Monday, March 28, 2016

The Oxpecker and the Giraffe - I Need You and You Need Me

by Patrick Fitzpatrick
illustrated by Tim Newcombe
32 pages / 3013

Giraffe is tired of his near-constant companion, the Oxpecker bird and wants him to go away. Or as he says it in the book:
You're always climbing on my skin.Your company is wearing thin
You are nothing but a pest
Fly away and let me rest.
But Oxpecker knows something Giraffe doesn't: "I need you and you need me." It turns out that the Oxpecker feeds itself by eating the blood-sucking bugs that want to take a chunk out of Giraffe. That keeps Oxpecker's tummy full, but also keeps Giraffe with a lot lets mites and such trying to turn him into lunch.

So this is a story of interdependence, and because this comes from creationist Christians the authors take the opportunity to point out how such interdependence should point us right to God. Or, as Giraffe's friend Rhino puts it:
We need them, and they need us
Why the worry? Why the fuss?
God has made us by design,
So our lives must intertwine.
This is a fun story, with vibrant pictures and a nice rhyming rhythm to it. It is intended as an educational book, and as such it is fantastic; it not only teaches but entertains too.

But evaluating it simply as a picture book – evaluating it on an entertainment scale – then it is good rather than great. Our under 6 kids enjoyed it, and we had a good talk about it, but there are other picture books they do like more. So this one might be an ideal one to get out of the library (it would be a great addition to any school library).

If you want to buy it, you can do so at by clicking here or at here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

by Larry Taunton
181 pages / 2016

The late Christopher Hitchens is best known for his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He was an aggressive atheist who made his living blaspheming God. So why would we want to know more about him? And why would Christian author Larry Taunton want to write a book about him?

Because this book is much more about God’s graciousness than it is Hitchens’ rebellion.

And because Hitchens wasn’t quite what he seemed. Taunton writes of Hitchens having “two sets of books” just as fraudulent accountants do, with the one set for the viewing public, and the second private set that give the true tally. Hitchens’ public face was that of the confident anti-theist who thought it made good theater to claim God was both unforgivably evil and non-existent. Meanwhile the private Hitchens was spending more and more time with God’s followers, calling some of them friends, and even studying the Bible with one or two. If he wasn’t deliberately seeking God, this other Hitchens’ interest in the truth was bringing him closer and closer to his Creator.

The author, Taunton, got to know Hitchens after arranging public debates between Hitchens and prominent Christians. Often times after these debates the two public combatants, Taunton, and others, would head out to a late dinner where the debate would continue. This is how Taunton and Hitchens became friends. When Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer the late night debating seemed more important to them both.

God not only brought Christians into Hitchens life, He also gave this materialist a sure knowledge about the reality of evil. The atheistic/materialistic worldview has no room for right and wrong – things just are. We don’t speak of chemical reactions as having any sort of “moral quality,” and in the atheist worldview all we are is chemical reactions. So when atheists speak of evil they are speaking of something they have no explanation for. Hitchens seemed to understand this, but, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attack, was also certain there was evil. Hitchens bravely denounced radical Islam, which lost him friends among the Left, but more importantly exposed – seemingly to Hitchens himself – the big hole in his godless worldview. It was another nudge in a Godward direction.

While Taunton doesn’t make any claims about a deathbed conversion for one of the world’s most notorious atheists, he shows us that God was ever so gracious to Hitchens, confronting him, pursuing him. We don’t know if Christopher Hitchens ever repented, but we do know God gave him every opportunity.


The only caution I’d add is that some of the Christians mentioned in the book – who debated Hitchens and gave him something to think about – have a notable flaw in their theology, that being some sort of bow to theistic evolution. This isn’t a concern in this book (it doesn't come up) but I share this only as an alert to any readers who might be spurred to look up the works of these mentioned men.


This is a close-up look at a wavering atheist that concludes without a clear happy ending – that makes it strange, particularly for a Christian-authored book. But the glimpse at what God was doing in Hitchens’ life makes this a compelling book. God gave Hitchens time, allotting him 16 months after his initial terminal cancer diagnosis; He brought him into close company with men who were able to answer his objections; and He also made Hitchens aware of evil. Why read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens? Because one can’t help but be struck by God’s graciousness in the life of Christopher Hitchens.

To buy a copy at click here or get it at here.

I got a free copy of this book for review purposes but, as you might suspect, that has no impact on the sorts of evaluations I give.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Conversion and the Communion of Saints in Some Really/Pretty Good Reads

Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and
The House at Pooh Corner (1928)
by A. A. Milne
368 pages / this edition 1996

Messy Grace
by Caleb Kaltenbach
224 pages / 2015

Which book best fits the title of this post? Read on to find out....

I've always had Winnie-the-Pooh in the back of my mind, but I only finally read both volumes of this "really good read" (so I've heard) recently. As I read, I had the general five-star rating that Amazon's readers gave it confirmed by the fun of the characters (mostly based on the stuffed animals of A. A. Milne's son Christopher Robin). Pooh Piglet, Roo, and Tigger, for example, are very much children, with children's typical egocentric focus on themselves. At the same time, Pooh, though a somewhat gluttonous Bear of Very Little Brain, has the childlike love of the world that prompts plenty of poetry, which he, with childish confidence, is sure that Christopher Robin will love. Piglet is a typical little kid who is more than a little worried about everything. Both Roo and Tigger are filled with the energy of children that sometimes exhausts the adults in their lives.

Many of the others seem to be more children's view of adults: Rabbit all busy and bustling, but not very patient; Kanga the perfect mother, but just a little fussy; Eeyore - the somewhat depressed (and depressing) donkey. What binds the two groups together is their love for Christopher Robin, who owns all these (stuffed) creatures.

What makes the characters funny is their general lack of awareness of their own weaknesses, but this can also get somewhat discouraging story after story. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when near the end of the second volume, Milne tells a story that shows how, sometimes, the communion of saints breaks through. We've seen Rabbit in action before, trying to un-bounce Tigger, but now his brusqueness is put to good use when he (finally) tells Eeyore what we've been thinking all along - to stop feeling sorry for himself and go out and visit others. Pooh sings a song that does more than just amuse himself; it also pays tribute to Piglet's earlier heroic actions. Finally, Piglet, when Eeyore mistakenly gives away Piglet's house to Owl after Owl's tree falls down, quietly lets Owl keep the house and accepts Pooh's gracious offer to come and live with him (echoes of Acts 2:45!).

All the creatures, who love the one who owns them, learn to love each other as well. That's what we should be seeking as well. Our unity in the One who owns us should prompt our love for the others who are owned by Him (at much greater cost than Christopher Robin's ownership).

That love prompted by God's love for us in Christ is also what Caleb Kaltenbach calls for. Caleb eventually found out that both his parents were homosexual. After his parents' divorce, his mother lived with another woman. Caleb found out that his father was gay only after Caleb's conversion. That conversion happened only after a childhood and adolescence learning to hate the Christians who seemed to have nothing but hatred for his mother and her partner.

This dual experience of both the homosexual community and the search for the gospel truth about homosexuality (which he does get right, unlike, say, Rob Bell) gives Kaltenbach a unique perspective on the issue. It leads him to call him for a "messy church" in which sinners are welcome - as they were with Jesus. It's worth considering whether your congregation could deal with the following admissions (page 151):
  • I'm an addict and I want to know my next step.
  • I can't handle my finances.
  • I'm struggling with porn.
  • I'm gay.
While Kaltenbach's journey to knowing Christ follows a somewhat Arminian narrative, and requires a "re-baptism," these and other similar scenarios that he mentions are worth considering. How welcoming are we to people who need our help - or who don't know that they need our help yet?

However, near the end  of the book, Kaltenbach's call for church to be somewhere you can "belong before you can believe" confuses hospitality with membership. That comes through later when he asks, "What about those who say they love Jesus, claim to believe in the Bible, and attend church regularly and meanwhile are in a loving gay relationship?" His response that he is "not sure we are supposed to be judges of others' salvation" contradicts precisely what is the proclamation of faithful church discipline. "To live in sin" is to live outside Christ, as was the man condemned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 with the ultimate purpose of restoring him to fellowship with Christ and His church. It is not loving for the church to leave someone in their unrepented sin.

So... which of these is a really good read, and which is only a pretty good read? You decide if you want to order either The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh or Messy Grace (or both).

    Monday, March 7, 2016

    Journey Through the Night

    by Anne De Vries
    372 pages / 1951 (English version reissued 2001)

    Journey Through the Night is children's fiction at its very best.

    The main character, John De Boer, is a Dutch boy soon to become a man, but first he has to survive the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. When the Germans first took over, the De Boers weren't actively trying to resist. However, as German persecution increases, John and his father are compelled by their conscience into helping Jews and others wanted by the authorities. Our "heroes" enter into their work for the Dutch underground in an almost grudging manner, but they do the work because they know it is what God wants them to do. 

    When I first read this series as a child I wondered why they weren’t eager to jump into the work, into the adventure! Now, as an adult I wonder whether I would have had the same courage. That is one of the strengths of the book. It tells a story about the bravery of our fathers, and grandfathers, as they fought against a government that hated God. That's something we might well have to face one day too – it won’t be the Nazis in our case, but Christian persecution around the world is increasing, and it isn't inconceivable it might happen here too. So we can draw courage reading about how God was with his people in this war, even when some were caught by the Nazis.

    This story is particularly compelling for teenagers since John is sixteen. But adults will enjoy rereading it, or reading it for the first time. That's why I would recommend it for anyone 10 years old and up. As C.S. Lewis said, if a children’s book isn’t worth rereading as an adult, it isn’t much of a book at all.

    Old folks like myself might remember that Journey Through the Night was originally a four-book series, translated from the Dutch original (which was a runaway bestseller). This new version includes all four books in one sturdy soft-covered edition. Kids probably aren’t going to ask for these books themselves so maybe parents and grandparents out there should consider giving this one as a gift. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be asked to read it out loud to your little descendants.

    You can buy a copy at by clicking here. Or check out the publisher at Inheritance Publications.