April Readings

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In retrospect, maybe I should have spent some time outside reading. But parts of April were unexpectedly cold or were rainy. And I was outside several times, but it was usually for yard work or for an outdoor event. The reading portions of the month were quite good, even if the weather was not.

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John Le Carre is one of the premier spy novelists of our time. His two most famous books are The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. As is all too common in that genre of writing, author begins to crank out novel and novel after novel. He can afford to write several potboilers, since he is raking in big bucks. And if he is good enough, the fans stick with him. And, he will occasionally hit a home run.

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I have erred in my approach to Le Carre. This is the third book by him that I have read, but I have not read his two best. Worse, I have not read the books that A Legacy of Spies and I have not read the previous books that featured George Smiley and Peter Gilliam. So I read this book being blind, confused, and often a bit bored by the story. I suspect that the book was not a top work by the old master, but it goes to show that one should not enter into a conversation where you have missed all of the prior discussion.

I try to humbly begin by blaming the reader, not the writer, when a reading experience is a bust.

Bret Baier is a Fox news journalist and celebrity. He, along with a couple of more focused historians and contributors, has written several books that begin with the words “Three Days.” I found this like-new copy of Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Union for a mere 2 bucks. I snatched it up and read it.

Two of my “much wiser than I am” friends and historians, Tony Williams and Michael Douma, would not have done what I did. Tony steers his readings away from the work of celebrity news authors. Rightly so, in many ways. There is no way that Baier could do extensive research on the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and Ronald Reagan while getting make-up put on and reviewing bullet points for his Fox News appearances. But he did have some help in putting the book together. Michael calls these kinds of books “Dad History,” meaning that these are the kinds of history stories that men often like to read in place of watching sports or reading novels.

Okay, guys, you are both right. But I enjoyed this book. Why? It was a walk down lots of memories, anecdotes, and concerns back when Reagan was President. Yes, the book has a Wikipedia feel, a lack of analysis, a retelling and simplifying of complex issues. Scholarly sources are not cited. Footnotes are not weighty. And no serious historian is going to assign this work to his grad students. But I am a life-long teacher to junior high and high school students. And I love hearing and rehearing and rehearing again the quips, quotes, and things about Reagan that made him who he was.

Footnote: A few days ago, I picked up a $2, like new, copy of Baier’s Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II. Now I need to find a copy of his Three Days book on Eisenhower.

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Several years ago, I was very excited when The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony was published. My excitement rose when I was able to purchase a copy of the book. Then, I put the book on a stack that later got shuffled around from shelf to shelf and neglected.

Last month, I picked it up one day, read the first pages, and determined that it was time to read the book. I found it to be an outstanding study of politics, nationalism, and history. Hazony is concerned that the trend in modern statecraft is toward world cooperative institutions and empire. Nationalism is labeled and branded as a bad thing.

Often the idea of nationalism is linked to such movements as the National Socialists of Germany in the 1930s. Nazis were nationalists, so it is said. Yazony, who is a citizen of Israel, like others, is appalled that he and his fellow citizens would be criticized and compared to the such a horrible bunch. National Socialism was not a nationalist program, for the Nazis were empire building. They were crushing nations and nationalities all around them.

Nationalism has also been criticized as it was applied to the outlook of former President Donald Trump. His America First policy was seen by critics to embody all manner of wrong things. Hazony contends that a nation seeking its own good properly excludes the nation from crushing other nations. Sin and evil happens, and no system is failsafe. But he believes that nations such as the United States and Israel have provided better models of Statecraft when they have striven to be nationalistic.

This was a great read that would be enjoyable to use in a classroom setting or a discussion group.

The Doctrine of Creation by Bruce Ashford and Craig Bartholomew is published by IVP.

This is, simply put, one of the best books I have ever read.

The Doctrine of Creation

Studies with the word “Creation” in them are often predictable. Christians have been in a culture war over origins for over 150 years now. Often that war has been within the ranks of believers, churches, seminaries, and schools of thought. One might see this book and expect yet another series of battle cries over one approach or another to the events described in Genesis 1-3.

I am not opposed to those types of books. I have read quite a few studies over the past decades, admittedly from only a couple of the options, and have definite views on the subject.

The strength of this book, however, is that it is a study of doctrines or teachings based upon the fact that God made the world, the various kingdoms, and more importantly, man and woman. God gave approval to all He made and commissioned all He made.

Following the simple ground-motives scheme of Herman Dooyeweerd, all of life, in the Christian view of things can be summarized as “Creation, Fall, Redemption.” That is more than a handy three word mantra. It provides avenues of venturing into a world of thought and exploration into numerous areas of life.

As the book’s subtitle indicates, this study is “A constructive Kuyperian approach.” This is thrillingly good news to all who love the work of those amazing Dutchmen, such as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd. If all of this is new to you, God’s blessings on you as you begin to explore what He has done through His beloved Dutch servants in the 19th and 20th centuries and in their heirs.

I will also add that this book draws heavily and quotes often from Karl Barth. While not every reference is favorable, many are useful in reminding or informing the reader why Barth has been such a powerful theological force over the past century.

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This book became a quick favorite of mine because it strikes a perfect balance. It is the kind of challenging theological work that demands strong, heavily caffeinated coffee. But it also is doxological, meaning that the discussions didn’t merely inform the mind, but inspired the heart in praise to God. There is lots of philosophical content for those who like those matters, but also practical applications. It cuts across the usual boundaries that sets Christian against Christian in many of our discussions.

I have previously read works by both Bruce Ashford and Craig Bartholomew. I have profited from both authors and that profit was exponentially increased in the reading of this book.

I read two enjoyable novels in April.

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The first was The Pilot by James Fenimore Cooper. I have been touting my increasing love for James Fenimore Cooper ever since last November when I undertook to read the three volumes of The Leatherstocking Tales, which I had not previously read. Cooper was one of our greatest, although not always easiest, writers. And he was a Christian, and I find it unusual that so many fellow believers embrace Tolkien (a Cooper fan), Lewis, and Jane Austen but don’t seem to notice JFC.

This was my first reading of a book that did not include Natty Bumpo. But Cooper created the sea novel, as well as the western. The Pilot was set in the American War for Independence and features fictional exploits of John Paul Jones, who in the book is usually just called the Pilot or Mr. Gray.

Central to the story is the issue of loyalty to one’s country. The more favored characters were devoted to American independence. Their former loyalty to King George and Britain was broken by the abuses well known to readers of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, the British characters were appalled at the “disloyalty” of the Americans.

I really feel the need to read this novel again before I move on to the next sea novel by Cooper, The Red Rover.

I recently did a review of The Anumpa Warriors by Sarah Elizabeth Sawyer, along with a companion volume called The First Code Talkers by Michael Meadows.

I will reaffirm that The Anumpa Warriors is a really enjoyable and historically informative novel. It is Christian through and through. It is based on historical people and actions. And the story itself is quite inspiring.

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I had to harass, cajole, plead, beg, and almost threaten Benjamin Smith to send me a copy of his book Understanding Modern Political Ideas: A Guidebook for Christians and Other Patriots.

When the package arrived, I was disappointed at seeing such a small, short work.

Then I started reading it. Now I know why the author was trying to keep this work under wraps. This is an outstanding survey, introduction, and review of major broad-based political ideas in our time. These are lecture notes that I would have to either assign verbatim or steal from shamelessly.

The simplicity and succinctness, despite my initial scoffing at the book’s brevity, is the selling point. Dr. Smith gives plenty of suggested readings at the end of each chapter. I was even tempted beyond resistance into ordering two of the titles he mentioned several times.

“This is among the most important political lessons of Christianity–we must not look for ultimate happiness in or through political life. Christian faith rejects all earthly utopias. ” That statement alone is a great reminder in these politically insane times.

Post Script: I neglected to post a March Readings blog. Perhaps I can remedy that soon. Or I might have to move on to another 50 books I need to discuss, recommend, or droll over.

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Numpa Warriors and the First Code Talkers

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Last month, I was reading the book The First Code Talkers: Native American Communications in World War I by William C. Meadows ( The University of Oklahoma Press).

I was surprised when I first heard of this book, because I thought Indian Code Talkers were only a development that occurred during World War II. A few years back, I read a book recounting the experiences of the Navajo who were operating radios in the Pacific Campaigns. Their bravery and accomplishments were left largely unnoticed and unappreciated for many years.

But history is so multilayered and broad and deep. So, code talkers, using the Native American languages were used during the first World War. Meadows’s book was an eye-opener, filled with innumerable accounts of men of different tribes who willingly, bravely, and honorably served in the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

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Several stories contained in the book stood out.

Some Native American tribes, who thought of themselves rightly so as nations, joined with the United States in declaring war on Germany. They did it as a treaty obligation. Their loyalty to treaties was a testimony that is painful in contrast to that of the ruling U. S. nation.

Another story is that of Otis Leader, a Choctaw from Oklahoma. Leader was working for two Swiss gentlemen who owned a cattle ranch. The three of them went to Fort Worth, Texas on a cattle buying trip. Along with the two Swiss men’s accents, Leader himself was a tall, dark, and presumably foreign looking man. The three were suspected of being German agents. This was prior to America’s entry into the war, and it was following the Zimmerman Note affair. So, one might think that these two guys with funny accents could have been Germans and Leader himself was thought to be possibly Mexican or Spanish. The newspapers reported these “shady characters” being seen in Fort Worth.

When they were finally confronted by authorities and cleared of all suspicions, Leader was furious. He had been the victim of profiling! His response: He immediately signed up and joined the military to prove that he was all American! Leader became one of the best known and highly honored Indian soldiers in the war.

Concerning the willingness to fight, Meadows states, “The overall Native response to World War I produced high levels of voluntary enlistment, patriotism, and tribal and national devotion….This was significant because at the time of World War I, nearly one-third of all Native Americans lacked U. S. citizenship and the constitutional rights for which they were willing or drafted to fight for. “

One thing I enjoyed thinking about was the tendency of white Americans to assume that Indians had natural scouting and fighting skills. While Meadows points out that this was a stereotyping of them, I find it to be one of the most positive stereotypes. I don’t have Native American heritage, but I would pleased with people assuming that I had natural scouting, hunting, and fighting skills.

The degree of patriotism found among the Indians was and continues to be astounding. It is not as though they have been given favorable treatment throughout U. S. history. The nation that forced itself upon their nations has been loyally served.

The First Code Talkers is an amazing account and a compendium of research on the contributions of Native Americans to the American war effort. Meadows has gathered sources, details, anecdotes, family recollections, and varied accounts to piece together the story of these soldiers. With all of the useful, informative, and enjoyable content, this book is a not an easy read or a flowing narrative. This book is research. In it, one account or reference is compared or supported by other sources. The details and repetitions are many.

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All the time that I was reading it, I was thinking that what was really needed was someone taking all of this information and then telling the story of the Native American Code Talkers.

I posted some quotes and comments about this book recently on Facebook. Specifically, I asked my friend and Oklahoma historian John J. Dwyer about Otis Leader and Joseph Oklahombi.. John’s second volume of Oklahoma history will be coming out soon. Well, of course, John was familiar with these two heroes. But he also connected me with an Oklahoma novelist named Karen Elizabeth Sawyer.

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Sarah is an author, speaker, and Choctaw storyteller. She graciously sent me a copy of Anumpa Warrior, published by Rock Haven Publishing.

This is simply my kind of novel. I patiently read some of the Christian fantasy in the Tolkien/Lewis vein that many of my friends write (and, yes, Remy Wilkins, your book was good). I more happily read more realistic and gutsy Southern fiction as written by Taylor Brown and Bret Lott, who write the kind of things that a Faulkner reader like myself likes. And I love C. J. Box’s novels.

But Anumpa Warrior is a delightful read. There is enough Indian heritage in it to supplement my love for James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. There is lots of history in the book, which include historical events and some actual people from history. And like the novels of Douglas Bond and John Dwyer, Sarah Elizabeth Sawyer’s stories are Christian. It isn’t soapy, sudsy Christianity, but the Faith is there, in big doses.

What was most enjoyable about this book is that it took some of the actual people from Meadows’s work (and Dr. Meadows and Sarah are well acquainted with each other’s labors) and added a few fictional characters in order to tell the story of how Choctaw Indians and members of other tribes were discovered in World War I.

The Germans were able to tap into the communication lines. Plan a move, locate a gun, and prepare an operation, and then German artillery would let loose at the very times and places that were critical. But there were languages that officers overhead coming from their crack troops with Indian heritage. These men then became the relayers of messages and information. Germans, who feared Indians based on the fictional accounts they had read, were now being outsmarted by these same people.

In some cases, as recounted by both Meadows and Sawyer, there were no Choctaw or other Indian language words for particular things in World War I. So they came up with words to fit, such as their words for “bad air” for poison gas and “scalps” for casualties.

As these measures were being implemented, World War I was winding down. This was the point where the American presence was being most fully felt. A Tennessean by the name of Alvin York won fame for his killing and capturing a large bevy of German soldiers. But several of the Oklahoma Native Americans were achieving equal results. This included the Leader and Oklahombi. On the one hand, the German army was withering and folding in on itself, but, on the other hand, like a wounded animal, it was still formidable. These Native American fighters, along with the rest of the AEF, did some brutal fighting to win that war.

If you are a serious student of either World War I or Native American history, Meadows’s book, The First Code Talkers, will be a welcome addition to your library or reading. But if you want a good story told well, if you want an historical novel with Christian content for yourself or your children, read Anumpa Warriors.

Yakoke Anumpa Warriors (Language Warriors]. Yakoke Dr. Meadows and Sarah Elizabeth Sawyer. Chihowa be praised for the stories the soldiers made and those who are sharing these stories today.

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Post script: Yakoke means Thanks and Chihowah is the Choctaw word for God.

Also, I am never sure or comfortable with whether I should use the term Indians or the term Native Americans. In respect to those of such heritage, I will gladly work to avoid any offense. And it is difficult to always know what is best, especially if we remember just how many tribes and nations of Indians/Native Americans that there were and are.

Spurgeon for All Seasons

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a man of the Victorian era. As such he often wrote or spoke in a flowery and wordy way that we moderns might find excessive. Topics that are blurted out with reckless abandon in our day were reserved, left unspoken, or sheltered under a few layers of decorum. He bore the manners and style of English clergy, although he was not part of the Anglican establishment.

One can easily imagine having tea with Mr. Spurgeon and engaging in nice, but polite conversation with him. He was respectable and highly regarded. He was well known, well read, and well cultured.

One might conclude from these few details that Spurgeon belongs to the long list of names of folks who were once well known in the circles of London and beyond but have been lost in the wars, intellectual revolutions, and technological innovations of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I found myself wondering, while a college student taking a British literature class, why the massive multi-thousand page anthologies contained not snippets from Spurgeon. It looked as though even the literary scholars, who included more than poets and fiction authors in their selections, either skirted Spurgeon or did not deem him noteworthy.

Years later, I find that I am far, far too unfamiliar and unread in the vast corpus of works left behind by Charles H. Spurgeon. Years later, I find that I would advise the serious, somber, sober, searching, scholarly theologian training to be a preacher to add two parts of Spurgeon to every 3 parts of hermeneutical exegesis and Bavinck quotes.

Professor Henry Wood was prone for off the cuff remarks in the midst of his history lectures. One I wrote down and never forgot was “Sell your shirt, but buy Spurgeon.” Turns out that Mr. Wood was slightly misquoting Helmut Thieleke who said, “Sell your shoes, but buy Spurgeon.”

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It was after my father died in 2016 (leaving me some money) that I first availed myself of the decades long overdue task of buying a set of Spurgeon’s sermons from his New Park Street years and his Metropolitan Tabernacle series. Alas, I was only able to buy some 50 plus volumes for about ten of them are now out of print.

It was late in my pastoral career that I took time to read Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students from cover to cover. But it is never too late or too early to start good habits.

Books about and by Spurgeon continue to show up in the publishing world. He is more widely read today than in the years when he was deemed “the Prince of Preachers.”

So let me sound forth the praises of some of my recent acquisitions from various sources.

A few years ago, B&H Publishers

The Mystery of the Trinity by Poythress

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The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God by Vern Poythress is published by P&R Publishing.

I shall sing again the praises of P&R Publishing. For years, they were known as Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing or the Craig Press. I read my first book from them in 1974. A year later, I was acquiring more and more of their books, and my life was spinning out of control. I had stepped out of my little naive world of myself into the surging currents of Reformed theology.

Book after book, author after author, concept after concept swept me further out to sea. I latched on strongly to some points (as in the Five Points of Calvinism) and slightly to other points, while some topics were beyond my understanding. Over 45 years later, I am still entrenched in the doctrines I began embracing. I have changed, modified, matured, and even had to reject certain once held hills to die on. But I remain committed to the Reformed approach to God, Scripture, life, and worship.

It is easy for people like me to become nostalgic about the great Reformed men of the not-too distant past. Presbyterian and Reformed was publishing books and authors that I later referred to as “The University Without a Campus.” Where are the men today like Benjamin Warfield, Loraine Boettner, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, H. Van Reissen, and others?

When we hearken back to the great men of the past, whether it is those more recent like the names above or further back to men like Luther and Calvin, and we bemoan the absence of such men today, we are being faithless. They did not live and write so as to provide the endstop of Christian theology and thought. They wrote to instruct the next generations to see further.

The age of great Christian thinkers is not over. Vern Poythress is a prime example of a top notch mind who has produced a bevy of books on a number of topics. Originally trained in mathematics, he went on to study theology. He is described as a philosopher, theologian, and New Testament scholar. Often, he and John Frame have worked together, shared ideas, and supported one another’s writings and contributions. Poythress and Frame constitute, for those who understand this, the equivalent of a world championship tag team.

Poythress’s books include works on theology, language, mathematics, philosophy, logic, science, and more. He is on the heavy side of the reading scale, but he does not generally write in so technical and academic a fashion as to exclude serious, but not highly trained, readers. In other words, I can, by either one reading or two, grasp what he is saying.

The Mystery of the Trinity is a large (700 plus pages) study of God. We can all find four dozen theological topics of interest, but at the heart of any and all theology is our doctrine of God. Added to that is the fact that historic Christian theology is Trinitarian. While our songs, words, and prayers may sometimes focus on primarily the Father, primarily the Son, or primarily the Spirit, all three persons are who our God is.

Well meaning Christians sometimes venture into illustrations to explain the Trinity. After all, I am a father, a son, and a husband. After all, H2O is liquid water, ice, or steam. After all, the three petals on a clover are one plant. And so on. These kinds of teachings actually reflect more of the ancient heresies in the early Church or are really inadequate and misleading analogies.

Analogies, illustrations, and anthropomorphic language are vital tools to explaining or understanding concepts. But even the best of such language falls short of exact truth and representation. (“My love is like a red, red rose,” but only in certain limited ways.) Nor do logical and rational exercises unveil who our God is.

Hence, we have these 700 pages which will lift the curtain from and explain the Trinity! No, not really. Not 700, nor 7000 pages will embrace who God is. Mystery in the way that Poythress and the Scripture uses the term doesn’t mean just a missing answer, as in a who-done-it novel. Mystery instead invites us into better seeing and believing in something that is still way beyond and above us.

While we cannot know God in His fullness or totality, we can know Him through what He has revealed via Scripture and general revelation. We can know about the attributes of God. Like many other studies with titles and subtitles referring to God’s attributes, this one devotes several short chapters to such topics as God’s infinity, immutability, omniscience, and simplicity. Poythress also explores some of the difficulties stemming from both a plain reading of Scripture or from philosophical discourse. How can an immutable. meaning unchangeable, God begin creating and acting on events in the universe? What does it mean when we are told that God is not a man that He should repent, but that God does repent?

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It would not be surprising for many non-seminarians and non-academics to pick up Poythress’s book and suddenly think, “I am on the wrong swim team.” “This book is calling for deep diving and fast strokes, but I can barely dogpaddle.” Hold on. Poythress is a good swim teacher here. The chapters are short. They are non-technical. He gives a list of terms at the end of the chapters. A glossary defines some key concepts. Further readings are suggested. And the book is full of charts. So, quit whining and get your swim suit on. This is the book for you…and me.

One major feature of many large books is that they are actually combinations of smaller works. This one is not actually a merging of previous Poythress works, although he has written prior to this on the Trinity. The section of this book that deals with Aristotle’s categories was tough reading for me on my first read through. (I will be hitting it again soon, D.V.) The section where Poythress critiques other Reformed theologians’ explanation is a bit dizzying. If, however, the reader was to hone in on the understandable parts and either skim or read quickly these difficult units, the study would be worthwhile.

I like the challenge. I hate not understanding. There is a mental blessing and a spiritual discipline to trying to swim with the big boys. I doubt that I could reread those sections (coming up soon) and then engage in a serious discussion or debate, but I could, perhaps, listen intelligently.

Where the theology hits the road: Certainly, aspects of this book are more appealing to the arm chair theology reader like me than to the struggling Christian trying to save his marriage or break an addiction. This book is not a tract I would hand out to new converts. But the Christian community always needs some of the brainy, bookish types who read hefty books for both personal enjoyment and for sanctification of themselves and the family of faith.

Meditation on who God is really is active, gritty, toe-to-toe Christian living. Sitting and thinking can look a lot like doing nothing, but it can be life changing. How many otherwise intelligent professionals, college trained people, church officers, and the like have never taken the time to systematically and theologically consider who the God is who we worship?

The Mystery of the Trinity is one of many books that can supply this need. It is also a good one to start with or pick up soon. Also, it is a finely done hardback. That is always a blessing.

Fiction Reads from 2020 and 2021

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One of the worst of my habits is reading fiction. It is such a bad habit that I think the only remedy is to read more fiction. Some fictional works are among the books classified as literary classics. Some are by best selling or well known modern authors. Some are thrillers, mysteries, and spy novels. Some are books I have stumbled upon by happenstance. And a few are by friends I have met along the way.

I will only comment briefly on these selections from the past year and three months.

1. Pursuit of Honor by Vince Flynn

Flynn was a good writer of thrillers, and I am sorry we lost him so soon. I suppose the down side to these kinds of books is that I don’t tend to remember plot details. I prefer Daniel Silva to Flynn (although word on the street is that Silva’s latest book was a flop), and I think Flynn runs circles around Brad Thor.

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2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This book is not yet a literary classic, but I expect it to be in time. Beautiful story with delightful descriptions and pacing. This was one of my top reads from all categories for the past year.

3. What Dies in Summer by Tom Wright

Wright is a local author whose novels are published by nationally acclaimed publishers. Well written and engaging in many respects, the story is a painful revealing of the brokenness of mankind.

4. The Man From the Sea by Michael Innes

Innes, apparently, was a popular writer of spy novels. I enjoyed this book and would not mind either reading it again or reading another book by the same author.

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5. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

This is one of the goofiest, insane books I have ever read. Toole, sad to say, did not live to write other books, but he achieved a great deal of posthumous acclaim for this work.

6. Animal Farm by George Orwell

We read this book in government class. It had been years since I had previously read it. 2020 was just too intense for me to tackle 1984 again.

7. Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C. J. Box

Bitterroots by J. C. Box

Shots Fired by C. J. Box

C. J. Box is my favorite writer of murder mysteries. His Joe Pickett novels are uniformly enjoyable, readable, and gripping. Joe Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming who always manages to get right in the middle of some sort of criminal activity that calls for his unusual range of abilities to solve. But, if he can’t solve it, then his friend Nate Romanovski is usually close by to lend a powerful hand.Shots Fired is a collection of short stories, all quite good. Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, while not a Joe Pickett story, was engaging. Bitterroots is about yet another Box character, a woman detective who is crafty as well.

I think I now own all of Box’s books and have read all but one. I own most of them in nice hardback editions, and at least one is signed. I hope to meet him someday.

8. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christi

This was my first time to read an Agatha Christi mystery novel. The story was interesting enough, but by itself it did not sell me on Miss Christi’s books. I certainly need to read a few more.

9. River of Darkness by Taylor Brown

Pride of Eden by Taylor Brown

I discovered Taylor Brown’s book Fallen Land at the local dollar store. Read it and liked it enough to seek out others of his books. Brown is a young Southern author who has written about 4 novels and a collection of short stories. Look at his website HERE. River of Darkness weaves three time frames together to tell a haunting story set in the Altamaha River. Pride of Eden, Taylor’s latest book, is a powerful story about several people brought together to save and preserve wild animals. The book has plenty of action, danger, and depth to keep the pages flipping.

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10. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The term Kafkaesque is often used to describe the bizarre, the irrational, and the quirky nature of this world. These two books were a fine pair to read during the Kafkaesque year 2020.

11. Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

Steinhauer writes books with spies and espionage. This was my second time to read one of his works. It was not a favorite, but I will press on to read more of his collection.

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12. Martian Time-slip by Phillip Dick

I cannot recall what inspired me to pick up and read from the volume of the Library of America series by science fiction writer Philip Dick. I was not familiar with him nor a fan of science fiction. This was an interesting novel, set mostly on Mars, and I enjoyed it enough to be willing to give him another try or two.

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13. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

I have watched the movie Dr. Zhivago several times, and I think parts of the very long movie are quite useful in illustrating some of the terrors of the Russia’s plight that went from pre-revolution, to World War I, to revolution, and then to civil war. Finally, this past year, I trudged on through to read the Nobel Prize winning author’s famed novel. While I certainly enjoyed it, I have a hard time putting Pasternak in the same category as Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn.

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14. Strays by Remy Wilkins

I confess to slightly dreading reading this novel. On the one hand, Remy Wilkins is a personal acquaintance and a fellow classical Christian school teacher, so I wondered how I would handle reading and not liking his book. On the other hand, I really don’t care for or prefer the books with magical worlds, secret and mysterious beings, and other fantasy elements. I like cold, hard southern realism. At least the book was southern, but I was stunned by the quality of writing–description, plot development, character formation–that unfolded. This is a fine first work by someone whose ability far surpasses my own and my doubts.

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15. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

This book has been a long time favorite. It is one where the old movie version is as fine as the short book itself. I reread it because I felt a bond with old Mr. Chips. Much of the story centers around his reaching retirement and old age and of being rooted out of his beloved classroom. It was a journey with a kindred spirit. I loved the book more than ever after last summer’s reading.

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16. Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown

I believe the thrift shop had a special where you could fill a bag with books for a dollar or two. This unfamiliar novel by an unknown author was an older book (from the 1980s) that had been kept in fine condition. The author and setting were Southern, so I squeezed in the bag. And I read the book. I thought this was a well done, gritty, moving, believable novel. It deals with tensions related to race, family dysfunction, and Southern life–all on my list of favorite topics. I hope to pick up another novel or two by this man.

17. The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Those who love the Harry Potter series assure me that the series is great and the books get better and better. This one was the third. I got through it. I dread the next ones because the size doubles and triples. Not yet convinced.

18. Black List by Brad Thor

Brad Thor has a great actual name. And he is a Tea Party conservative author. And he is an extremely successful author. I don’t mind reading his books, for he can keep you engaged, but I have yet to experience any “Ah Ha” moments in his novels.

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19. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

My 14 year old student didn’t like the book. After all, what happens in this story? Or what happens compared to a video game or an Avenger movie? But I find that for the person who has fished 80 plus days without a catch, whose hands are scarred from years in the boat, whose dreams are mostly past-tense, this story is incredible. Even though poor Hemingway was not a man of faith, this book is surging with the power of love. When the whole community goes in search of the old man (truly a minor point in the book), I was nearly moved to tears.

20. Mrs. Sunday’s Problem and Other Stories by Harold Fickett

I had the occasion to meet Harold Fickett some years ago, but he didn’t seem impressed. He has co-written several books with Charles Colson and others. This was an early work, and the stories are simple, humble, and Christian. But don’t expect neat Sunday school endings.

21. 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

Although I have friends who have raved about the author and the book, I did not find it enjoyable.

22. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I read this novel (the first of three) as a favor to my 14 year old student who liked it. I expected it to be torturous, but I enjoyed it. I would not mind watching the movie. Not a great work, but an enjoyable type for those who love The Hunger Games and similar fiction.

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24. The Pathfinder by James Fenimore Cooper

The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper

The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper

I will simply have to devote a whole blog or maybe three posts to the greatness of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. I have taught through The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans several times, but I finally got focused on reading the other three books in the series. This is one of the great book series in all of American literature.

Often overlooked is the fact that the main character, Natty Bumpo, is a Christian. As he said in his last days, “‘Pawnee, I die, as I have lived, a Christian man,’ resumed the trapper (Natty Bumpo) with a force of voice, that had the same startling effect on his hearers as it produced by the trumpet, when its blast rises suddenly and freely on the air…” (from The Prairie)

I can’t wait until I can teach a college seminar on The Leatherstocking Tales.

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25. The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

My wife has a tradition of reading a Christmas book. Sometimes she reads a classic work and sometimes a more popular book. Somewhere along the way, I got her this book which she read, and this year, I decided to pick it up to read for some light season reading. Although Baldacci is a popular and successful writer, this was my first reading of his fiction. The plot is all set on a train traveling across the country on the days leading up to Christmas. The cast of characters and unexpected turn of events contribute to a fanciful well-told story. Would not mind reading more from him.

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26. Hobgoblins by Douglas Bond

Since I became friends with Doug Bond, he has had this annoying habit of thinking that I need to read every new book he puts out. And he writes books faster than Louis L’Amour did. Doug’s books are often tied to historical events and people. This one is a subtle biography of a English tinker (pots and pans repairman) living in the 1600s named John Bunyan. But it is told through the story of a friend of Bunyan’s going back to their young heathenish days.

I like biographies, so I am not dependent on this kind of book. But Doug’s audience is for younger (from teen-age years up) readers. Try as I might to dislike his books because they are fictional accounts of real people and events or because they are suitable for younger audiences, I end up liking them anyway. I keep hoping to find a book he has written that is not well done, enjoyable, informative, and faith strengthening, but so far, I have failed.

27. North Korea Deception by Richard Lyntton

I recently became acquainted with Richard Lyntton via his website and emails. And I received a copy of North Korea Deception. This is part one of a trilogy of books featuring a character named Jack Steele. Hold on to your seat when you pick up this book. Lynnton brings in Russians, the British, the North Koreans, and Americans and nearly has the world in a major conflict before the dust settles.

Along with now being a writer, Lyntton has been both in the military and has worked as an actor. I think he has promise in the field as a writer of thriller, adventure, espionage, spy novels. This first effort had a bit too much action–too many wrecks, near death experiences, and sudden shifts–but the man got the novel written, published, and the story moving. Watch for him to continue to improve.

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28. The Little Ark by Jan De Hartog

Jan De Hartog (1914-2002) was born in the Netherlands. His father was a Dutch Reformed pastor and theology professor, but De Hartog himself became a Quaker in his latter years. He also migrated to the United States in the 1950s. As can be seen from the times and places he lived, he was in the Netherlands during World War II and knew firsthand of the life of seamen in the Dutch tradition.

I happened to have 2 of his novels that were picked up along the way (for free). Even though none of the friends I asked knew anything about De Hartog, I decided to venture in and read one of his books. The Little Ark would easily make you think that it was primarily for young people or even children. The two main characters are children. The setting is a great flood that hit some of the communities in the Netherlands in 1953, and De Hartog’s two characters and a few pets escape death and terrible destruction by getting on a small houseboat. Their adventures, far from pleasant, take them from place to place until they are re-united with their father.

Although De Hartog did not continue in the Dutch Calvinist tradition of his father, his book is rich with the faith and theology of Calvinist Netherlands.

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Books on Guv’mint from the Teacher

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Last fall I taught a small group of students a bit about politics and government. These were in the weeks leading up to the controversial 2020 Presidential election. With decades of reading and teaching about government and politics, I mainly rambled. Hopefully, it was good rambling. But I had an impertinent student who asked for a list of books to read about government. She moved away, but was visiting here earlier this week, so she asked again about that list. So, just to irritate her and the rest of you, I will try to make a list of essential or good books on government

Textbooks: I remember reading a line from Peter Kreeft years ago to the effect that “nobody steals a textbook.” As standardly issued and frequently revised and updated, textbooks are notoriously expensive and yet rarely have much resale value. For that reason, I generally find it worthwhile to use an older edition of a textbook.

There is a certain benefit to a good textbook. One can hope that it will have essential topics, a few vital sources, good charts and graphs, a glossary, index, and table of contents. One does not generally read the textbook for literary enjoyment, but for finding information. Textbooks are usually good for scanning and surveying.

I prefer to use Magruder’s American Government for a basic resource, reference text. The one I have and use now is the 2010 edition. It is close enough to being up to date and old enough to be cheap. Of course, there are benefits to finding the older editions.

The original author, Frank Magruder, was a political science teacher and professor. His original book came out in 1917. When he died in 1949, a student of his, named William A. McClenaghan, took over the revising of the textbook. (Somewhere in a tower of boxes, I have one of the older editions of the book, meaning an edition that may go back to before the 1950s.)

Standard textbooks get revised, updated, corrected, and “politically corrected.” I wonder how much of the book that I use would be recognized by either Magruder or McClenahan. But the book still have outstanding features, meaning great charts and graphs, well done organization, useful teacher materials, some original sources, good quotes, funny cartoons, and a helpful glossary and index.

Key point for anyone buying a government text: Look for used, but not too old. (Studying old government texts is a different pursuit than studying government as of now.) Look for something authored by a person rather than a committee. Look for its usefulness as a resource, and don’t quibble over politically disagreeable points made here and there.

Basic Readings on Government from a Christian Perspective:

  1. Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life by David C. Innes
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This book is quite good, relatively brief, and thoroughly Bible oriented. It is also conservative, Reformed, and American. I plan on reading it again soon with a government student I am teaching privately. It is a book of depth, but is readable and applicable. It is not, as some political books by Christians, seeking to grind axes against our current political foes. It is rooted in a more long-term approach to the topic.

2. Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey And Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis

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This book is challenging. If one is only used to the political banter of conservative talk radio or the contents of news shows, this book will plunge you into the deep water. Want to smack the liberals or conservatives with some zingers? Look elsewhere. This is a book that demands careful reading. Dr. Koyzis, like David Innes, seeks to write from a Christian perspective and from a Reformed tradition. He is not a traditional American conservative, so expand your world a bit in reading this.

3. Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe

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This book has been around for quite a while, and I have enjoyed using parts of it in teaching my classes. The book gives a Christianized version of America’s colonial and founding eras. Then Dr. Eidsmoe discusses quite a few of the key thinkers and books that influenced the Founding Fathers. This portion is a good introduction to the household names among the contributors to our founding documents. Next, the book gives detailed biographical sketches of key authors and shapers with an emphasis on their religious beliefs.

I don’t find this book a fun read or a page turner, but it is quite full of useful information. Dr. Eidsmoe is a well trained lawyer and student of theology and history. He is a Lutheran with a strong affinity toward Calvinist founders of America, and his perspective is very conservative.

4. Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem

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The subtitle states that this is A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. This book is conservative red meat. I reckon it offends not only more secular liberals, but many Christians who think themselves a bit more balanced and erudite than Grudem. Maybe it is a bit over the top. Maybe it does imply that the Christian position is a bit more compatible with the Republican platforms than with those of the Democrat Party.

I include it because I am probably quite in line with much of what it says. And I like Dr. Grudem’s other books. So, read it and like it or read it and refute it.

5. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper

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This book is so vital for so many areas of life and thought. Early on, it has a chapter on Calvinism and political thought. That chapter is vital for coming to a Christian position on government. Of course, I think each chapter in this classic work is vital for arriving at least close to solid and sound positions.

6. Christianity and the State by R. J. Rushdoony

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Not just this book, but almost every book that R. J. Rushdoony wrote is useful for constructing a Christian view of civil government. Probably Law and Liberty is the easiest to start with and The Institutes of Biblical Law, particularly volume 1, is the most comprehensive.

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7. The Patriot’s Handbook, edited and compiled by George Grant

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Any study of American government must reach back into the source materials. This book has a wealth of such shorter materials, and it includes not only the most often cited works, such as the Constitution, but also speeches, poems, and writings not often found in standard textbooks. And it includes Grant’s delightful survey of our first 14 Presidents, and that listing doesn’t begin with George Washington.

8. Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn Moots

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This is a serious and in-depth study and survey of political theology, particularly that which grew out of the Reformation tradition and then was transplanted in the United States. This is one of the best books I have ever studied and one that calls for rereading.

9. Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition by Glenn S. Sunshine

This book is recent, and I have not read my copy yet. But from all I can sense and all I have heard from others, it is a keeper.

10. Civil Government: A Biblical View by Robert Culver

Toward a Biblical view of civil government: Culver, Robert Duncan

I read this book very many years ago. I remember thinking that it was quite good, but I cannot recall many details. It appears to still be in print, but under a slightly different title.

11. God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government : Theonomy, Principled Pluralism, Christian America, National Confessionalism, edited by Gary Scott Smith

I read this book many years ago. It is a good presentation of four different positions all held by responsible, scholarly Christian writers.

12. God and Government by Gary DeMar

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This series gives some basic information about history, government, and Christian influences. It was later reprinted in a nice hardback one volume edition, which I, unfortunately, do not have. Gary DeMar has written and reprinted lots of works that verify the Christian influences on American history and government. American Vision, his organization, has a wealth of resources available.

13. A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer

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This book caused quite a stir when it came out in the 1980s. The work of Francis Schaeffer during his most popular years coincides with the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Much of what Schaeffer says in this book seems to be based on information gleaned from The Journal of Christian Reconstruction. That is another story.

14. Did America Hav a Christian Founding? by Mark David Hall

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I have and have read many books related to this topic, and many of those books are referenced in this one. This is THE go-to source for understanding and being able to better interact with a host of political issues that are related to our nation’s Founding Era.

POLITICAL CLASSICS

  1. The Republic by Plato
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This is my favorite translation. The Allan Bloom translation is also highly acclaimed. I do not prefer the Benjamin Jowett translation, which is an older and usually cheaper version.

2. Politics by Aristotle

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3. The Prince by Machiavelli

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I am no expert, but I would recommend the translation by Harvey Mansfield, based on what I have heard from others.

4. Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos by Junius Brutus

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This book is a seldom read Calvinist and Huguenot classic. Thankfully, Canon Press has published a useable new edition of it that should broaden the reach of this book. R. J. Rushdoony often made a comment (actually based on a quote from someone he had read) that it was this book, rather than Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that was most influential in the American Revolution.

5. Lex, Rex by Samuel Rutherford

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Lex, Rex, also now available from Canon Press, is another Calvinist political classic. Rutherford was a Covenanter. Donald Macleod, in his book Therefore the Truth I Speak, raises some serious questions as to how influential this book was to American colonists who revolted against the Crown. It was Francis Schaeffer who first alerted many American Christians to the importance of this book.

6. Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

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Some conservatives and some Christians have strong objections to John Locke’s philosophical views. Nevertheless, he was and remains a big name in political thought and in the history of this nation.

7. The Federalist by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay

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This collection of essays is THE American classic of political thought. It needs to be read from cover to cover, but there are a few essays in it, such as #10 or #51, that are quoted continually.

8. The Anti-Federalist Papers

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In one sense, there is no such thing as The Anti-Federalist Papers. Whereas, three authors wrote essays that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers, there was no set of authors who compiled rebuttals per se. But there were plenty of articles and speeches by prominent Americans who objected to the proposed Constitution. Their insights are valuable, and some believe almost prophetic in seeing problems that followed with the ratification of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, by the way, was a result of Anti-Federalist influence.

9. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

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Thankfully, this work is a short read. But it must be read because of the great influence it has had on so many countries, so many people, and so much of history. The books and authors who have refuted and rebutted Communism would be a separate and very long list.

10. The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

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This book has become a popular read for many conservatives. First published in 1944, this book remains in print and is more widely known in our times than in previous years. Hayek is one of several prominent Austrian thinkers whose ideas have kept the spirit of freedom alive in our times.

Okay, enough is enough! There is no end in sight for the books that could be listed here.

If you notice any terrible mistakes I have made or unforgivable omissions, please let me know in your comments, or on Facebook, or by emailing me at Veritas@cableone.net.

Previews for Book Reviews

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We have an unusual winter storm today. My mind keeps replaying the words and music to the poem written by Christina Rossetti, “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter, Long Ago….” (from the song “In the Bleak Midwinter”). My wife is playing the Christmas music that never seems to fit our lives here in the American South where snow, sleigh rides, snowmen, and cozy firesides with outward beauty predominate.

So, my mind turns to the dangerous stack of review books I have threatening me with a mental overload or a avalanche of falling tomes. I want to jump out in front of this mighty host and do some previews and promotions of these worthy volumes.

American Conservatism, 1900-1930, edited and compiled by Joseph Postell and Jonathan O’Neill, is published by Lexington Books.

We are in an age where we need to recover the roots of our conservative heritage. The word “conservative” is bandied about in both positive and negative ways. We sometimes think conservatism emerged back in the days or Reagan or maybe Goldwater. But conservatism is a broad, deep, and very old tradition. Not everyone that is pegged as a conservative gee-haws with all of the other so called conservatives.

In this case, this book highlights some bright lights among conservative thinkers (who were largely office holders) during the era when Progressivism was the dominant political ideology. Hence, this book has lots of essays and speeches by such men as Henry Cabot Lodge, Calvin Coolidge, Warren G. Harding, and Elihu Root.

I would love to be in a college class where we were “required” to read this book and perhaps Murray Rothbard’s book The Progressive Era and a few other worthwhile reads. Thanks to my young friend (whose youth is limited only to age and not wisdom) Koty Arnold for recommending American Conservatism.

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1-2 Timothy and Titus by Andreas J. Kostenberger is published by Lexham Academic Press.

First of all, I love Lexham Press, and I confess that I used to refer to them as a small publisher. They ain’t small in terms of the wide and depth and range of books they publish. Their works include such older authors as Abraham Kuyper and Geerhardus Vos and such more recent writers as Travis James Campbell and Michael Heiser.

I have yet to look into this book, but I became a fan of Andreas Kostenberger a while back after reading one of his books. And, I read John Calvin’s Sermons on Titus this past year and loved it. I look forward to reading this commentary, but will probably begin with Titus and then look at the two Timothy letters.

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My friend Ray Rhodes has written two fine books on Charles and Susie Spurgeon. Yours Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon is published by Moody Press and is a promising sequel to his biography of Mrs. Spurgeon, titled Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon.

I read the biography of Susannah last year and also read Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of C. H. Spurgeon by Thomas Breimaier (published by IVP). One should read lots of stuff about Spurgeon, and as the saying goes, “Sell your shoes, but buy Spurgeon.”

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But why Mrs. Spurgeon? She was quite a woman. A writer herself, she promoted, distributed, and loved books. She was, as the title reflects in a biography of Jonathan Edwards’s wife, “married to a difficult man.” Spurgeon was not difficult in the sense of preaching one thing and living another. He and they together were the real deal. Their lives were blessed, but not easy. Begin with either one of Ray’s books, but get both. And get Tethered to the Cross and get some of Spurgeon’s writings.

C. S. Lewis: Pre-Evangelism For a Post-Christian World: Why Narnia Might Be More Real Than We Think by Brian M. Williams. This book is published by Christian Publishing House.

Brian and I only recently became acquainted, but he quickly figured out that the way to get on my good side was to send me a book. So now, he’s a superhero.

Lewis, like Spurgeon, is an author whose works are vast and widely applicable and even more widely enjoyable. And, both men have inspired books about their books. How many books do I have about Lewis? 20? Maybe more? However many it is not enough.

I look forward to diving into this book and seeing how this newfound friend has applied and expanded our understanding of Lewis and Narnia.

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I was happy the day that The First Code Talkers: Native American Communications in World War I by William C. Meadows arrived. This book is published by one of the best sources for Native American studies–the University of Oklahoma Press.

I read a book about the Navajo Code Talkers several years ago. (And I misspelled Navajo consistently in the review I wrote.) On the one hand, it is amazing that Native Americans were willing defenders of the same United States that so often mistreated, abused, killed, and deceived them. And, their heritage was often suppressed. But they possessed a number of languages that defied the rest of the world from knowing. They were unsung heroes of World War II in the Pacific. And it was only in the last few decades that the contributions they made have been made public. Now, I find that they played a similar role in World War I. Can’t wait to get into this one.

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If Louis Markos wrote a book on the Dewey Decimal System, I would want it. But he has written a book on a topic I have grown to love–Greek and Roman mythology. Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes is published by Classical Academic Press.

While I am proud of my college training, my education zoomed and quadrupled when I began teaching (at about age 40 plus) in a classical Christian school. I was forced to begin learning and reading mythology directly through the Greeks and Romans and indirectly through reading Milton and others. I started beginning my classes with a Tolkien quote or two about mythology containing slivers of truth.

Add to this: I grabbed a cup of hot coffee one afternoon at the ACCS conference in Dallas. The seats were incredibly comfortable and I sat back to enjoy the writer Louis Markos speak. Have you ever heard the really good writer who speaks but is mediocre or even painful as a orator? Not Dr. Markos! Skinny as a rail, hopping around like a bird on the stage, the man gave a performance. It was on Lewis and Tolkien and it was pure joy. The caffeine paled in the light of the surge of energy Markos gave. His writings reflect the same joy.

Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle Earth Beyond the Middle Ages by Holly Ordway is published by Word On Fire Academic.

Here was another case of love at first sight. I actually began my quest for understanding Middle Earth by reading a biography of J. R. R. Tolkien before I seriously read his works. My heart tug and preferences always drift toward 20th Century Southern fiction, rather than Brits, fantasy, and mythical lands. So, I felt at home in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County but disoriented in either Middle Earth or Narnia. I’m still geared toward the American South or the world of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, but I have learned (also a result of classical Christian teaching) to embrace the Tolkien-Lewis vision.

Click on the link above or look on the internet to learn more about this book, if needed. It is high on my “can’t wait to get started on this book” stack.

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I have started reading The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams by David S. Brown. To understand this biography, one needs to have read Adams’s autobiography The Education of Henry Adams, which I did read a few years back. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of the two Presidents. His life spanned from before the War Between the States until 1918, and it was not just the times in which he lived, but his connections and reflections.

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Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, edited by David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson, is published by the University of Notre Dame Press. That press is producing outstanding translations of Solzhenitsyn’s works along with studies about the man himself.

“I cannot think of any more worthwhile study for any student on any campus today than to go carefully through all the writings and discourses of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. ” Malcolm Muggeridge.

This book, and I have barely gotten started into it, is pure gold.

Revolutionary Prophecies: The Founders and America’s Future, edited by Robert McDonald and Peter Onuf, is published by the University of Virginia Press.

Thankfully, I have some time before this reading assignment is due. I am in a study group that will be discussing the book in a few months. I look forward to this because Robert McDonald is one of the finest scholars on Thomas Jefferson around today.

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought by Alister McGrath is published by InterVarsity Press.

If McGrath writes it, I want to read it. If it has anything to do with the great Christian writer J. I. Packer, I want to read it. Can’t lose with this one. Amazing how many of the books in my stack are about writers.

The Doctrine of Creation

The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig Bartholomew is published by InterVarsity Press.

A Baptist and an Anglican got together to write this magnum opus, building upon the brilliant foundations of Abraham Kuyper.

Who Is My Neighbor: An Anthology in Natural Relations is edited and compiled by my friend and fellow teacher of classics Thomas Achord and Darrell Dow. This is a hefty collections of quotes and excerpts from across the literary, philosophical, theological, and historical spectrum. It is, as noted in the subtitle, an anthology, a collection, an assembly. I suspect that this book will be used often to quote from, to skip around through, and to reference.

I have not done these books justice!

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My 2020 Election Analysis

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The first Presidential election that I remember was 1960. My sister explained that we were for Kennedy because he was better looking than Nixon. She was old enough to know the way the world works, for I was about 5 and she was in high school. I never gave elections another thought until 1964 came along and I was told that Barry Goldwater would cause a depression and we would all have to go to the poorhouse. I became a dedicated supporter of Lyndon Johnson at that point.

It was during this time, circa 1964, that I acquired a small booklet on the Presidents. It was published and distributed by Enco, which was a gas and oil company, and was given out as a token gift. I don’t remember who gave it to me, but I pored over it off and on for years. (I just recently rediscovered it in my file cabinet.)

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As the years went by, I always paid a fair amount of attention to Presidential elections. By 1972, I became deeply interested. By the time I went through college, I had formed a pretty deep interest as a history major in politics, elections, and government at the Presidential level. Typical of me, I have never been really involved in any political campaigns, have only visited Washington, D. C. once, and have never seriously imagined running for office.

Have I read 100 plus books on different political leaders, elections, political issues, etc.? Certainly, and I have also watched news reports, documentaries, movie accounts, and other politically related media presentations. I like to think that I am something of an authority, although I have no official credentials to back up that assertion.

The 2020 Presidential election, which happened over 2 months ago now, will go down in history as one of the most volatile and disputed elections of all time. I reject the contention that it was the most important election of our lifetimes, but would claim that for now, it is the most controversial. Weighing in on this election, therefore, is a serious matter for several reasons.

  1. The post election drama and controversy exceeds even the drama and controversy leading up to the election.
  2. The results are never going to be accepted by the vast majority of those who participated in it.
  3. The two candidates were the two most improbable of candidates. I am sympathetic with the notion that they were the two worst candidates in our history. Without debate, they were the oldest two.
  4. The 2020 election is not going to fold up its tent and go away. The controversies surrounding and resulting from this year will be with us throughout 2021, all through the 2022 mid-term elections, and then revving up again in 2024.

In the course of this post, I want to say a few things about the election as a student of history. I am going to try, try, try to avoid partisan answers and repeating the now wearisome political commentaries that have been hashed and rehashed for three months.

First, as stated above, for the mere student of history, studying the 2016 and 2020 elections will be quite enjoyable, shocking, and unusual. Many U.S. Presidential elections are rather predictable, explainable, and uneventful. One side wins, and the other loses. Often, the results can be predicted for months in advance. Especially if an incumbent President is running for re-election, he is going to win, barring economic troubles. In the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, incumbents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt (3 times), Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama won. Incumbents Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Trump lost. A party split cost Taft re-election, and economic issues cost the other five.

Normally, elections have pitted governors, senators, and Vice Presidents against each other. The only exceptions have been 1916 when Republican Charles Evan Hughes was a Supreme Court Justice (the only time such a person ran), 1940, when Wendell Wilkie was a businessman, and in 1952 and 1956, Eisenhower was a military leader.

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Normally, elections can be remembered for one tag or defining sentence. 1940 was the third term victory run for Roosevelt. 1960 was the first time a Catholic was elected President. 1964 was a landslide a year after Kennedy’s assassination. 1968 was a year of a strong third party movement (as were 1912, 1924, 1948, 1992, and 1996) and much civil unrest. 1976 was the first unelected Vice President who became the first unelected President following the resignation of a President. 1980 was the election of a former actor. 2000 was a disputed election due to the Florida returns and the first election of a son of a President since 1824. 2008 was the first election of an African-American.

But 2016 and 2020 were elections that will merit several tags. Note that I am tying these two elections together. They were, in some respects, the same election held two years apart. The Democrats went against their own tradition and nominated candidates who had already been in Presidential politics previously. Usually the party would opt for a new, fresh face, such as it did in 1912, 1932, 1960, 1972, 1976, 1988, 1992, and 2008, while the Republicans nominated the man who had paid his dues, as in 1944, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2008, and 2012.

And in both ’16 and ’20, the Democrats opted for an older (meaning old!) candidate. Hillary Clinton was almost 70 when she ran, and President Biden is 78.

The wildest part of the ride was the Republican Party’s nomination of Donald Trump in 2016. It had the most ethnically diverse and talented group of men and women running for the nomination that year. And the party of conservatism, the home of the religious right, and the party of the old-line Republican establishment went out of bounds and nominated a man of little or no past political experience or affiliation, a multi-billionaire with wealth stemming from running gambling casinos, a man aged 70 with a third trophy wife nearly 30 years his junior, and a complete novice on politics as usual.

To understand the ’16 and ’20 elections, just realize that the Democrats simply reversed their ticket. Four years ago, they had a sharp, but unwinsome woman at the head of the ticket with a more moderate, passive man as Vice President. This gave them the tag of having a woman at the head of the ticket. It failed. So, they put the more moderate and passive man at the head of the ticket with the more controversial and edgy woman in the VP slot.

The Biden-Harris ticket worked as the mirror image of the Clinton-Kaine ticket. It was somewhat like the German Manstein Plan in 1940 that reversed the direction of the Schlieffen Plan from 1914. And in both cases, failure was changed to success. The Democrats were able to say, in effect, “We have a woman on the ticket and we have a safe, predictable man on the ticket.” Keep in mind that candidates like Bernie Sanders (an unapologetic socialist), or Pete Buttigieg, or Michael Bloomberg all carried too much baggage or too little experience.

President Trump, to follow up on my ’16 and ’20 connection, ran a campaign exactly like the one he had four years earlier. But no two campaigns have all the same dynamics for a candidate. Ronald Reagan backed off of his compelling “Keep the Panama Canal” issue from 1976 when he successfully got the nomination and Presidency in 1980. Trump rallied his base, perhaps as well as any other candidate ever has, but he failed to expand his base in areas where he needed to.

To win in 2020, President Trump needed to win over a block of voters who would be willing to hold their noses and vote for him. They would never wear MAGA hats, never attend rallies, or put up yard signs, but they would have cast their middle -to-upper middle-class votes in their suburban voting precincts for the Republicans. There should have been pictures of Trump and Bush 43 together on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney should have been supporting the President (for he certainly didn’t reject Trump’s endorsement in 2012), and the McCain-Flake base in Arizona should have voted, however reluctantly, for the President.

President Trump won 46.5 percent of the vote in 2016. That means that one of the central focuses of the Trump White House should have been expanding that base to 50.1 percent or more. That would have meant fewer or NO tweets, especially those that posited unverified claims, cruel insults, bad grammar and spelling, and needless controversies. President Trump needed a fulltime advisor whose main task would have been to explain how Ronald Reagan would react.

Draining the swamp rhetoric didn’t expand the electorate, especially when everyone was wanting the swamp stimulus checks. “You have been here for 47 years and didn’t do these things” didn’t convince anyone who never noticed that Biden had been to Washington. “Lock him up,” referring to Hunter Biden didn’t resonate and wasn’t reported. The bull in the China shop debate tactics didn’t expand the base by any votes during the first debate.

For all of the talk that Donald Trump was not a politician, he was, but he failed. When you enter a political race, give speeches, shake hands, hold rallies, make promises, and win a political office, you are a politician. Although that word has many negative connotations, a politician has to possess a set of skills that differ from other professions. Like Reagan, a man with an acting background can use those skills to enhance political skills. Like Eisenhower, a man used to military matters can use those skills to transition to politics.

Anyone, meaning EVERYONE, remotely interested in politics either as a subject of study or as a profession must, as in MUST, read and master Robert Caro’s third volume of his multi-volume study of Lyndon Johnson. Master of the Senate completely revamped my whole way of thinking about politics. It doesn’t matter what you think of Johnson the man, he was able to figure out how the Senate worked. Successful politicians follow similar trajectories, those who failed, like Hoover, Carter, and Trump, didn’t.

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There is one other result of the 2020 election that I want to mention. I have not come across anyone else dealing with this issue. There has been lots of talk about how President Trump did better among Hispanic and African-American voters than any other Republican candidate since 1960. While Democrats were celebrating winning the Presidency, there have to be some Democrat political operatives who are sweating bullets about what the possibilities are if the Republicans increase, even marginally, these minority gains.

But there is also this feature to the 2020 election: The electoral map has changed. Even though most of those changes either helped the Democrats or reverted back to the Democrats, this underlying groundswell is significant. Some formerly Red (Republican) states are now no longer safe. Georgia and Arizona flipped. Texas was under assault, but it remained Republican. Ohio, Florida, and Iowa, where previous winners there were winners overall, went solidly for Trump in a close election year. (Many traditional election patterns changed in 2020.) But Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada are now all purple states. Yes, they ended up in the Blue column (and do you own work on the voting fraud issues), but they were close, and three of the larger states went for Trump in 2016. There is no longer the Big Blue Wall of the Midwest. The Midwest is up for grabs.

I am surprised that neither Minnesota nor New Hampshire were close. I am surprised that Republicans were so massively outspent. Why President Trump didn’t toss $500 million of his own supposed wealth into the campaign is a mystery. I have not exhausted all of my thoughts on the election, but I have likely exhausted my ever shrinking fan base.

Time to think again about literary classics and theology rather than politics.

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January 2021 Readings

May be an image of book, indoor and text that says 'α Who Shall Ascend the Mountain the Lord? L. Michael Morales � Making and Evangelicalisn 1750-1858 American RICHARD LYNTTON NORTH KOREA DEcEPTION REVIVAL & REVIVALISM The Battles OF Connecticut Farms AND Springfield 1780 LENGEL ANDREW ROBERTS LEADERSH WAR ខភ10 FAULKNER 1 ROLLYSON'

What a relief it was on January 1st to rip the 2020 calendar off the wall and start a new year. 31 days later, we are experiencing what we suspected: Some of the troubles are here to stay a while longer. For me, we had the school shut down in March, followed by the quick retraining to doing classes on line. That was part of the nationwide shutdown that brought my kids home from college and kept us home on Sundays. In June, our classical Christian school closed after 22 years. We survived many battles and difficulties, but in June, our re-enrollment plummeted, and my wife and I joined the unemployment lines. For a month or two, I thought I would land another teaching job, but have only ended up with a few part time jobs. Health problems have hit our family, my wife mostly, but I did have one day where I visited the emergency room. A bizarre election season came, but didn’t go away. A long time friend and former church member died unexpectedly. Also, the losses of 2020 included singers Charlie Daniels and Charley Pride, pro-wrestler Danny Hodge, and others.

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The main recurring thought in 2020 was that God is sovereign and still rules over the affairs of men. Still. Always. Without exception. With wisdom, love, and power. So, when 2021 began with Georgia making poor choices in electing two Senators, with controversies ongoing regarding the slightly odd Presidential election, with sound and fury signifying much going on in the Capitol, with on-going pandemic problems, and with further personal economic difficulties, I resorted to my constant sources of stability: God, family, church, coffee, the dog, and BOOKS.

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The new year began with me finishing The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper. For years, I have have taught through The Deerslayer to my younger students and The Last of the Mohicans to my high school class. I have won a few readers over to the riches of Cooper, but have not made as many converts as I wished. Even I had failed to read beyond those two books. Last November, I began reading The Pathfinder. I had watched and used a mediocre movie version of that story and may have read the book many years ago. Reading it through was quite enjoyable. Then I hastened on to begin The Pioneers. I began that book around Christmas, which was delightful since the book begins with a Christmas celebration. I struggled to maintain an understanding for the first 5 or 10 chapters, and then the book took off on its own.

The Pioneers is an outstanding fictional examination of several key issues that still affect us today. First, how do we balance the needs of civilization with the preservation of nature? Second, how do we balance the rights of the individual man, primarily the Leatherstocking as Natty Bumpo was called in this book, with the laws of society that encroach upon his rights? Third, how do we maintain our most basic loyalties when they put us in legal jeopardy? Fourth and always within the world of Cooper, how do we deal with the Indians, or Native American tribes, in regard to their original landholdings and culture?

Keep in mind that this is a story and not a philosophical treatise, but it does raise these questions. I am now moving on to the fifth book in the Leatherstocking series–The Prairie.

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I was thrilled last year when I first saw that there was a new projected two volume biography of William Faulkner coming out. I hastened to acquire the first volume and then kept it at my bedside stack for months before the right occasion came along to read it. (It was a crazy year.) I thought I would have a long time to wait for the completion of the set, but then I discovered that the second volume was published in the fall, so I got busy and read the book.

Faulkner was a complex writer and man. He was illusive, deceitful, odd, and brilliant. How he emerged out of his background, which was not barren, is a mystery. This biography will not solve the mysteries, but it does connect Faulkner’s writings with his life. (I have previously written a review of this book on this blog.)

I recently received and read North Korea Deception, which is the first novel of Richard Lyntton. His website can be found HERE. His purpose is to write thriller spy novels in the order of John Le Carre and Daniel Silva. He’s British with a impressive military background and work experience as an actor.

This book is the first of three in a series called “The Deception Series.” If you start reading it, hold on to your hat because there is non-stop action from beginning to end. Has he reached the level of Le Carre, Silva, Brad Thor, or the late Vince Flynn? Not yet, but he has completed a book and is completing the next two. None of those guys arrived at their destinations on their first tries. So watch this guy and his books if you like the political thrillers genre of books.

May be an image of book and text that says 'EDWARD G. LENGEL THE10 THE1 KEY CAMPAIGNS ofthe AMERICAN REVOLETION The Battles OF Connecticut Farms AND Springfield 1780 X SMALL BATTLES EDWARD G.LENGEL Editor'

Dr. Ed Lengel really irritates me! I first got to know of him and his writings when I read Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion. Then I discovered that he had written other books on World War I, but also had written several on George Washington. Then this past year, he comes out with a book on two of the smaller, less known battles of the Revolutionary War, and is the editor of a book covering the major battles of that war. See why I am irritated? His works are too many and subjects are wide. (Some attribute my irritation to jealousy.)

I read The Ten Key Campaigns of the American Revolution last fall. This book is published by Regnery Publishing. which is a solid source for history and conservative thought. Due to loss of job, loss of my school office, having to move out of our house for a few months because of a water damage problem, etc., I lost track of The Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield, 1780 for a few months. This book is published by Westholme Publishing and is part of a series called Small Battles.

The Ten Campaigns book covered the most familiar events of the war. With different contributors, most of whom have written complete books on aspects of the war, this chronological account shows the struggles, some of which were disasters while others were successful, that led to American independence. But Lengel’s book on two small battles deals with events that I have overlooked or forgotten along the way.

Both Connecticut Farms and Springfield took place in New Jersey. Neither battle was decisive, nor largely remembered. But it is a fact of history that sometimes the smaller events can have ramifications that are far in excess of their notice. These battles were proving grounds for Washington’s leadership and army as it had reached a peak of relative efficiency. On the other hand, flaws in the British leadership structure and an increasing loss of vision was obvious.

What I would truly love and enjoy would be a course where both of these books were read and discussed. Following the bloody footprints of the American Patriot Army is inspiring to me both as a history student and as a citizen-heir of these soldiers. Seeing how even the smaller skirmishes and battles impacted the whole war is likewise enjoyable. For many of us, Rick Atkinson’s projected trilogy on the War for Independence will be defining. I can’t wait for the second volume to appear. But those three books are just a drop in the ever increasing larger body of studies of the military aspects of the Revolutionary War.

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Revival and Revivalism: The Making of American Evangelicalism, 1750–1858 by Iain Murray is published by Banner of Truth.

I feel utterly ashamed for not having read this book many years ago. I am a huge fan of both Mr. Murray’s writings and of Banner of Truth. I have had the book for years, but moving books from the office to my home caused me to pick up and read a few volumes that I had unexplainably neglected.

Maybe I hesitated because I already basically knew the story here. That being the case, there was much that I learned for the first time or was reminded of or was able to better understand upon reading this book. This is an important part of American history. For those who want the more academic titles to study this aspect of social and religious history, Murray provides the references. (John B. Boles’s books come to mind here.) For those who want a devotional and thoughtful Christian study, this is the book as well. Murray writes Christian history for Christian readers. He exhorts and encourages and rebukes by historical examples. He cites the personal accounts in large selections.

In short, the early day revivals from the time of the Great Awakening and decades following were Calvinistic, evangelistic, and sporadic. For the men of those times believed that revival only comes when God is pleased to send it. The contrasting revivalism, led largely by Charles G. Finney, made such works the efforts of men.

Great study. Read this alongside the more than a dozen other Murray books.

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus by L. Michael Morales is published by Intervarsity Press.

Some months ago, I was reading through the book of Leviticus. I got to thinking about the challenges of a pastor trying to do expository preaching through the book and almost had a panic attack. How does this book, so full of sacrifices and laws and regulations, apply to believers in the pews?

Then I picked up this book and began reading. This is not a chapter by chapter commentary, but it does reference some good ones. Instead, this is a thematic study. I would be sure to read this book at least three times before tackling Leviticus in a sermon series or group study. This book is a straight up climb along the sheer cliffs of Biblical theology, but it is rewarding. I look forward to reading Morales’s book on Exodus soon.

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Ending the month with reading Leadership in War by Andrew Roberts was quite a joy. This relatively short book consists of discussions about nine leaders–both of nations and armies–who guided their countries through times of war. In several cases, Roberts had already written books on the figures he covered.

They included Napoleon, Wellington, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, De Gaulle, Marshall, Eisenhower, and Margaret Thatcher. Each chapter is filled with a good description of the leadership styles of this odd array. Some, like Hitler, were disasters (Thanks be to God), while others are worthy of honor and emulation.

One of the main benefits I received from reading this book of mostly familiar material was getting acquainted with Andrew Roberts. I have far too many of his books to have not been a long time reader and fan. Thanks to Tony Williams for inadvertently assigning this book to me.

Now, on to February and another large stack of books!

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Top Reads from the Bottom Year 2020

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The best of the book reviewers and bloggers get their lists of favorite reads out in December or very shortly after New Year’s Day at the latest. But the defining characteristic of my life is that I am behind, late, slow, and struggling to catch up.

The books I have chosen are not given in any order either in regard to what part of the year I read them or ranking from good to best. I even thought about listing them alphabetically by author. These are a small number of books from the year that I read, and I could easily list ten more and then another ten and so on. There are a few that I could post as the worst books I read or the least helpful, but I see no need in capping off such a delightful year as 2020 with negativity.

Without further ado, here goes:

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I stumbled across the name of Towles in some book list several years back. Soon, I found a copy of his novel Rules of Civility, which I read with delight and found quite good. Later, I bought a used copy of A Gentleman in Moscow at the Thrifty Peanut in Shreveport (a favorite used bookstore).

This was one of the most beautifully written, paced, crafted, and enjoyable novels I have ever read. I hate the term “an instant classic,” but this book might very well fit that designation. What an incredible read! Of course, I love Russian literature and hate Communism, so it was satisfying those senses as well.

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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Changed America by Timothy Egan

I picked up a nice, like new copy of this unknown book in the Potter’s House in Siloam Springs. I was not familiar with the book, author, or event. I read it sometime after the wave of fires swept the American west during the summer.

It is hard to imagine how a story as horrible as this one could be written as such engaging history. This book reminded me of why I majored in history in college and taught history in school. While I respect and learn from the weighty academic tomes, this book kindled the fire that has always driven me to adore history (sorry for the puns). The great fire in Montana, Idaho, and Washington in 1910 was tied into the history of the National Forest Service and the friendship and political cooperation between Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt.

After reading this book, I promptly ordered several other books by Timothy Egan as well as an extra copy of The Great Burn.

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Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund

Several friends recommended this book, so I hesitated about buying it. But they were right. Even Cody Howard was right (and actually he usually is).

If you want a serious theological reason to read this book, I could mention that it makes great use of Puritan and Reformed authors in presenting how they taught about Christ. Granted, sometimes Reformed pastors are thought of (hopefully without accuracy) as being harsh. Admittedly, we are often hesitant about appearing soft or gushy in our theology. But those warrior Puritan fathers had no such qualms.

More than a Puritan compendium of good quotes, this is also a Biblical study of a key component of the Christian life. If you are not a suffering sinner right now (and truthfully, you are), then you will be. And so will your congregation, family, and friends be.

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Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy by Charles Coulombe is published by Tan Books

I don’t reckon that this book will have been read by too many who are interested in the great rulers of history and certainly not by very many Reformed Protestant Christians.

Who is this young looking man on the cover? We know him as Prince Charles or Karl of Austria-Hungary. He was the last monarch of the Habsburg family which was dethroned at the end of World War I. The role of Austria-Hungary is often ignored or minimized in studies of World War I. At the same time, the A-H Empire was less than stellar in its battlefield exploits.

A year or so into the war, Emperor Franz Joseph died. Originally, Prince Charles was fourth in line of succession. But the deaths of the three others, including Franz Ferdinand, put him in the place as the heir. While we tried to brand the First World War as the “war to make the world safe for democracy,” it was a war that destroyed the stability and future of central Europe.

Prince Charles was a dedicated Christian man, husband, and leader. His particular theology and piety was different from mine, but he was a model of the ideal emperor. His time of rule was short, and he tried in the years that followed to regain his rightful heritage. Along with the book Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals by James Longo, which I read in 2019, and The Habsburgs: To Rule the World by Martyn Rady, which I plan to read soon, I have an insatiable desire to know about this once great ruling family.

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

This book enabled me to become more of what I am often accused of being: A person who follows John Calvin. But, like everything else I have read by Calvin, I end up not being drawn to Calvin the man, but the God who he adores.

These sermons were quite good, edifying, quotable, and applicable. Robert White is the premier translator of Calvin’s works today. I also have the sermons on I and II Timothy from this same Banner of Truth series. These are finely done books that are good for study, devotional reading, and soul care.

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

Great study of two of the most diverse, talented, and determined men to ever seek the Presidency. Jackson got a bad deal in 1824 when he and Adams first clashed. The return bout was no-holds barred. Even this last year’s Presidential election may not have exceeded 1828 in intensity. I confess to simply loving these kinds of studies.

How America’s Political Parties Change and How They Don’t by Michael Barone

Barone is a favorite political commentator. I have several of his books and read his articles when I come across them. He is conservative, but capable of writing some hard hitting objective political commentary. From Barone, one learns of the patterns, the demographics, and the dynamics of political campaigns.

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America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts, edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles, is published by Notre Dame Press.

This book is a great study of American history through examinations of the nation’s wars. The lengthy opening essay deals with the idea of the Just War Tradition. Strangely enough, I don’t remember hearing about that in either undergraduate or graduate school studies. Perhaps historians wish to ship the topic over to the philosophy or political science departments.

The essays, all from different contributors, were exceptional readable and thought provoking. Some defended what I thought was indefensible and some found fault in areas that I thought were solid. This is not a “read it to agree with it” kind of book; rather, it is one that provides lots of challenges. It was a mental workout that was outstanding.

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Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862–The Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson is published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

I started this book with merely a curiosity as to why this conflict was labeled as the most violent in American history. After all, the events in this book took place during the Civil War. But the key term in this is that it was an ethnic conflict, particularly between the Dakota Indian tribes in Minnesota and the white settlers.

I was often lost in the reading of this book. That is because I was not familiar with the geography of Minnesota, nor with many of the key figures in the events. But what astounded me about this book was that it was a story of injustice and evil multiplied. The Dakota tribes were continually deceived and cheated by the government agents. When factions within the tribe retaliated with a wave of attacks, the results were brutal. Since most of the men and war materials were diverted to the bigger cause of the Civil War, the remnants that were available to defend the white citizens were few.

As was always the case, in time the white people prevailed. That led to the most upsetting part of the book. The “justice” that was meted out to the Dakota Indians who surrendered was terrible. Their trials were farces of justice. Many were sentenced to death and hanged. This is not the way that prisoners of war were to be treated. The trials were in English and the defendants were totally unaware of what was happening.

I was reading this book during the summer when Minnesota again became the center of terrible actions due to the death of George Floyd and the riots and protests that followed. History doesn’t give quick answers to current events, but it does provide a sad commentary that injustices, retributions, and dire resolutions are not new. This is a sad, but very important book.

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Beyond Tenebrae: Christian Humanism in the Twilight of the West by Bradley Birzer is published by Angelico Press.

This book is such a rich collection of essays on literary, historical, and philosophical topics. It is a venture into the mind, reflections, and loves of the author. I learned some years ago that anything that Brad Birzer writes is a “must have.” His books on Tolkien, Christopher Dawson, Russell Kirk, and Andrew Jackson are all prized possessions.

The “worst thing” about this book is that it caused me to order almost every book he referenced and discussed. This was a very calming, mind-enriching read.

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America’s Revolutionary Mind by C. Bradley Thompson

This is an in-depth, lengthy account of the ideas, philosophers, and American political leaders who embraced the Declaration of Independence. That document, especially the opening paragraphs, have impacted the world and changed minds and countries again and again. Even in our own country, it has an ongoing role in the discussions of how we view ourselves and our history.

I was greatly blessed by Dr. Michael Douma who invited me to participate in a group discussion of this book. Surrounded on Zoom by a host of readers who were far advanced from me, I went from liking to loving the book. This one is one I need to re-read and one that I really needed years ago (long before it was written) to guide my own thinking.

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Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland

This book got lots of attention last year when it first appeared. Maybe the craziness of 2020 caused some to grow less interested in it, but it is a blockbuster of a book. Many of us have and read Church histories, but this book goes beyond those accounts and gives a broader vision of how Western Civilization and then the whole world has been impacted, mostly for good, by the Christian faith.

Holland was raised in the faith and gives the nod to his heritage, but does not appear to have personally embraced faith in Christ. But he does what far too many secular historians fail to do, and that is, he sees and shares the impact of how God is bringing the world into submission to His Kingdom.