Tuesday, December 21, 2010

FISH OUT OF WATER: Surviving and thriving as a Christian on a secular campus

by Abby Nye
New Leaf Press, 2005, 229 pages

Parents might think they know what college will be like for their children, but as Abby Nye points out in this slim volume, in the last twenty years things have really changed. Nye wrote Fish out of Water, while in the third year of university, at the suggestion of her journalist parents. She was shocked, and overwhelmed by her first year on campus, but stuck it out, and started taking notes on the strange and perverse goings on at today’s secular campus.

It started with her Welcome Week orientation activities, which included a meet and greet where guys and girls who had just met were greeting each other with a French kiss. Throughout the year, the weirdness continued – some of the activities included “National Condom Day” followed shortly after by a “campus-sponsored activity called ‘Just How Kinky Are You?’” The campus “Counseling and Consultation Center” prepared for February by handing out a flyer title, “Road Trip?” which advised students to set up a “drinking plan” for Spring Break and gave tips on what to do if your drinking buddy was so drunk he stopped breathing.

But it isn’t just the weirdness that Nye addresses. She also tackles some of the day-to-day challenges Christians will face. She notes the hypocrisy many colleges have towards everything and anything, except Christianity, in a chapter titled, “We will not tolerate intolerance.” Her most helpful and practical advise can be found in the chapter “Pick your battles” where Nye shows how to stand up in a godly, respectful and effective way, and also shares thoughts on when it is probably best to just walk away instead.

While Nye probably isn’t Reformed, most of her advice is biblically sound. This is a great volume for parents and college-bound students to read. And, amazingly, the book can be read for free online at answersingenesis.org/articles/foow (just scroll down to see the chapter headings and click on each one). A paper copy can be had at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community

by David Powlison
New Growth Press, 2005, 202 pages

With more than half as many passages in the Scripture Index at the back as the book has pages, this is a book on counseling that is solidly grounded in the word of God. Powlison writes in the conviction that 'On the face of it, Scripture is about counseling' (page 175), both by pastors and by every member with the other members.
This is a book to help those in the church who must counsel - first of all pastors, then other officebearers, then congregation members. It is a book about opening ourselves up to the searching truth of God's word, first in our own lives and then in the lives of others. Powlison
  • describes the beauty of Psalm 119's revelation of a living relationship with not the Law but the Lawgiver;
  • shows us how the gospel not only justifies, but also sanctifies and liberates us from the idols in our hearts;
  • demonstrates the power of metaphor and story in counseling;
  • ponders the tension between counseling based on the Word and counseling coming from a secular perspective;
  • considers when secular psychologists may be needed for certain specialized purposes, and the alternatives;
  • looks at the type of prayer a life concerned with growth in Christ will promote;
  • explores the unique and common perspectives and value of men and women as counselors; 
  • argues forcefully for the value of gaining training in counseling at a seminary; and finally
  • sets out a series of "Affirmations and Denials" that show the difference between Biblically grounded counseling and other perspectives, and
  • exhorts his readers to seek to promote the counseling that is grounded in Ephesians 4 and following in the church.
A book that will instruct and challenge anyone who believes that God heals souls through His word.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Now They Call Me Infidel

by Nonie Darwish
Sentinel, 2006, 258 pages

Nonie Darwish was born in Egypt, but moved to the Gaza Strip in the 1950s when she was just five years old. Her father was a military man, given the task of recruiting and training Palestinians to conduct guerrilla-style raids into Israel to kill and harm as many as they could. She was just eight when the Israelis assassinated her father with a letter bomb.

Her history would seem to make her an unlikely champion for Israel. But her father's death wasn't the only event to shape her life.

For example, early on she tells of how, when her mother discovered their new maid was pregnant, she turned the maid out of the house, lest anyone think that some male member of their household caused the pregnancy. It wouldn't have been unreasonable for people to have started talking - raping maids was hardly unheard of.

But Darwish's mother knew that there was a very real chance that if the maid was fired and sent back to her family, her family would kill her. This type of "honor killing" was also hardly unheard of - families would sometimes deal with the shame of a daughter being pregnant outside of marriage by murdering her. They thought this would somehow restore honor to the family.

So Darwish's mother instead sent the maid to a government facility that took in pregnant girls. Several months later her mother inquired after the girl. She was shocked to find out that the girl was dead. She was told: "Her family took care of her disgrace."

So this then is Islam, or more precisely the Middle Eastern Islamic culture, revealed in gory detail by someone who knows. She addresses some of the culture's biggest problems including:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is Christianity Good for the World?

by Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson
Canon Press, 2008, 72 pages

This slim volume pulls off the rare feat of appealing to both atheists and Christians. In 2007 the magazine Christianity Today asked one of the best known atheists of our day, Christopher Hitchens, and a comparatively unknown pastor named Douglas Wilson to discuss the question, “Is Christianity Good for the World?” The two went back and forth through six rounds, and the exchange was collected in this short, 67-page book. Most atheist reviewers are certain their man won the debate but, curiously, most Christian reviewers are just as confident that Wilson won the day… and in convincing fashion.

The crux of the debate comes down to morals. Hitchens argues that Christianity is evil because many of God’s commands, like the one to wipe out the Amalekites (Deut 25:19), are immoral orders. Wilson counters that Christianity is good because it is true, and then asks Hitchens how he has the gall to call anything evil. Wilson argues that Hitchens, in his attack on Christianity, has to borrow from it concepts like moral and immoral, right and wrong, because those concepts have no grounding in the atheistic worldview.

This is a feisty, educational exchange that will keep any reader engaged but because equal time is devoted to Hitchens’ attacks against God this is not a book for the undiscerning. Its size makes it a great gift, even to those are already overwhelmed with good reading material. I gave it to my dad, who I had stopped buying books for because he has already has a stack of books he hasn't yet gotten to. Why add another title to the bottom of the stack? But I knew Is Christianity Good's head-to-head debate format, and its small size would pique his interest. I was right - upon unwrapping, it was immediately moved to the top of his reading list, and he was done it in a night or two.

Discernment label
(For more on this, see "Discernment labels" in our article section)

CONTENT: Renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens and Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson debate, through six back and forth rounds, whether Christianity is good for the world.

CAUTION: As half this book is by a self-described anti-theist, half the book contains material that Christians will find objectionable. So this is not a book for the undiscerning.

CONCLUSION: Christopher Hitchens’ anti-God rants are ably answered and countered by Wilson. This is a great introduction to the atheist/Christian debate - both edifying and entertaining. And Wilson gives a good demonstration (though not an explanation) of presuppositional apologetics. It is a book most will enjoy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Journey in Grace

by Richard P. Belcher
Crown Publications,
1990 / 154 pages

This is both a really bad book, and a great one.

On the one hand it is one of the very worst pieces of fiction I have ever read. On the other, it is one of the most accessible theological texts I have ever come across. And that also makes it a rather unique piece of writing.

Pastor Belcher's protagonist is Ira Pointer, a seminary student forced to contend with Calvinism. He doesn't know anything about it, so in chapter after chapter he investigates and questions Calvinism's basics, trying to find out what Calvin believed and taught, and whether he was right. There is also a romantic element to the book - Ira has his eye on a pretty young lass named Terry - but this too is used to teach theology. As soon as Terry and Ira start dating he tells her about these new doctrines he is investigating, so in each of their conversations and on each of their dates readers learn just a bit more about Calvinism.

Even though this is not a book you would ever read for the story it is a very enjoyable way to learn about the basics of Calvinism, and to see these basics cross-examined by Ira, and his fiancee, and tested against Scripture. A lousy novel, it is a fantastic theological text.

Discernment label
(For more on this, see "Discernment labels" in our article section)

CONTENT: The cover describes this as a “theological novel.” Seminary student Ira Fife Pointer, is forced into a spiritual journey when he’s asked a question he’s never heard before: “Young man – are you a Calvinist?” Ira doesn’t know, but he’s definitely going to find out. The plot centers around Ira’s quest to find out what Calvinism is, and what the Bible says about depravity, election, atonement, grace, and perseverance.

CAUTION: The author is a Reformed Baptist, who understands both baptism and the covenant in a markedly different way than other Calvinists, but these issues are only incidental in this volume. Also incidental, but, as reviewer Rev. P. H. Holvluwer put it, running "in a different direction than the line of Reformed thinking" is the understanding of conversion in a Christian's life occurring at a specific identifiable moment (which it need not be). Additionally, again as Rev. Holtvluwer has pointed out (in a July/August 2001 review in Reformed Perspective), there is a mistaken emphasis on how we are to go about seeking God's will for our life - here the emphasis is put on waiting for and following the Holy Spirit's inner leading. For a more biblical approach, see Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something. But these are not major points of focus, and so only incidental matters.

CONCLUSION: Journey in Grace doesn’t really measure up as a novel, but as a theological text, this “novel” approach to teaching Calvinism is nothing short of brilliant.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness

by Edward T. Welch
New Growth Press, 2004, 279 pages

Compassion - not what this book needs, but what it shows. Honestly, I would recommend anything I've ever read by this author, but what makes this book special is its compassion for both sufferers of depression and those who suffer seeing them suffer.
What sets this apart from many other books on depression is that it refuses to get caught up in debates about brain versus heart in depression. Whether depression is an organic illness or a spiritual problem, or both, it feels the same for those who suffer through it. The introductory chapters offer hope for the depressed; careful acknowledgement of how devastating it feels - by examining what many depressed people have written about their struggles; and a hint that even mental illness has a spiritual dimension.

Part One - Depression Is Suffering - does not simply validate how a depressed person feels, but also begins to reveal the Scriptural comfort for anyone who is suffering: God's presence; the psalmists' suffering and crying out to the Lord; Christ's suffering for us and before us; depression as a part of our spiritual warfare; depression as a clue to our need for proper purpose in life; and an urgent exhortation to persevere through suffering.

Part Two - Listening to Depression - shows us how depression exposes the failures and flaws of our culture and our own hearts in dealing with others, our own difficult negative emotions, and death itself.

Part Three - Other Help and Advice - deals straightforwardly with the use of medication to cope with depression; the help of family and friends; 20 ways for a depressed person to deal with their own depression; ways to avoid "helping" (think of Job's three friends - "Miserable comforters are you all!"); and the ultimate comfort for depression in its end when Christ comes again.

Part Four - Hope and Joy: Thinking God's Thoughts - shows how humility and thankfulness bring hope and joy to not only the depressed and those who suffer with them, but to all whom Christ has made His own - even when He does not yet take away their suffering.

Welch's Final Word is not his own, but God's - a word that summarizes Christ's tender exhortation to "all... who are heavy laden" to receive His rest. Read the book to find out exactly what that word is...
This is a soul-stirring book to give to anyone who is "heavy laden" with the burden of his or her own - or someone else's - depression.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Son of Hamas

by Mosab Hassan Yousef
Saltriver, 2010, 288 pages

It’s an autobiography that has the makings of a great spy novel. The central “character,” Mosab Hassan Yousef, is a double agent, the son of a terrorist leader but also in the employ of the Israeli secret police. When, with his help, one terrorist after another is arrested, he knows that for his own safety the Israelis will have to arrest him too – it would be too suspicious if he was left to roam free. So off he goes, at his own initiative, to the harsh Israeli prison camps. And to complicate matters further, this life-long Muslim has started wondering if Jesus Christ might be the Son of God.

Maybe it’s a mistake to compare this to a spy novel – it makes it sound trivial. It is a page-turner, but the reason you should read this book is because it offers an education. If you want to learn how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict started, and understand the motivation of the two sides, there is no better source. What makes Yousef the source? Well, first the fact that his father was one of the founders of Hamas, a Muslim group that is both a Palestinian terrorist organization and the democratically-elected ruling party in the Palestinian Parliament. (That a group can blow up women and children, and still win a popular vote illustrates just how messed up the Middle-East remains.) Yousef grew up in that world, wanting to kill Jews. As an adult, however, Yousef ending up working secretly with Israelis to save Jewish lives by foiling Hamas plans. So Yousef can explain both sides because he has been on both sides.

What also makes this volume unusual is that it doesn’t play favorites. Yes, Yousef clearly empathizes with the Israelis – he understands they are fighting for their lives against an enemy that doesn’t want peace, but only their death – but he begins the book with an account of how Israeli soldiers brutally beat him. Both sides end up looking bad before Yousef finishes telling his story.

Now if spy novels, or Middle East history textbooks are not really your thing, there is still another good reason to pick up this book: it is a beautiful testament to God’s grace and persistence. Yousef was once a hateful man, a worshipper of a false god who went out to buy guns he could use to kill Jews. But God pursued him, and He changed him, and He saved him. Wow!

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Related reviews

A 2014 documentary on Mosab Hassan Yousef called The Green Prince

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Grace and Truth Paradox

by Randy Alcorn
Multnomah Books, 2003, 92 pages

Imagine if this Sunday the service ended right after the reading of the Ten Commandments. You’ve just been confronted with the Truth that you’ve offended God with your many sins and deserve eternal punishment… and then that’s it, the service is over.

Wouldn’t that be dreadful? In his 92-page The Grace and Truth Paradox author Randy Alcorn notes that this is what Christians do too often – we present the world a graceless Truth. Or, if we remember to be Gracious, we do so by minimizing the Truth. For example, some graceless Christians are eager to shout out the Truth about homosexuality. But if that Truth is presented without Grace then instead of prompting homosexuals to ask us Who they can turn to for help, they are sure to run from us. Other Christians, determined to act with more Grace, do so by downplaying the sinfulness of homosexuality – Truth is sacrificed. Once again, instead of leading homosexuals to repentance, our interactions with the world lead to the furtherance of sin.

Alcorn’s little book packs a huge wallop - this is undoubtedly a book everyone should read. It is a book I have bought (and will continue to buy) repeatedly to give away.

Discernment label
(For more on this, see "Discernment labels" in our article section)

CONTENT: While Jesus came into the world full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14), Alcorn illustrates how Christians too often present the world a graceless Truth or a truthless Grace. Take homosexuality as an example: some graceless Christians are eager to shout out the Truth about this sin. But if that Truth is presented without Grace then instead of prompting homosexuals to ask us to Whom they can turn for help, they are sure to run from us. Other Christians, determined to act with more Grace, do so by downplaying the sinfulness of homosexuality – Truth is sacrificed. Once again, instead of leading homosexuals to repentance, our interactions with the world lead to the furtherance of sin.

CAUTIONS: None for this book, though because the reading of this book will inspire many a reader to seek out his other works it may be worth noting that Alcorn has described himself as a four-point Calvinist. While he differs with Reformed readers on the matter of limited atonement, this doesn't impact the theme and thrust of this book.

CONCLUSION: This short book would be of great benefit to young and old. Recommended for anyone who has problems presenting a Graceful Truth, or in other words, recommended for everyone!

You can pick up a copy of The Grace and Truth Paradox at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lest we forget

by Mandy R. Evans
Andrews Univ Press
287 pages / 1991

Mandy Evans was only seven when the German tanks rolled into the Netherlands, so her first reflections on the war are the simple ones of a child being shielded by her parents from too much information. But Mandy is Jewish, so it’s impossible for her parents to shield her for long. She can’t help but notice when she and her siblings are banned from attending public school. When the neighborhood policeman, who used to smile at her as he biked by, grabs her rubber ball and tears it to shreds, there’s no ignoring his stark change of attitude. And when she’s separated from her family, and forced to hide in one home after another, there’s little her parents can do to shield Mandy.

Because I got this book from the Reformed online bookstore GoDutch.com I was initially disappointed to find nary a Calvinist within: Mandy is Jewish and her rescuers are primarily Roman Catholic or humanist. But my disappointment was soon quelled – this is a great book. Though Mrs. Evans wrote it years after the fact, as an adult, there is a compelling naivety to this wartime biography because she recounts the events just as she knew them as a child. This is the Nazi occupation as seen through the eyes of a confused, questioning, Jewish young girl.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Afterwards I knew

by Christine Farenhorst
CF4K, 2010, 208 pages

When it comes to this author, I am not an objective reviewer – I love every story Christine Farenhorst writes. But this is something special and I would buy this collection of stories just to have the very first one, The Hound of heaven, so I can read it to my children. It is about a German, who was a soldier in the Second World War, explaining to his grandson that he was once a very different man, a mean man, running from God. But God was faster still.

In the third story, Feed my sheep, a Dutch pastor living under Nazi occupation is confronted with the reality that what he knows to be true, and what he is willing to do are two different things; he does not have the courage of his convictions and his own sermons condemn him. I think I found this story particularly gripping because this pastor's doubts and his attempts at self-justification struck me as dreadfully familiar. But we are blessed to serve a God who, when we admit our weakness and turn to Him, is ever eager to carry us, and offer His strenghth.

In total there are seven stories, and one poem here, all about Christians who lived through the First or Second World Wars and while all are excellent, the first, and the third are among the most beautiful stories I have ever read. Afterwards I Knew would make an excellent gift for anyone 14 or older.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hostage Lands

by Douglas Bond
P&R Publishing, 2006, 235 pages

“When am I ever going to use this?” It’s a question that comes up frequently in classrooms around the world. And it’s a question Neil Perkins, a British lad, is asking about his Latin class. But while some students have to wait years to put the lessons they learn to practical use, Neil only has to wait until later that same day.

On his way home from school he takes a nasty spill off of his ATV, creating a small crater where the machine lands. It’s in this crater that he discovers the leather -wrapped  tablets that are the focus of the majority of this book. These tablets are covered in Latin, so Neil, with the help of his underappreciated Latin teacher , starts translating them. He soon finds out they comprise a story told by a Roman centurion who lived two thousand years ago!

Douglas Bond’s Hostage Lands is really two stories in one. The first is a short story about a boy named Neil who doesn’t like Latin, and doesn’t talk much with his dad. This accounts for only 6 of the book’s 37 chapters, serving mostly as an introduction and conclusion to the larger story about Roman Centurion Marcus Aurelius Rusticus. The Centurion’s story starts with his account of what he suspects will be a suicide mission into the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, the territory of the savage Celts. Rusticus only manages to escape death with the help of a friendly Celt, Calum, who he soon discovers is a very different sort of man, for Calum is a Christian.

I don’t want to give too much away about this book but would like to strongly recommend it. This is Douglas Bond’s very best book so far. Christian fiction is too often celebrated for the great message contained in the book, even when the artistry, the actually writing is poor. Bond’s book has a strong message – in it the Christian worldview is contrasted with worldviews that elevate power, the State or maybe honor to be supreme. However it is also a wonderfully written, thoroughly engaging story.

I would think this is primarily a boy’s book, in the ten to early teens range, though a father may want to pick this one as a read aloud book because he’ll probably enjoy it too.

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Fall of Empires: From Glory to Ruin: an Epic Account of History's Ancient Civilizations

by Cormac O'Brien
304 pages. Murdoch Books, 2009.

If you love ancient history, or if you want to know some background to the time of the Bible, this is a great book for you. In about 25 pages each, O'Brien briefly covers the history 16 ancient empires, all but two making at least a brief appearance in the Biblical world. The entries are bigger than a typical encyclopedia article, yet smaller than a book and easy enough than the average non-historian can easily manage reading them. This book gives information on these empires that will help you understand why Cyrus sent the Jews home from Babylon, why the Israelites lived in mortal terror of the Assyrians, and by describing the religious nature of Babylonian society even gives a clue as to why Nebuchadnezzar was so open to Daniel's interpretation of his dreams.

Rather than calling the book The Rise of Empires, in his title O'Brien has focused on their collapse.He partially explains this with a quote from Edward Gibbon, "All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance." O'Brien is forcing his readers to think on the fleeting nature of human existence and the fleeting span of even history's most powerful empires. As someone else once said, "The grass withers, the flower fades..." and mighty empires are no different at all.

For the most part, O'Brien links the rise of his empires to Biblical narratives though this isn't his focus. Drawing the links this way makes life just a little simpler for the student of Biblical history.

Cautions: If you're looking for links to Biblical history, the section on Egypt is missing them. Though the Israelites played an apparently significant role in this nation's history at one point, it goes unmentioned.

The book, though eminently readable, is poorly bound (at least my copy was) so treat it with extreme care.

Conclusion: The book is very readable and a great background resource. Despite the poor binding it's well worth having.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How the News Makes Us Dumb

by C. John Sommerville
InterVarsity Press, 155 pages, 1999

No, you’re not paranoid, the media really is out to get Christians. In his book “How the News Makes Us Dumb C. John Sommerville argues that news by its very nature is incapable of portraying Christians (or any conservatives) positively. He also insists that watching daily news is bad for our brains. Many of these types of media-critiquing books spend time outlining solutions to the problems they present, but Sommerville skips that part. He thinks the news media is beyond repair. Instead of reading the newspaper he wants people to stay informed by reading books.

Not That Important

But how could reading the news make us dumb? The news is filled with important events from around the world. Shouldn’t we know stuff like that? Sommerville starts out his book by making the point, “Important people don’t like to be in the news.” The people out there actually getting things done don’t have time to deal with the press. Celebrities on the other hand, love to be covered, and so they are. Instead of leaders of industry we hear all about TV and movie stars. We might watch the news to keep abreast of important issues, but all too often we hear celebrity gossip instead. Our brains grow fat and flabby hearing about Jessica Simpson’s new boyfriend or the Rolling Stones’ latest gig.

Our daily dose of news is also time consuming. Many of us feel compelled to read or watch the news daily but we don’t feel the same compulsion for daily study in other fields like science, history, or sometimes even religion! How many people spend as much time on their Bible study as their study of the news?

The daily nature of news also undermines its importance. News doesn’t occur regularly; it occurs in erratic spurts. Still, reporters have to provide news on a daily or even hourly basis, even if nothing is happening. Busy news day or not, a paper will still have to be delivered the next day, and the evening news will still have to last a full hour.

So a story that was too insignificant to broadcast one day can suddenly become the lead story on a slow day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Road to Unafraid

by Captain Jeff Struecker, with Dean Merrill
Thomas Nelson
2006 / 232 pages

This memoir, whose author won a competition declaring him the army’s top Ranger, shows more about one of the true stories behind the rescue of the survivors of the famous - and disastrous – mission in Somalia that was portrayed in the movie Black Hawk Down. 

Struecker tells how his faith enabled him to cope with his fear of death, combat in Somalia, and the hazards of being a chaplain under fire in Afghanistan. A great book about Christian manhood for guys, teen and up, who don't want to read sermons about Christian manhood. My fifteen-year-old devoured it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Let's Roll

by Lisa Beamer
Tyndale House
2002 / 280 pages

reviewed by Adolph Dykstra

On a scale of ten, I rate most of this book as a twelve. So what is this book about, and what makes it special?

The blurb on the book’s cover gives you a hint: “9-11. You read all about it. You heard American hero Todd Beamer’s last words. But is that the end of the story? In Let’s Roll! Todd’s wife, Lisa reveals what really happened on that ill-fated flight, as well as poignant glimpses of a genuine hero. She talks candidly about Todd’s growing-up years, their marriage and last week together, and then family moments without him…and how she found the confidence to go on in the face of such tragedy and loss.”

It’s a moving book as it tells us about Lisa Beamer who as a 15-year-old wanted to know why God snatched away her father in the prime of his life, and about the same Lisa who as a young mother finds the strength to go on after the loss of her husband.

It’s a powerful book that tells how she finds that strength in God’s promises: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:1). As a 15-year-old she had come to understand the plans God has do not just include “good things” but the whole array of human events. The prospering God speaks of is often the outcome of a “bad” event. Like Joseph’s brothers heard in Egypt “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, that many people may be saved.”

It is a Christian book about a Lisa who as a seven-year-old committed her life to Jesus, not knowing what “that decision meant until later.” She writes that her realization evolved naturally as she grew up, without any “crises experience or a dramatic turnaround.” She didn’t need a special calling to be what God wanted her to be.

In trust and obedience, this mom, this unpretentious housewife, spoke wondrously on every major network, repeatedly, not of her own strength, but of “the hope that comes from knowing who is in control. Hope comes from knowing that we have a sovereign, loving God who is in control of every event of our lives.” And so this magnificent book is not really about Todd or Lisa – it is about the Almighty who strengthened her for such a time as this.

If I had to pick my ten favorite books, it would be tough because our family library has some 3000 books, but Let’s Roll! is definitely one of them. It starts a bit slow with Todd’s growing-up-years, but read on: it’s one of those rare books you’ll remember for years to come!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Great Escape

by Christine Farenhorst
P&R Publishing, 2002, 182 pages

reviewed by Adolph Dykstra

Christine Farenhorst is a superb storyteller. The Great Escape is a collection of forty short stories about events in the lives of Christians and unbelievers: each story teaches, each tale tells about the role of God in the lives of his subjects.

Every story is interesting and absorbing. In about three pages each tells about a person or an event in a manner that teaches solid lessons about victories or failures of people throughout the ages.

We read about Houdini, the escape artist, who could not escape from death. We read about the fictitious Lester Green, who convinced many gullible people that a cold car engine could be started by putting two hens on the car hood. We read about the orphan John Sebastian Bach, who ended all his musical compositions with “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God alone the glory). We read about the many Roman emperors who persecuted the believers. We read about princes and paupers, believers and unbelievers, the famous and the infamous, people from our own times and people long dead, and we smile, and sometimes shed a tear.

It’s a good book, a good read, a treasure worth acquiring, just based on the well-told stories. But there is more!

“The media, with its grasping secularism, has become the main voice in many households as lax fathers and mothers relinquish their holds on the spiritual lives of their children…” As individual family members we “are to speak intimately to each other of the things pertaining to God’s kingdom and of what He has brought about in [our] lives” So writes Christine in her Introduction.

At the end of each story are two questions. Just two! But each is powerful food for thought. Christine prays that her stories and questions “will encourage parents to speak with their children, and children to discuss with their parents, what God’s love and bounty has done in their lives and in the lives of past saints.”

“Soli Deo Gloria.” To God alone the glory. But with God’s help these “devotions” will trigger such discussions.

The book is a rare treasure, a must for all parents!

Discernment label
(For more on this, see "Discernment labels" in our article section)

CONTENT: The Great Escape is a collection of forty short stories about events in the lives of Christians and unbelievers: each story teaches, each tale tells about the role of God in the lives of his subjects.

CAUTION: Some stories may be too intense for very young children.

CONCLUSION: When your children ask you to read them a story before they go to bed, this is a great book to pull out. The stories are exciting and, as an added bonus, each ends with two questions to get your children (and you!) thinking through the moral of the story. Without the questions, it’s a fantastic read, but when you add them in it becomes a wonderful tool for parents and children to talk together about what God has done in their lives, and in the lives of saints in the past.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Short History of the Boxer Rebellion: China's War on Foreigners, 1900

by Diana Preston
Robinson, 1999. 459 pages including index.

If you love history (like me)  you're always on the hunt for a book that not only expands your knowledge, but is also a really good story. The Boxer Rebellion is both a good historical narrative and a really good read.

The Boxer Rebellion took place at the beginning of the 20th Century and was an uprising by the Chinese people led by a quasi-religious sect known for their martial arts style, and thus dubbed "boxers." The Boxers were quietly encouraged by the Imperial court in their battle against the foreigners who had come to dominate much of China's economy and politics.

The book carefully displays the Chinese xenophobia towards the British, Germans, Americans and others who were busy exploiting China, but focuses on the racist attitudes of the foreigners towards the native Chinese. These people dominating China believed they were superior to the Chinese and thus well within their rights to mold the county into they image that pleased them, whatever the Chinese may have thought of that.

The author attributes the racist attitudes of the foreigners towards the Chinese to Social Darwinism. Applying the Darwinist Theory of Evolution to humanity, it was only reasonable to assume that some cultures and some "races" had evolved further than others, and that the fitter should rule the less fit.

What makes this book a really good read is Preston's abundant use of quotes from the diaries and other writings of the foreigners in China. Her liberal use of quotations really gives a sense of the actions and emotions of those directly involved in the events. It also reveals the callous attitudes of many of the foreigners who were under siege by the Boxers. Though the foreigners had given sanctuary to the Chinese Christian converts who had also been attacked, they seemed unwilling to equally share the food and resources at their disposal. While the whites ate their fill, many of the Chinese Christians, literally across the street, starved to death. The diaries reveal the irony that the foreigners in China were upset by the Christian converts' suffering yet failed to raise a finger to help them.

Cautions: Since this book tells the story of a violent period in Chinese history, violent scenes are often depicted, occasionally with a lot of detail. The detail is not sensationalist but it is sometimes graphic. While it certainly adds to the story, it can be skipped over if you'd rather not know quite so much about the brutality.

Conclusion: Read this book if you want to understand why more than 100 years after the Rebellion the Chinese still seem cautious about embracing Western values and practices. The unChristian attitudes displayed by the many foreigners, who were at least nominally Christian, appear to have set up a barrier between East and West that has yet to be taken down. This book will not only help you understand China and Western culture, but will force you to examine yourself and wonder whether, just maybe, you think yourself a little superior to someone not quite as evolved as you think you are.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Hiding Place

by Corrie Ten Boom 
co-written by John and Elizabeth Sherrill
Chosen Books, 2006, 269 pages

When our school adapted this book into a play, it was hard for some of the older members of our school community to watch, because it reminded them so strongly of the hard times in the Netherlands in World War II. This classic memoir tells how Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie were called by God, and prepared by Him through the compassionate example of her father, to hide Jews from the Nazis and cope with the resulting brutality of the Germans.

The book is incredibly suspenseful in its account of how the Ten Booms seek to keep their activities hidden from the occupying Germans. It is also inspiring to see how Corrie's father shows his Christian faith in response to the soldiers'  persecution; how Corrie learned to love her persecutors through the example of her physically weak but spiritually strong sister Betsie, in a concentration camp; and how God used Corrie to bring His good news even to those who ran the concentration camps.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Peacemaker: Student Edition

by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson
Baker Books, 2008, 175 pages

shows, with practical examples and real-life stories,
1. how young Christians can pursue peace and unity by following the Biblical principles in Matthew 18 and many other passages:
2. when to let it go, and when not to;
3. how to confess your sins to God and your neighbour;
4. how to forgive;
5. when and how to negotiate; and
6. when and how to defend your rights.
This book would make a great book for school libraries (it's in ours) and church libraries, devotions or group study for young people, or a textbook for a life skills course. More importantly, if young (and old) people lived more consistently by the principles in this book (many of which will remind you of good Biblical principles for discipline in church, home, and school), the body of Christ would be strengthened and equipped for greater service and greater glory to God (Ephesians 4:1-16).

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hobbit

by J. R. R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin, 2001, 328 pages

Tolkien’s work is the best old-fashioned fairy tale ever written - one I enjoyed both listening to and reading aloud to my own sons. The main character, Bilbo Baggins, is just the kind of hero that children love: a small person (much like themselves) who gets into adventures - facing trolls, goblins, spiders, hostile elves, and a talking dragon - without meaning to, and manages to get through with a little cleverness and a good measure of desperate hope (just like the first time a child loses his parents in the mall).

The ending battle is a little grim, just like a good fairy tale should be, as it shows just how deadly both vanity and greed are, even for the “good guys,” but the central character makes it through.

Related reviews

The film trilogy of The Hobbit
The animated film "trilogy" of The Lord of the Rings
The book The Lord of the Rings

Buy The Hobbit at Amazon.com though this link and they'll send a dime or two our way at no cost to you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring The Proverbs to Life

by Peter Leithart
Canon Press, 2003
Paperback (also available as a 4-CD audiobook)

What makes Peter Leithart’s 18 fairy tales so entertaining as well as wise is how he plays with the images, characters, and events of classic fairy tales, Biblical accounts, and history that we already know.

The Preface (which you should skip if your listening to the audiobook version with your kids) explains how Leithart seeks to echo those familiar stories to make the wisdom of Proverbs more vivid, as each story’s “moral” is a verse from that Biblical book. For example, the first villain of the story “King Jacob of the Green Garland” is called King Eric the Red (but not for the reason you might think). When this cruel king flees for his life from an invading king, he is reduced to eating grass and drinking muddy water (much like a certain Babylonian king). Eventually, Eric’s younger brother, Jacob (a shepherd who treats the poor kindly and justly, like both David and the Son of David) restores order, and the story proves the verse from Proverbs that explains, with suddenly greater vividness and meaning, how a king is established through faithfulness, and how through love his throne is made secure (Prov. 20:28)

What is enlightening about the stories, besides the obvious references to Proverbs (some of which are a bit of a stretch, but can still stimulate some worthwhile discussion) is how often Leithart’s stories are clearly redemptive-historical, in that they connect the book of Proverbs to the story of Christ’s coming that runs through the whole Bible. For instance, one verse says how it’s better to live in the desert than with a nagging wife. That can make the guys feel pretty smug, but not once Leithart has shown how the worst wife in the world is “Meribah, the Goatherd’s Bride” – a story that should remind us of the frequent ingratitude of Christ’s bride, the Church. No gender excluded in that moral.

This is a great book, and good audiobook too. If you’re looking both for ear candy on those long car trips and food for thought for the New Testament Church, Wise Words has the wit and wisdom you want.

Buy "Wise Words" using this link and Amazon.com will send a tip our way at no cost to you.

Related reviews: two others by Peter Leithart

Every Christian should read Jane Austen, as Leithart explains in his Miniatures and Morals
Ditto for Shakespeare: Brightest Heaven of Invention

Monday, August 2, 2010

Girl Soldier

by Faith J. H. McDonnell and Grace Akallo
Chosen Books
2007 / 240 pages

Girl Soldier shows both just how sinful man is in the real world of civil-war-torn Uganda after the fall of the dictator Idi Amin and how God’s grace healed the psychological and spiritual trauma of children kidnapped to fight for rebel forces at that time. Grace Akallo herself was conscripted into the grotesquely misnamed Lord's Resistance Army, and chapters telling of her ordeal and miraculous escape alternate with chapters by McDonnell telling of the rise of the Lord's Resistance Army in the midst of Uganda's political conflict and spiritual possession by demonic religion. 

By the end of the book, you will be both horrified and inspired to know more about how you can help the child soldiers of Uganda and elsewhere.

If you like Girl Soldier, you may also appreciate Hitler's Youth, about the hundreds of thousands of German children who were conscripted into the Nazi dictator's ideological cult. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

The strange, dark state of teen fiction

I visit our local public library at least a couple of times every week, and over the last year or two I've noticed a marked trend in the Young Adult section: instead of Arthur Ransome titles, Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown books, the shelves are filled with stories of teenage werewolves and teenage vampires coping with pimples, or female fare featuring lesbianism, or girls sleeping with their teachers. 

And this is the public library in ultra-conservative Lynden, Washington! What, I wondered, was it like elsewhere? So I did a little digging on Amazon.com, and compiled this list of the top 30 bestselling teen fiction books. Let me tell you, my kids are not going to go to the library without me! (Click on the graph to make it bigger)