Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Snow on the Tulips

by Liz Tolsma
318 pages / 2013

For the average reader this will only be an above average entry in the below average genre of Christian fiction. But if you know your hagelslag from your dubbel zout you’ll likely give it an extra star or two in your Amazon rating.

We meet Dutch Resistance member Gerrit Langinga as he’s being marched to his execution in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the very last months of World War II. A badly aimed shot (or was it a bit of good aiming?) allows him to survive his own death sentence, and leaves him dependent on the care of a nearby widow, Cornelia, who grudgingly hides him from the Germans. This widow is young, as is Gerrit, and things between them eventually proceed as you might expect they would.

What sets this apart and above most other Christian historical romances is that the theology underpinning it is sound (the author is the daughter of an OPC pastor, so no Arminian undertones here), all the characters are already devote Christians so there’s no missionary dating, and the characters are authentically Dutch. One of the most interesting characters, Piet, is perhaps also the most wooden, but that’s because he is a man of inflexible principle who believes that all things are black and white. Piet is Cornelia’s brother-in-law, and he is certain that since the Germans are in power, they are the God-ordained authorities, and to be obeyed. Of course, it is good to stick by our principles, so long as they are indeed God’s principles. But I’d offer (and it is clear this is what Tolsma thinks as well), the world is more complex than Piet believes it to be, and requires more discernment from Christians than Piet is up for.

The story is intriguing, and the writing is, overall, quite solid. But every couple of chapters or so there are lines that are going to strike readers as either groan or smile-inducing. A couple of examples:
“Cornelia.” The name swirled on his tongue, sweet as the sugar on olliebollen
…Gerrit smiled at her, turning her knees to hutspot.
Corny, certainly. But for the right sort of reader, cute too.

So, to sum up, this is an above-average entry in the sub-average genre of Christian romantic fiction, and one with particular appeal for Dutch readers. You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Orphan Justice

by Johnny Carr

2013 / 197 pages

Carr is calling Christians to action – though not necessarily adoption – to defend orphans in real tangible ways.

Carr also wants us to understand the enormity of the challenge. Each year in the US 1.2 million women choose abortion, and just 18,000 choose adoption. And at present as many as 92 percent of US Down syndrome children are aborted. If abortion were ended tomorrow, would we as the Church be there to care for the hundreds of thousands more unwanted children born each year, many with special needs? The answer would seem to be no, as evidenced by the 100,000 children currently in the US foster care system who are eligible for adoption but are just waiting. These are all US numbers, but Carr's point is just as applicable to Canada – we are called to care for orphans (James 1:27) and yet there are many orphans still in need of care.

So what can we do? Carr knows that not everyone has been called to adopt, and at the end of each chapters he outlines things that anyone can do, things that many can do, and things that a few can do.

For example, anyone can look out for families in our communities who are foster parents, to see what we can do to encourage and help them (providing a meal, inviting them over, etc.). Anyone can offer babysitting to adoptive families, or donate to a church fund that will match dollars for parents who want to adopt.

Many can consider becoming a respite worker for foster families, undergoing the training and screening needed to ensure they are ready to care for children (for a few hours or maybe a few days) who might have special needs. Many can volunteer at pregnancy counseling centers. Many can buy products from micro-finance organizations that work to help the poorest families start businesses, so these families will have the money they need to keep their families intact.

A few can go through foster care certification to see if they might want to become foster parents. A few can consider adopting a child living with HIV/AIDS. A few can consider starting a ministry that teaches the doctrine of adoption to churches here and abroad.

Carr includes many more examples of what we can do, and by presenting us all with at least something more we can be doing, he wants us to understand there is no justification possible for us to do nothing.

That's why, for those of us who don't already have an adopted child or two, or who aren't otherwise already engaged in this task, this will be quite the guilt-inducing book. But guilt can be a very good thing, if acted on. Guilt – if there is a real reason for it – calls us to repentance. And since we know there is indeed forgiveness to be found, after we humble ourselves before God we can, secure in the knowledge that our guilt has been washed away, proceed onwards, taking up the task we had previously neglected.

And Carr shows us just what we can do, whether it is a little or a lot, to seek justice for orphans.

You can buy a copy of Orphan Justice at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chosen by God

by R. C. Sproul (senior)
1986 / 187 pages

Sproul himself says that this book is a companion to his book The Holiness of God, and that anyone who loved reading The Holiness of God but not this book has misunderstood one of the two books. If Sproul is right, why are the two  so closely connected? One big reason (perhaps the reason) is that, since holy means set apart, the thing that most sets God apart is His sovereignty, His absolute control over all things, including our salvation, which has been labeled Calvinism.

While most Christians joyfully acknowledge God's sovereignty in His providence, many balk at saying that, as the back cover summarizes it, "we choose God because He has opened our eyes to see His beauty." Some are afraid to lose man's free will; others are afraid to lose our sense of responsibility for our response to God's grace; and others want God to woo us rather than compel us.

Sproul deals with all these concerns. Each of the first eight chapters of the book discusses various topics related to God's sovereignty and ends with a summary of the main ideas argued, and at least four Biblical passages for further study. Sproul begins with a look at how ideas like Calvin's did not begin with him, but reach as far back into church history as Augustine. His second chapter shows that there is no inconsistency between predestination and God's justice and mercy, and that any seeming contradiction is not a mere mystery, but can be logically understood. The third chapter deals with the relationship between "Predestination and Free Will," bringing in some helpful distinctions made clear by Augustine and the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards. All of the first three chapters contains simple tables, charts, and diagrams that help clarify the discussion.

Further chapters deal with other significant connections within the doctrine of predestination - like between "Adam's Fall and Mine," between "Rebirth and Faith," between God's "Foreknowledge and Predestination. Along the way, Sproul makes clear some problems with the catchy acronym TULIP for the five points of Calvinism. I've always taught some interesting and clearer words for some of the letters that might be misleading, but Sproul's replacement words, unlike mine, don't begin with the same letters, and so wreck the acronym. They are more accurate, though, C'est la vie. (Still - how about invincible instead of irresistible?)

The seventh chapters deals with the thorny issue of whether predestination is double, whether God predestines people both to heaven and to hell. The answer, not necessarily easy to accept but Biblical, is yes; however, as Romans 9 makes clear, no-one can complain against God's injustice, since reprobation does not condemn anyone to hell apart from their sinful rebellion, but because of it. What predestination should do is make believers humble. Hell is where we all deserve to go, but God, out of His great mercy, has chosen some for salvation.

The eighth deals with possibly the most personal of the five points, the perseverance of the saints, whether one can know, really know, that you are saved. Sproul renames this point the preservation of the saints, and hence highlights both God's sovereignty and His steadfast mercy. (And it begins with the same letter!) The comfort of this doctrine is that by looking to Christ instead of yourself, but also seeing the fruit of salvation in your life, you can grow in your assurance that it is God who has drawn you to Himself, and He will never let you go.

The final chapter deals with questions and objections and ends with Sproul again inviting us to open "our eyes to see God's beauty" in His sovereign love for His people. May our eyes be so opened.

If you believe that this book will help open your eyes to God's "perfect plan for His glory and His children," as the front cover puts it, you can order the book here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The hardest peace

by Kara Tippets
2014 / 183 pages

I only heard of Kara Tippets' blog Mundane Faithfulness early this year. Here this young housewife shared the struggle to take God at his word in the every day – to trust that God is indeed good – when that every day is an ongoing struggle with cancer.

Her blog lead me to her book, which is part biography, and part...well, almost a devotional. The recurring theme throughout is that God can be trusted. Sometimes we doubt it, sometimes we can't see his goodness, but He is true, even while we falter. Kara shares her doubts and her assurances, and testifies to the grace that God surrounded her with. Kara wants us to understand how, not in spite of her cancer, but because of it and through it, God has shown his goodness to her and her family, and church. She writes of how her life isn't pretty – full of surgeries, and chemo, and hair loss, and scars, and medical tests, and radiation – but it has been beautiful. God has been there for her.

This is a must read for everyone - I'd recommend it to young and old, married or not, men and women. Whether you are near death or far from it, or whether you have had a difficult life, or a blessed and almost untroubled one, it is going to end badly – death is the final enemy, and before it there is the loss of strength and loss of ability, loss of friends and loss of family. It is easy to trust God when the going is good, but what of when we have to ask, "Who is our only comfort in death?"

At one point Kara shares of how as one of her daughters was being tucked into bed, the girl asked her father, "Is Mama going to die of cancer, or old age?" Kara's husband couldn't find the words, and asked Kara for help and support. And Kara padded down the hall and slipped under the covers with her daughter.
She wasn't asking for false hope; she wanted me to love her with honesty. I told her I had heard her question, and I asked her my own question in response. I asked her if she believed God would meet her in both of those places. I looked at her face and wondered at her love, her beauty, her tenderness and I asked her a question many grown people cannot answer or embrace. In the most painful fear and hurts of our lives, will God be good? Not just the simple: God is good, indeed always good. Not the rote, recited, memorized answers we have been trained to give in the edges of life. But the asking: Is Jesus really good in the awful of cancer, fire, heartbreak and devastation? In the face of all that is broken, is God good?
We all know the answer, but it is one thing to know the answer and another to believe it when the going is not good. This is why I loved this book: Kara praises God for his goodness, and all that He provides her, and she also acknowledges her own weakness and doubt. She asks,
How do you speak to your young child of grace you struggle to have the imagination to behold? You just do. It’s the raw places of faith without sight. It’s the painful moments of preaching a sermon to yourself you know you struggle to believe. It’s the quiet prayer from Mark: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
That is what we are all struggling with: we trust God in the good times; help us trust You in the bad!

This is a wonderfully encouraging book, because it Kara lets us know God is faithful, even in the bad, and even in our doubts. He is good, and He can be trusted.

Several months after finishing the book, on March 22, 2015, Kara Tippetts died, and went to be with the Lord. There are plans for some sort of documentary, the trailer of which is below. If you would like a copy of her book, you can get it at Amazon.com by clicking here.