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Book Review: A History of US (Vol. 1): The First Americans

“It is always easy to do and thinks as everyone else does. And here we are, at one of the most important reasons for studying history: to learn from the mistakes of others” (98). So writes Joy Hakim in her first installment of an 11-book series called A History of US. In the chapter quoted, Hakim goes on to ask, “[The explorers] meant to do good. Many people told them they were doing good. Does that excuse them? Does it make a difference to the victim? Is it right to force others to believe as you do? Is it possible?” (99).

These are heady questions for any reader, but the fact that they are posed in language that a 9-year old can comprehend makes this an incredibly thoughtful, rigorous, and important US History text.

In A History of US: The First Americans, readers will find unbiased, white-wash-free accounts of the people and places of United States history from prehistory to 1600. Though sure to disappoint teachers in search of textbooks that perfectly align to state standards, broken down into chapters and sections and subsections with an accompanying set of worksheets, this book is an incredible resource for any history classroom dedicated to authentic historical work.

The First Americans is broken into 39 article-style chapters, each of which is rife images of primary sources. In every chapter, Hakim invites curiosity, discussion, and even debate–in other words, this material encourages the flow of the lifeblood of any history classroom.

In the book’s initial chapter, “Why History?”, Hakim reveals her book’s theme:

I believe the United States of America is the most remarkable nation that has ever existed. No other nation, in the history of the world, has ever provided so much freedom, so much justice, and so much opportunity to so many people.

Characteristically, Hakim immediately follows her theme by saying, “That is a big statement. You don’t have to agree with it. Arguing with a book’s theme is okay” (10).

Because of its constant invitation to debates, its honest look at history, its probing questions, its quality prose, and its extensive use of primary documents, I will be heavily drawing from and promoting this book in my ninth grade humanities classroom.

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Book Review: Get Outta My Face, by Rick Horne

  • Shepherd Press
  • 192 pp.
  • January 2009

As a high school English and World History teacher, Rick Horne’s Get Outta My Face: How to Reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel is a welcome book. Horne has every right in the world to write a book based on his own authority–a doctorate from Westminster East, 30 years of counseling teens, five adult children–yet this is a book based on the Bible’s authority alone.

Horne begins by defining the problem beneath every teen’s problem–that their desires and actions are corrupted by sin. He helps readers see that beneath all behavioral issues are heart issues, and he stresses the importance of identifying those issues. Yet, at the same time, these teens are made in the image of God, which means that beneath their corrupted actions are “wise wants.” And so, Horne begins Get Outta My Face by calling would-be counseling to humility–in the teen, we see our same sin-corrupted yet image-bearing selves.

The rest of the book is about opening a bridge of communication with your teen, pointing out the natural consequences of his/her actions, affirming the wise wants beneath your teens actions, and creating small, manageable steps toward changes that your teen wants. If you’ve worked with a disgruntled teen before, then you know how valuable some guidance on doing these things might be!

And finally, Horne points us toward the only true change-maker in the world: the cross. By building bridges to our teens, we can show them how the gospel changes everything in our lives.

Buy it at Amazon. (For the sake of transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I do receive a tiny percentage of any purchases made through the link.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: What is the Gospel?, by Greg Gilbert

  • Crossway
  • March 2010
  • 128 pp.

The gospel, thankfully, is being made much of these days–just look at my review list, with titles like Gospel Transformation, Gospel-Powered Parenting, The Gospel for Real Life, Bringing the Gospel Home… and, if you look at my tags, “the gospel” is the #1 most-used. And indeed, this is as it should be. After all, the gospel–Greek for “good news”–is what the Bible is all about.

But the tricky thing with words is that so many of them mean one thing to one person and much different thing to another. Take, for example, the word “Israel.” Depending on who you’re talking to and what you’re conversing about, Israel can mean a modern nation state in the Middle East, a nation of people who left Egypt and settled in Canaan, the Patriarch Jacob–and much more! Obviously, being clear on the definitions for key words in any conversation is one way to ensure successful communication.

And so, with many different authors and groups and churches talking about the 2000-year old gospel, Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel is a welcome little book. C. J. Mahaney’s blurb sums up the need for Gilbert’s book quite well: “Two realities make this a critically important book: the centrality of the gospel in all generations and the confusion about the gospel in our own generation.”

Gilbert uses various apostolic descriptions of “the good news” and breaks it down like this: God, Man, Christ, Response. In greater length, he says that the gospel answers the following questions:

  1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? (God the Righteous Creator)
  2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why? (Man the Sinner)
  3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has he acted to save us from it? (Jesus Christ the Savior)
  4. How do I–myself, right here, right now–how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? (Faith and Repentance)
After expounding on each of these points, Gilbert explores what the gospel brings us into–the Kingdom–and what cheapens the gospel–that is, what takes the cross from the center.
Very appropriately, the cross is the center of Gilbert’s book. In the penultimate chapter, he stresses how making the gospel relevant to people should never go so far as to remove the cross from the center of the message. A man who claimed to be God died on a cross–that is the center of the good news; it is the solution to the great divide that man’s sin built between him and the Creator. And the proof of that being the solution is that the God-man rose from the dead victoriously.
This small book is great.

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The Integrated Life, by Ken Eldred

  • Manna Ventures
  • July 1997
  • 226 pp.

The idea that one’s faith should be fully lived out in all of life is, unfortunately, quite rare these days, yet we find it again and again in the Scriptures. But how does one really integrate faith and work? What can a Christ-follower offer a secular business? How can we go to work with God? In The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred sets out to answer these exact questions.

Ken Eldred is a man who has spent decades discerning the call of Christ in the realm of business. His book discusses the real life implications of this calling, and he makes the reader excited to go back to work on Monday with Jesus. Among other things, Eldred discusses profit (is it wrong? is it right?), spiritual capital, business goals, and ministry. On this lattermost point, I love that Eldred puts a voice to the false assumption that ministry and working outside of the church are mutually exclusive. Eldred draws on the biblical truth that we are all called to be ministers (servants).

And really, that’s what this book does best: it encourages and equips and empowers ministers of God to enter into the world of secular work. Though most of Eldred’s examples come from the business work, I found plenty of connections to my secular workplace (a public high school), and I’m sure you will as well. Definitely pick this one up!

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Big History, by Cynthia Stokes Brown

  • The New Press
  • September 2008
  • 288 pp.

In Big History, Brown sets out to do a task that many historians do: to tell the story of humans. What makes Brown’s book unique is that she begins her story at the Big Bang. Because of this, the first forty or so pages of Big History give an interesting walk through the latest scientific theories on how the universe came into being and how, specifically, the Earth became a plant with humans on it. This will obviously raise a myriad of red flags in Christ-followers because we have been trained to believe that science and the Bible have become irreconcilable. However, whether you agree with the Big Bang Theory or not, is it not beneficial for us as witnesses of Jesus to know and understand the beliefs of the people around us?

And honestly, when I read Brown’s description of the Big Bang, I can’t help but feel awe. Some examples:

  • “The universe erupted from a single point, perhaps the size of an atom, in which all known matter and energy and space and time were squeezed together in unimaginable density” (p. 4)
  • “The power in [the] initial expansion [of this one point] was sufficient to fling a hundred billion galaxies for 13.7 billion years and counting” (p. 4)
  • “Before one second had elapsed the four fundamental forces that govern matter had come into being…These forces work in perfect balance to allow the universe to exist and expand at a sustainable rate. If the gravitational force were a tiny bit stronger, all matter would likely implode on itself. If gravity were slightly weaker, the stars could not form.” (p. 5)

Does such a theory honestly sound like something that challenges the existence of God? On the contrary, after reading these words, I have a deeper appreciation for the incredible power of God’s “Let there be light.”

The other hotly debated issue that Brown presents as fact is human evolution. Again, reading the chapters that discuss this are helpful in understanding what evolutionary theory teaches about how humans came to be on the planet.

Once readers get to page 57, human hunter-gatherers are on the scene, and from there on out, Brown’s story of humanity remains as global as possible, discussing advancements in human capability and responsibility across large theaters like Afroeurasia and the Americas. Brown’s telling of history is seems to at times labor tremendously towards being as iconoclastic as possible, often shaping facts in a revisionistic manner. However, Brown does offer an interesting and manageable (less than 300 pages) telling of global human history, and her book encapsulates an approach to history that is getting the attention and backing of the Gates Foundation. It’s worth a read!

Check it out for yourself at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Hollywood Worldviews, by Brian Godawa

  • IVP Books
  • May 2009
  • 260 pp.

I first picked up a copy of Hollywood Worldviews from a bookshelf in an Upper West Side apartment. New York City, a cultural center of our age, was an appropriate setting for first reading a book about thoughtfully engaging with the primary storytelling medium of our day: film. And though Godawa does focus on discerning the worldviews of numerous films, this book can equip readers to discern worldviews in books, television, video games–you name it.

I love Godawa’s humble approach to films. Theologically, Godawa shows us a tension in film: on the one hand, our fallen nature makes any product we create inherently flawed, whether it promotes a Christian worldview or a secular one; on the other hand, God’s gift of common grace means that nearly all films–aside from those depicting purely gratuitous material, such as pornography–contain some aspects of the truth of God because they are a part of God’s general revelation. Films are not the inspired Word of God–therefore they are all skewed in some way by sin–and yet they are within the sovereign reality that indelibly bears His fingerprints.

Yet, if Hollywood Worldviews was only a theological primer, there would be nothing that unique about it. What makes this book special is its discussion and categorization of hundreds of films. Godawa makes me eager to read each page because I feel like I’m a fly on the wall of a room in which Christ-loving film critics are having a spirited discussion about the positive and negative aspects of hundreds of films. When I read Hollywood Worldviews, it’s as if I’ve been invited into an exclusive club that I have no right belonging to. After all, when I sit down and watch a film, I usually have the stance of a partaker of entertainment rather than a disciple of Jesus (if I’m perfectly honest).

Godawa’s book will help to cure Christian America of thoughtlessly viewing or flippantly deriding movies. He will help to make us more like Paul, who, at the Areopagus, has a “redemptive interaction with culture” (p. 254). I pray that this book finds it’s way next to many filmgoers and movie renters in the years to come.

Buy it at Amazon. (For the sake of transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I do receive a tiny percentage of any purchases made through the link.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: A Short History of the World, by J. M. Roberts

  • Oxford University Press
  • July 1997
  • 560 pp.

When I began reading Roberts’ A Short History of the World last summer, I was essentially a world history ignoramus. I could tell you several random tidbits that were stuck in my brain from college–e.g., the Norman Conquest occurred in 1066 AD–but I was unequipped to explain the general movements of humankind over the duration of our race’s existence. Needless to say, when I was assigned to teach two sections of freshman world history for the 2011-2012 school year, I was eager to review Roberts’ book. Yet, as a follower of Jesus Christ and a believer in the authority of Scripture, I was especially curious how Roberts’ book would treat the biblical narrative and church history.

When the God of the Bible is first mentioned in this book, Roberts makes him out to be an idea, something “arrived at” by the Hebrews (“only the Hebrews arrived at a coherent and uncompromising monotheism,” p. 92). Furthermore, Roberts calls God a “tribal deity” and the God of a “cult” (p. 92). These terms are offensive to those who know God as the creator of the universe who chose the Hebrews to bring about the salvation of the world. Yet, we have to remember that we’re reading Roberts here, not Moses. In the inspired Word of God, we see God’s revelation of who He is and what his purposes are. In A Short History of the World, we see Roberts seeking to make a coherent picture of the history of all humans on the planet in only 500 pages. Inherent in this task is a humanistic worldview: it’s all about people. Humans evolved from apes into creatures who formed tribes and then cities and then civilizations; we are a race that has built ideas and systems and technology.

Though this humanistic bent does not ascribe deity to any religious figure, Roberts does give a surprising amount of attention to Jesus of Nazareth:

  • On the historic importance of Jesus: “If historical importance is measured by impact on numbers of people, we can safely say that no single event in ancient times and perhaps none in the whole of human history is as important as the birth of the man whose name passed into history as Jesus…. The whole of human history since shows how important it was. Quite simply, those later calling themselves Christians–the followers of Jesus–were to change the history of the whole globe. To find something which has had a comparable impact we have to look not to single events but to big processes like industrialization, or the great forces of prehistoric times like climate which set the stage for history (pp. 135-6).
  • On the Gospels: “The Gospels were written to show that [the disciples] were right in thinking him a unique person–Messiah” (p. 137).
  • On the Resurrection: “Soon after [his death] his disciples believed that he had risen from the dead, that they had met him and talked to him after that, that they had seen him ascend into heaven and that he had left them only to return soon sitting at the right hand of God to judge all men at the end of time” (p. 137).
  • On the reliability of the Gospels: “Whatever may be thought of the details of the Gospel records, it cannot plausibly be maintained that they were written by men who did not believe these things, nor that they did not write down what they were told by men who believed they had seen them with their own eyes” (p. 137).
  • On why Jesus had so great an impact on history: “It can be seen easily enough that what gave the teaching of Jesus a much greater impact than that of other holy men of his age was that his followers saw him crucified and yet believed he later rose again from the dead” (p. 136).

And here may be the greatest benefit of A Short History of the World for the general Christ-following reader: it affords us a glimpse of how God is viewed in a humanistic history of the world. It shows us that His mark is indelibly there even in an man-focused, deity-withholding account of history.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to the discerning, open-minded reader. If you read this book with the desire to understand a non-Christocentric view of human history, you will certainly walk away edified and appreciative of Roberts’ work. Aside from his knack for fitting enormous episodes–e.g., the French Revolution–into only a couple pages, Roberts’ tone and style and tongue-in-cheek humor make him enjoyable to read.

Buy it at Amazon. (For the sake of transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I do receive a tiny percentage of any purchases made through the link.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”