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Apologetics 101

One simple question: "What do you mean by that?"

In the May 17, 2016 Breakpoint Daily, John Stonestreet shared a few questions he uses when he finds himself in a tough conversation. The first and most helpful is:

“What do you mean by that?"

The battle of ideas is always the battle over the definition of words. Thus, it’s vital in any conversation to clarify the terms being used. For example, the most important thing to clarify in the ongoing gender discussions is the definition of "gender." So when the topic comes up, ask, “Hold on, before we go start talking about personal pronouns, puberty suppression, or surgeries, I want to ask, what do you mean by gender?” Often, when it comes to these crucial issues, both sides are using the same vocabulary, but not the same dictionary. So to present the antithesis – to speak God's Truth to a confused culture – we have to begin by defining our terms. Defining terms can also serve as a good defense when you're getting attacked, not with an argument, but simply with an insult. When someone tries to dismiss you by calling you a name, the best response is to question the insult.

"You're just a homophobe!"

“What do you mean by that?”

“Um, I mean you hate gays.”

“But I don’t hate gays. I do disagree with their lifestyle – I think it harms them by separating them from God. Is disagreeing the same thing as hating?”

“Yeah, of course!”

“But you’re disagreeing with me? Wouldn’t that mean you’re hateful?”

"Well...um....but you deserve it!"

As in this dialogue above, defining the terms might not win you the argument, but it can expose the vacuous nature of what the other side is saying. And even when you don't win over your debate partner, clarifying the terms is one way to help bystanders see through the name-calling. However, the most important reason to lead with this simple question – "What do you mean by that? – is because showing the anthesis, making plain what the two sides actually are, brings glory to our God. And who knows how He might use the seed we plant?

Christian education

Learning like an adult

When school is done your education isn't

*****

Students sometimes talk of graduation as being set free. We might be able to empathize, even as this prison-break analogy isn’t that complimentary to the “prison guards” who have been teaching you these last 12 years. But let’s run with that idea for a moment. If graduation means freedom, what will you now be free to do? You’ll be free to never open a book again – you won’t have to read again if you don’t want to. But we all should want to. The freedom a graduate has is not a freedom to avoid, but a freedom to take on. It is a freedom to be able to direct your ongoing education wherever you want it to go. So, instead of a prison-break analogy, it’d be better to compare your education up to this point as being like a car ride. Early on, you were in a booster seat in the back, a little kid along for the ride, going wherever others decided to take you. God gifted you with some great guides so you’ve been taken to some fantastic destinations. But in these early years where you were going was decided mostly for you. As you got older, you started switching seats in the vehicle, moving up towards that front row. More recently, you’ve gotten to practice steering and choosing your own roads, though still with some adult supervision. Finally, when you graduate you’re going to be able to slip into the driver’s seat where you will have the freedom to go where you want to go. And along with that freedom will come the responsibility to make good decisions, make good time, and make sure you actually get where you want to go. To push the analogy, when you graduate and slip into that driver’s seat you will also be free to pull over, shut off the car, and put the whole thing up on blocks. You can make the decision to never learn again. But why would you? There’s a world out there to explore, contend with, and conquer, all to the glory of God. It is our calling and our privilege to go out and investigate sunrises, caterpillars, hummingbirds, craft beers, and whether there really is a better ice cream flavor than peanut butter chocolate. Out in the world some might think that once they’ve graduated they can sit back, relax, take a long snooze, and be done with learning forever. But not God’s people. We know this is only the beginning and we can’t wait to get out there. So what we want to look at is how to learn like an adult; we want to look at what it takes to be a life long learner. And we’ll do so by hitting three points:

1) Why we should be life-long learners 2) The qualities of a life-long learner 3) How to learn on your own

WHY WE SHOULD ALL BE LIFE LONG LEARNERS When we’re setting out to do something, it’s always helpful to know the why behind the what. So why exactly should we all be life long learners? 1. Because God calls us to it As David Mathis notes, “Teaching and learning are at the very heart of our faith. To be a ‘disciple’ means to be a ‘learner.’” We serve an infinite God who invites us to know Him better (2 Peter 3:18) through His Creation and through His Word. Because He is infinite, we’re never going run out of glories to uncover, and depths to dig into. But not all of us enjoyed the classroom setting so do we have to be bookworms and academic sorts to learn more about God? Well, reading one book is an absolute must. God has revealed Himself in His Word, and if we refuse to open the Bible, then we’re showing we’re really not that interested in Him. But that doesn’t mean to be Christian you have to have been the sort who got straight A’s in all your. God promises to reveal Himself to any and all who seek Him (Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:13, Is 55:6). In Psalm 32:8 the Lord promises: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” God is for everyone, no matter our grades. 2. To prep ourselves for the challenges ahead In Proverbs God tells us that instruction is more valuable than silver, knowledge better than choice gold, wisdom better than jewels (8:10-11). And in contrast he tells us that those who “despise wisdom and instruction” are fools (1:7). One reason we want to be life-long learners is because we’re going to be faced with a lifetime of challenges. We can take them on all on our own, or if we’re smart, we can ask for help. God gave us His Word, and He gave us brothers and sisters – both those alive today, and others who have long since passed on, but who can be consulted via the books they wrote – who we can ask for guidance. The devil has a lot of tricks, but he always recycling old ones, so when we “talk” with folks who have gone before, we can learn from them how they took on challenges an increasingly hostile government, or what advice they gave on leading your family in devotions, or what passages of the Bible they most often turned to for encouragement. If you’re looking to learn then you can benefit from the lifetime of experience your parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, older siblings, elders and godly neighbors have lived and are ready to offer. You can learn from them, imitating them in their godliness, and also save yourself some pain by learning from their mistakes…instead of having to make all the same ones yourself. 3. To help and instruct others Do you feel ready to teach your children how to pray? Do you know how to share with others the hope that is in? Are you ready to be an elder and go on home visits counseling younger couples on marital difficulties? Can you advise your congregation’s younger women how they can better love their husbands? If you’re asked, “Why should I be a Christians?” or “Why do you believe the Bible” or “Why do Christians hate homosexuals?” do you have a ready answer? Do you know how often and for what you should spank an errant child? Have you figured out how much to save for retirement? There’s a lot to know so what a wonderful blessing it is when you’re younger that you have an older generation you can turn to for advice and instruction. But not too long from now, and maybe its already happening now, you’ll have people looking to you for advice. Maybe right now you can still rely on the older generation to do some heavy lifting, leading the fight, and all that. But at some point you are going to have to replace your parents. At some point you’re going to be the older generation. And wisdom doesn’t just come with grey hair. If you’re going to be a help to anyone, if you’re going to be a leader for your family, and in your church, you need to be learning how to do so now. QUALITIES OF A LIFE LONG LEARNER As we set out to become life-long learners, what sort of qualities should we be encouraging and developing in ourselves? 1. Go to the ant One quality to start with is to ant-like. In the book of Proverbs two bad guys pop up repeatedly: the fool and the sluggard. The difference between the two comes down to how active they are: the fool mocks and scoffs God’s law; if God says to do one thing, then the fool does the very opposite. Sometimes we can be troublemakers like this, but the more probable temptation for us is probably the sluggardly tendency. The sluggard doesn’t cause much trouble because he doesn’t do much of anything at all. His days are filled with Netflix binges, and long hours with his phone, whether that’s on Instagram or Snapchat, or endlessly checking the latest sports scores. In Proverbs 6 Solomon tells this sluggard sort to “go to the ant” for inspiration and see how “it has no commander, no overseer or ruler” and yet there it is working hard. Nobody is telling it what to do. It’s just going out and doing it all on its own initiative. This same advice is repeated other ways in Proverbs – in 3:3 we’re told to actively tie mercy and truth around our necks and write them on a tablet in our heart. Being ant-like means being self-directed and actively choosing to do what’s right.A life-long learner won’t drift, won’t make dents in the couch. He’ll decide what destination he’s heading for, and then plot out the steps it will take to get there from here. 2. Humble enough to seek correction A life long learner also needs to be humble. In Proverbs, Solomon makes this point repeatedly: the wise love correction, and the fool hates it. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he hates reproof is stupid – 12:1 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence – 15:32 Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning 9:9 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction – 1:7 Again and again, we’re told, wise/righteous sorts love correct and fools hate it. So which are you? Well, seeing as we’re still this side of heaven, all of us are a mix, maybe really good at taking feedback in one area, and in another, we just don’t want to hear what others have to say. But if you look at something you’re really good at, it’s like this is an area where you welcomed feedback. I just found out that one of my uncles who has been playing organ all his life just signed up for organ lessons again. He’s still looking for correction and instruction because he wants to get better. I make my living as a writer, and I think my English teachers must have still gets the giggles every time they get another issue of the magazine – in high school I didn’t have obvious natural talents in wordsmithery. But I’ve gotten good at what I do precisely because this is an area I have frequently sought, and most often gratefully received correction. If you want to get good at something, you need to be humble. It gets harder to take correction when we tie our own personal worth into something. I’ve coached kids at basketball, and if a kid really identified as being a basketball player, that sometimes made it harder for them to take feedback from their coach – correction was taken as an attack on their self-worth. I know how that feels. Parenting is one of the bigger challenges I face, and when one of my kids publicly misbehaves, that is humbling, because then everyone can see I’m not doing the greatest job here – I want them to believe I’m a good parent, and I feel embarrassed when I get revealed as having some troubles. But I’m not going to get better if I don’t go looking for help. I am not a perfect parent, but I can be a godly one, trying, failing, repenting, and then assured of forgiveness, trying again. A life long learner needs to be humble enough to seek and appreciate correction. 3. The “Wow!” factor A life long learner will also foster their sense of awe. As kids, we’d see a dandelion and in delight pluck it, blow, and watch all the white parachutes float up and away. As adults we see a dandelion and we just wonder where we’ve put the weed-killer. For many adults, the only time that child-like sense of wonder kicks back in is when a baby is born: all those tiny toes and fingers wriggling gets our jaw to drop. But isn’t an adult every bit as miraculous as a baby? And yet, somehow we’ve become blind to walking in amongst all these miracles. In Notes from the Tilt-A-WhirlNate Wilson reminds us of what we’re overlooking. Our world, he writes, is the kind of place

“…where water in the sky turns into beautifully symmetrical crystal flakes sculpted by artists unable to stop themselves (in both design and quantity). The kind of place with tiny, powerfully jawed mites assigned to the carpets to eat my dead skin as it flakes off. The kind with sharks, and nose leeches, and slithery parasitic things (with barbs) that will swim up you like a urinary catheter if only you oblige by peeing in a South American river. The kind with people who kill and people who love and people who do both. The kind with people who think water from the Ganges is good for them and people who think eating the heart of their enemy will ward off death, and others who think they can cure their own failing brains if only they harvest enough uncommitted cells from human young. This work is beautiful but badly broken. St. Paul said that it groans, but I love it even as its groaning….I love the world as it is because I love what it will be.”

If we’re not amazed, it’s only because we’re not paying attention. So let’s start. LEARNING ON OUR OWN So a life-long learner will appreciate wonder, appreciate correction, and appreciate ants too. That’s why we should be life long learners, and what a life long learner should look like. But how do we actually go about learning on our own? Here are three suggestions. 1. Pick good teachers A life long learner has to pick good teachers. I remember reading, some years back, about a pastor’s wife who wanted to find out what the Bible said about homosexuality. She began her study by reading everything she could by “Christian” homosexuals – for two years she read only what they wrote on the topic, and it was only afterward that she started reading anything by orthodox Christians. B y then it was too late; she wasn’t willing to hear what the Bible really said. As Solomon explains in Proverbs “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (13:20) and “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge” (14:7). Or to put it more colloquially, “You are what you eat.” After that steady diet of trash, she’d made herself incapable of appreciating solid food. When you’re at a Christian school your teachers have largely been chosen for you, but even then, with all the information coming at you from your phone, you make some choices about what sort of teachers you’ll have. So what kind of a diet are you ingesting? Do you have good godly men and women providing insight? Or are you getting a steady diet of whatever it is the world is churning out? If you want to find some good authors and bloggers and pastors to read and listen to, then the best place to start your search is by asking the good teachers you already have – your parents and relatives, your elders and pastor, Christian school teachers – who they would recommend. I’ve included my own list at the end and one key point to remember is that, even with good teachers, they all have their own shortcomings and blind spots. We celebrate the wisdom of Luther every year again on October 31, but we don’t appreciate all he said, especially about the Jews. John Piper is a great resource, but we differ with him on baptism. C.S. Lewis had a real way with words, but he also believed in purgatory. So you, as a learner, still have to assess and weigh what your teachers say – even your good and godly teachers – up against God’s Word. You have to use discernment even with them. 2. Ask good questions And that brings us to point two. To be a good life-long learner you have to ask good questions. Proverbs 18:17 says: “The one who states his case first seems right, until another comes and examines him.” To be able to discern fact from fiction, the opportunity for a good cross-examination can be key – we want to hear from both sides. The questions I ask most often are some version of these two: how can God be glorified in this area? how is the devil active in this area? In whatever we do, we want to learn how it can give glory to God. Whether that’s our recreational soccer team, or a philosophy class at university, or our part-time fast food restaurant job, the more time and energy we’re devoting to an activity, the more thought and effort we should give to learning how we can, here too, worship God with our efforts. The follow-up question is, how is the devil is active in this area too? If we’re heavily involved in our church it might not even seem like we’re in the middle of a spiritual war. But God tells us different. He says the devil is prowling “around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). So part of being a life-long learner is learning to see through the devil’s attacks. What temptation are you being confronted with here, what ideas are being pushed at you? It could be as simple as the temptation to laze off when the boss’s back is turned, but whatever it is, it’s important to remember that all of life is filled with opportunities for worship. And we need to remember, too, that the devil is trying to distract and intimidate us from doing so. 3. Read, read, read the Bible! Finally, the most important part of being a life-long learner is diving deeply and regularly into God’s Word. In preparing for this talk I was struck by how much the Bible had to say on the topic and I was only scratching at the surface. The Bible tells us about God, about the purpose behind His creation, and about our own purpose too. If we were to return to our driving analogy one last time, we could compare the Bible to our GPS system. This is our map, and if we’re going to be setting out on our journey as life-long learners, then the smartest thing we can do is look to it for guidance. QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION 1. What are some other tips and strategies to help us learn on our own? 2. What other qualities should life-long learners foster in themselves? 3. In Ecclesiastes 12:12b we read the warning: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” and in 2 Tim 3:7 we’re told that it is possible to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Is there a case to be made then, that we should not be life long learners? Why not? Recommended resources In keeping with the theme of threes, three of each…. Podcasts Albert Mohler’s The Briefing The World And Everything In It CrossPolitic                                         Websites ReformedPerspective.ca/resources World.wnd.org Creation.com Authors RC Sproul Edward T. Welch Nancy Pearcey Specific books (for more recommendations see ReallyGoodReads.com) Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson Can I smoke pot? by Tom Breeden and Mark L. Ward Jr. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Soup and Buns

Do not worry...

Cheer up, ye saints of God, there’s nothing to worry about! Nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt. Remember Jesus never fails, so why not trust Him and shout – You’ll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning.

I have often sung this little chorus to remind myself not to worry. But it is hard not to worry about ourselves and our loved ones. We face ill health, accidents, fear of pain, career problems, loss of income, fear of poverty, and worries about all sorts of other sufferings! Dr. Richard Gaffin preached a very good sermon on the topic of worry. He began with the very familiar Matthew 6:25-34, which says, in part:

“…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?... For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

Why do we worry? Is it normal? Is it a solution, a part of life, a coping mechanism? 3 that lead to worry Let’s think about these three words: forgetfulness, pride, and ingratitude. We worry because we forget who our God is. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is our Father.

“He loves me so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul. He desires to do so because He is my loving Father; He is able to do so because He is Almighty God” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 9).

But why do we forget? We forget because our pride gets in the way. We look at life as a circle where we are the center. We ask ourselves: what are my needs, and my desires? We develop a level of expectation as to what we want to have. This pride sets us on a spiral of desire that leads to frustration and anger when we do not get what we want, and worry is one of the results. What do we worry about? All worrying is about suffering and loss. We do not want anything to happen that we consider “negative.” In every instance, it comes down to being concerned that our desires will not be satisfied. That’s a pretty harsh way to look at a devastating loss, though, isn’t it? But when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we acknowledge that our place is as the clay in the Potter’s hands. We forget that He loves us, and instead we fear that He might not give us what we want. We fear He will decide differently and we will not like it. Humbly... The way to be free from worry is to humble ourselves before God. This is, as Dr. Gaffin preached, a “distinctly Christian contrast to the unrealistic outcome of pride.” When we are humble, we see ourselves exactly as we should be, as we are. A humble Christian sees that the God with the mighty arm will work things out. Then we can be free of worry, and stop acting like the unbelievers. But we forget because we do not spend much time in prayer. Our pride shuts us up inside of ourselves, making our prayer superficial. But prayer is where God reminds us where our hope and faith are. It is a means of grace that He has provided. It is the opportunity to cast ourselves on our God and to be taken lovingly in His arms. He allows us to leave the matter with Him. Still, we forget and become ungrateful. We are no better than the Israelites, as we often forget all that God has done for us. Unbelievers have every reason to worry because they “bear the wrath of God.” Those who fear death end up fearing life also. They cannot teach us how to live. We, however, as God’s people have the deepest source of genuine thankfulness, and no good reason to worry. Conclusion Now, there is also a difference between genuine constructive concern and counterproductive worrying, and we must prayerfully ask our Lord to help us to discern that difference. A pain in the chest should cause concern and provoke a visit to the doctor if not an emergency call. And it is our normal human response to feel afraid or sad or grief-stricken at given times. But the definition of worry is: “to torment oneself with, or suffer from, disturbing thoughts; fret.” We must leave the “what ifs….” with the Lord. It is the humble, prayerful, thankful Christian who can be free from worry.

Assorted

Beyond Monopoly – They’ve taken the bored out of board games

When it comes to traditional board games the joke about bored games holds a certain amount of truth. Everyone knows that Risk is usually won by the person lucky enough to get property in Australia, or that in the original Trivial Pursuit your best guess is always either Shirley Temple or Gary Cooper. And either games are entirely luck driven (think Chutes and Ladders) or else they favor those who have turned a pastime into a course of study – the professional Scrabble or bridge players, the chess masters, or those malodorous individuals known as war-gamers. It’s sometimes hard to believe that in the old days games – especially those with dice or cards – were often taboo, as they might lead to gambling and other vices.

So in this article I’d like to diverge from my usual focus (literature) and write something about the value of board games. Of course, not everyone likes games – and that’s perfectly fine – but I think often we’re not aware what a positive form of entertainment board games can offer. In addition, many are simply not aware that there are different and more interesting games out there then what they’ve grown up with, or what they might see on the shelves in Wal-Mart.

NEW GAMES ON THE BLOCK

In 1995, a German game designer called Klaus Teuber came out with a board game called The Settlers of Catan. The game has sold over 18 million copies and was revolutionary in making specialty games popular in North America. You see, specialized games with unique themes, interesting mechanisms, and deeper strategy had always been more popular in Europe, and especially in Germany. As hockey is to Canada, or chocolate to Belgium, so board games have long been an intrinsic part of German culture. The Settlers of Catan succeeded because it was a kind of cross-over game, mixing luck and strategy brilliantly. It had enough complexity to lend itself to repeated plays, yet not too much to be off-putting to newcomers.

Yet while Settlers was successful, twenty years later it’s still only the occasional specialty game that breaks through to the mass market. For instance, my local Chapters bookstore has recently started to stock rare games like Agricola (a complex game about farming set in the 17th century) and Pandemic (a game where players work together to save the world from the outbreak of an epidemic). To most these remain esoteric curiosities, and people seem happy to buy the odd TV-show trivia game which gets played once and then collects dust. The result is that finding good quality games is almost a game in itself: you have to know where to look. So further on in this article you’ll find some practical advice to help you along.

THE USES OF BOARD GAMES

Last year I came across an interesting little game called Ten Days in Africa. It’s basically a Racko variant, but with a much more interesting theme. The idea is that you collect cards that represent either a country in Africa or a plane or car. Your job is to chart a 10-day journey by having the cards in a correct order.

The game is not incredibly strategic, but what I found remarkable is how well it teaches geography. After playing it a few times I once more had all the countries memorized along with not a few of the capitals (it’s especially fun to say “Ouagadougou”). Even my six-year old daughter quickly learned the rules and could recite many of the countries off by heart. It strikes me that this is exactly the type of game that should be a staple in the classroom. It makes learning fun, and allows the mind to retain information at a deeper level than rote learning often does.

Aside from the educational benefits of board games (many more of which could be used in the classroom), here are some other positive aspects (this is by no means an exhaustive list):

1. Board games support social interaction

They create memories, induce laughter, and simply allow families and friends to enjoy being together. In addition, board games are great for breaking the ice with newcomers, strangers, or people of different ages. For example, I know of a minister who frequently uses board games with his pre-confession students (after the lessons of course!) as a way to get to know them more personally.

2. Board games are cross-generational

Games make it easy to get people of different ages around the same table. This can be especially true in the teenage years, when children feel this strange need to dissociate themselves from their elders. The only people who are not allowed to play games are those past the age of 99.

3. Games help teach manners

Losing graciously is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and not only for young ones. Board games teach courtesy, patience (esp. if the turns are long), cooperation, and so forth.

4. Games develop mental skills

For younger kids they are great for teaching simple addition and subtraction. In addition, they help children develop better attention spans. For adults they teach problem solving, among other things.

There have also been an increasing number of studies that suggest that as we get older it’s important not only to keep our bodies fit, but also to challenge our brains. Puzzles like Sudoku are often used as examples of brain games that can help prevent Alzheimer’s, but the same can be said for anything that taxes our mental faculties.

5. Games provide a healthy outlet for competition

This is also where specialty games provide more variety than traditional North American fare. In Monopoly, for instance, you thrive when others land on your properties and go bankrupt (it really is a rather grim depiction of capitalism!). By contrast, specialty games frequent include catch-up mechanisms that allow players who have fallen behind in the scoring to get back into it. Monopoly only provides Free Parking and an occasional lucky dice roll. In addition, specialty games include an entire subgenre of games where players work together to succeed. I’ve mentioned Pandemic as an example of a cooperative game. Another in the genre is Shadows over Camelot, where players work together as the Knights of the Round Table. However, there is a twist: one of them may be a traitor, plotting against them…

6. Games are a relatively cheap form of entertainment

I own some games that I’ve played over 50 times. When you think of how much a round of golf costs, or a nice dinner, board games are really not that expensive.

SOME GENERAL ADVICE

I’ve played a lot of different games over the years, so let me share a few tips for making your board game experience more enjoyable:

  • Never read through the rules of a new game together. This is one of the most tedious things you can do. Instead have someone read through the rules carefully and then explain the game to the rest of you. In general, it takes much longer to read rule sets then to explain them orally.
  • Don’t be afraid of a challenging game. I’ve met many people who don’t like it when a game has more than two rules: roll your dice, move your piece. Games are supposed to be a form of recreation, they say, not an IQ test. True enough – but these same individuals have no problem mastering equally complex hobbies.
  • Take pleasure in seeing others do well.
  • Know who you’re playing with. There are some games that allow for a great deal of cutthroat behavior – if you play with newcomers or relatively inexperienced gamers, you may want to pick out a friendlier game.
  • Don’t force anyone to play against their will.
  • Never trust your spouse in a board game.

AVAILABILITY

As mentioned, your average Wal-Mart has a fairly small selection of board games, most of them geared towards small children. Even the fact that they’re usually stocked among the rest of the kids’ toys suggests that there’s nothing here for adults. If you want to find more than Battleship or Candyland you’ll need to either go to a specialty store (those are hard to find and often expensive), or go online. To that end, let me direct you to a few websites to help you out. Please note that I’m not personally affiliated with any of the stores listed, but I know that these are very reputable companies with great customer service.

One of the biggest is BoardGameGeek. Don’t let the name of this site put you off! This massive, sprawling site has millions of users, and is the largest database of board games in the world. You can search for games by theme, mechanics, publisher, etc. In addition, you can read reviews, have your rules questions answered, and much more. It may take you a bit to navigate the site, but it’s well worth the effort.

For Canadians, Great Boardgames is probably the best online store in terms of selection, price, and ease of use.

If you’re just interested in finding better games for children, in general, one of the best game companies for children’s games (esp. the very young ones) is called HABA (they also make other high quality children’s toys).

RECOMMENDATIONS

Part of the difficulty with buying specialty games is that you often cannot try them out before you buy. So here are some games I highly recommend. I’ve tried to represent a range of interests, themes, mechanics, and ages.

FITS

This is basically Tetris the board game, but everyone I’ve played it with has loved it, and many have bought their own copies.

Pandemic

In this great example of a cooperative game, you must try to save the world from the outbreak of an epidemic. Can you beat the game?

Agricola

If you think The Farming Game is complex, try again. This is one of the best strategy games out there. The title is Latin for “farmer” and you get to build up a farm that looks nicer than those of your neighbors. The game can be played on two levels of difficulty, and the easier “family” version can be played from 7 or 8 years and up.

Memoir ’44

This World War II simulation is a two-player game that is not just for boys who like to play with army toys. You can watch a video demonstration of how the game is played at www.daysofwonder.com/memoir44.

Zooloretto

Build your own zoo and attract tourists to come see the animals! Zooloretto is a well-produced game that is especially geared towards families.

Dominion

This is one of the strangest and most addictive card games you’ll come across. It has a medieval theme that may not be for everyone, but every game is both different and highly competitive.

Bohnanza

This quirky little card game lets you collect income for planting bean fields! It’s easy to learn and quick to play. If you’re tired of your old camping favorites, try this one out.

Ticket to Ride: Europe

This family-oriented train game is a great game to start with if you’re unfamiliar with specialty games. Our copy has been played so often we’ve had to replace the cards! You can watch a video demonstration of the game here.

Animal upon Animal

Made by HABA, this game is like Jenga in reverse. Players have various animals that they have to try place on the back of a crocodile. This one is great for very young ages (and it teaches dexterity), but will also produce laughs in adults.

Ten Days in Africa

If you’re an educator, check out this series. It’s great for teaching geography as there are also versions for the USA, Asia and Europe.

CONCLUSION

Let me end on a slightly more theoretical note. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga once wrote an intriguing book called Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture (1944). In it, Huizinga asks whether all culture is not ultimately a form of play or playfulness, and whether we should speak of Homo Ludens (Man the Player) rather than of Homo Sapiens or Homo Faber. From ceremony to ritual to storytelling – culture is about stepping out of our ordinary lives and participating in an act of imaginative creation.

Of course, this argument can become reductive, for it suggests (as such anthropological perspectives often do) that even something like religion is a form of play. Yet Huizinga is right in demonstrating that play is not something confined to children, something to be outgrown. At the very least it is an intrinsic aspect of culture, and as such it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Reformed Christians sometimes have an antipathy towards that which seems escapist or fantastical. But our imagination is an important faculty in its own right and not something to be repressed. Thus hobbies and pastimes are not things we do when we’re not busy being serious with kingdom work, but are a natural product of Christian culture.

This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue.


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