Wednesday, July 28, 2021

God's Big Book of Animals

edited by Shirley Rash
248 pages / 2019

Did you know that baby elephants drink three gallons of milk each day? Or that “woodcock” means “roosters of the forest” And did you know female great white sharks are actually larger than the males? 

God's Big Book of Animals is GIGANTIC - it's bigger than any other book I've read. It is filled with amazing information about intricate animals – like the great white shark! – all created by God. Each of the 60 animals are given 4, bright, beautiful pages full of descriptions, fun facts and pictures. Plus each animal has their own 14 x 10 inch full-page photo. 

More fun fact examples include: 
  • “Turtles do not have teeth. They have strong, jagged jaws that help them take bites.” 
  • “Komodo dragons are also called monitor lizards.” 
  • “Elephant… trunks are heavy, and can weigh over 300 pounds! 
  • “A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope of butterflies, a swarm of butterflies, or a rabble of butterflies.” 
  • “Baby octopuses can hatch in different colors. They can be orange, red, yellow, or different shades of blue.” 
I think kids 7 and up would love this! But even kids younger would like the many pictures inside. 

– Sophia Dykstra

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Last Disciple

by Sigmund Brouwer and Hank Hanegraaff
2004 / 428 pages

It’s the year 65 AD, and Gallus Sergius Vitas is one of the last principled men in Rome. He’s also a confidant of Emperor Nero which means his daily life is conducted on a knife’s edge: indulging the emperor’s perverse demands might keep Vitas safe but would compromise the man that he is; yet to openly oppose the emperor would lead to his immediate introduction to the Coliseum’s lions.

Our story beings with Vitas attempting this balancing act once again. Nero has dressed as a beast, his outfit comprised of lion and bear skins, complete with collar and a chain held by a servant. His night’s entertainment is to terrorize a group of prisoners while playing the part of a beast. Enjoying their fear, the emperor quickly works himself into a killing frenzy. Vitas sees this all from the shadows and can’t let it happen, knowing, though, that to oppose the emperor is to die. So Vistas yells at the chain-holding servant instead: “If the emperor knows you are involved in illegal torture, he will have you destroyed!” It is, as Brouwer writes:

“an all-or-nothing bluff, pretending that he did not know Nero was inside the costume. Trusting that Nero would be too ashamed to admit it. Now. Or later.”

Vitas’ bluff works, but not just because of his daring. An earthquake sends Nero scurrying away, convinced that the shaking ground is a sign of divine judgment.

It’s a great opening, highlighting the depth’s of the emperor’s perversity, the heights of Vitas’ courage, and the certain presence of God even in these pagans’ lives. In less talented hands, the earthquake’s unlikely timing could have come off as cheesy, since in real life God more often uses “ordinary means” (like doctors’ talents or wise friends’ advice) than miracles to accomplish His ends. But miracles do occur, and Brouwer makes it believable. It’s a good thing too, as this is but the first miracle in a story that’s all about how God used miraculous means – the prophetic words in the book of Revelation – to warn his Church to flee the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

What Brouwer and his writing partner, theologian Hank Hanegraaff, have done here is write an alternative to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ popular Left Behind series. Where Left Behind places the beast of Revelation 13 in our near future, Brouwer and Hanegraaff place him in the first century, in the near future of those who first received John’s letter. And they identify the beast as Nero and the bloody empire he led. This “partial preterist” (partial past) interpretation of Revelation holds that the book was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the city’s fall is a partial fulfillment of much of the prophecy in Revelation.

This, then, is fiction meant to teach as well and entertain, and it does both brilliantly. Brouwer has crafted a story that takes us all around the Mediterranean, with Jews, Romans, and even troubled Christians wrestling with the question of “Who is Jesus?” There’s also political plotting, assassination attempts, sieges, gladiators, and just a touch of romance.

The slowest bits are when theologian Hanegraaff has characters take a page or two to teach Vitas and others what a particular passage in Revelation means. If you’re reading it only for the story, these sections might drag, but they are well spaced out. And if you’re interested in learning about the partial preterist interpretation of Revelation, these will be your favorite passages.

Cautions

One caution: Nero’s depravity, though described with restraint, still means this is not a book for younger teens.

If The Last Disciple series has you eager to read more of Sigmund Brouwer’s work, be aware that he is a proponent of theistic evolution, and also an Arminian. That doesn’t come up in this series (or his best book, Innocent Heroes, a treat for kids, teens, and parents alike) but it does come up in some others.

Finally, readers should be aware that partial preterism probably isn’t the majority view in Canadian Reformed churches (though I’m not sure what the majority view might be, as Revelation seems to be only rarely discussed). Some do hold it though, and it's also held by Reformed pastors outside our circles such as RC Sproul, Douglas Wilson, and Jay Adams.

Conclusion

The Last Disciple is a great book, kicking off a great series. The cast of characters is large, so if you’re like me, make sure you get the whole trilogy – The Last Disciple, The Last Sacrifice and The Last Temple – right away, because if you wait too long between books, you may start forgetting who is who.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction – Sigmund Brouwer has got skills. And if you’d love to have partial preterism explained, well, this is the most entertaining way you could ever learn about it!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Bark of the Bog Owl

by Jonathan Rogers
2014 / 248 pages 

Our hero, Aidan Errolson, is a medium-sized twelve-year-old with dreams that are far bigger. When we join his story he’s just putting the finishing touches on a letter: 

My Dearest King – 

You will be glad to learn that I am still available for any quest, adventure, or dangerous mission for which you might need a champion or knight-errant. I specialize in dragon-slaying but would be happy to fight pirates or invading barbarians if circumstances require. I would even be willing to rescue a fair maiden imprisoned by evil relatives. That would not be my first choice, since I am not of marrying age. Still, in peaceful and prosperous times like these, an adventurer takes whatever work he can find… 

For Aidan, it’s all that peace and prosperity that’s the problem. While his father was a great warrior, and his grandparents carved out a settlement on Cornwald’s wild eastern frontier, Aiden’s only excitement comes from the imagined foes he fights in defense of the flock he’s been tasked to tend. 

However, things quickly take a turn. 

First, Aidan hears the bark of the Bog Owl, a creature that has never been seen. Then the Bog Owl turns out to be one of the feechiefolk, who are no less the stuff of campfire stories, akin to impish elves, or fierce boogeyman, and like them both, entirely made-up. But this feechie boy is anything but… and he wants to wrestle. 

Second, Bayard the Truthspeaker makes an unannounced stop at the Errolson farm to see, so he says, the “Wilderking of Corenwald.” And Bayard declares that it is none other than little brother Aidan. That’s quite the surprise, and quite awkward too, because Corenwald already has a king, and the Errolson family are his most loyal supporters. 

Now, if you’re a bit quicker than me, this last bit might be ringing some bells, reminding you of Samuel’s visit to the house of Jesse (1 Sam. 16). This is where my middlest caught on, but I needed several more chapters. I finally figured it out when Aidan fights a giant. With a sling. And five stones.

In my defense, this is only very loosely based on David – Aidan has to deal not only with a giant, but cannons too, and there’s no feechie folk in the original either. That it is inspired by, but does not pretend to be, the story of David is part of what makes this so intriguing. While there’ll be no confusing the two tales, Rogers’ account will have you reflecting on what a tough position David was in, the king not yet crowned, loyal to, and yet chosen to replace, the failed king. 

Requirements 

I usually list any possible cautions for the book being reviewed, but there are none for Bark so I’ll list one requirement instead: this absolutely needs to be read aloud. The feechie folk dialogue, as it is paced and misspelled, will have you speaking with the most delightful accent, without even trying. Jonathan Rogers makes it easy for a dad to sound good. 

Conclusion

I really can’t praise this one enough. I started reading it on on my own, and had to stop midway and start again with my girls because this was simply too good not to share. The Bark of the Bog Owl has been compared to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, not so much for story similarities, but because both are clearly Christian and utterly fantastic fantasy. Bark of the Bog Owl is a book that, if you do read it to your children, you can be sure that one day your grandkids will hear their own parents reading it to them too. 

The two sequels – The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking – complete the story. This is really one epic tale split into three parts, so be sure to buy the set. You can preview the first 2 chapters here. And for a second opinion, read Hannah Abrahmason’s take at Reformed Reader.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Feature author: Jan Brett

What sets Jan Brett (1949- ) apart as a picture book illustrator is how much she packs into every page. There’s always lots going on right there in the middle of her double-page pictures, and then there's even more to see toward the edges – Brett’s trademark is to use the side and bottom borders to give hints to the attentive child of what might be coming next. So, for example, in The Mitten, the small picture on the right-hand border of every two-page spread gives us our first glimpse of the next animal to try to squeeze into the already crowded mitten.

What sets Brett apart as an author is the creative twists she brings to otherwise familiar fairytales. Goldilocks, the Gingerbread Man, Cinderella, and the Big Bad Wolf are all taken to new settings, with the most unusual reimagining being Cinderella as told with chickens.

RECOMMENDED

All of her books are 32 pages, and all are aimed at the pre-school to Grade 2 age group (though older children will certainly enjoy revisiting them for years to come). But which Brett should you begin with? And which would make ideal gifts for the kids or grandkids, or purchases for the school library? With more than 40 books so far, there’s certainly lots to enjoy. What follows are my recommendations grouped by theme. 

TWO SETS OF MITTENS

I couldn’t track down which is Brett’s most popular book, but in that’s she’s written three sequels to it, I’d think Brett’s favorite has to be The Mitten.

The Mitten: a Ukrainian folktale (1989) After his grandmother knits him some snow-white mittens, Nicki loses one in the forest. But one boy’s loss is a mole’s gain, who finds it just the perfect size to crawl into and stay cozy and warm. A passing rabbit has the same thought, and, despite there really being no room, joins the mole, only to have a hedgehog, owl, and more squeeze in. The charming story has a fun twist at the end when Nicki recovers his lost mitten

The Hat (1997) Hedgie gets a woolen sock stuck to her head, and the other animals use the rest of the drying laundry to fashion their own hats. 

The Umbrella (2002) This retelling of The Mitten takes place in the jungle and begins with a little frog trying to find refuge in a little boy’s lost umbrella. But it isn’t too long before he has a lot of very close neighbors. 

Cozy (2020) An Alaskan Muskox named Cozy becomes a refuge for cold animals seeking shelter. It starts with some lemmings, then a snowshoe rabbit, and so on. The attentive young reader will notice that this is another retelling of The Mitten but with its own creative twists. 

HEDGIE’S BOOKS

Hedgie the hedgehog makes frequent appearances in Brett’s books, showing up in at least twenty of them. Most often it’s somewhere in the background (he’s carved into a bedpost in Goldilocks and the Three Bears) but in The Hat above, and in the books below, he has a bigger role.

Trouble with Trolls (1994) A little girl, Treva, has to contend with some troublesome trolls who really want her pet dog for their own. Though she outsmarts them in the end, children might feel a little sorry for the trolls, who just wanted a pet. But the observant child will notice that, though they don’t deserve it, by story’s end, the trolls do end up with a wonderful pet. Guess who it is!

Hedgie’s Surprise (2002) Hedgie helps a hen stop a thieving Tomten (a Danish gremlin) from taking her eggs so that she can have a family. The borders are done as needlepoint for added charm.

The Snowy Nap (2018) Hedgie puts off hibernation long enough to see the farm in wintertime. 

FAIRYTALES WELL (RE)TOLD 

There is a reason the same fairytales we heard as kids are still being told – they are classics for a reason. But Brett’s taken on the challenge of improving on them, and in these four her success is obvious. The first three here are all versions of Goldilocks and there’s something to love about each one.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1987) What sets this faithful retelling apart is the detailed, gorgeous pictures - there is so much to see! And the author also explains (which few other versions do) how the Papa and Mama bears could tell Goldilocks had been on their chairs and beds.

The Three Snow Bears (2007) An Inuit girl, Aloo-ki, ends up at the igloo house of a family of polar bears. She’s less destructive than in the original, and the bears are more forgiving. The arctic landscape brings added charm.

The Mermaid (2017) This time Goldilocks is a mermaid visiting the home of the three octopuses. The ending is a little happier than it usually is – the little one gets a gift from “Goldilocks.”

Beauty and the Beast (1989) To save her father, a girl agrees to live with a beast and his animal servants. That’s always made this my least favorite fairytale – what sort of loving father would let his daughter sacrifice herself for him? But while Brett’s version still includes this troublesome opening, the artwork makes it special. An observant child will notice the paintings shown on the castle hallway walls reveal what the animal servants used to look like back when they were human.

Town Mouse · Country Mouse (1994) When a pair of country mice switch places with two city mice, they both learn that there’s no place like home. An added element to this version: a city cat and a country owl both intent on getting dinner.

Gingerbread baby (1997) While the title character is full of sass, this is a kinder, gentler twist on the classic Gingerbread Man tale.

The 3 little Dassies (2010) Brett has taken The Three Little Pigs to Africa, swapping in dassies (gopher-like creatures) as the architects, and an eagle as the windbag. It’s a little scarier than its source material because the eagle actually catches the first two dassies, But never fear – in the picture borders we can watch as they are rescued by a friendly lizard even as the eagle makes his unsuccessful attempt at Dassie #3.

THE REST OF THE BEST

Among this potpourri are original stories from Jan Brett, as well as folktales from other countries.

Annie and the Wild animals (1985) When a little girl’s pet cat goes missing, she tries to find a new pet from among the wild animals in the forest. What she discovers is that none of them are a good fit. Fortunately, her cat comes back...and she brings some surprises with her.

Fritz and the beautiful horses (1987) A scruffy pony wishes that someone would ride him but all anyone does is laugh at how he looks. But when the town’s bridge breaks, the sure-footed Fritz is able to do something the beautiful horses won’t – he can bring the town’s children through the river back to their parents. Hurray for Fritz!

Berlioz the Bear (1991) A bear and his band of musicians are stuck on their way to the gala – their donkey won’t budge. Can the rooster, cat, goat, or ox get him to move? No, but children will enjoy seeing how something much smaller can change the stubborn beast’s mind!

Daisy comes home (2002) Set in China, this is the tale of a quiet meek chicken who gets picked on by other chickens. But on an unexpected journey, she has to fight a monkey, a dog, and more, and her courage helps her stand up to the chicken bullies when she gets back home. 

Honey.. honey... Lion! (2005) The honeyguide bird and honey badger normally work together, with the little bird showing the badger where to find honey, and the badger breaking things open so they can both feast. But one day, when honey badger decides not to share, honeyguide knows exactly how to teach him a lesson.

The Turnip (2015) Based on an old Russian folktale, the badger family can’t pull their giant turnip out of the ground, no matter how much help they get. But when a rooster tries it on his own, and, unnoticed to all, he gets some help from below - bears pushing the turnip up out of their den – the turnip finally comes out.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Armadillo Rodeo A near-sighted armadillo befriends a pair of red cowboy boots and follows wherever their owner takes them. It’s fine, but just not as interesting as Brett’s best. 

Hedgie Blasts Off Hedgie goes to space to unplug a planet that shoots sparkles, much to the alien tourists’ delight. There’s nothing all that wrong with it (aside maybe from the aliens, because aliens don’t actually exist… but, of course, talking animals don’t either). However, its simpler format (no border pictures) and science fiction elements make it different and just not as enjoyable as Brett’s usual fare.

Gingerbread Friends In this sequel to Gingerbread Baby, the baby goes on a journey in search of friends only to find out that other baked goods can’t talk or dance. But when he returns home to find that his friend has baked him a whole bunch of gingerbread friends. Kids will probably appreciate this sequel, but parents will find it less creative than the first.

Mossy A unique turtle – she has a mossy garden growing on her back – is put on display in a museum. But Mossy pines to be back with the new friend (and budding romantic partner?) Scooty. To help the lonely turtle, the museum director releases her back into the wild. This is a gorgeous book, but its message about creature care is in line with environmentalism’s general “hands off” approach which stands in opposition to the “hands on” role God has assigned us as stewards. While this will go over kids’ heads I’m noting it because Brett is pointedly preaching here – there is a message to this book – and she’s directing that point to young impressionable readers. While I’d have no problem reading this with my children, it is one I would want to read with them. I’d tell them that, yes, it is important to address Mossy’s loneliness, but returning her to Nature wasn’t the only option – Scooty could also have been brought indoors.

Cinders, a chicken Cinderella This is both a bizarre but enjoyable take on Cinderella, with chickens playing the principal parts. The only downside to this book is from a school library perspective: it has a double-page foldout in the middle, that’ll quickly get crumpled up.

The Tale of the Tiger Slippers Tiger tries to throw out his old raggedy shoes that served him well as he worked his way to wealth, but no matter what he tries, they end up coming back. The story doesn’t have the usual Jan Brett spark, and because the tigers are dressed as people their clothing doesn’t allow Brett’s art to capture the real beauty of these animals.

DON’T BOTHER

Of the twelve books listed below, 8 have Christmas in the title, one is about Easter, and the other about Noah’s Ark. The problem here is not so much with anything in the individual titles but in what’s missing from all of them: God. His complete absence is so conspicuous it’s even noticeable to unbelievers – Publisher’s Weekly, in their review of On Noah’s Ark, noted how Brett:

"omits the biblical framework…. There's no mention of God or his relationship to Noah, nor any reason given for the Flood.”

If you read one of her Christmas books God’s absence won’t be as conspicuous since many a Christmas story skips over the real reason for the season, so that she does to doesn’t seem so glaring. But when an author writes eight books about Christmas and Christ never comes up, we have to wonder, what’s going on? In The Twelve Days of Christmas, Brett follows the song with “A Brief History” of the Twelve Days. She writes that:

“The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days linking Christmas on December 25 and the Epiphany on January 6, when the three Magi offered the first Christmas presents – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Gifts to Who? The Magi get a nod, but Jesus is still ignored? Individually, Brett’s Christmas books are simply fluffy fun, but collectively they are a studious avoidance of any mention of the God who became Man. So, why bother with them?
  • Christmas Trolls – Young girl teaches trolls that Christmas is about generosity.
  • The Easter Egg – An Easter Rabbit becomes the focus of the season.
  • On Noah’s ark - The boat itself is far smaller than the Bible describes and, contrary to Scripture, it says the mountaintops were not covered.
  • The Wild Christmas Reindeer – Elf learns that reindeer respond better to kindness than bullying.
  • Gingerbread Christmas - The Gingerbread baby and his band celebrate Christmas… with no mention of Christ.
  • The night before Christmas - The classic poem, with Jan Brett’s art.
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas - Brett notes that though the song is “named for this religious holiday” it “is actually quite pagan in tone.”
  • The Animal’s Santa – A rabbit discovers that Santa is “truly, truly true.” Sigh.
  • Home for Christmas - A young troll eventually learns there is no place like home. The Christmas in the title has no relevance in the story.
  • Who’s that knocking on Christmas Eve? – A boy and his giant ice bear scare trolls away from a Christmas feast.
Two others also worth giving a miss:
  • Comet’s nine lives - On an island where dogs are people, but cats are just cats, we follow along as a cat (rather gently) dies eight times.
  • The first dog – A cave boy turns a helpful wolf into his pet and names him “dog.” There’s a touch of evolution here in her presumption that this occurred 12,000-55,000 years ago.

CONCLUSION

If your kids are into picture books, then they’ll love Jan Brett – it’s as simple as that. Her detailed full-page illustrations are genius, wonderfully capturing the beauty of the many different animals she’s featured. There’s no one better.

You can watch below as Jan Brett reads her book "The Mitten."

Monday, June 21, 2021

Devoured by Cannabis

Weed, liberty, and legalization
by Douglas Wilson
2020 / 99 pages

Why shouldn’t Christians smoke marijuana? The go-to answer to that question used to be: because it is illegal. But with its legalization in Canada and many US states, that argument is increasingly irrelevant.

But are there any other reasons not to inhale? In this slim volume, Douglas Wilson says yes, arguing that it is a sin, and despite what’s happening in jurisdictions all over, it is the sort of sin that should also be a crime.

Intoxication is out

So why is it a sin? Wilson points to God’s prohibition against intoxication. While alcohol can also cause intoxication, he notes the Bible also spells out five legitimate uses including:
  • sacramental
  • medicinal
  • aesthetic
  • quenching thirst
  • a celebratory, gladdening the heart, function.
It is this last one that is sometimes pointed to as a legitimate usage for marijuana, but in answer to that argument, Wilson notes that God’s condemnation of drunkenness and His call for self-control puts constraints on what sort of celebrations we should have. “True celebration is discipline, accompanied by hard work, training, and fruition of joy” while the use of marijuana “is a celebratory slide downward…”

His point is that alcohol goes well with a been-cooking-all-day-holiday-feast, with one wine pairing “well with the beef, and another chosen because it complements the pasta.” Meanwhile, “marijuana goes well with Oreos and mustard.” The one can be a part of a God-glorifying family gathering, the other simply a lead-in to letting loose. Thus “the only possible lawful use for marijuana is the medicinal, [but] the use to which everyone puts marijuana is the one that is denied to alcohol,” i.e. intoxication.

Should it be a crime?

Wilson also makes the argument that marijuana usage is not simply a sin, but a crime, and notes that’s a departure from the more hands-off stance he once leaned toward. Why the change? While acknowledging not all sins should be crimes – we wouldn’t want the government trying to police the 10th commandment – Wilson notes that in a finger-in-every-pot State such that we have, whatever isn’t criminalized is all too often then encouraged and tax-subsidized. And it isn’t hard to see how that would happen with marijuana usage. Our welfare state will have the government picking up the pieces, doling out tax dollars. That might be money for medical treatments dealing with increased cases of psychosis. Or it might be increased unemployment and welfare payouts that will be needed for the addicted.

Another cost will come to employers. The way legalization has proceeded, it as if it’s been some sort of neutral act, granting the pot-user a freedom at no cost to anyone else. If that were so, Wilson notes, then:

“…the liberty to smoke pot and the liberty to fire a pothead should be the same liberty. Otherwise, we are granting liberty to the privilege and no liberty at all to the responsibility.…[But] the way the push for legal pot is happening now, the pressure is on us to increase the liberty of the irresponsible while simultaneously decreasing the liberty of the responsible ones.”

Government will be stuck with the cost, as will employers, who will not be allowed to fire someone for using what will now be a perfectly legal substance.

Wilson is not arguing so much that marijuana must always and in all circumstances be criminalized, but more that presented with a choice of the State either criminalizing usage or encouraging it, then we should choose the former. But are those really the only realistic options? Can’t the State take a neutral stance, neither against, but also not for? Well, that latest bit of evidence on that front is Washington State’s “Joint for Jabs” where the government is using the promise of a free joint to promote Covid vaccination. It really does seem that if they aren’t against it, then they will be pushing it.

So what then is to be done? Wilson is writing for the US, where some states have legalized it and others have not, and there he’s hoping it might still be possible, if not to maintain an outright “red,” to at least run with a “yellow” rather than a “green.” Where it is completely legal, like Canada, the hope would be that at least the Church can recognize what should be – that it is a sin, even if it isn’t a crime. Unconfused on that point, God’s people can minimize our own addictions, and, to help others, make a push for restrictions, particularly for teenage and young adult usage.

Sinners need their Savior

The book concludes with a Gospel appeal, in which Wilson reminds us that it is only when our country turns back to God that we will be able to turn away from such addictions. But he is quick to point out that while our addictions should have our country desperate for God, we don’t turn to Christ simply to right ourselves or our country.

“If we treat Christ as the means to an end (freedom from drugs, say), then we are not coming to Him as Christ. He is a Savior, not a self-help specialist. We come to the Giver for who He is and not for the gifts that He might give. At the same time, He is the Giver of gifts (Eph. 4:8).”

Our culture doesn’t just need to be freed from addiction – a sober pagan is still going to hell. What the Church can direct people to is not simply freedom from drugs, but freedom in Christ. In Him, we are free to enjoy our God and Maker, and we are free to live to His glory. That will also be a freedom from addiction, but that is the fruit that comes from turning to God. What Wilson is reminding us of here is the need to point others to the Tree of Life, and not simply its fruit.

Conclusion

The value of Wilson’s book is, first and foremost, the section on whether marijuana usage should be a sin. The clarity on offer here could be a great help for our teens and young adults when (not if) they are pressured into trying it. For parents who think that won’t happen, just remember back to the parties you either attended or heard about where all the attendees were church-goers, but where underage drinking was prevalent nonetheless. So let’s not be naive about whether our children are going to be offered marijuana at their own parties today. Dad, mom, Wilson’s book is a quick, insightful discussion that would make for a great read for you to tackle along with your teen – it’s a tool here for you to use.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Passion and Purity


 Learning to Bring Your Love Life  Under Christ's Control

by Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)
191 pages / originally published 1984

We have reviewed Elisabeth Elliot's books before in this blog. Hers was indeed a life consciously dedicated to God in Christ - including her "love life." That's what makes this book so helpful, as Elliot examines what it means to live as the bride of Christ, even while seeking a man or woman to live your life with in marriage in the Lord.

Elliot's book is a fairly easy read, because, like a good novel, her true-life story is an example of how to "Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control," rather than a textbook. She takes us through her budding romance with Jim Elliot, showing us what made him admirable to her in his Christian commitment and maturity (something that makes this book also suitable for guys to read). As well, she shows the difficulties inherent in waiting for God to make his will for their relationship, as Jim goes through his training to become a missionary with the commitment that he will not proceed further in his relationship with Elisabeth until he knows where and when he is serving as a missionary and how she will fit into that work.

In contrast to our culture's attitude to romantic love - the belief that it is just one more way to bring us ultimate fulfilment - Elliot insists that we must yield ourselves to Christ beforea and above anyone or anything else. She calls our culture's obsession with either romantic love or single self-fulfilment "The Serpent's Reasoning" - the promise of the snake to Adam and Eve in Eden.

Instead of seeking our fulfilment in either ourselves or others, we need to seek God, and Elliot reminds us of what she needed to remind herself in her relationship with God:

  • God is with us in our struggles with sexual temptation;
  • sometimes we may simply have to wait for God to make His will clear, and that waiting makes the final result sweeter;
  • God's will for us may be life as a single person;
  • suffering frustration by waiting to get married at the right time is good for us, because God exalts us by humbling us first; and
  • nothing shall separate us from God's love in Christ (not even frustration in romance).
I have only two cautions:
  • The foreword is written by Joshua Harris, who has also written on this subject, but has since renounced Christ.
  • Elliot states that while submision is God's command for wives, that does not give husbands the right to "demand obedience," for they are to use their authority in a Christlike way. She stresses the sacrificial nature of Christ's love for His bride - true enough - but then extends that description to say that He does not impose His will. It is not her main point, but this version of the idea that God is a gentleman misses the fact that as a Father, He is willing to "impose His will" on His dangerously straying children.

If you want to understand better the struggle between passion and purity, you can purchase Elliot's book here, or here in Canada.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock

by Eric A. Kimmel
32 pages / 1988

Things begin with Anansi (uh·naan·see) the spider making quite the discovery: a strange moss-covered rock that somehow knocks you out if you say "Isn't this a strange moss-covered rock!"

It takes Anansi a couple of goes – along with a couple of hours of unconscious time, lying on his back – to figure this out, but once he does, he knows just how he's going to use this magical rock. He starts bringing his friends to come see it, and encourages them to comment on it. Once they do, and are lying on their back taking an unintended one-hour nap, Anansi goes to their house and takes their food. He begins with Lion, then Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, and goes on and on.

The careful reader will notice that there is another animal watching all these goings-on. Somewhere behind the bushes, on most every page, is the little Bush Deer. He decides to make things right by pulling a trick on the trickster. When Anansi invites him to go look at the rock, Bush Deer goes but he doesn't comment on the rock. He even pretends he can't see it. In frustration, Anansi ends up spouting the troublesome phrase himself...and down he goes! That allows the Bush Deer a whole hour to clear out Anansi's house and return his ill-gotten gains.

Cautions

There are no cautions for this book, but parents should be aware that Anansi the trickster is a folktale from Africa, who, in some versions, isn't simply a spider but is a god in the form of a spider. So the only caution would be not to presume, if you are buying another author's Anansi stories, that they will simply be morality tales with animals standing in for people, as is happening here.

Conclusion

This is a fun animals-as-people folktale that rewards the observant child (even the pre-reader) who spots the bush deer long before he makes his first "official" appearance. On the first go, a child might need some encouragement from mom or dad to look closely, but once they spot the deer once, they'll love finding him the next times. That's what makes this a book kids will look through repeatedly.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Solomon Says

Directives for Young Men
by Mark Horne
148 pages / 2020

If you are not governed by God's word, which calls you, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to govern yourself, you will not be more free. Instead, you will be governed by your own urges, and will also lose the ability to govern God's creation, as we were originally called to do. Mark Horne shows how Proverbs reveals to young men just how to work out that creation mandate from Genesis.

Here are some of the headings of the chapters and sections Horne writes to show the superiority of wisdom demonstrated in Proverbs over many of the methods our society thinks will get us ahead:

  • Handguns Can't Shoot Down Poverty;
  • Immorality Impoverishes You;
  • Solomon On Cyberporn;
  • Control Chaos, Don't Inflame It
    (about the power of the tongue);
  • Leaving Toxic Talk Culture
    (a great warning about our social media feeds);
  • Listening Well;
  • Wisdom Is Better Than Folly Even When It's Risky;
  • Let Go and Let God? (the need to train in godliness);
  • Total Ownership (the need for making a genuine plan for change);
  • Building a Better Man.
Horne's book shows just how practical and up-to-date the wisdom of Proverbs is. In the last two chapters, Horne shows how Proverbs dovetails with the wisdom of the New Testament. There is little explicit mention of Christ, but for young men seeking to live out their commitment to Christ, there is great guidance on "building a better man."

If you are, or know, a young man who could benefit from knowing what Solomon Says, you can get Mark Horne's book here, or here in Canada.

 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Gutsy Girls Book Two: Sisters, Corrie & Betsie ten Boom

by Amy L. Sullivan 
2016 / 36 pages

This is the true story of two Dutch sisters who knew that God could be trusted with their lives and that assurance gave them and their whole family the courage to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II.

Our introduction to the sisters starts with the older Betsie ushering the daydreaming little Corrie out the door so she can go to school. Then we leap ahead to their adult life, with Betsie taking care of the household and Corrie helping her father in the family's watch shop. Then the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As you might expect from a picture book, it is a G-rated account. That's accomplished via cartoonish pictures, and by covering what the Nazis had planned for the Jews in only limited detail like this:

"German soldiers planned evil things against people who were Jewish. In order to easily identify them and set those who were Jewish apart from other Dutch people, German soldiers forced Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their coats and ration cards around their necks. Before long German soldiers took many Jewish people away from their homes."

But even so, the reader learns that the Nazis hated the Jews, and the ten Booms knew God wanted them to act. We are shown how they smuggled in bricks to create a false wall in their home that Jews and others could hide behind, should the Germans come looking. In one interesting note, the author shares that the width of that space – at just 23 inches (by 8 feet long) – was not even as wide as this book opened up!

The ten Booms helped 800 people before they were caught. While readers are, again, spared from the worst details, we do follow the ten Boom sisters to a concentration camp, where Betsie dies. That isn't where the story ends, of course: in the final pages we see Corrie freed and, through God's grace, able to forgive the very Germans who so mistreated her and her sister.

Caution

There are no cautions for this book. But it is the second of a series of 5, and the subject of Book 4 is Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who has had a big role in promoting theistic evolution. So the ten Boom book is well worth getting, but not so the series.

Conclusion

This is a very good first exposure to the ten Boom sisters for students in Kindergarten and First Grade. My hope, though, is that it wouldn't be the last exposure they get – for teens and adults there really is no more encouraging biography than Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables

by L.M. Montgomery 
adapted by Crystal S. Chan 
308 pages / 2020

Anne is an orphan girl living in the Prince Edward Island of the 1870s, sent by mistake to the home of an aged brother and sister who need help with the farm work. The mistake is, they asked for a boy. Instead, they got the imaginative, effusive, emotional, red-head Anne. And once they meet, they can't let her go.

While Lucy Maud Montgomery was a Canadian author, and Anne of Green Gables (first published in 1908) a very Canadian story, it's always been incredibly popular in Japan too. So it makes sense that her story would be given a manga treatment. Thankfully, the adaptation is faithfully done, and at 300 pages, given the space it needs to tell the story well - only a very few scenes are given an abridged treatment.

If you're unfamiliar with manga, the style does take some getting used to, in the first place because the Japanese read right to left. That means what would be the back of the book to us, is the front of the book to them. Even though this is in English, it's still formated in that "reverse" style. Another feature that will strike readers as unusual is the way manga will sometimes depart from a semi-realistic style of drawing to something much more cartoonish, and then go back to realistic all in the space of a few frames, or even in the same frame. So, for example, while Anne's strict and controlled adoptive "mother" Marilla is depicted with realistic eyes, the emotional Anne has eyes in all sorts of styles. Most often they are doe-sized, but when she is angry or perturbed, they become big black dots, and sometimes she is drawn with no eyes at all.

If that strikes you as very strange, just consider how a Western reader will know that a lightbulb over a character's head means they have an idea. That's a bit of cartoon "emoticon shorthand" to let readers know something without spending a lot of words on it. Manga has its own, different cartoon emoticons, and they do need to be learned. But just like the lightbulb, they aren't hard to figure out.

Cautions

Cautions here are only the same ones that we'd have for the original source material. At one point Anne is being taught how to pray, and her first prayer, while not exactly disrespectful, certainly isn't what it should be. But the point is, she doesn't know how to talk to God, and still has to be taught, so I don't think this should be much of a concern. Then there's also Anne's stubbornness. When a classmate, Gilbert Blythe, calls her "Carrots," Anne breaks her chalk slate over his head. You'd think that would make them even (or put Anne in need of apologizing to him) but Anne resolves to never speak to Gilbert again. And she keeps to that pledge for years! The book shows this to be ridiculous, and I only mention it here because this comic format makes Anne accessible to a younger audience that may need a little parental guidance to recognize just how bad Anne's stubbornness really is.

Finally, in an afterword to the story, the adapter Crystal Chan notes that she is a feminist who "loves the elements of feminism in Anne of Green Gables." "Feminist" is sometimes synonymous with supporting "a woman's right to choose" so that might have parents concerned about whether this ideology is hidden within. But there is no need for worry: whatever sort of feminist the adapter might be, she has stuck closely to the original 100-year-old material (unlike the recent Netflix adaptation).

Conclusion

This is a fantastic, faithful, adaptation of a great book. Teens should skip straight to the original, but for younger readers, or the reluctant sort, this will be a great way to introduce them to this dynamic lass.

If you do intend to get a copy, be sure you get the "Manga Classic" version, as there is another comic, that one by C.W. Cooke and Tidalwave Productions, that only tells part of the story, ending abruptly and with no conclusion coming. I've included its cover image to the right here, to make it easier to identify what not to get. Don't accidentally get that one while you're searching for this manga adaptation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Replacing Darwin Made Simple

by Nathaniel T. Jeanson
85 pages / 2019

How's this for an intriguing thesis for a creationist book: Darwin got it right. 

What exactly is the "it" Darwin got right? Author Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson argues that in On the Origin of Species Darwin's scientific argument/approach did successfully poke holes in creationism...but the 1859 version, which held that all the species were created exactly as they are, remaining unchanged.

This "fixity of the species" isn't found in the Bible. God tells us He created "kinds" (Gen. 1:11, 21, 24, etc.) but why would we assume that has to mean species? We never see horses becoming deer, but we do see them becoming a whole host of different sorts of horses. So, might the "kinds" God created encompass larger groupings? We know, for example, that horses can breed with zebras. Might they belong together in the same "kind"? As Jeanson explains, this is how Noah could fit the animals on the ark: he didn't have to take horses, zebras, and donkeys, but instead took a representative pair of horse kind, from which these threes species eventually descended. And the same for dogs, and cats, and more. 

The author not only gives Darwin credit for highlighting the problems with a "fixity of species," he wants today's scientists to question like Darwin. Jeanson argues that if they used this same scientific critical approach it would back today's creationism and tear down today's evolution. Then scientists would find creationism has explanations for some of the same observations evolution is said to explain. And they would also find that evolution has problems that creationism does not when it comes to sexual procreation, rapid speciation, mitochondrial "clocks," and more. 

Made Simple is actually a simplified version of Jeanson's 2017 Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, which clocks in at 335 pages. The larger version is written for the skeptic, something you can give to a curious friend, and it is larger because skeptics have lots of questions – it is a thorough overview of the creation vs. evolution debate. And that's also why it is the much more technical of the two. Both do require effort, but Made Simpler is probably accessible to anyone who had some high school science and is interested enough to put in the effort – the author describes it as the "Cliff Notes" version. Parts of the larger original are probably at a university level, but don't let that dissuade you if the topic is of interest – you don't need to (and I didn't) understand every last little bit to find it fascinating.

So pick up a copy of Replacing Darwin Made Simple to get a good overview of a compelling argument: Darwin rebutted 1859 creationism, but would also do damage to modern-day evolution. And if you want to dig deeper (or have a skeptical friend) then pick up Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species. 

You can also listen to Dr. Jeanson give a presentation on the same subject matter in the 1-hour lecture below.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Gentle and Lowly


The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers

by Dane Ortlund
2020 / 224 pages

Note the subtitle. If Dane Ortlund has a mission for this book, it must be, at least partly, to show us that Christ loves His people, not only in spite of their sin, but even especially in their sin - not because He tolerates sin, but because sinners are sufferers. And how do we know that He loves sufferers?

Because He tells us. He tells us that His heart is "gentle and lowly" - that He yearns to extend His love to us. Dane Ortlund reveals how the Puritans loved to "wring out" the understanding of Christ's love for us, and in surveying their work, he also soaks us in the knowledge of how much God loves His people to come to Him for help and forgiveness. Ortlund excerpts the work of John Bunyan (the author of The Pilgrim's Progress reviewed here in this blog) and others in looking at verses from both Old and New Testaments that show how God yearns for His suffering (and even sinning) people:

  • John Bunyan looks carefully at every significant word in the verse "Whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37).
  • Jonathan Edwards, the famous preacher of the fiery sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," still called grace God's natural work, and judgment His "strange work," on the basis, largely, of Hosea 11:8-9.
  • Ortlund also reveals how our "Lawish Hearts" often obscure the depth of God's "Lavish Heart" when we doubt (consciously or in our desperate attempts to earn His favor) whether He can or will forgive us. John Newton (the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace") indicts us for our "legal spirit" when he, like Bunyan, ponders God's grace revealed in John 6:37.
These are only three highlights of the book's 23 chapters looking at the "gentle and lowly" heart of Jesus Christ, and the corresponding love for suffering sinners from God the Father and God Holy Spirit.

If you want to understand the gentle and lowly heart of our Saviour better (including being guided in your devotions by the Scripture index), you can find Ortlund's book here, and here in Canada.