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Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction
BOOK REVIEW: The Seraph’s Path
by Neil Dykstra 2019 / 475 pages Maybe I should have gotten someone else to review this, what with me sharing the same last name as the author. But this is a fantasy title, so I had to take a peek. And once I got started I wasn’t going to hand it off. Besides, the two of us aren’t actually related. I know Neil, but only well enough to recall he is the superior volleyball player, and nowhere near well enough to have had an inkling he could serve up something like this. It’s remarkable! The Seraph’s Path has quite the cast of characters, but it is mostly the story of Dyrk, a young horse trainer who wants to make something of himself, in part, because his parents don’t seem to think about him much at all. Our story begins with Dyrk determined to enter a competition his father won’t even let him watch. Somehow he finagles his way in, and reaches the final round, a free-for-all among 16 mounted soldiers-in-training, with the last man standing guaranteed entry into the King’s own College. I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that for every good thing that happens to Dyrk something bad soon follows…and vice versa. The wonder of fantasy fiction is that anything can happen. Young children can open a wardrobe and get transported to a world of talking beasts. Or little fellows with hairy feet can be trusted with a mission that the most powerful could never accomplish. Or a horse trainer can suddenly find himself delivering the mail mounted on a flying tarn. The problem with fantasy fiction is just the same: anything can happen. That means if the author doesn’t have a tight hold on the reins the story can run amuck, and quickly lose all connection with the real world. If you haven’t read much fantasy, you might think a world of dragons, gryphons, and flaming swords couldn’t possibly ring true. But the author has pulled it off. In The Seraph’s Path, Dyrk doesn’t understand the opposite sex, and he’s prone to dig himself deeper via ongoing procrastination, and then he can’t figure out how best to ask for forgiveness. There’s something very real about this made-up world. I was also impressed with how patient the author is and I’ll give one example. In this world, the god Arren is served by seven Seraphs. Dyrk sends his prayers via those angelic servants because he thinks Arren is too holy to approach directly. If that strikes you as Roman Catholic-esque, I’d agree. But isn’t Dyrk our hero? So how can he, via his repeated prayers, be teaching us something so very wrong? Well, a few hundred pages in Dyrk has his first encounter with people who talk to Arren directly. And he doesn’t know what to think about that. By the end of this book, the issue is still unresolved, but our hero has been given something to think about. Caution I can only think of one caution worth noting. At one point a key character faces sexual temptation, and while the passage is not lurid – there’s nothing here that would make grandma blush – it is sad and realistic enough that pre-teen readers might find it distressing. Conclusion Dykstra has engaged in some downright Tolkien-esque world-building, with not only exotic creatures and nations to discover, but layer upon layer of legend and history shaping the events. If you never made it through The Hobbit, or you haven’t read a fantasy book with a glossary in the back to help you keep track of the characters, then this might be too intense a read for you. But if you want a whole new world to explore, and a story that’ll not only entertain but really get you thinking, you’re going to love The Seraph’s Path. I finished this nearly 500-page tome in 3 days, and the only downside to it was the cliff-hanger ending. So I was very happy to discover that the 700-page sequel, The Seraph’s Calling has just been released. I look forward to finding out what happens next!
You can buy both books at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
The Gospel Comes With a House Key: an instructive, inspiring, downright intimidating look at Christian hospitality
by Rosaria Butterfield 2018 / 240 pages
*****This is a scary book. I have heard of several people putting it down after only reading a chapter or two of it, feeling overwhelmed by Rosaria Butterfield’s seemingly heroic examples of daily hospitality to her numerous neighbors and friends. As Carl Trueman states in his recommendation, “She sets the bar very high - and there is plenty of room here for disagreement on some of the proposals and details.” But fear not! As Trueman goes on to say, “The basic case, that church is to be a community marked by hospitality, is powerfully presented and persuasively argued.” Think of it this way. One of your friends just memorized the entire book of Ephesians. You think that’s admirable, but it sounds like more than you can handle. Yet, there are some verses in Psalm 4 that you want to memorize because they comfort you, so this reminds you to do it already. Or maybe your cousin enthusiastically tells you he is part of a “Read the Bible in 90 Days” group that really helped him see the connections between Scripture portions and helped him improve his Bible-reading habit. But when you hear he was reading one hour each day, that sounds like more than you can do. Yet, his example encourages you to increase the amount you are currently reading. Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key is about using hospitality to spread the gospel. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself and thus spreading God’s love, peace, and salvation to the dying world that is next to you. It is about viewing where you live as the location where God placed you and figuring out how you can, as the saying goes, “bloom where you are planted.” Whose house is it? Hospitality is similar to the Greek word philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.” The hospitality Rosaria is encouraging is not about inviting your relatives and fellow church members over for coffee or soup and buns on a Sunday, or taking them a casserole at a difficult time. What Butterfield is talking about is what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality.”
Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality (ROH) see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. They open doors; they seek out the underprivileged. They know that the gospel comes with a house key. They take biblical theology seriously, as well as Christian creeds and confessions and traditions…. Engaging in ROH means we provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do as well as build strong relationships from within the family of God.Cost in time and money But how can we manage this, when we are already so very busy, and finances may be tight? Rosaria gives the answer:
Practicing ROH necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill – to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis. Living out radically ordinary hospitality leaves us with plenty to share because we intentionally live below our means.In other words, we may need to learn to leave some space and not to schedule every moment of every day, filling it up with things that we desire to do. Those who become parents find that life cannot follow a strict schedule, because children have a way of barfing, bruising themselves, or battling with siblings that is always unscheduled. In the same way that we scaled back our desired goals then, we ought to do it to allow for hospitality. If we truly believe that we should “be there” for others, then we may need to be open to the unusual and unexpected. On the other hand, it is possible as well to set aside a period of time each week in which you reach out to your neighbors. Rosaria and her husband started this by putting a picnic table on their front lawn on Thursday evenings and providing food for whoever wandered by and wanted to join them. This eventually grew into a well-attended and beloved activity for a lot of their neighbors, but it started with one dinner time. If you don’t have a house or a picnic table, why not try to visit a neighbor or invite a coworker to have lunch or dinner with you? As for cost, all of our money comes from the Lord – might He not want you to allocate some of it for the hospitality that He asks you to do? Rosaria writes:
Daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world. Our monthly grocery bill alone reminds us that what humbles us cannot hurt us, but what puffs up our pride unwaveringly will.But what if we run into people who have different viewpoints than ours? What kind of example will that be for our children? Here is where we really need to believe that hospitality is something that God calls us to do.
The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different. They don’t buy the world’s bunk about this. They know that there is a difference between acceptance and approval, and they courageously accept and respect people who think differently from them. They don’t worry that others will misinterpret their friendship. Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world. This is the Jesus paradox. And it defines those who are willing to suffer with others for the sake of gospel sharing and gospel living, those who care more for integrity than appearances…. the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear.What will I say to them? If you feel like you don't know what to say to a stranger, just remember that people always like to talk about themselves. Get to know them. Ask about their interests and try to find a common ground in gardening, cars, sports, cooking, knitting, reading, or whatever. If they have a difficulty they are enduring, offer to pray for them before you end your visit – just a simple prayer. Be friendly. This isn’t the type of evangelism where you have to lead them down the Romans Road and get them to sign on the dotted line at the end of your time together. Jesus is the one who saves. The Holy Spirit will draw some people to God, and we are just planting or watering the seeds. We may or may not get to do the harvesting. But the reason we want to be hospitable is because people need to be rescued from their sin, just as Jesus rescued us from our sin. We are living examples of what God has done, and what He can do for others. Hospitality, then, is a chance to put God’s work in us on display.
Radical hospitality shines through those who are no longer enslaved by the sin that once beckoned and bound them, wrapping its allegiance around their throat, even though old sins still know their name and address.Used by God Rosaria gives a list of how she hopes and prays that her book may inspire us to: Use our home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, gym, or garden to make strangers into neighbors and neighbors into friends and friends into the family of God Build the church by living like the family of God Stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous Grow to be more like Christ in practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality Be richly blessed by the Lord as He adds to His kingdom Be an example of what it truly means to be a Christian to the watching world Have purpose, instead of casting about for our own identity, or wondering what to do with our time Conclusion Let’s not be sidelined by fear that people will hurt us or that we won’t know what to do or say. Using our home regularly to show hospitality brings glory to God, serves others, and is a way of living out the Gospel. It may seem sacrificial, but then aren’t we called to die to ourselves and live for God? So don’t be afraid to read the book. Be inspired, and pray over what God would use you to do.
Book excerpts, Book Reviews, People we should know, Teen non-fiction
Edith Cavell: a brave guide
Some 150 years ago, on December 4, 1865, English woman Edith Cavell was born. And 100 years ago, on October 12, 1915, during the First World War, she was executed. Instilled with a desire to please her Creator God, Edith Cavell became a nurse; she lived what she professed, and died bravely at the hands of German soldiers. Her crime? Assisting Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. In a seemingly hopeless situation, she persevered and did not shun the victor's crown. She was a gift given by God to His Son Jesus Christ and, as such, saved for eternal life. Throughout the fifty years of Edith Cavell's life, she was content to work hard and live humbly. She was a godly woman and, therefore, a godly historical example. The Bible instructs us to teach our children about such historical examples. Psalm 78:4 reads: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that He has done." At a time in history when examples of godly women are few and far between, much needed strength and encouragement can be drawn from the life of this lady who put all her trust in Jesus Christ, her Savior. The following is an excerpt from the Christine Farenhorst historical fiction novel of Edith Cavell’s life, called A Cup of Cold Water, (P&R Publishing, 2007). At this point Edith has been helping many Allied soldiers escape out of German territory.
***December 4, 1914 - Brussels, Belgium Breakfast was generally served at an early hour in the L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, the Belgian School of Lay Nurses. Too early some of the nurses said. “It is actually 7 o’clock, you know,” José said at 6 o’clock one morning, as he bit into a thin piece of toast. Puzzled, everyone stared at him and he went on. “The Germans changed our time yesterday. We are now on German time and no longer on Belgian time. All the public clocks have been put ahead.” “Well, I’m not going to pay the slightest bit of attention,” Gracie said, glancing at her wristwatch, “That’s just plain silly.” “Well maybe,” Pauline added hopefully, “we should get up later.” She eyed Edith but Edith was looking at cook in the doorway. “Excuse me, Madame,” the cook said, “there is someone to see you in the kitchen.” Edith got up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and left the dining room quietly after glancing at Elisabeth Wilkins. Elisabeth nodded to her, indicating that she would supervise while Edith was gone. Two more Louise Thuliez, one of the resistance workers Edith had come to know, was waiting in the kitchen. She had come in through the back entrance. Brown hair hidden under a kerchief, the young woman was obviously relieved when Edith walked in. Ushering her through the hall towards her own office, Edith could feel the woman’s tenseness. As soon as the door closed behind them, Louise spoke. There was urgency in her tone. “I have two men waiting to come to the clinic.” Edith nodded. “Fine. Direct them here. I’ll see to them.” Louise nodded, brusquely put out her hand, which Edith shook, and disappeared. Left alone in her small office, Edith passed her right hand over her forehead in a gesture of weariness. Running a hospital in peacetime was not easy, but running it in wartime, with mounting bills for food and medicines which would never be paid by the patients, was next to impossible. She had received some money from Reginald de Cröy and Monsieur Capiau but the men who had been sent to her regularly since Monsieur Capiau’s first appearance all had hearty appetites. Resources were at the breaking point. With a glance at the calendar, she saw it was her birthday and with a pang she realized that it would be the first year she had not received letters from Mother, Flo, Lil, Jack and cousin Eddie. She swallowed. Jack growled softly and she looked out the window. Two men were approaching the walkway. Bracing herself, she smoothed her hair, patted the dog and went out into the hall to await their knock. Although most of the men sent to the school only stayed one or two nights, some of them stayed a longer. As Edith awaited the arrival of the new refugees, she wondered how long she would need to provide them with shelter. If they were ill, they would be nursed right alongside German patients. Many of the nurses in the school were unaware of what was going on. All they saw were extra patients — bandaged, limping and joking patients. The Café Chez Jules was situated right next to the school. To recuperating soldiers, as well as to idle men with nothing to do for a few days, it became a favorite gathering place. The Café served watered-down wine and at its tables the men played cards, chatted and lounged about. But even if the Germans were not yet suspicious, word quickly spread around the Belgian neighborhood that Allied soldiers were hiding in the nursing school. Once again, as she had done so often, Edith opened the door. A short, thickset man looked Edith full in the face. “My name is Captain Tunmore, sole survivor of the First Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.” He spoke with a heavy English accent. “And this,” Captain Tunmore went on, indicating the man at his side, “is Private Lewis of the Cheshire Regiment. Password is yorc. We’re both looking to get across to border.” Edith shook their hands. They were a little nonplused that this small, frail-looking lady whose hand totally disappeared in their grasp, was rumored to be so tough. Captain Tunmore, noting a picture on the wall, remarked, “Hey, that’s Norwich Cathedral!” “Do you know Norwich?” Edith asked. “It’s my home. I was born on its outskirts.” Edith took another look at the man. The fact that he said that he was Norfolk born, gave her, for just a small moment, the feeling that she was home, that she was looking into her mother’s face. “Well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend Christmas here with us as there is no guide to take you until after the twenty-fifth.”
***Captain Tunmore and Private Lewis had come without identity cards. Edith, consequently, took photographs of the men herself and had contacts make identity cards for them. After Christmas, she arranged to have them travel towards Antwerp in a wagon but they were discovered and barely made it back safely to the clinic a few days later. Edith, therefore, prepared to guide them out of Brussels herself. “Gentlemen, be ready at dawn tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Louvain road. From there you’re on your own.” “I was thirsty…” At daybreak, Edith taking the lead and the men following her at a discreet distance, the trio made their way to a road outside of Brussels. Once there, Edith passed the soldiers a packet of food as well as an envelope of money. “In case you need to bribe someone – or in case you get a chance to use the railway,” she said. Shaking their hands once again, she turned and disappeared into the mist. On the walk back, Edith reminisced about how she had walked these very paths as a young governess with her young charges. It now seemed ages ago that they had frolicked about her, collecting insects, drawing, running and pulling at her arm to come and see some plant which they had found. Now she understood that God, in His infinite wisdom, had used that time to intimately acquaint her with this area. How very strange providence was! At the time she had sometimes felt, although she loved the children dearly, that her task as a governess was unimportant – trivial perhaps. Yet it had equipped her for the role she now played. Smiling to herself she thought, “Why am I surprised? After all, does not the Bible say that it is important to be faithful over a few things. A noise to her left interrupted her reverie and she slowed down. A German guard suddenly loomed next to her. “Halt! Papieren, bitte — Stop! Papers, please.” Silently she took them out and waited. He waved her on after a moment and she resumed her way. What would her father have thought about these activities, she wondered? “Out so early, my Edith?” she imagined him asking. “Yes, father. Just a little matter of helping some soldiers escape to the front lines. If they are found, you see, they’ll be sent to an internment camp somewhere, or they might be shot.” “What about you, my Edith?” “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And besides, what else can I do? These men, these refugee soldiers, father, they just come to me. They arrive on my doorstep and look so helpless, so afraid that I will turn them away.” “Well, my Edith, you are doing right. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, child: “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.” “I remember, father. I remember.” “And in the end ... in the end, Edith, He will say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” “I know, father.” No time for childhood Throughout the spring of that new year, 1915, Edith continued to rise early on the mornings that soldiers were to leave for the frontier. English, French, and Belgians – they were all men eager to leave so that they could help the Allies. Between five and seven in the morning, she would accompany the men to the planned rendezvous point with the next guide, generally a tramway terminus or a point in some street. Arriving back after one such venture, in the early days of March, she found Elisabeth waiting for her in her office with a very guilty-looking Pauline and José at her side. “What is the trouble?” Edith asked as she took off her coat. “Would you like me to tell her, or shall I?” Elisabeth’s voice was angry. José shuffled his feet but he met Edith’s gaze head-on. Then he spoke. “I encouraged all the families on Rue Darwin to set their alarm clocks at the same time. I told them to set it for six o’clock in the morning, the time I knew a single patrol would be passing.” He stopped. Edith sighed. “And,” she encouraged, “what happened?” “Well, when all the alarms went off at the same time, the soldier jumped a mile into the air. You should have seen– ” “Was anyone hurt?” Edith interrupted him. “No, no one,” Pauline took over, “everyone only let their alarms ring for five seconds exactly. After that they shut them off at the same time. It was deathly quiet in the streets and all the people watched the silly soldier through their curtains as he looked behind him and around corners and pointed his silly rifle at nothing. We laughed so hard.” Edith sat down. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if that soldier had shot up at a window? Or if he had kicked open a door and ...” She paused. They really had no idea about the seriousness of the times in which they were living. She sighed again and went on. Pauline looked down at the floor and José appeared fascinated with the wall. “You ought to know better than anyone, José, how dangerous it was what you did. After all, you have come with me many times to help soldiers find their way through and out of Brussels so that they can escape to safety. War is not a game.”
***After they left her office, thoroughly chastened, Edith sat down at her desk, put her head into her hands and wept. Childhood seemed such a long way off and the Germans were stealing much more than blackberry pie. [caption id="attachment_11944" align="alignleft" width="1280"] Edith Cavell's death was memorialized on propaganda posters like this one.[/caption]
Adult fiction, Book Reviews
BOOK REVIEW: Greg Dawson and the psychology class
by Jay Adams 2008 / 149 pages This is a novel, but it'd be more accurate to call it a textbook masquerading as a novel – the goal here is education, not entertainment. Jay Adams' fictional protagonist Greg Dawson is a preacher who lives near a Christian college. Some of the students want to know the difference between the psychological counseling theories they are being taught and the biblical counseling Greg Dawson uses. Via a series of informal conversations with Pastor Dawson, the students learn that the psychology they’re being taught at their Christian college is built on secular counseling theories. They are asked to consider just how many different secular counseling theories there are. These theories claim to be built on insights into what Man is really like, and yet the different theories disagree with one another, and sometimes wildly. So how are we to evaluate them? Dawson points students to the Bible, asking them to examine how many of the theories line up with a biblical understanding of our inner nature. So long as these secular theories understand Man outside of our relationship with God how can they understand what Mankind is really like? Dawson asks them to also consider that most of these theories don't acknowledge our sinful nature, or understand our purpose here on earth. As the back of the book details, some of the other issues explored include: the difference between apologizing and forgiveness the place of evangelism and faith in Biblical counseling Is all truth God's truth? some specific issues such as depression, mental illness, and marriage Adams is only one of many experts to consult when it comes to biblical counseling. Others include Ed Welch, Heath Lambert, Wayne Mack, Paul David Tripp and David Powilson. But this book is an ideal introduction to the subject – the novel format makes for an easy, yet highly educational, read. And if you like this one, you'll be interested to know Jay Adams has written two other "Greg Dawson" novels: The Case of the Hopeless Marriage and Together for Good: Counseling and the Providence of God.
Adult biographies, Book Reviews
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens
by Larry Taunton Biography 181 pages / 2016 The late Christopher Hitchens is best known for his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He was an aggressive atheist who made his living blaspheming God. So why would we want to know more about him? And why would Christian author Larry Taunton want to write a book about him? Because this book is much more about God’s graciousness than it is Hitchens’ rebellion. And because Hitchens wasn’t quite what he seemed. Taunton writes of Hitchens having “two sets of books” just as fraudulent accountants do, with the one set for the viewing public, and the second private set that gives the true tally. Hitchens’ public face was that of the confident anti-theist who thought it made good theater to claim God was both unforgivably evil and non-existent. Meanwhile, the private Hitchens was spending more and more time with God’s followers, calling some of them friends, and even studying the Bible with one or two. If he wasn’t deliberately seeking God, this other Hitchens’ interest in the truth was bringing him closer and closer to his Creator. The author, Taunton, got to know Hitchens after arranging public debates between Hitchens and prominent Christians. Often times after these debates the two public combatants, Taunton, and others, would head out to a late dinner where the debate would continue. This is how Taunton and Hitchens became friends. When Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer the late-night debating seemed more important to them both. God not only brought Christians into Hitchens' life, He also gave this materialist a sure knowledge about the reality of evil. The atheistic/materialistic worldview has no room for right and wrong – things just are. We don’t speak of chemical reactions as having any sort of “moral quality,” and in the atheist worldview all we are is chemical reactions. So when atheists speak of evil they are speaking of something they have no explanation for. Hitchens seemed to understand this, but, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attack, was also certain there was evil. Hitchens bravely denounced radical Islam, which lost him friends among the Left but more importantly exposed – seemingly to Hitchens himself – the big hole in his godless worldview. It was another nudge in a Godward direction. While Taunton doesn’t make any claims about a deathbed conversion for one of the world’s most notorious atheists, he shows us that God was ever so gracious to Hitchens, teaching and confronting him repeatedly. We don’t know if Christopher Hitchens ever repented, but we do know God gave him every opportunity. Caution The only caution I’d note is that some of the Christians noted in the book – some who debated Hitchens and gave him something to think about – have some notable flaws in their theology, the most common being some sort of bow to theistic evolution. This isn’t much of a concern in this book but I share this only as an alert to any readers who might be spurred to look up the works of some of these mentioned men. Conclusion This is a close-up look at a wavering atheist that concludes without a clear happy ending – that makes it strange, particularly for a Christian-authored book. But the glimpse at what God was doing in Hitchens’ life makes this a compelling book. God gave Hitchens time, allotting him 16 months after his initial terminal cancer diagnosis; He brought him into close company with men who were able to answer his objections, and He also made Hitchens aware of evil. Why read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens? Because one can’t help but be struck by God’s graciousness in the life of Hitchens.
Book Reviews, Children’s picture books
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
Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction
Animals by design: exploring unique creature features
by ICR illustrated by Susan Windsor 125 pages / 2018 Mexican walking fish, lantern fish, immortal jellyfish, and zorses – those are just some of the crazy creatures featured in this fun little book. Every two-page spread showcases another animal, and even when it’s one you’ve heard of before, there’s sure to be cool details that’ll surprise you. Animals by Design is published by the Institute for Creation Research. That means that, in addition to all the fascinating facts, a clear Christian perspective is also included. The point of this book is to introduce our children to how awesome our God is: hey kids, just look at the amazing, bizarre, surprising, unique, and simply astonishing creatures He’s made! This has been sitting on our coffee table, off and on, for a few months now, and it turns out I was the only one in the family who hadn’t been regularly reading it. My wife and girls had all been taking turns flipping through it. It’s an easy book to dip in and out of – it doesn’t require a big time commitment – because each animal can be read on its own. So, maybe this time I’ll learn a little about zorses, and the next time I sit down at the couch, I can always find out then what makes an immortal jellyfish immortal. The colorful drawings will appeal to kids but it’s a kids book that mom and dad and anyone interested in animals or science will love too. In the US you can find it at ICR.org and in Canada you can order it through the Creation Science Association of Alberta.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction
BOOK REVIEW: What’s your worldview?
by James N. Anderson 112 pages 2014 If you’ve got fond memories of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you’ll really enjoy this adult update. This time it’s a journey to discover our own worldview and, like the kids’ books, we keep coming to forks in the road. So, early on, we either agree there is objective truth and then go to page 22 or we say there isn’t and then go to page 91. A Christian reader flipping to page 22 will be asked to consider, “Is it possible to know the Truth?” The author James Anderson lays out the case for both options, after which we again have to choose which way we want to go. After a dozen or so steps, readers will eventually arrive at the worldview that matches their professed beliefs. Anderson is a Christian and his biases are acknowledged up front. So, even as he has challenging questions for anyone who lands on one of the other 20 worldviews, he also raises the problem of evil for Christians. He wants everyone to follow God, but he refuses to pretend as if Christians have it all figured out. That means this is a book you could give or share with people you know who aren't Christian. How's this for a conversation starter: "Hey Fred, do you know what your worldview is? Come on over, I've got this great little book that'll help us figure it out." Overall, I'd say the strength of the book is this really fun format and also it’s conciseness – there is just so much packed in such a little space. I'd recommend it for teens as a graduation gift, and for college students and adults too. Maybe the best use of it is as a coffee table book, because it can be digested in chunks by choosing one "adventure" at a time. To get a peek at the first 20 or so pages, you can find it here on the author's website. And if you want to hear Dr. Anderson give an overview on worldviews, check out the 20-minute presentation below that he gave at the 2016 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
BOOK REVIEW: Still Thinking: more delightful doodles, and deep thoughts
by Jason Bouwman and friends 187 pages / 2019 This creative, challenging, accessible, readable, godly book is quite hard to describe. Oh, sure, it’s easy to layer on the adjectives – it’s all that and more – but to describe what exactly it is? That’s hard because there’s nothing else like it. Is it a devotional? It could sure be used as a great one. Each of the two-page spreads includes not only a powerful quote, thought-provoking word art, and insightful commentary, but a number of suggested Scripture texts. So this would be a fantastic way to regularly dig into God’s Word. With its many doodles, maybe we could describe it as a comic book of sorts. It's also a coffee table book extraordinaire since it can be started anywhere. Each two-page spread stands on its own, so if you only have a couple minutes to read, this doesn’t require more. But I’ll bet you don’t just read one!. And as a discussion starter, it's sure-fire. Read this around other people, and soon enough you’ll be reading sections out loud or passing it around for your spouse/friend/teen to check out one of the bits of word art. It is certainly a book to be shared. My wife and I bought 10 of Jason Bouwman’s first book (the unfortunately sold out Just Thinking) and we’ve already ordered 10 of this, the sequel. It’s the rare book that can be given to your 70-something-year-old aunt for her birthday, and your 17-year-old nephew for his profession of faith, and that you can then be sure both will love, and actually read. How often do you find a one-size-fits-all present suitable for pastors, neighbors, parents, and your second cousin twice removed? On top of that, it’s good for them. This is an accessible book, but it’s sure to challenge every reader at some point, reminding us of where we’re falling short, or just failing to even seek God’s glory at all. Quite the combination: enjoyable yes, but also edifying! This is not available in stores, and the only way you can order it is through the author’s website. The first one sold out, so it’d also be best to order sooner than later (and if you order now, well, you could have all your Christmas shopping done before December even rolls around!). I can’t imagine anyone not loving Still Thinking. So pick up a copy (or ten) at JustThinkingBook.com.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
BOOK REVIEW: Timothy, Titus & You: a Study Guide for Church Leaders
by George C. Scipione 55 pages / 2018 (originally 1975) Crown and Covenant Publications Many Bible study books are full of questions. Questions can be good. Questions are the backbone of serious Bible study. But questions, once answered, often get forgotten. Having sat through a few Young Peoples’ bible study meetings in at least two different Canadian provinces I have seen this firsthand. The book is opened. The first question is asked. It is answered. The second question is asked. It is answered. And so on. I have even seen good discussion cut short because ‘we need to get through the questions.’ This Bible study book is also full of questions. However, its target audience is not Young Peoples’ Societies, but Church leaders. Specifically, the author envisions this study guide to be used by elders and potential elders both in their leadership role in the church and as they prepare for such a role. Designed to be used over a nine-month period, the guide has four major goals for the reader in each lesson: To gain knowledge of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – Questions get readers thinking about each assigned Biblical passage, and about its application to their lives. To examine himself– Learning about God moves us to learning about ourselves and learning about the role of church leader. To grow in self-discipline– Prompts and assignments encourage readers to transform their lives. To consider how to lead others– Self-discipline is the beginning, but leadership involves learning how to disciple others. Positives Given that this study guide is intended for those in or aspiring to leadership in the church, the questions are well focused and most likely to be taken seriously. Drawing their inspiration from the passage of Timothy or Titus, the questions seek to apply the lessons learned to the leadership and life of the reader. Some are deep, probing questions that get at motivations and attitudes. Some are questions that get at behaviors and actions. All the questions are clearly connected to the Biblical passage at hand. Taken seriously, and done thoroughly, this guide could be a good way for an elder or someone who aspires to be an elder to grow both in personal holiness and their role in the church. Negatives Having read through this guide, I don’t really know much more about Timothy and Titus than I did before. This is because the guide is heavy on personal and leadership application, but short on actual Biblical exposition. Even in the “Knowledge of the Word Study Questions” section in each chapter, the questions are exclusively “you” focused. The author leaps over original context, intended meaning of the author, and application to the first audience, and lands squarely on what the text means for me now. This is why I am a little hesitant about contemporary study guides. Too many of them are heavy on questions that are of more interest to the reader (or user) of the guide, and light on questions that get at the meaning and original application of the text itself. Issues of context, definitions, and even themes are absent in this study guide, issues which could have strengthened the application questions and made them more meaningful. Conclusion This, then, was a good leadership book, but not a great bible study book. The author truly wishes to encourage and assist his readers in their role as leaders in the church. The questions and exercises are serious, probing, and show faithfulness to Scripture and its authority. However, the fact that there is little exposition, and the questions focus too heavily on application to the reader is unfortunate. While useful as a means for elders and those aspiring to this office to grow and prepare, it is not quite a “study guide” in the traditional sense of reading and learning about the Biblical text itself. So use this study guide with a group of leadership-minded men to focus and assist discussion. But have a commentary on Timothy and Titus on hand as well to study the text itself.
BOOK REVIEW: The Amazing Dr. Ransom's Bestiary of Adorable Fallacies
A Field Guide for Clear Thinkers by Douglas Wilson & N.D. Wilson illustrated by Forrest Dickison 320 pages / 2015 These are the adventures of a globetrotting fallacy hunter, the amazing Dr. Ransom. And by following him along on his hunts, we, too, will learn how to track down (and on occasion, kill) fallacies in our own interactions with them and the people who love them. That's exactly the problem with fallacies - they're so loveable. Dr. Ransom" (who claims to have been born in 1837 and have stayed healthy through the use of spider milk lotion) tells us how easily people allow fallacies into their lives and minds. He deals with 50 fallacies in all, breaking them down into the following four categories: 1) fallacies of distraction, 2) of ambiguity, and 3) of form; and 4) millenial fallacies. Each of the fifty chapters then: defines the fallacy and its dangers (showing it as a cuddly but vicious animal); shows the fallacy, in Forrest Dickison's illustrations, in repose and on the attack; explains how we, like Ransom, can defeat it; gives the fallacy its other (sometimes better known) names; and provides both discussion questions and exercises in recognizing examples of both fallacious and logical arguments. The book also includes answers for all the questions in the back, as well as a schedule for teaching, reviewing and testing students' knowledge of logical fallacies, which helps make it ideal as a textbook for an English or philosophy course. But what makes the book fun is that both Ransom's adventures in confronting fallacies and the examples given are presented with satirical wit. I have never enjoyed reading about and puzzling out fallcies more. Which brings me to the two cautions: On occasion the Wilsons, arguably, step over the line of discretion and good taste in the description of Dr. Ransom's confrontation with fallacious fools (always a peril in satire). The recognition exercises's answers in the back have no explanation. It helps if you share the Wilsons' Christian worldview and principled conservativism (as I generally do), but even then, I did not always agree with their answers. If I were to use this in my classroom, I would have to discuss every answer with the class as a whole (not in itself a bad thing). Despite these considerations, I, as a teacher, would love to use this as a textbook for my courses. If you agree that this book could help you defeat the fallacies that stalk us along all our mental trails, you can find it here in the US, and here in Canada.
Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels
by Sean Rubin 224 pages / 2017 New York is the busiest city in the world, and people there are simply too busy to notice much of anything going on around them. Except Sybil. Sybil is a little girl who does notice things. And she recently noticed that her next-door neighbor is, in fact, a dinosaur. Sybil keeps getting peeks at the mysterious, very large fellow next door. But try as she might, she can’t get the evidence she needs to prove his existence to anyone else. Her parents, her teacher, and her classmates all scoff. A dinosaur in New York? How ridiculous! Now in a secular book that tackles dinosaurs, you might expect some sort of reference to evolution. But nope, there’s none of that. This utterly charming graphic novel is, in one sense, simply a chase story, with Sybil tracking her prey through New York boroughs, the museum, the subway system, never quite getting near enough for the perfect photograph. But the enormous size of this book – 1 foot by 1 foot, with 224 pages – also gives author and illustrator Sean Rubin an opportunity to show off a city he clearly loves….even as he gently mocks residents for their self-absorption. With a girl and a dinosaur as the main characters, this is a fantastic book for boys and girls from Grade 1 on up (I loved it!). This might also be the perfect book for a reluctant reader. The big bright pictures will draw them in, and the size of the book will give them a sense of accomplishment when they finish it, while the limited amount of text per page means this is a book they can finish. Bolivar is a gorgeous goofy adventure and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
BOOK REVIEW: Know why you believe
by K. Scott Oliphint 2017 / 221 pages There’s a need for different types of books on apologetics. We need the books on theory – and there are plenty of them. Several efforts have been made over the years to write books specifically addressed to unbelieving skeptics. However, so far as I’m aware, there haven’t been too many books written for believers at a popular level. I’m talking about the kind of book you could give to your teenage son or daughter when they start asking hard questions about the Christian faith. This is that book. As a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Oliphint is well-qualified to write this kind of work. He has a great grasp of the background philosophical and theological issues – and this is evident in his more scholarly apologetics books. Yet he also has a track record of accessible writing for popular audiences – for example, some years ago I reviewed his great series of biblical studies entitled The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith. He’s done it again. Except for a couple of more technical sections, most of Know Why You Believe should be comprehensible to the average reader from young adults upwards. And the book launches with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis at his best:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”That really sets the tone for everything following. One of the reasons I love this book and can highly recommend it is because it takes God’s Word seriously. It takes Psalm 36:9 seriously: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” God’s light especially shines forth in his Word. If you want to see clearly, you need to see things God’s way. This is also true when it comes to the reasons for believing the Christian faith. The best and most trustworthy reasons come from God himself – the faithful God who never lies. That’s the basic approach undergirding Know Why You Believe – a biblical, Reformed approach to apologetics. Oliphint covers 10 questions we might struggle with:
1. Why believe in the Bible? 2. Why believe in God? 3. Why believe in Jesus? 4. Why believe in miracles? 5. Why believe Jesus rose from the dead? 6. Why believe in salvation? 7. Why believe in life after death? 8. Why believe in God in the face of modern science? 9. Why believe in God despite the evil in the world? 10. Why believe in Christianity alone?Each chapter deals with one of these questions. It explains the reasons and then also addresses responses or objections that might arise. There are also “Questions for Reflection” and recommended readings with every chapter. Just touching on one chapter, the second last deals with the problem of evil. It describes the problem and then explores two ways in which Christians have tried to address it, albeit unsatisfactorily. Instead, Oliphint attempts to offer biblical reasons as to how evil can co-exist with a good God. He points out that God has recognized the problem of evil from before creation. Furthermore, God created human beings in his image as responsible agents. When Adam and Eve fell, God rightly judged their sin. The real blame for evil is on them, not God. He then points out how God himself has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with the problem of evil through his Son Jesus Christ. This is a good explanation, but Oliphint might have said more. For instance, he could have added that because God is good, he must have a morally good reason for allowing whatever evil there is to exist. Not every Christian ponders the deeper questions of why we believe what we do. But if you or someone you know does, this will be a great read. It would also make a great gift for consistories to give to young people who make public profession of faith.
A 12-part video series based on the book is also available. Here below you can see the episode based on "Chapter 5. Why Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead?" Dr. Bredenhof reviews many other books on his blog Yinkahdinay.wordpress.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 [Surah 15:9] 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 [letter of the] 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.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Theology
On the proper role of Government (and the footnoted Belgic Confession article 36)
A review of P.J. Hoedemaker’s Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated Against Dr. Abraham Kuyper
*****Anyone who has ever studied the Belgic Confession, even on a superficial level, is aware of an oddity in article 36. This is the only place in the Three Forms of Unity where we find a footnote in most versions of the Confession. Whether it is the United Reformed, Canadian Reformed, or Protestant Reformed Churches in North America, or the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, all have an additional footnote. Article 36 is titled “The Civil Government” or sometimes “Of Magistrates” and addresses what we confess about the role of the government. The relevant text in the body of the confession originally read:
[The government’s] task of restraining [evil] and sustaining [good] is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry in order that all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed, the kingdom of Christ may come, the Word of the gospel may be preached everywhere, and God may be honoured and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word. (Italics added)But the clauses that I've italicized above were moved from the body and relegated to footnote status a century ago, as is explained in the Canadian Reformed edition here:
The following words were deleted here by the General Synod 1905 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland): all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed.I’ve been a pastor in both the Canadian Reformed Churches, and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and to my knowledge, neither federation has ever made an official decision about the status of this footnote. Do we confess this or not? It is an odd ambiguity in our Three Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort). FOOTNOTE'S BACKGROUND That’s why it was with great interest that I began reading a small book, recently translated, on this very topic. Article 36…vindicated against Dr. Abraham Kuyper comes from the controversy which led to the words being deleted in 1905. It provides some of the historical background, illustrating that the deletion was not without its opponents. This book also provides an occasion to reflect on whether it may be time to revisit the matter in an official, ecclesiastical way. The author, Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (1839-1910), was a curious figure. While he grew up in a family with roots in the 1834 Secession (in which a number of congregations split from the Dutch national church) he himself became a minister in the Dutch national church. However, unlike so many others in the State church, Hoedemaker was a conservative, and confessionally Reformed. This book is a response to a series of articles written by Dutch theologian and journalist (and future Dutch prime minister) Abraham Kuyper in his newspaper The Herald in 1899-1900. In these articles, Kuyper argued against the original wording of article 36 – he did not agree with the civil government being called on to address idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of the antichrist. In 1896, Kuyper went a step further. Together with other notable theologians in his denomination (the Gereformeerde Kerkenor Reformed Churches), including Herman Bavinck, Kuyper put forward a gravamen against article 36. A “gravamen” is an official objection to a point of doctrine. These eight ministers alleged that article 36 did not conform to the Word of God and they asked the Synod of 1896 to make a judgment on the matter. The Synod decided to appoint a committee to study the matter, a committee which bizarrely included Bavinck and Kuyper (!). It was the work of this committee which would later result in Synod 1905 deleting the allegedly unbiblical words. GOING BACK TO THE ORIGINAL? [caption id="attachment_9170" align="alignright" width="200"] Let me make a few comments about the translation. There are a few idiosyncrasies that readers should be aware of. When Hoedemaker refers to "Lord's Days" in the Heidelberg Catechism the translator literally renders them “Sundays” instead. And instead of the Secession of 1834 (Afscheiding), he uses the term “Separation.” Elsewhere he uses the term “Nonconformity,” and I believe he is translating the term "Doleantie." Aside from those sorts of minor things, the book reads quite well in English.[/caption] In his book, Hoedemaker argues for the original form of article 36. Or, more accurately, he argues against Kuyper’s objections to the original form of article 36. He maintains that Kuyper was inconsistent. On the one hand, Kuyper wanted to honor King Jesus as the Lord of all of life. But on the other hand, Kuyper was arguing that King Jesus has no crown rights over the responsibility of the civil government with regard to idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of antichrist. Hoedemaker alleged that this inconsistency was owing to political expediency. Abraham Kuyper was getting into politics and article 36 was an embarrassment in trying to build bridges with Roman Catholic politicians. Early on Hoedemaker makes a point I find especially compelling. He alleges that the discovery of “the fatal defect” in article 36 is “not the result of the ongoing investigation of the Scripture; but exclusively causes which lie in the times, and in apostasy from the living God.” He states repeatedly that Kuyper and others were not arguing from exegesis, but from pragmatic considerations and false inferences. The pragmatic considerations had to do with Dutch politics. The false inferences were along the lines of the Confession requiring the civil magistrate to persecute unbelievers and false believers. Hoedemaker is especially persuasive in addressing that notion. CONCLUSION I should note that this book is not exclusively about Belgic Confession article 36 – it also serves as something of a polemic against the 1886 Doleantie (another church split). Hoedemaker writes, “The first step on the road to Reformation is the recovery of the normal relations of church and state.” But in wanting to undo the 1886 Doleantie, he’s arguing that all Reformed believers should have gone back to the national church despite its waywardness! So who should read this book? I would especially commend it to those with an interest in politics. When we have so little in our Three Forms of Unity about politics, what little there is should get our attention. Is it time to revisit the formulation of article 36? This is where I believe office bearers and especially ministers would do well to give this book a read too. Perhaps we need a proposal to a synod to clarify the status of the footnote and perhaps even to restore it. Note well: we are not talking about changing the Confession or adding something to the Confession that was never there to begin with. This is something completely different. In a 1979 article for Clarion, the Canadian Reformed Churches’ Dr. J. Faber argued for completely rewriting that part of article 36. That is a possibility. But if the footnote can be re-examined from a biblical standpoint, perhaps it would be as simple as cutting and pasting the text back into place.
Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where a slightly longer version of this review is available here. He is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania.
Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction
Devilish correspondence: Lord Foulgrin’s and Screwtape’s letters
[caption id="attachment_9108" align="alignright" width="300"] THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS200 pages / 1942by C. S. Lewis &LORD FOULGRIN'S LETTERS208 pages / 2001by Randy Alcorn[/caption] Some 75 years ago, as C. S. Lewis reports it, he intercepted correspondence between two devils, the one a senior demon and the other his student being taught how best to tempt and attack Man. While Lewis refused to share how he’d come by these letters, the published correspondence was eye-opening, giving insight into how the Devil can twist not only our weaknesses, but even our strengths, to his devilish ends. So, for example, we get to listen in as the experienced tempter Screwtape teaches his charge, Wormwood to sidetrack prayer, either by making it perfunctory – perhaps done regularly, but with little to no thought – or by making it feelings, rather than God, focused. Either diversion will do. While Lewis wrote (or discovered) The Screwtape Letters during World War II, it remains as insightful and as helpful as ever. But it was also a book worthy of imitation, and nearly 60 years later Randy Alcorn did just that, with his Lord Foulgrin’s Letters. However, while Lewis stuck strictly to devilish correspondence, Alcorn alternates between letters and story chapters – it is half mail, and half narrative. The narrative sections make Alcorn’s book a little more accessible for a teen audience, while, on the other hand, Lewis’ is the more insightful, which also makes it the most satisfying of the two for adults. But both are excellent. One caution: both books have an Arminian flavor, and, as my brother Jeff points out, “whether this Arminian tendency is simply the devil’s mistaken understanding is not clear, but Lewis at least seemed to be Arminian in his other writing.” That means, while both books can serve as a warning of the devil’s many means of attack, there’s at least a few that Lewis and Alcorn overlook. I understand that some might find the devilish focus of both books disturbing. It might seem wrong since Christians don’t normally want their children reading books about demons. What makes Alcorn’s and Lewis’ books different from the devilish taint that exists in so much of today’s entertainment (Hellboy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, DC Legends of Tomorrow, etc.) is that Lewis and Alcorn expose, but don’t celebrate, the darkness. They are equipping readers to be aware of the Devil, not asking them to join him. That’s quite the difference indeed.
Below is a 8 minute adaptation/preview of Lewis's "The Screwtape letters."
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11
by Jonathan Sarfati 786 pages / 2015 Outside of sermon preparation, it is not often that I read a commentary from front to back. If my reckoning is correct, this is only the third time and certainly the longest of the three – but it was well worth it! Dr. Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International has provided the Church a monumental resource on issues relating to the first 11 chapters of Holy Scripture. Sarfati has produced a thorough commentary on Genesis 1-11 which takes Scripture seriously as the inerrant Word of God. The greatest strength of this volume is its commitment to the inspiration of the entire Bible and everything that necessarily must follow from that. For example, one of the foundational issues that confronts Genesis commentators immediately is authorship. Commendably, Sarfati appeals to all of Scripture to prove the traditional view that Moses wrote Genesis, though quite possibly collating materials from earlier. Throughout the commentary, he also refutes the arguments of the “documentary hypothesis” – the old liberal idea that several authors were responsible for the Pentateuch, authors who lived much later than Moses. Generally, Sarfati lands on the right side of the issues in the interpretation of these chapters. He defends creation in six ordinary days – a creation which happened thousands of years ago, not millions. He maintains that Adam was created on the sixth day out of literal dust from the ground, while Eve was created from Adam’s rib. There was a literal snake which led to a historical fall of the first man and first woman. Later, Sarfati makes the case for a global flood in the days of Noah. He gets full marks on the big-ticket items. Some disagreements When we get down to some of the interpretive details, I disagree with Sarfati on some points. For example in Genesis 6:2, we read that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” Sarfati vigorously argues the old view that “the sons of God” were angels. In other words, angels were married to human beings and had sexual relations with them. He argues that Jude 6-7 proves that angels engaged in sexual immorality. He argues that since angels can eat, surely they could also reproduce. I am not convinced. In their essence, angels are spiritual beings, not physical beings and therefore cannot engage in sexual relations, much less reproduce by inter-breeding with humans. I find the “Sethite interpretation” to be correct – people descended from Seth (the line of the Messiah) married rebellious unbelievers. However, I would also grant that Sarfati’s view falls under the umbrella of what we call “the freedom of exegesis.” As a Reformed reader, regrettably, there are other areas where I cannot be as forgiving. While I have a lot of appreciation for the work Sarfati has done here, I would be remiss if I did not highlight several serious theological issues. One issue that arises here and there is Sarfati’s dispensationalism. He often quotes from (and refers to) fellow Messianic Jew Arnold Fruchtenbaum, another dispensationalist and figure on the “biblical prophecy” scene. This view emerges when, for example, Sarfati argues that Genesis does not speak directly about the church. For a Reformed believer, Genesis is all about the church! Sarfati makes a distinction between the Old Testament people of God (Israel) and the church, but the Belgic Confession says in article 27, “This [catholic] church has existed from the beginning of the world and will be to the end, for Christ is an eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” Not unrelated to this is the muted development of covenant theology in this commentary. For example, there is hardly a word about God’s covenant with Adam and Eve either before or after the fall into sin. Another issue which caught my attention was Sarfati’s occasional references to followers of philosopher Gordon Clark, particularly Gary Crampton and John Robbins. Clark was part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church when it first began in 1936. However, theological complaints lodged against him eventually led to his departure in the late 1940s. In Clark’s thinking, logic and God are to be identified with one another. God is pure logic, according to Clark and his followers. Clark famously translated John 1:1, “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God…” Critics of Clark (like John Murray and Cornelius VanTil) argued that Clark had confused creation with the Creator. God stands sovereign over logic; he is not subject to it nor equal to it. Unfortunately, Sarfati seems to follow Clark’s reasoning in several places. It leads him to assert that maintaining the presence of any paradoxes, antinomies or tensions in Scripture (even apparent contradictions or humanly irreconcilable statements) is very dangerous. However, I would argue that this makes God, the author of Scripture, subject to our notions of what must be logical – far more dangerous! There are things taught in Scripture that are simply not capable of rational explanation – for example, the one God eternally existing in three persons. This is why the Belgic Confession says in article 9 that “this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding.” Helpful insight Enough about the theological and interpretive issues – this commentary also promises to shed scientific light about the first chapters of Genesis. This is where this commentary is most helpful. A few examples will illustrate. Genesis 2:21 says that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Sarfati notes the fact that human ribs can actually regenerate. Hence, Adam would eventually have had a complete set of ribs again. When discussing the Flood, the commentary point outs that catastrophic plate tectonics can explain the mechanism of this deluge. How do we explain the formation of canyons that appear to be millions of years old? Sarfati describes how canyons have rapidly formed following catastrophic events like the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Off the coast of Iceland, an island (Surtsey) appeared due to volcanic activity in 1963. Scientists have since been dumbfounded at how quickly Surtsey developed a “mature landscape," including cliffs that would otherwise have been dated as far older. In many instances, I was skeptical of Sarfati’s claims. However, I did my own research on many of them and in every instance, so far as I could tell, his claims proved accurate. This commentary aims to be scholarly in many respects. The author has used the original biblical languages – Greek and Hebrew are found throughout, but always transcribed. A lot of research is in the background, both biblical and scientific. However, an incongruent feature is the informal style of writing often used – this can be distracting in a commentary that strives to have an academic calibre. Conclusion The Genesis Account would especially serve well in the context of Christian education. Christian science and Bible teachers should have this volume on hand and refer to it often – they will find that their teaching on creation-related issues will be greatly enhanced! Preachers would also appreciate it, especially when confronted with questions from parishioners. I regularly give my catechism students the opportunity to ask me questions. I am always surprised how many of the questions have to do with either the beginning (protology) or the end (eschatology). This book has already helped me to be better prepared to deal with the former. Last of all, all Christian households could benefit from having a book of this nature on hand as a reference tool. When you hear or read the claims of the world, Sarfati will typically lead you back to the solid ground of biblical teaching on origins. Yes, as noted above, there are some caveats, but overall this commentary can be recommended.
Dr. Bredenhof blogs on books and many other things at Yinkahdinay.Wordpress.com
Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction
3 provocative, powerful, PG-rated, dystopian novels
The best dystopian books warn us of an undesirable future that seems far too likely for our peace of mind. The most famous examples are 1984 and Brave New World and while these are very important books, both have sexual content that make them problematic to discuss in a high school setting. But there are fantastic alternatives that are every bit as challenging and thought-provoking and yet don't bring in the sexual content. The most "explicit" of the three below is Time Will Run Back in which sex is mentioned but only in the context of the government mandate that no one can pair up for longer than a month, lest they form familial bonds that compete with the bonds they should have to the State. Nothing titillating here. What we're left with are provocative PG-rated stories and that'll allow parents and teens to enjoy and discuss them together.
WINTERFLIGHT by Joseph Bayly 1981 / 216 pagesIn this dystopian novel, Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands. When Jonathan and Grace Stanton's six-year-old son Stephen falls off his bike, they don't know what to do. The fall was minor, but their son has hemophilia and he needs treatment. But the law says he shouldn't exist: had his condition been diagnosed prenatally the State would have required that he be aborted. Stephen survived only because he mother never visited a doctor during her pregnancy, and when the time came a friend helped her have a home birth. Now the Stanton's wonder what the State might do, even six years later, if they bring their son in to see a doctor. Do they dare find out? Winterflight was written almost 40 years ago, but it got my heart racing – it all seemed far too probable for my liking. Abortion is already being used to "cure" genetic disabilities like Down Syndrome and while it isn't mandatory, pressure from doctors and culture are such that in some countries 98% of Down Syndrome children are killed before birth. When it comes to killing the elderly, we don't demand their deaths at 75, but we are already exploring the cost savings that can be had from their early departure. In countries where euthanasia has been legal longer, there are regular reports of involuntary killings. In Canada, attempts are already being made to make involvement on some level mandatory for all doctors. But what hits closest to home is Bayly's portrayal of the confused Christian response to these government abuses. When Grace's elderly father is told he must report soon to be euthanized, their misunderstanding of Scripture has them thinking that they need to obey the governing authorities even in this, since those authorities are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). But at the same time, in saving their son, the Stantons show that on some level they do understand we must sometimes defy the State. Is their confusion realistic? We'd never march ourselves off to the local euthanasia clinic just because the government demanded it. But why would we resist? Do we understand on what biblical basis we could reject such demands from the "governing authorities"? During World War II there was confusion on this point among some good Reformed Dutchmen. Among those who joined the Resistance, some felt guilty about it because they were worried that in acting against the Nazis they were resisting God's chosen rulers. The confusion persists today. Even as we know the government shouldn't mandate euthanasia – even as we recognize that there are limits to their power – many Christians will still turn to the government asking it to solve our problems. We understand the government has limits, and yet we'll also ask them to do more and more. We are confused. And that's what makes this book such a fantastic read - the discussion it'll prompt is one we need to have. Cautions There are just a couple cautions to note. First, there is a small bit of language – I think "damn" might be used two or three times. Second, without giving away the ending, when the book was first published some Christians misunderstood the ending as being prescriptive – they thought the actions of the book's confused Christians were what we should do. So it's important to understand that's not so. These are confused Christians, under enormous pressure, acting in a confused way and the author is not endorsing their actions. In fact, the book is primarily about warning us not to do as they do. Conclusion This is a fantastic dystopian novel, as prophetic as they come, and certainly unlike any other Christian fiction you've read. The topic matter is weighty, but because there's nothing graphic this could be appropriate for as young as early teens. However the younger a reader might be, the more they'll need a guide to steer their interaction with the story, and particularly the not-at-all happy ending. It would also make great book club material, with fodder for some fantastic discussions.
TIME WILL RUN BACK by Henry Hazlitt 368 pages / 1951
As novels go, this is intriguing. As economics textbooks go it is downright amazing.
In Time Will Run Back author Henry Hazlitt envisions a future in which the communists won and have been in power for more than 100 years. As Henry Hazlitt himself acknowledges, his novel bears some similarities to 1984 (published two years earlier) since both take place in a dystopian future in which the government manages every aspect of citizens' lives. But Hazlitt didn't read 1984 until after he had finished the first draft of his own book, so no plagiarism was involved. Instead, as Hazlitt puts it, authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley (and his Brave New World) and himself were:
plagiarizing from the actual nightmare created by Lenin, Hitler and Stalin....All the writers had done was to add a few logical extensions not yet generally foreseen.
In Hazlitt's envisioned future the government has not only taken over the capitalist West, but they've wiped away any memory of capitalism, even editing Karl Marx's books so that no one could deduce from them what sort of economic system it was that Marx was writing against.
Into this setting Hazlitt places the ultimate outsider. The world dictator's son, Peter Uldanov, has grown up far away from his father, isolated on a Bahama island. When his mother and father split, he agreed to let her take Peter, so long as she agreed not to teach Peter anything about history, politics or economics. So when the world dictator calls his now adult son to Moscow and informs Peter that he is to succeed his father as dictator, father first has to bring son up to speed in these three key areas.
Peter's education takes up the first third of the book, though there is some palace-intrigue as well: the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo is eager to see Peter dead, but doesn't want to be caught doing the deed.
...and Screwtape Letters
This first third bears more than a passing resemblance to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, with Peter's teacher filling the role of the elder Screwtape explaining to his younger devilish charge why they do things the way they do them. For example, at one point Politburo member Adams and Orlov, the editor of the world's state-approved and only remaining newspaper, explain to Peter how what is carried in the paper has nothing to do with the truth, but instead has to do with what is useful for the masses to hear. It turns out "what is useful" can be hard to determine.
"It is for the Politburo to decide, for example, whether we shall say that the production record is very bad, in order to exhort and sting everyone to greater output; or whether we shall say that it is very good, in order to show how well the regime is doing and to emphasize the blessing of living under it."
"These decisions are sometimes very difficult," Adams put in. "We often find that a zigzag course is best. For example, if goods are shoddy and fall apart, or if too many size nine shoes are made and not enough size eight, or if people cannot get enough to eat, there may be grumbling and complaints – or silent dissatisfaction. We must make sure that this unrest does not turn against the regime itself."
"Therefore," said Orlov, "we must lead the complaints. We must ourselves pick scapegoats to denounce and punish."
In the middle third of the novel Peter takes on the role of the ultimate benevolent dictator. He wants to help his citizens, so he tries desperately to figure out ways to make socialism work. He has the help of his country's greatest minds, and near absolute power, so he is in the best sort of situation to make it work. But try as he might, they can't make it work.
The biggest trouble Peter keeps running into is trying to figure out the value of what they are making. They have no money (since no one buys anything, but is instead given what they need) so they can't use price to calculate how valuable one product might be compared to another. And if they can't calculate value, then they also can't determine if the country is producing more overall this year vs. the last. Sheer tonnage is one proposed measure – that could use that to compare how much grain they grew from one year to the next. But even this falls short, because grain can come in different qualities. How then should they evaluate things if one year more grain is produced but of a lower quality, and in another year there is less but of a higher quality? Which was the better year?
After ruling out tonnage as a helpful means of measuring output, one alternative after another is proposed only to have the shortcomings of each then exposed. The alert reader will see where this is leading: what this socialistic economy lacks are markets in which the value of a product is assessed by consumers as a whole.
In the final third of the book Peter gets more desperate and more radical in his efforts to make real improvements and give citizens real freedom, and he ends up discovering some economic principles that really help: open competition, property ownership, and the rigorous prosecution of cheats and swindlers. To help his citizens he is forced to invent capitalism!
Though the book is most obviously about communism, the warning Hazlitt offers here - that freedom and prosperity cannot co-exist with an economic system that prioritizes equality of distribution – is directly applicable to communism's democratic twin, socialism.
This book sat on my shelf unread for many years because I didn't believe a world-renown economist could also be a credible novelist. I was wrong. There is a conversation here and there that gets bogged down by the economic lesson Hazlitt is trying to teach, but overall this is not just readable, but engaging and entertaining, able to stand up to comparisons with 1984 and Brave New World, which themselves are not read for their wonderful prose, but rather for their insightful investigations of human nature in the face of tyranny. So this is a readable, intriguing and important novel with a few slow bits. And as an economics textbook, there is none better – Hazlitt makes a strong and compelling case for the free market.
The e-book can be had for free here.
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry 1993 / 208 pagesThe Giver is a book that is not specifically Christian, but has been studied in Christian schools and is stocked in our Christian school library. Why? Lois Lowry's novel is a brilliant dystopia - a vision of the future where things have gone horribly wrong. What makes it so brilliant is that in the brief space of a children's novel, Lowry shows, as dystopian novels always do, how the desire to make a utopia leads to disaster. The original Utopia (which literally means "no-place"), by Thomas More (an English Catholic writing around the time of the Reformation), is a vision of an ideal, perfectly regulated society, where people live their lives with leisure and work balanced, and the wealth is fairly shared among all. All these features are appealing, but given human nature, any attempt to build society through regulation will result in the stomping out of individuality and the oppressive power of whatever authority we trust to organize everything. Basically, there is a kind of idolatry of human systems and power. Of course, we know that idols always disappoint, and idols always demand horrible sacrifices. That's what's going on in The Giver. Lowry builds up a picture of an ideal, well-organized society where everyone has his or her specific role set by 12 years old. All the angst of adolescence in our society has been taken care of through this selection of each person's career by the community, as well as by the suppression of the disruptive disturbance of teenage hormones. The result is a village in which there is no significant crime; in which each person is given a specific role and, in return, has all his or her needs are met from cradle to grave by the community; and in which both the physical storms and emotional storms have been subdued by technology. This "sameness," as the narrator calls it, has been maintained for generations. Even the memory of the relative chaos of our own society has been wiped out, but the elders of the village have ensured that the past is not entirely lost, so that in the event of crisis, the elders can learn from it. This is where the main character, Jonas, comes in. At twelve years old, he is given the unique role of the Receiver of the community. What does he receive? The memories of the village before the "sameness" - from the Giver. Jonas's unique knowledge enables him to see what a terrible place our own world is - with war and other suffering - but also what emotional ties like family and romantic love were lost with the oncoming of the "sameness." His own crisis comes when he sees what sacrifices his seemingly utopian village demands to keep its stability. Why would Christians want to read this? The Giver shows us both the beauty and the cost of human emotion and desire, but also the foolishness of playing God in trying to wipe both out by human power. What we need is not liberation from our own humanness, but liberation from the sin which has corrupted our humanness - by the death of Christ - and the redirection of our emotions and desire - by the work of the Spirit. Lowry may not explicitly put us before God's throne, but she does a fine job of knocking down one of the idols that serve as a stumbling block blocking our view of His glory.
Adult fiction, Book Reviews
The Man in the Dark
by Douglas Wilson 258 pages / 2019 Some books only merit a quick read, others should be slowly savored, and a select few are so good you just have to read them out loud to your wife. This is that third sort! Savannah Westmoreland, a self-assured school teacher, finds herself in the middle of a love triangle. Except that it wouldn't be accurate to call what the town's biggest businessman feels for her love. Desire...hunger...lust. But not love. And while the church's newly arrived pastor is interested, and seems a worthy sort, he can't get past the walls Savannah has set up. But events – and friends – conspire against Savannah, putting her repeatedly in the pastor's company. And even as he uses these moments to make a good case for his marriable merits, Savannah is still actively discouraging him. Why? Something from her past still has a hold on her. The pastor is trying to get around this obstacle, but the businessman is trying to discover exactly what her secret is so he can use it to control her. This is Douglas Wilson's third novel, but first romance. It is the second of his books that I've read out loud to my wife, the other being Flags out Front. That's really the highest praise I can give a book. But lest you think Wilson is only a two-hit wonder, I'll share that his other novel, Evangellyfish, won Christianity Today's 2012 best fiction award. This man knows how to tell a story. As you might suspect of a book written by a Reformed pastor, there is a lot of theology, from the dinner table conversations to the metaphor underlying the whole story. But conversations about God are a great way to learn about God, and even though the book has a pastor right in the mix, this is not a sermon disguised as a story. This is, instead, great fiction telling something true. And if you think the ending a tad contrived, I might agree with you. But I'd also invite you to consider what the author is saying about this God of wonders that we serve. And speaking of truth-telling, I should own up that as much as I enjoyed reading this out loud to my wife, she didn't get to hear the whole story. That's because when she fell asleep I just had to keep reading.
Adult fiction, Book Reviews
Why is dystopian fiction worth reading?
In dystopian fiction we get a glimpse at some sort of looming, foreboding future: maybe it's humans devolving into separate castes (H.G. Wells' Time Machine), mass infertility threatening the end of mankind (P.D. James's The Children of Men), a domineering government repressing all but the elite (Glenn Beck's Agenda 21), or maybe killer robots overrunning the planet (Terminator). The word dystopia is coined from Ancient Greek and means simply "bad place." What makes this a genre worth considering is because the best dystopian fiction is prophetic in nature, warning us of the dangers of a particular ideology (or practice) by showing us the "bad place" we will end up at if we adopt it. Thus there are as many sorts of dystopian novels as there are ideologies. But not all of the warnings given are…credible. Far from prophetic The Canadian "classic" novel and current Netflix hit The Handmaid's Tale warns of a world in which the government uses the trappings of the Christian religion to sexually enslave women. That is so far from where we are, or could conceivably head, that the book isn’t useful – the author is completely wrong and there are no insights to gain from her. (That hasn't stopped the Left from embracing the novel, pretending that Trump's presidency is its very fulfillment.) That lack of credible threat is a problem with many of the teen fiction dystopian series (The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Hunger Games) that have appeared over the last decade. They might be entertaining, but they aren't prophetic. If we look hard enough we might be able to find something, like The Hunger Games' warning against folks killing and getting killed for the entertainment of the masses. That does have relevance in a culture in which brutal MMA fights are now watched by millions (including ones in which women pummel women) and the NFL remains must-see TV even though it leaves most participants crippled in one way or another. But does that make The Hunger Games worth reading? No. Most teens aren’t likely to make that connection. More importantly, the series presents a dilemma that's likely to confuse its teen audience – the "hero" seems like she will have to either murder others or be murdered herself. Mature Christian will understand that it is better to suffer evil than to commit it, but will younger readers? Two that are each half right So what books do warn of credible threats? The top two would have to be: 1984 - Author George Orwell warns of the State using authoritarian power to so totally subjugate us that, if they insist, we'll say that 2+2 is 5...and believe it! If the idea of the State reconditioning people to spout obvious lies sounds too extreme to be credible, just consider what's happening to people today who say there are only two genders, there's no switching from one to the other, and you need one of each for marriage. Obvious truths, one and all, but if you say them – and we must – Big Brother will want to have words! Imagine what it might look like in ten years' time. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley warns of the State enslaving us not by force but by pleasure. Pain is taken away via the drug soma leaving the population in a generally happy stupor. Some clear parallels can be made to our meek, sheep-like society. Our cradle-to-grave State care leaves us dependent on the government to run more and more of our lives and that's how we like it. And our smartphones, Netflix accounts, opioids, and Twitter feeds leave many citizens in a soma-like stupor – celebrity-aware but politically-illiterate. These two books cover both sides of how we’re being hit today – the carrot and the stick. As Neil Postman put it:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that our fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.The credible threat here isn't from one approach or the other, but from both together. A caution: both books have sexual content. While both books have sexual content, in 1984 it is shorter and boring – there isn’t much pleasure taken in it. (And that’s the point; the government doesn’t want sexual ties creating divided loyalties, so they’ve done what they can to make it boring). A great G-rated 1954 film-version does away with the sexual content, so it could be shared with older teens with little worry, while the book might require more maturity. But Brave New World, with its focus on the enticements of pleasure, has more sexual content, and while it's still not explicit, it might be something that a hormone-riddled teen boy could struggle with. The rating site Common Sense Media (family-friendly, but not specifically Christian) suggests that 1984 is for 16 and up, and Brave New World would be for 14 and up, but I would reverse those and maybe even hold off Brave New World for college-age and up. (Interestingly, the kid's reviews on Common Sense Media also rates Brave New World as more problematic than 1984). Other warnings worth hearing In the other books, and films, that fill out this genre, the most common threat is probably killer robots (2001: A Space Odyssey; Prey; Terminator; The Matrix; etc.). Technological advances mean there’s a legitimate reason for concern here, but it shouldn’t be our principal concern. We differ from the world in that we understand that we should not fear “them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). Our true battle is:
not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12).What Paul means here by “flesh and blood” is Man and all his deadly weapons...including killer robots. But if that's not where the real battle is at, then where should we focus our attention? Our concern is the Devil and all the means he uses – including false ideologies and philosophies – to confuse our understanding of God, or pressure us to reject Him, or try to keep us from learning about Him. With that in mind some credible threats worth considering include: Lord of the Flies - William Golding warns us not to be naive about our sinful nature; Man, left to his own devices is no angel. The Giver - Lois Lowry warns again enforcing sameness in the name of equality (it is aimed at young readers, but adults can enjoy and be challenged by it too). Time Will Run Back Henry Hazlitt warns against Communism specifically, but socialism in general. This would be for older teens, not because of problematic content (this is far "safer" than Brave New World or 1984) but simply because of the depth and breadth of the ideas therein. This is my own favorite dystopian novel because I found it by far the most educational. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury warns of censorship, though I wonder if the type of censorship he warns about is far less likely than the creeping political correctness we actually face. There is content here too problematic for younger readers to handle. Winterflight - Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands (the Christian confusion in this book is almost too spot on to take). Fatherless, Childless, Godless - James Dobson’s 3-book series warns against abortion’s results - a shrinking population. (One thing that bothers me about this series is how it occasionally takes God's name in vain. That happens in other books listed here too, but they aren't by Christian authors, and I expect more from Dr. Dobson.) This is a genre well worth exploring, though with care and caution. It's a big blank canvas that insightful writers can use to paint pictures of grim futures, all in the hopes that they, and we, will ensure such futures never come to be.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
Calvin’s Magnum Opus: a review of "Institutes of the Christian Religion"
A “magnum opus” is an author’s greatest work. When it comes to John Calvin his Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the classics of Protestant theology. However, as often as it is referenced, it is seldom read as a complete work from front to back. I first purchased my copy of the McNeill/Battles edition before starting pre-seminary studies in university, more than twenty years ago. Over the years I have read bits and pieces and there, often as a need or interest required but it wasn’t until this past year that I finally read the Institutes from beginning to end. In this essay, I will share some of the highlights of my complete tour through this theological masterpiece, and those highlights will include both points of appreciation and critique. I read the two-volume McNeill/Battles edition published in the Library of Christian Classics. This edition is based on the final version Calvin published in 1559. I also occasionally referred to the older editions of Beveridge and Allen, and even sometimes checked the original French and Latin. Different translations and editions Calvin originally wrote the Institutes in 1536 as a sort of catechetical handbook. It was never designed to be a systematic theology – such a creature did not yet exist. It was also not designed to be a book of extensive commentary on Scripture. No, its original purpose was catechetical – to summarize the teaching of Scripture on essential matters of faith and life. However, as the work progressed to its final form in 1559 – twenty-three years later – it did take on a more systematic form. In some places there is limited commentary on Scripture – for example, when dealing with the Ten Commandments (2.9) or the Lord’s Prayer (3.20.34-49) – and there are extensive references to Scripture, but generally Calvin leaves biblical exposition to his commentaries. A Scriptural foundation…most of the time His approach is typically theological, with the Scriptures explicitly as a foundation. However, by way of exception, there are parts that are more philosophical. For example, in 1.15.6-8, Calvin discusses the soul. There is almost nothing directly from Scripture in this discussion. Instead, Calvin works more with philosophical ideas from the likes of Plato. For a modern reader unfamiliar with Greek philosophy, this discussion is difficult to follow. Related to that, there are places where Calvin follows Platonic notions instead of biblical ones. One of the most well-known examples is how Calvin speaks of the body as the prison house of the soul. He does this in at least four places (1.15.2, 2.7.13, 3.7.5, 3.9.4). This devaluing of the body does not accord with the biblical worldview. In Scripture, the body is redeemed by Christ just as well as the soul (1 Cor. 6:19-20), and will be raised at the last day (1 Cor. 15). Well-read and it shows The attentive reader will pick up on Calvin’s copiousness – he read widely! Throughout the Institutes, Calvin refers to numerous authors going all the way back to the early church. Two stand out in particular. The most quoted and referred to author is Augustine. This is not surprising since Augustine is the most influential of the church fathers on the Protestant Reformers in general. Most of the time Calvin quotes Augustine approvingly, but there are also occasions where he dissents. The other author is Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk who lived from 1090 to 1153. While Bernard lived before the worst developments in Catholic theology, he was still not exactly a medieval quasi-Protestant. Nevertheless, Calvin made use of Bernard’s best insights. In 2.16.1, Calvin gives this beautiful quote from Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs:
The name of Jesus is not only light, but also food; it is also oil, without which all food of the soul is dry; it is salt, without whose seasoning whatever is set before us is insipid; finally, it is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, rejoicing in the heart, and at the same time medicine. Every discourse in which his name is not spoken is without savor.Calvin appreciated Bernard’s fervor for Christ and his felicitous turn of phrase. Brilliant, but also inexplicable, word choices Calvin likewise employed language with a skilled eye to felicity. Calvin valued beautiful rhetoric – throughout the Institutes there are words so well crafted you may feel some salty moisture rolling down your cheek. Calvin’s Institutes feature numerous sections like this in 3.2.42:
Accordingly, in brief, hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when his truth shall be manifested; faith believes that he is our Father, hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us; faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed; faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith.Calvin was indubitably a master of using language to powerful effect. Regrettably, I have to say I also encountered instances where Calvin uses strong, questionable, or even offensive language. He uses strong language when it comes to unbiblical and dangerous ideas. But he also uses strong words for the person of his theological opponents: “blockheads” (3.20.25), “stupid men” (3.21.7), “swine” (3.23.12), and many other such insults. I have read enough Reformation literature to know Calvin was not unusual in using this kind of language – and our day tends to be far more sensitive about throwing invectives around in our theological polemics. I am far less inclined to give Calvin a pass on some other language he uses. In three places, Calvin uses the exclamation “Good God!” (3.4.29, 3.4.39, 4.16.27). In each context, it is clearly an exclamation and not a sincerely-meant prayer to God. The expression was used in Calvin’s original Latin of the 1559 edition (“Bone Deus!”), but for some reason he dropped it in the French. In each instance, the older translations of Beveridge and Allen omit these exclamations. I have encountered the same expression in the writings of Guido de Brès. I find it troubling and I cannot find a way to excuse it. I would suppose that, being former Roman Catholics, they became accustomed to using this exclamation to express great horror – a blind spot. Challenges and benefits For readers today there are some challenges in reading and benefiting from Calvin’s Institutes. Some of the discussion has less relevance to us. For example, I found the discussion about the sacramental theology of the Roman Catholic Church to be one of the most tedious parts of the work. It may be interesting from a historical standpoint, and it might still be valuable to someone actively engaged in apologetics with Roman Catholics, but for the rest of us, the temptation to skip through this section is difficult to resist. Persevering readers will encounter some of Calvin’s best and most well-known theological insights. Among them: The Scriptures serve as spectacles to help us see God clearly (1.6.1, 1.14.1) “…man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols (1.11.8) Calvin believes the world to be less than 6000 years old (1.14.1, 3.21.4) Justification “is the main hinge on which religion turns.” (3.11.1) Fasting “is an excellent aid for believers today (as it always was)…” (4.12.18) If baptism is to be denied to the infant children of believers because Scripture is silent on the explicit practice, then women should also be denied access to the Lord’s Supper (4.16.8) The Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently, preferably every week (4.17.43) Aristocracy, or perhaps a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy “far excels” all other systems of government (4.20.8) Revolts are possible when led by lower magistrates (4.20.30) Reading Calvin’s Institutes will remind Reformed believers today that Calvin is not the gold standard for what it means to be Reformed. After all, there are several points at which much contemporary Reformed faith and practice departs from Calvin. For example, in 4.3.16, he discusses the laying on of hands in connection with office bearers. He argued that this laying on of hands ought to be practiced not only with the ordination of “pastors and teachers,” but also deacons. Interestingly, the original Belgic Confession also said that all office bearers should be ordained with the laying on of hands. While there are Reformed churches which follow Calvin on this, there are also those (like the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia) which do not involve the laying on of hands in the ordination of elders or deacons. Conclusion Let me conclude with noting that the McNeill/Battles edition is generally well-done. There are comprehensive indices. There are immense numbers of helpful explanatory footnotes. It must be said, however, that some of these footnotes reflect the editor’s liberal theological bias. For example, in a footnote in 1.8.8, the editor informs us that Calvin did not hold to the modern view of a late date for Isaiah 45 and its mention of Cyrus. Well, I guess not, seeing as how Calvin believed the Bible to be the Word of God! As another example, in a footnote in 4.8.9, the editor claims Calvin does not explicitly support biblical inerrancy anywhere. While it would obviously be anachronistic to expect Calvin to affirm every jot and tittle of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (written in 1978) there is plenty of evidence to affirm Calvin has far more in common with biblical inerrantists today than their opponents. For most Reformed people today, Calvin’s Institutes will remain a reference. No one should expect regular church members to pick it up and read it straight through with profit. Those who try will almost certainly get frustrated and give up. We must be realistic. It is a work from an era in which theologians could expect far more from their readers. I wonder whether even many of today’s pastors would be able to digest everything Calvin serves up. Some of his discussions and references certainly went beyond my ken. We live in a strange time where we have more access to information than anyone else in the history of world, and yet, compared to Calvin from 500 years ago, we are dullards. Reading through the Institutes certainly drove that point home to me.
Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.Wordpress.com where this article first appeared.
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.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction
Thoughts on Deepak Reju's "She’s got the wrong guy"
Sometimes a pointed comment sticks with you for years. A decade back, a dad of two unmarried mid-twenties daughters exclaimed in exasperation, “I really don’t know what guys are looking for in a girl.” I knew those young women. They were beautiful, talented, educated, faithful Christians. The one in particular even had a delightful sense of humour. So what are guys looking for? And when they don’t make a move, what is the girls’ response? Sometimes it means that a woman – a smart woman – will “settle.” That is the premise of Deepak Reju’s book, She’s Got the Wrong Guy-Why Smart Women Settle. Deepak Reju, a pastor of biblical counseling and families in a Baptist Church in Washington, DC, writes from a wealth of experience with the sad consequences that arise when women make poor choices in marriage. He writes with genuine empathy for the realities 21stcentury Christian women face. Some problems are ageless. When confronted with the spectre of the single life, women have always questioned themselves. What is wrong with me? Am I never going to have children? Doesn’t God care that I feel lonely? Today there are added challenges. Sex is everywhere, more than ever. Both men and women are single longer and marry later, requiring a sustained commitment to purity. Technology has changed the way we do relationships. Face-to-face conversations, always more risky, become the exception. There is comfort in hiding behind a screen. “It’s a lazy man’s dream – no intentionality, no commitment, and no risk” (p. 5). Online dating allows optimal, but not necessarily honest, presentation of oneself. Another reality is that today more women are educated, accomplished and talented as they enter the workforce. With university degree in hand they move into successful careers. This may be intimidating for some men. The secular world generally does a better job valuing women for their intelligence and capabilities. Christian women are affirmed and rewarded in the workplace, but often treated like second-class citizens in their church. Dating as a conservative Christian woman is hard; dating as an intelligent, gifted and self-confident Christian woman seems almost impossible (p. 6). Added to this mix of challenges is the current confusion over sexuality, gender, the value of marriage, and the rising number of divorced singles and single parents. Reju suggests that faced with such a confusing, complex world of dating, women too often make the choice to simply settle for an OK man. It could be that a woman thinks of marriage as the most important goal of life, a sort of idolatry. “As Christian women, we teach the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel – and we secretly hope for marriage” (p. 7). One can hardly blame her, since that is typically an unspoken expectation in church communities. Or “settling” could be the result of personal baggage that makes a woman undervalue herself. I don’t really deserve better. It’s the best I can do. She might have blinders on, refusing to see the problematic aspects of a dating relationship. He’s not very spiritually minded now, but I’m sure that’ll change after we’re married. She may live with anxiety, fearful that she is not really lovable, or seen as too picky, or that she’ll always have to fend for herself. Fear of loneliness is real. It’s good to reflect what it would be like attend several weddings each year as a single (Will I ever walk down the aisle?) and baby showers after that. And how about never having a reason to go to the church nursery except to babysit other women’s children? I remember the exasperation of one single woman in her early thirties who still visited with her married girlfriends: “If I hear another breast feeding or diaper rash story, I’m going to scream….or puke!” Men to watch out for Reju is not dismissive of the discouragement and loneliness single women feel, but he urges them not to forget Jesus. Instead, desire him above all else. As Christians, our goal, male or female, is to form our lives around growing closer to Jesus. Marriage and family life are valuable, but they are earthly treasures. Christ remains the greatest treasure. That said, the bulk of the book deals with the ten, yes ten, categories of men to avoid in dating. It’s a formidable list. Avoid the following: the control freak the promiscuous guy the unchurched guy the new convert the unbeliever the angry man the lone ranger the commitment-phobic man the passive man and the unteachable guy Each of these types will present significant issues in a marriage. It will be more difficult for the wife to mature as a Christian. It is unlikely the relationship will be truly loving or of mutual benefit. Likely the woman will suffer. Each chapter of about ten pages includes an engaging story of a couple that highlights the serious challenges that develop. A brief look at one of the stories – that of Janelle and Dominique – will give a taste of Reju’s approach to the complex topics he’s addressing. Janelle, from a Christian home, met Dominique, a relatively new believer, at church and began dating. It wasn’t long before she noticed his controlling patterns. When she was with girlfriends he would call to ask where she was. He would check with her multiple times a day. She rationalized his behavior, “He’s protective of me.” But his behavior was sometimes accompanied by anger, jealousy, and insistence on his own way. Despite realizing that her relationship had problems and that her guy didn’t meet the biblical criteria of a loving husband, she carried on. She thought, “He knows me; we are making it work; he’s fun; and I like him.” It seemed like too much work to untangle the relationship and start over. Besides, that would be admitting failure. And things would change once they were married. But warning flags should be flying! Such a man displays a warped perspective on what the Bible says about male leadership. He uses Scripture to make his girlfriend or wife do what he wants. He lords it over her through spiritual language that is twisted to support his demands. Maybe such a man could change with growing maturity, but it’s better and much safer not to date this sort until he does. Don’t assume that you can change him. Better to break off and not marry him, than face a lifetime of emotional abuse, and worse. Interestingly, Reju devotes a whole chapter to the topic of ending relationships: “Breaking up for the Glory of God.” Who’s left? As I made my way through chapter after chapter on men to avoid, I began to wonder, “Well, who’s left. Now what? Should women just stay single?” Thankfully, the author offers a way forward. There are godly men who desire to serve the Lord within the context of marriage. Women must realize that there is no perfect man, even if he is a committed Christian. It happens that good men are overlooked because they don’t meet expectations in superficial or non-essential things, like physical appearance, age, or charisma. Furthermore, a woman cannot expect complete maturity and thoughtfulness from a man in his twenties or even thirties. Christian maturity takes time. So it is possible to choose wisely while choosing an imperfect man. Choose to be attracted to one who is growing in Christ and demonstrates interest in continued growth in Christ together with you. Don’t settle for the problematic man who is far from God and shows little sign of change. Reju devotes a final segment explaining that waiting is OK. Yes, waiting is hard, but there is a way to wait well. I think it’s fair to say that in many churches singleness is not seen as a beautiful thing. Scripture presents a high view of marriage, with only a couple passages highlighting the benefit of being single. Reju suggests that singles may be made to feel incomplete. I would argue that at times we are even guilty of taking advantage of our singles, counting on them for some heavy lifting for our church programs and duties. One mature single confided to me, “They say, ‘Well, you’re alone anyway so you have more time.’” She continued, “They should realize that I have to do everything myself, including groceries, home repairs, painting and car maintenance. I have no one to share the workload. I work full time. I probably have less not more time.” So, church involvement, yes, but certainly to be accompanied with a lot of appreciation and support. The author argues that what makes waiting hard is that it exposes the heart. You begin to believe that what you “want” is what you “need.” Waiting is hard because it shows what you really worship. Patience is difficult. What do you pray while you are waiting? And then there is the challenge of maintaining sexual integrity. Desire for sex is a healthy thing. Desire for children, no less so. These are challenging realities to face, while not knowing if the desire for marriage will ever be fulfilled. But it is possible to wait well. Scripture does portray singleness as a positive thing that allows a single-minded devotion to the Lord. Remember, marriage is temporal, singleness lasts to eternity, for everyone. The goal is to wait on the Lord, not to wait for marriage. Be willing to share your heartache and pain with others. In the church we live in community; singles and marrieds need each other as we wait together. Remember that no man will ever fulfill your ultimate desires; only one bridegroom does that and he’s planning the ultimate wedding banquet. Conclusion [caption id="attachment_7947" align="alignright" width="200"] 192 pages / 2017[/caption] Would I recommend this book? Yes, certainly for single women who are dating. The book offers pertinent questions and issues to consider before making any commitment to marriage. Breaking up for the glory of God may be necessary. The book also offers helpful advice for single women not in a relationship. It will expose the heart’s desires, and help her not to settle for being married to an unsuitable man, but to wait, relying that God’s grace will be sufficient. Single men should read the book as well. They will gain insight into the typical longings of a woman’s heart. If they find a chapter or two that serves as mirror for them, there is the choice to put away ungodly attitudes and become the mature man in Christ. It will also be a helpful read for friends of singles and those who counsel them. And while I agree the title is catchy, I wonder if it might put off exactly those who could benefit most from reading it. I was also left with the thought there could be a second volume, warning men which women to avoid: the manipulator, the gossip, the passive-aggressive, the I’ll-change-you-for-the-better-agent and of course, the unbeliever, the unchurched and the angry woman. All in all, I appreciated the honesty of Reju’s book. He writes with empathy and understanding. His advice rings true. Some final reflections: I read this book with keen awareness of the many beautiful, talented, educated, godly young women (and some men) in our church communities. I wonder what it’s like to be a single in our churches. That would be worthwhile to explore. Are they lonely even while being part of a congregation? Are they appreciated for who they are as singles, or perhaps somewhat pitied? How well do our churches serve and support our singles in their twenties and thirties, and beyond? Do our conversations revolve around our families, our spouses, and children with scant thought what that feels like to someone who longs for marriage and children? Do we encourage post-secondary education for our young women according to interest and ability, or do we fear that will make them less marriageable? Do we expect singles to shoulder tasks in the church because, “Well, they have the time, anyway?” Are we as inclusive as we purport to be? It’s a good thing when a book makes the reader reflect on the broader issues at play in our churches. She’s Got the Wrong Guy: Why Smart Women Settle is one of those books, and well worth the read!
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 italics 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. [We] 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 CAESARIt was, is, and always will be:
GOD and CAESARThe 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, [the Christian] 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.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction
BOOK REVIEW: Beating the college debt trap
Getting a degree without going broke by Alex Chediak 212 pages / 2015 In Canada, the average student debt among university graduates is now more than $26,000, and in the States, over $37,000, with only three in ten graduating from college debt-free. This may seem an inescapable reality – college tuition levels are on the rise, as are other costs like housing and textbooks. But author Alex Chediak makes the case that students can, and should, pursue post-secondary education with no, or manageable, debt. He does so by illustrating nine “traps” or commonly held notions about college that lead many students into debt. These traps include the ideas that a four-year degree is best for everyone, spending a fortune on a prestigious university is always a good idea, and that student loans are always worth it. This book is written from, and for, the American context, and the author acknowledges that although he’s “writing as a Christian” this isn’t a densely religious book. In spite of this, the principles taught in this book are applicable for a broader audience. And, while the pages aren’t brimming with scriptural proofs, the advice given is grounded in sound scriptural teaching about finances, stewardship, and debt. This is an excellent read for prospective post-secondary students, but maybe even more so for parents looking to give them sound advice.
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 [a bible] 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.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
BOOK REVIEWS: Two on depression and joy
SPURGEON'S SORROWS: Realistic hope for those who suffer from depression by Zack Eswine 144 pages / 2014 Drawing on over eighty sermons by C. H. Spurgeon (largely from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit), the author paints a vivid picture of the recurring bouts of depression, melancholy, and helplessness that harassed Spurgeon. But Spurgeon’s difficulties also enabled him to minister from the pulpit and in correspondence with many suffering from depression and from the callous comfort of “friends.” The book is organized under three themes:
1) Trying to understand depression 2) Learning how to help 3) Aids for daily copingThe author places a strong emphasis on the fact that depression often has “circumstantial, biological and spiritual contributors and challenges” and “that the spiritual side of things could originate its own kind of depression.“ He draws on sources contemporary to both Spurgeon and our day on depression, A section named: “Jesus Suffered Depression Too” may raise eyebrows! Spurgeon on Heb. 4:15 and Heb. 2:18:
“readily applies this sympathy of Jesus to include not only our physical weakness but also our ‘mental depression.’… Realistic hope is a Jesus-saturated thing.... [He] is an ally, a hero, a companion-redeemer, advocating for the mentally harassed.”
****THE HAPPY CHRISTIAN: Ten ways to be a joyful believer in a gloomy world by David Murray 256 pages / 2015 In this book David Murray sets out to:
“identify the major causes of negativity and unhappiness in our lives and outline ten biblical and practical ways to tilt the balance of our attitude, outlook, words, and actions that will lift our spirits, compel attention for the Christian faith, and make the Church an energizing force in a life-sapping culture.”The “key is individual Christians and the Christian church repositioning the positive symbol of the Christian faith, the cross of Jesus Christ, at the center of their faith again.” Murray combines biblical breadth and depth with current research and statistics on happiness and mental health. He presents this in an older more Puritan-style of writing, full of alliteration and multiple angles of description and application. Throughout the book there is much meat and sweetness to savor and meditate upon. The chapter on “Happy Differences” deals with the topic of “diversity” or “Why can’t everyone be more like me?” He carefully distinguishes between issues of ethnic/cultural diversities and seeing all moralities/immoralities as the same. One quibble: I do find it odd that virtually all the Scripture citations are in the end-notes and not in the text.
Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction, Remembrance Day, Teen fiction
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 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.
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
Book Reviews, Children’s picture books
4 picture books mom and dad won't mind reading
The Oxpecker and the Giraffe: I Need You and You Need Me by Patrick Fitzpatrick 32 pages / 3013 Giraffe is tired of his near-constant companion, the Oxpecker bird and wants him to go away. Or as he says it in the book:
You're always climbing on my skin. Your company is wearing thin, You are nothing but a pest, Fly away and let me rest.But Oxpecker knows something Giraffe doesn't: "I need you and you need me." Oxpecker feeds itself by eating the blood-sucking bugs that want to take a chunk out of Giraffe. That keeps Oxpecker's tummy full, and also keeps Giraffe nearly pest-free! The author, a creationist, makes it clear that such interdependence should have us glorifying the God who made them both. Vibrant pictures and a nice rhyming rhythm to it make this a fantastic educational book. But evaluating it simply as a picture book – evaluating it on an entertainment scale – then it is good rather than great. Our under 6 kids enjoyed it, and we had a good talk about it, but they haven’t been as interested in re-reading it as some others. So this would be ideal for a school library, but for parents it might be better to borrow than to buy. Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson 56 pages / 1936 C.W. Anderson (1891-1971) was only a middling author, but a fantastic illustrator. He wrote 30 children’s books about horses, including a series about a boy Billy, and his horse Blaze The adventure starts in this, the first book, with the horse-loving Billy getting his birthday wish: his very own pony. If your children like horses even a little bit they will love these books, because every second page is filled with another illustration of a horse in action. Anderson's sketches are big, and detailed, and beautiful. The stories are straight out of a simpler time – Billy and his friends are respectful to their parents, and their adventures involve exploring, rather than troublemaking. So they are nice stories, but what really makes these books special are the pictures…and that there are 11 books in all. After all, when a parent finds a solid book our children love, we find ourselves wishing there were more to enjoy! Our local library has 10 of the 11 books and our four and six year old have really enjoyed them. After their dad reads it, they’ll look through them again, peering intently at the pictures. The only downside I can think of is that this will make a horse-loving boy or girl just a bit more "pony-crazy." But…oh well. Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick 56 pages / 2015 It turns out that Winnie the Pooh, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort. Just as Winnie the Pooh starts with a father telling his son a story, so too Finding Winnie beings with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case the storyteller is the great granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way he met a man with a baby bear. To make a long story shorter, this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown – ended up in the London Zoo where a boy name Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, the same charm are present in both. This will be a treat for fans of Winnie the Pooh no matter what age. Winnie by Sally M. Walker 40 pages / 2015 In the very same year a second picture book came out about the bear behind the bear. Winnie: the True story of the Bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is also very good, very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
Undeniable: why doubting Darwin is a matter of common sense
There's no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but Douglas Axe’s Undeniable is something special – he explains why evolution isn’t merely wrong, but is so completely inadequate an explanation for life’s origins that even children can see through it. ON INTUITION In Romans 1:20 God tells that through His creation He has made His presence known to all – none have an excuse. So it shouldn’t surprise us that from the earliest age children intuitively disbelieve Darwin’s theory. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:
By elementary-school age children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists.And it isn't only children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:
Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent. Why is that? It's because it's hard not to see how well crafted creation is. We’re confronted with the undeniable reality that the marvelous animals we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete. When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – "five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease" – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, "some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are." An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art. This intuition is available to all. As he's says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:
The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years.ON WHY EVOLUTION IS A NON-STARTER There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:
Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.It's no different today:
[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik's] own diagnosis...is admirably frank: “Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.”As Axe puts it,
What's left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn't explain how things originate?WHAT EVOLUTION LACKS Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can't get innovation even on this tiny scale - enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?
The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did.Evolution isn't living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:
Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind “We never said he could dunk a basketball...or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.”Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme’s efficiency. But it can't make anything new. As Axe puts it, "As a finder of inventions, Darwin's evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but...it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler." So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:
Invention can't happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how.... What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident.THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK EVOLUTION CAN DO WONDERS [caption id="attachment_6655" align="alignright" width="560"] 274 pages / 2016 / by Douglas Axe[/caption] Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can't begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the "more advanced products of human technology" with one of Creation's simplest creatures.
Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection.This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world's most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 "needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table," its living rival "does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size."
The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls.Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man's more impressive accomplishments. So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn't compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection. Evolutionists point to time as their theory's savior - inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years? What’s behind this objection is only another example of why even a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, "Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge." Even if we grant time and countless trials we still know ingenuity – especially on the scale of living things! – can’t manifest itself. Creativity needs a creator. Inventions aren't created by accident.
The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump...may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion, trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself.CONCLUSION Axe set out to show that doubting Darwin is a matter of simple common sense, and he’s done a good job of it. This is going to be a pivotal book – the sort to get people riled up and talking for years to come. Axe is an Intelligent Design proponent, not a creationist, but this is a book that creationist can embrace. His argument is that biology blows up evolution – to that we can all agree. Unlike most in the ID community, he isn't hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book. This is an accessible book for anyone who has any appreciation for biology. He's written this for the non-scientist, and yes, there were a few spots where I found it tough slogging, but once I got through them the rest of the book was a breeze. I’d recommend this for anyone with an interest in biology and the evolution/creation debate – this is an exciting, and more than anything else, encouraging book. God has created all of life as a wonder beyond explanation! Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how much and how often mainstream science ridicules those who don't believe in evolution, it is the Darwin’s doubters who are on solid scientific ground.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
7 quotes from "Learning Contentment"
[caption id="attachment_6470" align="alignright" width="300"] 2017 / 115 pages[/caption] An in depth review is in the works, but in the meantime, here's a taste of Nancy Wilson's wonderful and, more to the point, challenging new book.
*****What is contentment? “Contentment is a deep satisfaction with the will of God.” On perfectionism “We sometimes flatter ourselves into think that it is a good character trait to be a ‘perfectionist.’ But this label brings much trouble and temptation with it. A so called perfectionist is never satisfied with his work (or anyone else’s work)…..As creatures we must learn to find our true satisfaction in our Creator God. Then we can be satisfied with out imperfect work. Then we can offer our imperfect work to Him and be thankful that He is satisfied with us in Christ. Then we can rest. Only God is perfect. When we think we can be perfect we are stumbling blindly.” We're allowed to be distressed “[Jesus] struggled in the garden in Gethsemane. He was ‘sorrowful and deeply distressed’ (Mt. 26:37). From this we learn that sorrow and distress are not contradictory to contentment. Jesus wrestled in prayer and asked God if there was any other possible way. But He concluded His time in prayer with “Your will be done” (Mt. 26:42)…. If we want to find contentment, humility must be our frame of mind. If we want to be like Christ, we must take the form of a servant." This is the other side of “Train up a child…and he will not depart from it” “The more we hear ourselves grumble and complain the more we take it to our heart and believe our own words. This is where crotchety old women come from. When they were young, they were complaining about something, and now that they’re old, it has become a way of life.” Grab a hold of your thoughts “One of the central ways we can resist mental temptations, including the temptation to be discontent, is to pay attention to what we are thinking about….Setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:2) literally means picking your thoughts up and moving them elsewhere. How do you begin to do this? First you have to tune in. What are you listening to all day? What you listening to when you go to bed, when you rise up, when you hop into the shower, when you drive across town? You may be surprised to notice how much fault-finding, reviewing of hurts and wrongs, wishing for things you don’t have, dissatisfaction, and complaining are going on….If you want to change your thought patterns you must practice thinking about things that are 'praiseworthy' and root out the things that are not.” There is no neutrality “We are always either feeding discontent and starving contentment, or feeding contentment and starving discontent.” What kind of score are you keeping? "Contentment counts its blessings. Discontent counts its grievances. Contentment is cheerful. Discontent pouts. Contentment takes the hit. Discontent points the finger. Contentment is generous. Discontent won’t share.”
Book Reviews, Music
Does God listen to Rap?
by Curtis Allen 2013 / 99 pages "Why wouldn't He?" That's the answer the author gives to his title question. Whether you agree or don't might depend on what you think of Rap's sinful origins. In chapters two and three, in the space of just 25 pages, author Curtis Allan gives an authoritative, detailed account of these beginnings. He explains it started back in the late '60s, and that even though some earlier innovators tried to use Rap to promote a social consciousness, it was the pimp/drug dealer-glorifying "Gangsta Rap" that ended up dominating the genre. The genetic fallacy Allen then investigates whether its sinful origins are reason enough to dismiss Rap. If they are, what then, he asks, are we to do with music itself, which seems to find its origins in the sinful line of Cain (Gen. 4:21). A good point, but I think a stronger argument should have been made with more examples, since this is a key point. It is a fallacy – the "genetic fallacy" – to condemn something simply for where it comes from. We don't do that with classical music composed by immoral composers, or foreign foods from pagan cultures, or anything else, so why would we do it with Rap? One very large issue that is left unexplored is whether the driving beat of Rap impacts its appropriateness for conveying Christian content. That is a significant omission, since this is the question for some Reformed Christians. Allen describes the lyrics as the content, and the music as the context. And to him it seems it is only the content that matters. The context - the music - seems to be almost a neutral aspect. Is music neutral? But this overlooks the way different sorts of music can impact us in distinct ways. For example, the thumping beat of Rap conjures up very different emotions than the rising swell of the string section in an orchestral piece. The beat might spawn feelings of aggression. This is the sort of music we would warm up to for a basketball game, or might want on our iPod when we go running - it drives us. Some orchestral music can tug at the tear ducts, bringing moisture to the eye of even the most stalwart of men. So music is far from a neutral, unimportant aspect of Rap – it brings the power to the words. I would suggest that there is a reason that Rock and Rap, with their thumping beat, are closely linked with sex, drugs and perversions of many sorts: the beat does get us aggressive, it does get us riled up, and if that energy isn't put to good use, it will be put to bad. God calls us to self-control That doesn't mean Rock and Rap are inherently bad – aggression is not an inherently bad emotion. But Rock and Rap are known for encouraging people to "lose yourself in the music" while God says we must instead be controlled. So we need to be aware of the emotions Rock and Rap can stir up, and ensure that they are properly channeled and directed. We need to ensure these emotions are constrained and controlled. There is a reason that the Billboard Top 100 is filled with sexually perverse songs – this is the aggression unrestrained. However, this aggression need not be unrestrained. A songs lyrics can do a lot to properly direct and control the emotions the music stirs up. But if we are going to control these emotions, we have to understand that the music – the context – is far from neutral or insignificant. It is the music that brings the power to the words. So this is a topic that should have been explored. However, the book is just 99 pages, so, clearly, it couldn't cover everything and what it does cover is well worth reading. In fact, it is worth buying for the historical background alone.
This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
Tactics: a game plan for discussing your Christian convictions
by Greg Koukl 2009 / 208 pages What would you do? You’re in a public place and you encounter a woman with a pentagram hanging on a necklace. Maybe it’s a fellow student at university. Perhaps a neighbor. You see this pagan five-pointed star and what would you say? For most of us, we probably wouldn’t say anything at all. But that would be a missed opportunity, according to author and apologist Greg Koukl. When Koukl encountered a store clerk with a pentagram pendant, he used the moment to ask some key questions of the young woman. His well-placed questions challenged her to think about her way of looking at the world. Koukl’s book Tactics teaches how to use the same method in all kinds of circumstances. Koukl wants to help Christians learn to share their faith in a winsome and Christ-like manner. He wants us to be confident in promoting the Christian worldview and its values. An upgrade on what I had For some years I’ve been teaching my pre-confession students a short unit on apologetics, teaching them how to defend and promote the Christian faith. I don’t just want to them to know what they believe; I also want them to know why they believe it. They should be equipped to deal with people who don’t believe and who might challenge them on their faith. For this apologetics unit, I’ve been using Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive as a textbook. Pratt’s book is good in many ways, but I’ve been looking for something better. Koukl’s Tactics recently came across my desk and I thought I might explore that as an alternative. At first I was skeptical. I’ve explored other options over the years, some even from Reformed authors, and I’ve been disappointed. So far as I know, Gregory Koukl isn’t a confessionally Reformed fellow, so how could this possibly work out as my new apologetics textbook? After all, I believe it is crucially important for our apologetics to be grounded in our Reformed theological convictions. Reformed in approach… Well, what a surprise! If Koukl isn’t Reformed, his approach sure sounds Reformed in most places. As mentioned above, he teaches readers to ask carefully crafted questions. He calls this the “Columbo Tactic,” after the famous bumbling-but-very-effective TV detective. These Columbo questions are meant to dissect the unbeliever’s worldview and poke holes in it so that they see that their worldview is incoherent and inconsistent. He wants us to help the non-believer see that even if they have a very nice house, it has no solid foundation. Anyone familiar with Reformed presuppositional apologetics is going to recognize the language and approach. Besides asking well-crafted questions, Koukl also suggests a few other strategies. One of them he calls “Taking the Roof Off.” This involves getting into someone else’s worldview or argument and taking it for a “test drive” to see where it ends up. In the words of Proverbs 26:5, it is “answering a fool according to his folly.” In this excerpt, Koukl shows how that might work:
The story is told of an atheist philosophy professor who performed a parlor trick each term to convince his students that there is no God. “Anyone who believes in God is a fool,” he said. “If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove he is God, and yet he can’t do it.” The professor then dropped the chalk and watched it shatter dramatically on the classroom floor.
If you meet anyone who tries this silly trick, take the roof off. Apply the professor’s logic in a test of your own existence. Tell the onlookers you will prove you don’t exist.
Have someone take a piece of chalk and hold it above your outstretched palm. Explain that if you really exist, you would be able to accomplish the simple task of catching the chalk. When he drops the chalk, let it fall to the ground and shatter. Then announce, “I guess this proves I do not exist. If you believe in me, you’re a fool.”
Clearly this chalk trick tells you nothing about God. The only thing it is capable of showing is that if God does exist, he is not a circus animal who can be teased into jumping through hoops to appease the whim of foolish people.Later in the book, one learns why Koukl’s approach is reassuringly comfortable to a Reformed apologist: by and large he learned it from Francis Schaeffer, who in turn learned it from Cornelius VanTil (the father of modern Reformed apologetics). What I appreciate most about this book is that it isn’t top-heavy with theory. Koukl provides the basic approach and then spends the greater part of the book illustrating how to use it. And he illustrates well. His writing is clear, concise, and enjoyable to read. I think my pre-confession students are going to love it! One caution Were there any issues or concerns? Let me mention one. In chapter 2, Koukl discusses the use of our minds and logic. A lot of what he says there is good and true. However, on page 32, he makes what he recognizes will be a controversial statement to some: “Therefore the mind, not the Bible, is very first line of defense God has given us against error.” This is because, he says, the mind is first in terms of the order of knowing things. I know what he is trying to say, yet he seems to create a false dilemma between the Bible and the human mind when it comes to our knowing. For us to know rightly, we need to have our minds regenerated by the Holy Spirit and our thoughts guided by the Word of God. It’s not a case of either…or, but both…and. In the words of Psalm 36:9, it is in God’s light that we see light. Our thoughts are meant to follow after God’s thoughts. Conclusion Obviously I’m going to highly recommend this book to anyone else teaching apologetics, whether to young people or others. In school Bible classes or church catechism classes, this little book could add some extra punch to your instruction. Moreover, for anyone just interested in becoming better at sharing our Christian hope with others – which should be all of us – you need to read this book too.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
God and government
Biblical Principles for Today: An introduction and Resource by Cornelis Van Dam 330 pages / 2014Any Christian who wants to be involved in politics, or any politician who wants to understand Christians who are involved in politics, needs to read this book. Dr. Van Dam explores the two great foundations of Canadian politics – Christianity and humanism – and the nature of the conflict between them. Then, after outlining the conflict, Dr. Van Dam makes clear how Christian principles can function in a world dominated by humanistic ideals. Christians and humanists have very different views of the origin and task of government, the relationship of church and state, and the concepts of human rights and toleration – but, as Van Dam shows from both Biblical and historical evidence, the Christian understandings of these concepts leads to both greater stability and freedom for society. That same general form of looking at the fruit of the two worldviews leads to enlightening discussions of the differences an approach guided by the Bible could make in areas like the abortion and euthanasia debates, the issue of capital punishment, the need for traditional marriage, the balance of productive work and necessary weekly rest, the stewardship of creation, and immigration policy. By this point in my reading, my renewed commitment to see Biblical values reaffirmed in our politics had me primed for the last section – "Working for Change" – which first describes the Biblical reasons for getting involved in the government of the country, and ends with a look at the many excellent organizations that are doing just that. The study questions and bibliography at the end make this an excellent resource for starting some political activism of your own, with both insightful Biblical application and plenty of written and online works, as well as the groups mentioned above, to help you (and me) and like-minded Christians to get going (or to keep going, only with a little better grounding in basic principles). Of course, this conflict isn’t limited to Canada – humanism and Christianity are also battling it out in the US, in Australia and most other Western nations – so this would be a great book for Reformed Christians in all those counties. To get a print copy of God and Government, Australians, Canadians, and Americans can email info@ARPACanada.ca for information – they have a suggested donation of $10. Americans also have the option of a Kindle version for just $10 at Amazon.com.
This review was first published on ReallyGoodReads.com. You can read two excerpts from the book: the first is on what principled pluralism is, and the second is on the Bible and pluralism.
Book Reviews, Children’s fiction
3 fantastic books/free videos children will love
Dai Hankey has a great voice, and has paired up with a fantastic illustrator for his three books about Eric, and how this little fellow learns to say thanks, please, and sorry. Usually an author's voice isn't all that relevant, but in the three videos below we get to listen in as he reads his books (which can all be found at The Good Book Company). Fun stuff! ERIC SAYS THANKS 32 pages / 2016 In Eric Says Thanks this little boy models some fantastic enthusiasm as he learns Who to give credit to for the goodness he's been giving in his "brecky." https://youtu.be/qiAhf98SpuM ERIC SAYS PLEASE 32 pages / 2017 Eric wants to show he can do it all himself, but the little fellow soon learns that pride goeth before a fall...right out of a tree! When Eric finally realizes he can't do it on his own, his grandfather points Eric to Who he can go to, to ask for help. https://youtu.be/P3X7uGzCKRI ERIC SAYS SORRY 32 pages / 2016 When Eric messes up he tries all sorts of way to get out of trouble, but lying, shifting blame, and coming up with excuses don't get him anywhere. But when his dad gives him grace - epic grace! - and pays for the broken pot, Eric gets a glimpse at the grace God gives us. We can't earn forgiveness. But we can ask for it. Parents with highly developed "arminian sniff detectors" might detect a hint of this theology in the author's commentary after the book concludes. But if it's there (and I don't know if it is) it certainly isn't anything that children will notice or be impacted by. And it doesn't come up in the book at all. https://youtu.be/yDV9-cUz40s
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
Spanking resources to read, listen, or watch
God gave us children, and gave us his Word to show us how best to raise them up to know and love Him. In addition He gave us godly teachers to help us grow in knowledge and wisdom so we can better be able to take up this privileged and awesome responsibility. You can find three different teachers below, all espousing variations on the same theme. All are excellent, so whether you learn best via listening, watching, or reading, there is something here for you. Biblical Childrearing by Douglas Wilson Approx. 3 hours Format: Audio In this series of four sermons Pastor Douglas Wilson goes over the biblical principles, and explains the practical outworking of them. Of the three selections here I’d say this is the most clearly biblically grounded – Wilson spends more time than the others connecting what he is saying to what God has said. This is available on CD, or as a $6 US audio download at CanonPress.com. Getting to the Heart of Parenting by Paul Tripp Approx. 4.5 hours Format: Video Paul Tripp is a favorite in our church circles and for good reason. In this video series Tripp emphasizes how very important it is to keep our focus on nurturing our children’s hearts rather than on the externals of their behavior. It is available on DVD or as a $35 US video download at PaulTripp.com. Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard 150 pages Format: Paperback This might be the most practically-focused of the three, with Ginger Hubbard offering plenty of illustrative conversations to show how we might best talk to and teach our children discipline. The one caution I will add is that Hubbard doesn’t have a covenantal understanding of childrearing – she views our children as being pagans in need of conversion rather than as prince and princesses who have received promises. However this is only a minor matter in the book, popping up in only a few places. And since Hubbard grounds what she says about discipline in what the Bible says, her advice is good and godly. Her book is available as a $5 ebook at Shepherdpress.com and also at most any online bookstore.
LEARNING ABOUT LUTHER: 10 titles your family will enjoy
Five hundred years ago a learned monk drew up 95 pointed arguments and asked for a debate. What he got was a revolution. Fast forward five centuries, and on the very same evening that others are dressing up as demons and celebrating death, at least a few kids are putting on brown bathrobes and dressing up as a round Reformation giant. On Oct. 31, each year, we remember Luther posting his 95 theses, and we celebrate the man's courage, his insight, and his love for the Lord. Largely overlooked are his faults. Oh, yes, we know about his attempts at self-justification, and his crass insults, and even his anger, but in the books and films that are recommended below, Luther’s darkest side is hardly raised. Maybe it comes from a desire not to speak ill of the dead. After all, when we reminisce about our Great Aunt Ditty we fondly recall how she loved to sew doll clothes for all her grandchildren, but we don’t bring up the disagreeable face she made whenever a particular ethnic group crossed her path. The fifth commandment would seem to encourage us to talk only about what was good and praiseworthy about our dearly departed. That’s a good approach for the Great Aunt Dittys of the world, but something more is needed when it comes to Christian heroes. Then there is a reason to acknowledge both the good and the bad. As Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories – so much so that we can take the proper respect (Heb. 13:7) we have for one of God’s servants and twist and pervert it into something that blocks our view of God. We go from respecting the man, to worshipping the legend, and getting angry if anyone dares mention his faults. But acknowledging his flaws guards us against hero worship. It also keeps us from being blindsided by the critics who want to attack the good God did through him. When we understand that even a man after God’s own heart like David – giant-killer and slayer of tens of thousands – was also an adulterer and a murderer, we aren’t going to put him on a pedestal. And then we won’t have to worry about critics trying to knock him off that pedestal. It’s important, then, to acknowledge that Luther said some dreadful things about the Jews. In his earliest writings he was kind and winsome, trying to evangelize to them. But in his later years he concluded that God was done with the Jews, and he wrote a 60,000-word treatise called On The Jews And Their Lies. In it he encouraged that their synagogues and homes be burned, their books and money taken, and their rabbis killed if they didn’t stop teaching. He also repeated, as true, lies about Jews poisoning wells and kidnapping children. This is Luther at his worst, writing a book that Nazis reprinted. So how do we handle Luther’s dark side? We acknowledge it and clearly identify it for the sin that it is. And then we continue our 500th anniversary party. This was never supposed to be all about the man, but rather the wonderful truths he rediscovered about God’s grace and mercy and love. And when we understand our hero’s failings, then how can we help but glorify God all the more, appreciating how He can use fallen, frail, sinful sorts like Luther – and like you and me – to accomplish his glorious ends?
*****It’s been said there are more books about Martin Luther than on any other human being. But some are dry and dusty. Some need a forklift to pick up. And some need a dictionary in hand just to get through them. These aren’t the kind of books we’re after. Our focus is on engaging, and readable. So we're suggesting novels, pictures books and comics that parents will enjoy reading to their kids. And there's a movie, novels, and non-fiction for mom and dad, that they can finish in a quiet evening or two. These aren’t big books, and these aren’t long movies, but they are intriguing. My hope is that you’ll find a good match for everyone in your family. CHILDREN’S BOOKS Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr 2016 / 62 pages This is the perfect book for any 4th grader and up looking to do a school project on the Reformer. Like other entries in Simonetta Carr's series of "Christian biographies for young readers" Martin Luther is a gorgeous book. It is a beautifully bound, with thick pages, and includes 12 full-page paintings among its 44 illustrations. It is also well-researched, and wonderfully detailed. After reading more than a dozen works on Luther I was pleasantly surprised to still be learning so many new things from a children's book. For example, I don't think I'd ever before heard that Martin had a special relationship with his young brother Jacob, nor that Jacob might have been with him when Luther was "kidnapped" on his way home from the Diet of Worms. And it was interesting to learn that Luther's famous "brand" – the Luther rose – was designed for him at the request of his protector, John Frederick of Saxony. What makes this book special is how much Carr has managed to pack in its 60 pages. But that also means that even though this is a picture book, it is probably too much for children in Grades 1 or 2. I think the best bet is Grade 4 and up. Overall, Carr gives a generous assessment of Luther, focussing on his strengths. But she is willing to at least note his faults, the biggest of which is what he wrote about the Jews in his later years. Carr makes brief mention of it, noting that he "wrote against the Jews" and there is no "excuse for writing what he did." I'd recommend this as a wonderful educational resource, and by that I mean that while it makes learning easy, this isn't the type of frothy, brightly-colored picture book that young children will pick up simply for entertainment. It will need a teacher's or parent's prompt. Thunderstorm in Church by Louise A. Vernon 1974 / 132 pages It isn't easy being the son of a giant. In Louise Vernon's children's novel, we get to hear Luther's story told from the perspective of his young son Hans, who is worried that he won't measure up to his father. Though I'm a bit outside the intended demographic, I found it a very fun read, and I think that's because, with one of his offspring acting as the narrator, this is a really unique look at Luther. Hans reveals to us a father who is both funny and furious - a man of quick temper who also laughs a lot. Having Hans narrate also allows Luther to teach us, as he instructs his son, some of the truths that he uncovered about God's grace – that we don't have to buy the forgiveness that God freely offers. Some reviewers have faulted the book for being too dialogue-driven, and there is a lot of talking. But Vernon inserts a few actions scenes as well, like when the town's bullies want to teach the son of the famous Doctor Luther a lesson or two. If your child is a reader, this is a book that could be enjoyed simply as entertainment – it is fun, even if it has some slower sections. As an educational tool, the age-level this is aimed at – as young as Grade 3 – may have to be alerted that this is a fictionalized biography, and that this means only the general facts are true, but many of the details are just a matter of imagination. Overall, Thunderstorm in Church is a wonderful book that could make for a nice night time read with your kids. Also worth a mention Old Testament historian Paul L. Maier’s picture book Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World is simply gorgeous, and a wonderful introduction to the man for younger readers. RC Sproul also has a great picture book for younger children called The Man Who Wanted to Pray, about Luther teaching his barber how to talk to God. And what the barber learned from Luther, our children can learn from the barber. I should note that there is one picture of Jesus, with his face mostly, but not entirely obscured. GRAPHIC NOVELS Luther by Rich Melheim illustrated by Jonathan Koelsch 2016 / 72 pages I've reviewed other "comic biographies" and never enjoyed one more. Luther is scripted like a movie, has witty dialogue with actions scene interspersed, and the artwork is of the same quality you would find in Marvel or DC comics – it is fantastic! Educational comics, as a genre, are valuable in that they make learning history a lot less painful. But very few of these educational graphic novels are the sort that a teen would just pick up and start reading. Luther is the exception. I don't want to over-hype it – a kid who reads nothing but superhero comics will still find this a bit of a stretch – but it really is as good a comic as you will find. Since this is intended for teens, I'll note a few cautions. The word "crap" is mentioned three times, "ass" once, and "old fart" once. But when you consider this is a comic about the notoriously potty-mouthed Luther, this is really quite tame. I’ll also note there is a depiction of Christ on the inside back cover of the book that is not part of the story, but rather part of an ad for other comics by the same publisher. Also: the comic treats as fact that famous conclusion to Martin Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms, where he is said to have declared, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." There is some dispute as to whether he ever said these words. The comic has several strengths including the overall picture it gives of the happenings going on in the broader world that made it possible for Luther to both spark this Reformation and live into old age and die a natural death. I’ve always wondered why the Emperor didn’t just have him killed. Perhaps it was because, as we learn in this comic, Charles V was busy contending with Turkish expansion and might not have wanted to risk alienating any of his German princes. Another strength is that while this account is sympathetic, it does note one of Luther's weaknesses: that sometimes Luther's pen got the best of him and he could write some "terrible and hateful words" denouncing Jews, Calvinists, and Anabaptists alike. Overall this is a comic that teens and adults (who aren't embarrassed to be seen reading a comic) will certainly enjoy. Luther: Echoes of the Hammer by Susan K. Leigh illustrated by Dave Hill 2011 / 144 pages I think this is the perfect compliment to the other Luther comic reviewed here. Whereas Luther is the more exciting of the two, it plays a little looser with the details. Meanwhile Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is a more reliable history lesson, but it isn't as dramatic. I tested this graphic novel on two of my nephews with mixed results. The older one, heading to grade 10, was happy to take a look, and thought it would be a great way to learn about Luther. The other, two years younger, seemed to think it was too much biography, and not enough comic book for his tastes. As far as comics go, this one is quite an involved, even heavy, read. Interspersed throughout are explanations of key events, like the Diet of Worms, key terms, like “indulgences,” and key figures, like Charles of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. These one or two-page insertions really add to the narrative and make this a highly educational comic. However, a few of these insertions will also trouble informed Reformed readers. In one list of Luther’s adversaries, Calvin is numbered among them! While it is true Calvin and Luther had their differences, it is surprising to see Calvin listed as an opponent. Especially when, some pages later, we find Erasmus listed as one of Luther’s supporters! While Erasmus was, like Luther, critical of the Roman Church, he never left it, and this led to strong, vitriolic disagreements with Luther. In fact Luther once called Erasmus, “the very mouth and organ of Satan.” It is downright silly, then, for the authors to list Erasmus as a friend if they are going to list fellow Reformer John Calvin as an adversary. The only other quibble would be the overestimation the authors have of Philip Melanchthon, describing him as “a great Reformer, second only to Martin Luther.” Second? Really? How can they overlook Calvin like that? Those quibbles aside, this is a impressive book. The writing is crisp, succinct and engaging. The artwork is attractive and instructive – many of these pictures are worth a thousand words. For example, in the pages covering Luther’s visit to Worms illustrator Dave Hill shows us the man’s quiet passion, his many supporters, and his opponents marshaled together. This gives us a good understanding of the setting, and thus a better understanding of the courage it took for Luther to stand up for what he knew to be true. Older teens will enjoy it, and many an adult too. Also worth a mention The same folks who created Luther: Echo of the Hammer, created a sequel, focused on his wife. Katie Luther is a little shorter, and a little less involved, but also quite enjoyable. YOUNG ADULT FICTION The Story of Martin Luther by Danika Cooley 2015 / 231 pages This is a treat! The target audience is teens, but like any fantastic book, adults are sure to enjoy it too. In fact, this is the perfect book for any adults who feel a need to know more about church history but are a little reluctant to get started. That's how I'd characterize myself. As a student I hated history – learning dates and names seemed pointless. Now I understand it is important to know where we came from, and I want to learn more....but I have no interest in learning it from a dry, dusty tome. That's why this was such a treat. In the hands of a talented writer, it doesn’t take much to make Luther's life exciting. As doubt-filled as he was early on, the Reformer was bombastic after he understood that forgiveness is a gift given, not earned. This is a man who: was condemned by the pope as a heretic had 200 knights pledge to protect him didn't want to marry lest he quickly leave his wife a widow was kidnapped masqueraded as a knight helped formulate the German language cared for Plague victims ended up marrying a nun And it would be easy to go on and on. While much of the day-to-day dialogue is fictionalized, a strength of the book is the many genuine quotes that are interspersed throughout (these are identifiable by the endnote numbers after such quotes). One example: in a debate at Lepzig University, Johann Eck hits Luther with a stinging question:
"Are you the only one who knows anything? With the exception of you, is all the church in error?"It stung because Luther, plagued by self-doubt, had been wondering this very same thing. But Luther also knows that God's truth doesn't depend on Luther being brilliant. Nope - God can spread his truth using even the dumbest of beasts, as Luther notes in his reply:
"I answer that God once spoke through the mouth of a donkey."Another strength is how the book reveals more of the man – warts and all – than many other biographies. While Cooley largely skips over Luther's love of scatological insults (this is a book intended for younger readers, after all) she does share how Luther's anger stung not only the pope, but allies as well. She has Luther attempt to justify himself:
"It is precisely because of my outbursts that the Lord has used me! I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened."There is a time and place for anger, and God made good use of Luther's righteous anger. But later, as Luther aged, it seems he came to indulge in anger, and that got him and others into trouble. Cooley shares how Luther's anger cost him friends. And it was in his anger that he wrote his tract condemning the Jews, who were already facing persecution. So he used his influence for great good, but his anger meant that at times his influence also caused great harm. When Lightning Struck! would make a great present to just about any reader, particularly if they have even the slightest interest in church history. I'd even recommend this to teens who have the same bad attitude towards history that I once did. For them, this might be a bit of a gamble, but if you can get your son or daughter to promise to read through the first 60 pages, that should have them hooked. Luther in love by Douglas Bond 2017 / 320 pages Luther in Love shows us the Reformer from the perspective of his better half. The story begins with 62-year-old Luther spending an evening in his chair. He's not in the best of health – worn out from a lifetime of controversy and conflict – and his dear wife knows that it can't be long before he is gone. So she has given herself a bittersweet project to complete. Others have written accounts of the Reformer, but always from one extreme or the other - either thinking him "the spawn of Satan" or "a living angel." She wants the world to know the real man, and she's going to record his story as he remembers it. But Katie doesn't want her husband to know what she's up to, so even as she's prodding him about the past, and has paper and quill at the ready, he thinks she's busy keeping track of the family finances and other business matters. It's a great premise and let's Bond explore Luther's life through the appreciative, but far from naive, perspective of his helpmeet. After all, who knows a man better than his wife? One strength of the book is the thorough research evident throughout - we are immersed in Luther's world! And then there is Bond's writing – this is the fourth fictionalized biography Bond has written about Reformers, and he is a master of this form. Again and again I had to get up to find my wife and read sections to her that were simply too exciting, or too sweet, not to share. Some of that sweetness comes up when the couple is teasing and debating each other. Bond gives us a wonderful look at how two souls can grow old together and continue growing in love for one another. It's a book about Luther, but it's also a model for marriage. Of the many books I've read about Luther, this is one of the biggest. But it might just be the fastest read. That's why I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone, teens and up. It is funny, entertaining, informative, sweet, challenging, and more. Also worth a mention Christine Farenhorst’s new novel, Katharina, Katharina is the Reformation as it happened far from the walls of Wittenburg. While Luther never makes an in-book appearance, he is still a central figure – Farenhorst gives us an intriguing look at this monk and his work by showing us how he was being debated and discussed by the regular folk of his day. MARTIN AT THE MOVIES Torchlighters: The Martin Luther Story 2016 / 34 minutes The strength of this film is its short length. At just 34 minutes, it can be shown in the space of a single school period. For the pre-teens this is intended for, that might be just the right length, with the quick pace, and colorful animation sure to grab most students’ attention. But the biggest weakness of this short film is….its length. It is far too short to tell this story with the gravitas it needs – Luther’s spiritual wrestling is dealt with in just 7 minutes! It also ends abruptly, with Luther busy translating the Bible into German in Wartburg Castle. The narrator then spends just a single minute summing up the whole of the second half of Luther's life. And then the credits role. I should note a couple of inclusions that might have been better left out. Luther is told that the very night he nailed up his 95 Theses, his long-time protector, Duke Frederick, had a dream about a monk writing on a church door with a quill that was so long it extended all the way to Rome "where it toppled the crown off of a lion." This is presented as the reason Frederick was willing to defend his rebellious trouble-making monk: God had told him ahead of time that his monk was going to topple the pope. But while the movie portrays this as fact, there is reason to think this might just be a popular myth. Also, at the film's conclusion, there is a passing, two or three second shot of a title page illustration from one of Luther's books depicting Christ on the cross, with Luther and John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony kneeling below. I make mention of it, for any who consider this a violation of the Second Commandment. That said, this is a great film for children who don't yet have the attention span for a longer Luther film – it will certainly keep most children engaged, and does give a good overview. Check out the trailer here. Martin Luther 1953 / 105 minutes What sort of film is Martin Luther? The sort that gets produced by a church, and yet gets nominated for an Oscar – solid theology paired with high production values. How often has that happened? It does get off to a slow start; the first couple of minutes are more documentary than drama. But when we get introduced to Niall MacGinnis as Luther, his brilliant portrayal sweeps us into the story. We follow along, starting with his tormented time in the monastery, and continue all the way through to his marriage to an ex-nun. MacGinnis captures all the contradictions of the man – even as the Reformer stands before the Diet of Worms strong and defiant he is distraught and trembling. This is certainly among the best Christian films ever made. As a caution I will note that while there is nothing graphic in the film (it is G-rated), some scenes are psychologically intense. I think that would just go over the heads of most children, but for some young sensitive sorts, Luther's spiritual turmoil might be too much. This is a black and white film, which is a mark against it in many minds. But if you're considering showing this to your class or to your family, here's the secret to helping them get into it: make the sound your priority! In a dialogue-driven film it's the sound, much more than the visuals, that really matters. I still remember watching this with my Grade 6 classmates, years ago. The screen was small – minuscule by today's standards – but this big box TV had great speakers. There was no fuzziness, no straining to understand what was being said – we could all follow it. And after 30 minutes or so, we were all hooked. There are quite a number of films about Martin Luther, with at least a half dozen dramas, and more than a dozen documentaries. The best known is probably the 2003 Luther that played in major theaters, and starred Joseph Fiennes (of Shakespeare in Love fame). It is a wonderful film (and in color!) but marred by an instance or two where God's name is taken in vain. As well, it focuses a little more on Luther's external struggles with the powers that be, and a little less on his own internal struggles. That makes for more action, but less of a theological focus – more about Martin, but God somehow fades into the background. So the 1953 Martin Luther is the better educational film. This would be great for a family movie night. I've seen kids as young as 7 enjoy it, though with younger children you're going to want to break it into a few "chunks" so it's spread out over two or three nights. But for those 12 and up, so long as they are "forced" to give it a half hour ("No, you can't check your smartphone while watching this") it will grab them and give them a good understanding of the amazing work God performed through this man. Watch the trailer here. ADULT NON-FICTION The heroic boldness of Martin Luther by Steven J. Lawson 145 pages / 2013 My brother Jeff called this “a book that every Protestant minister should read….because it uses the story of the first Protestant minister, Martin Luther, to show what Protestant ministers should be doing with the word of God.” To be clear, this isn’t so much a biography as it is an examination of Luther’s “conviction about the Word” and his approach to preaching. Before the Reformation, church services were dominated by the Mass, and by rituals, but Luther and others made preaching central. And not just preaching, but biblical preaching that was willing to be controversial, not for controversy’s sake, but because apostasy needed to be challenged, and sin needed to be named. There was a need to have God’s Word set loose. Author Steven Lawson thinks that’s just as true today, so he’s hoping that Luther’s example – his respect for Scripture, his practice of reading through the whole Bible twice each year, his passionate delivery off the pulpit – can inspire others to go and do likewise. That makes this a book that might seem like it would only be for ministers. But while it does definitely have particular relevance for them, all of us can learn from Luther’s zeal to grow in the knowledge of his Lord. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses by Timothy J. Wengert 2015 / 90 pages If you want to understand Luther and the reforms he began, can there be a better place to start than his 95 theses? When I first got my copy in the mail, I was struck by how short it was. This is the Pope-shaking document that God used to start it all? Shouldn't it be...heavier? And if we were to take out the introduction, commentary, and study guide, Luther's 95 theses only amounts to 13 or 14 pages! Thankfully, Timothy Wengert stretches it out to (a still slim) 90 pages so he can present Luther's pivotal work in the right context. He uses his introduction to set the scene, explaining how the doctrine of indulgences evolved from bad to worse. He also includes two other documents – Luther's letter to the Bishop of Mainz in which he respectfully asks the bishop to consider the theses, and Luther's "Sermon on Indulgences and Grace" written a year later, in 1518, which was an explanation of his 95 theses intended for the common people. In the theses themselves, Wengert fills almost half of each page with footnotes to clarify Luther's more difficult points. So this is a short, but intense read – it will take some effort to work through it, but not all that much time. And to make the going a little easier, Wengert has sprinkled in all sorts of fascinating facts. Did you know Luther may never have posted his theses to the church door? The first published account of this particular detail occurs in 1546, four months after Luther's death. If he did post them he probably used wax, not nails. Luther's 95 theses were not the first he had written. This was a common communication form among students and professors, and just one month before, in Sept 1517, Luther composed 97 theses against scholastic theology. Outside of God's Word, Luther's 95 theses might be the key document that our Father used to reform his Church. It isn't long. It is an education. Also worth a mention John Piper’s The Legacy of Sovereign Joy is about Luther, Calvin and Augustine, and the joy the three found in knowing God better. It is short, at just 150 pages, and an informative encouraging read. It’s also free as an e-book here.
Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Children’s picture books
46 children's books to foster the love of reading and learning
We are "People of the Book" so reading should be, and is very important, to us. The goal of all reading is to become readers of the Good Book. It is not enough to teach our children the ability to read; we must also nurture our children to be aware that the content of books should lead us to the author of the Good Book. The following is a treasure trove of books that tries to help with attaining that goal. To make a list of favorite books is a daunting task. No sooner is the list completed and another treasure is found and could be added to the repertoire of great books. I hope you get reacquainted with some of your favorites and that your own list of great books will grow. Almost all of these selections are picture books that preschoolers and children in the early grades will enjoy, but there are several "chapter books" which are intended for children who are in at least Grade One or Two (these exceptions are noted in the reviews that follow). Happy reading with your children! OLDIE GOLDIES Some books are timeless gems. Even though they have been written many years ago, these classics have stood the test of time and continue to appeal to children today. On occasion these classics have been updated - “Disneyfied” - and have lost a lot of their substance, so make sure your read the original version. Make way for the duckling by Robert McCloskey Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for just the right place to raise their brood of duckling in New York City. Caps for sale by Esphyr Slobodkina Some monkeys take on the saying of “Monkey see, monkey do” and get into monkey business with a hat peddler. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel Help is slow to come for a Chinese boy with a long name who falls into a well. Frog and Toad are friends by Arnold Lobel Get every Frog and Toad book in this series and you will not be disappointed. The story of Ping by Marjorie Flack First published back in 1933, this is the story of a funny duck and his misadventures living on the Yangze River. The world of Pooh by A.A. Milne Watch out for the many Disneyfied versions of this story, as only the classic orginal retains the author's lyrical charm. This is a chapter book, so it might seem to be something intended for grade school children, but even young children are likely to enjoy it. Joseph had a little overcoat by Simms Taback Joseph’s worn coat becomes smaller pieces of clothing until he makes it into a button that he then loses, but that is not the end for, “You can always make something out of nothing.” Stone soup by Marcia Brown When hungry soldiers come to a town of greedy inhabitants, they set out to make a soup of water and stones and the whole town enjoys the feast. The tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter Mrs. Rabbit tells her bunnies not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden, but Peter does not listen and gets into all kinds of mischief. BOOKS TO TICKLE THE FUNNY BONE We have all hear it at one time or another: “I don’t like to read.” One way to hook your reluctant reader is to start with humorous books. No one can walk away from a book that makes them laugh and humorous books will then help build bridges to other types of books. A book that tickles the funny bone will help the child who doesn’t like to read become one who loves to read. More parts by Tedd Arnold A hilarious book where a boy fears that the idioms he hears all around him (like "give me a hand") are to be understood literally. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs by Judi Barrett Imagine a town where meals rain from the sky! Disaster strikes when the town is bombarded with massive-sized portions of food. Knuffle bunny: a cautionary tale by Mo Williams A small girl, not yet able to talk, tries to get her father to understand that her beloved bunny has been left behind at the laundromat. The principal’s new clothes by Stephanie Calmenson This is a respectable twist on the Han Christian Andersen fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. Hairy Maclary from Donalson’s dairy by Lynley Dodd A rhyming story about a cheeky little dog and his pals who gets into mischief. A FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS Can your child recognize the names: Beethoven, Bach or Brahms? How about Monet or Michelangelo? Even if you are not the artsy type once you read these tales you will have to admit these artists lead colorful lives that make great stories to read. Hallelujah Handel by Douglas Cowling Handel, living in the Charles Dickens era, uses his music to help some of the destitute homeless boys of England. This is 48-page book, so most suitable for children in at least Grade One or Two. Camille and the sunflowers by Laurence Anholt Based on a true story of a boy and the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. Berlioz the bear by Jan Brett A story based on the composer Berlioz and his strange sounding double bass. Linnea in Monet’s garden by Christina Bjork A young girl visits Monet’s garden in Paris. This book contains many pictures of Monet’s paintings, and also quite a bit of text, so it is best read to slightly older children. Katie meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew Katie visits the museum and becomes part of the famous painting of the Impressionists. The Farewell Symphony by Anna Harwell Celenza Here is the story behind Joseph Hayden’s famous Farwell Symphony. This picture book has quite a bit more text than average so it is best suited to grade school children. SNOOZERS It is good to set aside at least one traditional time each day for reading. The best time to read to wiggly children is at night when they are tired and ready to go to bed. The snoozer books in this list deal with the ritual of going to bed and hopefully will help your active child relax and soon drift off to sleep. The napping house by Audrey Wood Grandma takes a nap and her grandchild climb on top of her, and then one thing leads to another, and disaster leads to delight. Goodnight moon by Margret Wise Brown A little rabbit is tucked in bed but he must say goodnight to everything in the room as it grows darker and darker. Llama, llama, red pajama by Anna Dewdney Baby Llama has a hard time sleeping and needs his mama’s assurance that, “She’s always near even if she’s not right there.” The prince won’t go to bed by Dayle Anne Dodds A little prince in a medieval world will not go to bed and nothing will help… except a goodnight kiss. Russell the sheep by Rob Scotton Even sheep count sheep when they can’t sleep. Goodnight, goodnight construction site by Sherri Duskey Even the equipment at the construction site needs to lie down and rest after another day of rough and tough work. Ira sleeps over by Bernard Waber A little boy must decide if he wants to take his teddy bear to a sleepover at his friend’s house. GIRLS WITH SPUNK I like girls with attitude - the right kind of attitude that is. I'm not talking about the kind of attitude that is obsessed with ones' self and with what's popular in the world. No, I mean the sort of attitude that is determined to learn what it means to be an image bearer of God. Here are some of those sort of girls. Fancy Nancy by Jan O’Connor Nancy is a girl who loves everything fancy; even the words that she uses are fancy. The courage of Sarah Nobel by Alice Dagliesh A young girl journeys into the wilderness, in this chapter book, and there overcomes her fears of wolves and savage Indians. Hannah by Gloria Whelan This 64-page chapter book is set in the pioneering days. When the new teacher persuades a family to allow their “poor, blind Hannah” to attend school, the young girl learns how to read and write. The story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles This is the true story of an American six-year-old girl who was the first black to attend an all-white school; it is a story of courage and faith. Ramona by Beverley Cleary There’s never been anyone quite like Ramona, a girl with boundless energy and mischievous antics. My Great-Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston Arizona was a girl who loved to sing, dance, read and dream of visiting faraway places, though she never did travel. Instead she became a teacher who influenced many children. The gardener by Sarah Stewart Set in the Depression era, a young girl is sent to live with her crotchety uncle because her family is struggling financially, and she tries to brighten the world around her. BOYS WILL BE BOYS Readers often make connections to what they are reading. Children will identify with and want to be one of the characters in a story, which thus becomes a role model for the reader. Therefore, what your child is reading is also developing who they are becoming as an adult. A good book should have characters that we wish our children to emulate. Here are some such characters. First flight by George Shea Young Tom Tate has volunteered to try out the Wright brothers’ first flying machine. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown Stanley becomes flattened when a bulletin board falls on him and he discovers that there are some things only a flat person can do. The Kingfisher book of great boy stories This 160-page anthology includes passages from such stories as Winnie-the-Pooh, Flat Stanley, The Jungle Book and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is a great way to get a “taste” of children’s classic literature. Zella Zack and Zodiac by Bill Peet A zebra and ostrich help each other survive in this zany tale. ELDERLY HERO AND HEROINES As a doting grandparent I have learned there is a unique bond between the young and the elderly - both understand that the other needs special care and attention, and both are happy to reciprocate. The following books beautifully portray this loving relationship. So grandparents, find a great book, cuddle up with a child, and read. You’ll be surprised what you have in common. When lightning comes in a jar by Patricia Pollacco Grandma’s ritual of catching lightening bugs in a jar will be remembered for generations to come. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox Young Wilfrid loves his friend from the nursing home because she has a long name like him, and he wants to help her find her lost memory. Grandfather and I by Helen Buckely Family life can be very busy. But Grandfather always has time to walk with his grandson and look around “just as long as they like.” The old woman who named things by Cynthia Rylant An old woman who has outlived all her friends is reluctant to become too attached to anything she might outlive. So when a stray dog starts visiting she certainly won't give it a name - she doesn't want to become attached! However, when it goes missing she has a change of heart... Grandpa’s teeth by Rod Clement It’s a disthasther when grandpa’s false teeth go missing. Mr. Putter and Tabby catch the cold by Cynthia Rylant I smile and chuckle every time I read a Mr. Putter and Tabby book. The Wednesday surprise by Eve Bunting A granddaughter teaches her grandmother to read. Now one foot, now the other by Tomi DePaola Grandpa teaches Bobby to walk when he is young, and later in life when grandpa has a stroke Bobby helps his grandfather.
Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Children’s picture books
18 read-aloud suggestions…
I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and for just as long I’ve asked others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are. Here is a partial list of some that our family, and others too, have enjoyed. 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 two 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 – there are sequels to this charmer 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 – Dunkirk is in the news right now, and this is a stirring account James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with eight sweet stories for animal-loving children The Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog The Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – 20 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 involves stories which 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 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 The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 9-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 The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh out loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up) 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
Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com.
Honoring God's name in Christian fiction
"I didn't expect the person killing me to yawn with boredom." As opening lines go, this has to be one of the best. It's from Dr. James Dobson's novel, Fatherless and while I hadn't expected much from this psychologist's first try at fiction, after skim-reading the opening chapter in the bookstore I was pleasantly surprised and bought the book. But I soon came across a surprise of a different sort. On page 171 a character used God's name as an expletive. He wasn't talking to God, or talking about God; this was God's name as an exclamation mark. Three replies That wouldn't have been surprising in a secular novel. But why would a Christian author take God's name in vain? While you won't find the F-word in any Christian fiction, it isn't all that rare to find God's name abused. In the past I've run across this with several other Christian novelists. When I asked three of them why they did it, I got three very different responses. 1. Heard My first letter was to an author who has written a couple dozen popular novels. He said no one had ever pointed this out to him before – none of his readers, none of his editors. He promised that, going forward, he would certainly not do it again. An encouraging response...but also an indicting one. Of the thousands of Christians reading his book, none had ever mentioned it? It seemed that a big reason God's name is being dishonored among Christians is because we aren't willing to speak up about it to each other. 2. Wrong I couldn't find contact information for the second author, but an opportunity came up when I attended one of his lectures. At the coffee break I came forward to ask him about it privately. I was as tactful as I could be, but this was an unavoidably confrontational situation: I was telling him he had done something wrong. His response was gracious: "Can you show it to me?" We found the page, and he read it over. The character was a detective who as a young boy had grown up in the church, but who as an adult had abandoned belief in God. And yet here he was, near the end of the novel giving insincere "thanks" to God. The author explained that I had missed some of the subtleties in the story. He showed me that at this point in the book the detective was no longer the agnostic he had been. While there wasn't any big conversion scene, a reader who was paying more attention than me would have realized that the character was genuinely thanking God. It was a great lesson, very kindly delivered: before correcting an author about his mistake, it is important to be sure something really does need correcting. That said, in most cases it is pretty clear. 3. Misunderstood The third author asked if I objected when there were other sins in a story. He said that if a Christian author could only write about nice characters doing nice things there would be no stories to write. Good point, and I wrote back that I had no problem with murders or many others sins taking place in a Christian novel. When a character is murdered, no actual murder takes place, and readers aren't generally left thinking that murder is no big thing. Now, it is possible for characters' fictional sins to become real ones. That's why, while a Christian novel can involve adultery, those scenes must be handled in a very different fashion than they are in a Harlequin romance. There is no place for "steamy" scenes in God-honoring fiction; a Christian writer shouldn't be tempting his readers to covet or lust. Similarly, when a character takes God's name in vain, a sin is happening. As we read these passages, whether in our heads or aloud, God's name is being used as if it were an expletive or maybe a word whisper (just something to say in place of "um" or "ah"). This treatment contributes to the belittling of God's name. These passages contribute to the overall impression that hallowing God's name isn't all that important, that it is only as "holy" as any other swear word. Actually God's Name doesn't even get the same "reverence" as the N-Word – that has to be used with care. The F-word, too, can't just be thrown around in every situation. Maybe if you're a sailor, but not if you're a Christian author. However, God's Name can be interjected in mixed company: sailors or saints, no one objects. To put it another way, I wasn't objecting to the depiction of sin – I was objecting to the committing of it. When a character takes God's name in vain then a commandment really is being broken...and not by the character. It's the author who is using God's name in a way that God never intended: as a substitute for the F-word, or some other swear word. God allows us to use his holy Name to talk to Him, or about Him. But God's name shouldn't be used simply because a story's heroine stubbed her toe and the writer wants the audience to understand that it really really hurt. The author is using God's name in vain when he inserts it simply because he lacks the creativity or patience to think up another interjection. When it is appropriate to abuse God's Name Douglas Wilson has pointed out there are situations in which fictional character can appropriately misuse God's name, so long as the intent is to honor God. And he cites Jesus' storytelling as his example:
In the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax man praying the Temple, the Lord said this: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” (Luke 18:11).
He uses the name of God, but He is clearly not communicating with God. This is not a true prayer. The Lord is explicit – this particular prayer bounced off the ceiling, fell to the floor, and has rolled into the corner. It was a clear breach of the Third Commandment.
“The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain . . . superstitious, or wicked mentioning . . .” (Westminster Larger Catechism 113).
In short, this fictional depiction is a high violation of the Third Commandment, committed by a character in a bit of prose composed by the Lord Jesus Himself. We therefore have to do more than simply say that the sinful use of God’s name in prose is automatically a violation. ....any sin whatever may lawfully be portrayed by a Christian writer. If his intentions are scripturally healthy (and if he is competent), he is not entailed in the sins he is portraying, because nobody ever heard the Lord’s parable and came away wanting to be more like that Pharisee. The story is devastating, both to the Pharisee and to the sin being committed.While casual abuse is always sinful, there is a deliberate way authors can abuse God's Name that does still honor Him. So, for example, one character might abuse God's name so that another can question or correct him. Of course, not every instance has to be this obvious: an author might decide that a congressman whose only god is ambition will sign off his speeches with: "May God save America." Like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, the congressman is misusing God's name, but if the author is competent, then the story will be "devastating, both to the [congressman] and to the sin being committed." God's Name will actually be honored. Competency is key However, as Wilson goes on to note, competency is key. As we learn in Proverbs 27:14, good intentions are not enough – it isn't enough that the author intends to honor God; he actually has to pull it off. That means if a character stubs his toe, and then makes mention of God, it doesn't much matter what the author intends, we know how most of his audience is going to understand this – just another instance of someone calling on God instead of dropping an F-bomb. No matter what the author intends, this type of usage reinforces our culture's casual contempt for what is holy, and it will have the effect of belittling God's Name. This is what the Third Commandment forbids. Conclusion I can't imagine that any Christian writer wants to violate the Third Commandment. That means that many who are dishonoring God's name are doing so for no other reason than no one has explained how wrong it is. That also means there is quite the opportunity for change. If we speak up, reaching these writers through their personal websites or their publisher's sites, there is every reason to believe they'll listen, and even be grateful for the correction...and even if they don't listen, God will be glorified simply by our defense of his Name.
On the reading (and not reading) of books
There is a near infinite number of books in the world, but a very limited amount of time we can set to reading to them. There simply isn't time to underline and highlight our way through each and every one of them. Fortunately for us, Francis Bacon showed us how we should best approach our stack of books. He advised:
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”But while Bacon some good direction here on how to deal with good books, these directions say nothing about how to best deal with the many books that are simply not worth any time. Fortunately Dorothy Parker (or perhaps it was Sid Ziff?) has provided some direction here. She wrote of a book she was reviewing,
"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews
Book excerpt: "How Should Christians Approach Origins?"
Evolution is just a theory. Then again, so is gravity. – as seen on a t-shirt. Is the theory of evolution like the theory of gravity? How are they different? This is just one of the topics that professors John Byl and Tom Goss cover in their book, How Should Christians Approach Origins? In this excerpt they note that there are two very different sorts of science happening here. ***** It is sometimes argued that it is inconsistent to use modern medicine and technology originswhile rejecting evolution, since both are products of mainstream science. However, we must be careful to distinguish between two types of science: operational science and historical science. OPERATIONAL SCIENCE is the experimental science done in the lab or in the field. It investigates repeatable events in the present. This concerns most of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy, and the like. It gives us all the science needed for technology, such as in developing smartphones, satellites, cars, planes, cures for diseases, and so on. It studies the present material reality and how it normally functions. HISTORICAL SCIENCE, on the other hand, is concerned with extrapolating from present observations to the distant, unobserved, and unrepeatable past. This includes various theories and explanations in archaeology, cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, biological evolutionary development, and so on. These two types of science differ significantly: Operational science aims to discover the universal laws by which nature generally operates, whereas historical science aims to establish ancient conditions or past causes. Operational science explains present events by reference to general laws, whereas historical science explains present events in terms of presumed past events. Operational science calculates forward, deducing effects from causes, whereas historical science calculates backwards, inferring past causes from present clues. One problem here is that more than one possible historical cause can give rise to the same effect. For example, in a murder trial, the prosecution and defense may present very different historical scenarios to explain the material evidence. Operational science assumes methodological naturalism. Since it is concerned with what normally happens, in the absence of miracles, it is reasonable to consider only natural causes. Historical science, on the other hand, seeks to find what actually happened in the past. Constraining ourselves to natural causes amounts to metaphysical naturalism – the further assumption that no miracles have in fact happened in the past.¹ The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged, Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science – the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.² In short, the scientific know-how needed to make smartphones is much better established than, say, the claim that humans evolved from [some chimp-like creature]. End notes ¹ Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2009), 150–172. ² Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought.” Scientific American, November 24, 2009 (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/darwins-influence-on-modern-thought/). This excerpt reprint with permission. How Should Christians Approach Origins? can be purchased at Amazon.ca and GoDutch.com. Inquiries about bulk pricing can be directed to Tom Goss at email@example.com
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
[caption id="attachment_2109" align="alignright" width="194"] 128 pages / 2015[/caption]
Today we have a guest post by Annie Kate Aarnouste on a book, "Sex Matters," that parents could find a great resource to give to their kids.
Sex Matters is a book intended for Christians – McKee provides answers from the Bible and explains the Bible’s message using research and real life examples. Jonathan McKee wants to make it easier for parents to talk to their kids about sex, and to that end he’s written a book for parents to give to their teens, which addresses the two common questions, “Why wait?” & “How far?”
Why wait? McKee takes over 20 informative pages to explain the statement, “God has given the gift of sex to enjoy in marriage.” And in addition to making the biblical case, he shares how research shows that this command is in alignment with how human beings function.
HOW FAR CAN I GO?
How far can people go, and when should they stop? McKee’s answer rests on the rather obvious observation that once the process is started it is designed to be continued.
That is why it is so difficult to stop, a fact that has been known for millennia. So his advice? Don’t start the process; don’t do anything you would not do in front of your grandmother.
WHAT DOES FLEEING SIN LOOK LIKE?
Sex outside marriage is a huge temptation, especially in our media-saturated culture, and it is the one temptation the Bible repeatedly tells us to flee. McKee explains clearly what fleeing temptation means for girls and how it is different for guys.
Christians need to understand the truth, recognize natural consequences, and establish safeguards, and parents need to help their teens do these things as well as to encourage them to take responsibility themselves.
McKee also covers the dangers of porn, questions about masturbation, and the effects of abuse. Over and over he turns to the gospel, reminding young people that Jesus offers a fresh start for everyone, whether you have sinned or been sinned against.
He also encourages young people to remain pure by pointing out that a few years of self-discipline can be traded for a lifetime of awesome connecting without baggage after marriage. Who in their right mind would choose anything else? But the trouble is that we are sinners and that disobedience seems so attractive.
Finally, McKee offers some practical suggestions:Marry earlier. Be careful what you listen to and watch, what you wear, who you are alone with, and where you go. Beware of the dangers of the Internet and install safety systems.
I will add one caution. Sex Matters is a book for teens exposed to our culture and, as such, it can be explicit. When parents wonder if the book itself could cause more problems than it solves, McKee’s response would be that our culture is explicit, and that equipping our teens requires us to be forthright.
So do pre-read this before giving it to your teen to see if it meets your expectations.
McKee’s Sex Matters is a valuable book (especially in conjunction with More than Just the Talk, which he’s written for parents). It is unabashedly Biblical – so much so that our huge public library refused to buy it – but it deserves a place in home, church, and school libraries and would be a blessing to any community that has it in its public library.
What’s more, it is short (only 122 pages), easy to read, and contains discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I highly recommend it.
This is adapted from a review on Tea Time with Annie Kate and used with permission. The original can be found here.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction
No Christian Silence on Science
SCIENCE FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE by Margaret Helder 2016 / 110 pagesFrom the title onward, No Christian Silence on Science is a clarion call to Bible-believing, six-day creation upholding Christians to stand up and be counted. It's much more than that too. The author, Margaret Helder, has written for Creation Science Dialogue and Reformed Perspective for years, and if you've read her there, then you know Dr. Helder approaches God and His creation with awe, and teaches us how to tackle evolution without fear. This book is very much an outgrowth of that work. This, then, is intended to equip us, so we will be able to give a ready defense of our faith, and fortify us, so we will continue to trust in God, even when we face that attacks that will come in this predominantly Darwinist and secular field. That's a big task to tackle in a book that's just 110 pages. That's why, while this is a great book, it is no light read - there is a lot packed in here. In the five sections Dr. Helder addresses: Science from a Christian Perspective How Design in Nature reveals God's Character and Work Christian vs. Darwinian Ethics The Christian Student: Meeting the Challenge of Secular Institutions Impact of Evolution Thought on Church and Society My favorites were the last two. They are worth the price of the book all on their own, and if I was giving this to a university student I'd tell them to head to Chapter 4 first, to hear Dr. Helder's advice on how to interact with evolutionary-minded professors. At one points she gives an example of a find that seems to prove evolution, and she then shows how a Christian student could respond. She suggests students be ready to ask questions, and starting with the 5 Ws is always a good idea (in Science, and journalism too!). A question-asking student will often find that this new, exciting, revolutionary find, is being really over-hyped. That's not to say creationists have all the answers. As Dr. Helder notes, in the early and mid 1900s Christians holding to a six-day creation had little supporting scientific evidence available to them, so it was only because they were so confident in the trustworthiness of the Bible that they weren't swayed by evolution. Today many problems with evolution can be pointed to, but there will still be occasions where a challenge to the biblical explanation is presented that we cannot answer. And perhaps we won't be able to answer it for several decades. But we, too, should hold to the Bible, because it is trustworthy. Who should read No Christian Silence? This will be of interest to anyone, but for the young high school graduate heading into the Sciences this is a must. If they were to read it before heading to their first university science class, and really work through it slowly and thoughtfully, they would be well-prepared. There are other books they should read too, but this is a very good place to start because Dr. Helder covers all the key controversies, and gives good solid direction on how to meet and deal with the opposition. No Christian Silence on Science is us available through the Creation Science Association of Alberta website or can be had by sending a $20 check ($14 for the book and $6 for shipping) made out to the CSAA, at 5328 Calgary Trial, Suite 1136, Edmonton AB T6H 4
Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada
by Michael Wagner 128 pages / 2016 Feeling like you're the last true conservative left in Justin Trudeau's Canada? Then you need to read Michael Wagner's True Right and find out that all through Canada's history great, solid, courageous conservative men have stood up to the socialist hordes. What is a genuine conservative? How’s this for a definition? Someone who knows who God really is, and knows the government ain't Him. That comes out in the book, which is divided into 17 short biographies of political leaders who shaped Western Canada, some of whom were conservative another who were not. There's controversy to be had in the "weren't" camp, where the author places some big and well-loved names...but his reasoning is hard to argue with. Among the 13 who were, their faith in God is often evident. In this latter group most readers will find a pleasant surprise or two, meeting stalwart gentlemen who they'd not previously known. You might differ with Wagner on some of his assessments – I think in noting these men's strengths, he's sometimes overlooked a notable shortcoming or two – but you'll most certainly come away encouraged. Yes, even in Canada there have always been true conservatives, good and godly men, who were willing to stand up and fight, win or lose.
"True Right" can be purchased here.
Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews
What "right" trumps all others?
In this excerpt from Jonathon Van Maren’s new book The Culture War he lays out how sexual rights have triumphed over all others…and one of the first steps we can take in response. ***** When abortion activists came shrieking with rage at Canadian Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth’s suggestion that a committee examine human life in the womb in 2013, he was somewhat surprised. When the Canadian government kowtowed to feminist hysteria and shut down his colleague Mark Warawa’s motion to condemn gender-selection abortion, Woodworth noticed a trend – and coined a new term. What we’re seeing is “abortionism,” he told me in an interview. Abortionism is essentially a philosophy that raises abortion to a sacred status, above all other democratic principles. I agree with Mr. Woodworth, but I think the problem goes much deeper than abortion. Abortion’s now-sacred status is symptomatic of something far more sinister: the sweeping success of the Sexual Revolution. So-called “sexual rights” are now considered to be the most important “rights” our society has, and take precedence over all other rights, regardless of how fundamental they are. Rights that fell by the wayside Freedom of speech? This is now a quaint concept that does not apply, for example, to any sort of pro-life activism, especially and ironically on university campuses, once lauded as the marketplaces of ideas. Pornography, nude demonstrations, and virtually any form of sex-related activism is welcome – unless you happen to be opposing something, in which case it is not. When I was in university, for example, our “Cemetery of the Innocents” display was trampled and destroyed by a student politician who then took to the campus paper to refer to us as “the Hitler Youth.” On campus after campus across North America, feminists respond to pro-life activism the same way: Shut down the debate. Almost every pro-life activist I know has been censored on his or her university campus in some way or another – and usually with the endorsement, if not assistance, of the university administration. The same applies to the right to educate your children as you see fit. Increasingly, the adherents of the Sexual Revolution are realizing that in order to get the upcoming generation of Christians to accept the New Sexual Order, they will have to force it on them. Specifically, mandate new “sex education.” Christian schools and home-schoolers frustrate them, because they can no longer teach children about masturbation and anal sex in fifth grade. As Wendy Shalit highlights in her magnificent book A Return to Modesty, much of the public education system is now the systematic destruction of innocence. And if the powers that be have their way, soon you won’t be able to opt out. Religious liberty is being dispensed with at an alarming rate as well. After all, our culture has abandoned religious values. Once we’ve chiselled and hacked the last of the Ten Commandments monuments from in front of the last courthouses, we can put those quaint beliefs in the trash can alongside it. Businesses that disagree with gay marriage are being forced to shut down. Churches in Denmark have already been ordered to perform gay weddings, and there’s no reason to think that such things won’t soon begin to happen here in North America. Our tax dollars are used to fund Pride Parades that resemble public orgies. The Sexual Revolutionaries are not, for the most part, about living and let live. They are about compulsory acceptance. All rights are now subject to sexual rights. How we got here The Sexual Revolutionaries didn’t just change history. They rewrote it, because that’s what revolutionaries always do. This struck me vividly when I was traveling in China, and our tour guide, a pretty young woman named Anna, was taking my friend and I from the Forbidden Palace to Tiananmen Square to Mao Tse-Tung’s Mausoleum, where the dead dictator still lies in state in a glass-covered coffin. After listening to Anna praise Mao for hours, I asked her how she could possibly believe he was good for China when, by some estimates, he presided over the deaths of nearly seventy million people. First she was irritated, and then agitated. After informing me that Mao was a great leader, she ended our discussion by announcing, “Denying Mao would be like denying Communist Party!” And with that, historical truth was placed firmly in the backseat to ideological obligation. In order to understand the sex-driven lunacy and carnage that has gripped our culture on virtually every front, we have to put history back in the front seat. We have to honestly analyze and understand how we reached this point, so that we can begin to realize what we can do – not to return, but to rebuild. To equip our children and the upcoming generation with the truth of what has actually taken place, and why it is that we believe what we do. One thing we can do This is precisely what Ted Byfield told me when I asked him what young people could do to begin the process of cultural renewal. Read history, he told me urgently. People will be stunned to find out what actually happened – “they will be astonished at the things we’ve done in [the last] century that made no sense at all. What should be emphasized in your generation is to find out what happened. In other words, read history.” He's right. Once we know what has happened, we will have a better sense of what is happening, and have vital context for the spreading social decay we are witnessing. That decay, as we will see, has become our culture’s new normal. The Culture War is about how the Sexual Revolution triumphed in the Western World, and how Christians can respond. It can be purchased at TheBridgehead.ca.
Book Reviews, Children’s picture books
The Farm Team
by Linda Bailey 32 pages / 2006 The Farm Team is about a bunch of chickens, pigs, sheep, and one cow, who love hockey and want to bring the championship trophy back home. For the last 50 years, the Bush League Bandits have always come out on top, but this year the Farm Team has a great goalie and they think they have the right stuff to get it done. One problem: the Bandits are cheaters! When the score gets tight their porcupine drives for the net and punctures the Farm Team's porky goaltender. How's the Farm Team going to handle it with their best player injured? Never fear, coach Clyde (a Clydesdale) will think of something! Parents could use this book to teach children a little about sportsmanship – the Farm Team are great examples of hardworking and clean playing good sports. But the real value of this book is in just how fun it is to read out loud. There's lots of action, some good twists, and some very fun play-by-play dialogue to shout out. It's the kind of book that is so well written it made it easy for me to become quite the performer. My kids loved it, and even my wife, who was busy making supper as we read, really got into the action. So a good dose of Canadiana and a great big heaping of fun.
Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction
Wings of Dawn
Wings of Dawn by Sigmund Brouwer Chariot Victor 1999 / 456 pages Why would anyone go through all the trouble of building an immensely strong castle in the middle of the North York moors in England? Why else but to hide a secret organization of intellectuals who are protecting the wisdom of past ages. The plot of this novel is based on the tension between two secret societies. The first group, the Druids, have their roots in early British history. Brouwer proposes that after the Druids were repressed by the Roman Empire they went underground and plotted to regain power. The second secret society grew from the first. According to Brouwer, Merlin was the best and brightest of the Druids and he was slated to bring the Druids back to power, but Brouwer’s legend has it that he was converted to Christianity by a simple priest. As a result of this conversion he is said to have foiled the Druid’s plan and established his own secret society, the Merlins, to counteract the efforts of the Druids by using and conserving the knowledge of the Ancient Civilizations. But now it is 1312 A.D. and after centuries of struggle, Magnus, the castle Merlin had built to carry on his struggle, has fallen under the control of the Druids. The only hope for the Merlins is a teenage boy who either carries the secrets needed to regain the ascendancy or has been turned to the Druid cause. This young man, Thomas, becomes the centre of the conflict between the Merlins and the Druids. Always unsure of who he can trust Thomas conquers and loses Magnus. He is forced to flee from England to Palestine and is chased even there. He returns to England where the conflict even involves the king’s immediate family. Although this is an excellent novel, Brouwer falls short on a few points. First, although Thomas’ uncertainty about who he can trust works well early in the novel it drags on much to much. The same questions are raised again and again about the same people even when they seem to have proven their loyalties earlier in the novel. Additionally the characters that Brouwer develops lack depth. One finds the rough but noble knight, the fair lady, the wise old man, and the evil scheming villain. Even Thomas himself has that youth destined for glory feel, like some medieval Luke Skywalker. Still, despite these failings this is an exciting piece of historical fiction. In a historical sense the accuracy with which Brouwer recreates the time and setting of the novel is excellent. Naturally, certain events are changed to reflect the existence of the Druids and Merlins but the book feels right, historically. Brouwer also provides chapter-by-chapter historical notes that explain how the novel could fit into history. Even the questions about who Thomas can trust, although they are overused, provide an “I can’t put the book down” level of tension for much of the novel. However, the most gripping part of Wings of Dawn is the way that knowledge proves itself the true power. The secret Merlin and Druid societies take so many unexpected twists and turns in their pursuit of knowledge that all the reader can do is hang on and enjoy the ride. As a Christian novel, Wings of Dawn very successfully manages to be solidly Christian in nature without feeling the need to scatter the pages with incessant sins and weaknesses or seemingly superficial conversions. Thomas begins the novel as a somewhat materialistic agnostic and he, as well as the other characters, has his weaknesses but they aren’t frivolously exploited for sensational reasons. He is soon converted to Christianity but his conversion is simple and believable. Really, when the book deals with overtly Christian themes, they are themes that one can identify with. One sees faith carrying Thomas through extreme trials but he experiences realistic doubts and shows realistic weaknesses. In the final analysis Wings of Dawn is an excellent novel. Its sound historical background gives it an authentic feel. It provides an excellent level of tension and uncertainty and the twists and turns it takes keeps the reader guessing throughout. I would strongly recommend Wings of Dawn to anyone interested in an entertaining Christian novel. This novel was originally published under the title Magnus. [Editor's Note: Brouwer has also expanded this story into a 4-novel series called Merlin's Immortals (but the 4th book is only available as an e-book).] – Richard Veldkamp