Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: The Light of the World

Paterson, Katherine. 2008. The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children. Illustrated by Francois Roca.

What I liked about this one? That it begins with the beginning. "The Bible tells us that in the beginning, when God created the heavens and earth, there was nothing but darkness until God said: "Let there be light." And there was light." But it doesn't stop there, it continues, "Many years ago, the prophet Isaiah lived in a dark time for his country. The wise king of Judah had died, and powerful enemies threatened to destroy his tiny land. But Isaiah believed in God's promise that the people who were living in darkness would someday see a great light. This is the story of light coming into the world." I think this is important, significant, that the life of Jesus is grounded in the Old Testament. Even though this is a book for children, it builds on a foundation, a crucial foundation. It is hard to read the New Testament, understand the New Testament, unless one knows at least a few foundational basics from the Old. For one, Jesus, was the child, the man, of prophecy. His coming, his life, his death, had been foretold for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The life of Jesus--from birth to ascension--is told simply and clearly. It's also told in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way.

It is interesting to see which elements of the story Paterson chooses to focus on, and which elements she skips altogether. However, I don't know that I'd envy her the task of choosing. It's a simple fact--one I understand--that she simply couldn't mention every sermon, every teaching, every parable, every miracle, every confrontation, every event. And I think most of her choices were made to suit her audience. For example, the Slaughter of the Innocents and Jesus' flight into Egypt is passed over. Herod's threatening opposition not making the cut. Also missing from The Light of the World is the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus visiting the temple and astounding those teachers.

The Jesus presented in The Light of the World is wise, kind, compassionate. He's a good man. And he is referred to as the Son of God. But the Jesus presented also lacks confrontation. This Jesus doesn't mention sin. Doesn't mention the fact that all men are sinners and in need of a Savior. In fact, The Light of the World doesn't focus at all--not even a little bit--on the fact that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to call all men to repent and to follow. Call all men to believe. This Jesus doesn't focus on the hard sayings of Jesus. The difficult bits that might make children and adults squirm a bit. Jesus' teachings to love one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be merciful, to be good, are not at all hard to accept. Everyone likes the treat-others-as-you-want-to-be-treated philosophy.

It's not that anything in Paterson's text is inaccurate. It's just that it is incomplete in many ways. It is far from offensive. Far from abrasive. This one really lacks the ability to rub people the wrong way. This is a very non-threatening Jesus. A Jesus that asks only for people to be good, kind, and loving towards one another. A Jesus that calls for peaceful-loving-happy feelings.

If you're looking for the gospel, you won't find it in The Light of the World. The basics of the gospel--let alone the details of this 'good news'--is not what Paterson has chosen to focus on in her book. Her book is the life of Jesus as separated from the gospel message. Again, it's not that what she says is inaccurate. It's just that it is a very small, very focused fraction of what could have been said.

Is it worth reading? Perhaps. The art by Francois Roca is beautiful. I just can't help thinking that a book that focuses on the life of Jesus should in some way or another explain why he died. This one doesn't. We hear only that he made people angry. Not even the exact reasons why he made people angry. That we're still in the dark about. So we don't know the details of why those men, those leaders wanted Jesus killed. And we don't get the details on why Jesus's death (and I would even go so far as to mention his life and resurrection) matters to us today. All we're told in that respect is that "the light of the world" can continue to shine in believers today when they're good and kind and loving and compassionate and merciful, etc. And it is good to show the love of Jesus, the love of God to others. It is important to minister to everyone--in all the small ways that make a difference--through living a life of love. It is by our actions we are known. So again, it is not that it's inaccurate. Just incomplete. Jesus didn't come to earth so we'd love each and be good neighbors. So we'd all be like Mr. Rogers. That wasn't the purpose. If that was the purpose, then Christians would have never been persecuted then or now or in all the centuries in between.

Still, if a child has parents or grandparents to fill in the missing elements of the story, this one could be worth it.

According to the publisher's site, this one has earned stars in Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. And that is saying something. So whether you love this one or are only luke-warm about it...I think it depends on your expectations and your needs. Obviously, those not judging it from a theological aspect will find it to be of greater quality. Speaking just on literary merits alone, it is well done. And like I said, the artwork, the illustrations, are good--very beautiful, very effective.
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book Review: Safe in the Arms of God

MacArthur, John. 2003. Safe in the Arms of God.

Written for those that have lost children (either in or out of the womb), Safe in the Arms of God seeks to expand John MacArthur's theology of "Instant Heaven." It's a question he (and many other pastors and believers in general) have been asked. What happens when a baby dies? His response is and always has been "Instant Heaven." He says this not because he wants to give false assurance to grieving parents and their families, but because he believes that this is what the Word of God teaches.

Theologically, the question is what happens to those who die at an age that they are unaccountable. To those that mentally (physically, emotionally, psychologically) are unable to comprehend the gospel message, unable to have the faith to believe. In other words those that can neither receive or reject the gospel truths. (And when you think about it, there is a lot to grasp. The awareness of sin. The separation from God. The need for a Savior. The realization that Jesus, the very son of God, bridges the gap between sinful man and a holy God. The acceptance of Jesus as your Savior, as your Lord.

John MacArthur's answer may shock some. (It may not shock others.) Some may feel that the 'soul' of the baby is dependent on the faith of the parents. But MacArthur asserts that this just isn't so. He believes, and he argues within these pages, that each and every baby (and/or young child) that dies is welcomed by God into heaven. This is irrefutably good news for believers that have experienced loss in their lives. For the believer, the reunion is just a matter of time. You will see your child again. In the meanwhile, while the loss is difficult to accept, there is much comfort to be grasped in the knowledge that their child is in fact in heaven.

The book also highlights how tremendous a place heaven is. While parents may be sad, there is confidence that their child is anything but. It may sound trite, but heaven is a wonderful place. A place where there are no tears, no sadness, no pain.

Using the Bible as the basis for his theology, MacArthur argues his case quite well.

On a slightly related note, I'd suggest musically listening to "With Hope" by Steven Curtis Chapman from the Speechless album. And "Lullaby" by Andrew Peterson from the Walk album.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008


Today was our first day in Ephesians. It went really well. My best class as "teacher" so far. We got through the first three chapters of Ephesians!
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Has it really been a week?!

I've read Proverbs 11-13. And I've read John 12-18. And Galatians 5 and 6. And Ephesians 1. I *should* be reading Ephesians this week. That is where my Sunday School is going next. There is always tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday though.

I haven't listened to any sermons in whole, though I've started a few. Must be more focused!!!

To read my rant-y review of The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis...I just can't believe how upset that book made me. I mean I *rationally* knew that Lewis was about as far apart from reformed as you can get, but I wanted these childhood favorites to stand up to a rereading. And all but the last one did. The other six were good to great depending on the book in question. But this last one whomped. It was just theological suicide.

-------------------Theological Ramblings feel free to skip to the end-------------------------------

----------In fact if you're not a believer, you probably should skip to the end--------------------

Second. Susan is missing. She's no longer a "friend" of Narnia. This is 'tragic' for several reasons. One is that technically speaking she will have lost her mother, father, two brothers, and a sister. She'll be all alone in the world. Two is the not-so-subtle theme that you can lose your salvation. If being a friend of Narnia translates directly into being a Christian, then Lewis' message seems to be that Susan represents Christians that have fallen from grace and lost their salvation, lost their way. Of course there are some believers who do in fact believe that this is the case. That Christians can un-Christian themselves, un-save themselves, re-damn themselves. I for one am not one of them. Of course, there is the potential that this fictional Susan could regain her friend status later on in life. That she could have another opportunity to believe. But Susan as allegory just doesn't work for me.

But the thing I found most unsettling was buried towards the end. A conversation with a worshipper of Tash that just does NOT sit well with me at all.

This is the story a Calormen soldier, Emeth, tells the friends of Narnia:

Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, "Son, though art welcome.' But I said, "Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash." He answered, "Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me." Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, "Lord, is it true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?" The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, "It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites--I take to me the services which thou has done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if a man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knows it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?" I said, "Lord, thou knowest how much I understand." But I said also (for the truth constrained me), "Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days." "Beloved," said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek." Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in.

(756-757 of the omnibus edition)

It's hard to find anything in that passage that is theologically sound. It is all horribly and sloppily wrong. If The Last Battle is taken as allegory then this ending is nothing but heresy to sound Christian doctrine. It preaches salvation by works. (If you're good you'll go to heaven.) And it carries the banner that it is not WHAT you believe or WHO you believe but your SINCERITY that matters. Your "goodness" that matters. There is nothing remotely biblical about that passage. And there is everything unbiblical about it.

One other irritant, a much smaller matter, is that it paints Aslan as weak. Aslan does not have the power, the authority, the ability, to "show" himself to others. The other Calormen soldiers and the unbelieving Narnians can't see this new country--this afterlife country--as it is. They see darkness, blinding darkness. They don't see the sun, the flowers, the beauty and wonder of it all. They see dark and smell manure. And Aslan can't do anything about that. He can't un-blind these people. He is powerless to save them. He's willing BUT NOT ABLE to save these people.

Some readers may not find that theologically unsettling. But once again Lewis has strayed from scripture. The God of the Bible is far from weak and powerless. He's not sitting around waiting and hoping that someone somewhere will maybe someday "see" him and "believe." He is a God who acts. He's a powerful God. A sovereign God.

Theologically disappointing? Yes. Yes. Yes. It's more than disappointing. It's infuriating. Shocking almost as well. All of the other Narnia books have been good. Really good. I haven't found anything unsettling or upsetting or unsound in any of the other six novels. But here in this final book, it is one big dud.

---------------------------- End of Theological Rant------------------------------------------

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Book Review: Calvin: For Armchair Theologians

Elwood, Christopher. 2002. Calvin For Armchair Theologians. Illustrations by Ron Hill.

Ever since I became "reformed" several years ago (2001? 2002? 2003?) I've been curious about John Calvin. (And Martin Luther. And the Protestant Reformation. And other Reformers especially those in England who braved the turbulent times of Henry VIII, Bloody Mary, and Queen Elizabeth. And while I'm at it, I'll admit a curiosity for all things Puritan.) I haven't quite been brave enough to tackle Institutes of the
Christian Religion yet. (Both intimidated and busy.) But I have made time for Calvin for Armchair Theologians. Actually, I think I've read this one twice. Once in pre-blogging days and once now.

The title says it all. Anything and everything you wanted to know about John Calvin laid out in such a way that the average reader, the non-theologian, the non-scholar, can understand. This is just one of many in a series for "Armchair Theologians."

You've got some biography, some history, some politics, even some geography, but you've also got theology. The heart of this book is chapter three which is entitled "orienting theology." It is an outline of sorts of Calvin's greatest work the Institutes of the Christian

The at times irreverent illustrations are done by Ron Hill. And a few of them are real gems. My favorite being one that shows man burdened down by original sin with man-made wings strapped on to his arms, squatting down getting ready to jump, to try to lift his way up, to try to fly.

The book is interesting. It didn't answer all my questions. But it was a nice place to start.

I'd also recommend The Reformation for Armchair Theologians. I think I perhaps even liked it better than this one. The Luther for Armchair Theologians was good but not great. It could have been written better. (They all have different authors.) And coming in October 2008...Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Book Review: Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture

Spencer, Duane Edward. 1979 (2000 reprinting). Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture.

I don't know if Tulip is the best best book for those curious about Calvinism, but it is one of the most user-friendly guides on the subject. In just under eighty pages, Spencer uses Scripture to clearly and concisely prove the validity, the reliability, the rightness of this often misunderstood doctrine. (I honestly don't know if doctrine is the right word. But subject didn't sound right in that sentence. And theological system sounded too wordy. Topic might have worked instead. The point is with the mention of the mere words "predestination" or "Calvinism" tempers begin to flare and minds are already intensely made up.)

I find this book refreshing for several reasons. One is that Spencer came from the Methodist tradition. He started out (like many Calvinists do) in the Arminian camp. He knows the other side because he's lived it. Yet in his Bible studies, he was convicted of the rightness of "Calvinism." He could not, would not remain as pastor in the Methodist church knowing that his new beliefs so radically differed from those taught and upheld by Methodists. Two is that Spencer is not afraid to tell it like it is. He sees that mainstream Christianity has through the course of several centuries fallen away from the truth--in this regard, in this matter--and has begun upholding, supporting a doctrine that was time and time and time again refuted as heresy. Perhaps heresy may seem a bit harsh. And Spencer certainly isn't advocating the position that mainstream Christians aren't really and truly Christians. But what I'm saying is that he is pointing out that what a good majority of modern Christians hold to be true, take for granted to be true, would have at one time--at many times in fact--been ruled unbiblical, unsound, untrue.

At the time I first read this it was a shocking concept. But one that I've come to see as true as sad as that might be.

It's logically organized and clearly written. It makes for a great thought-provoking read as well as for a handy reference guide. But more importantly, it is solidly based on the Bible. Using verse after verse after verse after verse, Spencer argues for a biblical understanding and urges Christians to actually consider what the Bible actually says while forgetting their own preconceptions about what the Bible says. The Bible is the only "proof" anyone will ever need when it comes to the rightness of the doctrine of election. And Spencer uses it well.

However, I will say this. I found one spelling mistake and two other tiny errors. I wish--I really wish--they weren't there. One is that there is a reference to 1 Timothy 1:9 that should read 2 Timothy 1:9. And the second is similar. A II Thessalonians 5:23-24 that should read 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. Perhaps these mistakes don't appear in other editions.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

So far this week...

I've read Proverbs 5-10 or possibly through 11. I can't remember offhand. I'd have to look at my Bible to see where I left off. And in John, I've read chapters 8-11. John is one of my favorite, favorite books.
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