That’s a good New Year’s resolution for anybody, and the Christian publishing industry is always serving up new devotionals and study Bibles to help. I have my reservations about children’s devotionals, which I shared here. But some children, and some families, can benefit from them. Following Betsy’s post from yesterday (have you responded for the giveaway?), here are two devotional guides of the popular sort, plus a resource for digging deeper.
Lee Strobel’s books have sold in the millions and have helped confirm Christians in their faith the world over. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29), yet in an increasingly skeptical age, young people and new believers can use some assurance that faith is reasonable. The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for a Creator have all been rewritten for young readers. This devotional guide is apparently intended to break material into bite-sized pieces and help kids apply the evidentiary knowledge offered in the other books. In the Introduction, Strobel recounts his journey to faith and stresses the need for an individual relationship with Jesus. It is suggested that readers take the challenge to read one chapter of Matthew-John every day, in addition to the daily devotional; and since there are 89 chapters in the combined gospels the conscientious reader will reach the last chapter of John and the end of this book at the same time.
It would be good if that suggestion were followed up, or if the devotionals followed the structure of the gospels, however loosely. Instead each two-page installment presents a story or intriguing fact, develops an application and ties in a Bible verse. The Bible verses are from all over, and so are the lessons: aspects of Christian living, God’s laws and their purpose, the concept and importance of truth, etc. Though rather lightweight, the purpose of the book is serious and a number of the devotionals will be interesting, even thought-provoking, to a young reader. It just seems it could have been better thought out and organized.
- Worldview/moral value: 4 (out of 5)
- Literary value: 3
The American Bible Challenge: a Daily Reader (Vol. 1), by Troy Schmidt. Thomas Nelson, 2013, 161 pages. Age/interest level: 10-up.
It’s too late to audition for Season 3 of The American Bible Challenge, but fans of the show (I’ve never seen it, but it sounds like fun) can experience something similar with this book. The format arranges 63 devotions (7 days per week for 9 weeks) around a Bible passage, an application, and 5 “trivia” questions. It seems best adapted to a group, particularly a family. The way it might work is that the readers in the family take turns reading the Bible passage (usually a chapter or the equivalent), Dad or Mom reading the application, and good-natured competition in answering the questions. (They’re observational questions rather than interpretive, and not all easy—participants may have to refer back to the Bible passage, which is all to the good.)
Troy Schmidt, a Baptist pastor as well as television writer, is more cute than clever with some of the titles, but the material is generally sound and sometimes even profound. His take on some familiar Bible stories is unique, such as the David & Goliath story from Goliath’s point of view (he was picked on as a child), but it doesn’t hurt to look at stories from a different angle, as long as readers are clear about what’s in the Bible and what is not. Chronologically, it skips all over: the first week, for example, goes from Noah to Moses and the burning bush to the tabernacle to Jonah, to the Last Supper to the 10 Commandments to Women of the Bible. For a family that’s not too well versed in basic chronology, this could be more confusing than not. But for the family that would like to get into daily devotional time but doesn’t know where to start, this could be a fun way to begin, and easily accessible to the younger members.
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Literary value: 3.5
The Doctrines of Grace, Student Edition, by Shane Lems. P&R Publishing, 2013, 143 pages, included appendices. Age/interest level: 13-up.
This slim volume is written for a teen Sunday school but can be adapted for home use as long as discussion is involved. The author stresses that it’s intended as an introduction to what some call Calvinism, or the TULIP doctrine. Many Christians, even those who attend Reformed churches, are not aware that the “five points of TULIP” were developed in response to the five-point doctrine of Jacob Arminius, which the early Protestant reformers saw as a corruption of biblical Christian teaching. The history is covered in the introductory chapter before moving on to the particulars of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited (Definite) Atonement, Irresistible (Effective) Grace, and Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints. Each “point” takes two chapters (12 chapters in all, including introduction and review), and the way the book is structured each principle leads logically to the next.
The presentation includes bullet points for key concepts, examples and illustrations, plenty of scripture references, two memory verses per chapter and 10-13 study questions, many of which are great for discussion. The exposition is clear and straightforward. For example, under the heading of Total Depravity: “Jesus didn’t come to help people be better. Jesus didn’t come to show good people the right way to live. He came to save wicked people by taking away their sins through his death on the cross.” At the same time, Reformed doctrine is not presented as the be-all and end-all: “Believing in election does not save. Election did not die on the cross for us, Jesus did.”
The appendix includes further reading and scripture index, as well as the full text of the Canons of Dort, the reformation document that specifically sets out the Doctrines of Grace. Teens who are serious about Bible study can benefit greatly from this short book, even if they don’t fully subscribe to all five points. It will deepen their understanding of amazing grace, for sure.
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Literary value: 4.5
Be sure to check out Betsy’s post from yesterday. For more on devotionals, study Bibles, and Bible storybooks, follow the links!