December’s Reading Marathon

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2022 was one of the most difficult years of my life. I will not rehash my near death experiences in the hospital, nor the other myriad of setbacks and troubles. But God blessed me in many ways, one of which was being able to read lots of books. 101 in their entirety, and being able to get a few book reviews completed.

This is a brief summary of the books finished in December of this year. I finished more books in December than in any of the other 12 months, plus the readings were, in many cases, quite substantial. Part of this was because several of the books had been started in prior months.

Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1, by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. This was the longest book I read in 2022, topping out at over 1100 pages. I already have volume 2 and hope to acquire volume 3 in the future.

This is a very basic, obviously detailed, Scriptural, Reformed, and readable theological tome. The authors have laden the book with an abundance of fine quote and references to the key theological thinkers of all ages. Read it, use it, teach it. And weight lift with it.

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Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Nicholas A. Basbanes was one of the most satisfying books I read this past year. Longfellow has been way too often disregarded and dismissed as a poet and literary figure. His demise in stature says more about and against the modern age and tastes than it does about his considerable talents.

And he was a genuinely good, decent, and honorable man. His life suffered several terrible tragedies, yet he never turned to despair or cynicism.

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Robert E. Lee: A Life by Allen Guelzo is published by Knopf.

Guelzo, one of America’s leading historians, has written a book on a profound, sometime puzzling, but great man. The story of Lee’s life and travails is always inspiring. There is much, as in MUCH, that I disagree with Guelzo in regard to his attempts to understand the man and the cause. But the writing style and the subject’s story are well worth reading about.

I am reckoning that I have read at least a half dozen biographies of General Lee prior to this one.

Progressivism

Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame University Press.

This book will not have a wide popular appeal. But for students of American history and political thought, this is a very important study. It deals with history and how history has been taught and interpreted. If you grew up anywhere close to the time I did (born in the mid-1950s), your exposure to American history was generally through the lenses of the Progressives.

Don’t step into a classroom to teach American history without a serious reading of this book.

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Discovering Isaiah: Content, Interpretation, Reception by Andrew T. Abernethy is published by Eerdmans.

The book of Isaiah is full of rich and often quoted passages. As the Advent and Christmas seasons have ended, we have all heard some of them quoted, and during the Easter season, we will hear more of them. But the book, due to its length and some of the complexities, is often not read enough.

This is not a commentary or a guide to help your devotional reading of Isaiah, but a big picture of some of the themes and issues in the book. After reading this one, I began another of Abernethy’s studies on Isaiah, titled The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom, which is published by Inter Varsity Press.

Dr. Abernethy is currently teaching Isaiah to a blessed group at Wheaton College. I am longing for the day when he publishes a commentary on this great prophet.

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Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945 by Steve Anderson is, I think, the first of several novels the author wrote about the Kaspar Brothers.

The novel deals with graft and crime that was being perpetrated by the occupying American army after Germany was defeated. While I was not overly attracted to the novel per se, I was made aware of a problem that really existed after the war. One would wish that Americans were always virtuous, and one is thankful that America defeated the Nazis, but the evil in the heart takes many forms.

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I fear I probably tire some people out with my almost yearly praises and comments about The Good Shepherd by Gunnar Gunnarson. Reading yet again this year, I was once again deeply moved by the sheer beauty of the story. I wish I could get this book reprinted and write an introduction to it.

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Politics of Guilt and Pity by R, J. Rushdoony covers a wide range of topics with a political and theological blend,. Published in 1970, much of Rushdoony’s research and concerns date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. So parts of this book and some of the issues it covers are dated.

And yet, this book contains some of the best political thought I have ever read. This may have been the last major Rushdoony book that was published before his monumental Institutes of Biblical Law. But somewhere in the 1970s, Rushdoony’s ideas were swept away under a barrage of attacks against theonomy and Christian Reconstruction. The labeling, sequestering, and isolating of Rushdoony’s thought became the practice in all too many Reformed circles.

This book still speaks to our times. Read Rushdoony.

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My efforts to teach Augustine’s Confessions failed. My group was too young in some cases to understand the book. And the students had at least 4 or 5 different versions and translations of the book. Augustine’s quest for God, his conversion, doesn’t translate well into the modern evangelical experience. I really think the book should not read by junior high students. Or maybe I just need another run at it.

When you teach a classic and it flops, blame yourself. I do.

cover image of Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached at Princeton Seminary by Geerhardus Vos is published by Banner of Truth.

This is an incredibly rich collection of sermons. I wonder how anyone could have listened to just one of these messages and absorbed even a tenth of what Vos had to say.

Vos is highly ranked among theologians and often acclaimed as the Father of Biblical Theology. Being Dutch, he was able to write in English, but he was not always an easy read. Occasionally, he has a sentence in one of these sermons that is a bit awkward. But these are not snappy little devotional reads. This is theology in all its beauty and a vision of God in all of the grandeur man is capable of packing into a message.

Well, worth reading. Well worth reading several times.

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December’s Yuge Race to the Finish Line

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2022 was one of the most difficult years of my life. I will not rehash my near death experiences in the hospital, nor the other myriad of setbacks and troubles. But God blessed me in many ways, one of which was being able to read lots of books. 101 in their entirety, and being able to get a few book reviews completed.

This is a brief summary of the books finished in December of this year. I finished more books in December than in any of the other 12 months, plus the readings were, in many cases, quite substantial. Part of this was because several of the books had been started in prior months.

Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1, by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. This was the longest book I read in 2022, topping out at over 1100 pages. I already have volume 2 and hope to acquire volume 3 in the future.

This is a very basic, obviously detailed, Scriptural, Reformed, and readable theological tome. The authors have laden the book with an abundance of fine quote and references to the key theological thinkers of all ages. Read it, use it, teach it. And weight lift with it.

See the source image

Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Nicholas A. Basbanes was one of the most satisfying books I read this past year. Longfellow has been way too often disregarded and dismissed as a poet and literary figure. His demise in stature says more about and against the modern age and tastes than it does about his considerable talents.

And he was a genuinely good, decent, and honorable man. His life suffered several terrible tragedies, yet he never turned to despair or cynicism.

Robert E. Lee: A Life by Allen Guelzo is published by Knopf.

Guelzo, one of America’s leading historians, has written a book on a profound, sometime puzzling, but great man. The story of Lee’s life and travails is always inspiring. There is much, as in MUCH, that I disagree with Guelzo in regard to his attempts to understand the man and the cause. But the writing style and the subject’s story are well worth reading about.

I am reckoning that I have read at least a half dozen biographies of General Lee prior to this one.

Progressivism

Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame University Press.

This book will not have a wide popular appeal. But for students of American history and political thought, this is a very important study. It deals with history and how history has been taught and interpreted. If you grew up anywhere close to the time I did (born in the mid-1950s), your exposure to American history was generally through the lenses of the Progressives.

Don’t step into a classroom to teach American history without a serious reading of this book.

Discovering Isaiah: Content, Interpretation, Reception by Andrew T. Abernethy is published by Eerdmans.

The book of Isaiah is full of rich and often quoted passages. As the Advent and Christmas seasons have ended, we have all heard some of them quoted, and during the Easter season, we will hear more of them. But the book, due to its length and some of the complexities, is often not read enough.

This is not a commentary or a guide to help your devotional reading of Isaiah, but a big picture of some of the themes and issues in the book. After reading this one, I began another of Abernethy’s studies on Isaiah, titled The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom, which is published by Inter Varsity Press.

Dr. Abernethy is currently teaching Isaiah to a blessed group at Wheaton College. I am longing for the day when he publishes a commentary on this great prophet.

Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945 by Steve Anderson is, I think, the first of several novels the author wrote about the Kaspar Brothers.

The novel deals with graft and crime that was being perpetrated by the occupying American army after Germany was defeated. While I was not overly attracted to the novel per se, I was made aware of a problem that really existed after the war. One would wish that Americans were always virtuous, and one is thankful that America defeated the Nazis, but the evil in the heart takes many forms.

See the source image

I fear I probably tire some people out with my almost yearly praises and comments about The Good Shepherd by Gunnar Gunnarson. Reading yet again this year, I was once again deeply moved by the sheer beauty of the story. I wish I could get this book reprinted and write an introduction to it.

See the source image

Politics of Guilt and Pity by R, J. Rushdoony covers a wide range of topics with a political and theological blend,. Published in 1970, much of Rushdoony’s research and concerns date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. So parts of this book and some of the issues it covers are dated.

And yet, this book contains some of the best political thought I have ever read. This may have been the last major Rushdoony book that was published before his monumental Institutes of Biblical Law. But somewhere in the 1970s, Rushdoony’s ideas were swept away under a barrage of attacks against theonomy and Christian Reconstruction. The labeling, sequestering, and isolating of Rushdoony’s thought became the practice in all too many Reformed circles.

This book still speaks to our times. Read Rushdoony.

My efforts to teach Augustine’s Confessions failed. My group was too young in some cases to understand the book. And the students had at least 4 or 5 different versions and translations of the book. Augustine’s quest for God, his conversion, doesn’t translate well into the modern evangelical experience. I really think the book should not read by junior high students. Or maybe I just need another run at it.

When you teach a classic and it flops, blame yourself. I do.

cover image of Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached at Princeton Seminary by Geerhardus Vos is published by Banner of Truth.

This is an incredibly rich collection of sermons. I wonder how anyone could have listened to just one of these messages and absorbed even a tenth of what Vos had to say.

Vos is highly ranked among theologians and often acclaimed as the Father of Biblical Theology. Being Dutch, he was able to write in English, but he was not always an easy read. Occasionally, he has a sentence in one of these sermons that is a bit awkward. But these are not snappy little devotional reads. This is theology in all its beauty and a vision of God in all of the grandeur man is capable of packing into a message.

Well, worth reading. Well worth reading several times.

Through Many Dangers–Faith Under Fire

Through Many Dangers

Through Many Dangers, Book 1 and Through Many Dangers, Book 2 by P. M. Kuiper, illustrated by Paula Barone are published by Reformed Free Publishing Association.

I have read at least 20 novels over the course of my years that are set in and are about the War Between the States, which I will call the Civil War so to not rile my friends who live in the northern wastelands. These novels include classics like The Red Blood of Courage by Stephen Crane, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and my favorite, The Unvanquished by William Faulkner. I have also read quite a few more recent and often less known Civil War novels, such as Fallen Land by Taylor Brown, who is a very gifted current day novelist, and The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks.

Add on to those twenty novels, some of which have been read several times, some 100 plus histories and biographies from the War. I reached a saturation point where I began dreading teaching on the Civil War because I simply could not get through it all. I could easily teach a year-long course and barely have Lee’s army past Second Manassas.

I was quite willing, therefore, when asked to read these two volumes by P. M. Kuiper. This work, because it is really just one story separated into two volumes, is Mr. Kuiper’s first venture into getting a novel published. Now understand, I had a bit of reluctance because the characters in the story are fighting on the Union side. And first novels by previously unpublished writers can sometimes be less that Faulkner-like. (That is an impossibly high bar to set, I know.) Finally, Kuiper’s son-in-law, Marco Barone, is a friend who I admire greatly. The illustrator, Paula Barone, is Marco’s wife and P. M. Kuiper’s daughter. Although Marco wrote a scholarly book titled Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross, I reckon that he has not confined his life and energies to sitting in a library. Meaning, Marco might travel south just to punch me out if I offered a scathing review.

Here is what has happened since I received the books: I came home from the dental surgeon’s office recently after having two back teeth pulled. I laid down on the couch and picked up volume one. It was the perfect book for that day and occasion. I don’t mean that you should only get this book as a medicinal help after dental work. What I do mean is that the book was easy, enjoyable, relaxing, but also spiritually encouraging.

The Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. The story here picks up in August of 1862 with each chapter title bearing a date (month and year) of the war. It is somewhat like a diary in that manner. The characters in the story are from Holland, Michigan and are all part of a close-knit Dutch community. The main character, through whom the story is told, is named Harm van Wyke, a farm boy in his late teens. Most of the other key characters are his buddies from his home town and church.

Here I will digress to say that this story is a beautiful account of the Dutch experience in America. I grew up in the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic South and knew nothing of this from my own upbringing or education. But as I studied Calvinism as theology and as a historical experience in America, I was exposed more and more to the Dutch folk. Of course, some, like Cornelius Van Til and Louis Berkhof, are key figures in Reformed theology.

Some years ago, I did a series of talks in Virginia called “Calvinist Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years” and a related series in Alaska called “Spheres of Reformation,” both of which covered some of the Dutch theologians and philosophical thinkers. Those studies, along with a few friends I acquired with Dutch backgrounds, made me aware of a counter-cultural group within America that strove really hard to maintain Christian community.

While the Dutch experience is interesting for students of history and sociology, it has a greater importance. Long before Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option became a fad or a point of discussion, there were communities already seeking to live out the Christian life and ideals without surrendering the world to the Devil.

Along with the Dutchness of the story, there is the recurring theme of the “Band of Brothers,” made famous in our own times by the book by historian Stephen Ambrose and the film series. Wartime life creates bonds unlike those of perhaps any other human experience. The shared lives, horrors, loves, deaths, fears, joys, and communal living bond men together in ways that we civilian folks cannot understand. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque is just such a story.

Remarque’s book is not one to read for pure pleasure, for it is quite frank and brutal. (And I love that book.) Through Many Dangers is a much better choice for younger readers and for anyone wanting to create an interest in Civil War history or supplement the historical studies.

The boys in the book grow into manhood through a series of trials, temptations, dangers, and moral dilemmas. These guys do not all come out clean. Living among soldiers gave plenty of opportunity to drink, gamble, and womanize. Soldiers curse–a lot. Kuiper spares us the words and details. Anyone who has experienced work crews, sports teams, and almost every facet of non-Christian community knows that foul language is the lingua franca of our times.

There were real dilemmas as well. Soldiers were not always fed and provisioned as they should have been. Foraging was used, commanded, and necessary to feed the armies. Try as an army might, and most didn’t really try, buying and paying for the stored foods and livestock of nearby farms was not going to happen. Soldiers took what was needed, or they starved.

As expected, soldiering involves shooting with the intent to kill. Christians have long agonized and debated on the proper circumstances where this can occur. For the Christian who takes up arms, the matter is no longer under debate. To the surprise of the young Michigan boys, Southern soldiers were also young fellows. Also, to their surprise, their Southern enemies were often brothers in Christ.

Joys in wartime often included letters from home. Harm has a girl that he is sweet on, and their friendship grows through letters. Typical of most soldiers, the most terrible parts of warfare were excluded from the letters, lest the homefolk become too distraught. But deaths could not be hidden.

I could go on with more observations from these books. I read them quickly, not because I was feeling pressure to get reviews written, but because I was caught up in the stories. I would love to teach Through Many Dangers to a class in American history and parallel the events in the story to the battles mentioned. And I would also have the students read my all-time favorite soldier memoir, Company Aytch by Sam Watkins, to get a real soldier’s perspective and a bit of Southern flavor.

I hope Mr. Kuiper lends his hand to writing another novel or two. This was a great beginning. I don’t think any of you who read these two books will be disappointed.

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Blessings of the Faith–Great New Series from P&R

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Theology is a deep and far ranging subject. It has often been called “the Queen of the Sciences,” which is an allusion to the power of the queen as a chess piece. Studying theology can take you into the depths of religious studies, philosophy, history, literary classics, and, hopefully most of all, the Bible.

My heavy laden shelves sag from the great theological books I have acquired through the years. My face blushes when I realize how little use and application I have made of such a great treasure. Nevertheless, I can still hope that I–or someone else–will glean from some of the books, gather huge harvests from some, and provide food for the minds and souls from these books.

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To change the metaphors, diving into theology can be a challenge. But we can all go and enjoy a day at the beach. By that, I mean that this is not a subject only for the highly learned, the academically trained, and the ponderous reader and thinker. Theology is the study of God and everything that pertains to God. Every subject is theological and everyone’s a theologian, as R. C. Sproul’s book reminds us.

I am soon to be finishing a six month venture into reading Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1 by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, which is the first of four projected volumes and is itself over 1100 pages long. I have the second volume and am hoping soon to add the third to the shelves.

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I also have, waiting anxiously, a wonderful copy of W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, which is available in a hefty one volume edition from P & R Publishing. Shedd was one of the stalwart Presbyterian men of the past century whose theology has survived the theological tumults of those times.

Dogmatic Theology, Third Edition

I could go on and on about the weighty, challenging, often affirming, sometimes conflicting works of theologians past and present. Much can be commended by the theological body builders who are dead lifting Turretin, the Puritans, and Thomas Aquinas. Yet there is a need for the gentle cardio exercises as well. Something needs to be said, some commendations need to be made, and some attention needs to be drawn to the short, easily read works of theology.

P & R Publishing has one such series that currently consists of three books that fit the description above. The series is called Blessings of the Faith. I like that title, because people are sometimes a bit intimidated by titles such as Theology of the Faith, Doctrinal Studies of the Faith, and so on. But who can object to blessings?

To add to delight of this series, the books are bound in attractive hardcovers. While hardback prices are often high, these books are quite affordable. In fact, quite a few Christian book dealers have discounts up to fifty percent off. With Christmas just days away, you might need to stop reading my blog and make some orders right now.

Covenantal Baptism

The first book I read from the series is Covenantal Baptism by Jason Helopoulus. In the interest of fairness, the perspective is Reformed, Presbyterian, and paedobaptist. Baptism is controversial, and as strongly paedobaptistic as I am, I don’t recommend slapping your credobaptist friends in the face with this book. I am in the awkward situation of being a Presbyterian who is a member of a church that has Reformed elements mixed with Baptist theology.

This book is not designed to be a Sherman tank for destroying credo-baptist convictions. Contact me if you desire to deal with such weaponry. This book, instead, is a comforting, compelling reminder of the content, convictions, and reasons why many of us believe the way we do. I think that many young people, such as my own infantly baptized children and others who grew up Presbyterian, could really profit from this book.

I remember, with both joy and sadness, the battles I dealt with on reaching my convictions. Do I second guess my theological choices? Occasionally and slightly, but upon reading this book, I am reminded, deepened, and grounded in what I believe. There are many things from my past that I would change if I could. Embracing Covenant Theology and Baptism is not one of them.

I am all for sword sharpening, but again, that is not the gist of this book. It is a teaching tool. And it aptly reminds, convicts, and urges parents to not rest on those few minutes of the child’s past where the family stood at the front of the church and the pastor administered baptism to the baby. We parents have incredibly deep obligations to mirror, teach, lead, direct, pray for, evangelize, and nurture our covenant children.

The last portion of this book, as well as the others in the series, consists of frequently asked questions and answers. I had several moments there where I was discovering answers to questions I had not even asked yet. As with all of this volume, the tone is pastoral and instructive.

Expository Preaching

Expository Preaching is by David Strain.

My first thought about this book was that the target audience was preachers. Having suffered in both the pulpit and the pew, I was interested in reading a defense of this method of preaching. And yes, this is a good book for preachers. And I certainly don’t think it would be wrong to slip it in to a package with a gift certificate to a good restaurant to your non-expository preaching pastor.

But the congregation needs to hear, know about, and understand the nature of expository preaching as much as does the pastor. Quite simply, the issue revolves around whether preaching ought to be located in a topic from which Bible verses are then added or whether one should preach from Bible passages and let the topics emerge from the text. Surely, I have stated this simply which also means somewhat inaccurately.

The strongest defense of topical preaching is the example of Charles H. Spurgeon. I urge all pastors who can preach consistently like Spurgeon to preach topically. (In case you didn’t get the joke: Look in the mirror. Charles Spurgeon will not appear there.)

The Bible is not given as a series of quips, quotes, aphorisms, or object lessons. It is a textually layered book. It is meant to be largely used in long, understandable segments. Imagine a math class (that itself is a frightening image for me) where the teacher randomly just explains bits and pieces of mathematical processes. Imagine a Shakespeare class where varied and sundry Shakespeare quotes are tossed out there.

Why then do we ever attempt to treat the Bible as a jumble in need of a pretty bow to tie it together. Expository preaching, even as the author points out can work on topics, is crucial for the life of the church.

Persistent Prayer

Persistent Prayer is by Guy Richard.

I love it that this series which has some theological issues being discussed has not neglected prayer. I found much to convict and convince me when I read this third volume. And for the person who would not venture into books on baptism and preaching, prayer is certainly the right way to begin.

Thankfully, there are many books on prayer that are available for the Christian to read. Sadly, not one of those books is the magic bullet that will of itself transform the reader into a man or woman of prayer. But prayer is a blessing, a gift, a privilege. Prayer is as easy as it is hard. The believer in the pew is not to run around baptizing all the babies in the nursery or go up and push the preacher aside and start giving an exposition of a passage. But he or she can pray.

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Reconfiguring American History

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Fifty years of struggling, reading, teaching, and writing about American history throws me back to the task of once again trying to refigure what has happened through the few centuries of American experiences with government and society.

I suppose that non-history students and possibly those who simply enjoy the stories history contains assume that history is history. By that I mean that they think that history is simply recitations of facts. “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and other such agreed upon factual details are the full story of history. The better histories are those that add more enjoyable details and anecdotes. The more dreaded ones are mere dates and dead people, to use Stephen Mansfield’s title phrase.

Even I thought of history this way when I first began my college studies. I wanted to know more facts. I wanted the little side-notes and stories, the funny or sad incidents, and some degree of mental chronology so that I could keep kings, popes, and presidents straight in my mind.

There is nothing wrong with an approach to history that results in lots of joy and curiosity in reading, watching, and learning. The history documentary that results in the watcher then reading a book and later going to a historical site is a boon to the profession and a benefit to the watcher, reader, attender. Biographies and war stories, in particular, often make for great reading. They are admittedly a higher form of entertainment than video games or Netflix dramas (which can be quite good as well).

History is built on the foundation of historiography. That is, history is not what happened in the past, but the written accounts of what happened in the past. I walked into my classroom a week ago and said, “It is cold in here,” to which one of my students said, “No it’s not.” And in that and a million other events, we can begin discovering the depths to which historical studies can reach.

I am going to briefly survey five books on American history that are on my “currently reading/soon to be reading/recently read” stack. I could easily add several dozen more to the “soon to be read” category and a few more to the “recently read” category. What all of these books have in common is that they are dealing with American history and are offering a variation on the way that history is interpreted. Interpretation and choice of angles are both essential and inescapable in historical studies.

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Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame Press.

Very rarely do standard classroom history texts announce a viewpoint of the authors in the introduction. Howard Zinn’s histories, for whatever disagreement we would have, are honestly bold on a liberal, populist approach. Paul Johnson, Wilfred McClay, and a few others make clear that they have conservative approaches to history.

Ayn Rand would often, upon meeting someone, ask, “What are your premises?” (Goddess of the Markey: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns.) We should ask that question of anyone who is presenting a history topic. But, it is somewhat superfluous for most of the histories we have had for some years in the American experience an undercurrent of the progressive doctrines.

On the one hand, one might ask, “Who can be against progress?” The term itself is almost inescapably good, with the opposite being bad. But the philosophical and political premises of Progressivism are of a different nature. Typically, the “feeling” derived from American history is as the government intervenes to correct societal ills and as the franchise and voice of the people is expanded, progress is being made. Also, progress involves a trading in of views and attitudes of the past with those of the new. So, a pastor clinging to old Calvinistic doctrines falls before the more progressive theologian who has found liberation in an amalgamation of Darwinian scientific discoveries enriched by Higher Critical theology.

This is not an easy, breezy book. After several slow and sputtering attempts, I am now into reading it. It is, primarily, about historiography and how history has been interpreted, rather than reinterpreting the events. It is a vital work for the historian. I would, at this preliminary stage, rank it alongside of Michael Douma’s The Liberal Approach to the Past as a useful and challenging study on how history is to be studied and learnt.

Update: I am now 50 pages into this book and am finding it to be really useful in understanding the Progressives and the Social Gospel and how views of the government and the Constitution changed during the Progressive Era.

Cronyism: Liberty and Power in America, 1607–1849 by Patrick Newman is published by The Mises Institute.

I was, in my college days, fortified against the more liberal and progressive ideas due to my having undergone a Calvinistic Worldview makeover during my freshman and sophomore years of college. But I never felt that subsequent history studies did enough to broaden my horizontal understanding of schools of history and historical interpretation.

At best, certain ideas are put out on the table for students to sample, but some of the outliers are not even considered. It would have been unusual, in my college years, to find the history course where the writings of R. J. Rushdoony and Gregg Singer were even noticed. And has there ever been a secular college course on colonial American history that has included a look at Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics ? And while Gary North’s historiographical adventures can be quirky, his books Policial Polytheism and Crossed Fingers deserve at least a footnote here and there. Time doesn’t permit me to delve into Christopher Dawson’s monumental works.

Among those neglected outliers was Murray Rothbard. Call him unconventional, out of the mainstream, one who marched to a different drummer, quirky, odd, weird, dogmatic, or whatever else you wish, but he was a serious and brilliant scholar. His books don’t just veer off a bit from the mainstream interpretations or edge over into conservative thought; rather, they provide a 180 degree difference in perspective.

Rothbard wrote a number of books, most of which related to the free market economics related to Ludwig Von Mises. (Not many economics departments will be highlighting Von Mises and his followers either.) But Rothbard wrote several historical studies. His main work was a four volume set called Conceived in Liberty. Years ago, these books were available through the Conservative Book Club and a few other outlets.

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But there was…somewhere out there… a fifth volume….or so we thought. Book hunter-gatherers like me could not figure where it was or whether it truly existed.

Enter the young economic scholar and historian Patrick Newman, While some learned languages ancient and modern and translated obscure manuscripts, Dr. Newman took the handwritten pages of undecipherable writing from the now deceased Dr. Rothbard and midwifed the missing fifth volume.

Conceived in Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard

This book, which I reviewed on this blog a year or so ago, is a detailed study of the ratification of the Constitution. Going state by state, Rothbard explains the background to the votes that led to ratifying the Constitution. The standard line is that ratification was a good and necessary event, but not so to Rothbard. He believed that the Articles of Confederation provided a better standard for the young nation than the much more centralized Constitution. Do I agree? No, I don’t think so, but I do find the study both useful and challenging. It is this kind of historical revisionism that I really makes me careful and curious about history.

Also, take note that the older Rothbard volumes, originally published by Arlington House, are available from the Mises Institute in a hefty one volume hardcover edition.

Another hefty book by Rothbard is The Progressive Era, consisting of essays that he wrote over the years that were then posthumously edited and assembled by Patrick Newman. This book contains detailed accounts of the railroad industry, monopolies, the rise of the welfare state, and political events and major figures of the Progressive Era.

With his training and learning from a man he never met, Patrick Newman has now moved from editor and student to a producer of his own book. Cronyism: Liberty Versus Power 1607-1849 deals with a troublesome topic that we would like to blame on our current officials alone. Government power is often, perhaps usually, used to enrich those who are making, guiding, and executing the laws. They have their hands in the till, to use the common phrase.

Newman’s point is that this is the inevitable result of governmental power. We have a big, big government, so it is no surprise that many who, as the saying goes, go into politics to do good, end up doing well. People makes only a few hundred thousand dollars, at most, from government positions and who have lots of expenses, end up with huge amounts of wealth. They didn’t build things or run businesses: They governed…and grew rich.

This book is next on my stack after I finish reading Watson’s Progressivism. I hope that Dr. Newman is working away on a volume will pick up where this one stops. It might take more than one to get through the history of the 20th century.

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Patrick Newman signing copies of Cronyism: Liberty VS Power in America

Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders by Dennis C. Rasmussen is published by Princeton University Press.

Out of this selection of books, this is the only one that I have actually finished. It is a saddening book because it dispels the notion that there was a golden age in America’s past. Disillusionment, disgust, and despair over politics is a certainty for anyone involved in the process as a office holder, party participant, mere voter and observer, or teacher.

This book deals with the thoughts of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson concerning the very governing structure they all helped produce. In large measure, it deals with their musings after they were out of office. Their post-political thoughts were not at all uniform, but each one felt a measure of disappointment in the direction that the government was headed. For whatever reason, Rasmussen’s fifth Founder, James Madison continued to be optimistic about the American experiment.

George Washington had the doldrums because of partisanship. He warned against political factions. Ironically, his first cabinet, which was ably manned, contained the two men who would polarize the political process more than any others–Hamilton and Jefferson. It seemed to be a flaw in Washington’s mindset that groups of people could ever work together without coming to odds and forming coalitions that opposed one another. We still bemoan the divisions in our government, all the while electing people from all points on the political spectrum.

Adams was vexed that the nation did not exhibit civic virtue. We would like to think that love of country and patriotism would purify our political souls. Adams may have needed a stronger dose of his Puritan heritage to offset this. His sometimes friend and sometimes enemy, Thomas Jefferson was concerned over the divisions that were becoming more and more evident because of slavery. We can easily criticize the Founders for their foresight on the problems of slavery that lacked action.

Hamilton, certainly to none of his still vocal critics today surprise, felt that the government was too weak. His enemies falsely accused him of being a monarchist. While that was not so, he did want a more vigorous and strong central government. He died long before he could witness the way that this did happen and continues to happen.

This book is a useful primer for understanding politics at any point in time. We continually want a Savior State. We continually want a Utopia. We continually want an Ideal Government. I certainly don’t want cynicism to reign, but we need to be aware that even the best of leaders and the best of programs from the civil government will only deliver limited results. Some of those results may even be good.

We the Fallen People

We The Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie is published by IVP Academic.

I read, review, and enjoy lots of books each year from InterVarsity Press, but I don’t normally think of them as the source for studies on American history. However, in recent months, I have received three books that deal with American history from them.

I don’t like to copy and paste for this book blog, but I have yet to get into this book. I will cite what can be found on the website which is highlighted above:

We the Fallen People presents a close look at the ideas of human nature to be found in the history of American democratic thought, from the nation’s Founders through the Jacksonian Era and Alexis de Tocqueville. McKenzie, following C. S. Lewis, claims there are only two reasons to believe in majority rule: because we have confidence in human nature—or because we don’t. The Founders subscribed to the biblical principle that humans are fallen and their virtue is always doubtful, and they wrote the US Constitution to frame a republic intended to handle our weaknesses. But by the presidency of Andrew Jackson, contrary ideas about humanity’s inherent goodness were already taking deep root among Americans, bearing fruit in such perils as we now face for the future of democracy.

As is continually needed, this book calls attention to current ills and then goes back to our history, ideals, and experiences to shed light on them. I look forward to giving a more personal account of my reading of this book soon.

America Transformed: The Rise and Legacy of American Progressivism by Ronald J. Pestritto is published by Encounter Books.

Encounter Books is becoming a favorite publisher of mine. They are producing loads of conservative works. Unlike some of the university presses, their books are affordable.

If there is a more frequent theme to these book selections, it is found in the topic and time of Progressivism. I usually found that time period and the events pertaining to it to be hard to teach to high school students. Timewise, it was located in the textbooks somewhere past the Civil War and the settlement of the wild West and before World War I. It was a lecture-lacuna. I could get all worked up over it and see how the Progressives are central to understanding today’s politics, but no matter how hard I fanned the embers, the fire among the students didn’t start.

Perhaps as a topic of historical and political study, it more often connects at the upper college and graduate levels. Pestritto is a professor of politics at Hillsdale. Although I have never set foot on the campus, I have a love for that institution because of the things I have read by some of its faculty members and because of connections with some of its students. While not perfect, Hillsdale has a very conservative thought base.

I will have to say more after I have read this book.

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Peter Kreeft’s Recommended Books You Should Read Before You Die

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A good while ago, I learned to enjoy the writings of Peter Kreeft.

I used Socrates Meets Jesus in quite a few classes, and usually, both students and teacher enjoyed the dialog. When I read Socratic Logic, I felt like I understood logic more than ever.

I am not sure how many Kreeft books I have or how many I have read. I wish I had all his books. While I don’t agree with him on everything and while his Catholic perspective clashes with my Protestant and Reformed perspective, I usually find both the content and style of his writing enjoyable.

He has the remarkable gift of being a philosophy scholar and teacher whose writings are readable and delightful for non-specialists. And he is witty.

In the lecture he gives on books you should read before you die, he lists two books in thirteen different categories. He also throws out another dozen or more extras at the end. One suspects that he could add several dozen more in each category. To a large degree, what he seeks to do is to pick books that are not too hard, too long, or too academic for the average, serious, literature reader.

I have list all of his books with some comments of my own. After my comments, I will add one of the following labels: Totally or Somewhat or Slightly for agreement. Disagree for…disagreement. Or, in the cases of books I have not read, Not Sure.

Peter Kreeft’s Selected Book Recommendations

  • Autobiography
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The Confessions of St. Augustine (Frank Sheed translation)

I have read this book and am currently teaching it to a group of junior high and high school students. The prayerful and meditative nature of the book is rewarding. Even if one doesn’t read all the way through the book, it is full of gems.

Somewhat

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

I read this very moving autobiography many years ago. Vanauken also write a fine book about the Southern Confederacy, which is seldom noticed in our time. The story of his and his wife’s conversions are really powerful. And he was friends with C. S. Lewis

Slightly

  • Novels
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The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostevsky

This is truly one of the greatest, and maybe the greatest, novel of all time. I have read it several times and taught it a few times. Many of my students, including my own 3 reading children, have embraced the book with love. It truly needs a group to read it and discuss it. Words, characters, and events of the novel come into my mind often.

Totally

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

I am still awaiting the blessing that will follow from reading this book.

Not Sure

  • Plays

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt

I have watched the movie version of this play and shown it in several classes. It is really well done, in spite of a few jabs against Protestantism. I read the play a couple of years ago and enjoyed it immensely. It has some remarkable lines in it.

Slightly

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

It is interesting that I first read this in high school and once had a high school class to read it. Dr. Kreeft bemoans its being read by high school students. My class didn’t like it. Wilder’s book The Bridge over St. Luis Rey, which I read in college, reflected the same issues. For whatever reason, I almost never hear of Wilder any more.

Disagree

  • Epics

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I confess to being a late and reluctant and half-hearted fan of Tolkien’s trilogy. I have read it twice, I think. I recently taught a class through Fellowship of the Ring. I am puzzled by a curriculum that only includes that uncompleted story. I find much of the story to be a bit overly cluttered with descriptions and songs. And I don’t get the fascination many have with Tom Bombadil. But, there are too many yuge fans of Tolkien and LOTR for me to contest the battle.

Slightly

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

I was also late in life reading the Narnia series in its entirety. It is, as so many acclaim, a very good series of stories, with some being better than others. I have reread several of the books and taught through most of them. I, as in the case with Tolkien, lag behind many fellow literature-geared Christians in my enthusiasm for the books.

Slightly

  • Supernatural Fantasy

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

I read this book several times and wrote the chapter on it for the Omnibus textbook series. Nevertheless, I have never taught this book in class. It is good and enjoyable, but not a favorite of mine.

Disagree

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Weirdly enough, I read and enjoyed this book many years ago, but I have never reread it in full. I have read many an excerpt from it with great pleasure.

Slightly

  • Science Fiction

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This book is on my “must read list” mainly because Bradley Birzer, a favorite history professor and author, loves it. I cannot locate my copy of it at the moment, so reading of it is delayed.

Not Sure

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

It has been a few years since I read this book. I found books like this along with Orwell’s works and those of other dystopian authors to be chilling, yet enjoyable. These kinds of studies are even more relevant to our times now, it seems. And one of my favorites is the really short novel by Ayn Rand titled Anthem.

Disagree

  • Spirituality

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux

I have not read and do not own copies of either of the books that Kreeft recommends in this area. I find it useful to read works of spirituality by Catholic authors on occasion.

Not Sure

  • Apologetics

Pensees by Blaise Pascal

This classic is well recognized. I have read portions and long for the day when I have read it from cover to cover–at least twice.

Somewhat agree

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

Alas, I have to confess to not having read this defining book by Lewis.

Not Sure

  • Classic Philosophy

Apology of Socrates by Plato

Having entered into the world of classical Christian education late in life (about age 40), I had not previously read anything by Plato. This famous work is still in the “not read yet” category. Thankfully, I have read The Republic.

Not sure

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The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

I taught through and read this book twice. The first reading and class really seemed to enjoy it, but the second did not. I found this to be a really good study of providence in a less than Scriptural context.

Somewhat agree

  • Popular Philosophy

St. Thomas Aquinas by G. K. Chesterton

I need this book. I need to read it because of both the author and the subject.

Somewhat agree

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Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Great book. I am deficient in that I have only read it once. I would love to have the opportunity to read it with a group and teach the book.

Totally agree

  • History

The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

This is another fine Chesterton work that I have only read once. Several years ago, George Grant made me increasingly aware of how much I had missed in life by not having read Chesterton. I have a minor at the undergrad level and a multitude of hours at the graduate level in English so as to qualify to teach English at a college level. But in none of my classes was Chesterton even mentioned.

Somewhat agree

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness by Warren Carroll

Carroll is a Catholic historian. I am puzzled by the inclusion of this book and would like to read it for that very reason/

Disagree

  • Theology

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

I have a deep love for this book. I might not exactly label it as theology. But it has so many good chapters and quotable sentences.

Totally agree

Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas

On a list that is supposedly confined to readable and accessible books, I find the inclusion of this massive work to be puzzling. I wish I had a nice edition of it in multiple hardback volumes. However, Kreeft, wisely, points to his own summation of the work which is titled Summa of the Summa. I would love to have the occasion to read and teach that.

Not Sure

  • Poetry

Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton

This is a really fine poem, but I am puzzled that he included this rather than The Ballad of the White Horse.

Disagree

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The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

This poem really had a major impact on 20th Century literature. Just picking up a copy and reading it might not be very satisfying to most. I have found some of the commentaries on it by Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate to be helpful. Also, it is useful to read some of Eliot’s other poems that reflect both his pre-conversion and post-conversion experiences.

Somewhat agree

Ongoing and Occasional Readings

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I always have quite a few books that I am reading from. Some are read in the morning reading time, some in the evening reading time, and some are read on various occasions, depending on mood, opportunity, and circumstances.

This post will highlight some of the books that are now in the category of ongoing or occasional reads. These are to be distinguished from books that are being pursued and read daily to get to the end. Saying that, often the occasional or ongoing read will sometimes become the book that I am laboring to finish.

Reformed Systematic Theology by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley is published by Crossway

So far, there are two volumes of a projected four volume set that are now in print. For a while, I would read a few pages or a chapter from Volume 1 on Sunday mornings. (I sometimes switch up my reading list for Sundays and dip into a new or different book.) Then I decided to press on to page 100, then 200, and so on. Last month, I determined that I would seek to finish this nearly 1200 page first volume by December. I am currently approaching page 600.

This is a very readable systematic theology. The authors quote copiously from the best and brightest minds from the Reformed tradition. Although they delve into divergent views and critique theological positions they are not in agreement with, the general thrust of this book is toward what we Reformed Christians believe and how it should impact our lives.

These volumes are coming out of Dr; Beeke’s classes on systematic theology. They can be read as textbooks, and they have questions at the end of each chapter. In my mind, these books represent the best of theological reading. They are layman friendly, but not shallow. The reader gets a good dose of great Reformed and Puritan authors through the way they buttress every idea with what others have said.

Amos, Jonah, & Micah by JoAnna M. Hoyt is published by Lexham Press and is a part of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series.

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There is something that has been built into my reading habits that says that a book should be read from cover to cover. I know it is not a valid approach to all books. Of course, one usually expects to read a novel that way, but most non-fiction can be read in part. Commentaries are generally designed to be read when and as needed.

I got this hefty book from Lexham Press a year or two ago. I read a bit from it, but shelved it. No fault of the book, but the ever-increasing stacks result in many books that are merely started or left unfinished or briefly scanned over.

This fall, our church began a study series on the Book of Amos. Pastor Jared Gibson uses the following approach for the fall and spring studies at the church: A study sheet is sent out a week ahead of time with passages to read and questions to answer each day; during the Sunday school hour, groups, led by a leader, go over the questions and answers; the Sunday morning sermon focuses on exegeting the passage (also known as expository preaching); and finally, on Wednesday nights, small community groups follow up the sermon with some discussion and application. The goal is to ground the congregation in the scope and depth of the portion of God’s Word under consideration.

When we started Amos, I went out to the study and pulled Ray Beeley’s short Banner of Truth commentary and this huge commentary off the shelves. While I read Beeley from cover to cover (it is just a bit over 100 pages), I am using this commentary on Sunday mornings and on a few other occasions to help me understand the passages and prepare to teach my teen-age boys.

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This commentary has it all. The explanation deals with the text and context, historical and grammatical details. Special sections follow that unlock some of the intricate matters of Hebrew, and I can readily skip these portions. Plus exhortations are given. This commentary, like everything pouring out of Lexham Press, is conservative, orthodox, and sound.

For those who wince over a woman author, I would note that she is a trained expert in the language and theological issues. She is not pastoring me nor exercising authority over me, but like Priscilla in Acts, is explaining things more carefully to me that I don’t know.

Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame Press.

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I wanted this book when it first came out. I wished upon a star several times, but the book didn’t show up. I went on to a myriad of other books, but a few months ago, this book came back on my radar after I read an article by the author on the same subject.

Progressivism, which is a more accurate term for what we usually call Liberalism, is a philosophy that affects politics and much more. The Progressives have been dominant forces in both political parties and in the field of history itself. It is not merely a belief in or hope for “progress,” but rather a philosophy that looks to man as being able to effect progress, particularly if the management of the government is in his hands, on and on to an ideal state. We throw lots of terms around in America today, particularly the word “Socialist.” Generally, name calling doesn’t advance or detract from political movements.

But there is a place for reading the history and understanding what is well rooted and what is radical in the world of political ideas. I am, by the way, just barely started into this book. Expect more later.

After Humanity: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man by Michael Ward and The Abolition of Man by Lewis are both published by Word on Fire Academic.

After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man

Quite often the often quoted lines from C. S. Lewis are from his brief, philosophical study titled The Abolition of Man. Lewis thought that the book was unsuccessful, but that assessment seems odd both in terms of its initial success and it ongoing popularity.

Michael Ward’s book provides a good background and accounting of the reactions to Lewis’s work. This book is not the traditional Lewis-the-Christian-Apologist that one reads in Mere Christianity, nor the novelist that one reads in the Narnia series or the Space Trilogy. This book takes on the relativism of its time and grapples with it from a viewpoint that brings in different traditions. I always find The Abolition o Man to be a bit difficult to connect to. So, I am finding the larger part of the book quite useful. Ward gives commentary on the sections of the book as well as explanations for Lewis’s historical, literary, and philosophical references. Word on Fire also produced a reprint of The Abolition of Man to accompany the reading.

Fine combo from a good publisher.

Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages

Side Note: Word On Fire Academic also published a book titled Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle Earth Beyond the Middle Ages by Holly Ordway

I started reading this interesting book sometime back in the late spring. I got off track due to my May-June illness. But for fans of Tolkien and serious scholars as well, this book shows how the man, while seeming to be confined to readings and teachings from the Middle Ages, would well read and studied in other time periods of literature.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present, edited by Timothy Larsen with an introduction by Thomas Kidd, is published by IVP.

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Every Leaf, Line, and Letter

I have a growing stack of American history studies. Many deal with politics, but a few are focused on religious topics. I am chomping at the proverbial bit to get into reading these books. I keep imagining that I am still or will soon be an American history teacher again. Three of the books are IVP publications.

This book is a collection of essays by different authors. Like any collection of scholarly essays, the interest level on the part of the reader will vary. So far, I have really enjoyed some of the essays read, while others didn’t connect as well. Reader remember: You are a participant in the process along with the author. Sometimes he or she is on target and you are not, but at other times, you are the one at fault.

The title of the essays comes from this quote: “I was filled with a pining desire to see Christ’s own words in the Bible. . . . I got along to the window where my Bible was and I opened it and . . . every leaf, line, and letter smiled in my face.” —The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole, 1765

An Informed Faith: The Position Papers of R. J. Rushdoony is part of a three volume set published by Chalcedon and Ross House Books.

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I received the three volume set of Rushdoony’s position papers shortly after it was published a few years ago. I promptly read the first volume and wrote a review of the set with commendations about Dr. Rushdoony for the Faith for All of Life magazine.

Just recently, I got back into reading this set. I would read an essay here and there, but lately, I have been reading one or two a day. Rushdoony pounds themes repeatedly in these essays. He will take a topic, sometimes religious, sometimes historical, sometimes something that was current at the time of the writing, and will examine it from a whole Bible viewpoint. The fact that he repeats and drums in certain concepts is his strength, not a weakness.

God’s Law is a blessing to man. God’s Word is reliable, authoritative, and inerrant. Regeneration, not revolution, is the only way to change society. All areas of life and thought are under God’s Law-Word and reign. The State is a false god and Statism is a false religion.

As is typical of Rushdoony, his writings from 20 to 40 years ago sound like rebuttals to today’s news report. Thanks to Martin Selbrede and Kyle Shepherd for their work in getting this set completed.

The Politics of Guilt and Pity by R. J. Rushdoony was originally published by Craig Press and is now published by Ross House.

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Craig Press is a different name that was used by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company some years ago. According to Professor Henry Wood, that name was used so that the books would be more widely read and assigned by college professors and teachers who might wince at the other name. I wish I had every single Craig Press publication ever!

I have both this really nice hardback edition of Rushdoony’s book and the more recent paperback edition. While I had read portions of it in the past, I had never given it a cover-to-cover reading. Slowly, I am doing so now.

As with his Position Papers, Rushdoony’s critique of the ever-encroaching State is a relevant theme. I think this book is not only worth laboring over–and it is not an easy read–but it is worth applying to our times. Political pronouncements that are directed to either make us feel guilt (many related to the current epidemic) or pity (when it is not deserved and is certainly not a proper sphere of government action) abound.

When I finish An Informed Faith soon, I am going to give greater attention to this book. In spite of my “pick up and read on occasion” method, it should read with much more focus and attention.

G. W. F. Hegel by Shao Kai Tseng is part of the Great Thinkers series published by P&R, formerly known as Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

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When is the best time to start reading a book that seeks to explain and simplify the obtuse German philosopher Georg Hegel? For me, it was at about 3 AM one morning when I got up and was unable to sleep. I thought I would glance at the introduction to this book and soon fall asleep. I was entranced by the first pages–maybe ten or so–and was hooked on the book until I made myself try once again to sleep. (Reader take note: This book didn’t put me to sleep.)

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This book is part of a useful series of relatively brief Christian approaches to key modern thinkers. Many of these thinkers are “the bad guys,” but some are men whose thought has influenced philosophy and thought for both the Christian and non-Christian world. These books are designed to push non-philosophical swimmers like me into the deep end of the pool without letting us sink. Meaning: These are not short, snappy books with a few bullet points. These are challenging introductions to the names and thought of people who have influenced philosophy, theology, political thought, literature, and science over the past several centuries.

Yes, I have thrashed around in the water since starting this book. But I have also managed to stay afloat and find myself more and more engrossed in learning about the man who influenced both Marx and Kierkegaard.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is published by IVP.

The 1662 Common book of Prayer (International Version) Side View

Over the past few months, I have begun the morning readings with the Psalms as found in this new, beautiful edition of the Book of Common Prayer. I am not an Anglican and am still quite unfamiliar with all of the uses and contents of the BOCP. I have several versions of it and have used portions in church services, funerals, weddings, and private devotions.

The Psalms are set up as Morning and Evening Prayers. Following the guidelines, one would read through the entirety of the Book of Psalms in a month. The idea, however, is not just reading the Psalms, but praying the Psalms. I was usually reading one Psalm a day. I would like to follow the pattern and read them all again in 30 or so days.

The translation used in this 1622, while resembling the King James Version, is a bit different and is enjoyable.

Plus, something needs to be said for a book that is beautifully bound and printed. This physical book is a decorative piece of art for the small table beside my reading chair. That this beautiful ink, paper, and cloth also contains so much rich theology and Scripture only enhances its value.

Current and Ongoing Readings

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I always have quite a few books that I am reading from. Some are read in the morning reading time, some in the evening reading time, and some are read on various occasions, depending on mood, opportunity, and circumstances.

This post will highlight some of the books that are now in the category of ongoing or occasional reads. These are to be distinguished from books that are being pursued and read daily to get to the end. Saying that, often the occasional or ongoing read will sometimes become the book that I am laboring to finish.

Reformed Systematic Theology by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley is published by Crossway

So far, there are two volumes of a projected four volume set that are now in print. For a while, I would read a few pages or a chapter from Volume 1 on Sunday mornings. (I sometimes switch up my reading list for Sundays and dip into a new or different book.) Then I decided to press on to page 100, then 200, and so on. Last month, I determined that I would seek to finish this nearly 1200 page first volume by December. I am currently approaching page 600.

This is a very readable systematic theology. The authors quote copiously from the best and brightest minds from the Reformed tradition. Although they delve into divergent views and critique theological positions they are not in agreement with, the general thrust of this book is toward what we Reformed Christians believe and how it should impact our lives.

These volumes are coming out of Dr; Beeke’s classes on systematic theology. They can be read as textbooks, and they have questions at the end of each chapter. In my mind, these books represent the best of theological reading. They are layman friendly, but not shallow. The reader gets a good dose of great Reformed and Puritan authors through the way they buttress every idea with what others have said.

Amos, Jonah, & Micah by JoAnna M. Hoyt is published by Lexham Press and is a part of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series.

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There is something that has been built into my reading habits that says that a book should be read from cover to cover. I know it is not a valid approach to all books. Of course, one usually expects to read a novel that way, but most non-fiction can be read in part. Commentaries are generally designed to be read when and as needed.

I got this hefty book from Lexham Press a year or two ago. I read a bit from it, but shelved it. No fault of the book, but the ever-increasing stacks result in many books that are merely started or left unfinished or briefly scanned over.

This fall, our church began a study series on the Book of Amos. Pastor Jared Gibson uses the following approach for the fall and spring studies at the church: A study sheet is sent out a week ahead of time with passages to read and questions to answer each day; during the Sunday school hour, groups, led by a leader, go over the questions and answers; the Sunday morning sermon focuses on exegeting the passage (also known as expository preaching); and finally, on Wednesday nights, small community groups follow up the sermon with some discussion and application. The goal is to ground the congregation in the scope and depth of the portion of God’s Word under consideration.

When we started Amos, I went out to the study and pulled Ray Beeley’s short Banner of Truth commentary and this huge commentary off the shelves. While I read Beeley from cover to cover (it is just a bit over 100 pages), I am using this commentary on Sunday mornings and on a few other occasions to help me understand the passages and prepare to teach my teen-age boys.

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This commentary has it all. The explanation deals with the text and context, historical and grammatical details. Special sections follow that unlock some of the intricate matters of Hebrew, and I can readily skip these portions. Plus exhortations are given. This commentary, like everything pouring out of Lexham Press, is conservative, orthodox, and sound.

For those who wince over a woman author, I would note that she is a trained expert in the language and theological issues. She is not pastoring me nor exercising authority over me, but like Priscilla in Acts, is explaining things more carefully to me that I don’t know.

Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame Press.

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I wanted this book when it first came out. I wished upon a star several times, but the book didn’t show up. I went on to a myriad of other books, but a few months ago, this book came back on my radar after I read an article by the author on the same subject.

Progressivism, which is a more accurate term for what we usually call Liberalism, is a philosophy that affects politics and much more. The Progressives have been dominant forces in both political parties and in the field of history itself. It is not merely a belief in or hope for “progress,” but rather a philosophy that looks to man as being able to effect progress, particularly if the management of the government is in his hands, on and on to an ideal state. We throw lots of terms around in America today, particularly the word “Socialist.” Generally, name calling doesn’t advance or detract from political movements.

But there is a place for reading the history and understanding what is well rooted and what is radical in the world of political ideas. I am, by the way, just barely started into this book. Expect more later.

After Humanity: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man by Michael Ward and The Abolition of Man by Lewis are both published by Word on Fire Academic.

After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man

Quite often the often quoted lines from C. S. Lewis are from his brief, philosophical study titled The Abolition of Man. Lewis thought that the book was unsuccessful, but that assessment seems odd both in terms of its initial success and it ongoing popularity.

Michael Ward’s book provides a good background and accounting of the reactions to Lewis’s work. This book is not the traditional Lewis-the-Christian-Apologist that one reads in Mere Christianity, nor the novelist that one reads in the Narnia series or the Space Trilogy. This book takes on the relativism of its time and grapples with it from a viewpoint that brings in different traditions. I always find The Abolition o Man to be a bit difficult to connect to. So, I am finding the larger part of the book quite useful. Ward gives commentary on the sections of the book as well as explanations for Lewis’s historical, literary, and philosophical references. Word on Fire also produced a reprint of The Abolition of Man to accompany the reading.

Fine combo from a good publisher.

Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages

Side Note: Word On Fire Academic also published a book titled Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle Earth Beyond the Middle Ages by Holly Ordway

I started reading this interesting book sometime back in the late spring. I got off track due to my May-June illness. But for fans of Tolkien and serious scholars as well, this book shows how the man, while seeming to be confined to readings and teachings from the Middle Ages, would well read and studied in other time periods of literature.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present, edited by Timothy Larsen with an introduction by Thomas Kidd, is published by IVP.

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Every Leaf, Line, and Letter

I have a growing stack of American history studies. Many deal with politics, but a few are focused on religious topics. I am chomping at the proverbial bit to get into reading these books. I keep imagining that I am still or will soon be an American history teacher again. Three of the books are IVP publications.

This book is a collection of essays by different authors. Like any collection of scholarly essays, the interest level on the part of the reader will vary. So far, I have really enjoyed some of the essays read, while others didn’t connect as well. Reader remember: You are a participant in the process along with the author. Sometimes he or she is on target and you are not, but at other times, you are the one at fault.

The title of the essays comes from this quote: “I was filled with a pining desire to see Christ’s own words in the Bible. . . . I got along to the window where my Bible was and I opened it and . . . every leaf, line, and letter smiled in my face.” —The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole, 1765

An Informed Faith: The Position Papers of R. J. Rushdoony is part of a three volume set published by Chalcedon and Ross House Books.

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I received the three volume set of Rushdoony’s position papers shortly after it was published a few years ago. I promptly read the first volume and wrote a review of the set with commendations about Dr. Rushdoony for the Faith for All of Life magazine.

Just recently, I got back into reading this set. I would read an essay here and there, but lately, I have been reading one or two a day. Rushdoony pounds themes repeatedly in these essays. He will take a topic, sometimes religious, sometimes historical, sometimes something that was current at the time of the writing, and will examine it from a whole Bible viewpoint. The fact that he repeats and drums in certain concepts is his strength, not a weakness.

God’s Law is a blessing to man. God’s Word is reliable, authoritative, and inerrant. Regeneration, not revolution, is the only way to change society. All areas of life and thought are under God’s Law-Word and reign. The State is a false god and Statism is a false religion.

As is typical of Rushdoony, his writings from 20 to 40 years ago sound like rebuttals to today’s news report. Thanks to Martin Selbrede and Kyle Shepherd for their work in getting this set completed.

The Politics of Guilt and Pity by R. J. Rushdoony was originally published by Craig Press and is now published by Ross House.

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Craig Press is a different name that was used by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company some years ago. According to Professor Henry Wood, that name was used so that the books would be more widely read and assigned by college professors and teachers who might wince at the other name. I wish I had every single Craig Press publication ever!

I have both this really nice hardback edition of Rushdoony’s book and the more recent paperback edition. While I had read portions of it in the past, I had never given it a cover-to-cover reading. Slowly, I am doing so now.

As with his Position Papers, Rushdoony’s critique of the ever-encroaching State is a relevant theme. I think this book is not only worth laboring over–and it is not an easy read–but it is worth applying to our times. Political pronouncements that are directed to either make us feel guilt (many related to the current epidemic) or pity (when it is not deserved and is certainly not a proper sphere of government action) abound.

When I finish An Informed Faith soon, I am going to give greater attention to this book. In spite of my “pick up and read on occasion” method, it should read with much more focus and attention.

G. W. F. Hegel by Shao Kai Tseng is part of the Great Thinkers series published by P&R, formerly known as Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

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When is the best time to start reading a book that seeks to explain and simplify the obtuse German philosopher Georg Hegel? For me, it was at about 3 AM one morning when I got up and was unable to sleep. I thought I would glance at the introduction to this book and soon fall asleep. I was entranced by the first pages–maybe ten or so–and was hooked on the book until I made myself try once again to sleep. (Reader take note: This book didn’t put me to sleep.)

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This book is part of a useful series of relatively brief Christian approaches to key modern thinkers. Many of these thinkers are “the bad guys,” but some are men whose thought has influenced philosophy and thought for both the Christian and non-Christian world. These books are designed to push non-philosophical swimmers like me into the deep end of the pool without letting us sink. Meaning: These are not short, snappy books with a few bullet points. These are challenging introductions to the names and thought of people who have influenced philosophy, theology, political thought, literature, and science over the past several centuries.

Yes, I have thrashed around in the water since starting this book. But I have also managed to stay afloat and find myself more and more engrossed in learning about the man who influenced both Marx and Kierkegaard.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is published by IVP.

The 1662 Common book of Prayer (International Version) Side View

Over the past few months, I have begun the morning readings with the Psalms as found in this new, beautiful edition of the Book of Common Prayer. I am not an Anglican and am still quite unfamiliar with all of the uses and contents of the BOCP. I have several versions of it and have used portions in church services, funerals, weddings, and private devotions.

The Psalms are set up as Morning and Evening Prayers. Following the guidelines, one would read through the entirety of the Book of Psalms in a month. The idea, however, is not just reading the Psalms, but praying the Psalms. I was usually reading one Psalm a day. I would like to follow the pattern and read them all again in 30 or so days.

The translation used in this 1622, while resembling the King James Version, is a bit different and is enjoyable.

Plus, something needs to be said for a book that is beautifully bound and printed. This physical book is a decorative piece of art for the small table beside my reading chair. That this beautiful ink, paper, and cloth also contains so much rich theology and Scripture only enhances its value.

Faith and Life Readings

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Recently, someone made the comment on a Facebook post about a Christian book that they only read the Bible. I have no criticism of a brother who takes that approach. In particular, I don’t know his circumstances. I have often received the same kind of comment when discussing Christian books. As a Sola Scriptura man, again I will not argue with a fellow believer over this, but I will disagree.

I begin each day with Bible reading. I use the “Through the Bible in a Long Period of Time” approach to reading the Bible. I would also confess that I should read more, memorize more, meditate more, and apply the Bible lots more.

But I am a teacher. My classes through the years have mainly been history, but also lots of literature classes, government, rhetoric, geography, economics, logic, composition, and basketball. And I have taught classes on the Bible and theology. My work involved reading books other than and along with the Bible.

Also, I am a book reviewer. It is my part time job. Sadly, I don’t make money off of reviewing books. Gladly, I do receive lots of review copies of books and I enjoy the reading and reviewing of books.

While I was a pastor in the past, I am not seminary or professionally trained for the task. I wish I were. I know that I don’t possess the gifts of a theologian, a Bible exegete, or a Hebrew or Greek scholar. I am very much a layman in terms of reading. I am like the person who owns a grand piano, but who only plays a bit of simple piano music.

My appreciation, love for, and devotion to faith and life readings is insatiable. I am going to highlight my recent readings. These reviews will be short. In some cases, I have previously written longer reviews. And I will begin with books from the same publisher.

P&R Publishing

I have often and long sung the praises of P&R. In the past, it was called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company and/or Craig Press. I was introduced to the Reformed faith through P&R. Much of that story is found in my book Punic Wars and Culture Wars: Christian Essays on History and Teaching.

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What About Evil? A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory by Scott Christensen

This may very well be remembered as the best book I have read this year. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Providentially, like a bad student in school, I did not do my homework on time. I received the book, put it aside, and neglected reading it for a long time. My procrastination was used of God to bring the book back to my attention after my life and death experiences of sickness and hospitalization during the summer.

On the one hand, this book is a powerful theological treatise on a weighty issue. It is a powerful apologetic took for one of the greatest of objections people raise against the Christian faith. But for me, this was a self-help book. This book shook me to the core and enabled me to see my minor sufferings in the light of God’s greater glory.

This book is long and deep, but incredibly readable.

I was also motivated to buy Scott Christensen’s earlier book What About Free Will?, which is also a P&R publication.

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Everyday Prayer with the Puritans by Donald K. McKim

This is the third of a series of Everyday Prayer studies. Although this is a short book, it took me several months to read it because it is best read one page a day. Each page introduces a Bible text, a short commentary on it, an apt quote from a Puritan, and then a suggestion for how to enrich our prayer lives.

This book can be read occasionally or read daily as I did. I look forward to reading Everyday Prayer with John Calvin and Everyday Prayer with the Reformers, by the same author. Also, these books are inexpensive, but nice hardback editions. Christmas is not that far away and any one of these volumes would make a good gift. Think of that person who never can plow through a whole book. This would work for them. Think of the lover of the Puritans, They will love this work. Think of those like me who need constant encouragement and direction in prayer. This is the book for them.

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Covenant Baptism by Jason Helopoulus

This book is also a nice hardback book, and it is a part of a series called Blessings of the Faith. Right after I received this book, I ordered the other two volumes in this series.

This is a book about baptism from the Reformed and covenantal perspective. By that, I mean that it is giving an explanation for infant/paedo/covenantal baptism. The author of this book, like me and like Randy Booth (who wrote a book on baptism some years ago), was formerly a baptist.

I don’t know if this book would completely change the mind of a credo-baptist. I think it is more directed toward encouraging and informing those of us who are paedo-baptists. Pastor Helopoulus is very irenic and understanding in his approach. Go to the bibliography for more works to hash out this issue. He even encourages readers to read books on both perspectives while struggling with this.

This book outlines the blessings, obligations, expectations, and foundations for viewing the baptism of our children or of ourselves. It is the kind of Biblical study that is as devotional as it is theological. I will soon start looking at the other two books in this series as well as searching for Helopoulus’s other writings.

Banner of Truth

I wish I owned every title that Banner has published through the decades. And I am trying to do exactly that.

The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work by Faculty and Friends of ‘Old’ Princeton

This book is a classic restatement of the heart of Old Princeton Calvinism. That story has been told in the great history written by David Calhoun (and published by Banner). The Princeton theology can be found in many of the Banner reprints and biographies. And its greatest legacy spilled over into Westminster Theological Seminary and from there and other sources into the many Christians today who adhere to Reformed theology.

This book is a series of messages calling the pastor and pastoral candidates to examine themselves, be stalwart in faith and life, and to advance the truth of Christianity. One might, from a certain perspective, think this book is a relic of the past, a theological dinosaur. But it is highly relevant, convicting, and encouraging. It is a rich read.

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The Rare Jewell of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

This Banner book is especially dear to me. It belonged to my mentor, pastor, and friend Henry Wood. Last year, Henry gave away much of his library before he moved to North Carolina. He read this Banner book many years ago, and he highlighted particular passages. He also had the paperback Puritan work rebound in hardcover.

It is hard to fathom how Burroughs, in very typical Puritan fashion, was able to take a topic and expound, expand, and elaborate on it for several hundred pages. Overly wordy? Maybe, but it was part of the Puritan method of driving the knife in to the hilt and then deeper and then twisting it. When a Puritan was finished with a topic, he expected his hearers to be grounded.

This book, one of many Banner reprints of Puritan classics, can be read little by little, in portions, here and there, or all the way through. Great work and timely.

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Amos by Ray Beeley

I first read this brief study of Amos way back in 1980. But since we are now studying Amos at church, I used this as an opportunity to reread the book. Good study with plenty of quotes from Calvin and Spurgeon.

Intervarsity Press, also known as IVP

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J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought by Alister McGrath

I read this short biography because I have long loved the writings of the late J. I. Packer. He was one of the great theological writers of our times. Books such as Knowing God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God are classics. I have quite a few of his books.

I also have and have read quite a few books by Alister McGrath.

This book was read during strange times. I had gotten home from the hospital, and I would wake up around 3 AM in the morning. I would prop up on the couch and read a chapter of this book. It was just right for that occasion. But Packer’s life was not an exciting one compared with someone like Winston Churchill. He spent his days teaching, preaching, writing, serving on committees, and delving into theology. This biography is a nice compliment to read alongside of Leland Ryken’s biography of Packer. And, no doubt, Iain Murray’s upcoming biography ought to be a winner as well.

The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law by Brandon Crowe

This book is a fine introduction and Bible overview of the concept of covenant. It is simply written and it reinforces the concept that God has always dealt with His people through covenants. If you are new to the topic or needing a simple overview, this is the book to read.

The Magna Charta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Rebirth of Freedom by Os Guinness

I have written a prior blog article reviewing this book. Guinness is always worth reading (or drinking). The problems facing America are serious and insurmountable, unless we look back to the ways that civilizations successful revolted against the bad, as in the case of the Jews in the Exodus or the Americans in the War for Independence. Ignore the foundations and then one had better expect the same or worse results as the French Revolution.

Lexham Press

Signs of the Messiah by Andreas Kostenberger

This book is an introduction to the Gospel of John. I found it helpful in seeing the big picture, the structure, and key points in John’s Gospel. I look forward to reading it again when I teach John to my Humanities class later this year.

Kostenberger, a faithful and gifted Christian writer, has written more in-depth studies on John’s Gospel. This book is short and introductory, but I found it useful as a review and overview. John is such a beautiful book that I find it daunting to teach and preach from. Greek scholars indicate that John’s use of language is not overly eloquent. In English, the result is quite different.

I reckon I have a half dozen or more books on John, primarily commentaries. But this one commends itself for both its approach and its brevity.

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God Reforms Hearts: Rethinking Free Will and the Problem of Evil by Thaddeus Williams

I fell in love with Williams’s book titled Reflect. I became Facebook friends with the author and have come to admire him in lots of ways. But I had no idea of how smart the man is.

This book is a good follow-up to Christensen’s What About Evil? It is much shorter, but a lot more difficult. This is not for casual devotions. Don’t you dare try to read this book with decaffeinated coffee. This book is tough reasoning, hardball, high diving board, cage match kind of theology.

The question of Free Will is a thorny problem for Christians. Opt for strict Calvinism, you still have the problem. Ease up your Calvinism, you still have the problem. Arminianism provides the way out! Well, no it doesn’t. Good and godly men disagree, but that is no call for the rest of us to shrug and move on.

Williams and I are in agreement, but he makes the case for those of you who want to wrestle.

Varied and Sundry Publishers

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Maker Versus the Takers by Jerry Bowyer

I read this book twice. Mr. Bowyer sent me a signed copy. I read it and loved it. But I neglected writing a review of the book. So, I read it again.

Often books on Christianity and economics use the Bible to support a view or school of economics. That is not necessarily bad. What Bowser does is to notice details in the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, that we tend to neglect.

Geographical names and details reveal lots about the content of messages. Just as I would deliver a different message if speaking to a group that was not Reformed than I would if speaking to the Reformed, so Jesus had different emphases with different audiences. The people of Judea were more often part of the Takers; that is, they were connected to the monied, ruling elite. And, surprise, surprise, the monied elite were often corrupt in their economic and religious practices.

In short, any approach to economics–in Bible times or our own times–that takes money from the working classes for “the greater good,” often ends up benefiting the Takers and hurting the Makers. “Sounds like conservative bullet points,” one might say. Read the book. Expect to see lots of quotes from Jesus, not Milton Friedman or Ludwig von Mises.

Thoughts for Young Men by J. C. Ryle

This book is part of a series called The Christian Heritage Series, published by Canon Press. The series consists of reprints of quite a few Christian classics or great writers. Here is my previous blog post about the series.

This series should irritate parents, for these books have Christian students as their reading target. Why are parents irritated? Because the kids will end up reading, discussing, and imbibing books we never knew existed when we were their ages.

Ryle’s book is really short. It fits the attention span of many young men! Ryle is predictably evangelical, devotional, and searching. We moderns might wish he were a little less Victorian in his style and more prone to hit the nasty stuff by name. Maybe, but we can add those features, but we need the pleading urgency of Ryle and his Puritan carry-over theology. We all need it, whatever our ages.

Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History by John Dickson

https://benhouseblog.wordpress.com/2021/07/31/the-magna-carta-of-humanity-by-os-guinness/

This book, published by Zondervan, was previously reviewed in this blog. This is an enjoyable and educational history of the Church and its beautiful and flawed people. We are inspired by reading of great Christians of the past, but also we are warned by those who, in the name of Christ, were terrible witnesses of what the Faith is supposed to be about

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium by John Strickland

This book, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, was previously reviewed on this blog site. https://benhouseblog.wordpress.com/2021/09/01/the-age-of-paradise-christendom-the-first-thousand-years/

This book is a fine history of the early church written by an Orthodox Christian scholar. His perspective doesn’t match mine at every point, but he certainly does a great job of telling some rich history that we all share as believers.

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Studies in Biblical Apologetics For a Christian Worldview by Steven R. Martins

I think that this book by my friend Steven Martins arrived during the Christmas/Birthday/New Year’s/Epiphany season. It felt like a Christmas gift, at any rate. I began reading it soon after it arrived, but it got shuffled under the stacks and didn’t break through to the surface until summer.

The key point to note is that this book is a series of studies on Apologetics. There are several different topics that Martins covers. One thing I appreciated is that he amply quotes from and utilizes several of my favorite Christian authors. Cornelius Van Til, R. J. Rushdoony, and Greg Bahnsen are all frequently quoted. To some degree, the Reconstructionist-labeled writers are often politely shied away from in even Reformed books. And Van Til, a man of great faith, humility, and intellect, is often dismissed as a vile influence. For purposes of this brief review, I am not seeking to vindicate these men and others. But I think that they are dismissed and ignored at the peril of Christians.

This book also has an in-depth discussion of eschatology. We don’t normally put that subject into the category of apologetics. But along with answering the unbelievers, there is a place for answering fellow believers in areas of differences. This book, like me, is postmillennial. Martins explains the case for the postmil view. You might not be convinced, but at least you should be informed.

Homilies on the First Epistle of John by Saint Augustine

This book, along with an ever increasing number of the writings of St. Augustine, is part of the publishing venture of New City Press. I have previously reviewed this book.

I have too many miles on the odometer to become an expert on Augustine, but I am thankful for getting to read yet another one of his books. Soon, i will be teaching Confessions to my Humanities class.

Augustine’s style and method of preaching is not quite what we are used to. But expect lots of Bible verses. Expect him to confront the evils of his day. Expect to find some really good nuggets.

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Job: A Philosophical Commentary by Owen Anderson

Owen Anderson is a gift of God to me, given via the Internet and Facebook. What a delight to have a copy of this and nearly all of his books. He is a philosophy teacher and a Christian. Or maybe I should say a philosopher and theologian.

I have a hope of reading through my collection of his books, one by one, in order to grasp his views and ideas. I am not in his league, but he is one of the most gracious men I have met.

I read this book during the summer, but I have it slated to read later again along with two other books on Job. The Book of Job frightens me as a preacher who favors expository, verse by verse, preaching. In short, Job has lots of theological and philosophical problems. While Job is working through the issues, his three buddies, who have it all figured out, are numbskulls.

The interesting aspect of this commentary is that the focus is on the book as a philosophical study. Ain’t nuthin’ unspiritual about that. Watch for my follow-up reading and review of this book.

Christian Worldview  -     By: Herman Bavinck

Christian Worldview by Herman Bavinck

We are living in the age of Bavinck as a theological rockstar. I attended a mega-church a few weeks ago that was filled with young people, loud music, and contemporary worship. And the pastor quoted Bavinck.

This book is based on a short series of lectures that Bavinck gave. It is meant as something of a companion volume to his book Our Reasonable Faith. This is not the book for the junior high or high school class getting an introduction to what a Christian worldview is. It is dense and philosophical at time, which means that I, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, needed someone to explain to me what I was reading.

But this book soars and sings at other points. The Dutch produced some real heavyweights in the fields of Christian thought in the 1800s and 1900s. Bavinck was not an also-ran, but part of the starting line-up. For me, this book calls for 2 or more readings. It’s short and I think it is worth the effort.

The books in the order in which I read them:

The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work by Faculty and Friends of ‘Old’ Princeton

Thoughts for Young Men by J. C. Ryle

Signs of the Messiah by Andreas Kostenberger

The Magna Carta of Humanity by Os Guinness

What About Evil? A Defense of God’s Soveriegn Glory by Scott Christensen

Job: A Philosophical Commentary by Owen Anderson

The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper

Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History by John Dickson

The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law by Brandon Crowe

Homilies on the First Epistle of John by Saint Augustine

Studies in Biblical Apologetics For a Christian Worldview by Steven R. Martins

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium by John Strickland

God Reforms Hearts: Rethinking Free Will and the Problem of Evil by Thaddeus Williams

Christian Worldview by Herman Bavinck

Everyday Prayer With the Puritans by Donald K. McKim

Amos by Ray Beeley

The Maker Versus the Takers by Jerry Bowser

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B & H Classics and the Aesthetics of Book Collecting

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“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
― Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature

The book quote above came from a Goodreads list of hundreds of quotes about books. Many of the quotes were familiar and well loved. Many show up quite frequently from book reading and loving friends on social media. I could easily fill this blog post with such good quotes.

Quotes about books, books about books, and blog articles praising books are all part of the type of preaching to the choir that the choir hears eagerly and loves. I know the same emotion is stirred when hunters and fishermen post pictures of their game prizes, or when sportsmen gather to cheer on their favorite teams. When we are part of the inner circle, we love the mutual encouragement of fellow travelers. When we are on the outside, we occasionally feel a pang of sorrow for not fitting in, but often just watch from a distance with amazement.

Among the many book topics I could discuss, I want to focus on one thing today and that is the owning and reading of fine, beautiful copies of particular books. The focal point of this is a series of books published by B&H Publishing that is called Guides to Reading and Reflecting.

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The books in this series have introductions and study questions provided by Karen Swallow Prior. Ms. Prior is the author of On Reading Well. She is one of the best sources for Christian readers of literature to learn more about how and what to read from the classics.

I am thankful for the frequently used, heavily marked up and annotated, and worn copies of books that I have taught from in the classroom. Many of these are paperback volumes, and some are the cheaper versions such as can be purchased from Dover Publications and other sources. For a private school, the Dover books, Signet Classics, and other cheap paperbacks were a blessing. In the past, our librarian, Becky Ramsey, covered these books with a firm plastic material that doubled, tripled, and quadrupled their life expectancies in the hands of students. (Occasionally there would be that boy who was obsessed, not with the book, but with peeling off the cover.)

Ragged out, cheap, old, often read copies of books are often really dear to our hearts. We remember when we picked up the book in some free bin or cheap used paperback section of a book store. We lugged it around, bent the covers back too far, loaned it out to book morons who spilled food on the pages, used rubber bands to keep all the loose pages from scattering, and kept the book until time ravaged it with browning and sometimes brittle pages. Such love of a book cannot be bought or sold online. In fact, when you order the exact copy of such a long lost treasure, it is not the same. Such a book is an old friend with whom you share the laughs and tears of a long past time.

But adorning the bookshelves, gracing the living rooms of your house, complimenting the treasures and accumulations of your life, giving color and variety to you home decor, providing the perfect setting on the side table to accompany a lamp and vase, you should have some beautiful books.

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I have found it necessary…let me emphasize this…NECESSARY…to have multiple copies of books. In the case of such works as The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Confessions, The Divine Comedy, and other works from other languages, I have collected numerous translations. As Allen Tate pointed out in some essay I read years ago, each translation is, in a sense, a whole new work.

In other cases, I have multiple copies of the same book because the copies are different. I have my original paperback copy of William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished, my teaching copy of the book, the volume from the Library of America collection, and an older hardback copy. Still to be acquired are a first edition (and autographed if possible) and an Easton Classics edition. And I have a few copies around here and there that are loaners or givers.

A book is a product with an inside and an outside. The old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” while containing a vital truth, is not an absolute statement. A fine gourmet meal could be served on a paper plate with a fine wine served in a Dixie cup. And while fine China doesn’t improve the taste of the food, there is something about the overall and combined effects of an experience.

I would never spend lavishly on getting a copy of Mein Kampf or Fifty Shades of Grey that was leather bound and beautiful to adorn my shelves. But the classics, the great books, the books in “the canon,” and the books that represent the greatest things that people have thought and written are worth owning in any form possible, but in nice forms preferably.

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One thing that is a bit different from the B&H classics is that they are finely done and beautiful hardback editions of books that are also equipped as study books. Specifically, these books are designed to guide readers to think Christianly about stories and authors who may or may not have been focused on Christian truths.

My reading of this series began with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Neither Mrs. Shelley nor her famous poet husband Percy Byshhe Shelley were Christians. They were Romanticists of a type found in Europe in the early 1800s. She began writing the story after her and group of friends, living in Geneva at the time, challenged each other to write a ghost story.

Frankenstein has been subject to so many movies and images that one is a bit surprised and maybe disappointed when reading the real, original story. It is odd, weird, creepy, and haunting, nonetheless. It is also significant for those who focus on women writers, because Shelley was not only an early example of female novelists, but also one who was not prone to sentimentalizing or flowery language. Her book is also a founding work in the field of science fiction.

Not overly long, the story is a compelling one: “What is going to happen next?” But it also raises questions about science, the soul of man, and the nature of evil. This is not merely a good book to read on Halloween night, but it would be grand for a discussion in a classroom or among a reading group.

Frankenstein

My next read in the series was Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I was embarrassed that I had not previously read this book. (I have now read 3 of the Austen novels, with a few more yet to conquer.)

The main thing I learned after reading and teaching Pride and Prejudice is that Austen was a very funny writer. Her humor is not slapstick, like that of Mark Twain, but is incredibly subtle and dry. One can easily mistake Austen’s writing and think that she is over-describing a character when she is actually mocking and ridiculing them. Her subtleties, slow unfolding of plots, careful setting of twists, and stilted dialog will frustrate those of us who like some Ernest Hemingway-type pacing.

She didn’t write for young men in a hurry. I better add this: I am not implying that her books are girly. Men, as slow witted as we are, need to read Jane Austen.

As is often the case, I did find that having watched the movie version of this book (several times) helped me understand the book. Of course, there are differences and bits of confusion because Jane herself didn’t watch the movie before writing the story.

Jane Austen has surged in popularity in recent years. Her books can be found in many formats. I am not fond of the overly thick volumes that contain several of her novel. This B&H edition is all that a reader can hope for. Once again, a fine introduction and some study questions along the way helps the reader.

Sense and Sensibility

Most recently I reread Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad from the B&H series. It is really amazing that Conrad succeeded as a writer. Some might suggest that he didn’t. His original language was Polish and his original occupation was as a seaman.

His style and his subject matters are not easy. I keep reading selections and novels by Conrad over the years simply trying to crack the code on what he was seeking to do. His writing can be as introspective as Dostoevsky. His style can be as dense and wordy as Henry James. And for the reader looking for adventure on land and sea, I would suggest skipping past Conrad and reading Jack London.

Consider the very title of this book, which is part of its attraction to me: it combines the word “heart” with “darkness.” This is right down the alley for those of us who from theological or other reasons tend toward the darker aspects of humanity and who, to use a phrase I remember from Gertrude Himmelfarb, peer into the abyss.

Is the story a condemnation of colonialism? Is it an arrow shot into the heart of the British Empire? Is it delving into the twisted motivations found in capitalistic enterprise? Does it slap against the Kipling idea of “the White Man’s Burden”? Or is about a lone man’s creepy voyage into the depths of the Belgian Congo and the meeting with the supposedly great man Marlowe, who turns out to be less admirable than the little man behind the curtain in the movie The Wizard of Oz?

As with all great literature, this book needs to be read and discussed. Then it needs to be read again.

Heart of Darkness

Soon I hope to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I confess that I cannot remember if I read it years ago.

Jane Eyre

Comb your used bookstores, library sales, and thrift shops if you are needing cheap readable copies of these books. Being in public domain, they exist in varied and sundry editions and have been around for years.

But look around the rooms in your house. Look at these B&H volumes and purchase them. Or consider giving them to the book readers and collectors in your family. The volumes on your shelves will add to the beauty of your homes, but will also delight your minds as you read the books.

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