Wednesday, September 28, 2016

War in the Wasteland

by Douglas Bond
273 pages / 2016

"Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don't know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God.

But Lewis isn't the book's main character, and for that I can't help but admire author Douglas Bond's patience. Lewis is most certainly the "star" of the story, but Private Nigel Hopkins serves the role of narrator, and for the first 50 pages of the book we learn about him, his dog Chips, and what his family thought of the war. It's only when Hopkins arrives at the front that he (and we) now get to meet Lewis in his role as one of the company's junior officers.

I'm not going to give too much else away, other than to say that when men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is good reason, and plenty of time, to talk about life's most important matters. Bond gives Lewis a fellow junior officer – Second Lieutenant Johnson – who won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their dialogue is imagined - this is a fictionalized account – but Bond pulls the points and counterpoints of their back and forth argument straight out of the books Lewis wrote after he turned from atheism and became one of the best known Christian apologists on the planet.

I enjoyed this book so much that after finishing it, I found it hard to pick up another – I just knew that the next book wasn't going to be nearly as good.

I'll also add that War in the Wasteland comes to a solid and satisfying conclusion, which is a neat trick, consider that Lewis's story of conversion is, at this point, very much incomplete. But Bond ties it all together wonderfully.

I'd recommend this for older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis. Bond has crafted something remarkable here.

You can buy War in the Wasteland at Amazon.con  by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

3 free and challenging pro-life books

There are a lot of pro-life pamphlets available for free online, so I could have filled this page with all sorts of suggested resources. I've limited myself to just these three because my point here isn't to clog up your Kindle, but instead to share with you the very best resources. What follows are three books that could have an immediate impact on you or someone you know.

LOVE THE LEAST (A LOT)
by Michael Spielman
166 pages / 2013

I've read quite a few pro-life books, and there are a lot of good ones to equip you to speak up for the unborn but I don't know if I've read anything that was more of a challenge and encouragement to just get at it. This is by the founder of the brilliant pro-life website Abort73.com.

Americans can get it for Kindle for free here, whereas Canadians will have to pony up 99 cents, and can find it here.

ABOLITION OF REASON: 
Pro-life apologists deconstruct "immediatist" ideology as presented in the Cunningham 
by various
86 pages / 2015

Among pro-lifers there has been an ongoing debate about how we should be fighting for the unborn legislatively. Can we approach this in a step-wise fashion, or should we be pushing for protection for all children from conception onward?

The step-wise approach involves pursuing legislation that has some chance of passing at this present time. So, for example, whereas in today's political climate there is no way we could get the unborn protected from conception, there is a chance we could get a ban passed on all partial birth abortions. But if we push for such a ban are we abandoning all the unborn children who are left unprotected? If we push for this limit on partial birth abortions aren't we saying it is fine to kill children at earlier stages and by other methods? Aren't we endorsing this evil then?

That's what some people believe, and that's why they oppose an "incremental" (or step-wise) approach to fighting abortion. These abolitionists, or "immediatists" argue that the only moral way to fight this legislatively is to seek legal protection for all the unborn – we need to push for a ban on abortion starting at conception.

I advocate for an incremental position. I believe that if it is possible that some can be saved now through legislative means, we need to save those that we can. We need to protect these some, even as we continue advocating for all unborn children. I would support a ban on partial birth abortion, but would at the same time loudly and publicly explain that my support for this limited ban isn't because I think it is alright to kill children who are younger. I would explain my support is only because this is the best that can be done now – that saving some is better than saving none. I would support a limited ban while at the same time speaking out for the humanity of the unborn from conception onward – I would ensure there was no confusion on that point.

To put it another way, I can push for a step-wise approach - an incremental approach - even as I advocate for protection of the unborn from conception onward. It isn't an either/or dilemma - I can do both.

That's the basic position of the various (and notable) incrementalists who have joined together to write Abolition of Reason. This is a one-sided perspective – everyone here is an incrementalist – and they don't pull any punches as they seek to highlight the problems with the abolitionist position. They are addressing specifically the Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) group, and its clear that some of the exchanges between AHA and them have been nasty. Some of that frustration spills over in this book too, which is why, while there is light to be found here, there is also some heat. Still, the authors are trying not to caricature their pro-life opponents – they are trying to be fair – so while this is certain to raise the blood pressure of anyone holding to an abolitionist position, I do still think it would be a helpful read. It would be a helpful read for all pro-lifers.

To download a pdf click here.

Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?
by Randy Alcorn
211 pages / 2011

The title asks an important question, and at 211 pages it offers a careful and comprehensive answer. This is a must read for any Christian couples considering the use of chemical contraceptives. Randy Alcorn is careful not to be more certain than the facts warrant, but he lays out a strong case that there is reason to believe that in some cases it might.

To download a pdf click here.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

God and Government - Biblical Principles for Today: An Introduction and Resource

by Cornelis Van Dam
330 pages / 2014

Like perhaps some of our readers, I am already involved in politics, and I know other Christians who are far more involved than I am. However, any Christian who wants to be involved in politics, or any politician who wants to understand Christians involved in politics, needs to read this book. Cornelis Van Dam makes clear the two great foundations for politics (particularly in Canada) - Christianity and humanism - and the nature of the conflict between them. Then he makes clear how Christian principles can function in a world dominated by humanistic ideals.

Christians and humanists have very different views of the origin and task of government, the relationship of church and state, and the concepts of human rights and toleration - but, as Van Dam shows from both Biblical and historical evidence, the Christian understandings of these concepts leads to both greater stability and freedom for society.

That same general form of looking at the fruit of the two worldviews leads to enlightening discussions of the differences an approach guided by the Bible could make in areas like the abortion and euthanasia debates, the issue of capital punishment, the need for traditional marriage, the balance of productive work and necessary weekly rest, the stewardship of creation, and immigration policy. By this point in my reading, my renewed commitment to see Biblical values reaffirmed in our politics had me primed for the last section - "Working for Change," which first describes the Biblical reasons for getting involved in the government of the country, and ends with a look at the many excellent organizations that are doing just that.

The study questions and bibliography at the end make this an excellent resource for starting some political activism of your own, with both insightful Biblical application and plenty of  written and online works, as well as the groups mentioned above, to help you (and me) and like-minded Christians to get going (or to keep going, only with a little better grounding in basic principles).

The only regret I have in reviewing this excellent overview of the rationale and strategies for Christian involvement in (especially Canadian) politics is that I waited too long to read it. The edition I read is from 2011, but there is now, esteemed review reader, a slightly longer updated 2014 edition available for Kindle. You can find both versions at this link here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Made in Heaven

Man's Indiscriminate Stealing of God's Amazing Design
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 of where mankind has built better machines and structure by trying to imitate (as best as we can) the wondrous design we find in God’s creation.

We learn about how the front ends of trains have been shaped like Kingfisher beaks to reduce shock waves, how intermittent window wipers were inspired by blinking eyes, and how Velcro came about when an engineer noticed just how many burrs were sticking to him and his dog.

The author wants us to consider just how amazingly intricate creation really is. If the world’s smartest engineers and scientists 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? Just consider the ant…
"Each of the 20,000 different types of ants have a nervous system that contains its multifaceted, tiny, but brilliant brain. Each one has a heart that is a long tube that pumps a special type of blood through its body, as well as an intricate muscle system that works the claws and legs.... The tiny ant screamed of the genius of Almighty God."
Comfort makes his point with fun writing and pages and pages of absolutely gorgeous pictures. He concludes with a 3-page gospel presentation, encouraging readers to ask God for forgiveness and to read the Bible regularly. We might wish that he also encouraged readers to attend a good church, but if we’re giving this to anyone (and it could be used as an amazing evangelistic “tract” of sorts) then we can always do the inviting, telling them about our church.

In addition to its potential as an outreach tool, this would make a wonderful gift for anyone – man, woman, or child – interested in the marvelous way God has designed creatures, both big and small.

You can pick up a copy a Amazon.com by clicking here.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Grace Effect

by Larry Alex Taunton
254 pages / 2011

This is the story of an adoption, and also the answer to a question. As the author details, in a late-night conversation with the late Christopher Hitchens the atheist asked, in effect, "What has Christianity done for the world lately?"

He had, earlier in the evening, conceded that it was Christian thought that had led to many of the advances that set the West apart and above the rest of the world – science, human rights, humanitarian efforts, etc., all spurred by a Christian understanding of the world. But Hitchens also thought that Ancient Greeks had given us a lot...and now we had left them behind. So why shouldn't we do the same with Christianity? It is one thing to say Christianity did something for us in the past, but is that any reason to keep it now? Hitchens wanted to know how Christianity benefits the world today.

The answer Larry Alex Taunton gave him was an 11-year-old HIV-positive Ukrainian orphan named Sasha.

The majority of the book is an account of the overseas part of the adoption process that the Tauntons went through to bring Sasha into their family. There in the former socialist republic we see evidences all around of just what is wrought when an atheistic worldview holds sway for decades and decades. Officials and even judges have to be bribed – repeatedly – to do the duties that their salaries already pay them to do. Sasha's orphanage has no toilets, only holes in the ground, little oversight, and not nearly enough food. And yet the bureaucrats there make a show of being concerned whether the Tauntons are going to give Sasha her own room, and they forbid the Tauntons from feeding the starving girl any fast food!

Every step in the adoption process takes forever because no one can be counted on to just do their job. The primary motivator for each official they meet seems to be only their own self-interest - they just don't care about the many orphans, and speak of them as if they were somehow less than human.

In contrast the Tauntons come from the Christian West. As a society we are turning our back on God, but many vestiges of Christian influence remain. One example: while we have our bureaucrats too, bribery is the exception rather than rule. And many in our social services are motivated not by their wage but by the opportunity they have to do good. That might not be consistent with their secular faith, but a sort of Judeo-Christian ethical peer pressure persists, motivating people here to act better than they otherwise might. Doubt it? Then you have only to look at how people act where Christian influence has long since seized to be. Taunton paints a scary picture.

Cautions

I will note one caution specifically for Dutch Reformed readers. "The grace effect" that Taunton speaks of in the title is the civilizing, wealth-building, human-rights-respecting impact that Christianity has wherever it flourishes. In spots he also calls this "common grace," noting that it is undeserved (thus grace) and also extends to even unbelievers (thus common, as in, common to all) in countries that have a Christian heritage.

Some Reformed Christians have a problem with the term "common grace" noting that, unless someone turns to God, this "grace" only increases the unbelievers's guilt (because even after receiving all this he's still in rebellion). And, in turn, that will increase God's wrath against persistent unbeliever. Thus they think "grace" the wrong word to use here.

Conclusion

But let's not get hung up on the terminology and instead focus on the point that Taunton is trying to make. He want atheists to wonder why society is so much better off when Christians, rather than atheists, are in charge. Could it be that our Maker knows what's best for us, and His commands are for our best? If that's so (and it is) then a society that obeys Him in big ways or small, will do better than a society that does not.

And that is exactly what we see happening in the world around us. Even an atheist such as Hitchens wanted to live in the more Christian West, rather than in the atheistic East.

Christopher Hitchens didn't know what to make of the Taunton family's decision to adopt a special-needs child. He didn't get what they would go to that trouble for someone they didn't know, and to whom they had no obligations. Taunton's point was simple. This is just what Christians do, because this is what Christ has done for us. When we seek to be Christ-like, then the world around us benefits too.

So what has Christianity done for the world lately? Taunton says the contrast can be see at its clearest in how the West and East treat widows, orphans, the disabled and sick, and all of society's weakest and most vulnerable. This is a very engaging, and easy read. And at just over 200 pages, it is a pretty quick one too. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys non-fiction, apologetics, economics, or human interest stories. I think it would interest them all!

 To buy a copy of The Grace Effect at Amazon.com click here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How Should Christians Approach Origins?

by John Byl and Tom Goss
42 pages / 2015

Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. In this booklet it is evident that the authors put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate. In just 42 pages they gave an overview of:
  • the difference between historical and operation science
  • why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma
  • why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles
  • the basics of materialism and naturalism
  • what the various origins positions are
  • why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution
  • how dating methods can be unreliable
  • what books would be good for further reading
And that isn’t even all of it!

This would be an ideal book to give to any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. The small size means this is only an overview but you won’t find any better. And for those that want to continue on, the Resource pages in the back are a fantastic place to start. It lists two dozen of the best books on the various aspects of the origins debate. You can pick up a copy (or two or three – these would make a great give away) at Amazon.com.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spectacular Sins - and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ

And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ
by John Piper
121 pages / 2008

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the chief end of man "is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever," John Piper demonstrates that the glory of God (or, more specifically, of Christ) is the chief end of everything - even of evil.

Piper begins by telling us that sometimes "the bruised heart needs a tire iron" – more confrontation than comfort. In a time when the persecution of the church is beginning also in the West, His people need to hear more about God's sovereignty than His tenderness, because, as Piper puts it,  "wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians." To do that, Piper takes us through the most spectacular sins of history - not the Holocaust, not the fall of the World Trade Towers, but the sins of God's followers against Him. The word "spectacular" in the title is no mere accident. Piper demonstrate how each of these sins is a lens through which we see Christ's greatness all the more clearly.

The first sin is the rebellion of Satan. Though the Bible never explains why and how Satan fell, Scripture does make clear that even evil supernatural powers were created through and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). Clearly, He did not make them evil, but He created beings who He knew would rebel against Him (just as we do) - so... why? Paul makes that clear to Timothy, an early example of at least a potential wimpy Christian. Paul reminds Timothy that God "saved us and called us to a holy calling... because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (see 2 Timothy 1:8-12). It was within God's plan to use the evil intentions and actions of both demons and humans to make His grace available to His people.

Piper looks further at how God uses sin for His eternal purposes in looking at the sin of Adam, the pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph, the sinful origin of the Son of David, and the most horrific and spectacular sin of all, the crucifixion of the Son of God (especially the betrayal by His own disciple). In all these sins, God shows both His eternal foreknowledge of man's evil and His sovereign power to glorify His Son as the only Savior from sin. Every situation of great sin in the Bible (and in human history in general) only makes the glory of Christ shine that much greater.

Knowing that even our sins, and the sins of those who oppress us, are no surprise to God, but serve His purpose to glorify our Savior,
  • takes us from a wimpy worldview to a weighty one;
  • enhances our delight in the work of God; and
  • moves us to a life of confident service to a God who is both tender and sovereign ("able and willing").
You can buy a paperback copy of John Piper's Spectacular Sins at Amazon.com by clicking here or you can download a pdf copy for free by visiting here (see the download button on the left).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Undeniable

How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed
by Douglas Axe
274 pages / 2016

There's no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but books that blow it up are more rare. But even among these second sort, Douglas Axe's Undeniable is special – he wants us to understand that evolution is not only wrong, but hopelessly inadequate.

His is a hard book to sum up. There's a reason Axe presents his argument over 274 pages – he needs that space to address and answer the many objections critics have raised up against the idea of an Intelligent Designer. So maybe the best way to sum it up is to share with you some key quotes.

On intuition

Let's begin with what Axe means when he says we intuitively disbelief the evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:
"By elementary-school age, children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists." 
But it isn't just children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:
"Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature."
Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent.

Why is that? It's because it's hard not to see how well made creation is. It's hard to avoid the reality that all these creatures we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete.  When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – "five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease" – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, "some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are." An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art.

This intuition is available to all. As he's says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:
"The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years."
On why evolution is a non-starter

There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:
"Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest."
It's no different today:
"[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik's] own diagnosis...is admirably frank: 'Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.'" 
As Axe puts it,
"What's left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn't explain how things originate?"
On what evolution lacks

Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can't get innovation even on this tiny scale - enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?
"The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did."
Evolution isn't living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:
"Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind 'We never said he could dunk a basketball...or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.'"
Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme's efficiency. But it can't make anything new. As Axe puts it, "As a finder of inventions, Darwin's evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but...it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler."

So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:
"Invention can't happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how....What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident." 
On why there is no reason to think evolution can do wonders

Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can't begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the "more advanced products of human technology" with one of Creation's simplest creatures.
"Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection."
This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world's most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 "needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table," its living rival "does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size."
"The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls." 
Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man's more impressive accomplishments.

So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn't compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection. This is ridiculous!

Evolutionists point to time as their theory's saviour - inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years?

But this is only another example of why a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, "Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge." So even if we grant time and countless trials we still know inventiveness - especially on the scale of living things! - isn't going to happen. Inventions aren't created by accident.
"The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump...may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself."
Conclusion

This is one of those pivotal books that's going to get people riled up and talking for years to come. Douglas Axe wants us to understand that not only is evolution not true, it is so obviously so that even a child can see through it. Axe is a Christian, which comes out clearly in the conclusion to the book. He is not a creationist, but rather an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent, but unlike most in the ID community, he isn't hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book. And while he is not a creationist, creationists can embrace the whole of his book. His argument is that biology blows up evolution, and he simply doesn't touch on the biblical stance on our origins.

Axe has set out to show that believing in creation by a brilliant Creator is a matter of common sense. And because he's trying to reach the non-scientist there are only a few places where the science requires some tough slogging. But once I got through them the rest of the book was an easy and thrilling read. Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how mainstream science might ridicule those who don't believe in evolution, we are on solid scientific ground.

You can pick up a copy of Undeniable at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

What's Darwin got to do with it?

A friendly conversation about Evolution
by Robert C. Newman & John L. Wiester
146 pages / 2000

A graphic novel about evolution vs. intelligent design? Now that's got my attention!

The plot here revolves around an upcoming forum put on by Professor Teller, a Darwinist who believes evolution is a "Fact! Fact! Fact!" Of course forums involve speakers from two different sides, so Intelligent Design proponent Professor Questor steps in to offer up another perspective.

One of the first points Professor Questor makes is how important it is to define terms in this debate. Evolution is often defined simply as "change over time" and if that was all there was to it, even creationists would agree that evolution happens. (After all, we believe that all the dog species – the vast array of them – came from just a couple or so types on Noah's Ark. We certainly believe change can happen over time!) The actual debate is over the limits and direction of this change over time, so when we debate evolution, the disagreement is over whether molecules can, over millions of years, evolve into Man.

But in defining her terms, Professor Questor also makes it clear she is not a creationist. She doesn't attack creationists, but in distancing herself from them, it does leave the impression that creationism isn't quite as...legitimate as Intelligent Design. But that's a minor quibble in a wonderful book.

Other issues and topics the two professors discuss include:
  • Is there room in science for any supernatural explanations? And if we rule out supernatural explanations at the start, then is it any wonder we don't find evidence for God in our scientific explanations?
  • Are Peppered Moths, a "proof" of evolution?
  • Are the changing beak sizes of "Darwin's finches" really evidence for evolution?
  • Why do so many creatures have similar (homologous) body structures if we aren't all descended from a common ancestor?  
  • What is the real role of mutation? Can it do all that evolutionists say it does?
  • Is "bad" design evidence of evolution? (And is it actually bad?)
This might seem like the discussion could get quite dry and dusty, but the authors bring in all sorts of analogies and illustrations to keep things hopping. For example, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes make a couple of appearances, and mutation and natural selection are personified as two superheroes (with less than effective superpowers) Mutaman and Selecta. And there's lots more!

The result is a very fun book which is also highly educational. It would be a great resource for any high school science class to go through because it touches on a lot of the big issues, and it does so with wit and impressive clarity - pictures are used here to boil down pretty complex concepts into only a few pages or a few panels. And for any comic-loving teen, this would make a wonderful present, expanding and stretching them, without overly taxing them.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

They say we are infidels

On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East
by Mindy Belz
2016 / 307 pages

This is a book ripped right out of the headlines. If you want to understand what's going on in the Middle East right now then this is a great book to start with.

Mindy Belz is a reporter for the Christian (and leaning in a Reformed direction) news magazine WORLD, and she has visited the Middle East repeatedly over the last dozen some years. This is an account of those many trips, and the stories of the Christians she met, and how their lives were impacted by the US invasion of Iraq. It wasn't just Iraqi Christians that were impacted. Belz outlines how all of the Middle East was, and continues to be, impacted by the US activities in the area.

For example, after taking out Saddam in 2003, the US made the decision to also fire anyone with Ba'athist ties. The Ba'ath Party was Saddam's political party, so this seemed to make sense. The problem was, being a member of the Ba'ath party was a basic requirement for most important positions. So in this one move the US basically required that anyone and everyone involved in the former political infrastructure of the country be booted out. So all the military personal, the policemen, mayors, etc....all gone. And with them went the country's stability. Policing the entire country was a task beyond the US's ability. They had to restrict themselves to instead securing certain areas. But those outside those areas were left to fend for themselves.

The US also, in taking down Saddam, replaced a dictatorship that, while certainly not friendly to Christians, at least offered some limited protection to them. Belz shows how, after the invasion, Iraq's Christians were hopeful, and making all sorts of plans. But it soon became clear that their situation was worse than it had been under Saddam. The country adopted an officially Islamic constitution, and Christians outside of the areas where the US reigned were faced with increasingly hostile persecution. Church leaders started getting murdered. Church buildings were blown up.

And then ISIS came and it all got so much worse.

The point of Belz' book is not to try to blame the US for all of the Middle East's problems. The villains are the Islamic terrorists like ISIS and their many supporters and sympathizers.

But it does become apparent, in reading one accounts after another, that for Iraq's Christians, the US invasion did not lead to any improvements for them. They continue to flee the country in droves, and whereas there was once a small Jewish company in Iraq, they may well be all gone now.

This is an eye-opening book by a Christian author who is certainly not anti-American. But her account show that George Bush's aim of spreading democracy across the Middle East was and is a naive one. Democracy can only flourish when a country cares enough about protecting its minorities that the majority will even offer up their own lives to protect the persecuted. That is not happening in the Middle East, or at least, not in the numbers needed.

I should add that Belz also addresses what is happening in Syria and surrounding countries too. Iraq is the main focus, but not the only one.

While this is an incredibly eye-opening story, I did find it took effort to work through – this is no light read. But if you want to know what our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East are having to put up with, then your should grab a copy of They say we are infidels. You can pick one up at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Unashamed

by Lecrae Moore
212 pages / 2016

Though you can't judge a book by its cover, some books definitely have the kind of "curb appeal" that makes them worth investigating. Unashamed is one of those books. Eric Metaxas, Andy Crouch, and Nancy Pearcey, the authors of some pretty acclaimed Christian non-fiction themselves, laud Lecrae's work (both his music and his memoir) for its beauty and its boldness.

Of course, that's all marketing – sincere, no doubt, but still marketing. What really pops out at you from the back cover is the pull-quote from the book: "If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection" – an insight Lecrae has spent most of his 30+ years learning.

Like most of us, Lecrae spent (and still spends, like most of us) much of his life craving acceptance. Several kinds of heartbreak molded that ultimately vain quest into the shape it has taken in his life. First, while he was still very young, he and his mother were abandoned by his abusive father. Second, he was also abused verbally and physically by the other adult males in his extended family. Finally, he was sexually abused by his babysitter.

All these factors meant that not only was Lecrae desperately seeking others' approval, but he was finding it in dangerous and damaging ways. Being involved in the gangsta lifestyle gave him male approval, but from exactly the wrong kind of leader and role model, as well as giving him easy access to drugs that he used to dull the trauma of an abused childhood. Womanizing meant that he could recreate the distorted connection between power and pleasure that his earlier sexual abuse had hard-wired into his brain.

Even after Lecrae became a Christian, he still sought to earn acceptance, this time from God. He became a legalist, frantically trying to make up for the sin in his life with service to God, even seeking persecution by shoving the gospel in people's faces without real love for or relationship with them. Of course, legalism leads to hypocrisy, and Lecrae's life soon became dualistic, living with one foot in the world and one foot on the way out of the kingdom of God. As he puts it, "I saw my connection with God as a contractual relationship, rather than a covenantal relationship." His contrast of the two is, at first, a little iffy: "All contracts have terms, but covenants don't. They last forever." It would be more accurate to say that covenants, unlike contracts, are all-encompassing, demanding total commitment; however, his last statement regarding the contrast is a good way to counteract the danger of covenantal arrogance that both ancient Israel and modern Christians (especially Reformed Christians?) fall prey to: "In a covenantal relationship, you're only concerned with loving the other party as much as you can."

By God's grace, Lecrae began to finally understand that grace, and his hip-hop music paralleled his life in his transition from contractual legalism (leading to preachy condemnation) to understanding and response to God's covenantal love in Christ – reflected in honest, unashamed admission of his own sins and weaknesses. This outreach to both Christians and non-Christians was also prompted by his reading of Francis Schaeffer and Andy Crouch, who call Christians to do more than merely condemn, critique, consume, or copy culture - but instead to begin creating culture.

While creating music that reaches out to a fallen world and working with others in the music business whose artistry does not stem from a love for Christ, Lecrae faces the challenges of what 1 John 2:16 calls "the desires of the flesh" (lust and sex), "the desires of the eyes" (love of luxury), and "the pride of life" (the desire for people's acceptance). His revelation of these dangers in his life, and how he copes with them, is a good reminder that we need to worry more about worldly culture – advertising, social media, movies, music – than about worldly people. You can't minister to culture; you can only resist or conform – but you can minister to people. When your interaction with the people of the world around you is truly ministry motivated by your response to the gospel of salvation, then, Lecrae makes clear, like the apostle Paul, you have nothing to be ashamed of: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

If you believe that Lecrae's book can give you a good glimpse of what it means, personally and culturally, for Christians to be Unashamed - you can get it here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

i am n

Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists
by the Voice of the Martyrs
293 pages / 2016

This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone."

So I started reading out of a feeling of duty.

However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down.

Encouragement

It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the  Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind.
"I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare.
With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game.

There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing.
"During the final evening of [a bible] conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists.
Challenging

Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord.

In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'"

Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers.
"Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'" 
This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord.

Awe-inducing

Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't?

They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough!

Cautions

When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would ever do. But we know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines.

At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings.

Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic.

Conclusion

I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10.

The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44).

I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.