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.


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 here or 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 through this link or at 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.


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 here and 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, 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 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 here or at here.