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Review: The Reformation by Stephen Nichols

Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a document onto a cathedral door bulletin board*.  That one event, the culmination of years of protest by many, ushered in the Reformation and also, according to Nichols, took the world from the middle ages to modern times.

But does the Reformation still matter today?  That is a question many are debating this year, and this book answers the question by pointing out that, for Christians, history always matters.  Not only that, but it can be fun too.  The Reformation is the author’s proof.

Does history matter?  It did in the Bible, Nichols reminds us.  Over and over we are confronted with the fact that when the Old Testament people remembered what God had done in history, things went well.  And in the New Testament God, in Jesus, revealed himself in a physical place and real time.  Furthermore, the entire Christian faith depends on the historical fact of Christ’s death and resurrection.

As for church history, Nichols makes this claim:  Church history is like one grand classroom focused on living out Christ’s command to be disciples in the world and “when we remember the lessons we tend to do well.  When we forget or ignore them, we tend to stumble.”  We also learn what matters most from those who gave their lives for it, and it is this:  the utter supremacy of the gospel in everything the church does.

The Reformation is founded on what have become known as the Five Solas which can be summed up as

  • the Bible alone,
  • by grace alone,
  • through faith alone,
  • in Christ alone,
  • all and only for God’s glory.

After laying this groundwork, Nichols tells the stories of Luther, Zwingli (currently Miss 17’s favorite reformer), the radical reformers, Calvin, the Anglicans, the Puritans, and women of the reformation.  Yes, and it is the stories he tells.  Of course, he does also focus on ideas, doctrine, lessons, and major historical events, but he delights in the little anecdotes that bring history to life.  As a result, this book is enjoyable and memorable. It is, therefore, an easy way to deepen our understanding of truth in many areas of life and it also functions well as a living textbook for teens.

Unlike some church history texts, The Reformation is neither angry nor purely theoretical.  Each of the people or groups highlighted is portrayed sympathetically and with admiration. Nichols also compares the different groups (e.g. the radical reformers focus on human actions while Calvin’s focus is more on God’s actions). From the wisdom of the different reformers we learn more about living for God, the supremacy of the Bible, what Christianity means for daily life, and how we live more fully in this life when we are filled with hope for the next.  The Reformers’ devotion to the Lord inspires us to examine our own lives more carefully.

The anecdotes also remind us to live our lives well.  One that really struck me, with its many implications for our lives and our understanding of history, is this:  Apparently Calvin, unlike the Roman Catholics, locked the church doors after the service.  It was his conviction that, after having been fed and equipped, Christians belong in the world.

Other stories appeal to others.  Miss 17 enjoyed Zwingli’s daring sausage supper.  I learned more about Cranmer and Anne Bradstreet and was reminded to reread the brilliant biography of Calvin’s wife Idelette by Edna Gerstner.

An appendix includes a few of the Ninety-Five Theses, selections from Calvin’s Institutes, and selections from Reformation confessions, catechisms, and prayers.

I heartily recommend The Reformation by Stephen Nichols for personal reading as well as for homeschool church history studies.  It is a beautiful way to commemorate this great Reformation anniversary year.

* Do note that the document may not actually have been nailed to the door.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

DisclosureI received this ebook last year as part of a free promotion from Crossway and immediately put it on last year’s Christmas wish list since it is easier for my girls to study from a real book.  I was thrilled to find it among my other gifts.

This article may be linked to Finishing Strong Raising Homemakers Saturday Reviews , Booknificent Thursdays

Spicy Apple Salad

Now that it’s well into apple season, I have been looking for this recipe again. It is a surprising one, full of intense flavor and satisfying crunch, and rich in an unusual way.  My mouth waters at the memory and we will be eating it again soon.  Our apples are small and bumpy this year–that may be because they are organic–but with a recipe like this that does not matter. I hope you and your family will enjoy it!

2-3 cups apples, thinly sliced and chopped
1-2 T lemon juice
¼ cup raisins
2 T cinnamon (yes, tablespoons)
½ t ground nutmeg
½ t ground ginger
2 T honey
Thoroughly mix apple, lemon juice, raisins, spices and honey and let sit for ½ an hour.

The original recipe put this into a nut-based pie crust, but we like it served in bowls with whipping cream, ice cream, or pudding.

The recipe was adapted from Slimming Meals that Heal by Julie Daniluk. The author points out that if the apples are organic, you can enjoy the peels’ health-giving benefits.  We find that the red and/or green peels also add a pretty color to the mix.

You might also enjoy Apples Breton Style, which is a quick and simple warm treat but contains far more sugar.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might want to check out my other kitchen articles on cooking, preserving, and more.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers 

Review: John Knox by Simonetta Carr

John Knox is among the most colorful Reformers.  From galley slave to royal preacher and devoted family man, he was both vigorous and gentle.  When he explained the duties of rulers to Queen Mary of Scotland, she became speechless with amazement; when his mother-in-law worried about her sins, he consoled her with the gospel.  Throughout his life, he vigorously defended the truth, admitting that he needed his friends because he was not always pleasant in the way he presented it.

Although the Reformation started in Germany, it was not long before its ideas found their way to Scotland.  Due to political events, these ideas were sometimes allowed and sometimes outlawed during Knox’s youth.  When the situation became violent, Knox was a bodyguard for a Protestant preacher and later was convinced to become a preacher himself.  That, however, was a dangerous calling.

Preacher, pastor, galley slave, exile, Knox studied in Switzerland and eventually returned to Scotland where he helped write the Scots Confession of Faith, encouraged schooling, counseled Queen Mary, and preached the gospel.  Despite attacks on his life he died a peaceful death.

Knox’s legacy includes the influence of Scottish Reformers, with their simplicity of worship, their church organization, and their ideas about when to obey the government and when to rebel against it.

Simonetta Carr concludes this beautifully-illustrated book with a timeline of Knox’s life and times, pages of interesting tidbits, and selections from the Scots Confession of Faith.  This volume of the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series is, like the others, written for children ages 7-12, but it is detailed and informative enough to interest teens and adults as well.  I highly recommend it for church history and history studies for homeschoolers of all ages.

For more information about Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, please see my earlier reviews.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from Reformation Heritage Books.

This article may be linked to Finishing Strong Raising Homemakers Saturday Reviews , Booknificent Thursdays

From Homeschool to University

Over at the Curriculum Choice, some other long-term homeschoolers and I are discussing how to homeschool with college in mind.

  • Betsy, who helps other homeschooling moms figure out how to prepare their children for college, gives many links to her articles on the topic and also has her ebook, Homeschooling High School with College in Mind, on sale and available as a giveaway.  She also has a Facebook Group called College Discussions for Homeschoolers.
  • Tricia discusses the college search and college visits, a big deal in the US but not so much in Canada.  Even so, you will likely find tips to help you.
  • Meredith writes about planning high school with college in mind, and about how to guide teens who do not want to go to college.

And here is what I wrote:

Three of our homeschooled children are currently in university and doing well, although for several years I was terribly worried about all this.  Here are some tips that made all the difference for our family and led to large marks-based scholarships.

Our children read a lot, worked hard, volunteered, and had friends, hobbies, chores, and jobs.  Essentially we followed the lifestyle of perfect SAT scorers, not for the sake of the SAT but just because that’s the way our family worked. None of our children got perfect scores overall, but some of their individual sections were perfect.

We used Lee Binz’s method for writing our high school records.  I used her Comprehensive Record Solution; her book Setting the Records Straight is also excellent and a whole lot more affordable.  Here is an example of our records for student-led multi-year literature-based history courses.

Also, I worked hard to be a good guidance counselor for my teens with respect to planning for the future as well as high school course selection and course design.  Vicki Tillman’s Career Exploration is a helpful resource.

However, being a teen can be difficult and bad things can happen.  Sometimes teens lose the ability to focus and this may require immediate attention, perhaps even from professionals.

Finally, always remember that there is more to life than homeschooling and university admissions; if faith goes by the wayside, academic success will mean nothing.  Yet we cannot give our faith to our children; only God can do that, but he uses parents. That is one reason we need to read our Bibles and learn how to live close to him.

Note:  It seems that ‘college’ in the US means a different thing than in Canada, so I just say ‘university’, although similar approaches are also helpful for Canadian colleges.

For the complete article, with dozens of helpful links and with Betsy’s ebook giveaway, please visit the Curriculum Choice.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

This article may be linked to Finishing Strong 

Review: Luther by Those Who Knew Him by E. R. Charles

This devotional and encouraging book presents Luther and his ideas through the eyes of various members of a family that knew him.  From Fritz, a monk who travelled to Rome with him, and Else, who struggled with not being religious enough because she was not a nun, to Eva, a nun who rejoiced to share Luther’s ideas with the other sisters including a certain Catherine von Bora, the characters in this story all have their fundamental ideas about God and life challenged by Luther’s teachings. Parents, grandparents, younger siblings, and others all respond in their own ways, and this gives a multifaceted approach to Luther that I have never encountered before.

Here is a quotation that both sums up the book and gives an example of its style:

Hours and hours Fritz and I spoke of Dr. Luther and what he had done for us both — more, perhaps, for Fritz than even for me, because he had suffered more. It seems to me as if we, and thousands besides in the world, had been worshipping before an altar picture of our Saviour, which we had been told was painted by a great master after a heavenly pattern. But all we could see was a grim, hard, stern countenance of one sitting on a judgment throne . . . Then suddenly we heard Dr. Luther’s voice behind us, saying, in his ringing tones — “Friends, what are you doing? That is not the right painting. These are only the boards that hide the master’s picture.”

Even though this book was first published in 1862, the characters’ struggles make it exceedingly relevant to our age.  Many devout Christians of today think that they are not ‘good Christians’ because they are not devoted enough to God. They devalue the work God has given them in this world and wish to creep away from the everyday world into the cloister of ‘ministry’.*  Many fundamentally misunderstand who God is because they do not read the Bible.  Many are kept away from the Bible by the foolish ideas of others, society, or the media, or are kept from seeing its truth by refusing to learn from those who came before and struggled with the same issues.*  And often we 21st century Christians mistranslate the gospel into social actions that it does not support, twisting the command to love into an economic or political platform. It was the same during Luther’s time, as this book clearly points out.

This all may sound dry and dull, but the characters are endearing and the plot beguiling.  Although this is not a thriller by any means, it is an excellent story in its own way.  I loved the characters, felt completely at home in the book, and found it a source of real joy, for it is filled with truth and comfort.

And this is its comfort:  Luther by Those Who Knew Him shows the transforming power of the Bible.  It shows the tremendous love and kindness of God who sent Jesus to give us his righteousness, because our own righteousness is completely inadequate.  It also shows the incredible value of the faith by which we are saved.  And, throughout the book, the glory is given to God, not to Luther.  You may recognize the Five Solas of the Reformation here; although they were formulated after Luther, they are the basis of his thought and of this book.

Luther by Those Who Knew Him is neither an ordinary biography nor an ordinary novel, although it has elements of both.  Nor is it a volume of theology.  Perhaps it is most accurate to describe it as a devotional in story form based on Luther’s writings and life.  Even so, it deals with politics, everyday life, revolution, and even romance in a way that draws the reader into all strata of 16th century German life.  It is among my favorite books on Luther and I think it would benefit anyone who knows the basics of his life and ideas (e.g. from Simonetta Carr’s Martin Luther, the great 1953 movie, Martin Luther, or Robinson’s Luther The Leader, which I have read to my children several times).

Luther by Those Who Knew Him could be used in homeschools to study the society, thought, and religious ideas that were challenged by the gospel truths that Luther discovered; it also clearly presents those truths.  The book is written so that one could summarize the ideas or plot elements of each chapter to gain a clear understanding of that the Reformation.  Of course, it can also be read simply as a devotional story.

This book is not available on Amazon and you will need to go directly to the publisher’s website to order it; it is near the bottom of this page.

*See Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth for a discussion of aspects of these ideas.

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, so a plethora of books is being published about him;I am blessed to be able to review several of them.  This  is probably the most devotional of the many Luther books I’ve read in my life.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

This is yet another book in the in the 2017 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

DisclosureI received a copy of Luther by Those Who Knew Him as well as Martin Luther:  The Man and His Work from Inheritance Publications and have chosen to review this one.

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