Friday, December 2, 2016

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great

by Jessie Hartland 
2015 / 216 pages

What makes a something a really good read?

Sometimes it's the writing – some writers can turn anything into a page-turner. Sometimes it's the subject – newspaper accounts often lack artistry, but the facts themselves grab and keep our interest.

And sometimes it comes down to the purpose of the piece. I've reviewed novels that didn't cut it as entertainment, but that was okay, because their main purpose was education. And this packaging of education as fiction made learning much more enjoyable than this same material would have been, had it been in textbook form. So for learners, these novels would be really good reads.

Now Steve Jobs: Insanely Great as a graphic novel biography is only middling. But if read to a different end, well, this is an absolutely fascinating account the tech industry's development from 1960s through the 2000s.

As a biography

I picked this up because I am a bit of an Apple fan based solely on the fact that my two Mac desktops both lasted twice as long as any of the five PCs that preceded them. I appreciate quality. And that had me curious about the man who started it all – surely there must be lots to learn from a man who turned his home-based business into one of the biggest companies on the planet!

But as it turns out, in Jobs' life there are more examples of what not to do than examples worth imitating. He was a genius, undeniably, but genius is something you either have or don't. He was driven, and I think most of us could benefit from being a little more driven, but not like Jobs. He abandoned his young daughter for a time because she got in the way of his pursuits. So yes, he was self-absorbed, and also impatient; he smoked pot, and invented and sold a device which stole from the phone company. I'm not trying to say Jobs was some sort of horrible person. It's only that I generally read biographies for examples who will challenge and encourage me. And this is not one of those sort of biographies.

As a tech industry history

For a generation that grew up with the Internet, and smartphones, and Netflix, it might be hard to imagine a world with computers. But when Jobs was a born, personal computers hadn't yet been invented, and business computers were the size of buildings even though their computing power wouldn't match today's most basic calculator. In this account of Jobs' life we also get an insider's look at the development of the personal computer, and all the technology that spawned. As we go from decade to decade, author Jessie Hartland occasionally interrupts the story to provide a two-page spread on the technology of that time. For the 1960s, it was the record player, transistor radios, rotary phones and black and white TVs with no remote controls! And what a leap we see, in just a decade – in the 1970s there are color TVs, now with remote controls, and the first video game consoles have been invented. Invention after invention, we see it all progressing forward to our modern day.

You might have to be a bit of a geek to like this, but that's all it would take – just a smidge of nerdy DNA – for anyone to enjoy this as a history of the tech industry.

Cautions

There is passing mention made of Jobs interest in Zen mysticism, and as noted earlier, it shares that Jobs also smoked pot. So this is not one for young readers. But the style of the pictures, and the large amount of text means they wouldn’t pick this up anyway.

Graphic novels are often a great means to grab reluctant readers, but I will note this is not that sort of graphic novel. It is much more book than comic, with a lots of text, and the illustrations, while helpful, are not the eye-catching, action-packed sort of visuals that will draw the casual reader in.

Conclusion

So who would love Steve Jobs: Insanely Great? I’d recommend this to older teens and adults who have an interest in computers and technology. For them, this will be really fun, informative, and readable. I know I enjoyed it immensely.

Support our efforts. If you use our links to Amazon.ca or Amazon.com to buy this or any other book, they'll send us a dime or two at no cost to you.

RELATED REVIEWS: other graphic novel histories


Monday, November 28, 2016

The Sweet Taste of Providence

74 Devotional Episodes from History
by Christine Farenhorst
2016 / 296 pages

Seventy-four!

When Christine Farenhorst comes out with a new collection of short stories, the big question I have is, how many can I look forward to? And in The Sweet Taste of Providence she has given us an impressive 74.

These short stories are packaged as 4-5 page devotionals. They take no more than 5 minutes to read out loud, and end with a couple of questions for discussion. That makes this a great book to read with your kids, maybe 8 and up, before bed…or a little earlier, because this might get them discussing and dissecting right when you want them calming down. The short story length could also make this a good, ahem, “bathroom reader.”

What we see in this book is Christine's love of history, and the lessons that can be learned by looking backward. The slices of history she shares are most often bits most of us will never have run across before, so there is always something fun to learn. But she is after more than just fun. Since it can be easier to see God's hand in things when we’re looking at what's happened than when we’re looking around in the present (yes, God will turn even today’s evil to our good – Romans 8:28) these stories are maybe first and foremost a wonderful dose of encouragement – our God continues to uphold His people!

But The Sweet Taste of Providence is also just a fun read. It's meant to be read to children, but mom and dad will enjoy reading it too. Pick up a copy at Amazon.com through this link, they'll send us a tip at no cost to you.

In the interests of full disclosure I should note I've known Christine Farenthorst for years, (though I've not had the chance to meet her in person). She writes for Reformed Perspective and has been doing so from even before I started there as editor 17 years ago. 

RELATED REVIEWS: Christine's other short story collections

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hippopotamister

by John Patrick Green
88 pages / 2016

This would be a great book for any reluctant reader in grades 1 or 2. For some children good comics can be a gateway to reading in much the same way that pictures books are for others.

Hippopotamister isn't strictly a comic or a picture book – it is as much the one as the other – but regardless, it sure is fun. Hippo and Red Panda live in the City Zoo, which is falling down around them. Not only are the gates and habitats falling apart, the lion's mane "wasn't very regal" and "the walrus's smile wasn't very bright."

So Red Panda decides to leave the zoo and get a job among the humans. And every now and again he comes back to the zoo to tell Hippo that "Life outside the zoo is great!"

An observant child is going to notice that while Red Panda is always enthused, he's also always holding a different job whenever he reports back. It turns out, as we learn when Hippo finally decides to join him on the outside, that Red Panda is great at lining up new jobs, but not so great at holding on to them. So every day it's a new job and a new hat, and a new and funny way for Red Panda to mess up and get himself and Hippo fired once again.

Hippo, though, turns out to be quite skilled at all sorts of jobs, and after trying on all sorts of hats, realizes that he might be just what his failing zoo is looking for. Maybe he can run it!

The story concludes happily, bringing Red Panda back home, too, with a job that suits his own unique talents.

Caution

The only possible caution I can think of is that at one point Red Panda, instead of catching fish, ends up with a topless mermaid, with arms strategically crossed (see the picture). This is the only picture that is even mildly risqué.

Conclusion

Hippopotamister is a sweet funny story that any child in the early grades will enjoy, and it might be just the thing for a reluctant reader.

Buy "Hippopotamister" using this link and Amazon.com will send a tip our way at no cost to you.

Related reviews: other picture book/ comic book crossovers great for reluctant readers

Monday, November 14, 2016

Saint George and the Dragon

by Edmund Spenser,
adapted by Sandol Stoddard Warburg,
with illustrations by Pauline Baynes

134 pages / 1963

More than three years ago, my brother reviewed a beautiful picture book version of the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (even though I read it to my kids first!). We agree that it is a great way to introduce kids to the grit and glory of resisting "this present darkness" (Ephesians 6:12); however, as Jon mentioned, "Saint George and the Dragon" is actually part of a much longer story, The Faerie Queene, an epic poem by Edmund Spenser. Any younger reader who has been introduced to George's exploits through the picture book may want to know more, and that's what this adaptation provides.

Spenser's The Fairie Queene is actually a poem of six books, and Saint George's quest to defeat the dragon fills only the first one. Each book has twelve sections called cantos (several hundred lines each in the original), and Sandol Stoddard Warburg has made each canto a chapter of her version.

The picture book focuses on the fight with the dragon, but Stoddard's adaptation is closer to a campaign than a single battle. In George's travels with the princess Una (who represents the one true united church), she is impersonated by a false princess (really a witch named Duessa, representing false doctrine and the false church), who becomes George's companion. Even though he is deceived by her, he's still smart enough to fight against evil in the person of such revealingly named knights as Sans Foi (faithless), Sans Joi (joyless), and San Loi (Lawless). He is almost trapped in the House of Pride, but also gains the help of Prince Arthur (before he becomes the legendary king). Exactly how he is reunited finally with the real princess, and the evil sorcerer Archimago meets his fate - all before the climactic battle with the dragon - is what makes this retelling so intriguing.

The people and places named in Warburg's fuller version of the famous tale more clearly shows the allegorical nature of Spenser's poem. Spenser's story thus demonstrates the obstacles that the Christian encounters in life, so it's a great way to start conversations about the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" that influence life here in earthly places.

There is one difference between Warburg's version and the picture book that seemingly works in favour of Trina Schart Hyman's version: Hyman's illustrations are definitely more intricate. Nonetheless, the artist for this version will bring back memories of favorite editions of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Pauline Baynes illustrated some of Tolkien's stories, as well as the whole Chronicles of Narnia. Her artwork here, in red ink, particularly the miniatures framing the covers, echoes the marginal illustrations of medieval manuscripts. As well as being a great read-aloud, this is a definite book-lover's treasure.

If you want your own step up into the world of the Faerie Queene, one that adults can enjoy on their own, as well as sharing with children, you can get a copy here.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

No Christian Silence on Science

SCIENCE FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
by Margaret Helder
2016 / 110 pages

From the title onward, No Christian Silence on Science is a clarion call to Bible-believing, six-day creation upholding Christians to stand up and be counted. It's much more than that too. The author, Margaret Helder, has written for Creation Science Dialogue and Reformed Perspective (the magazine I edit) for years, and if you've read her there, then you know Dr. Helder approaches God and His creation with awe, and teaches us how to tackle evolution without fear. This book is very much an outgrowth of that work.

This, then, is intended to equip us, so we will be able to give a ready defense of our faith, and fortify us, so we will continue to trust in God, even when we face that attacks that will come in this predominantly Darwinist and secular field. 

That's a big task to tackle in a book that's just 110 pages. That's why, while this is a great book, it is no light read - there is a lot packed in here. In the five sections Dr. Helder addresses: 
  1. Science from a Christian Perspective
  2. How Design in Nature reveals God's Character and Work
  3. Christian vs. Darwinian Ethics
  4. The Christian Student: Meeting the Challenge of Secular Institutions
  5. Impact of Evolution Thought on Church and Society
My favorites were the last two. They are worth the price of the book all on their own, and if I was giving this to a university student I'd tell them to head to Chapter 4 first, to hear Dr. Helder's advice on how to interact with evolutionary-minded professors. At one points she gives an example of a find that seems to prove evolution, and she then shows how a Christian student could respond. She suggests students be ready to ask questions, and starting with the 5 Ws is always a good idea (in Science, and journalism too!). A question-asking student will often find that this new, exciting, revolutionary find, is being really over-hyped.

That's not to say creationists have all the answers. As Dr. Helder notes, in the early and mid 1900s Christians holding to a six-day creation had little supporting scientific evidence available to them, so it was only because they were so confident in the trustworthiness of the Bible that they weren't swayed by evolution. Today many problems with evolution can be pointed to, but there will still be occasions where a challenge to the biblical explanation is presented that we cannot answer. And perhaps we won't be able to answer it for several decades. But we, too, should hold to the Bible, because it is trustworthy.

Who should read No Christian Silence? This will be of interest to anyone, but for the young high school graduate heading into the Sciences this is a must. If they were to read it before heading to their first university science class, and really work through it slowly and thoughtfully, they would be well-prepared. There are other books they should read too, but this is a very good place to start because Dr. Helder covers all the key controversies, and gives good solid direction on how to meet and deal with the opposition.

No Christian Silence on Science is us available through the Creation Science Association of Alberta website or can be had by sending a $20 check ($14 for the book and $6 for shipping) made out to the CSAA, at 5328 Calgary Trial, Suite 1136, Edmonton AB  T6H 4J8. If you buy ten copies or more you can get them for $9 each, and the whole batch sent for just $6 shipping.

Related reviews: Other brief "overview" books on the origins debate



Monday, November 7, 2016

Lest we forget... it wasn't just Hitler

We raise our children to be obedient and to respect those in authority. But we must also teach them that God is a higher authority, and that even if it was their own mommy and daddy telling them to do something contrary to what God demands, then they would need to say no.

We need to teach them that a time may well come (doesn't it seem inevitable?) that their country, their boss, their co-workers, union, friends and maybe even their parents, may ask of them something that the only proper response will be "No, I cannot do that, because that is contrary to what God has said."

In his book Hitler, God, and the Bible the author notes that while Hitler was the leader, it was because he had so many willing followers that the was able to perpetuate the evil he did so effectively. As Ray Comfort explains,
Almost every part of Germany's bureaucracy had a hand in the killing process. Churches and the Interior Ministry produced the necessary birth records identifying those who were Jewish. The Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish wealth and property. The Postal Service delivered the notices of deportation and denaturalization. The Transportation Department arranged for trains to transfer Jews to concentration camps. Even the private sector cooperated in the efforts. Businesses fired Jewish workers. Pharmaceutical firms tested drugs on camp prisoners. Companies bid for contracts to build the crematoria. Universities fired Jewish professors and expelled Jewish students. It seems that the whole country unified to make the procedure work like a well-oiled machine.
So one of the lessons we must never forget is that it is no excuse to say "I was just following orders" when you know those orders are evil.

Friday, October 28, 2016

When Lightning Struck!

The Story of Martin Luther 
by Danika Cooley
2015 / 231 pages

This is a treat!

October 31, 2017 will mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg and I can't think of a better way to learn about the man and his impact than grabbing a copy of Danika Cooley's When Lighting Struck!

The target audience is teens, but like any fantastic book, adults are sure to enjoy it too. In fact, this is the perfect book for any adults who feel like they should know more about church history, but are reluctant to get started. That's how I'd characterize myself. As a student I hated history - learning dates and names seemed pointless. Now I understand it is important to know where we came from, so I want to know more....but I have no interest in learning it from a dry, dusty tome.

That's why this was such a treat. The author has taken Luther's life, and turned it into a novel. That means parts of this are fictionalized, including lots of the day-to-day dialogue, but the key events are all true. And it didn't take much to make Luther's life exciting: as doubt-filled as he was early on, the Reformer was even more bombastic after he understood the importance that forgiveness is a gift given, not earned. This is a man who:
  • was condemned by the pope as a heretic 
  • had 200 knights pledge to protect him
  • didn't want to marry lest he quickly leave his wife a widow
  • was kidnapped
  • masqueraded as a knight
  • helped formulate the German language
  • cared for Plague victims
  • ended up marrying a nun
And it would be easy to go on and on.

Put the story of such a man into the hands of a talented writer and what you're left with is a book anyone will just tear through.

There's some real history here.

While it's fictionalized, one strength of the book is in the genuine quotes that are interspersed throughout (these are identifiable by the endnote numbers after such quotes). One example: in a debate at Lepzig University, Johann Eck hits Luther with a stinging question:
"Are you the only one who knows anything? With the exception of you, is all the church in error?"
It stings because Luther, plagued by self-doubt, has been wondering this very same thing. But Luther also knows that God's truth doesn't depend on Luther being brilliant. Nope - God can spread his truth using even the dumbest of beasts, as Luther notes in his reply:
"I answer that God once spoke through the mouth of a donkey."
Warts and all

Another strength is how the book reveals the whole man, warts and all. Cooley largely skips over Luther's love of scatalogical insults (this is a book intended for younger readers, after all) but is clear about how Luther's anger stung not only the pope, but allies as well. Luther believed:
"It is precisely because of my outbursts that the Lord has used me! I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened."
There is a time and place for anger, and God made good use of Luther's righteous anger. But later, as Luther aged, it seems he came to indulge in anger, and that got him and others into trouble. Cooley shares how Luther's anger cost him friends. And in his anger he wrote a tract condemning the Jews, who were already facing persecution. He also encouraged princes and rulers to violently put down a peasant rebellion. So he used his influence for great good, but his anger meant that at times his influence also caused great harm.

Conclusion

When Lighning Struck! would make a great present to just about any reader, particularly if they have even the slightest interest in church history.

I'd even recommend this teens who have the same bad attitude towards history that I once did. For them, this might be a bit of a gamble, but if you can get your son or daughter to promise to read through the first 60 pages, that should have them hooked.

Buy When Lighting Stuck! using this link and Amazon.com will send a tip our way at no cost to you.

Related reviews: Other fictionalized biographies on the Reformers

The children's novel on John Wycliffe: Morning Star of the Reformation
A teen/adult novel about John Calvin: The Betrayal
A teen/adult novel about John Knox: The Thunder

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dark Horse

This is the cover of the book Dark Horseby Ralph Reed
Howard Books
2008 / 448 pages

During the 1992 US presidential election the Republican incumbent was bogged down by a broken promise (“Read my lips, no new taxes”) and the Democratic candidate was bogged down by his inability to keep his pants zipped up. Into the void stepped Ross Perot, with his folksy charm, and his billions, and suddenly the unthinkable seemed not so unthinkable – could an independent candidate win the presidency? 

The answer turned out to be no. Perot mysteriously suspended his campaign for several weeks and lost all momentum before he resumed, and ending up finishing third.

But where Perot failed, could someone else succeed? Ralph Reed explores the possibilities in his political thriller Dark Horse.

Governor Bob Long never wanted to run as an independent – he wanted the Democratic nomination that now belongs to his rival, the ultra-liberal Senator Stanley. But then Stanley’s campaign became bogged down over an FBI investigation, and the Republicans decided to nominate a moderate who had no time or patience for the GOP’s conservative wing. With the Republican and Democrats both competing for the liberal vote and unconcerned with courting conservatives, there’s an opportunity for just the right sort of independent candidate. Into the void steps long-time liberal, but newlyminted Christian, Bob Long. To win the Christian vote he needs to convince them he’s a changed man, but can he win the Religious Right over without losing the liberal Left?

If you already know that Dark Horse author Ralph Reed was, in his former life, the head of the Christian Coalition (once the largest Christian lobby group in America) this is probably a novel you’ll love. If you aren’t fascinated by politics, but do like reading about how someone’s love for God will impact their everyday decisions, this could also be a book for you too. But if you hate politics, hate even thinking about it, and don’t want to learn anything about it… well, then you of all people have to read this book! Politics may be nasty, complicated and even boring at times, but it’s also necessary, so we all need to know at least a bit about it. And Ralph Reed’s Dark Horse is certainly a fun way to learn the basics and beyond.

You can support this site by buying Dark Horse (or anything else) at Amazon.com through this link. It won't cost you anything, but sends a dime or two our way.

Related reviews

Lee Strobel's debut political thriller The Ambition

Monday, October 24, 2016

Luther

by Rich Melheim
illustrated by Jonathan Koelsch
2016 / 72 pages

I've reviewed other "comic biographies" and never enjoyed one more. Luther is scripted like a movie, has witty dialogue with actions scene interspersed, and the artwork is of the same sort you would find in Marvel or DC comics – it is fantastic!

Educational comics, as a genre, are valuable in that they make learning history a lot less painful. But very few of these graphic novels are the sort of comic that a teen would just pick up and start reading. Luther is the exception. I don't want to over-hype it – a kid who reads nothing but superhero comics will still find this a bit of a stretch – but it really is as good a comic as you will find.

Cautions

Since this is intended for teens, I'll note a few cautions about language. The word "crap" is mentioned three times, "ass" once, and "old fart" once. But when you consider this is a comic about the notoriously potty-mouthed Luther, this is really quite tame.

I'll also note that a depiction of Christ shows up on the inside back cover of the book. It is not part of the story, but rather part of an ad for other comics by the same publisher.

Teens should be told that while the general storyline follows real events quite closely, specific details are often made up. For example, while we know Katharina von Bora was a self-assured woman, it seems doubtful that she popped the question to Martin Luther. Also much of the dialogue is made-up. Some of it is made up of quotes or near quotes from what Luther did actually say. But since most of Luther's day-to-day conversations were not recorded, these parts had to be made up.

One final caution: the comic treats as fact that famous, but unconfirmed, conclusion to Martin Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms, where he is said to have declared, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." There is good reason to doubt he said these words.

Conclusion

The comic has several strengths including the overall picture it gives of the happenings going on in the broader world that made it possible for Luther to both spark this Reformation and live into old age and die a natural death.

Another strength is that while this account is sympathetic, it notes (briefly) one of Luther's weaknesses: that sometimes Luther's pen got the best of him and he could write some "terrible and hateful words" denouncing Jews, Calvinists, and Anabaptists alike.

Overall this is a comic that teens and adults (who aren't embarrassed to be seen reading a comic) will certainly enjoy.

I've reviewed another graphic novel on Luther's life, and I think the two of them perfectly compliment each other. This Luther is the more exciting of the two, but it plays a little looser with the details. Meanwhile Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is a more reliable history lesson, but it isn't nearly as dramatic.

If you buy Luther (or anything else) at Amazon.com you can support this site at no extra cost to yourself by heading there via this link.

Other reviews related to Martin Luther

Another solid comic about his life Luther: Echoes of the Hammer
A comic about his wife Katie: Mother of the Reformation
The 1953 Oscar-nominated film Martin Luther
The short biography The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther
The children's picture book about Luther teaching The Barber Who Wanted to Pray


Friday, October 21, 2016

Katie Luther: the Graphic Novel

Mother of the Reformation
by Susan K. Leigh
illustrated by Dave Hill
95 pages / 2016

My daughter recently asked, "Why aren't there more girl heroes? Why are the heroes always boys?"

I explained that some of the heroes we read about are soldiers - generals and others – and that these are all boys because boys are bigger and stronger, so they make better soldiers.

But that conversation also set me off in search of good examples of heroic women. And one very good example is Katharina Luther.

An "ordinary" hero?

This graphic novel biography is a sequel of sorts. In 2011 comic the same author and illustrator came out with Luther: Echoes of the Hammer. This sequel is slightly smaller, but every bit as good.

Of course, not everyone will be impressed. I showed it to a friend and flipped through the page to share highlights from Katie Luther's life and he suggested that running a household was just something that women back then did. So, hardly amazing or exceptional.

There's something to that.

On the one hand Katharina was extraordinary: as a nun she read Martin Luther's writings, even though that would have been a risky thing to do. Then, at the risk of grave punishment, she planned an escape from her convent. The first attempt was found out, and she was punished. But she tried again, and got out under cover of night, hidden away with 11 other nuns in empty barrels – she had conviction and courage!

As the comic makes clear, she was also a remarkably capable woman – Luther's household was often very large, with 30 or more students, and as many as 11 children under their care (some of whom were nieces and nephews), plus many others, eating at the table. It was quite a feat to run this all, which was more restaurant and hotel than house.

On the other hand, in many ways what Katharina did is what women have done through the ages: she was an able helpmeet, supporting her husband in his role, even as she took care of the children and managed the house. This supportive role is ordinary in the sense that many wives do this every day, but that hardly makes it unimportant. Supportive roles don't get the same recognition that leadership positions do, but they are every bit as vital.

So this is a book I'm going to share with my daughter in the hopes that Katie Luther will inspire and encourage her in whatever role - whether ordinary or extraordinary - God sets before her.

Conclusion

At 95 pages, this is a comic that takes some time to get through, so it is not a casual, quick read. The artwork is just as the cover depicts - solid, colorful, and full of detail. There's also a lot of information packed in here, so anyone, whether teen or older, who wants to learn about Katharina Luther will enjoy it. That's why this would also be a good resource for schools.

However, this is not a comic most students will pick up on their own. But if it were given as an assigned reading, the graphic novel format does make this pain-free reading for almost any student. It's a far easier read than any book, and more educational than many.

Related reviews


Friday, October 14, 2016

Skeptics Answered

A better book for Christians than for Skeptics?
by D. James Kennedy
203 pages / 1997

D. James Kennedy's Skeptics Answered is a really good way to answer some of the questions that skeptics raise for Christians, but it may not equip Christians so well to answer the skeptics themselves. Why the difference? The reason has to do with Kennedy's stress on evidence and optimism about the possibility of "honest" skepticism.

The book begins with Kennedy's insistence that "Skeptics Are Welcome" (the title of Chapter 1). Kennedy does clarify that it is God who makes a skeptic honest, by quoting 2 Timothy 2:24-26, in which Paul reassured Timothy about his opponents, "that God may perhaps grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth." However, Kennedy often quotes people who claim to have done impartial and unbiased investigation of the truth about Christianity.

A good beginning

Kennedy begins his investigation well by starting with the Bible, stressing the reliability of the word against skeptics' attacks. God Himself tells Israel that fulfilled prophecy is a crucial way to know if a prophet is speaking in the the name of the LORD (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). The Bible includes hundreds of prophecies fulfilled both by world events and, especially, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first part of the book concludes with a look at the use (and misuse) of logic in spiritual matters.

The effective middle part of the book deals with the existence of God and of Jesus Christ in history, the divine identity of Jesus, and (in perhaps the most intriguing chapter) the testimony of even unbelievers to the greatness of Christ. The first chapter of the last part of the book gives a positive answer to the question "Is Jesus the Only Way?" by showing the many ways in which Christianity is unique.

Evidential rather than Presuppositional Apologetics

Less effective, both Biblically speaking and in the opinion of some of the skeptical reviewers on amazon.com, is Kennedy's discussion of the problem of how a good God can allow evil and pain to exist. The problem is that on this issue - God's character rather than some abstract issue of a hypothetical God's existence - skeptics are decidedly not honest, impartial, or unbiased. Nor should we expect them to be. Without the work of the Spirit, "no one seeks for God.... There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:9-18).

This is where Kennedy's evidential apologetics wears thin. Evidential apologetics seeks to prove the truth of the Bible by bringing up supporting facts for "honest" skeptics. It can be useful to clear away stumbling blocks for spiritually weak Christians or non-Christians in whom the Spirit is already working.

For your average argumentative skeptic, presuppositional apologetics is more appropriate - exposing the assumptions that even atheists share with Christians. All people implicitly know that God exists and that His law applies to all of us, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1 and 2 - even if, by nature, we also all reject or deny His existence or rule. It is entirely fair, then, to ask critics of God's existence or goodness how they know what existence and goodness are.

The final chapter of the last part also shows the weakness of evidential apologetics - "Is There Life after Death?" Kennedy's marshaling of near-death experiences from history is undermined by the (correct) warning that such experiences must be judged by Scriptural criteria. This, of course, makes no sense if the purpose of such testimonies is to reinforce the Scriptures. The Bible does not need such reinforcement, nor will it be effective. As Christ warned in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, "'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead'" (Luke 16:31).

One final note from the skeptics on amazon.com: Some felt that Kennedy's tone was condescending toward non-Christians, and his presentation may indeed be lacking at times in "gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:14-16), which may diminish its usefulness as a tool for witnessing to unbelievers.

Encouragement for Christians

In spite of the weaknesses described above, the "back of the book" ends strongly with a presentation of the "Good News" in the Epilogue, as well as a Study Guide for each chapter. Kennedy's book may or may not help you answer skeptics, but it still provides answers (for yourself or other believers) for some of the most common questions that skeptics raise in Christians' minds, and you can get Skeptics Answered here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic

by Jennifer Trafton
340 pages / 2011

Mount Majestic is a fun romp, with all sorts of inventive ingredients:
  • A girl who wants to be a hero but is saddled with the last name "Smudge" 
  • Piles of poison-tongued jumping turtles 
  • A castle built on top of a mountain that rises and falls once each day. 
  • trees that not only walk, but sometimes run
  • A tyrant twelve-year-old pepper-hording king  
  • A terrible, life-changing, island-threatening 1,000 year old secret
Books with good girl heroes are hard to find. When the hero is a girl, most often she is decidedly boyish (or at the very least tomboyish): armor-wearing, sword-swinging, that sort of thing. But Persimmony Smudge is a different sort. She dreams of battles, yes, but when it comes down to it, it’s her brain and her bravery, and not her battle skills, that save the day.

I suspect the author is Christian, simply because I know that many of her author friends are Christian. There is, however, no mention made of God, with the only “supernatural” elements being a Lyre-That-Never-Lies, which sings out a prophetic poem now and then, and clay pots that give the recipient whatever it is they need (and not merely what they might want).  When the topic comes up about who it is that puts the gifts in the pots, and puts “words of truth into the strings of a Lyre” the only answer we get is, “I have no idea.” So Mount Majestic is simply a fun read, one without any spiritual depth – that dimension is left entirely unexplored.

I’ve heard that some girls as young as Grade 2 have enjoyed this, but at 300+ pages, I would think this either a book for mom and dad to read to the kids (maybe then as early as Grade 1) or maybe something better suited to Grade 3 and up.

Boys should like it too, though I do know, as a boy, I had a bias against “girl books” (I never read a Nancy Drew, but devoured everything in the Hardy Boys’ series).

You can order it at Amazon.com by clicking here.