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D Glover (northern bc, canada)

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The Lion's World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia
The Lion's World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia
by Rowan Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and enlightening read for fans (and critics) of Narnia, Aug. 8 2013
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Former Arch Bishop Rowan Williams really gets at the heart of much of what Lewis wants to reveal about God and ourselves in the Narnia books (and, in broader discussion, his other works).

Williams draws out three overarching themes from the Narnia books. First, that when we encounter Aslan (or God, in our world), we are invited to join a resistance movement, a rebellion against the power and control systems and value structures that currently hold sway in the world. On this first point, I wish Williams would have been more clear in drawing the connection between the White Witch (and other enemies of Narnia) and included the biblical terms for the equivalent in our world of what is being resisted (sin, evil, Satan, idols, etc.). Not that he avoids it completely, just that he focusses on certain ways those things manifest themselves in the world without always clearly putting them in biblical categories (I know, some of you are thinking, "surprise, surprise", this comes from being in the very political possition of Arch Bishop of a denomination falling apart). However, the book has the feel of being intended primarily for lovers of the Narnia books who are not Christians or who might be scared away by a volume too packed with the "language of the church".

The second point is that, as we begin to labour on Aslan's side, we soon realize that one of the things we are resisting and fighting against is our own natural selves which, whether we recognize it or not, are in league with the enemy and in fact is one with the enemy. Williams points out the many meetings characters have with Aslan where just being in his presence or looking into his eyes (or being looked at by his eyes) brings all kinds of realization and true self-knowledge and, ultimately, repentance. This self-knowledge is not that of psychoanalysis, going deeper and deeper into the self to discover who you really are, but rather that of seeing yourself from outside, through Aslan's eyes, for the first time, and knowing that this is the true you, stripped of all excuses which seemed so reasonable but not any longer, under Aslan's gaze. We see this in Peter as he admits that he was too hard on Edmund and that is partly what drove Edmund away, and we see it in Jill Pole, who isn't as brave when the Lion lays between her and the stream as she pretended to be on the edge of the cliff with Eustace, who fell off the cliff ultimately as a result of Jill's pride.

And the third point that Williams makes is that, far from what many expect when they meet Aslan (or God, being convinced that religion is all about rules), joy is the overwhelming response. Whether it is the teacher in the boy's school or the student in the girl's school at the end of Prince Caspian, when Aslan calls you to follow him, the sense that overwhelms is sheer, massive joy. Williams quotes the famous passage from the Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape writes to Wormwood that the enemy (God) is above all a hedonist, and that there are all kinds of things in the world that serve no other purpose other than that they bring enjoyment to people's lives. This was Lewis's own experience with coming to God, as referenced in the title of his autobiographical Surprised By Joy.

Further to the idea of joy, Williams also zeros in on Lewis's concept of "bigger inside than outside". Unlike many people's conceptions of the Christian faith, which is that it is constrictive (as in many false iterations it has been), Williams shows that Lewis saw faith as much less restrictive and much more freeing than unbelief. Whether it is entering Narnia through the wardrobe, entering the true Narnia through the stable (in Last Battle), or entering the walled garden (in Magician's Nephew and Last Battle), we see that each is bigger on the inside than on the outside, and that each successive world is more real, not less (think also Great Divorce), as we grow in our maturity and walk with Aslan or as we move on to the ultimate eschaton from this life.

Williams has a pretty good feel for Lewis. Williams recognizes the debt Lewis owes to Chesterton and is himself familiar enough with Chesterton to recognize similar themes in their writing (incidentally, I'd love to see a book by Williams which dives into G.K.C.'s The Man Who Was Thursday). He also draws on Lewis's personal letters to give further glimpses into Lewis's thinking. And Williams points out how much Charles Williams' thought worked its way into Lewis's thinking and writing as well, knowing enough of C. Williams' own writings to recognize where the cross-polination happens (again, perhaps R. Williams could be enticed to examine C. Williams' novels also, particularly The Place of the Lion, which displays some of the same underlying themes as the Narnia stories, particularly the Platonism in Magician's Nephew and Last Battle).

This book also does an admirable job, albeit a brief and partial one, of refuting some of Lewis's most recent and strident critics (Phillip Pullman, for example), and showing how much of what moderns don't like about Lewis is really their misunderstanding or misrepresenting him, or their unwillingness to cut Lewis any slack for being a product of a different time and cultural context, one actually far older than even Lewis's own times (Lewis self-identified as one of the last of the Old Western Men, a Medieval - descriptions which are swear words to his critics but which are not the backward and monstrous caricatures that those critics have made them out to be). A good example is Lewis's supposed misogyny, the supposedly classic example of which is Lewis's comments about Susan now only caring about her appearance and social life in Last Battle. As should be apparent to any reader of Narnia, and as Williams points out, Lucy is steadily portrayed as the most faithful, brave and spiritually sensitive (which is to say, wise) of the human characters in Narnia, excelling any of the male human characters. Though not perfect, she consistently shows faithfulness to and trust in Aslan to a greater degree than any of the boys in the Chronicles. Readers and would be critics of Narnia ought to take Lewis's perspective on the sexes more seriously and examine it on its merits rather than firing off salvos of criticism that have to ignore more than they examine of the stories in order to make their points.

Another criticism I have with Williams is his treatment of the theme of the goodness of creation. Williams rightly points out the love and value of creation, of plants and animals, that is a running theme in the Narnia books and that was dear to Lewis's own heart (he was a great lover of plants, animals and the outdoors in general and was never happier than when on a good long walk through uninhabited countryside). He shows how Lewis puts forth a serious idea of stewardship of creation in his stories and how it is the villains that pillage and destroy nature and the heroes who protect it. But Williams goes further in this theme than Lewis does, arguing that in Narnia, people often find themselves on the same level with the animals. While he points out the difference, he doesn't do quite enough digging to expose why Lewis didn't himself treat all the animals in Narnia equally. Of course Aslan, being the Christ figure, is actually above the human characters, but there are many non-talking beasts in Narnia that, while having value because they are Aslan's creations, are also a food source for both the human characters and the talking beasts of Narnia. Williams finds this an odd feature of the story rather than seeing Lewis's theology of creation and his anthropology at the heart of it. The talking beasts are the "people" of Narnia and so, in some ways, are the equals of the human characters, but on the other hand and as is apparent in the stories, Aslan purposes for representatives of the human race to rule over the animal kingdom of Narnia as vice-regents beneath him. So, I'm glad that Williams discusses this theme, but it will be left to others to open it up more fully.

All in all, a good read. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to Christian and non-Christian readers of Narnia alike. For another great study that focusses on other levels and themes, see Doug Wilson's book What I Learned in Narnia.

Weakness Is The Way: Life with Christ Our Strength
Weakness Is The Way: Life with Christ Our Strength
by J. I. Packer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.99
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Practical Exposition of Strength in Weakness through Christ from 2 Corinthians, July 16 2013
Anyone who has seen the publisher's promo video for this book might be forgiven for thinking it is a brief autobiographical sketch of the life of J.I. Packer. It is not. This is a relatively short but very practical, devotional, and edifying exposition of the main themes and thrusts of Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church.

2 Corinthians is usually considered the least understood of Paul's letters, perhaps because it is his least didactic and most intimately personal letter. 2 Corinthians has typically received less attention that Paul's other epistles, but for the student of Scripture willing to dig deep it is a gold mine, especially for someone involved in or contemplating pastoral, church planting or any type of missions ministry. It is also a work of great comfort and encouragement for the Christian who feels ineffective or ill-equipped for the gospel work God has placed them in or called them to. Conversely, 2 Corinthians should provide a sobering warning to anyone who never faces opposition or affliction in their Christian life. This is a letter of encouragement in the midst of weakness, knowing that God himself provides the strength to do all that which he calls his people to do.

This book was compiled from course lectures but in spite of this, it nowhere feels choppy or disjointed. There are tiny tidbits of Dr. Packer's life experience mentioned in the book, as well as some other illustrations used to flesh-out the various points of teaching, but not so much as one might have expected from the publisher's promotion. This book is accessible to new believers and lay people and is not intended to be a deep, scholarly treatment for students and pastors only. (Having first received this material in a lecture setting, I know that Dr. Packer's intention is not to teach to the intellectual top 20% of the class and leave the rest behind. Packer teaches so as to leave none behind.) That said, his very accessible treatment of 2 Corinthians is nevertheless based on thorough and careful exegesis of the Greek text and deep theological and pastoral reflection upon it, all in light of Paul's other writings and in the context of the Bible as a whole. Weakness as the way of ministering the gospel in particular and living the Christian life in general is variously, and sometimes simultaneously, the subtle underlying theme of the whole epistle of 2 Corinthians as well as in places the overt and direct focus of Paul's teaching. Packer opens up Paul's running theme of personal weakness but strength in Christ faithfully and applies it helpfully to today's church context.

Of particular note is the very helpful section on Christian money-management and giving. While all parts of this book are eminently helpful, this particular section itself is well worth twice the price of the book, partly because money is seldom taught on in the church today and partly because, when it is, so much of the modern church's teaching on money is patently unbiblical. Paul deals with the very ticklish subject of money in this letter and Dr. Packer boils his teaching down to some very succinct, very practical and applicable principles that the wealthy North American church would do well to put into practice, especially in light of the easy access we have to information about our poor and suffering Christian brothers and sisters in churches around the world.

All in all, I highly recommend this small book. It would make a great small group or Bible study guide and for anyone preaching or teaching through 2 Corinthians, this would be an excellent supplement to more scholarly treatments. And as with all of his teachings, Dr. Packer's modus operandi comes through loud and clear: that theology is for doxology (that studying Scripture in depth ought to result in a response of worship). For those wishing to study 2 Corinthians in depth, I recommend the following commentaries: Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 CorinthiansThe Second Epistle to the CorinthiansThe New American Commentary Volume 29 - 2 CorinthiansNiv Application Commentary 2 CorinthiansThe Message Of 2 CorinthiansThe Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions
The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions
by David Berlinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.45
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Scientism of the New Atheists, June 3 2013
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This was really good. David Berlinski is a self-described secular Jew, but not a very good one in my estimation - he sounded more convinced of the reality of the God of Scripture than most modern day pastors (which is pretty sad). Not only does Berlinski dismantle the so-called scientific arguements of the "new atheists" but he shows that what is masquerading as science is really a religious philosophy. While that is no surprise, this book puts forth its argument with thorough understanding and truly fine word craft. The tone is something like what I imagine Christopher Hitchens would sound like if he had switched sides or what Ann Coulter and G.K. Chesterton would sound like had they collaborated (admittedly, two posibilities which history makes impossible). You can tell the argument of this book has struck a nerve by the way the atheists addressed in it have responded. In typical fashion, they are calling names, mocking the author's associations and questioning the author's qualifications to speak on the subject. It goes without saying that this is not the reaction of open minded scientists but of stuffy cardinals and bishops who smell heresy. Highly recommended.

Father Hunger
Father Hunger
by Douglas Wilson
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars In desperate need of fathers..., May 2 2013
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In this very timely book, author, pastor and professor, Douglas Wilson, identifies fatherlessness as a critical issue, perhaps the critical issue, of present-day Western society. Fatherlessness pervades not only the culture of the West but also the sub-cultures of the churches of the West. And fatherlessness can run rampant even in traditional, two-parent homes, when dads are disengaged or when they are more focussed on career, money and material possessions, "the guys", themselves and their pass times (surfing the web, TV, video-games, etc.), than they are in proactively providing for, protecting, and lovingly raising their children.

Wilson shows how many of the systemic and perennial problems our society battles actually stem from weak, disengaged, abdicating, abusive or non-existent fathers. He shows how the effects of father-hunger are broad and deep, and are measurable in many ways including ultimately contributing to higher crime rates, lower education standards and achievement, lower average earning ability of kids who grow up and move into the work force, lower overall societal morality, lower levels of personal responsibility, etc. Wilson discusses how government programs are not and never will be the answer to this problem. State programs are simply an impersonal attempt by the state to step in and father children in the absence of their true fathers. Many families then become reliant on the state, even many families with a father who is physically present at home but who is emotionally and provisionally tuned-out to his role of caring for his family. But the state cannot be a real father to children because, while it might send a cheque every month for groceries and day-care, such "provision" is effectively the same as an alimony payment; it is a reminder of the father-hunger, not a solution to it. The child needs more than a cheque in the mail. Children need the love and care and security of a responsible man who loves them and loves their mother in front of them.

The author traces the problems of societal and individual father-hunger to the root cause of abandoning our belief in a Father-God. When people no longer recognize that there is a God-the-Father and that his nature and works are spelled out for us in the pages of the Bible, and when people no longer recognize that this is the example after which all human fatherhood is supposed to be patterned, we are set adrift with no true model to base human fatherhood on. Wilson calls fathers back to Biblical faith and imitation of God the Father, in practice and not just in word. Only when the fathers in our society repent of the abdication of their proper roles and of the abandonment of their wives and children (even abandonment where the father still physically dwells with his family), and only when fathers turn to the one true pattern of Fatherhood, God the Father, in confession and faith, through the saving work of God the Son...only then will father-hunger begin to be repaired.

One issue with this book: I think that readers who are familiar with Wilson's other written works, whether his books or his blog, could get more out of this than those who have never read anything by him before. Wilson has a unique way of stating things and he can bounce quite quickly back and forth between serious and sarcastic. He can also sometimes assume too much of the first time reader of his works, for example that they know more of where he is coming from or share his presuppositions. Many do, I'm sure, but many more may not and for them, this book will not be as convincing or helpful as it could have been if it had been written from the perspective of speaking to a particular audience for the first time. Personally I don't find this a drawback or distraction as I am quite familiar with his works and communication style, but over the years I have received feedback from folks who have never read anything by Wilson before, and this has been a fairly consistant critique. However, it is not a major issue and in no way would I want to disuade anyone from reading this timely, helpful, and to be frank, crucial book for fathers as they fulfill their critical role in the home, the church and the world.

I highly recommend this book to all current and future fathers!

Holy Subversion (Foreword by Ed Stetzer): Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
Holy Subversion (Foreword by Ed Stetzer): Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
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5.0 out of 5 stars Subverting allegiance to everything but Jesus, April 26 2013
"Lord" is the title that the New Testament writers repeatedly assign to Jesus Christ. Lord ("Kurios" in Greek) was also the title that Caesar took for himself. This is no coincidence. The original preachers of the gospel understood that at the heart of the message they were called by God to proclaim was the fact that God the Father had given Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. Caesar was not the ultimate authority but King Jesus was. Caesar was not to be worshipped, although he demanded it, only God was. Whenever Caesar's commands conflicted with those of Jesus, the disciples and apostles of Jesus obeyed God rather than the civil authority. Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord of all.

Trevin Wax has reminded us of this truth, a truth which must have come as a startling and disconcerting fact to the original hearers of the gospel message. The gospel of Jesus subverted the authority claims of Caesar over all of life. There could only be one ultimate authority figure in the life of a Christian and it had to be Jesus. He demanded to be Lord of all. Jesus does not share the throne of the universe with any other power and he will not share the throne of your life with any other power. Jesus demands total allegiance of his disciples. He is not satisfied with lordship over your religious sentiments and your Sunday mornings. To be a true Christian (Christ-one) means to have Jesus and only Jesus as master of your whole life in all its aspects.

Rome fell long ago, but we still have many "Caesars" calling for and demanding our allegiance. Just like the emperors of the Rome of long ago, there are many things which demand our time, energy and affection. When we give our allegiance to those things, when they become a central focus to us, we are ultimately and effectively rendering them our worship rather than rendering it to the Triune God alone. The author identifies some of the main competitors for our allegiance today as being self, success, money, leisure, sex, and power. Trevin points out that these things are not bad in and of themselves any more than legitimate civil authority is, but it is when we elevate these things to the place of control over us and allegiance to in our lives that we have effectively given them the lordship of our lives that only Jesus ought to, and rightfully does, have. This book is a call to a whole-hearted return to Jesus alone as Lord of all for the church. This return will affect every aspect of our lives - family, marriage, leisure, work - ultimately everything. This is a call to recognize that Christ is the foundation and center of all things for his people and that this fact ought to affect how we think and act in all areas of our lives.

Trevin concludes this book with a challenge to make this very public call to allegiance to Jesus as Lord central to our evangelism as it was to the evangelism of the early church. After all, this is the pattern we see in the apostolic proclamation of the gospel. We proclaim Jesus as Lord over against all else which demands people's allegiance and worship in our culture today.

This is a relatively short and very accessible book. It is not only for pastors and students but could be profitably read by any Christian. I highly recommend it. For further and more in depth study, see also
Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky
by Peter J. Leithart
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not documentary, but fine dramatic sketch, Jan. 15 2013
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I have to admit that when I first started into this biography of Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart, I wasn't all that impressed by the format. Rather than a traditional biography, where biographer looks into the subject's life from the position of a time-removed, omniscient, supposedly objective third party, this was done as a long running conversation between the great writer and a friend. In it, Leithart has Dostoevsky recounting his life, his work, his relationships, his opinions on literature, religion, politics, culture, Europe and Russia, all within a conversational context. There are flashbacks in which we go to the events as they unfolded, but those flashbacks happen as Dostoevsky reminisces with a good cigar in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other. So, if you crack this book expecting a documentary, you may be disappointed to find a dramatic monologue interspersed with dramatic reenactments. However, Leithart (who has taught on Dostoevsky for several years at the college level) has done a lot of research to ensure that, even though the conversation that carries the flow of Dostoevsky's recounting of his life was fictional, the details of that life are accurate, drawn from various biographies, contemporary journals, diaries of family and friends, Dostoevsky's own writings, etc.

I had a change of heart about a third of the way through this book. Initially not a fan of the format, I realized part way in that, though the format of this book didn't present quite as clear a chronology or give as much outside commentary on the psychology of the subject as most, I was getting a far better feel of Dostoevsky's own perception of himself and his times as well as other's opinions of him. I have read biographies of several people and I can honestly say that with this one, even though it is among the briefest biographies I've ever read, I believe I have a better "feel" of the subject than I have ever had before. There may not be the bulk of sheer facts that one normally encounters in biography, but I feel like I have gotten inside Dostoevsky's own head, viewing his life and times through his own eyes.

This biography is part of a series by Thomas Nelson called "Christian Encounters". I couldn't think of a more appropriate term for the reading experience afforded by this book. I feel as though I have truly "encountered" Fyodor Dostoevsky. Thank you, Peter Leithart, for a beautifully written encounter. I believe it has served manifold purposes, for this reader anyway, as it has given me the urge to read more of Dostoevsky's own works, a rich context within which to read them, and a desire to pick up a lengthier treatment of his life.

Canada and Other Matters of Opinion
Canada and Other Matters of Opinion
by Rex Murphy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.17
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4.0 out of 5 stars No one says it like Rex, Jan. 7 2013
This is a compendium of Rex's opinion pieces from radio, newspaper and TV. When Rex is good, he is eloquently good, like when he is critiquing the vacuousness of our celebrity culture or the oxymoronic human rights commissions in Canada or taking on one of the reigning orthodoxies of our age, like global warming. But when he is bad, like when he is gushing about the public speaking skills of Barack Obama or when he is hanging all the Liberal's hopes on Michael Ignatiff (boy, did he miss call that one), at least he is still eloquent. Rex is an old school liberal, which is to say he is more conservative than most Democrats or even many Republicans (for a state-side comparison). He is great on his critique of the so called "arts" community and the work they frequently produce, but then mysteriously inconsistent when he criticizes the Conservative government for wanting to cut or eliminate tax-payer funding to "the arts" in Canada when they so often produce the unmitigated crap (in many cases, near pornographic) they do. But, by and large, Rex is a far better guide through the moral and political morass of modern politics and culture in Canada (and occasionally abroad) than the majority of pundits out there and he is far more down to earth and "everyman" and balanced than most editorial or opinion piece writers. Rex clearly loves his country and his province. Overall there is more good sense here than one usually finds in someone who has to write a regular column. I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could. Several of the pieces deserve a 5, some a 2. But there are more chapters worthy of a 4 than there are worthy of a 1 or 2.

Keeping Holiday
Keeping Holiday
by Starr Meade
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the right track, but barely leaves the station, Jan. 3 2013
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This is an allegorical story about coming to faith in Jesus (the Founder) and then living the Christian life (keeping Holiday). It is a tale about two children, Dylan and his cousin Clare, and their adventure to find the true city of Holiday, where the joy and celebration of "the holidays" is kept perpetually, and to be authorized by the Founder to come and go there whenever they wish. I bought it because Starr Meade's devotional teaching material for kids is beneficial and this story came highly praised by a couple of theologians I respect and have benefitted from. I read it to my three oldest children (8, 6 & 4) as the book says it is for elementary age and older. I would give this book 2.5 stars (between didn't like it and it was ok), and at the same time I would give the author 4 stars for her good intentions.

[NOTE: I hope no one takes this review as an attack on the author of this book. I know her previous books have been used to teach many young children (and their parents) the truths of the Christian faith and for that I am truly thankful. I have no doubt that God will also use this book in some people's lives toward that same end. But I want to use this review to also speak about a broader issue affecting much Christian fiction, particularly that produced for children. I use this occasion because this book is an example of the issue I have in mind.]

First, the positive. This is a great concept. I wish there were a perpetual stream of fine works of imaginative fiction in which children (and adults) could steep in the truth, goodness and beauty of the Christian faith, its various facets reflected and captured in fine literature. Story is usually a far more powerful teacher than other forms of written or verbal communication, especially for children. Unfortunately, while I think this book is on the right track, I don't think it gets very far from the station.

Also, it must be said that the book makes a carefully conscious effort to be theologically precise, something that is far too frequently lacking in Christian books of all kinds outside of a small number of publishers. (That the criteria of theological correctness ought to be the most basic litmus test of publishability for Christian publishing houses should go without saying but unfortunately it needs to be said over and over as it appears too many of them aren't listening.) The author takes great pains to ensure that the symbolism of the story is, almost point-by-point, accurate with a faithful understanding of salvation by grace through faith, and not by our works. Actually, the point-by-point attempt at accuracy may be a major factor in the flatness of the story telling, but more on that below. The oft repeated lines, "you don't find the Founder, he finds you. He's not just the Founder, he's the finder too" serves to regularly remind the cousins (and the reader) that as they seek the Founder (Jesus), son of the Emperor (God the Father), it is really he who is seeking them. The difficult and challenging circumstances that the protagonists go through, including being tempted by a kindly looking and sounding old man to give up the search for the true Holiday, are understood at the end to have been superintended by the Founder, and while they seemed nearly impossible to endure at the time, in hindsight the children can see the caring hand of the Founder watching over and providing for them in every circumstance.

Now the negative. This author is definitely stronger as a non-fiction writer and educator. Overall, the prose is clunky and laborious, in places too overt or "teachy" and in others, just awkward. This is the case to such a degree that at times as I read it aloud to my children, they asked me to re-read the sentence because they didn't understand what the author was saying (I can't recall them ever having asked me to do that before, even with something on the reading level of The Hobbit). I sometimes even found myself backing up and sorting out the flow of a sentence in my mind prior to reading it (supporting or dependent clauses should be rare in the sentences of a children's story, especially geared toward elementary aged children). At any rate, the prose certainly doesn't roll off the tongue. While I am in full support of the concept of story to tell and teach the truth, it really only works well when the story itself can stand on its own merits as a work of artistry and good literature, while not sacrificing "correctness" of the truth it contains. This story feels everywhere like theological correctness was the governing rule in its creation at the expense of attention to artistry. Even the descriptions of things like the sights, smells and sounds of Holiday, which were clearly meant to attract the reader and cause them to associate fond Christmas memories with the winsome beauty of the authentic Christian life, are described in very clunky language. About halfway through the book, I found myself simplifying sentences as I read them, substituting a simpler phrase for a backhanded one or a simpler word for an awkward or ill-chosen one. It is almost always true, especially in children's stories, that the simpler way of saying something is the better way.

The thought that kept springing to mind was, "I wish that the author would quit writing for the theologians that the publisher will ask to blurb the book and just write for the children who will read it." Perhaps that is an unfair statement on my part since I don't know the author personally and I am pretty sure, being a mother and grandmother, she had some little people in mind when she was writing it. I am pretty sure she made an effort to tell a truly good story. Also, I do applaud her proper effort to be correct in her symbolic representation of various doctrines and truths. However, I couldn't suppress the thought that this story was concerned more with theological accuracy than with the narrative that contained and carried it. Truth and goodness are of ultimate importance, but they ought to be inseparably married to beauty. It may very well be the scope of the story, the breadth of things it is seeking to represent (how a person comes to faith and starts to live the Christian life), that makes it so difficult to capture in one story, like Bunyan did. Thinking of the Narnia stories, Lewis writes from a perspective of truth, but the individual "truths" of the faith overtly represented in each story are limited in scope (the substitutionary atonement and resurrection as victory over sin, death and the devil in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the process of regeneration, repentance and sanctification in the life of Eustace Scrub in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, most obviously come to mind, though there are certainly additional particular truths present in those stories as well). So, while I think the attempt falls short, the author could be commended for attempting such a broad and worthy goal.

A Christian story book should be like a faithful Christian. Living a faithful Christian life is not only about thinking rightly and doing rightly but about our right thinking and action being accompanied by deep joy, abiding peace, hearty laughter and sacrificial love, by a winsome spirit. It is these traits that make the true Christian life and doctrines beautiful and winsome. No one is attracted by a dour theologian even if he is precise and accurate and no one is won by a nit-picking moralist, even if their morals are biblical ones. Likewise, no one is ultimately helped by an attractive liar or by beautiful lies. But truth and beauty are not mutually exclusive. Personally, I think a truthful story that lacks beauty is nearly as dangerous as a beautiful story that lacks truth. A beautiful lie will frequently suck people in because it is attractive. Truth presented in a drab or flat way will often deter people as they associate that truth with ugliness, or at least with something unbeautiful. But the Christian faith, which this book is symbolizing, is true, good and beautiful. I wish this story had the same mixture. In fairness, I think the author likely did make this attempt, but I wish the editorial staff had worked with her more carefully to achieve it before the book went to print.

The comparisons some have made to Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are accurate only in so far as this work of fiction is also consciously symbolic of aspects of the Christian life. In the works of Lewis and Bunyan, beauty joins truth and goodness in full partnership. This is not the case with Keeping Holiday. I am currently beginning to read The Chronicles of Narnia to my children for the third time in their short lives (I have read them probably 5 or 6 times myself, both as child and adult). Lewis's stories suck the reader in from the opening pages. They are truly magical. That never happened with Keeping Holiday, even though I really wanted it to and my kids expected it after seeing the cover art. Sadly, I can't see our family ever re-reading this story. We are the type of story consumers who, not infrequently, sacrifice bedtime for "just one more chapter, pleeeeease", so it says something that my children didn't mind going to bed on time on the evenings when we were reading this story.

With Narnia, people fall in love with the characters, the plot, the mood and the settings. Often, it is only after the fact that a first time reader looks back upon, say, the death and resurrection of Aslan, and sees in it a retelling of the atonement of Christ on the cross in the place of sinners and of the triumph over death of the empty tomb. That such things are often seen in hindsight is not a bad thing but rather a testament to the quality of the story telling. What makes a truly good story is, well, a really good story. A reader gets "lost" or "caught up" in a really good story. The sweep of the plot, the personalities of the characters and the details of description all work together to suck a reader out of their world and into another. Unfortunately, Keeping Holiday felt flat, clunky, wooden and forced and never managed to sweep this reader, or my elementary aged listeners, into itself.

The draw with Bunyan's Pilgrim is somewhat different than Narnia, but there is beauty there of another kind. It does not contain the hominess or the same type of magic as Narnia but it does capture the dramatic and martial spirit of the faithful Christian life in a cursed and fallen world. The symbolism is loftier, perhaps more operatic, than Narnia, and yet readily identified with by everyday Christians in their everyday struggles, failings and triumphs. Pilgrim is every Christian, and we enter his struggles because Bunyan has so successfully represented ours.

Holiday isn't a bad story, but it isn't a good story either, if you catch my drift. Content is fine, but the word-craft needs work. If this story had been a painting, I would applaud the painter's intention to capture such a worthy subject on canvas, I would applaud the accuracy of her colour choices and vantage point she chose to paint the scene from. I would, however, encourage her next time to use varying widths and stiffness of brushes, to add shadow and depth and texture to her painting, to mix her hues more creatively and above all to study the masters more closely prior to tackling her next subject. I would implore her to do all these things not to discourage her from ever painting again, but rather to encourage her to try harder next time. And as a rebuke to myself and other lovers of good stories, her way of doing it is better than my way of not doing it.

Why Do We Pray?
Why Do We Pray?
by Stanley D. Gale
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.13
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars If God knows everything, why pray?, Dec 12 2012
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This review is from: Why Do We Pray? (Paperback)
This little booklet is an excellent introduction to the Bible's teaching and the Christian practice of prayer. Along with discussing the Bible's direct teaching on prayer as well as the examples of prayer we see in Scripture, the author lays out an overall understanding of what prayer is in its various facets. He also effectively and faithfully answers many common questions believers have about prayer such as the one in the title of this review: "If God knows everything and knows what I need and what I am going to ask, why pray." This and more questions are answered in this easy to read and very well articulated booklet. This is by no means a thorough treatment of the subject due to the series constraints but it is much meatier than most intros and can be read in an hour. I highly recommend it.

What Is the Trinity?
What Is the Trinity?
by David F. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.63
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The unique nature of Christianity's relational God, Dec 11 2012
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This review is from: What Is the Trinity? (Paperback)
I am always on the lookout for short, introductory books on different key doctrines of the Christian faith to recommend to and share with others. There are some good ones out there on a lot of topics but the Trinity is one aspect of Christian doctrine that is at once at the very heart and centre of our faith and all too frequently neglected. There is much more written about what God does and has done for his people, far less about who God is in his Triune nature and how he relates within himself and works his purposes out among the three persons of the Trinity. I am happy to say that this is a worthy introduction to the study of the Trinity. This much maligned and misunderstood doctrine has much benefit for the church, much to inform the functioning of the family and church body, and much to recommend itself in apologetics and philosophy. While this little booklet gives a great intro and a solid (albeit brief) explanation of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity (both Scripture and church history), my hope is that it will lead those who read it to pursue trinitarian studies further. A booklet this small can only scratch the surface of any aspect it discusses, afterall.

For further study, I would recommend The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

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