Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Bug Zapper: The Ant Arrives!



by Tom Eaton
2018 / 108 pages

Bug Zapper is a superhero that fights a bevy of bug-themed villains like Mean Mosquito, Butterfly Bob, and the Black Ant. His powers are the ability to jump really far – I think he’s jumping and not flying – and, like his namesake, a nasty jolt of electricity that stops bug villains in their tracks.

This is more of a gentle spoof of the superhero genre than a genuine batman or spiderman-type comic. Yes, villains do get zapped, but no one gets really hurt. Artist and author Tom Eaton makes good use of bright colors and simple lines – the drawings strike me as a little Peanut-esque – to create a comic book that’ll draw kids in. It’s hard to walk by this without picking it up for a peek. 

There are two books so far – Bug Zapper and Bug Zapper: The Ant Arrives! – and both my Grade Three daughter and I thought the second was the better of the two with just a bit more action and humor. But the first has the Bug Zapper’s origin story, which every Bug Zapper fan will want to know. 

And the first also has an interesting plotline about bias in reporting. Robert, an elementary student who would love to be the Bug Zapper’s sidekick, also writes about him for the school newspaper. Amber, the daughter of one of Bug Zapper’s archnemeses, also goes to the school and accuses Robert of being biased for writing such a nice piece about a hero while saying nothing nice about villains. Then the teacher gives Robert an assignment to write his next article about a supervillain! But does being unbiased means saying nice things about both sides? That’s what Amber thinks. But Robert knows that good journalism is more about being fair, trying to share the truth as accurately as he can. That’s some pretty weighty material for a comic that’s otherwise just lighthearted fun! And Tom Eaton pulls it off well. 

I would think this best for Grades One to Three, but the video version will let you gauge how it matches up with your children. You can find another video and color sheets at bugzappercomics.com.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Through Gates of Splendour

by Elizabeth Elliot
274 pages / 1981

This is the original true account of a missionary endeavour that went terribly wrong, and yet was used by God for great good. The story is continued in such books as The End of the Spear, by Steve Saint - one of the sons of the missionaries who risked their lives to bring the gospel to the hostile Auca tribe of Ecuador.

What makes this biography so striking is that the author, Elizabeth Elliot, one of the missionaries' wives, does not know at the time of writing how the story will "end." Indeed, we still do not know, and that is one of the insights shared by Elliot, and relied upon by the mssionaries themselves - that we are neither the authors, nor the final readers, of our own lives' stories.

Elizabeth Elliot's later writing also makes clear how we must trust that the Lord's purposes in both our successes and our failures are greater than we can imagine. 

If you would like to read Elliot's account of the beginning of a God-guided advanture, you can get it here and here in Canada.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

"Live not by lies" in 7 quotes

by Rod Dreher
256 pages / 2020

In Live not by lies, Rod Dreher shares the warning he’s hearing from former emigrants from the Soviet Union and other Iron Curtain countries. They lived through totalitarianism and fled from it, and they told Dreher they are seeing signs of a “soft” totalitarianism now showing up in the West. This soft sort is less about the State imposing its will, though, conversion therapy bans, and requiring a hospice to provide euthanasia, shows that is happening too. But the soft totalitarianism is more about a culture that will cancel Parler, block Focus on the Family, and keep conservative speakers off university campuses. This soft sort also evidences itself when people, out in public, start feeling the need to whisper their opinions, afraid others will hear that they still think boys can’t be girls, abortion is murder, homosexuality a sin, and Donald Trump was actually the lesser of two evils.

Dreher wants Christians to hear these former Soviets’ warnings so we can be prepared for what they think is coming. What does being prepared mean? Dreher’s particular focus is to have us ready to face persecution.

To give you a feel for Dreher’s argument, and a flavor of his writing, here are seven quotes from Live not by lies.

Silence can be a stand

“‘Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!’ You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe….If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, [Solzhenitsyn] said, then our response must be: ‘Let their rule hold not through me!’”

Government that cares for you cradle to grave

“The term totalitarianism was first used by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who defined totalitarianism concisely: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

Free to say all that Google and Twitter will allow

"Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic – and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit."

Don’t bat for the other team

“What did it mean to live by lies? It meant, Solzhenitsyn writes, accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state compelled its citizens to affirm – or at least not to oppose – to get along peaceably under totalitarianism. Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all the other lies their malign force. The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be its loyal subject.”

Demanding you call him “her”

“According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is.”

Judged by our group, not our character

“In classic Marxism, the bourgeoisie are the oppressor and the proletariat are the oppressed. In the [today’s] cult of social justice, the oppressors are generally white, male, heterosexual, and Christian. The oppressed are racial minorities, women, sexual minorities and religious minorities. (Curiously, the poor are relatively low on the hierarchy of oppression. For example, a white Pentecostal man living on disability in a trailer park is an oppressor; a black lesbian Ivy League professor is oppressed.)”

Christians as the enemy, not as allies

“Consider that the civil rights movement of the 1960’s was led by black preachers who articulated the plight of their people in biblical language and stories. Those days are over, and we will not be able to take the measure of the long struggle ahead if we don’t understand the essential nature of the opposition. It regards Christians as the most significant remaining obstacle, bearers of the cruel and outdated beliefs that keep the people from being free and happy.”

Monday, January 25, 2021

Huntingtower

by John Buchan
2021 (originally published 1922) / 125 pages

It was Alfred Hitchcock who brought John Buchan to my notice, and perhaps also to the notice of many others. If you are a fan of Hitchcock's work in the 1930s, you have probably seen The 39 Steps - which was based on Buchan's novel of the same title. I think that he should be more known for the very unusual set of linked stories, The Path of the King, which traced the (fictional) aristocratic lineage of President Lincoln.

But onto this also unusual novel - the story of a middle-aged Scottish man in his early retirement, Dickson McCunn. Dickson, the owner of a chain of grocery stores, finds himself at loose ends when he no longer has a company to run. His wife is taking a rest cure at a spa in the country, but Dickson hates the spa, so he begins his retirement by taking a "walking tour."

In typical Buchan (and Hitchcock) style, Dickson gets involved (initially unwillingly) in a quest to save a Russian princess from criminals who want to take her royal riches  for themselves - and herself for their their overbearing leader.

A few cautions:

  • There is a strange offhand reference to "the Jews" who are behind all these shenanigans, but Buchan does not seem to be describing some shadowy international conspiracy, but just the typical corruption and crime that follows any overthrow of the established order (since the novel is set just after the Bolshevik Revolution). Nonetheless, it is disturbing.
  • Dickson seems to have a rather distant relationship with his wife, but it seems to be partly based on his early retirement doldrums. He does warm up to her, and vice versa, after his adventure.
  • Finally, the novel is full of Scottish dialect and archaic speech, but it does become clearer, and gives an amusing and warm flavour to the interaction between Dickson and his new allies.
If Huntingtower has all these problems, why read this book? C.S. Lewis reminds us that reading old books is valuable, because we can generally see through their errors (because we don't share those errors), but we can learn about values that we've forgotten or dismissed. Keeping that in mind, here's what I liked about the story.
  • Dickson, a newly retired business owner, learns how to step outside his carefully ordered life to play a whole new role as a protector of a princess. It's not easy, either: When he goes back to Glasgow to protect the princess's jewels in a safety deposit box, he is tempted to leave it at that, but then realizes that he is being called upon to help a vulnerable young woman. He rises to the challenge, like a true good Samaritan, even when he gets beaten up a couple times.
  • Finally, Dickson makes friends with the Gorbal Die-Hards, a gang of young ruffians from his hometown who run up against the much rougher and more malicious and ambitious gang out to capture the princess and her gems. Dickson gains a real respect and affection for the Die-Hards and eventually takes them under his wing - a much more long-term commitment than his help for the princess.
In other words, this is a coming-of-age story for a man who is already of age - a good reminder that we're never too old to take on new challenges for the help of our neighbours. If you want to find Scottish post-WWI adventure, as Dickson McCunn unexpectedly did, you can find Huntingtower here, and here in Canada.

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 one 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 tangible 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 medieval 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.