August Readings

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Someday, I still hope to live for a season on the coast.  I long to walk the shores each morning, hear the sea gulls and the lapping of the waves, and feel the slight taste of salt on my lips.  Someday, I will be posting all sorts of shots of books, sunsets, and surf.  This year, like last year and many previous years, it didn’t happen.

But this is a book blog and not a beach or travel blog.  I could recount my many troubles this past month, headed up by unemployment, but as I said, this is a place where you go to read about what books you could or should be reading.

Here is the lineup and commentary:

 

Authority, Not Majority: The Life and Times of Freidrich Julius Stahl by Rueben Alvarado

Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard B. Frank

“Nothing to do but Save Souls”: John Wesley’s Charge to His Preachers by Robert E. Coleman

Stalin’s Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of WWII on the Eastern Front by Constantine Pleshakov

 Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution by Jeff Broadwater

Sermons on Titus by John Calvin

Demons by Michael Heiser

Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown

The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Authority, Not Majority: The Life and Times of Friedrich Julius Stahl by Rueben Alvarado is, along with several volumes by Stahl, published by Wordbridge Publishing.

Understand, first of all, that this book is for the political philosophy kindergartener, like me.  I have several books by Friedrich Julius Stahl along with this one, all of which were published and are promoted by author, translator, and publisher Ruben Alvarado.

For decades I moved along happily without ever knowing that Stahl existed.  One of the problems of teaching classes, especially for teaching junior high and high school classes, is that one goes over certain material, what often reduces history to bullet points, without having to explore beyond the boundaries of major outlines and best known people.

Stahl, much like Groen van Prinsterer, was a major political thinker and doer.  He was an active member of the German legislature during the 1800s, prior to the time when German unification was achieved.  He was a Christian, but like Groen, that did not simply mean that he went to church on Sundays or had a personal relationship with Christ.  He was one who labored to think Christianly and apply such thinking to the current of political and social issues of his time.

Mr. Alvarado sent me several of Stahl’s works and the biography some years ago.  It slowly began to dawn on me as I witnessed his name coming up in some discussion groups that I needed to enroll myself into learning about the man.  The biography is sketchy, a bit confusing, and fragmentary.  That is not the fault of the writer.  There is not much in the way of stories and anecdotes about the man himself, and the confusion stems from my own lack of mental chronology and familiarity with people and events in German history.

In other words, this short biography needs to be read twice. And then I can start venturing into Stahl’s works.

Downfall: The End of the Japanese Empire by Richard B. Frank was “assigned reading” from my historian friend Tony Williams.

This past August marked the 75th anniversary of the events including the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan and Japan’s subsequent surrender.  The debate still rages on whether dropping atomic bomb was necessary to end the war. If you want a quick and easy answer, go elsewhere.  This book is detailed.  This book is packed with laboriously compiled accounts of bombings, military actions, political decisions, diplomacy, and more.  That is commendation, not criticism.  One would not want to have to take a test involving the particular facts and figures cited in this book.

I wondered at the beginning why Frank took so long in laboring over this work, but upon reading it, I see why.  This is not the more enjoyable narrative history found in works by Stephen Ambrose or Rick Atkinson.  You want the facts and options and varying angles of what lead to the defeat of Japan?  Go for this book.

Also, upon reading it, I wondered again how people ever endured World War II.

“Nothing to do but Save Souls”: John Wesley’s Charge to His Preachers by Robert E. Coleman is an enjoyable dose of Methodist Wesleyan theology such as we wish were prevalent among many of our brethren.

I found this book to be a great complement to the book Compel Them to Come In: Calvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel by Donald Macleod.

While the two books and authors have different approaches and aims, both books reinforced each other in the compelling need for Christians to share, promote, preach, and teach the Gospel to all.  Wesley was a great man of God, and Coleman’s book is a call for all who bear the name of Methodist to take up his commission.

Stalin’s Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of WWII on the Eastern Front by Constantine Pleshakov is a readable and astounding book.

Never talk about how bad things are in America right now (2020) or how bad our leaders are until you have read accounts of Josef Stalin and the Russo-German War in World War II.

Gripping, astounding stories.  It is amazing that somehow Russia not only survived the attack by Hitler, but mounted the resources to defeat him.  Stalin is one of the most evil, puzzling, bizarre, and manipulative rulers in all of history.

 Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution by Jeff Broadwater is published by the University of North Carolina Press.

Of the making of books about the Founding Fathers there is no end.  Quite popular are the ones that compare and contrast those men.  In many cases, they were friends, allies, co-workers, kindred spirits, and at times, enemies.  Jefferson and Madison are two quite amazing men, each considered by himself.  They have their fans and detractors to this day.

The two men were really close friends.  Some of their political thoughts and actions were united, but there are plenty of divergences in their thinking and legacies.  This book traces the many political issues and actions the men undertook both together and separately.

Madison’s role in the Constitutional Convention was the highpoint of his career, while Jefferson was far off in France at the time.  They corresponded, agreed, differed, hammered out issues, etc.  You cannot help but think what they might have done had they had more modern ways of communication.

Wherever you stand regarding these two men, this is a great study.

Sermons on Titus by John Calvin is published by Banner of Truth

A more full review is coming soon.  This collection of sermons is one of the best books I read this year.

Demons by Michael Heiser is published by Lexham Press.

This book is not an easy read.  Heiser is not writing a spooky, for the curious, account of the demonic world.  Expect more Hebrew than you can handle and many detailed refences to Intertestamental Period writings.

This book calls for careful study and slow and repeated reading and consideration.

Two novels read in August

Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown

The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

I picked up the Brown book for 50 cents.  It looked new even though it came out in the late 1990s.  The Rowling book is the third in the Harry Potter series which I am still trying to muster the strength to read.

Sorry folks, but I thought Brown’s book was much better than Rowling’s.

 

 

 

July Readings for 2020

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In my way of thinking and living, there is nothing quite like beach reading in July.  By that I mean that my current life has no actual connections to any beaches, sun, sand, surf, sea gulls, and waves lapping at my feet.  It has, since you ask, been one of the hardest months of my life.  I won’t rehearse the woes and calamities, including job loss, school closing, mechanical breakdowns, family health crises, and problems in our physical domicile.

But one thing that does connect me to beach reading is the fact that I did get to do some reading during the month.  The books, varied and sundry, will be discussed in turn in this posting.

Books Read in July:

  1. Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Amy Dockser Marcus

Back in March, I met a college student, Alex Perrin, who was a history major for a time.  He recommended this book to me.  I must admit to being a bit lost in the story as it developed in this history.  It was a reminder of how little I know about the history of the Middle East in the 20th century.  I have read 3 or 4 books on the subject, but as I often say, one cannot join the conversation in an intelligent way until they have read–and to some degree, mastered–at least ten books on a particular subject.  Side note:  A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin is my “go to” book on this subject and the one I need to read several times.

No contemporary news story exists in a vacuum. But going back to the roots can be a amazingly complex matter.  The factions–Arab, Ottoman Turk, and Jewish–who were involved in matters in Jerusalem are many and detailed.  Needless to say, the perspective of time give both sadness and amazement at what has and continues to happen there.  (Truth Disclosure:  This book was read in June, not July.)

2. Strays by Remy Wilkins

Remy Wilkins is an actual, real live friend of mine.  The fact that we never cross paths is irrelevant.  He is a young, still budding teacher, scholar, and author who lives in Monroe, Louisiana, attends the Presbyterian church his father pastors, and works in a classical Christian school.

This book, his first novel, is a delightful and engaging story of a young boy who gets caught up in a web of danger and mystery when he goes to live with his uncle.  I always have to confess, with resulting boos and hisses, that I do not prefer the type of stories containing elements of fantasy and Lewis-Tolkien-type Christian messages.  My preference is for the grittier Faulkner-O’Connor type of Southern realism.

However, I work to overcome such moral flaws in my reading.  The opening pages of this book shamed me severely and almost caused me to never write another sentence.  By that, I mean that Remy’s writing is well crafted.  By that, I also mean that I was jealous of his craftsmanship.

While this book might seem to appeal to the younger readers, adults and even old contrarians can read it with much pleasure.  I look forward to reading more of Mr. Wilkins’s books.

3. An Introduction to Theological Anthropology by Joshua R. Farris  (Not pictured below.  My books are all in disorder at the moment, and I don’t know where this one is hiding.)

This book is a theological heavy lifting work. I posted a review of it in conjunction with a few companion volumes last month.

While theology is primarily devoted to the study of God, we also have the need to study man (to use the older, now unacceptable term).  Man, mankind, people, anthropos are complex, wonderfully made, terribly distorted beings.  John Calvin’s Institutes begins with the point that we know God and ourselves as the beginning of knowledge.

I really admire this book and have been able to get to know the author through Facebook.  Much of the time while reading it, I found myself wondering “How would this preach?”  By that, I mean how do we who are teachers, pastors, communicators, etc. take the content and apply it to our audiences?  I believe this is a vital question, and the book doesn’t provide bullet points teaching for the masses.  Remember, it is heavy lifting.  And I do believe that sharpening and deepening our understanding of what we are, what the Bible says we are, and what the culture rightly or wrongly supposes we are–these are vital.

4. Reading Walker Percy’s Novels  and Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence by Jessica Hooten Wilson

Both of these literary studies are fine works and good reading.  Half of the enjoyment of great literature is interaction with others who have read widely and who share their insights and experiences.  I am still way behind on my reading of Walker Percy’s works.  I know, I know.  I claim to be a serious reader of Southern literature, but I am in Walker Percy kindergarten, sleeping on a mat.

This means that I will need to revisit both of these books when I get caught up on reading Percy and when I read, penitently, Demons by Doestoevsky.

5. Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes

This is a really good account of America’s War on Poverty during the 1960s and 1970s.  If you would like some solid right wing rants about guv’mint programs and how they fail, look elsewhere.  This work is detailed, maybe even laborious, and careful in its documentation of an era.

Shlaes has written some really valuable histories for our time, including her work on the Great Depression and her biography of Calvin Coolidge.  Add this to those for a powerful trilogy on true conservative historiography.

6. The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Hudson Parsons

I love reading about political battles and election campaigns.  There has never been two more gifted, but totally different men vying for the Presidency than Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.  They slugged it out in both 1824 and 1828.  This book does a good job of going all the way back through the childhoods and lives of these two men.  Great reading and great fun reading.

7. How to Keep From Losing Your Mind by Deal Hudson

The subtitle for this book is “Educating Yourself Classically to Survive Cultural Indoctrination.”  This book and author reminded me of Father James V. Schall who wrote several books with similar messages.  I have been struggling to provide myself with the meagerest of tools of a classical education for years.  I have been lamenting many of the things lacking in the college training I received.  I have been running and teaching in a classical Christian school until events forced its closure this summer.  This book is right down my alley.

Part of what is unique and helpful about Hudson’s book is that he doesn’t simply repeat the list of great books and why you should read them.  He devotes an equal amount of time to music and movies.  Granted, it is hard to read a review of a piece of music.  But when I listen to classical music, it is usually as background music and not as an active experience.  Hopefully, books like this one will fuel a few more fires for better education.

8. Compel Them to Come In:  Calvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel by Donald Macleod

This book is a great series of sermons (though not actually that) and exhortations for Reformed folk to get busy about the task of witnessing, evangelizing, praying for, and reaching the lost.  If someone desires a bit more theological detail, J. I. Packer’s classic Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God remains a serious go-to book.  But this one is a powerful reminder to us Reformed hard-heads of what we really believe.

9. Shots Fired by C. J. Box

The dust jacket says that these are Joe Pickett stories, and a few of them are.  C. J. Box is a fun and gripping writer.  I loved these stories, even in a case or two where I objected to Box’s resolutions to the plots. Oh yes, the story titled “The Master Falconer,” featuring Nate Romanowski is worth the price of the book.

10. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Read several times before. Each time it is a delight. Especially pertinent right now.

11. The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine by Patrick Schreiner

This is a short book that deals with a neglected doctrine, as the title says.  I sometimes finish a book and think to myself, “This book is far better than my reading of it.”  The fact that Christ ascended up into heaven is really a staggering theological truth.  Along with our notice of and celebration of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, we should be noticing and celebrating His Ascension–and that on Ascension Day/Sunday and ever Day/Sunday.

Jesus did not just slip away.  He ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father.

Read this book, share it, preach it.

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Hodge and Dabney–Read Them While You Can

The 1800s in American history was a time of great Presbyterian theologians and preachers.  Most history surveys overlook these men and their messages.  Historians adopt the view of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes whose poem “The One Hoss Shay” attempted to mock the demise of Jonathan Edwards’ theology.  Quite often Ralph Waldo Emerson is treated as though he were a deeply profound American born and raised philosopher.  His buddy Henry David Thoreau is likewise hailed as one of the bright lights of American history.

The final nails are put into the Presbyterian coffin during the Scopes Trial.  Less often noticed is the battle for Princeton Theological Seminary.  Mark Twain, who was often better than the historians at noticing the things that mattered, took more than a few swipes at Presbyterians.  Take down the massive pillars of American Presbyterian theology and the rest of the edifice of American Protestant Christianity would follow.

I am not, at this moment, out to blame the historians.  No one or no one thousand histories can cover everything.  Of course, the perspective of the historian does determine what to include and what to exclude.  This point still remains:  Anyone serious about understanding American history from a Christian viewpoint must go beyond the best known texts and authors.

In short, Presbyterian theologians were some of the most dominant thinkers of the 19th Century.  That dominance continued on into the 20th Century, but their voices and impact became less and less known.  But just as one would not attempt to understand the Age of Elizabeth I in English history without taking note of the Puritan movement, one should not attempt to understand American history without studying the Presbyterians of the 1800s.

This study and emphasis, however, is not just a topic for intellectual historians who are trying to fill in gaps or connect the pieces of the puzzle.  It is not what the Presbyterians said in the 1800s that concerns me most.  Rather, it is what they are calling us to hear in the 21st Century.

We need the old Presbyterians now more than ever.  Sad to say, after being ignored or glanced over for a long time, they are currently being excommunicated from Presbyterian thought and studies.  Especially disliked are those who not only had the “misfortune” of being born in the South, but who defended the South and the Southern Confederacy on a number of very nuanced and profound ways.

The reading list I would like to give on this topic is long and involved.  There are nearly 30 books that I call attention to in one of my past book reviews that dealt with Columbia Theological Seminary.  That review can be found HERE.

For now, I would like to recommend two books written by two of the great Presbyterian theologians from the 19th century.  I will struggle to avoid both being overly biographical or full of praise for these men.  Just know that these are two of the pillars of American Christian Reformed and Presbyterian orthodox thought in the 1800s.

First, Charles Hodge and Exegetical Lectures and Sermons on Hebrews.  This book is published by Banner of Truth.

The pastor, student, or teacher who needs an all purpose commentary on Hebrews needs to look elsewhere.  The Hodge reader who is familiar with his incredible commentary on Romans should know that this work is not in the same category.  It does contain comments on the text, and it is classic Hodge theology from beginning to end.

The first part of this book is exegetical notes on Hebrews.  Hodge is not giving exhortation or application, but is working through some of the Greek grammar details and other points of exegesis, or drawing out the meaning of the text.  For me, it was yet another reminder of how exacting, careful, and learned the Presbyterian ministers were in Hodge’s day.  For me, it was yet another reminder of how far my own education is from the standards of that time.

Non-Greek New Testament students like me will find this section interesting, but not fulfilling.  Greek students would likely be crying out “More! More!”  As a student and teacher of history, it is more confirmation of the education found at Princeton and the scholarship standards of the time.

The following section gives a number of sermon outlines.  A few if the outlines, but not all, come from another Banner publication called Princeton Sermons.  I believe that preachers and students can learn quite a bit from studying these outlines.  A similar work can be found in the B & H series called The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854.  

Reading a sermon outline is a bit of a challenge.  It can be read quickly if one is simply trying to cover pages.  But I think the greater task would be to spend some time thinking on each of the outline points.  I think it would be a great lesson for aspiring preachers to take these outlines and fill in the gaps.  (But give credit to the original writer.)  Side note:  Hodge’s outlines are not bullet points.

The absolute best part of the new Hodge book is the all too few complete sermons from various Hebrew texts.  I remember thinking while reading one of these: “There is no way I could pack this much content into a single sermon.  There is no way I could grasp this much content in a single sermon.”  I am not speaking about merely being full of facts and theological information.  I am referring to the fact that these sermons were rich with content.  As Wesley said in another context, “I felt my heart warmly moved.”

One quote that I posted recently is worth repeating:  “It was the Spirit who made the sound ring in your ears long after the speaker’s voice had ceased, and which brought back the sound in the stillness of the night and repeated in a small, still voice the admonitions of the pulpit.”

The sermons themselves are worth the price of the book.  But the other parts are also helpful in giving both spiritual guidance and a standard to aspire to.  By the way, Banner of Truth has continued to put out or reprint books by Charles Hodge. His commentaries on Romans, Ephesians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians and his book The Way of Life are both available, as is a biography of Hodge by his son A. A. Hodge.

Dabney on Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government is edited and introduced by my friend Zachary Garris.  This book can be purchased from Amazon.

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The books by Robert Lewis Dabney are many, usually lengthy, and now often highly priced and out of print.  Thankfully, Zach Garris has made a handy, short, readable, and very pertinent collection of Dabney’s writings available in this book.

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One of the many strengths of R. L. Dabney was his ability to see the direction that the culture and world was headed in.  I think this insight, often called prophetic by those who study him, came from his Presbyterian worldview, vast scholarship, and personal experiences in being on the losing side of a major war.  I have heard many literary figures explain Southern literature as being the result of the South losing the War Between the States.

Let us sidestep, for the moment, the issues and controversies related to that war.  Often the greatest examples of human writing and thought come from people who have experienced the greatest hardships.  Arguably, any soldier from World War I could have written All Quiet on the Western Front, but the fact that Erich Maria Remarque was a soldier on the German side increased the power of that novel.

The War Between the States was followed by the period known as Reconstruction.  The standard history book then follows up with a period called “The Gilded Age.”  That catchy phrase refers to the surface appearance of gold on an object that is not gold.  Just as the world after World War I was not “safe for democracy” and the world after World War II was full of tragic courses, so that must be said about post-bellum America in the 1870s and beyond.

Dabney saw some bad consequences of ideas that were gaining the high ground in his time.  Repeatedly, his warnings about education have been mentioned, quoted, and listened to by many, except those in the educational establishment.  American education is in a crisis.  Right now, the crisis is centering around school closures and possible inability to open in the fall.  This is not to demean good teachers, faithful parents, or good effects stemming from the modern education system.  But Dabney was looking beyond just a few symptoms to the greater problems.  For Dabney, the problems stemming from a secular agenda would be astronomical.  Be warned:  He is not going to be nice in these essays.  But carefully consider all of what he says.

Dabney was also concerned about feminism.  It is routine to mock nearly all males from the 1800s regarding their views of women.  Granted, they were not perfect in their understanding of this or other issues.  I am thankful for the changes in culture and society that have granted greater opportunities for women in all areas of life.  I have recently read books by one of the best literary scholars of our time, Jessica Hooten Wilson, who was a student of THE best literary critic of our time, Dr. Louise Cowan.  I have been reading The Great Society by Amity Shlaes, who ranks among the greatest historians of our time in my thinking.

But feminism was in some of its root and is in some of its modern day fruit more than just a case of righting some societal wrongs.  We have found ourselves in a world of gender insanity in these days.  Hence, again there is the need to return to Dabney.

Concerning government, Southern Presbyterians had an oddly workable theological position.  Pastors did not see that their task was to instruct the government from the pulpit, but they were pastor/scholars and public intellectuals.  Hence, men like Dabney and his colleagues James Henley Thornwell and Benjamin Morgan Palmer used a variety of formats, usually written articles or public lectures, to address the government.

Dabney’s thought was conservative, but if a modern reader spends some time with Dabney’s writings, he will not find much to connect him to modern day talk radio “conservatism” or Republican party conservatism.  Once again, Dabney will make us uncomfortable.

Zach Garris gives a fine introduction that provides pertinent biographical and theological details about Dabney.  That is followed by reprints of four articles by Dabney on the topics listed in the subtitle.  This is a great way to get introduced to a man who will not be often mentioned in today’s culture–secular or Christian.

There is your assignment:  Get to know Charles Hodge and Robert L. Dabney.  Here are two books that will enable you to go well into that task.

 

 

“What a Piece of Work is a Man”–Studies in Theological Anthropology

 

 

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

Psalm 8:4-6

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act 2, Scene 2

Truly the study of humans is among the most profound, deep, enriching, challenging, and worthwhile pursuits.  Most of us in our professional lives as well as our day to day living are continually studying both ourselves and others. At every stage in life and family, the topic is renewed and expanded and the perspective is widened.  Marriage changes our understanding drastically.  Children expand that understanding in even more ways.  Self-reflection involves a series of affirmations or denials that all contribute to the topic.

The term “Theology” means the “study of God.”  Much of theological study involves in depth examination of Scripture and historical theological developments regarding who God is.  But in the broader sense, we use the word theology to refer to a series of studies that include not only God Himself, but the created order.  Highest in that order is man, meaning in the older sense, mankind or people.  The beautiful opening line of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion says, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’

I have recently been blessed by the challenge of working through three outstanding studies on the doctrine and nature of human anthropology.  First of all, I recommend all three books highly. They are not repetitions of one another, but the contents complement one another.  I did not set out to read these three books in an academic quest for studying humanness.  My reading plan is far too haphazard to be the result of a logic on my part.  But it has happened to me, and I could wish it to happen to others.

Reenchanting HumanityA Theology of Mankind

Reenhanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan is published by Mentor, which is an imprint of Christian Focus Publications.

This book is very basic, sound, and suited for regular readers, laymen, high school students, and perhaps college students in their first couple of years.  Topics include creation, fall, and redemption, as expected, but also particular subjects including work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice.  Each of those latter topics are hot spots in modern discussions.  Obviously, there are a wide range of views and speculations on these issues, but that does not mean that there are not basic and foundational truths to start with.  Strachan neither skirts the controversial issues nor does he waver from having a solid and traditional Biblical defense.

Some friends criticized this book as being a bit shallow.  Well, maybe.  But that depends on who the audience is.  I found the book to be both informative and spiritually moving.  In other words, theology and devotional reading met and ministered to me as the reader.  And there is always the need for good statements of basic truths and teachings.

This is a book that I would love to teach to a high school group or a Sunday school class.  At the same time, it was a very enjoyable morning read.

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck is published by Baker and is the first of three volumes.

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Herman Bavinck is currently a rock star among Reformed readers.  His books are being published, republished, translated, discussed, and promoted with unwavering zeal.  Now, along with the books by Bavinck, there are a number of studies appearing where scholars are analyzing and discussing him.  While he was never completely disregarded in the Reformed world, the degree of attention he is now getting is amazing.  I have previously posted a discussion of him and some of the many books that are now available.  I am currently reading off and on from The Wonderful Works of God, and it may well be the best Bavinck book to start with.

Bavinck is weighty and scholarly, but not impossible to read.  All he calls for is a bit of patience, a reasonably slow pace, strong hot coffee, and a mind ready for work. This first volume is…no surprise here…on ethics.  But such a topic so overlaps the study of man, mankind, humanity, people-persons that it is worthy to be used alongside the other two books listed here.

Any study of anthropology from Christian foundations has to examine what we were created to be like, how that changed due to the Fall, and how that has changed again due to redemption.  This is not ivory tower philosophy or dry-as-dust theology.  These matters are the nuts and bolts of Christian life and thought.  From here, one gets an understanding that should emanate from the pulpit, define the Humanities, impact the social order, and permeate every area of life and thought.

As my previous post indicates, one ventures here not just in reading some old dead Dutchman named Herman Bavinck, but in “Scaling Mount Bavinck.”

An Introduction to Theological Anthropology:  Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine by Joshua R. Farris is published by Baker. Academic.

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When I first received my review copy of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology, I began second guessing myself for requesting it.  I really try to avoid asking for review copies of books that I think I will find too shallow, too technical, or disagreeable.  I thought this book would be way over my head, far above my reading ability, too deeply theological for my tastes, and too unfamiliar as a topic.

I was right.  And I am loving this book.  Yes, at times my comprehension of the discussion falls to a flat zero while Dr. Farris buzzes right on along tossing out terms and views that I know nothing of.  Some mornings, the caffeine in the coffee cannot quite energize me to the level of the book.  But so often, I have found myself very moved in the heart and challenged in the mind to think on topics that have never resonated quite this way before.

One of the saddest parts (and don’t bother to mourn for me) of being a book reviewer is that there is a drive to finish and post a few comments.  But this is a book that a reader needs to go through from start to finish, and then start over again with a pen and paper in hand.  Or he or she needs a group to study with.  Or maybe, one should just pay Dr. Farris to give lectures and reading assignments from the book.

One of my recurring thoughts on this book is about how vital this topic would be not just to a trained or aspiring theologian, but to a trained or aspiring student of philosophy.  I have spoken, as an outsider, about the need for, the growth of, the advance of Christians in philosophy and Christian approaches to philosophy.  And humans are central to our study of philosophy.  One thing that has dawned more slowly on me is that it is not just theologians and philosophers who should study “Humans, both creaturely and divine,” but also historians, literary scholars, psychiatrists, teachers, business people, and everyone else whose lives touch humanity.

What about preachers?  One of the questions I keep asking while reading this book is the old saying, “Will this preach?”  I don’t think, on the one hand, that many preachers will be stealing long passages from this book to incorporate into their sermons.  But the book’s discussion of the Incarnation worked me over.  I would not dare read those portions on the morning before giving an Advent sermon.  If I did read them at that point, I would not step into the pulpit.  But I would read and reread and think on these passages in my own study, which should be filled with sermons directed to my own mind and heart.

This is rich stuff. I have no doubt that some scholars and students more familiar with the sources cited and the topics addressed will have some fascinating tug of wars with this book.  “Farris did not adequately address such and such.”  “His treatment of this or that did not reflect a proper understanding of the whatever position.”  That is fine, for that is the world of some people, and such clashes of iron sharpens the clashed against iron.  But that is not my world.

For me, this book is once a again a work that impacts both head knowledge and heart direction.

Great books–all three.  Certainly, different strokes for different folks.  All three are evidences of God’s abundant blessings via the publishing world for us today.

 

 

 

Humanities Readings from Veritas Academy–RIP

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Humanities Course

Key Topics Studied

Representative Authors or Sources

Ancient, Classical, & Biblical World

Greek and Roman Heritage, along with Old and New Testament Bible History and Literature

The Bible

Homer—The Iliad & The Odyssey

Virgil –Georgics & The Aeneid

Aristotle— Politics

Plato—The Republic

Greek Dramatists—tragedies & comedies

Herodotus—The Histories

Edith Hamilton–Mythology

Ernle Bradford—Thermopylae & Hannibal

Christendom:

Early Church, Medieval, & Renaissance World

European History from the Fall of the Roman Empire through the Renaissance;

The growth and development of the Early Church; the Middle Ages; the Age of the Renaissance

St. Augustine—City of God

Bede—Ecclesiastical History of the English Church

Beowulf

Eusebius—Church History

Chaucer—Canterbury Tales

Dante—The Divine Comedy

Thomas Mallory—L’Morte d’Arthur

Boethius—Consolation of Philosophy

Shakespeare—Selected plays and poems

Barbara Tuchman—A Distant Mirror

Reformation & Revolution: The Modern World: The Reformation To the Present

The Protestant Reformation;

Exploration and Colonization;

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution;

Industrial Revolution;

Modern Wars;

Theological Wars

Martin Luther—Bondage of the Will

John Calvin—Institutes

Jane Austen—Pride and Prejudice

Charles Dickens—A Tale of Two Cities

Victor Hugo—Les Miserables

Fyodor Dostoevsky—selected novels

Charles Darwin-On the Origin of Species

Francis Schaeffer-How Should We Then Live?

The American Story:

The United States in history, literature, and cultural development

An historical, cultural and literary survey of America; the ideas, theologies, books, and people who impacted the United States’ rise from colonies to the leading world power

The Puritans—selections

Mark Twain—Huck Finn

James Fenimore Cooper-The Last of the Mohicans

Nathaniel Hawthorne-The Scarlet Letter

Herman Melville—Moby Dick

Founding Fathers—speeches & writings

The Federalist Papers

William Faulkner—The Unvanquished

Fitzgerald & Hemingway—Selected Novels

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Reformed Theology Takes Hold in Texarkana circa 1959

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In 1959, R. C. Sproul was still in college.  He had not yet encountered John Gerstner who would Calvinize his thinking.  John Piper was a teenager at Wade Hampton High School in South Carolina.  John MacArthur was a young Arminian, following in his father’s Wesleyan footsteps, who was transferring from Bob Jones University to Los Angeles Pacific College.  Tim Keller was an elementary school student.  John Frame was a seminary student.

There was no Gospel Coalition.  No PCA existed, while the OPC was a small group. No Founders Movement in the SBC.  Few people who identified as Anglicans in the Reformed tradition.  No internet trove of resources.  Few leaders who adhered to creation, inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and certainly not the Canons of Dordt.

Reprints could be found of old works of Arthur Pink and Charles H. Spurgeon.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known mostly in the British Isles.  Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd (still living at that time) were mostly confined to Dutch theological students.  Banner of Truth was just in its second or third year in the U. K.  Westminster Theological Seminary was a small operation that employed rather little known teachers named Murray, Van Til, Stonehouse, and Wooley.

These were what I have termed in various writings and talks “The Calvinist Wilderness Years.”  The declining fortunes of Calvinism had resulted in a loss of Calvinistic theology in Presbyterian, Reformed, Baptist, and Anglican circles.  Theological liberalism, the Higher Critical Movement, and Darwinian Naturalism had waged war against historic Christian theology in the latter decades of the 19th and the early decades of the 20th centuries.  The responses to theological deviations came from two radically different sources.  One was Neo-Orthodoxy and the profound, but not historically compatible, teaching of such men as Karl Barth or Emil Brunner.  The other more widespread response in the United States was the Fundamentalist Movement.

Rarely found from the fall of Princeton Theological Seminary to the 1980s were solidly Reformed, worldview thinking, culture driven Calvinist thinkers and movers and shakers.  Rarely found, but still in seed form and small plants, the future harvest of Calvinism could be found as I have indicated in my works called Calvinist Worldview Thinkers: The Wilderness Years.

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Here and there, a remnant was out there preaching and teaching the historic doctrines that echoed the lessons from Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, J. Gresham Machen, and others.  In the 1950s, a row broke out at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  Some students were talking on campus about something called “the Doctrines of Grace” or “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  The young men who were there with plans of becoming preachers who then embraced historic Calvinism realized that their futures in Baptist churches in the south were dismal at best.  What was needed was another field to work in where they would not be dependent on church support.

Henry Wood was a negligent and careless student during his first year of college.  Running up and down the halls with a water gun, he was failing or nearly failing his courses.  He was a tall, lanky young Christian man with a baritone singing voice of amazing tone who was going to be a preacher.  Raised in a faithful Christian home, he was called of God to his way of thinking, so he went to Ouachita Baptist College. Little did he know that God who purposes the times and events intended much more than for Henry to just sing in a quartet and get a Bible degree.

In short, Henry got a glimpse of God in His Sovereignty.  He fought the doctrines tooth and nail, but like all who battle against God, Henry was subdued.  He wasn’t brought kicking and screaming into Calvinism, to use C. S. Lewis’s description of his own conversion, but he did kick and scream (as I did many years later) until he was amazingly changed.

In 1959,  after a few years of teaching in a high school and some time spent in seminary and then on to graduate school in history, Henry and his wife Melba Wood arrived in Texarkana, a border city on the Texas and Arkansas border.  Henry had been hired as a history teacher at Texarkana College.

It was 1974 when I was first sitting in his classroom at the front of a row with a notebook opened and ready to take notes.  I had previously taken a CLEP test that granted me credit for both semesters of American history.  But God had ordained that Texarkana College would still require that a student take one semester of American history.  I entered the classroom with the slightly cocky feeling that I already knew American history.

A few minutes into Mr. Wood’s stentorian lecture he used the word “Weltanschauung.”  That is a still obscure German word meaning “world and life view.”  I did not totally realize it at the moment, but that first powerful right hook from Professor Wood had put me on the mat.

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By 1974, the lecture notes Henry had developed through years of reading and delivering his talks were in top form.  I found myself trying to write every word, every anecdote, book reference, humorous aside that he mentioned.  I was in a continual mental whirl in his classroom.

Through the next couple of years, I read several of the books that Henry assigned in his classes:  John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits and A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer,  This Independent Republic and Freud by R. J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the Problem of Origins by Philip E. Hughes,  Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen, and Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.  Then after he gave me a sale sheet from a place called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, I ordered a book called Studies in Theology by Loraine Boettner.  My mother saw me reading it and asked, “Are you changing your major?”  I was a history major, English minor, and No, I was not changing my major, but still my major and minor and everything else was changing.

I have referred to The University Without a Campus.  That university did not have a campus at Texarkana College, but it had a chair.  Henry should have been designated the John Calvin Professor of American History and Western Civilization Studies.  The research library for those studies existed in his home on Main Street on heavy laden bookshelves weighed down with theological and historical resources.  There was no other such collection of books in Texarkana or probably anywhere in a hundred or two hundred mile radius.

Distilled in his notes were the thoughts of the Princeton theologians, Gordon Clark, R. J. Rushdoony, Gregg Singer, and others.  While Henry admired Cornelius Van Til and Herman Dooyeweerd (and owned works by them), he was not drawn into the intramural debates between Clarkians and Van Tillians or the Amsterdam philosophy, as far as I could tell.  He had also read deeply and widely in the leaders in the emerging conservative movement, and this involved his reading of William F. Buckley, M. Stanton Evans, and others.  Among his labors, Henry had worked for the futile Goldwater Campaign in 1964.  He remains a Republican voter and political conservative, but he always found the Republican Party to be a small stepping stone on the path to the wider Reformed worldview.

Many students took Henry Wood’s history classes.  Many students grumbled about his style, his lectures, his religion, and his academic standards.  They were losers.  Others enjoyed getting good solid teaching.  Some appreciated that he was conservative, or scholarly, or Christian.  A few of us embraced the whole package.

It would be the mid-to-late 1970s before Henry and others were able to start what has been an abiding Reformed Baptist church in Texarkana.  At the time, Texarkana had no local churches that shared its theology–either of Baptist or Presbyterian variety.  It was a pioneering work, a lonely work, and a battle against all manner of odds.

Now, there are far more churches, pastors, and individual Christians who are committed to Reformed theology or who have at least borrowed heavily from it.  And there are those who have embraced the world and life view that  Reformed theology contains.  Henry and Melba Wood are moving to North Carolina to be closer to their children and grandchildren.  Henry allowed me to recklessly plunder his library and to get books I had long coveted.  He just sat there and commented on this book or that while I was building stack after stack of books.

Several times in the past, Henry gave a series of lectures for the Sunday School hour on the history of Christianity in America.  This was prime material.  I heard portions of the series several times.  I hope that a quality set of recordings exist.  An era is coming to an end and a great mission has been accomplished.

 

 

Return of the Strong Gods and The Virtue of Nationalism

 

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In Greek mythology, Proteus was quite the character.  You could get the truth from him, but only if you could catch and hold on to him.  Not hard to do, except for the fact that he could morph from one being to another.  He might be found looking like a seal, sunning on a rock in the sea, but when you tried to catch him, he could turn into a fish and swim away or into a bird or fly away.

In politics, words are often like that.  Get a good grasp on a word and the next thing you know, it changes.  Liberal has one meaning today and in the United States, but the word had different meanings in the past or in the European experience.  The same goes for conservative.  So, is a person who wants to abolish an absolute monarchy and establish a republic the liberal or conservative?  Depends on who you read or how you define the terms. Liberal, conservative, democracy, republic, libertarian, legal, illegal, protests, revolutions, reforms, federalism, and other terms demands a context and an explanation.  Phrases are the same.  “Public servants”  is a great term, as is “statesmen,” but “politicians” has negative connotations.  In rhetoric classes, we often begin by pointing out the proper and the less accurate ways of defining the term “rhetoric.”

This brings us to the term Nationalism.  In the studies of American history, there is a period of time somewhat after the Founding Era and the Federalist Era that is often called the Nationalist Era or Period.  It is set in contrast to Sectionalism, which of course hurls the nation onto the fate of civil war and disunion.  Like all terms and labels, this moniker is both helpful and a bit of a stretch.  Sectionalism can be found in not only our nation’s origins, but in the colonial period.  Likewise, nationalism was a concept that goes back at least to the times when Benjamin Franklin and others were calling for colonial unity.

In the study of European history, nationalist periods are those times when the nation-states that came to dominate Europe developed as separate nations, usually under absolute monarchs.  Then in time, these “nations” had their own internal nations that were subjected to rule by the larger powers.  What we call France and Spain are actually hegemonies of groups within those recognizable boundaries.  Germany and Italy are a bit easier to understand because neither existed as nation states until 1870.

Nationalism was often cited as a cause of World War I.  Austria-Hungary to a large extent was an empire that corralled several nations under a ruling Hapsburg monarchy.  The breakup of that polyglot was one of the results of World War I.  Thus a number of new nations emerged in that age of nationalism.  In the years that followed, the more positive connotations of nationalism turned dark and bleak as leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, and others incited their nations to a more intense, dangerous, and megalomaniacal versions of the idea.

The handy and ugly term Nazi is simply a short form of the term National Socialist.  It is ironic, perhaps, that World War II featured various forms of nationalism that adopted ideologies that involved the suppressing nationalism of their conquered territories.

The story goes on after World War II.  Books on the topic abound.  Views on the issue are varied.  For one just wanting to grasp the history, I would highly recommend Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism Since 1780.

For some contemporary thought on the matter from positive viewpoints, I have found much appeal in the books highlighted above.  I have read and am working on a second reading of The Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West by R. R. Reno.  This book is published by Regnery Gateway.

That the West is in trouble is beyond debate.  That the future of the West is uncertain is for certain.  Reno contends that in our quest to be anti- or against this or that ugly ideology of the twentieth century has caused us to also reject some of the forces for cohesion and strength that are necessary for a society to survive.

I am still beginning my long overdue reading of The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony.  Dr. Hazony is a great thinker, an Israeli scholar, and a gifted writer.  I have enjoyed all that I have read from him in the past.  This book comes highly recommended by a number of people whose opinions I already respect.

Hopefully, we can return in a future blog to discuss both these books.  You are welcome to provide me your own thoughts, reviews, or concerns.  Post a comment or send me an email at Veritas@cableone.net.

Christian Essentials: The Ten Commandments and The Apostles’ Creed from Lexham Press

The Ten Commandments: A Perfect Law of Liberty is by Peter J. Leithart

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is by Ben Myers

Both of these volumes are part of the Christian Essentials series published by Lexham Press.

 

Thank God for the massive, weighty, richly voluminous weight-lifting theological books available to us in our times.  My bookshelves are literally sagging from these huge volumes often surpassing the 1000 page mark.  From the past and the present, great works of theology have been made available to us in these times.

Yet many of us have to confess that we have bookmarks sticking out in the first chapters of these books.  Or we have cheery picked a chapter or two for particular reading.  Or we have made it through only the first volume of a multi-volume set.  Or we have read the endorsements and blushed with shame that we have not been able to echo the words of J. I. Packer or Joel Beeke about the value of some great theological treasure.

Praise God for our partially read books, our unstarted books, our good intentioned book reading, and our failed efforts to persevere.  Bit by bit, we have tasted great works.

But let us also give thanks for those books that are easily read from cover to cover.  And thanks be given for the short summaries, the “concise brevity,” to use Calvin’s words, and the books that are so easy to buy, carry around, and not only start, but finish.

Lexham Press published books of all sizes and shape.  Abraham Kuyper’s Honey From the Rock  is a physically big book from Lexham Press, but so are John Frame’s We are All Philosophers

and Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.

 

               

Besides the differences in size and topics, these books also display the variety of theological angles that Lexham Press books are providing.  Travis James Campbell and his study titled The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling God’s Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence and Michael Heiser’s books such as The Unseen Realm and Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the  Powers of Darkness are in the Lexham line-up.  At the same time, there are a number of rarely seen books by a few of the great Dutch theologians and thinkers such as Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen van Prinsterer.

Then there is this fine series called Christian Essentials.

These books are short, well-bound hardbacks that address key elements of Christian doctrine and life.  They are also deceptive!  One thinks that he or she is going to skip along through a nice, devotional read, but instead, the reader discovers a deep wellspring of theological practice and thought.  Short books, to be sure, but books that are far from light and fluffy.  Readable, yes, but also deeply connected to Faith and Life.  Practical, yes.  Teachable, yes.  Understandable, yes, assuming one is in a good solid church that is supplementing a life of Christian doctrine and practice.

I read Ben Myers’ Apostles’ Creed a year or more ago.  Sometime after reading it, I pulled it off the shelf again to borrow heavily from in preaching a sermon on the Creed.  (I never got past the words “I believe” from the opening of the Creed in my sermon.) This Creed is one that all Christians should believe, embrace, and recite.  Growing up Methodist, I learned it from childhood.  Recently, Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist theologian, wrote a book on the same creed.  (Mohler’s book is good, but Myers’ book is better.)

A few months back, I received a copy of Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments.  I have met and heard Dr. Leithart and have read quite a few of his many books.  Hop on board the Leithart train and you will be taken on a wild and surprising journey into theology, liturgy, literature, and more.  He is, quite simply, too smart.  (Read jealousy into that statement.)  He is also a good writer.

There are a number of books, as one might guess, on the Ten Commandments.  On the one hand, I tend to shy away from some of the ones that would be more popular, trendy, and designed to go after our cultural enemies.  Note that I would probably agree with most of the content of such books, but would still not prefer to be reminded that statistical numbers and Hollywood culture are cringy signs of a culture that hates God.

My two previous and preferred books on the Ten Commandments are as follows:  I love R. J. Rushdoony’s classic Institutes of Biblical Law.  This book is large, detailed, profound, thoughtful, and revolutionary.  More than any other work I know, it expands and applies the commandments to all of life, culture, thought, politics, and society.

The second volume I like is Thomas Watson’s Ten Commandments.  This book is, in Puritan fashion, aimed at the heart.  It is rich, devotional, and filled with practical exhortations.  If you want to like the Puritans, read this book.

Now, my favorite Ten Commandments book has a third member:  Leithart’s book.  At the end of each chapter, I found myself wondering how anyone could have packed so much into so few pages.  This book is a not a call for posting the Commandments on the lawn of the city square.  Nor is this book one that places the Law of God in a museum for New Testament believers to tour and take selfies in front of.  The Law is applied to people in Christ because they are in Christ and the Ten Words are from God.

Great books–The Christian Essentials are wonderful studies, preaching and teaching tools, family worship materials, and reads.

 

 

 

History Readings on the Nightstand and Day Stack

Under a Darkening Sky:  The American Experience in Nazi Europe: 1939-1941 by Robert Lyman

This book is an account compiled from Americans who were in Germany, France, and Britain during the years when World War II began.  This is an engaging book for one who knows how the story progresses.  Many Americans in Europe felt strongly that America should have acted sooner in entering World War II.  Knowing the home-front, that was not going to happen.  It was surprising to read about how nonchalant, uninterested, and uncommitted many Germans were to the war, Hitler, and events of the time.  Also, shortages of almost everything in the Third Reich were astounding.

One who knows little of the war would not enjoy this book quite as much, but I am finding it really enjoyable, if that word can be used to describe such a depressing scenario.

This book was the sole birthday present I received some months ago.  My favorite book hunter found it for me.

The Puritans: A Transatlantic History is by David D. Hall.

I started reading from this book, little by little, several months ago.  I got 50 or more pages into this massive study, but it got shuffled aside due to other reading ventures.  Just those opening chapters were outstanding.  I am planning on going back to the beginning and reading this from cover to cover.

This is a scholarly study of the wide-ranging group of religious thinkers and doers that we call Puritans.  It deals both with the movement in England and with those who migrated to the New World.  For anyone who has simply a layman’s interest in Puritans, I would recommend more easily covered accounts.  But for a serious history reader, this is the book to go to.

The Progressive Era by Murray Rothbard

This is my second time to read a Rothbard book in recent months.  As I covered in a previous review, he is an outlier in the field of history.  In other words, he was very well educated, scholarly, and unconventional.  If you want to read the traditional accounts of American history, don’t read Rothbard.  But if you want a different, a challenging, and even a disturbing perspective to upset your mental apple carts, he is the man.

While he wrote quite a few works on American history, he never did a complete survey of our country.  In fact, this book is made up of several chapter of a manuscript along with some other related essays.

I usually find that teaching about the Progressives in American history is very difficult.  There are many students who may dislike current liberals, but they are not usually interested in seeking out the roots of the movement.  It, whatever it is, did not begin with Presidents Obama or Clinton, or even Johnson or Kennedy, or either of the Roosevelts.  Progressivism is so ingrained in our culture today that it is almost impossible to imagine a society where we were not gearing our political discourse and elections around Progressive themes.

Side note:  the previously reviewed Rothbard book was Conceived in Liberty, Volume 5.  It deals with the era in which the Constitution was written and ratified.

How America’s Political Parties Change by Michael Barone

 

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How America’s Political Parties Change (And How They Don’t) by Michael Barone, longtime political analyst, is published by Encounter Books.

If you are looking for a fun, rip-roaring tale of politics and politicians, don’t look here.  If you are looking for a searing attack on the bad guys (whoever you think they are), don’t look here either.  But if you like a good, serious, fact and detail filled study of political trends, this is the book you should read.

I love politics.  I have taught government and history for over forty years.  Somehow, the details of the legislative process, the levels of court jurisdictions, and the dynamics of the bureaucracy fail to excite me.  But political campaigns–that’s a different story.  Polls, primaries, speeches, endorsements, dark horses, front runners, and old time conventions are sheer delight for me to read about.  The series of books that Theodore White wrote, beginning with The Making of a President 1960 going up through America in Search of Herself, are beloved volumes.

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I have read lots of books on the candidates, winning and losing ones, the elections, and the campaigns.  Concerning the last Presidential campaign, 2016, I have, so far, only read two books.  One was John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  This book was weak, whiny, and unconvincing.  There were a few useful parts here and there, but it was mainly an shaky evangelical lament that Donald Trump won.  (And I was not happy with the 2016 choices either.)Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by [John Fea]

The other book was P. J. O’Rourke’s How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016.  O’Rourke’s book was sheer delight.  He is an incredibly witty writer, but it only took some reporting of the story to write comedy about the 2016 election.

I await the time to read a good coverage and analysis of the 2016 election.  I don’t want to read a Trump supporter, a whining liberal, or a Never-Trumper, so I may have to wait a while to read about what we experienced.

Back to Michael Barone’s How America’s Political Parties Change:  I have been reading Michael Barone’s political analyses for years.  He is a conservative of the Reagan-era type, but he is not using his books to grind ideological axes.  Instead, he compares numbers.  Lots and lots of numbers, percentages, vote totals, trends, demographic changes.  He has visited every congressional district in the United States, and I reckon it was for research purposes.  He has been a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics since 1972.

In 1940, FDR ran for an unprecedented third consecutive term and was opposed by a political neophyte and former Democrat and businessman named Wendell Wilkie.  Roosevelt won the election, in large part, because the impending war made some nervous about switching Presidents, and in larger part because of the political coalition that the Democrats had assembled.  That coalition was winning control of the Presidency, the House, and the Senate from 1930 to 1996.

In 1944, Roosevelt told an aide, “We ought to have two real parties–one liberal and the other conservative.” That was not true for many years, because both parties were made up of coalitions of both conservative and liberal factions.  It is more closely true today.

Overall, the American electorate is fairly evenly divided between Republican and Democrat voters.  In a given Presidential election, if the Democrats run unknown Candidate X and the Republicans run unknown candidate Y, the Democrats will net somewhere between 47 to 49 percent of the vote.  The Republicans will tally somewhere between 45 to 48 percent of the vote.

In only two of the past seven elections have the winning party actually won a majority of the popular vote.  In two of the past seven elections, the Republicans won in the Electoral College vote while losing the popular vote.  The spread has been less than 5 percent difference in five of those seven elections.  Winners have been determined in large part by rallying the certain voting factions or groups or by edging out the opponent in a few key swing states.  In other words, a small number of voters in a small number of states or districts could have changed most of those election results.

The House and the Senate, predominately Democrat from 1930 to 1994, have switched back and forth several times since the mid-term elections during the Clinton Administration.  While congressional seats tend to remain in the hands of incumbents, there are always incumbent Senators and Representatives who don’t seek re-election or a few who become vulnerable for a variety of reasons.  Almost every election cycle has included a realistic possibility of the majority party in either house losing control.

Barone surveys several periods in the past where similar cases prevailed.  Along with that, there have been a few times where one party or the other swamps the losing party in several elections for a period of time.  In our own time, there are Red States  (Republican) that are inching toward turning Purple (undecided) or Blue States (Democrat) that get flipped and go red.  It wasn’t all that long ago that California was in the Republican column in several Presidential elections.  In recent years, West Virginia, a long-time Democrat sure bet, has gone for Republican Presidential candidates.  2016 was a surprise because the big mid-western Blue Wall broke with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa going for Trump over Clinton.

What does all this mean for the 2020 election?  Right now, President Trump is dealing with a wrecked economy, on-going fears and problems related to Covid-19, and riots and racial unrest across the country.  Economic troubles favor the Democrats, while law and order issues favor the Republicans.  Just a few months ago, the economy appeared to be booming.  President Trump continually displays weird, uncouth, and irrational behavior that either excites his base or at least does not worry them, but neither do such actions expand that narrow base.  Candidate Joe Biden continues to display moments of blundering thought, lack of thought, and no thought.  While confine to his basement, he seems to be a safer and more winnable candidate that he would be if he were out and about.

This is June and the election is in November.  In political terms, that is many lifetimes for a campaign.  But of this much you can be certain, the race is within a likely 5 percentage point spread.  It will be decided in a few key swing states.  That will be true if it is a Trump vs. Biden race or if it is a Candidate X vs. Candidate Y race.