Thursday, September 28, 2017

Luther in Love

by Douglas Bond
2017 / 320 pages

Luther in Love shows us the Reformer from the perspective of his better half. The story begins with 62-year-old Luther spending an evening in his chair. He's not in the best of health – worn out from a lifetime of controversy and conflict – and his dear wife knows that it can't be long before he is gone.

So she has given herself a bittersweet project to complete. Others have written accounts of the Reformer, but always from one extreme or the other - either thinking him "the spawn of Satan" or "a living angel." She wants the world to know the real man, and she's going to record his story as he remembers it. But Katie doesn't want her husband to know what she's up to, so even as she's prodding him about the past, and has paper and quill at the ready, he thinks she's busy keeping track of the family finances and other business matters.

It's a great premise and let's Bond explore Luther's life through the appreciative, but far from naive perspective of his helpmeet. After all, who knows a man better than his wife?

One strength of the book is the thorough research evident throughout - we are immersed in Luther's world! And then there is Bond's writing – this is the fourth fictionalized biography Bond has written about Reformers, and he is a master of this form. Again and again I had to get up to find my wife and read sections to her that were simply too exciting, or too sweet, not to share.

Some of that sweetness comes up when the two are teasing and debating each other. Bond gives us a wonderful look at how two souls can grow old together and continue growing in love for one another. It's a book about Luther, but it's also a model for marriage.

Of the many books I've read about Luther, this is one of the biggest. But it might just be the fastest read. That's why I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone, teens and up. It is funny, entertaining, informative, sweet, challenging, and more.

You can pick up a copy at here and here. (I was surprised at how cheap it is.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

C.S. Lewis - Can you imagine?

by Catherine Mackenzie
illustrated by Rita Ammassari
24 pages / 2013

This book prompted me to ask, what is it that qualifies a book as being "really good"? Both my wife and I were struck by this children's biography of C.S. "Jack" Lewis, and yet in talking about it, we agreed on the book's notable shortcomings - the story just doesn't flow like it should.

So why did we also like it so? Because, in telling us about C.S. Lewis's life in a way that children can understand, the book introducing children in an age-appropriate manner to topics like the death of pets and of loved ones, doubting and denying God, unanswered prayers, and returning to God. There's more to the book - there is a page or two on how Narnia came to be, of course - but it is the "adult" topics presented in a real, but not forceful way, that makes this book something special.

The structure of the book is that each two-page spread is, effectively, its own short chapter. There are not actual chapters in the book, but every left hand page tells its own self-contained little story of Lewis's life, with the righthand presenting a corresponding full-page picture. This works for the most part, but there are a couple of times where the transition from the previous spread to the next is too ragged and jumpy with no clear transition marking what might be a leap of 5 or 10 years that took place in the page turn.

But if that's the book's flaw, the strength is in the depiction of Jack's fight, and submission to God. So, when his mother dies when Jack is still a boy, we see him ask "Why didn't God answer my prayers and make her better?" Then, as he goes off to war, we hear him say to himself, "God does not exist." But then, gradually (well, not that gradual - this is only a 24 page book), we also see God at work, pursuing and changing Jack, until finally he says, "I've spent years running away from God. I didn't realize that all that time God was really chasing after me." And after Jack gives in, we hear of his joy, but even here this little book doesn't gloss over the difficulty that Christians can face – when Jack's wife Joy dies, we hear him say, "Grief feels like fear."

This was a wonderful tool to talk with my daughters about topics that are important, but aren't covered in most other children's books. And it is done in such a careful and age-appropriate manner. So this gets two thumbs up from both my wife and I. And our kids enjoyed it too, even if not to the same degree as their parents.

You can pick up a copy at here and here.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How can I be sure? - And other questions about doubt, assurance and the Bible

by John Stevens
93 pages / 2014

Without a doubt, this book is sure to be useful for any Christian who wonders whether he or she believes, or whether what he or she has always believed is still true. The author John Stevens demonstrates just how many reasons for and types of doubt there are when, in the book's introduction, he gives eight portraits of Christians who lack assurance in their faith in some form or another.

What makes this gallery of doubters so effective is what Stevens does with it at the end of the book. First though, in five short chapters, broken up into sections of two to four pages, Stevens
  1. defines doubt in six significant ways;
  2. demonstrates five dangers of doubt;
  3. shows how someone can know he or she is a Christian - in both faith and life;
  4. describes five ways to deal with doubt, including understanding doubt's four root causes; and
  5. outlines six ways to strengthen your faith.
Four of the five chapters also deal briefly with more specific questions like:
  • How do I respond when friends fall away?
  • How can I be sure that God loves me?
  • What is the gift of faith mentioned in the Bible?
  • If God is the one who gives faith, why do I still have doubts?
To see just how helpful this book is, let's look at the answer to the first question, one that many in my own congregation are struggling with. If friends are falling away, Stevens tells us, we should do the following:
  1. Pray for them and seek to share the gospel with them again, urging them to come back to Christ. (Sadly, excommunication in our churches often ends all contact with the former members, rather than making that contact much more deliberate, intentional and lovingly corrective.)
  2. Don't be surprised or think that God has failed them in some way. Stevens reminds us that unbelief is the responsibility of the individual.
  3. Make every effort to strengthen and protect our own faith, joining with other believers in prayer and studying God's word.
  4. Finally, the falling away of our friends should prompt us to examine our own doubts to be sure that they do not become unbelief.
Stevens' conclusion, as I hinted above, invites us to consider the doubters profiled in the introduction - why they are suffering with doubt, and how you could help them - and gives us his own view, as well as some final words of comfort and exhortation.

An appendix lists resources to help Christians struggling with doubts regarding science and God, history, suffering, homosexuality, the Bible, truth, and other questions. Two small notes for Reformed or non-British readers:
  • Stevens mentions his own doubts and change of heart about infant baptism now disagreeing with it, though he "respect[s] the views of Christians who come to a different conclusion."
  • A look at physical causes of doubt mentions PMT (a British version of PMS).
An edifying and comforting book! If you think that John Stevens has good answers to questions about doubt, assurance, and the Bible, you can purchase his book, at or

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Once upon a banana

by Jennifer Armstrong 
illustrated by David Small
48 pages / 2013

I'd almost forgotten just how wonderful wordless books can be. But then I found this at the library, brought it home, read it once to my three girls, and then, moments later, my youngest, all of three, was off on her own "reading" the book to herself.

The fact is, long before kids can read, many really, really want to. Parents might find them, picture book on their lap, either trying to remember how the story goes, or trying to make up something that will fit the pictures. And all the while, just wishing they could read it for themselves.

Wordless books are a way to build on this enthusiasm. I did need to go through Once Upon A Banana the first time with them, pointing out things like how banana peels are supposed to be slippery, and how the book was giving us hints as to what was coming, by showing us some characters in full color, and the less important characters only in shades of blue.

But they didn't need much to figure it out. The story is one big chase scene, with monkey owner chasing monkey, and then grocer chasing monkey owner, and then some dogs join the chase, and a skateboarding judge, and a mom and her baby in its stroller. Oh, and there's a big garbage truck in the mix too. It's crazy and frantic with lots to look at on every page.

After I gave a short "lesson" on how to read this wordless book, my two pre-readers could do it all on their own. That means that, while wordless books aren't going to replace me any time soon, they do reduce the demand just a tad on Dad the book reader. And that freed me up to read something a bit more challenging, and at least a little bit closer to my own level, to my older girls.

The only downside to wordless books is that they take hardly any time to read. That means this isn't the best value for a parent - it'd be better to get it out of the library. But this is a good one for a school library. You can get it at here and here.

And for more wordless wonders, see more reviews at the links below.

More wordless wonders