Friday, February 14, 2020

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



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

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

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

Rice Broocks's The Human Right contends that the most important human right is "the right to know Jesus Christ and to make Him known." There is a great deal of wisdom and inspiration in his affirmation of the necessity and power of the gospel to anchor and promote human rights. Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World covers similar territory by showing that Bible changed Western civilization by showing the value of every human being as created in the image of God. The problem with Broock's approach is not the foundation of his argument, but its direction. He moves from the desire for social justice in our world to the fact that such justice is best satisfied by the revelation God gives us in the Bible, to our own need for reconciliation with God in Christ through His satisfaction of the requirements of God's justice. Along the way, Broocks covers some compelling territory - the gospel as public truth, the reality of spiritual life, the authority of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, and the necessity to speak the gospel (not just "live" it) - but he ends, rather than begins, with the ministry of reconciliation and its fruit in the lives of believers.

DeYoung and Gilbert's book makes more clear the Biblical, rather than pragmatic, foundation for a missional approach to the gospel that begins with proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. They carry this out by
  • defining the word mission in relation to the church;
  • outlining the Biblical narrative of God's work in redeeming his lost people;
  • clarifying the relationship of Christ's redemptive rule, social justice, and the Biblical concept of shalom to the task of the church;
  • describing the right motivations for doing good works, both as individuals and as churches; and
  • affirming the necessity of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
DeYoung and Gilbert end with advice for the young, motivated, and missional that demonstrates how passionate pastors should approach their congregations.
All in all, What Is the Mission of the Church points the way toward a Christian passion for, first, the saving work of Christ, and, as a result, the love of the world over which Christ has established His reign.

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




Friday, February 7, 2020

The Winter King

by Christine Cohen
351 pages / 2019

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

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

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

CAUTIONS 

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Seraph’s Path

by Neil Dykstra
2019 / 475 pages

Maybe this is a bit odd to review, what with me sharing the same last name as the author. But this is a fantasy title, so I had to take a peek. And once I got started I wasn’t going to hand it off. Besides, the two of us aren’t actually related. I know Neil, but only well enough to recall he is the superior volleyball player, and nowhere near well enough to have had an inkling he could serve up something like this. It’s remarkable!

The Seraph’s Path has quite the cast of characters, but it is mostly the story of Dyrk, a young horse trainer who wants to make something of himself, in part, because his parents don’t seem to think about him much at all. Our story begins with Dyrk determined to enter a competition his father won’t even let him watch. Somehow he finagles his way in, and reaches the final round, a free-for-all among 16 mounted soldiers-in-training, with the last man standing guaranteed entry into the King’s own College. I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that for every good thing that happens to Dyrk something bad soon follows…and vice versa.

The wonder of fantasy fiction is that anything can happen. Young children can open a wardrobe and get transported to a world of talking beasts. Or little fellows with hairy feet can be trusted with a mission that the most powerful could never accomplish. Or a horse trainer can suddenly find himself delivering the mail mounted on a flying tarn.

The problem with fantasy fiction is just the same: anything can happen. That means if the author doesn’t have a tight hold on the reins the story can run amuck, and quickly lose all connection with the real world. If you haven’t read much fantasy, you might think a world of dragons, gryphons, and flaming swords couldn’t possibly ring true. But the author has pulled it off. In The Seraph’s Path, Dyrk doesn’t understand the opposite sex, and he’s prone to dig himself deeper via ongoing procrastination, and then he can’t figure out how best to ask for forgiveness. There’s something very real about this made-up world.

I was also impressed with how patient the author is and I’ll give one example. In this world, the god Arren is served by seven Seraphs. Dyrk sends his prayers via those angelic servants because he thinks Arren is too holy to approach directly. If that strikes you as Roman Catholic-esque, I’d agree. But isn’t Dyrk our hero? So how can he, via his repeated prayers, be teaching us something so very wrong? Well, a few hundred pages in Dyrk has his first encounter with people who talk to Arren directly. And he doesn’t know what to think about that.  By the end of this book, the issue is still unresolved, but our hero has been given something to think about.

CAUTION

I can only think of one caution worth noting. At one point a key character faces sexual temptation, and while the passage is not lurid – there’s nothing here that would make grandma blush – it is sad and realistic enough that pre-teen readers might find it distressing.

CONCLUSION

Dykstra has engaged in some downright Tolkien-esque world-building, with not only exotic creatures and nations to discover, but layer upon layer of legend and history shaping the events. If you never made it through The Hobbit, or you haven’t read a fantasy book with a glossary in the back to help you keep track of the characters, then this might be too intense a read for you.

But if you want a whole new world to explore, and a story that’ll not only entertain but really get you thinking, you’re going to love The Seraph’s Path. I finished this nearly 500-page tome in 3 days, and the only downside to it was the cliff-hanger ending. So I was very happy to discover that the 700-page sequel, The Seraph’s Calling has just been released. I look forward to finding out what happens next!

You can buy both books at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Hyperinflation Devastation

by Connor Boyack
400 pages / 2019

Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” kids loved back in the 1980s? Readers would be brought to a fork in the road, given two options to choose from and if they chose Option A, they would be told to go to one page, and if they chose Option B then they would be directed to another. Afterward, they would continue on their chosen track with the adventure continuing to branch repeatedly thereafter.

In The Hyperinflation Devastation, author Connor Boyack has taken that concept and expanded on it, creating a 400+ page “Choose Your Consequence” adventure to teach teens various lessons about economics. 

In this, the first book in the series, Emily and Ethan Tuttle, a pair of 15-year-old twins, head out on their own to the small South American country of “Allqukilla.” If 15 strikes you as young to be out without parents, I’m with you. However, these two are a particular independent pair who have spent the last year planning and saving for this trip. They want to go to Allqukilla to check out the country’s ancient ruins. 


But is it to be? Right after their plane arrives, they see local news reports warning about an impending earthquake and it’s here that readers face their first choice. Are the Tuttle Twins going to have an incredibly short adventure and head back on the very next plane, or are they going to go on to their hotel? Of course, no reader is going to take the cautious route, so onward and forward the adventure continues. While exactly what happens depends on the choices a reader makes, the twins will encounter that earthquake, and then, with power disrupted, they’ll have to deal with roads in bad repair, hyperinflation, a lack of available food and water, and no cell phone service, as the two figure out their way home. 

The author’s economic outlook is a small government, libertarian one, which comes out in the lessons the twins learn. So, for example, in one story branch, they end up in a small village in the hills that still has power because they have never relied on the government to provide it. In another branch, they encounter some not-so warm-hearted help – entrepreneurial sorts who will do them good…for a price. The twins sometimes get entirely altruistic help, but the point is, they also get help from people who wouldn’t otherwise be helpful, except that it was in their own self-interest to do so. The lesson here is that the free market is important because it gives people a motive to provide things other people want. 


While this is intended as an educational story, Boyack doesn’t beat readers over the head with the lessons he’s trying to teach. Only once, in the 8 or so different story arcs does a character offer up a prolonged economics lecture. But even then, it isn’t too long. 

CAUTIONS

The one caution I would offer deals not with this book, but with the author. He writes from a generally Judeo-Christian, libertarian perspective. Often times those two perspectives can match up quite nicely since both Christians and libertarians recognize that the government shouldn’t try to be God. Thus we both believe in some form of smaller, limited government, and sets us both apart from the many who call on the government to solve whatever problems they face. 

But in some of Boyack’s other books, his libertarian perspective comes in conflict with his Judeo-Christian perspective. In The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law (one of 10 Tuttle Twin picture books he’s written for younger readers) he teaches readers that governments gain their authority from people, and not God. Based on that assumption the author argues that governments should only be able to do what people are able to do, so just as it would be wrong for a person to forcibly take money, therefore the same must be true of government. But this simply isn’t true. God has empowered governments to do some things which individuals must not do, and taxation is one of them (Luke 20:25, 1 Peter 2:13-14). 

The libertarian perspective in Hyperinflation Devastation is more restrained, and thus in keeping with a Christian worldview that understands God as distributing powers and responsibilities not simply to the state, but to parents, and the church, and individuals too. 

CONCLUSION

I would recommend this for any kids from 10 to 15. The adventure is a solid one, and the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure component will grab their attention.

Yes, this is an economics lesson, but it is a generally subtle presentation that never gets in the way of the story. That allows most kids, whether they are politically-inclined or not, to enjoy this. But because the economics angle is so very different from what they are reading in other books, it may well spark an interest in learning more about money, inflation, politics, and more. 

It may interest parents to know there are two other titles in this “Choose Your Consequence” series so far, but as I haven’t read them, I can’t yet recommend them, though the series can only be purchased for now, as a 3-book set here

There is one mistake in the book, on page 388, where we are directed to Page 335 but should be directed to Page 111. I recommend some of the Tuttle Twin pictures books here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Two Books about Inspired Writing from Leland Ryken

Words of Delight:
A Literary Introduction to the Bible

by Leland Ryken
540 pages / 1992 (second edition)

The Soul in Paraphrase:
A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems

by Leland Ryken
262 pages / 2018

Everything that I have read by Leland Ryken shows his submission to the "words of delight" in the Old and New Testament, and these two books are no exception.

Words of Delight is itself a delightful book, in which Ryken shows that the Bible is not only "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16), but also "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 19:10a). What makes Ryken's analysis of Scripture so valuable is that he shows that Scripture is not only the finest literature ever written, but that its literary quality does not undermine its authority. Instead, Scripture's beauty only reinforces our conviction that behind it is its ultimate Author, God Himself. One of the ways that Ryken does this is to demonstrate that

  • Scripture's use of tragedy is very different from the pagan tragedies of the ancient world,
  • the heroes of Scripture are true to human nature, as opposed to the heroes of ancient epics, and
  • Scripture's satire works with different standards than other ancient literature.
As well, Ryken demonstrates that even the prose histories and epistles of the Old and New Testaments are as literary as the more obviously poetic passages of Scripture. I found many new insights that are as helpful in private reading the Bible as they will be in teaching it. Ryken's book was fascinating reading, and will bear repeated reference in the future.

The Soul in Paraphrase is more clearly a reference work, and could make a great textbook for a Christian teacher's English course, but would also make a unique way to structure devotions for several months, since it deals with 150 devotional poems. Ryken shows the Scriptural inspiration and/or Christian connections for these poems, including those written more generally about nature and human relationships without specific mention of spiritual issues, or even from poets not generally identified as Christian poets. Ryken makes the case that it is also the Christian reader's approach to poetry that determines whether it can be read devotionally, and demonstrates that in his analysis of various poems. In his appreciation for the poems, Ryken invites us to compare their themes to Scriptural wisdom, often citing specific Scriptural passages.

In these two works, Ryken demonstrates the literary excellence of God's inspired Word, and shows how His Word is the inspiration for much classic poetry. If you want to read about inspired writing, you can find Words of Delight here, and here in Canada. If you want to read some writing inspired by inspired writing, you can  find The Soul in Paraphrase here and here in Canada.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Animals by design

by ICR
illustrated by Susan Windsor
125 pages / 2018

Mexican walking fish, lantern fish, immortal jellyfish, and zorses – those are just some of the crazy creatures featured in this fun little book. Every two-page spread showcases another animal, and even when it’s one you’ve heard of before, there’s sure to be cool details that’ll surprise you.

Animals by Design is published by the Institute for Creation Research. That means that, in addition to all the fascinating facts, a clear Christian perspective is also included. The point of this book is to introduce our children to how awesome our God is: hey kids, just look at the amazing, bizarre, surprising, unique, and simply astonishing creatures He’s made!

This has been sitting on our coffee table, off and on, for a few months now, and it turns out I was the only one in the family who hadn’t been regularly reading it. My wife and girls had all been taking turns flipping through it. It’s an easy book to dip in and out of – it doesn’t require a big time commitment – because each animal can be read on its own. So, maybe this time I’ll learn a little about zorses, and the next time I sit down at the couch, I can always find out then what makes an immortal jellyfish immortal.

The colorful drawings will appeal to kids but it’s a kid's book that mom and dad and anyone interested in animals or science will love too. In the US you can find it at ICR.org and in Canada you can order it through the Creation Science Association of Alberta.

A couple of sample pages can be viewed below.



Saturday, December 21, 2019

God made Boys and Girls

by Marty Machowski 
32 pages / 2019

My not even six-year-old already knows that some people think girls can marry girls. And she knows God says that isn’t so. We haven’t had to talk – yet – about folks who think that girls can become boys, but when that time comes, this book will be a help.

The story begins with a fast little girl, Maya, outrunning the boys…so one of them teases her that this means she’s going to become a boy. And that gets her worried. Fortunately, this little girl has a great instructor, Mr. Ramirez, who teaches the class that gender is a “good gift from God.” He shares how, if you are a boy, then you are a boy right down to your DNA. And the same is true for girls too. Mr. Ramirez then brings things back to the very first boy and girl, Adam and Eve, and how their Fall into Sin happened because they wanted to do things their own way instead of God’s good way. Today some want to do try their own way – not God’s way – when it comes to their gender too. One of the many things I appreciated about this book was how clear kids were taught what’s right, and then encouraged to act kindly to those who are confused.

Finishing up the book are a couple of pages intended for parents, which, in small print, pack a lot of information on how to talk through gender with our kids. One caution: there is one depiction of Jesus, as a baby and with no real detail given, on a page noting that God the Son became a tiny speck inside a girl, Mary, and became a man. I don’t think this a violation of the Second Commandment, but maybe someone else might.

The only other caution is in regards to what isn’t tackled in this story: gender roles. God made us different, and He also gave the genders some different roles and also gave us some different general tendencies. So yes, as the book notes, some boys do like dancing, and some girls like car repair…but that’s not the general trend. And because the general trend is never noted in the book, this absence could, if left undiscussed, leave young readers with the impression that no such trends exist. Then they would fall for a different one of the world’s gender-related lies: that other than sexual biology, men and women aren’t different at all.

This is not a picture book you are going to read over and over with your children because it is more of a conversation starter than a story. But it is a wonderful help for parents in discussing an issue that none of us ever confronted when we were kids. It is a different world today, and we want to be the first to broach these topics with our kids. Reading and discussing a book with your little one is a fantastic way to do it.

For a peek at the first 7 pages, click here.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Mother Kirk

by Douglas Wilson
Canon Press, 2001, 283 pages

If "Listen to this" is one of your favorite phrases to say to others while you are reading a book, you know the book is worth not just listening to, but reading. Mother Kirk is that kind of book - a solidly Reformed look at, the front cover puts it, "Practical Ecclesiology."

In other words, Douglas Wilson tells us not just what the church is, but how to be the faithful people of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ according to His word - how to observe the Sabbath, issues of church music and liturgy (which was my "listen to this" chapter), church government and discipline, the character and call of God's shepherds in the church, and how to reach out to the world outside the church.

You can get a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Monday, December 9, 2019

What's your worldview?

by James N. Anderson
112 pages 2014

If you’ve got fond memories of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you’ll really enjoy this adult update. This time it’s a journey to discover our own worldview and, like the kids’ books, we keep coming to forks in the road. So, early on, we either agree there is objective truth and then go to page 22 or we say there isn’t and then go to page 91. A Christian reader flipping to page 22 will be asked to consider, “Is it possible to know the Truth?” The author James Anderson lays out the case for both options, after which we again have to choose which way we want to go. 

After a dozen or so steps, readers will eventually arrive at the worldview that matches their professed beliefs. Anderson is a Christian and his biases are acknowledged up front. So, even as he has challenging questions for anyone who lands on one of the other 20 worldviews, he also raises the problem of evil for Christians. He wants everyone to follow God, but he refuses to pretend as if Christians have it all figured out. 

Overall, I’d say the strength of the book is this really fun format and also it’s conciseness  – there is just so much packed in such a little space. I’d recommend it for teens as a graduation gift, and for college students and adults too. Maybe the best use of it is as a coffee table book, because it can be digested in chunks by choosing one “adventure” at a time.

To get a peek at the first 20 or so pages, you can find it here on the author’s website

And if you want to hear Dr. Anderson give an overview on worldviews, check out the 20-minute presentation below that he gave at the 2016 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Moon Is Always Round

by Jonathan Gibson; illustrated by Joe Hox
32 pages / 2019 / New Growth Press

The Moon Is Always Round is, I believe, the first picture book that put tears in my eyes. Jonathan Gibson tells the simple (true) story of how he, his wife. and his three-year-old son Benjamin waited excitedly for the arrival of a baby sister for Benjamin. The story is told in Benjamin's voice, with the persistent refrain from his Dad that "the moon is always round."

We do not learn until the end what that means. When Benjamin realizes that his sister will not be coming home, he is asked by his father at the funeral of the stillborn child, "What shape is the moon?" When Benjamin answers, "The moon is always round," Jonathan Gibson's further question - "What does that mean?" - is answered by Benjamin, "God is always good."

Gibson's story reminds us that God is always good, even when, as with the moon, we cannot see the full picture. This profound and poignant lesson is reason enough to read this book, on your own, and with your children, but Gibson uses the last three pages to

  • give children a clear understanding of the meaning of the moon's always being round;
  • show how Good Friday is the supreme example of God always being good (even when we can't see it);
  • give the detailed story of his use of the expression "The moon is always round" with his son, including where he first encountered those words; and
  • provide a "Catechism" for young readers or listeners about the meaning of the expression.

If you believe, as I do, that the moon is always round, and God is always good, and that Jonathan Gibson can help remind you and your loved ones of those facts, you can get his book here, and here in Canada.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Classical Me, Classical Thee: Squander Not Thine Education

by Rebekah Merkle
99 pages / 2017 / Canon Press

At first glance, the title rules this out for the general reader, but Classical Me, Classical Thee is a really good discussion of the basis for any Christian education. While Reformed Christian schools, for example, may not emphasize the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) of classical education, the justification for the subjects covered in classical Christian schools applies (or should apply) to Reformed education as well.

Rebekah Merkle uses several analogies to explain the "superpowers" that the classical curriculum gives to students (powers that a good Christian education will also provide). She stresses that such education is not only a "pizza with extra toppings" in comparison to public education but "a fundamentally different pizza." Why? Because the classical curriculum offers a more coherent view of life, the universe, and everything, since in addition to the seemingly miscellaneous puzzle pieces (facts and figures) of a secular worldview, classical education shows how to  comprehend and connnect those pieces by using the picture on the box (a Biblical foundation for students' varied studies).

So what are the superpowers bestowed by classical (and good Christian) education? For instance,

  • in Latin, we are given the basic structures of language that enable us to speak and write clearly (a good reminder of the importance of grammar studies in the English language as well);
  • literature teaches us to read for detail - something that reader-centered study of literature does not equip students for in post-secondary education or the real world;
  • logic prepares students to see through the false claims of our secular culture;
  • rhetoric, on the other hand, enables both classical and Christian students to defend the truth - and worldview study enables them to know what that truth is;
  • math and science show us not only the order in the universe, but also the divine source of that order - something hidden from public school students; and
  • history shows us how we got to the misunderstandings of secular culture, and therefore how to fruitfully address those misunderstandings.
Merkle's chapter on the Trivium is less relevant to the student or teacher of a general Christian school, but her conclusion is an urgent appeal to invest the superpowers (also known in Jesus' parable as talents) developed in Christian education to serve God in "faithful, creative ways."

If you think that Rebecca Merkle's book can help us in both classical and general Christian schools to "squander not thine education," you can get her book here, or here in Canada.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Amazing Dr. Ransom's Bestiary of Adorable Fallacies

A Field Guide for Clear Thinkers
by Douglas Wilson & N.D. Wilson
illustrated by Forrest Dickison
320 pages / 2015 / Canon Press


The authors of this guide to discovering and disarming logical fallacies have indeed revealed the adventures of an amazing globetrotting fallacy hunter, and their narrative will help us hunt down (and on occasion, kill) fallacies in our own interactions with fallacies and the people who love them.

That's exactly the problem (for all of us) with fallacies - they're so loveable. "The Amazing Dr. Ransom" (who claims to have been born in 1837 and have stayed healthy through the use of spider milk lotion) tells us how easily people allow fallacies into their lives and minds. Ransom deals with 50 fallacies in the following four categories: fallacies of distraction, of ambiguity, and of form; and millenial fallacies. Each of the fifty chapters

  • defines the fallacy and its dangers (showing it as a cuddly but vicious animal);
  • shows the fallacy, in Forrest Dickison's illustrations, in repose and on the attack;
  • explains how we, like Ransom, can defeat it;
  • gives the fallacy its other (sometimes better known) names; and
  • provides both discussion questions and exercises in recognizing examples of both fallacious and logical arguments.
The book also includes answers for all the questions in the back, as well as a schedule for teaching, reviewing and testing students' knowledge of logical fallacies, which helps make it ideal as a textbook for an English or philosophy course. But what makes the book fun is that both Ransom's adventures in confronting fallacies and the examples given are presented with satirical wit. I have never enjoyed reading about and puzzling out fallcies more.

Which brings me to the two cautions:
  1. On occasion the Wilsons, arguably, step over the line of discretion and good taste in the description of Dr. Ransom's confrontation with fallacious fools (always a peril in satire).
  2. The recognition exercises' answers in the back have no explanation. It helps if you share the Wilsons' Christian worldview and principled conservatism (as I generally do), but even then, I did not always agree with their answers. If I were to use this in my classroom, I would have to discuss every answer with the class as a whole (not in itself a bad thing).
Despite these considerations, I would love to see this as a textbook for my courses. If you agree that this book could help you defeat the fallacies that stalk us along all our mental trails, you can find it here, and here in Canada.