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Book Reviews

200+ free e-books worth checking out

We live in an age in which so many wonderful resources are available for free. Of course, with the sheer numbers being passed along here, we haven't been able to read, let alone review all of them so, as always, be sure to use discernment. But there are certainly a good number of gems here. The books below aren't broken up by subject, but are, instead, divided into three categories based on whether you can easily download them, or whether some personal information might be required, or whether the book has to be read online. This is a list of recent books, with most published in the last decade or two. Monergism.com has a list of much older titles, with most published at a minimum of 100 years ago, and many springing right out of the Reformation 500 years past. Their list amounts to more than 500 titles and can be found here. Downloads These books are completely free and can be downloaded with minimal fuss (usually just a click and you are on your way). Almost 100 from John Piper and friends John Piper seems to have released all of his books in free pdf versions, and has tackled topics as diverse as biblical manhood and womanhood, abortion, sex, retirement, C.S. Lewis, Open Theism, racism and biographies. On occasion, some of Piper's writings are clearly directed to specifically Reformed Baptists. So, for example, in his biography of Adoniram Judson, he lauds the missionary for coming to reject infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. But for the most part his books are intended for a larger Reformed audience. But with so many available, what should you start with? His short biographies are excellent, each about 70 pages or so, and one of his most popular is Don't Waste Your Life. Oh, and while the majority of the books here are by Piper, there are many exceptions, and that's important to note, because if it isn't by him, it may not be free. 31 days of purity This is a 31-day devotional to encourage and challenge the Church in regard to sexual purity. With contributions from Tim Challies, David Murray, and Joel Beeke, there are some insightful, trustworthy folks behind this. 4 volume set of S.D. DeGraaf Promise and Deliverance series This is a wonderful set to equip parents to better explain Bible stories to their children, and it could also be read as a devotional of sorts for teens, or even adults. These have been used in Dutch Reformed circles for generations now, but were also recognized by Christianity Today as a "landmark in interpreting the simple stories of the Bible." The free pdfs below are scanned, which means they aren't searchable or highlightable, but they are certainly readable. You can download them by clicking here for: Volume 1: From Creation to the conquest of Canaan Volume 2: The failure of Israel's theocracy Volume 3: Christ's ministry and death Volume 4: Christ and the nations You can find a longer review of these books here. Social Justice: How good intentions undermine justice and the Gospel E. Calvin Beisner is probably best known as the head of the Christian stewardship group the Cornwall Alliance. But before he started speaking on the environment, he researched and wrote a lot on poverty and economics. In this booklet he outlines how good intentions are not only not enough, but often harmful. 15 by WORLD magazine's Marvin Olasky The editor of the Christian WORLD magazine has written books on Journalism and how Christians should read the news (and write it), on the history of abortion and the fight against, on a Christian perspective on compassion and the government's role in it, and even written a novel about radical Islam. There is lots to love here! Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? This is an important topic for any Christian considering the pill. Randy Alcorn's 200-page book can be downloaded for free, or, click here for a shorter overview. Abolition of Reason Jonathon Van Maren, Scott Klusendorf and other “incrementalist” pro-lifers argue against "abolitionism" or “immediatism.” Memoirs of an ordinary pastor: The life and reflections of Tom Carson Well-known Reformed Baptist pastor D.A. Carson on his unknown, faithful father. False Messages: A Guide for the Godly Bride Aileen Challies, wife of the Reformed blogger Tim Challies, has written a booklet for women on a biblical view of sexuality (it is near the bottom of the list). The Holy Spirit Kevin DeYoung with a short 30-page introduction to the Third Person of the Trinity. Scripture Alone: The Evangelical doctrine In this 40-page booklet, RC Sproul does a wonderful job of defending this key Reformed doctrine. 20+ from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church I haven't had a chance to check these out, but plan to download Ned B. Stonehouse's J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir. Download for free, but they want some information These books are free, but getting them will require you to give your email address, or create an account, or in some way provide them some information. But these aren't spammers, so you can always opt out of their email lists. 30+ booklets from RC Sproul In the last few years RC Sproul released a series of "Crucial Questions" booklets, all in the range of 40 to maybe 80 pages. That made them concise - something that could be read in an evening or two. And Sproul managed to pack a lot in these few pages while still keeping it readable. I will say, they still aren't light reads, but because of their small size, if anyone is interested in the question, then they should be able to work through Sproul's answer. I haven't read all 28 of them, but have appreciated each of the half dozen or so I've read so far. They tackle questions such as: Can I know God's will? Can I lose my salvation? What is baptism? Who is the Holy Spirit? The e-book versions are free and will be forever. Love the least (a lot) Michael Spielman is the founder of the website Abort73.com, one of the most comprehensive pro-life websites on the Internet. And his Love the Least (A Lot) is one of the most readable, most motivating, pro-life books you could ever read. God and the gay Christian: a response to Matthew Vines This is a response, by Reformed Baptist leader R. Albert Mohler Jr., to a popular book by Matthew Vines called God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Mohler has also written a short book Homosexuality and the Bible. Parenting the Internet generation This is such a helpful book! It's by Luke Gilkerson, one of the folks working at Covenant Eyes, a Christian Internet accountability company, and his goal is to help equip parents to protect and guide their children when it comes to all things online. This is a thoroughly biblical resource, and as much a parenting guide as it is an Internet guide. You can find a longer review here. Covenant Eyes has many other booklets available on the topics of sexual purity and online safety such as More than single, A parent's guide to cyber bullying, Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives, and more, that can be found here. Read online These books are free too, but are only available to be read online, usually one chapter per webpage. 30+ Creationist resources from Answers in Genesis Answers in Genesis is a creationist group with a presuppositionalist approach to apologetics, which means there is a decided Reformed influence in the group. But while all Reformed folk should be creationist, not all creationists are Reformed, so these books are not specifically Reformed. Answers in Genesis has done something curious here, in making their books available for free reading. You can't download them, but can read them, chapter by chapter, on their website. That makes things a little more troublesome, but if the book interests you, it is a minor inconvenience. The very best is In Six Days, in which 50 scientists each take a chapter to explain why they believe in creationism. Old Earth Creationism on Trial and In the Beginning Was Information are also very good. Even more great Creationist books Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Evolution, and Refuting Evolution 2 are available for online reading here. Letters to a Mormon Elder James White’s fantastic resource can be read for free online. Be a bit patient – it does seem to take a minute or two to load.

Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

How to get our boys to read

In a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Thomas Spence argues that the way some “experts” were trying to encourage boys to read was all wrong. Their strategy involved pitching boys books like Goosebumps, Sir Fartsalot, Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Psycho. If we want boys to read, so this line of thinking goes, then let’s give them the potty humor they adore. That’ll make them readers, right? It might get some reading, but what it won’t do is give them any of the benefits that come from reading good books. Thomas Spence insists that instead of “meeting [boys] where they are at” we need to aim higher, and he quotes C.S. Lewis:

“The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

If we point our sons to what’s disgusting and encourage their interest, how can we expect them to learn and appreciate what is good? How can our boys become men if, instead of training them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), we reinforce their childishness? Instead of the gross, we need to fill our shelves with what’s great. We need to give our boys examples to aspire to, in books like Encyclopedia Brown, Saint George and the Dragon, The Green Ember, The Hobbit, Journey Through the Night, and Wambu: The Chieftain's Son. Of course, it’s one thing to stock our shelves, and another to get our boys to pull books off of them. How do we get them reading? Two tips: start early, and get rid of the distractions. Read to your son from the day he's born. Sure, a newborn won’t understand what’s being read, but he will love the time sitting on mom or dad’s lap. As he gets older, he’ll enjoy board books’ for their soft chewy corners and bright colors. Then simple stories can help him learn colors and numbers and all sorts of other words. A child who never remembers a time when he hasn’t been read to won’t have to be taught to appreciate stories – by the time he hits Grade One it’ll be in his DNA. But like any habit, this one can be broken. In his article Thomas Spence cites the findings of a Dr. Robert Weis, who linked video games in the home with lower academic performance. I’m sure a similar connection could be made between TV viewing and reading ability. The fact is, no matter how good the book, it can't compete with video games and TV shows for a boy’s attention – given a choice he’s going to watch a screen rather than read. If we want to raise readers then we need to limit their access to electronic media – we need to guard them against these distractions, indulging in them only in moderation. This is going to be tough. One of the reasons we parents like TV shows and video games is they can act as effective babysitters. A boy glued to the TV, or busy trying to make it to Level 3, isn’t going to be pulling his little sister’s hair. And if he’s busy then Mom’s probably got at least 20 minutes to hop into the shower, or get breakfast ready, or put away the laundry. A lot can get done when this babysitter is helping out. Now consider that not only does the TV have to be turned off, but mom or dad needs to read to the kidlets for 15, 20, 30 minutes a day, right from babyhood onward. For a busy set of parents this might seem like just another chore to add to all the others. But here’s a bit of encouragement: it isn’t going to be forever, and it does work. A child can read on their own at 6 or 7, and while it’s wonderful to keep reading with them after that, it’s not the same sort of necessity. At that point you can switch up from being the book reader to being the book supplier, pointing them to the very best ones (and I have suggestions on some really good ones here and here). Regular reading might mean you don’t have time to tidy the house, or your lawn isn’t mowed nearly as often as it should be. But are you going to look back and regret the length of your lawn? And will your son reap a real benefit from reading with you each day through Grade One and beyond? Reading daily, for just a half dozen years or so, and you’ll have helped him develop an appreciation of good books that can benefit your son for his lifetime.

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Redeemer University

Christian education

Church, Home, and School – A Two-Legged Stool?

A popular metaphor for education in the Reformed community is the image of a triangle, a tripod, or a three-legged stool. The legs of the stool are named church, home, and school. If one of them is missing, the entire chair comes crashing down. By keeping this model in mind, we can keep three key institutions functioning properly in the community. The tripod model of education has a long history in our Reformed circles. Its proponents have used it to defend a number of principles related to Reformed education. According to the model, the institution of the Christian school is a responsibility of all members of the church, and therefore should be financed by all. Also, the model assumes that children belong in the school rather than in the home. Families that homeschool their children are not only depriving them of the school’s influence, they are also not supporting their brothers and sisters by sharing the burden of operating the Christian school. The view of education as a three-legged stool has its strengths. Communal support of Reformed education is certainly a positive thing. Also, the model does a good job describing the influences on a child’s education – children are indeed influenced by church, home, and school. (I shall leave it to other writers to debate the impact of the world in this equation.) Tripod limitations However, in my view, the triangle or tripod model of education also has its limitations. If we attempt to use the model to describe the responsibilities of various parties in a child’s education, the model breaks down. It ascribes too much importance to one leg – the school. When schools give themselves too much importance, they can be seen as institutions that have a life of their own. Educational experts, called teachers, gather the children of the congregation together. They assume responsibility for the educational wellbeing of the children in their charge. Parental involvement in education is limited to providing physical nourishment, while the school provides mental nourishment. At best, spiritual nourishment is shared between home and school; at worst, the responsibility for spiritual wellbeing shifts more and more to the school. The school board provides financial resources and takes care of the school building without getting too involved in educational matters. Attempts to involve parents in educational decision-making are easily dismissed. After all, what do parents know about education, anyway? This picture of education is far from what Scripture teaches. The famous passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which has been used to open many school society meetings, is directed squarely at the parents: “Impress them on your children....” In Psalm 78, we again see the picture of fathers telling their children the great deeds of the Lord. While we find ample mention in Scripture of the role of the church and of the home, we do not find a mention of the institution of the school. Scripture teaches that education is a parental responsibility. And with responsibility, God also gives the means to fulfill that responsibility. In Hebrews 13:21, God promises to equip us with everything that we need to do his will, which certainly includes the education of our children. This means that every parent is, in some way, an educational expert. To be sure, not all parents are equipped to the same degree for specific educational tasks. Part of being responsible is to recognize one’s own weaknesses. Because of this, parents can, and often should, use schools to help in fulfilling their task. But this does not take away from the fact that the responsibility for this education lies at the feet of each parent, not at the feet of the school – and certainly not at the feet of government. Parents come first In view of this, perhaps a bipod model would be more appropriate. The school should not be viewed as a separate entity with its own responsibilities to the children of the congregation, but as an extension of the home. In one sense, we are all homeschoolers. However, the demands of education in modern society are beyond the capabilities, energy, or time of many (if not most) parents. As a result, we bond together as a group of like-minded parents and form a society. We build a building. We hire professional teachers and administrators. We pool our financial resources. We ask for assistance from other members of the congregation who do not have school-age children. We form a school, a Christian school. This view of schooling is in direct opposition to the secular view of schools, which sees schools as agents of socialization. In public schools, children are caught in the tension of the question – to whom do the children belong: the parents or the state? Our schools recognize the fact that the answer to this question is clear – the parents! For example, the parent handbook at William of Orange School states:

According to Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, parents have the task of raising their children in the fear of the Lord … The same values that are treasured by the parents need a resounding echo in ... class (From the Garden to the City, p 26 and 27).

The idea that the school is an extension of the home has implications for our schools, a few of which I want to highlight here. 1. Parental involvement is a must First, it means that parental involvement is not only desired, it is a necessity! We cannot leave the education of our children to “the experts” behind their closed classroom doors. We need to be involved in making ourselves aware of what our children are learning, both by asking our children, but also in perhaps paying a visit to their classroom. Being involved also means giving input on what curricular direction the school must take, and helping to keep the school running smoothly by sharing our talents and time. This parental involvement also takes the form of volunteer work in the trenches – in the classrooms! A strong volunteer culture in a school is a huge blessing to the students. Teachers need to welcome and embrace such a culture. Not only can volunteers make their work easier and more effective, but they are living proof that the parents of the school take their roles seriously. In addition, volunteers have a positive effect on the students, as they see that their education is important enough for their parents to spend time at school. 2. Parent-teacher communication is a must Second, this view of the school highlights the importance of good communication between the school and the home. This communication needs to happen in both directions. Schools have an obligation to keep parents informed of what is happening in the classrooms and around the school. Parents also need to keep the communication channels open. They need to provide information about their children that will help the school make the best educational decisions for them. They need to be proactive in dealing with problems and challenges at school. They need to make their views on curricular direction known so that what is taught in the school can be a reflection of what is taught in the home. Parental schools ≠ parent-run schools However, this model does not imply that each parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the school. Our schools are parental schools, to be sure: but they are not parent-run schools. Instead, they are board-run schools. The difference is a fine one, but it means that parents delegate some of their authority to the board that they elect. As a board (not individual parents), they make decisions for the school that they believe are in the best interests of the community. Although we may not agree with every decision, there comes a time where we submit to the best judgment of our elected board. In addition, this model does not imply that homeschooling is necessarily better than community schools. Our schools allow us to pool our resources and our strengths. Especially at a high school level, few parents can match the breadth of knowledge or experience that is represented by a staff. Our schools provide opportunities for our students that they would not receive at home, such as instrumental music groups, sports teams, and volunteer opportunities. Our schools are a good way for parents to fulfill their responsibility to educate their children. A stool with two legs does not stand very easily. And it is true that if we stood on our own, as parents and church, all of our efforts would come crashing down in short order. But fortunately we do not stand on our own. It is the Lord who holds up our efforts to educate our children in his ways in an atmosphere in which they can be surrounded by his covenant people.

Kent Dykstra is principal at Credo Christian High School in Langley, BC. His article, originally titled "Church, Home, and School – A Three-Legged Stool?" first appeared in Clarion (Vol 59, No 21) and then in the January, 2014 issue of Reformed Perspective. It is reprinted here with permission. A Portuguese version is available here. 

Children’s non-fiction

Teach Them Your Way, O Lord

by Amanda DeBoer
2016 / 183 pages

What we have here is a story bible crafted by a careful, Reformed mother and teacher. I’m actually not sure about the teacher part, but if she isn’t one, she sure sounds like it – Amanda DeBoer knows how to engage little children, and she peppers the text with questions and other opportunities for the little ones to speak up and interact.

The 205 stories cover the Bible twice over, with 55 intended for 2-year-olds, and another 150 for the 3 to 4-year old set. It’s a story bible you can keep using for a good while!

I could say all sorts of good things about it – for example, there’s a colorful picture on every page, and lots of helpful suggestions for parents. But what I most appreciated about it was the care evident throughout. One example: unlike most story bibles, where Jesus is pictured as an Anglo-Saxon, here He isn’t shown at all. That a respectful acknowledgement of the second commandment. The same care is evident in getting the theology right – the author eagerly sought out feedback from ministers and others. This is, in short, engaging, and educational. It is one of the very best story bibles I’ve run across.

To order, look for it on Amazon.ca or email teachthemyourway@gmail.com.


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