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Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

God’s Daring Dozen: A Minor Prophet Series

by John Brown and Brian Wright Illustrated by Lisa Flanagan 2021 / 40 pages each Christian Focus Publications I’ve never been a fan of children’s Bibles. When our kids were young, we never used them during our daily family worship. We always just read straight from the Bible. I figured they would get enough Bible stories at school – and they did. My negative attitude about story Bibles is due to a couple of factors.  One is their tendency to moralize everything and the other is to miss the One to whom the whole Bible is pointing: Jesus. So I was a tad skeptical about this series of storybooks based on the Minor Prophets. I looked at the first four volumes in this series: Obadiah & the Edomites, Habakkuk’s Song, Haggai’s Feast, and Zephaniah’s Hero.  They’re meant for reading to kids ages 4-6, but kids ages 7-10 should be able to read them for themselves. I read through them for myself and mostly appreciated the approach. They’re well-written, capturing the message of these books, and helping kids see how they point to Christ. The illustrations are colorful, bold, and appropriate. I don’t have any young children at home anymore and no grandchildren yet either. However, I have a daughter who works as a nanny.  I asked her to test drive these books with the children she cares for. These were kids on the younger side of the target audience and she found they had a hard time focussing. However, she did say that they would probably work well in the Christian primary school environment or perhaps Little Lambs (Sunday School) at church. ...

Articles, Book Reviews

Recommended books on fear and anxiety

While our website has a growing number of articles on anxiety, space allows an article to say only so much. To help readers dig deeper, we've got a lot of recommended books here, and also links to excerpts from 17 of them. Recommendations First up, three biblical counselors offered up the book recommendations that follow. Two of these are devotionals, quite a few of them are by Ed Welch, and a couple were recommended by more than one counselor. Heres Snijder Prescription Without Pills – Susan Heitler When People are Big and God is Small – Edward T. Welch A Small Book for the Anxious Heart (devotional) – Edward T. Welch - see the excerpt from Westminster down below Caring For the Souls of Children (Chapter 7 specifically) – Amy Baker Generation Z Unfiltered – Tim Elmore & Andrew McPeak Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt For children: Buster Tries to Bail – David & Nan Powlison Zoe's Hiding Place – David Powlison For adults: Laughing at the Days to Come – Tessa Thompson Anxiety: Knowing God's Peace (devotional) – Paul Tautges Created to Care: God's Truth for Anxious Moms – Sara Wallace Reset – David Murray Refresh – Shona and David Murray Mini booklets Helping Your Anxious Child – Julie Lowe Teens and Anxiety – Eliza Huie Living in a Dangerous World – William P. Smith John Siebenga Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times – John Eldredge Heres Snijder and Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt Running Scared – Edward T. Welch When I Am Afraid: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety – Edward T. Welch Excerpts David Murray's Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression David Murray wrote a pair of books, one for parents called, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, and a second, for their children to read called Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression. I think these will prove to be incredibly helpful for families facing this struggle. Read a chapter from the teen book, titled "Beautiful Brianna." Westminster Bookstore's free "sampler" of 15 theologians tackling anxiety and fear The folks at the Westminster Bookstore have done something special, collecting key chapters from 15 Christian authors addressing the topic of anxiety and fear, and they then distributed those collected chapters for free. The thought is, you can sample them, find out which might be the most helpful, and then order that book (preferably from Westminster Bookstore, at least if you live in the US). In order, the chapters taken come from: A small book for the anxious heart – Edward T. Welch (4 daily readings from it) Anxiety – Knowing God’s Peace – Paul Tautges (4 readings) Created to Care: God’s Truth for Anxious Moms – Sara Wallace (Chap 8) Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy – Mark Vroegop (Intro/Chap 1) Everyday prayer – John Calvin (Ps 130, 143) God’s Grace in your Suffering – David Powlison (Intro) In the Presence of my Enemies – Dale Ralph Davis (Ps 29 – Chap 6) Living Life Backwards – David Gibon (Chap 1) O Death, Where is Thy Sting – John Murray (Chap 13) Piercing prayers – Puritans Pray Big – Alistair Begg (Chap 2) The Promises of God – Charles Spurgeon (5 daily readings) Suffering – Paul David Tripp (Chapter 11) The Whole Armor of God – Iain M. Duguid (Chap 1) Untangling Emotions – J. Alasdair Groves + Winston T. Smith (Chap 13) Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (Intro) Click here to download the PDF (4 mb) or read it in your browser by clicking here....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Beautiful Brianna

An excerpt from David Murray’s Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression  **** Dr. David Murray is a professor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and also a counselor. He has authored a set of books for parents to use along with their struggling son or daughter. The first, Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression is for teens to read on their own. It has 18 chapters, each one detailing a particular struggle with anxiety. All but one of these accounts is fictional – the author’s despairing doubt is the exception – but all are relatable. “Circular Sarah” in chapter 1 is overwhelmed by her schoolwork and extra-curriculars, and starts having sleep problems, which leaves her even more exhausted, and even more overwhelmed. Chapter 4’s “Imaginative Imogen” has a vivid imagination that might be a blessing in many circumstances, but has Imogen putting herself in the shoes of every victim she reads about in her social media feed. Whether it’s a school shooting, or some other tragedy, she feels it, and it’s leaving her fearful and depressed. In chapter 9 we meet “Negative Nicole” who can’t help but see the bad side of everything. Even when she’s having fun with her friends, she feels guilty about not working harder on her school work. These are personalities we’ve all met, and to some extent been, and Dr. Murray doesn’t simply capture what’s going wrong, but gives solid steps for how teens can redirect their thinking, learn to know God better, and otherwise start really addressing and contending with their anxiety. The parallel text for parents, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, covers the same personalities chapter by chapter, but offers more depth, and is written to equip parents to talk to and help their anxious teens. There’s some repeat from one book to the next, but not that much, so parents may even want to read both. It is an amazing set, with counseling that takes the best secular insights and filters them through the lens of Scripture to keep what is true and dispose of the bunk – this is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. It is also immediately applicable, and I can imagine parents being so very encouraged. Battling anxiety might be a battle indeed, but in crafting this set, Dr. David Murray has given parents and teens an amazing tool they can both use together as a team. To give you a taste of what’s inside, the publisher has given us permission to share Chapter 11, about “Beautiful Brianna” from the teen book. – Jon Dykstra BEAUTIFUL BRIANNA I spend a lot of time on my appearance. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I have a part-time job, but I’m struggling to save up for a car because I spend all my money on new clothes and makeup. I’m always fighting with my mom because she says my jeans are too tight, my tops are too low, my shorts are too short, and so on. It’s so stressful. My friends say I’m gorgeous, and I get a lot of attention from the boys, but I’m not happy with myself. I can put on a smile when I’m with people and act confidently, but deep down I don’t think I’ll ever be pretty enough. —Brianna The Key of Identity What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about yourself? What do you answer when you ask yourself, “Who am I?” This can be difficult to answer in our teen years because these are often times of great change and confusion as we transition from childhood to adulthood. Like Brianna, we can end up adopting a false and harmful identity. Here are some common examples: I am my body. Do you define yourself by your body, like Brianna did? Nine out of ten girls are unhappy with their body. “I’m fat... skinny... tall... small... ugly... beautiful...” I am my grades. Do you get your sense of worth from your performance at school? If you get good grades, you feel good about yourself and look down on others. If you get bad grades, you are a failure, and are jealous of others. I am my friends. Do you build your identity around having friends – online or real life? The more friends you have, the better you feel. Or is your life worthless unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? I am my sin. Is there a sin in your life that dominates your thinking? You cannot think about yourself without thinking of that sin, that habit, that incident. I am my sport. If you win, or your team wins, you feel great. If not, life’s not worth living. Your mood depends on medals and trophies. I am my anxiety/depression. Have you let your anxiety or depression define you? When you look at yourself, all you see is depression or anxiety. I am my past. Maybe you’ve been the victim of abuse. I’m so sorry. It was not your fault. It should not have happened to you. It was wrong. But are you allowing that abuse to ruin the rest of your life by letting it dominate your thoughts and define who you are? I am my sexual desires. God created us so that sexual desire, intimacy, and enjoyment would be part of human experience. Sin, however, has distorted this good gift, with the result that what God designed to be a part of us can become the whole of us. We’re especially vulnerable to this in our teen years when we experience the awakening of sexual desire. This can become so powerful that we allow it to define us at times. However, it’s a big mistake to let extreme, confusing, and temporary emotions define us for the rest of our lives. What’s so bad about all these identities? Some are simply false; they just aren’t true. Others are based on factors that are constantly changing. Some of them give power to other people to define us. Others are given first place when they don’t deserve even tenth place. And all of this creates a lot of mental and emotional distress. So we’re going to replace these false and shaky identities with a true and strong identity, one given to us by the God who made us and knows us best. We do this in four steps. STEP ONE: I AM AN IMAGE BEARER OF GOD God made you to bear his image (Gen. 1:27), to show who he is to the rest of the world. That’s your fundamental identity and purpose. Therefore, before you even answer “Who am I?,” you need to find out who God is. Often we go wrong on the “Who am I?” question because we’ve got the wrong answer to the “Who is God?” question. STEP TWO: I AM A SINNER Although God originally made us to carry and show his image to the world, we are now sinners and our sin has distorted that image. That’s why we need the Bible. It shows us who God is and who we are. STEP THREE: I AM A CHRISTIAN To fully recover your God-given identity and replace all false identities, you need to become a Christian through faith in Christ. Faith in Christ gives you a new identity in Christ. Think of all that becomes true of you when you can truly say, “I am a Christian.” I am loved by God. God has loved me from eternity past and will love me forever (Jeremiah 31:3). Therefore, whoever else loves me or doesn’t love me matters much less. I am a child of God. It doesn’t matter who my natural family is if I am a child of God. As part of God’s family, I need never be lonely because I have brothers and sisters all over the world (Romans 8:14–17). I am accepted by God. Others may be cast out and reject me, but God accepts me 100 percent (Romans 15:7). I am forgiven by God. Yes, I am a sinner, and I have committed terrible sins, but Christ’s blood washes and cleanses me from all sin and makes me clean in his sight. I am white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). I am the body of Christ. If my body is a member of Christ’s body, what more can I ask for? It may not be the most attractive or desirable body to others, but Christ has shed his blood to make my body part of his body (1 Corinthians 6:15). I am a joy to God. God doesn’t just tolerate me; he enjoys me and sings songs over me and about me (Zephaniah 3:17). None of these things ever change if you are a Christian. They don’t depend on your feelings or on other people. You are not defined by your body, your grades, your friends, your enemies, your sin, your sports, your successes, your failures, or your sexuality. You are defined by God, and with this God-given identity in hand you can defy every other attempt to define or identify you. Let God’s voice silence all the other voices. If you are not a Christian yet, I hope you will read about this incredible identity and say, “I want that for myself.” STEP FOUR: I AM UNIQUE Steps one through three are equally true of all God’s children. However, that doesn’t mean that God just turns out Christian clones, look-alikes in every respect. No, God has made each of us different with unique personalities, characters, gifts, graces, and callings. We make a big mistake if we make our uniqueness the most important thing about us. However, we also err if we ignore or downplay our God-given uniqueness. That’s why we come to God and ask him—not our parents, our culture, or our friends— “Who do you want me to be?” If we answer this right, so much else will be right. Update from Brianna I was definitely defining myself by my looks. My identity was tied up with my body. Through counseling, I came to see that this was causing me to be depressed. I could never be beautiful enough. There were always going to be lots of girls prettier than me. Once my counselor introduced me to the four steps, I had a plan to recover my stolen identity and replace my false identity. I thought this would work quicker than it did, but it’s taking time because I had embraced a false identity for so long. I do have more good days than bad days though, especially when I consciously work through the four steps. The key thing has been to get my identity from God, not from my body, not from my looks, and not from other people. I don’t think so much about how I look now, and I’m happier. I spend a lot less money on clothes and makeup. I might even save up enough money for a car by next summer. Content taken from “Why Am I Feeling Like This?”  by David Murray, ©2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Worship Matters

by  Cornelis Van Dam 2021 / 327 pages The deeper I got into this book, the more I appreciated its simple title, Worship Matters. In this volume, Dr. Cornelis Van Dam has collected about two dozen of his articles about the church’s worship of our triune God. He addresses many worship-related topics: the meaning of the Lord’s day, the importance of preaching, the place of the Ten Commandments, the gift of congregational singing, the function of the second service, and much more. There are numerous “worship matters,” but what becomes even more clear from this book is that worship matters. From the first page to the last, Van Dam impresses on us the immense privilege and responsibility that are ours when we meet with God in public worship. God has been so gracious to reveal Himself through His Word, to tell us about the way of salvation opened by the crucified and risen Christ, and to transform us by His Holy Spirit. In humility and reverence, we then respond to God with praise, drawing near to the holy Lord with a desire to give Him our very best. Such a spirit of worship must characterise our entire life, but in a special way we may honour God together as congregation on the Lord’s day. Van Dam does not attempt to treat every aspect of Reformed liturgy, but the ones that he does are clearly and helpfully explained. For instance, he has excellent chapters on Psalm-singing, the public reading of Scripture, musical accompaniment, and the closing benediction. Time and again, his liturgical explorations demonstrate the truth of Article 7 of the Belgic Confession, where we confess the sufficiency of God’s Word, and where we state, “The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in at length.” Drawing on Old and New Testament alike, Van Dam shows the depths and riches of Reformed worship. In his study of worship matters, Van Dam also doesn’t shy away from some controversial topics. He evaluates the trend of removing the reading of the law from Reformed liturgy, or having people other than office bearers read Scripture in a worship service. He considers the question of whether we can still sing the so-called imprecatory Psalms, addresses the ever-sensitive topic of our Sunday clothing, and discusses the place of liturgical dance. I will leave these intriguing topics for you to read about and consider. Dr. Arjan de Visser contributes a convincing and timely chapter on being “An Attractive Church.” If we desire to be faithful in our prophetic task, we should think about what will truly (and enduringly) attract people to our churches. Should we be prepared to modify our liturgy and message to make them more accessible? Or does Scripture show that true attraction will be based on something else? When a book is good, one can always wish it was a little longer. And so I arrived at the last page wishing that Van Dam had touched on a few more worship matters. His chapter on baptism would have been nicely complemented with a chapter on the Lord’s Supper. A study of the offering would be welcome too, especially in a time when it seems that many of us “pass the bag” – perhaps it’s because of the trend towards a cashless economy, or it’s for some other reason. Just what is the Biblical importance of the offertory in public worship? But an author can’t say everything in a book, of course, and the ground that Van Dam has chosen to cover is valuable. This book would be useful for any church member to read and reflect on. It originates from the pen/keyboard of a professor of theology, but it is not a difficult or complicated book. Rather, its brief chapters are clearly written, carefully organized, and thoroughly Scriptural. While helpful for any church member, this book would also be beneficial for consistories to study together, maybe taking time each meeting to consider a chapter or two. For a consistory, it is inevitable that questions concerning the worship services arise. This might happen through their own discussions, or when members suggest different approaches. Sometimes we feel threatened by any talk of liturgical change—or conversely, we’re sure that such changes will remedy a range of our problems as church—but in any case, we should be ready to seek faithful and upbuilding practices for our liturgy. This book supplies us with solid Scriptural principles and directions for the worship of our great and holy God. It’s worth a careful read, because worship matters! Canadians can find it at Reformed Christian Books,, and elsewhere....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Uncategorised

Counterfeit Gods

by Timothy Keller 2009 / 240 pages John Calvin once said, "The human heart is an idol factory. " It makes sense that God's prohibition of idolatry is the first commandment. The reason: we are all idolaters, and every violation of the commandments is also the breaking of the first commandment - desiring some created blessing so much that we are willing to do anything to get it, without caring how God wants us to use his blessings. The brilliance of Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods is that it takes this plausible idea, and makes it compelling, by showing how idolatry in action has played out both in the Bible and in today's world - and shows the solution. Keller introduces the concept of idolatry as an explanation of the suicides of executives in response to the economic meltdown of 2008 and the utter disillusionment of Beatrice Webb and H. G. Wells after the rise of Hitler. The first chapter shows how the understanding of idolatry makes sense of one of the most puzzling stories in the Bible from the life of Abraham. Keller also looks carefully at the lives of Jacob and Leah to analyze our own and our culture's idolatrous attitude to sex and love. He examines how the first sight of Jesus casts down the idol of greed in the life of the tax collector Zaccheus - an idol institutionalized in our day as "the culture of greed." Our culture's idolatry of achievement and success as ways to validate yourself is critiqued through the Biblical example of the Syrian general Naaman. The self-glorification of Nebuchadnezzar foreshadows our own and our culture's idolatry of power. Finally, Keller shows how the hidden cultural idols of profit, self, and nationalism can even subtly diminish our service to God, as the latter two did especially in the self-righteous ministry of Jonah. All these exposures of the idols of our hearts would be merely disheartening (pun intended) if, as Keller shows, God did not provide a Way of escape in the person of Jesus Christ. Keller shows how setting our hearts, eyes, and ears on Him and His kingdom counsels and comforts us, in two main ways. Using counseling case studies, Keller shows how the fact that Christ has shared our suffering turns the loss of even the genuine blessings of loved one, prosperity, success, and the approval of others from causes of sinful despair to sources of sorrow in the midst of hope. Most of all, we can resist the incursion of idols into our hearts by learning to make Christ our true and lasting blessing - the Way, Truth, Life, food, drink, and love of our hearts. I'll note I cannot recommend everything that Keller has written. The Reason for God, in particular, shows a willingness to accommodate Biblical interpretation truth to the supposed authority of secular evolutionary scientific theory. I noticed that Keller used no examples from Adam to Noah in Counterfeit Gods, perhaps he doesn't quite know how to fit them within his theistic evolutionary framework. However, the Biblical examples he does use are applied to ourselves and our culture in insightful, practical, and comforting ways. Thus, while I cannot recommend The Reason for God (because arguably, and ironically, it makes an idol out of secular science), I highly recommend Counterfeit Gods....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

How in the world did we get here?

by Jim Witteveen 2022 / 183 pages Ten years back, anyone who’d said that cultural forces already in play would soon have our public schools teaching boys can get pregnant… well, he would have been dismissed as a nut. What Jim Witteveen shares in his new book about an “open conspiracy” among the power-hungry will at first sound so outrageous as to be unbelievable too. But make no mistake, this is fact, not fiction. Chapter by chapter, Pastor Witteveen highlights ideologies and organizations that would seem to have little in common: global warming catastrophists, sexual hedonists, the public school system, overpopulation proponents, evolutionists, Big Tech, and Big Government. They are united, though, in their arrogance that they know – and God does not – what is best for all the rest of us. While their utopias differ, the route forward is the same for them all: a quest for more and more power so they can implement their vision. And, as Witteveen details, these ideologies and organizations are grabbing hold of the reins of power. If that was all he shared, this would be quite the devastating read, so thankfully, the conclusion is all about a way forward for God’s people that explores the many opportunities that exist to faithfully honor and obey our Lord as we contend with the forces marshaled against us. How in the world did we get here? will be a slap upside the head to the many sleepy Christians who haven’t yet recognized we are in a battle, and who consequently haven’t yet answered God’s call to go out and contend. Timely and much-needed, what Witteveen has given us is made all the more valuable for its brevity and accessibility – everyone should read this, and most everyone will be able to. Contact the author at to pre-order. For more on the book, check out Lucas Holtvluwer's interview Pastor Witteveen in the latest Real Talk episode. Watch it below on YouTube, or find it on your favorite podcast platform at ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World by N. D. Wilson 2009 / 203 pages The world is a wild ride, isn't it? The fun starts already in the title of N. D. Wilson's book. Those of you who have ridden the Tilt-a-Whirl will recognize the analogy to our own spinning planet with an axis that is 23.5 degrees off the vertical. Of course, the world is not just physically askew; it is off-kilter in just about every way you can think of. The presence of evil in the world is the argument that is typically thrown at Christians whenever we affirm God's claims on all of us. Wilson makes some important points throughout his book that undo (or cut through) this Gordian knot. First, he asserts that evil is not a "thing," not a noun; rather, it is an adjective describing that which displeases God. Because He is good, whatever displeases Him is evil. Secondly, in response to those who then wonder why the world is still such an unpleasant place, Wilson does not use the oft-quoted answer that this is the best of all possible worlds; rather, he says, this is the best of all possible masterpieces, the best of all possible stories - and we are not, in our egocentricity, the best of all possible critics. Rather than setting ourselves up as critics of God's story, Wilson insists, we need to learn to be good characters - to approach life with wonder, to laugh at ourselves and our often gloriously ridiculous place in the story - to glorify the Author, rather than to try to rewrite His work. What makes Wilson's work so amusing is that he is willing to follow his own advice. To give just two examples: When Wilson's son gets his wish of having a butterfly land on him, but Wilson warns him that "lightning does not strike twice" - that the butterfly will not be coming back, Wilson enjoys how God makes a fool of him by sending the butterfly to land on his son's shoulder a second time. Wilson laughs just as much when he trips over the step that he is sure must have moved as he does when the seeming squashed frog inexplicably springs back to life. In the end, Wilson reminds us that it is the end that we have to cope with – our own earthly end, and the end of all current earthly things when the Author (the same one who became a Word in His own story) returns to wrap up the current chapter with His judgments on His cast of characters. This is far too brief a look at a book that spends as much time mocking Christian sentimentality as it does attacking atheist defiance of our Author, but if Wilson helps you better understand and cope with our crazy, tilted world, you'll want to check out his documentary of the same name! ...

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Daughters of God: Finding our identity in Him

by Christina Feenstra 2022 / 198 pages This workbook of six chapters is “a course to help young women find their value and self-worth in God and what He says, instead of in the world.” Christina Feenstra is a grade five teacher in southern Ontario and has developed this course for young teenage girls to find their way in the world. It is primarily meant as a group study but can be used singly. Feenstra uses many Scriptural passages and the Three Forms of Unity for the girls to look up, to study and apply to their own lives. As daughters of God, we are created in His image, living for His purposes to the glory of God's Name. We belong to the body of Christ and thus are members of a community of believers.  This book teaches young girls how to love God and to show thankfulness by loving their neighbor. Each chapter begins with a Bible reading and a prayer, followed by questions and a study, and ends with things to focus on during the week.  Feenstra makes good, practical suggestions such as keeping a journal to record devotions; to record five things daily for which we are grateful.  Because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we need to take good care not only of our spiritual needs but also of our physical needs by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. I highly recommend this book for the young sisters in our churches. I'd even recommend it for the older sisters, especially the chapter on forming good habits, to review their own lives in the light of God's Word....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Economics

Christian Economics in One Lesson

by Gary North 2015 / 268 pages Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson is what its title suggests, just one economic lesson explained in the first chapter – that we focus on the obvious impact of a government program, and don’t consider what otherwise might have happened with those dollars. It’s the seen vs. the unseen. That one lesson is then repeatedly applied to different situations in the 24 chapters that follow. In chapter 4, it is applied to public work projects: when the government builds a new sports stadium we can see the job created by its construction. What’s unseen is all the jobs that might have been created by businesses if they hadn’t had to pay the taxes to build that stadium. Overall, Hazlitt is making a general argument for less government and more economic freedom, but is making it on the basis of practicality: that a free market approach will make us all, overall, more prosperous (download the book for free). Effectiveness is the fruit, not the goal In his Christian Economics in One Lesson, Gary North makes his argument for free market economics on a very different basis: obedience. He also thinks the free market is the most effective way of making us all richer, but he sees that, not as a goal, but as a side effect – the fruit – of being obedient to God’s commands do not covet, and do not to steal. As his title suggests, he is riffing off of Hazlitt, and his chapters are a reworking of each of Hazlitt's. Economics is sometimes treated as a being simply about the math, about some sort of neutral accounting, pitting the different economic systems against each other to find out which creates the greatest benefit for society. Both socialists and capitalists could even agree that economics is about dealing with the problem of scarcity – there is only so much to go around, so how do we make the most of it? But North is arguing that economics is really a matter of ethics, and applying God's guidance on money, work, property, and covetousness to the real world. Then the better way is the way that obeys God’s commands. Now, like Hazlitt, North thinks the best system is the free market, and not the sort of so-called capitalism that involves getting government contracts and special favors. None of that crony "capitalism." This is, instead, a free market where people make exchanges voluntarily, and consequently, both sides benefit. No temptation to tweak But even as Hazlitt and North both hold to the free market system, it is significant that they got there very different ways. Hazlitt got there because the free market works – it is the most prosperous of all systems, doing more to raise people out of poverty than any other economic system before it. North arrives there because the free market is what results when we are obedient to God, respecting our neighbor's property and pushing back against our own covetousness. So, both support the free market. But for those like Hazlitt who arrived there for practical reasons, there will always be the temptation to tweak, and in doing so, to succumb to socialism. If capitalism works best, who's to say if capitalism plus just a smidge of socialism might not be better? Maybe just 5%? Or 10? How can we know unless we try? But there isn't the same temptation to tinker for Christians who choose the free market for its alignment with God's Word. We won't want to be 5% or 10% less obedient. And it is worth noting it is no coincidence that the economic system that most aligns with God's Word is also the one that best raises people out of poverty. That's simply God's love – He knows what is best for us, and when we obey, especially when we do so on a societal level, it goes better for us. Conclusion North's insight – that economics is about ethics, not efficiency; it is about obedience, and not prosperity – is a brilliant one, and worth the reinforcement that comes in the repeated applications that follow. If this isn’t the most important book I read last year, it is certainly in contention… and it can be downloaded for free here....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Anglo-Genevan Psalter in Four Part Harmony

compiled by Carl Oosterhoff 2022 / 241 pages Singing songs in harmony is a tradition going back to before the time of the Reformation. The Reformation resulted in Lutheran hymns and Genevan psalms, also published in harmony at that time. However, the British Anglican church started the tradition of singing harmony within the church service. Subsequently, the Great Awakening preacher-musician teams brought this tradition to North America. The Anglo-Genevan Psalter in Four Part Harmony is a new publication containing 150 psalms and a few hymns in four-part harmony. This is the first edition published with the lyrics of the (Canadian Reformed) 2014 Book of Praise. The harmonizations have different styles from several periods and by various people. When using it, the letter-size spiral-bound book is helpful for singing and accompaniment. The font size is very readable, and the spaced-out notes make it easy to follow each voice. The layout is similar to a traditional American hymnal but on a larger piece of paper. People familiar with singing in harmony will not have much difficulty singing from this selection. I suspect that also home schools and Christian schools can teach children these harmonies. To that end, a suggestion: when you first begin practicing singing in harmony, perhaps start with just two voices rather than all four at once. And sing one stanza until the individual voices become familiar. There are a few points that I'd like to highlight. Psalm 119 includes an alternate harmony with the melody in the tenor, which is a delightful variation. Some of the tunes have a lower pitch than in the Book of Praise, which make them generally easier to sing. In the Book of Praise some Psalms have the same tunes (for example Ps. 24, 62, 95 and 111) but each here has been given a different harmony. Now, I would have kept the harmony the same for all of them, to benefit the singers, but it does mean there are more harmonies to choose from. The Anglo-Genevan Psalter in Four Part Harmony is an excellent addition to any home. And if the pianist or organist is playing the harmonizations, this book could be used in a church setting too. Why not try it in your home school, or suggest learning a few songs at your Bible study? And, of course, at choir – I would not be surprised if an average choir can almost sight-read this music. Copies can be ordered by emailing [email protected] or find it at,, and

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Risk is Right: Better to lose your life than to waste it

by John Piper 2013 / 51 pages How often do you take risks? If you’re anything like me, it’s not often. I like to maintain the status quo and to never feel that knot in the pit of my stomach when the outcome of a decision is in limbo. I like to feel safe. John Piper in his short book, Risk is Right, sets out to destroy this myth of safety. We live in a world full of uncertainty. No matter how hard we may try to eliminate risks from our lives, it is impossible. But as Christians, we need never be afraid of risk, for we have the ultimate security, salvation through Jesus Christ! This one thought should release the chains that hold us from risk: we have been freed to honor Christ in this life and in death.  That is not to say that safety is wrong. We don’t need to be adrenaline junkies, looking for the next adventure to get our blood pumping. Rather, it's the safety that comes from cowardice that is wrong. Queen Esther risked it all when she approached King Ahasuerus without being called. Esther did not know the outcome but trusted that God was powerful enough to save both her and her people. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have bowed down to Nebuchadnezzar's statue and guaranteed their safety. Instead, they refused, handing the outcome of their lives to God. It is right to risk for the cause of God, and refusing these risks because of cowardice is wrong.  I recommend this short book to everyone. We live in a culture that is so risk averse that “two weeks to stop the spread” became two years. We wanted safety so badly, that even as it became evident the government wasn’t able to provide it, we settled for having at least a false sense of security. This book knocks away such crutches so we can live a life worth living, by finding our security in Christ.  A bonus: you can download it for free here....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project

2,032 pages (in 4 Volumes) / 2017 (3,500 BC - 90 AD) I received a gift from a dear friend last Christmas and in April decided to start reading it. The Holy Bible: The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project is a publication of the Bible that forces the reader to focus exclusively on the text of Scripture itself, without any other distractions. The foundation of this project is the Protestant Reformation and the call to return to the roots of our faith by embracing Scripture alone (sola scriptura) as our highest authority. From the webpage: “In this set of reading Bibles, the Old Testament is ordered according to the traditional shaping of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Former and Latter Prophets, and the Writings. The New Testament is reorganized by placing each of the four Gospels at the head of four groupings that together bear witness to the central story of Jesus... the NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project also removes the chapter and verse numbers, red letters, and cross-references present in most modern Bibles.” In my personal devotions, I found that I’d read some of the historical accounts for long periods of time as one might read a historical novel. Likewise, it became natural for me to read minor prophets and New Testament epistles in their entirety in a single sitting, allowing unifying themes to jump out at me more obviously. The publishing project also clearly invested thought into ensuring the paper quality and the font type and size maximized the reading experience. I’d recommend this set (or the ESV's version, in six volumes) as a means of reading through Scripture in a year. While I plan to finish reading this set in the next couple months and will return to it in future years, I’ll switch between various devotional reading plans from year to year. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Strange New World

How thinkers and activists redefined identity and sparked the Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman 2022 / 187 pages Just how strange is this new world we live in? Well, we’ve seen: A father jailed because he used the “wrong” pronouns to refer to his gender-confused daughter Pastors arrested for holding worship services while thousands marched unmasked to protest alleged systemic racism Elementary school students sent to the principal’s office for “misgendering” their classmates Boys taught that their natural rambunctiousness is an example of toxic masculinity and must be despised and replaced with more feminine traits. The world is in the throes of madness, but to assume that there is no method to the madness would be naive. In Carl Trueman’s, Strange New World, (a concise version of his earlier The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self), we take a swift trip from the Enlightenment to the 21st century to review the radical thinkers responsible for the madness of today’s identity politics. Under identity politics an individual is only as important and valued as the racial, social, or sexual group he is part of. A black transgender woman would be near the top of this hierarchy, deserving of society’s sympathy and support while a straight white male is at the bottom, deserving of ridicule because of the privilege he must have based on the color of his skin. People are no longer judged by their character but rather by their lived experience and the history of oppression or privilege their “group” has experienced. As Trueman details, the problems associated with identity politics can be traced back to our notion of the self. For all of history, we recognized that if our inner feelings differed with the physical reality around us it was important to realign our feelings to that reality. However, bringing the mind into line with the physical body has, in the space of only a few years, been rejected in favor of bringing the body into line with the mind. Toleration was once… well, tolerated. But no longer. Now full acceptance of the latest new view is expected, with severe repercussions to those who do not. How does our culture justify that severity? Well, if the mind is said to be the driving force behind reality, then words have much more significance – words themselves can now marginalize and cause damage to the person. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” needs to be adjusted to something along the lines of “sticks and stone may break my bones, but your words are also violent.” Many institutions are quickly writing laws that carry punishments for inflicting emotional damages to those in marginalized groups. What Trueman makes plain is that although this shift towards identity politics has occurred recently, thinkers such as Rousseau, Marx, and Freud long ago laid the foundation on which identity politics now stand. Identity politics is not some passing trend but is rooted deeply in our culture’s psyche. Seeing it widely embraced could lead Christians to despair. However, as Trueman reminds the reader, Christ has promised His church that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. God is sovereign and His will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven. With this hope we can continue to eagerly await the coming marriage feast of the Lamb. This book is a must-read for older teenagers and adults alike (and ranks in my personal top 5). Understanding the history of the ideas that led to this moment gives us the power to resist our culture’s siren call into identity politics, and will better equip us to sympathize with those who haven’t resisted, and have been shipwrecked....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

My Father’s Journey

by Harry Kleyn 2022, 411 pages A few years ago I was asked to teach a North American church history course at Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College. As part of that, I spent some time teaching about the history of Dutch immigration to Canada. That’s always interested me, especially because of the stories I’d hear from my Opa Bredenhof. While I don’t think he ever regarded Australia as an option, many others did.  I’ve often wondered: what if…? That’s part of what made Harry Kleyn’s My Father’s Journey such a fascinating read for me. Being familiar with stories of post-war immigration from the Netherlands to Canada, I was really interested to hear what it was like to migrate to Australia. Working with interviews, diaries, and other sources, Kleyn pens a compelling story of the challenges before, during, and after immigration. Lived through two world wars, a Great Depression, and a Liberation We hear the story of his father’s life and family background in the Netherlands. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but it’s surprisingly intense. Having been born in 1913, Cornelis Kleijn also lived through the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. All of those world events figure into the story, but especially the last one. Being of working age, and having served in the Dutch army before the invasion in 1940, Cornelis Kleijn was exactly the kind of man the Nazis wanted to send to Germany as slave labour. How did he escape? Read the book to find out. These were also eventful years in church history. In the middle of the Second World War, a doctrinal and church political dispute was playing out in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. Calls to set the dispute aside until the end of the war were ignored by those in power. This led to the Liberation (Vrijmaking) of 1944. We read of how Cornelis Kleijn and his wife Willempje found themselves with that Liberation. After the Second World War, the Netherlands was a disaster zone. The economy was in shambles. The Dutch government urged citizens to migrate overseas to reduce the pressure. Countries like Canada and Australia were eager to receive Dutch immigrants.  Canada was out of the question for Cornelis and Willempje Kleijn – too cold!  South Africa was considered, but Australia was for them the best option. Our author relates the story of packing up, saying good-bye, and enduring the long sea voyage to Fremantle, Western Australia. New country, climate, and language, same faithful God Having arrived in Australia, there were new challenges to overcome. There was a new culture, a new language, a new work environment, and a new climate. Many families, including the Kleijns, experienced setbacks. There were various difficulties in church life and Harry Kleyn is forthright about them, but in a respectful manner. In later life, the elderly Cornelis and Willempje Kleijn continued to experience various adversities in their family. The whole story is one of trying times. I remember visiting with an elderly parishioner once who told me he was so thankful because there’d never been any deaths in their family and never any serious illnesses or problems. Everything had gone smoothly in life.  That’s not the Kleijn family as described in this book. This is a family who experienced real hardships. But more than that, what stands out in the story is how God carried them through. With his Holy Spirit, he sustained their trust in him. This is a story of how God lifts up his people in their faith and brings them through the fires. One final thing I appreciated about My Father’s Journey: even though the focus is on Cornelis Kleijn, his wife Willempje isn’t just in the background. Her diary entries and letters are often quoted (in translation). We hear of her frustrations at trying to master English, something she was never able to do. We hear of how hard it was to give birth in a hospital in a foreign land. We hear of the difficulties in keeping a house and raising children when your husband is gone most of the day trying to earn a living. It’s good to hear more about the experience of women in post-war Dutch immigration, especially via first-hand accounts. This is a well-written and well-researched family biography. I highly recommend it, not only for those with an interest in the history of Dutch migration, but also for anyone who just wants to read an encouraging story about how God upholds his people through the toughest times. Even though it’s not a short book, I read it in just a couple of days and I’m sure you’ll find it to be just as captivating as I did. My Father’s Journey is available through most major online retailers....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Free book: The Divine Challenge: on matter, mind, math & meaning

Christians believe the world, the universe, and everything came about by Supernatural means – our God created! Those that deny the supernatural say that the universe came about only by natural processes – mere physics and chemistry, over eons of time. Is this a debate to explain why there is something, rather than nothing? No, says John Byl, 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. In his brilliant apologetic work The Divine Challenge, Dr. Byl shares the world’s best godless worldviews. He shows, often in the proponents’ own words, how their explanations 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 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 his 2021 revision a free ebook you can download at his site here:

Adult non-fiction

Top 3 marriage books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counseled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance, first to third: When Sinners Say “I Do”  Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage  by Dave Harvey 190 pages / 2007 This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one. Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack 208 pages / 1999 Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach. Each for the Other Marriage As It’s Meant To Be by Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell 224 pages / 2006 I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church at Launceston, Tasmania and blogs at ...

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Contending for the Faith: the story of the Westminster Assembly

by William Boekestein and Joel R. Beeke 2022 / 40 pages I love the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism ("What is the chief end of Man? 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 this fantastic, accessible overview. While it's for kids, it's also a great presentation for adults who want to know a little, but might not have the time or interest to dive all that deep. This Assembly is worth at least a dip. This was a pivotal moment in Church history, and quite the encouragement to see some of what God wrought in the lives of kings and queens, and pastors and persecutors that resulted in these documents. Contending for the Faith is really well done, with wonderful pictures and clear text. That said, I don't know that this will be the sort of book kids are going to pick up on their own – they might need a bit of encouragement. That means this would work 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! ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Gender roles

Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction

by Kevin DeYoung 2021 / 170 pages. Kevin DeYoung’s latest tackles an always timely topic. In the last few years, the “women in office” issue has been on the radar of various Reformed churches. This is especially owing to the fact that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) went in that direction in 2017. But we shouldn’t think it’s only a Dutch issue. In every church I’ve served as a pastor there have been those convinced that women should serve in church leadership. The need is always there for well-written resources clearly explaining the Bible’s teaching. DeYoung, pastor of a Presbyterian church in North Carolina, wrote this book with his congregation in mind. He writes in the Introduction: “I have often wished for a book that explained the Bible’s teaching about men and women in the church in a way that the interested layperson could understand and a size that he or she could read in a few hours.” I’d say DeYoung has hit the mark. A complementarianism stand Men and Women in the Church advocates for a position known as complementarianism and against egalitarianism. Complementarians hold that men and women are essentially equal, but have been given different, complementary roles. Egalitarians hold that whatever roles men can perform, women can also perform. All of this is in the context of the church and its offices. Complementarians are against women in office and egalitarians are for. About two-thirds of the book is taken up with exposition of the most debated passages: Genesis 1-3, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33-35, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, and 1 Timothy 3:1-13. The last third of the book looks at common objections made against the complementarian position (Deborah? Phoebe? Junia?), as well as explaining how the biblical teaching applies to boys and girls, men and women. The book concludes with an appendix interacting at length with John Dickson, a “broad complementarian” who nonetheless argues that women should be permitted to preach in public worship. I’ve read a number of pro-complementarian books over the years, but DeYoung stands out. He rightly argues, for instance, that this issue isn’t the proverbial molehill – the gospel is at stake. This is because of how God links male/female complementarity with the relationship between Christ and his church in Ephesians 5:32. So DeYoung writes: Ephesians 5 may be about marriage, but we can’t make any sense of the underlying logic unless we note God’s intentions in creating marriage as a gospel-shaped union between a differentiated and complementary pair. Any move to abolish all distinctions between men and women is a move (whether intentionally or not) to tear down the building blocks of redemption itself. When the issue is stated like that, its importance comes into clear view. Refuting eternal subordination Another highlight is DeYoung’s helpful correction of some complementarians who’ve argued that the husband-wife relationship is parallel to God’s headship over Christ. The Trinity thus furnishes a model for marriage, particularly the relationship between the Father and the Son. This position has come to be known as the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS). It’s based on a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 11:3, “I want you to understand that head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” DeYoung offers a sound refutation, though the language here does get technical. Cautions There were only a couple of things I must be critical about. DeYoung argues that women should be able to “share a testimony, give an announcement, or offer a prayer” in public worship. It’s debatable whether testimonies and announcements belong in public worship. Prayer certainly does, but it is corporate prayer being led by someone. Moreover, corporate prayer in public worship has a teaching quality to it. The congregation is learning to pray by being led in prayer. DeYoung bases his argument on his observation that 1 Corinthians 11 assumes there is some place for women to be speaking in the church’s public worship. However, as my colleague Dr. Dean Anderson has pointed out, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is not speaking about public worship services. Another criticism, of less importance, is not about what DeYoung said, but what he left out. Near the end, he writes that “men and women should not relate to every other man or woman as husband and wife. And yet there is something about the marriage relationship that shows for everyone the sort of people men and women were made to be” (p.136). It would have been helpful to flesh that out a little more. For example, what does that mean for women in politics, business, the military, or law enforcement? I know it’s meant to be a “short” book, but couldn’t we just have had a paragraph or two? Conclusion Men and Women in the Church ought to be in church libraries and high school Bible classes. It’s also important reading for church leaders. Our church runs something called the Service and Leadership Training program. This is to prepare young men for church leadership. One of the sessions deals with the topic of women in office. Kevin DeYoung’s book will be on the recommended reading list from now on. It’s a fairly simple and biblically faithfully guide in an area where Satan is working furiously to undermine not only God’s Word in general, but also the gospel in particular. Dr. Bredenhof is the author of many books, including Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship, which is excerpted here. ...

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