Let’s review

Shortly after I began homeschooling in 1992, I responded to a “help wanted” note I found at an  online homeschool message board I frequented. The editor of this magazine was looking for curriculum reviewers. I tossed my hat in the ring, and ended up reviewing language arts and social studies curriculum for the magazine for most of the years I homeschooled my kids. 

It was so much fun to get a box full of educational surprises. I guinea-pigged some of the stuff on my own kids, and simply evaluated the rest. I was really interested in curriculum design and development because of the freelance writing I’d been doing for a Sunday School curriculum publisher, and the homeschool curriculum review helped me continue to learn and grow in this area. 

Even better, I got to keep the stuff I reviewed. I sold some, passed other tools onto other homeschool moms, and tossed a few terrible, unusable books and software packages directly into the trash once I finished writing up my assessment of them. 

I’ve missed reviewing, though anyone who knows me knows I will throw out a verbal review of anything I’ve read or skimmed at the slightest provocation. During my four years of off-and-on employment at the Trinity Bookstore, I loved being able to casually evaluate a whole store full of books. Just as the editor at Practical Homeschooling magazine knew better than to send me a bunch of math books, there were, of course, some densely academic books at the store I left to other readers/students. But I read all kinds of interesting books, and grew as writer, a thinker and most especially, as a follower of Christ as a result. 

So when a couple of different publishers were looking for bloggers who’d review new releases, I jumped at the opportunity. Every so often, reviews of those books will pop up here. Today is one of those days.  Keep reading…

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Who would imagine that the cure for a lifetime of cynicism would be a set of quadruplets? Author and counselor Dr. Stephen Simpson would never have prescribed 4 little babies to any of his clients suffering from a jaundiced faith life, but Dr. Simpson’s Great Physician did just that. Assaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic is a spiritual memoir that traces Simpson’s faith journey from his youth in a fundy congregation through the loss of a close friend through his seminary struggles and into marriage. The trajectory of this journey was a downward arc, as Simpson grew increasingly jaded, even as he carved out a career in evangelical Christendom. It took four little babies to begin to drag him upwards again, toward joy. 

I love well-crafted spiritual memoir (think Anne Lamott or Donald Miller) because it gives readers a combo mirror and probe that allows them to understand their own stories. Simpson’s memoir is a solid contribution to this genre. Toward the end of the book, he explains the effect of upward gravity on his life: 
 
My cynicism, though alive and well, no longer dominated my personality. I couldn’t remain aloof and angry while faced with the reality of God’s love. I’d fought a long and terrible war from which I emerged scarred but victorious. I had seen and done awful things, but God had countered them with meaning and beauty that pierced my heart with gladness. He’d sent people into my life as emissaries of his love and grace to prove that I wasn’t alone and unlovable. I discovered that nothing melts cynicism faster than love, because that’s what the cynic needs most…”

The audience for this book is most definitely those who’re on a similar path – weary of religion, and trying to figure out how to keep walking with Jesus when disappointment and sin obscure Him. Simpson is an engaging storyteller. His self-depreciating humor and truthfulness about the mess of his process of moving slowly from cynicism to joy resonated with me. 

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I’d never seen a devotional like this before, and you probably haven’t either.  A Faith And Culture Devotional: Daily Readings on Art, Science, and Life, compiled by Veritas Forum founder Kelly Monroe Kullberg and author and educator Lael Arrington, doesn’t follow the usual time-honored devotional formula of Bible verse(s), brief inspiring story and/or application, prayer for the day. In fact, I’m not quite sure “devotional” is the right category for this wonderful book. It is a digest of provocative bite-sized essays from respected Christian voices from across our culture’s spectrum. Bible and Theology, History, Philosophy, Science, Literature, Arts and Contemporary Culture are each represented in the 15 weeks of daily readings. Contributors include Frederica Matthewes-Green, R.C. Sproul, J.P. Moreland, John Eldredge, Francis Collins, Philip Yancey, and Terry Glaspey. Though all are orthodox in their basic theology, they are not all from the same theological or ideological camp. 

That’s the strength of this volume. Though there are devotional elements to it, this volume is more about allowing ourselves to enter into interior dialogue with important ideas. It is intended to help readers live faithfully as learners, and seamlessly weave what we’re learning into the whole cloth of our lives. 

Each day’s 500-800 word essay is followed by a set of reflection/discussion questions designed to take the day’s reading and make it sticky. For instance, on day seven of week one’s readings, the day of the week devoted to contemporary culture issues, Erwin McManus writes about a discussion he had with a group of Muslims about Christianity. In summarizing his surprising conversation with the group, he says, “Religion exists not because God loves too little but because we need love so much.” The three reflection and discussion questions following his essay are the kind of great, open-ended asks that invite probing thought.

Recommended. Big time. 

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