Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Andi's Pony trouble

by Susan K. Marlow
61 pages / 2010

This was a very popular book in our family – it's a book about ponies and horses, so what's not for a little girl to love?

Andi is a 5-year-old girl, going on 6, who dreams of owning her very own horse. This is a much more realistic possibility for her than many girls today, since Andi lives on a farm in the West in the 1870s. She already has a pony, named Coco, but she doesn't appreciate him like she should - Coco can only trot, and that not fast enough for Andi's liking. So, since she's just about 6, Andi thinks her birthday would be just the right time for her mom to give her a horse.

That's the set-up, and of course there has to be some difficulties along the way. So as little Andi tries to prove she's big enough for a horse everything goes wrong. The author, Susan Marlow, does a good job of interjecting some comedy throughout - at one point Andi ends up with eggs on her head, and that, along with the illustration by Leslie Gammelgaard, had our girls giggling.

The author is Christian, and it shows – one clear lesson taught in the book is that parents are to be respected, and children don't know everything. Andi doesn't understand why her mother won't let her have a horse, but by books' end she comes to understand her mom knew best all along. Andi also gets into some minor naughtiness, but afterwards asks her mom, and her pony Coco, for forgiveness.

Our daughters loved Andi's ambition and adventurous spirit, and that made this a fun read for me too – it's always great to come along for the ride as our kids laugh their way through a book.

There are 11 pictures spread throughout, which helped make this a visual enough read for our just about 5-year-old who doesn't normally have much patience for anything other than picture books. I'd recommend it for 5 to 8. The only downside is that our horse-crazy girls are now even more so!

You can buy a copy of Andi's Pony Trouble at Amazon.com here and at Amazon.ca here.

Other books in the series

There are 5 other books in the series, and so far we've had a chance to read 4 of them. While I'll give a "two thumbs up" rating to the first, I've started having a problem with the way the author lets us hear Andi's thoughts. Andi knows she shouldn't say disrespectful things, so for the most part she doesn't. But she thinks them quite a lot... and that means there really is quite a bit of disrespectful dialogue in these stories. I think we'll still read the whole series since my daughters do really love them, and aside from the internal back talk Andi is quite fun. But I own the first and am not feeling the need to compete the set. Checking out the rest from the library is good enough.

I will also add one reservation about Andi's Indian Summer. This is the second book in the series and quite fun. However, in an attempt to teach kids not to be racist the author downplays the caution children should have around strangers. Andi and her friend Riley get lost and a helpful Indian man meets them. First he tells them they have to come with him. They protest, and say they have to go back because Andi's mom will be worried. Then he tells them he knows Andi's mom and she would be fine with him taking them back to his home.
"Andi and Riley looked at each other. This Indian was not taking no for an answer"
The author wants children not to be fearful around Indians. Fine and good. But what about strangers? I was reading this to my 4 and 6 year old, so I interrupted the story to explain that even if someone tells them "I know your mom and she says it would be okay" they need to come to me or their mom to check. I might be making too much of this – Andi was well and truly lost, so she didn't have much of an option. But this stranger was giving just the sort of charming, ready answers that I want to prepare my daughters to ignore. So this is not a book that a young child should read on their own – it needs mommy or daddy to do some explaining.

We've enjoyed Andi's Fair Surprise (about the family heading to the State Fair). Andi wants to bring her baby horse Taffy to the fair, to exhibit, just like her brothers are doing with cows and calves. But she's not allowed to. That gets her grumpy, but she learns in the end that you know what, Mom knows what she's talking about – will wonders never cease! This is a good fun little story that our daughters really enjoyed.

In Andi's Scary School Days Andi heads to school for the first time and doesn't want to go. The lesson Andi learns here is that school is not so bad after all. Good lesson for kids who are scared of school or hate it – not such a great thought to put in the heads of children looking forward to school.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Big Goose and the Little White Duck

by Meindert DeJong
169 pages / 1938

It all begins with a big boy buying his mother a big goose for her birthday present – she's always wanted one for a pet. But there is just one problem: to buy the goose he had to borrow money from his gruff grandfather.

Now the grumpy old man was more than happy to loan the money but only because he misunderstood what the big boy intended. He thought the boy was buying it for his birthday – for his eighty-eighth birthday just a few months away. He thought the big boy was buying it so that grampa could, for the first time in his long life, have a taste of roast goose.

So when they get the big goose home the grandfather stakes his own claim to the goose. He is going to eat it...unless the goose proves to be useful around the farm in some way.

This was a great read-out-loud book to share with my young daughters. Meindert DeJong keeps his sentences quite short, but there is a rhythm to them, and a flow from one to the next. The big goose is an excitable character, and the grandfather likes to bellow, which means that I got to be loud too. There is a lot of energy in this book so long as the reader is willing to let himself go and just scream and shout right along with this goose and this grump.

Now, if there is a villain in this piece, it is basically the grandfather, which struck me as a bit strange. I was also a bit leery because there are many books where the dad is just a big dumb goof, and this has a little bit of that, with the grandfather filling in for the dumb dad role (the boy's father is absent without explanation). But I think that would only be a worry if grandfathers started to become a common villain in more books. That it happens this one time is really not a problem – my girls were able to understand that grandfathers have a special role, and deserve respect, and need love, even if this grumpy gus wasn't really living up to any of that.

DeJong was an accomplished writer, winning both the Hans Christian Anderson and Newbery awards for children's literature, so while this is an oldie (1938!) it remains an absolute must-read. If mom or dad are reading it, this is good for ages 4 and up. If the child is reading it, this is at least a late Grade One book, and maybe more of a Grade Two title.

You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here and at Amazon.ca here. Canadians can also get it here at GoDutch.com where many other Dutch heritage children's books can be found.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith

by Barnabas Piper
174 pages / 2015

N. D. Wilson's foreword to this book ends with the words "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. And so it will be until the graves are emptied."

If this is the struggle you are going through (and I think it is for all Christians who are honest with themselves), this book will help. Barnabas Piper (yes, the son of that Piper) knows that kind of struggle himself. He makes clear, as did John Huss, that we show unbelief every time we sin.

Of course, many go through different types of unbelief - more intellectual, more emotional, more the result of bewilderment with God's work (including the presence of suffering) in their lives. Piper deals with these various types of unbelief by answering such questions as "What is belief?"; "Where does the prayer to seek help with our unbelief come from in the first place"; and "How do we believe?"

This is not a how-to book. Rather, Piper wants us to face our unbelief squarely, as did the father who first asked Jesus Christ to help him with his unbelief. Piper asserts that admitting our unbelief deepens our faith when we take our struggle before God.

Even though Piper is not writing an instruction manual, he does give some very good guidance in the appendices - one about how to read the Bible to meet God, and the other a list of books that will make our Bible reading and prayer richer.

If you think that Barnabas Piper's book could help your unbelief, you can get the book here at Amazon.com and here at Amazon.ca.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

True Right

Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada
by Michael Wagner
128 pages / 2016

Feeling like you're the last true conservative left in Justin Trudeau's Canada? Then you need to read Michael Wagner's True Right and find out that all through Canada's history great, solid, courageous conservative men have stood up to the socialist hordes.

I've worked with Michael Wagner on the magazine Reformed Perspective, for years now, and always enjoyed his articles, so I knew this was going to be good. He set himself the ambitious task of laying out what makes a true conservative conservative, and took his inspiration from a long-time leader in Western Canada, the writer, editor and all around troublemaker (in the best possible sense), Ted Byfield.

So what then is a true conservative?

Someone who knows who God really is, and knows the government ain't Him.

And what exactly is in the book? It's divided into 17 short biographies of political leaders who shaped Western Canada. Wagner explains why some were true conservatives and some weren't. There's controversy to be had in the "weren't" camp, where the author places some big and well-loved names...but his reasoning is hard to argue with. Among the 13 "were"s most readers will find a pleasant surprise or two, meeting stalwart gentlemen who they'd not previously known. What an encouragement to hear that we’re not alone! Yes, even in Canada there have always been true conservatives, good and godly men, who were willing to stand up and fight, win or lose.

You might differ with Wagner on some of his assessments – I think in noting these men's strengths, he's sometimes overlooked a notable shortcoming or two – but you'll most certainly come away encouraged. True conservatives are a rarity in Canada, but as Wagner shows, there have been some who have fought big battles and, win or lose, have remained true to God.

You can pick up a copy in Canada at Amazon.ca or, in the US, at Amazon.com.

RELATED REVIEW: Another by Michael Wagner

The perfect book to give to a high school graduate: Michael is Right

Monday, December 5, 2016

Wire Mothers

Harry Harlow and the Science of Love
by Jim Ottaviani and Dylan Meconis
84 pages / 2007

Many horrors have been done in the name of science. Wire Mothers is the story of how Harry Hawlow combatted one of them.

Now this "horror" might not seem all that horrible. In the first half of the 20th century, psychologists were warning parents not to show too much affection to their children. That doesn't seem so crazy; after all, we don't want to spoil them

But this is how one prominent psychologist put it, "Never hug and kiss them." What? Really?

Yup. American Psychological Association President John B. Watson encouraged parents to shake hands with their children rather than hug. That really was being promoted!

This is misinformation that Christians at that time should have been able to see through. since there is a lot of kissing and embracing going on in the Bible (just think of Jesus' story of the prodigal son being embraced by his father).

Many in the world swallowed this pseudo-science whole, but scientist and psychologist Henry Harlow wasn't one of them. He was Jewish, and doesn't seem to have been Christian (at least, not from what this book shares), but he did understand that parents hugging their children wasn't the problem it was being made out to be. In fact, he knew it was a good thing and set out to prove it, using monkeys.

Harlow rigged up an experiment in which monkey babies were "raised" by two surrogate "mothers" – each surrogate was a simple wireframe monkey body, with no arms or legs, topped with a simple-looking head. On the first "mother" they included a milk bottle inside the wireframe, with the bottle nipple situated so the baby monkey could cling to the wire and suckle at this "breast." The second mother had the same wireframe body and simple head, but didn't have a bottle. Instead it had soft terry cloth wrapped around the wire body.

So which "mother" did the baby have an emotional response to? The one that fed it, or the one with the terry cloth body?

While the baby monkey would feed on the "bottle mother" it would spend less than an hour a day on it, quickly returning to the cloth mother afterwards, where it would spend as many as 17 hours per day cuddling. As pale an imitation as this was to a mother's cuddling – this cloth surrogate had no arms to hold the monkey baby – it was a great deal better than the bare wire body of the first surrogate mom.

Harlow also discovered that when a frightening stimulus was brought into the setting – a noisy wooden creature – the monkey would go to the cloth mother. And, after seeking comfort, it would then feel secure enough to go investigate this clanking noisy creature. Harlow showed that if a monkey was to learn, it needed affection and comfort and cuddling, even if only from this surrogate mother.

The first time I read this graphic novel, I was suspicious that this might have an evolutionary bias to it. After all, this was a book about the scientific take on love, and it involved experiments on monkeys, and applied those findings to humans. It seemed to assume that monkeys and Mankind were related.

While Harry Harlow probably had evolutionary beliefs, his findings are just as useful to Christians. Facts are facts, and the fact is, both monkeys, and people, do a lot better when we are hugged, held, and kissed. An evolutionist might assume that monkeys and men have this common need for touch because we are related, but a Christian we know that this is a matter of us both having a common Designer. God is love, so it it any wonder that love is also apparent in the animals kingdom? No, not at all.

Rather than bolstering evolution, this story highlights what happens when we have science untethered from God. Why did these scientists convince so many not to hug their children? Because the world listened more to these supposed experts than to what God says in his Word. And that's never a good idea.

Cautions

I'll note a couple of language cautions: "crap" and "stupid ass." In the interest of thoroughness, I'll also note that while this isn't remotely titillating, there is a depiction of what might be the side of a naked woman, though with all the key bits covered up. There is also an episode in which Harlow gets rescued by a group of drunk navy sailors who sing (in the background) "I love to go swimming with bow-legged women, and swim between their legs." Any kid old enough to read this will not be impacted by either of these two concerns.

Conclusion

This is a great one for adults and older teens. It's important that both we and our children remember the many times and many ways that all-knowing "Science" has messed up in the past. As Wire Mothers shows, there are many scientists who are making pronouncements that go far beyond their findings. So, this small comic is actually quite an important book.

You can pick up a copy here at Amazon.com and here at Amazon.ca. Using our links to buy these or any other books helps support our site, as Amazon sends us a dime or two at no cost to you.

RELATED REVIEWS: Graphic novels about science

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Sweet Taste of Providence

74 Devotional Episodes from History
by Christine Farenhorst
2016 / 296 pages

Seventy-four!

When Christine Farenhorst comes out with a new collection of short stories, the big question I have is, how many can I look forward to? And in The Sweet Taste of Providence she has given us an impressive 74.

These short stories are packaged as 4-5 page devotionals. They take no more than 5 minutes to read out loud, and end with a couple of questions for discussion. That makes this a great book to read with your kids, maybe 8 and up, before bed…or a little earlier, because this might get them discussing and dissecting right when you want them calming down. The short story length could also make this a good, ahem, “bathroom reader.”

What we see in this book is Christine's love of history, and the lessons that can be learned by looking backward. The slices of history she shares are most often bits most of us will never have run across before, so there is always something fun to learn. But she is after more than just fun. Since it can be easier to see God's hand in things when we’re looking at what's happened than when we’re looking around in the present (yes, God will turn even today’s evil to our good – Romans 8:28) these stories are maybe first and foremost a wonderful dose of encouragement – our God continues to uphold His people!

But The Sweet Taste of Providence is also just a fun read. It's meant to be read to children, but mom and dad will enjoy reading it too.

Pick up a copy at Amazon.com through this link or Amazon.ca here, and Amazon will send us a small tip at no cost to you. And it's also available at Sola Scriptura.

In the interests of full disclosure I should note I've known Christine Farenthorst for years, (though I've not had the chance to meet her in person). She writes for Reformed Perspective and has been doing so from even before I started there as editor 17 years ago. 

RELATED REVIEWS: Christine's other short story collections

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hippopotamister

by John Patrick Green
88 pages / 2016

This would be a great book for any reluctant reader in grades 1 or 2. For some children good comics can be a gateway to reading in much the same way that pictures books are for others.

Hippopotamister isn't strictly a comic or a picture book – it is as much the one as the other – but regardless, it sure is fun. Hippo and Red Panda live in the City Zoo, which is falling down around them. Not only are the gates and habitats falling apart, the lion's mane "wasn't very regal" and "the walrus's smile wasn't very bright."

So Red Panda decides to leave the zoo and get a job among the humans. And every now and again he comes back to the zoo to tell Hippo that "Life outside the zoo is great!"

An observant child is going to notice that while Red Panda is always enthused, he's also always holding a different job whenever he reports back. It turns out, as we learn when Hippo finally decides to join him on the outside, that Red Panda is great at lining up new jobs, but not so great at holding on to them. So every day it's a new job and a new hat, and a new and funny way for Red Panda to mess up and get himself and Hippo fired once again.

Hippo, though, turns out to be quite skilled at all sorts of jobs, and after trying on all sorts of hats, realizes that he might be just what his failing zoo is looking for. Maybe he can run it!

The story concludes happily, bringing Red Panda back home, too, with a job that suits his own unique talents.

Caution

The only possible caution I can think of is that at one point Red Panda, instead of catching fish, ends up with a topless mermaid, with arms strategically crossed (see the picture). This is the only picture that is even mildly risqué.

Conclusion

Hippopotamister is a sweet funny story that any child in the early grades will enjoy, and it might be just the thing for a reluctant reader.

Buy Hippopotamister at Amazon.com using this link or at Amazon.ca here and Amazon will send a tip our way at no cost to you.

Related reviews: other picture book/ comic book crossovers great for reluctant readers

Monday, November 14, 2016

Saint George and the Dragon

by Edmund Spenser,
adapted by Sandol Stoddard Warburg,
with illustrations by Pauline Baynes

134 pages / 1963

More than three years ago, my brother reviewed a beautiful picture book version of the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (even though I read it to my kids first!). We agree that it is a great way to introduce kids to the grit and glory of resisting "this present darkness" (Ephesians 6:12); however, as Jon mentioned, "Saint George and the Dragon" is actually part of a much longer story, The Faerie Queene, an epic poem by Edmund Spenser. Any younger reader who has been introduced to George's exploits through the picture book may want to know more, and that's what this adaptation provides.

Spenser's The Fairie Queene is actually a poem of six books, and Saint George's quest to defeat the dragon fills only the first one. Each book has twelve sections called cantos (several hundred lines each in the original), and Sandol Stoddard Warburg has made each canto a chapter of her version.

The picture book focuses on the fight with the dragon, but Stoddard's adaptation is closer to a campaign than a single battle. In George's travels with the princess Una (who represents the one true united church), she is impersonated by a false princess (really a witch named Duessa, representing false doctrine and the false church), who becomes George's companion. Even though he is deceived by her, he's still smart enough to fight against evil in the person of such revealingly named knights as Sans Foi (faithless), Sans Joi (joyless), and San Loi (Lawless). He is almost trapped in the House of Pride, but also gains the help of Prince Arthur (before he becomes the legendary king). Exactly how he is reunited finally with the real princess, and the evil sorcerer Archimago meets his fate - all before the climactic battle with the dragon - is what makes this retelling so intriguing.

The people and places named in Warburg's fuller version of the famous tale more clearly shows the allegorical nature of Spenser's poem. Spenser's story thus demonstrates the obstacles that the Christian encounters in life, so it's a great way to start conversations about the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" that influence life here in earthly places.

There is one difference between Warburg's version and the picture book that seemingly works in favour of Trina Schart Hyman's version: Hyman's illustrations are definitely more intricate. Nonetheless, the artist for this version will bring back memories of favorite editions of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Pauline Baynes illustrated some of Tolkien's stories, as well as the whole Chronicles of Narnia. Her artwork here, in red ink, particularly the miniatures framing the covers, echoes the marginal illustrations of medieval manuscripts. As well as being a great read-aloud, this is a definite book-lover's treasure.

If you want your own step up into the world of the Faerie Queene, one that adults can enjoy on their own, as well as sharing with children, you can get a copy here.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

No Christian Silence on Science

SCIENCE FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
by Margaret Helder
2016 / 110 pages

From the title onward, No Christian Silence on Science is a clarion call to Bible-believing, six-day creation upholding Christians to stand up and be counted. It's much more than that too. The author, Margaret Helder, has written for Creation Science Dialogue and Reformed Perspective (the magazine I edit) for years, and if you've read her there, then you know Dr. Helder approaches God and His creation with awe, and teaches us how to tackle evolution without fear. This book is very much an outgrowth of that work.

This, then, is intended to equip us, so we will be able to give a ready defense of our faith, and fortify us, so we will continue to trust in God, even when we face that attacks that will come in this predominantly Darwinist and secular field. 

That's a big task to tackle in a book that's just 110 pages. That's why, while this is a great book, it is no light read - there is a lot packed in here. In the five sections Dr. Helder addresses: 
  1. Science from a Christian Perspective
  2. How Design in Nature reveals God's Character and Work
  3. Christian vs. Darwinian Ethics
  4. The Christian Student: Meeting the Challenge of Secular Institutions
  5. Impact of Evolution Thought on Church and Society
My favorites were the last two. They are worth the price of the book all on their own, and if I was giving this to a university student I'd tell them to head to Chapter 4 first, to hear Dr. Helder's advice on how to interact with evolutionary-minded professors. At one points she gives an example of a find that seems to prove evolution, and she then shows how a Christian student could respond. She suggests students be ready to ask questions, and starting with the 5 Ws is always a good idea (in Science, and journalism too!). A question-asking student will often find that this new, exciting, revolutionary find, is being really over-hyped.

That's not to say creationists have all the answers. As Dr. Helder notes, in the early and mid 1900s Christians holding to a six-day creation had little supporting scientific evidence available to them, so it was only because they were so confident in the trustworthiness of the Bible that they weren't swayed by evolution. Today many problems with evolution can be pointed to, but there will still be occasions where a challenge to the biblical explanation is presented that we cannot answer. And perhaps we won't be able to answer it for several decades. But we, too, should hold to the Bible, because it is trustworthy.

Who should read No Christian Silence? This will be of interest to anyone, but for the young high school graduate heading into the Sciences this is a must. If they were to read it before heading to their first university science class, and really work through it slowly and thoughtfully, they would be well-prepared. There are other books they should read too, but this is a very good place to start because Dr. Helder covers all the key controversies, and gives good solid direction on how to meet and deal with the opposition.

No Christian Silence on Science is us available through the Creation Science Association of Alberta website or can be had by sending a $20 check ($14 for the book and $6 for shipping) made out to the CSAA, at 5328 Calgary Trial, Suite 1136, Edmonton AB  T6H 4J8. If you buy ten copies or more you can get them for $9 each, and the whole batch sent for just $6 shipping.

Related reviews: Other brief "overview" books on the origins debate



Monday, November 7, 2016

Lest we forget... it wasn't just Hitler

We raise our children to be obedient and to respect those in authority. But we must also teach them that God is a higher authority, and that even if it was their own mommy and daddy telling them to do something contrary to what God demands, then they would need to say no.

We need to teach them that a time may well come (doesn't it seem inevitable?) that their country, their boss, their co-workers, union, friends and maybe even their parents, may ask of them something that the only proper response will be "No, I cannot do that, because that is contrary to what God has said."

In his book Hitler, God, and the Bible the author notes that while Hitler was the leader, it was because he had so many willing followers that the was able to perpetuate the evil he did so effectively. As Ray Comfort explains,
Almost every part of Germany's bureaucracy had a hand in the killing process. Churches and the Interior Ministry produced the necessary birth records identifying those who were Jewish. The Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish wealth and property. The Postal Service delivered the notices of deportation and denaturalization. The Transportation Department arranged for trains to transfer Jews to concentration camps. Even the private sector cooperated in the efforts. Businesses fired Jewish workers. Pharmaceutical firms tested drugs on camp prisoners. Companies bid for contracts to build the crematoria. Universities fired Jewish professors and expelled Jewish students. It seems that the whole country unified to make the procedure work like a well-oiled machine.
So one of the lessons we must never forget is that it is no excuse to say "I was just following orders" when you know those orders are evil.

Friday, October 28, 2016

When Lightning Struck!

The Story of Martin Luther 
by Danika Cooley
2015 / 231 pages

This is a treat!

October 31, 2017 will mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg and I can't think of a better way to learn about the man and his impact than grabbing a copy of Danika Cooley's When Lighting Struck!

The target audience is teens, but like any fantastic book, adults are sure to enjoy it too. In fact, this is the perfect book for any adults who feel like they should know more about church history, but are reluctant to get started. That's how I'd characterize myself. As a student I hated history - learning dates and names seemed pointless. Now I understand it is important to know where we came from, so I want to know more....but I have no interest in learning it from a dry, dusty tome.

That's why this was such a treat. The author has taken Luther's life, and turned it into a novel. That means parts of this are fictionalized, including lots of the day-to-day dialogue, but the key events are all true. And it didn't take much to make Luther's life exciting: as doubt-filled as he was early on, the Reformer was even more bombastic after he understood the importance that forgiveness is a gift given, not earned. This is a man who:
  • was condemned by the pope as a heretic 
  • had 200 knights pledge to protect him
  • didn't want to marry lest he quickly leave his wife a widow
  • was kidnapped
  • masqueraded as a knight
  • helped formulate the German language
  • cared for Plague victims
  • ended up marrying a nun
And it would be easy to go on and on.

Put the story of such a man into the hands of a talented writer and what you're left with is a book anyone will just tear through.

There's some real history here.

While it's fictionalized, one strength of the book is in the genuine quotes that are interspersed throughout (these are identifiable by the endnote numbers after such quotes). One example: in a debate at Lepzig University, Johann Eck hits Luther with a stinging question:
"Are you the only one who knows anything? With the exception of you, is all the church in error?"
It stings because Luther, plagued by self-doubt, has been wondering this very same thing. But Luther also knows that God's truth doesn't depend on Luther being brilliant. Nope - God can spread his truth using even the dumbest of beasts, as Luther notes in his reply:
"I answer that God once spoke through the mouth of a donkey."
Warts and all

Another strength is how the book reveals the whole man, warts and all. Cooley largely skips over Luther's love of scatalogical insults (this is a book intended for younger readers, after all) but is clear about how Luther's anger stung not only the pope, but allies as well. Luther believed:
"It is precisely because of my outbursts that the Lord has used me! I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened."
There is a time and place for anger, and God made good use of Luther's righteous anger. But later, as Luther aged, it seems he came to indulge in anger, and that got him and others into trouble. Cooley shares how Luther's anger cost him friends. And in his anger he wrote a tract condemning the Jews, who were already facing persecution. He also encouraged princes and rulers to violently put down a peasant rebellion. So he used his influence for great good, but his anger meant that at times his influence also caused great harm.

Conclusion

When Lighning Struck! would make a great present to just about any reader, particularly if they have even the slightest interest in church history.

I'd even recommend this to teens who have the same bad attitude towards history that I once did. For them, this might be a bit of a gamble, but if you can get your son or daughter to promise to read through the first 60 pages, that should have them hooked.

Buy When Lightning Struck! at Amazon.com here or Amazon.ca here and they will send a tip our way at no cost to you.

RELATED REVIEWS: Other fictionalized biographies on the Reformers

The children's novel on John Wycliffe: Morning Star of the Reformation
A teen/adult novel about John Calvin: The Betrayal
A teen/adult novel about John Knox: The Thunder

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dark Horse

This is the cover of the book Dark Horseby Ralph Reed
Howard Books
2008 / 448 pages

During the 1992 US presidential election the Republican incumbent was bogged down by a broken promise (“Read my lips, no new taxes”) and the Democratic candidate was bogged down by his inability to keep his pants zipped up. Into the void stepped Ross Perot, with his folksy charm, and his billions, and suddenly the unthinkable seemed not so unthinkable – could an independent candidate win the presidency? 

The answer turned out to be no. Perot mysteriously suspended his campaign for several weeks and lost all momentum before he resumed, and ending up finishing third.

But where Perot failed, could someone else succeed? Ralph Reed explores the possibilities in his political thriller Dark Horse.

Governor Bob Long never wanted to run as an independent – he wanted the Democratic nomination that now belongs to his rival, the ultra-liberal Senator Stanley. But then Stanley’s campaign became bogged down over an FBI investigation, and the Republicans decided to nominate a moderate who had no time or patience for the GOP’s conservative wing. With the Republican and Democrats both competing for the liberal vote and unconcerned with courting conservatives, there’s an opportunity for just the right sort of independent candidate. Into the void steps long-time liberal, but newlyminted Christian, Bob Long. To win the Christian vote he needs to convince them he’s a changed man, but can he win the Religious Right over without losing the liberal Left?

If you already know that Dark Horse author Ralph Reed was, in his former life, the head of the Christian Coalition (once the largest Christian lobby group in America) this is probably a novel you’ll love. If you aren’t fascinated by politics, but do like reading about how someone’s love for God will impact their everyday decisions, this could also be a book for you too. But if you hate politics, hate even thinking about it, and don’t want to learn anything about it… well, then you of all people have to read this book! Politics may be nasty, complicated and even boring at times, but it’s also necessary, so we all need to know at least a bit about it. And Ralph Reed’s Dark Horse is certainly a fun way to learn the basics and beyond.

You can support this site by buying Dark Horse (or anything else) at Amazon.com through this link or at Amazon.ca here. It won't cost you anything, but sends a dime or two our way.

Related reviews



Friday, October 21, 2016

Katie Luther: the Graphic Novel

Mother of the Reformation
by Susan K. Leigh
illustrated by Dave Hill
95 pages / 2016

My daughter recently asked, "Why aren't there more girl heroes? Why are the heroes always boys?"

I explained that some of the heroes we read about are soldiers - generals and others – and that these are all boys because boys are bigger and stronger, so they make better soldiers.

But that conversation also set me off in search of good examples of heroic women. And one very good example is Katharina Luther.

An "ordinary" hero?

This graphic novel biography is a sequel of sorts. In 2011 comic the same author and illustrator came out with Luther: Echoes of the Hammer. This sequel is slightly smaller, but every bit as good.

Of course, not everyone will be impressed. I showed it to a friend and flipped through the page to share highlights from Katie Luther's life and he suggested that running a household was just something that women back then did. So, hardly amazing or exceptional.

There's something to that.

On the one hand Katharina was extraordinary: as a nun she read Martin Luther's writings, even though that would have been a risky thing to do. Then, at the risk of grave punishment, she planned an escape from her convent. The first attempt was found out, and she was punished. But she tried again, and got out under cover of night, hidden away with 11 other nuns in empty barrels – she had conviction and courage!

As the comic makes clear, she was also a remarkably capable woman – Luther's household was often very large, with 30 or more students, and as many as 11 children under their care (some of whom were nieces and nephews), plus many others, eating at the table. It was quite a feat to run this all, which was more restaurant and hotel than house.

On the other hand, in many ways what Katharina did is what women have done through the ages: she was an able helpmeet, supporting her husband in his role, even as she took care of the children and managed the house. This supportive role is ordinary in the sense that many wives do this every day, but that hardly makes it unimportant. Supportive roles don't get the same recognition that leadership positions do, but they are every bit as vital.

So this is a book I'm going to share with my daughter in the hopes that Katie Luther will inspire and encourage her in whatever role - whether ordinary or extraordinary - God sets before her.

Conclusion

At 95 pages, this is a comic that takes some time to get through, so it is not a casual, quick read. The artwork is just as the cover depicts - solid, colorful, and full of detail. There's also a lot of information packed in here, so anyone, whether teen or older, who wants to learn about Katharina Luther will enjoy it. That's why this would also be a good resource for schools.

However, this is not a comic most students will pick up on their own. But if it were given as an assigned reading, the graphic novel format does make this pain-free reading for almost any student. It's a far easier read than any book, and more educational than many.

You can get it at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

Related reviews


Friday, October 14, 2016

Skeptics Answered

A better book for Christians than for Skeptics?
by D. James Kennedy
203 pages / 1997

D. James Kennedy's Skeptics Answered is a really good way to answer some of the questions that skeptics raise for Christians, but it may not equip Christians so well to answer the skeptics themselves. Why the difference? The reason has to do with Kennedy's stress on evidence and optimism about the possibility of "honest" skepticism.

The book begins with Kennedy's insistence that "Skeptics Are Welcome" (the title of Chapter 1). Kennedy does clarify that it is God who makes a skeptic honest, by quoting 2 Timothy 2:24-26, in which Paul reassured Timothy about his opponents, "that God may perhaps grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth." However, Kennedy often quotes people who claim to have done impartial and unbiased investigation of the truth about Christianity.

A good beginning

Kennedy begins his investigation well by starting with the Bible, stressing the reliability of the word against skeptics' attacks. God Himself tells Israel that fulfilled prophecy is a crucial way to know if a prophet is speaking in the the name of the LORD (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). The Bible includes hundreds of prophecies fulfilled both by world events and, especially, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first part of the book concludes with a look at the use (and misuse) of logic in spiritual matters.

The effective middle part of the book deals with the existence of God and of Jesus Christ in history, the divine identity of Jesus, and (in perhaps the most intriguing chapter) the testimony of even unbelievers to the greatness of Christ. The first chapter of the last part of the book gives a positive answer to the question "Is Jesus the Only Way?" by showing the many ways in which Christianity is unique.

Evidential rather than Presuppositional Apologetics

Less effective, both Biblically speaking and in the opinion of some of the skeptical reviewers on amazon.com, is Kennedy's discussion of the problem of how a good God can allow evil and pain to exist. The problem is that on this issue - God's character rather than some abstract issue of a hypothetical God's existence - skeptics are decidedly not honest, impartial, or unbiased. Nor should we expect them to be. Without the work of the Spirit, "no one seeks for God.... There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:9-18).

This is where Kennedy's evidential apologetics wears thin. Evidential apologetics seeks to prove the truth of the Bible by bringing up supporting facts for "honest" skeptics. It can be useful to clear away stumbling blocks for spiritually weak Christians or non-Christians in whom the Spirit is already working.

For your average argumentative skeptic, presuppositional apologetics is more appropriate - exposing the assumptions that even atheists share with Christians. All people implicitly know that God exists and that His law applies to all of us, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1 and 2 - even if, by nature, we also all reject or deny His existence or rule. It is entirely fair, then, to ask critics of God's existence or goodness how they know what existence and goodness are.

The final chapter of the last part also shows the weakness of evidential apologetics - "Is There Life after Death?" Kennedy's marshaling of near-death experiences from history is undermined by the (correct) warning that such experiences must be judged by Scriptural criteria. This, of course, makes no sense if the purpose of such testimonies is to reinforce the Scriptures. The Bible does not need such reinforcement, nor will it be effective. As Christ warned in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, "'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead'" (Luke 16:31).

One final note from the skeptics on amazon.com: Some felt that Kennedy's tone was condescending toward non-Christians, and his presentation may indeed be lacking at times in "gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:14-16), which may diminish its usefulness as a tool for witnessing to unbelievers.

Encouragement for Christians

In spite of the weaknesses described above, the "back of the book" ends strongly with a presentation of the "Good News" in the Epilogue, as well as a Study Guide for each chapter. Kennedy's book may or may not help you answer skeptics, but it still provides answers (for yourself or other believers) for some of the most common questions that skeptics raise in Christians' minds, and you can get Skeptics Answered here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic

by Jennifer Trafton
340 pages / 2011

Mount Majestic is a fun romp, with all sorts of inventive ingredients:
  • A girl who wants to be a hero but is saddled with the last name "Smudge" 
  • Piles of poison-tongued jumping turtles 
  • A castle built on top of a mountain that rises and falls once each day. 
  • trees that not only walk, but sometimes run
  • A tyrant twelve-year-old pepper-hording king  
  • A terrible, life-changing, island-threatening 1,000 year old secret
Books with good girl heroes are hard to find. When the hero is a girl, most often she is decidedly boyish (or at the very least tomboyish): armor-wearing, sword-swinging, that sort of thing. But Persimmony Smudge is a different sort. She dreams of battles, yes, but when it comes down to it, it’s her brain and her bravery, and not her battle skills, that save the day.

I suspect the author is Christian, simply because I know that many of her author friends are Christian. There is, however, no mention made of God, with the only “supernatural” elements being a Lyre-That-Never-Lies, which sings out a prophetic poem now and then, and clay pots that give the recipient whatever it is they need (and not merely what they might want).  When the topic comes up about who it is that puts the gifts in the pots, and puts “words of truth into the strings of a Lyre” the only answer we get is, “I have no idea.” So Mount Majestic is simply a fun read, one without any spiritual depth – that dimension is left entirely unexplored.

I’ve heard that some girls as young as Grade 2 have enjoyed this, but at 300+ pages, I would think this either a book for mom and dad to read to the kids (maybe then as early as Grade 1) or maybe something better suited to Grade 3 and up.

Boys should like it too, though I do know, as a boy, I had a bias against “girl books” (I never read a Nancy Drew, but devoured everything in the Hardy Boys’ series).

You can order it at Amazon.com here or at Amazon.ca here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

War in the Wasteland

by Douglas Bond
273 pages / 2016

"Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don't know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God.

But Lewis isn't the book's main character, and for that I can't help but admire author Douglas Bond's patience. Lewis is most certainly the "star" of the story, but Private Nigel Hopkins serves the role of narrator, and for the first 50 pages of the book we learn about him, his dog Chips, and what his family thought of the war. It's only when Hopkins arrives at the front that he (and we) now get to meet Lewis in his role as one of the company's junior officers.

I'm not going to give too much else away, other than to say that when men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is good reason, and plenty of time, to talk about life's most important matters. Bond gives Lewis a fellow junior officer – Second Lieutenant Johnson – who won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their dialogue is imagined - this is a fictionalized account – but Bond pulls the points and counterpoints of their back and forth argument straight out of the books Lewis wrote after he turned from atheism and became one of the best known Christian apologists on the planet.

I enjoyed this book so much that after finishing it, I found it hard to pick up another – I just knew that the next book wasn't going to be nearly as good.

I'll also add that War in the Wasteland comes to a solid and satisfying conclusion, which is a neat trick, consider that Lewis's story of conversion is, at this point, very much incomplete. But Bond ties it all together wonderfully.

I'd recommend this for older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis. Bond has crafted something remarkable here.

You can buy War in the Wasteland at Amazon.com here or Amazon.ca here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

3 free and challenging pro-life books

There are a lot of pro-life pamphlets available for free online, so I could have filled this page with all sorts of suggested resources. I've limited myself to just these three because my point here isn't to clog up your Kindle, but instead to share with you the very best resources. What follows are three books that could have an immediate impact on you or someone you know.

LOVE THE LEAST (A LOT)
by Michael Spielman
166 pages / 2013

I've read quite a few pro-life books, and there are a lot of good ones to equip you to speak up for the unborn but I don't know if I've read anything that was more of a challenge and encouragement to just get at it. This is by the founder of the brilliant pro-life website Abort73.com.

Americans can get it for Kindle for free here, whereas Canadians will have to pony up 99 cents, and can find it here.

ABOLITION OF REASON: 
Pro-life apologists deconstruct "immediatist" ideology as presented in the Cunningham 
by various
86 pages / 2015

Among pro-lifers there has been an ongoing debate about how we should be fighting for the unborn legislatively. Can we approach this in a step-wise fashion, or should we be pushing for protection for all children from conception onward?

The step-wise approach involves pursuing legislation that has some chance of passing at this present time. So, for example, whereas in today's political climate there is no way we could get the unborn protected from conception, there is a chance we could get a ban passed on all partial birth abortions. But if we push for such a ban are we abandoning all the unborn children who are left unprotected? If we push for this limit on partial birth abortions aren't we saying it is fine to kill children at earlier stages and by other methods? Aren't we endorsing this evil then?

That's what some people believe, and that's why they oppose an "incremental" (or step-wise) approach to fighting abortion. These abolitionists, or "immediatists" argue that the only moral way to fight this legislatively is to seek legal protection for all the unborn – we need to push for a ban on abortion starting at conception.

I advocate for an incremental position. I believe that if it is possible that some can be saved now through legislative means, we need to save those that we can. We need to protect these some, even as we continue advocating for all unborn children. I would support a ban on partial birth abortion, but would at the same time loudly and publicly explain that my support for this limited ban isn't because I think it is alright to kill children who are younger. I would explain my support is only because this is the best that can be done now – that saving some is better than saving none. I would support a limited ban while at the same time speaking out for the humanity of the unborn from conception onward – I would ensure there was no confusion on that point.

To put it another way, I can push for a step-wise approach - an incremental approach - even as I advocate for protection of the unborn from conception onward. It isn't an either/or dilemma - I can do both.

That's the basic position of the various (and notable) incrementalists who have joined together to write Abolition of Reason. This is a one-sided perspective – everyone here is an incrementalist – and they don't pull any punches as they seek to highlight the problems with the abolitionist position. They are addressing specifically the Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) group, and its clear that some of the exchanges between AHA and them have been nasty. Some of that frustration spills over in this book too, which is why, while there is light to be found here, there is also some heat. Still, the authors are trying not to caricature their pro-life opponents – they are trying to be fair – so while this is certain to raise the blood pressure of anyone holding to an abolitionist position, I do still think it would be a helpful read. It would be a helpful read for all pro-lifers.

To download a pdf click here.

Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?
by Randy Alcorn
211 pages / 2011

The title asks an important question, and at 211 pages it offers a careful and comprehensive answer. This is a must read for any Christian couples considering the use of chemical contraceptives. Randy Alcorn is careful not to be more certain than the facts warrant, but he lays out a strong case that there is reason to believe that in some cases it might.

To download a pdf click here.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

God and Government - Biblical Principles for Today: An Introduction and Resource

by Cornelis Van Dam
330 pages / 2014

Like perhaps some of our readers, I am already involved in politics, and I know other Christians who are far more involved than I am. However, any Christian who wants to be involved in politics, or any politician who wants to understand Christians involved in politics, needs to read this book. Cornelis Van Dam makes clear the two great foundations for politics (particularly in Canada) - Christianity and humanism - and the nature of the conflict between them. Then he makes clear how Christian principles can function in a world dominated by humanistic ideals.

Christians and humanists have very different views of the origin and task of government, the relationship of church and state, and the concepts of human rights and toleration - but, as Van Dam shows from both Biblical and historical evidence, the Christian understandings of these concepts leads to both greater stability and freedom for society.

That same general form of looking at the fruit of the two worldviews leads to enlightening discussions of the differences an approach guided by the Bible could make in areas like the abortion and euthanasia debates, the issue of capital punishment, the need for traditional marriage, the balance of productive work and necessary weekly rest, the stewardship of creation, and immigration policy. By this point in my reading, my renewed commitment to see Biblical values reaffirmed in our politics had me primed for the last section - "Working for Change," which first describes the Biblical reasons for getting involved in the government of the country, and ends with a look at the many excellent organizations that are doing just that.

The study questions and bibliography at the end make this an excellent resource for starting some political activism of your own, with both insightful Biblical application and plenty of  written and online works, as well as the groups mentioned above, to help you (and me) and like-minded Christians to get going (or to keep going, only with a little better grounding in basic principles).

The only regret I have in reviewing this excellent overview of the rationale and strategies for Christian involvement in (especially Canadian) politics is that I waited too long to read it. The edition I read is from 2011, but there is now, esteemed review reader, a slightly longer updated 2014 edition available for Kindle. You can find both versions at Amazon.com here and at Amazon.ca here but while the Kindle version is a reasonable price there, I can see that the print editions are getting a bit expensive there. So a cheaper alternative is to go to the ARPA Canada book section at this link where you can find information on how to get a print edition for a donation of $10.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Made in Heaven

Man's Indiscriminate Stealing of God's Amazing Design
by Ray Comfort
78 pages / 2012

This picture book isn’t a children’s book – we gave it to my mother-in-law for her birthday – but it is certainly a book children will love. Here we find 32 instances of where mankind has built better machines and structure by trying to imitate (as best as we can) the wondrous design we find in God’s creation.

We learn about how the front ends of trains have been shaped like Kingfisher beaks to reduce shock waves, how intermittent window wipers were inspired by blinking eyes, and how Velcro came about when an engineer noticed just how many burrs were sticking to him and his dog.

The author wants us to consider just how amazingly intricate creation really is. If the world’s smartest engineers and scientists are looking to nature to figure out how to build better machines, then isn’t that good evidence that the world around us didn’t come about by fortunate happenstance? Just consider the ant…
"Each of the 20,000 different types of ants have a nervous system that contains its multifaceted, tiny, but brilliant brain. Each one has a heart that is a long tube that pumps a special type of blood through its body, as well as an intricate muscle system that works the claws and legs.... The tiny ant screamed of the genius of Almighty God."
Comfort makes his point with fun writing and pages and pages of absolutely gorgeous pictures. He concludes with a 3-page gospel presentation, encouraging readers to ask God for forgiveness and to read the Bible regularly. We might wish that he also encouraged readers to attend a good church, but if we’re giving this to anyone (and it could be used as an amazing evangelistic “tract” of sorts) then we can always do the inviting, telling them about our church.

In addition to its potential as an outreach tool, this would make a wonderful gift for anyone – man, woman, or child – interested in the marvelous way God has designed creatures, both big and small.

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Grace Effect

by Larry Alex Taunton
254 pages / 2011

This is the story of an adoption, and also the answer to a question. As the author details, in a late-night conversation with the late Christopher Hitchens the atheist asked, in effect, "What has Christianity done for the world lately?"

He had, earlier in the evening, conceded that it was Christian thought that had led to many of the advances that set the West apart and above the rest of the world – science, human rights, humanitarian efforts, etc., all spurred by a Christian understanding of the world. But Hitchens also thought that Ancient Greeks had given us a lot...and now we had left them behind. So why shouldn't we do the same with Christianity? It is one thing to say Christianity did something for us in the past, but is that any reason to keep it now? Hitchens wanted to know how Christianity benefits the world today.

The answer Larry Alex Taunton gave him was an 11-year-old HIV-positive Ukrainian orphan named Sasha.

The majority of the book is an account of the overseas part of the adoption process that the Tauntons went through to bring Sasha into their family. There in the former socialist republic we see evidences all around of just what is wrought when an atheistic worldview holds sway for decades and decades. Officials and even judges have to be bribed – repeatedly – to do the duties that their salaries already pay them to do. Sasha's orphanage has no toilets, only holes in the ground, little oversight, and not nearly enough food. And yet the bureaucrats there make a show of being concerned whether the Tauntons are going to give Sasha her own room, and they forbid the Tauntons from feeding the starving girl any fast food!

Every step in the adoption process takes forever because no one can be counted on to just do their job. The primary motivator for each official they meet seems to be only their own self-interest - they just don't care about the many orphans, and speak of them as if they were somehow less than human.

In contrast the Tauntons come from the Christian West. As a society we are turning our back on God, but many vestiges of Christian influence remain. One example: while we have our bureaucrats too, bribery is the exception rather than rule. And many in our social services are motivated not by their wage but by the opportunity they have to do good. That might not be consistent with their secular faith, but a sort of Judeo-Christian ethical peer pressure persists, motivating people here to act better than they otherwise might. Doubt it? Then you have only to look at how people act where Christian influence has long since seized to be. Taunton paints a scary picture.

Cautions

I will note one caution specifically for Dutch Reformed readers. "The grace effect" that Taunton speaks of in the title is the civilizing, wealth-building, human-rights-respecting impact that Christianity has wherever it flourishes. In spots he also calls this "common grace," noting that it is undeserved (thus grace) and also extends to even unbelievers (thus common, as in, common to all) in countries that have a Christian heritage.

Some Reformed Christians have a problem with the term "common grace" noting that, unless someone turns to God, this "grace" only increases the unbelievers's guilt (because even after receiving all this he's still in rebellion). And, in turn, that will increase God's wrath against persistent unbeliever. Thus they think "grace" the wrong word to use here.

Conclusion

But let's not get hung up on the terminology and instead focus on the point that Taunton is trying to make. He want atheists to wonder why society is so much better off when Christians, rather than atheists, are in charge. Could it be that our Maker knows what's best for us, and His commands are for our best? If that's so (and it is) then a society that obeys Him in big ways or small, will do better than a society that does not.

And that is exactly what we see happening in the world around us. Even an atheist such as Hitchens wanted to live in the more Christian West, rather than in the atheistic East.

Christopher Hitchens didn't know what to make of the Taunton family's decision to adopt a special-needs child. He didn't get what they would go to that trouble for someone they didn't know, and to whom they had no obligations. Taunton's point was simple. This is just what Christians do, because this is what Christ has done for us. When we seek to be Christ-like, then the world around us benefits too.

So what has Christianity done for the world lately? Taunton says the contrast can be see at its clearest in how the West and East treat widows, orphans, the disabled and sick, and all of society's weakest and most vulnerable. This is a very engaging, and easy read. And at just over 200 pages, it is a pretty quick one too. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys non-fiction, apologetics, economics, or human interest stories. I think it would interest them all!

 To buy a copy of The Grace Effect at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How Should Christians Approach Origins?

by John Byl and Tom Goss
42 pages / 2015

Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. In this booklet it is evident that the authors put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate. In just 42 pages they gave an overview of:
  • the difference between historical and operation science
  • why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma
  • why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles
  • the basics of materialism and naturalism
  • what the various origins positions are
  • why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution
  • how dating methods can be unreliable
  • what books would be good for further reading
And that isn’t even all of it!

This would be an ideal book to give to any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. The small size means this is only an overview but you won’t find any better. And for those that want to continue on, the Resource pages in the back are a fantastic place to start. It lists two dozen of the best books on the various aspects of the origins debate. You can pick up a copy (or two or three – these would make a great give away) at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spectacular Sins - and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ

And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ
by John Piper
121 pages / 2008

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the chief end of man "is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever," John Piper demonstrates that the glory of God (or, more specifically, of Christ) is the chief end of everything - even of evil.

Piper begins by telling us that sometimes "the bruised heart needs a tire iron" – more confrontation than comfort. In a time when the persecution of the church is beginning also in the West, His people need to hear more about God's sovereignty than His tenderness, because, as Piper puts it,  "wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians." To do that, Piper takes us through the most spectacular sins of history - not the Holocaust, not the fall of the World Trade Towers, but the sins of God's followers against Him. The word "spectacular" in the title is no mere accident. Piper demonstrate how each of these sins is a lens through which we see Christ's greatness all the more clearly.

The first sin is the rebellion of Satan. Though the Bible never explains why and how Satan fell, Scripture does make clear that even evil supernatural powers were created through and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). Clearly, He did not make them evil, but He created beings who He knew would rebel against Him (just as we do) - so... why? Paul makes that clear to Timothy, an early example of at least a potential wimpy Christian. Paul reminds Timothy that God "saved us and called us to a holy calling... because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (see 2 Timothy 1:8-12). It was within God's plan to use the evil intentions and actions of both demons and humans to make His grace available to His people.

Piper looks further at how God uses sin for His eternal purposes in looking at the sin of Adam, the pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph, the sinful origin of the Son of David, and the most horrific and spectacular sin of all, the crucifixion of the Son of God (especially the betrayal by His own disciple). In all these sins, God shows both His eternal foreknowledge of man's evil and His sovereign power to glorify His Son as the only Savior from sin. Every situation of great sin in the Bible (and in human history in general) only makes the glory of Christ shine that much greater.

Knowing that even our sins, and the sins of those who oppress us, are no surprise to God, but serve His purpose to glorify our Savior,
  • takes us from a wimpy worldview to a weighty one;
  • enhances our delight in the work of God; and
  • moves us to a life of confident service to a God who is both tender and sovereign ("able and willing").
You can buy a paperback copy of John Piper's Spectacular Sins at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here, or you can download a pdf copy for free by visiting here (see the download button on the left).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Undeniable

How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed
by Douglas Axe
274 pages / 2016

There's no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but books that blow it up are more rare. But even among these second sort, Douglas Axe's Undeniable is special – he wants us to understand that evolution is not only wrong, but hopelessly inadequate.

His is a hard book to sum up. There's a reason Axe presents his argument over 274 pages – he needs that space to address and answer the many objections critics have raised up against the idea of an Intelligent Designer. So maybe the best way to sum it up is to share with you some key quotes.

On intuition

Let's begin with what Axe means when he says we intuitively disbelief the evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:
"By elementary-school age, children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists." 
But it isn't just children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:
"Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature."
Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent.

Why is that? It's because it's hard not to see how well made creation is. It's hard to avoid the reality that all these creatures we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete.  When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – "five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease" – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, "some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are." An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art.

This intuition is available to all. As he's says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:
"The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years."
On why evolution is a non-starter

There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:
"Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest."
It's no different today:
"[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik's] own diagnosis...is admirably frank: 'Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.'" 
As Axe puts it,
"What's left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn't explain how things originate?"
On what evolution lacks

Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can't get innovation even on this tiny scale - enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?
"The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did."
Evolution isn't living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:
"Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind 'We never said he could dunk a basketball...or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.'"
Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme's efficiency. But it can't make anything new. As Axe puts it, "As a finder of inventions, Darwin's evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but...it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler."

So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:
"Invention can't happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how....What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident." 
On why there is no reason to think evolution can do wonders

Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can't begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the "more advanced products of human technology" with one of Creation's simplest creatures.
"Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection."
This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world's most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 "needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table," its living rival "does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size."
"The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls." 
Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man's more impressive accomplishments.

So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn't compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection. This is ridiculous!

Evolutionists point to time as their theory's saviour - inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years?

But this is only another example of why a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, "Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge." So even if we grant time and countless trials we still know inventiveness - especially on the scale of living things! - isn't going to happen. Inventions aren't created by accident.
"The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump...may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself."
Conclusion

This is one of those pivotal books that's going to get people riled up and talking for years to come. Douglas Axe wants us to understand that not only is evolution not true, it is so obviously so that even a child can see through it. Axe is a Christian, which comes out clearly in the conclusion to the book. He is not a creationist, but rather an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent, but unlike most in the ID community, he isn't hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book. And while he is not a creationist, creationists can embrace the whole of his book. His argument is that biology blows up evolution, and he simply doesn't touch on the biblical stance on our origins.

Axe has set out to show that believing in creation by a brilliant Creator is a matter of common sense. And because he's trying to reach the non-scientist there are only a few places where the science requires some tough slogging. But once I got through them the rest of the book was an easy and thrilling read. Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how mainstream science might ridicule those who don't believe in evolution, we are on solid scientific ground.

You can pick up a copy of Undeniable at Amazon.com by clicking here or at Amazon.ca here.