Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

by Andrew Peterson
284 pages / 2008

My wife hasn't read this book, but she enjoyed it too. As I made my way through I couldn't help but read whole chapters to her, or, if she wasn't nearby, the next time she came by I'd update her about the all the wackiest bits. And there are a lot of wacky bits.

The "Dark Sea of Darkness" in the title gives a clue right off as to Peterson's goofy sense of humor. The subtitle is even better: "Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the fearsome toothy cows of Skree."

While I read the first three chapters to my wife (I just couldn't help it) I'll restrain myself here, and pass along only the first few lines of the opening which is titled: "A Brief Introduction to the World of Aerwiar." Peterson wants us to know this takes place on an entirely made up world so he begins with his own creation story:
The old stories tell that when the first person work up on the first morning in the world where this tale takes place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, "Well, here we are." The man's name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys, who he would learn to get along with very well. In the many ages that followed, that first sentence was taught to children and their children's children and their children's parents' cousins and so on until, quite by accident, all speaking creatures referred to the world around them as Aerwiar
That gives a good taste of the fun that is to follow.

The heroes of this epic tale are three siblings: Janner and his little brother Tink, and their littler sister Leeli. The villains are the Fangs of Dang, under the direction of the "nameless evil...whose name was Gnag the Nameless." Our story begins nine years after the Fangs sailed across the Dark Sea of Darkness and conquered the lands of Skree, and it is in a little cottage, in this conquered land, that the family Igiby resides: the three children, their mother, and their grandfather.

The Fangs are cruel, bureaucratic, and they look exactly like "...humans except for the greenish scales that covered their bodies and the lizard-like snout and the two long venomous fangs that jutted downward from their snarling mouths." Oh, and they have tails. And worst of all, they think the Igbiy's have the lost Jewels of Anniera!

Janner, Tink and Leeli don't know anything about any jewels, but they're curious sorts, and they are eager to find out all they can. So Peterson is writing not just a fantasy, but also a mystery, and certainly a comedy. And he's managed to slip in a really good chase film too.


A word of warning might be due as far as the comedy is concerned. Some of it could be described as juvenile: no potty humor, but Janner does, at one point, discover a candle made of "snot wax." Peterson peppers the book with footnotes and for the candle he has this entry:
1. Snot wax is too repulsive a thing about which to write a proper footnote.
Then there are the vile Fangs of Dang. Their name gives a good indicator of the line that Peterson draws: it leaves no doubt that they are a vile bunch, but Peterson isn't going to use vile language. And yes, the Fangs like to eat brown lettuce, maggot-loaves and anything that wriggles, but this humor is all of sort that will appeal to boys, gross out their sisters, and leave parents largely untroubled.


But what mom and dad are sure to love is the prominent place that parents have in Peterson's story. In most teen fiction parents are either dead or dumb; the teen hero is either an orphan or wishes he was.

Here we have a well-respected mother and a grandpa who is doing what he can to fill in for the sibling's long-dead father. So when Janner makes a big mistake and doesn't know what to do he is smart enough – and he loves and respects his grandpa enough – to know he should go to the old man for help.

This might be where the author's Christian faith most comes to the fore. Andrew Peterson is better known as a Christian songwriter, and while this is not a specifically Christian fantasy, the virtues lauded in this book are of the sort found in Philippians 4:8. These three siblings know they can look to their grandpa for guidance, for love, and to see what sacrificial leadership looks like.

So I'd recommend this as a very fun and positive book for fathers to read with their boys 10 and in some cases maybe even a couple year younger if they can handle battles and lizard-like villains. This is a fun one that will have both dad and son laughing, and turning pages quickly. I'm learning too, that while there are some notable distinctions between "girl books" and "boy books" if a dad really loves a book, his daughter is quite likely to love hearing him read it. So this could be a very good dad/daughter book too, maggot-loaf aside, with little Leeli gives daughters someone to cheer on too.

There are three more titles in the wild and wacky series, and for that I am very thankful! You can buy it at by clicking here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class

by Jay Adams
2008 / 149 pages

Author Jay Adams could be described as the Martin Luther of the Biblical Counseling movement. Before he sent out his clarion call to return to the Bible to find out what God says about just who Man is, what Man is like, and what his most important needs are, Christian counselors were turning to secular experts and their secular theories to answer those questions.

Adams' insight was that God knows us best, and He knows what's wrong with us, down at the very core of our being in a way that a Freud of a Jung just doesn't understand.

In Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class Adams contrasts "nouthetic" or biblically-based counseling with the counseling that is being taught in many Christian colleges and seminaries. He sets up the contrast be making use of a fictional setting. Yes, this is a novel, but it'd be more accurate to call it a textbook masquerading as a novel – the goal here is education, not entertainment.

Adams' protagonist Greg Dawson is a preacher who lives near a Christian college. When students attending one of the college's psychology courses learn that Pastor Dawson does a very different sort of Christian counseling than what they are being taught, they come down to visit him, and to pepper him with questions. They want to know the difference between the psychological counseling theories they are being taught and the biblical counseling Greg Dawson uses.

So what is that difference? It turns out that the psychology they are learning at their Christian college is based on secular counseling theories, and secular assumptions about what Man is really like. Consider for a moment the hundreds of different secular counseling theories. They claim to be able to explain what Man is really like, and yet the different theories disagree, and sometimes wildly. And how many line up with a biblical understanding of our inner nature? So long as they understand Man outside of his relationship with God how can they understand what Mankind is really like? They won't ever know what our purpose is here on Earth! And most don't acknowledge our sinful nature, so how could they ever get to the sin problem behind marital problems?

Pastor Dawson is happy to answer all the students' questions, so every time they meet, the contrast between the two types of counseling is clarified further. Eventually the professor whose teaching the psychology course also comes to visit Pastor Dawson, which is a fun and informative twist.

It's not much of a spoiler to say that Dawson proves quite convincing, and most of the students soon quit the psychology course and start investigating how they can do counseling that is based on what God has revealed in his Word.


The many Reformers who followed Martin Luther adopted his main thesis – justification by faith – but often disagreed with him on other matters. So too the many Christian counselors who have followed Adams have built on his work, and who have adopted his main thesis – Christian counseling should start with the Bible – have often disagreed with him on some points.

So Adams isn't the only expert to consult when it comes to biblical counseling. Others include Ed Welch, Heath Lambert, Wayne Mack, Paul David Tripp and David Powilson.

But this book might just be the ideal introduction to the subject – the novel format makes it an easy read, and the clear contrast presented between a psychology taught in a Christian college and biblically-based counseling is certainly illuminating.

You can pick it up at by click here.

Questions for review

The questions below are meant as a study aid to help readers dig deeply into the book.

1. Nouthetic counselors have been accused of saying all problems are caused by a person’s sin. What do they actually believe?

2. Jay Adams approach to addressing depression is controversial, even among Christian and professedly biblical counselors. Do you think his approach would help in many cases? Do you think it would help in all cases? Why/Why not?

3. What do you think of the three questions at the end of the PDI as described in the book? How could they be helpful to the counselee and counselor?

4. What are Greg Dawson’s thoughts on counseling unbelievers? Do you find his reasoning convincing?

5. Integrationists want to mesh what we learn from the Bible with what we learn from psychology and psychiatry. How is that approach impacted by the fact there are 250 types of psychology and psychotherapy performed in the US?

6. Would biblical counseling mesh with Freudian counseling. Why or why not?

7. What do you think of Dawson’s perspective on psychologists as (bad) theologians?