Thursday, February 14, 2019

Finding Your True Identity

Classic Christianity
by Bob George
187 pages / 2010

Vivid
by Syd Hielema and Aaron Baart
130 pages / 2013

The communion of saints is a wonderful thing. First a brother-in-law, then my wife brought me two really good reads about who we are in Christ... and the difference that makes.

Bob George's Classic Christianity reminds Reformed Christians of what we already know, doctrinally - that our salvation is all of grace - but also of something we stress much less - that our relationship with God is about much more than salvation. George tells us that salvation (being saved from God's just judgment) is only the beginning of the story. We are not only given eternal life in the future, but are made alive in Christ's resurrection power right now. Our very identity has changed, because we know ourselves to be not only loved by God, but also unconditionally accepted as His adopted children, freed from slavery to the law, growing in grace.

Vivid makes many of the same points, but puts them in a more specific context - that of who we are not only in our personal relationship with God, but also in our role as workers in His kingdom. Here are some of the more thought-provoking insights:

  • Knowing God through His Son takes us from the counterfeit kingdom of Satan to the blessed kingdom of Christ.
  • Life in the kingdom, at various times in our lives (sometimes on the same day), is like a playground, a workshop, a battlefield, and an intensive care unit.
  • Even as we move through these aspects of kingdom life, God reveals our new identity by changing our desires, our character, our emotions, and our imaginations.
  • Changing our imaginations releases us from the foolishness of the American dream.
  • We can further the work of the Spirit in our transformation by cultivating spiritual disciplines, (which do not come in a one-size-fits-all form).
  • As we continue to be transformed by God, our calling becomes clearer - a calling which is more than a job, a calling which glories in the small things.
  • Like Jesus' original disciples, we are the "sent ones," so let us just go!
The only false note in the book is the use of "Pastor Rita" as one of the examples of life in the kingdom - an example consistent with the denominational background of one of the authors - but not consistent with Biblical revelation on the role of women in the church.

If you think that knowing more about who you are in Christ will make a difference now, and for your future, you can get Classic Christianity here (and here in Canada), and Vivid you can get from the Dordt College library.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jonathan Edwards

by Simonetta Carr

64 pages / 2014

With Jonathan Edwards Simonetta Carr continues her series of picturebook "Christian biographies for young readers." This is one of 13 so far.

Two hundred years after Luther and Calvin, God used the Connecticut-born Jonathan Edwards to bring a Reformation of sorts to churches on this side of the ocean too. At the time there were many who professed to be believers, but who had no hatred of their own sins, and saw no real need to fight them. Then here came Edwards, preaching about the coming wrath of God against sin. Now, he preached on much more than this, but it was his fire and brimstone sermons that God used to spark a revival and shake people out of their ambivalence.

Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" sermon is famous, as is his story about a spider dangling over a fire, which illustrates our own precarious state when we haven't yet reconciled with God. But the rest of his life isn't well known. People think, based on his "angry God" sermon that Edwards was all hell and damnation but as Carr shows, that wasn't at all true. She presents Edwards as a nature-loving young man as curious about science as he was about God's Word. The two, to him, seemed a natural fit.

Carr commissioned a dozen full-page color paintings to illustrate the book and makes use of a couple dozen other pictures to make this a true picture book – every two-page spread has a picture or two. It is also an attractively bound book, making this something that can be passed from one generation to the next. And she has summarized Edwards' life in a clear and compelling fashion.

That said, this is not a book that most children will readily pull off the shelf. It is beautiful, but it's not about cute cartoon mice, and it doesn't have bright garish colors so it will have a hard time competing with everything else out to grab children's attention. But while this one might not be the right choice for a present from grandma and grandpa, it is a book that every Christian school should own and every Church history teacher will be able to put to good use – it is a fantastic educational resource that makes learning about Edwards easy.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914


by John Hendrix
40 pages / 2014

I was raised with stories of the Dutch Resistance and the Canadian liberators fighting against the brutal Nazis – war, it seemed, had clear villains and obvious heroes. Later, though, I learned that right and wrong in war can be far more confusing: for example, in recent years we’ve seen US-backed groups fighting other US-backed groups in Syria.

John Hendrix’s Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 presents parents with a tool to give our children a more nuanced understanding of war.

In a style that is halfway between realistic and cartoon, the author tells us the events of Dec. 24 and 25, 1914. On the day of Christmas Eve, 1914, all along the frontlines, the shooting slowed, and that night the Germans could be heard singing Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht– “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Then the next morning, on Christmas Day, in spots up and down the frontlines, German, British, and French troops spontaneously came out of their trenches and celebrated Christmas together.

Then the next day they resumed trying to kill one another.

Does that make this book sound anti-war? I’d say it is more an underscoring of just how horrible war is. Fighting is sometimes necessary, which is why we are grateful for the courage of the Dutch Resistance and the Allied forces in World War II, who understood that stopping the Nazis was worth risking, and even giving, their lives. We need to remember their sacrifice because it was noble, and selfless, and good.

But if war gives us examples to admire and imitate, there is also much that is foolish, and which we should learn to avoid. To give our children a more complete understanding of war, we need to show them that there are those who, under the guise of patriotism, rush to war, even though war should always be a last resort. There are leaders who do not treat their young men’s lives as precious, and World War One is an example of that right up to the last day when 11,000 soldiers died in fighting that occurred after the peace treaty was signed. Commanders who sent their men out on offensives on that last day – some from our side – should be remembered as murderers.

Shooting at the Stars is a gentle way of teaching the ethical complexities of war. It is gentle in that no blood or gore is seen (making this suitable for maybe Grade Three and up). The most war-like illustration occurs on a two-page spread where we see three corpses, as soldiers on both sides work together to bury their dead. What is striking is simply that there were men on both sides who could praise God together one day and fight to the death the next. That is a shocking bit of history. And it needs to be remembered.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Dance at Grandpa's

by Laura Ingalls Wilder

illustrated by Renée Graef
33 pages / 1994

I'd expect most everyone has heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. Not only are the book loved by children and parents alike, they spawned a 1970-80s TV series that was wildly popular too.

If by chance you aren't already familiar, the series is based on the author's own experiences in the late 1800's as a small child living the pioneering life.

This picture book, Dance at Grandpa's, is an adaptation of Chapter 8 from the first novel, Little House in the Big Woods. While neighbors are far flung, they do come together for special events, and this time everyone is invited to Grandma and Grandpa's big cabin. Laura, her Pa, Ma, big sister Mary, and baby sister Carrie, get bundled up in gloves, boots and coats, then covered up with blankets on the sleigh, as they head on their way to Grandpa's. Everyone brings their children so as the big cabin fills, Laura finds that there are "every so many babies lying in rows on Grandma's feather bed." Her pa then takes out his fiddle and the dozens of couples begin to dance and swirl. Laura discovers there's also food of all sorts, including wonderfully sour pickles! When the dancing finally stops Laura heads to bed, and come morning her family heads back home on their sleigh.

As with any adaptation the obvious question is, why not just read the original? Our family has previously enjoyed the original novels as audiobooks – from youngest to oldest, everyone liked the novels, and probably more than these picture book versions. So, again, why read the picture book adaptations?

There are a couple of reasons. First, my youngest can't read yet, but after going through the picture book once together, she could then "read" through it on her own, which she quite enjoyed.

Second, our middle daughter is learning to read and needs books that are easy, but still have an interesting story. Many of the books at her level are so boring she finds they just aren't worth all the effort it takes to read them. But the books in this series are fun and familiar, and she has enjoyed working through a number of them.

There are 14 picture books in all in this "My first Little House books" series, all of them based on the first three novels in the original series. The first two novels, Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie, are about Laura's childhood, and the third, Farmer Boy, is about her husband's childhood.

One little annoyance we found was that the books were not published in chronological order and aren't numbered, so it was hard to figure out which to read first. For the most part it doesn't really matter, with the exception of the three based on chapters from Little House on the Prairie where one does lead into the next. So you can read most of them in whatever order you'd like, but, if you do want to tackle them in the proper chronological order, this is what it would be:

Based on Little House in the Big Woods
  • Winter Days in the Big Woods
  • Christmas in the Big Woods
  • A Little House Birthday
  • Sugar Snow
  • Dance at Grandpa's
  • Going to Town
  • Summertime in the Big Woods
  • The Deer in the Wood
Based on Little House on the Prairie
  • Going West
  • Prairie Day
  • A Little Prairie House
Based on Farmer Boy
  • Winter on the Farm
  • A Farmer Boy Birthday
  • County Fair
CAUTIONS

The one caution I'll pass along concerns not Dance at Grandpa's, but another in the series. A Little House Birthday is based on Chapter 5 of Little House in the Big Woods and, just as in the original, the story here is all about how bored Laura is with Sunday. Her parents are very strict:
"On Sundays they could not run or shout or be noisy. They must sit quietly and listen while Ma read stories to them They might look at pictures, and they might hold their rag dolls nicely and talk to them. But there was nothing else they could do. One Sunday Laura could not bear it any longer and she began to play with Jack and run and shout. Pa told her to sit in her chair and be quiet, and Laura began to cry. So Pa took her on his knee and cuddled her and told her a story."
Eventually she falls asleep and, waking up the next morning, she realizes with relief, "It was Monday, and Sunday would not come again for a whole week."

So she's got quite the attitude about Sunday, and her parents really aren't helping things. Now, a story like this is no big deal when dad or mom are reading it – then we can explain that Sunday isn't a day of "don'ts" but a day of "get tos" – we get to have time off from our daily work and get to spend it together as God's people praising, and learning about, Him. Laura's parents made Sunday the worst day of the week and we can share with our kids that this is simply not the way the Lord's Day should be celebrated.

CONCLUSION

To this point we've read 11 of the 14 available and enjoyed them all (though we did have to have a talk about A Little House Birthday). I'd recommend them as fantastic books for Grades 1 and maybe 2. With girls as the primary characters, boys might not like most of them, but perhaps they'd be interested in the three based on Farmer Boy (I hope so, but I haven't tested these out on any boys). However, if your girls are anything like ours, they'll enjoy them all. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Two Ways to Get Out There

Out of the Saltshaker and into the World:
Evangelism as a Way of Life
by Rebecca Manley Pippert - 188 pages / 1979

Between Heaven and Hell:
A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death
with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley
by Peter Kreeft - 115 pages / 1982

If there is anything Reformed churches and Reformed believers (including myself) need to work on, it's evangelism. These two books are really good reads on ways to reach out to non-Christians.

Rebecca Pippert's Out of the Saltshaker shows us how to not just proclaim the truth, but to demonstrate the truth of the gospel in our relationships. As the One who Himself is the truth, Christ showed both the truth of God's love in His healing ministry and the truth of God's justice in His teaching. Both of these, Pippert shows, are necessary in our engagement with a rebellious, but also sorely troubled, world. She shows how we must start by first knowing Jesus as the Good News and also as Lord. Three chapters deal with how Christ's message was radically different from the preoccupations of the Pharisees, and how we need to understand both the darkness of our own hearts and the grace of God to really have good news to proclaim. She then shows how our relationship with Christ deepens our love for others, and gives us practical ways, in that love, to talk with others about our faith. Her conclusion stresses that the greatest witness to the reality of Christ is (though she does not use the term) the communion of saints.

Pippert spends only a short chapter on apologetics, but that is Peter Kreeft's focus in Between Heaven and Hell. He uses a fictional encounter just after death of C.S. Lewis with two men who (in real history) died on the same day - John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. Kreeft uses Kennedy as the exemplar of "modernistic or humanistic Christianity" and Huxley as the representative of "Orientalized or mystic Christianity." Strictly speaking, neither is Christian at all, but both are our world's of responding to (and minimizing) orthodox Christianity. Kreeft has Lewis respond to Kennedy by defending the divinity and resurrection of Christ, and to Huxley by demonstrating the orthodox understanding of what it means that Christ is divine. Kreeft's book is a superbly dramatized summary of much of C.S. Lewis defense of both the truth and the meaning of the gospel account of Christ's divine mission.

These two books together give great guidance in both why and how to show Christ's divine love and truth to the non-Christians in our lives.

Cautions: The following issues will trouble Reformed readers:
  1. While Pippert urges that people get their friends into a church, her book does not focus on how churches can bring people into the pew to hear the faithful preaching of the word. Her references to the gospels sometimes paraphrase the account of Christ's work in ways that are too informal. She also speaks of Jesus not taking away our freedom, and while even the Canons of Dort say something similar (about believers), the phrasing is uncomfortably Arminian.
  2. Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher. His Catholicism does not enter much into the discussion, but the book ends with the possible "after-death" conversion of Kennedy and Huxley. I am sure that Kreeft is not suggesting that such a last chance actually exists, but he does imply that reason is the vehicle that (at least potentially) brings people to God. While reason can be used to demonstrate the irrationality of unbelief, Reformed apologetics and evangelism relies (as it should) on the power of God's word and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Still intrigued (despite the cautions above)? Use the following links if you think that Pippert can help you get out of the salt-shaker, or that Kreeft can help you present the choice between heaven and hell. Canadians can find Pippert's book here and Kreeft's book here.




Monday, January 7, 2019

Harvey Kurtzman's Marley's Ghost


by Charles Dickens
adapted by Harvey Kurtzman, Josh O'Neill, and Shanon Wheeler
illustrated by Gideon Kendall
129 pages / 2017

This is a fantastic and faithful graphic novel adaptation of Charle's Dickens' A Christmas Carol using much of the story's original dialogue, with only the lightest (and very helpful) bit of modernization.

The revisions are limited, with the biggest probably being a change of the Ghost of Christmas Past from an old, child-like, man, to now being a waif-like girl. Not sure why the change was made, but it doesn't impact the story. Then there is also the general abridgment, with the comic coming in at probably half the text of the original story.

The original has some problematic spiritual content – ghosts of various sorts, including those of Christmas Past, Present, and Future – and this adaptation shares the same. So if you disliked the original for that reason, you won't like this one either.

But I'd argue that is a mistake, as this story isn't meant to teach anything about ghosts or the afterlife. Dickens lesson is entirely about the here and now – he wants us to understand that money brings cold comfort – Scrooge treats gold as his god, and this deity only brings him misery. What's actually problematic is the alternative "god" Dickens proposes. While the God of the Bible is made mention of (less in the comic than in the original) He is not the source of happiness in this story. The god here – in both original and adaptation – is generosity. If you are generous, then you will be happy and your life will have meaning.

Oh, Dickens, so near and yet so far!

Still, with that shortcoming understood, this classic can be appreciated – Christmas is made much of, and if we remember what this day commemorates then we can see Scrooge's transformation as a small reflection of the generosity and humility Christ showed in coming down to earth.

Cautions

This book has a loose connection to Harvey Kurtzman, a cartoonist most famous for his work with Playboy and Mad magazines. However, the comic is not written or drawn by him but is only based in part on a treatment he produced, so this connection is really rather irrelevant. I only mention it to note that as good as this book is, his other work isn't.

Other cautions would be limited to the unnecessary additions of two words – "bugger" and "bloody" – to Dickens' original text. Would that this bit of "modernization" had been forgone!

Conclusion

If this loyal and inventive rendition was available in print, I would have already ordered a copy, but, alas, you can only get it in a digital edition. That said, if you have a large tablet, this will be a treat, and you can get it at Amazon.com here.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Calvin's Institutes: Which edition to buy?

This is not so much a book review – since the book in question hardly needs promotion or an introduction – as it is a brief guide to the various translations and editions of Calvin's Institutes that are available.

John Calvin published five different Latin editions of his Institutes, expanding on it with each new edition. The 1536 edition was just 6 chapters long, and the addition of 17 shorter chapters in 1539 doubled the book’s size. Four more chapters were added in 1543, and then only minor changes made in 1550. But the final, 1559 version was fully 80% larger than its predecessor. In addition to these Latin editions, Calvin also created French versions that, while very similar, were not strict translations – they taught the same doctrine, in the same order, but sometimes said things in different ways.

It is the final Latin 1559 version that most translations are based on, including the two best-known English-language translations: the 1845 Henry Beveridge, and the 1960 Ford Lewis Battles (edited by John T. McNeill), translations.

1845 Beveridge

One advantage of the Henry Beveridge edition is that the copyright has expired on this translation, so it is readily available online for free (there is also a harder to find 1813 translation by John Allen also available online for free – Vol. 1Vol. 2Vol. 3 – as well as in print).

Cheap print and e-book copies are also available, but this is where you have to be wary, as some have crisp new type and a beautiful layout, and others look like they are copies of copies of the original 1800s publication, with dark text cramming every nook and cranny of the page. If you plan to be reading the Institutes front to back – all 1,700 some pages of it – then a nice airy, legible layout is important. So buyer beware – be sure that you can take a look at the inside of whatever edition you are buying.

1960 Battles/McNeill

The Ford Lewis Battles translation came a hundred years later, so as you might imagine, the language is somewhat more current. Another strength of this edition are the many helpful, explanatory notes that the editor, John T. McNeill, includes on the bottom of most every page.

2014 White

In addition to being the most modern translation (by Robert White and published by the Banner of Truth) this edition's main feature is one that will be regarded as a strength by some and a weakness by others – it is based on the much smaller 1541 French edition. It clocks in at just 920 pages, instead of the more than 1,700 pages of the final 1559 version. So, this would be the best one for those interested in checking out the Institutes but who would appreciate an abridgment...in this case, done by the author himself!

Conclusion

While it might seem a trivial thing, I really can't emphasize enough the importance of buying an edition with an inviting layout. You're going to be investing a lot of time with this book, whatever edition you buy, and if you get one with dense text, and a hard to read font, it will wear on you. And on the point, the White edition is beautiful, the Battles/McNeill seems good though not great, and the various editions of the Beveridge run the gamut from beautiful to atrocious.

Back in 2009, in celebration of John Calvin's 500th birthday, Pastor Douglas Wilson spent the year blogging through the 1559 edition, offering a daily set of questions to aid in the study of each passage. For those that are interested, you can find those blog posts here. He then turned these posts into a study guide, which differs from the blog posts in one important way. Whereas the blog posts have questions for each day, the study guide also includes brief answers to each question.

Friday, December 14, 2018

I Will Maintain: Volume 1 of the William & Mary Trilogy

by Marjorie Bowen
1993 (originally 1910) / 383 pages

This is not a new book, but it is a new topic for me, and it's a really good look at a particularly turbulent time in Dutch history.

One of the Williams in the House of Orange is (justly) famous in Dutch history for rescuing the Netherlands from the tyranny of Spain, but this novel depicts the rise of William III, who ultimately became more famous in English history as the one who liberated that country from the domination of the Catholic King James II. In this first volume of the William and Mary Trilogy, Marjorie Bowen takes to the very beginning of William's reign, when the Stadtholders (kings) of the Netherlands have been swept out of power by the enthusiasm for republican rule, and the country is ruled by John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary (the Dutch equivalent of a Prime Minister).

What makes the novel so compelling, in spite of what some reviewers on goodreads.com feel is overdescription, is the fact that for much of the novel, Prince William is seen through others' eyes. John de Witt has taken charge of William's education, seeking to compensate him for his family's fall from grace, as well as to make him fit for a role in service to (rather than in charge of) the States General (the republican government).

Many people are less optimistic that Willem will be willing to take on anything less than full rule of the country. One man, in particular, Florent Van Mander (a secretary of John de Witt), who seeks nothing but his own advantage, at first schemes with the French to help William back into the Stadtholdership. As the story continues, Van Mander's scheming is displaced by his sincere desire to follow the Prince wherever he bids. Meanwhile, we as readers also eagerly follow William's fortunes to find out if and how he will gain power, and whether he is willing to betray his country to get it.

William is not a modest man, but it becomes very clear that in spite of his faults, he can be used by God to defend and promote the Reformed faith against the designs of the Catholic French King Louis XIV, who is willing to use any means - including intrigue, assassination, and outright conquest - to extend his power over France's neighbours. Whether William is willing and/or able to do so is tested by the invasion (over both land and sea) of the Netherlands by the French army and French and English navies. The ensuing war shows the skill and courage of many in the Dutch armed forces, including Ruard de Witt, John de Witt's brother.

Which brings us back to the De Witts, and Florent Van Mander. Bowen does not flinch away from the fact that anyone's rise to power brings others down, and as in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, this story also shows the fearsome and chaotic power of the mob. William neither courts nor discourages the rabble who call for his restoration as Stadtholder, and so, as we may wonder when we watch Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the questions arise as to whether you can trust anyone whom the people love quite so much, and whether you can trust the people themselves.

If you want to maintain your grasp of Dutch history, you can get Marjorie Bowen's book for free as an e-book or an online free read (also with links to print versions).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Life in the Father's House: A Member's Guide to the Local Church

by Wayne A. Mack and Dave Swavely
2006 / 280 pages

I reviewed a similar book a couple months ago, but this is a really even better read about being what the Heidelberg Catechism calls "a living member of" the church.

Wayne A. Mack and Dave Swavely write from a Presbyterian perspective on how you and I can build up our local congregation. They deal with, first, realizing the importance of the local church and therefore committing ourselves to church membership, basing their argument on the Bible's stress on the local church, and quoting Chapter XXV of the Westminster Confession, Jay Adams,  and Charles Spurgeon.

After nailing down these foundational issues, they deal with how to choose a good church, expounding the importance of such traits as devotion to the apostles' teaching, a God-centered focus, and a loving concern for the needs of people (including the need for church discipline). The traits they enumerate fit very closely with the Belgic Confession's list of the marks of the true church.

As far as life itself "in the Father's house" is concerned, the authors deal with the following:
  • relating to church leadership;
  • fulfilling our roles as men and women in the church;
  • participating in worship services;
  • using our spiritual gifts;
  • confronting one another in love;
  • preserving unity in the body; and
  • praying for one another.
The conclusion deals with the all-important issue of motive, what they call "The Heart of the Matter" - gratefulness to God in Christ, and service to Him and our neighbor. The following features increase the book's value: 
  • the introduction by John MacArthur;
  • a study guide that goes beyond just the details in the book to challenge us to demonstrate our love for the body of Christ; and
  • an extensive Scripture index. 
If you think that Mack and Swavely can show you how to live a fruitful, God-glorifying life in the Father's house, you can find it here for US readers, and here in Canada.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Luther

by Rich Melheim
illustrated by Jonathan Koelsch
2016 / 72 pages

I've reviewed other "comic biographies" and never enjoyed one more. Luther is scripted like a movie, has witty dialogue with actions scene interspersed, and the artwork is of the same sort you would find in Marvel or DC comics – it is fantastic!

Educational comics, as a genre, are valuable in that they make learning history a lot less painful. But very few of these graphic novels are the sort of comic that a teen would just pick up and start reading. Luther is the exception. I don't want to over-hype it – a kid who reads nothing but superhero comics will still find this a bit of a stretch – but it really is as good a comic as you will find.

Cautions

Since this is intended for teens, I'll note a few cautions about language. The word "crap" is mentioned three times, "ass" once, and "old fart" once. But when you consider this is a comic about the notoriously potty-mouthed Luther, this is really quite tame.

I'll also note that a depiction of Christ shows up on the inside back cover of the book. It is not part of the story, but rather part of an ad for other comics by the same publisher.

Teens should be told that while the general storyline follows real events quite closely, specific details are often made up. For example, while we know Katharina von Bora was a self-assured woman, it seems doubtful that she popped the question to Martin Luther. Also much of the dialogue is made-up. Some of it is made up of quotes or near quotes from what Luther did actually say. But since most of Luther's day-to-day conversations were not recorded, these parts had to be made up.

One final caution: the comic treats as fact that famous, but unconfirmed, conclusion to Martin Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms, where he is said to have declared, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." There is good reason to doubt he said these words.

Conclusion

The comic has several strengths including the overall picture it gives of the happenings going on in the broader world that made it possible for Luther to both spark this Reformation and live into old age and die a natural death.

Another strength is that while this account is sympathetic, it notes (briefly) one of Luther's weaknesses: that sometimes Luther's pen got the best of him and he could write some "terrible and hateful words" denouncing Jews, Calvinists, and Anabaptists alike.

Overall this is a comic that teens and adults (who aren't embarrassed to be seen reading a comic) will certainly enjoy.

I've reviewed another graphic novel on Luther's life, and I think the two of them perfectly compliment each other. This Luther is the more exciting of the two, but it plays a little looser with the details. Meanwhile Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is a more reliable history lesson, but it isn't nearly as dramatic.

If you buy Luther (or anything else) at Amazon.com here or Amazon.ca here you can support this site at no cost to yourself.

Other reviews related to Martin Luther

Another solid comic about his life Luther: Echoes of the Hammer
A comic about his wife Katie: Mother of the Reformation
The 1953 Oscar-nominated film Martin Luther
The short biography The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther
The children's picture book about Luther teaching The Barber Who Wanted to Pray


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion

by Jonathon Van Maren
2017 / 171 pages

As an English teacher, I have compiled a list of about 70 books that I consider to be really good reads for high school students. I thought that the list was finished... But Seeing Is Believing is really good enough not only to make this blog, but to join my list of all-time really good high school reads.

Why? Because Jonathon Van Maren, a front-line soldier of The Culture War (another of his books), makes a compelling case for the use of abortion victim photography – for the use of  graphic pictures. 

His argument is based on not only its current effectiveness, but on the history of social reform movements that have been successful because of their proponents' willingness to bring the ugly truth of oppression and injustice before the public, even at the cost of criticism and controversy.

That long sentence pretty much summarizes the book, but let me work it out a little further. Van Maren demonstrates, in Chapter 1, how four different reform movements – targeting slavery, oppression in the Congo, child labor, and civil rights abuses in the U.S. – used visual evidence of these evils to influence not only minds, but also hearts. The next chapter describes how photographs of abortion victim effectively re-stigmatizes abortion. Chapter 3 zeroes in on how abortion particularly traumatizes those who work in the abortion industry. 

Chapter 4 addresses the objections of pro-lifers to abortion victim photography, while the next chapter responds to more general objections to abortion victim photography. Chapter 6 gives a series of specific examples of people whose views of abortion, or potential decisions regarding abortion, have changed due to abortion victim photography.

Finally, the conclusion refocuses us on the real reason for using graphic visuals – the unborn child whose life is saved when his or her mother changes her mind about having an abortion.

Two appendices from other writers give the history of graphic images in pro-life work and a statistical analysis of the effectiveness of abortion victim photography.

If you think that Jonathon Van Maren can help you convince others that "our culture must face the victims of abortion," you can order it here, or here in Canada.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Great Cake Mystery

by Alexander McCall Smith
73 pages / 2012

Precious Ramotswe must ranks up there with some of the best-loved fictional detectives of all time, rubbing elbows with Hercules Poirot, Cadfael, and Father Brown. But as beloved as she is among adults, did you know that the star of Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is also popular among children? McCall Smith has written a series of mysteries for children, featuring Precious when she was just eight years old.

For those who don't already know, Precious lives in Botswana. In The Great Cake Mystery Precious doesn't think of herself as a detective yet, but her dad thinks she has it in her. So when a classmate is accused - without any proof – of eating someone else's sandwich, she is upset. Precious, you see, is a kind girl who wants to help others. In this case helping means setting a trap to catch the real snack stealer.

SPOILER ALERT: Precious bakes a cake full of glue, covers the whole thing with icing, and places the cake outside the classroom "on the shelf where the children left their bags." And not too long afterwards the whole class hears the howling cries of the little thieves - monkeys! Precious has saved her friend from the mean accusations of their classmates. And, this being a old-fashioned sort of book, those classmates are truly sorry for what they thought and said.

This is a charming book, made all the more so by the folksy illustrations throughout, at least one on every two-page spread. McCall has written four other children's mysteries starring the young Precious, with The Great Cake Mystery billed as "Precious Ramotswe's very first case." (In a confusing twist, that same billing is shared with at least one edition of another book in the series, Precious and the Monkeys. Whether The Great Cake Mystery is the first or not, it serves as wonderful introduction to the young detective-to-be.)

CAUTION

We've read two other "young Precious" mysteries so far, and our daughters have loved both The Mystery of Meerkat Hill and The Mystery of the Missing Lion. I had a slightly different take. While I loved the former, I thought the later was marred by a insertion at the end where they treat a lion as if he were a person. Precious ends up giving a brief lecture about how all lions should live free, including the missing tame lion they'd just recovered, and all the adults side with the child.

It is, on the one hand, no big deal - it is only a few pages in an otherwise enjoyable story. But it rankled me because this childish "feel-good-ism" is rampant in our culture, and I don't think we need to be feeding any of it to our undiscerning children. The fact is, a tame lion would most likely die in the wild and a well-treated tame lion is not an oppressed lion. So what Precious proposes is both completely unnecessary, and quite likely very harmful to the very lion she wants to help. We're taught that good intentions are what really matters, but God says otherwise (Prov. 27:14) – if our well-meaning efforts cause damage, then we need to stop doing this well-meant damage!

CONCLUSION

My wife and I didn't know about this brief lecture until we came across it in the audiobook with the kids listening along. It wasn't objectionable enough to stop listening to the book we were already three-quarters of the way through, but if I was buying this series for a Christian school library I would get The Great Cake Mystery and The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, but give The Mystery of the Missing Lion a pass. There are two others in the series but we have yet to read (or listen to) them.
       
I should note that the audiobook version are truly remarkable, with the reader delivering all sorts of wonderful accented voices.

Oh, and if your kids like this series, they might also enjoy a five-book series McCall Smith wrote about Akimbo, a boy who lives on a game reserve in Africa. I've reviewed those here.

All, in all, these are books that children even as young as 5 may really enjoy listening to, and 9 year-olds and up could really enjoy reading. Our whole family was thoroughly charmed.