Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review of Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

A quick read dealing with the need to be explicit about what the gospel preaches. Chandler separates the good news into two categories: the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air. The gospel on the ground is basically the personal message that we share with our friends and loved ones. In this part of the book, the author works through the biblical teachings on God, man, Christ, and then our response as fallen people to that good news. The gospel in the air is then the wider good news that spreads to all of creation. God’s glory will not leave anything untouched. It is in this second section that Chandler touches on creation, fall, reconciliation, and consummation. He argues for a healthy balance between the two. Reading this book after Word versus Deed, by Duane Litfin, was helpful, as Litfin works through this same issue of social gospel versus the concrete message of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross.

In his section on man’s need for a savior, he deals with the severity of God. This, Chandler notes, is an area where many Christians have stopped being explicit. We don’t want a God who is severe. In one place the author writes, “…it makes no sense to run up a tree afraid of a kitten while walking up to a lion and slapping it in the face. Will we fear man while outing God?” Chandler offers us a healthy discussion of God’s wrath.

One of my favorite parts was his discussion of hardened hearts. He notes that the “gospel of Jesus is dangerous.” It has the power to put people in their place. Some people in Christian circles don’t seem to give the gospel this respect. They play around at church, being moralistic and commenting all about what Suzy is wearing to church.  I love this quote: “The religious, moralistic, churchgoing evangelical who has no real intention of seeking God and following him has not found some sweet spot between radical devotion and wanton sin; he’s found devastation. The moralism that passes for Christian faith today is a devastating hobby if you have no intention of submitting your life fully to God and chasing him in Christ.” How will we treat the dangerous power of the gospel? How will we present it to the youth we come into contact with? These are important questions that Chandler brought me to. I know for a fact that some young people go into a church and only receive a moralistic rant about their clothing and behavior. Chandler notes that the gospel will cut some people open; others it will only scar, further hardening them. Let’s be serious. Let’s be explicit.

Also, his application section at the end had some interesting stories and a good breakdown of moral therapeutic deism. Chandler talks about a VBS where he sang a song about liars going to hell. All he remembers from that VBS was that God hated liars. In another part, Chandler writes, “If you listened to Journey, you’re going to do meth and kill your parents. So don’t listen to Journey. If you like Journey, then you should like this Christian band.” He says that this was the main message he would get from Christians early on in his faith. The story about a dirty rose that he shares is also a powerful example of the problem of moralism. “Moralism doesn’t do that. (point to the beauty and glory of Jesus) The moralist tends to forsake sin so that God might love him, so that he might earn the favor of God. All of his effort and striving become his foundation of hope and comfort. And it simply doesn’t work. If anything, it’s shame upon shame upon shame as we continue to fail.” Wow.

Don’t assume the gospel, Chandler pleads, be explicit. The disciples of Jesus knew for certain that Jesus had the words of eternal life. May that be our case as we lead people toward the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ.

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Review of Shelter by Harlan Coben

This book did not meet my expectations at all. I probably went in with too many of them, but I was disappointed with the story as a whole. It was quite a chore to keep reading. As a Christ follower, I would not recommend this to any of the youth I work with. As I read, I like to try and notice truth and redemptive themes in a book, and there just wasn’t much here. I’m not too familiar with the Bolitar series by Coben, but I guess this YA book connects with his adult fiction in some way.

Mickey Bolitar, loses his father to a car wreck and his mother to substance abuse. Because of all this tragedy, he basically takes care of himself, and we get to follow him as he survives high school and uncovers a mystery. Coben tells us all about Mickey’s struggle, but never really lets the reader enter in. I just felt like an observer throughout the book. I wish Coben would have shown more of the inner struggle inside Mickey’s heart. He just reacts to stuff that happens.

Also, I am very concerned with how belief in God and respect of adults is portrayed in a children’s novel, and this particular story showed neither of these in a positive light. It’s not that there was anything horrible, but it seems like Mickey is left to his own instincts and feelings, which is a bad place to be. There’s gotta be some outside standard or moral. “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey “people.” People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war…. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest….” C.S. Lewis. Mickey seems pretty lost at the outset, and I felt he wasn’t any closer to any truth in the end. Any truth that mattered at least.

For any parents or teens out there that were wondering about this one, I would go elsewhere. Comment if you would like to know more.

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Newbery Author Agenda

It is my goal to read all of the Newbery medal books at some time. I have a few down, many more to go. I will keep track here, as well as offer some recommendations. For now I will order the books according to year.

2012 Honors Book- Breaking Stalin’s Nose – A fast read about a Stalinist era youth and his maturing thoughts and beliefs (recommended)

2012 – Dead End in Norvelt – Wasn’t a totally engaging read… Moon over Manifest seemed to offer a better connection to the historical setting.

2011 – Moon over Manifest – This book about a young girl in Kansas, just trying to make sense of her life. Some people didn’t like the pace, but I thought it was nice and easy, like a slow, hot summer day. (recommended)

2009 – The Graveyard Book – I still don’t know the point of this book, or why it was chosen. I thought it contained to much new-agey gobble-dee-gook. (not recommended)

2009 Honors Book – Savvy – If it was my choice, this would be the award winner. Great developed characters and family interactions, clever writing that educates as it entertains, and just a fun read overall. (recommended)

2004 – The Tale of Despereaux – I started reading this book to my two-year-old. He seemed to stay engaged fairly well. I know I enjoyed it as an adult. That is one true sign of a good book. “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” – C. S. Lewis (recommended)

1994 – The Giver – Read this one around the time I first started teaching. I loved the weight and theological implications. A good tool to introduce children to truth and what is really real. (recommended)

1990 – Number the Stars – A true heroine that does what is right no matter what. Have your daughter read this one first. (recommended)

1977 – Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Read this one with my fifth grade class in Colorado. A great historical novel about the dignity of all humans, being made in the image of God. (recommended)

1962 – The Bronze Bow – Highly recommended! I loved the extra-biblical account of Jesus and his influence.

1929 – The Trumpeter of Krakow – An historical fiction book filled with the right amount of history and mystery. (Recommended)

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Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – Highly Recommended!

I heartily recommend this second book in the Wingfeather Saga series by Peterson (I actually recommend them all). As a series, the novels seem well paced, with short chapters, and they keep even me, a young adult male, interested. The Igiby children continue in their quest to survive and honor their Maker, while coming together as a family. The positive themes of responsibility and doing right no matter the circumstances are the stuff kids desperately need. In one instance, godly sorrow is on display for the reader, the best I’ve seen in any book. In another part of the book, a main adult character gives a lesson on humility, talking to Janner (the main older boy character) about how when a king forgets who he is, he looks to his accomplishments and is not filled. Young elementary students may not catch the lesson, or may struggle with the language, but it is a worthy and needed struggle to find these gems of truth.

It has been one of my goals through this blog, to connect parents and children to books like these. Books that develop the moral imagination, and tell true truths. All the important and epic themes are included: good vs. evil, relationships, coming-of-age, etc. Truths abound that connect to Jesus who gives us words that are spirit and life.

Tink, one of the young heroes in the book, comes up against many hard choices, and his struggle is rightly informative to godly, moral imagination. My favorite part has to be when the family was having one of their many “family meetings” and began talking about magic. The Mom goes on at length about many things being magic because they are awe-inspiring and explainable. The truths about our view of the world and how things work were put into a beautiful perspective in this particular passage.

Pick this series up for your kids. You won’t be disappointed. I’m so excited to read the fourth book; to be able to experience more truth presented in such an imaginative way.

By the way, check out the author’s site @ wingfeathersaga.com. He has a note specifically to parents about his calling to create redemptive literature for youth. His music is also a blessing to me. Check out, You’ll Find Your Way, from his Light for the Lost Boy album. My boy really likes that song.

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The “Hunger” for Survival

The other day I was reading a post by Emily Whitten at RedeemedReader.com on the Hunger Games series. I definitely recommend it to those interested in a redeemed, biblical response to all the hype and hullabaloo surrouding the books. In her piece, she writes about the main idea or conflict that the Hunger Games presents to its readers. At it’s heart, she says the books are about survival.

As a volunteer at a K-12 public school, I hear about the Hunger Games every day. It could be a fourth grader showing me the word “breast” in the book, a fifth grader complaining to me about not being able to read it, or a high schooler carrying it all around the school.

I have often wondered why kids are so drawn to the story. A fifth grade girl told me it was well written, and I agreed (See a post by N.D. Wilson @thegospelcoalition.com on why it’s not well written), but I also thought that other well written and imaginative books are available for students to read. What is it that makes Hunger Games fly off the shelves here at school?

I considered greatly this idea about survival, and I think Emily is right on. Janie Cheaney, also on the redeemedreader site talks about the possibility that kids identify with the character’s struggles and the subconcious knowledge that maybe they really aren’t that good. Countless teachers tell the students that they are special and they are good kids, but do they see through the lie? Maybe the students are scared like Katniss to become the monsters that are lurking inside.

The teachers and adults at school always talk about the good kids that we have. I could totally see the craze about the books here being in part because the kids really know that they are not that good. They have struggles and need connection to others that struggle with real issues. I am amazed at the looks I get from students at times when I use words like “evil” and “good.” The students don’t hear these categories from teachers and adults, but they surely know about it in books.

Just before writing this post, I was with a student and we were talking about super heroes. We agreed that they don’t exist, and I wasn’t Batman, and I tried to steer the conversation to the reason we cheer and root for those “good” guys. I wanted the student to see that the basic character qualities we like in super heroes are the ones that could be in her.

I hope to be able to point the youth I work with unto Jesus, who meets them right in their struggle and offers words that are spirit and life. May the kids be able to say, like Peter, that they would go with Jesus because he has the words of eternal life.

Suzanne writes a good book; the marketing for it was without equal, but she can’t hold a candle, or spotlight for that matter, to Jesus and his life-giving words.

Be sure to check out redeemedreader.com for other great biblically minded reviews of Children’s Lit.

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Review of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson

I highly recommend this book for 4th grade to middle school and high school aged boys and even girls. There is plenty of imagination, humor, mystery, and action to keep any kid reading well into the night. Parents of younger children could even use this book as a positive and encouraging read-aloud.

The story brings us into the family of the Igibys, three siblings, a mom and a grandpa. All is not right in the world, as the Fangs of Dang have taken over and are terrorizing the countryside. The main characters in the book are the three siblings, Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby. They lead a fairly uneventful life, protected from the hard truths by their mom and grandpa. They start realizing their situation pretty quickly though, as they have a run in with one of the meaner Fangs. The conflict builds until escape from the town they know and love is the only option.

As a Christian author, Peterson fills his story with true truth that helps form that moral imagination of kids.  One major plus in this book is the peace and life that exist in the family relationships. Yes, there is evil without, but the sanctuary of the family is very much intact in this story. Missing in many books for young children is the truth about God’s gift of family and how a God honoring family works to honor each other and the Lord Jesus. Boys will be encouraged to reach out to those younger than them by Janner’s actions in the books as well. Growing up is shown to be a needful process filled with care and sacrifice for others. Life is not a meaningless quest for self-actualization or more stuff.

I am floored at the power that media has over the character and thoughts of young children, as my perspective changes with age. Many books have a worldview and tone about them that give me pause as I recommend them. This series by Peterson is a breath of fresh air. Kids are free to read and parents are free to trust that kids will be getting ideas and fantasies that come from a moral grounding. The parents in the book are not dumbos or idiots, the kids don’t get into all sorts of innapropriate situations just because it sells or is controversial, and good triumphs over evil. It triumphs not just on the outside, but within the hearts an minds of the characters as well. The words that Andrew Peterson shares with us do a service to kids by pointing them to the true words that are spirit and life. (John 6)

Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

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A few must reads for boys…

Highly recommended for boys of upper elementary and middle school age:

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare – A great extra-biblical account of Jesus’ life, with great truths and emotion.

Mysterious Benedict Society Books, by Trenton Stewart – Imaginative puzzles and mysteries, with deep characters.

Origami Yoda and Darth Vader Books, by Tom Angleberger – Humor in the vein of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, better writing.

Nick McIver Books, by Ted Bell – Perfect adventure story with historical reference point.

Doppleganger Chronicles, by G. P. Taylor – Graphic novel reminiscent of a Narnia story with it’s connection to true TRUTH.

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson – A new kind of Narnia, with boys maturing in their character and fighting for good.

The Chronicles of Egg, by Geoff Rodkey – A gem of a series that redeemedreader.com pointed me to. A captivating read with just the right amount of war, love, and mystery.

As a follower of Christ, I feel good in recommending these books to impressionable young boys. They lack the amoral tone and disrespectful message of many books for boys that are available and popular these days.

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