W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology

There is likely a strong link between the reading of yuge, hefty, weighty theological tomes and body building. The books are daunting to tackle, demanding of discipline to read from start to finish, and impressive on the shelf. They can also be used for curls and tricep exercises.

For those of us who struggle to get a page of paper covered with words, it is amazing to think about those who have written books that surpass the 500 page or even 1000-page mark. One such volume in our time is Dogmatic Theology, Third Edition by W. G. T. Shedd, which is published by P&R Publishing.

Any such weighty book needs to be viewed not as a book that absolutely has to be read from start to finish, but as one that can be used, dipped into, scanned and skimmed, and occasionally read in large chunks. Of course, it can be read all the way through.

I first developed a “must have” connection with this book when I stumbled across copies of it for student use for a class at John Brown University. (I had sneaked into the textbook section of the student bookstore, and I think that mere mortals were not to be in that area.)

I had long heard of William Shedd and could connect his name with the Reformed giants of the past. But concerning theological works, I purchased such stalwart Calvinists as Charles Hodge, Louis Berkof, Robert L. Dabney, and a few others along the way. Shedd, by my impressions, was, perhaps, on the second team, rather than the starting line-up.

Now the competition for shelf space and reading time is even more fierce. A whole shelf of books by Herman Bavinck are top priority items with more translations coming out ever few months. Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley now have three large volumes of a projected four volume work titled Reformed Systematic Theology completed. Geerhardus Vos, whose works are labeled as Biblical theology, now has more translated works available in English, just like Bavinck.

Douglas Kelly has a third volume for his Systematic Theology, of which I only have the first two volumes.

Then there is John Frame’s wonderful Systematic Theology, which complements four volume “Theology of Lordship” series. Baptists are happy to join in on the race for bigger and broader books with Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which has the attributes of being a popular read, a Reformed-leaning work, and a book admired by many who differ from Grudem over details.

Time and my own limited book collection does not allow me to delve into the Puritan and Continental European books from the past centuries.

So, why Shedd? Meaning, why not one of the Reformers? (I am really wanting Henry Bullinger’s Decades.) Why not Puritan studies? Why not Calvin’s Institutes? Why not some of the books mentioned above, plus others I have overlooked?

I am sure that there are plenty of professional, pastoral, and lay theologians who can aptly recommend or dismiss which books one ought or ought not to read. And I have been told that we will not live long enough to read all the books we want to read (and here’s hoping to a great library in the life beyond.).

Shedd’s book is a vital work for several reasons. (For the record: My reading of it is still in the early stages.)

  1. Shedd lived and wrote in the 1800s. Many particular issues that he confronted will differ from those of our time. We don’t read him for prophetic prophecies, even though we often stumble upon quotes that are several centuries old that aptly describe out times.

C. S. Lewis described the benefits of reading old books, including the fact that they are describing a set of conditions different from out times and they force us to think beyond today’s newest trend or most disturbing issues. Most of today’s hot topics will be off the front burners in a few generations. (“Gay Marriage” has many evil ramifications, but like the Shakers of old, they can’t reproduce, so they are on a scale of diminishing influence. Gender “fluidity” is more stupid than phrenology.)

2. Shedd was, to use the term often repeated about such theologians, a high Calvinist. Calvinism, or Reformed Theology, has its waxing and waning periods, its defining and redefining, and its fans and critics. Shedd is standing in the trenches alongside such stalwart Reformed theologians as Hodge, Dabney, and Warfield.

In some ways, and in ways that I have witnessed changes in my own nearly 50 years of Calvinistic ties, it is easy to use the title in our days. Whether one prefers to say Calvinist, Reformed, Sovereign Grace, or whatever else, there are lots who rally behind the flags. By God’s grace, there are fine writers who have boldly asserted the Five Points and more. And they have produced books for the reader in the pews.

But there is a good reason to trace the flowing waters back up the stream a good distance. “Go to the sources.” To borrow again from Lewis, this doesn’t always mean that Shedd and company are going to be right, but they are going to be right or wrong for a different set of reasons than we are right or wrong today.

3. A third reason that attracts me to Shedd is the promise of the editor’s preface. he says, “Shedd cites such poets as Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton. He also quotes the standard Latin authors, such as Cicero, often in the original.” Prior tothat, he promises that “a large number of literary and classical allusions appear in Dogmatic Theology–many more thanone would typically find in a work of systematic theology.” (Alan Gomes, editor’s preface)

I am more skilled and experienced in literature than in theology. I have been (for a time of at least 30 and maybe even 55 years) been trying to remedy the literary ignorance that is common today. The assumed knowledge of language and literature of men of the past drives me mad to furious in a quest to recapture our educational heritage.

Shedd offers some help. After all, if we were to recapture the literary attainments of the past and lose our souls, the gains would be loss. Shedd has the right priority and the literary attainments.

I will keep you posted on my reading adventures.

2022 “Best Of” Reading Experiences–Theological Books

My career as a pastor/elder was never very successful by the standards most use. It certainly wasn’t successful by my own standards. But reading for ministry purposes was an enjoyable aspect of those years. The enjoyment began long before I was ordained in a start-up Presbyterian work and has continued since I left that church, the ministry, and other clerical duties.

I have loads of books, even bookcases, weighed down with books that I will never read from cover to cover. In many cases, these are books that I occasionally pull off the shelves and use for a reference, a chapter, paragraph, or only a hint while working on a message or a heart condition.

But I do read books of a theological nature from start to finish. The soul hunger that really began back around 1974 or ’75 when I read Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand and a few other books has never ceased to drive my appetite for spiritual growth. And spiritual growth for me has never bypassed mental/intellectual/weighty matters of the mind.

The Whole Counsel of God: God’s People in the Western World by Richard Gamble, published by P&R Publishers.

I felt like I should have received a college diploma after finishing this weighty, lengthy, jam-packed book. This is a course in Western Civilization, intro to philosophy, and historical theology all wrapped up and summarized in a mere 1200 page work. The book took me a long time. I am still needing more review and instruction on most of the people, ideas, and events that were covered. But it was a good read.

I hope pastors actually read books like this. I hope that I can read the two previous volumes by Richard Gamble. I would not hesitate to call this the best theological book I read in 2022. (And in the interest of full disclosure, the author’s perspective is Reformed, Presbyterian, Van Tillian, theologically conservative, and faithful to most other “isms” with which I agree. And I received the book as a free review work for which I was not obligated to praise, but I have done so anyway.)

Christ Our Salvation by John Webster is published by Lexham Press.

I first learned of this book after reading a quote from it posted by Cody Howard, pastor of Church Under the Bridge in Texarkana. I was not familiar with John Webster at the time. These are rich and nourishing sermons on different aspects of the Christian life. This is a favorite or preferred type of devotional to me. I don’t want fluff in the early morning reading time, nor do I initially feel up to a theological mountain scaling venture. I want sound doctrine delivered in a readable way.

This book could be read repeatedly with profit.

Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job by Eric Ortlund is published by InterVarsity Press. It is a selection from the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series.

I have read or read from several volumes of the NSBT series from IVP. As with any series, some are more engaging than others, but I have found them all to be quite stirring.

In the case of this volume on Job, I have been reading books about Job for the past couple of years. After going through some really difficult times in 2020 and 2021, I felt like I could identify (although on a much lighter scale) with that suffering saint. Also, I have been intrigued about how one could go about preaching through the 42 chapters with an expository approach.

This book is neither a series of sermons nor a commentary on Job. After a few chapters dealing with the trials and troubles Job experienced (all made worse by his so-called friend group), Ortlund develops his thesis of what Leviathan actually is. I think I will not include spoilers here. But the book is well written and convincing. But I think if one were not convinced, he or she would still profit from the perspective.

Other books I read regarding Job were Christopher Ash’s Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job. I have, but did not (yet) read Ash’s volume of sermons on Job.

Also useful is Owen Anderson’s Job: A Philosophical Commentary, which I have read twice.

Not yet in my library and weighting down my shelves, but in my “hoped to acquire” list, is John Calvin’s three volumes of sermons on Job, published by Banner of Truth.

Covenants Made Simple by Jonty Rhodes is published by P&R Publishing.

In some unrecollected book I read a few years ago, Covenants Made Simple was recommended. I bought the short book, glanced at it approvingly, and settled it somewhere in the shelves, stacks, and boxes of books. For random reasons, I picked it up late in 2022 and began reading it.

This book is a wholehearted defense of covenant theology. It is Reformed and solidly Presbyterian in its perspective. Jonty was preaching to the choir for me when I read it. (I became convinced of Covenant Theology somewhere around 1993. After a series of unfortunate events landed us in a helpful non-covenantal, baptistic, small “r” reformed-ish church, I have become more and more convinced of Covenant Theology.)

This is an excellent work to ground church members in Reformed doctrine. As someone who has transitioned from layman to clergy and back to layman, I found it clarifying and affirming. Great study. Don’t know if it would convince the hostile, but it would be of help to those who are weighing such issues.

The Biblical Structure of History by Gary North is published by Axehead Press.

What a fitting and amazing close to a lifetime of writing this book is. Dr. Gary North began writing books that created connections between the Bible and economics, culture, and history way back in the late 1960s/early 1970s and penned over 50 books before his passing in February of 2022.

He was a bold, often original, intellectual and yet practical author. With a PhD. in history, he mastered the fields of economics (both by making money and writing about money) and theology. He could be quite curt in his responses to people and his rhetoric could be quite bombastic. And as all of us remember who were stocking up barrels of flour in anticipation of Y2K, he could be quite off the mark when it came to predicting and forecasting societal events.

Okay, the man made some mistakes. But he was a monumental gift to the Kingdom of God. He wrote on topics and issues where angels feared to tread. He promoted, clarified, defended, and sometimes attacked the theonomic and Reconstruction views touted by his brilliant father-in-law R. J. Rushdoony.

There are two types of people who I fear will never touch this book: One is pastors. Lots of pastors like history. They find church history, biographies of famous Christians, and heroic tales all quite enjoyable for reading and useful for sermon anecdotes. But they often do not, post-seminary assignment days, read serious theological texts and especially those that deal outside of the range of next Sunday’s sermon. This book is a theological study. It is not just a book about history with some Bible references and a “Christian Worldview,” but rather it is a challenge to see the structure, big picture, metanarrative of how God has worked and continues to work in time and history.

The other group of people who will probably not look at this book are historians. For one thing, historiography is rarely taught in either undergraduate or graduate schools, (Please prove me wrong!) When it is taught, the concept of Christian history or religious history is politely sidestepped. Granted, many Christians have ventured into history topics with more zeal than knowledge and “proven” things from history that are superficial, misleading, or incorrect.

This book is not an easy, breezy affirming case for a connection between faith and academic study. This is an academic study. I wish I had read this at the earlier stages of my career as a history teacher. Neverthless, it is the final testimony from a man whose books have helped me quite often through the years.

My apologies for not commenting more fully on these books:

Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners by Dane Ortlund. This is a sequel of sorts to Deep and Lowly.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom by Andrew Abernethy. This study is one of two on Isaiah by Dr. Abernathy that I read this past year. He is a professor at Wheaton College. His studies on Isaiah are topical works, not commentaries. This book is useful for getting the big picture and themes of Isaiah.

What Grace Is: Meditations on the Mercy of Our God by Craig Evans, published by Lexham Press. Another fine and short book of enriching, soul-nurturing readings on central Christian doctrines.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman. Many people have praised this book, and I affirm whatever praises others have made. Not an easy or soft book, but a real diagnoses of some of the cultural calamities we live amidst.

God Dwells Among Us by G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. This work distills and restates some of Beale’s recurring themes about all of the Bible and Christian life reconnecting us to the Garden of Eden and paradise.

Jesus the Great Philosopher by Jonathan Pennington and The Philosophy of Jesus by Peter Kreeft. These two books, despite similar titles, offer complementary and useful studies into the teachings of Jesus, whose words surpass the philosophies of the world.

The Certainty of Faith by Herman Bavinck. A theologically enjoyable and short work by the late Dutch Rock Star of Reformed Theology.

On Worship by H. B. Charles, Jr. Unexpectedly good. I would like to read it along with others in a Sunday school class.

An Explorer’s Guide to John Calvin by Yudha Thianto, published by InterVarsity Press. This book gives a good and short biography of Calvin and a manageable look into his major writings and theology.

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, published by Intervarsity Press. A reprint of a good, short, and instructive work on why we Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity and how that doctrine enriches our lives.

Calvinism for a Secular Age, edited by Jessica Joustra and Robert J. Joustra. This is a collection of essays about the legendary classic book Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper. The ripple effect of Kuyper’s lectures, initially spoken to rather small audiences, still reverberate across the Christian world.

Knowing Sin by Mark Jones. The author is a Facebook friend and a writer whose books are always weighted down with quotes from the Puritans and insights from the Bible.

2022 “Best Of” Reading Experiences–History

2022 was, in contrast to quite a few years preceding it, a good year for me. And contributing to the joys experienced was the reading of yet more history. Thankfully, that joy is now enhanced by my getting to teach history again, contrary to what I had feared was going to happen.

Below are some of this year’s favorites. Maybe I lack critical discernment, but I am prone to enjoy whatever it is that I am reading.

The order of the books is not a ranking, but simply that fact that something has to be listed first and something last.

1. The Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic That Changed America’s Destiny by Tony Williams. I picked up a spare copy of this book last year for a dollar or less. I then realized that it was autographed by my friend Tony Williams and was a better copy than the one I had.

Then I took the radical approach to book possessing and decided to read it. This book covers a time in history where the dominant leaders in Massachusetts were the pastors Increase and Cotton Mather. Much has been said and distorted about Puritans. Puritans were neither a monolithic group, nor a narrow-minded set of people. Cotton Mather was on the cutting edge of a modern science breakthrough–the use of inoculations to control infectious diseases. Mather, besides being a pastor, author, and theologian, was vitally interested in science.

Smallpox was a plague in every sense of the word. Inoculations were a means of limited its spread. The only other effective deterrent was to contract the disease and survive (maybe). The epidemic and the debates over inoculations were the center of much media and social discourse. Young Ben Franklin was just getting his start in the journalistic field, writing under a pseudonym for his brother’s newspaper.

There is an idea that we learn from history and can avoid repeating mistakes. Not sure about that, but this book really resonates with the current times.

2. Cronyism: Liberty Vs Power by Patrick Newman is published by the Mises Institute.

We tend to favor a golden age of politics approach to history. We can accept that all the crowd in Washington currently is crooked. We believe that they are quick to pad their own pockets and milk the taxpayer. We believe that politicians are liars and scoundrels. And they are not like the statesmen of the past.

For that reason, books like this one and those by Newman’s mentor Murray Rothbard are vital reading. I always go out of my way to explain that I am not a total follower of Dr. Newman, Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, and others in that economic and political camp. But I also go out of my way to explain that I really profit from reading their books.

There are, if we may use this language, court historians who are trumpeting the current trends and ideas. Then there are a few who go off the grid a bit to the right or to the left. The recently deceased Paul Johnson was one whose thinking was too right-winged to get assigned to many college history classes. Howard Zinn was Johnson’s counterpoint on the left.

But Newman and the works of Rothbard that he has edited are considered way too far off in the distant planet of libertarian ideology to even get a notice. And we all suffer from not reading him. Cronyism was a really good and often troubling book.

3. Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland by Troy Senik is published by Simon and Schuster.

I have long loved Grover Cleveland as a President. He was the last ideologically great Democrat President. His political philosophy is long gone from the Democrat Party and is not all that common in the more conservative (or less liberal) Republican Party.

Cleveland was a very interesting man and certainly an improbable person to have risen to high office. He was truly a man of principle and dedication. His principles enabled him to gain stature in the state of New York which was often dominated by the corrupt, manipulative Tammany Hall political machine.

His rise to power was meteoric. His staying power was unbelievable. His work ethic was phenomenal. Anyone who was laboring alongside Cleveland had to get used to long days that stretched into the midnight hour and beyond.

I have never really thought about or considered how issued changed from his first term to his second. Since he presided over a time where the country was not fighting any wars, the battles of his time were related to tax and tariff issues and other matters that often lull me into a nap. Again, it is instructive to see how the United States and its political dynamics changed during the times between Cleveland’s first term in 1885 and his second term that ended in 1897. (Part of the interest is related to the possibility, but not probability of the U.S. re-electing a former President who only served one term.)

Cleveland’s marriage to a young woman when he was in the White House add a great feature to the life of this task-oriented man. Although the only book he ever wrote was on fishing, his political thought is a much-needed antidote to our current ills.

4. Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh by Thomas Kidd is published by Yale University Press.

Thomas Kidd is one of the best young historians of our time. He is a professor of history at Baylor Baptist University and the author of a large number of books on American history, including a two-volume history of the United States.

I try to buy and read everything he writes, and while mostly successful, the man is writing books faster than I can get them.

This is a really good supplemental study of Jefferson. It is not a biography and it is a relatively short book. One who is just beginning a study of the third President, author of the Declaration of Independence, and key political thinker should read this book after reading one of the many biographies both old and new. (I have one book that is simply a study of how his different biographers approached the man and his ideas.)

Jefferson knew the Bible and theological/philosophical issues of his time better than many preachers today. His knowledge was gained from a life of serious reading, supplemented by travel, conversations, and thought. Gifted as a wordsmith, his sayings are often quoted today. He has his followers in both conservative and liberal circles and is respected by both the Democrat Party which he founded (and would not recognize) and the Republican Party (whose name comes from his political designation).

All that being said, Jefferson was not a Christian in any evangelical or even high-church tradition. He denied, rather than affirmed, many key Christian doctrines. He was one who believed in God and in a natural law order and much that was moral and equitable, but his belief system, with all of its good points, was not rooted in Christianity. (He would disagree, objecting that orthodox Christianity, rather than his deistic beliefs were the culprit.

Central to such a study of Jefferson is the logic, pragmatism, expediency, and compromises he lived with regarding slavery. Not only did he write the words that contained a explosive device for slave owning, but he had a long-time relationship with a slave woman, with whom he had children. His life and thoughts are anguishing to read about due to his waffling on these issues. One seeks to understand without having to approve of how others lived.

Rank this book high on the list of political studies for your upcoming reads.

5. World War II at Sea: A Global History by Craig Symonds


6.. Fire and Steel: The End of World War II in the West by Peter Caddick-Addams, published by Oxford University Press


9. Devil Dogs: King Company, Third Battalion, 5th Marines–From Guadalcanal to the Shores of Japan by Saul David is published by Pegasus Books.

These three World War II histories were all outstanding reads. The first, World War II at Sea, focuses on the whole war, from beginning to end, with all sides and both oceans. I cannot fathom how much metal lies at the bottom of the oceans from the number of ships sunk in the course of the war. Halfway through the book, I was convinced that the Allies were going to lose the war. It was productivity that ultimately turned the tides. Of course, many a brave admiral and seaman played a huge role as well. This is a monumental survey of lots of events, lots of key people and players, and many twists and turns.

The second book, Fire and Steel, is part of a trilogy of historical studies by Peter Caddick-Adams. The first one, Fire and Sand, covers the Normandy invasion, and the second one, Fire and Snow, deals with the Ardennes Offensive (often called the Battle of the Bulge). The amazing part of this book for me was realizing how much fight, how much resistance, and how much fanaticism existed in Nazi Germany in its death throes during the last three months of the war. And the focus of this book is only on the western campaign. The war on the Eastern Front against Russia is only referenced in passing.

The third of these books, Devil Dogs, was my evening reading during late November and December. It is not exactly a pleasant holiday read. But it is an incredible account, an American Iliad of a sort, that follows one battalion from the beginnings of the war to its end.

Some of the soldiers, both privates and officers, became familiar characters in the story. I learned to love and admire these men. When I would read of one dying, I felt a sliver of the sorrow that their fellow soldiers must have felt. One survivor wrote a book that was often referenced in this work. His name was E. B. Sledge and his book is titled With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. I don’t have it, but you can be certain that I plan on remedying that deficiency in my life.

All three of these books were highly readable and informative. I am determined to acquire and read anything I stumble across that these authors have written.

2022 “Best Of” Reading Experiences–Literature

See the source image

Readings from 2022 were, as always, memorable, mind altering, soul nourishing, and enjoyable. There were both exceptions to these categories and examples. I will highlight some of the more pleasant reading experiences with the “Best Of” book list to follow.

Literary Readings

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset

This book is a literary classic; the author won the Nobel Prize in Literature; and it is a thoroughly Christian book. I had long heard of it, but have rarely seen it in my bookstore jaunts. Perhaps, it is avoided because it is such a long book. It is the story of a woman named Kristin, who is the daughter (datter) of a man named Lavrans. She makes some bad choices along the way, struggles through a challenging marriage, and keeps the Faith through it all.

If you love books like Gone with the Wind, I think you will love this story. Side note: I need to now read Sigrid Undset: A Study in Christian Realism by A. H. Winsnes, published by Cluny Media.

Another side note: A trend in university English departments is to have courses on women’s literature. I will bet you a box of donuts that you can’t find a course that includes Sigrid Unset or Caroline Gordon. Do any of them even include Flannery O’Connor?

Remains of the Day by Kashuo Ishiguro

Kanuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, is also a Nobel Prize in Literature winner from a few years back. I first watched the movie version of this years ago (starring Anthony Hopkins). I thorougly enjoyed this slow, subtle, dry-witted account of the life of an English butler.

Ishiguro is, to my surprise when I learned this, an Englishman. He has, as his name reveals, Japanese heritage.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

The Lincoln Highway was the best novel I read in 2022. Towles is, in my opinion, one of the best novelists in our land. All three of his books are top notch. And, the three novels resemble each other only in being stylistically well crafted.

Thanks to my daughter Caroline who gave me this book (with the author’s signature in it) for Christmas in 2021, and I put off reading it until some really special time. I realized in late November that I had neglected reading it. Got started and within a few days was caught up in the lives of the amazing cast of characters.

For literary scholars only: I hope to do a re-reading of this and Towles’ other books someday. In particular, I want to compare the days (10) with Dante’s nine circles of Hell.

Blue Heaven and Shadow Reels by C. J. Box

No year is complete without reading C. J. Box. I read his most recent book, Shadow Reels, during the summer and then read one of his older works, Blue Heaven, in December. But I am sad because I have now read eveything he has written.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I have rarely had a book that brought me to tears as much as Where the Crawdads Sing. And, yes, the movie is really well done also. But read the book first, if possible. The writing is superb; the plot development is extremely well crafted; and the characters are realistic and unforgettable. The only complaint that I have is that this book is simply too good for it to be the author’s first novel!

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain and Hemingway’s Widow by Timothy Christian

I had to put the brakes on a Hemingway surge that came upon me during the summer. I read two books about two of Hemingway’s four wives and acquired quite a few more Hemingway studies. I did not return to reading Papa’s actual writings, but that was only because I had to focus on other things.

The Paris Wife is a beautiful and sad story of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first and most loveable wife. Although it is a novel, it is almost flawlessly accurate in regard to the bumpy marriage and exciting Paris adventures that the two experienced.

Hemingway’s Widow jumps past two wives and covers the life of Mary Walsh. Like all of Hemingway’s wives, she was attractive, smart, and adventurous. Like all of them, she must have been crazy to have tolerated the man. Like all of them, her life was made tragic at points due to being married to him, although he did leave her well off financially. One great side note: She convinced Hemingway to not let Santiago, the old man, die at the end of The Old Man and the Sea.

The Scandal of Holiness by Jessica Hooten Wilson

Great literature teachers do lots of pointing and exclaiming. They teach by being escited and out of breath over the books they are sharing with students. They are experts, but are also eager ever-young readers who are experiencing the force of literature for the first, second, third, or fiftieth time with glee.

I have and have read all of Jessica Hooten Wilson’s books. I knew from the first time I heard my daughter TaraJane talk about her that she was possibly the reincarnation of Dr. Louise Cowan.

The Scandal of Holiness is a book about books, covering a number of novels that share the trait of, in some way, revealing a vision of holiness and of God. (In the picture above, Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt is in the Wind is photobombing, but his book is one I need to resume reading._

The picture below is a stack of the books that Dr. Wilson discusses in her book.

Spirits in Bondage by C. S. Lewis

Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics by C. S. Lewis is published by Lexham Press, and it is a beautifully bound collection of poetry.

Before he was known for his other writings, C. S. Lewis wrote poetry. Before he was a teacher, he was a soldier. Before he was a Christian, he was an atheist. But he was alsways in the process of becoming who we now all know and love.

He is not highly acclaimed as a poet, but he was not bad at all. And the richness of his poetry is enhanced by seeing how he was seeking, struggling against, moving toward, and also resisting the God he came to love and serve.

Honorable Mentions go to these two somewhat unknown novels:

A Promise to Catie by Judd Holt and Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery by Larry Millet

The first one was a chance-purchase for a quarter. It was, perhaps the only book that Holt wrote. Set in Texas in the 1950s with ghosts and romance, the story was quite entertaining. It was a good find.

My wife and I had irreconcilable differences over the Sherlock Holmes spin-off story. She disliked the writing style and thought the author had botched trying to imitate Arthur Conan Doyle. And I really enjoyed the book. Millet has written at least two other Sherlock Holmes book. If it doesn’t endanger my marriage, I hope to get them and read them someday.

The Whole Counsel of God, Volume 3, by Richard Gamble

The Whole Counsel of God: Volume 3 God’s People in the Western World by Richard Gamble is published by P & R Publishing.

Volumes 1 & 2 of this series are also published by P & R, from whom the whole set can be purchased.

Huge, lengthy (1181 pages), and heavy, the greatest weight of this book is the contents. All three volumes set out to cover huge ranges of material. Volume 1 is an in-depth study of the Old Testament and volume 2 carries that study over to the New Testament.

And the whole set has the aesthetic value of being in hardback with matching covers.

Volume 3 is an extensive survey of history, theology, and philosophy from the Ancient Greeks through the two millennia plus years that followed and goes up to the present. This book builds upon and reinforces previous studies one might have done on Western Civilization, along with historical introductions to philosophical people and movements and the same for theologians and developments in theological studies.

As such a wide-ranging book, this work could be used for reference. I can also think of how great it would be as a college textbook (hopefully for a two-semester class). The sheer number of people, books, ideas, theological and philosophical concerns, and events is overwhelming. I say that as a teacher who has tried to race through many a survey course and study in Western history and thought.

I am ranking this book as one of the best reads I experienced in 2022. It was also the most challenging. On the one hand, the book covers lots of information that I, as a history and Bible teacher, am familiar with. As such, it was a good review and summation of events or ideas or people. At the same time, the book also introduced or reacquainted me with many events, ideas, and people that I was either less familiar with or not aware of.

As expected, I was often wanting more to be said about some points while I was not as interested in other portions. But the benefit of the disciplined study of this book is that one has to plod on through regardless of whether the topic at hand is satisfying or not.

A plus for this book in my opinion is that it is written from a thoroughly Reformed perspective. This comes up not only in the text, but also in the sources cited. This is not to imply that the book is harsh toward non-Reformed people or dismissive of other positions. I was happy to see some “old friends,” theologically speaking, quoted in the book. I am thinking in particular of Francis Nigel Lee. And for those of us who love Cornelius Van Til, the book is heavily indebted to him and his thinking. Also, John Frame and his History of Western Philosophy shows up often.

How should one use this book?

  1. The fact that it works for weightlifting is true, but not overly relevant for this post. And I refrain from posting my weightlifting pictures featuring this book and W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology., another P&R heavyweight winner.

2. I would hope that there are upper-level college courses, graduate courses, and seminary courses that use this book. It would be a race to work through it in one semester. It seems like it would be a better source for a two-semester study with additional readings. Dr. Gamble ends each chapter with several suggested readings. Those suggestions, along with some of the sources cited, and some reading of the primary accounts would make for a good study.

3. My own life experience has been that of a teacher, pastor, and student whose studies have been self-directed. (My undergraduate and graduate level course work has been in secular institutions that often don’t even know that Reformed thinking exists.)

My reading this year is not the best model to follow. It consisted of too many starts and stops. (I will refrain from citing my excuses.) But it was at its best when I was devoted to working toward short-term goals; that is, I would seek to read “a book within the book.” A chapter, a section, a chunk of a couple of hundred pages finally brought me to the point where I could press on to the end.

I think pastors need to be reading books like this. Much of the reading will not be filling in the sought for bullet points for the upcoming sermon. This book is the abs and biceps labors in the spiritual gym.

4. Group study of a book like this would be outstanding. I rarely find groups that consistently take on a project like this and complete it. For the sake of not falling apart, I would suggest that the group not initially attempt the whole book, but take on a large section.

5. A serious disciplined approach of using this book alongside of a more in-depth survey of philosophy and a textbook on Western Civilization would be ideal. I dream of being such a disciplined student, but my approach is too often much more hit and miss. This year, I am teaching British literature, American history, Bible, and Logic to high school students, so much of my more focused study is on those immediate concerns.

At any rate, this book needs to be on your shelf, your pastor’s shelf, and the shelves of serious students of history, Bible, and philosophy. I hope that I can soon experience Dr. Gamble’s previous labors in the first two volumes that cover the Bible.

I notice lots of books that get lots of attention and hype from the Christian readers I know through personal experience and social media. Sadly, this book has not gotten as much attention. I hope, as an overly slow reader and reviewer, to see that change.

The Heavy Laden History Reader

The thirst is unquenchable. Even after more than 5 decades of reading and studying history, I am still consumed with the quest. Quite often, I am content with recovering old and familiar territories, meaning that I like to read about the same people and events over and over again. There are, along the way, new and different angles to pursue. Recent readings have only continued that process.

Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh by Thomas Kidd is published by Yale University Press.

It is amazing that in spite of many letters and documents being lost to history, biographies of Jefferson abound. I am guessing that I have over 25 books about Jefferson. Add to that the books that are written about Jefferson and ——, meaning Jefferson and his many contemporaries, I probably have another half dozen or more volumes. My Jefferson collection is, nevertheless, small when it comes to the vast array of studies of the man, his thoughts, and his times.

Thomas Kidd’s biographical study is a great one volume work on the man’s life. One would have to venture elsewhere to read a more complete account of Jefferson’s many faceted life and career. The focus of this book on how Jefferson’s views on faith and religion impacted his thoughts and actions.

My first draw to the book was the author Thomas Kidd. I have been following, reading, and buying his books for the past several years. A history professor at Baylor University, he is one of the best Christian historians of our time. I have most of his books and am determined to get all of them read. He is the model of a serious academic scholar with Christian commitments that pervade, but not warp his writings. (Admittedly, other Christians and I who have written on Christian topics have been a bit tilted toward making our case rather than with writing solid history.)

Jefferson himself, as I hint in my boasting of personally owned volumes, was the second draw in the acquiring and reading of this book. And when history meets theology, I am often standing anxiously on the sidelines wanting to watch the game.

Thomas Jefferson was a very religious man. He was well read in many respects and areas, with religious readings not being off the grid. He rubbed shoulders with solid Christians, ardent unbelievers, and dedicated Deists. He often relied on religious language, concepts, authorities, and ideas. He was, in some respects, far more Christian than some of our current “devoutly religious” political leaders.

He did, as every modern historian bemoans, much entangled with southern slavery. One can imagine African Americans cleaning his house, cooking his meals, tending his fields, and taking on all manner of tasks while he sat in his study thinking and writing about rights and liberties. Thomas Kidd in no way excuses the inexcusable, but he does give context and reveals the complexities of the situation. I have a rather indefensible opinion myself: I think that without Jefferson’s radical push of the envelope of rights and freedoms in his time (which were on behalf of white males), further freedoms we all now take for granted would not exist. He worked within the parameters of the possible. He was primarily a political doer, rather than a political thinker.

Jefferson was blessed with a good marriage to Martha. That marriage was cut short by her untimely death which occurred around the time of the Declaration of Independence’s birth. Martha, on her deathbed, extracted a promise from Thomas that he would not remarry. He kept that promise, although the keeping of it was far less pure than his actions. Thomas Jefferson had a long-time affair with Sally Hemings, a slave he owned who was also a half-sister to his late wife. In our times, we could accept white Thomas Jefferson marrying black Sally Hemings, but that was unthinkable in his world.

Religious issues swirled around in Jefferson’s lifetime. He was opposed to the idea of a state church in his native Virginia and was opposed to religious interference in national affairs. It was not a deep hostility to Christianity per se, but a real conviction that church and state boundaries were fixed. And it is always vital to remember that the whole concept of “a wall of separation between church and state” was a phrase from a letter Jefferson wrote and not from an official document.

This book is the ideal read for someone who has already read one of the many biographies of Jefferson. On that note, I thought Jon Meacham’s biography was good one. Dumas Malone’s multi-volume work is highly praised, but reading six volumes takes some real commitment. Every decade produces new and varied biographies of the third president. But this one is for a deeper look at the spiritual concerns, religious convictions (or lack thereof), and theological beliefs the man had.

Fire & Steel: The End of World War Two in the West by Peter Caddick-Adams is published by Oxford University Press.

This 688 page book on World War II was just as good as I expected and hoped it would be. A few years ago, I read and reviewed Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by the same author. I read many books on the World Wars, and I am now convinced that Caddick-Adams is one of the top current authors. (And yes, I am working to acquire all of his books.)

Quite often, one gets the impression that the Third Reich was a spent force by the time that the December 1944 Ardennes Offensive was repulsed. A study of the maps shows an ever increasing Third Reich beset by enemies on all sides. Also, the Germans and their failing allies were still contesting every inch of ground in the east against the Soviet juggernaut. The only holdup to a western push to finish off the Germans was a lack of gas and supplies. Both Montgomery on behalf of the British forces and Patton for the Americans favored strong, bold singular thrusts right into the heart of Nazi Germany. General Eisenhower favored a simultaneous approach.

The Germans were surrendering in large numbers. Both young boys and old men were being whipped together into units to slow the Allied advance. Some German soldiers were hoping to reach the Allied side to surrender to rather than facing the severe mercies of the Russians.

The last 100 days or so of the war was, in some senses, a mopping up operation. The impression, usually formed by reading accounts of the last phase of the war, is that everything was winding down, cooling off, easing toward a close.

This book demonstrates that there was still an incredible amount of fight in the German armies. Sure, some units collapsed, folded, and gave in. But not all. There were plenty of die-hard Germans, SS units, Nazi fanatics, and martyrs for the evil cause that were giving all they had to taking as many Allied lives as possible.

One of the most saddening recurring stories concerned German mayors and political officials who saw clearly that Germany had lost. They would take great efforts to reach out to the Allies and protect their cities from a street-by-street destruction. The Allies were more than willing; however, SS units were quick to step in, murder the political officials, and attempt to prolong the fighting.

People will not compromise for a cause they are totally committed to. A type of insanity sets in. Rather than counting their loses and trying to reconfigure their futures, they were committed to follow the Fuhrer all the way to the grave.

The destruction that resulted from World War II continues to overwhelm me. Destroyed buildings, wrecked infrastructure, and whole communities demolished are hard to fathom. The older I get and the more I read on the Second World War, the more I wonder how it could have ever happened.

But it did. It was not a good war. The issues were more clear-cut than some wars. I am glad that the Nazis were crushed, but the war was still overwhelmingly huge. This is the fourth or fifth huge book that Peter Caddick-Adams has written on that war. I hope he can continue writing many more.

Two great histories read and reviewed. Several more coming soon.

On Worship: A Short Guide by H. B. Charles, Jr.

On Worship: A Short Guide to Understanding, Participating In, and Leading Corporate Worship by H. B. Charles, Jr. is published by Moody Press.

“Why did I get this book?” I asked. A few years ago, I was pastoring a church. After I stepped down as pastor, I retained a job of being the person who put the worship service together. I also continued to do some of the preaching. Life brings changes and those changes bring further changes. That meant changing churches for me and becoming a pew sitter rather than a pastor/elder/worship organizer.

The change also took me from being in a Presbyterian church with lots of liturgical patterns and traditional hymns to a setting that had far less (though a few) of those elements. A number of factors and experiences have caused me to be a critic, cynic, and skeptic about worship. On the one hand, I was hesitant and unwilling to go all the way toward adopting robes and some of the higher church (more Anglican-like and Lutheran-like) practices of some of my fellow Presbyterian colleagues. On the other hand, I find the loose, casual, sloppy, non-traditional, non-denominational, non-conformist (and yet imitative of every other non-conformist), feelings oriented, concert performance type of worship irritating.

And I didn’t want to wade once again or ever into the issue of worship wars. I am Reformed in theology and life, so I am part and parcel of a whole host of fight-to-the-death advocacies of what to do and not do in worship. High church, low church, two office leadership, three office leadership, paedo-communion, wine or that other syrupy stuff, leavened or unleavened bread, one cup or many, lectionary readings or expository preaching, exclusive Psalmody or hymns, choirs or only congregational singing, seasonal observances or recognizing the Sabbath as the only prescribed Holy Day, and on and on it goes. Or for me, on and on it went.

Then I had another hesitation about the book On Worship by Pastor Charles. I tread carefully here. He is African-American and I am Caucasian. It is not racism or prejudice to note that Christian brothers and sisters in black churches worship in ways that are different from white Presbyterian folks. Yes, I am often encouraged by the emotional, vibrant, responsive actions of my African-American brethren. Yes, I am often deeply moved by their singing, and I often listen to Shirley Caesar’s powerful voice in recordings. But culturally, environmentally, and whatever else makes me who I am causes me to want to appreciate the African-American worship traditions from a distance.

Having no good reason to read On Worship, I began reading it. I guess I did have a couple of good reasons. I was obligated to review it after having received it free from Moody. (But obligated to review does not mean obligated to approve.) Also, the book was short and easy.

This book is a real delight. It has 30 relatively short chapters, so it works well for a month-long devotional or family reading. Charles is not dealing with the details of what to do in worship; rather, he is dealing with the heart of the worshipper. I assure you (as well as myself) that God is more pleased with those who worship in spirit and in truth out of love and dedication than He is with the technicians of “doing it right” who are hard-hearted, judgmental, exacting at the cost of being merciful, and mean.

Worship is a practice, a work-out, a training ground. Sunday’s hour of confinement is not the beginning and ending of worship, but rather the template for the rest of the week. Prayers, thanksgiving, confession, praise, and hearing God’s Word speak to us is to be going on in our lives 24-7.

This book is also heavily weighted in Reformed theology. (If you are not Reformed, air brush the previous sentence from your mind and read the book calmly.) While we Reformed folk can get a bit too carried away on certain beautiful features of theology, there are plenty of examples of our fathers and brothers who were tractor-beamed in on heart worship. The footnotes in the book cite Abraham Kuyper, Charles Spurgeon, Edmund Clowny, John Piper, and Bryan Chappel. (A. W. Tozer is repeatedly quoted for those of you who are gasping over the previous list.) The recommended readings include works by D. A. Carson, Philip Graham Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and R. C. Sproul. Sorry, but Joel Osteen and others of that flavor didn’t make the cut.

Along with having short, readable chapters, with being written in a non-technical, very casual style, the book is heart convicting. It feels like it grew out of sermons. It has the flavor of a true pastor’s heart. Believe it or not, we who are or have been pastors would like bigger and fuller churches, but even more, we would like to see our flocks growing closer and closer to God. We want to have good worship services, but services that are primarily God-honoring which means that they are also changing the lives of the participants.

Let the worship wars continue. God’s blessings on those who are contending in those conflicts. But let none of us overlook the real purposes and benefits of worship.

This book was provided to me free of charge by Moody Publishers for reviewing purposes. And I am under no obligation to endorse or commend its contents, but am glad that I can do so anyway.

Catchup on Book Reviews, Not Fries

A student of mine recently said that she didn’t get a book finished because she didn’t have much free time. Hmmm. There are a number of problems with that statement. For one, time is never free. Second, one should not relegate reading to the leftover time we have after the “important” stuff is done. Third, students should get their assignments done.

And I have failed on that third point. I am hopelessly behind on writing and posting book reviews. This sweep of books and titles will be my effort to try to get caught up, even if points are taken off for the work being done late.

It was over a month ago that I ventured to review all of the books in the picture above. I only succeeded in getting the top four from the stack covered. So, let’s get after the rest.

Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job by Eric Ortlund is published by InterVarsity Press.

In the summer of 2021, I had a mild case of the Job experience. Okay, it actually started in 2020 and continued through to the beginning of 2022. But, unemployment, health issues, and other crises brought me to consider our brother in suffering, patient and righteous Job.

I read Christopher Ash’s book Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job sometime over the last year. Ash has a fine commentary on Job, but this work is a short and easy study. I also read Job: A Philosophical Commentary by my friend Owen Anderson. Ash’s book is strong on the devotional side of Job, while Owen’s book helps differentiate the approaches that Job’s misguided friends gave him. And as the subtitle A Philosophical Commentary says, this book rightly puts Job in the field that those pesky Greeks think they should dominate.

Piercing Leviathan is neither a commentary nor a chapter-by-chapter survey of the book. The primary aim is to deal with the issue of what the oft mentioned Leviathan in the book is. Sometimes, commentators and readers have concluded that Leviathan was a whale or a dinosaur or a rhinoceros. But in the last chapters of Job, where God speaks and settles the issues that have been swirling around for nearly 40 chapters, the power of God’s creation has already been stated and presented as Exhibits A-Y. Just adding this big animal as Exhibit Z would not be the capstone, clinching argument. (Yet, I would affirm that if Ortlund is wrong, whatever God says is right.)

Piercing Leviathan is not a case of God telling the story that Melville will repeat and expand (and expand and expand and expand) in Moby Dick. In other words, it is not about the yuge task of actually subduing a white whale. Leviathan represents the forces and power of evil, the kingdom of Satan, the world that has been in rebellion against God since the beginning of time.

Job hears God’s presentation and is more than satisfied. Even though he gets full payment for damages incurred in the events, Job’s bowing before God was done in worshipful awe and not in a hope to gain some favor. One can realize that he was ready to go on with life as he had recently experienced it, full of confidence in the Goodness, Power, Holiness of God. Job had a glimpse of Ultimate Reality: God wins, Satan and evil lose. Cosmic war ends in no arbitration or settlement, but rather in total victory.

To be blunt: I now NEED the 3 volumes of Calvin’s Sermons on Job that is newly published by Banner of Truth. And, yes, I would not mind the John Calvin tumbler as featured and included in the Reformation Heritage deal.

You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World by Alan Noble is published by InterVarsity Press.

There is a bit of a reformation/renaissance going on at Oklahoma Baptist University these days. The first time I heard of that university, it was from a couple of friends who were swindled in attending what was supposed to be a college that was faithful to the doctrines and teachings of Southern Baptists. They were getting strong doses of liberal theology without the benefit of even a Karl Barth-corrective.

Reformation happens. Unbelief falters and stumbles and doesn’t deliver. God is faithful. A movement is sweeping across quite a few Christian campuses that is restoring the rightful places of Christian views of literature, philosophy, history, and even…theology.

Dr. Alan Noble and Dr. Ben Myers are two of the leaders of these efforts at Oklahoma Baptist University. Myers has written some fine works of poetry and about poetry. Noble has written several books about Christian living.

This book springboards off of the Heidelberg Catechism’s opening answer to the question “What is our only comfort in life and death?” Among other things, that answer states, “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

The world always, and for certain in these times, asserts that we are our own. Political liberals state that mantra even as they ease our ownership titles over to state control. But on the political right, Randians, Libertarians, and others, in an effort to preserve individual freedoms, push the idea that we are our own.

Noble’s book uses the theme that we are not our own for some 230 pages. The applications and examination of the theme is far ranging. This is a useful book for discussion or even for some sermon preparation and use. As with Noble’s other works, it is written by an academic, but it is written for all types of readers.

Covenant and Election in the Reformed Tradition by David J. Englesma is published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. Engelsma has written an incredible number of books published by RFPA.

This is one of two books by Pastor Engelsma that I received and am duty bound to review and am hopelessly behind on getting to. The other book is Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root.

I woke up one day in the middle of a pastors’ conference years ago and discovered that there was a movement called Federal Vision. The duties I had as a pastor of a church, the administrator of a school, the Humanities teacher at the same school, the husband and father at home, etc. kept me from getting involved and informed in the issues.

This theological tete a tete quickly became too heated, too involved, too loud, too distracting, too bizarre for me to wade into. I found it more my style to press on with my too many tasks until I suffered a full blown, much deserved physical and mental breakdown.

You can find more than enough attacks and defenses of Federal Vision online. I have a small stack of books that present defenses and rebuttals, and most are unread.

So, on the one hand, I simply do not and maybe cannot understand what is going on.

On the other hand, I did read a book by Gene Eward Veith on Lutheran theology that sounded almost identical to what I thought the FVers were saying. This led me to wonder why most Reformed and more Presbyterian folks who oppose FV views would possibly accept Lutherans (and Arminians and Dispensationalists and Charismatics) as brothers? I am assuming that they do accept them as such.

The driving gist of this book is that the most trusted, reliable, faithful Reformed approach is that Election precedes Covenant. I was swirling around and sinking during this whole discussion.

Obviously, from some of the reviewers who I have glanced at, this book is well done and a sound refutation of the position they oppose. Obviously, if you are reading what I have said, I am completely muddled as a reader. But here are my thoughts:

  1. I think Pastor Englesma should have focused the book on the topic of why he believes and affirms those confessional statements that say that election precedes covenant. Teach that truth as found in those statements.
  2. Potshots taken at FVers were usually in the form of jibs and jabs and insults. Insulting words do not an argument make.
  3. In the cases of Reformed people in the past, like Klaas Schilder, whose views Englesma opposes, he should have carefully stated their views and why he thinks they are in error.
  4. Above all, the book should deal more directly with what is plainly taught in the Scriptures rather than what is plainly stated in the historic confessions. Lest I be misunderstood, I love Reformed confessions. I have been using them to teach my evangelical, more fundamentalist, most likely Arminian students in the Bible class I have. But the confessions often build upon theological controversies of the days of yore and sweep past the reader of our times.

Okay, I have grown soft in my older years. Maybe I am embracing heretics, theological deviants, and corruptors of the Faith. Maybe I need to start denouncing someone. I did that for years. I was confrontational for years. I am either wiser now or wearier of battle or just off the grid theologically.

If one is wanting to wade into the Federal Vision versus Reformed Orthodoxy debate, here is a good book. As for me, let me try to explain and share the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer with my students.

Subjects Theological and Worldview Oriented

During the summer days and weeks this year, I have been, as usual, reading through a number of books. Also, as usual, I have fallen way behind in posting book reviews and updates on my readings. I can’t blame the usual suspects from the past: administration duties at school, closing of the school (2020), health crisis (2121), vacationing, spending mornings overlooking the sand and the surf, backpacking in the Appalachians, or doing yardwork. I really don’t have an excuse other than a tendency to be lazy.

So get ready for a potpourri of books that have this in common: All are by and for Christians and all were on my unending reading stacks.

Let me start with When the Bluebonnets Come by John J. Dwyer. This book and the other works by Dwyer can be found HERE.

Sometimes I need to read a story that is pleasant and affirming. I appreciate the great works of 20th Century masters like Hemingway, Faulkner, and others. Dostoevsky is unsurpassed. Charles Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper are both profitable challenges. But sometimes, I long for home, for childhood, for community, for local matters rather than epic challenges.

This book is set in Texas and in a small-town community. The dialog reflects how people talked that I grew up around. Most of the thinking, both good and bad, reflects how most people I knew thought. Yet, this is a novel, and there are several layers of conflict. At the heart of these problems are issues of faith versus the unbelief of the world around us. But even the faithful in this book stumble and struggle. And the “Christ-haunted” nature of the South, to borrow Flannery O’Connor’s phrase, seeps in in unexpected ways and places.

John Dwyer, a friend for certain, has most recently written the second volume of his history of Oklahoma. He has also written other books. My two favorites are Saltgrass and Mustang. He and I believe the same things, share the same loves, and are close enough alike in age and temperament to be brothers. He also fulfills some of my dreams. He not only wears a cowboy hat, but he has the real credentials. Best of all, John is a Christian whose writings don’t just slip a hint of Christianity into the middle of the stories, but are undergirded by Christian thought.

Read his books! If you want a pleasant vacation from your life struggles, read When the Bluebonnets Come.

Francis Bacon by David Innes is part of the Great Thinkers Series published by P & R Publishing.

I am long overdue writing a blog post heralding and praising the Great Thinkers series. This is a collection of some 12 books and still counting on philosophers, theologians, and key thinkers through the centuries. These works are analyses of the ideas, good and bad, by people who maybe were or were not Christians, but who have impacted the world around us.

If you need a quick biographical sketch of some famous thinker, go to Wikipedia or, if you are old fashioned, the encyclopedia. If you want an analysis of the ideas of great thinkers, get ready to be overwhelmed by the serious studies that are available.

What makes these books to differ? These books are all of readable length, meaning that they are less than 200 pages. Most important, they are written by Christian scholars in the Reformed tradition. The authors are people who are deeply embedded with people like Calvin, Bavinck, Van Til, and others.

Christian colleges need to have stacks of these books on the required reading lists and in their libraries. College professors who teach philosophy, history, theology, and even literature, need to have and to have read these books.

But beware: These works are not easy, “philosophers for dummies” types of reading. Every one of the volumes that I have read so far has swamped my philosophically limited brain. That’s okay. I’m a history and English teacher; I’m old; and I am slow witted. But there are plenty of you who need these books. The rest of us will just have to read them slowly twice and wait for someone to help us.

Francis Bacon, the subject of the book I most recently read, was a key thinker from England. We often pick up snippets of his witty sayings or read a paragraph about his contributions to the developing field of scientific research.

His claim to be a Christian fits into a context of Christian England more than it affirms a living and active faith in the man himself. The impact he has had on modern thought is enormous.

David Innes is also the author of Christ and the Kingdoms of Men, which is a study of political thought and is another P&R publication.

Check out the Great Thinkers series. Read these books. Buy them for your college bound students.

One of the unsung publishing and writing heroes and scholars of our time is Ruben Alvarado.

Through his efforts and publishing company, Pantocrator Press, we have books like In Memory of Stahl by Groen van Prinsterer.

Because we “live in time so little time,” to use Robert Penn Warren’s phrase, we also know so little. That problem of finite time and ability has been compounded by the times in which we live. Christian thought and heritage have been ignored, muffled, misinterpreted, suppressed, and forgotten. Thankfully, we live in a time where we can now find the works of John Witherspoon. In my college days, such was not to be found; nor were biographies of him. Most people go through life and school without learning anything about the great Christians of the past and present. (Go ask your local philosophy professor about Gordon Clark and Herman Dooyeweerd.)

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer was a brilliant Dutch historian and political thinker. His works, numerous in Dutch, are still slipping into English translations and being made available. Stalin-types might ask, “How many divisions do the Dutch have?” as a way of dismissing the contributions of the Netherlands. Well, not many divisions, but lots of great minds in philosphy and theology.

Friedrich Stahl was a Christian thinker and political leader in Prussia and Germany. Obviously, his thought lost out in time to the forces that led to Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and tragically to the Third Reich. But there was a time in which Stahl was a significant force for Christian political thought.

For those who think that this book written by one obscure Dutchman praising an obscure German is too far above their paygrade, I would suggest that you look into the works of Stahl published by Pantocrator.

If you are in any field of political thought or jurisprudence, this is a command, not a suggestion.

To better understand Groen van Prinsterer, one should race hurriedly to acquire a copy of Unbelief and Revolution, which is published by Lexham Press.

Lexham Press, a favorite of mine, has also published a beautiful collection of sermons by John Webster, titled Christ Our Salvation.

Also, John Webster was a theology professor, he very strongly believed, taught, and preached that “the Gospel is the heart of Scripture.” These beautifully crafted sermons, models of rhetorical preaching, are all deeply rooted in a theological unveiling and exposition of Scriptural truths.

As a preacher, it is hard for me to read someone like Webster and then venture into a pulpit. I can’t preach like he did, but I can be deeply enriched by reading his sermons. This book fulfills the daily need for a devotional jumpstart and incentive, along with the need for some theological ballast.

These sermons were preached to men in theological training, meaning men who would one day be preachers themselves. They are weighty, without being obscure or opaque. They are convicting, without being shallow. They are Christocentric, without being repetitive.

Great book for any serious Christian reader.

[I will write on the remaining books later.]

Ah! Bartleby! Ah! Humanities!

It is a trap. I am warning you, beware. When you undertake to read and teach a course focused on what we call “the Great Books,” “the Humanities,” “the Canon,” “the Classics,” or whatever term is used to classify “them,” you are entering into a never ceasing spiral.

I had hints, bit and pieces, excursions along the edges of a classically based education along the way. Some of the books were assigned in whole or were divided out in parts in literature class. Most were self guided reading that I did. I read some books because they were considered classics. I acquired and started (with varying results) many others because they were classics.

Having a number of English courses both as an undergraduate and graduate student, I got a decent exposure to authors like Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Solzhenitsyn, Moliere, Mark Twain, and a few others. But it was more like taking a first aid course than like being in medical school.

Then along came an essay by a little known (to me) British writer named Dorothy Sayers. Titled “The Lost Tools of Learning,” it shook up my mind about the meaning of education. And I had been long in the trenches of the teaching profession at the time. Thankfully, I was given a reprieve after reading the essay and did not have to specifically apply it.

Fast forward a few years and a group of people in my church and I began seriously contemplating a way to create a school to educate a growing number of teen kids in the church. The classical Christian school movement was cropping up here and there, with a few books and essays and even some “how to” opportunities for the willing pioneers.

From classical Christian education emerged the idea of a Humanities program. I first picked up on the idea after coveting the Humanities courses that he has produced and shared with many Christian students. These courses are still available through Stirling Bridge Shop. A bit later, the Omnibus program started showing up in a series of what became 6 volumes of books dealing with a huge list of great books spanning the ages. This series is available through Veritas Press.

Quite simply, this method of educating blends the teaching of history and literature, as well as the Bible, political thought, theology, and art, into one integrated course. Too much of our learning has consisted of going from class to class, of closing one textbook and opening another, and of compartmentalizing knowledge. Focus and differentiation have places in the education process, but blending is a much richer approach.

These approaches, which I will call Humanities rather than Omnibus or Great Books, bring the classics front and center into the learning process. In this swimming pool, there are two ends–the deep end and the deeper end. And there are two ways to get into the water–the high diving board and the higher diving board.

The assumption is that you already learned to swim in the grammar and logic stages of the educational process. It is now time to take on some scary, challenging, difficult, but rewarding reading hurdles…or high dives to continue the previous metaphor.

Regarding which books to read, how many, where to start, I will say nothing. There are plenty of reading lists and guides available on the Internet. Also, much depends on the type of school, the type of students, the number of students, and the expectations of the parents and administration.

The accumulated rubble of our civilization is going to involve lots of digging and recovery efforts. So, don’t assume that you can reconstruct it all in a year…or a decade.

What follows are some suggestions for you to dwell on.

1st, Don’t assume you are qualified or ready or the best person for the task. Unless you are a C. S. Lewis or one of the Vanderbilt Agrarian scholars, you have not read enough or been trained enough for the job. Start with where you are, what you know, and with an eagerness to advance.

I am assuming that you are a fairly well-read person with a built-in love for reading. If not, why are you teaching such a course? (Why do you even exist?) Most of your reading has been fine. Many times you have read classics. You did read some things in college. You have forgotten much of what you read. Some classics that you read were not memorable to you. And you are embarrassed to admit how little you know. (I am, by the way, describing myself primarily.)

Most of us who find ourselves teaching a Humanities curriculum were not chosen from among a cast of giants. We are the Humanities teachers for reasons other than our impressive resumes and extensive knowledge of all the great books that have ever been written. It is okay. We start where we are. As long as you have today and maybe tomorrow, you can make some headway.

2nd, Don’t try to become the expert literary scholar in the summer months prior to the school year. If you want to go ahead and read The Iliad, do so. But you don’t have to master the curriculum before the students appear. Vital to teaching Humanities is the recognition that you are a fellow learner with your students. Many of my now favorite classics are books that I first read alongside students.

One thing that I still like to do is to read a book each semester or year with the students that I have not previously read or taught. (In some cases, I have previously read the book but it was years ago.) I treasure the heavily marked and annotated copies of books that I have covered numerous times (and panic when my personal copy can’t be found), but the exploring of new territory puts the teacher into the mindset of the student.

3rd, Don’t assume that you have to be the interpreter, the analyst, the expert, the sage on the stage, and the authority figure when you are teaching a classic. My students often make comments so amazingly profound that I slightly tint green with envy upon hearing them. Sometimes, my deepest thoughts are things like “Wow! That passage is really good” or “What in the world does this mean?” or “I got lost in thi section” or “Anyone have any ideas on what the author means here?”

There are experts. I love raiding and pillaging their insights. Sometimes, as all good cattle rustlers do, I brand them with my own Circle H brand, leaving students to think that I actually know something. But the students are not in need of an expertly crafted, deeply complex interpretation of what they read.

4th, Romance the book. Your job is not to make sure that your students can pass a matching characters and descriptions test or recite the major themes in the book. Your job is to enable the students to love the books. Sometimes romance just doesn’t seem to happen. So, at least, we as teachers must create a friend zone between the student and the book.

I prefer a student loving the book rather than knowing lots of facts about it and the author. When the book is Les Miserables, the atmosphere is ripe for true love. When the book is The Federalist Papers, the chance of wedding bells is less likely. But the teacher still has the task of seeking at least some appreciation.

5th, Don’t undertake too much. It took me a good while to trudge through Herodotus’ Histories. I would much prefer reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War. Trying to take a group of kids through the long stretches, forced marches, and lengthy digressions of Herodotus was not a great success for me.

Should people read Herodotus? I reckon. History majors in college, like I was, should be required to read it and quite a few other classic histories. But in some cases, the whole book is not worth the time and capital it will take from your year of readings. In some cases, a few chapters will suffice. In some cases, a great work will need to step to the side for a lesser work. (I enjoyed using Ernle Bradford’s Thermopylae: The Battle for the West for getting the main contours of the story together.)

6th, Don’t undertake too little. By this, I mean that you should not slow down so that everyone can keep up and grasp it all. Honestly, you could spend a whole semester teaching A Tale of Two Cities. You could spend months on any Shakespeare play. You could spend days covering William Carlos Williams’ poem The Read Wheelbarrow.”

Teachers have amazing abilities to take that which is beautiful, enjoyable, and enriching and turning such into misery for the students. Keep up a good pace. Cut your losses. Move on to the next chapter, the next book, the next venture.

7th, Don’t overkill the idea that you are to present “the Christian interpretation” of every book or idea. Yes, a Christian worldview is essential to Christian education and thought. But literature can often be read as parables with morals attached. Certainly, one should, upon finishing The Great Gatsby not live like Gatsby, Daisy, or Tom, but the book is not a morality play. Nor is Hamlet. Nor is The Brothers Karamazov.

In some cases, and Gatsby, Hamlet, and Brothers K, are all open to Christian insights, you might not have a handy-dandy Christian spin on a work of literature or an event in history or an economic theory. Be patient. Listen to your students. Read a few experts. Search the web. You are a work in progress. Helen of Troy was beautiful long before either of us were born, so if we don’t have a definitive answer on some aspect of literature, don’t fret.

I confess that I really struggled with Sir Gawain and the Green Giant. The book was on a curriculum list that I used in a Medieval literature class I was teaching a small group in the past spring. I had previously read the book, but it had not resonated with me. I had to not only read through it for class, but had to read it a second time. And some of the best parts of the story began connecting.

8th, In teaching literature, if you and the class are not having fun, you are failing. I am anguished over the student who never connects, never falls in love, never embraces what I am teaching. We can’t seem to reach every last one of them. But there has to be an atmosphere of love and joy, of celebration and delight, of eagerness and expectation in the literature classroom. If they don’t love the poem you are teaching, then they should be at least loving the poem (or poesis) that you are. As a teacher, you become the spokesperson, the ambassador, the matchmaker between Homer, or Shakespeare, or Faulkner and your students. If they fall in love with the messenger (because you are a lovable, caring, passionate teacher) long before they fall in love with the message, you will succeed.