I’ll Be a History Teacher Someday

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Learning history once seemed so easy.  I would go to college for four years.  I would teach history for a few years.  Then I would go to college some more.  Then I would teach some more.  Somewhere around age 30, I would know history.

Nothing like that happened.  Well, I did go to college for four years, and I did go back to college at nights and in the summers and add on graduate hours.  But I have never reached the point where I know history.   I am still laboring to learn, re-learn, and un-learn history.  I feel like I am almost ready to begin–if I could begin over.  But beginning might mean beginning my teaching career over.  Or it might mean beginning college over. Or it might mean beginning elementary school over (but that only if I could be socially and physically less awkward).

Here I am facing yet another stack of history books.  I will share with you some readings that I am finishing or anxious to start.

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When I heard about this book last fall, it was an immediate “I must have it or I will perish.”  That was no exaggeration.  It was critical for me to get the book.  I should finish it today.  I has been a long, hard slog to get through it, but it has been worth it.  This is not a beginners’ story of the war or a narrative highlighting the drama and personalities of World War II.  It is a detailed analysis of the Allied and Axis powers in terms of weapons, manpower, effectiveness of tactics, and leadership.  Great book.  Watch for my upcoming review.

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Two events conspired to cause me to want the book Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River 1961-1865.  First, it is a history book and not just any history book, but a book about The War and not just any book about The War, but a book about a part of The War that gets overlooked–the Trans-Mississippi theater.  Second, I met the author.  Now, I would like to say that I met him in some scholarly setting where we were exchanging ideas about history, but that is not the case.  I met him in a store where I was buying a light for our bathroom (that has not yet been installed).

Last month, I read the introduction to this book and was hyped to get it started.  I should be diving in this next week.  Watch for a review soon.

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Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History is by the duo history authors Brian Kilmead and Don Yeager.  Their books are best sellers and are popular histories.  I have yet to read them to be able to give my take.  I should have read this book before last week when I talked about the Tripolitan War in class.  This book looks good and is a short read.  I will be reading it this next week.

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John Witherspoon’s American Revolution is by Gideon Mailer.  I suspect this book is going to be a challenge, meaning this is not an easy read for the midnight hour.  That is fine, for I have plenty of midnight reads and usually fall asleep before that time.  But John Witherspoon is, after all, John Witherspoon.  Sometimes called “the Forgotten Founding Father,” he is the man most dear to the heart of Calvinists who love history.  I desire anything and everything I can find and read about him.

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Another book I should have read prior to my recent classroom lectures is Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman.  This book was published some time back, but just came out in paperback.  Jefferson is a pivotal and key figure in understanding American history.  He is one of the few U. S. Presidents who would still be a major figure even if he had never served as the Chief Executive.  Last year I read Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert M. S. McDonald.  That was a surprising and delightful book. It seems like there is no end to fascinating studies on Jefferson.

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Another book that is not quite so urgent is Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Proteges, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald.  This book consists of essays about some of the key figures in Washington’s life and career, including the military men, like Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, and the political men, like Jefferson and Hamilton (who was also a military man)  Being a collection of essays, this book lends itself to being read in part based on which figure one wishes to study.

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Like Washington and Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt was a man who dominated his times and extended his influence into our times.  Loved and hated by the left and the right wings of political folks, he had a personality and style that transcends mere political likes and dislike.  The book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer explores the political differences between two titans–Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  Having the proverbial meal with famous people would not go well if your choice guests were TR and Mark Twain.  They would likely pick back up with an argument that set them at odds back in their times.  Can’t wait to start this one.

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Reading history is not all fun and games.  I am duty bound to labor over a weighty collection of essays titled What Is Classical Liberal History, edited by my friend Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness.  I read Dr. Douma’s opening essay which warns me of the depth of water I will be swimming in.  I am not in the camp of classical liberal historians, but I think I am very sympathetic to them and their approach.  By the way, don’t confuse the term “classical liberal” with our current political discussions concerning folks we call liberals.

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Calllie the dog is a therapy dog who is trained to help me understand parts of books that are above and beyond me.

 

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Intentional Christian by Daniel Ryan Day

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One should not complain about being a book reviewer.  Often books show up that both sound really good and turn out to be great reads.  But some books, like stray animals, show up that we never asked for and are not sure what to do with.  Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will be overwhelmed at the number of titles.  Many I skip right on past after assuming that the book is likely merely okay at best.  After all, on a given Sunday morning, there are thousands of Sunday school lessons and sermons being given across the land.  But how many are really worth going to extra trouble to hear? They are likely helpful for the congregation at hand, but not “keepers.”  (That is true of many of my sermons and lessons over the years.)

Discovery House (no relation to me) sent me a copy of Intentional Christian:  What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Daniel Ryan Day.  Here is a book to help a believer discover the will of God for their life.  At this point in time, perhaps due to age and other circumstances, I don’t think much about the will of God for my life. It is a more frequent concern for younger Christians.  And it is a topic full of dangerous, although well intentioned, advice.

Day discusses in this book his own concerns in his younger years (and he is still a young man).  An interest in Christian music and serving God left him often wondering what the will of God was calling him to do.  In this book, he weaves in lots of autobiographical and anecdotal stories to make his point.  Knowing lots of Christians who are young and facing life decisions and others who are confused about where they are, I was sympathetic but skeptical.

Then came the good part, the sudden shift in the book and topic, and the blinding-light moment of truth.  Neither the Bible nor signs or angelic appearances are going to tell you where to work and live, where and in what areas to educated, whom to marry, or any of those matters.  The will of God is “your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3a).  That passage makes the point even more pointed by adding this politically incorrect exhortation “That you abstain from sexual immorality.”

Then there is 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18:

 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing,18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

In other words, the Bible reveals lots of “secrets” about the will of God for our lives.  We are to be growing in grace, living in faithful community with fellow believers, forgiving, doing good, rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.  Basic good old Christian living 101.  That, and not whether you get to record your Christian rock song, is what God’s will is for your life.

Day uses the term Common Calling to elaborate on this topic.  A chapter is devoted to worship, another to loving others, another to living intentionally, and yet another to overcoming fear and loving our enemies.  We have a calling, but that calling is common to all of us and revealed in the commands and exhortations of Scripture.

This book is short, easy to read, anecdotal, and useful for a morning devotional study or a group or family study.  I am thankful that I got past my initial apprehension and read the book.

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Sometime last year, I read a book on a similar topic titled Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung.  My interest in that book was simply because I have enjoyed and profited from everything I have read by DeYoung.  Notice the bit of sarcasm and wit in the sub-title:  How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.  

DeYoung’s book, which was published in 2009, gives a tighter Biblical case for using the Bible correctly and not mystically. It is a warning about many shaky and outright wrong ways Christian people go about deciding what to do.  This book is a great companion volume for the Daniel Ryan Day’s book.  The same topic generally with different approaches.  I believe the two authors would find each other in much accord.

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Young, restless, and Anglican, Daniel Ryan Day–author of a helpful book on finding the will of God.

Truth Considered and Applied by Stewart Kelly

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There is a lot of book packed into the pages of this work.  Truth Considered & Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith is by Stewart E. Kelly, who is a philosophy professor at Minot State University (in North Dakota) and the author of several books.  This book is published by B&H Publishing Group.

The website says that it is for philosophy and theology students.  I agree, but would add that it is valuable for history teachers and students as well (referring to college level history majors).

Here is a bit of my experience with this book.  Back in the fall, I found a stack of copies of this book at a religious bookstore.  Most Christian bookstores don’t have too many titles that are brainy or philosophical books.  Just try this: Walk into your nice Christian bookstore and ask for books by Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Van Til, Gordon Clark, Rushdoony, James K. A. Smith, or Christopher Dawson.  (Byron Borger’s Heart and Mind Books is an exception.  There are others.) But this store had this book on truth and postmodernism in abundance.

I went back to my office to look up this “new” title.  To my surprise, I learned that this book had been out since 2011.  And no customer reviews were posted on Amazon.  (I am changing that.)  I soon acquired the book, but it has taken a while to work my way through it.  The slow pace was due to the many books I am trying to read, as well as the challenging nature of this book.

For those who want an enjoyable and anecdotal survey of some modern ideas, look elsewhere.  This book has the feel of being a professor’s expanded outline notes.  It has a mountain of bibliographical and footnoted information.  It is a walk through the section of the library dealing with modern thought with glances through the writings of key thinkers.  It will overwhelm you (in a good way) with the books, terms, ideas, and names which have contributed to modern thought and postmodern thought.

The pastor counseling a couple with a few marriage problems or the history teacher with a classroom full of eighth graders will not find answers here.  But I really hope that pastors and history teachers have the time and inclination to get outside of their boxes and explore these issues.  There are connections between the ramblings of brilliant, but misdirected philosophers and the cultural and social problems that we face in everyday life.  As I once told Richard Weaver, “You know, Richard, that all of these ideas I am teaching you have consequences.” (Don’t fact check that story!)

For beginners and novices, like me, this book is a good survey or introduction to lots of issues.  Well chosen quotes begin each section.  The quotes alone are good glimpses of some of the ideas that have been bouncing back and forth between intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, and academics.   I would love to take a class, preferably with Dr. Kelly teaching it, where we were reading and discussing this book.

The first 152 pages of this book are on postmodernism itself.  It is titled “Friend or Foe: The Challenge of Postmodernism.”  The next section, titled “Truth and History,” is much more my area of interest.  In that part, Kelly covers the ways that historians have interpreted history over the past hundred years or so.  Sometimes we may wonder why a person would read four different books on the same topic or era of history.  Certainly, the facts don’t change.  But history books have never been and can never be about listing facts.  Even the encyclopedia is selective and interpretive about what facts to include.

Schools of thought and methods of interpretation change.  With two major world wars and the rise and fall of various ideologies, the histories of the twentieth century are going to reflect both the time they were written and the school of thought of the authors.  This may not change the way that I hope to finish my discussion of Gettysburg next Monday in history class, but it does affect my historical understanding at other levels.

There are people who like hamburgers.  That’s fine.  But some people have to go beyond the culinary delight of two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun to understanding the cattle industry, wheat production, vegetable harvests, and food distribution.  Likewise, some people like history.  May their tribes increase.  Whether it is good biographies, the History Channel, historical fiction, or touring Civil War battlefields, all such interest is good.  But some of us really need to understand the inner workings of the discipline.  This book will help.

In short, some of you really need to get this book and study it.  Pick up on the recurring names and ideas.  Let this book be a launching pad for deeper and further studies.

Post Script:  Dr. Kelly devotes about two pages of small print in an extended footnote listing authors and titles of history works that have influenced his understanding of “postmodern historiography and historical epistemology.”  As one who has been around the library and history block a few times, I am astounded at the range of books he calls attention to.  The journey never ends.

 

 

Morning Reads of Late

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Years ago, I was a night owl.  A combination of age, jobs, children, and other factors changed me.  I love getting up in the morning and sitting down with some time for Bible reading, coffee, and a stack of books.  Some days, my mind is still too inert to grasp much on the page, but on other days, it is a sponge.  The key is perseverance.  Good days or bad days, busy days or leisurely days, in sickness and health, I get up and read.

Here are some of the recent reading experiences that I have either finished or am still working on.

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I cannot say that First John is my favorite book of the Bible, but it is the book that challenges me the most. The structure–the repeating patterns, the beauty, the brevity, and the depth of it always leave me wanting more to understand it.  This commentary–1, 2, & 3 John by Constantine R. Campbell–makes a fine daily study in the three short letters John wrote. It is part of a series called The Story of God Bible Commentary, published by Zondervan.

These commentaries have three portions in each chapter:  Listen to the Story, Explain the Story, and Live the Story.  The method is useful for morning studies, but would also be beneficial for sermon preparation, family devotions, or any other format.  Listening to the passage of Scripture is self explanatory, but it is also important not to forget.  I confess to having jumped into a passage when working to prepare a lesson or sermon without having spent enough time just looking and listening to the words of the Bible.

In the portion on explaining the story, Campbell weaves in the textual issues regarding Greek words, interpretive challenges, and different views held by other commentators.  I especially enjoyed some of the quotes Campbell included from Augustine.

Living the story is the application.  Here Campbell includes stories and anecdotes along with specific suggestions on how to practice what is being learned.  As a fan of Charles Spurgeon’s methods of using anecdotes and quips to enhance his sermons, I found this book full of plenty of encouraging and usable material.

Although the largest portion of this book was devoted to 1 John, I really found the chapters on 2 and 3 John quite enjoyable.  All too often, those books are raced through without being given much thought.

This book was enjoyable to read and would be enjoyable to read again either for morning devotions or for lesson preparation.

Praying the Bible

Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney is published by Crossway.  The Crossway website also has a video and additional helps for using this book.  Some of you are probably familiar with Mr. Whitney fine book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  If so, then you know that his writings are clear, practical, convicting, and Biblical.

This book is a short read of ten chapters and is less than 100 pages.  It is easy to read one or two chapters in the morning.  There are lots of good books on prayer that I have read.  What stands out about this book is that it is not written to convince or convict us to pray, but tells us how to pray.  Basically, Whitney focuses on using the Bible–as in the exact text we are reading–to formulate our daily prayers, weave in the various needs, expand upon the topics mentioned, and use the language of the Bible to pray.

Read it for yourself or share it with the family.

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After several occasions where I glanced at and scanned a few pages, I have finally begun seriously reading Speak the Truth: How to bring God back into every conversation by Carmen LaBerge.  Her website and more information about the topic (including a free read of the first chapter) can be found HERE.

After I received this book, I had a few doubts about reading it.  First of all, I was not familiar with the author.  Second, I found myself suspecting it might be a shallow read.  Several chapters in, I am better acquainted with the author, and this is a solid and in-depth, but very readable book.  It is not shallow or sappy.  Every time I suspect the author might give a weak or watered-down answer, she hits a home run (to mix metaphors).

I will share a few quotes I have particularly enjoyed.

“To conceal from others the truth and grace of God’s reality, His love and the hope He offers in life and in death may well be the greatest sin we ever commit.”  pages 10-11

“We treat life like Monopoly.  When we land on a square God ‘owns,’ we owe Him rent money.  He can have those certain properties, but as far as the rest of the board goes–we pursue it for all we’re worth.  Truth is, it all belongs to God….” page 15  (Reminds me of the Kuyper “every square inch” quote.)

“The Gospel is the solution to jihad in the Middle East and the Gospel is the answer to famine in Africa. The Gospel confronts human sex trafficking in Asia and resolves the lonelines of your single neighbor.” pages 17-18

“If we are not taking God’s viewpoint into the conversation at the bar or in the bleachers, then it is not the culture’s fault that God’s perspective goes unheard.  People can’t hear what no one is saying.”  pages 39-40

Thomas Fleming’s Final Words on Washington

 

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Writing this book review and commenting on The Strategy of Victory by Thomas Fleming fills me with lots of mixed feelings, but it is sadness that predominates.  This was Fleming’s last book, finished just months before he died back in July of 2017. The sadness is compounded because I had several occasions where Mr. Fleming and I corresponded over the past six or more years.  He was gracious to have review copies of some of his later books sent to me.  Even more so, he was always complimentary toward the reviews and articles where I referenced his books.  My unfulfilled hope was to meet him.

The Strategy of Victory is published by De Capo Press.

The Strategy of Victory

As the subtitle states, this is the story of how General George Washington succeeded on the battlefield and won the American Revolution.  George Washington’s battles have been a recurring topic in Mr. Fleming’s writings.  There were almost always two different battles going.  The clearly discernible enemy was the British army (whether that of British soldiers themselves or their Hessian mercenary counterparts).  That enemy was powerful and laden with advantages in terms of numbers, supplies, and leadership.  But the more subtle, devious, and dangerous enemy Washington faced was within the American patriot organization.

Let’s call them Washington’s enemy-friends.  By that, I mean that these were men on the Patriot side, but who were scheming and plotting to remove or discredit Washington.  Since Washington spent lots of time losing battles, retreating from place to place, and trying to hold the army together, he was vulnerable to lots of criticism.  There were military men who were angling for Washington’s job.  Horatio Gates was the prime candidate who thought he deserved Washington’s position.  Having the victory of Saratoga on his resume certainly indicated that Gates was first rate.  (Gates’s successes as a general were more the result of other generals around him, such as Benedict Arnold–before he turned–and Daniel Morgan.)

Some members of the Continental Congress were also anxious to replace Washington.  Victories on the battlefield would certainly have stopped the mouths of the critics, but such wins were few.  Moreover, it is hard to win battles without an army.  And it is hard to have an army without proper training.  A strong current among the Patriots was the favoring of militia over trained troops.  The militiamen truly put up some powerful fights, but they operated on short term enlistments causing Washington’s army to sometimes nearly vanish.

From early on, part of the challenge was what Fleming calls Bunker Hillism.  The battle of Bunker Hill (of which Fleming wrote his first book–Now We Are Enemies) was a victory or success story of sorts for the Continental Army.  There at that battle, it was the tough defense that made spiked the butcher’s bill for the British. That convinced many on the Patriot side that fighting similar defensive battles could win the war.

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Washington disagreed.  He recognized that he needed a trained army that could operate under discipline and function like their red-coated opponents on the field.  With time and circumstances, he was able to build up at least some strong professional-level troops.  The successes were generally small, but the troops proved their worth on many an occasion.

As the war progressed, it was the commanders that Washington had mentored or recognized who succeeded along with him.  Nathaniel Greene was the best example of a Washington-man who proved his battlefield savvy.  Greene was one of the primary commanders in the southern campaigns that culminated at Yorktown.

Washington now had a new set of enemy-friends in the French allies.  Working with the French or just succeeding in getting help from the French was challenging.  Once again, with patience (and sometimes the loss of it) and fortitude, Washington succeeded.  The war was won, Mr. Fleming contends, due to Washington’s style of fighting, training, and maintaining the army.  Early in his own writing career, he was not so convinced of that.  After speaking at West Point, he had several military men there who credited Washington’s strategy as being the key to the American victory.  His years of study and writing on the War for Independence confirmed what the West Pointers had told him.

Thomas Fleming was a historian and an author.  My preferred title for him is “story teller.”  The successful historian, in many respects, is the person who takes the events and tells them in such a way as to spark love, interest, and even debate.  Some historians are more precise or scholarly than Fleming, but few match him for conveying the drama and excitement of the events.

He is gone now.  The Strategy of Victory was his last labor of love in the field of historical writing.  I did feel that some parts evidenced the rush to finish as time was closing in.  Mr. Fleming barely touched on the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  When he discussed the southern battles, he mentioned King’s Mountain only in passing.  Maybe a younger Thomas Fleming would have been encouraged by his editor to expand the book another 50 to 100 pages.  But that was not to be.  We could all wish that we could write something even half this enjoyable and good if and when we get near the ninety year mark.

I miss Thomas Fleming, along with many others I have lost in the past few years.  But I treasure the books he wrote.  His writing conveys the enthusiasm he had for history.  You can even see the twinkle in his eyes, the grin, and the excitement of telling the story just by reading his words.  Like Homer, like the great narrative historians through the years, Thomas Fleming knew how to tell a story.  He left us a great inheritance.

Thomas Fleming obituary–from The New York Times

 

Augustine and the Problem of Power

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A recurring argument for a book is “the test of time.”  There are exceptions to the rule, for some really good books vanish from sight and mind while other mediocre books continue to be read.  In the field of academic studies, an abiding book is even more rare.  Continued scholarship, new insights, the chipping away of older interpretations results in scholars being interested in the latest work from the presses.  Certainly, there are problems with this approach, but it has its merits as well.

Almost unimpeachable are the books considered as the fundamental classics in the western world.  Many of us have now spent decades trying to erase the shame of having degrees and supposedly being educated without having to read the great minds from Homer to Augustine, from Aquinas to Dante, from Luther to Kuyper.  But along with the great books and world-changing authors are the books that are built upon, that comment and expound, that interpret and apply the great books.

As a matter of practice, it is better to–especially when playing a decades overdue catch-up–to try to hit the actual sources.  Besides, many of the books about Plato and Aristotle are harder to read than Plato and Aristotle.  Many classic works are really short (excepting Herodotus’ Histories, Aquinas’ Summa, or the Leatherstocking Tales of Cooper).  Many classic authors wrote some selections that are short and readable.  One who cannot wade through Calvin’s Institutes can manage the excerpt from it titled The Golden Book of the Christian Life.  For every classical epic, there are plenty of sonnets.

One indisputable giant in Western Civilization is Augustine of Hippo.  (Of course, he is disputed, all the way down to how to pronounce his name.)  The corpus of his works are daunting to tackle.  The City of God itself is a massive and weighty read, but he can be approached through Confessions and through On Christian Doctrine as well as sermons and shorter selections.  Still there is a need for some, many in fact, to attempt to have a working understanding of The City of God.  I know the challenge, for I have read it a couple of times and have taught large portions of it in a high school class.

While it may not have remained on the best seller lists or on the most popular surveys for 1500 years, it has impacted our civilization and has yet to be a spent force.  City of God is relevant to today and is more relevant than many of the current and trending topics and issues.

Charles Norris Cochrane lived the short happy life of a professor grounded in history and literature.  An Oxford trained Canadian, Cochrane served in World War I and then began his academic career at the University of Toronto.  In 1940–not the best year for publishing a book–his defining work Christianity and Classical Culture came out. The intellectual community praised it.  Jaroslav Pelikan  called it “the most profound book I know on Augustine.”  The poet and literary scholar W. H. Auden said, “I have read this book many times, and my conviction of the importance  to the understanding not only of the epoch of which it is concerned, but also of our own, has increased with each rereading.”

Cochrane was positioned to occupy a major role in scholarship for decades to come and was invited to lecture on Augustine at Yale University.  But a heart attack led to an early death and left the world primarily with only the one book. (Cochrane had previously written a work on the Greek historian Thucydides.)

Yet the man of one book remained a key force for studies related to Roman history, Christianity, the transition to the Middle Ages, philosophy, and theology for decades to come.  Christianity and Classical Culture remains in print to this day having been reprinted by the Liberty Fund.

Now, over seventy years since Cochrane’s book first appeared,  we have the sequel.  Cochrane gave a series of four lectures at Yale on “Augustine and the Problem of Power.”  These lectures can be seen as a distillation or summary of his larger work.  He had also written and spoken on other topics related to Roman culture, Machievelli, and Edward Gibbon.

Augustine and the Problem of Power

Long lost to the academic and book world, these papers were discovered by his granddaughter.  As the scattered writings began to be read and thought about, a decision was made to publish them in book form.  From that unexpected series of events, we now have the book Augustine and the Problem of Power:  The Essays and Lectures of Charles Norris Cochrane.  This work is edited by Professor David Beer, who also wrote a lengthy introduction to the collection.  It was published this past year by Wipf and Stock.

I readily, but cautiously, recommend this book.  Readily because of the reputation of the author and the blessing of having a further work by him.  Cautiously because this is not a “Augustine for Dummies” work.  This book is a slow read.  The title of the book is also the title of the four lectures which make up over a third of the book.  The lectures delve into the Greek and Roman views of society and politics that Augustine was answering and refuting.

Quite simply, the Greeks (and the Romans who followed) believed that a perfect or model or ideal society could be fashioned by the right political order, the right political philosophy, the right legislation.  Man and society were, at least to a large degree, perfectable with the correct philosophical and governmental actions.  In short order and directly, Cochrane labels the Greek and Roman political worldview as idolatry.

The antidote to the idols of that age or this one is the Christian faith.  Cochrane says, “Christian faith rests upon the unshakable conviction that, not withstanding the efforts of secularism to rationalize and justify its pretensions, the order of nature revealed by Christ and the Scripture is, the true order; to acknowledge which must therefore be the starting-point for all genuinely fruitful investigation into the problem of perfection”  (pager 78).

The statement above is not easy to swallow without some serious chewing.  It is not bumper-sticker or sound-bite Christian answers to current questions.  It takes unpacking and thinking.  And that is why this book–Augustine and the Problem of Power–and Cochrane’s previous work–Christianity and Classical Culture–and Augustine’s City of God–are so important today.

I received a review copy of Cochrane’s book and am not obligated to sing its praises, but will do so anyway.

1917 Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Order

“Emerging from the forge of war in 1917 was the active role of government in every aspect of daily life, and the rising expectation that government can fix every problem and deal with every crisis from economic depression to childcare and climate change.” (Page 236)

This past year marked the 100th year anniversary of the Russian Revolutions.  Most of the applauding and celebrating came from those who rejoiced in the fall, rather than the rise of Communist Russia.  The Russian Revolution(s) is a story filled with all manner of drama, tragedy, near fulfillment of hopes, and unexpected turns of events.  It might have been simply a sideshow to World War I, but it became something much bigger, more enduring, and more terrifying.  The death count related to world-wide Communism has been listed as 100 million, and the count is not yet complete.

It is surprising that as 1917 was beginning, Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin were still sidelined on the cataclysmic war that was engulfing Europe.  By the end of the year, they were the two prime movers and shakers in what was happening. There are, no doubt, plenty of books with plenty of positive things to say about Wilson and Lenin.  By no means are the two men just alike.  Herman notes clear differences as well as gifts and strengths of each man.  But as his subtitle indicates, the results of their tampering with the world, 1919 gave us a world recovering from war and preparing for decades of disorder and preparation for the next war.

The story of Woodrow Wilson is painful.  Brilliant, no doubt, Wilson was insufferable. His idealism was matched by a theological bent that convinced him that he was or his vision was God’s plan for the world.  He imbibed much from his upbringing in a Presbyterian manse, but he did not seem to be grounded in sound doctrine.  He did, for better or worse, want to avoid bringing the United States into World War I as a fighting power.  At the same time, he wanted to rise above the powers of Europe and the older ways of war and diplomacy and craft a more perfect world.  The key statement of his vision in found in the Fourteen Points.

Germany, reeling from the war by 1918, called for an armistice, hoping the 14 Points would work to their advantage.  They didn’t.  Wilson was as vindictive as he was idealistic.  But all that came out after the firing stopped.  Prior to that, the United States entered a war that it was totally unprepared for in 1917.  A year later, even with troops pouring into France, the U. S. was not producing equipment for its own still fresh men.  As a manager and administrator over a war government, Wilson was a disaster.

Lenin had plenty of problems of his own.  His return to Russia was financed and provided for by the German government.  As a measure to produce chaos behind the lines in the east, it worked better than any could have imagined.  Russia underwent its first revolution and toppled the Tsar in February.  In October, revolutionary actions finished off the provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky, and moved the soviets into positions of power.

With Leon Trotsky overseeing the military, and a young Stalin perfecting ways of eliminating enemies (broadly defined), a totalitarian state was being put into place.  Everything that would, in time, characterize the Evil Empire (Ronald Reagan’s term) was started during this time:  acts of terror against the citizens, arrests right and left,  establishment of the Gulag system, and the implementation of a secret police (forerunner to the KGB).

Russia gave up tremendous concessions and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  This freed numbers of German divisions which were raced to the western front in a last attempt to end the war.  It almost worked.  But this part of history is chock-full of “almosts.”

Arthur Herman, author of quite a few fine histories, has done a magnificent job in telling a terrible story in a way that is gripping.  Full of insights, a few jabs at recent events, plenty of good narrative, this book will be a hard one to best in this upcoming year of reading.