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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Broken Beauty – Reflections of a Soul Refined by Cancer

by Helena Bolhuis 252 pages / 2020 It’s kind of exciting when someone you are personally acquainted with publishes a book. It’s a bit of a thrill to hold the book in your hands, read their name on the cover, breathe in the new book smell, and anticipate sitting down with a cup of tea to crack it open and begin to read. I certainly felt this way when I purchased Broken Beauty – Reflections of a Soul Refined by Cancer, written by Helena Bolhuis. I don’t know Helena well, but having sat under her teaching on a couple of occasions – there experiencing her warmth, wisdom, and openness and seeing in her a sincere love for the Lord – I was definitely looking forward to reading her book. Attending her book launch at the local Free Reformed bookstore only heightened my eagerness, for that morning we got a glimpse into the beautiful and emotional journey this book would take us on. Yet – dare I admit this? – I also felt a little bit of wariness, maybe even skepticism about the book, and at first I could not put my finger on why I felt this way. But on reflection, I realized what was making me uneasy: how could a book detailing someone’s personal experience not be a bit self-glorifying? How could the author, in human weakness, write about themselves without it being… all about them? Would God be given His proper place in this story? And now, having read the book, I can answer that last question with a resounding “Yes!” Broken Beauty is, indeed, not a book about the author, but about the faithful God and loving Father who carried and led her through her cancer journey. From the dedication on the very first page – “for You, Father, for Your glory” – to the thanks at the end of the book, and everywhere in between, God is given the glory. Again and again, Helena points us to the Lord who supplied her every need in a time of sickness. The reader is left with a renewed sense of awe for the Great Physician, the God who refines us and draws us to himself through times of trial and weakness. The Father who carries us on eagle’s wings is the loving Author of this author’s story. The book is organized in three main sections: the journey the provisions and the destination “The Journey” tells Helena’s cancer story as it unfolded in her life, describing doctor’s visits, waiting for and receiving test results, and the various treatments she had to undergo. And throughout this section of facts and details, Helena weaves the story of her inner struggle – emotional and spiritual – as she faced the very real possibility of her own death. In the second section, “The Provisions,” Helena speaks about how God provided for her in so many ways along her cancer journey, and she draws a parallel here to how God provided for the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness. He provided for her relationally through the people in her life, and mentally through prayer, meditation, music, and books. God also supplied what she needed emotionally, physically, and spiritually in tangible ways. It was beautiful to read how every need was met by the loving hand of our Father. “The Destination” describes the emotional and spiritual process of adjusting to life post-cancer, navigating life outside the close “cocoon” of God’s shelter and love that Helena experienced during her illness and recovery, and then having to move forward. The cancer journey was at an end, but regular daily life continues on towards the final destination – eternal glory! Written with warmth, raw honesty, and so much hope, Broken Beauty gives the reader a close glimpse into a heart-rending yet beautiful time of suffering and sickness. Saturated with references to God’s Word and the comfort that Helena received from it, this book will be a real encouragement to anyone going through a period of trial or illness. It would also be useful to read when walking alongside a friend or relative experiencing a tough time, for throughout the book there is helpful advice and practical wisdom on how to be there for someone who is suffering. In this world broken by sin, we will all encounter suffering during our lives, whether our own or that of someone we love, and Helena’s book shines a bright light on how God turns our suffering into something beautiful, to His glory. I highly recommend it! “Now I understood that life is all about God’s glory in my story and my delight in Him through that story. Now I understood that through His glory, my joy is made complete.” (p.239) Broken Beauty is available at Amazon, including as an audiobook read by the author. A version of this review will also appear in Una Sancta....

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 author, teacher, and pastor truly appears here as a man after God’s own heart: a man in pursuit of his Maker’s holiness – eager to understand it, to mirror and communicate it as faithfully as he might. Following his conversion very early in his college years, Sproul’s zeal drive him and his wife, Vesta, to hunt after vital educational and ministry opportunities, both formal and informal. As a result, they relocated almost annually during the first decade of marriage. Very soon Sproul’s winning personality, warmth, seriousness, and authenticity as a “battlefield theologian” make him a magnet for those determined to grow in – and publicly defend – the faith. We see the launching of the Ligonier Study Center in 1971 in rural Western Pennsylvania, the writing of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and Sproul’s costly stand against reductive ecumenicism. Nichols gives ample space, as well, to the substance and impact of Sproul’s many books and the Renewing Your Mind radio program. Finally come the stories of his Florida pastorate, the building of Saint Andrew’s Chapel, and the founding of Reformation Bible College (RBC). Nichols succeeded Sproul as president of RBC in 2014, and his writing is aided by close acquaintance with Sproul and his family, colleagues, and friends. One can hardly imagine major detractions to Sproul's legacy and certainly will find no ammunition for that here – though glancing notice is made to R.C. Junior's sudden resignation from the board of Ligonier and RBC in 2016. The Sproul we meet in these pages is the gentle lion so many of us felt we knew, at least distantly and casually, through the books and radio program. Nichols has chosen to write an everyman biography, an accessible book with a tone popular rather than scholarly. And here we rediscover several Sproul family anecdotes which many have encountered previously in his teaching. Sometimes the stories are expanded, sometimes the reader can anticipate and supply added detail. Yes, we meet again an old friend, and a true one. Without a doubt, Sproul loved the church, and he immersed himself in the vocation of shepherd. Nichols's book is both deeply encouraging and even convicting as we view the whole-life portrait of this dedicated, faithful teacher unfolded before us. The church in the 21st century, as much as any time before, greatly needs the stories of such brothers and fellow saints....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Echoes of Ararat: a collection of over 300 Flood legends from North and South America

by Nick Liguori 2021 / 300 pages Why are there Flood myths all over the world? Christians can explain it by pointing back to Noah: these myths are so widespread because they find their origin in a real event, common to all mankind – every last tribe and nation can trace their origin back to the small family that lived through this cataclysmic worldwide deluge. But how can skeptics explain it? If it was just one or two stories, maybe they could attribute it to coincidence. But confronted with these 300-some accounts – and that's just from North and South America – the case for coincidence just isn't plausible. What Nick Liguori has done here is collect the oldest known written accounts of these indigenous tales, dating back a hundred to two hundred years or even more. While they were originally a part of native oral tradition, these accounts were written down after they were told to European explorers, missionaries, and settlers. So, for example, this is from the Caddo tribe, told to a group of explorers who were mapping the Arkansas/Texas Red River in 1806: They say that long since, a civil war broke out among them, which so displeased Enicco, the Supreme Being, that he caused a great flood, which destroyed all but one family; consisting of four persons, the father, mother, and children. This family was saved by flying to a knoll at the upper end of the prairie, which was the only spot uncovered by the water. In this knoll was a cave where the male and female of all the kinds of animals were preserved. After the flood has continued one moon, they set a bird, called the O-Wah, at liberty, which returned in a short time with a straw. The family then set out on a raft in search of the place from whence this straw was brought, and pursuing a west course for two leagues they came to land. Some of the elements from the Genesis account include: God is displeased with the world, a great flood, one family saved, a bird sent out and coming back with something, two of each kind of animals saved, and a boat of sorts. Other stories have only a glimmering of the original remaining. Moravian missionaries arrived on Greenland in 1733 and the following is an account David Cranzz (1723-1777) included in his History of Greenland: Almost all heathen nations know something of Noah's Flood, and the first missionaries found also some pretty plain traditions among the Greenlanders; namely that the world once overset, and all mankind, except one, were drowned; but some were turned into fiery spirits. The only man that escaped alive, afterward smote the ground with his stick, and out sprung a woman, and these two re-peopled the world. As a proof that the deluge once overflowed the whole earth, they say that many shells, and relics of fishes have been found far within the land where man could never have lived, yea that bones of whales have been found upon a high mountain. In story after story, we see echoes, not just of the Flood account, but also of the events of the Tower of Babel. This is a fascinating book! So, again, how do the skeptics explain it? The best secular explanation is that these myths and legends are of a recent origin, only coming to be after natives first heard the story of the Flood from missionaries spreading the Bible. But that supposes that native oral tradition could change that fast, and that easily. And why would they adapt their traditions to incorporate part of the Bible account while ignoring the rest of it? Doubters will doubt, but they really have to work at it to dismiss all the stories collected here. While the bulk of the book is stories, one of the appendices contrast and compares these American myths with both the biblical Flood account and the one found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This epic is probably the second most famous flood account of all, and skeptics will say that the Bible's version was inspired by it. But as Liguori shows, that idea is preposterous (you can also learn why that's so here). If you enjoy Echoes of Ararat, you'll also appreciate Charles Martin's Flood Legends: Global Clues of a Common Event which is a much shorter (just 150 pages) overview of Flood legends, this time from around the whole world. Echoes of Ararat is far more weighty, but consequently is a book you're more likely to just dip into. Meanwhile, Flood Legends is something you'll read all the way through. Both would be fantastic resources for your church or school libraries, and also good gifts for Christian school history teachers. And if you want to learn a bit more about Noah's Ark, and Flood myths, be sure to check out the 10-minute video below. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Rod Dreher’s "Live not by lies" – a review and a discussion

I recently spent several months leading a Facebook group discussion of Rod Dreher's Live Not By Lies. Each week I would post a summary of a chapter, and the members of the group would discuss it. That experience led me to do a closer reading of Dreher's book than I would normally do. And it also led me to appreciate all the more the importance of the message of this book for God's people. The genesis of the book began back in 2015 when Dreher began to speak with Christians who had once lived under communism in the former Soviet-bloc countries. They told him they believed America was drifting toward some sort of totalitarianism, and they were upset that their fellow Americans weren’t recognizing what is happening. Building on these interviews, and first-person accounts of those who survived life under anti-Christian, totalitarian rule, Dreher lays out what he sees happening in the United States (and throughout the Western world), and his conclusions as to how Christians can effectively deal with it. Realism, not pessimism Some reviewers have said that Dreher is overly pessimistic. Totalitarianism? Really? Dreher says the reason many can’t see it, is because what’s happening here is different from what we see in China and saw in the USSR. That’s the old “hard totalitarianism,” while Dreher say what we’re facing could be described as “soft totalitarianism.” What others have characterized as his “pessimism,” I would call “realism.” Dreher understands what is happening in the Western world, and what he sees rightly concerns him. So what is this "soft totalitarianism" that Dreher is talking about? There are many ways in which our freedom to express ourselves honestly is being taken from us, and we are being pressured to conform to the world's narrative. Recently, Focus on the Family had one of its Twitter account suspended for “violating rules against hateful conduct.” They will not be allowed access to their account until they delete the offending comment, which said only: "On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he had chosen Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of HHS. Dr. Levine is a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman." Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram police "hate speech" – and it is those who define "hate" who make the decisions about who can stay and participate, and who must be excluded. Christians who have expressed "unacceptable" opinions on Facebook have been forced to participate in "sensitivity training" sessions in their workplace, after their posts were reported to management and deemed unacceptable. The private sector and government work together to expand surveillance and data collection, whether for the purposes of public safety and "homeland security," or for public health and "bio-security," or to combat the most recent threat to be uncovered, that of "far-right domestic terrorism." Increasingly repressive measures are being enacted to stifle the ministry of the Church, as bills are passed that ban activities like "conversion therapy," which seek to help those who are struggling with their gender identity. Speaking out against sin is defined as "bullying" (regardless of whether it is done compassionately and lovingly or not), and events like Pink Shirt Day, anti-bullying initiatives, and government-mandated school clubs all have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas, especially those that are no longer accepted by the mainstream. When Biblical teaching is defined as "hate speech," and those who dare to publicly contradict mainstream orthodoxy on subjects like sexuality and gender ideology can be silenced and excluded from public discourse, we are well on our way toward this state of soft totalitarianism. This isn't the hard totalitarianism of the old Soviet Union; but in the end, the results of Soft Totalitarianism are the same. Outward conformity to the prevailing ideology is demanded, inappropriate use of language is censured, those who express the wrong kinds of ideas are branded as intolerant, hateful, and dangerous to society. We’re doing it to ourselves What is particularly concerning about this move toward soft totalitarianism is the fact that it is being done with the largely unquestioning acceptance of the populace. We have willingly given up our privacy and control over our own data for the sake of convenience, to remain connected through social networks, and to have “free” access to entertainment and consumer goods. And as we have done that, often unthinkingly, we have opened ourselves up to the growing influence of corporations like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and their policy-makers who are using these tools to shape public discourse, control what can be communicated publicly, and influence the way we think. What can we do? Live not by lies! Dreher’s realism also leads him to recommend steps that Christians can take to remain faithful in the face of ever-increasing pressure. This is where the rubber hits the road for the Christian reader. I often hear this question in response to my writing on current events: “What can we do to stop this?” And realism leads me to say that, humanly speaking, there is very little that we as individuals can do to halt a process which has been gathering steam for decades. The combined forces behind soft totalitarianism appear, on the surface, to be unstoppable. But that does not mean that the situation is hopeless, and that there is nothing we can do as individuals, each within our own sphere of influence. The first thing that we need to do is live according to the injunction of the book’s title, which itself was taken from the title of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s essay “Live not by lies!” Solzhenitsyn wrote that we as individuals may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what we really believe, but we can at least refuse to affirm what we do not believe. We may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but we can, individually and as a community, find the means to live in “the dignity of truth.” So that’s the first important step we need to take. In a world that is demanding more and more that everyone affirm ideals that are inherently non-Christian, and in fact anti-Christian, we need to live in the truth. What does it look like to live in the truth? It means refusing to take over the language that the world uses, and refusing to use it as our own. There is a reason so much emphasis is put on policing speech and policing the way in which certain words and expressions are used – it’s because controlling language is the first step in influencing and controlling thought. Over time, the words we use shape the way we think. We can see this happening with the transformation in the use of the word "gender." In the past, "gender" was a grammatical concept. In languages like Spanish and Portuguese, nouns are either masculine or feminine, and while English is not a gendered language, there are still a few examples of gendered words; for example, ships have often been referred to as "she." But the meaning of the word "gender" has shifted, largely under pressure from activists who would like to believe that gender is a fluid concept, a kind of sliding scale between masculine and feminine. So now, instead of "sex" with its binary male or female biological reality, we have "gender" and a world of multiple options, based on personal choice and identification. So how can we "live not by lies" in this area? We can, in our speech, show that we do not buy into the idea of a shifting scale of "gender," by maintaining the distinction that reflects reality, and not the ideology of the activists who have taken control of public discourse. Does this mean we have to correct people every time we hear the word "transgender" being used instead of "transexual"? No. But it does mean maintaining the created distinction between male and female by the way we ourselves use words, and the way that we teach our children. But there is more that we can and must do. In the second half of the book, Dreher closes each chapter with a section with the heading, “See, Judge, Act.” In this section, he provides the reader with practical advice gleaned from his interviews with Christians who lived under hard totalitarian regimes and kept the faith. While Dreher was raised Methodist and is now an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I think his vision of how Christians can counteract soft totalitarianism has much in common with Reformed thinking, and specifically the distinctly Reformed emphasis on the doctrine of the covenant. Dreher doesn't use the term, but we could summarize his practical steps under the heading of “covenant living.” So in our families, we must deliberately focus on teaching our children, reminding them of who they are, and of the realities of history in world in which history is being rewritten or even erased. In our churches, we need to continue to use the means of grace faithfully and passionately. Dreher recommends the gathering of small groups for teaching and discussion, with believers encouraging and instructing one another about how to “live not by lies.” In a world in which social units are fracturing and social connections disintegrating, we need to make the effort to not only preach covenant theology, but to live out the covenant theology that we confess! Conclusion I highly recommend Live Not By Lies, and believe that its message is vitally important for God’s people today. The first step that we need to take to remain faithful to our calling as followers of Christ is to recognize that we are in a battle, and understand that battle. Dreher does a commendable job of revealing the reality of our current situation, as he seeks to open the eyes of those who may not recognize the seriousness of what is currently happening in our society. He also provides realistic counsel to Christians, based on the experiences of those who have lived through totalitarianism themselves. History is in the Lord’s hands. He is directing all things according to his purpose, and he is in absolute control. For us, that is the greatest encouragement of all, and internalizing this truth is how we’ll steer clear of pessimism and hopelessness. At the same time, we must be realists, and not live in denial about what is happening. The forces united against Christ and his Church are becoming stronger, and we need to recognize that there is a battle, we need to know who the enemy is, and we need to be prepared to fight the good fight of faith in confidence. Live Not By Lies will help you to do just that. Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative magazine. He’s written and edited for the New York Times, and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Beliefnet, and Commentary and numerous other publications. "Live Not By Lies" is his fifth book, and his fourth, "The Benedict Option," dealt with similar themes....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The legacy of 25 Scripture verses on Parliament Hill

by Lynette Bloedow 68 pages / 2020 Perched atop my “to be read” pile, this caught the eye of a visitor who sat down, started reading, and soon after gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up. I hadn’t read it yet, but had already concluded a booklet about bible verses on the walls and windows of Parliament would have limited appeal. But I was wrong; even my American guest found it fascinating. Having read it now, I agree. In full-color spreads the book explores Parliament’s Peace Tower, built over the years 1916-1922 after a fire destroyed most of Parliament's "Centre Block" in 1916. Architect John A. Pearson covered the tower with all sorts of symbolism and lots of bible verses, including citations from Canada’s national psalm, Ps. 72, and references to the armor of God from Ephesians 6. I was surprised to learn there’s also a quotation from Pilgrim’s Progress. Author Lynette Bloedow includes page after page of gorgeous pictures, with the most beautiful showcasing the building's stain glass windows, each of which has a story behind it. The overall message evident in the tower's symbolism is that, not so long ago, Canada’s leaders had a much better understanding that they ruled only because God put them in their positions. The Peace Tower is currently undergoing renovations that might take as long as 10 years, so you can’t go and see any of this for yourself. But even if you could, this is a tour unlike anything you’d get, because much of the tower’s “biblical legacy” has been forgotten, not listed on government websites, and not mentioned by guides. The purpose of this booklet is to reacquaint the next generation with the lost truth that our "Ruler Supreme" remains God, and it is only in Him that Canadians, as individuals, and as a country, can find their hope. Legacy of 25 Scripture Verses would make for a great coffee table book in any Canadian household, and would be a good gift book for adult children. To learn more, take a peek inside, and place your order, go to ChristianRootsCanada.org....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

The Accompanist as Prophet?

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Bredenhof’s new book “Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship.”  ***** If we have accompaniment, the accompanist has an important role in our worship service. ….We want our accompanists to aim to please the LORD along with the entire congregation. There has to be a pursuit of excellence in the craft of accompaniment. When this is done, we should be thankful and encourage our accompanists. Regrettably, in our tradition there has sometimes been inordinate language when it comes to accompanists, and especially organists. Sometimes the organist has been described as a “prophet” and his playing as “prophesying from the organ bench.” It seems that this rhetoric traces back to the famous Dutch organist Jan Zwart. According to Deddens, Zwart spoke of “prophesying during the worship service, before and after the sermon, in a language the people can understand.” Reformed theologian Klaas Schilder took over this language in describing Zwart posthumously: “His life’s work was to prophesy from the organ bench, and when we say that we give true expression to what motivated this man.” Deddens appreciated this rhetoric and took it over as well. Prophesy is about words The major problem with this description of the accompanist is that it does not stand up to biblical scrutiny. In the Bible, prophecy is almost always about words. A prophet without words is unheard of. There are instances where prophets performed prophetic acts, but these were exceptional, and even these acts never occurred in isolation from their words. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, prophecy is verbal. When Lord’s Day 12 of the Catechism says we are anointed to be prophets who confess the name of Christ, it is referring to a verbal activity. During and after the Reformation, preaching was sometimes called “prophesying” – because it had to do with words. The idea of a musical instrument being a means of prophecy is unheard of, biblically and historically. While certainly appreciating the work of accompanists (more on that in a moment), let us also be modest about what they are doing. If one wants to employ the language of the three-fold office of all believers to describe accompanists, then it would be better to refer to them in priestly terms. With their accompaniment, they are offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving with the rest of the congregation. That is something which can be done both with and without words.  Proper honor for accompanists If an accompanist takes his or her work seriously, there can be quite a bit of preparation involved with each service. Moreover, a serious accompanist might even be a professional musician with years of training. A lot of time and money may have been invested in honing their musical craft. This ought to be honored and recognized. That can be done in different ways, of course. One way would be for the pastor regularly to pray for the accompanist(s) in his congregation. Another would be for there to be occasional acknowledgement of the accompanist in the church bulletin or perhaps at a congregational meeting. Still another way would be to ask the accompanist to help the congregation in understanding music in worship. Accompanists have the musical understanding and skills that many of us do not, and asking them to share their insights also shows respect for them and their craft. Let them teach us. It is also appropriate to show our gratitude to our accompanists with an honorarium. This recognizes the time, energy, and financial commitment they have made to pursue excellence in accompanying our singing. Churches that do not offer an honorarium to their accompanists can sometimes struggle to find accompaniment, especially if there are other churches nearby which do offer honorariums. Now someone might object and say, “A lot of us do volunteer work in the church and we don’t get paid for it. So why should the accompanist get paid?” There are two things to say in response. First, the accompanist is not being “paid” for their labors. He or she is not an employee of the church, at least not typically. The accompanist is a volunteer, offering his or her services for the glory of God. Second, unlike most other volunteer work in the church, the accompanist has spent a lot of his or her time, energy, and money on learning to play well. Continuing to play well also requires investments, including the purchase of sheet music. Accompaniment is different than the other volunteer work done in the church. A modest honorarium recognizes this.  Dr. Wes Bredenhof's "Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship" is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. To learn more about "Aiming to Please" tune in below as Dr. Bredenhof is the guest on Focal Point Episode 5, with host Dr. Chris deBoer. ...

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, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung 128 pages / 2009 What does God want me to do with my life? It’s a great question but not one we should get stuck on. Some folks sit around waiting for a sign from God, instead of using the brains they got from God. DeYoung wants Christians to stop contemplating whether this, that, or that other thing might be what God wants most for our lives, and wants us instead to “just do something.” Does that sound...flippant? Careless even? DeYoung's point is that God's will for our life isn't that hard to figure out. We are to: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God. It’s that simple. But because we do complicate things, DeYoung spends another 100 pages, explaining why various approaches to fathom God’s will get it wrong, and then he outlines “the way of wisdom”: using Scriptures to rule out some options (don’t date pagans) and to establish proper priorities (will this job be near a good church?) turning to our parents and other wise counsel for advice asking God for wisdom in prayer proceeding in confidence that we are honoring God in whatever decision we then make There is an older book, a classic by Garry Friesen called Decision Making and the Will of God, that covers the same ground, but what takes Friesen almost 500 pages to tackle, DeYoung does in just 128 pages. It is that conciseness that makes this so very valuable: I've shared it with both young and old, and gotten rave reviews all around. So two thumbs up for a very readable, biblical, and helpful book for this most important topic. A version of this reivew first appeared in the February 2014 issue. Jon Dykstra also posts reviews at the Dykstra sibling book blog where you can find his brother Jeff's longer take on "Just Do Something." R.C. Sproul's "Can I Know God's Will" is another concise excellent book on this subject and while I think it not quite as good as DeYoung's effort, Sproul's is free as an ebook. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Killing Calvinism

by Greg Dutcher 2012, 111 pages We can thank God that many "young and the restless" Christians are turning to Calvinism to find the rest they are seeking; however, Greg Dutcher's book warns us that being, or becoming, enthusiastically Reformed has its dangers. What makes Dutcher's cautions so effective is that he is humble enough to confess that he has not always been so humble in his embrace of Calvinist theology – something that we also can be guilty of. Like a former smoker, there is often no-one so obnoxious about his new life as the recent convert. Dutcher narrates how his own conversion to Christ humbled him, but his subsequent acceptance of Reformed theology, even as it increased his understanding (and even wonder), often did not increase his humility. Sadly, it is not only young Calvinists who lack humility. I know that I either personally have been guilty of some of the sins Dutcher identifies, or know of older members whose Calvinism leads to pride rather than humility. For instance, Dutcher describes how Calvinists often love Calvinism as an end in itself, identifying themselves as Calvinists before they identify themselves as Christians. We also need to guard against becoming theologians instead of disciples; we need to guard against mere head service instead of also heart service. Another issue that Dutcher deals with has also been raised extensively in many Reformed churches recently: the need to renew our love for the lost. One problem that I have seen of late on Facebook and other social media is one of our approach to non-Calvinists – scoffing at their hangups with Calvinism rather than lovingly seeking to understand the reasons for their resistance and deal with them with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). The above challenges are only some of the ways Dutcher shows how Calvinists often discredit the Biblical truth of Reformed theology (or, as the book’s subtitle puts it, this is how we are destroying “a perfectly good theology from the inside”). He deals with others but you'll need to check out the book to find out which ones! What makes each of the eight main chapters an even more winsome inspiration to self-examination is the fact that each ends with Calvin's own method of ending his lectures – a prayer that God will work in our hearts a willingness to truly love our neighbour and glorify God in our Calvinism. If you believe that a better presentation of the beauty of the TULIP would bring greater glory to God, and that this book will help you do that, you can get it at many an online retailer including the publisher, Cruciform Press....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Chosen by God

by R.C. Sproul 1986 / 187 pages  While most Christians joyfully acknowledge God's sovereignty in His providence – his protective care – many are less eager to embrace His sovereignty in salvation. With some this is because they fear losing man's free will; others fear losing our sense of responsibility for our response to God's grace; and others want God to woo us rather than compel us. R.C. Sproul’s book deals with all these concerns. Each of the first eight chapters explores aspects of God's sovereignty, and ends with a summary of the ideas argued and a list of at least four supporting Biblical passages.  Several of those chapters deal with significant connections within the doctrine of predestination – like between Adam's Fall and Mine, between Rebirth and Faith, and between God's Foreknowledge and Predestination. The eighth chapter deals with possibly the most personal of the five points of Calvinism, the perseverance of the saints, whether you can really know that you are saved – renaming it the preservation of the saints to highlight both God's sovereignty and His steadfast mercy. The final chapter, dealing with questions and objections, ends with Sproul’s invitation to open "our eyes to see God's beauty" in His sovereign love for His people. May our eyes be so opened!...

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Pro-life kids!

by Bethany Bomberger 48 pages / 2019 What I most liked about this book is that my kids just picked it up and started reading it. This is the sort of book they really ought to read – it is educational, teaching them about the unborn, about what they can do to stand up for these babies, and about how the unborn are being dehumanized by those that want to kill them – but educational doesn't always mean enjoyable. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find out this one hit both marks. Illustrator Ed Koehler’s bright colors got them to open it in the first place, and then author Bethany Bomberger’s rhyming text kept their attention. One example: Sadly there are those who don’t understand That life has a purpose whether planned or unplanned Throughout history many believed a lie. “You’re not a person! No way!” they cried Today many people think that lie is still true That babies in wombs aren’t people too…. After describing the problem, the book concludes with a rallying cry for all the readers to be …pro-life kids ‘til injustice ends! We are pro-life kids. It’s life we defend! I’d highly recommend this for every school or church library!...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The hidden meaning of "The Chronicles of Narnia"

What if there was a secret cipher that unlocked a meaning behind C. S. Lewis’ beloved Chronicles of Narnia? What if Lewis used a concealed template to map out each book in the series, with a specific contextual aim that can be completely missed unless you know exactly what to look for? That is the intriguing premise of Michael Ward’s much-praised book Planet Narnia. As an unofficial Lewis aficionado, my wife recently read through Ward’s book, pausing between chapters to relay what she had learned to me. The material in Planet Narnia provided for many a night of excitement, discovery, and discussion. Even as someone who has digested most of this book’s thesis second-hand, I find myself convinced by Ward’s paradigm-shattering work. Understanding the key to Lewis’s true and foundational intent for The Chronicles of Narnia unlocks the secret to numerous mysteries about the books: Why does Father Christmas make an appearance in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Why is there a bacchanal (i.e. a party very heavy on the wine) in Prince Caspian? Why is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the only book with dragons in it? Why does Aslan never actually enter Narnia in The Silver Chair? What’s the point of the emphasis on twins, doubles, and symmetry in The Horse and His Boy? Why is The Magician’s Nephewmore comical than any of the other stories? Why is The Last Battle the only book with an adult protagonist? So, what is the key that unlocks these (and many other) questions? Simply this: the seven Narnia books are heavily – indeed, primarily – influenced by the concept of the Seven Heavens. In medieval cosmology, there were seven planets, each with its own personality and characteristics. In Lewis’ view, these planets embody spiritual symbols of permanent value. As Ward explains, the seven planets determine, “the basic plot of each story, countless points of ornamental detail, and, most significantly (from the theological point of view), the presentation of the Christotypical figure of Aslan.” The planet Lewis assigned to each book, as laid out by Ward, is as follows: Jove (Jupiter): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Mars: Prince Caspian Sol (the Sun): The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Luna (the Moon): The Silver Chair Mercury: The Horse and his Boy Venus: The Magician’s Nephew Saturn: The Last Battle Of course, it takes Ward an entire book to lay out the evidence and make his case. And a convincing case it is. Riddles in the dark Without reading the book, though, one might (rightly) ask, “If the Seven Heavens was so integral to the creation of The Chronicles of Narnia, why has no one noticed before?” Ward addresses this specific question. One reason, he says, is this: “…many readers were content to accept that the apparent lack of was evidence of hasty writing, not a sign of an unidentified inner meaning. Since Tolkien dismissed the as a mishmash it is hardly surprising that many critics have done the same.” Another reason is this: …those critics who were looking for a third level …may not have been as open to the subject of astrology as work really requires, for, as I have pointed out, astrology, a subject disdained by academics, tends to be given a doubly wide berth by Christian academics. Since most Lewis scholars have been Christian or well-disposed to the Christian tradition, there was an in-built improbability that researchers would fully understand his most successful work… The apparent connection between Lewis’ beloved fantasy series and astrological elements is a concept that many Christians might find troubling. Heavens declare the glory of God This connection, Ward explains, need not trouble Lewis’ Christian readership: It must be emphasized that the pre-Copernican model of the cosmos was a Christian model for all its acceptance of astrological influence. As Lewis points out in  English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, astrology and astronomy were not really distinguishable until the Copernican revolution and no Christian theologian before that time denied the general theory of planetary influences or the significance of constellation. Furthermore, as Lewis himself said in The Discarded Image, “Orthodox theologians could accept the theory that the planets had an effect on events and on psychology, and, much more, on plants and minerals. It was not against this that the Church fought. She fought against three of its offshoots.” Lewis goes on to describe the three offshoots of medieval astrology that the church rightly opposed: Astrologically grounded predictions (i.e., horoscopes). Astrological determinism. (i.e., the idea that the planets affected one’s personality to the point of overriding his or her human responsibility and free will. A modern equivalent of this determinism might be using your Myers–Briggs personality type as an excuse for your faults – i.e., “I can’t help criticizing you all the time; it’s just who I am.”) Any practice that would “imply or encourage the worship of planets.” Lewis’ inclusion of the Seven Heavens avoided all three of these heretical dangers. Ward explains: “…the Church was content to sanction what we would now call ‘astrology.’ After all, the Bible appeared to support the belief that there were seven planets and that they possessed influences. . . . The author of the Book of Job as translated in the King James Version mentions the ‘sweet influences of Pleiades’ (Job 38:31)…. And throughout the Bible the stars are seen as ‘signs’ – most notably at Bethlehem, signifying the birth of Christ – and sometimes as a celestial court or angelic choir. Christ himself is shown in the Book of Revelation (1:16, 20; 2:1) holding the seven stars – that is, the seven wandering stars, the planets – in his right hand, a vision that Austin Farrer, Lewis’s close friend and an expert in apocalyptic imagery, understood to be a portrayal of Christ’s lordship over time, ‘for it is after these seven that the weekdays are named.’ Saturn gives Saturday its name, the Sun Sunday’s, the Moon Monday’s, and so on.” As such, Lewis’ use of medieval cosmology falls well outside the scope of what modern-day Christians would condemn as astrology. Widespread praise Another factor promoting the legitimacy of Ward’s work is the praise it has received from all across the political and theological spectrum. Below is just a sampling of the endorsements Planet Narnia has received: “My own was gradually but utterly demolished as I read this thoughtful, scholarly, and vividly-written book.” – Alan Jacobs, Professor of English, Wheaton College and author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis “Planet Narnia is…utterly convincing and compelling.” – N. T. Wright “I cannot contain my admiration. No other book on Lewis has ever shown such comprehensive knowledge of his works and such depth of insight.” – Walter Hooper, Literary Adviser to the Estate of C.S. Lewis “Planet Narnia…is one of the best books I have ever read.” – Douglas Wilson, author of What I Learned in Narnia Further up, further in Historically, I have dismissed The Chronicles of Narnia as being based more on themes and ideas rather than well-defined story arcs. Michael Ward’s insights have shown that I was both right and wrong. Rather than a sloppy mismatch, the Narnia tales comprise a carefully and meticulously crafted set of stories, much more rich in structure and meaning than I ever gave them credit. Planet Narnia has been instrumental in giving me a fresh perspective and a fresh interest in the world of Narnia. I have only scratched the surface and if you want to learn more, I recommend checking out Ward’s work through his website PlanetNarnia.com, or books Planet Narnia, or The Narnia Code (which is Ward’s shorter, simpler version of Planet Narnia, designed for consumption by the general public). Ward has laid the groundwork to help us, in the words of Reepicheep in The Last Battle, “Come further up, come further in” to what Lewis has accomplished. There is also a documentary about Michael Ward’s discovery, called “The Narnia Code,” which is reviewed here. This article first appeared on Cap Stewart’s blog where he loves “to write about the arts and theology.” It is reprinted here with permission....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

3 ways of confronting the problem of diminishing attention spans through the Great Books

How many books do you finish? How many blog posts do you really read? I am guessing that you, like me, are busy and are tempted to skim just about everything. In a world of touch screens and endless entertainment, our attention spans atrophy into something that might look like childishness to our ancestors. But how can we build up the attention spans that we need for sustained thought in the modern age. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay said that the audience that they contemplated while writing their masterful defense of the new US Constitution in The Federalist Papers was a farmer in Upstate New York. In our day, it seems that most every time a politician opens his mouth, we find that he could not match that 19th-century dirt farmer. Our attention spans are diminished and might, it seems, be extinguished completely, but I want to recommend a course of treatment. It is simple: read the Great Books . Here are three ways reading these books helps us confront the problem of diminishing attention spans. 1. The Great Books are a mirror that helps us see the problem The Great Books hold up a mirror that helps us see the extent of the problem (which is the diminishment of our capacity for sustained thought). Reading the Great Books is challenging. The first book I teach to our seniors each year is Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is a challenge! Deep concepts, archaic language, demanding expectations (because Milton expects that you have read the other Great Books written before his – particularly the Bible). This is difficult, but we need to understand one powerful fact: people in every generation prior to ours have mastered these books because they are so important! What is the mirror saying about our generation? 2. The Great Books reward sustained contemplation The Great Books reward sustained contemplation where the reading of “chapters” is necessary. Have you ever read a page or two, or a paragraph or two, of a book only to get distracted? You retain almost nothing. Emily and I had an embarrassing situation like this early in our marriage. We decided to read The Lord of the Rings together. So far, so good, right? Wrong! We decided that we would read it to each other when we went to bed. Our first daughter, Maddy, had just arrived. I was working hard at the school. We were both exhausted. It did not go well. We actually dreaded the elf poetry and songs that Tolkien inserts. That knocked us out every time. Because of the brokenness of the reading, we missed so much. The Great Books reward sustained concentration and punish flighty drifting. Each year when I teach Paradise Lost, I tell the students that reading this book is like weightlifting. Reading it grows you. You leave it stronger than you began, but unless you devote yourself to reading a section, book, canto, or chapter your reward is diminished. This means that these books challenge their reader to make them a priority. They grow our attention span and by this they grow us toward fuller humanity. Very few people do things just because they are difficult – and most of those people need help. Hard things should be hard for a reason. They should eventually result in happiness or the hope of happiness. The Great Books can be challenging, but they reward those who discipline both their tastes and abilities. The experience of the Great Books makes everything else better and sweeter. Every time I am watching a movie where a husband stands between his wife and evil men, my mind starts drifting off to Odysseus stringing the bow and restoring order to Ithaca. Your life is richer for reading The Odyssey. So, the discipline that reading the Great Books rewards actually makes life sweeter and better. 3. The Great Books measure us  The Great Books measure us. We need to grow up to read them. We need to do this thoughtfully and with a sense of the frame of our students, but we should celebrate with them when they become men and women who complete the Iliad or the Aeneid or Moby Dick. As they accomplish this, they become a member of a community that stretches back in time to the beginnings of this civilization. They begin to love the same words that their grandparents and great-great-great (etc.) grandparents loved. Of course, the Scriptures are at the core of this “way of viewing the world.” In them, we find the stories that encompass our lives. A number of years ago, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio was speaking at a conference and he made this point in a profound way talking about music, he said, “Tradition is something we have to live up to.” His point is mine. The great music of the past, measures us. It is not that we cannot add to it, but to add to it, we should first master it. Mastering it prepares us to find our own voice and to find that we have a voice worth heeding. The Great Books are a tradition like this. We speak best when we are disciplined enough to master the tradition. My hope is that you kept reading this post and that, hopefully, this post will encourage you to set aside some time to devote yourself to reading the Great Books. Start by doing the reading. It will stretch you and grow you, but you will find yourself stronger and wiser as you devote yourself to this worthy task. Ty Fischer's article first appeared on the Veritas Press blog and is reprinted here with permission. Veritas Press has a number of homeschooling resources built around a Great Books curriculum.  Editor's endnote What are the "Great Books"? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances. So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example: The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul Macbeth by Shakespeare Beowulf The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom The Heidelberg Catechism Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther The Epic of Gilgamesh Divine Comedy by Dante The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Animal Farm by George Orwell The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Christianity and Liberalism by John Gresham Machen Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Lord of the Flies by William Golding Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer Desiring God by John Piper Aesop’s Fables by, well, Aesop Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie City of God by Augustine Here I Stand by Roland Bainton The Prince by Machiavelli 1984 by George Orwell Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne 95 Theses by Martin Luther Knowing God by J.I. Packer The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain The Republic by Plato The Koran by Mohammad The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn The Odyssey by Homer Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe The Westminster Confession of Faith Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis John Adams by David McCullough Hamlet by Shakespeare A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Ivanhoe by Walter Scott Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The Gospel Comes With a House Key: an instructive, inspiring, downright intimidating look at Christian hospitality 

by Rosaria Butterfield 2018 / 240 pages ***** This is a scary book. I have heard of several people putting it down after only reading a chapter or two of it, feeling overwhelmed by Rosaria Butterfield’s seemingly heroic examples of daily hospitality to her numerous neighbors and friends. As Carl Trueman states in his recommendation, “She sets the bar very high - and there is plenty of room here for disagreement on some of the proposals and details.” But fear not! As Trueman goes on to say, “The basic case, that church is to be a community marked by hospitality, is powerfully presented and persuasively argued.” Think of it this way. One of your friends just memorized the entire book of Ephesians. You think that’s admirable, but it sounds like more than you can handle. Yet, there are some verses in Psalm 4 that you want to memorize because they comfort you, so this reminds you to do it already. Or maybe your cousin enthusiastically tells you he is part of a “Read the Bible in 90 Days” group that really helped him see the connections between Scripture portions and helped him improve his Bible-reading habit. But when you hear he was reading one hour each day, that sounds like more than you can do. Yet, his example encourages you to increase the amount you are currently reading. Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key is about using hospitality to spread the gospel. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself and thus spreading God’s love, peace, and salvation to the dying world that is next to you. It is about viewing where you live as the location where God placed you and figuring out how you can, as the saying goes, “bloom where you are planted.” Whose house is it? Hospitality is similar to the Greek word philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.” The hospitality Rosaria is encouraging is not about inviting your relatives and fellow church members over for coffee or soup and buns on a Sunday, or taking them a casserole at a difficult time. What Butterfield is talking about is what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality.” Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality (ROH) see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. They open doors; they seek out the underprivileged. They know that the gospel comes with a house key. They take biblical theology seriously, as well as Christian creeds and confessions and traditions…. Engaging in ROH means we provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do as well as build strong relationships from within the family of God. Cost in time and money But how can we manage this, when we are already so very busy, and finances may be tight? Rosaria gives the answer: Practicing ROH necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill – to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis. Living out radically ordinary hospitality leaves us with plenty to share because we intentionally live below our means. In other words, we may need to learn to leave some space and not to schedule every moment of every day, filling it up with things that we desire to do. Those who become parents find that life cannot follow a strict schedule, because children have a way of barfing, bruising themselves, or battling with siblings that is always unscheduled. In the same way that we scaled back our desired goals then, we ought to do it to allow for hospitality. If we truly believe that we should “be there” for others, then we may need to be open to the unusual and unexpected. On the other hand, it is possible as well to set aside a period of time each week in which you reach out to your neighbors. Rosaria and her husband started this by putting a picnic table on their front lawn on Thursday evenings and providing food for whoever wandered by and wanted to join them. This eventually grew into a well-attended and beloved activity for a lot of their neighbors, but it started with one dinner time. If you don’t have a house or a picnic table, why not try to visit a neighbor or invite a coworker to have lunch or dinner with you? As for cost, all of our money comes from the Lord – might He not want you to allocate some of it for the hospitality that He asks you to do? Rosaria writes: Daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world. Our monthly grocery bill alone reminds us that what humbles us cannot hurt us, but what puffs up our pride unwaveringly will. But what if we run into people who have different viewpoints than ours? What kind of example will that be for our children? Here is where we really need to believe that hospitality is something that God calls us to do. The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different. They don’t buy the world’s bunk about this. They know that there is a difference between acceptance and approval, and they courageously accept and respect people who think differently from them. They don’t worry that others will misinterpret their friendship. Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world. This is the Jesus paradox. And it defines those who are willing to suffer with others for the sake of gospel sharing and gospel living, those who care more for integrity than appearances…. the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear. What will I say to them? If you feel like you don't know what to say to a stranger, just remember that people always like to talk about themselves. Get to know them. Ask about their interests and try to find a common ground in gardening, cars, sports, cooking, knitting, reading, or whatever. If they have a difficulty they are enduring, offer to pray for them before you end your visit – just a simple prayer. Be friendly. This isn’t the type of evangelism where you have to lead them down the Romans Road and get them to sign on the dotted line at the end of your time together. Jesus is the one who saves. The Holy Spirit will draw some people to God, and we are just planting or watering the seeds. We may or may not get to do the harvesting. But the reason we want to be hospitable is because people need to be rescued from their sin, just as Jesus rescued us from our sin. We are living examples of what God has done, and what He can do for others. Hospitality, then, is a chance to put God’s work in us on display. Radical hospitality shines through those who are no longer enslaved by the sin that once beckoned and bound them, wrapping its allegiance around their throat, even though old sins still know their name and address. Used by God Rosaria gives a list of how she hopes and prays that her book may inspire us to: Use our home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, gym, or garden to make strangers into neighbors and neighbors into friends and friends into the family of God Build the church by living like the family of God Stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous Grow to be more like Christ in practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality Be richly blessed by the Lord as He adds to His kingdom Be an example of what it truly means to be a Christian to the watching world Have purpose, instead of casting about for our own identity, or wondering what to do with our time Conclusion Let’s not be sidelined by fear that people will hurt us or that we won’t know what to do or say. Using our home regularly to show hospitality brings glory to God, serves others, and is a way of living out the Gospel. It may seem sacrificial, but then aren’t we called to die to ourselves and live for God? So don’t be afraid to read the book. Be inspired, and pray over what God would use you to do. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Proverbs

by Jay E. Adams 1997 / 231 pages I grew up with a set of Calvin's Commentaries at my disposal for my Young People’s essays and while Calvin's thoughts were reliable and insightful, they weren't all that readable. For the longest time I thought that was just the way commentaries were – formal, and formidable. It was only when I came across Jay Adams’ “Christian Counselor’s Commentary” series that I learned otherwise. Adams is solidly Reformed, his insights reliable, and his commentary so enjoyably readable it could be used for personal devotions. The full text of Proverbs is included, which allows readers to take just the one book with them if they want to do a little study at the local coffee shop or park. This portability is a nice bonus. Adams is best known as the "father of biblical counseling." Forty-five years ago he reminded the church that looking after our spiritually weak and wounded is our job, and not simply to be off-loaded to secular psychologists and psychiatrists. Proverbs is a book of particular value to this work; it is in some ways the "owner's manual" for mankind. Adams ably shows how much wisdom – how much love – God has packed into each one of these proverbs. Help can be found here, and helpers equipped. While this is a wonderful resource for elders, and really anyone who wants a readable, reliable, Reformed commentary, it could be of particular use for fathers. I've been using this at the dinner table off and on for a few years now. We usually tackle three or four verses at a time because any more and they all just blur into each other, and the individual lessons are lost. But before I start reading, and as my kids are finishing up their last bites, I can quickly scan the commentary at the bottom of the page, and that's enough to help me lead a discussion with the kids. Adams' insights aren't long and they don't need to be – Proverbs isn't a hard book to understand – but they are insightful and have really helped me in my fatherly teaching role. This is available as a purchase in Logos Bible software, and is just newly back in print. ...

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. ...

Adult non-fiction, Children’s non-fiction, Teen non-fiction

Made in Heaven

by Ray Comfort 78 pages / 2012 This picture book isn’t a children’s book – we gave it to my mother-in-law for her birthday – but it is certainly a book children will love. Here we find 32 instances, gorgeously illustrated with full-color pictures, of where mankind has built better machines by trying to imitate (as best as we can) the wondrous design we find in God’s creation. So the fronts of trains have been shaped like Kingfisher beaks to reduce shock waves, while window wipers were inspired by blinking eyes. And Velcro came about when an engineer noticed the many burrs sticking to his dog. If the world’s smartest engineers are looking to nature to figure out how to build better machines, then isn’t that good evidence that the world around us didn’t come about by fortunate happenstance? Comfort concludes with a 3-page gospel presentation, encouraging readers to ask God for forgiveness. We might wish that he’d also encouraged readers to attend a good church, but if we’re giving this to anyone (and it could be used as a good evangelistic “tract”) then we can make that suggestion ourselves. This would also make a wonderful gift for anyone – man, woman, or child – interested in the marvelous way God has designed creatures, both big and small. ...

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.”...

Adult non-fiction

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....

Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction

Shocked by Augustine's Confessions

There are many classics I mean to read in my life, but I just haven’t yet. Fortunately this summer, while laid up with an injury, I found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked – not by any of his confessions, but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But whatever the case, this classic is engaging. FREE TO QUESTION The best thing about the first few chapters is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (such as ‘Why does a good God allow evil?’) and then immediately answer it, Augustine just begins with posing questions. Many chapters start with a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God. I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two – for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time? AN ATTRACTIVE HUMILITY The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of many of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert. It was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims. But Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the Church after him should follow…even though the Church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers. Some translations of Augustine’s "Confessions" can be easily found online and downloaded for free. But the free versions often have older language, with "Thees" and "Thous." A more current, very readable (but not free) version is Benigus O’Rourke’s translation pictured here. – JD This is not to say Augustine is completely uninterested in answers. No, in fact much of his search for God is driven by his dissatisfaction with the answers given by his pagan worldview. And finding a few answers was central in his conversion – he explores answers more and more the further you delve into his book. However, the questions never stop. In the end, he is willing to have faith without answering every question that could be asked about God. QUESTIONS ASKED IN FAITH The second really cool thing about Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to all of them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the ones they love. I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day. If someone had wanted me to read Confessions before now, they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should have said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar. And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them: “Let ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”...