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Mark Nenadov "arm-chair reader" (Essex, Ontario Canada)
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Chance And The Sovereignty Of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events
Chance And The Sovereignty Of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events
by Vern S. Poythress
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.80
22 used & new from CDN$ 16.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Sept. 19 2014
Essentially, this book seeks to apply the Biblical worldview to topics like chance, happenstance, and probability. Poythress is fascinating thinker and really has a great way of communicating his ideas.

I began this book with a great deal of excitement, having recently listened to the author's interview on the Reformed Forum. It's a highly ambitious project. I would say that not only did he avoid failing, he succeeded in bringing forward a highly readable and helpful resource on the subject.
Poythress seeks to show how a proper view of chance and probability is bound up in the nature of God and the worldview which most accurately reflects the universe God created. For instance, Poythress says that "the very concept of probability depends on the relationship of God’s faithfulness to his creativity"

Poythress is relentless at bringing the Bible to bear on these topics. He reveals the breadth of Biblical revelation on the subjects and presents it all in a very digestible format, even with many helpful diagrams!

If you really dig the rest of the book, don't forget the appendices! It's loaded with material. The essays there, especially the one on the probabilities of gambling, are worth the price of the book. The appendices are probably almost 1/4 of the book!

One caution: If you don't have a strong mathematical background, you may find certain parts of this book rather overwhelming and will need to skip through some parts. I found certain parts a bit "over my head", though I generally stuck through with it. I simply don't have a strong enough math background to be able to digest the top 1% of this book in terms of complexity. I sort of wish he simplified some of it, or perhaps pushed it into the appendix, though I must say that the appendix is so loaded that that probably wasn't be an option. Don't get too worried about this, though. You could basically skip half of this book and still find a ton of meat to "chew on". There's so much to this book beyond the most complex mathematical parts. The handling of the instances of "happenstance" in the Biblical narratives is excellent.

As one other minor critique, I feel like the "Alternatives are not really better" section in the "Disasters and Suffering" chapter could have used some further development. It seems like Poythress sort of rushed through that part.

All in all, this is a unique, momentous book, and Poythress has done a valuable service to Christians who want to think thoroughly through issues like probability and chance.

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus
by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.99
25 used & new from CDN$ 7.88

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, Aug. 30 2014
I laid aside my skepticism of books that have words like "dazzle" in their title for a while to read this book, of which I've heard some rave reviews.

In essence, the first 90 pages (or so) are largely consumed with establishing a theological foundation. One's view of the book will be significantly coloured by their perspective on that foundation.

As you can gather from the two star rating, I am not fond of this book. That said, I don't regret reading it and learned a few things. One must applaud the authors for attempting to write a "fresh" parenting book that isn't the "same old stuff". The book does get better after the 90-or-so-page-mark, the content is a bit more nuanced and practical. I like that it seeks to magnify the grace of God. I like that it attempts to lead parents away from prideful self sufficiency and away from Christless parenting. I like that it tries to get parents to thoughtfully engage in parenting in a way that is gracious and points their children to the gospel. While I can't recommend the book, I *do* like that the authors are seeking to challenge people to discern what is distinctively Christian in their way of parenting.

That said, I believe there are some significant theological problems, both in explicit statements and in general emphasis. Those who have been in Reformedish circles over the last couple of years will immediately see the connection with the controversial Tullian Tchvidjian. This should not come as a surprise when Tullian himself says in his foreword that Elyse "taught me a ton" about the gospel. The book's theology is basically that of Tchividjian and has more of a Lutheran theological flavour than a Reformed one. After all, five of the ten chapters begin with a quote from Luther or Lutheran theologians. I am almost tempted to theorize that beyond writing the foreword, Tullian may have been the "ghost writer".

The outlook if the whole book is affected by the basic emphasis of the 'Liberate Conference' or 'Grace Lit' fad. Such a perspective pervades the first 90-or-so-pages and is the underpinning of the rest. The third use of the law is severely under emphasized. The underlining assumption is that there is only one proper and safe motivation to obedience--gratitude. One might say the book's outlook leans significantly in the direction of "soft antinomianism"--not necessarily overt antinomianism, but undertones of it. As Tullian is known to do, the book utilizes Gerhard Forde--who it should be noted is even regarded by many Lutherans as having antinomian tendencies.

In many places the gospel is "over applied". And the distinctions in the different "levels" of obedience, while having some value, are perhaps taken too far and given too much weight. If you are going to read it, I believe the theology and practice of the book should be taken with a grain of salt, and you will have to be prepared to take the good and throw out the bad. I will not get into a deeper theological discussion of these issues I'm noting, since this is a book review, not a theological dissertation. I will simply say that if you've seen any problems in Tullian Tchividjian's theology, you will probably find them here as well.
I believe there are other problems with the book, beyond its theological perspective, and these further add to my justification for the two-star rating I gave.

Some of the examples of conversations are unhelpful. I like that the book gives concrete examples of what parents can say in different situations (many, parenting books are far too abstract). However, a good many of the examples are unrealistic and unhelpfully verbose. They are tedious and unlikely to dazzle a kid--even if approximated with some adjustments. And there is little specific guidance as to how "age appropriateness" fits in to the equation, other than a reference to the different types of obedience and an observation that they are more or less relevant at different ages.

Furthermore, one or two of the suggested speeches seem to be lacking in wisdom and tact. The worst of them almost sound like a stereotypical Christian parent from a sitcom or the Simpsons. Seriously: you are going to lecture your kid on his eternal state when he blows his team's baseball game? I can't imagine how that sounded good even in the "laboratory" of theory! I doubt it would "dazzle" any kid. I realize they are just examples, but I think these flaws seriously compromise the usefulness of the examples. If you read the reviews, the vast majority of the non-4-or-5-star reviews bring up this aspect.

The writing style leaves much to be desired. Even though the general flow is jumpy and flighty at times, there is, on the other hand, too much rehashing and repetition. Dramatic words like "dazzle", "drench", and "bombarded" are over used.

I also think the tone could have been worked on, especially for a book about "giving grace"--leading the reader to believe that perhaps the author's law vs. gospel categories are perhaps not as "airtight" in practice as they are in theory. Even some of the speeches that are meant to "give grace, not law", seem sort of "legal" (by their definition of "legal/law", not mine) in tone. The comments at the end of the chapters about "what the Holy Spirit may be teaching through the chapter" (not an exact quote) may add to the perception of a "preachy" and "talking down" feel to the book.

I would love to see a book come out which had some similar goals, but with a better theological foundation/framework (more sound on law/gospel issues), written better, and more concise and realistic examples. That improvement would trickle down to many minor details in the book--making it a stronger book all-round. Such a hypothetical book may not get Tullian's endorsement, but it would at least be more robust and realistic. And I suppose there is always the recourse of a tried and tested J. I. Packer endorsement.

The Obsession Book of Timbuktu
The Obsession Book of Timbuktu
by Bruce Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.68
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4.0 out of 5 stars Have You Been to Timbuktu?, Aug. 20 2014
This book makes me want to go to Timbuktu. This has got to be one of the best and most innovative books of contemporary poetry released in the last few years. I say that both in terms of the design elements of the book (the graphics, the fonts, the layout) and the content (the cohesiveness of it all to a theme, the colourfuness/craftmanship of language, the thoughtfulness of it, the obvious delight of the poet, the connection to history and other literature). How refreshing it is to see a book of recent poetry that is thematically sophisticated and plunges the reader into a historically and geographically astute journey. I mean, how many books of poetry have you seen that have a Dramatis Personae at the end? Please do not be mistaken, this does not mean I enjoyed the poetry all the way through.I found myself getting impatientand rolling my eyes part way through at a few places. That said, I also found myself approaching the edge of genius at a few points as well. It really is quite a wild journey--be warned.

The Help
The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, June 26 2014
This review is from: The Help (Paperback)
The Help is an excellent read. It really drew me in. Normally it takes me at least a month or two to finish a book of 200 or so pages. This book weighs in at just over 450 pages and I finished it in well under a month. That's pretty remarkable for me. At no section of the book did I get impatient or become tempted to skip some pages. It was captivating throughout.

The reader is treated to a rich portrayal of the complex social life of white and black women in Mississippi in the early 1960s. Filled with racism, alienation, ambivalence, and vicious ugliness, no doubt, but also camaraderie and sisterhood. The characters are well done: Eugenia (Skeeter), Miss Hilly, Aibileen, Celia, and Minny, are especially well done, to name a few.

Stockett makes the gutsy (and, successful, I believe) move of trying to capture the dialect of the two black maid narrators (the other narrator is a white woman, Eugenia/Skeeter). For example, they say things such as: "Law, I'm thirsty" or "gone done". The effect can be jarring at first. But, as the reader gets used to it, and it fits really well. This linguistic twist certainly adds to the appeal.

Overall, it is believable, moving, and engaging, especially for one who is interested in the South and the civil rights movement.

This book generally has gotten rave reviews. On Goodreads, as of June 2014, it has over 1,000,000 ratings, with a mere 9% below four stars. That's pretty impressive. It does, though, have some harsh critics. The less than 1% who gave it a one star rating are fairly vocal. Though I regard myself as a fairly critical reader, I am not one of those critics. I loved it. I say, go and pick up the book and give it a try!

Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact
Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact
by Marvin Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.80
24 used & new from CDN$ 4.38

4.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Resource, Overall, June 17 2014
Though I have no special expertise with the early church fathers, I’ve recently read Basil’s Hexaemeron as well as Dr. Michael Haykin’s wonderful introduction to the fathers, which has a section on Basil. So, it was with considerable excitement that I began this book. I must tip my hat to Jones for taking on this project. I’ve always pictured it as being hard to write a biography of a figure from over 1,000 years ago. That said, there are at least some advantages to the lack of proximity in time!

Basil is a 4th century Christian leader, a hero in the history of Christian orthodoxy. He was a skilled preacher and a theological “heavyweight”, so to speak. And yet, he was a dedicated pastor and a very humble man, so much so that Jones suggests that: “His life and ministry can be and should be stated in a single word — humility!”

Jones’ basic desire herein is to prove to the modern evangelical church that Basil is an important figure who has much to say to the present-day church. In that endeavor, I believe Jones succeeds. And in doing so he provides a valuable history to the contemporary church. I hope many evangelical and reformed Christians will take up and read, not only this book but also Basil’s works themselves. Jones portrays Basil skilfully and with the touch of one who loves his subject. He’s distinctly appreciative of Basil’s legacy, but isn’t fawning over him, either. He shows some of Basil’s key mistakes and carefully documents the development of his theology, in addition to his triumphs. I love that the book is very attentive to the environment around Basil. It spends a great deal of time covering the theological discussions, figures, and controversies in which Basil was immersed. You don’t get the feeling that you are reading a narrow biography, but rather that you are getting a tour of Basil’s world. No matter where you are at in terms of background, you will be be, to some degree, more broadly informed.

Though I generally think this is quite the fine book, sadly, there are some ways in which my admittedly high expectations were disappointed.

First, I found the overall writing style left something to be desired. These two sentences are a good example of what I mean: “The ecclesiastical compromise of worldliness and the attempt of the church to seek God’s glory must be renounced as sinful. The church simply cannot live worldly and seek God’s glory at the same time.” I would suggest that the first sentence isn’t sufficiently clear–potentially leaving the reader with the impression that seeking God’s glory should be renounced as sinful! The second sentence clarifies what the author really means, but there is also an awkward redundancy between the two sentences. I don’t think this example is an isolated one. Writing issues aside, the book is relatively readable and often moves quite well. That is not to say they aren’t challenging parts. Unless you’ve read a great deal of theology, you’ll likely stumble a bit on the discussions of “homoiousian” and “homoousios”. I certainly did, but don’t let those parts scare you off–it’s quite well worth it to slug through those parts.

Second, from the standpoint of one who has no real expertise on this subject, I do wonder if a few of his modern day applications might be a bit overextended. Perhaps even a tad oversimplified or anachronistic. I am not, however, in the position to judge that and I would gladly leave that task for a more qualified reviewer. I would just add that my suspicions in that regard, even if accurate, amount to a fairly minor quibble.

Third, I wish that the author took a bit more time to show how people in the quite large period between the early church and the present-day church have appropriated Basil’s legacy. What about the Protestant Reformers? I felt that the author rushed to a present-day application, and hence truncated our view of Basil’s significance and perhaps did his readers a disservice.

Fourth, while the breadth of coverage and background information is a clear strength of this book, it may be also its weakness. I feel that perhaps an inordinate amount of time and space was spent discussing Athanasius, Didymus, etc, and perhaps in some of those areas the author strayed a bit too far from the core of the book. Trimming these areas down and pointing the readers to additional helpful resources may have been more profitable.

Whereas some of these flaws I’ve outlined have demoted this book down to 4 stars, it’s still a wonderful book and Jones has done a great service to the church in writing it. The book gave me a renewed appreciation for those who have struggled through some very tough battles to hash out for the future generations a solid bedrock and legacy of truth. Even with its flaws, this book is an impressive work. We need to hear more stories of men and women who loved the truth like Basil did. This encounter with Basil’s life was certainly profitable and worthwhile. Overall, I recommend it for those who want to learn about the great Christian theologian named Basil. And I’m looking forward to checking out other books in this series!

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church ,by Haykin , Michael A. G. ( 2011 ) Paperback
Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church ,by Haykin , Michael A. G. ( 2011 ) Paperback
by Michael A. G. Haykin
Edition: Paperback
2 used & new from CDN$ 25.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, May 15 2014
Haykin has done a wonderful job of presenting a warm, substantial, and inviting introduction to the Church Fathers. The book covers a nicely diverse cross section of figures from the early church. Haykin conveys a lot of enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm is contagious. In the past couple of months, in connection to this book, I've ended up reading On the Incarnation by Athanasius and The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus by Mathetes. I highly recommend this book.

Jonah
Jonah
by O. Palmer Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 5.51
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4.0 out of 5 stars Packs A Lot Of Punch!, May 15 2014
This review is from: Jonah (Paperback)
This is a great little practical commentary weighing in at a mere 64 pages. O. Palmer Robertson has done a great job with providing pithy comments that really get to the heart of the book of Jonah. I really do wish there were more commentaries like this. It's not very detailed and is rather simple, but it is highly effective and devotional, not getting bogged down into too many details. My only minor complaint is that the typesetting on quotes and Bible references ought to have been more consistent and more clearly delineated.

Gospel Assurance and Warnings
Gospel Assurance and Warnings
by Paul Washer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.95
20 used & new from CDN$ 13.41

3.0 out of 5 stars A Passionate and Sound Treatment of the Topic, but..., April 24 2014
"Gospel Assurance and Warnings" is the third and final book in the "Recovering the Gospel" series by Paul Washer. The first section handles the topic of assurance. The second discusses "gospel warnings" for those who have an empty profession.

As I we might expect from Washer, the presentation is stark, heartfelt, and passionate. Most of the citations are Scriptural, and while he is generally careful to introduce nuance, his presentation is rather uncomplicated and straightforward.
Washer's purpose is to make up for a deficiency in the current evangelical scene. Perhaps the deficiency is best summed up in a quote from near the end of the book: "Throughout the history of Christianity, the most godly ministers were marked by their balanced and consistent warnings to converts and congregants, but in our day such warnings are rare, and in many cases, they are nonexistent."

Especially helpful is its searching treatment of the marks of the true Christian found in 1 John. Ultimately, this is not a book that will make you feel uppity, but it is excellent fodder for exploring what the Gospel is and what it does. It was very helpful in prodding me to further meditate on the work of God in the heart of the believer.

I have no doubt that there will be those who will dismiss this book, because of its emphasis and approach. Even among those who proudly wear their "Reformed" identity or consider themselves heirs of the Puritans. There will be some who will dismiss this book's emphasis on self examination by calling it "law", "pietism", "assurance destroying", or "too introspective". However, upon a careful examination, I see nothing controversial from a Biblical and Reformed standpoint. In fact, I'd go so far to say that most who have a bone to pick would not have an issue with Paul Washer persay, but rather basic Reformed and Puritan spirituality. In his earnest call to self-examination and the application of Gospel warnings, Washer stands with Reformed luminaries throughout history. This book is a helpful corrective in a day when so many are allergic to self-examination. Washer brings forward a theology of assurance and Gospel warnings which reflects the theological heritage elucidated in the Westminister Standards and the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, both are repeatedly cited.

Washer seeks to draw out a balanced position, avoiding pitfalls in both extremes. A serious inventory of our sin, that is--an awareness and concern in regard to it, need not be "a downward spiral leading to debilitating remorse" and "deadly introspection". Rather, in light of the gospel, Washer says, "it is the path to freedom, assurance, and joy".

So, then, in light of these praises, why only 3 stars? While this book is certainly engaging, helpful, and theologically sound, it could have used quite a bit more editorial work. I have the feeling that the editor sort of gave Washer free reign and didn't tamper with his prose much. If so, I understand why they do that, but it seems to have had negative consequences.

For a contemporary book, the author is far too reliant on numbered points. There is a disconcerting use of repetition, with the book unnecessarily weighing in at 258 pages. I felt like becoming an impromptu editor and crossing out some of the redundancies. No only does Washer belabour certain points, but he also returns to and rehashes certain paragraphs almost verbatim. I love longer books, and 258 page books are needed at times, but I don't think this book is one of them. Given its aims and audience, this book would be much more useful if pared down to 150-200 pages. What is most frustrating to the reader is that careful and thoughtful editing work could have easily reduced it by 50 or 100 pages without really losing any value. Such editing work would have made it far more digestible and likely to arrive in the hands of those who need it most.

For a book exceeding 250 pages, there are a couple areas that are disappointingly underdeveloped. For instance, the treatment of antinomianism is tepid and weak in its definition. Certainly, no one would expect the author to provide a historical treatment akin to the one recently provided by Mark Jones. However, I wish Washer spent a little more time, perhaps a paragraph or two, developing the definition of antinomianism and explaining how it relates to the subject at hand. Also it is unfortunate that there is no scripture index. Washer repeatedly cites the Bible and having the full range of Bible texts accessible via an index would be extremely helpful in further study. Washer did all the hard work of citing every single Bible verse in chapter endnotes, even those without a formal quote. It seems to be a no-brainer to take that and assemble a scripture index for the convenience of the reader.

With both commendations and criticisms outlined, let me say that this book has very valuable and sound things to say and I hope my criticism of the editing does not obscure that. If my comments about the flaws are accurate, I hope they do not prevent the book from receiving a wide reading. I recommend this book to those readers who are professing Christians and are persistent enough to finish it. I hope that it accomplishes its intended task. I am convinced that those who stick with it and slowly read and ruminate upon Washer's thoughts will find the result highly profitable.

Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection
Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection
by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.97
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Feb. 16 2014
We live busy lives and there are other cultural pressures at play which make it hard to focus on one subject and linger. Thabiti's mission in this book is simple--to get Christians to gaze at Jesus, especially in his death and resurrection. We can often make things so complicated, but sometimes we must reorient our schedule to contemplate the two events which turned the whole world upside down. Yes, it's OK to stare sometimes!

I've previously read two of Thabiti's books on ecclesiological matters and also follow his blog and have attended a conference he spoke at, the Carey Conference here in Ontario. He's a great guy and I had pretty high expectations going into this book. And yet, I wasn't exactly sure by a book by him on this sort of subject would look like.

The book is split into five sections, which are question found in the Biblical books of Matthew, I Corinthians, and Luke. They are: Is There No Other Way?, Why Have You Forsaken Me?, Where, O Death, Is Your Victory?, Why Do You Look for the Living among the Dead?, and Do You Know These things?

Each of these sections focus in on aspects of the death and resurrection and bring forward their essence powerfully. In each section, Thabiti leads the reader in both some basic exposition and searching application.

I really enjoyed reading this book and finished it in a few days. My favorite parts were about the resurrection and its implications. It's a mere 100 pages and the writing is very clear and simple to digest. Overall, it is a very warm, experiential, practical, and winsome book and I highly recommend it. It powerfully brings forward the gospel with many of its implications, and it would be a great read for just about anyone at any time, especially around Easter!

The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality (Hc)
The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality (Hc)
by Donald S. Whitney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 60.34
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Collection of Essays, Feb. 2 2014
This is a festschrift in honour of Michael Haykin, the prominent Baptist (and, might I add, Canadian) historian. All of the essays are connected to the theme of Christianity spirituality or piety, covering individuals from an expansive range of history. Essentially, the time period covered is the history of the Christian church, extending from Basil of Caesarea to the current day. The list of contributors is also quite impressive, including theologians such as Carl Trueman, Erroll Hulse, Donald Whitney, Tom Nettles, Fred Zaspel, Mark Jones, and Peter Beck.

As I read it, this book captured my attention, often exclusively. For an often distracted reader like myself who tackles many books at a time, that says a lot! I was floored to see a good biographical section on Dr. Haykin himself. I’ve read five books by Haykin, but he doesn’t tend to talk about himself a lot, so I found his life story to be fascinating and fresh. The “circa 1970/1971″ portrait was also quite delightful.

I found most of the essays to be compelling and instructive. You get a feel for not only incidental facts, but the real passion and heart and soul of some “spiritual giants”. The early parts of the book can be tough sledding, but don’t be discouraged, it gets easier as it moves along! One might want to jump around and read some of the last essays first (I don’t think there’s any reason why they need to be read chronologically). A little “reading diligence” is rewarded in droves here and you will find many treasures. I feel like there really is something here for everyone, and any Christian who wants to be serious about living the Christian life will find several essays that really hit it home.

I was confronted, in an up-close-and-personal way, with a window into the life of some prominent characters in the history of Christian spirituality, some of which I’m familiar with, and others which I’m not. It’s hard to pick my favorite essays in this book, but if I had to, I’d probably pick the ones on Anselm of Canterbury (David Hogg), Edwards (Beck), B.B. Warfield (Zaspel), Erskine/Mason (Stewart), Bunayn (Beeke), Boyce (Nettles), and Spurgeon (Whitney).

In conclusion, this is a fitting tribute to Dr. Michael Haykin. So fitting that you might say he could have edited something like this himself. Kudos to Weaver and Clary. They have not only given Haykin an excellent 60th birthday gift, they have also given the church a fantastic goldmine of essays which will reward the diligent reader.

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