The Final Race–The World War II Story of Eric Liddell

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It was 1981 and I was coaxed into going to the movies.  I–both then and now–rarely submit to going out to the movie theater to watch anything.  Several times when I have learned of movies that sound really good, I skip them.  Hence, I watched Dunkirk after it came out on a DVD.  And I never watched Valkyrie or Darkest Hour.  But a group of friends (who were also fellow church members) persuaded me to branch out on that night back in 1981.

The movie was Chariots of Fire.  It was primarily the story of Eric Liddell and his refusal to run on a Sunday at the 1924 Olympics.  The parallel plot was about Harold Abrahams who was fighting his own battles of culture along with attempting to achieve the brief fame found on the fields of sport.  As a movie, it was outstanding in terms of casting, plot development, story lines, and even music.  To this day, watching the young Olympians running along the sand of the beach with the theme music playing is captivating.

For many a Christian, the movie moved an obscure figure in recent church history to the forefront.  Eric Liddell was no Hollywood creation.  He was the real McCoy.  He was the model Scotsman with the looks, wit, accent, and personality to win over many a fan.  Decades after the cheers for this Scottish hero had ceased to be heard, he was again being cheered across the land.  Although the producers, directors, and actors were not seeking to make a Christian or religious film, this one resonated across the evangelical land.

Regretfully, it did next to nothing in terms of reviving any efforts to hold on any remaining fragments of Sunday as a day of worship.  Culturally speaking, that issue is gone.  Those who wish to weigh in on that issue are welcome.  I confess that I am as muddled about the “Christian Sabbath” now as I was 30 years ago.

Books appeared that told the story of Eric Liddell.  One that I read and enjoyed quite a bit was The Flying Scotsman by Sally Magnusson.  A more recent biography of Liddell is For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton.

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For the Glory: The Untold and Inspiring Story of Eric Liddell, Hero of Chariots of Fire  -     By: Duncan Hamilton

Not only was the movie correct–in the main–about the 1924 Olympics and Liddell’s triumph–it was correct about the character and faith of the man himself.  But the movie only told one part of the amazing story of this man’s life.  Liddell left Scotland a few years after winning gold medals at the Olympics and “joined the family business” of doing missionary work in China.

There were a number of foreign missions that labored among the Chinese people up until Mao Zedong and the Communists took control of the country.  The British were among the numbers of those carrying the Gospel to China.  Stories of such missionaries as Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Goforth, and Lottie Moon (from the U.S.) are part of the rich heritage of Chinese missions.  Edith Schaeffer (wife of Francis Schaeffer) grew up in the mission field of China.  Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck was also a product of a missionary family to China (who unfortunately eschewed her heritage).

No doubt, there were Chinese people who came to know Christ and lived and died in the faith because of the many mission efforts.  The greater harvest seems to be in our own times where word keeps slipping out of a large house church movement in that vast and populous land.

Among the many obstacles to working in China was the invasion of that country by the Japanese in the years before World War II officially began.  In a World War that spawned such concepts as fire bombing, the Holocaust, genocide (although it was far from the first), unmanned missiles, and nuclear weapons, the Japanese committed plain old fashioned evil, horrifying acts of terror on the Chinese population.  (Even officials from the Third Reich of Hitler were appalled by the actions of the Japanese.)

We often forget that when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they also launched attacks on a number of British held possessions in Asia.  Thus, Eric Liddell and many others who were already in jeopardy by serving in a war zone were now the enemy.  The Japanese herded the foreign nationals into camps.  While the Japanese captors were not seeking to purposely inflict maximum pain and misery on the inhabitants, they weren’t very nice either.  Generally, the camps were overcrowded and under-supplied.

Camp life for the British and others threatened constantly to become a hell on earth.  The saving feature in these camps was the salt and light provided by Christians.  Foremost among the Christian leaders was Eric Liddell.  How many converts he won when he was speaking back in Scotland in his athletic heyday is unknown.  How many Chinese he discipled while he was being a teacher and preacher in pre-World War II China is unknown.  How many people he ministered to in the camp is, likewise, unknown.  But I suspect that his worst days were his best.  The testimonies that have survived through the years attest to him being one who was quick to help, slow to anger, willing to serve, and happy to sacrifice for others.

His “final race,” his time in the camps are an incredible testimony to Eric Liddell’s life.  The sequel to his Olympic races outshone what he did on the track.  This amazing story is told in detail in the book The Final Race:  The Incredible World War II Story of the Olympian Who Inspired Chariots of Fire.  This book is by Eric Eichenger with Eva Marie Everson.  It is published by Tyndale.

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The Final Race is a well written and inspiring story of a great Christian.  At some points, I wished that it would have included a bit more of the bigger picture of what was happening in China and the world.  But the goal was not to cast the Liddell story in the midst of history, but to highlight the faith and life of Liddell.  I am still unclear on exactly where Liddell stood on theological issues.  He seems to have waffled a bit on the historic Calvinism of his Scots’ heritage, but he also resisted the inroads of Modernism that were slipping into the Church and mission fields.  He was a Congregationalist, and not a Presbyterian as I had always assumed.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was good, faithful, godly, and dedicated.  One could wish that a well financed movie could be made about this facet of his life.  Another point that needs to be made is that while he died in the Japanese camp, it was not the result of abuses of the captors.  Liddell had a brain tumor.  The medical care was not top notch, but it would not have mattered.  God has set the race before Liddell and he ran it to the glory of God until he reached the appointed finish line.

In Defense of Bradley Birzer’s In Defense of Andrew Jackson–A Preview

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I am not sure that I can be trusted on reviewing the new biography of Andrew Jackson by Dr. Bradley Birzer.  This would be like asking the screaming girls at a rock concert about whatever heart-throb was performing on the stage.  Meaning, I have read 3 of the previous 4 biographies that Birzer has written and have loved them all with increasing zeal akin to fanaticism.  Those biographies are of J. R. R. Tolkien (which I read before I had read much of Tolkien), Christopher Dawson (a super-hero), and Russell Kirk (a brilliant conservative writer).  I have not yet read Birzer’s biography of Charles Carroll, titled American Cicero.

Ever since Dr. Birzer began sharing the news of his writing a biography of Andrew Jackson, I have been interested in the book.  I even sent him a Facebook comment saying, “At last, you are writing about a Presbyterian.”  It was in that same vein that he later referred to me as a “dang Calvinist.”  (All his other biographies were of Catholics.)  I started to begin this sentence with the words “All kidding aside,” but I am prone to throw in another fun jab or two.

In Defense of Andrew Jackson officially came out yesterday (September 11) and is published by Regnery Publishing. While it lists for $26.99, it can be purchased for less than the paper bill with Jackson’s picture on it from Amazon.  Even at full price, this nice hardback book is a bargain and a good source in our day and time.

In Defense of Andrew Jackson  is a short and delightful biography and defense of a man who is the object of way too much scorn in our day and time. All those who malign Jackson can be glad that it is the gentle, wise, and witty pen of Bradley Birzer who is defending Old Hickory and not Old Hickory himself. (Translation: If Jackson were still alive, there would be a few ‘killins’.)

Jackson is associate with all kinds of things that are not subjects we are officially allowed to discuss.  These topics can be used as sources of blame, but they cannot be seriously thought through.  Keep in mind, Jackson was no mealy-mouthed politician.  He spoke his mind; he shot from the hip; he offended people; he didn’t mince words.  Nor actions either.  More than most Presidents, he was an activist leader.  His approach was to barrel his views through.

After six educated, genteel, formal and dignified leaders, Jackson hit Washington like a tidal wave.  He had been raised in the wilds on the frontier, his soul honed by the Calvinistic fervor of Scots-Irish blood and culture, and his views shaped by war, duels, political squabbles, and a common sense approach to the Constitution.  He had no intention of business as usual when he got to the White House.

Jackson was a man of his times.  His sins were scarlet and not at all concealed from those days or ours.  His impulsiveness enabled him to triumph over adversities, but also left collateral damage.  He pressed his stamp on American history strongly.

Much of what I am saying is gleaned from many years of reading about and studying Jackson.  Birzer’s book is a review that is reinforcing what I know from past studies, but it is also reinterpreting the man overall for me.

Being a short book, I should have read and finished this volume in quick order, but I am enjoying it too much. I pretty much know Jackson’s life story, but this walk back through the events and the interpretive grid of this book call for a slow and delightful read, not a fast paced romp.

A side note:  I recently read the book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea.  That book has lots of good material on the faulty views of Christians throughout our history in regard to politics.  2016 and the election of Donald Trump was not a banner year for evangelicals.  But Dr. Fea had a long discourse on the Andrew Jackson/Donald Trump connection.  (Birzer discusses the same topic.)  Fea, mistakenly in my opinion, states that had Jackson been in the White House during the Civil War, he would have sided with the Confederacy due to his slave-owning.  Reading that in Fea’s book made me wonder if he had even considered the Nullification Crisis.  The man who said, “The Union–it must be preserved” and who threatened to lead an army into South Carolina would not have been favorable to secession.

That’s the fun of history, isn’t it?  And it is lots of fun to find those people from the past whose names and reputations have been trashed, besmirched, and deplored, and then to discover they are well worth defending.


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Romanovs, Russian, and Revolution–An Era of Darkness Begins

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In late December of 1977, I landed in Leningrad, Russia and begin looking at everything around me in that dark, cold, foreboding land.  The mornings began not with sunrise but with darkness that pervaded the northern climate until late–after 10 am–and then the daylight hours ended early in the afternoon.  And then there was the bitter cold, the sterile feel of the Communist state, the indifference of store workers to their customers, and the feeling of regimentation, oppression, and chains.  Still, there was plenty in Russia–both old and new–that was beautiful, charming, and alluring.  It was my one visit outside of the U. S. and is still a country I would love to see yet again and see more of.

Maybe with a nudge or two in those days, I might have pursued graduate studies of Russian history and literature.  But I was tired of college and ready to teach school.  Besides, I had other interests in the field of history as well.  So, I never quite developed as an expert in Russian history and culture.  But over the years, I have continued to read books here and there, both novels and histories, that unveil images of that vast and mysterious land.

Currently, I am working through two books on Russia in the time of the 1917 Revolutions.  At last, I have a worthy excuse for reading what I am consumed in at the moment.  This is the year for Modern World Humanities with a focus on the 20th century.  Truth be known, I am probably better versed on the 20th century than any other part of history.  But I often reach that time period late in the school year and the chance to explore those times and events is zapped by the oncoming summer break.  Meaning, kids stop listening.

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The first book on this venture is The Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport.  Mrs. Rappaport has written quite a few works in recent years on the Romanov family and the Revolution.  I have picked up a volume or two in some bargain venues, but jumped at the chance to read and review this book.  It is published by St. Martin’s Press.

The Romanov family story is filled with everything one might imagine in a fairy tale and/or a horror story.  Nicholas Romanov and his wife Alexandra were two remarkable figures, placed in history by forces beyond their control and put in the middle of a storm that no mere humans could have survived.  They were a beautiful and loving couple.  Their letters to one another reveal a man and a woman who were deeply devoted to each other.  Yet, Nicholas had no ordinary job to go to.  He was the Tsar of Russia, a powerful, but struggling world power connected to Europe by land and blood, and entangled by alliances to events that brought about World War I.

As Tsar, Nicholas was a man of limited vision and personality.  He did not relish being the leader, but he was a Romanov and could no more think in modern terms than he could have used modern (as in 21st century) technology.  Behind him, his wife was pushy, sometimes dominant, narrow minded to the hilt, and terribly offensive to others.  Adding to her problems, she was German by heritage, which meant that she was constantly attacked by Russian presses and gossip during World War I.  (For those who may have forgotten, Russia was at war with Germany.)  No one ever became more fiercely Russian than Alexandra Romanov, but both Allied leaders and many in Russia thought her disloyal.  As if that wasn’t enough, the Tsarevitch, or son of the Tsar and heir of the throne, Alexey, suffered from hemophilia.

I thought this story had been almost completely told in Robert Massie’s incredible book Nicholas and Alexandra.  I have read that book a couple of times, along with his sequel The Romanovs: The Final Chapter.

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Helen Rappaport’s book goes beyond what Massie’s books did.  The focus is on the efforts to rescue the Tsar and his family.  The most likely candidates for rescuing this family were the British.  The King, George V, and Nicholas were cousins.  Alexandra was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.  But the British dithered, delayed, hesitated, ignored, pawned off, and managed to do little other than mourn the deaths when rescue was too late.

Efforts were made by many others to rescue the family.  Germany had some opportunities to do so, and the Romanovs were kin to the Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II.  Talk was of sending the Romanovs to Denmark, southern France, an obscure place in England, Norway, Sweden, the Crimea, and Spain.  Within Russia, there were loyal monarchists who desperately wanted to both rescue and restore the family.

Part of the pain of reading this book is knowing how it will end.  As Rappaport points out, the Tsar and his family were not simply killed or executed, they were murdered–brutally, cruelly, and with malice and aforethought.  To make matters worse, the Bolsheviks concealed the crime and even used the family as a political pawn even after they were all dead.

Of course, World War I and the reign of Communists in Russia both piled up dead bodies by the millions.  Still, this account is one that is known and will not be forgotten.  As former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin said, “The Yekaterinburg massacre was one of the most shameful episodes in Russian history.”  (Yekaterinburg, also known as Ekaterinburg, is where the Romanovs were being held and were then murdered.)

The Red Wheel: March 1917, Node III Book 1 is by the Nobel Prize for Literature winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  It is part of a massive, epic in every sense of the word, history he spent much of his life writing.  It has yet to all be put into print or to be translated into English.  This portion was published by the University of Notre Dame Press and is translated by Marian Schwartz.

The available volumes so far are August 1914, which originally came out in the 1970s and then was published in an expanded version in 1984.  Next was November 1916, which appeared in 1985.  (My source said it appeared in two volumes, which vexes me since I have only one of them.)  This one, March 1917, is supposed to be in four volumes! And April 1917 has not been translated into English yet.

My biggest concern in beginning this book was wondering if the previous volumes were necessary to have been read before this one.  The publisher’s note promised me that it was okay to begin this one.  Mountain number one was then avoided.  Reading this one volume as a stand alone is challenge enough.

Confession time:  I am still working to get into this book.  But I am determined to read it through.  Solzhenitsyn is not always easy, nor are many other Russian writers.  The reward is in the perseverance.  I have long been reading his books and books about his life.  I was a senior in high school when he was expelled from his beloved Russia.  I read the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago on my own when I was a college student.  My old paperback copy of that book fell apart when my son Nicholas read it.

Earlier this past year, I read 1917: Lenin, Wilson and the Birth of the New World Disorder by Arthur Herman.  Great book and one that whetted my appetite for more Russian history and literature.  At some point in the upcoming school year, my class and I will be reading some of Tolstoy’s shorter works and Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.  A study of things Russian would in itself be enough to make for a rich life.

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his younger years.

September Days and Morning Reads

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September begins with the promises of adding riches untold,
and the pocketbook may not change in the slightest.                    
Jose de la Casa
The grass is too high, getting tough, growing slowly, and a bit brown from the heat and lack of rain.  School has started.  Nights a bit longer now, and there is a promise of cooler weather not so long from now.  Personally, I wish time were moved six to eight weeks back and I were stuck, isolated, abandoned with only my family and lots of books at some beach house overlooking the incoming waves or some cabin in the mountains with a valley to see from the back porch.  But that didn’t happen in June or July or August, so I accept the inevitable–September.  But as De la Casa noted in the quote above, there can be riches found in the month of September.
Of the making of study Bible in our times, there is no end.  That is not given as a complaint, but as a thanksgiving. I have often read the concern about study Bibles which says that people will be prone to read the notes in the Bible and accept them as being on a par with Scripture.  My problem is not anywhere near that.  I am prone not to read the notes at all.  In fact, my preferred daily reading Bible has no notes or added materials, except maybe a paragraph introduction before each book.
But there is a place and use for a study Bible that contains lots of cross references, explanatory notes, extensive introductions, and other helps.  (All of the extras can be used for reading during bad sermons.  Just joking.)
The Worldview Study Bible is published by B & H Publishing, an outstanding source for Christian books and Bibles.  For high school or college students, this would be a great resource.  The translation is the CSB, which is produced by B & H (or Holman as the Bible arm of that company is called).  Others more qualified can weigh the merits or problems with the CSB translation.  I can lament that we have the NKJV, ESV, NIV, and now the CSB, along with many others, that are making a common Bible among Christian folk nearly impossible.  I can give a somewhat approving nod to those who prefer the King James Version (while separating myself from those who contend that the devil is the source of all other translations).  Hey, we live in a time of many sound, conservative, evangelical Bible translations.  That is not exactly the stuff of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs caliber problems.
The key feature of this book is the inclusion of large number of essays dealing with Christian worldview issues.  I know there is some debate back and forth over the concept or limitations of teaching about having a Christian worldview.  I know that sometimes we have used the term as a way of importing a somewhat Americanized and politically conservative way of thinking into our Bible studies.  I know that the term Christian worldview can be trivialized and separated from other aspects of the full orbed Christian life. But I still like the term.  I still buy, read, and borrow from books promoting a Christian worldview for interpreting every area of life and thought.  I am a Kuyperian, a devoted fan of David Naugle’s book Worldview: The History of a Concept, and a promoter of Christian education that teaches worldview thinking.
The topics in this study Bible range from theological issues like inspiration and inerrancy to social issues like recreation, careers, LGBT concerns, and more.  Science issues relating to creation/evolution debates and gender debates are included.  Essays on philosophy, politics, economics, music, and other such ideas are also here.  The essays are authored by some leading Christian teachers, pastors, and writers, and they are placed throughout the Bible in places that tie in with the themes of each book.
I have just begun to harvest the fruit of this fine study Bible.  Those looking to understand what is meant by having a Christian worldview or those who are teaching others would enjoy this work.
(I will confine my comments on the other books in the picture to a sentence or two.  More detailed reviews will come later.)
Every Moment Holy is published by that delightful and creative group known as The Rabbit Room.
This is a beautiful book both in outward appearance and in content.  Buy it for someone for Christmas, but get at least 2 copies because you will want to keep one.  It consists of prayers for every moment, time, and circumstance.
My morning history study is Justifying Revolution: Law, Virtue, and Violence in the American War for Independence. Edited by Glenn A. Moots (author of Politics Reformed) and Philip Hamilton.  While this is a slow and studious read, it is a great look behind the battles and leaders of the American War for Independence that considers the books, ideas, philosophies, and ethical concerns relating to that war.
Martin Luther's Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle To the Galatians (1535)
Martin Luther’s Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (1535) is published by another new publishing group, 1517 Publishing.
Translated by Harloldo Camacho and with a foreword by Michael Horton, this big book is even bigger than it is. (Yes, I know that is awkward phrasing.)  At 557 pages, this book is the Protestant Reformation, the 5 Solas, the confession of what we believe.  A historical document–yes–but also a great study into a pivotal teaching of the Bible.  Praise God for this new translation.
Two days now into reading Eternity is Now in Session by John Ortberg, published by Tyndale Press.
We are not just waiting to get to heaven so all will be experiencing eternal life.  It is here and now and eternal matters are not just some heavenly idealistic realm but are for here and now.  Powerful and instructive.
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After a few unexplained delays, I am now reading Atheism on Trial by Dr. Louis Markos.  If he writes it, I want to read it.  He is both a gifted writer and an engaging (irrepressible) speaker.  This book is no fluff work on current atheist evangelists, but is a serious look at atheism and its related philosophical and scientific ideas as found in the ancients, in philosophers of past centuries, and in the current discussions.  Published by Harvest House Publishers.
Lectures on Calvinism
I am always glad to see another edition or promotion or quote from Abraham Kuyper’s lectures at Princeton in 1898 that have sometimes been called the Stone Lectures or more commonly Lectures on Calvinism.  Going back to the topic of Christian worldview thinking–this book is the foundation of all the modern applications.  Brilliant.
Thanks to American Vision for publishing this new edition of a Christian classic.  An added feature or benefit is that this edition contains some slight alterations in punctuation so as to make the text flow.  Kuyper is not an easy read, and so having a few modernizations to style issues is a help. In my opinion, Lectures on Calvinism is one of the most important books ever.

Imaginative Conservatism: The Letters of Russell Kirk

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Herein lies one of my greatest failings as a book reviewer:  I am too slow.  Too slow to get the books read.  Too slow to get the reviews written.  Sometimes, too slow to understand what the books are about.  On the other hand, I am quick at starting books.  A few pages in and I often find myself saying, “This is great.”  I want digress into yet another problem which is that I am too easily pleased, informed, amused, and enamored by the books I read.  I don’t have enough critical faculties to dislike the books I review, and I usually avoid picking and reviewing books I suspect I will dislike.

This brings us to Imaginative Conservatism: The Letters of Russell Kirk, edited by James E. Person, Jr. and published by the University of Kentucky Press.  I have tried to make myself race through this book.  I have attempted to be like the high school or college student who has procrastinated but now must get the book read before the upcoming test.  But I cannot.

This book is divided into six decades from Kirk’s life.  He lived from 1918 to 1994, but the letters cover the decades starting with the 1940’s.  We get glimpses of Kirk’s experiences and thoughts during World War II.  He was far from the fronts, for he was located in the American west, but he did comment on events from that time.  From there, we see Kirk as a student in Scotland and a teacher in Michigan.  Over the years, he was constantly corresponding with literary figures, publishers, and political thinkers regarding upcoming writing ventures and book reviews.

Just as we often don’t want our children to grow up too fast, I don’t want to get to the end of this book too fast.  I am at a point where Kirk is not yet close to William F. Buckley, Jr., but that bond will be starting soon.  Letter by letter, the man who wrote books on conservative thought and who became one of the key leaders in the conservative movement is in the process of “becoming” as the book develops.

Let’s pause here and look at the bigger picture for a moment.  Now is an important time for reading, thinking, and teaching people to grasp something of the conservative movement.  Don’t think that conservatism is what you hear on talk radio, what is represented by the Trump Administration, what is broadcast on Fox News, or what the Republican Party embraces.  Granted, there are conservative aspects found in all of the above.  But what passes for conservatism that is loved by many and hated and caricatured by others is not to be strictly identified with the conservative movement that Kirk adhered to.

For example, popular (or populist) conservatism tends to be solely consumed with politics, elections, and fear-mongering conspiracies.  Who are the great literary figures we associate today with conservatism?  Brad Thor?  (I like Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath novels quite a lot.)  Great conservative man he is, but not a great literary figure. Who are the great political philosophers we associate with conservatism today?  Rush or Glenn Beck?  (Please stop laughing.)

Russell Kirk rightly associated conservatism with literary figures like T. S. Eliot, with whom he was a friend and of whom he wrote a book about.  Kirk’s pantheon of political philosophers included men like Edmund Burke, Sir Walter Scott (also a literary figure), John Randolph, Richard Weaver, and Cicero.

Conservatism was not a set of bullet points.  Nor was it a series of panic-driven conspiratorial links, blogs, and radio hosts.  Conservatism was deeply rooted in thought and tradition.  And it wasn’t a uniform list of approved and accepted voices from the past.  Conservatives from that era disagreed sharply over which figures of the past they should embrace and which they should eschew.

The breadth of thought, the exceedingly wide range of intellectual interests, and the mental explorations of meaning are what made men like Russell Kirk so valuable in their time.  It is what makes them still challenging and rewarding to read.  Add to that this feature, these were men and women of the full range of life.  Kirk enjoyed food, drink, travel, conversation, art, beauty, and life.  While it was later in life that he joined the Catholic Church, he recognized the centrality of a moral order rooted in the God of the Bible.  While it was relatively late in life that he married, he delighted in family and home life.

His story is aptly and enjoyably told in the book Russell Kirk: American Conservative by Bradley Birzer.  It was one of the best books I read in 2017.  This collection of letters gives yet another biographical look at the man, in this case through his own words.  Both books are published by the University of Kentucky Press.  Both are real gems.

Russell Kirk wrote quite a few books over his lifetime.  Some are in depth studies of topics (conservative thought, the Constitution, economics, etc.) or individuals (such as Eliot or John Randolph or Edmund Burke). He also wrote ghost stories and other fiction.  Gone now for over two decades, his wit and wisdom are still much needed today.  In an age of unimaginative conservatism, we need Kirk–the Imaginative Conservative.


August Morning Readings


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Summer–When Mornings Begin and End When I Want Them To

A sadness sets in as August slips away day by day.  I remember the line “Spring comes with promises that summer never keeps.”  Imperfect world, imperfect dreams, flawed hopes, and yet there is much to enjoy and rejoice in despite the shortcomings of life in this world.

I am a book reviewer.  Fancy way of saying that I read.  Something of an excuse for the towering stacks of books that exist in every corner of my life.  June came with a long list of must reads, want to reads, need to reads, would be fun to reads, and re-reads.  Lots of reading did happen, but lots of books still lie there with a sadness about them as they wait for the time when they will be picked up and read, or picked up and finished, or just picked up and noticed.

But a few books have made it.  I do not, contrary to some folks’ thoughts, read all day or even most of the day.  I read for an hour or more in the mornings.  At some point in the reading time, the coffee drinking rites have been fulfilled and a hunger for breakfast exceeds the hunger for another page.  Usually I never get back to the reading chair after that. (I do slip in a short read in the afternoon and turn to other books to read before going to bed.)

Knowing Christ was written by Mark Jones, a Christian writer and teacher who resides in Canada, and is published Banner of Truth.  The man just turned 38 and he has a book that J. I. Packer wrote the Foreword to and that is published by the Banner.  Meaning, many of the Banner books are works that were originally written anywhere from 100 to 500 years ago.  A writer has to reach up to the league of a John Calvin, John Owen, or Jonathan Edwards to be in the Banner league.  Mark Jones has written a book worthy of that league.

This book bridges two styles that are not easy to bring together.  Some books are heavy on the theological side.  Theology is a great area of study, but as an “ology” it can get quite complicated, technical, and arcane.  Just as great minds delve into science and philosophy, many with great minds delve into theology.  Their discoveries, insights, and formulations are profound, amazing, and yet often blinding to the man in the pew.  On the other hand, many good and uplifting books are written that are light and easy to grasp, yet a bit too fluffy.  Full of stories and quips and humor, they make for good reading without overly challenging either the mind or the heart.

In our day, men like J. I Packer, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Keller among others, have written books that can be profitably gleaned by the pastor/scholar who is at home in his book filled study but can also be read by the congregation members who have to squeeze in a quick bit of spiritual edification when beginning or ending the day.  This book, Knowing Christ, is very much in that tradition.

A person could take this book and just read the quotes in it, ranging from John Owen, Stephen Charnock, Thomas Manton, and John Flavel to Charles Spurgeon, Geerhardus Vos, and Richard Gaffin, and find it a very delightful perusal.  Or one could just go to the End Notes and find a reading list of theological books to occupy a lifetime.  But to do that would be to miss the many comments that Jones makes and the way he threads the quotes from others and commentary from himself to explicate the opening Bible verses and themes of each chapter.

This is not, be warned, a read-once book.  This is one worthy of many readings.  I loved having it as a morning read as I allowed myself only one chapter a day.  It could be read by beginning at any chapter.  Reading this book makes me look forward to reading more of this author.

God of Our Fathers: Classical Theism for the Contemporary Church, edited by Bradford Littlejohn, is published by The Davenant Institute.

I read this book during my morning reads in July.  Upon finishing it, I read it again in August.  Some of the essays could be read a third time in September and on and on.  These essays are not in the category of morning devotional reads or casual reading.  These are scholarly interactions with contemporary (as in the last hundred years or so) trends in contrast with Classical Theism.  As I have previously stated, this book is heavy lifting theologically.

Most of the discussions in this book are outside the scope and experience of the person in the pew and for many in the pulpit.  Our tendency is to assume that if both laity and clergy (in large part) can get along without these matters, then they are unimportant.  But it is often the case that a minor, obscure deviation or shortcoming in the realm of ideas has consequences that end up warping the greater whole.  The purpose of scholars and scholarly pursuit, or in this case, theologians and theological disputations, is to clarify the truth.  Hence, books like this and the other publications from the Davenant Institute are important for even those who never read or re-read them.

The first article in this book, a lengthy one, concerns Philip Melanchthon’s doctrine of God and is written by E. J. Hutchinson. In his major theological work, Loci communes, Melanchthon did not address or “reform” the doctrine of God.  Centuries later, theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher sought to correct Melanchthon’s omission.  To a large degree, Melanchthon’s omission was due to the already adequate formulations of the Triune God and the Incarnation embedded in creedal Christianity.  The Reformation was a movement that was seeking to correct deviations found in the Church and not rewrite the whole of Christianity.

Major take-away for me:  We read quite a bit about Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and a few other Reformation classics.  Melanchthon remains something of an appendix to Luther.  I know far too little about him.

The second essay in this book is “Natural Theology and Protestant Orthodoxy” by David Haines.  This essays butts heads with some points made by Cornelius Van Til and Karl Barth.  I enjoyed this discussion of what man can know about God based on Romans 1.  Seeing Van Til teamed up with Barth in the heel corner is a matchup that even Vince McMahon couldn’t pull off.

Major take-away for me:  Have I misunderstood Van Til and Van Tillians on this point of natural theology?  I would like to read a rebuttal to this essay.

Essays following these include discussion of the meaning of eternity, the Eternal Subordination of the Son, Herman Bavinck and missional theology, Biblical inspiration, Trinitarian theology, and classical theism in an atheistic age.  These essays presuppose some prior reading and tromping around in the theological world today.  For example, the topic of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) has been written about and debated both for as the quest to better understand the Triune nature of God and as a model, rejected in the case of this essay, of the parallel gender roles in regard to the subordination of wives to husbands.  Missional theology is the topic and title of several recent books, but I must confess to not even having a ticket to that show.  The key theologian regarding Biblical inspiration in this book is the late John Webster, a name new to me.

Major take-aways for me:  I am a history and literature teacher, so the debates–intramural and external–are outside of my usual life scope and sequence.  But it is good to enjoy the reading, explore the debates, and at least get introduced to the names and terms common in theological parlance.

No automatic alt text available.Final morning reading comments concern two books that have several common denominators. Hear My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1-9 by Daniel J. Estes is published by IVP.  The second book is The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results is by Tom Morris.

First, the Stoics.  Morris’ book is a collection of quotes and commentaries on the three best known ancient Stoic philosophers.  They are Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.  The purchase of this book sheds lots of light on my scholarly life:  It was in the sale bin at that most intellectual forum, our own local Dirt Cheap store.  I know I paid less than a dollar for the book. I may have paid as little as 15 cents for it.

Philosophy is a field of study that I am so interested in that I cannot resist buying books in that subject area, and on some occasions, I read them.  My son Nick is a philosophy student, and each time I read something, I hope I can have a peer level conversation with him.  Nevertheless, he generally runs circles around me regarding a book I have read that he only glanced at. Just goes to show that childraising ain’t easy.

No less a figure than John Calvin was devoted to the philosophy of Seneca.  The man himself was fascinating.  He was a sensible and brilliant man who worked for the Emperor Nero.  As usual, at some point, Nero had Seneca removed–in every sense of the word.  Brilliant men working for erratic political leaders is not unusual in history.

It was the remaining writings of this man that attracted a young French scholar who then wrote his first book on the Roman philosopher.  I am sure that there are scholarly studies aplenty on Calvin’s use and thought in relation to his favorite Roman philosopher.  I was just glad to get to know this old Roman a bit better.

My main connection with Epictetus comes from the recently deceased Tom Wolfe’s massive novel A Man in Full.  It is a story of how a modern men, caught up in the ugliness of modern society, can be “saved” by reading Epictetus.  To say more about Wolfe’s novel would be giving too many spoilers.

A few years back, I read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  It is a thoroughly delightful and frequently edifying, encouraging, and informative study.  My friend Brian Phillips has written an introduction to Marcus Aurelius himself and his book.

See the source image

See the source image

As far as worldly wisdom goes, as far as common grace goes, the Stoics are very, very often right on target in terms of coping with life.  Not infallible, but still good.  Morris’ book, even if it costs you more than a dollar, is a great study of the Stoics.

Daniel Estes’ book Hear My Son was recommended to me by Jason Atkinson.  I assumed that is was largely a commentary in the traditional sense of Bible commentaries on the first nine chapters of Proverbs.  I even looked to see if the next volume was out yet. But this is a focused study on the teaching and learning models given in the first 9 chapters.  Proverbs 10-31 follows a patterns of wise sayings limited to one or two verses on a topic.  In fact, chapters tend to cover a wide range of issues with no central theme (other than the general and foundational point about the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom).

This book is a good, but weighty work.  If someone wants to enjoy some meditations on Proverbs, this is not the book.  But for teachers, this book is a gem.  Proverbs is filled with pedagogical insights and patterns.  Keep the coffee hot and strong as you read this book.  If you are a teacher, put it high on the list.


Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement–a Preview

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Events in history never really begin when we say they did.  History is taught by a series of simplifications.  So, Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, the Protestant Reformation began in 1517, the Roman Empire fell in 576, and the American Civil War began in 1861.  These simplifications are necessary to get some footing in the events of history.  But every beginning movement, every date attached to a turning point, has deep lying roots in a number of other events that are often anywhere from slightly known to totally unknown.

Case in point, we often associate the Civil Rights Movement in America with events going on in the 1960’s. Then to give a bit more historical context and foundation to the events, references are made to happenings in the 1950’s such as the case of the Little Rock Nine.  Or one might bring up President Truman’s order to desegregate the army.  At any rate, before the key events that appear on the timeline in the textbook happened, there were forces, people, and ideas that were working to produce those special events when a movement “began.”

This is one part of what is attractive about the book Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement.  Co-authored by Thomas W. Cutrer and T. Michael Parrish, this new work is published by Texas A & M University Press.

Books like this are a part of the contribution of university presses and university scholarship to the broader community.  I first heard of this book last October when I had the occasion to meet Dr. Cutrer.  He referred to himself as a retired history professor and casually mentioned that he was doing some writing.  He mentioned the publication of Theater of a Separate War and then this book.  My thought, after decades of teaching history, was “Doris Miller?  Who is she?”

Let’s begin with who Doris Miller was.  On the morning of December 7, 1941, after serving breakfast and starting to work on laundry on the USS West Virginia, Ship’s Cook Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller heard the alarm calling sailors to battle stations.  Pearl Harbor was under attack from the Japanese.  After trying to help the mortally wounded ship’s captain, Miller was soon involved in loading and firing an anti-aircraft machine gun.  He continued firing at the Japanese aircraft until the ammunition ran out.  For this, he was awarded the Navy Cross, which is the third-highest naval award for combat gallantry.

But here is an even more interesting detail:  Doris Miller had never been trained to operate a machine gun.  He was, after all, an African American in a segregated military.  Two years later, he died on another ship in another part of the Second World War.

Lots of ideas current in his time suggested that blacks and whites could not successfully serve side by side in the military.  It was a very segregated world.  It is not as though the Doris Millers of World War II changed all that.  But it was cases like the story of this man, this hero to all Americans, that birthed the movement that did make major changes.

Side note:  Take notice fellow Texans, Doris Miller was from the Lone Star State.