Thursday, June 25, 2020

In Grandma's Attic

by Arleta Richardson
144 pages / 1974

When Arleta was a little girl she would visit her grandma, where she’d play up in the attic. There Arleta would find old treasures that she’d bring to her grandma, who would share stories about them, and about when she was young.

The first story is about how Mabel (Grandma) and her friend Sarah-Jane got into trouble with hoop skirts. They wanted to wear the wiry hoops to make all their friends jealous of them, but they were not old enough yet. Then Sarah Jane finds out that her cousin, who can wear hoop skirts, has two old ones that she is going to give up.  Sarah-Jane’s mom says that they can wear them for play, but Sarah-Jane thinks it is a good opportunity to make a big entrance at church. And that Mabel can wear one of the hoop skirts too!

The one thing that they don’t know is how to sit down with hoops. When they walk down the aisle and sit in the front seat, the hoopskirts spring up, which made their dresses fling up onto their faces! That is super funny! This was embarrassing for the girls but they also learned a lesson, how pride can go before the fall.

All of the stories are funny and also teach the reader the lessons that the mischievous girls gained while growing up. This book is great for readers who are comfortable with reading chapter books. And if you like these stories there are three more books in the series.

– Sophia Dykstra

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy

by Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton
298 pages / 1994

I have reviewed another book in the Turning Points Christian Worldview series:  Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature. The series ended in the 1990s, but it has held up well since then. The book I am reviewing was the second-last book in the series. Because it surveys a broad swath of the history of science, Pearcey and Thaxton's analyis is still relevant.

Pearcey and Thaxton begin by demonstrating that far from being opposed by religion, has been founded on, especially, the Christian faith in the orderliness and rationality of the universe being guaranteed by the orderly, rational work of its Creator. The next chapter summarizes various approaches to the history of science - either judging early scientists by modern standards or recognizing their accomplishments in comparison to the knowledge and commonly held concepts they had in their own time.

Looking at "The First Scientific Revolution," Pearcey and Thaxton first show how various schools of philosophy would form the basis for later scientific endeavor - following the Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, and mechanistic. They stress that even classic Newtonian physics, which seems to treat the world as a vast clockwork, was not purely mechanistic. In the same way, biology was gripped by the tension between "romantic" biologists (inspired by neo-Platonism), and descriptive biology (inspired by Aristotles emphasis on function and purpose). Darwin later imposed a mechanistic frame of reference on biology in his rejection of purpose for life's functions.

Pearcey and Thaxton's discussion of mathematics discloses just how important the belief in the orderliness of creation was in inspiring the pursuit of mathematical knowledge, but how the lack of confidence in that orderliness (because of the rejection of God as the one who created that order) has led to a loss of confidence in mathematics in general. Along the way, they look at such fascinating concepts as non-Euclidean geometry, Godel's paradox, set theory, and exactly what truth means in mathematics.

Finally, the two authors' look at "The Second Scientific Revolution" looks at the mind-boggling insights and paradoxes of relativity, quantum physics, and the information revolution that links chemistry and biology. The last one is the most important, as it makes clear how God shows his presence in the ordered and irreducible complexity of life and its information content.
It is important to recognize that Pearcey and Thaxton are surveying the various religious foundations of science, not specifically justifying the Christian understanding of creation. Nor does the basis of our Christian faith, Jesus Christ Himself, form a part of their discussion; however, there is an extensive list of resources at the end for those who wish to pursue the subject further. For a more specifically Biblical look at science, check this review of The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, and Meaning.

If you would like to explore The Soul of Science, you can find it here, and here in Canada.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Prince Martin wins his sword









by Brandon Hale
52 pages / 2018

At bedtime, my dad reads a lot of books to us – me and my two sisters. One night he read a rhyming book called Prince Martin Wins His Sword, and we all liked it. Prince Martin is a boy who wants to prove to his father the king that he is brave, loyal, and true. So he decides to explore the unknown forest, and while he was there he found four evil hogs who were bullying a baby deer. And there was a dog there too, protecting the fawn. And the dog was a knight, named Sir Ray! Prince Martin was scared, but then he dove right in, fighting side by side with Sir Ray.

The rhymes in the book are like this:
Should he help or go home, the boy had to decide.
And just how much help, could a mere kid provide?
It has lots of good pictures, but even without the pictures, the book is super good (I didn’t see the pictures the first time because I was in bed). Also, my little six-year-old sister doesn’t really like tension, and while this one was scary it wasn’t too scary.

I think this would be great for kids ages five through ten.

– Sophia Dykstra

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living

by John White
1976 / 230 pages

We have already reviewed other books by John White, both fiction and non-fiction. This is another great non-fiction look at what it means to live the Christian life, which means to fight the good fight.

In White's fantasy series, the Archives of Anthropos, the protagonists fight evil in a world somewhat like Narnia. The Fight shows the spiritual fight that Christians must engage in, if they want to be faithful followers of their commander Jesus Christ.

White begins by showing how radically our allegiance has changed from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Christ. The next nine chapters deal with the impact of that change in the following areas:
  • "Prayer" as the expression of our relationship with God;
  • Bible study as our way to hear God speaking to us;
  • how "Being a Signpost" points others to our Savior;
  • what it means that the devil is now our enemy;
  • how we grow in "Faith" by responding to God;
  • our "Changed Relationships" with others;
  • the way to know God's "Guidance";
  • how we can progressively reflect more of God's "Holiness"; and
  • our "Deliverance from Drudgery" in our daily work.
White ends by encouraging us to fight against the devil, the world, our own flesh, and our fear of death. Two things make this a particularly helpful book. The first is that as a practicing psychologist, White reminds us not to confuse our natural emotions and desires or false guilt with genuine progress or setbacks in our relationship with God - and then directs us, through Scripture, to the truth about our spiritual fight. The second is that most of the chapters end with a study of Scripture that make a good focus for intensely practical devotions.

The only caution I might give is that, in a couple places, White may sound Arminian; however, when that happens,  he demonstrates within a few pages, that God is the one who enables us to get into the battle. If you think that John White can help you in The Fight, you can get his book here, and here in Canada.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Hunger Winter












by Rob Currie
2020 / 236 pages

Author Rob Currie drops his readers right into the action in the opening scene, with an anxious neighbor furiously banging on the front door to tell 13-year-old Dirk Ingelse that the Nazis have his older sister. And they'll be coming for him next! It's November 11, 1944, and while the Allies have started liberating the Netherlands, the Ingelse farmstead near Oosterbeek, is still under German control. What makes it even more difficult for Dirk is that he has no one to turn to. His mother had suddenly passed away not too long before, and his father is in hiding, working for the Resistance.  That's left just him and his older sister Els to take care of their six-year-old sister Anna. Now Els has been arrested, and Dirk has to run. But where to? That's when he remembers his Tante Cora less than a half day's walking away.

The book is, in a sense, one big chase with Dirk doing his best to keep his sister safe, finding brief moments of calm, and then having to run again. Dirk shows himself to be a clever boy, and daring even despite his fears, as he finds hidings spots, and escape opportunities, and even figures out how best to fight the Nazis who are after them. As we follow along with Dirk and Anna, we also get occasional peaks into how Els is doing, facing her Gestapo interrogators.

In another way, this is all about Dirk trying to live up to the example his father set for him. He has a good dad who invested in him by spending time with him, so even though Dirk doesn't have his dad around right when he most needs him, the teen is constantly hearing his dad's advice come back to him whenever he needs to make another decision.

CAUTION

There are no cautions to list, but maybe I'll note one disappointment: for a book by a Christian author, and put out by a Christian publisher, I would have expected God to be more than a minor character. Even as the importance of prayer is mentioned with some regularity, God Himself is not. Maybe the author is trying to portray a journey in Dirk's relationship with God, going from nominally Christian at the beginning – he doesn't pray, except at his little sister's insistence – to something at least a little deeper at the end. But God's near-absence is odd, especially considering this is a book about people in life and death circumstances.

CONCLUSION

That said, this is an intriguing, entertaining, and fast-paced story, with the whole book taking place over just three weeks. And while there are some tense moments, it all gets tied up nice and neatly, making this a great book for ages 10 to maybe 14. The Netherlands setting will appeal to the many RP readers who have a Dutch background, and the time period – the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45, when Allies hadn't yet liberated all the Dutch, and the Germans weren't bothering to feed them – is one that teens may not have read too much about before. So there's a lot of reasons this is a very interesting read.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
















A graphic narrative of a slave's journey from bondage to freedom
by David F. Walker 
Illustrated by Damon Smyth 
2018 / 173 pages

Frederick Douglass lived his first 20 years as a slave, then spent the next 25 speaking against the evils of slavery. After the American Civil War and the emancipation of American slaves, he spent his last 30 years fighting the bigotry that still lingered. And in his final decade, defying all social expectations of the time, he married a white woman, Helen Pitts.

While a graphic novel biography can't do this complicated figure full justice – the man himself wrote three separate autobiographies in the attempt – the size of this one, and the evident research backing it make for a very good introduction to its subject. As we follow his life, from plantation to town, to escape to the North, we get to meet along with him key figure in the American battle to end slavery. He knew Harriet Tubman, the lady who repeatedly ventured to the South to bring slaves to freedom in the North. John Brown hid at his house after the white abolitionist's unsuccessful attempt to start the Civil War some six years before it eventually began. Douglass was both an opponent and then an ally to Lincoln, due to largely Lincoln's vacillating opposition to slavery. Later he became a friend and then an enemy of women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, the change of relationship due this time to a compromise by Douglass when he decided to support black's voting rights even when they no longer came as a package deal with women's voting rights.

This is quite the story, and it is well told.

CAUTIONS

Its important readers understand that some of what's depicted is deduction, and not clearly established fact. But a read of the introduction will help readers tell what's what.

A word of warning is due for at least a couple uses of the "n-word" in the book, though with the topic matter, that is as you might expect.

There is also some partial nudity. None of it sexual, and it could even be described as modestly done: one scene is a black woman being whipped, naked from the waist up, but her front is either away from view, or hid in the shadows. There are also three completely naked slaves shown, but all are hunched over, in a seated, almost fetal position with arms wrapped around their knees so no genitals are shown, though the top of one's buttocks is.

The overarching concern would be the brutality. There is no gratuitous violence - but there is violence.

Finally, while we get to hear Douglass debate with himself about how slavery should be fought, and whether violence was warranted or not, and whether it was right to compromise on the women's vote, we aren't offered any other perspective. So readers will have to apply their own biblical lens to this for themselves.

Altogether that would make this a book for older teens maybe 14 and up.

CONCLUSION

The target audience for this book, teens, aren't always fans of history books, perhaps because they've been exposed to too many of the wrong sort, texts that make it all about dates and names. What a joy it is, then, to discover a page-turning biography like this. The Frederick Douglass we meet here, while not exhaustively explored, is fleshed out, and consequently memorable. We've now met him, and won't forget him.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did

by Randy Newman
2004 / 269 pages

If you have read Greg Koukl's book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, you will appreciate an earlier book that covers much of the same ground. Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did deals more explicitly with developing relationships based on sensitive questions - and answers both wise and compassionate to the questions of non-Christians both genuine and obstructive.

Newman starts by justifying the use of questions in evangelism, by appealing both to the example of Jesus Himself and to the guidance of Proverbs. His use of Proverbs is one of the strengths of the book in Part 2.

Part 2 deals with "What Questions Are People Asking?" - questions like
  • why Christians are (seemingly) so intolerant, homophobic, or hypocritical;
  • why to worship a God who allows evil;
  • why the Bible is reliable; and
  • what's so great about marriage.
What makes Newman's discussion of these issues so valuable is that he distinguishes between the responses of the one who genuinely want to understand and the one whom Proverbs calls the fool.

Part 3 is the most penetrating: "Why Aren't Questions and Answers Enough?" Newman deals with roadblocks to our evangelism: our lack of compassion, our anger, or our compulsion to speak when silence is necessary (for instance, when dealing with people's pain - or their foolish arrogance).

Finally, the Epilogue reminds us that our personal relationships with non-Christians is the most significant factors in our witness to them, and a Study Guide pulls it all together.

The major caution I would give involves some of the references Newman makes - at least in my edition - to other authors or groups that are either not orthodox (Brian Maclaren) or as credible as they once were (Exodus Ministries); however, Newman's points don't depend on their support. I have not read the introduction by Lee Strobel (it was not in my edition), but the value of Strobel's support is weakened by his tacit acceptance of theistic evolution. As well, some of Newman's evangelistic questions in Part 3 may or may not be acceptable within a Reformed understanding of evangelism.

On the whole, though, Newman offers much food for thought, and much room for self-examination in an area of our Christian life that I certainly know I need to work more with. If you want to read about how to engage hearts the way Jesus did, you can find Randy Newman's book here, and here in Canada.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel

by George Orwell (and Odyr) 
2019 / 172 pages

For those that don’t know the original, Orwell wrote his allegory in World War II to highlight the dangers of creeping totalitarianism. Instead of a country, his setting is that of a farm, and instead of an oppressive government, things are run by Mr. Jones, who treats Manor Farm’s “citizens” – the pigs, horses, sheep, chickens, and more – like they were animals!

One night, Old Major, a pig respected by all, tells the others of his vision of a better world in which Man is overthrown and all the animals are free to benefit from their own labor. Two legs are the enemy, and all on four legs, or with wings, are treated as equal.

The animals embrace his vision, and when the old pig dies peacefully in his sleep, three younger pigs take it upon themselves to develop and expand on Old Major’s vision. They craft “Animalism” and appoint themselves as leaders of the movement. When the animals rebel against Farmer Jones, they successively drive him off and take over the farm.

The story that follows has clear parallels to that of the 1917 Russian Revolution, that began with noble-sounding aims – freedom from oppression, equality of all – but which quickly evolved into simply another form of totalitarianism. The animals find that, though they are free of the farmer, they aren’t free of having to follow orders. The pigs have them working harder than before, and they are fed no better. Their swine leaders are soon living in the farmer’s house and eating well. But they deserve it, right? After all, they need to be properly provided for, so they can provide direction! It soon becomes evident that while “all animals are equal…some animals are more equal than others.”

CAUTIONS

Because this is a graphic novel, there are a few pages of violent content depicted. But Odyr’s is a thick-line, smudged-pastel style, leaving the gory details mostly a blur. So while these pictures might be a bit much for a child, they are nothing that would disturb a teen.

The only other caution I’ll offer concerns the lesson being learned. Orwell was no Christian, so even as he makes a case against the godless tyranny of totalitarian rulers the world over, he isn’t able to offer a better alternative…so it is fortunate he doesn’t even propose one. However, that means Christian readers will have to do that work for themselves. We can agree with Orwell about the problem: that man has a bent for tyranny and that larger the government the more they can insert themselves into our lives (1 Samuel 8:10-22). But we also know there is a proper, though limited, role for government, specifically to punish evil (Romans 13:1-7).

CONCLUSION

This is a brilliant adaptation of Orwell’s classic work, with a mix of colorful and also stark images that will grab any reader’s attention. Odyr has made Animal Farm accessible to age groups and casual readers that might otherwise never read it.

While I highly recommend this as a gift for teens, it would be a waste to hand it off to your son or daughter and then leave it at that. Unless an adult helps them understand that message behind the story, they aren’t likely to see the real-world application, and will completely miss Orwell’s warning about the dangers of big governments of all sorts.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, & Meaning

by John Byl
317 pages / 2004

The unfinished Tower of Babel on the front cover demonstrates the ultimate fate of our age's main attempt to challenge God's sovereignty over matter, mind, math and meaning. John Byl how materialistic naturalism seeks to establish a basis for human life apart from God, and demonstrates how it fails in the four key areas mentioned in the book's subtitle.

While I will outline Byl's argument below, what makes his work so compelling is how he sets up a debate between the proponents of naturalism and God Himself. Byl opens each chapter with quotations from famous naturalist thinkers counterpointed by quotations from God's word, the Bible. The rest of each chapter demonstrates how that debate has played out in naturalist thought and Christian understanding.

First Byl outlines the basics of a sound worldview, and then looks more specifically at the history and essential beliefs of naturalism. The next five chapters show how those beliefs impact naturalists' understanding of matter, mind, and math. After considering the failure of naturalism to find meaning in those three areas, Byl introduces the basic beliefs of the Christian worldview, and demonstrates how the Christian worldview brings meaning to the understanding of matter, mind, and math.

Finally, Byl concludes that because the Christian worldview, unlike the naturalist hypothesis, fits our natural, commonsense view of the world (matter), our own selves (mind), and our belief in infinity (math), it is uniquely able to withstand the onslaught of the chaos of post-modernism and paganism.

If you want to learn more about God's challenge to the secular quest to live life without Him, you can find John Byl's book here, and here in Canada.



Friday, February 21, 2020

Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle
373 pages / 2019

If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on.

It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. 

Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help.

But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy.

But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum.

The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so.

CAUTION

The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least ten.

CONCLUSION

But for kids over ten, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Mission Statements: Two Books about What God's People Have to Offer the World

The Human Right:
To Know Jesus and to Make Him Known
by Rice Broocks
293 pages / 2018

What Is the Mission of the Church?
Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom,
and the Great Commission
by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
283 pages / 2011

****

Is focusing on rights wrong? These two books explore whether the task of the church is to right wrongs, and secure rights; or whether instead, we must first of all witness to the right understanding of our need for Christ's righeousness before the face of God.

Rice Broocks's The Human Right contends that the most important human right is "the right to know Jesus Christ and to make Him known." There is a great deal of wisdom and inspiration in his affirmation of the necessity and power of the gospel to anchor and promote human rights. Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World covers similar territory by showing that the Bible changed Western civilization by showing the value of every human being as created in the image of God.

The problem with Broock's approach is not the foundation of his argument, but its direction. He moves from the desire for social justice in our world to the fact that such justice is best satisfied by the revelation God gives us in the Bible, to our own need for reconciliation with God in Christ through His satisfaction of the requirements of God's justice. Along the way, Broocks covers some compelling territory – the gospel as public truth, the reality of spiritual life, the authority of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, and the necessity to speak the gospel (not just "live" it) – but he ends, rather than begins, with the ministry of reconciliation and its fruit in the lives of believers.

DeYoung and Gilbert's book makes more clear the Biblical, rather than pragmatic, foundation for a missional approach to the gospel that begins with proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. They carry this out by:
  • defining the word mission in relation to the church;
  • outlining the Biblical narrative of God's work in redeeming his lost people;
  • clarifying the relationship of Christ's redemptive rule, social justice, and the Biblical concept of shalom to the task of the church;
  • describing the right motivations for doing good works, both as individuals and as churches; and
  • affirming the necessity of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
DeYoung and Gilbert end with advice for the young, motivated, and missional that demonstrates how passionate pastors should approach their congregations.

All in all, What Is the Mission of the Church points the way toward a Christian passion for, first, the saving work of Christ, and, as a result, the love of the world over which Christ has established His reign.

If you want to explore Rice Broocks' contention that the human right is to know Jesus and to make him known, you can find his book here in the US, and here in Canada. If you want to know how to make sense of social justice, shalom, and the Great Commission, you can find the book by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert here in the US, and here in Canada.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Winter King

by Christine Cohen
351 pages / 2019

15-year-old Cora lives in a time of horses, and swords, and meat pies. It's also a time of poverty, and bitter winters, and threadbare clothing, and not enough food to make it through to Spring. To make things even worse, ever since Cora’s father was killed, the village has treated her and her family as if they are cursed, and as if that curse is contagious.

But no matter, Cora is resourceful, and she’ll do just about anything to ensure her family lives through the winter. But how does a young girl stand up, by her lonesome, to the village god, the tyrannical Winter King, who is taking their food?

I didn’t know quite what to think of this book in the early stages. While the village other villagers were religious, Cora was not. And she was the hero. So how was this a Christian book, then, if the god in the story seemed to be the bad guy? Well, as Douglas Wilson noted in his own review, this is a very Protestant book in that Cora rejects a false religion in favor of the true one. She rejects the false representation of the Winter King that the village’s religious authorities maintain. But then she uncovers a book that tells a very different story about this King, presenting instead, a God who loves.

CAUTIONS 

Cora is bitter and sometimes manipulative, and so driven to keep her family fed that she does stuff that she should not. There's good reason for her desperation – death is reaching for her whole family – but that it is understandable makes it tricky ground for the younger reader to tread. This is not a heroine in a white hat, and for the pre-teen, or even younger teen reader, used to simpler morality tales, they might not have the discernment skills yet to be able to cheer on a hero whose actions are not always praiseworthy.

I feel like I'm making Cora sound darker than she is. There is surely darkness in her – but there is also a darkness around her that she is fighting, futilely at first. But then hope comes.

CONCLUSION

From the cover to even the way the pages are laid out, this is a gorgeous book, with a deep and satisfying story. I'd recommend it for 15 and up, but I know adults will find this has real depth to it that they'll enjoy exploring.