Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Who Am I?


Identity in Christ
by Jerry Bridges
95 pages / 2012

Bad Reformed joke:

Calvin: How ya doing?

Luther: I'm good.

Calvin: No, you're totally depraved.

This joke drives one of my friends crazy. He says (and I think Biblically) "In Christ I am no longer totally depraved. I am a new creation."

This understanding of who we are in Christ is the point of Jerry Bridges' book. First I need to know that "I Am a Creature" (Chapter 1) – a limited, sinful creature with no standing of my own before God. As with the Heidelberg Catechism, the good news follows this devastatingly bad news. Here are the other chapter titles, with some of the highlights that Bridges points out:

  • "I Am in Christ" with the good news "that it is of God that I am in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • "I Am Justified"
  • "I Am an Adopted Son of God"
  • "I Am a New Creation"
  • "I Am a Saint"
  • "I Am a Servant of Christ" – a chapter good enough to recommend to my career teacher colleague in Bridges' analysis of Paul's identification of himself as "a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1 - as we are all servants of Christ Jesus, called by God, and set apart for particular roles in His service)
  • "I Am Not Yet Perfect" – in which Bridges deals both with the fact that we are failures - in ourselves - and accepted by God in Christ and progressively being sanctified by His Spirit to show our love for Him in gratitude for His love for us in Christ.
The book is filled with such insights. If you think that Jerry Bridges can help you answer the question "Who am I?" - you can find it here for free with a trial account, or here, or here in Canada as an audiobook.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ride Sally, ride

by Douglas Wilson 

294 pages / 2020

This might be the weirdest bit of fiction I've read, but the author's point is that this is no stranger than the bizarre non-fiction showing up in our news feed each day. One of the "characters" in the story is a life-sized sex doll, and that had some thinking that this was one of those books. It is not. It is, instead, a comic and admittedly PG-rated commentary on the gonzo culture that produces such things.

The setting is the US of twenty years hence. A Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade has the interior states banning abortion once again and has Americans en masse  "reshuffling to states more conducive to their values." With Christians heading inland and liberals fleeing to the coasts, the country's outer edges have doubled down on sexual license and given the biggest of bear hugs to Big Brother, even as the heartlands are taking a sharp Godward turn and paring down the size of their governments. Our hero, Ace, lives in Colorado, one of the few inland woke states, where speech is monitored, and the orthodox Christian books are available only on the dark web. Christians are still allowed to circulate, but like the frog being brought to a slow boil, most are unaware of the decided change their innards are undergoing.

The story begins with Ace's father Benson making the welcome wagon ready for a new neighbor who is just moving in. Cookies are baked, and Ace and Benson head on over to help bring in the heavy furniture, because that's what good Christians should do. But what should good Christians do when your new neighbor introduces you to his life-size robotic "wife"? Father Benson thinks he should invite "them" over for dinner because, after all, "they" need Jesus. Son Ace grants the point that someone sure needs Jesus, but wants to know why his dad keeps talking about them.

One thing leads to another – we're still in the first chapter here – and Ace ends up trash compacting his neighbor's doll, and instead of getting charged with destruction of property, the woke prosecutor charges him with murder, because their neighbor had clearly identified the doll as his wife.

It only gets crazier from there, and in a far too believable way.

Cautions

If it hasn't been made clear already, this is not your typical Christian novel. For instance, while many a Christian novel will take God's name in vain, this one doesn't. And while no Christian novel ever uses the word "pussy" this one does, twice, used by a non-Christian character who, in her defense, uses it as appropriately as it might ever be used.

But that's about as problematic as it gets. While this certainly isn't a book for children, and despite its provocative premise, there's nothing titillating. This is a satiric commentary on our culture's dark turn, but that darkness is handled with delicacy.

Conclusion

Ride Sally, Ride is, at regular intervals, laugh out loud funny, and had me reading it to my wife to share the best bits. I'd recommend it for adults who appreciate satire, and while it isn't strictly dystopian (what with its happy ending) fans of that genre are sure to enjoy it too. The best test to see if you'll appreciate the book might be to see if you appreciate the trailer below. If it's too shocking, then Ride Sally, Ride won't be your cup of tea either.

But if you laughed...





Monday, September 14, 2020

Why Pro-Life?

Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers

by Randy Alcorn
172 pages / Eternal Perspective Ministries / 2012

Randy Alcorn has written a much longer pro-life book called Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments, but while I would recommend it highly as a pro-life reference work, at 455 pages, it's a bit much to take in in a short period.

Why Pro-Life?, on the other hand, is an excellent concise call to love both mother and child in a crisis pregnancy. Randy Alcorn's book was originally published in 2004 (available as a free PDF at the last link below), but it was updated in 2012. Both editions include sections on the following:

  1. The Basics;
  2. The Child;
  3. The Woman;
  4. Other Important Issues; and
  5. Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.
The 2012 edition updates every chapter and adds the following:
  • the chapter " Do Birth Control Pills Cause Abortion?"
    (an issue that has also been recently covered here); as well as
  • appendices on
    • Abortion in the Bible and Church History;
    • Biblical Passages Relevant to Life Issues; and 
    • Talking Points for Communicating the Pro-Life Message.
Both Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments and Why Pro-Life? are typically insightful looks at an important issue from Randy Alcorn, but the latter will be invaluable for both those skeptical of the pro-life position and those who are new to the pro-life movement.

If you want a clearer understanding of how to be pro-life for both mother and child, or want to expose someone else to the pro-life perspective, you can get the 2004 version of Why Pro-Life? for free here or buy the 2012 edition on Amazon.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Henry says good-bye

When you are sad
by Jocelyn Flenders
edited by Edward T. Welch

32 pages / 2019

This book is part of an excellent series put out by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) called "Good News for Little Hearts." Each title addresses an area of counseling that might be of use to "little hearts" and in this one the issue is grieving the loss of a loved one.

Of course, they don't tackle it head-on – that would be abrupt, and too distressing for the very children the book is intended to help. So instead of a person, we have Henry, a little hedgehog, and instead of the loss of a relative, he is trying to deal with the death of his pet ladybug Lila. Sad and angry, and he doesn't want to be around his other friends, whose pets are all still alive. But what his parents model is how to take our grief to God. Henry's dad shares relevant Bible passages, pointing his son to the God who has promised to one day dry every tear.

It is a wonderful book, and brilliantly illustrated. It would probably be most useful if read before there was a need, but even after the death of a pet, or of a loved relative, the book's Scripture citations, and instructions for parents found in the back, will be incredibly helpful.

Overall I would recommend it to parents of children 5-10.


Friday, August 21, 2020

God made me unique

Helping Children see Value in Every Person

by Joni Eareckson Tada and friends
32 pages / 2019

Everyone is unique, but some of us are more unique than others. So how do we teach our children to embrace and include others who might act differently, or who might have different needs than their own? 

This little picture book could be helpful for parents and teachers by making the unusual less surprising. The book is set in a classroom right before a new student with special needs is going to join them. The class is already made up of students who have disabilities and challenges, and by showing some of the many ways we can be different from one another – a child in leg braces, one in a motorized wheelchair, another who is deaf, and one who wears headphones because she doesn’t like loud noises – our own children can get used to the idea that unique isn’t that unusual after all. But this title’s most important point, made repeatedly, is that we are all made in God’s image.

Bright colors and rhyming text make this an attractive for reading aloud with a class. I don’t know if it is the sort of book children will read repeatedly on their own, so that might make it more of a church and school purchase, where it can be borrowed, rather than something every parent will want to get. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy

by Michael Horton
241 pages / 1996

If you have watched or read about the video American Gospel: Christ Alone (reviewed here), then Michael Horton's book will be a great way to pursue in greater depth the vital issue of what true worship and intimacy with God really means.

The video American Gospel reveals how the proponents of the "word of faith" doctrines are preaching a false gospel that promises deliverance not from sin, Satan, and God's just judgment, but from suffering - in this life. Horton, twenty years earlier, traces the roots of the word of faith errors in the heresy of gnosticism.

Gnosticism promises salvation through direct knowledge of the spiritual realm, knowledge outside of what God reveals in His inspired word, the Bible. This pursuit of spiritual enlightenment is part of the sell job behind the very first sin: "You shall be like God, knowing good and evil."

Horton says that in gnosticism, faith becomes magic - a way to manipulate God or spiritual power. At the same time, gnosticism rejects the goodness of matter, focusing instead on the inward journey into your own spirit. Just as in the New Testament period, such rejection of the body and the world leads to either extreme asceticism or extreme hedonism. In the evangelical world, gnosticism can be seen in the focus on individual fulfilment and the rejection of church authority.

So how does one commune with God? Horton stresses that we cannot approach God on our own, because of our sin and His holiness. Instead, whoever has seen Jesus Christ - the Son of God, and the savior from sin - has seen God the Father, and the only way to see Christ - and to live in Him - is through the means of grace God has provided: the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Any other "way to God" - like the tower of Babel or the so-called righteousness of the Pharisees - brings us under God's wrath.

Horton calls the attempt to "touch God" under our own steam the "theology of glory," borrowing the term from Luther, who heartily condemned it. Only the "theology of the cross" can save us - the knowledge of and trust in the work of the One who suffered the cross for us. Instead of seeking to climb up to God, we need to rejoice in the God who came down to us in Christ.

Two appendices add a great deal to Horton's argument. The first compares focus on the self of the contemporary Christian music of Horton day (the 1990s) to the focus on the objective truth of Christ's work in classic Christian hymns. One can see the same problems with sentimentalism and emotionalism in much of the music on Christian radio today.

Appendix B is the most useful. Having shown the problems with modern gnosticism, Horton answers a number of questions about what the church needs - Biblical liturgy, Christ-centered preaching, the administration of the sacraments, a Biblical structure of church governance, and a proper understanding of God's work of providence versus His work of miracles. Although this section would be extremely beneficial for the consideration of someone seeking a more Biblical way to follow Christ, there are a few potential rough spots in this how-to guide - the use of terms like common and saving grace, invisible and visible church, as well as a perhaps overly broad view of interchurch fellowship.

The only other major problem with the book relates to its age. The end of my edition promotes the work of Christians United for Reformation - a group that no longer exists under that name. However, Horton's summary of the organization's basis - the five solas of the Reformation, as well as the idea of the priesthood of the believer - is still a great defense of the Reformers' doctrines.

If you want to know more about the dangers and delights of spiritual intimacy, you can find it here      and here in Canada.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Pro-life kids!

by Bethany Bomberger
48 pages / 2019

What I most liked about this book is that my kids just picked it up and started reading it. This is the sort of book they really ought to read – it is educational, teaching them about the unborn, about what they can do to stand up for these babies, and about how the unborn are being dehumanized by those that want to kill them – but educational doesn't always mean enjoyable. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find out this one hit both marks.

Illustrator Ed Koehler’s bright colors got them to open it in the first place, and then author, Bethany Bomberger’s rhyming text kept their attention. One example:
Sadly there are those who don’t understand
That life has a purpose whether planned or unplanned
Throughout history many believed a lie.
“You’re not a person! No way!” they cried
Today many people think that lie is still true
That babies in wombs aren’t people too….
After describing the problem, the book concludes with a rallying cry for all the readers to be
…pro-life kids ‘til in justice ends!
We are pro-life kids. It’s life we defend!
I’d highly recommend this for every school or church library!


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Noah

by Mark Ludy
60 pages / 2014

Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on.

The danger with such an account is that for some it might come to replace the original biblical version. As children pore over this picture book's pages repeatedly, they could easily forget that even as it is reasonable to believe Noah might have made use of the strength of a dinosaur or two, the Bible doesn't actually say he did.

But what such a book can also do is help us re-evaluate some other non-biblical assumptions we might have inadvertently adopted.

Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter colored black, while Noah himself is maybe Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandanavian sort of white. That might bring questions for the many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow.

Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They were no primitive dummies so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they also aren't living in caves either.
Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads.

This is not a book that we shouldn't ever let overshadow the biblical account, but when we put it in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid.

I will offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, and they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book.

So who is this for? We probably all think of picture books as being for children, but I really think everyone will love it, from ages 3 on up to 103!

You can take an extended peek here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.

by Kirsten A. Jenson
2017 / 40 pages

Talking with our kids about pornography on the Internet is not a conversation any parent wants to have. But we need to do it. So when I saw this book online I ordered a copy, thinking it might make things easier.

And it did. Once I put it to use.

Amazon delivered it quickly, as is their custom, but then it sat on the shelf for probably half a year. I don't know why it took me so long, but this last week, I looked up from my computer one summer vacation morning to find all of my young charges in my office together reading. I love the company...at least when they are quiet. But this time around they were twitching and tapping and whistling and chatting, making my work impossible. It was either time to chase them back down the stairs or...time to read a book together. So, I finally got to it.

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is best suited for children from 4 to 7. In my case, my audience consisted of one in that range and two above it, but it worked because the older two were just listening in. I had tried the original version intended for 8 and up (with the same title, but lacking the "Jr.") with my oldest, and found it really helpful, but on the long side. We'd gotten interrupted 15 minutes in, and only about a quarter into the book and we've never gotten back to it since. While I do intend to read it with her at some point, this picture book version of the same message was a good substitute for now.

The book, after all, is just meant as a prompt for the discussion parents need to have with their kids. So as we read along, we all did a lot of talking. The book could probably be covered in just 5 minutes, but the discussion took at least another 15.

First, we learned about how there are pictures all over, on our walls, on billboards, and on screens too. Some are good pictures, like pictures of puppies or family pictures or fun videos. "But some pictures," the author informs us, "are not good. They are bad for you." The definition given of a bad picture is very clear, and very G-rated: "Bad pictures show the parts of the body that we cover with a swimsuit. These parts are meant to be kept private."

In response to this page, one daughter brought up a billboard, where the "lady wasn't wearing many clothes." We discussed how it was good to bring that up with mom or dad, and that we'd want her and her sisters to wear more clothes than that. It also gave me an opportunity to go over the book's helpful definition of bad pictures and how this example both kind of fit but kind of didn't.

I'd recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures jr. for any parent, but note that if you don't already read to your kids regularly, don't launch into this one as one of your first. There was a reason I took so long to get to it: it is a weird topic. But what made it a lot less weird was that we do regularly read together, and talk about what we're reading.

So, two thumbs up for this great tool to help parents with an absolutely vital conversation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

C. S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia

by Sam Wellman
202 pages / 2013

This biography of C. S. Lewis is part of the Heroes of the Faith series, which engage readers in the highlights of the lives of significant leaders in Christian history. Given the title of the series, you could predict that this book would not be an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses of C. S. Lewis's ideas, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the author caught the personal foibles and motivations of the title character.

Although (strangely) the cover and spine of my edition did not even give the name of the author of the biography, Sam Wellman skillfully shows how Jack (Lewis's nickname since childhood) went from a nominally Christian upbringing through a full-fledged embrace of atheism to being Surprised by Joy (his young self's hint at the reality of transcendence). Along the way, Wellman gives us glimpses of the sources, experiences, and inspirations behind Jack's writing, starting with his pre-Christian poetry, and progressing to his defense of and understanding of his Christian faith.

Wellman also shows us how Lewis was associated with other Christian writers, both influenced by and influencing them, including the famous Inklings. He portrays Jack's personal relationships with his father, with Mrs. Moore (the mother of a fellow soldier killed in World War I); with Jack's brother Warnie; and with Joy Gresham, the woman he eventually married. Wellman makes clear how Jack was an honorable man whose Christian faith enabled him to ignore personal attacks by unfair critics, but also demonstrates that Jack had to struggle with sinful weaknesses like the rest of us.

Anything missing from the book? As I mentioned above, Wellman does not critique his subject's ideas, and once or twice, in focusing on the critical and popular reactions to Lewis's book, gives some books less appreciation than I felt that they deserved. However, Wellman does often clarify the goals of Lewis's writing through thoughtful discussion of brief excerpts.

Wellman's biography will provide the younger or inexperienced reader of Lewis's writing with an overview of why and what he wrote, and may well encourage readers to check out more of his work.
If you would like to learn about how C. S. Lewis became the creator of Narnia (and Boxen, and much else), you can find this book here, and here in Canada. (There is also a shorter biography of Lewis by the same author entitled C. S. Lewis: A Lion for Truth, which I have not read, but which may be suitable for younger readers.)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

In Grandma's Attic

by Arleta Richardson
144 pages / 1974

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

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

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

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

– Sophia Dykstra

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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