Children’s non-fiction, Children’s picture books
Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914
by John Hendrix
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
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
Children’s non-fiction, Parenting, Sexuality
A book for children, to help prevent sex abuse
God Made All of Me: A book to help children protect their bodies by Justin S. and Lindsey A. Holcomb 32 pages / 2015 God Made All of Me is a picture book written for young children to teach them about their bodies, and Who made them, and how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse. It’s a parent/caregiver book as well – right at the front, before the children’s section begins, there is a page that is directed to parents/caregivers where the authors state their goals and reasons for writing this book. The book also ends with a couple pages for parents/caregivers with 9 ways to protect their children from sexual abuse. The bulk of the book happens between these notes for parents. It is a story of a family with young children, and it starts off with quoting Genesis 1:31 “God saw everything He had made. And it was very good.” This quote is the springboard for the conversation that happens between the children and the parents in the book in regards to the children’s bodies. The book also quotes from Ps. 139 and Ps. 28. Using this dialogue between the children and parents, the book goes through different scenarios the children may find themselves in and gives ways for the children to respond in such circumstances, all with the premise that God made their bodies special and so no one is allowed to touch them. I highly recommend this book for young children aged 8 and under. It deals with a topic that, as parents, we don’t always know how to talk to our children about, yet it is so, so important that we do. In fact, I find this book so valuable that I now include it as a recommendation every time I train people in how to prevent child sexual abuse. What a blessing then that God has used these authors to write this book to help us out. I love that the whole book is based on God, His creation of us, and His Word. I also think it very wise of the authors to have it written the way they do: a dialogue between parents and their children, including different situations children may find themselves in. Although I found some of it a bit repetitive, my children did not. But then again, what child doesn’t like a book repeated?! If you have young children, I encourage you to get this book. You will not regret it. Michelle Helder has done presentations in Southern Ontario (and one in Lynden, WA) on what parents can do to best prevent sexual abuse. In a 3-hour workshop, she facilitates and leads discussions, using the Stewards of Children video and an interactive workbook. If you are interested in contacting her to do this very valuable workshop with your group, contact the editor for her email information.
Adult non-fiction, Children’s non-fiction, Teen non-fiction
The Sweet Taste of Providence
by Christine Farenhorst 2016 / 296 pages Seventy-four! When Christine Farenhorst comes out with a new collection of short stories, the big question I have is, how many can I look forward to? And in The Sweet Taste of Providence she has given us an impressive 74. These short stories are packaged as 4-5 page devotionals. They take no more than 5 minutes to read out loud, and end with a couple of questions for discussion. That makes this a great book to read with your kids, maybe 8 and up, before bed…or a little earlier, because this might get them discussing and dissecting right when you want them calming down. The short story length could also make this a good, ahem, “bathroom reader.” As Reformed Perspective readers know, Christine loves to share slices of history – usually bits we’ve never run across before – and show how God has been at work. It can be easier to see His hand in things when we’re looking back than when we’re looking around in the present (yes, God will turn even today’s evil to our good – Romans 8:28) so these stories are maybe first and foremost a wonderful dose of encouragement. But it’s also just a fun read. The Sweet Taste of Providence is available at Amazon.ca and also at Sola Scriptura.
Children’s non-fiction, Children’s picture books
Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World
by Paul Maier 32 pages / 2004 Take a look at your children’s bookshelves. How many of the stories there are about the history of God’s church? Here, finally, in a wonderfully illustrated edition we have a story for young children that gives a beautiful account of the life of Martin Luther. It was 1483 when Martin Luther was born in Eiselbern, Germany, but this story starts long before that. This story begins with God’s promise to preserve His church throughout history, and already on the first pages of this book we read of God’s mercy in sending people to call His church to repentance. Times were dark for the church in the 15th century. The church was leading the people away from the true word of God into a world of lies and false doctrines. The people were walking in darkness and it was into this world that Martin Luther was born. Luther’s story is very familiar to most of us. His name is a common one in our households. Yet this book brings out for the young reader what life was like for Martin Luther. As a child growing up, his life would have been much different than ours. Did you know, for example, that in his school children who did poorly had to wear a donkey mask! Or, can you imagine the students in your school having to go from door to door in the neighborhood to sing for their food? As Luther’s life unfolds, the young learner can see how the Lord leads Luther step by step. The author shows how Luther, through constant searching and studying of God’s word, learns that his salvation does not come from himself, or from the church, but that his salvation rests in God alone. It is with this sure knowledge and the confidence in his Savior that Luther confronts the Roman Catholic Church. His boldness to proclaim God’s Word leads him into many life-threatening situations but the Lord uses his efforts to spread His true word to many people around the world. Paul Maier is the professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University. His overview of the life of Martin Luther in this non-fiction children’s book remains true to the historical details of the time. He does not shy away from telling what was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church of the time and proclaims the message of salvation through grace alone as Luther himself did many years ago. Greg Copeland adds to the book’s appeal with beautiful illustrations that bring this story to life. There are very few books written about our church’s history that are geared to the young readers in our homes and schools. This book is ideal for a read-aloud at home or in the primary grades at school. Add it to your bookshelves as a research tool for your young students in both the primary and intermediate grades. It would be wonderful to be able to fill our children’s bookshelves with stories and resources like this little gem on Martin Luther!
Teach Them Your Way, O Lord
by Amanda DeBoer 2016 / 183 pages What we have here is a story bible crafted by a careful, Reformed mother and teacher. I’m actually not sure about the teacher part, but if she isn’t one, she sure sounds like it – Amanda DeBoer knows how to engage little children, and she peppers the text with questions and other opportunities for the little ones to speak up and interact. The 205 stories cover the Bible twice over, with 55 intended for 2-year-olds, and another 150 for the 3 to 4-year old set. It’s a story bible you can keep using for a good while! I could say all sorts of good things about it – for example, there’s a colorful picture on every page, and lots of helpful suggestions for parents. But what I most appreciated about it was the care evident throughout. One example: unlike most story bibles, where Jesus is pictured as an Anglo-Saxon, here He isn’t shown at all. That a respectful acknowledgement of the second commandment. The same care is evident in getting the theology right – the author eagerly sought out feedback from ministers and others. This is, in short, engaging, and educational. It is one of the very best story bibles I’ve run across. To order, look for it on Amazon.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.