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1 Stars Out Of 5
Non-Christian perspective on the times
November 16, 2013
I was frankly very disappointed with this book and surprised that it would be available on Christianbook.com. This book presents the historical period very well but unfortunately subtly undermines the uniqueness of the Christian faith - making Jesus just another historical figure and religious leader who will eventually become irrelevant just like the Roman and Greek gods. The author definitely does not believe that He is God incarnate who came to die and rise again so that needy sinners can be forgiven. What a pity!
Our family homeschools, probably just like many of those reading these reviews. My wife handed me this book to review before she started using it with the kids. This review is based on her thoughts and mine.
Our review is about the impression of Jesus and Christianity this book is likely to create in the mind and heart of a child.
In the book's Introduction, Foster says she wrote the book not merely to record events but also to answer certain questions. "Above all", she writes, "what thoughts and beliefs were there in that old world that will be forever new, and forever will be true, as they have always been true, no matter in what century or in what land or by what race of people they have been spoken?" (Introduction, p xiii)
So this is a book designed by the author to provide your child with answers to ultimate questions. It is not the author's intent to try to remain objective or unbiased in spiritual matters.
The book is published by Beautiful Feet Books and sold by Christian distributors and comes highly recommended by various Christian homeschool curriculum providers. For that reason we ordered it to use in our homeschool. But as we read we came to the conclusion that this book does not come from a Christian worldview and in fact promotes another worldview - the view that all religions are equal and good. We list some of the reasons we reached this conclusion a little further down.
One concern with the book is that it is being represented by Christian book sellers as something it is not. The world is full of books that do not share our worldview and that we expect. What we don't expect is book sellers to tell us a book shares our world view only to find it in fact undermines it.
Here are a few examples of how Foster writes about spiritual things that reveal her worldview (that all religions are equal and good.)
It seemed to us that generally (not always, but generally), throughout the book, when she writes what religions OTHER than Christianity teach, she describes their beliefs as fact but when she talks about Jesus or Christianity her language becomes much more tentative and questioning.
For example, on the first page of her book, in the Introduction, Foster writes about Janus (Roman god of beginnings and transitions) this way:
"Old Janus, who could see two ways at once, both in time and space, was one of the earliest gods of ancient Rome."
And then a little later in the introduction:
"It was for Janus that the first month of our calendar was named. And since he watched over all openings and beginnings, it seemed right that he should also be here at the opening of this book."
We haven't see any instances in the book of Foster pointing out to the reader that Janus or any of the many gods she talks about in her book are considered false gods by Christians. The gods and beliefs of false religions are nearly always described in terms that are glowing and affirming.
In contrast, when Foster writes about Jesus she uses language that subtly suggests the supernatural aspects of Jesus life may not have been factual but only perceived to be so by the disciples and their companions.
For example, on pp. 322-325 you will find Foster's version of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Tellingly, she nowhere affirms the historicity of the resurrection. We can't tell from what she writes if she believes Jesus really rose from the dead. She writes that Jesus died, that much she states as fact. But then she only says Mary and others "told of" and "reported" that angels told them Jesus had risen from the dead or that they had seen Jesus. She stops short of saying the resurrection in fact happened.
She also writes the disciples "believed that they had felt his presence" with them in the upper room. The Bible says that Jesus actually appeared to the disciples and they touched him and he ate food (not things a "presence" is capable of doing).
She says that many "were convinced that what they [the disciples] had said was true." While it is true many were convinced and believed, there is a pattern in Foster's language of focusing on what people believed or thought they believed but absolutely no statements of fact about the truth of the things believed.
She says Paul, on the Damascus Road, "suddenly" "fell" and "Jesus seemed to speak to him." Again, this is not biblically/historically accurate. Scripture says Jesus DID speak to him. And she has left out the reason he fell to the ground (a light from heaven blinded him - Acts 9). Foster subtly removes references to the supernatural and everything is just something Paul or others say they experienced. This way of talking can undermine faith in Jesus and who He truly is - the resurrected One, the firstborn from the dead!
(All of the quotes in the previous four paragraphs come from pp. 322-325.)
While Foster subtly undermines faith in the resurrection and other supernatural events in the Bible, her affirmation of other religions is far from subtle.
For example, on p. 264 she discusses Buddha. She gives the reader a glowing impression of him. She then ends with quotes from what she calls a "sacred book" from Hinduism. The quotes:
"As one can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope, so varied are the ways and means to approach God."
"Every religion in the world shows one of these ways."
Foster ends the chapter with those words. No explanation is given the student. No context of what the Bible says about attempts to reach God apart from Jesus. No discussion of the claim of Jesus to be "the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6.) Instead, she ends the chapter with an affirmation of Universalism.
Another place that Foster expresses her view that all religions are equal and good is on pp. 318-319. In a story that she says she takes from Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Foster focuses on a passage that is often used by Universalists - Luke 17:21. Some translations render it "the kingdom of God is within you." Foster fastens on this translation of the verse and ends her story with this affirmation:
"Each human being then holds the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, for it lies within."
That, of course, is not what Jesus was saying. A more accurate translation of the Greek in the verse Foster references would be "the kingdom of God is in your midst." The ESV Study Bible note on this verse sums up the problem with the interpretation Foster depends on this way:
"Luke 17:21 The Pharisees repeat their mistake of 14:15 in not recognizing that the kingdom of God has already come. It is in the midst of you, in the person of Jesus and in the reign of God manifested in those who are already following Jesus. Some understand Jesus to say here that the kingdom is "within you," but he would not say that to disbelieving Pharisees."
It's plain Jesus would not have told the Pharisees (who kept accusing him of being possessed by demon and were fixing to kill him) that His kingdom was inside each of them.
And yet another example of Foster's views is on p 325. Foster sums up the rise of Christianity by calling it:
"Another story of the triumph of life and courage over fear and death, a triumph seen anew in every spring that follows winter and with the rising of the sun each day."
We think this statement is a good summary statement of Foster's theme. She believes all religions are equal and good and that Jesus was just part of "another story" that affirms vaguely spiritual sounding things like the "triumph of life and courage" and the "triumph" that can be seen in every spring and sunrise.
So. Will we be tossing this book in the burn barrel? :) Probably not. A friend suggested that this sort of book may be useful in training our children to discern truth from error. We agree. We might assign this book in the future as a "foil" and ask an older child to interact with it the way they would with any other book we know pushes another worldview. This book, however, is not represented by the publisher as contradictory to a Christian worldview. This is not disclosed. Instead it is recommended (by the publisher) for children as young as 5th grade.
Our teaching philosophy is that we learn to discern between truth and error by hiding the truth in our hearts, not by studying error. ALL (children and adults alike) need to start our learning by rehearsing the truth, not lies. You aren't ready to study lies until you know and live the truth. Our young children are beginners at learning. It is dangerous to expose a young mind and heart to lies that come attractively packaged in stories like the ones Foster tells. Our young children are still forming their understanding of basic truths. We won't choose books for them that undermine those truths.
Families will differ on how young is too young to introduce a child to book like this. We think it might be suitable for a high school or college aged child if that child shows signs of having a firm grasp of the fundamentals of Christian doctrine and lifestyle and has been trained how to read with a book in one hand and the Bible in the other. Otherwise, (with younger children or immature children) this book will likely serve to undermine the faith we hope to pass on to our children.
P.S. Our main motive in writing this is the concern that parents will buy this book on the recommendation of a Christian book seller and hand it to a child to read on their own. The book should come with a caution label that alerts parents to at least read it with their children or save it until children are old enough to be read the book critically, with an open Bible nearby.
I purchased this book because of seeing it in the CBD homeschool catalog and hoped it would be a good history.
This book was interesting but I discovered about half way through that it should not be sold by any professing Christian book distributors because the author's agenda is to promote her idea that all religions worship the same god. I wouldn't have called it her agenda in this review, except that I started reading her other book recently, The World of Captain John Smith, and she is doing the SAME exact thing in that book. Its greatly disappointing.
This book made me wonder if anything she was writing was correct when I reached the chapter about "The Law of Moses" and refers to the torah as an ancient tradition that had been first put into written form about four or five hundred years before (this would be about 400-500 BC - yes, Ezra collected the texts and organized them in the order that they have but that does not mean the were FIRST WRITTEN then). That is entirely incorrect, as anyone who has read the Bible and accepts it as history is well aware.
Look elsewhere for an historical retelling of events and times, because although the telling is interesting, the authoress is definitely promoting the idea that all religions lead to the same end and she uses what knowledge she has to do a survey of some religions of the time period to demonstrate this. Page 150 of my edition (in the chapter on The Pantheon) is where she stops hinting and most evidently sets out her doctrines into the text. Her teaching (and I'm basing this on what I also just read in "The World of Captain John Smith") is directly contradictory to what Christ states when he says that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no man cometh to the Father but by Him. I detest books that call the Truth, a liar.
My children and I agreed we didn't want to bother reading anymore. We stopped around the overview of Akhenaton, approx 3/4 of the way through (skipping the majority of the chapter about the Law of Moses just previous to that since it didn't look any good). I would say this is the portion where she begins her comparison of different religions in different places. I could see from looking ahead that Christ was going to become a part of this history and I was just fearful of what she would end up saying further. So we were done.
I'm not writing this review to argue with anyone, just to further warn people. The one reviewer noticed some problems; I'm just expanding on how bad it really is.
We found this to be a valuable read-aloud book on history. It does an excellent job of weaving together the history of various parts of the world. Each chapter begins with nice line art of "people who were living when...and some events that took place between..." The other illustrations in the book are equally well done and well to the stories being told.The book is far more than a well written account of history, however. As much as it is about history, it is also about religion. Depending on your view, this could be a natural inclusion of a very important part of history. The one glaring drawback, and the only reason I did not award it 5 stars, is that it's not written from a Christian, or even a neutral, perspective. In subtle, and some not so subtle, ways it puts forth the view that all religions are the same and ultimately built on what historically came before them. On page 150, the author writes, "And through all those centuries of change, whether they worshipped Him as one God or as many, the have been guided by the same eternal and unchanging spirit. "For it is only man's idea of God that changes."These passages gave us an opportunity to discuss this sort of universalism, but there were so many of them it became tiresome. Still it is a well designed compilation of history if you're willing to engage in the side discussions and/or do some editing.
My 12 year old daughter was assigned to read this during 6th grade in her homeschool studies. A couple of weeks ago, she was reading the book again. I asked her why she was re-reading a school book, and she replied that it was so good, she wanted to read it again. How many assigned books are that good?