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The Christian Greats Challenge

My friend Carol is hosting an online reading club this year: “Christian Greats Challenge: Past and Present.”  Carol is an Australian homeschooling mom who writes the most delightful and thoughtful book reviews.

She planned this challenge’s categories partly to counter what C. S. Lewis calls ‘chronological snobbery’, defined as ‘the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.’  Reading history of all sorts helps to counter this snobbery, so the categories in this challenge are mostly historical.

I have not finalized my choices in all categories and am including a range of possibilities, focusing on my Dutch heritage.  A lot depends on homeschooling and on my health, so I cannot make definite plans. However, I will at least be able to do the minimum one or two books Carol asks for, and perhaps the full 10 or more.  And, over the next few years I want to read all of these.

As you can tell, this is a very relaxed challenge.  If you also want to read and discuss some historical Christian books this year you can sign up here.


1)  A Book on Early Church History
(up to about 500 A.D) or a book written by a key figure who lived during that time, or a biography about that person.
My choices here are related to homeschooling:

  • Finish Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples (with Omnibus II as a guide)
  • Reread Simonetta Carr’s biographies from this time period.

2)  A Book About a Prominent Christian Who Was Born Between 500 A.D & 1900 

  • Bavinck on the Christian Life:  Following Jesus in Faithful Service by John Bolt, a book about the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck.
  • Always Obedient:  Essays on the Teachings of Klaas Schilder, edited by J. Geertsema, an examination of Schilder’s life and thought.

3)  A Christian Allegory

I will probably substitute some other book for this category (see #10 below) since I cannot stomach even the most-loved allegories like Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia.

4)  A Book on Apologetics 

  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (reread, started earlier, so it doesn’t really count)
  • The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens In Between by Gregory Koukl  (This is one of our homeschool high school texts.)
  • Christianity for Skeptics by Kumar and Sarfati

5)  A Philosophical Book by a Christian Author

I have several options here and probably will read more than one of them.

  • Christ and Culture by Klaas Schilder (reread)
  • Culture Making:  Recovering our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch
  • Making a Difference: Impacting Culture and Society as a Christian by R. C. Sproul (this may be more apologetics than philosophy, and hence may belong in category #4)
  • Or perhaps The Tao of Right and Wrong by Dennis Danielson since I plan to attend a talk by Danielson this year.  “This book “re-invokes C.S. Lewis’ use of the Tao in the Abolition of Man to show the transcultural ground of moral judgment, codes of ethics, and standards of right and wrong. This book is a rejection of moral nihilism, and a recognition of life-affirming moral realism founded in the Tao.”  Reading it would probably also require reading Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, so this would be a stretch.

6)   A Missionary Biography or A Biography of a Prominent Christian who lived any time between 1500 A.D. to 1950 A.D.

  • Sacred Feathers: The Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and the Mississauga Indians by Donald B Smith, recommended by Tim Challies who wrote, “… he was the first (and perhaps last) great Ojibwa preacher. The special focus of his long ministry was his fellow Native Canadians, and among them he saw stunning results.”
  • The Triumph of John and Betty Stam by Mrs. Howard Taylor. (reread)

7)  A Seasonal Book 

  • The influential Dutch theologian Klaas Schilder wrote a famous trilogy, Christ in his Suffering, Christ on Trial, Christ Crucified, and I want to revisit that.  In English, of course, and probably only the first volume this year.

8)  A Novel with a Christian Theme

  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry; I am slowly working my way through Wendell Berry’s fiction and have long been eager to meet Jayber.

9) A Good Old Detective or Mystery Novel

  • Father Brown:  The Essential Tales by Chesterton, which I plan to read aloud to my girls.

Why is mystery on this list?  Here’s Carol’s reason, a quotation from J. I. Packer:

‘…these are stories of a kind that would never have existed without the Christian gospel. Culturally, they are Christian fairy tales, with savior heroes and plots that end in what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe—whereby things come right after seeming to go irrevocably wrong. Villains are foiled, people in jeopardy are freed, justice is done, and the ending is happy. The protagonists—detectives, Secret Service agents, noble cowboys and sheriffs, or whatever—are classic Robin Hood figures, champions of the needy, bringers of merited judgment and merciful salvation. The gospel of Christ is the archetype of all such stories. Paganism unleavened by Christianity, on the other hand, was and always will be pessimistic at heart.’

10)  A Substitute – choose a different book in place of one of the above categories:

  • Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876) was an influential Christian politician, writer, and newspaper founder in the Netherlands, and I have long wanted to read his trilogy on history, Unbelief and Revolution.  To read about the revolutions that had happened just previously would be a fascinating study, and probably insightful for today.  This project may be too ambitious, but at least I would love to learn more about him and have found several useful links on the Wikipedia page.
  • Elisabeth Elliot and other Christians have found much wisdom in The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  The first time I read it, it did not say much to me; perhaps I have grown enough to value it this time.

Besides this list, I have various homeschooling, history of science, fiction, and other books planned for this year and, as always, I will continue to reread the Bible.  What are your reading plans for 2019?

I pray God will bless our reading this year, to his glory and to the benefit of our families, our various communities, and ourselves.

The Busy Wind

A few days ago I stood with my back to a fierce wind, watching the snow swirl past me in unpredictable patterns.  It was a rare glimpse into the ways of the wind.

Windswept winter clouds

Usually we cannot see the wind.  We have a vague idea where it blows in from, but never know exactly.  We have a general idea where it hurries off to, but never can be certain.

The wind has been plucking these cattails apart.

Even though we cannot see the wind itself, we can see what it has been doing—to the clouds, the plants, the snow, and the cattails.

The wind uses grasses to carve the snow

Just as we find tracks of wild animals, we find footprints of the busy wind.  And, just as we discover the footprints of the busy wind, we find evidence of the Holy Spirit.

The wind’s tracks and animal tracks

As Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Coyotes or wolves have walked through the wind’s snow sculpture

The wind’s tracks and trails help us understand how the Holy Spirit works: often mysteriously. To those who know God’s name and therefore put their trust in him, that is a comfort, for God has not forsaken those who seek him. (Psalm 9:10)

This week I hope you will find time to look at the world God made.  God may have joy waiting there for you, or comfort, or awe.  Feel free tell us about your outside time in the comments and include a link if you wish.

If you enjoyed this nature devotional, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

The Snowed In Homeschool

As I write this, it is bitterly cold outside and the fire in our living room is roaring.  Although some outdoor work does need to be done, it is much more pleasant and safer to be inside.  But each year there’s the question, “How can children be happy and learn well when stuck inside because of cold, snow, or ice?”

In “The Snowed In Homeschool” eight veteran homeschooling moms have written about their own solutions to this annual problem.  Most of them have younger children, so many of the suggestions are for little ones, but there are insightful posts for older ones as well.

Tricia hints at an inspiring story about a grandma who was snowed in, taught her grandchildren to draw with chalk  pastels, and thus started a family tradition that led to the You ARE an Artist video lessons.

Other mamas discuss games, winter physical education, snow studies, reading, seasonal themes, nature study opportunities, making a nature table, podcasts, art projects, and the Great Backyard Bird Count.  There are so many ideas here, even for someone who has homeschooled over twenty years!

Winter is our family’s cozy season and, now that the kids are older and sledding days seem to be behind us, we use the season to focus on formal learning.  Or at least that was my plan when I wrote my contribution to this post, but we have already once dropped bookwork for the sake of puzzling by the fire, and other plans seem to be in the offing as well.  But who said learning has to be formal to be effective?

Over the last two decades, winter has become the time when I evaluate our progress, plan the rest of the year, and work on homeschooling records.  Here is my contribution to “The Snowed In Homeschool“, much less practical than most of the other contributions:

After the holidays, it’s time to get Back to School.  Occasionally the surrounding schools are closed because of ice or snow but we still study hard on those days.  In fact, the winter term, with its lack of gardening, harvesting, and visits to the horse barn, are our best school days and we try hard to tackle just a bit of extra learning then.  Winter is an excellent time to have a reading week, and reading aloud is one of the best ways to enjoy the cold days (here’s a list of our favorite read alouds).    Cabin fever can be cured by museums and malls, and always there is our roaring fire, warm tea, and games.

Each winter I think about how the school year has gone so far and often panic at how ‘little’ we have done (Not Finishing the School Year, Halfway Through the Homeschool High School Year), but I have learned not to let the children notice my panic because they are working as hard as they can.  Sometimes I rejoice at how much they have accomplished. Occasionally, though, we make significant mid-year changes.

Whatever you plan to do in your homeschool this winter, do check out “The Snowed In Homeschool” for those inevitable blue days when everyone has cabin fever.  No matter what the ages of your children or your homeschool style, you will find something to help your family make the most of winter.

If you enjoyed this nature devotional, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Review: Made for the Journey by Elisabeth Elliot

As a young woman, Elisabeth Elliot worked hard to prepare for her first missionary experience, learning and reducing to writing the Colorado’s language in the jungles of Ecuador.  Because she was doing what God called her to do, she fully expected God’s blessing on her work.  After all, that’s the way the world works, right?

But in Made for the Journey (formerly titled These Strange Ashes) the young Elisabeth Elliot discovers that God’s ways, even when we are obeying him, are often not what we expect.  God’s ways are so much higher than ours, so incomprehensible that they often make no sense to us. In the ultimate example, Jesus’ death was folly to the Gentiles, a stumbling block to Jews, and still is utter foolishness to unbelievers, and yet it was God’s wisdom. As Elisabeth learned, we humans need to learn to let go of our expectations of how the God of the universe will act.

Made for the Journey:  One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador is, in essence, a moving and detailed account of confronting this lesson.  Elisabeth, eager and enthusiastic, heads out to meet the Colorado tribe, along the way telling us colorful stories and giving her impressions.  When she eventually finds someone who is willing to ‘give her words’ and help her record the language, she discovers, to her chagrin, that she would rather be doing housework.  She deftly tells of jungle creatures, getting lost, and roller coaster horse rides through the night.  As a travel account, this story is superb, but it is so much more.  As Elisabeth recounts tragedy after tragedy, she struggles with the fact that God does not act the way she confidently expected him to.  In both her life and the book, a small strand of romance relieves the anguish somewhat, but true comfort comes in the conclusion:

God makes no mistakes. He does not fall asleep. He does not forget His loved children.  He asks us, every day, no matter what circumstances or adversities we find ourselves in, to trust and obey.  He has so arranged things that we may not often fathom His sovereign purposes, but now and then He vouchsafes to us a glimpse of what He is up to.  (P 164)

As Kay Warren wrote in the Foreword and as many others, myself included, have found, one of the things He was up to in Elisabeth’s challenges was preparing a teacher who would show us our God.  “May her experiences—and her confident conclusion—strengthen you for your journey….”

All of us Christian parents are on a journey, pouring our lives into our children, trying to do God’s work in God’s way, fully expecting his blessing in a way that makes sense to us.  But at times children walk away from God.  What then? Elisabeth’s conclusion applies to us, too:

We should not be surprised at the mysterious ways in which our loving Father works all things together for good.  We need to go back again and again to God’s guidebook, the Bible.  It’s all spelled out there….

The apostle Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1Pet. 4: 12-13).

May God bless us all, giving us what we need to be able to trust and obey him in all circumstances.  Made for the Journey is one of the ways he is equipping me for this.

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

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Seeing Subtleties

Sometimes, when all the color is stripped away by winter, it can be hard to see beauty.  Then we need to look more closely.  Often, we can then see things that we could not see before.  We start to notice subtleties and miracles, we discover mysteries, and our minds calm down and are filled with wonder.

It’s not only the winter of nature that does this.  The hard, bare times of our lives, too, can be a blessing.  They can lead us to rely more on God, to search for his goodness, and to find it in his truth.

I see wild-haired Einstein in this willow

After my walks (what a blessing that I am strong enough and steady enough to go for walks again!) I come inside to the warmth and stand by the fire.  I admire our amaryllis or taste a wee bite of strawberry cake.  And I try to remember one lesson:  when beauty and blessings seem to have disappeared, I just need to look more determinedly.  Perhaps all I will be left with is a mystery, like these dead bees, but it will not be a mystery to God.

This week, I urge you to go outside into nature, even if the weather is extreme.  At the very least, you will enjoy coming back inside, and who knows what beauty or lessons or mysteries God may have waiting for you?   Please tell us about your outside time in the comments and feel free to include a link.

If you enjoyed this nature devotional, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

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