Sunday, November 12, 2017

A review of Irenaeus, by Simonetta Carr

A review of Irenaeus, a Christian biography for young readers, by Simonetta Carr:

Publisher's description:

Irenaeus is remembered for his work in helping the church to preserve the faith handed on by the apostles and to defend it when it was attacked. In this simply written and beautifully illustrated book, Simonetta Carr shows young readers the difficulties the early church faced and how Irenaeus taught Christians to discern truth from error by listening to the Bible. To Christians, the lessons Irenaeus taught are as important today as they were in his time.

This is the fifth book in this series that I have reviewed and I have to say that each time I receive on of Simonetta's books from this series in the mail, I get very excited because I get to share these books with my children. What I do to prepare my review is to read a portion of the book at night to my kids so I can get their input into what they think of the book. The text and accompanying pictures hold their attention, they love it when I show the artwork as I read.

In this latest volume we learn about Irenaeus, the early church father, who was a disciple of Polyarp, who himself was a disciple of the apostle John. As always, the text is chock full of history and doctrine, while the graphics bring the story to life and hold the attention of the reader. These are handsome volumes that will look good in your bookshelf.

Simonetta brings Irenaeus to life as a staunch defender of the Church and her Scriptures. You can see the teachings John taught Polycarp, which he then taught to young Irenaeus, taking root, teachings that have been passed from one teacher to the next. The kingdom advances from one generation to the next as faithful men pass on the apostolic teachings to those coming after them. I was reminded of an incredible truth which I shared with my children, a message that rings out clearly from this book, "Surely we stand on the shoulders of giants." God is advancing His kingdom and neither evil rulers or the gates of hell itself will prevail against it.

This volume also reminds us that even early on in the history of the Church, error was present and led many astray. How amazing to read of a man raised up by God who staunchly defended the faith even in the midst of great persecution. I told my children that in each generation God always raises up faithful men and women to proclaim the truth in the midst of the darkness.

I feel that this book wonderfully brings to life a man who serves as an inspiration and example for not only our children, but for us all. I give this book five stars and heartily recommend it and all the others in this series to you and your family!

I'll close with some comments from my son:

What did my son Samuel (age 11) have to say about this book?

"I like the history in this book and loved how Irenaeus stayed faithful. I really liked the book!"

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A review of Explore by the Book; John 14-17, Romans, James

by Tim Keller and Sam Allberry

Publisher's description:

Timothy Keller and Sam Allberry sit alongside you as you open up the treasures of three enriching parts of God’s Word. These inspirational readings are presented in beautiful hardback format, complete with ribbon marker and space for journaling.
Carefully-crafted questions, insightful explanations and helpful prompts to apply the Scriptures to your life will take you to the heart of God's word and then push God's word deep into your heart.
These 90 devotionals in John 14-17, Romans and James, taken from the Explore Quarterly range, are a great way to start reading the Bible. If you already spend time each day in God’s word, this book will take you deeper in to the riches of Scripture, drawing you closer to the Lord and gaining fresh appreciation for His love for us in Christ.

This 90 day devotional is what the publisher calls an "open Bible devotional".  What does that mean?  Well, unlike many devotionals that have you read a small portion of Scripture and then finish up with the main devotional thought, this one forces you to do the daily devotional with your Bible open.  In fact, this book is more like a daily study than a devotional.  
Each day you have a Scripture reading, in this case systematically working through John 14-17, Romans, and James.  As you read the daily Scripture, you also have a series of questions and application that force you to keep your Bible open as you answer them as well as commentary on the passage you are reading. Each day ends with a prayer in response to what you have read and a page for writing down thoughts and prayers.
I really liked this format and found it a good way to have a daily Bible study that was brief but nourishing. I especially liked the emphasis on prayer at the end.  I also really appreciate how this book works through large portions of Scripture, which is always more beneficial than cherry picking small passages here and there.
This book would make a great gift for someone you know who wants to study the Bible but doesn't know how, or doesn't have much time to sit and do a regular study.  What a great tool!
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Martin Luther: Christian biographies for young readers

A review of Martin Luther: Christian Biographies for young readers by Simonetta Carr

Five hundred years ago, a monk named Martin Luther wrote ninety-five questions, hoping to start a discussion about sin and repentance at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. In a few months those questions had stirred the nation; a few years later, the continent. Today we know that those questions changed the course of both the Western church and world history. In this volume for children, Simonetta Carr tells the compelling story of this father of the Protestant Reformation, tracing his quest for peace with God, his lifelong heroic stand for God’s truth, and his family life and numerous accomplishments. The Reformer’s greatest accomplishment, she writes, “has been his uncompromising emphasis on the free promise of the gospel.” 

This is the fourth book in this series that I have reviewed and it's always a pleasure to read and review one.  My other reviews in this series can be found here (John Knox), here (Jonathan Edwards), and here (Marie Durand).  Please feel free to check them out.

We are coming up on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, so the timing for the release of this book couldn't be better.  This book is an excellent way to introduce children to the great German Reformer in a way they can understand.  With the great artwork and a biography written at a level they can understand, I can't think of a better way to introduce Luther to my children, and I must say, they loved this book.  I read it out loud to them, a chapter at a time, and they didn't want me to stop!

Simonetta has done a great job bringing Luther to life and I was so appreciative that the great Reformation narrative at the center of Luther's life wasn't lost here.  To see this tormented monk transformed by the good news of the Gospel and to see him stand firm to reform the Church was exciting to read, and exciting to share with my children.  As we read this book, my children could clearly see the need for reformation, and could clearly appreciate that it was God who brought "darkness out of light."

It's important for all of us to understand that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and I'm thankful to Simonetta for helping me introduce my children to the mighty Martin Luther.  Thank you!

I'll close with some comments from my children.

What did my son Samuel (age 10) have to say about this book?

"I like how action filled this book was.  It was an awesome book!  Thank you for writing it!

What did my daughter Hannah (age 7) have to say?

"I really liked the book because of all the pictures.  The pictures helped me understand the story better."

What a great way to introduce children to the giants of our faith!  I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Wittenberg versus Geneva!

A review of Wittenberg versus Geneva by Brian W. Thomas:

Publisher's description:

What are the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists, and do they really matter? In Wittenberg vs. Geneva, Brian Thomas provides a biblical defense of the key doctrines that have divided the Lutheran and Reformed traditions for nearly five centuries.
It is especially written to help those who may have an interest in the Lutheran church, but are concerned that her stance on doctrines like predestination or the sacraments may not have biblical support. To get to the heart of the matter, Pastor Thomas focuses solely upon those crucial scriptural texts that have led Lutheran and Reformed scholars down different paths to disparate conclusions as he spars with popular Calvinist theologians from the past and the present.

On my way to Presbyterianism six years ago I took a look at Lutheranism.  In fact I listened to many Lutheran sermons and was a faithful listener to the Issues Etc podcast for years.  So I was interested in reading this book because to be honest, I never fully understood where Lutherans were theologically, though I knew enough to always affirm that I would share a foxhole with a confessional Lutheran any day. Brothers in arms we are.

This book has a pretty cool format.  It's set up as a seven round bout between Wittenburg (Lutheranism) and Geneva (Calvinism), with each round covering a particular area of dispute.

They are:

1.  Atonement: for whom did Christ die?
2.  Predestination.
3.  The Sacramental Word:  an introduction to sacramental thought.
4.  Baptism.
5.  The Lord's supper - Part one.
6.  The Lord's supper - Part two.
7.  Kept in the true faith: apostasy and assurance.

This book is written at a laymen level, and the author quotes extensively from both Lutheran and Reformed sources, particularly RC Sproul, who represents the Reformed side.

The arguments against Calvinism where nothing new here, and they have been dealt with elsewhere in greater depth, but it was helpful nonetheless to see the Lutheran positions layed out as they contrasted with Calvinism.  I can say that I've come away with a greater understanding of Lutheranism after reading this book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is trying to come to a solid biblical theology but is confused by the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism.

So, at the end of the book was I any closer to leaving Presbyterianism?  No.   Do I now have a better understanding of what my Lutheran brothers believe?  Yes.  Lastly, as a former evangelical who eventually became a confessional Presbyterian, I would have loved to hear Brian talk more about his personal journey from Presbyterianism to Lutheranism, I think that would have been a great plus to this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

You can listen to an interview with the author here:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Martyrs of Malatya

A review of Martyrs of Malatya by James Wright:

Publisher's description:

"This is a thrilling and yet sobering true story written by a missionary to Turkey.
In the preface Todd Jamison (International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church) says:
On April 18, 2007, three men gave their lives for Jesus Christ. Two Turkish Christians and one German . . . began their day simply wanting to spend time with local men they thought genuinely wanted to study the Bible. Instead, five hostile young men met their kindness and hospitality with betrayal and treachery.
Very few followers of Christ in the rest of the world heard the story. Lost in the flood of news in our information age, it appeared to be just another senseless murder. But the deaths of Necati Aydin, U─čur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, while perhaps ignored or quickly forgotten even among Christians around the world, continue to speak. They proclaim the truth that there are still those among us committed to witnessing to the gospel in difficult locations. They speak loudly of love for Christ and obedience to Him. They testify above the din about their commitment to share Jesus’ own experience of betrayal and sacrifice that purchased salvation for people from every tongue, tribe and nation."

I was already familiar with the story of these three martyrs, so I wasn't expecting an uplifting, easy to read book.  I did appreciate getting to know these three men better.  Interestingly, the author's name, James Wright, is a pseudonym, as he still works in Turkey as a missionary.

For most Christians in the west there really isn't much of a cost for professing faith in Christ.  This story reminds us that their is a cost, and that in parts of our world today, Christians are paying that cost, often with their lives.  I was challenged as I read this book to ask myself if I, like those three faithful servants, am ready to be faithful, even unto death.

What a privilege to get to know these men, to hear their story, and to see that despite what the news may tell us each day, God is working across the globe to call men to Himself, and He is using men and women who faithfully share the gospel with their neighbors.

This isn't always an easy read, but reading this book will challenge you and leave you much to think about.  Christian are you prepared to profess Christ, even if it costs your life?

Before I talk about what I found lacking with the book, please keep in mind that this book was originally written with a Turkish audience in mind and was written by a working missionary, not a professional author.
Which takes me to my next point.  I found the Mr. Wright's writing style at times a bit hard to follow and found it distracting from the story.  That being said, I understand he is a missionary, not an author, and his writing style doesn't detract from this fascinating story.

Thank you James Wright for telling the story of these three faithful martyrs of the Faith, may their story inspire all of us to be faithful even to death!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A review of Passing Through, Pilgrim life in the Wilderness by Jeremy Walker

A review of Passing Through, Pilgrim life in the Wilderness by Jeremy Walker

Publisher's description:

As twenty-first-century Christians, we must relate to the world, but the question is, how do we relate to it? Some Christians are scared, others are simply bewildered, and still others capitulate to the spirit of the age. In Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness, Pastor Jeremy Walker presents the biblical perspective that Christians are pilgrims passing through this fallen world who must cultivate the spirit of holy separation alongside holy engagement as they serve Christ in all their interactions. Unless we embrace this identity, we will lose our way. Reminding us that we need “the Word of God as our map and the Spirit of Christ as our compass,” Pastor Walker clearly presents principles for holy engagement with the world and separation from it for pilgrims on their way home, seeking to glorify the God of their salvation every step of the way.

For Christians, Scripture tells us that we are pilgrims, aliens and strangers in this earth, and for anyone trying to live a godly life in this present wicked age it doesn't take long to figure out that this world is not our home.  This book is for the struggling pilgrim.

 Unfortunately in our age, it is very easy to grow comfortable in this world and forget that we are living not for this world but for the next.  It's very easy to love this world, and forget that love for this world is enmity towards God.  It's easy to let our love for Christ grow cold as our love for this world grows.  This book is also for the Christian who is more like a worldly tourist.

At around 250 pages, this book is a thorough and helpful guide for the pilgrim.  The book starts out explaining how we should relate to the world and what it means to be a stranger and a pilgrim in it.  This lays the groundwork for the rest of the book.

From there Jeremy talks about the enemies and dangers we face on our journey, and I found those chapters (Know the enemy and Fight the Battles) particularly helpful. This was an encouraging and valuable part of the book for me.

From there Jeremy begins to explain how we should live as we travel on.  We are not called to live our lives as hermits, withdrawing from the world, but we are called to shine our lights, loving God and neighbor.  We are to serve God faithfully, wherever He places us.

As we near the end of the book, in chapter 11, Anticipate the destiny, Jeremy exhorts us to keep our eye on the prize.  He encourages us to hold fast to the hope that one day our journey will be over, we will rest from our labours, and we will see with our eyes the author and finisher of our faith, our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.   

This book comes to me at a good time, as I am helping teach a children's Sunday School class on John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress.  This book is a helpful companion to that classic allegory and is a great resource for exploring the truths found there.

Lastly, let me say that Passing Through is a thorough theological study, but it is also very easy to read and very pastoral.  No wonder, considering that Jeremy is a pastor.  ;) 

For the pilgrim on his way toward the city of God, I would recommend carrying a copy of this book with you, and recommend you refer back to it often.  

To learn more about Jeremy Walker and this book, check out Shaun Tabatt's interview here.

To read my review of Jeremy's book New Calvinism considered go here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A review of Marie Duran, a Christian Biography for young readers by Simonetta Carr

A review of Marie Duran, a Christian Biography for young readers by Simonetta Carr

Publisher's description:

"In 1730, nineteen-year-old Marie Durand was arrested and taken from her home in a village in Southern France for the crime of having a brother who was a Protestant preacher. Imprisoned in the Tower of Constance, Marie would spend the next thirty-eight years there. Simonetta Carr introduces us to the inspiring life of a woman who could have recanted her Protestant faith and gained release, but held fast to the truth—and encouraged others to do so as well. Beautiful illustrations, a simply told story, and interesting facts acquaint young readers with the challenges facing Protestants in eighteenth-century France and show them that even a life spent in prison can be lived in service to Christ and to others."

This is the third book I have reviewed in the excellent Christian biography for young readers series by Simonetta Carr.  (You can read my reviews of the two other books I have reviewed here and here).  One of the things I love about these books is to see how excited my children Sam (age 8) and Hannah (age 6) get when we read one together.  They always sit attentively as we read them together and I can't think of a better way to introduce children to inspirational figures in church history than this series.

This book came to us at the most opportune time.  We do family devotions and just a few days before I received this book I had been telling the children how blessed we were to be able to worship together in freedom.  I told them that there are many places in the world today where if we there what we do in our home, we could get dragged off to jail or killed for our faith.  How appropriate to be able to reinforce this by telling the story of Marie Durand.

I had never heard of Marie Durand but this book helped bring her to life and show the depth of her steadfast faith in Christ amidst the deepest tragedies and persecutions.  Not only does Simonetta bring Marie to life with her writings, the photos and illustrations included throughout this book help us visualize this amazing woman's story.

This was especially helpful for my children when we got to the part of the story where Marie was imprisoned in the Tower of Constance.  The pictures and artwork helped them to see how dreadful that place was, and helps drive home how much it cost Marie to not renounce her Protestant faith.

This book was excellent, and a great way to introduce children to the faithful giants of the faith who have gone before us.  I can't recommend this series enough.

What did my son Sam have to say about this book?

"I liked that when Marie was captured and in jail for thirty eight years she didn't complain but held on and helped people.  Marie Durand was awesome!"

What did my daughter Hannah have to say?

"I liked Marie"...  

Every time I read one of these stories I am reminded that as Christians we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Surely we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, may all of us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, drawing encouragement from their faith.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.