Friday, August 28, 2020

Henry says good-bye

When you are sad
by Jocelyn Flenders
edited by Edward T. Welch

32 pages / 2019

This book is part of an excellent series put out by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) called "Good News for Little Hearts." Each title addresses an area of counseling that might be of use to "little hearts" and in this one the issue is grieving the loss of a loved one.

Of course, they don't tackle it head-on – that would be abrupt, and too distressing for the very children the book is intended to help. So instead of a person, we have Henry, a little hedgehog, and instead of the loss of a relative, he is trying to deal with the death of his pet ladybug Lila. Sad and angry, and he doesn't want to be around his other friends, whose pets are all still alive. But what his parents model is how to take our grief to God. Henry's dad shares relevant Bible passages, pointing his son to the God who has promised to one day dry every tear.

It is a wonderful book, and brilliantly illustrated. It would probably be most useful if read before there was a need, but even after the death of a pet, or of a loved relative, the book's Scripture citations, and instructions for parents found in the back, will be incredibly helpful.

Overall I would recommend it to parents of children 5-10.

Friday, August 21, 2020

God made me unique

Helping Children see Value in Every Person

by Joni Eareckson Tada and friends
32 pages / 2019

Everyone is unique, but some of us are more unique than others. So how do we teach our children to embrace and include others who might act differently, or who might have different needs than their own? 

This little picture book could be helpful for parents and teachers by making the unusual less surprising. The book is set in a classroom right before a new student with special needs is going to join them. The class is already made up of students who have disabilities and challenges, and by showing some of the many ways we can be different from one another – a child in leg braces, one in a motorized wheelchair, another who is deaf, and one who wears headphones because she doesn’t like loud noises – our own children can get used to the idea that unique isn’t that unusual after all. But this title’s most important point, made repeatedly, is that we are all made in God’s image.

Bright colors and rhyming text make this an attractive for reading aloud with a class. I don’t know if it is the sort of book children will read repeatedly on their own, so that might make it more of a church and school purchase, where it can be borrowed, rather than something every parent will want to get. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy

by Michael Horton
241 pages / 1996

If you have watched or read about the video American Gospel: Christ Alone (reviewed here), then Michael Horton's book will be a great way to pursue in greater depth the vital issue of what true worship and intimacy with God really means.

The video American Gospel reveals how the proponents of the "word of faith" doctrines are preaching a false gospel that promises deliverance not from sin, Satan, and God's just judgment, but from suffering - in this life. Horton, twenty years earlier, traces the roots of the word of faith errors in the heresy of gnosticism.

Gnosticism promises salvation through direct knowledge of the spiritual realm, knowledge outside of what God reveals in His inspired word, the Bible. This pursuit of spiritual enlightenment is part of the sell job behind the very first sin: "You shall be like God, knowing good and evil."

Horton says that in gnosticism, faith becomes magic - a way to manipulate God or spiritual power. At the same time, gnosticism rejects the goodness of matter, focusing instead on the inward journey into your own spirit. Just as in the New Testament period, such rejection of the body and the world leads to either extreme asceticism or extreme hedonism. In the evangelical world, gnosticism can be seen in the focus on individual fulfilment and the rejection of church authority.

So how does one commune with God? Horton stresses that we cannot approach God on our own, because of our sin and His holiness. Instead, whoever has seen Jesus Christ - the Son of God, and the savior from sin - has seen God the Father, and the only way to see Christ - and to live in Him - is through the means of grace God has provided: the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Any other "way to God" - like the tower of Babel or the so-called righteousness of the Pharisees - brings us under God's wrath.

Horton calls the attempt to "touch God" under our own steam the "theology of glory," borrowing the term from Luther, who heartily condemned it. Only the "theology of the cross" can save us - the knowledge of and trust in the work of the One who suffered the cross for us. Instead of seeking to climb up to God, we need to rejoice in the God who came down to us in Christ.

Two appendices add a great deal to Horton's argument. The first compares focus on the self of the contemporary Christian music of Horton day (the 1990s) to the focus on the objective truth of Christ's work in classic Christian hymns. One can see the same problems with sentimentalism and emotionalism in much of the music on Christian radio today.

Appendix B is the most useful. Having shown the problems with modern gnosticism, Horton answers a number of questions about what the church needs - Biblical liturgy, Christ-centered preaching, the administration of the sacraments, a Biblical structure of church governance, and a proper understanding of God's work of providence versus His work of miracles. Although this section would be extremely beneficial for the consideration of someone seeking a more Biblical way to follow Christ, there are a few potential rough spots in this how-to guide - the use of terms like common and saving grace, invisible and visible church, as well as a perhaps overly broad view of interchurch fellowship.

The only other major problem with the book relates to its age. The end of my edition promotes the work of Christians United for Reformation - a group that no longer exists under that name. However, Horton's summary of the organization's basis - the five solas of the Reformation, as well as the idea of the priesthood of the believer - is still a great defense of the Reformers' doctrines.

If you want to know more about the dangers and delights of spiritual intimacy, you can find it here      and here in Canada.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Pro-life kids!

by Bethany Bomberger
48 pages / 2019

What I most liked about this book is that my kids just picked it up and started reading it. This is the sort of book they really ought to read – it is educational, teaching them about the unborn, about what they can do to stand up for these babies, and about how the unborn are being dehumanized by those that want to kill them – but educational doesn't always mean enjoyable. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find out this one hit both marks.

Illustrator Ed Koehler’s bright colors got them to open it in the first place, and then author, Bethany Bomberger’s rhyming text kept their attention. One example:
Sadly there are those who don’t understand
That life has a purpose whether planned or unplanned
Throughout history many believed a lie.
“You’re not a person! No way!” they cried
Today many people think that lie is still true
That babies in wombs aren’t people too….
After describing the problem, the book concludes with a rallying cry for all the readers to be
…pro-life kids ‘til in justice ends!
We are pro-life kids. It’s life we defend!
I’d highly recommend this for every school or church library!