Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground

Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common GroundAdventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground by Richard J. Mouw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. Richard Mouw is an encouraging person, and this is an encouraging look at his life. As someone who was converted late in my teens and proceeded to join the only denomination, nay-the only church, that was anywhere near biblical (and then proceeded to do that very thing 2 or 3 more times), I have been on a 15-year quest to be properly catholic-gracious yet discerning, willing to learn but able to stand firm, charitable yet wholly convinced. Hearing the former Fuller President reminisce about the ebb and flow of his thought and life reminded me of the need and benefit of recognizing that charity is not a weakness and grace is not opposed to standing firm.

Mouw offers a memoir rather than an autobiography, and I am glad that he chose to do so. First, it allowed me to learn the difference, and second, that choice gave him the freedom to organize his recollections around topics and ideas, rather than chronology and events. Some people’s lives are defined by events, but some people are better examined through an ideological lens, and Mouw definitely falls into the latter category.

I do not always agree with Mouw, but I appreciate the fact that he is firmly convicted of his beliefs and firmly determined to be a unifier, divide-crosser, and brother to all who find their hope and joy in Jesus Christ, as well as a friend to all who bear the image of the eternal One.

Mouw’s memoir is a blessing that needs to be read by many, many people.

Review copy provided.

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Evolution and the Bible

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say YesEvolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes by Denis Lamoureux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Denis Lamoureux has produced a work that will go a long way in combatting the fallacious either/or dichotomy that continually drives many unbelievers away from the Christian faith and many believers away from scientific endeavors. Lamoureux combines history, theology, science, and personal anecdotes to help the reader recognize that reading Genesis has never been as straightforward as many would seek all to believe. This volume, and Lamoureux’s work in general, is doing much to knock down Evangelical shibboleths that go beyond requiring allegiance to God’s word by requiring unquestioned loyalty to one interpretation of God’s word. There are plenty of areas that I would disagree with Lamoureux’s conclusions as well as presuppositions, and I think the book suffers from a couple of unnecessary sections (I am not sure how Darwin’s faith or lack thereof actually matters in this discussion), but the book as a whole is solid.

Can you be a Christian and embrace evolution? Lamoureux would argue that not only can this be the case, but this should be the case. I do not know if I am ready to go that far with him, but I have become increasingly willing to embrace the fact that genuine, God-fearing, Christ-loving, Bible-believing Christians can be fully convinced about evolution as the mechanism of God’s creation. If you want a brief, clear, approachable representation of the argumentation that has brought me and others to this point, Lamoureux’s newest work is precisely what you’re looking for.

Review Copy received from the publisher

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Martin Luther

Martin Luther (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 Simonetta Carr’s series of biographies is a hard set to define. The books are aimed at children, but they are informative and utterly unique. I guess what I am trying to say is that I do not feel embarrassed that I consistently find a way to shelve these with my books rather than my kids—selfish, yes; embarrassed, no.

Carr’s biography of Martin Luther is destined to endure this same sort of shelf migration the which others have grown accustomed. It comes just in time for the 500th celebration of the Reformation next year when many around the world will be thanking God anew for that special grace he exhibited in Wittenberg in October of 1517. Carr’s work will serve as an invaluable aid because of how engaging, encouraging, and spiritually and mentally edifying it is.

The biographical details are clearly presented, and most readers will not have any problem with the text. Younger readers might need a parent to read through it with them the first time, and I would encourage you to be the one to volunteer to read it with them. Beyond the text, the book as a whole is expectedly gorgeous. If this is your first entrance into the series, you will be amazed. If you have enjoyed Carr’s bios before, do not expect to be the least bit disappointed. The maps are helpful; the illustrations are gorgeous. The photos of places and relics make you feel like you are visiting a museum. My favorite pictures are the one of Luther’s room at the Wartburg castle and the drawbridge he crossed upon leaving his place of hiding. The book concludes with a “Did You Know” section, a timeline, and some excerpts from his catechism. I would have taken a page at the end and included the text of “A Mighty Fortress,” but that simply may be just my immense affection for the song shining through.

Martin Luther another great volume from the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series. Grab this one, or any of them, and you will be greatly pleased.

Review copy provided.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Alfred HitchcockAlfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alfred Hitchcock created brilliant works of art that revolutionized the filmmaking industry. Hitchcock’s ability to tell a story through what he said and showed, and more so through what he left unsaid and unshowed, has made him a perennial favorite for many, myself included.

Peter Ackroyd has shown himself to be a preeminent biography with his works on Chaplin, Shakespeare, London, Dickens, and more. His short biography of Hitchcock is no different. Ackroyd leads the reader through the story of a life filled with quirk, sorrow, and success. From a child who “never cried” to a young man introduced to his beloved Alma to the young director practical-joking his way out of a less-than-enticing studio contract and many the actress almost out of her mind to the man who produced masterpieces like Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, Psycho, and Rear Window to a man in his final days, Ackroyd aptly navigates the life and, to a lesser degree, the mind of this flawed-genius. Hitchcock was far from Midas, but he certainly produced a fair amount of gold. Ackroyd examines the great films and the not-so-great, and it is fun to look at them all.

My one main criticism of Ackroyd’s biography of Hitchcock is the abruptness with which we leave the story. Hitchcock is dying and then he is dead and then later Alma dies. It was not exactly as thrown-on-the-brakes as my summary, but it was not far from it. I would have preferred to linger in that moment a bit more—a fade to black instead of a jump cut to the credits, if you will—and I would have liked to have a bit more interaction with Alma post-Alfred. Small quibbles over an otherwise good biography.

**ARC from the publisher for review purposes

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America's Original Sin

America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New AmericaAmerica's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Race is an issue—a big one. Political campaigns and media (both of the traditional and social varieties) over the past few years have made this fact explicit. America has a problem with race relations, and the Church is not immune. Not only does America have a problem with race relations, America has had a problem with race relations since the before “all men were created equal” was canonized in the American ethos as a “self-evident” truth (all the while people of African descent were being bought and sold and Natives were being herded and extinguished). These are just a couple of reasons why Jim Wallis’s recent book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, the Bridge to a New America, is a welcome addition to book store shelves and the national conversation on race.
Wallis looks at the sinful manner in which this nation has historically engaged those of a minority race—from the treatment of Native Americans to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, and the “New Jim Crow.” Wallis does not merely seek to expose the sinfulness of America’s history; he offers a way to move forward with a non-segregated church marked by overwhelming hospitality that can be utilized to bridge a racial divide both within the body of Christ and the nation in which we reside.
This value of this work is felt most acutely in its explanation and anecdotal evidence of certain hot button issues. White privilege, implicit bias (http://implicit.harvard.edu), racism as prejudice plus power, rejection of colorblindness, white fragility, the segregation of churches, New Jim Crow, school to prison pipeline, justice and policing reform, and many other issues. There is definitely plenty to disagree with and/or question, but these topics should be those that Christians, particularly white Christians, are overwhelmingly willing to engage and, more importantly, be engaged by.

I have some concerns about the positive representations of liberation theology and the social gospel. While I would love to recommend a work of equal eloquence and passion in regards to racial reconciliation that maintains a soteriological framework with which I am more comfortable, I do not know of one. The reason for that truth is worthy of debate, but what is undebatable is the necessity and quality of this Wallis’s work. America’s Original Sin deserves a wide reading because we live in a society that desperately needs to hear and heed what the Wallis is sharing.

**ARC from the publisher for review purposes

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Battle of Seattle

The Battle of SeattleThe Battle of Seattle by Douglas Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 I thoroughly enjoy Douglas Bond’s writing. Bond’s historical fictions are immersive and engaging. It is hard to step away from the story, and the likelihood of one of his stories consuming large segments of your time until you make it to the culminating pages is great. In The Battle of Seattle, Bond tells the story of William Tidd who “played a behind-the-scenes role as an express rider carrying dispatches in the Puget Sound Indian War” and his counterpart, Charlie Salitat, who “was known for his daring and tragic midnight ride warning American settlers of the imminent Indian uprising, a ride that earned him the title, ‘Paul Revere of Puget Sound.’”

Bond’s works of fiction have certain consistent characteristics, and The Battle of Seattle is no different. I enjoy the dialogue that Bond creates. It is interesting and seems very consistent with the timeframe he is portraying. Bond also does an excellent job of setting up a space. In this new work, Bond does this from the beginning as he recounts the tale of a main character being tracked through the woods by a Native and this immersive experience continues throughout. This story blessed me. The story of sacrificial friendship crossing racial boundaries has been particularly encouraging during this season of racial conflict that our nation is suffering through (if not full-on embracing). More than anything, I appreciate how Bond roots all of these novels in the greater story of the resurrected Christ without the hint of preachiness or a forced spirituality.

The Battle of Seattle is yet another Douglas Bond book that I heartily recommend. I know that my boys will enjoy these when they have the chance to read them, and I am rather confident that anyone who gives The Battle of Seattle a careful read will enjoy it as well.

**ARC from the publisher for review purposes

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Rhetorical Analysis of “Make America Great Again”

A Rhetorical Analysis of “Make America Great Again”
Rhetoric is an ancient art that has been utilized in many times and in many ways. Whether it is a speech in the public places of Athens or a tract run off of the Gutenberg press, the desire to convince and convert an audience has proven to be virtually ubiquitous. In chapter four of his book, Richard Toye explores the impact of rhetoric on a technologically advanced and globalized society and the impact of this sort of society on rhetoric itself. In commenting on the role of rhetoric in 20th century politics and the “rhetorical presidency” (“The ‘rhetorical presidency’ and the ‘anti-intellectual presidency’”), Toye’s work proves helpful in illuminating the slogans of the 2016 election cycle, specifically Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (Trump) and its pathetic appeal to people lamenting the loss of cultural dominance.
            In chapter four, Toye addresses the complex issue of multiple audiences and the role that both electronic media and globalization have played in exasperating this problem. Although this issue has existed since words have been put to paper, Toye notes how the culture and events of the 20th century put this rhetorical nuance into the spotlight. He points out that the role of rhetoric is often underestimated in the history of war, and that World War II, whether in reference to Churchill, Stalin, or Hitler, was a “global media war … fought alongside the military campaigns” (“Case study: the rhetorical history of World War II”). The 20th century also saw a shift to “the rhetorical presidency” (“The ‘rhetorical presidency’ and the ‘anti-intellectual presidency’”) and changes in American politics and political institutions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thesis Link

I uploaded my thesis to my Academia site. Here is the link for any who are interested.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

H.L. Mencken

Damning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. MenckenDamning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken by D.G. Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

D.G. Hart writes tremendous biographies and H.L. Mencken is a man worth knowing. I am tempted to end my review there, but I won't. However, if you decide that that statement is all you need to grab a copy of the book and enjoy, then have at it. For the rest of you, I'll try to offer some support of those initial points.

H.L. Mencken is not a man that you would expect to see in a series of religious biographies. Mencken did not consider himself "religious" and did much to counter the pernicious (as he saw it) influence of religion on American society. In writing on this purposefully secular man, Hart does not counter by seeking to spiritualize every aspect of the man's life. But he does expend much time and energy to dig beneath the surface of Mencken's claims into the heart and reasoning that lies below. In doing so, Hart presents a robust portrait of a man who would be far too easy and quite tempting to caricature.

Hart makes the bold assertion that the Christian culture and ideology "framed" Mencken and the time in which he lived and proceeds to support this assertion throughout his work. Simply said, there is no understanding Mencken the man without understanding the faith and culture by which he was surrounded and to which he directed such furious guile and vitriol. And, again, this man is a man of influence and import who should be known and studied by many more than he is. His writing was prolific and his influence on journalism, writing, and culture in general underrated.

What makes Hart's religious biography of Mencken stand out is that he does not turn Mencken into an object lesson. Hart presents the life of Mencken, good and bad, with an objectivity that has to be difficult to muster as a Christian reporting on a man who openly and derisively despised the Christian faith. But, in doing so, Hart is able to remind the reader that Mencken was a man, a brilliant man, and an image bearer of the one true God, whether Mencken chose to acknowledge this final fact or not.

D.G. Hart's biography of H.L. Mencken is insightful, entertaining, and heartbreaking...pretty much just like H.L. Mencken the man.

I received an ARC from the publisher.

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Thomas Cranmer

Emblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas CranmerEmblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer by Leslie Winfield Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leslie Williams's short biography of Thomas Cranmer is a fascinating book about a fascinating character in church history and in English history. Since it is a brief biography (about 150 pages), the pace is rapid. While the pace guarantees that "tedious" could never be used to describe the work, details and minutia do not receive the fine-tooth treatment that many would desire.

Williams guides the reader from Cranmer's birth to his infamous death. Cranmer lived in a time of tumult, and he experience much of this himself. Williams's volume describes a flawed and fallen man with whom God was able to do much. Crooked sticks and straight lines immediately come to mind when thinking of Cranmer, and Williams does a superb job of neither vilifying or exalting this man of history as his story is explored.

I received an ARC from the publisher.

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Family Devotional

Big Beliefs!: Small Devotionals Introducing Your Family to Big TruthsBig Beliefs!: Small Devotionals Introducing Your Family to Big Truths by David R. Helm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful resource for families and ministries. Leading a family in regular devotions can be overwhelming for many, and good intentions often lead to discouragement and frustration when goals are set unrealistically and inevitable failure finally rears its head. Big Beliefs! is a book that will benefit many by offering sustainable and attainable goals when beginning family worship.

It is based on the Westminster Confession and offers 3 short lessons and Scripture readings over each chapter of the confession. 3 devotionals a week will still require discipline and determination, but it is doable. It also keeps you from setting the 8-nights-a-week goal that many of us make out of sincerity but break out of reality.

The lessons are short and simple. I cannot imagine an age that would be incapable of sitting through the lesson, and it is easily ramped up for older kids, especially a family with older and younger children.

I am glad this resource is available for my family and for the church at large.

I received and ARC from the publisher.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Introduction to the Old Testament

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel PromisedA Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised by Miles V. Van Pelt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a substantial book on an important topic, and I am not qualified to offer much critical commentary with any sort of authority. What I can offer is a few thoughts on the book that might be helpful.

1. It is long. Seriously, you will have to dig in for this one and be willing to invest the energy and the time.

2. But it is not overwhelming. While this seems like it is going to be overtly academic and intellectually overwhelming, the contributors show their pastoral hearts without abandoning their theological heads. The product is a work that is meaty but digestible.

3. It is enjoyable. Some chapters are more enjoyable than others...but that may have more to do with me being more familiar and comfortable with some of the OT books than others.

I feel comfortable encouraging just about anyone to grab this volume. A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament is a work that serves just as well in the seminary classroom and the pastor's library, but it also is accessible enough that anyone who is willing to make the investment will reap great rewards.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Peterson on Union with Christ

Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with ChristSalvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ by Robert A. Peterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Salvation Applied by the Spirit is the second volume of a projected three-volume work from Robert Peterson. The first volume focuses on the accomplishment of redemption in the work of Christ and the third volume will look at eternal election. This volume focuses on exactly what the title states: the application of salvation by the Spirit. Specifically, it is an extensive, clear, well-argued treatise on the extremely important doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ.

The doctrine of union is one over which much ink has been spilt recently(can I say “ink spilt” in 2016?...”many pixels manipulated” just doesn’t have the same ring to it). But, however you choose to say it, this is a doctrine that has received plenty of attention in the last 5-10 years. And rightly so because this is a doctrine of great importance. Peterson’s work is a great addition to the conversation.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is a survey of the doctrine throughout Scripture. There is a chapter on OT, a chapter on Synoptics, a chapter on Acts, a chapter on John, etc. and 75 chapters on Paul…just kidding. But Paul rightfully gets a lot of attention. The second part is a more cumulative, theological look at the doctrine. Peterson draws heavily from Constantine Campbell’s recent work. Peterson describes the doctrine of union as it relates to eternity past, creation, the fall, the incarnation, Christ’s work, the new creation. He also spends time explaining who the Spirit is and outlining certain attributes and activities that describe him-including his role in uniting believers to Christ.

Here is a scattershot of some important tidbits that stood out to me (Caution: there is neither rhyme nor reason to why I chose the bits I did and why I am ordering them how I am…these are just some thoughts that stood out to me):
*Union is individual and corporate
*God’s identifying with a people in the OT via covenant foreshadows union
*Union in synoptics and Acts not presented explicitly but is implicitly present within a historical redemptive framework
*Not every occurrence of “in Christ” is dealing with the robust and nuanced doctrine of Union w/ Christ
*Christ is not pitying or empathizing with the church when he confronts Saul with a “Why are you persecuting me?” He is united to his people.
*Abide / Vine and Branches in John
* Doctrine of union is explicit and pervasive in Paul
* The doctrine of union is seen consistently in Paul’s greetings
* Believer’s participate in Christ’s narrative
* The “share in Christ” phrasing in Hebrews is a great, albeit debated, example of non-Pauline usage of the concept of union
* John speaks of the dead dying “in the Lord.”
* And more

This is a great book. The length is more overwhelming that the content, so I would encourage anyone interested to get a copy, acknowledge the fact that it is going to be an investment of time, and be assured that the material is presented clearly and accessibly. And then be blessed by a great discussion on this beautiful doctrine.

*I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Core Christianity

I always enjoy reading works by Michael Horton and Core Christianity did nothing but reaffirm that truth. Zondervan has done a service to the church by distilling Horton’s systematic theology into more approachable volumes (first with Pilgrim’s Theology and then with this volume…just like they did with Grudem’s systematic). There are way more people who would benefit from Horton’s big volume than there are people who feel willing or able to tackle it. Even Pilgrim Theology is larger than many people will feel comfortable attempting to read. This volume walks the fine line of distilling without diluting, and it will be a blessing to the church.

Core Christianity keeps the Drama, Doctrine, Doxology, Discipleship framework that Horton introduced in The Christian Faith and cover core doctrines in the following chapters:

1) Jesus is God, 
2) God is Three Persons, 
3) God is Great and Good, 
4) God Speaks, 
5) God Made the World but We’ve Made a Mess of It, 
6) God Made a Promise, 
7) Joy to the World [the incarnation],
 8) Jesus is Lord, 
9) What Are We Waiting For? [eschatology], and 
10) In the Meantime: Callings [vocation].
This is a tremendous introduction to the Christian faith. It will be a great benefit to new believers. It is also a clear and readable reminder of these great truths for all Christians. This is not an overwhelming work, but it is not a watered-down one either. Read and be blessed.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Publisher Description
What Do All Christians Believe?
For many people, words like doctrine and theology cause their eyes to glaze over, or they find them difficult to understand and struggle to see how they are relevant to daily life. But theology is far from boring; it is the study of God and should lead to awe and wonder as we better understand who God is and what he has done for us.
In Core Christianity, author, pastor, and theologian Mike Horton tackles the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. What is core to the Christian faith? In addition to unpacking these beliefs in a way that is easy to understand, Horton shows why they matter to our lives today.
This introduction to the basic doctrines of Christianity is a helpful guide by a respected theologian and a popular author, and it includes discussion questions for individual or group use. Core Christianity is perfect for those who are new to the faith, as well as those who have an interest in deepening in their understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Michael Horton is the author of over 20 books and host of the White Horse Inn, a nationally syndicated radio program.  He is professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine.  A popular blogger and sought-after lecturer, he resides in Escondido, California with his wife and children.  

Friday, June 3, 2016

Thou lovely source of true delight

1. Thou lovely source of true delight
Whom I unseen adore
Unveil Thy beauties to my sight
That I might love Thee more,
Oh that I might love Thee more.

2. Thy glory o’er creation shines
But in Thy sacred Word
I read in fairer, brighter lines
My bleeding, dying Lord,
See my bleeding, dying Lord

3. ’Tis here, whene’er my comforts droop
And sin and sorrow rise
Thy love with cheering beams of hope
My fainting heart supplies,
My fainting heart’s supplied

4. But ah! Too soon the pleasing scene
Is clouded o’er with pain
My gloomy fears rise dark between
And I again complain,
Oh and I again complain

5. Jesus, my Lord, my life, my light
Oh come with blissful ray
Break radiant through the shades of night
And chase my fears away,
Won’t You chase my fears away

6. Then shall my soul with rapture trace
The wonders of Thy love
But the full glories of Thy face
Are only known above,

They are only known above

Monday, April 25, 2016

Diction, Syntax, and Community in the Writings of Wendell Berry

Diction, Syntax, and Community in the Writings of Wendell Berry
The manner in which people speak says much about them. Speech patterns can indicate everything from age to region of origin, level of education and socio-economic status to religious ideology, and much more. People’s choices of words are referred to as diction and how they order these words is known as syntax. Diction and syntax combine to give a person a unique voice. Authors utilize this fact to create literature that is incisive and lasting, and Wendell Berry is a perfect example. In his Port William writings, Berry utilizes the tools of diction and syntax in order to explore the inherent tensions in and vast opportunities of living in human community.

Friday, April 22, 2016


UnashamedUnashamed by Lecrae Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lecrae is an interesting person, and this is an interesting book. I have been ministered to greatly by the artists of Reach, including Lecrae. Contrary to the many who have seen his progression as a move away from faith, I have been encouraged by his evolution from youth group rapper to frontline missionary. I have also enjoyed listening to his music as it has progressed greatly from Rebel to CC3 (I wasn't around for Real Talk, I'm a band-wagoner).

In Unashamed, Lecrae tells his story. It is a story that many young, black men are living, but it is still a story to which all can relate. He tells of growing up fatherless, enduring physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. living in San Diego with gangs and north Dallas without many people who shared his color and culture. He tells about his struggles with drugs and alcohol, his pressuring a girl to have an abortion, and his desires to end his life. But through it all, he tells the story of a great God that had a plan and a purpose for Lecrae Moore.

And his struggles did not end when he became a believer. What I found most encouraging, probably because it was more relatable to me than being a fatherless black boy on the streets of San Diego, were his struggles after becoming a believer. His immature interactions with unbelievers, his legalistic and self-righteous deeds to improve his status with God, his difficulty in being a loving (see: gentle and respectful) husband, the persecution from within the visible church he endured when following the Lord in a manner that didn't match their expectations, etc., all are struggles to which I can relate to one degree or another. And seeing how he endured them, moved past them, and used them as means to love God more was a great encouragement.

Lecrae lays himself bare, and he does so to the glory of God. He doesn't glorify his sins or his struggles, as so many radical testimonies often do. He doesn't credit himself with his successes and salvation. He doesn't encourage people to follow him (seriously, there are more than enough Lecratians, already). Rather, he looks back and recognizes that he was chief of sinners and that sin cost the Lord his life; that he was saved and blessed by the glorious, unmerited, undeserved, immeasurable grace of God; and he points away from himself and towards the person of Christ and says, "Follow him! Honor him! Praise and glorify him!"

If you love hip-hop, pick this book up. If you love rags-to-riches success stories, pick this book up. If you love hearing someone extol the virtues of our great God from the first page to the last, definitely pick this book up. You'll be glad you did.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The Doctrine of the Trinity

            There is a constant and persistent temptation in Christian circles to pine for the days gone by.  Whether this is an unhealthy yearning for the pure Christianity of the reign of the religious right, an overwhelming urge to sit in a pub with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin while they wax poetic over proper and pure theology, or head back to the time of Augustine because those guys had everything down.  The most pervasive example of this is the longing to return to the time of Acts 2 church purity.  This misguided nostalgia misses the blemishes that have filled every age of church history and, in doing so, misses the consistent work of the Spirit of God in and on his people.  While this nostalgic position assumes that the early church enjoyed flawless and full theology, actual history highlights how difficult a road the brothers and sisters in the early church walked as they sought to properly understand the Scriptures and worship God.  The doctrine of the Trinity is a perfect example of this.  Rather than floating down from heaven engraved on stone shamrocks, this doctrine was formulated over many years and through much adversity. The doctrine of the Trinity has been under constant and consistent assault throughout the history of the church because of its status as proper representation of God and the blessing it is to believers.  

Friday, April 8, 2016

How I Changed my Mind About Evolution: Review

How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and ScienceHow I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science by Kathryn Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How I Changed my Mind About Evolution is not an apologetic for evolutionary theory. It is a collection of essays recounting the contributors' personal struggles in reconciling Christian faith and the natural sciences. For what it is, this book is as good as it is needed, and I lack the repertoire of superlatives necessary to properly convey how strongly I feel about how needed this book is.

The essays in this book range from pretty good to first-rate. I thought Smith's essay to open and Mouw's to close were the two best. Crisp's and Wright's were also especially helpful. I had a mixed reaction to some of the essays. I shook my head at some of the theological statements. I shook my head at some of the scientific statements. I shook my head at some of the things that made me shake my head. (I can get ramped up over peripherals much too quickly/often.) This book has contributions from a wide range of denominations, so if your one of those types who too rarely round the corner of his own personal, ideological ghetto (Me! Me!), then you should prepare to be annoyed at times. But it is a good annoyance...and a needed one.

I am swimming against the stream of my personal circle in daring to advocate something connected with Biologos...or even something that has the audacity to be any more nuanced than Darwin=Devil. But too many have been driven away from the Christian faith by a novel litmus test of orthodoxy that doesn't find its basis explicitly in the Scriptures or in the creeds for me to not offer some sort of pushback. This is a conversation worth having and one that deserves more light and less heat than it has been given. This book will not change minds. But it does shed a lot of light on the issue from the evolutionary creation position and will be a benefit to many, even if it just to let people know that science and faith are not mortal enemies and this conversation is not as closed as many would be led to believe.

My encouragement: if your immediate, visceral response to the idea of evolution is disgust, then you may be encountering a bogeyman that owes its existence to fear mongering rather than a genuine foe. Consider listening to the story of brothers and sisters who love Jesus, affirm the Scriptures, and hold to some sort of evolutionary theory. It will only benefit the Body to know why certain parts believe what they do.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a review.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Diversity in Puritanism

Diversity in Puritanism

It is hard to overvalue the impact of Puritanism on Christian theology and living, as well as on western culture in general. However, Puritanism is not a monolithic brand of Reformed Christianity. Puritan scholar Randall Pederson notes that the fact “(t)hat there was vibrant diversity among the Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century on various aspects of their doctrine seems without question.”[1] There is great diversity and debate found within the realm of Puritanism that labelling it as an “ism” or speaking of the Puritans can be tricky and misleading. Far from being a detriment, part of what has caused the Puritans to be so beneficial is how widely applicable they are due to this diversity in secondary matters coupled with unanimity on core doctrines and Christian living. Puritanism, as a movement, held within it many diverse understandings of the nuances and peripherals of Christian theology and its application to Christian living, but there remained an overarching catholicity that included, more but not less than, an overwhelming emphasis on a Christian life marked by experiential piety.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wendell Berry's Use of Language in Jayber Crow

Often, forgetting Uncle Othy’s instructions and warning, I would venture as far into the thick of it as I could go, dodging here and there for a better look, for I wanted to see everything; I wanted to penetrate the wonder. I would be in the way and sometimes in danger. And then Uncle Othy would see me, and under the eyes of the experienced and worldly men of the boat, he would be embarrassed by me. He would speak to me then as he never did at other times: “Damn it to hell, boy, get out of the way! I told you! Damned boy ain’t no more than half weaned, and here he is in the way of working men.” He would be trying to get me thoroughly cussed before the captain could get a chance to do it (Berry Kindle Locations 324-329).

Monday, March 28, 2016

Calvin and Union

Calvin and the Development of the Doctrine of Union with Christ

The lack of a consensus on an issue does not mean that it is unimportant or that it should remain unexplored. The modern Christian tendency to sweep discussion and debate under the rug of unity is not the least bit healthy or helpful. While unanimity on crucial issues is desirable, it is rarely achieved. This is especially the case when a doctrine is derived from Scriptural truths rather than explicitly set forth. These important issues become the subject of intense debate and divergent positions even amongst people who are relatively in step with one another on most issues. The interpreter of Scripture desires to open the word of God to the people of God in a clear and lucid manner, but different interpreters interpret different issues in different ways. The doctrine of union with Christ is an example of one of these ever-important and ever-debated issues. Lane Tipton succinctly described the importance of this doctrine when he said that “there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ.”[1] And it would be far from anachronistic to put these words, or at least the sentiments behind them, into the mouth of John Calvin. Calvin placed a great importance upon the doctrine of union, as did many before and after him. Union with Christ was a pivotal doctrine for John Calvin and those that followed him up until this very day.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Heart of Darkness

Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction of The Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s novella, The Heart of Darkness, is an arresting tale of the horror that resides inside of individuals and the situations that allow this depravity to reveal itself.  The depth of Conrad’s work presents the opportunity to read it from many angles, but Freudian psychoanalysis and the deconstruction of Derrida seem like the most profitable approaches.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton

The Garden, the Curtain and the CrossThe Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Because of your sin, you can't come in."

The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross tells the biblical story of what was lost in the garden, why the "keep out curtain" existed, and what the Cross accomplished. This book is a treasure. It tells a facet of the story that is not addressed in most kids books, most books in general, and does so in a compelling way. The illustrations are what you would expect from Catalina Echeverri: beautiful, unique, and pairing perfectly with the text and overall theme.

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I received a review copy from the publisher.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman: Evolution, Devolution, or Revelation

Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman: Evolution, Devolution, or Revelation
Some works should never have been. It could be argued that Go Set a Watchman is such a work. Controversy surrounded the 2015 release of this novel, and many different views on its quality have been passionately presented.  While the dubious circumstances of its release and the significant dip in quality in comparison to its predecessor have filled newsfeeds, what should not be overshadowed is the furor created over a new take on a beloved (idolized) character.  The theme of the coming of age of Jean Louise Finch that began in To Kill a Mockingbird is continued in Go Set a Watchman. Whereas To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes of young Scout as she is exposed to the failures of the world around her, Go Set a Watchman bears the voice of Jean Louise and the struggle of knowing that the evil she opposes can even be found in the idol she has constructed. On display is the traumatic event of a child coming to grips with the fact that the parent she has adored and worshiped is merely a man: flawed, fallen, and far from perfect.  The reader is likewise deflated and infuriated by the revelation of a man where a god once resided.  As disconcerting as this crash to reality threatens to be, readers are also given an Atticus Finch that is a significantly more character and much less caricature and a story that is significantly more compelling as a whole than To Kill a Mockingbird on its own.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Total Truth

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Study Guide Edition)Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nancey Pearcey’s book on worldview is a classic in recent Christian publishing and is a must read for all who seek to understand our culture and the place of the mind in the Christian religion.  There is plenty to “amen” in this work and will be plenty for most people to pause and think about, even if you do not come to same conclusions that Pearcey does.

Pearcey sets out to help the reader do much.  Pearcey wants to help the reader “identify the secular/sacred divide that keeps your faith locked into the private sphere of ‘religious truth.’”, begin to craft “a Christian worldview in your own life and work,” and to “teach you how to apply a worldview grid to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and ideologies we encounter in a postmodern world.”

She does this by “weaving together insights from three strands”: creation, fall, and redemption.  The work has four sections. “Part 1 sheds light on the secular/sacred dichotomy that restricts Christianity to the realm of religious truth, creating double minds and fragmented lives.”  Part 2 focuses on creation and refuting the “reigning creation myth” of Darwinian evolution and making a positive case for Intelligent Design.  Part 3 “peers into the looking glass of history to ask why evangelicals do not have a strong worldview tradition…Here we step back from the present to take a tour of the history and heritage of evangelicalism in America.”  Pearcey then closes with a reminder that “the heart of worldview thinking lies in its practical and personal application.”

Pearcey does a great job of assaulting the “the divided concepts of truth characteristic of Western culture: secular/sacred, fact/value, public/private,” and her lament on the absence of a “Christian mind” is appropriate and urgent.  She addresses how this affects believers in “common” professions, though her use of Veggietales as a positive example of a believer shunning the sacred/secular divide to become a quality filmmaker might be a bit of a stretch.

Pearcey uses the creation, fall, redemption matrix to guide worldview formation and critique.  She does this with Marx, Rousseau, Sanger, New Age Pantheism, and then moves on to a long section on Darwinism.

The section on Darwinism is extensive and, at times, devolves (see what I did there) into a bit of Darwinism-causes-all-evils, You-can’t-be-a-Christian-and-hold-to-evolution, bogeyman talk.  Christians debating the intricacies of evolutionary theory from a theological perspective were just allowing the secularists to “conquer”.  Those who would hold to theistic evolution are just putting “theological gloss” on atheistic science.  The only right response is to outright reject evolutionary theory…you know, the same way the church engaged the heresy of heliocentrism.  For a work that looks at the creation mandate it seems to have a low view of common grace and general revelation in the area of science.  It is impossible not to agree that Christians are embracing a facts/value dichotomy, but why is ID the way to fix this?  Couldn’t the outright rejection of any type of evolutionary theory cause this fact/value dichotomy?  Terming theistic evolution as “methodological naturalism” is helpful if you desire to poison the well, but it is not helpful if you actually want to present the position fairly.  However, the argumentation against atheistic evolution (even though it is presented as an argument against any type of evolution) is intriguing and rather convincing from a scientific and philosophical perspectives.  It is definitely worth a read and a re-read.

Pearcey’s critique of pragmatism was strong and quite applicable.  The historical survey on sacred/secular divide from the time of Plato on was fascinating.  I am not sure on her encouragements on how to deal with unbelievers (“pre-evangelism” of seemingly engaging the rational mind before engaging with Scripture).  I would be interested in her take on the sensus divinitatus and presuppositional apologetics.

And I think there is an overemphasis on the ability of “apologetics”.  Using Peter’s admonition to be ready to give a reason of the hope as being able to offer credibility to the Gospel through argumentation is a common position, but the “reason for hope” in Peter IS the Gospel, not argumentation that supports the Gospel.  The survey of the history of evangelicalism was interesting and, at times, quite sad but certainly helps to “understand why so much of the Christian world finds itself trapped in a two-story view of truth today.”

This is a book worth reading.  There were times I “amen”d out loud and there were times I wanted to bang my head on something more solid than the sheetrock that surrounded me.  Whether my approval means anything or my consternation was due more to my limitations than those of the book, the jury is still out.  What is not up for debate is that this is a book that should be read by most everyone because it addresses a conversation that needs to be engaged by all.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wittenberg vs Geneva

Wittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that DivideWittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that Divide by Brian W. Thomas

I almost bailed on this book early on. I was excited to see this book appear. The topic is interesting and deserves more attention than has been given. I was encouraged by Rod Rosenbladt’s preface. After the introduction touting an ecumenical, charitable spirit, I was looking forward to an honest, careful, forthright debate. But the first chapter was rocky!

In the first page of the debate, Thomas accuses R.C. Sproul of erecting a straw man, but he does not explain how or why Sproul’s argumentation is flawed. He simply dismisses it without support. Almost immediately after, he accuses John Owen of “adding to the Word” of God because Owen retranslated a verse to add clarity to it (in a commentary). He quotes Owen’s “addition to the Word” but leaves out the context. Owen writes that, “So that the sense [of John 3:16 based on the entirety of John’s writing and the Scriptures as a whole] is, ‘God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved ’”(Owen, Works Vol 10). Some people (most people, actually) would call this what it is—teaching. To claim that Owen is sinning (that is what an accusation of “adding to the word” is) is ridiculous and is used, to quote Thomas, “either to purposefully mislead unsuspecting readers to gain rhetorical advantage or through sheer incompetence. Either one (is) inexcusable in a book purporting to teach the truth.” Someone writing a commentary and attempting to help illuminate a verse by using different language is not unheard of or improper. To accuse that person of sin for doing so is both.

Thomas’s then argues that the Reformed position of exegesis is poor or inconsistent for qualifying the word “all” in texts but not doing so in Romans 3:23. This is ridiculous in its own right. Romans 1:1-3:22 make the context for the “all” of Romans 3:23 explicitly universal. Other passages, even from Paul, are clearly used in other ways. It reminded me of a Virginia pastor ranting that he was going to handstand on a tree stump and proclaim that “’all’ means ‘all’ and that’s all that it means,” ignoring the fact that this is not how language works….at all. Recognizing that people use words differently to convey different meanings is not “inconsistent;” it is proper. This is true of “all” and Johannine “world” as well.

Thomas argues that the doctrine of limited atonement precludes assurance makes it clear that he does not (and has not) ever understood the doctrine of definite atonement. “If you interpret the universal passages as the Reformed do, then you cannot ultimately believe your sins are forgiven on the basis of the objective promises revealed in texts like the ever-popular John 3:16.” What? Every Reformed author I have read has drawn great encouragement from the fact that Christ’s death accomplished exactly what it was meant to do.
For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, “It is finished!” For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes—for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. “We love him, because he first loved us.”—French Reformed Baptismal Liturgy
The Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. What could be more assuring than knowing that?

But, like I said, I almost bailed on this book. And I am quite glad that I did not. Objections aside, this is a much-needed, well-argued (for the overwhelming majority of the time), and helpful book. The Lutheran position of objective and subjective justification is presented well and is much more convincing than a typical synergism argument. I remain unconvinced, but it will lead me to study the topic more. So will many more of Thomas’s arguments. There is a great interaction with Romans 9-11; I remain unconvinced in regards to his conclusion, but I am convinced that it warrants more study. The same is true with the sacramental word. His chapters on baptism and the Supper are quite good and well-worth consideration. I have always used “transubstantiation” as a description of the Lutheran position. Now I know that is misleading. “(The sacraments) simply do not factor into the Reformed ordo saludis”—True. “The difference in how Lutherans and Calvinists understand the relationship between word and sacrament has been one of the leading causes of controversy”—Agreed. And I am becoming convinced that this is the number one area where Lutheran theology can contribute greatly to the Reformed framework.

Thomas points out some significant misunderstandings that the Reformed hold about Lutheran theology. The book suffers a bit because he also demonstrates some significant misunderstandings that Lutherans have about Reformed teaching. All-in-all, this is a work where the beauty outshines the warts, even if the warts surface early on. I almost bailed on this book. I am glad I did not. I would encourage you to read it and read it to the end. You’ll be blessed and encouraged for doing so.

I received a review copy of this book.

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About The Book:
What are the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists, and do they really matter? InWittenberg vs. Geneva, Brian Thomas provides a biblical defense of the key doctrines that have divided the Lutheran and Reformed traditions for nearly five centuries. It is especially written to help those who may have an interest in the Lutheran church, but are concerned that her stance on doctrines like predestination or the sacraments may not have biblical support. To get to the heart of the matter, Pastor Thomas focuses solely upon those crucial scriptural texts that have led Lutheran and Reformed scholars down different paths to disparate conclusions as he spars with popular Calvinist theologians from the past and the present.
Brian W. ThomasAbout the Author:
Brian W. Thomas is a Lutheran pastor, writer, and speaker from the Pacific Northwest. He has had the privilege of serving churches in California and Washington, lecturing at the University of San Diego, and teaching the Bible all over the world. He is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kingston, Washington.
Connect with Brian:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From the Pen of Pastor Paul

From the Pen of Pastor PaulFrom the Pen of Pastor Paul by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the Pen of Pastor Paul is a gift to the church. Daniel Hyde has given the church a resource that is simple, clear, and immensely practical. This commentary of 1-2 Thessalonians is not an academic exercise to impress other academics. It is not encumbered by footnotes and convoluted, ivory tower argumentation. It is simple and clear; confrontational and comforting. In a word, it is pastoral. Hyde uses the Word of God in this series of sermons to exhort and encourage the people of God to faithful living and to urge unbelievers to repent and believe.

Since this is a series of sermons, there are some sections that are repetitive. In fact, some sections appear repeated almost verbatim. This is an understandable aspect of sermons week-to-week, but it would have been beneficial to the book and helpful for the reader for it to have been edited more strictly. Also, the use of cliché in spoken dialogue is not as glaring as it is in writing – especially when they show up multiple times. It is not that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is untrue, clichés become cliché because they speak to truths. But their use can distract from greater points because it can cause the reader to check out a bit. Again, this is not an issue in a sermon from week-to-week, but when you are sitting down with a book and it comes up every other chapter, it is noticeable.

However, that is not to say that repetition is not warranted or necessary. Most of the repetitive aspects of the book are incredibly helpful. Hyde has a particular cadence that makes reading his words feel like you are hear a sermon, and that is very enjoyable. It is important to recognize that we all need to hear the same, simple truths time and again, whether it is from the pulpit or from a pen.

One area that Hyde emphasizes is the necessity of a member praying for his pastor. With (very helpful) repetition, Hyde exhorts his hearer to give his pastor the gift of persistent, consistent prayer. He also addresses the need of the believer to prepare for worship. Also preaching as a means of grace, and the seriousness of the Sabbath, and understanding eschatology’s relationship with Christian living, and so many other issues are addressed forcefully, graciously, simply,…in a word, pastorally.

So I guess that would be my one word description of this book: pastoral. In that way, it will serve pastors in demonstrating how to handle a text in a pastoral manner and believers of all occupations in being faithfully shepherded though 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And, if you are able to get an unbeliever to spend time with a few of these sermons, they will hear the Gospel presented and an urgent, loving, forceful call to repentance and faith. This is a good book for any who would take up and read.

I received a review copy of this book.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

The Story of Indelible Grace

The Sands of Time are Sinking

1. The sands of time are sinking, 
The dawn of heaven breaks; 
The summer morn I’ve sighed for - 
The fair, sweet morn awakes: 
Dark, dark had been the midnight 
But dayspring is at hand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.
2. The king there in His beauty, 
Without a veil is seen: 
It were a well-spent journey, 
Though seven deaths lay between: 
The Lamb with His fair army, 
Doth on Mount Zion stand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land
3. O Christ, He is the fountain, 
The deep, sweet well of love! 
The streams on earth I’ve tasted 
More deep I’ll drink above: 
There to an ocean fullness 
His mercy doth expand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.
4. The bride eyes not her garment, 
But her dear Bridegroom’s face; 
I will not gaze at glory 
But on my King of grace. 
Not at the crown He giveth 
But on His pierced hand; 
The Lamb is all the glory 
Of Emmanuel’s land.
5. O I am my Beloved’s 
And my Beloved is mine! 
He brings a poor vile sinner 
Into His house of wine 
I stand upon His merit - 
I know no other stand, 
Not e’en where glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Visual Latin Review

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I have my children (or myself) study Latin?”   It may seem like a daunting waste of time and resources to tackle a language that is deader than a shivved Caesar.  But while you may not be using classical Latin to find a restaurant on your next vacation, Latin is a key to a storehouse of wisdom and languages.  Latin is a foundation for learning in a wide variety of areas.  Simply put, it is an investment that yields great dividends. 
So that shifts the question from why to how.  And this is a significantly tougher question.  Selling a homeschooler on the benefits of Latin is not the most difficult of tasks, but helping them sort through all of the options and methodologies certainly is.  I am nowhere near skilled or educated enough to comment on what is the best of the best.  I am a 34-year-old, Latin novice.  The majority of my Latin experience is having debate opponents yell Latin phrases at me followed by “fallacy” and watching my teacher frown disapprovingly.  So, while I would risk an ad overestimatium of my skills if I were to speak with any authority on the wide spectrum of available products, I am confident in recommending Visual Latin with Dwane Thomas for a number of reasons.
The videos are engaging.  My three sons (7-11) laughed audibly throughout the videos.  After watching the first video, my youngest responded to the fact of future videos with a “Yippeee!”  It is a blessing when your kids are asking to do their lessons and actually look forward to them.  Dwane is silly enough to be engaging, but he is not primarily an entertainer.  These videos and supplemental materials are helping the kids (and me!) build a firm foundation of Latin.  To summarize, I would have to say these videos are entertaining, engaging, and edifying (and not just because we have been focusing on alliterations the last few weeks in our writing curriculum).
And then there is the subscription service!  If you are like me, you are not too keen on dropping significant money on anything (“significant” meaning anything where counting out nickels at the checkout line would be embarrassing…so anything north of $37).  That is why I was thrilled to see a subscription service for Visual Latin.  The trial subscription was a dollar.  Seriously, just 20 nickels.  After that it is $7 a month (I’ll let you calculate the nickels), or you can just order the DVD set.  But you have the opportunity to put them to the test -- have your kids (and yourself) try them, enjoy them, and learn from them -- for an entire month.  I think if you do, you will benefit from them as much as I have (and am) and as much as my kids are.  I would encourage you to consider blessing yourself and your kids with the study of Latin and to consider Visual Latin as a great resource in doing so.