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The RP 52 in 22 challenge

If you’re a reader, there’s a good chance you have a stack of books somewhere that you’ve really been meaning to get to. But, what with the busyness of life, that stack might well be growing as it is so hard to set aside the time. Wow then, can we get to the reading that we really want to do anyway?

The answer, for a trio of competitive lads, was to get a challenge going. So a lawyer, a minister, and an editor all agreed that they would read 52 books by the end of 2022. This “52 in 22” challenge is a race of sorts, and to up the motivation, the three will keep a public running total of their progress, posting short reviews of each book here on this web page (with selections appearing in each issue of the print magazine). Finally, to add a mildly punitive element to it, each agreed, at year’s end, to donate $20 for every book they didn’t complete to a charity of their choice.

Our hope is that the challenge might spur others on to read more great books, including, perhaps, some of the suggestions listed below. Follow it on MeWe, Facebook, Instagram, and Gab under the hashtag #RP52in22

The tally

The lawyer – André Schutten: 16
The minister – Jim Witteveen: 13
The editor – Jon Dykstra: 19

Reviews

MAY 12

Concerns with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) include the fact that the children created in these laboratory settings are routinely killed, some because they have (or seem to have) defects, and others because the parents simply no longer want them. Many are frozen, which comes with its own harms, but also leaves them in an indeterminate state, facing eventual death. But what if a couple was willing to adopt and rescue one of these babies? This involves the implantation of the fetus in the adoptive mother’s womb, giving the child a chance to be brought to term. But Christians aware of the death-dealing nature of the IVF industry might wonder if they should have anything to do with it. Justina Van Manen and Jonathon Van Maren have written Life Under Glass: the ethics of embryo adoption (2022, 80 pages) to ease these concerns, making it clear that it is completely different to get involved in a rescue than it is to make such a rescue necessary. These children already are, and while they should never have been frozen, it is most certainly an act of God-glorifying grace to adopt these tiny orphans. – Jon Dykstra

MAY 11

Reverend Kornelis Sietsma pastored a Reformed church in Amsterdam before and during World War II. In 1942, he was arrested for preaching against the lust for power, and for supporting Jews with the collection, and praying for the Dutch royal family. He died a year later, aged 46, in the Dachau concentration camp. Before the war, he wrote a treatise on the idea of office. It has recently been republished in English as The Golden Key for Life and Leaders: The Idea of Office (2019, 123 pages). It is a short, readable, and understandable book that helps Christians think through office, calling, authority and responsibility. It will likely correct some misperceptions about the office-bearers in church, but also expand the readers’ understanding of the idea and role of office as a calling from God that every believer has. Because we share in Christ’s anointing as prophet, priest, and king (see Lord’s Day 12), every believer holds the office of believer with the corresponding duties and authority to carry out that task. But there are also other special offices: in the home (office of parent), church (minister of Word, minister of mercy, minister of the rule of Christ), civil sphere (civil magistrates), and other spheres (teachers, employers, etc.). Submission is owed to every office instituted by God, unless the office-bearer acts outside of his office and authority or compels action or non-action that makes it impossible for other office-bearers to carry out their office and calling. I found this book helpful to think through the tensions within the church during the Covid era and highly recommend it for all deacons, elders, and pastors, as well as others who want to better this concept. – André Schutten

MAY 10

You may never have heard of Ignaz Semmelweis, but his story is an important one for two reasons. First of all, it is largely due to Semmelweis’s medical discoveries that the rates of death in childbirth (of both mothers and their newborn children) decreased substantially in 19th-century Europe. Secondly, the story of his life, work, and death is a cautionary tale in an age in which we are constantly being warned against accepting the findings of scientists who challenge the “scientific consensus.” Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician whose best-known work was done in Vienna, Austria in the first half of the 19th century. At that time, a disease called puerperal fever, or “childbed fever” led to the deaths of up to 10% of new mothers who gave birth in institutional settings. The medical establishment had developed many theories about the causes of such a high mortality rate, but it was Ignaz Semmelweis who finally solved this mystery. After several years of study, he concluded that puerperal fever was being spread by the doctors themselves, as they went from dissecting cadavers in the morgue to assisting in childbirth, often without any concern for their personal cleanliness. Semmelweis argued that doctors should make every effort to ensure that both they and the environment in which the deliveries took place, should be disinfected to stop the spread of a disease that had proven to be so destructive for so many years. It may seem like common sense to us today, but at the time Semmelweis’s conclusions were a novelty that ran counter to long-standing and widely-accepted theories. Thus Semmelweis’s contemporaries were very difficult to convince, and his theory was rejected out of hand by the majority of his colleagues. The “scientific consensus” was wrong, and Semmelweis ended his life in a mental hospital, never having experienced the widespread acceptance of his findings. In Genius Belabored: Childbed Fever and the Tragic Life of Ignaz Semmelweis (2016, 249 pages), Theodore Obenchain tells the story of the life, work, and death of Ignaz Semmelweis. His well-researched and engaging account is at the same time fascinating and frustrating, reminding us how important a knowledge of history is to our understanding and interpretation of current events. – Jim Witteveen

MAY 7

I love the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (“What is the chief end of Man? …to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever”) but didn’t know anything about the assembly that crafted it, the Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I have a Dutch Reformed heritage, whereas these were birthed by the English Reformation. That’s why I was happy to discover that United Reformed pastor William Boekestein had teamed up with Heritage Reformed professor Joel R. Beeke to give us Contending for the Faith: the story of the Westminster Assembly (2022, 40 pages). It’s for kids, but a great presentation for adults who want to know a little, but aren’t interesting in diving all that deep. This Assembly is worth at least a dip, to get an understanding of all God wrought in the lives of kings and queens, and pastors and persecutors that resulted in these documents. The book is really well done, with wonderful pictures and clear text, but it isn’t the sort that kids are going to pick up on their own. This would be best as a homeschool or institutional Christian school resource. Boekestein has also done three books, all very good, on the confessions which make up the Three Forms of Unity: The Quest for Comfort: the story of the Heidelberg Cathechism (2011, 40 pages), The Glory of Grace: the story of the Canons of Dort (2012, 40 pages), and Faithfulness under Fire: the story of Guido de Bres (2010, 40 pages), who authored the Belgic Confession. All are recommended! – Jon Dykstra

MAY 2
There are a number of psalms that have been the subject of controversy in the Christian church for many years. These are the “imprecatory psalms” in which the psalmist expresses a strong desire that God’s vengeance be unleashed against those who persist in doing evil. The question arises again and again: can we as Christians make words like those found in Psalm 137:9 our own in our prayers and in our worship? Can we say, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock,” or is this sentiment unworthy of a New Covenant believer? In his book Crying For Justice: What the Psalms Teach Us About Mercy and Vengeance in an Age of Terrorism (2005, 199 pages), John N. Day argues that the imprecatory psalms must continue to be used by Christians today, and he explains why people like C.S. Lewis (who believed that the imprecatory psalms are “sub-Christian” expressions of a sinful desire for revenge) are wrong in rejecting them. Day deals with apparent contradictions between the Old and New Testament, examines several of what he calls “unsatisfactory solutions” to the problem, provides detailed analysis of three of the harshest imprecatory psalms (Psalms 58, 109, and 137), and concludes with a sample sermon on Psalm 83. Day’s conclusion is that these controversial psalms, which can seem to be so problematic in our 21st Century Western cultural context, must continue to form an integral part of Christian worship. I highly recommend this book, especially for anyone who has struggled with the idea that these psalms should be prayed and sung by Christians today. – Jim Witteveen

APRIL 29

Children of the Reformation that we are, we understand our will is in bondage to sin. But that presents a conundrum of sorts, because if we can’t help but sin, then how can we be held responsible by God for our sin? C.S. Lewis once noted that the act of turning to God wasn’t something he chose to do, but that he was instead, the most reluctant of converts. So, again, if only God can enable us to choose for Him, how can we be held responsible for acting against Him? Calvinists answer this by humbly holding onto two seemingly conflicting ideas: we are responsible for our sin, and yet God is sovereign over all. How can both be true? Well, as Dr. Bredenhof has put it, human beings are always “free to do what is according to their nature,” though as an unregenerate creature, that will always involve sin. In his book Free Will (2012, 82 pages), atheist, materialist Sam Harris attempts to offer a different sort of resolution. His is a godless answer, of course, and so the dilemma for him is a godless one as well: he wonders how mere chemicals in motion that we are (according to his evolutionary worldview) could have any responsibility for our actions. We are, he argues, merely the sum of our inputs, no more responsible for our output than a computer would be. He wants us to acknowledge our lack of free will so that we’ll be kinder to murderers who, meat robots that they are, shouldn’t be held responsible for their “bad programming.” But if they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions, then why is Harris holding us responsible for our actions towards them? Whether we torture or tickle them, no condemnation would be possible, since no one bears responsibility for any actions…ever. Harris ably demonstrates that his materialist worldview doesn’t allow for responsibility, so when he argues we have a responsibility to treat criminals better, he proves a different point: that materialism falls short. – Jon Dykstra

APRIL 20

Over the past several years we have been hearing more and more about Klaus Schwab and his World Economic Forum (WEF). For those of us who are very concerned about his brand of globalism and the influence that the WEF is exerting throughout the world, what we’ve been hearing has not been reassuring. But in order to truly understand where people like Klaus Schwab really stand, it is always preferable to go to the source itself rather than relying on second-hand information and the interpretations of third parties. In 2019, Schwab and his co-author Thierry Malleret published Covid-19: The Great Reset. The Great Narrative: For a Better Future (2022, 253 pages) builds on the foundation of that previous work, and is the fruit of a series of interviews with “fifty of the world’s foremost global thinkers and opinion makers.” The Great Narrative, as its title suggests, presents the WEF’s understanding of the state of the world, the problems that must be addressed, and the goals which the nations of the world should be working to achieve. “Narratives,” Schwab (or Malleret) writes, “shape our perceptions, which in turn form our realities and end up influencing our choices and actions. They are how we find meaning in life.” In a brief review it isn’t possible to delve into the many aspects of the narrative that Schwab and his compatriots are promoting. But the very definition of “narrative” that they provide already says a great deal about what they are attempting to accomplish in this work. Our perceptions are shaped by narratives, the stories we use to explain our worldview. And, Schwab says, it is our perceptions which form our realities. In other words, it’s all a matter of interpretation. Reality, given this definition, cannot be something absolute, unchanging, and definable. It is something that we create, not an objective state of affairs to which we must adapt ourselves. We are shapers of reality, and it is the narrative that we hold to that shapes how we live. Despite Schwab’s mistaken notion about the nature of reality, he is correct in understanding the importance of the “grand narratives” that form our worldviews, and the way in which our actions find their source in our worldviews. He understands that narrative is vitally important, and thus he attempts to create a narrative that will lead people to accept his prescriptions for the government of international society and the lives of individuals. Throughout this book, whether speaking about pandemics or climate change or geopolitical issues or the place of technology in society, Schwab often makes assertions that are not backed up by evidence, but are clearly meant to shape people’s thinking according to the “accepted wisdom” of this prevailing narrative. The book demands careful reading because the serious errors that Schwab commits are sometimes subtle, but have serious repercussions, especially because they have been echoed by so many on the world stage. The WEF may not have legislative power, but its “great narrative” has become the prevailing narrative, and expressions of dissent are being marginalized and even silenced in many corners. The Great Narrative attacks the true narrative, the Word of God, the only place that the true meaning of life and true wisdom can be found. In so doing, it constructs a worldview that could only lead to disastrous results if put into practice. For this reason, while there’s no way I could recommend this book as a fount of legitimate wisdom, I believe that we need to familiarize ourselves with works of this type because of the influence that they have in shaping the attitudes and actions of many influential figures on the world stage. – Jim Witteveen

APRIL 19

On July 29, 1994, Paul J. Hill, at one time an OPC pastor, shot an abortionist, his wife, and their bodyguard. The abortionist and the bodyguard both died. Hill had been arguing for years that such action was biblical, and had been excommunicated for making his arguments publicly. In Lone Gunners for Jesus: Letters to Paul J. Hill (1994, 47 pages), written after the shooting, Gary North responded to Hill, explaining how his actions weren’t biblical or effective because: Hill was never called to be judge and jury and God doesn’t endorse vigilante justice, Hill’s acts only moved the public in a pro-choice direction costing more unborn lives, and while we are called to a public witness against the slaughter of the unborn, non-violent resistance – being beaten rather than being the beater – is the better witness. This slim volume is an important book to calm Christian whose love for the unborn is in danger of being misdirected, but it is also a good read for those who, whether in ignorance or a lack of compassion, don’t stand up for the unborn at all. Download the e-book for free. – Jon Dykstra

APRIL 18

The brilliant economist Thomas Sowell‘s Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective (2015, 320 pages – a newer and expanded version is available too), is an excellent, well researched, readable book that makes understandable the politics surrounding issues of social justice, poverty and wealth disparity. Sowell (pronounced “soul”), grew up in Harlem, New York in a very poor, black neighborhood and thus is not writing as an elitist out of touch with the reality on the streets. Yet he pushes back against the dominant narratives about race, oppression, social justice, the welfare state, and more in this book, relying on careful research of the empirical data to show that income inequality is determined by the production of wealth, and not the distribution of wealth. Furthermore, he shows just how complex the factors are that bear on wealth production, including geography, demographics, and culture. His use of historic and global examples make the book a fascinating read and he demonstrates just how much the civil government in the modern west is actually exacerbating the problems for disadvantaged groups. I recommend the book for college/university age and up, to anyone interested in politics, social justice themes, and/or economics. – André Schutten

APRIL 13

C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933/2020, 255 pages) is an enjoyable allegory that loosely traces Lewis’ own path to conversion (though he insists in an afterword that it is not autobiographical). It tells the story of John, who is seeking an island he saw and is intensely longing to reach. In trying to reach the island, John has many adventures and runs into people like Mr. Enlightenment (their conversation made me chuckle), Mr. Mammon, Mother Kirk, and others. Most of the allegorical elements are easy enough to pick up on, with the result that Lewis packs an incredible philosophical and theological course into a thoroughly entertaining adventure. Even so, I probably missed some allegorical references. Perhaps I’ll read the annotated version soon? Highly recommended! – André Schutten

APRIL 12

I read A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, (1948/2020, 98 pages) in a single sitting on a Saturday afternoon. What an afternoon! It is short, sweet, and an incredibly powerful call to put aside comfortable Christianity and put God first, to pursue God with every part of you, to know God as He desires to be known. It challenged me and made me squirm at times. Yet, as each chapter ends with a prayer, it called me to lay it all before the throne. While Tozer does not come from a Reformed tradition, there was nothing in this book that caused me any concerns. On the contrary, I felt the book was an excellent wake-up call to the 21st-century, North American church. This book would be great to read aloud as a small group and pray over. – André Schutten

APRIL 11

Conn Iggulden is my favorite historical fiction writer. I’ve read three four-book series by him already and am starting a fourth one. The first book of the series is called The Gates of Athens, (2021, 464 pages) and tells of the battle of Marathon (where 10,000 vastly outnumbered Athenian hoplites push off the invasion of Darius’ Persian army) and of the battle of Thermopylae (the famous 300 Spartans who hold the pass against the 300,000 Persians for three days, and the less famous but equally crucial naval battle occurring at the same time). Iggulden also paints a picture of the political dance between Themistocles, Xanthippus, and other statesmen of Athens. This book was a page-turner and difficult to put down. An added benefit is that I refreshed my ancient history lessons. A fun fact not mentioned in the book: it’s very likely that the Persian king Xerxes who led the invasion of Greece and saw the 300 Spartans was the same King who later married the Jewish Queen Esther. If so, on reading this book you will get a better appreciation of just how perilous it was for Queen Esther to approach this king with her requests. – André Schutten

APRIL 8

John Taylor Gatto won multiple top teaching awards during his stint as a public teacher. But in Dumbing us Down (1992, 120 pages) he makes his case for blowing the whole system up. The book’s small size is what makes him worth hearing, but this was not quite what I was expecting. Gatto features prominently in Indoctrination, a fantastic documentary on public school education, by Reformed filmmaker Colin Gunn. I thought Gatto might be Christian too, and while he identifies as Catholic, this is primarily a secular and libertarian case against institutionalized schooling (the author even seems to have some knowledge of, and dislike for, Calvinism). Public schools are a problem, he argues, for doing just what they were designed to do: create a compliant and dependent citizenry. His solution? More parental direction in their children’s education, blowing up the government monopoly on education, and having students do less school overall, to create more room for them to explore their own interests. I appreciated much of what he said, but found this only a good, not a great read. – Jon Dykstra

APRIL 4

Though very short (some might call it a mere pamphlet) Of AntiChrist and His Ruin (1692, 2015, 68 pages) by John Bunyan (author of the enduringly popular The Pilgrim’s Progress) was a challenging read that took time to understand and digest. Bunyan describes the anti-Christ as being those forces that arise throughout history against Christ and his church and are sometimes found cloaked as Christian or as good government. The language is still in the style of 1692 which was an impediment to my reading speed. More than that, Bunyan’s concept of who (or what) is the antiChrist was also challenging to me; I hadn’t heard his perspective before. Something that stands out in this piece is the sheer number of scriptural references Bunyan uses throughout to make his argument. A free version of the book is available here in PDF format. – André Schutten

APRIL 2

Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, 2nd edition, (2010, 187 pages) is a timely book for a church frayed after a controversial few years, and facing an increasingly hostile culture. As the title suggests, Mouw urges his Christian audience to do all we can to remain civil in all discourse, without giving up our convictions. Mouw pushes me further than I’m comfortable going, and he’s probably right in doing so. That said, I do note that I strongly disagree with one anecdote in his book where he describes an abortion for a 15-year-old rape victim as “the least evil alternative” (p.52) contrary to the clear teaching in Scripture that a child should not be put to death for the sins of her father (Deut. 24:16). While Mouw’s point here is to emphasize having sympathy for such a horrific and tragic situation (which I absolutely agree with), our sympathy should not be blind to what abortion actually does to its first victim. With that exception, I found the book to be a pleasant read and gave me much to think about in how I dialogue about issues I am passionate about. – André Schutten

APRIL 1

Christians regularly forget that Jesus is Lord of every square inch of creation, but in her slim volume, A brief theology of periods (yes, really) (2021, 128 pages) Rachel Jones clearly gets it. She is speaking to women but shares information about periods and menstruation that will be helpful for men, and especially husbands. She touches on hormonal contraceptives and the trend to call women “people who menstruate” but the majority of the book is specifically on God’s thoughts on periods, including what it says in Leviticus about a women’s “uncleanliness,” and how we are to take this passage today. Jones asks lots of good questions, even if she isn’t able to answer all of them (Did Eve have periods in the Garden of Eden?), and is an orthodox guide on this seldom discussed area of women’s life. – Jon Dykstra

MARCH 29

During the presidency of Donald Trump, there was a lot of talk about the dangers of the “Deep State.” We all remember the chants of “Drain the swamp!” and promises of a grand house-cleaning that would soon take place in the U.S. government – a house-cleaning that never seemed to become a reality. Wikipedia refers to the idea that a “Deep State” exists as a “discredited conspiracy theory,” but Michael J. Glennon’s National Security and Double Government (2015, 234 pages) provides plenty of evidence for its existence, and the danger it poses to the American republic. Published in 2015 by Oxford University Press (note: before Trump, and by a reputable academic publisher), his book seeks to answer a question which is indicative of a much broader trend: Why was it that Barack Obama’s foreign policy not only did not differ from that of George W. Bush, his presidential predecessor, but actually doubled down on a number of the policies implemented under Bush’s leadership, including a sixfold increase in the number of covert drone strikes in Pakistan? Beginning with this specific question, Glennon seeks to explain why American national security policy remains constant even when one President was replaced by another, who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in that policy. His answer follows the approach of 19th Century British essayist Walter Bagehot, who described the British political system in the Victorian era as a “double government.” In the US, this double government is made up of two distinct groups, referred to by Glennon as the Madisonians (public political figures who fill positions in Congress, the Senate, and the Presidency) and the Trumanites (those who work behind the scenes in governmental organizations largely established during the presidency of Harry S Truman). It is the Trumanites who make the vast majority of the decisions when it comes to foreign policy, Glennon argues, and the Madisonians who must follow. Therefore, in the arena of foreign policy, it actually makes very little difference which political party or individual wields the apparent power; it is the hidden half of the double government which is pulling the strings. Glennon’s analysis is clear, well-written, and heavily supported by documentary evidence (the page count is inflated by over 100 pages of notes). His explanation of a phenomenon that many do not understand or cannot explain is eye-opening, as well as cause for deep concern. For anyone interested in learning why the “swamp” remains undrained until this very day, this book is required reading. – Jim Witteveen

MARCH 22

I’m sure I’m not the first reviewer to describe Glenn McCarty’s The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson (2019, 327 pages) as Mark Twain-esque. This is a tale of two very different boys, living out frontier life in 1876, and equally matched as both friends and rivals. Tumbleweed Thompson is a shyster and the son of a shyster, blowing into Rattlesnake Junction as father and son peddle miracle medicine from the back of their wagon. Eugene Appleton, a good son of the town’s pastor, is in the audience, watching as the peddlers are shown up and run out. But when Tumbleweed reappears on his ownsome, he pulls Eugene into a whole summer’s worth of getting chased by smugglers, trailing train robbers, and trying to outdo each other for the attentions of the mayor’s daughter, Charlotte Scoggins, a misadventurous lass herself. It’s evident the author is Christian, though that might not be apparent to the 10–14-year-old audience this is intended for because, even as Eugene means well, he doesn’t always act well (and Tumbleweed often enough doesn’t even mean well). That mostly gets sorted out at the end, when both boys do the very best thing, acting in defense of a widow and a man falsely accused. Loads of fun! – Jon Dykstra

MARCH 16

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was the Richard Dawkins of his time – one of the most prominent academic atheists of the twentieth century. Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou’s Logicomix: an Epic Search for Truth (2009, 350 pages) is a graphic novel that serves as a biography of the man, as well as an account of his, and others’, ultimately futile quest to use mathematics to arrive at certainty. As a child Russell was raised by his grandparents. He was made to read the Bible, but his grandfather died early on, and his grandmother didn’t seem to show him love. Then, when a tutor explained the logic and power of math, he came to reject the religion of his grandmother, seeing in math a way to live life without the need for any faith. In math, he thought, he could have certainty. But math itself is built on axioms – assumptions, that, while logical and even obvious, are unproven. So it became Russell’s life’s quest to prove these axioms – he wanted to give math a firm foundation. But as an old man he discovered that the quest for certainty that he had given his life to – that he had rejected God for – was unattainable. It was in 1931 that a young mathematician, Kurt Gödel proved, to the satisfaction of other mathematicians, that not everything can be proven. Logicomix is an entirely secular presentation, marred by at least one instance of God’s name being taken in vain, and written at a level that would limit it to adults. But you don’t need to understand all the math being discussed (I certainly didn’t) to appreciate the moral of Russell’s life’s story: like many a rebel, he claimed his rejection of God was grounded in something valid, but we can see that even as Russell rejected God for requiring faith, he wasn’t willing to reject math for the same “fault.”  Jon Dykstra

MARCH 15

Both my 10-year-old daughter and I enjoyed Jason Lethcoe’s No Place Like Holmes (2011, 210 pages), a steampunk detective story set in the London of the late 1800s. Our hero is Gilbert, an American boy of an unusually observant nature. Gilbert, we are told, will one day become “the world’s most secret detective.” But for now, he has been sent to live with his detective uncle, Rupert Snodgrass, just one story down from “the world’s most famous detective” Sherlock Holmes. Gilbert’s uncle is quite jealous of Holmes’ notoriety, as he too is a detective, though much less successful, and eschewing intuition in favor of detecting machines, which he himself invents. What sort of machines? All sorts: a robot butler, a metal detector, and a question-answerer that is hooked up to telegraphs lines from around the world – it’s basically a steam-powered computer with Internet. It’s wonderfully silly. The story is also wonderfully Christian: Gilbert’s love for his Lord is woven in throughout. So, for example, his uncle is not a church-goer, and quite obnoxious at the start, leaving Gilbert feeling lonely. But he knows he can ask his heavenly Father for courage. While this is a standalone story, it does have a cliffhanger lead-in for the sequel, The Future Door (2011, 210 pages), which I wouldn’t recommend. It’s a time travel adventure that ends on a sour note when an older Gilbert from the future kills the bad guy, and not in self-defense. Older Gilbert says that he used his time travel machine to explore every other option and all of them ended worse. But this is where the author failed to understand that even granting his character a form of omniscience doesn’t justify disobeying God’s clear command “Thou shall not kill.” If the author didn’t understand that, it’s very likely to go over the head of children readers too, which is a reason to give the sequel a miss.  Jon Dykstra

MARCH 14

I read Wilson Rawls’ novel Where the Red Fern Grows (1961/2016, 289 pages) to my eight-year-old son over the course of three weeks, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It tells the story of a very poor boy who is determined to get a pair of coon-hunting hounds, how he achieves his goal, and the adventures he has with his dogs. While I did employ some careful censorship of the gorier details of coon hunting (for the sake of my son’s maturity level), I nevertheless highly recommend the book, especially for dads to read to their eight to twelve-year-old boys. It is helpful for teaching the ethic of hard work and persistence, and the lesson that life isn’t always about happy endings, and yet being thankful for the wonderful things we have for the seasons God gives them to us. I found the references to God, Scripture, and prayer always respectful even if the theology is slightly off. Warning: If you’re the emotional type, you might start crying through the second-last chapter. I had to pause a couple times to wipe away tears and swallow a persistent lump in my throat. That too, is a teaching moment. – André Schutten

MARCH 9

I picked this novel up mostly because it shared a title with a non-fiction book André Schutten read earlier this year. It helped, also, that I’d read another by the author and loved it. Rule of Law (2017, 473 pages) is a legal thriller, and this time the action also includes a SEAL team storming an Arabic jail to free an imprisoned American journalist. When that mission takes a tragic turn, the fallout ends up in front of the Supreme Court. Author Randy Singer uses his fictional story to examine the real-world way in which the US government, and particularly the executive branch, has been acting as judge, jury, and executioner in placing foreign nationals on a “kill list,” and then taking them out, and those near them, via drone strikes. Singer doesn’t seem to be arguing against all drone strikes. But the title he has chosen certainly references the idea that we all need and benefit from accountability, so we all – including even the president – need to be under the law. Our leaders must not act like they are above it, as dictators do. This is well written, with a great balance of action, some romance, unexpected courtroom twists, and some realistic, subtly woven in, wrestlings with God. Singer is rapidly becoming a favorite author. – Jon Dykstra

MARCH 3

When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World (1956, 249 pages) is the story of Dorothy Martin and her small group of followers, and how their lives were impacted when her apocalyptic prophecy failed to come true. Martin believed that she had received messages from aliens revealing that a devastating natural disaster would destroy much of the world on December 21st, 1954. Through the process of automatic writing, in which the writer serves as a conduit for messengers from “beyond,” Martin had been informed that she and her group of true believers would be rescued from the cataclysm by spaceships which would deliver them to safety on another planet. Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, the authors of When Prophecy Fails, had been studying the historical results of failed prophecy when they read a newspaper story about Martin and her followers. Recognizing this as an opportunity to test their theories personally in a real-life situation, they inserted themselves into the group of “Seekers,” and chronicled events immediately leading up to December 21st as well as the disappointing aftermath of the failed prophecy. This is a very sad story from beginning to end, and the authors’ account often reads like a tragic novel and not as a sociological study. Martin herself believed fervently that she had been chosen to serve as a messenger of truth, and her followers were looking for hope and purpose in their lives. They were willing to grab hold of anything, no matter how ludicrous and self-contradictory, because they desperately wanted to believe. And when the forecast disaster failed to happen, the true believers didn’t abandon their trust in Martin and her message; instead, they searched for explanations that fit into their already-developed worldview, explained the failure away, and continued along the same path. In a world in which forecasts of impending doom, both scientific and religious, are commonplace, When Prophecy Fails helps us to understand why failed prophecies often lead to beliefs being held more strongly rather than abandoned completely. – Jim Witteveen

One of the most accomplished judges in English history, Lord Tom Bingham, wrote this short but helpful book The Rule of Law (2010/2011, 213 pages). Lord Bingham explains that the book “is not addressed to lawyers… It is addressed to those who have heard references to the rule of law, who are inclined to think that it sounds like a good thing rather than a bad thing, who wonder if it may not be rather important, but who are not quite sure what it is all about and would like to make up their minds.” The book opens with some interesting legal history, outlines eight aspects of the rule of law (the chapter on human rights is particularly good), before closing with some modern application to the war on terror. Some post-COVID readers may be happy to apply the warnings of this book to violations of the rule of law over the last two years but may also be appropriately challenged to rethink their position on certain government actions during the “war on terror.” An accessible read, I highly recommend this book for all lawyers, politicians, government workers, and any citizen who has used the term “rule of law” recently but is not 100% sure they know what the term really means. – André Schutten

MARCH 2

Richard Pollak’s The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1997, 456 pages) is the story of a man with an invented past and fictional credentials, who wrote fabricated stories about the amazing successes of the Chicago school for mentally ill children that he took over in 1944. Along the way, he published several popular books on parenting and other subjects, worked as a university professor and magazine columnist, and influenced a generation of parents in his role as “public intellectual.” This book is a well-written and fascinating account of one man’s life, and makes for captivating reading on that basis alone. But on a deeper level, the story of “Dr. B.” reveals a great deal about how one person can fool even the “best and brightest” when he tells them what they want to hear. Bruno Bettelheim was not the only intellectual fraud who was active in 20th Century academia, so the example of his life and work, and the way in which he managed to become an important figure in the academic world, functions as a cautionary tale. Even among the “experts” of the world, things are not always as they seem. – Jim Witteveen

FEBRUARY 22

I’ve recently been reading a few children’s versions of Pilgrim’s Progress. I’m not normally one for abridgments, but John Bunyan’s classic is also almost 350 years old, so the original wasn’t going to work with my daughters. I checked out the three most popular children’s editions and was pleasantly surprised with them all. The most loyal to the original was Dangerous Journey (1985, 127 pages). Editor Oliver Hunkin has carefully abridged, rather than rewritten Bunyan’s story, and done so in a way that makes it easily understandable for the teen audience it is aimed at. He’s edited out the obscure terms, and paired it with pictures that do a lot of explaining, but which are scarier and darker than my preteen listeners would have been up for. Hunkin also includes a much-abridged 16-page version of Bunyan’s sequel, about the pilgrim’s wife Christiana going on her own journey. For younger children, the most authentic version is Tyler Van Halteren’s Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey (2020, 223 pages). It has somewhat cartoonish pictures they’ll enjoy, and the principal character, Christian, is now a boy, rather than a man. I appreciated that Van Halteren’s rewrite still contains most of Bunyan’s theological challenges and lessons, though on a kid’s level. He’s also written a second book, Part II, that covers Christiana’s journey, though now instead of being the pilgrim’s wife, she is his little sister. The one I read to my children is Helen L. Taylor’s adaptation, Little Pilgrim’s Progress (1946, 336 pages). This text was the most readable of the three (Halteren’s version is very close) and also includes Christiania’s journey, though she is now Christian’s friend. A little of the theological heft was lost, but I think that’s okay, so long as kids understand that they should really check out the original when they’re older. There are many versions of Taylor’s adaptation, some with lavish pictures and others with only simple line drawings. – Jon Dykstra

FEBRUARY 21

If the news has you feeling antsy, then you might be interested in a book that calmed and encouraged me. To celebrate 50 years of Canadian Reformed involvement in the mission work in Brazil, editor Harold Ludwig and the Aldergrove Brazil Mission Society, have given us God Gave the Growth (2021, 144 pages). Dozens of contributors, including past and present missionaries and all sorts of workers, take turns sharing how God greatly blessed their work. There are challenges – a different language and culture creates barriers that have to be overcome – but maybe the greatest challenge is one we pray we could experience in Canada too: such a hunger for the Reformed truth that there are more opportunities to preach and teach than can be met. As one missionary shares: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). I really loved that there were so many contributors, as they gave very different glimpses at what God has been up to. This, then, is a book that’ll give you a boost – our God reigns and He is busy! Purchase the sturdy oversized hardcover for $30 CAN plus shipping at MissionBoardBrazil.org. – Jon Dykstra

FEBRUARY 18

Christians are right to be skeptical of an environmental movement that sees Man as a problem for the planet, rather than the steward of it. But, as Gordon Wilson explains in his A Different Shade of Green (2019, 189 pages), Christians can’t simply be contrarians – we won’t arrive at the biblical position simply by being reactionary and anti-Green. Instead, our foundation has to be God’s Word, starting with the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:28, and then God’s own evaluation of His creation as is expressed a few verses later: “and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). We are to value His Creation and the creatures in it because He values it, and we are to take charge of its care because He has made us responsible for it. What Dr. Wilson has gifted us with here is a challenging and engaging Biblical Environmentalism 101 – he hasn’t worked it all out for us, but he is pointing us in the right direction. For more of Wilson’s creation care thoughts, be sure to check out his nature documentary series, The Riot and The Dance– Jon Dykstra

FEBRUARY 17

There are lots of layers in Randy Singer’s courtroom drama Directed Verdict (2002, 486 pages). When the Saudi religious police uncover a secret church, Charles, the American pastor, is tortured and killed, and his wife Sarah is beaten and deported on trumped-up drug charges. From there the action takes place both in an American court where lawyer Brad Carson helps Sarah bring suit against her torturer, and in Saudi Arabia, where the small church struggles to continue, their members fearful and shaken. The large law firm defending the torturer is willing to cheat, so what might their murderous client be willing to do? Sarah Reed’s team is growing to admire her courage but none of them share her Christian scruples, so what might they be willing to do behind her back to help her get justice? This was a quick read, and sure has me interested in what else Singer has written. – Jon Dykstra

FEBRUARY 16

Written as a critique of Leo Tolstoy’s pacifist ideology, Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin’s On Resistance to Evil by Force (1925, 216 pages) provides a passionate and often insightful defense of the legitimacy of physical opposition to evil. Ilyin writes from a distinctly Russian Orthodox perspective which informs his conclusions (and leads to some of its shortcomings). From this perspective, he critiques not only the pacifism of Tolstoy and the ethics of the Roman Catholic Jesuits, but also what he calls “the most naive and elementary attempts to give the sword an absolute justification” of Martin Luther. While Luther wrote that the legitimate use of “the sword” in service to secular governments is a work done on behalf of God Himself, and that it, therefore, is absolutely righteous, Ilyin argues that the use of force in countering evil is actually an unrighteous act, but an act that must be performed by righteous men. We need, he writes, both the warrior and the monk – the warrior to do the necessary work of combating evil, and the monk to do the work of absolving the warrior of that evil. This is where Ilyin’s argument goes off the rails, and does not align with Scriptural teaching. However, along the way, Ilyin argues powerfully and logically against Christian pacifism and quietism as ideologies which run counter to Biblical teaching. He makes a cogent case for the necessity of standing up against evil in this world, to the point of physical resistance, on the basis of love for God, for our neighbor, and for righteousness itself. This book was written in Russian in 1925, and is neither an easy read nor a book which I would endorse without reservation. That being said, Ilyin’s overarching message is very relevant for our current situation, and provides much food for thought as we consider how and why Christians should actively combat evil in this world. – Jim Witteveen

FEBRUARY 15

According to its afterword, “few books have been so widely debated, quoted, excerpted, and also used for teacher education, graduate and undergraduate courses, and in some high schools” as Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970, 219 pages). There is no denying the influence that Paulo Freire’s educational philosophy has had, not just in his native Brazil, but around the world. And as I read this book, Freire’s best-known work, my only conclusion is that this influence has been resoundingly negative. Replete with citations of such luminaries as Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, Pedagogy of the Oppressed proudly proclaims its Marxist basis, building a system of education on a very flimsy foundation indeed. I have little good to say about this book, although I believe that Freire’s characterization of government educational systems as tools of the elite used to control and form society according to its desires is entirely accurate. His “solutions,” however, are disastrous – as the results have continued to show. While I wouldn’t recommend this book as a handbook of pedagogy, I do recommend it particularly for anyone involved in education who would like to learn more about why public and higher education has become what it is today. – Jim Witteveen

FEBRUARY 9

Anne Hendershott is a rare bird – a sociologist who believes that the concept of “deviance” must be reaffirmed in order to avoid a complete societal collapse. The classification of some behaviors as “deviant” was once understood by sociologists as the means by which societies defined what is right and good, maintaining good order and harmony by stigmatizing deviant behavior. Since the 1960s, the sociological study of deviance has become a historical study only, as sociologists question why “deviance” was ever an important concept in the first place. This doesn’t mean that there is no longer any such thing as behavior that is considered “deviant.” But it does mean that what is now considered deviant behavior is often the exact opposite of what previous generations believed. In The Politics of Deviance (2002, 194 pages), Hendershott examines the subject of deviance by discussing the issues of pedophilia, sexual orientation, sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, mental illness, and rape. Throughout, she demonstrates how the academic and media elite have “shaped discussion and dramatically influenced public perceptions.” What is needed, Hendershoot argues, is a return to the traditional categories of deviance. And this, she says, requires a moral awakening, and not merely a change of laws. Her concluding words are worth quoting: “A society that continues to redefine deviance as disease, or refuses to acknowledge and negatively sanction the deviant acts our common sense tells us are destructive, is a society that has lost the capacity to confront evil that has a capacity to dehumanize us all.” While this book is now twenty years old and therefore somewhat dated, the trends that Hendershott examined in 2002 have only continued, and indeed worsened. This study remains relevant as our society continues to overturn traditional categories of deviance, and as deviance is redefined as a result of emotional appeals of advocacy groups, public intellectuals, and in the halls of academia. – Jim Witteveen

Beloved philosopher Peter Kreeft’s Beyond Heaven and Hell (1982, 115 pages) is a short book patterned after a Socratic dialogue. (Kreeft has written a few of these entertaining and illuminating dialogues, a particular favorite of mine being The Unaborted Socrates). In Beyond Heaven & Hell, Kreeft imagines a conversation between President J.F. Kennedy, writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, and professor and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, in some space immediately after their death (all three died on the same day, November 22, 1963). C.S. Lewis takes on the modern humanist in Kennedy and the Eastern pantheist in Huxley while discussing and debating the existence of hell, the place of authority, and Scripture as trustworthy, the reality of Jesus Christ and his divinity, and more. I highly recommend the book. It can be read in a single sitting on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday evening. It might be fun to read it aloud with two others, each taking a voice of the three characters. – André Schutten

FEBRUARY 8

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Brave New World Revisited (1958) (combined edition, 2005, 340 pages) are modern classics. The former is a dystopian novel, predicting future tyranny not through violence, pain, and terror but through pleasure and technological and medical planning and psychological conditioning. The latter is a nonfiction piece in which Huxley compares modern human relations in 1958 with what he prophesied in 1932. While Huxley was not a Christian (he blended certain Christian ideas with Eastern mysticism and pantheism), some of his criticisms – though certainly not all – are spot on. Huxley’s prophesy of control through pleasure – evaluated in the 21st century – is more accurate than his student George Orwell’s prophesy of societal control through pain and terror in Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949). The ethical/political issues surrounding IVF and surrogacy, the redefinition of the family to include up to four parents, none of whom need to be biologically related to the child (see Ontario’s All Families Are Equal Act, 2016), the ubiquitous nature of pornography, the dramatic shift of divorcing procreation from sex, the state-control of vast swaths of the education system, and society’s desire to prefer safety and comfort over freedom and responsibility, all suggest that Huxley was the more prescient philosopher. The book is unsettling to read but I nonetheless recommend it, not only to better understand the many cultural references to it, but also to prick your imagination to better critique the state of our society today. – André Schutten

FEBRUARY 7

If you have ever struggled with concentration when needing to focus on a challenging project (writing an article or sermon, reading and understanding an intellectual problem, studying for an exam, preparing arguments for court, etc.) then Cal Newport’s Deep Work (2016, 296 pages) is a must-read. This was the second time I’d read this book in less than two years. It confirms with scientific and anecdotal evidence what I’ve grown to know for myself over the last 10 years: a person needs to have lots of dedicated, focussed time in order to do deep work. Newport defines deep work as: “work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction” and argues it is essential to develop two core abilities: 1. the ability to quickly master hard things/ideas; and 2. the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. Without systems and strategies in place, deep work becomes nearly impossible, making productivity, innovation and output stagnate. This book provides those strategies. I highly recommend Deep Work to any ministers, lawyers, academics, writers, and researchers who want to improve their focus and output with the caveat that this book is not written from a Christian perspective. Implement the strategies, without losing gospel focus in your life. (I hope to read What’s Best Next later this year, which is also a book about productivity, but from a Christian perspective.) – André Schutten

FEBRUARY 2

There are miracles all around us, but the rising sun, our pumping hearts, and babies’ wriggling toes do their things with such regularity as to seem ordinary. Not so the miracles in God’s Smuggler (1967, 288 pages). Here “Brother Andrew” (1928- ) relates one extraordinary answer to prayer after another, whether it be a needed cake delivered at the last moment by an off-duty postman, or the instant healing of Andrew’s crippled ankle. Then, in his work smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, this Dutchman came to rely on the extraordinary becoming regular. Border crossings into Communist countries were always tense, but each time Brother Andrew would ask God to “make seeing eyes blind” and God would do so. The same border guards who had just taken apart the car in front of them would simply wave them through or, if they did inspect their cargo, the guards would completely miss the Bibles crammed in everywhere. It was through these regular miracles that God used Andrew and his coworkers to deliver His Word to millions in the persecuted Church. I told my children we shouldn’t understand the many miracles Andrew experienced as evidence that he was always acting wisely and praying as he should (he acknowledges God honored some of his requests despite how he prayed). We can take it as evidence of God’s great love for his persecuted Church! – Jon Dykstra

FEBRUARY 1

Lawyer and theologian John Warwick Montgomery’s Human Rights & Human Dignity (1986, 319 pages) is a great introduction to the Christian foundation of modern human rights. While I would differ with Montgomery on some theological points (he’s Lutheran and, at times, criticizes Calvinist thought), his book sets out a devastating critique of modern justifications for universal human rights, exposing how flimsy a foundation they have, and then proposing a transcendental foundation for universal human rights, rooting them in the doctrines of creation and redemption. I recommend the book to anyone interested in a relatively accessible, university-level Christian introduction to the topic of human rights, with the caveat that the book is a bit dated. – André Schutten

One of the best-known psychological experiments in history was that of Stanley Milgram, professor of psychology at Yale University. In a series of experiments, Milgram tested hundreds of unwitting subjects for their willingness to administer electric shocks to a “victim” who answered a series of quiz questions incorrectly. Participants were told that they were participating in a study of the efficacy of punishment for learning, but the real goal of the experiment was to study how obedient people would be to authority, even when told to do things that went against their conscience. Milgram discovered that obedience to authority is deeply ingrained, and that the majority of participants would obey even when they believed they were seriously hurting someone. Obedience to Authority (1974, 253 pages) is the fruit of Milgram’s research. Much of it is taken up by an explanation of the various forms that the experiments took, but it is the individual case studies that are particularly interesting and insightful. One participant was a member of a Dutch Reformed Church, and had lived through the Nazi occupation of Holland; at one point in the experiment he refused to continue when he believed that the “subject” was being hurt. Another was an Old Testament professor who also refused to obey the authority figure. When asked what he thought the most effective way of strengthening resistance to inhumane authority, he responded: “If one had as one’s ultimate authority God, then it trivializes human authority.” Milgram writes from an evolutionist perspective, and I would have loved to have seen more of a focus on the role that people’s faith and religious presuppositions play in their obedience to authority. That being said, I recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their understanding about obedience to authority from a psychological and sociological perspective. – Jim Witteveen

JANUARY 27

Though it’d be best absorbed in the month-and-a-half that the title prescribes, I read Todd Nettleton’s When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the frontlines with persecuted Christians (2021, 272 pages) in just two days. It was simply too wonderful to put down. Each of the 40 chapters is a story of a Christian who shared God’s good news with those around them, come what may. They shared it because they knew that the relatives trying to silence them, the mob trying to intimidate them, or even the policemen coming to arrest them, all needed what God had already given to them. So this is a story of Christians far braver than we, but more importantly, it is the story of the good God who sustained them. In a few instances He did so by way of big miracles: Muslims with no access to the Bible are reached in their dreams, a man shot twice in the chest survives because the bullets did no major damage, police tossing a house find a lost sewing needle but miss the three large boxes of Bibles in the middle of the room. In others, the miracles were maybe less spectacular, but exactly what was needed: a man who used to beat Christians is so won over he is now willing to suffer those beatings rather than stay quiet about his Lord, a woman whose husband was murdered is able to forgive the murderers, a drug addict who turns to God is instantly freed from his addiction. This is an incredible book, and much needed here in the West where we are terrified of speaking God’s good news because of what it might cost us in status, or promotions, or friendships. These persecuted Christians want us to understand that for God’s people, persecution is to be expected (John 15:18-21) but it need not be feared because our God is greater than the world and what we might have to suffer is nothing compared to what we have gained in Him. – Jon Dykstra

JANUARY 26

Is the Christian vs. evolutionist/naturalist/materialist debate about explaining why there is something, rather than nothing? No, says John Byl, in his brilliant apologetic work The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning (2021, 421 pages). The real question is “Who will rule: God or Man?” and in the world’s attempts to usurp God, they’ve crafted many a worldview to try to explain things apart from Him. Dr. Byl shares the world’s best godless explanations and shows, often in the proponents’ own words, how their attempts are self-contradictory or simply fail to explain what they set out to explain. Naturalism says there is nothing outside of nature, and materialism that there is nothing outside matter, so how can either explain how matter came to be, or the non-material world of math and meaning? Byl also makes evident how very often these godless philosophers understand the emptiness of their best answers, and yet cling to them anyway only because they hate the alternative: bowing their knee to God. This is a book that will stretch most readers, and in some parts (Chapter 14 was a doozy!) I only got the gist of it…but what an encouraging gist it was. While the 2004 paperback edition is still available, Dr. Byl has made the 2021 revision a free ebook you can download on his blog here. – Jon Dykstra

JANUARY 24

Historian-turned-lawyer-turned-fiction-writer C.J. Sansom has written an engaging historical fiction novel (my favorite genre) in Dissolution (2003, 390 pages). Set during the initial years of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries there, the story follows a hunchbacked lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, who is sent to investigate a murder in a monastery at the behest of Thomas Cromwell (the vicar general of King Henry VIII). The book is part Agatha Christie mystery, part John Grisham drama, combined with the very careful research of the best historical fiction writers. The value of the book for a Christian reader (beyond just enjoying some good fiction) is to show the messiness of the early Reformation in England. Sansom puts away any romantic ideas Reformed people might have about that era. While a corrupt church hierarchy was displaced, it was done through the brutal and corrupt tactics of a tyrant with some early English Reformers playing along. I recommend the book for mystery lovers and historical fiction fans interested in learning a bit more about the early Reformation era with the caveat that the story contains mature subject matter: murder, torture, and adultery (though thankfully not graphically described). – André Schutten

My personal library is rather roughly organized according to topic, and one of the categories that I use to sort my collection is “Know Your Enemy.” The books included under this heading are ones that I wouldn’t recommend because I agree with their content, but rather because it’s important to know first-hand what it is that we’re up against. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971, 196 pages) is one such book – a highly influential work that provides an insider’s view of tactics that have become ubiquitous in the world of politics, and what motivates those who use them. If you’ve ever wondered why the political arena is so often characterized by dishonesty and pragmatism instead of by high ideals and straightforward honesty, you need look no further than Rules for Radicals, the playbook for a generation of “community organizers,” activists, and politicians. Alinsky’s dedication of this book to “the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer” reveals his starting point, and from there, as you can well imagine, it goes nowhere good. So I recommend this book, not because I agree with it or find its arguments compelling, but rather because we need to be aware of the tactics that are being used against us. For more, check out my Dan 11:32 podcast here on Alinsky’s book. – Jim Witteveen

JANUARY 20

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 187 pages) is a series of theological debates and discussions wrapped inside an epic journey. Our hero, the Pilgrim, is setting out from “the City of Destruction” to find a home in the Good King’s “Celestial City” and the journey serves as a metaphor for the Christian life. Bunyan has many challenges and encouragements to offer, but the main one is that “the bitter must come before the sweet.” He wants readers to understand that turning to God won’t make our life easy, and might even make it much harder. But God is worth it! So, along the way, the Pilgrim has to contend with many trials including false friends, doubt, a corrupt judge and lying witnesses, depression, all sorts of temptations, and persecution. He is also strengthened along the way by “Shining ones,” faithful friends, and good counselors who show him what the Lord has done for other pilgrims. There’s loads of wisdom packed in here, which is the reason it was the English world’s most influential novel for at least a couple of centuries. Readers should take some care in finding a good version as there are many to avoid. For example, the Amazon Classic version kept the original language but omits “all the conversations and arguments concerning subjects belonging to the field of doctrine.” Most modernizations also cut out meat or sections that offend modern sensibilities. A fantastic exception is that done by C. J. Lovik, which only lightly – but effectively! – modernizes the text, and includes very helpful explanatory endnotes, with wonderful illustrations every ten pages or so. If you want to read it in the original, there is a great free version by three Johns: written by John Bunyan, introduced by John Newton (the former slave ship captain who wrote the song “Amazing Grace”), and including a biography of the author by John Piper. For those that want more, Bunyan wrote a sequel, this time describing the journey of the Pilgrim’s wife, called “Pilgrim’s Progress Part II: Christiana” – Jon Dykstra

JANUARY 18

Presbyterian pastor Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020, 224 pages) is a beautifully written book on God’s heart for his people. A handful of people recommended this book to me and, since I received it as a Christmas gift from the ARPA Canada board, I decided to read it as my morning devotional. If you’ve ever struggled with the question of whether God might love you despite your sins, read this book. If you’ve ever thought that God’s attitude toward you is one of exasperation, read this book. It literally brought me to tears (in chapter 6, quoting John Bunyan), and encouraged me many times in the past couple weeks. I highly recommend the book for personal devotions or as an evening devotion for a couple, or as a dinner-time devotional for families with older children. It will provoke discussions of wonder, amazement and praise at how great God’s love for us really is. – André Schutten

JANUARY 14

Written from a Christian perspective, Carol M. Swain and Christopher J. Schorr’s Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory is Burning Down the House (2021, 152 pages) is readable and brief – just 79 pages, plus glossary, notes, appendix, and index. That makes it an insightful introduction to Critical Race Theory (CRT) going back to its roots in Marxism, specifically the cultural Marxism of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt school of critical theorists. Each chapter concludes with a list of discussion questions, making it ideal for group study and discussion. Although written specifically for the American context, the book’s suggestions for engaging with and opposing CRT’s influence are easily applicable to readers in other countries as well. – Jim Witteveen

JANUARY 13

Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura’s We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration (2021, 160 pages) is a graphic novel account of the tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the US in World War II based solely on their ethnicity. They lost their jobs, businesses, and even their homes. Despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their patriotism. However, some did dare to protest, and We Hereby Refuse shares three of their stories. One inescapable lesson: the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use it with great restraint. What happens when it doesn’t act with restraint? We can get victims by the thousands, as happened here. Another? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims. – Jon Dykstra

JANUARY 8

Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2010, 310 pages) is an excellent introduction to the major philosophical theories of justice, covering Aristotle, Mill, Kant, Rawls and others. It’s an easy read: Sandel uses very interesting stories and cases to highlight how the theories of justice work and what their failings are. Here’s the caveat: the book is not written from a Christian perspective. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be wishing for one more chapter, to accurately present a distinctly Christian theory of justice, which also critiques the other theories. Sandel himself gets close by his final two chapters (his point about being part of a narrative and community is compelling) but lacks the objective, transcendent standard by which to judge human action as just or unjust. Highly recommended to anyone interested in wrestling with theories of justice and how individuals, institutions, and governments should decide what the right thing to do is in any given situation. P.S. a fun exercise to do while reading the book is ask yourself which theory of justice is being employed by the government as it makes decisions around Covid-19 and what would the other philosophers say about it. André Schutten

JANUARY 7

John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America (2021, 224 pages) is by an African-American who is himself not a believer. But he makes the case for thinking about the new anti-racism (based in Critical Race Theory) as a religious system, and its supporters (“the Elect”) as religious adherents. Highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the worldviews that form the foundation of Critical Race Theory, with the caveat that the book is not written from a Christian perspective, and does contain a bit of rough language. – Jim Witteveen


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