What more Reformation-centered than Lutheran Theology?

Image result for lutheranism

This is THE year to be reading, studying, writing, and teaching about the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s.  October 17, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the event we often refer to that heralded the beginning of the revolt of Martin Luther and many others in his wake against the corruptions of the established Church.  Just as the Reformation itself resulted in a tidal wave of publications, the 500th anniversary is spurring the writing and printing of many books on Martin Luther himself, the Protestant Reformation as a whole, the theology of the Reformers, and the other greater and lesser known leaders.

The Reformation 500 celebration is really an enjoyable event for me.  I have been planning some special activities for several years in advance.  Here they are:

  1.  Buy books on the Reformation.

2.  Read books on the Reformation.

3.  Talk even more than usual about the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Knox, and related people and events in class.

4.  Repeat steps 1-3 often.

I am giddy with excitement over all this.  Truth be known, I started celebrating at least a year ago.

Part of the joy of this year’s readings is going down unexpected paths.  Recently, I posted a blog about two books that are both real challenges on aspects of the Reformation.  The first is Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition.  The second is Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross by Marco Barone.  Both books took me way beyond the familiar story to some new ground.

       

Earlier in the year, I read Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Theology by Ruben Alvarado.  This book was an eye-opener and one that called for quick repeat reading.  The impact of Calvin on political thought has been a long-time topic of interest for me.

Not every book has been in the challenging to really tough range.  Just this week, I finished reading Erwin Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel.  This is quite an enjoyable retelling of the story of the Reformation from Luther to Calvin and on to their heirs.  Very basic, very well told, this book was a refresher course, but yet another case of reminding me of why I love this period of history so much.

Image result for rescuing the gospel

Along this year’s Reformation journey, my friend George Thompson commented on his enjoyment of a book simply titled Christology by David P. Scaer.  This is Volume VI of a series called Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics. The books in this series cover such topics as baptism, eschatology, church, Gospel and the means of grace, and the Trinity.  Short–barely over 100 pages,  this book covers a wide range of theological issues related to Jesus Christ, including the Incarnation, Virgin Birth, Death and Resurrection, and offices.

Dr. Scaer distinguishes between Lutheran confessional views and those of modern theologians and theologies.  In fact, the first chapter deals with Post-Enlightenment era Christologies.  But he also deals with Lutheran differences from Reformed views.  Many of these portions of the book were new and surprising to me.  Since the comments and coverage are brief, I was neither convinced nor deeply informed by what was said.  But I think the purpose of this book, and most likely the whole series, is to introduce or review essential dogmatic positions held by confessional Lutherans.

Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics Vol VI.JPG

In some ways, this book might seem to represent what many people dislike or fear or distrust about that field of study called “Theology.”  On the one hand, people sometimes refer to dry, dusty theological tomes.  I reckon they exist.  On the other hand, I was involved in a discussion recently (with my college age daughter) about how theology students in college are often cynical people.  If that is so, we can say to the cynic, “You are so pessimistic, cynical, and sarcastic that you should major in theology.”

Let’s stop that train immediately.  I found this volume to be densely and tightly written, but far from dry or dusty.  Any Biblical, sound, orthodox theological work dealing the God who made us, the Christ who saved us, and the Spirit who fills us should leave us prostrate in the dust.  Simply put, if someone cynical is a theology student, they are a total, abject failure (even if they are on the President’s list at college).

But what about the arcane doctrines that separate certain Reformed theologians from their Lutheran counter-parts?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on other things?  Well. yes, maybe we should be focusing on other things, but that depends upon who “we” are.  I am a history and literature teacher.  That is my main focus, and those fields have their own internal, highly complex topics of study and thought.  Theologians have the task of going to the roots of issues.  They need to “major on minors.”  We certainly hope that they are not all head and no heart (if such were possible), or so deep and complex as to not understand the common man in the pew.  But theology–trying to wrap our puny minds around our great God is not child’s play.  (But even that is not to say that children at play display lots of theological truths.)

Luther changed the world.  His followers–whether they call themselves Lutherans, Evangelicals (which is what the early Lutherans called themselves), Reformed, Protestants, non-denominational (which is odd since you have a name that means no name), or simply Christian–need to celebrate this year what Luther started 500 years ago.  That includes at least giving some nods toward the Church that is affiliated with his name and theology.

Christology is a fine study.  Challenging to both heart and mind, it will remind the reader of the great freedom in the Gospel.  Part of that freedom is the freedom to ponder and study all aspects of who Jesus is.

Advertisements

The Reformation–Seriously

Image result for reformation 500

History taught simply is this:  The Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.  From there, Luther and Calvin reformed the Christian Church in Europe.

There is a place for simple history, for the brief statement of bits of factual information.  Sometimes, the history major in college or history teacher is believed or expected to be a walking repository of historical trivia.  We are often even called “history buffs.”  I hate that term.  If a medical doctor uses it, I want to respond by calling him a “medicine buff.”

Why is the history buff pictured like this?:

Image result for history buff

Rather than like this?:

Related image

 

History is not rocket science, for it has a much wider range of issues, challenges, applications, and interpretive conundrums than rocket science.  (Example, “This one flies, but that one didn’t.”)

History is incredibly complex, although it can be taught at elementary, junior high, and high school levels.  It can even be taught to college students and adults.  But the same can be said for math or any other subject.

I am all for the simple, basic introductions to historical topics.  Pick a book too tough for the students, and all of the time is spent trying to understand the author’s thesis rather than the historical events.  History best begins with simple propositions, even if they are learnt in fun ways:  “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Chronologies, maps, pictures, and bullet points help cement the “basic facts” together.  “So who did you put quotation marks around the words basic facts?” you ask.  I did so because you never learn the basic facts in history, but you learn or are exposed to a selective set of facts.  With hundreds of books,  written just about the Third Day of the Battle of Gettysburg, you should know that there is no, can be no, and should be no list of basic facts.

History is an interpretive science.  By science, I don’t want to imply the mathematical, measurement-dominated fields of exact sciences.  I use it in the more Dutch since of wetenshap, which would mean knowledge, scholarship, and learning.

Now, let’s take this discussion back to the Reformation.

I love the simple, bold, clear books on the Protestant Reformers.  For purposes of teaching, preaching, and writing, I am heavily indebted to accounts that begin with the terrible corruptions and abuses that were found in 16th century European Roman Catholicism.  Then there are the fore-runners of the Reformation–John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.  Suddenly, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther heads down to the church with a announcement sheet, a hammer, and a nail, then everything changes.

Luther’s life is dramatic.  No surprise that two great movies have been made depicting his religious revolution.  Arguably, John Calvin was much more desk and pulpit bound, less exciting and excitable, but his life is also one of daring escapes, exile, confrontations, and world-shaking correspondence.  Bring on Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, and Thomas Cranmer.  We have the starting line-up of a great team, but there are plenty more on the bench.

There is a place for history taught in story form with heroes and villians, drama, bullet points, starting points, and generalizations.  The same can be said for any and every discipline.  (On a similar note, you would not begin teaching poetry to small children with T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.”)

At the same time, historians, scholars, preachers, teachers, popular writers, and serious students must continually be reminded that “nothing is simple,” to quote historian and one of my teachers, Dr. Tom Wagy.

The Reformation was not a series of revival sermons in Wittenberg and home Bible studies in Geneva.   It was a theological re-forming of many major Christian doctrines and themes.  But it was more than just a bunch of cloistered theologians debating how many sins could dance on the head of saving grace.  It was a reformation in church and family life.  The political world of Europe, already volatile, was sent into tremors for the next hundred plus years.  Education, literacy, music, and art all felt and contributed to the impact.  Philosophy, often called the handmaid of theology, took some new (or renewed) twists and turns.

In light of this, I am thankful for the increasing flood of new books at all levels and on different aspects of the Reformation.  I want to give brief mention to two heavy-weights that I have read this summer.  Combined together, the two books run about 320 pages.  They are short reads, but heavy in content.  These are not beginner level studies or refresher courses for the teacher.  Having read material on the Reformation for about 40 years, I was often struck with thinking “I never knew this.”

I have read both books from cover to cover, but I am not finished with them.  In one sense, I am just starting.  These are double-read books.

Beyond Calvin:  Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition, edited by W. Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Tomes, is published by The Davenport Institute.  This organization is dedicated to promoting Christian thought and wisdom for our times. Their mission statement says, “We seek to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness.”

I was amazed that this institute had been formed and had published this book.  To my surprise, I learned that they have published several other works that are equally appealing.  This book, heralded by Dr. Carl Trueman in the foreword, is a series of essays on thinkers, movements, and causes that were either contemporaneous with Calvin or that followed up on his work.  The first essay, on the marks of a true church, focuses on Martin Bucer, who was a reformer in Calvin’s league and times.  He was a mentor and supporter as well to Calvin.

That is followed by a fascinating look at Theodore Beza’s Icones, which consisted of Latin poems of different Humanist thinkers of the times.  Note well that when we speak of Humanists in the early modern European sense, the word’s meaning is totally different from many contemporary uses of “humanists,” “humanism,” or “secular humanists.”

Essays on Richard Hooker’s Christology, George Carleton’s Episcopal authority, and the Westminster Confession of Faith’s “Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism” then take some specific looks at some “obscure” issues.  I put “obscure” in quotation marks because one might think that these are merely academic topics where one scholar addresses another.  Just because the names and issues don’t ring bells for us does not mean these are not weighty and practical issues.  Just to take “Christology” for one, can we argue that the study of Christ is ever without merit?

The final essay is titled “Pagan Civil Virtue in the Thought of Francis Turretin.”  Turretine is one of the big names in the subsequent generations who built upon the Reformation.  The fact that pagans, or unbelievers, are rich sources for discussion regarding virue is an endless discussion point.

Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Crosswritten by Marco Barone, is published by Wipf and Stock.  The subtitle gives a good summary of the contents and theme of the book:  “The Augustinianism of Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation and the Origins of the Modern Philosophy of Religion.”

While it is useful for history test purposes to say that the Reformation began on October 31, 1517, that is overly simplistic.  A stronger case could be made that it was the Heidelberg Disputation about a year later that more clearly delineated Luther’s deepest concerns.  Barone writes, “[T]he Heidelberg Disputation has become the manifesto of Luther’s thinking inasmuch as it contains the hallmarks of his entire theology.”

In his delightful opening paragraphs, Barone relates how he was on a pilgrimage with Martin Luther.  The language of pilgrimages, quests, and journeys are apt for the travels of the mind, and Barone is a budding scholar in route to a doctorate.  Along the way, he meets Augustine and wonders if Luther would enjoy Augustine’s company.  In the “Great Conversation,” to use Mortimer Adler’s delightful term, the German and the North African are old acquaintances.

Luther’s theology borrowed heavily from Augustine.  That is not really surprising considering that Luther joined the Augustinian order.  What follows then is a study of free will, virtue, righteousness, and the cross with heavy quoting and footnoting showing the ways that Luther built upon Augustine’s thought.  As a bonus to this study, Barone then makes connections to two modern philosophers, Emmanuel Kant and Gottfried Leibniz.  That connection explains how the book branches from the older theologians to modern philosophy.

As Barone aptly demonstrates, the alternative to a philosophy built upon Christian theology is inevitably Pelagian.  We can say more about this after I get to the second reading.

I give 5 Stars, A+, Cheers and Shout-outs to both of these fine studies.

The St. Andrew Seven–First Glances

 

Image result for boy at back of classroom

Truth be known, I have often been the kid at the back of the classroom.  Rather than sitting on the front row, taking notes, listening intently, I am sitting at the back of the room and gazing about absent-mindedly.  When the pressure is on–meaning the assignment is due tomorrow or I am on the verge of failing–I get busy.  Bottom line:  I am usually a bad student.

Case in point:  For years–at least a decade or more–I have heard George Grant wax on and on about Thomas Chalmers.  Then the front row students ask, “What should I read to learn more of Chalmers?” Meanwhile, I am wondering how much longer until class is over.  Repeatedly, in lectures, asides, personal exhortations, and the like, Dr. Grant says,

“The first book that I always send readers to is the short profile by John Roxborough and Stuart Piggen entitled, The St. Andrew Seven  (Banner of Truth).  Though not entirely about Chalmers (most of the text is devoted to six of his students and the way he influenced the trajectory of their lives and ministries) it is nevertheless the best single, accessible work available in a modern edition.”

The front row students hypervenilate until their copy of the book is in their hands.  And, they are anxiously awaiting that still future event where some mega-work on Chalmers by Grant himself arrives in print.  Meanwhile, on the back row, all I hear is that there is some book called Seven Saints Named Andrew, which I confuse with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (a movie), which I might watch instead of having to read the book.

Then a copy of the book arrives in the mail.  That is like a note sent home to the parents.  So, with the pressure on, I have finally begun to plod my way through this massive 150 pages tome with no pictures.

First observation:  A telling story appears about Chalmers in the early days of his ministry.  Although he was employed as a pastor, he was quite interested in a position teaching mathematics at the University of Edenburgh.  His view was  that “after the satisfactory discharge of his parish duties,” a minister could enjoy five days in the week of uninterrupted leisure for the prosecution of any science which his taste may engage.”

In popular terms, and some people actually think this, the preacher only works one day a week.

Twenty years later, and we might add, much sanctifying grace later, Chalmers wrote:

“What are the objects of mathematical science?  Magnitude and the proportion of magnitude.  But then…I had forgotten two magnitudes.  I thought not of the littleness of time.  I recklessly thought not of the greatness of eternity.”

It takes time–of which there is too little–but the kid at the back of the room does finally hear something,

The Works of John Knox–“Some Books are to be tasted….”

Image result for some books are to be tasted

Not knowing the library policies in heaven or the new heavens and earth that come later, I have to content myself with only tasting some books.  In some cases, a book has a limited use, and the dipping into it now and again is to fulfill such needs.  We call them reference works, and that includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauruses, and some Bible commentaries.  There are plenty of biographies, histories, books on economics and politics, and theological works that will only be used in the manner of checking the table of contents, then the index, and then scanning the pages for some pertinent quote or information.

The light use, occasional use, or call it underuse of a book is no bad reflection on the worth of a book or its author.  There is the matter of time, add to that specialization, add to that the tyrannies of the moment, add to that the human capacity or incapacity to absorb the contents.  I have books and particularly sets of books that I will never likely read and certainly not master cover to cover.  They are dearly loved…yes, loved…not merely liked or found useful or found attractive on the shelf.  My four volumes of Herman Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought is non-negotiable when considered as a possession (although I would probably yeild it if one of my children were kidnapped and NCTT were part of the ransom).  Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization gets read in bits and pieces, but it is indispensible.  The same can be said Calvin’s Commentaries, Calvin’s Letters, Magnalia Christi Americana, the works of Shakespeare, any literary criticism written by Cleanth Brooks, and my two great volumes of T. S. Eliot.

Image result for herman dooyeweerd new critique of theoretical thought

Dooyeweerd’s New Critique was published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publications during the early 1970s and was almost given away at one time.

Image result for t. s. eliot johns hopkins press

Another treasured collection I have is the six volumes of The Works of John Knox, published by Banner of Truth.I supposed that if Banner were to publish the London telephone book, I would want a copy.  There books are quality on the inside and out.

But it is not just the quality, shelf appeal, and grandness of this set as a collection of boards, ink, and paper.  These are the works of the Other John of the Protestant Reformation.  We are talking John Knox, who was as much an influence on American history as was George Washington. (Debate or consider that statement later.)  Knox was a trench fighter, a survivor, a front line Reformer.  Scotland, or at least the Scotland of the 1500’s-1600’s, bears his brand, but he was also pivotal in Reformation battles in England and in Continental Europe.

It is incredible that he survived imprisonment on a Spanish galley ship.  Even more incredible is his surviving numerous conflicts with the reigning powers of both England and Scotland, particularly Queen Mary Stuart.

How did such a man ever find time to read, think, write, and preach?

We might have expected a volume or two of his works to survive, but we have six large volumes.  Okay, one of them does contain a biography, but even then, we have lots of Knox material to taste, chew, and even digest.

I am currently reading his largest work, which is titled History of the Reformation in Scotland.  It extends through the first two volumes of this set.  I suspect it will take quite a while and may never be completely read by this poor pilgrim.  But whether I get through 50 pages or 500 or all 3824 pages, I will find quite a bit that will delight, inform, correct, and encourage me.

There is a further obstacle to reading these books.  The language of Knox, which precedes the King James Bible and is dominated by Scotification (to coin of word) of the English language.  Reading Knox is not as difficult as reading Chaucer in the original, but more difficult that reading the KJV or Shakespeare.  The key to breaking the language and spelling code is reading it aloud and phonetically.  When sounding the words out, most of them become readily familiar.  This does raise the challenge level for these books, but it also adds to the beauty and setting.

It should be noted that anyone wanting to read Knox’s account of the Scottish Reformation can do so in a shorter and modernized version, found HERE and also published by Banner.

I will conclude this brief discussion of The Works of Knox with a few quotes which I enjoyed during my morning readings.  I am beginning in the midst of a sentence and the preceding portion was a list of charges brought against Scots who had begun seeing great flaws in the Medieval Church.

“By these Articles…may appeir how mercyfullie God hath looked upoun this Realme, reteanying within it some sponk of his light, evin in the tyme of grettast darkness.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Amen, and may God retain some “sponk of his light” on us in our time.

Speaking of his mentor/hero and martyr Patrick Hamilton, Knox said, “The zeall of Goddis glorie did so eat him up, that he could of no long cintinuance remain thair (in Wittenberg, Germany), bot returned to his countrie (Scotland, whair the brycht beames of the trew light which by Goddis grace was planted in his harte, began most aboundantlie to burst forth.”

From A Brief Treatise of Mr. Patrick Hamilton, Knox’s mentor, as found in Volume 1:
“The Gospell, is as mooche to say, in our tong, as Good Tydingis: lyk as everie one of these sentences be–
Christ is the Saviour of the world.
Christ deid for our synnes.
Christ offerred him selve for us.
Christ bare our synnes upoun his back.
Christ bought us with his blood.
Christ woushe us with his blood.
Christ was maid dettour for our synnes.
Christ hath maid satisfictioun for us and for our synne.
Christ is our rychteousness, oure wisdome, our goodness.
Christ is ouris, and all his.
The Father of Heavin hath forgevin us for Christis saik.”

J C. Ryle–Prepared to Stand Alone and Holiness

Image result for j. c. ryle

There are three things right up front that commend the book J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray to me and hopefully to you.

First of all, it is a Banner of Truth publication.  For decades now, Banner has been publishing outstanding books by current authors promoting historic evangelical Reformed theology.  Along with that, Banner has reprinted hundreds of works by Christian authors from the past, ranging from John Calvin to John Owen to Charles Spurgeon and many others.  There are more Puritan books available today than there would have been during the heyday of the Puritans, thanks to publishing houses like Banner of Truth.   Add to that, their books are well bound and are beautiful additions to the library shelves in your home or office.

Second, the author of this book on Ryle is Iain Murray.  Mr. Murray has some incredible gifts as a writer and biographer.  Often Christian biographies are in the light and fluffy category.  They are written to inspire us all to do better.  If the subject happened to be a significant figure in history or theological movements, academics weigh in with biographies that are often technical, critical (in multiple senses of the word), and beyond the interest level of most Christian readers.  Murray hits the middle ground.  He writes for the Christian who needs (desparately) to know more about Christian history or Christian leaders of the past, but who is not an expert.

Murray’s first and foremost biographical study was his book The Forgotten Spurgeon.  It was not, strictly speaking, a biography, but rather a study of Spurgeon’s battles against several theological trends in his life and ministry.  My favorite Murray book is his two volume study of the life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  The second of those volumes changed my life.  His biography of Jonathan Edwards is first rate, but should be read alongside of George Marsden’s more academic biography.  Murray has also written accounts of A. W. Pink, John Murray, and John MacArthur.

A Scottish Christian Heritage and Heroes are both fun reads as well, and The Puritan Hope is a great study of both the Puritans and of eschatology (Murray is postmillennial).  Looking over a list of Murray volumes thrills me with remembering his past works, but also frustrates me since I am still lacking far too many of his books.

Third, the subject of this book is J. C. Ryle.  Ryle was a minister in the Church of England who lived from 1816 to 1900.  He was a prolific author, although he was also a very busy pastor and parish priest.  Twice widowed in his earlier years, he did not have an easy life.  His earlier career choice was the law, and he had suffered tremendously from economic setbacks that wrecked his father’s business.

At age 21 he was converted to Christ. He was, we might say, very nominally Christian or churched before that.  He later wrote, “If I had died before I was twenty-one, if there is such a thing as being lost forever in hell, which I do not doubt, I certainly should have been lost forever.”

During his career, he served as parish minister in several churches.  He suffered quite a few difficulties along the way, but managed to not only minister very ably to his congregation but also wrote tracts and other writings.  Understand that tracts in the 1800s sometimes meant books of a hundred pages.  Overall, Ryle literary output was tremendous.

It is very easy to think of a Church of England parish minister in the 1800’s as having a placid, quiet life.  Think of the ministers in Jane Austen’s books.  Other than their failed efforts to woo one of Austen’s heroines, they had fairly quiet country lives.

Image result for mr. collins in pride and prejudice

Image result for mr. collins and lady catherine de bourgh in pride and prejudice

That is not at all the world of J. C. Ryle. Of course, there were the beautiful old churches, quaint villages, tea with parishioners, but there were also battles.  The last half of the 1800’s was a war zone for the Christian faith.  Ryle’s theology, which was Biblical, enriched by the Puritans, decidedly Reformed and Calvinistic, and evangelical was under attack.

The more admirable of the enemies were part of the Oxford Movement.  Quite a few very scholarly and literary churchmen were gravitating (or running) back to Rome.  Some made the switch, while others labored to widen the theological options available within the Church of England.

On the other hand, there were the forces of Darwinian Naturalism, the higher critical movement, and the rise of various more modern philosophies and theologies that were not only on the outside of the faith, but were cropping up within.  Ryle’s own son, Herbert, bought into many of the “up to date, modern, cutting edge” theologies of his day.  (Any surprise that Herbert–also an author–is largely forgotten along with his works?)

Ryle, like his contemporary and fellow battler for the truth Charles H. Spurgeon, labored all his days against the unbiblical theologies, false gospels, and popular new ideas of his age.  He was not a philosopher or really a theologian in the technical sense.  Nor was he the debater of his age or the man who could answer the fool according to his folly.

Ryle’s gift was faithful, convicting exposition of Bible passages and doctrines.  His books remain valuable and can inform and convict the modern man as much or more than the original readers.

I highly, triply, recommend J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone.

However, don’t even get close to that book unless you already have read from Ryle himself.  Banner of Truth has published many of Ryle’s books in fine hardback editions.  You cannot make a better investment for your library AND your soul than Ryle’s classic book Holiness.

But first, a warning and/or exhortation.  Reading this book out right, as in from cover to cover, is not necessarily the way to go.  Maybe some will disagree, but I recommend the slow read, the frequent re-read, and the careful handling of this work.  Even the introduction is red meat.  If you have read more modern books on spiritual disciplines and personal holiness, all such will be good primers or warm-up exercises for Ryle.  Regarding the more modern guys, I highly recommend the late Jerry Bridges and the current author Kevin DeYoung.  But again, Ryle is completely undiluted.

So, acquire Holiness and hopefully then grow in holiness.  Read it slowly.  Read the chapters out of order.  Pick it up and read a page or two almost anywhere.  Mark or write down good quotes.  Work the book over.  And, I am not just speaking to you.  I am speaking to myself as well.

The History Teacher’s Morning Devotional

Related image

Many pastors and preachers are readers of history.  If the study of theology and the Bible is their vocation, history is often their source for relaxation as well as for extra help.  Stories from history support and add to sermons.  History is, in some ways, an extended commentary of Biblical truths.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I know of nothing next to the reading of the Scriptures themselves that has been of greater value to me in my own personal life and ministry than constant reading of the history of the church.”  Along with church history, biographies are a favorite of ministers.  But secular history, and I wince at that awkward term, is also useful for broadening a pastor’s perspectives, providing rich sources for sermon illustrations, and disciplining the mind.

Not only do many preachers read history, quite a few have written on historical subjects.  There is the field of history as a profession, involving certain academic credentials and labors, but history is not confined to the specialists.  Along with journalists, novelists, and popular authors dipping into the vast river of history, preachers sometimes write histories.

Along with history-reading-and-using preachers, there are also history teachers who borrow heavily from the fields of the Bible and theology.  I am talking about more than a history teacher who is a church member in good standing and who reads his Bible each morning for personal spiritual growth.  Some historians have dug deeply into theological matters for historical research.  This is more than just the realm of church historians.

Christopher Dawson was first and foremost a historian, but his historical works are shaped by his theological concerns.  The Dutchman Groen van Prinsterer was primarily a historian, but his conversion to Christianity radically altered his understanding and writing of history.

Image result for christopher dawson        Image result for groen van prinsterer

Just as some (hopefully not many) preachers preach badly, so some people do history badly.  Beware of statements like “History shows” or “History proves” or “What we can learn from history is.”  History provides illustrations of everything.  Want to prove or buttress any argument?  Look around in the huge bin of historical examples.  Every cause imaginable has been put forth as to why the Roman Empire fell.  Every American President or political leader can be likened to some famous or infamous Roman.  Almost any era of history can be presented as a golden age or as an example of vice we should be careful not to follow.

In short, history does not prove.  Go to math class for proofs.  This does not mean that history is without lessons or practical applications.

Image result for reading the bible with the founding fathers

Today (July 19, 2017), I finished reading the book Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel L. Dreisbach.  It is published by Oxford University Press.This is one of the best books I have read this year and is one of the best studies of the Founding Era of U. S. history that I have ever read.  While it is true that we should not be taken in by credentials and academic titles, professional historians are held to higher standards than the rest of us.  There is much to be said for academic reputations and peer reviews.  Yes, mother sometimes knows best what to do for your stomach ache, but you still go to the trained, licensed doctor for serious medical conditions.

Dr. Dreisbach is both a scholarly historian and a Christian.  He has filled in a large gap in the conventional story of the sources of America’s freedom and establishment as a nation.  Certainly, the familiar names, such as John Locke and Montesquieu, are mentioned, but it was the Bible that provides the most quotes and references among the founders in their writings and speeches.  But was this just a ploy used to appeal to a Bible-reading public?  To some degree, yes, but the extensive use of Bible verses, references, and ideas in public and personal discourse indicates that the Bible was believed and adhered to as a spiritual or God-given source for political understanding.

In my Humanities class this coming school year, I will be teaching The American Story.  It is my favorite of the four Humanities courses, largely because I am better versed in American history and literature than the other subject areas.  But even the teacher needs both refresher studies and new realizations.  This book provides both.  I have been exploring the connection between the Bible and American history for years.  I am certain that I have read and studied at least a couple of hundred books on the topic.  (Many books included the topic but were not focused on it.)  If I were to provide a bibliography of ten or so books, this one would make the cut.  Unless I am forgetting some other vital book, this one might very well get first place honors.

If 234 pages of text were not enough to convince or challenge me, Dreisbach has an extensive section of notes with further details.  This book can be used, as the title of this post states, as a devotional read for the history teacher.  But this devotional will not be closed as the teacher then prepares for his or her labors in the classroom.  Whether quoted extensively in lectures or just used indirectly, this book will impact the teaching of history.

I received my copy of this book free for the task of reviewing it.  As such, I am not obligated to speak in favorable, much less glowing, terms about it.  But I am doing such because it is that good.

 

 

 

 

Good Books, Good Times

Image result for scholar reading

My former pastor, Curtis C. Thomas,  once described what he thought physical activities were for me.  He described it as, “closing one book and opening another.”  Didn’t he realize that I also had to walk to the shelves, pick out the next book, and carry it to the reading chair?  Never underestimate my life of adventurous activity.

Today, I will highlight a few of my current morning reads.

Image result for the unseen realm by michael

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Michael S. Heiser, published by Lexham Press, $24.99. I started this book a couple of months ago.  But some of the late spring reads are halted for a time and then resumed with summer break.  This is a fascinating and revealing book. One would think that Christians would not need to be prodded and jolted into reading the Bible–of all things–with a supernatural worldview.  Surprise, surprise.  We do need instructions on this.  This is a serious study of the Scriptures and not a one-time quick read.

Cover for 

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel L. Dreisbach, published by Oxford University Press, $34.95.  I am stunned every time I read from this book.  Sometimes Christians with more zeal than academic skill have oversold the Christian influences in our earlier history.  (I am guilty of this at times myself.)  Sometimes, in an effort to offset years of Christian influences being ignored while secular and Enlightenment thought was being highlighted, history was distorted.  Dreisbach is an academic scholar and Oxford University Press is not a small time Christian publisher.  And it is not that he was able to ferret out a few Bible references.  Instead the book is full of cases, quotes, and examples of the Bible drenching early American culture.  If the main text is not enough, he has enough extra material in the endnotes to make an additional volume.

 

Since reading Doug Douma’s outstanding biography of Gordon Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark  (published by Wipf and Stock), 

Image result for gordon clark a christian philosophy of education

I have been marveling over what all Clark did in his lifetime to promote sound, logical, and most of all, Biblical Christian thought.  Falling head over heels for Clark once again in my life, I suddenly had a profound thought:  I should read the big man himself.  Again.

Image result for clark christian philosophy of education

A Christian Philosophy of Education by Gordon H. Clark, published by The Trinity Foundation.

So I am enjoying getting back into Clark’s book on Christian education.  Christian schools or homeschooling families are found in almost every corner of the nation today, but Clark first wrote this book back in 1946.  That precedes even the writings of R. J. Rushdoony on Christian education.

Image result for beyond calvin

Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition is edited by W. Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Tomes and published by The Davenport Trust.

I received this book a few weeks ago, but just opened it up today.  It speaks to an issue of much concern to me:  Calvinists are fighters.  We are conditioned to contend for the Faith–and Biblically commanded to do so.  We learn the debate skills, Biblical arguments, intellectual approaches, and wide range of other (usually meaning false) options.  We are, as several historians have said, God’s marines.  I don’t know how many times I have heard a position referred to as “THE Reformed view.”  I don’t want to be accepting of any and every shade and variation of thought claiming to be Christian.  But we have spent far too much intellectual and spiritual energy fighting one another.

This book is made up of essays (adapted from talks) coming out of the Convivium Irenicum, an annual gathering of scholars, students, and pastors to “exchange ideas, deepen friendships, and apply the Reformed faith today.”

Count me in, guys.  I am looking forward to getting farther in to this collection.