Book Review of Comfort Detox By Erin Straza

{This post contains an affiliate link.}

Erin has been a mentor to me. We connected through Christ and Pop Culture (where I do some writing). She is the managing editor of the Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, which is for members only. And she has a podcast through CAPC, with Hannah Anderson, called Persuasion. This is one of my favorite podcasts, because these two women are deep thinkers, culturally savvy, and don’t spend too much time chatting and giggling (as do some podcasts for Christian women).

Now Erin has launched into the book publishing realm to release Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits That Bind You, through InterVarsity Press. She starts off with what she calls “The Shredding”, which for her was a defining moment in the red light district of India. This shredding was a humbling experience and a severe mercy that devastated her, but woke her up to the sorrowing world around her. And out of “The Shredding” came what she terms, “The Question”, which was, “What am I doing?” Erin finally faced this uncomfortable question when she came home from India; this is where her comfort detox began.

Erin does a great job explaining what she means by a comfort detox: it is rewiring our brain by rewarding it with true comfort, instead of the false comforts of this world, and thereby replacing old habits with good ones. She thoroughly analyses the culture around us and the craving for comfort, and specifically unpacks a few ways our culture attempts to satisfy this craving. Three broad categories, Erin proposes, for old, world-conforming habits are: convenience, safety, and perfection. These three areas are ways we seek comfort. But Erin points us in a new direction.

Her new direction is true comfort. And Erin unpacks the idea of God being our comforter. This where comfort is redeemed. As Erin says, “I have pursued the comfort of things, when all along comfort is a person.” She goes on to say that God designed us to crave comfort, but it was meant to find ultimate satisfaction in him. And the comfort from God does not stop here, but is joined together as we comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4), which in turn equals more comfort for us. Instead of collapsing inward, we must turn outward. This way, as Erin says, we’ll receive a full measure of comfort. She says, “True comfort enables us to turn outward – toward God for the comfort we need and toward others who need what comes only from God.” 

Erin reminds us that comfort is a mindless habit, and that the gospel overpowers the old habits of living for convenience, safety, and perfection and replaces them with “life-giving habits we need – compassion, trust, and humility – in order to walk free from the destructive habits that bind us.” She then ends the book with three chapters dedicated to the ways true comfort is set loose in our lives. First, we experience gospel freedom, then we are engaged with the sorrowing world around us, and finally we will be captivated by God’s kingdom purposes.

This book is a true treasure full of creative insight and deep biblical thought. Erin writes as she speaks (which, if you’re a writer, is a compliment). She writes clearly, thoughtfully, and vulnerably. It’s obvious she feels and cares deeply, and she inspires us to do the same.

At Home and at War: How a Woman Fights for Her Man

My four-year-old son loves to help. And I love involving him in helping me, even though it will usually require more work and patience on my part. When he helps me clean, I still need to clean up after him, and when he helps me bake, he needs more help than I do.

The word helper can conjure up these sorts of images of a small, weak child. No wonder we squirm when we hear a wife is to be her husband’s helper. It might make us think of a second-rate position hardly worth valuing. Cultural stereotypes of the “happy housewife” passed down from the 1950s have infiltrated the church and given us a reductionist view of a helper’s role. No wonder we see a helper as someone subservient because her position looks similar to the hired help of a cook and maid. Domesticity is one avenue for support and service in our homes, but often it is the only focus given to wives from the church.

The role of helper should take on a more holistic approach than just domesticity. We’re not just providing for physical needs, but emotional and spiritual needs as well. Our help is not limited to the kitchen and laundry room. God has designed us in such a way to help our husbands in multi-faceted ways.

God saw that Adam needed something else besides him. Adam was not fully equipped on his own. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18). God is distinctly calling women here to share in his work. We have a unique way to showcase a part of God’s character — the way God helps his people.

Spirit-filled help in marriage looks like God, not like a four-year-old.

God is calling us to be a helper like he is a helper. If God himself is a helper, then we know what he has called us to is something founded in power and strength. A helper who follows God’s pattern of helping pursues her husband, fights spiritual battles in her home, and loves with a strange, but real, formula of boldness and meekness.

Read the three points at Desiring God >>

Book Review of Enjoy by Trillia Newbell

{This post contains an affiliate link.}

I would never have thought I would need to be told to enjoy things in life. I have the opposite problem: possibly enjoying things so much that they replace God. (Also known as idolatry.) But in her recently released book, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, Trillia Newbell doesn’t take us down the road of idolatry, but helps free those bound by the shackles of fear and guilt. This book is for those who are too busy to enjoy the things of earth and heaven now, for those who feel like enjoying the gifts of God in material objects and activities are not spiritual enough or below Christian status, and for those who feel guilty to engage in and fully enjoy the things God gives us here on earth. Trillia is doing the Braveheart war cry here; her pages cry, “Freedom!”

Trillia does an excellent job connecting our enjoyment of God’s gifts to the giver himself being the ultimate source of enjoyment. She makes these connections with the gifts of relationships, intimacy, work, rest, play, money and possessions, food, art, and creation. Every chapter ends with The Enjoy Project, which is an invitation to apply the concepts of each chapter and ultimately to practice enjoying the giver and his many gifts.

The book opens with Trillia talking about a special racing bike she purchased, but how she felt that simply enjoying the bike itself didn’t seem right to her. She felt that her cycling needed to have a greater purpose, so she legitimized her hobby by training for a triathlon. But then it turned out to be too much. Trillia says, “I began to ask myself why I felt I couldn’t have a hobby solely for the purpose of enjoyment.” She began to discover that leisure activities can be a legitimate and deeply meaningful way to glorify God. “And my prayer is that in learning to better enjoy, recognize, and appreciate these gifts, we’ll learn to more clearly see and more passionately worship the provider of all these good gifts.”

I started this book thinking I was already good at enjoying the pleasures of God’s own gifts, but Trillia helped me see my lack of enjoyment in my mothering. I love being a mom and I love my children, but there are many times I don’t enjoy them and instead view them as a bother. Trillia says, “What’s interesting about relationships is that in order to fully enjoy them, we must be focused on others.” Sometimes our enjoyment comes through sacrifice and self-denial. Enjoy helped me see my occasional lack of enjoyment in my children as a selfish act. Because typically when I’m not enjoying my children I am focused on myself. I do enjoy a lot in life, but I’ve learned there are some things I need to enjoy more and that can take discipline.

Jesus Wept for Sia Too

“Jesus wept.” This is the shortest verse in the Bible and also the title of a new single from Sia’s deluxe version of the album This is Acting. The verse is a unique portrayal of Christ’s humanity. Sia’s single gives a true depiction of humanity with a hint of hope. Together, the verse and the song show us how light can overcome the darkness…

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Book Review of Humble Roots

{This post contains an affiliate link.}

What if humility is the key to rest for our weary souls? Hannah Anderson proposes that it is in her new book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your SoulI’ve already sang my praise for Hannah’s first book, so I was eager to be apart of the launch team for Humble Roots. I was able to help promote Hannah’s message through social media and receive an advance copy of the book, which already released October 4th from Moody Publishers.

I have to say I did not expect to be disappointed with this book, because I already love Hannah’s writing, thoughts, and ideas. And I’m glad to say that I was right. There is something unique about this book on humility. Instead of focusing on the sinfulness of pride alone, Hannah shows us how humility is expressed in acknowledging our human limitations; that we are dependent and created beings made from dust who will return to dust. And once we own this truth, and remember we are not God, we will find rest.

According to Hannah, we are all running around in our own strength trying to do it all and be it all (superwomen and supermen) and weighted down by the burden of stress. Although organization, minimalism, and staying up late to get everything done can help, Hannah offers another avenue that gets to the root of the cultural plague of stress and anxiety. The answer? Humble roots. Remembering who are and who God is. Her book is grounded in this one section of scripture from Matthew 11:28-29:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Hannah helps us make the connection Jesus is making here. When we come to him in our weariness and desire rest, Jesus tells us to learn from him – the one who is gentle and lowly of heart. Finding rest for our souls means going to Jesus and learning about his humility. We must get back to our roots, which is being made in the image of God from the dirt of the ground.

The book also addresses several micro-topics, prescribing humility as the remedy. Issues such as: body image, shame, the gender wars, emotions and feelings, the limits of human reason, wisdom, death, gratitude and privilege, stewardship, our dreams, desires, and plans, and brokenness and suffering. And Hannah takes all of this and ties everything together with the imagery of plants, flowers, and gardening, basically things that are earthy, to remind us of where we come from.  The rural agrarian feel of living off the land, man and nature, that which is simple and natural, is the beat of this book on humility. Replete with wonderfully told stories from her own life and a diverse and interesting use of quotes that support the larger message of the book, Hannah brings our knees to the ground as we dig our hands deep down into the soil of humility.

 

Special Revelation, General Revelation, and Chronicle’s Library of Luminaries

I’ve been an admirer of Coco Chanel’s ambition, designs, and other aspects of her life story, so when I found out Chronicle Books had a series of illustrated biographies called Library of Luminaries and that Coco Chanel was one of them, I was all in. Chanel’s biography was released this past August along with one on Frida Kahlo, joining books on Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Nina Cosford illustrates these women’s stories with delicately sharp watercolor designs, while Zena Alkayat pieces together quotes and personal letters from each author or artist, along with her own words, in handwritten text.

This concept of placing equal emphasis on text and visuals is a rarity in adult literature, perhaps even more so for Christians…

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Lightning Book Reviews on Suffering and Adversity

{This post contains affiliate links.}

Here are short (lightning) reviews of recent books I’ve read. Each one has a similar theme of trusting God and loving others in the midst of suffering and brokenness:

A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and our Pain by Elisabeth Elliot

If anyone is an intimate friend of suffering it is Elisabeth Elliot. She experienced the anguish of delayed desires with her future husband Jimthen after two years of marriage Jim was killed by Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador, and lastly her second husband passed away from cancer. Her path was through suffering, but Elliot shows us the light on the path that guides and comforts us, and ultimately transforms all our grief, loss, and heartbreak. She weaves in analogies from the life and death cycle of nature: the breaking of acorn shells, the plant’s first stages of leaves and shoots, seasons, falling leaves, and bearing fruit. Elliot helps us see meaning in our dark night of the soul.

A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller

Paul Miller traces the life of Ruth in a way I have never seen done before. He highlights biblical truths, ancient history, cultural underpinnings, and symbolism, while also using Ruth as an archetype of loving sacrifice and unconditional love in the center of personal isolation, hardship, and grief. This is a great book if you are in the midst of a broken relationship and figuring out the part you can play towards restoration, if you struggle to love people (especially those who are difficult to love), or if you are experiencing any kind of relational hardship and pain.

Trusting God: Even when Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges

This is probably considered a Christian classic, but I never read it because as a young naive girl I didn’t think I needed insight into trusting God in life’s hardships. Honestly, I never experienced anything that hard, until I moved across states away from friends and family to marry my husband and start my own family. Life got hard. And life hurts at times, like the subtitle to the books says. Bridges builds a thorough theological, and yet practical, case for trusting God. He addresses the sovereignty of God over people, nations, and nature, and even in relation to our responsibility. He asks hard questions like, “Can you trust God?”, and “Is God in control?”, while helping us grasp God’s love and wisdom, even in adversity.

 

 

Classic Summer Reading: An Intro to Science Fiction for Serious Christian Readers

{This post contains affiliate links.} 

The summer is almost over. Maybe you already have a summer reading list or maybe you’ve had no time. Either way, if you are looking to start that list now or continue to add to it, I have some book suggestions for you. I started this Classic Summer Reading list a long time ago, and my friend and former guest writer, Ryan, is back to carry on the tradition with some of his favorite science fiction. 


Science Fiction. What comes to your mind when you hear those words?

Do you think about silly movies with aliens trying to end human civilization and harvest us for our organs? Or do you think of forty-year-old men that still live in their moms’ basements and who speak fluent Klingon?

The reality is that, at its best, Science Fiction is a serious genre of literature that delves into the ethical, philosophical, and even theological problems posed by the modern world. Ever since Mary Shelley first introduced the world to Frankenstein’s monster almost two hundred years ago, Sci Fi has provided a venue for wrestling with worldviews and answers to ultimate questions in light of the technological and societal changes that humanity is undergoing at a rapid pace. Great Science Fiction authors speculate about humanity’s future (or even about alternative histories), pontificate about human nature, and envision ideal societies.

For Christians especially, Science Fiction provides a unique challenge and opportunity.

Here’s why:

We live in a day and age where we will be forced to deal with ethical challenges and changes to society that our forebears simply never had to think through. Case in point: on August 4th, the National Institutes of Health announced a proposal to lift a ban on funding for experiments that use human stem cells to make animal embryos that are partially human. Now, we could easily just dismiss this sort of thing as “playing God,” and I think we’d be right in that assertion. But what a missed opportunity that would be to engage with the question on a deep level, and to offer a fully formed Christian ethics in response.

And who amongst us thinks this will be the last scenario we’ll face like this? Science Fiction offers us a “practice field” for such questions.  Many Science Fiction authors present worldviews that contradict the Christian faith, and which can challenge us to think through what our own responses would be. We can develop our thinking and our worldview in fictional worlds as we await the inevitability of technological advance in the real world. We can be proactive, rather than reactive, about how we will witness to our faith in the “brave new world” we (and our children) will face in the coming years.

Not only is Science Fiction enjoyable, high quality literature, it’s also a great way to sharpen your mind and your worldview.

So read some good Sci Fi! Not sure where to begin? Here are some lightning reviews of a handful of classic Science Fiction novels that would be a great place to start:

Dune by Frank Herbert

A lot of people consider Dune to be the greatest science fiction novel ever written (and I’m certainly sympathetic to that belief). It’s been said that Dune did for Science Fiction what The Lord of the Rings did for fantasy. A complex novel that is vast in its scope, the issues in play in Dune include ecology, economics, psychology, educational theory, and the role of religion in society and politics.

Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, the heir to a ducal throne in a distant future on a far away planet. He and his family are caught up in a political intrigue over control of the planet known as Dune, the only known source of a spice that enables inter-stellar travel. Paul is betrayed by a close member of his father’s entourage, only to discover that he may be at the center of multiple messianic prophecies. In order to avenge the betrayal, and safeguard his loved ones, he has to figure out quickly how to survive unbelievably harsh desert conditions, fit in to a completely foreign culture, and watch out for giant sand worms the size of buildings.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Phillip K. Dick

You may not have heard of Phillip K. Dick (or PKD, as he’s known to his fans), but you have definitely heard of movies or TV shows based on his works: Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, and The Man in the High Castle are all screen adaptions of PKD works. His worldview can fairly be described as Gnostic, though many of his ideas are also clearly influenced by mental health problems and drug abuse. His outsized influence on recent Science Fiction is a testament to both his brilliance and his originality as a writer.

 Androids is a post-apocalyptic novel that follows a bounty hunter’s attempts to earn enough money to buy an animal (a huge status symbol on a planet where most animal life is extinct). In order to do so, he picks up a job killing six androids that have gone rogue. It’s one of PKD’s more accessible works, and a great introduction to some of the philosophical themes he deals with. Among the issues dealt with in the novel are the question of what it means to be human, as well as epistemology and the nature of reality as a whole. It also tackles an issue that Christians are going to likely encounter very, very soon: should artificially-created beings that share human DNA be afforded the same rights as humans?

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This one is often considered to be another contender for “greatest Sci Fi novel of all time.” Here we get to grapple with war, genocide, drone strikes, our ethical obligations to other species, the effect that video games have on the minds of children, and all sorts of other current issues. This novel has actually been on the recommended professional reading list for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Earth has narrowly managed to survive an attack from insect-like aliens, and must prepare for their inevitable return. A child prodigy named Ender is recruited to train for zero-gravity warfare by being put through a series of simulations along with other precocious children. Ender and his older siblings find themselves dealing with an adult world and a military mindset that, brilliant as they are, they aren’t quite mature enough to handle.

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

A much more recent novel than the others on this list (it was published in 2006), Eifelheim is also the only work in this list written from a Christian worldview. There are two simultaneous narratives presented in this story: first, we meet the inhabitants of Eifelheim, a 14th century German village in the Black Forest, who become the first people to make contact with aliens after a spaceship crashes nearby. The second narrative follows a modern historian and his theoretical physicist girlfriend as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of Eifelheim from the map after the year 1349.

Michael Flynn does a great job diving into the problem of evil and the role of philosophy in the Christian faith. The Medieval German Christians in the novel grapple with whether a non-human can become a follower of Christ, even as they question their own faith as the Black Death begins to devastate Europe. Although this novel is a bit more “hard Sci Fi” (meaning it dives into a lot of technical details, and actual science and math features more prominently) than some of the others on this list, the narrative is compelling and enjoyable, and the novel as a whole is extremely rewarding.


Ryan McLaughlin is a math teacher, husband, and father of three. He lives with his family in the Tampa, FL area, and is a member of St. Andrew-the-First-Called Orthodox Church. When not enjoying quality works of Science Fiction, Ryan likes to read Russian novels, Irish poetry, Greek theology, and English political theory, all preferably accompanied by Floridian craft beer.

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image — Book Review

{This blog post contains an affiliate link.}

Living in the broad brushstroke of a reformed and complementarian background, this book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image, comes as a refreshing take on some controversial topics. As a young girl I grew up in a church with some rigid outlines for gender roles inside and outside of marriage (some even promoted extra-biblically in my local church culture.)

Much of the women’s ministry I grew up in was comprised of pink passage topics aimed specifically at women: Titus 2, Proverbs 31, being keepers of the home, the submissive wife, a quiet and gentle spirit, domesticity, and nurturing. All of these topics are still valuable and I strive to adopt them in my life, but it’s dangerous to isolate these “women passages” from the rest of scripture. And of course the rest of scripture still applies to women, because like men we are equally made in God’s image. Hannah Anderson refers to this as being made imago dei, which when literally translated means “in the image of God.”

Anderson uses Romans 11:36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things“, as her general reference point in the larger purpose of the book. What is her larger purpose? I believe it is to unmask the greater purpose of being women made in the image of God — who strive to live in communion with God, communion with others, and be good stewards of creation. A woman’s prime identity is to share in the divine nature of her God. One day we will be complete in this union with our maker as he glorifies us in heaven, but until then our purpose is to become more like Christ here on earth.

According to Anderson we can’t just define and understand ourself by different categories — gender, race, calling — we must come back to the central focus of identity, which is God himself. Instead of making gender roles the starting place for discussion, Anderson believes we must make the starting place of discovery at imago dei. She says:

“When you understand this, when his identity becomes the foundation for your identity, the details will finally make sense.”

This book also makes an appeal to treat identity as a complex issue, not something that can be completely reduced to one or two things: namely, being a wife and mother. We can’t just be satisfied with haggling over roles, but we must come back to the foundation of the basic questions of identity: “Who am I and why am I here?” When we get this straight Anderson says,

You will finally be free to live beyond the roles and labels and expectations because you will finally be free to live in the fullness of God himself.”

I don’t think Anderson has deserted the traditional biblical womanhood that we see in scripture, she is just giving it a fuller and deeper treatment. She says,

“We make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.”

She does a tremendous job of bringing our focus to the perfect image bearer who lived, died, and rose for us, so our identities could heal from the brokenness around us and in us. It is through Christ alone that we can fulfill imago dei once again like in the Garden of Eden. Through Christ we can better image God through how we love, give, and learn.

This book deeply impacted me in how I view myself — as a person first and foremost — before God and others. It also showed me how great and glorious our God is in his goodness, wisdom, sovereignty, power, and love, and how he is all of his attributes unified at all times — God is a living paradox. We can’t dissect him into categories; he is much bigger than our human categories. I was also challenged to more fully “partake of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) in Christ; I was challenged to embrace his loving providence for my life. Like on page 139 when Anderson says:

“Providence is the intricate combination of God’s power and His love working together to bring about the best for his children — working together to make them exactly who they are meant to be.”

Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book and walked away wanting to worship God. I think Anderson has done that in this book, and that is why I highly recommend it to you. She does a powerful job of showing how we as humans are truly made for more.

“We have all forgotten what we really are.” — G.K. Chesterton

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” — C.S. Lewis

Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life — A Book Review

{This blog post contains an affiliate link.}

My three year old spills things. My almost one year old spills things too. Because of this I have a good idea of what the word saturate means.

1. to cause a substance to unite with the greatest possible amount of another substance, through solution, chemical combination, or the like.

2. to soak, impregnate, or imbue one thoroughly or completely.

In Jeff Vanderstelt’s book, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life, he is talking about something more spiritual than kids who spill things. He is referring to our life with Christ spilling over into our everyday mundane lives.

“It has always been God’s intention to choose normal, everyday people, and to show his amazing power and glory through them.”

Vanderstelt isn’t talking about another church program based out of a church building, but a way of life that makes Christ’s mission and ministry the core of our very lives. Because we are the church. We gather together every week in a building and then our weekday is spent in our various vocations and activities. Our weekdays are the lifeblood of Gospel living and Gospel mission. As Vanderstelt says:

“Church is the people of God doing the work of God in everyday life.”

As the Church, we need to be equipped on how to be intentional where God has us. What opportunities are around us for ministry and mission? Or what opportunities can we make for ourselves in the place and season God has us in right now? Vanderstelt refers to Jesus as our example in this:

“Jesus lived a normal, quiet life for thirty years in an unknown town….The difference is that Jesus did everything for his heavenly Father’s glory. He lived all of his life as an expression of his love for God the Father…He set apart every aspect of life as holy unto the Lord.”

This aspect of the book encouraged and challenged me. Being a stay at home mom is as normal and real as it gets. My days are consumed with taking care of little ones, and I’m learning that this work is holy unto the Lord; it is my primary ministry and mission in life right now. This was the encouraging part, and yet the challenging part is the area I am weak in right now, which is extending this mission and ministry beyond my family. Because of this book I’m now intentionally thinking through ways I can (with my family) reach out more to fellow Christians and non-christians in my home.

The rest of the book outlines ways to engage in all-of-life discipleship, which is learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in our everyday lives. Here is an excerpt on three key environments that are essential for this type of discipleship:

Life on life, where our lives are visible and accessible to one another; life in community, where more than one person is developing another; and life on mission, where we experience making disciples and, while doing so, come to realize how much we need God’s power.”

Here is another great summarizing excerpt on what it means to be the body of Jesus (the Church):

Who is God? He is our King (the Son). What has he done? He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Who are we? We are servants of the King of kings. If we believe this, what do we do? We serve the least of the people of the world as an act of worship of our King. “

 You don’t have to be a pastor or missionary to engage in the mission and ministry work of Christ; you just have to believe, by faith, in the saving work of Jesus Christ. We are sent by God into the world through our normal lives: our day jobs, school, community work, the grocery store, the local library, and our homes. This is true Gospel saturation. This is how God chooses to fulfill his work, plan, and purpose on the earth until he returns. We get to be apart of this in the everyday stuff of life; let’s saturate where we are right now.

Who is God? He is Spirit. What has he done? He sent and empowered Jesus the Son to take on flesh and to seek and save what was lost. Who are we? We are missionaries, sent and empowered by the same Spirit. If we believe this, what do we do? We make disciples of Jesus through proclaiming the gospel in the power of the Spirit.”

 {This book was a complimentary copy from Crossway book publishers.} 
 

Book Review: The Biggest Story

{This blog post contains an affiliate link.}

Once upon a time my husband pre-ordered a book from Crossway. We waited and waited; then – in a brown package – it appeared at our doorstep. Our order had arrived and we couldn’t be more pleased. The End.

Not a very exciting story, is it? Well, the story inside the book from my personal story is a very exciting story. It’s about Jesus Christ — the most important character. Author Kevin DeYoung does a great job telling the greatest story ever told in his new children’s book: The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.

DeYoung takes adults and children on a sweeping aerial tour of the Bible; he weaves together key stories and thematic elements from the beginning to the end of God’s Word and presents us with a beautifully concise and simple masterpiece. Adults and children alike will have a firm grasp of the broad purpose and scope of the Bible after reading this book. In all ten short chapters DeYoung provides a God and Christ centered approach to the Biblical text — he consistently points everything back to God and the person of Jesus Christ.

Not only has DeYoung done well constructing the broad Biblical story, but the illustrator — Don Clark — has brought truth alive through his art. As I’ve been reading this book to my three year old for the second time, he asks questions about the images; he is captivated by the stories contained in each illustration. Because that is what Clark has done —  he not only has drawn images depicting the reality of the stories, but has also drawn abstract images conveying abstract Biblical themes.

Reading this book to my preschooler has stirred up questions from him and discussion between us, but it’s also reminded me about the promises of God in Christ: his faithfulness to a faithless people, and the greatness of God’s redemptive plan from the beginning. I recommend it as a bedtime story for kids, but also a book for adults to remember how they are apart of this big story. And if you rip out any of the pages to frame as art around your house, I won’t blame you.

eden1chpt2ark12sons1david-goliath

Book Review: Women of the Word

{This blog post contains an affiliate link.}

When was the last time your face was shining? I don’t mean oily skin problems. I mean shining from beholding God. Seeing him for who he is in all of his attributes and holiness. Moses’ face shone when he came down from Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandment ‘s from the Lord (Exodus 34:29-35.) The light emanating from his face was so intense he needed to wear a veil. Moses spent extended periods of time with the Lord and it showed, literally.

In Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, her goal is for women to have shining faces like Moses. She makes it clear the aim of bible study is to behold God, and in beholding him we will become like him. “We must be altered by the vision,” as she says. Before we can change upon seeing God for who he is, our heart and mind must be touched first.

Heart and Mind

The subtitle of the book, “How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds,” was what drew me in in the first place. I’m not a big fan of christian women writers who only appeal to women’s emotions, without stimulating their minds. Also, I was interested to see what a woman would have to say about a male dominated topic in the church. Most christian women writers I grew up with either wrote bad fiction or wrote non-fiction that was redundant about biblical gender issues and roles.

True beauty, Titus 2, modesty, purity, and being keepers of the home are mostly covered by women writers, while the men write about Bible doctrine, reformed theology, Bible studies, and commentaries. We shouldn’t leave behind the important Biblical truths aimed specifically at women, but it’s refreshing to start seeing women writing for women with new topics. What better way for women to truly understand and apply gender-specific Biblical truths, and more, than by learning a proper method for personal Bible study?

So, what exactly does Wilkin mean by studying with both our hearts and our minds? We must seek to know God with our minds and love him with our hearts. These are interrelated concepts. We can’t worship and adore an unknown god, (Acts 17:16-34) and seeking knowledge without growing in our love for God and others is akin to the clanging cymbal Paul takes about in 1 Corinthians 13. Love without knowledge is fluff, and knowledge without love is puffed up arrogance. As Wilkin says herself,

Our study of the Bible is only beneficial insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims. Bible study is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

The How of Bible Study

Not only does Wilkin tell us why we should study the Bible, but she tells us how to study it. She unleashes her five P’s of study: purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer. I love how she opens up the discussion in the first few chapters by sharing her story of becoming a woman of the word. She also brought my eyes back to the focus of the Bible — not me, not the characters in the Bible stories, but God. She clarifies this further by saying,

The Bible does tell us who we are and what we should do, but it does so through the lens of who God is. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there can be no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God.

We don’t serve an unknown god; he has made himself known in his word. Through this book I was personally encouraged to become a student again and dig deeper into Biblical literacy. All through school I was tempted to take short cuts when it came to studying. Studying the long and hard way is counter-cultural in the church and in the world. God wants us to be his students so that we might know him, love him, and serve him better. Moses’ face was transformed by his vision of God; let it be said of his people today.

Christ & Culture Series — Culture Follows Philosophy: Why You Should Read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

By Ryan McLaughlin 

This is a continuation of the Christ & Culture Series. The first post in the series was an interview about juggling artistry, business, and theology, and the second post was an interview about education. This guest post is a piggyback of the previous post in the series titled, The Law Follows Culture.    

Ryan McLaughlin is a math teacher, husband, and father of three. He lives with his family in the Tampa, FL area, and is a member of St. Andrew-the-First-Called Orthodox Church. He has been an enthusiastic fan of Dostoevsky since he was a teenager, and has taken classes on Russian literature. He even had an essay that he wrote on Crime and Punishment published in Vestnik: the Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. Not bad for a math guy!


In his excellent post, Jacob Phillips made the argument that “law follows culture.” I couldn’t agree more, and today I want to make a follow-up point: “culture follows philosophy.”

It’s not always easy to see, but philosophy—that dusty, abstract, impractical subject that you didn’t major in because your parents told you that at some point they were going to cut off your allowance—is actually what runs the world. Good philosophy reaps innumerable benefits for culture, and bad philosophy wreaks devastating consequences. If we as Christians are going to engage effectively with our culture, we’re going to need to understand what philosophical assumptions are driving it and critically evaluate them in the light of the Gospel.

To provide you with a model of how to do that, I’m going to suggest—perhaps counter-intuitively for some—a really dark murder story written by an epileptic with a gambling addiction…

A Novel with a Sharp Edge

Fyodor Dostoevsky was a 19th century Russian writer widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists that ever lived. His novels—including The Brothers Karamazov, The Devils, The Idiot, and our topic for today, Crime and Punishment—are considered to be some of the all-time classics of world literature. Dostoevsky was also a passionate Eastern Orthodox Christian with a great deal of prophetic insight into the dark turn that Russian culture was taking in his day.

The plot of Crime & Punishment is relatively simple, if rather dark: A young, impoverished law school drop-out decides to commit an axe murder to prove a point about his philosophical ideals. He roams the streets of 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia, slowly descending into mental illness while being pursued by a relentless detective. His only hope for redemption seems to be a young woman who has been forced into prostitution by her family’s abject poverty and her father’s raging alcoholism.

The young law student, named Raskolinikov, believes that “superior” men are above notions of right-and-wrong. He has bought into the philosophy of ethical nihilism, the idea that ultimately there is no such thing as an authoritative reality. He allows this idea to direct his actions: to prove the point to himself, he kills an old pawnbroker woman. Ideas have consequences, though, and Raskolnikov finds that the “culture” around him cannot withstand the philosophy he has embraced.

A Culture Slowly Killing Itself

Dostoevsky’s Russia was at a turning point. Hitherto, it had been a devoutly Christian country whose philosophy and culture reflected a profound faith in Jesus Christ. Increasingly, though, Western philosophies were influencing the brightest minds of the younger generations—the Enlightenment ideas that had spilt the blood of so many in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were gaining traction in the East. Dostoevsky was deeply concerned about this—it could be argued that he foresaw Bolshevism and the coming of the USSR—and wrote his later novels in the hopes of turning back younger minds from their folly.

Raskolinikov—the law student that commits the murder to prove a philosophical point—is the main focus of the novel. His philosophy leads him directly to murder. But Crime and Punishment isn’t just a prophetic warning about the consequences for an individual who thinks himself above the normal rules of society. It’s about a society that thinks itself above the normal rules of morality. Remember, Raskolnikov is “an impoverished law student”—he is a stand-in not just for a legal system impoverished by its lack of culture, but for a culture impoverished by its gradual embrace of a radical, nihilistic philosophy. Everyone in Dostoevsky’s fictional portrayal of 19th century St. Petersburg is suffering from the break down of morality—the alcoholic father and his starving family, the young woman forced into prostitution, etc.

As we look around and see our own 21st century American culture suffering through so much—racial and social injustice, abortion, addiction, growing teen suicide rates, and more—we must ask ourselves: what are the philosophical assumptions that drove our culture to this point? Who (or what) were our “Raskolnikovs”? Which old pawnbroker women have we killed along the way to get to this point? And here, by “we” I don’t just mean broader society; we as Christians must look at ourselves with a repentant eye and first examine the cultures we’ve created within our churches and families. As Jacob pointed out in his post, plenty of born-again Christians initially praised the Roe v. Wade decision. What philosophy did Christians adopt (perhaps subconsciously) to reach that point?

A Story About Lazarus

One of the turning points in the novel comes when Raskolinikov visits with Sonia, the young woman who has been forced into prostitution. Guilty of murder, pursued by the authorities, Raskolnikov makes a simple request of Sonia: find the passage in the Bible where Lazarus is raised from the dead, and read it aloud.

I won’t give away any more of the plot.   But suffice it to say, cultural redemption comes through Resurrection. You cannot make minor corrections to fix the dead; they must be brought back to life again. For Dostoevsky and for us, radical repentance and a radical submission to the Resurrected Christ are the only way out of the cultural cesspool that bad philosophy has created. We must be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

A Call to Examination

In commenting on another one of Dostoevsky’s novels, the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said:

“[Dostoevsky] wanted to take men along the ways of wildest self-will and revolt in order to show them that they lead to the extinction of liberty and to self-annihilation. This road of liberty can only end either in the deification of man or in the discovery of God; in the one case, he is lost and done for; in the other, he finds salvation and the definitive confirmation of himself as God’s earthly image. For man does not exist unless there be a God and unless he be the image and likeness of God; if there be no God, then man deifies himself, ceases to be man, and his own image perishes. The only solution to the problem of man is in Jesus Christ.”

In what ways does this describe our culture today? In what ways are we ourselves guilty of giving in to “wildest self-will and revolt”?  How will we answer this type of thinking with the truth of Jesus Christ?

I hope that you’ll give Dostoevsky a careful read and then, inspired by his example, you’ll engage with the philosophy behind our culture.

Review of Wendy Alsup’s Bible Study in Ephesians

{This blog post contains an affiliate link.}

Peace through grace. This is how Wendy Horger Alsup would summarize her bible study through Ephesians. A phrase she borrows from theologian and scholar John Stott.

According to Alsup’s Introduction in By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman’s Identity,Ephesians defines my identity and security in Christ.” Alsup is one of the women forging the new path ahead for Bible doctrine books written for women by women.

She encourages women to not just pick up books on women specific topics written by women authors, but to delve deeper into a true and sound study of a book of the Bible. By bringing her feminine touch to the realm of Bible doctrine, she aims to help women apply the truth in Ephesians to their lives. She is also a wife and mother and occasionally touches on those applications as well.

Maybe you’ve been to a ladies bible “study”, where it’s really more snacking, giggling, and conversing about life than actual studying. Maybe you’ve been to some that are more emotionally driven, where women ask themselves how a particular passage makes them feel. Well, this study is not the same. Alsup takes on historical context, original intent, and examines each verse and chapter against the message of Ephesians in its entirety. Alsup sums up Ephesians by saying,

 “The Apostle Paul is intent that we understand the blessings that have been eternally secured for us by Christ despite our unworthiness, and from understanding those unconditional blessings, we then learn obedience.” 

The book is broken down into 4 sections that each cover roughly 2 chapters of Ephesians, which is then broken down by every couple verses. The actual biblical text is included prior to Alsup’s commentary, and each chapter has space for reflections. There are discussion questions in the back of the book as well.

My women’s group at church just finished using this study, and I think it facilitated great discussion. It personally affected me to seek greater humility from the Lord. Also, it challenged me to love people in my life in the way Christ loves me. Namely, to be more forbearing, tolerant, and patient in how I love my family. If it can change me, it can change you.