Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing

Having become acquainted with Jay Stringer, I was able to receive a copy of his book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.  It is published by InterVarsity Press.  It can be purchased from Hearts and Minds Books, which is where I first learned of this book.

Let’s just be honest:  I did not want to read this book and I didn’t like it.  For that reason, I highly recommend it.  I even think I need to read it again.  I certainly believe that pastors, counselors, school teachers, and many other folks should read it as well.

Here is why I didn’t like it:  I would really like to think and believe that sexual brokenness (which includes pornography use, sexual addiction, abuse from the past, marital unfaithfulness, etc.) didn’t exist.  Or, at least I would like to think that it only hits a few folks, especially those who are far from having any semblance of Christian or traditional values.  I prefer for such talk and topics to be out of sight and out of mind.  Let’s just think of good things instead.

But I have served as a pastor and elder in a church. I have taught students.  I have family, friends, and community.  I have been awake and sometimes brutally awakened.  People you and I know have been broken by sexual problems.  Damaged people, hurting families, fill our churches, sit in our classrooms desks, gather with us on holidays, cross paths with us daily, and live next door to us.  Some of the sexually broken and hurt people look at some of you from the mirror each day.

This is not a “some are weak and some are strong” issue.  We are all fragile pottery.  It you have not been cracked, broken, chipped, or shattered, it is only because God has graciously protected you on the shelf.  But some who are whole are perilously close to the edge of the shelf.  There is not falling and surviving.

I often say and truly believe that Sigmund Freud was one of the greatest blessings given to the Christian church.  I believe that he was wrong in his presuppositions, wrong in his overall worldview, badly wrong in his rejection of God, and wrong in his prescriptions.  But he did awaken the world to the impact of the subconscious, the role of memories, the impact of experiences (particularly bad and sexually warped experiences), and the connection of the psyche to the body and soul.

Jay Stringer “is a licensed mental health counselor, ordained minister, and nationally requested speaker on the subject of unwanted sexual behavior (i.e., extra-marital affairs, pornography, buying sex, and others).”  The book is based on many experiences in dealing with counselees and on research he conducted using responses from around 3,800 people.  He has not sat in a tower thinking through these matters, although he has given the contents lots of thought.  This man speaks from the trenches.

I wish I could compare this book with others on the same problems and compare its pro’s and con’s.  Dr. Dan Allender says that this book is “without rival, the best book on broken sexuality I have read.”  For me, and this is public confession of a pastoral sin, this is the first book I have read on this topic.  But again to call on church and Christian leaders, we need to be reading these kinds of unpleasant books.  Sure, there is someone in the church who is wanting some theological advice about the end times, but there are many people, I would venture to say, in every church who is or has been or will be damaged by sexual problems.

An emphasis of this book is that the church or community has to do more than just call down judgment on sinful behavior.  That being said, yes, we have to be faithful to the Scriptures and call sin what it is.  We have to preach repentance, a changed life, confession of sins, and restoration.  But the damaged people need more.  People with bad marriages or who have children running wild need more than an exhortation or rebuke from the pulpit.  Christian living is more putting on than putting off.  It may take 10 years to correct 5 years of bad marriage.  If a married couple both grew up in bad marriages, it might take longer.  The same is true for sexual brokenness.  It is not a case of “one repentance fits and cures all.”  Discipleship is a not a one-time treatment.

Much is often said about accountability partners for people struggling with sexual sins.  While there are benefits to such approaches, Stringer emphasizes how more is needed than someone to be your personal priest for confessional (that is my description).  People have to find renewed life, involvement, goals, dreams, and action pulling and pushing them toward these changes.

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There is no way I would set up myself as one ready to help others in this field.  Anytime when I was a pastor and we were dealing with brokenness, I felt so empty and helpless.  But being unequipped is unacceptable for the pastor, the teacher, and the concerned Christian.

As long as we are in a sinful world, we are going to have to confront books and topics we don’t like.  Yes, I didn’t like this book.  It is really good.  Get it and read it.

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The Late Great Pat Conroy

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I am always bothered by those questions that go like this:  “If you could share a meal with some famous person from the past, who would it be?”  It bothers me for several reasons.  First, I would be so filled with anxiety that I couldn’t eat.  Second, I can never think of anything sensible to say if I am around anyone who is famous, prominent, or in any way intimidating.  Third, some people that I really love from the past would not be very congenial to be around.  Along with that, if more than one of my heroes were there, I am not sure that they would get along.  I would positively dread sitting at a table with Ronald Reagan, William Faulkner, and John Calvin.

That being said, I think I could enjoy having some real contact with the late South Carolina author Pat Conroy.  Conroy does not rank among my “most favoritist writers.”  I don’t think he would rank as one of the greatest writers of all time.  But the man could write.  He could craft stories.  He could create plots that trap the reader and remain in the mind long after the book was finished.  He could delight, amuse, shock, offend, heal, and touch his readers.  The man, in spite of criticisms of his overblown prose, could deftly handle the gestation of literature that happens when the right pencil and paper meet.

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My most recent brush with Conroy came through reading Our Prince of Scribes:  Writers Remember Pat Conroy, edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt.  The book has been published by the University of Georgia Press.

This book consists of a large number of memories, tributes, eulogies, and accounts of writers who knew Conroy.  Many of the contributors were unknown to me, but the fact that Rick Bragg and Ron Rash both contributed to the book was enough to pique my interest.  Upon starting the book, I found myself enjoying it, but thinking that it would be a book that only Conroy fans would care for.  No doubt, anyone who likes Conroy’s work would enjoy this collection, but it is more than a farewell tribute from fellow authors.  This book is a biography, but it is also the story about writing, about encouragement, about the role of authors, the need for mentors, and the power of love.

In case after case, Pat Conroy reached out to new, aspiring, and struggling authors and pressed, pushed, cajoled, and forced them to write.  If they had already written a book, he use the same tactics to get them to finish their second book.  Repeatedly, Conroy would embrace these younger or novice authors and brag on their books.  He could have written a whole book consisting of blurbs he wrote for other and often unknown writers.  Although he had no shortage of reading materials in his own personal library, he bought lots of novels by those who he was encouraging.  He both read and remembered, praised and sometimes constructively criticized, and created a whole cadre of writers, largely but not always southern.

I discovered more authors and book titles than I will ever be able to read just by reading this book.

Conroy would end letters and notes with the words “Great Love.”  My goodness, the man looked like a cross between Santa Claus and a teddy bear.  Many writers speculated that Conroy’s own pains, abusive upbringing (all related to accounts found in The Great Santini), and struggles in life gave him a strong heart of passion for all he did and people he touched.

Conroy was no saint, either in his own Catholic tradition or in the Protestant sense of the word.  He recognized that the writer is searching for God.  His own search was part of his overall search in life and desire to write well, live well, and love well.  Conroy was, maybe even more than a writer, a teacher.  His early book, The Water is Wide, is an autobiographical novel about his experiences teaching in an African-American school off the coast of South Carolina.  The teaching profession lost a gem when he was fired and when he turned to writing as a career.  But he was always the teacher, the coach, the mentor, guide, and helper.

I wish I could have met the man.  I wish I could have sat down to a meal with him.  He would have talked the whole time.  I would have been falling over in laughter at half his stories and turning red from embarrassment at other stories.  I would probably be working on a novel right now if I had met him.

Years ago, I attended a pastors conference and heard a prominent theologian whose books I own and have read.  I ran into him during the conference as he was going down a flight of stairs.  I stopped and told him how much I loved a certain book he had written.  Being tall and standing on a higher step, he was already over-towering me.  What I always remember is that he just stared at me when I spoke to him.  Maybe there were some reasons why I was left cold by that encounter.  But if I had met Pat Conroy, the story would be drastically different.  He would have made me feel like I was the king of the hill.

I started reading Conroy books way too late.  It all started when I picked up a copy of My Losing Season and fell into the trance of his prose style.  I still have several volumes to go before I can say that I have read all he ever wrote.  That’s the best we can do now.  He is gone, but his influence, his personality, and his books live on.

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My copy of this book is a rather stiff advanced reader’s copy. I hope to get a real copy in the future. I wish the picture on the front was explained, but it makes sense once you start learning about the man,

Post Script for Christian readers of this blog:

  1.  The accounts of Pat Conroy are the best examples I have seen of someone who had and used the gift of encouragement.  Although famous, he always took time for others.  He expended himself on helping others.
  2. R. C. Sproul spoke and wrote about his own experience reading Conroy.  He read The Lords of Discipline and wrote to Conroy praising him for the book.  Sproul was then surprised when he got a letter back from Conroy.  Sproul had been grappling with how to write a dialog when the speakers are using “non-Sunday School” words.  Conroy expressed his own frustration that church folks had with his books.
  3. As Conroy would say, people cuss and do violent things.  His writings are realistic.

Churchill, Roosevelt, and Company by Lewis E. Lehrman

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Churchill, Roosevelt, and Company: Studies in Character and Statecraft by Lewis Lehrman is published by Stackpole Books.  A related book by Lehrman and published by Stackpole is titled Lincoln and Churchill: Statesmen at War.   I hope to get it read and reviewed in due time.

The world during the 1930s and 40s was dominated by a number of men who were Titans.  That is, leaders in both political and military roles rose to the top and engaged in world-shaking and world-shaping events.  There were good guys and bad guys.  There were unknowns who rose from obscurity to great fame. There were others who had long served, but who were able to cap their careers with great achievements.

World War II and the periods both before and after the war have permanently lodged in my mind as a time of great historical interest.  This year, 2018, I have restructured my Humanities history class so that I could give a little more teaching focus to the 20th century.  I have often bemoaned the experience of getting to the 1930s and beyond in late April or in May when the school year is winding down.

Chief among my interests is the life and career of Winston Churchill.  My rows and stacks of books on him continue to grow, but my interest is not in the least diminished.  Franklin D. Roosevelt is also a prime interest of mine, both for the his leadership during the Great Depression and for his role in World War II.  I am not the least concerned in the detractors who go a bit spastic over the mentioning of one or both of those men.  They were both great men with great flaws; both were inspiring leaders with limitations to their visions; both made great errors of judgment and decisions that affected the world for ages to come. I am not voting for or campaigning for either of them.  (They are, after all, no longer seeking office or even my or your approval.)

One of the fascinating features of this book is the description of their interaction and friendship.  They were truly friends, or friends as much as is possible for men separated by geography and other considerations.  Both were quirky and unorthodox in their leadership styles.  FDR was often cutting or undermining toward WC, especially as the war progressed.

How FDR ran the government is a marvel and a mystery.  He could be cunning, confusing, vague, contradictory, involved, distant, uninformed, bored, conniving, and add whatever other adjectives you wish.  Also, note that he was extremely skilled at political leadership, perhaps because of all those less than complimentary adjectives.  He was also a very limited man due to his physical disability coupled with age and health issues.  He should have stepped down from the Presidency in 1944.  But he powered on through to his last day.

Churchill was some six years older.  He seemed to derive energy from one of the most interesting health programs ever.  It consisted of staying up all night, drinking excessively, smoking cigars, talking endlessly, and traveling the world at a moment’s notice.  He outlived most of the other leaders of World War II by several decades.  When he would visit FDR at the White House or other locations, FDR’s aides would work to make sure that their man did not stay up too late. No one ever tried to make WC go to bed.

Besides these two men, this book, there were a host of men who worked for either or both FDR and WC and who played significant, although sometimes less noticed roles, in the decisions, communications, and processes during the war.  Most of these men were familiar names to me, but I had only read about them in conjunction with reading about the two leaders.  Some are big names themselves, such as Generals Marshall and Eisenhower.  Some are people who have less than stellar reputations such as Joseph Kennedy (father of the Kennedy boys) who wrote off Britain’s chances against Hitler and who really wanted the Democratic nomination in 1940.  Perhaps a little more attention was given to Harry Dexter White than warranted, but I moved from being vaguely aware that he was a Soviet agent to being a bona fide hater of that man’s perfidy.  (Embracing Communism in the 1940s?  Really?)

Perhaps the most amazing figure in this book, besides the two main leaders, was Harry Hopkins.  Like him or not, know him or not, he literally worked himself to death for FDR and for the coalition.  Perhaps he is usually just ranked as a ardent New Dealer, FDR aide, and one time Secretary of Commerce, but he was largely the conduit of connections between FDR, Churchill, and many others, including Stalin.  How such a sick man traveled, worked, communicated, and overworked is beyond me.  Anyone who thinks that political opportunists are just in it for the money and prestige cannot account for such men as Harry Hopkins.

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When you read of the leaders of World War II and see the pictures features them, take notice of those many other men who are behind the scenes, mentioned often, and seemingly present at many events.  This book really highlights their roles.

I highly recommend this book for those of you who love history, historical figures, and World War II from the political and planning angles.  Fine reading, to be sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books About Books and Authors

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The reading habit has reached a dangerous stage when the reader begins stacking up and reading books about books, books about reading, and books about authors. At that stage, there is no real help or hope for the reader.  There is only the certainty that the books regarding books will lead to yet more books, including more books about the books.

Needless to say, I have sought, solicited, begged for, stayed awake at night crying for, and offering to pay for help.  No use.  Books lead to books.  Books lead to books about books.  Books about books lead to more books and books about books.

Here are some recent (and a not so recent) stack of books regarding books, reading, and authors.

Paperback You Must Read : Books That Have Shaped Our Lives Book

You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives is published by Banner of Truth.  This book is a collection of chapters about the writings of Iain Murray.  Prominent pastors and theologians discuss how Murray’s different books have impacted their lives and ministries.  I love Iain Murray’s biographies and other works.  I resolved to enter the ministry after I read the second volume of his biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones many years ago. (I was staying home from school and was sick: I remember it as one of the best days of my life.)

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On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior is published by Baker Books.

This book really looks good.  I have not started it yet, but I am really looking forward to it.  The chapters focus on particular virtues as found in great classics.  Chapters focus on such works as  The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens,  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain,  Silence by Shusaku Endo, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan,  and  Persuasion by Jane Austen.

BUY THIS ONE FROM Heart and Mind Books.

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I first read 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff some years ago.  I had previously watched the slow, but enjoyable movie version.  It is charted for another reading soon.

Library Binding Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Book

Several times in past years, I looked at the book titled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  Yet I didn’t buy it.  Then a friend, Myra Francis Johnston, told me about the movie.  So, one night we watched the movie, and I was in love with the story.  The book is now on my “must read when I want a purely enjoyable book” stack.

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I will soon, Lord willing, be writing a review of Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, edited by  Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt.  It is published by the University of Georgia Press.

My initial response is that this book makes me sad.  It makes me sad because I never met Pat Conroy, only started reading his books a few years back, and never wrote him a letter.  Along with whatever literary gifts he had, he was gregarious, outgoing, fun to be around, and incredibly helpful to aspiring authors.  He was also dedicated to his fans.  Conroy was a man with many fine qualities that we don’t always find in literary folk.

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I am well into reading How to be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue by Joshua Gibbs.  It is published by Circe Institute.

This book is such a delight.  It is really an extended commentary and personal testimony to the transforming effects of literature.  But the particular work that Gibbs is examining is The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.  In high school, college, graduate school, and the first twenty years of teaching, I did not read The Consolation of Philosophy, nor was I familiar with the book.  (Just admitting all that I never read in the first 40 years is near criminal.)

Then one year, Matthew Smallwood gave a couple of talks on the book to my Humanities class.  I still didn’t read it.  Then about 6 years ago, my Humanities class and I read the book together.  I thought it was quite good.  Two years ago, I read it again with another Humanities class.  But now, sitting at the feet of Mr. Gibbs, I am filled with repentance and sorrow for not having a deep enough experience with Boethius.

GET THIS BOOK from the Circe Institute and get a copy of Boethius and get to reading.

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I am overwhelmingly jealous of my daughter TaraJane who is taking a class from Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson, author of Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky.  As a consolation prize, I got to meet Dr. Wilson, and she autographed my copy of her book.  Dr. Wilson studied under Dr. Louise Cowan, who was the greatest literature teacher in America.

And, this book is about two of my favorite authors–Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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A friend sent me a copy of I’d Rather Be Reading: the Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel.  It is hard to imagine a book being more fun and encouraging than this one.  This read was a total dessert experience.

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As soon as I finish the tribute book to Pat Conroy, I will begin reading some of his books that I never got to.  Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life was published posthumously in 2016 shortly after Conroy’s death.  Marked down and located in the bargain section of our local Books-A-Million, I was quite glad to find this book.  A few years back, I read his other book of essays called My Reading Life.  In fact, the copy I have of that book is autographed.  That is the closest I ever got to Conroy, but I still have the words the wrote.

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Atheism On Trial by Louis Markos

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Atheism On Trial, written by Louis Markos, is published by Harvest House Publishers.  It came out this year–2018.

Louis Markos is a delightfully deceptive man.  On the one hand, he is lively–as in bouncing off the walls, full of energy, laughing and talking non-stop in his lectures.  He loves Lewis and Tolkien; he loves literature; he loves talking about his love of Lewis, Tolkien, and literature.  As such, he is God’s gift of an energy burst to an often weary Christian community.  I could never have trouble staying awake when he is talking.

On the other hand, he is a deeply read and careful scholar.  Yes, he can take you on a running tour of Narnia and Middle Earth, but he can also discuss the ancient Greeks, modern skeptics, and post-modern philosophers. Over the past several years, I have had an increasing appreciation for Markos’ work after having read his books, listened to him lecture, and met him in person.

Atheism, as a belief system and what is even a religious belief system, has had a pretty favorable run over the past few years.  When I was in school as a student, the premier American atheist spokesperson was Madalyn Murray O’Hair.  She was quite an obnoxious figure and a loud mouth that was an easy target for many.  Her legal battles yielded some fruit such as getting prayer out of the public schools.  As far as presenting a real threat to religious belief, whether merely believing in a Deity or believing in Christianity, O’Hair was fluff.  I sure there were better representatives of the cause of atheism.  Also, that was an age where Communism was a real fear, and atheism is a bedrock doctrine for true followers of Marx.

In recent years, several key figures have emerged as the public intellectual atheists for our time.  The late Christopher Hitchens was one of the best.  Cynical, droll, witty, and unswerving, he was a strong force.  On many occasions he locked horns with Christian theists and was the type of man who elicited admiration even from those who did not agree with him.  On the front lines more often has been Richard Dawkins.  Along with Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, these men have been able to “make atheism a household word” (page 11).

While it is probably a little more easy to embrace atheism in our day, I don’t find it a force to either fear or to confront very often.  All my life–living in the rural Southern Bible Belt–I have been surrounded by plenty of people who have had weird views of God, unbiblical notions of God, inconsistent views of God, heretical views of God, and unclear views of God.  But I am not sure I could name five people who I actually and personally know who are atheists.  Of course, along with living in the Bible Belt, I have worked in a Christian school for more than two decades and served as a pastor and church leader that long as well.  In other words, I am far from the madding crowd.

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I figure that I am about as likely to confront a grizzly bear as an atheist.  In one case, I would run as fast as I could, but in the other would like just stand and stare in puzzlement.  Part of my problem is best explained by G. K. Chesterton.  In his delightful book Orthodoxy, he wrote,

“It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it.  But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it.”

So, I do not believe in God because of the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, the argument from design, or any other traditional defense of theism.  While not convinced by any of them, I feel quite confirmed by all of them.  I also find Cornelius Van Til’s transcendental argument compelling.  I think Greg Bahnsen’s use of that argument in the famous Bahnsen-Stein debate was a work of art.  I am strengthened and blessed by Gordon Clark’s foundational premise that the Bible is the Word of God and find that to be a sufficient and convincing case.  I find pragmatic arguments convincing.  I find Pascal’s Wager acceptable. I find God with my limited use of rational faculties; I find God with all empirical evidence; I think logic proves God; I think history proves God.  I think I was convinced of God’s existence from the earliest days of my life.  The fact that my environment produced my beliefs presents no concern for me.

Obviously, the way I think and who I am and how I came to be who I am is different than the experiences of others.  And I do believe it is important for Christians to be well armed, grounded, briefed, and trained to understand atheism.

Despite the many new and somewhat formidable spokespersons (what a clunky word) for atheism, it is not the new kid on the block.  Also, there are not conditions–scientific or evolutionary or intellectual–that explain why atheism is more adequate an explanation for reality today than it would have been in the past.

This is the primary strength of Markos’ Atheism on Trial.  Dr. Markos devotes the bulk of the book to going after the long tradition of arguments and proponents of atheists.  He starts where all debates within Western Civilization start–with the Greeks and the Romans.  If anyone thinks that all ancient folk believed in gods or God or mystical forces, they have not read the homework.  All through the centuries there have been some hombres who have dug in against theism, miracles, absolute truths, the universe having a beginning, and other points of contention.

If I were to make one major change to the cover of the book, it would be to have and highlight the words from Ecclesiastes:  “There is nothing new under the sun.”  But while the arguments against Theism are not new, there is always the need for us to either know the rebuttals or know where to find them.

Recommended Titles by Louis Markos:

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Saving Truth by Abdu Murray

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I received and read a review copy of Saving Truth by Abdu Murray back in the summer (2018).  Saving Truth is published by Zondervan.  The website for Mr. Murray and this book can be found here.  Murray is the North American Director with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  A lawyer by profession, he also teaches and lectures on apologetics and Christian thought.

After reading the book in the summer, I neglected to get a review written of it.  I will blame it on the adventures of the past summer, including vacation trips to…well, actually, we had no vacation trips and I spent most of the summer at home or at work.  So, not getting a review done was no one’s fault but my own. But, in recent weeks the issue of truth came up with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the need to revisit this book came up.  So I read it a second time.

Truth is a simple concept.  In an unfallen world, it would be the guiding, the only, the unfailing mechanism that got things done.  But in a fallen world, not only do what know what the truth is in many cases, but we have great battles of what “Truth” is.  For that reason, Francis Schaeffer used the catchy term “true truth” in his day.  Fake news, skepticism about truth, redefining truth, distorting truth, and denying truth are all ongoing battles in this world.  Granted, on many issues and many situations, one can despair of knowing what the truth really is.  (Do you know why the Crimean War was really fought?)

Murray is a cultural apologete for Christianity. Apparently, he lectures, debates, and discusses the Christian faith and Christian-centered issues on college campuses and in various forums, often including many varieties of non-Christian presenters.  His first concern in this book is to awaken Christians to the dangerous concept of “post-truth.”  We have experienced cases where agendas and beliefs have trumped any quest for truth.  This becomes front and center in political debates.  In fact, one Senator suggested that Judge Kavanaugh be dropped as a candidate for the SCOTUS simply because of allegations.  Another senator whose career was advanced by a false narrative of military service vehemently attacked the judge for not being truthful.

What has happened in our day is that the whole world has become a political campaign.  Or better, the whole world seems to be under the guidance of the WWE–World Wrestling Entertainment.  No need to think that college campuses are places where concerned teachers and students are in a search for the truth either.  Truth has and is being pushed the way of the old rotary telephones.  Truth then becomes a nice exhibit in a museum, a reminder of a more simplistic and maybe naïve past.

Needless to say, Christianity has lots of stock invested in the concept of truth.  If truth cannot be known, can not be certain, can not be attained, or does not really exist, the whole fabric of the Faith is ripped to shreds.  After all, Jesus declared Himself to be the Truth.  From beginning to end, the Bible claims what men like Gordon Clark, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, R, J. Rushdoony, and others have affirmed:  In it, God has spoken and the Bible is true.

The need of our age and the bulk of this book is toward “clarity in a post-truth world,” as the subtitle indicates. The areas that Murray seeks to bring clarity to are freedom, human dignity, sexuality (and gender and identity), science and faith, and religious pluralism.  In many of these areas, Christians can often be harsh in giving answers and/or not know what answers to give.  This book is instructive in reminding them of basic Gospel truths and Christian civility.  But the contents would also address the unbeliever who might be willing to listen to or, more obviously, read this book.

Christianity has answers. A Biblical worldview provides a way of searching out and dealing with life questions, whether they be in the philosophical realm or in deeply personal areas.  One part of this book I particularly appreciated was Murray’s discussion of sexuality and gender.  I confess that my more instinctive approach to the LGBT people and gender confused people is one of crying, “Repent.”  Granted, the Christian message is one of repentance, but it also involves lots of listening and understanding.  Jesus addressed all manner of people and did so perfectly.  But I need the wisdom and insights of people who have themselves experienced Christ’s changing power over sins and life patterns alien to my own.

In his own life experiences, Murray was raised Muslim and embraced that religion.  Conversion to Christ was not a quick or overnight matter, but involved a period of nine years.  Along with people who are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other religions, many people hold to varying forms of spirituality or materialism or hodge-podge religious beliefs.  Again, Murray provides calm and clear counsel (both for the believing and non-believing reader) that points the way to Christ.

We live in difficult times.  I could have written those same words at any point in any century.  Christians can sometimes be as much of the problem as the solution.  Murray cites a case where Christian folk helped make a fear go viral that concerned the Bible being outlawed after the Obergefell court ruling.  The basis in fact was a case brought to a Michigan court some years before Obergefell that was thrown out.  But Christians were quick to “like and share” the news of this looming threat.  Christians can lack understanding of the struggles people go through whose religions are different, whose sexual struggles are different, and whose science-related presuppositions are different.  Battering rams are not the preferred Gospel method, however.

Along with reading this book, it is profitable to read Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key.  I will soon be reviewing Louis Markos’ Atheism on Trial.  Many other books addressing science, gender issues, religious plurality, and other battleground topics could be added to the list.  We are blessed with having so many who are gifted and apt at engaging the culture with Christian answers.  Saving Truth is well worthy of a spot on the reading list and bookshelf to be read and consulted for help and encouragement in these matters.

 

In Defense of Theology by Gordon Clark

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Gordon Clark was a man at peace with waging war for lost causes.  It was not due to a myopic understanding of reality.  Nor was it a penchant for picking the losing side of cultural tides.  And it was certainly not from a desire to simply get beaten up.  Clark was heavily grounded in a truth that was not in vogue, not avant garde, not popular, and not accepted in his time.  Fundamentally, Clark believed that “God has spoken.  More completely, God has spoken in the Bible.  More precisely, what the Bible says, God has spoken.”  Professionally, he was a philosophy teacher.  Because of his particular philosophical premises and approaches, he was also a theologian.  People in both groups chafed against his views, but for Clark, theology was, as is often said, “the queen of the sciences and philosophy was her handmaid.”

His brand of theology was that formulated by Protestants, particularly those who followed in Calvin’s stead, and more particularly, the theology inscribed in the Westminster Standards.  His philosophy was rooted in the same sources.  For such reasons, he has been called “The Presbyterian Philosopher.”  That, of course, is the title of Douglas Douma’s definitive biography of Clark.  In terms of his life, Clark spent his days at his desk writing, in classrooms lecturing, and in Christian circles discussing, defending, and debating theological and philosophical issues.  A family man, he enjoyed time with his wife and two daughters, playing chess, and painting (which he worked on but never became proficient at doing).

Most Christians today are unfamiliar with Clark.  Most Christian bookstores do not carry his books. Many pastors are unfamiliar with his work.  Yet, when R. C. Sproul was asked what theologian of our time would be read in 500 years, he answered, “Gordon Clark.”  The fact that his books are not the most popular, most read, and most often quoted says more about problems of our times than it does about the man himself.

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In our theology class at Veritas Academy, we recently read Clark’s short book In Defense of Theology together.  I know that this was a challenge to the students because, even after having read it few years prior to this year, it was a challenge to me.  Clark was a precise and clear thinker, but not one who could write on a popular level.  His writings take some work, but with some persistence and a few helps, reading Gordon Clark can be quite rewarding.

Clark’s main contention in the book is that theology is something all Christians should both respect and learn from.  While he devotes portions of the book to answering atheists and Neo-Orthodox people, he returns frequently to his primary audience.  He wants regular Christians to read the Bible with some theological skills.  While he was an intellectual and an academic, his goal was edification of the believer and not simply the accumulation of knowledge.  Clark affirms, “Scripture tells us about God; therefore, we should study it.”  This will entail learning verses relating to a particular topic.  While memorization is good, it is also necessary to mentally bring the verses together to make a whole or more complete thought on the topic.  Here again, the message is that theology is essential.

Much of the Bible is given in historical narratives.  Other parts consists of laws or poetry, which is sometimes called wisdom literature.  Theology takes place when the reader “connects simple historical events with their theological significance.”  One might think of the progression of rulers and prophets in such books as First and Second Kings.  On the one hand, such stories are full of interesting figures and ups and downs of Judah and Israel, both politically and morally.  Theologically, however, the events pertain to God’s covenant with Israel, the promise of a Messiah to come, the keeping of God’s law, and the providence of God. So, a person can read the Bible while professing to steer clear of theology, but to understand the Bible, to see it as a whole, theology is necessary.

While Clark is concerned about the average man in the pew who may not think theology is necessary, he also sees the need to address those opposed to theology on other grounds.  In our day, there have been several public figures who have attained status as our public atheists.  This is a far cry from the day when the late Madelyn Murray O’Hara was the key spokes-person (loud mouth) for the cause.  Clark died before the current figures were prominent, but the arguments against atheism are pretty much the same old recipes.  Of more concern to Clark were the Neo-Orthodox and, in particular, Karl Barth.  The German Barth had a major impact on lots of evangelicals in the United States.  The Barthian tidal wave was slow in coming due to the necessity of translating his work from German to English.  (On might think further translation was still needed from English to comprehensible English.)  Along with Cornelius Van Til, Clark was incensed by the pattern of Neo-Orthodox theologians undermining the language and meaning of theology and undercutting the authority of the Bible.  (For more on this, see Douglas Douma’s essay found HERE.

A key chapter in A Defense of Theology concerns logic.  Clark not only wrote a book on logic, but he was driven by the topic.  In short, he believed that God is logical, God’s Word upholds logic, and that logic can be used to unlock or defend Scriptural doctrines. In a discussion of logic, Clark shows how logic undergirds key passages from the Bible.  He is convincing in making the case that Christians should be able to use skills honed in logic to work through the Scriptures.

Gordon Clark was not a popularizer or an easy author to read. He lived and battled in a time when Reformed theology was relegated to the sidelines or consigned to the dustbin of history.  I doubt that his books ever sold in large numbers, but he plugged away, writing, teaching, and adhering dogmatically to the truths that sparked the Reformation and that are founded on the Bible.  Trends come and go.  They did before, during, and after the time of Gordon Clark.  He didn’t budge.  He was steadfast and unyielding.  Perhaps he could have soften a few edges, and in our time, that might be advisable in our times.  But God raised him up in a different era.  Nevertheless, the books remain ready and waiting for us to read and use in our times, in our circumstances.

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