave, Thomas Johnson. The men couldn't have grown up in more different circumstances. Spurgeon was in the United Kingdom, and establishing his reputation as "the Prince of Preacher" while Thomas Johnson was still a slave in the America. Johnson first heard Spurgeon's name mentioned when the preacher's sermons and books were being burnt by slavery-defenders in the South. They didn't like the strong and clearly biblical way that Spurgeon had been denouncing slavery.  When emancipation came and Johnson was freed he also became a preacher. And with his heart inclined to the mission field in Africa, he eventually ends up at Spurgeon's bible college where the two meet and become friends. Perhaps one reason they became friends was because Spurgeon struggled throughout this life with depression, and his young friend Johnson knew something of that too, borne out of his despair as a slave. As true Christians brothers, they are a help and a companion to one each other. While these two men are both real, I should note this is a fictionalized account. That means that while the broad details are all true, and much of the dialogue is taken from the men's works, this work should only be enjoyed for the general impression, not the specific details, it provides of their friendship. I'll give one example of how this mix of fact and fiction does, on the one hand, stay very true to reality, but on the other hand, can give a bit of an inaccurate impression. When we read of how Spurgeon proposes to his wife-to-be, he comes off as quite the Prince Charming with all the right words, the perfect thoughtful present, and just the right timing. However, the authors have compacted the evening's events from events that took place over more than the one occasion. The facts are true, but this compaction of the timeline, to keep the story flowing, makes Spurgeon seem to be quite the suave fellow – super suave even. Steal Away Home is a wonderfully readable book, and attractively put together too. You aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover but it's wonderful when a good cover can give a reluctant reader just the encouragement they need to get started. I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in Church history, or in knowing more about the American South during slavery and after, or anyone who enjoys historical fiction or biographies. Flags out Front by Douglas Wilson 196 pages / 2017 Flags out Front asks, what if a Christian leader took a stand on principle and, no matter what pressure came, just would not back down? What might happen if, instead of wilting under that pressure, he fought back fearlessly? Now, like Luther, Tom Collins didn’t set out to cause a fuss. This "mild mannered president of a dwindling southern" Bible college arrives on campus one day to find a prankster has swapped a couple of the flags at the campus entrance. Now, instead of the American flag flying above all, the Christian flag waves from on high, with the Stars and Stripes just below. Collins doesn't know quite what to think. But, upon reflection, he concludes the change is one he's content to leave be. Then the phone calls start coming. Conservative, patriotic sorts, wonder why the American flag is not in its central place. He hears from the other side too, from those who'd be happy enough to burn the flag, but don't want to see it waving below a Christian flag. Protests to the right, threats from the left, and yet Collins stands his ground. And he's willing to stand alone. But his resolve is inspiring, and alone is the one thing he won't be. Quiet, meek, Dr. Collins becomes the rally point for Christians of all sorts...including some clever college students who know how to make some noise. This is how is should be, and, maybe could be. Who knows what God would do with a fearless few? Actually, we already know: this year we're celebrating the 500th anniversary of the firestorm God started with one monk and his mallet. Flags out Front is a funny, clever, political feel-good novel that most anyone would enjoy, particularly if you want to be inspired as to how Christians can do politics differently. I've foisted this off on a number of friends and family (and read about half of it out loud to my wife) and the response has been enthused all around. Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin 340 pages / 2007 This is part murder mystery, part adoption story (times two), and part...well, super hero epic. The murder mystery is an old one, and the person trying to solve is Chase Walker, journalist, and formerly a foster kid who bounced around from one house to another until he arrived on the doorstep of “Unc” and that's where he stayed. The murder victims are Unc's father and first wife, and while the police think the case is settled, Chase is not so sure. The adoption-story-times-two involves Chase, adopted by Unc, and a nameless boy who was so badly abused his vocal chords have been damaged, leaving him mute. With Chase all grown up, Unc has space in his heart, and in his home, for another boy in need. The super-hero of the story is Unc himself, a man so good as to be a bit unreal. That's the story's weakness, but also a lot of its charm. Unc is the father figure that us fathers want to be. He most often knows just the right thing to do or say. When Chase, as a boy, gets it into his head that his father is finally coming to get him, Unc does what he can to sooth the boy’s disappointment. Unc walked up next to me and hung his arms across the fence railing. In his hands he held an empty mason jar with holes punched in the lid. He stood there a long time turning the jar. Inside, a single lightning bug fluttered off the sides of the glass. Every five or six seconds, he’d light his lantern. Unc turned the jar in his hand. “Scientists say that these things evolved this way over million of years.” He shook his head. “That’s a bunch of bunk. I don’t think an animal can just all-of-a-sudden decide it wants to make light grow out its butt. What kind of nonsense is that? Animals don’t make light.” He pointed to the stars.” God does that. I don’t know why or how, but I am pretty sure it’s not chance. It’s not some haphazard thing He does in His spare time.” He looked at me, and his expression changed from one of wonder to seriousness, to absolute conviction. “Chase, I don’t believe in chance.” He held up the jar. “This is not chance, neither are the stars.” He tapped me gently in the chest. “And neither are you. So, if your mind is telling you that God slipped up and might have made one giant mistake when it comes to you, you remember the firefly’s butt.” Maybe Unc is a bit too wise, too patient and too good, but I was okay with that. That’s in part because the author is good at his craft and pulls it off. It’s also because there is something genuine about Unc – this is fatherhood as we want to practice it, this is sacrificial love the way it should be done, and this filling up a kid the way he ought to be. There is truth here. Finally, while Unc may not be entirely realistic, the world he inhabits is. There is some grit here. First off, several people are murdered. Also, one of the people Unc helps is an abused girl who later ran away to become an adult porn star. In addition, the physical abuse the mute boy has suffered is detailed and it included someone pinching and ripping his skin with pliers. That is about as descriptive as it gets, but these elements mean this is a book for adults only. Another caution would be about the hero's faith. While God is made mention of throughout the book, Unc doesn't attend church, though that is in part because he isn't welcome there. He also has a seemingly superstitious understanding of baptism, going to extreme lengths to get someone baptized shortly before their death. But those will be minor matters to Christians with discernment. Chasing Fireflies will likely make you cry, so if you don't like sentimental books, don't start it. On the other hand this is so much better than the average tearjerker because Martin's writing is simply remarkable. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Humor, Media bias, Satire

Even a talking horse beats quiet convictions

I still remember the day I officially became an expert on everything. Many people go to school for years just to become an expert on one small particular thing so you might assume that becoming an expert on everything would be even harder and take longer. Actually it takes but one simple step: become a journalist. A journalist can be expected to write about as many as five separate subjects a day and to write about all of them knowledgeably. You might imagine that this incredible task requires the best and brightest that mankind has to offer. It may indeed but unfortunately the best and brightest are already tied up trying to extrapolate the existence of the sixth dimension based on the cube root of pi’s trillionth digit. So the task is left to whoever is silly enough to work for a starting wage of $15,000. They are the few and the desperate, yes, these are your dedicated daily information providers. As both a Christian and a newly anointed expert on everything I’m often asked: “Why is the news so biased against Christians?” The first time I was asked this question I immediately took steps to answer it as only a journalist could. Fred the hot-dog vendor was standing a scant three steps away so I pulled out my very professional looking tape recorder, held it up to Fred and then asked him the same question. Fred gave his usual thoughtful response while I got my usual chili dog and paid him $2.50 for both. I then returned to my still waiting inquisitor and repeated what Fred said with a quick “Sources say...” added in front of it. I found out rather quickly that while this technique never fails to impress when found on the printed page, it works less well in person. My inquisitor asked me the question again and, just to show she meant business, placed her clenched fists on either hip (her hips not mine), “Why is the press so biased against Christians?” Unable to avoid the question I bought her a coffee and we sat down to discuss it. She had her own theory about the press being left-wing, liberal, and full of atheists who lived just to take shots at Christians. She flipped through that day’s paper and pointed out a dozen stories that promoted gay-rights, euthanasia, or the latest evolutionary "discovery." She also mentioned that Christian and pro-family groups and politicians often complain their quotes are purposely taken out of context. While it’s obvious the press has an agenda, it’s been my experience that it is not as left-wing, liberal, atheistic as Christians believe. I explained to her that quite often the press’s agenda is far less nefarious, and can be summed up in two parts: 1) to sell as many papers as possible, and 2) to get home before lunch. This startlingly un-ominous agenda didn’t seem to please my questioner. She clenched her teeth and leaned across the table grabbing my tie to pull me close. My clip-on made this last action less intimidating than it might otherwise have been but the overall effect still captivated my attention. “So why,” she whispered hoarsely, “is the news full of so many anti-Christian stories?” As her hot breath blew over me an alarming sense of deja vu overwhelmed me. This had all happened before! But try as I might, I just couldn’t think of when or where. Sure, an ordinary man might be able to remember the last time a women he was drinking coffee with suddenly reached over and ripped off his tie. As a journalist this has happened to me far too often (thus the clip-ons – both cheaper and safer) and after a while all the separate occurrences have blurred together. Then it hit me. The situation had been quite different but the question had been exactly the same. And I had been the one asking it. It was just a year before, and I had taken a run at political office. As a small party candidate I couldn't afford paid ads, and was desperate for any free publicity I could get. That's why, when the daily paper called I did my best to take full advantage of the opportunity. I talked to that reporter for almost an hour explaining both my party’s, and my personal stances. But the reporter ignored my explanations and kept asking personal questions. I told him I wasn't important. I told him people wouldn't be voting for me as a person, but instead, would be voting for me as the only candidate who stood up for the important issues. Over and over I downplayed my own importance and stressed the issues. After a long and impassioned conversation with the reporter, the following quote appeared in the paper the next day: "There are 2,000 people who would vote for Mr. Ed as long as he was pro-life. I could be a talking horse and they would vote for me if I was pro-life." – Jon Dykstra Not quite what I was hoping for, it was by far the stupidest thing I had said. As a politician I was convinced the reporter had selected this worst possible quote because he didn’t like my Christian stances. As a trained journalist I now knew better. The simple truth is, stupidity sells papers. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not, if you say something stupid the press will use it. We've seen politicians make headlines for misspelling a word, or forgetting how many states there are. I got my highlighted with a more original approach, referencing a talking horse. As one of my more compassionate friends told me later, “If stupidity sells papers, you doubled their circulation.” My recollection complete, I turned to my companion to see if this trip down memory lane had done anything to answer her question. She was staring intently at the place where my tie had been. “Stupidity?,” she asked, still staring, “Is that the whole answer?” It was not. I became a reporter to write about issues that aren't usually covered. I was determined to write about everything from AIDS to Zebras with a distinctly Christian perspective so I began the research for each new story with a few calls to pro-life, pro-family or Christian organizations and politicians. They were quite wary of the press, and as my coffee companion had already noted, they do seem to have reason to be. But they were so scared they refused to answer my questions. Of course they weren't quite as blunt as that. One place kept telling me the director was out and that she would phone me in an hour when she got in. I got the same message every hour as I regularly phoned back and finally had to give up as lunch approached. Another organization told me that only one person was allowed to speak to the press and he was away for three weeks. A few groups did get back to me, but anywhere from two days to several weeks too late. In contrast, I managed to talk to two AIDS activists in the space of a single hour. They were very cooperative and very outspoken. As an unbiased, objective and Christian reporter I absolutely refused to write all my stories with two AIDS activists as the only sources (they just didn’t add anything to my gambling story) so I sucked in my gut and decided to work after lunch. I spent my afternoons alone in the cavernous office tracking down Christians sources and experimenting with the room’s acoustics. But because I refused to go with just the most available sources, stories that should have taken half a day took more than a week. So why is the newspaper and nightly news full of anti-Christian stories? In part, because most reporters won’t take that week. If Christians want better press coverage they need to start working at it. They need to start appealing to the lazy and sensationalistic nature of the press. Our most basic beliefs are pretty radical nowadays so we already have sensationalism covered but we still need to work at appealing to the lazy nature of the press. That means, if they aren't calling us we better be calling them. This isn't as intimidating as it may sound; calling a reporter doesn't mean you personally have to give him a quote. As a "regular" person they may not even be interested in talking to you. Instead you can compile a list of Christian sources with impressive titles behind their names, people who have spent the time to become experts about one small particular thing. Admittedly, coming up with this list is no small task, what with fewer and fewer willing to speak up. But if you can come up with such a list, then when you hear or read about an issue that should have a Christian voice speaking out on it, you can phone up the reporter and give him the appropriate phone number. Many reporters don't like sounding biased, so if you can give them a ready source from the other side of an issue they may well be happy to have it. And if you’re afraid you might say something stupid, trust in God and do your best. After my idiotic Mr. Ed comment I received calls from dozens of curious voters, and the reporter found the comment interesting enough to follow it with six column inches about my campaign positions (more coverage than he gave any other fringe party candidate). After the good that came of this escapade I pinned up a little sign in my room which read “GOD Can Overcome Even Your Stupidity.” It kept me humble, but more importantly, it freed me from worry. My coffee companion wanted to blame the media’s anti-Christian stance on some kind of hidden agenda. There is some truth to that, but that’s also taking the easy way out, shifting the blame to an available scapegoat. The news media may have more than its share of liberal, left-wing, atheists, but many aren’t so much anti-Christian as lazy, and sensationalistic. These reporters take the path of least resistance and talk to the people who want to talk to them, like gays, euthanasia advocates, and other radicals desperate for publicity. They won't stir up controversies unless there are groups and politicians willing to speak out and take the hard stands. And these reporters don't have the time or patience to talk to people who will, "get back to them." It’s not just the media’s fault; it’s ours too. The news is full of anti-Christian content because Christians are too often boring, timid, and reclusive. And that’s my expert opinion. A version of this article first appeared in the magazine in 1997....

Family, Movie Reviews

City of Ember

Adventure/Family 95 min/2008 RATING: 7/10 For humanity’s remnant to survive they have to hide deep underground for 200 years in a specially prepared city – the City of Ember. But when 200 years pass no one alive remembers there is another world out there. The only light they know is provided by light bulbs powered by their mighty generator. The bigger problem? The generator is starting to break down. The biggest problem? No one will admit what’s happening. To the rescue comes Doon, and his friend Lina who uncover some long-lost and only partially intact instructions from the city’s original Builders that they need to piece together to save their family before all of Ember’s lights go dark. The film has no language or sexuality concerns at all, but does have a mole the size of Volkswagen whose tentacles are a bit too squirmy for my tastes. The more notable caution would be that God is never mentioned, and His absence in a movie about a coming end to the world is glaring. A post-apocalyptic tale is not your typical family fare, and a story in which the kids are smarter than the adults is all too common fare. So Ember is a film that shouldn’t be treated as simply mindless entertainment – it is entertaining, but it should be discussed. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at www.ReelConservative.com where longer versions of some of these reviews can be found. ...

Parenting

4 for family movie night

The last decade has seen a big shift in how families watch films. With a screen in every pocket, there's now no need to gather round and watch something together on that big box in the living room. But while there is no need, it is still a lot of fun – sharing the experience makes it even better! A family movie night can also be an educational opportunity for moms and dads to seize. There's a lot of interesting and even important discussions that can be started by a good movie. So break out the popcorn, grab some good snuggly blankets, and gather the whole clan! The suggestions below are organized by "age-appropriateness," starting first with The Peanuts Movie, which is an all-ages film. The last, City of Ember, has some scary moments, so might be for tweens and up, and the other two fall somewhere in between. The Peanuts Movie Animated 88 min/2015 RATING: 8/10 The comicstrip Peanuts was always a little hit and miss for me. I liked Linus and Snoopy and PigPen and Marcie, but found it downright depressing when once again Lucy would get good ol' Charlie Brown to fall for her disappearing football trick. That’s why the film was so much better than expected: it has all of the strip's funny, minus the melancholy. Charlie Brown has his misfortunes, but he also has good friends – including a far more loyal version of Snoopy – to help pick him back up and push him to keep on trying. Cautions are minor, but parents might want to note that Charlie Brown is silly to obsess about a girl he has never even talked to. At one point he offers up what might be a one-line prayer, and if so his “Don’t I deserve a break?” plea shows that Charles is no Calvinist. Highlights include how (SPOILER ALERT) when the often lonely Charles has to choose between popularity and honesty, he doesn’t even hesitate before doing the right thing. This boy is a man of character. Our whole family enjoyed this, from two on up. A Charlie Brown who doesn't have to wait 50 years for a little happiness is a wonderful improvement on the original! Swiss Family Robinson Drama/Adventure 126 min/1960 RATING: 8/10 Based on the classic 1812 Johann Wyss book, Swiss Family Robinson tells the tale of a family of five that gets shipwrecked on a tropical island after being pursued by pirates. Life on a tropical island can be fun, with ostrich and elephant races, but work is involved too. The family has to struggle together to build a treehouse that will keep them safe from the island's tiger. But what will keep them safe from the pirates, who are still looking for them? The big concern in this film would be violence. While most of it is softened (a tiger, rather than maul its victims, sends them flying high into the air) there are intense scenes near the end of the film, as the pirates attack, that would scare young children. There is also a snake attack that may have parents rolling their eyes (the actors seem to be grabbing the boa constrictor, rather than the constrictor grabbing them) but it had my daughters' eyes bugging out. We played some of these scenes with the volume down low, so the dramatic music wouldn't have the same effect. That seemed enough to make the scenes palatable for even our four-year-old. This is a good old-fashioned classic with lots of gallantry on display – it's a great film to teach boys to look out for girls. It's also a good one to get your kids appreciating older films. Some of the acting is a little wooden, but as a family film that's fine – this was never going to win an Oscar, but there is a reason it's still being watched 50 years later. All in all a great film. Condorman Action/Adventure 90 min/ 1981 RATING: 7/10 When comic book creator Woody Wilkins gets the chance to help out the CIA he jumps at it. But he gets a little too into the role, telling his Russian contact – his beautiful Russian contact – that he is a long-time secret agent with the code name "Condorman." He so impresses the Russian agent that when she later decides to defect she tells the CIA she'll only go if they send their "top agent" Condorman to come pick her up. Woody is willing to help again...but with a few conditions. He'll go, so long as the CIA agree to give him a few special tools he's dreamed up, that come straight out of his superhero comics! The only cautions are of a minor sort. The beautiful Russian agent wears a rather clingy dress on the DVD cover but that is more risqué than anything in the film. In one scene she changes clothes behind a dressing screen and is shown naked from the shoulders up. There are a lot of fistfights, car chases, and explosions, all of the comic variety, with no blood seen. Younger children, particularly those under 6, may find it too much. This is an action adventure, romantic comedy, Cold War, spy, superhero parody. If you take it seriously this is dreadful…so don’t. As a parody it is hokey, cheesy, goofy, slapstick fun. City of Ember Adventure/Post-apocalyptic 95 min/2008 RATING: 7/10 For humanity’s remnant to survive they have to hide deep underground for 200 years in a specially prepared city – the City of Ember. But when 200 years pass no one alive remembers there is another world out there. The only light they know is provided by light bulbs powered by their mighty generator. The bigger problem? The generator is starting to break down. The biggest problem? No one will admit what’s happening. To the rescue comes Doon, and his friend Lina who uncover some long-lost and only partially intact instructions from the city’s original Builders that they need to piece together to save their family before all of Ember’s lights go dark. The film has no language or sexuality concerns at all, but does have a mole the size of Volkswagen whose tentacles are a bit too squirmy for my tastes. The more notable caution would be that God is never mentioned, and His absence in a movie about a coming end to the world is glaring. A post-apocalyptic tale is not your typical family fare, and a story in which the kids are smarter than the adults is all too common fare. So Ember is a film that shouldn’t be treated as simply mindless entertainment – it is entertaining, but it should be discussed. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at www.ReelConservative.com where longer versions of some of these reviews can be found...

Adult biographies, Teen non-fiction

This was John Calvin

by Thea B. Van Halsema 224 pages / 1959 I’ve read four John Calvin biographies and this is by far my favorite. It is tightly written at only 224 pages, and interspersed with dozens of illustration, but what sets it apart are the many minor details the author includes. One example: other biographies will mention that Martin Luther read and greatly respected what John Calvin wrote about the Lord’s Supper, but in This Was John Calvin we discover how Luther first learned Calvin’s thoughts. He picked up a Latin copy of Calvin’s Little Treatise On The Holy Supper Of Our Lord in a German bookstore. It’s only a small bit of additional detail but it is this sort of extra tidbit that makes history come alive – now I can picture the large Luther ducking through the small front door of a local bookstore, scanning the shelves of the Religion Section and plucking from the titles a slim volume by this young Calvin fellow he had heard so much about. That’s fun to imagine. Another example: every Calvin biography will note that half of Geneva’s citizenship opposed the Reformer, many of whom were constantly scheming to get him expelled from the city. Van Halsema goes further, spending 3 chapters (out of the book’s 36) to tell the story of Geneva before Calvin’s arrival, and explain the historic reasons for the division in the city. She also provides a helpful background to Calvin’s encounter with Michael Servetus – a heretic that Calvin is sometimes accused of murdering. Servetus was burnt at the stake by the Genevan authorities for denying the Trinity, and while Calvin agreed with his execution, Van Halsema notes that most everyone at that time did too. In fact the Roman Catholic town of Lyons had previously burnt Servetus in effigy, only substituting a dummy because the man himself had escaped their grasp. To sum up, this is a great, readable biography that will be enjoyed by anyone in their late teens or older who has even the tiniest bit of interest in church history. Jon Dykstra blogs on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com...

Writer's Guidelines

Reformed Perspective is a print publication published 6 times a year and is sent out to a readership of 7-10,000, the majority of which live in Canada, but with a sizable minority who live in Australia, the United States, and the rest of the world. These readers are almost all from a conservative Reformed background and include members of the Canadian Reformed, United Reformed, and Australian Free Reformed churches as well as many others. It is aimed at a broad age group encompassing the entire family. Reformed Perspective is also a website that posts 5+ articles a week, that can go out to just about anyone anywhere. Most online readers still come from some sort of Reformed background. Our purpose is to provide a Reformed reflection on world events, whether those events are technological, economical, cultural, or some other 'al. It is a broadly-based directive narrowed only by our target audience. Our cross-generation appeal prevents us from engaging in highly technical and theoretical arguments over church doctrine. Check out the "Resources" tab in the main menu to read some of our best articles from years past. Thoughts on writing Is it relevant, practical/Reformed? – Why should Reformed Perspective, and not some secular magazine, print your article? Why should Christians care about your topic, and what, perhaps, should they do about it? Avoid professional language or jargon – The reason you are writing is to explain your point to people that don't already know what you do! Criticism requires tact – Be constructive when possible, and try to include solutions to any problems you point out. Avoid flowery language – An overuse of poetic imagery and additional unnecessary and completely useless adjective is not conducive to agreeable reading (wordiness is bad, and adjectives are often the root cause). Variety in vocabulary – Good writing often comes down to a creative use of metaphors and similes, and a good knowledge of synonyms. Show, don't tell – Stories, anecdotes, and examples should be used to make your point. No KJV please – The NASB and English Standard Versions are preferred Bible translations. Grab the reader quickly – The first line or two are absolutely critical. Give readers a reason to start reading by laying out your main point or theme right away. Engage your readers immediately or you won't engage them at all. Bullet points or numbered lists are great – They make it easier for your reader to follow and understand your points. Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more – Get someone else to proofread your work before you send it on to the editor. Other people can sometimes catch surprisingly obvious grammar and spelling errors. It also pays to get someone who might have a different point of view to look at your article so they can catch errors in your argument. Be original – Reformed Perspective publishes primarily original material, with the occasional exception. If an article warrants an exception explain why. Own your opinion – If you need to qualify it with a host of ifs, buts, maybes and "in my opinion"s then you need to do more research so you can offer readers something more certain. How is it biblical? – This is a repeat of the first point, but it is worth repeating. Anyone can have an opinion, but what we're interested in doing is discerning from God's Word how to act. Please also see "How to make your editor actually like you" for more helpful tips. Thoughts for younger writers We appreciate contributions from writers of all ages, but many topics that Reformed Perspective covers do require an older author. That's because articles can be thought of as a gift of time – a writer who has spend a lot of time thinking through an issue biblically then puts those thoughts on paper in as concise and compelling a way as he or she can. The article can be read in minutes, but the time invested in its creation is a matter of hours, and, for most topics, will even be a matter of years or decades. That's what's involved when we have a business man write about how sales is a noble calling – this was a topic that has been percolating in the back of his head for a very long time. A younger writer is going to have fewer topics they can write on with this level of expertise simply because they haven't lived as long. But fewer is very different from none. If a younger writers wants to help equip Reformed Perspective's readership, the first step is to identify areas of interest where you do know more because you've been thinking on the that topic long and hard. One example from an author in her twenties is this article on hospitality. While younger, she has been working through this for a few years, and so we as readers get to benefit from her years of thinking and doing, with all of that experience boiled down to a few minutes worth of reading. So what are some topics that your parents, or grandparents might turn to you for advice? In what ways have you, or others you know, built on the "shoulders of giants" so that you can see further and know more than the previous generation? What temptations are particularly trying these days and what help can you offer? Have you thought through the best way to choose a career, or do you have ideas on how to get young people active and engaged in evangelism, or political actions, or helping their neighbors? What are some books every young person or anyone at all needs to read? The key question then is, what expertise/wisdom/insight do you have that we can all benefit from? Details Length: Our preferable article size is anywhere from 600-2000 words. Shorter and longer articles will be considered but we may not read contributions over 2500 words. Nota Bene items (for the news column at the beginning of the magazine) can be as short as 150 words, and as long as 600. References/Endnotes: Try to include references within the body of the article. Endnotes should only be used if including the references within the text body becomes cumbersome. Please do not use your word processor's auto-footnoting feature - that is formatting the editor will then have to undo. Instead just include endnotes manually, preferably noting it in the text this way: (1), (2), etc. Identification: Include your name, address, church affiliation, and relevant expertise. Pictures: They always help make your article more readable. Relevant information (such as names of people, location, permissions, etc.) should be included. Waivers Reformed Perspective reserves the right to make editorial changes. We will edit on the basis of spelling, grammar, eloquence, length, factual accuracy, and style. We may request a rewrite or submission after considering it carefully. Honorarium If your original article is accepted Reformed Perspective will pay a small honorarium. For articles from 800-2000 words the honorarium ranges from $30 - $55. We also pay $10 for any original comics we publish. Address Jon Dykstra - Editor [email protected]

Links

Helpful Links While not all of these resources are Reformed, they would all be of interest and use to Reformed Christians. Booksellers The Study - sells and publishes all sorts of solidly Reformed Bible study books. RP Press - "committed to providing you with great Reformed resources!" Reformed Christian Books - Serving the Fraser Valley, and all of Canada, for more than 50 years. Reformers Bookshop - Serving Australians since 1983. Book review sites Challies - more than book reviews, but a lot of those too. Really Good Reads - the book review website of the Dykstra siblings. Tea Time with Annie Kate - reviews, reviews and more reviews. Creation/Science pages Creation Science Association - many of Dr. Margaret Helder's articles can be found here. Bylogos - Dr. John Byl's blog. Answers in Genesis - one of the very biggest Creationist websites. Institute for Creation Research - the home of Henry Morris' organization. Creation.com - another huge Creationist website. Creation without Compromise - the creationist blog of Dr. Ted Van Raalte, Dr. Wes Bredenhof, Rev. Jim Witteveen, and Jon Dykstra. Movie review sites Common Sense Media - is not Christian, and not all that conservative, but does provide a good amount of information. However, it doesn't seem to consistently note instances of God's Name being taken in vain in its language advisory. Dove - comes a close second to Kids in Mind as far as detailed content summaries are concerned, and they offer it from a Christian perspective. Kids in Mind - may not be Christian, but it gives the most detailed reviews available. PluggedIn Online and MovieGuide - two sites that provide lots of valuable information for parents, but which are sometimes a tad over-generous in what they recommend. Reel Conservative - Jon Dykstra's movie blog, sharing only movies he recommends. News sites LifeSiteNews - a daily source for pro-life and pro-family news from Canada and around the world, from a generally Judeo-Christian, Roman Catholic leaning, perspective. While still a good site, in recent years the catchy headlines have not always been fully substantiated by the article text. WORLD magazine - American publication with many Presbyterian writers, tackling the news from a distinctly Christian perspective. Mercatornet - a solid daily source, run by generally conservative Christian (though they are not always clearly so) from Down Under. Political sites ARPA Canada - The Association for Reformed Political Action Canada - lots of great resources for getting politically active Reformed resources The Seed - more than 2000 Reformed sermons. Spindleworks index - a collection of Reformed articles and other resources. Voice of the Church - a 15-minute podcast/radio show by Canadian Reformed pastors. Word & Spirit - articles, videos and other Reformed resources. Heidelberg-Catechism.com - the ultimate resource on all things Heidelberg Catechism related. Faith in Focus - the monthly denominational magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. RP's social media Facebook Instagram MeWe Twitter Websites/blogs by RP contributors Creation Science Association - many of Dr. Margaret Helder's articles can be found here. The Bridgehead - the home of pro-life apologist Jonathon Van Maren's radio show. Bredenhof.ca - the blog of Dr. Wes Bredenhof. ...

News

Saturday Selections - December 4, 2021

Diving deep into a leaf This is worth watching twice, once with the closed captions on (hit the "CC" button" and the bottom right of the screen) which will explain what we're seeing. But then, because the captions do obscure the visuals at times, it's worth watching again without the captions to get a glimpse of God's amazing design on the smallest scales. While the non-scientists of us won't understand all that's going on, just the gist of it is fun enough, especially when we keep in mind that this is a greatly simplified overview. Does "X-mas" take Christ out of Christmas? No, it really isn't so. In fact, it's just the opposite by creating an opportunity to talk about who that "X" represents. Conservative intellectuals silent on the scourge of homosexuality Fascinating article about a panel discussion at an American "National Conservatism Conference" earlier this month. Though the issue of same-sex "marriage was raised, the panelists – or at least the straight ones – refused to talk about it. What was showcased here was how if "conservatism" is founded on anything other than God's Truth, it soon enough will endorse the lie... even if only by silence. The "blurred lines" of the sexual revolution Instead of sex within the bounds of marriage, our culture insisted the only limits on sex should be consent. But how well does that standard work? As John Stonestreet highlights the #MeToo movement is highlighting that the world's only safeguard for sex is no safeguard at all. How obsession with "carbon" left us woefully unprepared for the Fraser Valley Flood of 2021 Former CHP leader Ron Gray has had a front row seat for the flooding in BC, and has some thoughts on the root cause. It's worth noting that the experts he cites have an evolutionary timescale of hundreds of thousands or millions of years built into their assumptions, though that's true of most secular experts. What separates these experts from the other secular sorts is that these follow at least one biblical principle, placing man as the pinnacle of creation (Gen. 1:26-28, Ps. 8:3-9). Thus they measure environmental efforts not by their supposed benefit to the planet in the future, but by how they impact people living on that planet right now. That makes these experts more insightful than all who want to save the planet with policies that make energy more expensive, which has the effect of hurting the poorest. How to get everything from nothing (10-minute read) "The only...evidence that the universe came from nothing is the well-documented finding that the universe is expanding. If the expansion event is reversed, it brings us back to the primordial egg that started it all. The conundrum then is, where did the primordial egg come from? The solution accepted by many leading cosmologists is, it came from nothing. Thus the reasoning is that nothing ultimately created everything." How much is Facebook censoring? (7 min) Most are aware that Facebook acts as a censor but do you know the extent of it? During the recent US trial of a Kyle Rittenhouse – a man accused of murder but who the court found was acting in self-defense – Facebook took down pro-Rittenhouse posts and programmed their search engine so that it would return no results on searches for his name (though one clever friend got around that by searching for a misspelled version of his name Rittenhose which Facebook then auto-corrected and returned results). While we appreciate that Facebook filters some (though certainly not all) of the filth on the Internet, it's one thing to shut down pornography, and another to limit debate on the big issues of the day. In the video below, John Stossel digs into it. (While Facebook is still one of the more effective promotional tools for Reformed Perspective, we know it's a matter of when, and not if, we're eventually censored too. That's why we've started up a MeWe page and continued a presence on Twitter, and it's why RP's editor is also experimenting with Gab.) ...

News

Saturday Selections - October 2, 2021

Going after Facebook (7 min) The way Facebook uses "fact-checkers" makes them bad arbitrators of the truth. (You can find RP on MeWe here and Twitter here, while the editor is on Gab here.) When a lesbian at Yale came to Christ While the Devil uses his resources to confuse, God can use even a stolen book to bring clarity, as He did with this young woman. Translation manipulation Some history worth remembering: 20 years ago plans were in place to make the world's most popular English Bible translation more gender-neutral. Even after being shamed into reversing course, the publisher tried again just two years later. Prediction: Scientists won't be able to improve on our design (15-min read) William A. Dembski's certainty that we have been designed, and not evolved, led him to predict 20 years ago that so-called "Junk DNA" would turn out to be functional. His position opposed that of evolutionists who assumed these sections were the useless leftover remnants of our species' previous evolutionary incarnations. Over the next ten years, Dembski's design inference was proven to be the right one, as these sections did prove to have functions. Now Dembski has a new prediction, also based on us being designed rather than evolved. A new discovery – CRISPR gene editing – allows us to edit mankind's genes. This raises the possibility of correcting some people's defective genes – errors that are obviously errors and lead to certain genetic diseases. But evolutionists see this as an opportunity to improve on where, in their minds, chance and time have brought us. Could gene-editing be used to make the human species smarter, faster, stronger, etc.? Dembski predicts, no, because no matter how smart scientists might be, they aren't anywhere near as smart as our Designer. And while this CRISPR process might have some use in addressing the breakage in that design, as caused by the Fall, Man is not going to be able to improve on God's design. Help in the midst of the pornography plague “The question is not if my kids will see pornography, but what will I do when it happens.” How Covid taught the public to distrust authorities Rex Murphy lays it out. Are you after easy A's? (2 min) Our young people can't all go to this college, but we can encourage all those that do head off to university to approach their education with this sort of rigor. ...

News

Saturday Selections – July 3, 2021

Insects flying in slow motion (6 min) Kids will enjoy this cool video of 11 different bugs taking off, some elegantly, others not so much: it's great fun to see God's creativity on display! A small caution: elsewhere on his YouTube channel the videographer credits this astonishing creativity to evolution rather than God. How to preach against Critical Race Theory (10-minute read) "In this essay, I’d like to encourage pastors to oppose the errors of CRT, but I’ll suggest what might seem like an unusual approach: pastors should consider preaching against CRT without mentioning CRT at all..." How do you move a whole denomination to reaffirm biblical creation? Be inspired by how God used a grandmother to bring her denomination back to a 6-day understanding of creation. God loves LGBT people more than we do "...many professing Christians are tempted to disagree with what the Bible says about homosexuality and LGBTQ issues.....This is because many professing Christians believe they love LGBTQ people more than God does." "You still have to bake the cake, bigot!" Jack Phillips first got in trouble for not baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The day he won a Supreme Court decision on that fight, a transgender guy (male, pretending to be female) called him requesting a cake to celebrate his "sex-change." As before, Phillips didn't want to help someone celebrate their own destruction (in this case, the amputation of their genitals) and so he declined. And back to the courts Phillips was forced to go. Now he's written a book, which Jonathon Van Maren reviews here. When inclusivity becomes incoherence The LGBT movement is making "an ever-growing jumble of contradictory claims about sex, gender, and psychology, all of which lacks any uniting principle other than an opposition to what came before." Conservatives in 5 years... "O’Sullivan’s First Law" states: "All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” Coined by journalist John O'Sullivan in 1989, it described the leftward tilt that we see happen among politicians, parties, and organizations of all sorts whenever they refuse to loudly and clearly establish their conservative bonafides. That same thought is captured in the video below – directed at US Republicans, it is far more broadly applicable. However, while the video is spot on, and O'Sullivan's First Law has proven itself time and again, neither goes deep enough. It is not simply a matter of being right-wing that stops liberal drift – to be rooted a group or an individual needs a firmer foundation than "conservatism." So, let me add an expansion to O'Sullivan, riffing off of Matt. 12:30. Perhaps we can call it O'Dykstra's First Law: "Those who are not unabashedly Christian, will over time – along with the organizations they make up – become unabashedly anti-Christian." God is our only firm foundation, but when we are ashamed in the public square to acknowledge Him as such, then whatever we stand on instead – whether that’s common sense, traditional values, natural law, capitalism, or conservatism – will offer only a sandy footing. It will hold only for a time, before we, unmoored, slide down the slippery slope. Let's remember it doesn't have to be that way. We serve a great God, who is sovereign and mighty and has already won. So why then would we ever be ashamed or afraid to profess His Name? ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

i am n

Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists by the Voice of the Martyrs 293 pages / 2016 The “n” in the title is Arabic shorthand for “Christian,” and Islamic extremists will paint it on houses owned by Christians as a means of intimidation. It is, in some places, the equivalent of being marked for death. This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone." So I started reading out of a feeling of duty. However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down. Encouragement It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the  Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind. "I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare. With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game. There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing. "During the final evening of conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists. Challenging Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord. In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'" Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers. "Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'" This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord. Awe-inducing Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't? They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough! Cautions When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would do. But we also know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines. At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings. Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic. Conclusion I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10. The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44). I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God. This review first appeared on the Dykstra book blog www.ReallyGoodReads.com....