Book Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean

Bridge Across the OceanTitle: A Bridge Across the Ocean

Author: Susan Meissner

Genre: Historical Fiction

Star Rating (out of 5): ***

This is one of those books where I have a hard time deciding whether to rate it based off the skill of the writing or how much I enjoyed it. I’ve decided to go with “how much I would recommend it,” which unfortunately is not very much.

To begin with, the premise—that there are souls who don’t cross into heaven but stay in “thin places” between this world and the next—is unbiblical, as “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The modern-day character in the book has “the sight” which allows her to see these “drifters.” Meissner is a Christian, and her defense of why she wrote a ghost story is a pretty flimsy: “Jesus didn’t say there are no ghosts, and we don’t know everything, so why not.” (Reference: http://susanlmeissner.com/why-i-wrote-a-ghost-story/) I can almost accept it as merely a literary device, but I don’t think it was necessary enough to the story to give her a pass for something unbiblical and potentially dangerous. The weirdest ghost moment was when a ghost says they come closest to living people when they are praying. What a creepy thought.

While the ghost chasing in the modern day story disappointed me, the historical narratives in the book are excellently done. The main characters are the daughter of a member of the French Resistance who is fleeing the Gestapo, and a woman fleeing a marriage to an abusive Nazi husband. The mystery kept me guessing to the end, and I truly cared and ached for both women.

Content wise, there are several scenes of rape, murder, and abuse. I felt like they were there to illustrate realities of this time period, not for shock value, but they were still hard to read.

Meissner is such a talented writer—great character development, setting, and plot, so I’m sad that this novel left me feeling let down and disappointed in the plot device she chose to use. It’s not one I would say DON’T read, but not one I’d particularly recommend, either.

 

One other note: I listened to the audio book read by Kim Bubbs, who was fantastic. She had to do accents from several different countries, as well as characters when they were both young and elderly, and she nailed it. Her only weak spot was the American men (who all seem to have weird drawls), but otherwise a fantastic narrator.

Advertisements

Book Review: Growing in Grace

Growing in GraceTitle: Growing in Grace

Author: Ernest Richards

Genre: Christian Living

Star Rating (out of 5): *****

 

This is an excellent book that tackles deep concepts of Christian living and in simple, short lessons that are easy to understand but not lacking in depth.

The chapter titles are:

  1. The Bible – God’s Word is the Believer’s Nourishment
  2. Faith Takes Hold of the Word of God
  3. The New Creation
  4. Assurance and Security
  5. Accepted in the Beloved Versus Life on the Ladder
  6. Legislated by Law or Governed by Grace
  7. Sin, Confession, and the Cross
  8. The Holy Spirit Reproduces Christ in the Believer

One of my favorite analogies from the book is what Richards says regarding assurance of salvation: “Certainty of salvation is a matter of faith, anchored to the facts of Scripture, not to feelings or the way we behave. Looking to such shifting, unreliable things for assurance is like leaving the anchor inside the boat. A sailor needs to hook his anchor onto something outside his craft that is fixed and rock solid. The Word of God is that sure and steadfast rock (Psalm 12:6; I Peter 1:23-25). Your eternal salvation is truly as certain as God’s Word!” (p. 33)

Doctrinally speaking, Richards firmly points to Christ as the one who saves us from sin’s penalty (justification), power (sanctification), and presence (glorification). I appreciate that there was no Perseverance Theology in here. Richards quotes from the works of theologians such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, Miles J. Stanford, and William R. Newell, and recommends the Scofield Study Bible.

I used this study with my Bible study group that has a diverse mix of old and new believers, and it was helpful for all of us. I really appreciated all the Bible references Richards included; in our study we read each paragraph together, then stopped and looked up the references. This was so helpful to ensure that both the teaching and our discussion was grounded in Scripture, not just our opinions. Each chapter was a good length to study at home during the week and then discuss in 60-90 minutes together.

I underlined so many thought provoking quotes that it’s hard to pick, but I’ll share one from the last chapter: “Spirituality, like salvation, is by grace and through faith. ‘As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him’ (Colossians 2:6). It is not something we can manufacture or develop or become worthy of. It is only as we cease looking to self and ‘turn our eyes upon Jesus’ that the Spirit of God transforms us into His very image (Hebrews 12:2; II Corinthians 3:18). When we see that all we need is in Christ and allow Him to fill our vision, then, by the power of the Spirit, we will take on His resemblance.” (p. 65)

Book Review: None Like Him

None Like HimTitle: None Like Him

Author: Jen Wilkin

Genre: Christian living

Star rating (out of 5): **** 1/2

The “Christian women” book section has been overwhelmed with feel-good, self-focused, “You are God’s princess!” messages in recent years. It is so refreshing to see a book that points us to God and HIS worth and supremacy. The book still has lots of application to our lives, but from a basis of recognizing what God is worthy of and ordering our lives accordingly. It is theologically deep but not hard to understand.

I especially loved her chapter on God’s omniscience (all-knowing) and how much trouble we get into when we fail to recognize that He is omniscient but we are not. In our information age, I find myself often stressed by all the causes, problems, and needs I’m bombarded with on social media and the internet. She gives some practical thoughts for this.

I would have given it five stars if it wasn’t for the disappointing last chapter on Sovereignty. She maintains that God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are a paradox (i.e., it doesn’t make sense and seems contradictory but that’s how it is.) She says, “How our free will and God’s sovereignty can coexist is a mystery. Anytime the human and the divine intersect, paradox will appear and our human limits will obscure how two seemingly contradictory points can both be true.”

The answer to this is simple. Wilkin herself makes a great statement: “While God’s omnipotence asserts that there are no limits on God’s ability to act, God’s sovereignty asserts that there are no limits on God’s authority to act.” Sovereignty simply means that God has the authority and right to control everything–it does not mean that He chooses to exert that power at all times (i.e., cause everything that happens). A king has a right to do anything he wants, but he doesn’t choose to exercise that right at all times. God does not cause people to sin, for example, but He does have the power and authority to stop them from sinning if He chooses to. Sometimes He does, but in general He has decided to give mankind choices and responsibility for these choices.

Still, while I was disappointed with this chapter, I enjoyed the book very much overall. Her other book, “Women of the Word” (about inductive Bible study) is very good as well.

Book Review: Show Them Jesus

show-them-jesusShow Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Children

Author: Jack Klumpenhower

Star Rating (out of 5): *****

For: parents, teachers, anyone who considers the Bible their guide for life.

 

This is a life-changing book that put into words so many things that have nagged at the back of my mind about the way we teach the Bible to children. It seems far too many picture Bibles, Sunday school curricula, and parenting books boil the Bible down to “This Bible character did this. You should do/not do this.” You could completely remove God and Christ from some of these books/methods and the application would not change: be good. Likewise, as a parent it’s too easy to simply use Bible stories as a way to try to manipulate our kids’ behavior.

To begin with, trying to “be good” without understanding our new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enablement is completely futile. This focus on morality apart from the Gospel also helps explain why many church kids grow up and leave the church. If all church gave them was a list of how to behave, but they never truly fell in love with Jesus and understand all he did for them, why stay in church?

Klumpenhower maintains that “The cross of Jesus—not principles of good living—is the engine of the Christian life.” The gist of this book is that more than anything, kids need to be shown God’s character, Jesus’ work, and the Holy Spirit’s enabling. This, more than any moral lesson, will be what transforms them. “We make a mistake if we think kids are saved by hearing the good news and trusting Jesus, but then grow as Christians some other way.”  While the Bible does give useful examples, if kids “get Samuel the good listener without first appreciating God the Great Speaker, they’re liable to end up relating to God only in an anxious, what-I-must-do way.”

The book gives practical advice for how to teach the Word in a way that points to Jesus and not our own efforts. For example, when teaching Old Testament stories he recommends asking:

“1) What is God doing for his people in this story? 2) Good News! How does God do the same for us—only better—in Jesus? 3) Believe it! How does believing this good news change how we live?”

Here is an example from teaching about Moses:
“What is God doing for his people in this story? He arranges events to protect baby Moses and give the Israelites a leader who will rescue them from Egypt. Good News! How does God do the same for us—only better—in Jesus? He has provided a Leader and Savior who rescues us from sin and death. Believe it! How does believing this good news change how we live? Even when it’s hard to see, we can trust that God is working out his plan to complete our salvation.”

Another great example is how he recommends addressing sin: the surface sin we can see (example: dancing to lewd music), the selfish fear underneath (ex: afraid friends won’t like or accept me), and the root unbelief (ex: not believing Jesus gives me God’s approval).

I’m just scratching the surface of this book. Chapter after chapter is filled with wonderful truth about how the grace given in the Gospel impacts every area of our lives and about how our identity in Christ is what transforms us. I recommend it to anyone who wants to use the Bible as their foundation for living, teaching, and parenting. It’s that good. Go read it! If you’re intrigued but not sure you can read the whole thing, download the free Kindle sample and at least read the introduction and first chapter; it will give you a good overview. And then you’ll probably want to read the rest!

Book Review: The Horse and His Boy

Horse and His Boy

Title: The Horse and His Boy

Author: C.S. Lewis

Genre: Christian Fantasy, Children’s Literature

Star Rating (out of 5): *****

One night, an orphaned boy named Shasta overhears the man who took him in preparing to sell him as a slave. He slips off to the stables, where the rich man who was bartering to buy him had left his horse, and is shocked when the horse talks to him. The horse reveals that he is a talking horse from Narnia who has been kidnapped, and suggests that he and the boy escape together. “To Narnia and the North!”

I adore this book. Lewis’ words are spare but every one evokes wonderful imagery or emotion (or both). For example, this description of Aslan is one of my favorite quotes from the book and gives me chills:

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay; and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it. p. 176

It’s so exquisitely simple yet profound: instead of preaching about who God is, it’s just a few words that evoke the sense of God’s strength, joy, presence, and comfort. And also I feel like it’s a hint at the trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit.

I think my favorite thing about the book is that Aslan seems absent through most of it, and then at the end you see how he was always there and played an important role in so many of the difficult circumstances. It’s such a beautiful reminder, especially in the times in life when God seems silent.

There is also wonderful character development of all the main characters. Shasta develops bravery and learns he is capable of more than he ever thought possible, Aravis learns compassion, Bree learns humility, and Hwyn learns to speak up and trust her instincts.

There are many lessons in this book, but they are all told simply, interestingly, and without preaching. I loved it as a child and I’ve loved it more every time I’ve re-read it as an adult.

Book Review: Snuggle Time Prayers

Snuggle TimeTitle: Snuggle Time Prayers

Author: Glenys Nellist

Illustrated by: Cee Biscoe

Star rating (out of 5): **

This is a cute book, but I can’t say it really captured my little ones’ attention. Each spread is a prayer based off a Bible verse. Some I think are pretty solid, like the one talking about how God always loves us and reminding us to talk to him when we’re alone or sad. Some were pretty wishy-washy, like the one comparing God’s love to a warm and cozy blanket that makes everything feel right.

The one that I was the most concerned about says God is IN the sunshine/breeze/clouds/etc. It’s an unfortunate word choice since there is a difference between God being present everywhere and the unbiblical idea that there is a bit of God in everything around us. I remember one dinnertime when I was a little girl asking my dad “If God is everywhere, does that mean he’s in my potato chip?” (And if so how could I eat it??) This is the type of language that adds to that sort or confusion, I feel.

The illustrations are very pretty, with gentle pastel colors and sweet animals.

I feel like books in this format (prayers that talk about a concept) don’t catch kids’ attention as much as a story illustrating the concept would.  The book has some redeeming qualities, but I probably don’t love it enough to give it a permanent spot on our family shelves.

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: I Am – 40 Reasons to Trust God

I AmTitle: I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God

Author: Diane Stortz

Illustrated by: Diane Le Feyer

For: children ages 3+

Star rating (out of 5): *****

I love the premise of this picture Bible: forty stories that illustrate the character of God. One of my main complaints about much of Christian children’s literature is that it boils the Bible down to lessons in morality that parents can use to encourage children to “be good.” While it is obviously important that we obey God, children need to first understand that it is only because God came to rescue us through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the Spirit’s enabling that they can obey at all! This book points every story not just toward a moral lesson, but to God and what he has revealed about himself in the stories. THEN it explains how that aspect of God’s character impacts our lives and actions.

2016-02-01 026

Another thing I love about this Bible is that each story has multiple parts which parents can use to customize the lesson for their child’s age and spiritual maturity, or even the amount of time they have to read right then:

  • A name of God (ex: “Creator: Elohim”)
  • A story from the Bible that illustrates that aspect of God’s character (ex: the creation story)
  • A key takeaway from the story (ex: “We live in a colorful, wonderful world with amazing sights and sounds. Someone powerful and loving made it all!”)
  • A “What Does It Mean” section that draws an example from everyday life (ex: making crafts or baking) and helps apply the story to life
  • One or two verses quoted directly from the Bible. The translations vary; many are from the English Standard Version (ESV), and others are Amplified, God’s Word, the International Children’s Bible, and the New Living Translation.
  • A “Learn More” section suggesting another Bible passage parents could read to their kids to further explain the name of God. This is a great resource to go deeper with older kids
  • A short “What Happened Next” paragraph either summarizing events that happen between the story and the next story, or introducing the next story
  • A short prayer thanking God for what the story reveals about him (ex: “Dear God, thank you for making the world. Thank You for making me, my pets, and the people I love! You are my powerful, strong Creator. I love you, God. Amen.”

 

2016-02-01 038

For young children (around 2-5 years old), I think the story and “What Does It Mean” sections are the perfect length and depth, and the other sections are fantastic to go a little deeper with older children or even adults!

2016-02-01 031

The illustrations in this book are STUNNING. I literally caught my breath several times when I turned the page and saw the next beautiful spread. The colors are vibrant and beautifully gradated, and the detail in many of the pictures is just exceptional. Diane Le Feyer deserves an award for this work; it is absolutely lovely.

2016-02-01 022

I read pretty carefully looking for any particular doctrinal positions (Calvinism/Armenianism, Dispensationalism/Covenant Theology, Lordship Salvation/Free Grace, etc), particularly in the “What Does It Mean” sections, and nothing in particular stood out to me. Because the book focuses on what the Bible stories reveal about God’s names and character, there really isn’t much in here that I feel would be controversial.

2016-02-01 024

I appreciated that the book includes some lesser-known stories that are not often included in children’s Bibles, such as Jacob’s dream, manna from heaven, Solomon asking for wisdom, and the day of Pentecost. The stories are all definitely “G-rated.” For example, Joseph’s story doesn’t specifically explain that he was a slave or talk about Potiphar’s wife trying to seduce him or the baker who dies. It focuses on “The Lord My Rock” and how God turns our problems into something good. The crucifixion is also not explained in detail, beyond saying that Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to a cross and he died. Parents can of course add more detail to the stories as they believe it is appropriate.

2016-02-01 045

We own many children’s Bibles, but I think this one has catapulted to the top of my list of favorites. I love the focus on who God is and on how we can rely on Jesus and his enabling, not just our own efforts to “be good.” And the illustrations are by far the most beautiful that I have seen in a children’s Bible. This is a fantastic picture Bible that I highly recommend.

2016-02-01 035

(Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)