Adult biographies, Book Reviews
R.C. Sproul: A Life
by Stephen J. Nichols 2021 / 400 pages Stephen J. Nichols has produced the first biography of Sproul since his death in December of 2017. The aut...
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction
Just do something
A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will or how to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses...
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
The Gospel Comes With a House Key: an instructive, inspiring, downright intimidating look at Christian hospitality
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
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
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....
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
2 to help us understand the Muslim holy book
WHAT EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE QUR'AN by James R. White 311 pages / 2013 More than ever, Christians need to be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islam. We often live beside Muslims, work alongside them, and study with them. It’s good to have helpful resources to inform our conversations with our Muslim neighbors. Though it is now a couple of years old already, James White’s book on the Muslim sacred text is one of those valuable helps. White is the author of numerous non-fiction books. He’s well-known as an author, speaker, and debater. He is an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an organization with a focus on apologetics (done in a Reformed, presuppositional manner). Rather than summarize everything in this book, let me just highlight two points which stood out for me. Qur-an’s caricature of the Trinity shows it isn’t perfect One has to do with what the Qur’an says about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. In chapter 4, White points out that the Qur’an says Christians believe the Trinity to consist of Allah, Jesus, and Mary. Christians are alleged to believe that Allah and Mary had relations to produce Jesus. This is important because: Everyone affected would affirm that by the early decades of the seventh century, God Himself would have a perfect knowledge of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says. And if that doctrine does not accurately represent His own self-revelation, He would be in the perfect position to refute its falsehoods with devastating precision. But is this what we find in the Qur’an? The Qur’an doesn’t get the Trinity right, and so the Qur’an can’t be taken seriously as a revelation from God. Qur’an’s claim about itself is patently false In chapter 11, White has a penetrating discussion about the text of the Qur’an. Muslims claim that it is a perfect, immutable text. Of course, that’s contrasted with the text of the Bible which, they allege, has been mutilated by Jews and Christians. White gives a couple of examples from Muslim writers. This is one of them: Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an. The above prophecy for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well…It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single the alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries. White demonstrates that this claim is patently false. He notes that “even widely published editions of the Qur’an contain information indicating variations in the very text.” He cites Yusuf Ali’s edition with its note on Surah 33:6. In The Hidden Origins of Islam (ed. by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R. Puin), there is an essay by Alba Fedeli on variant readings in early Qur’anic manuscripts. It is simply not true that there is a single immaculate Qur’an text preserved from the time of Muhammad. Conclusion One question I wish White would have addressed is whether these claims are made in ignorance or deliberately to deceive. There is a doctrine in Islam known as al-Taqqiya. This teaching says it is permissible to lie in order to advance the cause of Islam. This is one of the things making Islam such a threat to western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular. How can you tell when a Muslim is lying about Islam? I would recommend this book to anyone who has regular contact with Muslims. Be aware though: most, if not all, of the points raised by White in the book have rebuttals by Muslim apologists somewhere online. The rebuttals are weak, but if you are going to use White’s material in conversations it would be advisable to prepare yourself beforehand for what your Muslim neighbor may bring back in response. Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. ***** UNDERSTANDING THE KORAN by Mateen Elass 193 pages / 2009 If I were to offer a one-sentence review I'd describe this as the most readable and most loving Christian book on Islam I've yet read, and while it isn't a very big book, there is a lot packed in it. The advantage of this “Quick Christian guide to the Muslim Holy Book” is how much it packs into its small size. The author, Mateen Elass, wanted to craft an introduction to the Koran that anyone could pick up and read, and somehow he's managed to make it both easily digestible and 100% solid meat - there's no fluff here. Elass is a Presbyterian pastor who was raised in Saudi Arabia so he knows what he’s talking about it, and can offer a solid, biblically-grounded insight. He outlines how the Koran is a compilation of muddled Bible stories, Gnostic accounts, and Jewish folk tales, and compares and contrasts Christian views on our Bible with Muslim views about the Koran. The only caution I had regards Chapter 6 “Is Allah a False God?” where the author argues that, like the Samaritans in New Testament times (see John 4:22), Muslims worship the real God, but in ignorance. This is a controversial stance – Muslims insist that Allah has no Son – but it becomes less so when the author makes it clear he isn’t arguing for any sort of equivalence between Islam and Christianity or that Muslims can be saved apart from Jesus. Introductions to Islam can generally be divided into those that have nothing but good to say about Islam, and those that have nothing but bad. One strength of this title is that it takes a third approach – the author is Christian, but one knows and loves Muslims, so while he is direct, thorough, and quite devastating in his critique of the Koran, he always remains calm, and never resorts to rhetoric. Understanding the Koran is small and engaging enough to be read in a few evenings, but the depth of material, and the review questions for each chapter, make this one worth reading a second time at a slower more studious pace. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....
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 coping The 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.... 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. ...
Book excerpts, Book Reviews
7 quotes from "Learning Contentment"
2017 / 115 pages 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 “ 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 excerpts, Book Reviews
5 quotes from Greg Koukl's "The Story of Reality"
The following quotes are from Greg Koukl's new apologetic book "The Story of Reality: How the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between." You can read Dr. Bredenhof's review of it here. GOD'S STORY IN ONE SENTENCE “It’s a story I can tell in a single sentence, though it’s a bit long. Here it is: God, the Creator of the universe, in order to rescue man from punishment for his rebellion, came to earth and took on the form of humanity in Jesus, the Savior, to die on a cross and rise from the dead, so that in the final resurrection those who receive his mercy will enjoy a wonderful friendship with their sovereign Lord in the kind of perfect world their hearts have always yearned for.” IT"S NOT ABOUT ME “The Story is not so much about God’s plan for your life as it is about your life for God’s plan. Let that sink in. God’s purposes are central, not yours. Once you are completely clear on this fact, many things are going to change for you.” WHAT EVERY WORLDVIEW SHARES “Every worldview has four elements. They help us understand how the parts of a person’s worldview story fit together. These four parts are called creation, fall, redemption and restoration. Creation tells us how things began, where everything came from (including us), the reasons for our origins, and what ultimate reality is like. Fall describes the problem (since we all know something has gone wrong with the world). Redemption gives us the solution, the way to fix what went wrong. Restoration describes what the world will look like once the repair takes place.” THE PROBLEM OF EVIL FOR ATHEISTS “…given a Godless, physical universe, the idea that things are not as they should be makes little sense. How can something go wrong when there was no right way for it to be in the first place?” WE ARE THE PINNACLE OF GOD'S CREATION “If you have ever asked yourself the question ‘Who am I?’ you now have your answer. The Story says you are a creature, but you are not just a creature. You are not a little god, but you are not nothing. You are made like God in a magnificent way that can never be taken from you. No matter how young or old or small or disfigured or destitute or dependent, you are still a beautiful creature. You bear the mark of God. He has made you like himself, and that changes everything.”...
BOOK REVIEW: God has a wonderful plan for your life
by Ray Comfort 128 pages / 2010 Why doesn't the modern evangelistic message "work"? In this book Comfort is confronting an enormous problem that he argues is related, at its root, to a lack of concern for the law – 90% of seeming converts in Christian crusades are gone from the church within a year, and many never set foot in a church at all. He argues the cause for this distressing statistic is the "modern message," which promises earthly happiness for those who turn to Him. Meanwhile the Bible and church history show persecution is a likely result of following Christ. Comfort tells us that the "lost key" to true evangelism is the use of the law. Only knowing our sin – our specific sins, not just our weakness or brokenness – begins "making grace amazing.” To illustrate this, Comfort makes a brilliant analogy about giving parachutes to two airplane passengers. The first man is told that the chute will make his flight much more comfortable. When, instead, he finds that wearing it makes him feel silly in the eyes of the other passengers and makes it hard to sit in his seat, he gives it up in frustration. The second passenger is told that the chute will save his life when (not if) the plane crashes – a metaphor for our inevitable appearance before the judgment seat of God. You can imagine how much more grateful he is for his "gospel chute." Comfort next makes it clear that Jesus Himself used the law to convict sinners of their need for forgiveness through God's grace – the only chute that can save us from the crash of our condemnation – and concludes by stressing that churches filled with false converts are no testimony to the power of a false modern message. The appendix is a model of "gentleness and respect" as Comfort passes on a word "For My Campus Crusade Friends," demonstrating that some of the organization's own leaders have come to see the necessity for the law in the proclamation of the gospel. CAUTIONS This is not the first book by Ray Comfort that I have read. The previous one, Revival's Golden Key, was a good read, but this one is a really good read. The two books have similar messages, but God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life is a better read for two reasons: 1. It's almost 100 pages shorter. 2. Comfort's use of Scripture is simpler and more literal. In Revival's Golden Key, Comfort sometimes slips into an allegorical interpretation of particular passages to support his contention that it is the law of God that brings sinners to true Christian conversion. God Has a Wonderful Plan sticks to texts that clearly relate to preaching and evangelism to make the same point. CONCLUSIONS If you believe that Comfort can show a better way to obey the Great Commission as Reformed churches begin to make evangelism a greater priority, you can download a free pdf copy of the book here (just click on "Start Reading Now"). This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com....
Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection
by Gary Bates 2004 / 382 pages Are people actually being abducted by aliens? That’s the question being asked by this book…and the recently released documentary based on it. The author is Christian, so you might expect he’d answer with an emphatic “no” but Gary Bates response could best be summarized as, “sort of.” The way the book is structured, Alien Intrusion could be given to anyone, Christian or not. The cover and first few chapters hardly give a hint that this is a Christian book since, initially, it seems to be making a case for UFO’s and aliens. Bates notes that millions of people, including a past president of the United States, claim to have seen a UFO, and he discusses how many popular TV shows, likes Star Trek and various science fiction movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey assume that aliens are somewhere out there. But after delving into what people think about aliens and UFOs the author then begins, step by step, to explain why aliens could not possibly be visiting us from other planets. Most of the reasons are simply practical – the distances are too far and the energy needed simply too immense. Despite the fact that it is physically impossible for aliens to be visiting us, the author doesn’t believe that every story of alien abduction is simply a lie or a delusion. After debunking many famous “UFOlogists” Bates notes that there are still too many ordinary folks making abduction claims – people who have nothing to gain, and personal credibility to lose – to simply dismiss the phenomenon altogether. This is where the book starts to become clearly Christian. The author argues that it is only now that our world has embraced evolution (and dismissed God) that UFO sightings have become so prevalent. There is also a strong correlation between UFO belief and occult experimentation – many of the more famous “UFOlogists” have also dabbled in the “dark arts.” It is worth noting, too, that the messages “aliens” pass on are often direct attacks on the Bible, portraying Jesus not as the Son of God, but merely as some advanced alien. So are people being abducted by aliens? Bates argues that while some people may indeed be having these encounters it is not with aliens but rather with demons masquerading as extraterrestrials. Now, I’ve not yet seen the 2018 documentary of the same name, but the trailer (see below) looks promising. I suspect that it follows the same sort of format, first presenting the evidence for an alien intrusion, before then explaining why it just isn’t so. As for the book, it is fantastic, and a great gift for anyone interested in science fiction. Bates employing a solid Christian worldview to separate the fact from the fiction. https://youtu.be/0ZxYkM7PB7U...
4 books on the irreconcilable divide between Creation and Evolution
Four encouraging books to equip the Church in the current Evolution vs. Creation debates, listed by size, smallest to biggest. No Adam, No Gospel: Adam and the History of Redemption by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. 29 pages / 2015 More and more professing Christians are accepting scientific theory that suggests that man-like mammals (hominids) preceded the coming of Adam by millions of years. Biologos, a well-funded organization, is also pushing evolution using scholars who have a conservative reputation to convince people to accept evolution. But what does affirming evolutionary origins of the human race do to the gospel? Can you affirm that Adam was not historically the first human on earth without jeopardizing the Good News? Professor Gaffin clearly shows that “the truth of the gospel stands or falls with the historicity of Adam as the first human being from whom all other human beings descend.” After clearly explaining Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49, Gaffin responds to The Evolution of Adam, a book written by a popular Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns. Gaffin shows how the views of Enns lead to a complete abandonment of the Reformed faith in its biblical understanding of sin, salvation, and death. Indeed, no Adam, no gospel! The results of accepting evolution theory are disastrous for the Christian faith. Although a small publication, this booklet is timely and packed with excellent biblical insights. I highly recommend it. The Faces of Origins by David Herbert 180 pages / 2012 It’s often said that new scientific knowledge has made it impossible to continue to accept the truth of the Genesis creation account, that this new knowledge meant scientists had no choice but to accept evolution. Herbert challenges this narrative. He says it wasn’t the new knowledge, but a new worldview that led to the rejection of the Genesis creation account. Western civilization left a worldview based on biblical revelation, where God was actively involved in history, and instead embraced a naturalistic worldview based only on reason. Naturalism believes that natural processes alone are sufficient to account for life and creation. Herbert shows that for eighteen centuries a biblical understanding of origins had the upper hand. Real change came during the seventeenth century. Indeed, BenoÎt de Maillet (1656-1738) was the first modern uniformitarian and evolutionist. Once scientific findings were interpreted without God, through the lens of naturalism, evolution became the most popular explanation of our origins. This in spite of the fact that the empirical evidence points to design and not evolution. The price of excluding God and denying Genesis is high. It has led to a resurgence of atheism. This book is a great and easy read. By Design: Evidence for nature's Intelligent Designer – the God of the Bible by Jonathan Sarfati 260 pages / 2008 The Bible tells us that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). One implication of these words is that scientists who study creation must be able to see something of God’s awesome power and wisdom. Yet, most mainstream scientists steadfastly refuse to give glory to God and instead seek to honour the god of their making, the theory of evolution, to account for the wonders of creation. This delightful book illustrates magnificently how God’s glory can indeed be seen in his handiwork. God’s design is evident everywhere and it all argues against evolution. For example, God has put an incredible amount of information in creation to enable everything to work properly. “There is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.” This book is chock-full of all sorts of examples of God’s wonderful design, including the incredible designs allowing sight, smell, flight, orientation, and stickiness. Critics are answered and God’s wisdom is celebrated. Understanding Genesis: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture by Jason Lisle 496 pages / 2015 Building on his The Ultimate Proof of Creation (2009), Jason Lisle, who has a doctorate in astrophysics, goes into considerable detail in outlining the rules and principles for correctly interpreting God’s Word. He wants to logically refute faulty interpretations of Genesis and equip Christians to defend God’s Word against compromised positions, especially with respect to Genesis. These concerns take up the first half of the book. The second part of the book goes into considerable detail in applying sound principles of interpretation to the matter of geocentricity, the age of the earth, theistic evolution, and the extent of the Genesis flood. Two appendices on a defense of the Trinity and formal fallacies round off the book. Lisle’s approach is sound and he does an excellent job in fleshing out how to interpret Scripture. He resists the temptation which earlier creationists like Henry Morris fell into by claiming that the Bible is a scientific textbook and so this book appears to be a significant improvement in the manner in which the Bible Is used. Lisle rightly prioritizes Scripture over scientific theories and through careful exegesis wants to let the Word of God speak. This is a very helpful book. Dr. Van Dam is the Emeritus Professor of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary and the author of several books including "The Deacon: The biblical roots and the ministry of mercy today," and "The Elder: Today's ministry rooted in all of Scripture."...
BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Gender Dysphoria
A book worth chewing on…but not swallowing whole UNDERSTANDING GENDER DYSPHORIA: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture - by Mark A. Yarhouse - 191 pages / 2015 Christian leaders have a new, helpful and thorough resource available to help them respond to the recent phenomenon known as “gender identity disorder” or “gender dysphoria.” Understanding Gender Dysphoria is authored by Dr. Mark Yarhouse, a clinical psychologist and Hughes Chair of Christian Thought in Mental Health Practice at Regent University. He has a long career of counseling those struggling with gender dysphoria, a condition in which the person feels there is some sort of disconnect between their biological sex and the gender they feel they really should be – they are men who feel like they should be women, and women who feel like they should be men. Yarhouse’s book brings a Christian perspective to the issue that avoids simplistic answers and embraces and grapples with the psychological and theological complexity. Yarhouse engages with an incredible amount of social-scientific and medical research, but avoids the pitfall of producing a merely clinical document. Rather, he emphasizes pastoral sensitivity and challenges the Christian reader to walk side by side with people struggling with their identity. OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK There’s a lot in the book, so let’s begin with a quick overview. Understanding Gender Dysphoria is written for a Christian audience, a fact made obvious by the dedication on the first page: “To the Church, the Body of Christ.” Yarhouse is motivated by a desire to see the Church proactively grapple with this issue and help those who desperately need help. He has a lot of criticism for the “culture wars” mentality, which tends to be too simplistic in its engagement of issues like transgenderism. He lays the groundwork by explaining what exactly gender dysphoria is and how complex of an issue it really is. He then delves into Scripture, and wrestles with a number of different texts, analyzing them in light of their historical or literary context and applying them to the issue. He spends a chapter on the causes of gender dysphoria (the short answer is, we just don’t know!), a chapter on its prevalence and how it manifests, and a chapter on prevention and treatment. Throughout these chapters, Yarhouse cites the latest studies, and is careful to note strengths and weaknesses in the reliability of those studies. He makes it clear that much more careful study is needed. Yarhouse ends his book with two chapters on a Christian response, one at the level of the individual and one at the level of the institution. Here he enters the pastoral realm and gives suggestions for better ways in which Christians and churches can compassionately assist and walk alongside transgendered neighbors. GENDER IDENTITY CONFLICTS: THREE LENSES A theme that runs throughout the book is an analysis of three frameworks or “lenses” through which different groups see the issue of transgenderism and gender dysphoria. It’s helpful to explore these in order to understand the starting point for how the various groups in society view and understand the issue. All three perspectives have something to offer, and also have limitations. After discussing them, Dr. Yarhouse proposes his own fourth “lens” or framework, which includes aspects of the other three. So what are these frameworks? 1. Integrity framework The integrity framework is probably the lens through which most Christians, as well as most orthodox Jews, and Muslims, view the transgender issue. This framework understands gender in terms of the sacred integrity of maleness and femaleness. We are our biological sex, and there’s no changing that. God created mankind as male and female, equal in dignity and worth, yet with distinct and complementary roles. But you don’t have to be religious to believe that our gender is stamped on us and unchangeable. A naturalist (one who denies the supernatural) might simply note that in nature we see humankind and the animals as being a binary species: male or female markers are imprinted on each and every one of the trillions of cells of each human and animal body. According to the integrity framework, men and women are to conform to, and live in accordance with their biological sex. Scriptural backing for the integrity framework can be found in the creation account, particularly in Genesis 2, and also some Mosaic prohibitions in Deuteronomy against cross-dressing, as well as Jesus’ teachings in the gospels and Paul’s teaching in his letters to the Ephesians and to Timothy. Meanwhile, the naturalist can look to the consistent testimony of biology, DNA and chromosomal data, as well as abundant social-scientific evidence to confirm the binary biological differences between the sexes. Are there any limitations or potential pitfalls to this approach? Well, holding exclusively to this view might leave a person liable to seeing all male/female differences as unchangeable, including those that are actually just gender stereotypes (i.e. women are bad at math, men are bad at cooking). It might also lead some to overlook and dismiss the struggles of individuals with gender dysphoria (as in “He’s a guy not a girl – what doesn’t he just smarten up!”). And it also has the potential to paint all transgender people with the same brush. 2. Disability framework Another way of understanding transgenderism is through the disability framework. As the name suggests, it focuses on the mental health dimensions of the phenomenon of gender dysphoria, and views transgenderism as a disorder of the mind. Most Christians would see some value in this framework too. As our society begins to understand the realities of mental health issues such as schizophrenia, multiple personality disorders, anorexia or post-partum depression, then we get a new sense of what gender dysphoria is like. The potential pitfall to the disability framework is that in presenting the problem as a health one or a medical matter, it might well prevent discussion of any theological dimension. Treatment becomes very clinical; theological or spiritual responses are sidelined. As one transgender Christian said, “By reducing gender dysphoria to a mere medical diagnosis, I felt trapped and robbed of a spiritual solution.” 3. Diversity framework The diversity framework is the way most social progressives view transgenderism – they see gender dysphoria as a good thing, to be celebrated. There are two subgroups within the diversity framework. A vocal minority – Yarhouse calls them the “strong” form diversity framework – sees the sex-gender binary as a socially constructed authority structure to be destroyed and eliminated. But there’s another group within the diversity framework (the “weak” form) that simply seeks to give expression to the lived experience of a transgendered person and to answer two questions of identity and community: “Who am I?” and, “Where do I belong?” For those who subscribe to the integrity framework and, to a lesser extent, those who subscribe to the disability framework, there are many problems with the diversity framework. We know that our gender is fixed, and, in fact, a gift from God. So any efforts at undermining the reality of gender are to be opposed. But Yarhouse argues there is still some value in the weak form of the diversity lens, particularly for the Christian community. What can we learn from this framework? Well, Christians recognize that all humanity is disordered. Any honest Canadian would agree that every human being struggles with the brokenness of life, biologically, psychologically, and spiritually. So “Who am I” and “Where do I belong” are important questions that need to be answered. There are answers, and they apply to all, including the transgendered. Indeed, there is a lesson here for broader Canadian civil society: we can give space for expression of struggles and assist with answering deep questions of identity and community without having to go so far as to deconstruct gender or to embrace and affirm new and dangerous social theories. 4. An integrated approach Dr. Yarhouse argues that we need to take the best of all three of these approaches and create a new framework altogether: what he calls “an integrated approach.” The integrated view recognizes the integrity of the two complimentary sexes as God has created them. It also recognizes the psychological element or disability associated with this issue, which needs to be addressed with compassion. And the integrated approach takes from the diversity framework the understanding that every individual in their particular circumstances and struggles want their experience or struggle to be understood and heard and want to know who they are and where they belong. The Christian worldview offers a compelling alternative to the approach of the proponents of the “strong” form of the diversity framework, which seeks to deny and destroy all gender differences. Sadly, the strong form of diversity framework has been adopted – without critical reflection and to the exclusion of other perspectives – by too many provincial governments and is now being imposed onto our communities and schools with the force of law. CAUTIONS ABOUT THE BOOK A legitimate question can be asked at this point: Is Yarhouse’s integrated model backed up by Scripture on all three points? I think they are, with this caveat: an integrated approach does not necessarily mean taking an equal measure of each of the three views (integrity, disability and diversity). Yarhouse himself seems to favor the disability model first (he is a clinician, after all), informed by the integrity model, with the diversity model adding a smaller piece to the overall puzzle. Dr. Robert Gagnon, a leading theologian on the bible and sexuality, has offered some push back on Yarhouse’s thought (I commend to the reader his article published Oct. 16, 2015 titled “How Should Christians Respond to the Transgender Phenomenon?”). Gagnon takes issue with points of conflict between the disability lens and the integrity lens. While he acknowledges the disability lens, Gagnon is concerned that Yarhouse’s use of the disability label might have the unintended effect of accommodating sinful choices, since Yarhouse argues that “the disability lens also makes room for supportive care and interventions that allow for cross-gender identification in a way the integrity lens does not.” To put it in other words, Gagnon is worried that understanding this as merely a disability might lead to treatments that, in themselves, could become sinful behaviors. It is important to note here that Gagnon agrees with Yarhouse that the mere existence of gender dysphoria is not sin itself. He writes: I do not view the mere experience of gender dysphoria as necessarily resulting from active efforts to rebel against God… Where I would qualify Yarhouse is in noting a more complex interplay of nature, nurture, environment, and choices. Incremental choices made in response to impulses may strengthen the same impulses. Gagnon suggests that it is here that Yarhouse departs from the Biblical language by referencing the clear dictates of Scripture in Deut. 22:5, and Paul’s reference to “soft men” in 1 Cor. 6:9-10. Gagnon suggests that while having the internal turmoil over gender identity is not sin, “acting on a desire to become the opposite sex can in fact affect one’s redemption.” How far should Christians following Yarhouse’s suggestions of compassionate accommodation go? On the one hand, were a man wearing a dress to attend one of our services, his attire should not be our first concern. We can greet him, and get to know him, ask what brought him, etc. The Church is, after all, a place for sinners, so we should be able to accommodate all sorts of seekers. But Yarhouse pushes accommodation further. He talks of intermittent (and often private) cross-dressing as a way for some Christians to manage their struggle with gender dysphoria. But this is no longer accommodating a seeker who doesn’t yet know what God has said about gender. It is accommodating someone who knows God made us male and female, who wants to indulge in sinful behavior on occasion. So Yarhouse doesn’t properly limit the extent of the accommodation the Church should show. One final caveat: Yarhouse makes repeated reference to the Church rising above the culture wars or abandoning the culture wars on this issue. I do think there is value in the Church elevating our language and avoiding the typical style of the so-called culture wars, by avoiding debates that lack all nuance and are blunt or belligerent (the style of Ezra Levant is an easy target, but there are many on both sides of the debate who engage in this style). That being said, Christians cannot avoid the culture wars altogether – it’s one manifestation of the antithesis. The question is not whether we do it, but how. We must engage with the culture as salt and light. We must engage winsomely and relationally. Perhaps this is what Yarhouse is getting at. But simply because some do the culture wars poorly isn’t any reason at all for Christians to disengage. RECOMMENDATION This book was a challenging yet rewarding read. It really opened my eyes to a much fuller understanding of the issue of transgenderism and, in particular, gender dysphoria. It's pastorally sensitive while also being scientifically grounded and very well researched. Yarhouse is definitely an expert in the field and has given me a deep appreciation for the complexity of the issue. This book does require work to get through, but the payoff is a much better, fuller and more nuanced understanding of the issue than what is readily available through any short-form articles in the mainstream or social media. With the cautions noted above, I recommend this book for Christian counselors, pastors, elders and teachers....