Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: Irenaeus of Lyon

Teaching faithfully, traveling frequently, and writing fervently, the Apostle Paul was one man who took Jesus Christ's command to make disciples seriously. In his first letter to his disciple, Timothy, he closed with these endearing, fatherly words of exhortation:

"O Timothy, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith" (First Timothy 6:20).

Paul repeats his exhortation and continues this thread in a second letter to Timothy, even going so far as to mention, by name, specific people who had turned away from the glorious, saving truth of the Gospel. Paul's warnings to Timothy were not unique; he also warned many others to whom he wrote. Sadly, false teachers presented a frequent challenge in the early days of the church. As a result, Paul instructs Timothy, saying:
"...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
Paul was not the only apostle with concerns for the purity of Jesus Christ's teaching. The Bible reveals that Peter, John, and others also warned against false teaching and sought to equip faithful men and women who would continue to preserve the faith and defend it when it was attacked. Where the Bible leaves off, church tradition informs us of those who imitated the pattern such as John who discipled Polycarp of Lyon who went on to disciple Irenaeus and so on up to our present day.

Thankfully, in our generation, Simonetta Carr has taken up the baton of faithfully teaching the Gospel and of sharing the accounts of those throughout history who have done likewise. The latest title in her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series focuses on Irenaeus of Lyons but also features faithful saints such as Polycarp, Justin the Martyr, Blandina, and Pothinus who stood firm on the truths of the Gospel, even in the face of persecution. Each of these believers sought to faithfully serve God in their generation, guarded the good deposit that was entrusted to them, and taught others to do the same. Ms. Carr shows us that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us!

Church history is never dull when Simonetta Carr takes up her pen. She seeks to write about aspects of her character's lives that will be interesting and relatable to her audience. In Irenaeus of Lyons, she relays aspects of his education, travels, friendships, strengths, and weaknesses. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Irenaeus's life was his sense of humor. It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't be amused by some of Irenaeus's antics for proving the absurdity of false teaching, especially when Ms. Carr includes a comical photo of a royal Gourd, Melon, and Cucumber. Less relatable to most Christians in America, but no less dull, are the age-appropriate accounts of persecution and martyrdom faced by the saints of which she writes.

Most importantly, Ms. Carr relates accounts that demonstrate his commitment to the Scriptures and its over-arching redemptive story line as demonstrated by this quote:

"Most of Irenaeus's arguments, however, were based on the Scriptures, which he quoted freely. God, Irenaeus said, has revealed Himself in the Bible, giving all the truth men and women need to know about Him and our relationship with Him. And the Bible teaches that there is only one God, in both the Old and the New Testament, and He is good, perfect, and just. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation we read one long, beautiful story: how God saved His sinful people" (38).

Time and again, Simonetta Carr succeeds in going "beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" in an age appropriate way (2). As with previous titles in the series, readers of Irenaeus of Lyons will encounter a carefully researched account that is edifying complete with a  map, a timeline, fun facts, and an excerpt from Irenaeus's major work, Against Heresies. Captivating artwork and an abundance of vivid photos on thick, glossy pages in a sturdy hardcover make this book yet another collectible title that will endure many years of enjoyment.

Irenaeus of Lyons is a thought-provoking children's biography that is sure to encourage many to guard the good deposit entrusted to them, reading "...the Scriptures faithfully and with humility, seeing both the Old and New Testaments as one unified story" (54). I pray that many will be motivated to preserve the faith handed on by the apostles, to entrust it to faithful men and women who are able to teach, and to defend it when it is threatened by false teachers just as Irenaeus and those who followed him sought to do.

Simonetta Carr maintains a delightful website where you can discover more about her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" including insightful videos of the writing/illustrating process, activity and/or notebook pages for several existing titles (Augustine of HippoJohn CalvinAthanasius), as well as, a study guide for John Owen.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused ReviewsReformation Heritage Books, and Simonetta Carr for providing me with a complimentary copy of Irenaeus of Lyons in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: Descriptions and Prescriptions

Descriptions and Prescriptions:  A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications by Michael R. Emlet
"OCD, ADHD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder . . . these are no longer just technical terms and medical diagnoses, they are part of our common vocabulary and culture.

As Christians, we shouldn't isolate ourselves from this discussion or dismiss these important issues. But we also should be careful not to accept the entire secular psychiatric diagnostic and treatment enterprise without question. What we need is a balanced, biblically (and scientifically) informed approach that neither blindly accepts nor harshly dismisses psychiatric labels, diagnoses, and medicines that are prescribed to help those who are suffering.

As both a Biblical counselor and medical doctor, Michael R. Emlet, MD, gives readers a Christ-centered approach to psychiatry and guides both lay and professional helpers through the thicket of mental health labels and treatments with a biblical lens. In a clear and thoughtful way that puts the person experiencing mental health issues at the forefront, Emlet uses Scripture to show how the Bible engages in the discussion of psychiatric labels and the medications that are often recommended based on those labels. The first book in the "Helping the Helper" series, Descriptions and Prescriptions will give readers a biblical, gospel-formed perspective to help them understand and minister to those struggling with mental health issues."

My Thoughts:

As a Christian woman with a Bachelor's degree in psychology and who maintains an interest in biblical counseling, I thoroughly enjoyed this concise read. Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications is fabulously focused and concretely concentrated on the issue at hand. I found it helpful to formally consider the strengths and limitations of the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from a biblical perspective. I especially appreciated Emlet's references to our fundamental nature as image bearers and worshipers and how that influences our ministry to sufferers and sinners "...who struggle with disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors" (pg. 9). In addition to applicable Scripture references, there are a number of insightful word pictures to aid the reader in thinking through these sensitive issues. Most importantly, Emlet keeps the Gospel of Jesus Christ central to the discussion. In the end, Emlet doesn't offer a "one-size-fits-all" approach but helps guide the reader toward a careful wisdom framework.

*Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Book Review: A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star

A Forest, A Flood, and An Unlikely Star by J. A. MyhreWhat is it like to grow up in the jungles of Africa? That's what J.A. Myhre sought to depict for her children through her Rwendigo Tales. Originally written as Christmas presents, but now, a gift shared with a wider audience, Myhre shows rather than tells her readers what it is like to grow up in the jungles of Africa. Her experience as a doctor who has served with Serge in East Africa for over two decades uniquely qualifies her to present the distinct challenges of those living in the African jungles. A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star is the third book in her series, aimed at youth, which takes us on a journey with thirteen-year-old Kusiima and his family. Each book is set in the same general region and follows different characters, so they do not have to be read in a specific order. In her Introduction, Myhre informs us that:

"Events in this book have their roots in the real lives of real people who love each other and raise their families in places increasingly affected by the same injustices the boy in this story struggles with: loss of those he loves, disease [AIDS], poverty, deforestation, poaching, and rebel movements" (pg. v).

I thoroughly enjoyed A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star over a rainy Sunday afternoon and evening despite the fact that it is a somewhat "heavy" book gently introducing young people to the brokenness and complexity of this world. Although it doesn't expressly tell how the Gospel makes a difference in Kusiima's life or how the Gospel gives hope to those facing sin and suffering, it lends itself well to that discussion. Myhre's writing is engaging, wholesome, and age-appropriate while avoiding over-simplicity in vocabulary, plot, and conflict and is a thought-provoking introduction to life in the jungles of Africa.

Book Synopsis from the Publisher:

"Just thirteen-years-old, Kusiima has no time for school, sports, or hanging out with the other boys in his African village. With no father or mother to take care of him, he works long hours to support his grandmother and sickly baby sister. Then one day, Kusiima’s life suddenly changes when he travels into a nearby protected forest. In the forest, Kusiima is presented with many choices, all with uncertain outcomes. Should he go along with illegal logging? Help to save an endangered baby gorilla? Follow a donkey to who knows where? With each choice, Kusiima has to make yet another decision about what is right in front of him. As he does, he meets a mysterious doctor who holds the key to his past and his future. In the end, Kusiima is faced with the hardest choice of all. Can he forgive a great wrong and heal a broken relationship?"

*Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!