Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Rebels Rescued

Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to Reformed Theology
Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to ReformedTheology is an excellent, concise introduction to the "Five Solas" and the "Five Points of Calvinism". It is a quick read with each chapter taking approximately 10-15 minutes. I found it to be Biblical, Gospel-centered, logical, and an enjoyable read.

Throughout Rebels Rescued, Brain Cosby utilizes a number of  helpful word pictures to make doctrine more accessible to younger readers and/or those who have not been previously exposed to such teaching. He answers important questions like: "Why am I spiritually dead because of something they [Adam and Eve] did?" (pg. 18). The anticipated audience is teenagers, however, I think this book would be equally useful with the pre-teen age group. (Parents of younger readers may want to note that there is a reference to the sexual promiscuity of the church leaders on Page 9 and a reference to fooling about with sex on Page 22. ;) Furthermore, most of the "Reflection Questions" at the end of each chapter will likely be answered more easily by older students.

Rebels Rescued also serves as a gentle introduction to some opposing viewpoints and alternative interpretations of Scripture. For example, in his chapter on purposeful and definite atonement, Brian Cosby refutes the notion of "universal atonement" by looking at the context of key passages used by others to support the notion. Instead, he shows how passages like 1 John 2:2 perfectly dovetail with a reformed understanding of definite atonement. Brian Cosby does a superb job of refuting anti-Calvinist thought and successfully acquaints the reader with sentiments/arguments that are likely to be encountered as one moves into adulthood.

If you are looking for an introduction to reformed doctrine that is concise, yet thorough, you will likely find Brian Cosby's book, Rebels Rescued, a helpful starting point. With a little bit of history and a lot of Scripture, it is going to be my "go-to" book for young readers. Perhaps the best part is that the Gospel clearly shines through this book; we are all sinners in need of a Savior! A comprehensive understanding of God's glorious character and his work of salvation is essential to a faith-filled life. I'm so thankful for the way Brian Cosby makes these truths accessible to a younger generation! May God's Word, used liberally throughout this book, not return void!

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Christian Focus Publications for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: Christ Centered Christmas

If you're still looking for ways to make the Christmas season memorable for your family, you might find some helpful ideas in Hal and Melanie Young's book, Christ-Centered Christmas. This is one family with whom I would love to share the Christmas season!! They know how to celebrate with food and song!

Written in a personal, easy-to-read style, you'll find a smidgeon of this and a smidgeon of that that's sure to get you thinking about what types of traditions you can incorporate in your home to help you and your family stay focused on Christ throughout the Christmas season.

What's inside?

  • Almost two dozen recipes (Alhough you'll have to do some substituting if you're looking for whole-food/healthy recipes.)
  • Beautiful Scripture arrangement of the Christmas story
  • A little over a dozen Christ-centered carols with short introductions and lyrics
  • A bit of frugal decorating advice
  • A smidgeon of church history
  • Helpful suggestions on how to teach children to walk in humility with those who do not celebrate exactly as we do (particularly helpful for those of us who choose not to give Santa a lot of attention ;)
  • Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus for feasting
  • Advent suggestions
  • And more

I loved reading about how the Young's plan their Christmas baking and  look forward to implementing some of that wisdom. (Though the thought of baking a dozen types of cookies with six children nine and under is a bit daunting...I think we'll start small. ;)

Needless to say, it was a pleasure to read about how the Young family chooses to celebrate the birth of our Lord! It truly reminds me that one day, we will all be feasting together with our Savior and all who trust in Him!! The good gifts in this world are just a foretaste of what is to come!

Thank you for sharing a small window of your lives with us, Hal and Melanie!

If you'd like to read about the Young's family traditions, how they seek to keep Christ a the center of their celebrating, and how they use the Christmas season as an opportunity to reach out to others with the Gospel, you can find their e-book, Christ Centered Christmas on sale now for $5.

*Many thanks to the Young's for providing me with a complimentary copy of their e-book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: Theologian Trading Cards - Part 2

In Part 1 of my review, I wrote:

"Mr. Jeune presents each theologian in an unbiased, factual manner without much additional commentary. He also notes if an individual's particular ministry and/or doctrine was controversial. At first, I was a bit perplexed by some of the characters highlighted in certain "teams". Perhaps I was most puzzled by the "Contemporary teams". It appeared to me that the 26 important figures highlighted in this "team" had the tendency to come from a critical, liberal theological background. Furthermore, contemporary theologians from the Reformed camp, among others, were not mentioned. Men of great influence in our lifetime, such as: John Piper, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, John Macarthur, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, Sinclair Ferguson, G.K. Beale, and the like are not included. Instead, Jeune highlights: Rudolf Bultmann, James Cone, John Dominic Crossan, Martin Dibelius, James Dunn, Gustavo Gutierrez, Adolf von Harnack, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and others. The only two women mentioned are both staunch feminists. (It should be noted that Herman Bavinck, Abraham Kuyper, F. F. Bruce, A. A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, John Gresham Machen, and B. B. Warfield are included in other categories.)"

Finally, I noted that I had the privilege of dialoging with the author regarding the theologians that he chose to feature on the Contemporary teams. In this part of my review I share some of what transpired in an informal Q and A with Norman Jeune III.

How did you decide which theologians were influential for the Contemporary time period? What guided your decision-making process?

"Your question about the contemporary teams is a good one, and these cards are one of the things that make this set particularly unique. I will say first that the choice was not really related to doctrinal "camps", or my own doctrinal positions. I was actually trained in a conservative environment. I attend Biola University and Talbot School of Theology here in Southern California, which has its roots in evangelicalism and was one of the places where the fundamentalist movement was birthed at the turn of the century. Biola today remains a conservative and place and I hold those same commitments. For me, this was really about creating a tool that facilitated a first exposure to a wider group of people. In seminary you hear many of these names characterized in passing but never really get a first hand taste of what they're all about. I am by nature a curious person, so I wanted to learn about many of these folks. Consequently, when it came ot creating this set, which I first thought of while in seminary, part of my "wish list" if you will, was to provide a very brief introduction to many of these people. The second criteria, which was a bit more formal, was to choose people who are recognized on the world stage. This is not to minimize the importance of some versus others, but merely a recognition that some theologians are influential within their own groups, while others have achieved some recognition across doctrinal "camps"/denominations/etc., whether that be positive recognition or negative. Their are certainly many more people that could have been included but I was asked not to exceed 300 figures by the publisher when I began building the set, and had to immediately remove about 100 theologians."

Later, Jeune offered an explanation concerning how he went about naming the Contemporary Teams. Here is what he wrote:

"Naming the teams was one of my favorite parts of this project. The modern theologians were actually the most challenging to name. Most of the modern theologians can be found in one of two teams, with a few exceptions throughout the deck. Modern theology is obviously quite eclectic and varied, so any notion that modern theologians can be gathered into two distinct "teams" or groups should be immediately subject to question. Nevertheless, we needed some loose grid as a means of categorizing these figures to carry the baseball card pun.

The two contemporary teams or groups are the Berlin Aggiornamentos and the Jerusalem Resourcers. The underlying (very loose) references are to the terms Aggiornamento and Ressourcement, terms usually understood within the context of 20th century Roman Catholic theology and Vatican II. While these teams are not composed of exclusively of Catholic theologians nor do they make reference to Vatican II, you might think of them (again, very loosely) as comprised of those who are more forward thinking/progressive (Aggiornamentos) and some who might tend more exclusively toward traditional constructs (Resourcers). One of the faculty members from the Torrey Honors Institute actually suggested the use of these terms for a word play. Overall, stretching a playful pun like baseball cards to fit the contours of church history was challenging, and while I think the team concept actually enhances the learning experience, a bit of grace must be given for these two teams, remembering the playfulness of having teams is less than perfect. As I created these teams I kept feeling like no matter how I organized this varied bunch of modern figures, some would other ways of organizing them more satisfying."

For more information about the process of developing the cards, read Scot McKnight's interview with Norman Jeune III.

I found Mr. Jeune's responses helpful. Personally, I will probably put aside the "Contemporary teams" and some others until my children are older as they don't need to know about "form criticism" just yet. However, many of the cards will be relevant, and a helpful addition to, our studies. I'm looking forward to trying some of Shaun's game suggestions.

If you'd like to invest in these cards yourself, they will be available for purchase around November 20th, just in time to make a great Christmas gift for the church history "student" in your family. has them available for pre-order at the time of this posting.

*Many thanks to Norman Jeune III for sharing his cards with me in exchange for my honest opinion and for taking the time to answer my questions!! I, for one, appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that he has invested into their development. I'm sure many will be blessed by his labor.

Product Review: Theologian Trading Cards - Part 1

Theologian Trading Cards
Upon hearing about "Theologian Trading Cards" by Norman Jeune III, I was intrigued. Of them, the Publisher writes:
"Patterned after the all-American baseball card, Theologian Trading Cards provide essential information about the major teachers, leaders, and trouble-makers throughout the history of the Church. At a glance you will have access to information regarding 288 important figures in church history, including when and where they lived, their contribution to the church, and enduring significance.
Each figure has been placed on the roster of one of 15 “theological” or “historical” teams; this aids readers in discovering the practical, chronological, and theological connections between figures. Examples include the Orthodoxy Dodgers (heretics); St. James Padres (Church Fathers of the Patristic Era); and the Wittenberg Whistle-blowers (Early Reformers and later Lutheran Church).
Theologian Trading Cards are perfect for students taking a church history course who want a memorable study aid to help them retain important information about select individuals in the church, as well as non-students who just want to learn or want to begin a hobby of card collecting."
The "nerd" in me thought that Theologian Trading Cards look really cool! I could see how they would be beneficial to those studying church history by helping them retain more of what they are learning and giving them a concise overview and/or study guide. I could also see how they would present the opportunity to glorify the Creator who faithfully works through man to accomplish His purposes.

I didn't investigate the cards further until some friends asked me if I had seen them and what I thought of them. As a result, I requested a review copy to explore the matter more thoroughly. The author and publisher graciously agreed to send me a galley copy, as well as, a "team" pack of missionaries. My children (nine and under) were delighted with the glossy, colorful baseball-type cards. The format is definitely appealing. Cards of this nature are just right for hands of all sizes.

As one would expect, the information contained on each card is in succinct snippets which makes it great for holding short attention spans. Since these were primarily designed with university/seminary students in mind, the vocabulary is fairly developed and, at times, the author takes for granted an understanding of certain terminology/concepts. Some of the cards were easily understood by my young children, while others, were beyond my grasp. As I shared these thoughts with the author, he responded: "The nice thing, I think, is that most of the cards that would fit for younger readers are probably those cards that one would be more inclined to want a younger reader to learn- (i.e. the church fathers)." I would absolutely agree with this statement. The cards have certainly piqued our interest to study select topics further and have served to develop our vocabulary.

Furthermore, one could easily come up with a number of games to play with the set. The first game that came to my mind was a variation of "Guess Who?". A set number of cards could be divided between players. The card holder could choose  select facts to share with one or more players. Players could take turns or race to identify the theologian based on the information divulged. There are many more possibilities, and I can't wait to hear what others envisage. (Shaun @ Bible Geek Gone Wild has already listed a few helpful suggestions. ;)

As for the content, Mr. Jeune presents each theologian in an unbiased, factual manner without much additional commentary. He also notes if an individual's particular ministry and/or doctrine was controversial. There are a wide variety of theologians from which to choose: some common, others, not so common. Among them are influential men such as Augustine, Athanasius, Calvin, and Luther. There are memorable missionaries such as Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, and David Livingstone. There are also many folks of whom I have never heard: Bartolome de Las Casas, Alopen, and Henry Muhlenberg.

At first, I was a bit perplexed by some of the characters highlighted in certain "teams". Perhaps I was most puzzled by the "Contemporary teams". It appeared to me that the 26 important figures highlighted in this "team" had the tendency to come from a critical, liberal theological background. Furthermore, contemporary theologians from the Reformed camp, among others, were not mentioned. Men of great influence in our lifetime, such as: John Piper, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, John Macarthur, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, Sinclair Ferguson, G.K. Beale, and the like are not included. Instead, Jeune highlights: Rudolf Bultmann, James Cone, John Dominic Crossan, Martin Dibelius, James Dunn, Gustavo Gutierrez, Adolf von Harnack, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and others. The only two women mentioned on the contemporary team are both staunch feminists. (It should be noted that Herman Bavinck, Abraham Kuyper, F. F. Bruce, A. A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, John Gresham Machen, and B. B. Warfield are included in other categories.)

I had the privilege of dialoging with the author regarding the theologians that he chose to feature on the Contemporary teams.  Visit Part 2 of my review to read some of what transpired in an informal Q and A with Norman Jeune...

To view a sample of Theologian Trading Cards, visit the Publisher's website and/or the author's blog.

To read more helpful reviews visit: Danika @ Thinking Kids, Bob Hayton @ Fundamentally Reformed and/or Shaun @ Bible Geek Gone Wild.

If you'd like to invest in these cards yourself, they will be available for purchase around November 20th, just in time to make a great Christmas gift for the church history "student" in your family. has them available for pre-order at the time of this posting.

*Many thanks to Norman Jeune III, Ms. Varner @ Academic PS, and Zondervan for sending me a complimentary set of these cards in exchange for my honest opinion!!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review: Coming Home

Twin brothers Arion and Argo are scared. They have spent most of their lives shipwrecked on the lonely, gray island of Terrene with their ship's captain, and now he is leaving and they cannot imagine life on Terrene without him. He is going to Bluestone, a place where the birds always sing and the grass is ever green. He tells them he is going to prepare a place for them in Bluestone. Then he will come back for them, and they will all go to Bluestone together.

Coming HomeThough Bluestone sounds like a wonderful place, the boys find it difficult to wait for the captain on Terrene. The island is so gray that it is hard for them to imagine the vibrant colors of Bluestone. Soon they grow tired of watching and waiting for their captain, and it is hard for them to remember his voice. Can they really believe that he will come back for them? To do so they must have faith-they must see with their hearts, not their eyes.

Will the captain really come back for Arion and Argo like he promised? And will the boys be ready for his return?

My Story Summary (Spoiler Alert!):

Coming Home is the tale of a captain who leaves two brothers (Argo and Arion) on a dismal, gray island to prepare a place for them on the happy, colorful island of Bluestone. The state of the colorless island on which the brothers find themselves is the result of a volcanic eruption which buried the island's colors in soot. The boys are warned to stay away from a forest and mountain at the center of the island because they will "take their color". Their job while the captain is gone is to remind each other that the colorless island is not their home and to help each other be ready for the captain's return. Predictably, this worked for a time. However, when it appeared that the captain tarried, Argo went into the forest while Arion was napping. Naturally, the forest began to have an affect on the disobedient brother; he was no longer interested in talking about the captain or the captain's words. As the wayward brother continued  to venture into the forest, he lost his color, in spite of his brother's encouragement to change. Upon the captain's promised return, Arion was ready and boarded the ship while Argo moved toward the schooner but looked away upon hearing the captain's voice. Coming Home closes with an exchange between the captain and the now colorless brother, Argo. The captain says, "You know now the deceptions of the forest…" to which Argo replies, "Yes...Please, may I come with you?" (pg. 29) At this, "The captain smiled and helped Argo onto the ship", he touches the boy who then, regains his color as "...they feel the vibrations of the volcano erupting" (pg. 31).

My Thoughts:

Coming Home is meant to be an allegory about the return of Christ. However, this book leaves me with more questions than answers. The captain does come back, as promised. Were the boys ready for his return? One boy is ready, one boy is not.  In spite of the fact that Argo goes his own way, he gets on the ship with the captain just as Arion who obeyed. This prompts me to ask the questions: "What is Lucado's understanding of the nature/extent of salvation? Is Max Lucado a universalist? May I live my life however I desire and then, at the last minute, ask God to bring me to Heaven, at my convenience?"

Lucado's allegory is in stark contrast to Christ's parable recorded in Luke 12. When instructing His disciples to remain ready for His second coming, Christ says:

"Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes."

Christ proceeds to describe the blessings for those who are ready for His return and the consequences for those who are not ready. Of those who are not ready for His return, Christ says:

"...the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating" (Luke 12:47-48).

Argo goes his own way and then requests to journey with the captain. Yet, there is no clear repentance on his part. He wants to go to the better island. Who wouldn't?

Furthermore, there is no mention of either boy's sin or their need for redemption at any point in the book. Both boys are taken to the beautiful island. At what cost? There is no mention of cost to the captain.

One final example of the questions that this book raises can be illustrated by directing your attention to the book sample. On Page 11, Mr. Lucado writes:

According to the captain, long ago a volcano had erupted, burying forever the colors of the isle under a blanket of soot.

As a result Terrene was a gray island in the middle of a big gray ocean. Waves with gray tips slapped against beaches with gray sand. Trees with gray trunks sheltered gray-winged birds. Gray animals with gray eyes peered from behind the gray bushes.

Only the boys and the captain were not gray.

A thick forest grew in the center of the island, and in the center of the forest there rose a mountain. The captain told the boys to stay away from both. "The volcano erupted once. It will erupt again. And stay out of the forest," he would say, "for the forest will take your color."
This excerpt prompts me to ask: "What is Max Lucado's understanding of the nature and doctrine of sin?"

The Bible paints a much different picture of the world in which we live and the ugliness within it. All that is broken and ugly in the world is a direct result of our sin, not an external force such as Lucado's volcano. Furthermore, unlike the twins in Lucado's story, we are not left untainted and full of color. As a result, an external force such as Lucado's forest and mountain cannot "take our color". The Bible says that the world is under a curse as a result of our sin and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. "There is none righteous, no not one..." (Romans 3:10).

In closing, the message of Coming Home  is ambiguous. This IS NOT a book that I will be reading to my children nor would I recommend it to others. This book is devoid of the Gospel message, replete with poor theology, and seems to communicate a dangerous message to children.

*Many thanks to Crossway for sending me this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: The Shorter Catechism Activity Book

The Shorter Catechism Activity BookThe Shorter Catechism Activity Book: Learning theTruth with Puzzles  by Marianne Ross contains 107 puzzles and activities, each one corresponding with a question and answer pair from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Additionally, each catechism question and answer is accompanied by a Scripture reference or two to be read.
Targeted at seven to eleven-year-old children, this activity book utilizes a wide variety of puzzle formats which are sure to captivate young people. My nine-year-old daughter is thoroughly enjoying solving the crossword puzzles and cracking the codes in The Shorter Catechism Activity Book. It is a fun and engaging supplemental resource for young people who are studying the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, "The shorter catechism covers the following important doctrines: God; Sin; Christ; The ten commandments; Baptism; The Lord's Supper and The Lord's prayer" (CF4K). It seems that this activity book is best suited to supplement catechism instruction as it has no answer key and lacks helpful commentary which would aid young people in more clearly apprehending the truths presented. The Scripture references presented with each question and answer do aid understanding to some extent, but those new to catechism instruction will likely be assisted by more in-depth explanations.

All-in-all, The Shorter Catechism Activity Book is a unique and interesting resource that should prove helpful to those wishing to encourage kids to interact with the text of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. My daughter has eagerly anticipated working out the puzzles in this book each day, and it has provoked some excellent discussions as she has asked me to explain various words and concepts. I am very grateful to have this useful resource to complement our studies!

*Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary copy of The Shorter Catechism Activity Book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, August 17, 2012

An Interview with Catherine Mackenzie

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Catherine Mackenzie about her latest title, How to Be a Bible Princess. I think her responses to my questions speak for themselves; had I not already read a copy of the book, I certainly would have purchased a copy following our interview!

Q1:  How did you come to write How to Be a Bible Princess?

A: For years I’d been thinking about a particular princess in the bible – Jehosheba – because I’d listened to a sermon by Dale Ralph Davis on her which he’d entitled “The woman who saved Christmas.’ I thought the title to his sermon showed creativity and the sermon itself was a real insight into the ancestry of Jesus and God’s plan of redemption. It made me think that there should be a children’s book that covered her story. The more I thought about that the more I thought about the other female characters in the bible that often do not make it into a children’s book. Roughly about the same time my two sister’s between them produced six nieces. One or two of them are definitely ‘girls’ and definitely like pink. One niece for her birthday got a big pink blanket – and someone asked, ‘How many flamingos did you have to kill to make that?’ You get the picture. Therefore princess stories are big hits with these girls. That’s what made me think about how these stories from the bible could be joined together by the common theme of royalty/princesses.

Q2: The princess theme is popular these days, both within Christian circles and without. However, your book is different from the standard "God's princess" fare. In your estimation, what makes How to Be a Bible Princess unique?

A: I think what makes it different is that it keeps referring the child/reader back to Jesus Christ; it isn’t making these women appear to be Disney princesses; it shows the best and the worst of the princesses in the bible; and those that follow God aren’t shown to be perfect – they’re women chosen by God with faults and virtues. There’s application in the book to show young girls how the important thing is not about being a princess – but about being a child of God.

Q3: What do you most desire that the reader will take away from How to Be a Bible Princess?

A: That there is a true royal family, the family of God, and that princesses are all very well but being a child of God, having Christ, the King of Kings as your Lord and Saviour is the one thing needful.

Many thanks to Ms. Mackenzie for taking the time to answer my questions! May God continue to richly bless her work as she seeks to bring glory to Him, and may many young girls be drawn to Christ as a result of her labors!!

Book Review: How to Be a Bible Princess 

    The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17, ESV, emphasis added)

Catherine Mackenzie's book, How to Be a Bible Princess, is like a breath of fresh air for girls aged 5 to 11. Ms. Mackenzie shares the accounts of a number of Bible princesses, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses while making much of God and His work in each of their lives. From the outset of the book, Ms. Mackenzie makes it clear to her readers that being a Bible princess is about trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to save them from their sins as opposed to status, power (being in charge), physical beauty, material possessions, etc. Through the example of many Bible princesses, this princess book calls the reader to live a selfless life, making sacrifices for the good of others and the glory of God.

How to Be a Bible Princess isn't a book about building self-esteem but esteeming God highly. It isn't a book about seeking glory for ourselves but of doing all for the glory of God. It isn't a book about self-confidence but confidence in what God has done for the believer in Christ's life, death, and resurrection. After all,  the reason that believers can be called children of God is because of Christ's finished work on the cross. He lived the perfect life we should have lived and died the death we should have died so that we might become heirs with Christ, having a restored relationship with our Heavenly Father.

My daughter, age nine, said that one of the things she most appreciated about How to Be a Bible Princess was how simply it is written. She found it very easy to understand. Her favorite story was of Jehosheba because she rescued baby Joash (2 Kings 11). "Jehosheba put her life on the line to save someone else" (pg. 50). In retelling accounts such as this, How to Be a Bible Princess will challenge its readers to count the cost of following Christ (Luke 14). Furthermore, each chapter of this book includes a few paragraphs of "Princess Tips", as well as, a few paragraphs which help the reader to "Think about Jesus". For example, we see that God used Jehosheba to "rescue a family line for another baby boy and another king...--a Saviour--Christ the Lord. The King of Kings" (pg. 51).

Ms. Mackenzie reminds girls that the things of this world (beauty, clothes, etc.) will pass away and encourages them to seek first the kingdom of God whose Word will never pass away. In the concluding chapter, Ms. Mackenzie writes:
"The princesses of the Bible have taught us that it's not being a princess that's important, it's being a child of God. It's not about being born into a royal family, it's about trusting in God and being part of his heavenly family" (pg. 122).
Catherine Mackenzie is a gifted author who consistently uses her gift for God's glory. Time and again, she points her readers to God's faithfulness in the midst of man's weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings. How to Be a Bible Princess is no different. Ms. Mackenzie keeps the Gospel central throughout the entire book resulting in a work with a depth which is woefully lacking in most other "princess" books. It is my joy to commend How to Be a Bible Princess by Catherine Mackenzie for the enjoyment of all little girls!

*Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Thanks also to the ladies @ the Fellowship of Reformed Homeschool Moms on Facebook for helping me articulate my thoughts concerning the latest princess fad!! ;)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: Lady Jane Grey

Well, my friends, I am excited to announce that Simonetta Carr has done it again. "What is it that she has done?", you may ask. She has written another excellent biography for children aged seven to ten. Although she has written four other titles in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, this is the first book in the series that is about a female, Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane Grey (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

For those who are unfamiliar with Mrs. Carr's biographies, the Christian Biographies for Young Readers "...series introduces children to important people in the Christian tradition..." and goes "beyond the simple story of someone’s life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character." (From the series introduction)

Those who are familiar with these biographies will be delighted to know that Mrs. Carr's work continues to be characterized by a commitment to careful research. Lady Jane Grey features well-chosen, interesting photographs and artwork which aide in bringing history alive and "making it real" for the reader. Additionally, Mrs. Carr includes useful maps and a timeline to assist young people in putting details into their proper geographical and historical perspectives. Furthermore, she continues to write with a careful simplicity that enables young readers to understand what is occurring without "dumbing concepts down" unnecessarily. Most importantly, Mrs. Carr is committed to Biblical truth and communicating the Gospel to her readers.

Without further ado, here is a bit about the storyline:

Many significant lessons can be learned from the short life of Lady Jane Grey. Among these are:
  • the importance of "counting the cost" of following Christ (Luke 14:25-33) - Reminiscent of the saints who "...were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life" (Hebrews 11:35 ESV), Lady Jane "...wrote to her sister that she rejoiced because she knew that she would soon 'lose a mortal life' to 'win an immortal life' (pg. 51);

  • the importance of being like the noble Bereans who "...received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so"(Acts 17:11, ESV) rather than merely trusting the words of men - Lady Jane said, "I ground my faith on God's Word and not upon the church" (pg. 50); 

  • salvation in Christ alone - Upon her execution, Lady Jane said, "...I look to be saved by none other means but only by the mercy of God and the merits of the blood of His only Son Jesus Christ" (pg. 52).

Just as we see throughout Scripture and all of history in the lives of those believers who have gone before us, God's work in Lady Jane's life resulted in her faithfulness in the midst of challenging circumstances. May we be encouraged with the thought that "...the same God who preserved and strengthened Jane's faith until the end will do the same for all His children" (pg 54). Simonetta Carr's work is a helpful means to that end, and I highly commend it to you!

*Many thanks to Simonetta Carr and Reformation Heritage Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of Lady Jane Grey in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: Big Truths for Little Kids

Big Truths for Little Kids: Teaching Your Children to Live for God

"...that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine...” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV).

One of our favorite and most utilized family resources is Big Truths for Little Kids by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt. Consequently, I was delighted when Crossway requested that I share my thoughts with you all.

Susan and Richie have done parents a great service by dividing the First Catechism (a simplification of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) into smaller portions and suggesting a helpful procedure by which to memorize it with one’s children. Big Truths for Little Kids is comprised of 36 short stories. Each story is preceded by an average of five catechism questions and followed by several comprehension questions, a memory verse, and prayer suggestion. My children (ages 2-9.5) all eagerly anticipate reading the next installment of “Caleb and Cassie”, as they have come to affectionately call it.

Along with Caleb, Cassie, their parents, neighbors, and friends, children and parents alike can see how Biblical truth significantly and practically affects day-to-day life. One of the major strengths of Big Truths for Little Kids is how Susan and Richie utilize interesting stories to portray the sin and shortcomings of the characters and point them (and the reader) to the cross. For example, in story 18, Caleb is feeling grumpy because he is being mistreated by a non-Christian on a camping trip. As a result, he was mean to his sister, snapped at her, and hurt her feelings. When his dad spoke to him about his ungodly attitude, Caleb responded that he would try to do better. His dad's response is full of Biblical truth:
"I'm glad you want to do better, Caleb, but let me explain something to you," said his dad. "We can't do better. We are all sinful. We are ignorant of God's law, we break His law, and we are too weak to obey His law. We are no better than Scotty [the non-Christian kid]. But there is a huge difference between Scotty and us. We have the Lord Jesus living in our hearts. He is our prophet, our priest, and our king. He teaches us His law, He prays for us, and He gives us the power to glorify Him. We can't just try to act better. We must ask God to change our hearts" (pg. 80).

I don't know about you, but this response has much more depth than my typical response would have had prior to reading this book and is instructive for my parenting. Additionally, story 21 deals with Cassie allowing the desire for a new doll to become an idol. Her mother gently helped her to see her sinful heart attitude and the importance of not elevating things above people and, most of all, God. There are also stories in which the parents make bad decisions or have ungodly attitudes and apologize to the family (number 20 is a good example of this).

Sadly, growing up in church, I never knew about catechism (other than occasional references to Catholic catechism classes). I suppose the term “catechism” could be a bit intimidating. However, John Piper has written a short, thought-provoking article explaining the origin and importance of catechism. Simply put, to “catechize”: “means to teach biblical truth in an orderly way” (John Piper). He continues: “Generally this is done with questions and answers accompanied by biblical support and explanation.” Some would contend that it is better to simply memorize Scripture. However, Piper offers a number of reasons why a catechism is helpful. I’d encourage you to read his short article on the subject.

In short, a catechism is much like studying an organized systematic theology or Bible doctrine. Most would agree that there are many benefits to this type of study. Catechism is merely an introduction to the basic Biblical truths and is helpful for introducing all to the faith. Susan and Richie Hunt have made it easier for parents to do this with their children and have helped reveal how Biblical truths apply to day-to-day life through their engaging story format. I would highly recommend this for all families who are blessed with young children.

*One thing worth noting is that Big Truths for Little Kids is written from a Reformed, Presbyterian background so some may notice doctrinal differences. However, the format is such that it is very easy to either (a) skip those portions with which your family has significant differences or (b) use those portions as a discussion starter to explain differing beliefs in an age-appropriate manner. We have chosen to do the latter and have had fruitful discussions about what the Bible says about baptism and how different denominations interpret those Scriptures which pertain to it.

(Also, although I have linked to Westminster Books due to their lower purchase price, has a longer book preview for you to sample, if you are interested in learning more about this excellent, Gospel-centered resource.)

*Many thanks to Crossway for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Young Man

If you enjoyed Disciplines of a Godly Man, then you will likely enjoy Disciplines of a Godly Young Man, for the latter is largely a reprint of the former with a handful of illustration changes to engage a younger audience (approximately high school through college-age).

Primary Differences:

Ultimately, there is very little that distinguishes Disciplines of a Godly Young Man from Disciplines of a Godly Man. Although Disciplines of a Godly Young Man omitted chapters from its predecessor, it did not introduce new, relevant content in its place. (For example, marriage and fatherhood are removed from the section on relationships, a fitting place to discuss relating to parents and siblings.) Since there isn't really any new information (even the subtitles are the same, for the most part), I would simplify and purchase the latter as it will be useful to its reader for decades as opposed to a decade...unless you think that this new cover and title will have greater reading appeal to the young man in your life. ;)

As for the book content, both books contain concise chapters with practical advice and encouraging illustrations that will likely hold the attention of many readers. The Hughes utilize much Scripture and are theologically sound. Furthermore, they quote and recommend good reading material. These books would be helpful as a jumping off point for further reading and/or small group discussion. To this end, they contain helpful "Food for Thought" and "Application/Response" sections at the conclusion of each chapter.

The  Disciplines… books maintain a narrow focus, emphasizing the things one must do to discipline himself for godliness. This narrowness provides a helpful challenge to the reader but can give the appearance of laying out a list of "laws" as opposed to genuinely getting to the heart of the matter and applying the Gospel.  As a result, I would recommend that those reading  Disciplines… have a solid understanding of the Biblical process of Gospel-centered change. (How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp is an excellent resource on this subject.)

I think the  Disciplines… books will be beneficial for many men. However, it is important to know what type of guy will be reading this book. I would not recommend it to everyone! Personally, I am tempted to be more critical of this type of book in my current season of life because I can get so easily discouraged by all that I am not doing. A book like this that mostly gives me all the "to dos" without proclaiming the truth of the Gospel  and reiterating God's work in me poses a definite temptation to crushing despair.  I must continually remind myself that Jesus lived the perfect life that I should have lived and died the death that I should have died so that there is no longer any condemnation for me in Christ. In this season, I must also remind myself that God will be faithful to complete the good work which He has begun in me. While there is a chapter at the conclusion of the book titled the "Discipline of Grace", it is lacking of the Gospel presentation of the previous two sentences. This book could crush an already discouraged young man who is not well-grounded in the truth of the Gospel and God's role in sanctification. (A better solution might be to have such an individual read Discipline of Grace or Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges. ;)

All-in-all, I think many men will continue to be challenged by the Hughes and will benefit from a careful reading of either of these books.

*Many thanks to Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Other books mentioned in this post:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: The Donkey Who Carried A King

Are you looking for a great resource to help you share the Gospel with kids this Easter? If so, you might be interested in R.C. Sproul's latest children's book, The Donkey Who Carried A King.

From the Publisher:
Riley gets upset when his playmates pick him last for their games. When Grandpa hears about the problem, he asks, "Riley, have you ever heard about the donkey who carried a king?"

Davey was a young donkey who was bored and unhappy because he was never given anything to do. Then one day, some strangers came to the gate--and Davey's master picked him for a very special task. Davey carried the King, Jesus, into Jerusalem. Afterward, Davey felt proud of himself and believed he should do only special jobs. But Davey's master put him to work doing ordinary things. That made Davey grumpy.

A few days later, Davey saw something terrible--some angry people were making the King carry a heavy beam of wood. Davey could not understand it, but another donkey, old Barnabas, helped him see that the King was being a Servant. After that, Davey made up his mind to do every task without grumbling.

Through his story, Grandpa helps Riley see what Jesus was really carrying on that terrible day.

My kids (especially my five and seven-year old) have asked me to read The Donkey Who Carried A King again and again in the short time since we have received it. Sproul helps kids deal with real-life struggles by pointing them to our Savior who suffered beyond what we can imagine. He also brings children important lessons about gratitude and true servanthood. Most significantly, Dr. Sproul clearly shares the Good News:
"Jesus died on a cross that day. When He died, He gave His life to save His people from their sins. In a way, he carried their sin and their guilt. By dying for them, He took the punishment that they deserved for sinning against a holy God -- the punishment that you and I deserve. He was a king, but He was a servant to His people" (pg. 33).
Furthermore, Sproul shares that Jesus didn't stay dead but was raised on the third day and reigns forever with His Father in Heaven.

Like several of Sproul's other children's books, The Donkey Who Carried A King includes helpful questions, answers, and Scriptures at the conclusion of the book to help parents and children better understand the message of the story. I pray that this touching book will be beneficial to many families who are seeking to impart Gospel truth to the children in their lives and am happy to recommend it to you for your consideration.

You can find more information as well as a book sample at Westminster Books.

Happy Easter, my friends!! May you rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

*Many thanks to Reformation Trust Publishing for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!