Book Review – The Barber Who Wanted to Pray

In The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, the story unfolds as we join a family gathered together for family worship.  One of the children asks her father how come he could pray so beautifully.  In answer, the father tells them the true story of how Herr Peter once asked his famous client, Martin Luther, a very similar question.  Luther replies by writing the simple, yet profound classic, A Simple Way to Pray. He emphasizes three things to focus on or pray through: the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.  In the end, the family clusters together again to practice this new and exciting way of learning to pray.

I love children’s books and love that my children love books.  We were given R.C. Sproul’s book, The Prince’s Poison Cup a few years ago and my children have asked me to read and reread it.  It is a beautiful illustration of how Jesus Christ died willingly, taking God’s punishment for sin on himself and how the “poison” turns to sweet water.

When I received The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, I was expecting the same caliber of storytelling.  Alas, this was not the case.  In The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, I felt like the storyline was too forced and dry.  Much detail is given to the barber’s preparation for Luther’s shave (including a somewhat graphic musing about the possibility of killing Luther by cutting his throat with the razor!).  The opening details of the dad’s family worship routine seem overdone and geared towards providing an illustration of how family worship time could look.  Although I certainly think that such illustrations can be valuable, it felt misplaced in a children’s story.  A true test of a book’s ability to capture a child’s attention is, well, to read it to them.  Unlike The Prince’s Poison Cup, my children had a very hard time sitting through this book.

While the intent of the book (teaching our children how to pray) is very important, the execution of it in this particular book felt rushed and lacking the wonder of many of Sproul’s other children’s books.  The message of the book, especially Luther’s method of praying, is worth learning.  I would recommend those looking for resources on family worship to turn to Luther’s book itself  or to Voddie Bauchum’s book, Family Driven Faith  (a book which has issues of its own, but the chapter on family worship is invaluable.) 2/5 stars

(Thanks to Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program for providing a review copy of this book.)

Book Review – God Gave Us the World

Little Cub is amazed that there are other bears in the world that very different from her and even more amazed that they all don’t live in the snow! Why is that? “Why not make us all the same?” she asks Mama Bear. Why make polar bears different from panda bears and sloth bears and brown bears? Mama’s Bear simple answer is “God created our world and everything in it, because it’s in his nature to create.” This helps us to worship and praise our God, she says.

Lisa Tawn Bergren, in this new book of the “God Gave Us” series, explores the wonderful diversity seen in God’s creation. The illustrations by Laura J. Bryant are beautifully done, showing the wonder of the little bear’s discoveries at the “Bears Around the World” museum. I can see my own children asking the very questions Little Cub asks about why other bears eat different food or live in different place. This book is great for helping children learn that it’s a GOOD thing that we are all different.

Perhaps the only drawback is the seemingly forced segue into caring for the world God gave us. The book goes from showcasing diversity to caring for the world because “We don’t want to make God mad or sad.” While the message is certainly true that we should take care of the world, the inclusion in the book just felt a little forced.

It helps as you read this book to add some of your own commentary to the narrative since most of the book is dialog between Mama Bear and Little Cub and doesn’t necessarily describe what is going on the pictures. I read it to a group of about 8 toddlers (all ages 2 and 3) and they were able to follow the storyline quite well. Overall, God Gave Us the World is beautifully illustrated and written.

Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing a review copy of this book. (4/5 stars)

The Best Books of 2010

At the beginning of 2010, I set a goal to read at least 30 books this year. As the year winds down, I thought I would take a look back at the best of these. I’ve tried to put them into five different categories: Biographical, Theological, Historical, Advice/Self-help, or Children’s Books. Here is a list of the books I’ve read this year (authors are in parentheses).

Biographical
Abigail Adams (Woody Holton)
Einstein (Walter Isaacson)
Thomas Jefferson (Joyce Appleby)
Night (Elie Wiesel)
John Newton (Jonathan Aitken)
Devoted (Dick Hoyt)
Billy Graham: His Life and Influence (David Aikman)
Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (Robert Dallek)
Father Fiction (Donald Miller)
My Father, Maker of the Trees (Eric Irivuzumugabe)

Theological
What is the Gospel? (Greg Gilbert)
Scandalous (D.A. Carson)
In My Place Condemned He Stood (J.I. Packer)
Radical (David Platt)
Should We Fire God? (Jim Pace)
The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Start Here (Alex and Brett Harris)
Imaginary Jesus (Matt Mikalatos)
Hear No Evil (Matthew Paul Turner)
Humility (CJ Mahaney)
Where is God? (John Townsend)
A Sweet and Bitter Providence (John Piper)
God’s Passion for His Glory (John Piper and Jonathan Edwards)
The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)

Historical (non-biographical)
The Terrible Hours (Peter Maas)
The Ghost Map (Steven Johnson)
Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of our National Debt (John Steele Gordon)
On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery (Robert M. Poole)
Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Calvin R. Stapert)

Self-help/Advice
Bringing Up Girls (James Dobson)
What your son isn’t telling you (Michael Ross & Susie Shellenberger)
Homeschooling for the Rest of Us (Sonya Haskins)
Parenting in the Pew (Robbie Castleman)
Just Do Something (Kevin DeYoung)

Children’s Books
The Prince’s Poison Cup (R.C. Sproul)
I Love God’s Green Earth (Michael & Caroline Carroll)
Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm)
Mighty Acts of God (Starr Meade)
The Church History ABCs (Stephen J. Nichols)
God’s Mighty Acts in Creation (Starr Meade)
The Charlatan’s Boy (Jonathan Rogers)

Since there were several very good books in most of the categories, narrowing it down to the best one was difficult.  Out of the five categories, here are my favorites (where applicable, I’ve linked to my fuller review of the books).

Biographical: While there were several books about great men such as John Newton and Billy Graham, my favorite was Abigail Adams: A Life, by Woody Holton.  Holton does an excellent job of highlighting Adams’ strengths as well as her weaknesses, giving us a well-rounded, quite readable biography of this great woman.  He certainly does Adams justice in examining her life as a woman and not simply as the wife of a founding father.

Theological: J.I. Packer’s In My Place Condemned He Stood was the best book in this category.  The arguments and Scriptural support he and others (such as Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney) present in support of the teaching of penal substitutionary atonement is stimulating.  Packer’s chapter “Saved by His Precious Blood” taken from his introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a must read.

Historical: This was the easiest category to pick a favorite.  Robert M. Poole’s narrative of the history of Arlington National Cemetery in On Hallowed Ground is, in a word, excellent.  Poole has taken what could have been a dry retelling of a graveyard’s history, and has written instead an intimate account of a cherished resting place for many men and women.

Self-help/Advice: My favorite for this category was a toss-up between Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something and Sonya Haskins’ Homeschooling for the Rest of Us.   Just Do Something is crammed full with very practical advice.  While the main target audience seems to be college age readers, there is much in the book that more mature readers will glean from.  Ultimately, if we are seeking to follow God’s will of desire as found in Scripture, we can have the freedom to make choices and, as the title suggests, just DO something.  In Homeschooling for the Rest of Us, Haskins encourages the homeschooling family (or prospective homeschooling family) to first and most importantly develop positive parent-child relationships.  She also addresses the topic of routines, academics, extracurricular activities, and the seemingly all-pervasive concern of socialization.  I was very encouraged by Haskins down-to-earth approach.

Children’s Books:  This was by far the hardest category to pick a favorite, mainly because there were so many great books sent to me for review.  Many of them were sent to me from Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program.  Crossway consistently publishes very solid children’s books.  Because there were so many good books, I’ve only been able to narrow it down to the top three, each equally good.

The first is The Church History ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols.   Each letter of the alphabet features a prominent figure from the history of the church.  There are the more well-known ones such as Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon.  But there are also some not-so-well-known people like John Donne, Hippolytus (“Let’s get one thing straight, my name is Hippolytus, not hippopotamus”), Tertullian, Vivaldi and Florence Young.  Each person is accompanied by a brief informational snippet about that particular person, written from his or her perspective.

The second is God’s Mighty Acts in Creation, by Starr Meade.   While the book is rather small (only 109 pages), it is jam packed with wonderful truths about God as illustrated through creation.  Because each chapter is a short two pages long, it is perfect for family devotions or for middle aged children to read on their own.  Very few children’s books have left me excited to start using it for our family Bible time, but God’s Mighty Acts in Creation certainly left me looking forward to reading with our children the many ways God’s beauty is seen in creation.

The last, and perhaps the best of the best is a book given to us entitled The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul.   Every time I read this story to my children, I am moved by the love God has for us.  In the story, a grandfather tells his granddaughter the story of a people who disobeyed a King’s command not to drink from a beautiful fountain.  Even though the fountain was beautiful to look at, the water was bad for them and turned their hearts to stone.  In order to heal them, the King’s son takes his Father’s cup to another fountain in the City of Man to drink the poisonous brew, even though he knows the drink will kill him.  The Prince dies, but is raised again by his Father.  As a result, many of the people’s hearts are changed and love the King once more.

The Biblical parallels in this story are unmistakable.  Sproul weaves the story in a way that makes it very easy to point out to children the similarities to Jesus’ death and why it was that he died.  There are two strong parallels made to the Scriptures.  The first is that Jesus (the Prince) willingly does what His Father asks of him out of love for the Father and for the people.  The second parallel is that because Jesus drank the cup of poison made up of the Father’s anger, this poison/anger is turned into the sweetest water.  It is a beautiful picture of the love and grace we find in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us.

And that’s the list for 2010!  What books have you read this year that you would recommend?

Book Review – God’s Mighty Acts in Creation

There is an abundance of children’s books that talk about the various aspects of creation.  These books usually go something like this: “On day 1, God created this, on day 5 God created that, etc.  What a wonderful world we live in!”  Illustrations abound picturing the different things created on different days.  More often than not, what is missing is turning a child’s focus from the creation back to the Creator.  When asked to review Starr Meade’s book God’s Mighty Acts in Creation, I thought this would simply be another book along those lines.

However, from the first chapter in the book, I realized that this book was very different from other stereotypical creation books.  Meade does follow the Day 1, Day 2 pattern seen in Genesis 1, but that’s as far as the similarities go.  Each two-page chapter discusses something created on a particular day and how that created thing illustrates an aspect of God’s character.  For example, for Day 1 Meade points us to the holiness of God, illustrated in the creation of light (“God is light and in him is no darkness at all” – 1 John 1:5); or to Jesus, the Light of the World.  We see the mountains pointing us to the eternity and unchangeableness of God.  God’s goodness is seen in the abundant variety of foods that were created.  The vastness of space points us to a God without limit.  Additionally, for each thing created, we are told about a time when God overruled how the created thing usually operates, showing that God is owns every part of creation and can do what he pleases with it.  For example, he showed his power over the sun and moon when he made them stand still for Joshua and the children of Israel.  Meade starts with an aspect of creation and beautifully draws our attention to the One who created it.

While the book is rather small (only 109 pages), it is jam packed with wonderful truths about God as illustrated through creation.  Because each chapter is a short two pages long, it is perfect for family devotions or for middle aged children to read on their own.  Very few children’s books have left me excited to start using it for our family Bible time, but God’s Mighty Acts in Creation certainly does have me looking forward to reading with our children the many ways God’s beauty is seen in creation.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program for providing a review copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

Book Review – Mighty Acts of God

With the abundance of children’s Bibles and Bible story books, many of these books focus on the stories as wise lessons in morality.  A few highlight the overarching theme of redemption in Scripture.  But even fewer books focus on what each of these stories teach about the author of the book, God himself.  In Mighty Acts of God, Starr Meade attempts to take well known stories of the Bible and emphasize what each one teaches us about an attribute or characteristic of God.

Each story is roughly three, sometimes four pages long and is accompanied by colorful illustrations picturing what is happening in the story.  The stories are interpreted through the lens of reformed theology, each one containing a colored summary statement of that particular teaching.  At the end of each story is a box titled “As for me and my house” that gives parents ideas for further discussion with their children.

Perhaps the most helpful feature of the book is in the title of each story.  Each story opens with the title and then a subheading telling what we should expect to learn about God from that story.  It’s helpful knowing what to look for in a story from the start and watch for evidences of the main point.  For example, the story of God calling Abraham is subtitled “God Chooses People to Belong to Him;” the story of Jonah is subtitled “God’s Power to Save Has No Limits;” the story of how Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind is subtitled “God is the Supreme King over All Kings;” and the story of Paul’s conversion is subtitled “God Conquers His Enemies by His Grace.”

While the book’s target audience is elementary school-age children between four and ten, the book seems a little heady for the younger end of that spectrum.  Even though all children are different in their levels of understanding and comprehension, in general I definitely think this book is better suited to older children, perhaps ages 7 through 10.

In a market surrounded by man-centered tales of morality and sage advice, the concept of the book is needed and refreshing.  With this book, children can learn to look for what Bible stories teach about God himself rather than what earthly examples to follow in order to be good.  I would recommend this book.

(Thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book for review through their Homeschool Book Review Program.)

Book Review – The Prince’s Poison Cup

It’s not every day that you come across a story that not only helps your child understand something he doesn’t like to do, but (and more importantly) one that uses the same principles to illustrate a great Biblical truth.

In R.C. Sproul’s The Prince’s Poison Cup, a grandfather explains to his granddaughter that some things like medicine, while tasting horrible, help us to feel better.  While he doesn’t really give an answer as to why this is, he uses it as an illustration to teach a greater truth.  He tells the little girl the story of a people who disobeyed a King’s command not to drink from a beautiful fountain.  Even though the fountain was beautiful to look at, the water was bad for them and turned their hearts to stone.  In order to heal them, the King’s son takes his Father’s cup to another fountain in the City of Man to drink the poisonous brew, even though he knows the drink will kill him.  The Prince dies, but is raised again by his Father.  As a result, many of the people’s hearts are changed and love the King once more.

The Biblical parallels in this story are unmistakable.  Sproul weaves the story in a way that makes it very easy to point out to children the similarities to Jesus’ death and why it was that he died.  There are two strong parallels made to the Scriptures.  The first is that Jesus (the Prince) willingly does what His Father asks of him out of love for the Father and for the people.  The second parallel is that because Jesus drank the cup of poison, the Father’s anger is turned into the sweetest water.

It should be noted that the story isn’t a straight point-for-point allegory of the atonement, but I don’t think the story was meant to parallel exactly.  In illustrating the people’s disobedience, the Father’s love, the Son’s willingness and the new life found only in coming to Jesus, this book does an excellent job.  The guide for parents at the end of the book is helpful in pointing out where in Scripture the concepts in the story can be found.  My children enjoyed listening to the story and were able to see the links between it and the Bible.