Thursday, January 21, 2021

Feature author: David Macaulay

David Macaulay (1946-) is a children’s author who loves to investigate how things are made and how they work. He covers everything from architecture (skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) to machines (computers, inclined planes), and even biology (cells, the human body). Macaulay is first an artist and then an author, so even though he writes for all ages, his books are always picture books.

His first, Cathedral: the story of its construction (1973), set the template for much that would follow. It was filled with detailed, full-page illustrations showing the whole construction process, right from the decision to build in 1252, all the way to the church’s completion more than a hundred years later. It isn’t the history of any real, specific cathedral, so, to give added color, Macaulay included a fictitious backstory. While this narrative is interesting, it’s also quite bare-bones – we learn the architect’s name and hear about some of the monetary troubles involved in paying for the cathedral, but not much more than that. Most of the “story” details the construction challenges these ancient builders faced, and the ingenious solutions they came up with to solve them. Many people are mentioned, but the story is more a biography of the building than its creators. A combination of detailed text, and big pictures, gives Cathedral a cross-age appeal. Younger, elementary-aged children can flip through it (maybe with some help from mom or dad), while teens and adults will likely read it front to back.

Cathedral was followed by others of a similar sort, exploring how pyramids, jet planes, inclined planes, and even toilets work. Then, in more recent years, Macaulay has delved into the way our bodies work.

RECOMMENDED

So what Macaulay books would be great to check out of your local library? Or might be good purchases for your home or Christian school library? The following list isn’t exhaustive – Macaulay’s output is impressive, so I haven’t gotten to them all yet – but what follows are my recommendations, grouped by age group.

Kindergarten to Grade 4

While many Macaulay books are oversized, these are more typically sized, just right for the younger reader to hold and flip through. But mom and dad will also enjoy reading these to their kidlets.

Toilet: How it works
32 pages / 2013
A great one to start boys on. Considering the topic matter, it is quite remarkable that this is free of any potty humor.

Jet Plane: How it works 
32 pages / 2012

Eye: How it works
32 pages / 2013
A very fun look at just how amazing the eye is.

Castle: How it works
32 pages / 2012
A much simpler version of his earlier Castle (1977) book, it might create interest in that bigger volume.

Shortcut
64 pages / 1995
This is a creative mesh of several seemingly unrelated storylines, and the fun for kids is to figure out how they are all interconnected. This brightly colored picture book is a departure from any other Macaulay book, being more a mystery than anything architectural.

Black and White
32 pages / 1990
A Caldecott winner, this unique book has 4 stories being told simultaneously on each two-page spread. Or is it all just one story? Very fun, but not for the impatient, as the answer reveals itself slowly.

Grades 3 to adult – bigger books

These architectural books are all big, but not too big to scare away the elementary reader. I’ve grouped them in order of preference, leading with the very best. But if a child loves any one of these, they’ll likely enjoy them all.

Castle
80 pages / 1977/2010
A Caldecott Award winner, it tells the detailed, historically-accurate (though fictitious) story of how an English castle was constructed in the late 1200s. Be sure to get the 2010 version, which has all the full-page pictures in full color. Castles are the coolest, so if you were to get just what Macaulay book, this should be it. It won a Caldecott award.

Cathedral
80 pagers / 1973/2013
The one that started it all. Its oversized pages showcase in words and wonderful, detailed pictures how a medieval people, lacking all our modern construction tools, could build something that would marvel us still today. The black and white original was redone in color in 2013, and the added vibrancy is wonderful.

UnBuilding
80 pages / 1980
A fictional, fantastically illustrated story of how a rich Arab prince buys the Empire State Building to move it to his home country. It is a floor by floor account of how something this big would be “unbuilt.”

City
112 pages / 1974
Describes how the Roman Empire would plan and build their cities.

Pyramid
80 pages / 1975
As you might imagine, there is some mention made about the ancient Egyptians’ pagan beliefs, but nothing that the target audience, Grade 3 and up, shouldn’t be able to see through. But they might not realize that Macaulay is including some guesswork in amongst the facts since there are a few theories about how exactly the pyramids were made.

Grade 6 and up – huge tomes

Building Big
192 pages / 2000
This might be my favorite of all Macaulay’s books, with short treatments of various historic bridges, tunnels, dams, domes, and skyscrapers. More than 30 structures are covered, going as far back as the Pantheon, all the way to today’s skyscrapers. It’s a treat to see just how creative engineers have been in building bigger, higher, and deeper, even as they used less and cheaper materials. I’ll own up to not understanding even half of what Macaulay explains, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment.

Crossing on Time
128 pages / 2019
This is part autobiography, sharing the author’s trip across the Atlantic Ocean when he was only a young boy and his family immigrated from Great Britain to America. But it is, even more, a story about the development of the steam engine, passenger ships in general, and the SS United States specifically. As always, detailed pictures provide lots for the viewer to explore.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Mosque
Another big book about how a building gets built, and while there is no real reason to avoid it – it treats Islam with deference, but doesn’t actually promote it, as this is about a building rather than the religion – there is also no pressing reason to get it either. I know it wouldn’t have interested me as a boy, especially when compared to his book on castles.

The Way We Work
In this enormous tome (300+ pages), Macaulay explores how amazingly well-designed we are (though he doesn’t put it quite like that). He details it from the atomic level on up to cells, eyes, and even our reproduction system. It is the brief section on sex that makes this a take-it-or-leave-it book. It is quite restrained and comparatively tame to what else is out there, but this isn’t a topic that kids should tackle without adult supervision, making this a questionable book for a school library. And while parents could conceivably use it to introduce and discuss this topic with their kids, there are better, specifically Christian, books available. So I’d only recommend this for an age group who already knows the basics about sex since for them this could be a fascinating overview of the whole body (and the sex section isn’t remotely titillating). I’ll also note the passing mention made, 2 or 3 times, of ancient ancestors or of evolution. However, the more important worldview implication is the glaring omission of any mention of God, even as His handiwork is explored and praised. The creation is praised rather than the Creator, and kids may miss the significance of that misdirection, so parents will need to make that plain.

The Way Things Work Now
Macaulay uses cute mammoths to explain everything from how basic machines like screws and inclined planes work, to the inner workings of computers and jets. There is the very occasional mention of millions of years, and, on a few pages, some tiny angel-like creatures appear to help illustrate how a machine works. It’s a mystery why he uses them there instead of the mammoths that are everywhere else.

Mammoth Science
Mammoths are used to illustrate and introduce scientific topics as varied as light, molecules, density, bacteria, pressure, hydraulics, and magnetism. But evolution is a minor theme, popping up at least a half dozen times, including a couple of pages devoted specifically to it.

Angelo
This is the story of Angelo, who cleans and restores ancient architecture, and the pigeon he saves. It is a charming and different perspective on these ancient buildings, but Angelo dies at the end and that made my girls cry. So, at least in our house, two thumbs down.

DON'T BOTHER

Baaa
Strange dystopian picture book in which humans have disappeared due to overpopulation, and then sheep follow in their footsteps. A Malthusian/overpopulation allegory. Simply nonsense.

Underground
This is not a bad book, but it isn’t a good one. It details what is found underneath a downtown city street, but the book is dry and dusty because there is no story element.

Great Moments in Architecture
This is an attempt at humor, with various strange works of impossible, fanciful architecture shown, but it ends up being odd and weird, not funny.

TV SERIES

While this review is about Macaulay’s books, I’ll briefly mention a video series based on one of them. The Way Things Work is 26-episodes long and utterly fantastic, and while the $200+ price tag is too expensive for parents to buy, many public libraries carry it. To learn more, see my review here.

CAUTIONS

There aren’t many worldview conflicts to be found. It comes out that Macaulay does think people are really something, which, of course, we do too, though likely for a different reason. We know our worth comes from outside ourselves – it comes from being made in the very Image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) – whereas Macaulay seems to believe that what makes us special comes from what we can do. In the preface to his updated Cathedral (2013), he writes:

“Whatever magical or superhuman notions these buildings may stir, castles and cathedrals are tagine reminders of human potential. Understanding how they came to be is just the first step in recognizing that potential in each of us.”

If you were to ask, “Who or what is the ‘god’ of Macaulay’s books? Who or what is the object of worship?” this would be the answer: human ability and human potential. In the same book, he also offers a seemingly cynical take on medieval Christianity:

“For hundreds of years the people were taught by the church that God was the most important force in their lives. If they prospered, they thanked God for his kindness. If they suffered, they begged for God’s mercy, for surely He was punishing them.”

Of course, as children of the Reformation, we know there was a good deal about the medical Church to be cynical about, so maybe there is no fault to find here.

A clearer problem lies in the one or two dozen mentions Macaulay makes about evolution and millions of years. But these mentions are spread out over his many books, such that in a book of 300+ pages it might happen twice or thrice, and in his shorter books, not at all.

The most overt worldview conflict I’ve found is in his strange dystopian Baaa (1985), in which humans have overpopulated themselves out of existence, only to have sheep take their place and then repeat their mistake. The overpopulation lesson preached here is in opposition to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).

CONCLUSION

If you have a budding engineer in your family, they’ll love David Macaulay. He has books for all ages, and sometimes two books on the same subject, with one for a younger age group and the other for a couple or so years older. Because so many of these books are about engineering marvels, they might be categorized as “boy books” but my girls were interested too. I think they could also be a way to hook a reluctant reader into working through a very big book – they might open the book for the illustrations, but then curiosity will get them to start reading this page and that.

There’s certainly good reason that David Macaulay remains a favorite of so many, even 50 years after his first book!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Auschwitz Escape


by Joel C. Rosenberg 
2014 / 461 pages

Joel Rosenberg is a fantastic writer, a New York Times best-seller, but his political thrillers are based in large part on premillennial views that I don't share, and that does take away from some of the fun. But in The Auschwitz Escape he's having a go at historical fiction, so his end-times eschatology doesn't factor in, even as his mad story-telling skills still do.

Jacob Weisz is a seventeen-year-old Jew in Germany in 1938. His parents are passive, hoping that if they just stay the course, eventually it will turn out alright. His uncle is a member of a Jewish resistance group that knows things will only get worse unless people start fighting to make it better. Jacob isn't as naive as his parents, but he does respect them. But when the Nazis come for his family, Jacob escapes and begins to fight alongside his uncle...for a time. As the title indicates, soon enough he gets caught and sent to Auschwitz. There he meets a Protestant pastor, imprisoned for helping Jews, and Jacob can't understand why the man was willing to risk his life when he could have stayed out of it and stayed safe. Jacob has a hard time trusting a man whose Christian motivations are so hard for him to understand.

Rosenberg makes clear that while the two principal characters are fiction, their experiences were not – he researched the actual escapes, as well as the escapees' attempts to let the world know what was going on in these death camps. That research, along with his impressive writing chops, give the book its authentic feel. And speaking of authenticity, Rosenberg has inserted a gospel presentation in the book, but his is more subtle and more natural than what most other Christian writers manage.

I really enjoyed it and am keeping it on my bookshelf because I can imagine reading it again in a few years. I'd recommend it for older teens and up.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Dawn of Wonder: The Wakening


by Jonathan Renshaw
2015 / 708 pages

This might, at first glance, seem to be your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-dares-girl-to-jump-off-of-a-thousand-foot-high-bridge-into-the-icy-cold-stream-below-and-girl-shows-him-up-by-actually-doing-it, story. And, as many a fantasy tale contains, there are swords, courageous heroes, battles to be fought (and sometimes with large, very toothy creatures), and evil not yet here but lurking ominously. Our hero, Aedan, is not yet thirteen but he has a sharp mind, and he'a had a hard life, which makes him wise beyond those few years. So when an officer comes galloping into the village with warnings of slavers on the way, Aedan is the first to suspect the man might not be the ally he seems. But when no one will listen, his foresight isn't enough to save his not-yet-a-girlfriend-but-already-his-best-friend Kalry. In the adventures that follow Aedan is equal parts determined and desperate, willing to do and try whatever it takes to retrieve, or revenge, his lost companion.

The book's size is not so typical – the 700-page first-of-the-series would make for a good doorstop. And not just any story would get my nephew recommending this to all his brothers and sisters, and any friend within earshot too. It is atypical too, in that it accomplished what no other book has managed: it made me look forward to running. I only let myself listen to the fantastic audiobook reading when I was out jogging, and at 30 hours long, it got me out the door roughly 60 times.

It is Christian, but not obviously so. The author is content to let the deeper tale – the moral of this story – come out gradually. I should add, I don't know the author is Christian but like the best bits of Narnia, or Lord of the Rings, this book is simply too good, and too true, not to be rooted in the Word.

The only downside is that Book 2 still seems to be a good ways out. Fortunately, there is a sense of resolution to Book 1 – it's as satisfactory a cliffhanger as a reader could really hope for.

So I'll pass on a most enthused two thumbs up, and express my gratitude to my nephew for being insistent that I should read Dawn of Wonder; I can't recall enjoying a fantasy novel more!

To give you an idea of the research the author invested in his novel, the video below is of him investigating whether it is possible – as one of his characters did – to make a decent bow in a single day using just a knife.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Flirting with the World

A Challenge to Loyalty
by John White
135 pages / 1990 (originally 1982)

John White's books have appeared multiple times in this blog. This one is non-fiction, a look at some of the ways that Christians can, knowingly or not, flirt with the world, all the while thinking that it's our less mature brothers and sisters who are guilty.

White's preface reveals a bride-to-be who's living with her boyfriend, Mundo (Latin for World), while still bragging about her engagement to her fiance (Christ). After looking at multiple ways in which this ugly triangle has played out - and still does play out - in the church (the bride) for twelve chapters, White ends on a hopeful note with the bride marrying the groom with sobs of repentance - inviting us as individuals, and as churches, to do the same.

Here are some of the warnings along the way:

  • Avoid straining at gnats (bragging about our own moral scruples - like abstaining from alcohol) while swallowing camels (violating clear Biblical ethics - as in shady business deals).
  • Examine our values revealed in our retirement plans and practices, as well as in our desire for entertainment in our worship - values that can cause us to miss the real power of Jesus Christ for life and worship.
  • As a psychologist himself, White was well qualified to warn about the stress on the self that distorts the message of the gospel - an especially timely warning for our time, in which people believe that their own subjective understanding, rather than God's work (both in creation and in redemption), defines their identity.
  • Let the clear exposition of the gospel - first in doctrine and only then in application - be the stimulant for growth in godliness - but to continue growing...
  • We need true fellowship, the kind fostered in small groups (for which White explains several benefits and practical methods). 
  • Finally, when we catch ourselves flirting with the world, we need not to merely resolve to do better, but to truly repent - confess our sin, and seek God's help in changing - as does the bride in his analogy.
The points above are summaries of only some of the chapters. The end-of-chapter questions deepen the application of White's insights.

If you believe that John White can point you back toward our true love, Jesus Christ, you can get Flirting with the World here, and here in Canada.


Saturday, November 14, 2020

What to Do On Thursday

 A Layman's Guide to the Practical Use of the Scriptures
by Jay Adams
148 pages / 2019

This is a short book, but not an easy read - not if you actually want to know What to Do On Thursday, because Jay Adams refuses to simply tell us that. Instead, as a Biblical counselor, he shows us how to be ready for Thursday, through systematic study of Scriptures that show us how to live in Christ.

After a brief introduction, Adams gives us the example of Bob, who is facing a tricky situation at the office, and needs Scriptural guidance on how to deal with it. Adams gives us several Biblical principles that fit the situation, but also reminds us that without frequent study of God's word, Bob would not have known those principles.

To start that study, Adams gives us a brief overview of the New Testament, with the exhortation that we begin the same overview of the Old Testament, starting with Proverbs and Psalms - not so much that we will know in detail what it says, but so that we will know where to find what we need when we need it. In the same way, Adams categorizes some 200 New Testament passages for us to study to understand how to deal with What to Do On Thursday, on topics from Accusation to Worry - a list that alone is worth the price of the book.

In the next general section on "Biblical Interpretation," Adams shows us how to study, the best resources to use, how to understand the context and intent of Biblical passages - again, valuable guidance for Bible study by either groups or individuals.

Finally, Adams applies all the above to Bob's situation and sets us on the path of planning for the right priorities in our lives, setting goals, scheduling, and adapting the true intent of Biblical passages to our specific situations. 

If you believe that Jay Adams has written A Layman's Guide to the Practical Use of the Scriptures, you can get his book here, and here in Canada.




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!