Spurgeon–Round 2

It turns out that the correct quote is as follows:  “Sell all that you have (not least of all some of your stock of current sermonic literature) and buy Spurgeon (even if you have to grub through the second-hand bookstores).  The statement was made by German pastor Helmut Thielicke in the book Encounter With Spurgeon.  It was in the midst of grubbing around through some second-hand books years ago that I picked up a cheap and decent copy of Thielicke’s book.  Most of his book consists of selected Spurgeon pieces from Lectures to My Students.  For that reason, I shelved the book–which cost about 50 cents–and neglected until yesterday.

Thielicke’s 45 page introduction or case for reading Spurgeon is an excellent exhortation and coverage of the man and his influence.  But, anyone who writes about Spurgeon faces the inevitable challenge:  How can you say enough about the man?  This is not hagiography or creating a mythical near-perfect man.  He had his faults and limitations, but he was incredibly balanced in his ministry and life.  And productive.  His writings total more than the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  His church was a mega-church and a number of ministries sprung from it.  Spurgeon’s sermons and writings were best sellers in his day, and his books still sell today.

The phrase from Hebrews–“though being dead, he still speaks”–is often used of Spurgeon.  It is not as though his readers then stand in pulpits and present Spurgeon like sermons.  (Nor would we read Shakespeare in order to pattern our every day conversation after him.)  The main challenge of a preacher is not finding words to say.  If you cannot speak and are not loquacious, you probably are not destined for the pulpit.  (Although we have all longed for certain sermons to end more quickly.)

The main challenge of a preacher is listening.  The preacher’s mind is gathering bullet points for the sermon, picking up exegetical details on the text, absorbing and improving upon the commentaries, fashioning the order of the sermon, finding the perfect beginning and ending, and thinking through who will be sitting in the congregation and how the sermon will or should impact them.  Think, think, think, read, read, read.  That’s all part of the life of ministry.  But the preacher–far more than the lowliest congregant–needs to be preached to.  He needs to hear.

Of course, preachers need to listen to God from His Word.  But God always blesses faithful proclaimation of His Word.  And God uses means–often men–to bring His message to us.  The preacher, hopefully unlike the doctor, is sicker than the congregation.  He has time to know more, focus more, and be discipled more, but the minister’s responsiveness is dull.  Simply put, having read what I have read for the past 40 plus years, I ought to be spiritually pure and righteous and perfect in the sight of God and man. (Remember James 3:1– Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.)

This again recalls the importance of having Spurgeon’s works, reading Spurgeon, and selling other goods in order to buy Spurgeon.  There are 3 (and who knows how many more) examples I might appeal to.  These 3 men have all been pastor/examples/mentors to me along the way.  First, Henry Wood who introduced me to Calvinism and Spurgeon, Warfield, Gordon Clark, Loraine Boettner, Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, and so much more.  Prominent on his bookshelves was his set of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.  

Mr. Wood encountered Calvinism while a student at Ouachita Baptist College.  Somewhere along the way, someone gave the modified version of the Thielicke quote as advice to him, saying “Sell your shoes and buy Spurgeon.”

Then there is the respected and revered Pastor Mickey Schneider, who now lives in Florida.  I first heard Pastor Schneider in the summer of 1980 while I was taking a couple of courses at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.  Mickey was pastoring a Presbyterian church in Jackson and was preaching through his favorite book, Ecclesiastes.  His sermon was on Christian education, and I was already committed to that, but was further confirmed in that conviction.

It would be many years before mine and Mickey’s paths began crossing again.  He has been here in Texarkana on several occasions to preach (and visit his daughter).  He is Mr. Southern Presbyterianism, in my view.  He has met every one, known them, shared vital experiences with them, and either stood alongside them or opposed them along the way.  Who else watched Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with Cornelius Van Til (who was in a bathing suit about to go swimming)?  Who else wandered around lost in Jackson, MS with R. J. Rushdoony as his passenger?

Here is Mickey Schneider’s comment about Spurgeon’s works:  I purchased the 63 volumes of The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit gradually over the years, and they are still on the top shelf of my office across one whole wall, next to my bust of Charles H. Spurgeon and the textual and topical index. I still refer to regularly, though many in our circles would disdain him. You don’t go to Spurgeon for exegesis – sometimes he is terrible! But you go to him for life and power and illustration and application. When I go over a sermon beforehand with Judy, she might say, “You’d better get something from Spurgeon on this one!”

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Mickey (sometimes Michael and, at least once, Arthur) Schneider alongside his wise ministerial counselor and wife, Judy.

And then there is George Grant, prolific author, pastor, conference speaker, and one of the most sought after lecturers of our time.  George commented on my previous Spurgeon blog saying, “This is a great survey of where to start with Spurgeon–but, everyone should be forewarned: if you start Spurgeon you will spend the rest of your life reading him! And, you’ll never exhaust the supply of fresh, rich wisdom.”

George also listed Spurgeon as being among the authors now deceased who he is determined to read in their entirety.  It would be tricky to find a book by or about Spurgeon that Grant has not long since read.  His shared–was it to make me covetous?–a picture of his set of Spurgeon’s sermons–“strategically located across from my desk.”

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This is all background to my having started on reading The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, edited by Christian T. George and published by B&H Academic.  This first volume costs a bit, but it is worth the money.  First of all, it is a beautiful volume–both inside and outside.  (Please don’t let me know if you acquire a kindle version of this.  That would be like having a kindle version of a great work of art.)  There is something, no a lot, to be said for owning really nice hardback, beautiful editions of books.

Second, the foreword by David Bebbington, the editor’s preface by Dr. Christian George, the timeline (a really fascinating survey of the 19th century), and the biographical information are all outstanding.  Did you know that Mark Twain went to hear Spurgeon preach?  (I keep holding out hope that Mr. Clemons was converted by the end of his life, but the evidences are few and far between.)

This Lost Sermons series–and we only have volume 1 available at the moment–will increase the amount of Spurgeon materials by 10%.  Astounding, especially considering how relatively short Spurgeon’s life was.

My recent Spurgeon quest has already had yet another benefit.  I have gotten re-acquianted with Pilgrim Publications in Pasadena, Texas. Started by Bob Ross, who is still active in this book ministry, Pilgrim has been re-printing and publishing Spurgeon’s works for decades.  In fact, the Metropolitan Tablenacle Pulpit–as pictured above and below–is one of the major productions of this organization.  They also publish The Treasury of David in seven volumes, rather than the 3 volumes that Baker publishes.  What is the difference?  Mary Barber of Pilgrim explained it.  She writes, “The one from Pilgrim is unabridged, unedited, word for word in both typeset and design, reflecting the original Passmore and Alabaster editions first published by Spurgeon.”  Oh my, even the Spurgeon books I do have aren’t enough!

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Pilgrim also publishes the rich New Park Street Pulpit, which consists of sermons from an early (but not the earliest) stage of Spurgeon’s preaching.  These sermons are often the most quoted in conjunction with Spurgeon’s Calvinistic convictions.

The conclusion of the matter is simple:  I must have the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.  The one volume I own is not enough.  Until then, I am going to continue reading and enjoying Thielicke’s Encounter With Spurgeon and The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon.

Also, I have some items for sale.  Any one interested?

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Gordon Clark: Presbyterian Philosopher

I first became aware of Gordon Clark somewhere around 1975-76.  He was approaching his last decade, but was still actively writing, while I was just newly introduced to the vast realm of Reformed theology and thought.  There were, for many of us newly minted Calvinists of that time, two primary pillars that were both the attraction and battering rams in Reformed life.

One was soteriology, and remember that we like big words like that.  Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation, and for Calvinists, this began with grasping the Five Points of Calvinism.  The quick track to the 5 Points was found found in a book consisting mostly of Bible texts, titled The Five Points of Calvinism:  Defined, Documented, and Defended by David Steele and Curtis C. Thomas.  But that short book was originally an appendix to Steele and Thomas’ key work titled Romans:  An Interpretive Outline.  Both books were published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

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The man who wrote the introduction for the Romans book and who urged Charles Craig of Presbyterian and Reformed to publish it was Gordon Clark.

At that same point in time, Presbyterian and Reformed mailed out a newsletter every month.  At the bottom of the newsletter was a list of books that were on sale, often for a dollar. One of the book I got was Karl Barth’s Theological Method by Gordon Clark–a hardback edition for a buck! I also got Clark’s book Biblical Predestination.  

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The book on Barth was out of my league, but I was reading everything I could find on predestination.

Over the years, I continued to buy books by Gordon Clark here and there.  I never sytematically or rigously read his books, but through the years I read one here and there.  Favorites included Historiography: Secular and Religious (reviewed here), The Christian Philosophy of Education, A Christian View of Men and Things, and his commentary on 1 Corinthians.

Also, I have read and re-read and have had a love/hate relationship with Clark’s book Logic.  Here is what I wrote about it back in 2006:

Right now, we are studying Gordon Clark’s book Logic in both classes. For Logic class, the book is an introduction, albeit a “push you off into the deep end of the pool” approach…. Clark was a brilliant man, a key Christian philospher, and according to many student testimonies, a great teacher. He was not necessarily a great writer or communicator of logic skills. His book rambles; he makes statements without support; he raises questions he does not answer; he slips wit in where more details are needed; and he strays off here and there. The book gives me the sense of sitting in the presence of a brilliant man whose years of study, reading, and writing are being displayed for all to delight in. I love the book, and I rejoice that I do not have to use it as my primary logic text. It is a great supplement, a useful introduction, a helpful refresher.

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And then there was that weird, jam-packed used book store in Hot Springs, back around the year 2004.  You could not move around in the store and there were stacks and boxes of books everywhere.  But this was a nightmare place, not a delightful hunting ground.  Most–as in 90%–of the books were trade paperback romances and other forms of pulp fiction.  But I am a hunter.  Somewhere in a stack of books almost too high to reach was a book that caught my eye:  The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Restschrift, edited by Ronald Nash.  It was a hardback book and was priced for $5.00.  (I later–to my regret–missed a chance to buy an autographed copy of the same work.)

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My copy is hardback with a dust jacket. The book has been reprinted as Gordon Clark and His Critics.

The big awakening came somewhere around 2005 or 2006.  A friend, Jeff Bruce, sent me a link to an article titled “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind” by James Jordan.  The article completely blew me away.  But it wasn’t because it told me something new, but rather it reminded me of something from my past, as well as that of Jordan and many others.  It was like discovering some vital links in your family tree.  Yes, here were the Calvinist writers who had impacted and dominated my early years.

Jordan’s article was soon followed by a similar type article by P. Andrew Sandlin, titled “The De-Intellectualization of Reformed Theology.” (Why is this not available on the internet somewhere?)  My own contribution to the topic shows up here in a blog post titled “Reformed Thinkers.”  Then I had the opportunity to give some talks in both Virginia at the Christian Worldview Student Conference and in Alaska at a Reformation conference.  My Virginia lectures were called “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years” and my Alaska talks were called “Spheres of Reformation.”

Clark was back on the radar, but I realize now that I did not then nor have given him the wide berth he deserves as a pioneering Calvinist philosopher, worldview thinker, theologian, and model of scholarship.  Douglas Douma’s newly published biography–Gordon Clark:  The Presbyterian Philosopher–will be step one in remedying a widespect neglect of Gordon Clark’s life, thought, and books.

A few brief points on this book:

  1.  Notice the second part of the title:  The Presbyterian Philosopher.  The good news is that Christians–Reformed, Catholic, and otherwise–have carved out a wide swath in the field of philosophy in our day.  As is always the case with academic fields, philosophers–even those sharing Reformed credentials–fall into different schools of thought.  Many are Dooyeweerdians, meaning that they subscribe to or borrow from or build upon the work of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.  Many ascribe the expansion of Christian philosophical thought to Arthur Holmes who built the philosophy program at Wheaton College.  The contributions of Charles Taylor, Catholic philosopher and author of The Secular Age,  cannot be ignored.  Time does not permit us to give the praises due to Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantiga.                But Gordon Clark is often ignored, overlooked, or dismissed (and disliked?).  Long before Holmes developed the philosophy department at Wheaton, Clark was there influencing young scholars who made their own contributions in the field of Christian thinking.  While Dooyeweerd’s work was still untranslated, Clark was writing on philosophy.  While even card-carrying Calvinists sometimes flinch from the difficult doctrines of Scripture, Clark was using the Bible as a hammer–along with a strong does of Aristotelian logic–to pound philosophies secular and religious that he thought fell short of Biblical truths.

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  1. Worldview thinking has become popular in Christian circles.  There are many books on developing a Christian worldview, and I have and love quite a few of them.  But Gordon Clark did not write about “developing a Christian worldview.”  He demonstrated one.  Consider the fact that he wrote about philosophy, theology, politics, education, pyschology, science, historiography, and other subjects.
  2. Clark is often remembered today for the many theological controversies he was embroiled in.  Beginning with the defining battles in the day with J. Gresham Machen and the liberals of the Presbyterian Church in the north, the twentieth century was the era of “Machen’s Warrior Children,” to use John Frame’s phrase.  A great battle within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was the debate over “The Incomprehensibility of God.”  It pitted two giants against each other–Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til.  Douma’s biography aptly covers this conflict, which is often referred to as the “Clark-Van Til Controversy,” but could be called “The Incomprehensibility of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til” controversy.   We can take sides, eschew both sides, wring our hands, vilify either combatant–or more properly, those who continued the combat, or just shrug our shoulders over the whole mess.  But it happened and it impacted–and likely reduced–the influence of Calvinistic thought and Presbyterian church life in America.  The failure of Presbyterians to build more inroads and expansion within Fundamentalist churches have left us with small, very orthodox Reformed congregations.  Leave it to a Calvinist like John Piper to market the message to a wide audience.
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The two primary combatants–Gordon Clark (left) and Cornelius Van Til (right).

3.  Gordon Clark’s name and fame may not be in big lights right now.  And I suspect that Gordon Clark: The Presbyterian Philosopher will not be a “New York Times Best Seller.”  But this is an excellent book and will be a catalyst for many to read Clark again (like me) and others to discover him (as Douma himself did while reading John Robbins’ book on Ayn Rand).  When asked which theologian from our times will be read in 500 years, R. C. Sproul answered, “Gordon Clark.”  Well, I reckon that Dr. Clark, Dr. Sproul, Douglas Douma, and I can judge that comment more accurately in that other realm and not having that long to wait, read Clark now.

But begin with this biography.

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Although they sparred over theological and philosophical points, both Clark and Van Til respected and esteemed one another. As Van Til often affirmed to friends, “Soon we shall sit at Jesus’ feet.” Before that day arrived, they were reconciled.

By the way, I must admit to not liking the author Douglas Douma.  I am not well acquainted with him, but I have this against him:  1.  He is too young to have written such an outstanding book.  2.  He is too smart, since he has degrees in mechanical engineering, business, and theology. 3. And he is athletic and outdoorish.  All three traits have me miffed.

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Should a serious author really be standing at Horn Peak (13,450 feet) like this?

Russell Kirk: American Conservative

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“If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.” —Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind

How should we say it?  Russell Kirk was ahead of his times?  Or Russell Kirk was behind his times?  Or Russell Kirk was out of step with his times?  Or Russell Kirk was beyond his times?  Or Russell Kirk is a man of all times?

Maybe Russell Kirk is largely forgotten.  I never know because people that live in my mind and thoughts are usually don’t exist for most people. That is not said to sound smug.  But, seriously, who all are seriously concerned about the ideas of Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, J. Gresham Machen, Christopher Dawson, Gordon Clark, Cleanth Brooks, and Richard Weaver?  Most of those men’s lives correspond with mine, although in most cases they died before I had ever heard of them.

Pick an earlier century and the names become even less well known and more obscure.  Let’s begin by placing the blame on abundance.  There is simply too much to learn and too many people from the past to know.  In my Ancient World Humanities class, I always feel that we can get a good amount of at least representative examples.  Students can read Hesiod, Homer, parts of Herodotus, The Republic by Plato, Rhetoric by Aristotle, a few Greek tragedies, along with a few Romans like Virgil, Ovid, and Cicero.  Then if they work on Caesar’s Gallic Wars, a high school student has a good jump on the extant writings of the ancient world.

But the river reaches flood stage during the subsequent early church era.  There are excellent choices for the Middle Ages, and one can gain some traction with a reading of as few as ten books.  Of course, any list of ten books is excluding 10 more that equal or excell them.

“Flood stage” doesn’t begin to provide an apt metaphor for the modern period of history (meaning from the Protestant Reformation to the present).  The works growing out of the American experience once again become overwhelming, as witnessed by the Library of America publications.

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So, how are we expected to remember even the most basic things about most people and books?  My official answer–based on over 45 years of working on these matters–is this:  I don’t know.  In the meantime, those who love learning, books, ideas, the past, people, and how all those things mix and mesh will keep reading and learning.

All of this mental wandering about books might just sound like the ever day musings of those people (of whom I have heard) whose lives are measured out with bookshelves (sorry, Tom).  But books, ideas, and thinkers of the past are not just the province of bookish teachers, writers, and bibliophiles (which has a slightly evil sound to it).

Instead, what really matters is finding a way of preserving the best from the past.  As a philosophy, that is often called Conservatism.  By the way, political conservatism is only one aspect of the broader concept.  Conservatism is in deep trouble today, in part because Conservatism is always in deep trouble.  There is always a pressure for change and the world is always in flux.  You cannot step in the same river twice and you cannot vote in the same election twice.  (Okay, the last part of that sentence is not exactly true.)

For a decade or two now, we have been hearing and hearing about conservative talk radio.  It is good that the older media monopoly has been broken and that a host of other outlets are available.  To paraphase Andy Warhol, in the future everyone will be a political commentator for 15 minutes.  But some are political commentators for 2 to 3 hours–daily.  And they proclaim themselves conservatives, and they wage relentless attacks on liberals, big guv’mint, the welfare state, and various opponents in the culture war.

2016 revealed lots of things about Americans, both good and bad.  (Don’t worry if it takes a while to think up the good things.)  One thing that is certain is that conservative talk radio and many who call themselves conservatives really are not conservatives at all.  They are more nationalists, protectionists, isolationists, and opponents of everything they lump together as the Washington establishment.

That is not to say that I disagree with the main body of folk and spokespeople who rally under the name of conservatism and who invoke Ronald Reagan’s name often.  Nor am I living in denial or absolute angst over the election and now early adminstration of President Trump.  But Conservatism is in trouble and largely because we don’t know what Conservatism is nor what we should be trying to conserve.

Hence the urgency of Russell Kirk.  Hence the importance of Bradley Birzer’s biography of Russell Kirk.  Hence the necessity of plodding through some of the many books written by Kirk and his intellectual colleagues and fellow travelers.

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I started reading Russell Kirk: American Conservative, published by the University of Kentucky Press, on November 3, 2016–the night that the Chicago Cubs won the world series.  (I only paid attention to the final score of that game.)  I finished the book early in March 2017.  During December, there was a long gap where I was not reading the book, due to the final illness and death of my father and then the flurry of Christmas celebrations.

At some point–in either January or February–I was flustered at my incredibly slow pace of working through the 500 plus pages of text in the book.  This was a review book that I am duty bound to read and comment on.  The author, Bradley Birzer, is one I had already formed a high opinion of because of his biographies of J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson. I began with extremely high interest, but found myself slowly working through the book.  Part of the slow pace was due to my reading the book late at night, propped up in bed, after a strenous day of teaching school, and near the time when sleepiness overwhelms love of reading.

Then–maybe after reaching page 400–I realized something.  This is not a book to hurry through.  This is not a page-turner, a who-done-it, an escape reading, and I like all those types of books.  Instead, this book is a primer on Conservatism through the lens of a key Conservative thinker. This is a book filled with homework assignments, with lessons to be completed.  This book is Conservatism 101; no, more a graduate level 501 course.  The reader is expected to master the lectures–the book–and then begin his/her journey through the assigned/suggested/formative works mentioned throughout this book.

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One could write a very short biography of Russell Kirk.  This short:  “Russell Kirk was born in 1918.  He read lots of books and thought deeply and then wrote lots of books.  He died in 1994.  He was a major figure in the Conservative movement.”  Mr. Kirk was–by most standards, but not mine–a very dull, ordinary-looking, overly bookish fellow.  How does a life parked at the typewriter merit 500 pages?

Well, first of all, Kirk was a scholar, writer, thinker, but he was far from being simply desk-bound.  He traveled, entertained a host of friends, sparred intellectually with friends and foes, participated in political battles, enjoyed ghost stories, and fathered four daughters after a marriage late in life.

But the book is mainly the odyssey through Conservative thought of the past as remolded and fitted to the American experience.  Hence the reading assignments that are necessities after this book.  Edmund Burke is high on the list.  Kirk wrote a biography of Burke, but one absolutely must go to the source.

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Kirk was also deeply devoted to the writings of Christopher Dawson (whose praises I have often sung), T. S. Eliot (both his poems and essays), Albert J. Nock (older libertarian), Irving Babbit, the Southern Agrarians, and key Greek and Roman thinkers.  As Kirk slowly moved from being Christian-and Catholic-oriented to actually joining the Catholic Church, Christian doctrines and theology also impacted his thinking.  His intellectual life is itself a course in intellectual history–from a conservative angle.

Add to that his friends and colleagues.  Kirk was a peer with and a complement to William F. Buckley, Jr.  They were contrasts in many ways, but they worked together for years with Kirk being a major contributor to National Review, founded by Buckley and still the flagship of serious conservative thought.

Kirk’s range of friends also included Flannery O’Connor (Southern author of incredible fiction), Ray Bradbury (with whom Kirk shared a love of writing fiction, particularly ghost stories), T. S. Eliot (of whose thought Kirk wrote a book), Wilhelm Ropke (Christian and economist), Donald Davidson (one of the Agrarians), and Sen. Barry Goldwater, whose campaign for the Presidency represented a high point for Conservatism.

He had intellectual enemies and sparring partners as well.  Some of these bouts were “iron sharpening iron,” but some were quite hostile.  Libertarians, ranging all the way back to John Stuart Mill, often received Kirk’s scorn.  That is not to say that Kirk did not sometimes find comaraderie with Libertarians.  Writing as someone well acquainted with intramural doctrinal battles within Presbyterian and Reformed Christian circles, I was not surprised to see Conservatives squaring off and battling one another with incredibly ferocity.

After my November start of this book, I found myself beginning my list of “must reads.”  Happily, I already own many of Kirk’s books, but I have either only read small portions or read the books long ago.  And I have begun to search out and gather the books and works of authors who Kirk approves of.

Conservatism as a word offers no hope.  There is much in the present and more in the past that needs to be swept into the dustbin of history. One has to know what one is conserving and why.  We have to know the best of the traditions, the enduring aspects of the culture, the truths that are most in danger in order to begin the work of conservation of a good, godly Christian, and Conservative world order.

This book–read slowly and deliberately–is a good beginning.

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A serious weighty collection of Conservative thought which includes Kirk and many of his colleagues.

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This book propelled Kirk into the center of the Conservative movement in its early stages and remains a key work on the mind and movement.

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Kirk’s study of T. S. Eliot–poet, essaying, Christian Humanist.

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A feast set with Kirk’s books.

Sell Your Shoes–Buy Spurgeon’s Books

 

It was the late 1970s and I was sitting in one of Professor Henry Wood’s history lectures furiously taking notes.  I could have focused on the key history details and only wrote down those matters pertinent to the next test.  But I never could focus just on that.  Without knowing the exact words, I was following the concept of “the student must become like the teacher.”  By that, I believed that if a teacher said, recommended it, mentioned, or modeled it, I should follow that lead.

Who Mr. Wood quoted, I don’t know.  I only know he said, “Sell your shoes and buy Spurgeon.”  This was advice he had received from a preacher or professor along the way, perhaps at Ouachita Baptist College or maybe during his time in seminary.  Or maybe he read it somewhere.  I wasn’t at all sure of who this Spurgeon was.  Then as now, selling your own shoes would not get you much money.  (Maybe not buying that extra pair of shoes is a better concept.)

At any rate, I wrote it down.  Books were just beginning to accumulate in my life.  While most of my buys were histories and literary classics, more and more were books on theological and Biblical topics.  I wasn’t changing from a history to a theology major, but my mind was undergoing a transformation.  The change was as radical in many ways as my own personal salvation of a few years prior had been.

But who was this Spurgeon and why were his writings so valuable?

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We are talking about Charles H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Sometimes called “the Prince of Preachers,” he spoke without technical amplification to thousands each Sunday.  Hearers had to obtain tickets to hear him preach.  His sermons, lectures, and books were mass produced in his day.  Even in our time, there are an innumerable amount of the writings of Spurgeon ranging from the inexpensive to very expensive works.

First confession, I failed to follow Mr. Wood’s advice at that time.  I did buy one small paperback, which was titled John Ploughman’s Talks.  The sayings and stories in that and other John Ploughman volumes are quite enjoyable, but that small volume didn’t quite convince me of the worth of Spurgeon.

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Through the years, I mainly picked up quotes here and there from Spurgeon about faith, prayer, the Bible, and the Christian life.  Moreover, many Calvinist writers quoted really great Spurgeon statements on Calvinism, predestination, election, and salvation.  Spurgeon is so useful for quotes and quips that I even purchased a book of Spurgeon quotes.  Along with that, there are really popular books such as Morning and Evening, which is a devotional book that has been reprinted and revised many times.

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Perhaps the most influential book I read about Spurgeon was The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray.  That book is one of the most important books on church history and theology and ministry ever written.  It was the first of many reads of books by Iain Murray, who combines good story telling in biographies with solid theology and instruction.  You never know in reading Murray if you are gaining more in education or edification.  This may have also been my first time to read a Banner of Truth book, of which many reads and acquisitions have followed.

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The book traced several battles that Spurgeon found himself in the front lines of during his life and ministry.  One was over the Doctrines of Grace, a.k.a., Calvinism.  In his early years–and no one has ever surpassed Spurgeon’s sermons when he was too young to be preaching!–he preached at a church called New Park Street.  His most doctrinally powerful sermons on grace from what we call a Reformed perspective was preached at New Park Street.  The multi-volume New Park Street Pulpit is one of the best resources around for reading Spurgeon’s work.

Calvinism has often come under attack.  Its popularity has often waxed and waned, and Spurgeon was defending what seemed to be a losing cause by defending Calvinism in his time.  He was definitely going against the grain, against the waves, against the trends, against the times, against the prevailing winds, or whatever other metaphor is apt.  He was convinced, however, both of the truth of what he was preaching and teaching and of the ultimate revival of the doctrines he loved.

(Side note:  In the not long past decades, some who found Spurgeon’s sermons appealing in many respects were put off by his Calvinism.  Hence they decided to do old Charley a favor and they edited his books, and even changed his words, so as to soften or remove what he actually said.)

Spurgeon also battled for the truth and authority of the Bible during the Down-Grade Controversy.  No, the 1800s were not the “good old days.”  The Baptist Union of which Spurgeon was a part voted him down by a large majority because of his views of the Bible.  Even though he had many followers, church members, and students, he was increasingly a forgotten man by the time of his early death in 1892.

Thanks to Iain Murray’s work in writing The Forgotten Spurgeon, the only thing that is really questionable about the book is now its title.  Spurgeon is very much remembered, appreciated, loved, and read today.

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The most important and influential Spurgeon book for me in recent years is his set of talks titled Lectures to My Students.  This work has been reprinted by several publishers over the years, but the Banner of Truth edition is the most complete and is the nicest in terms of printing and format. I had read from portions of the book through the years, but then finally read it from cover to cover.  It is an incredibly good book for preachers, teachers, students of the Bible, and teachers and students of speech and rhetoric.  Many of the talks in this book were given by Spurgeon on Friday afternoons to the seminary students.  Par for the course and characteristic of the man, the book is full of wit (which transcends the passage of time), insight, convicting exhortations, and practical advice.  It is also a wonderful glimpse into the personality of Sprugeon himself.

I think one of my favorite experiences in reading this book was a chapter where he defended his own style of topical preaching as opposed to expository preaching through a longer text, a chapter, or book of the Bible.  I disagreed with Spurgeon both before and after reading the chapter, but I thought it was a marvelously well done piece of writing.  I heartily recommend the book to all, except preachers.  In their cases, I require the book.

All of this background into Spurgeon the man, Spurgeon the preacher, Spurgeon the hero of so many of us today is to highlight yet another new book on Spurgeon.  This work, titled The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons between 1851 and 1854 and edited by Christian George, is a very beautiful, hardback volume containing a yet untapped vein of Spurgeon’s thought.  From the page on the B & H Academic website, we quote: “Beginning in January 2017, B&H Academic will start releasing a multi-volume set that includes full-color facsimiles, transcriptions, contextual and biographical introductions, and editorial   annotations. ”

This means that this is the first of many gems that will further enrich us with Spurgeon’s print ministry.  I can hardly wait to start digging into this book.

A few additional Spurgeon-related notes:

His auto-biography, published in two volumes, is yet another fine Banner of Truth production.  They are titled The Early Years and The Full Harvest.

There have been quite a few good biographies of Spurgeon.  A really good shorter work is the one done by Arnold Dallimore, titled Spurgeon: A Biography.  You may remember Dallimore for his excellent two volume biography of George Whitefield.

Cover Image for 'Spurgeon: A Biography' by Arnold Dallimore

Then there is the rather extensive and more recent biography of Spurgeon done by Tom Nettles, titled Living by Revealed Truth:  The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

No discussion of Spurgeon would be complete without mentioning his classic Treasury of David set.  These three volumes are “treasured” by all who love good Bible commentary that is solid, exegetical, and very practical.  Often reprinted, this set is a must.

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The only other case where Spurgeon wrote a Scripture commentary is the Gospel of Matthew.  His commentary has been reprinted by Banner of Truth. There is also an edition of this commentary that includes some of Spurgeon’s letters which was published by The Particular Baptist Press.

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While there are numerous collections of Spurgeon sermons, the most complete is the many volumes of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.  There are over 60 weighty volumes in this set.  I own one measly volume.  Some years ago, I bought a large number of these from Pastor (and friend) David Richardson, who decided to read Spurgeon via his computer rather than having the set of books.  I then sold them to another friend and book dealer David Leach, who wanted them for himself.  I have felt–since then–like a wayfaring stranger, wandering through this world without these books.

Pilgrim Publications sells the Spurgeon set, as well as many other fine editions of Spurgeon’s works.  The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit set they offer has 48 hardbound volumes and goes for a mere $1074 (less than $23 a volume).

Many a good pastor has read Spurgeon sermons for years.  We don’t read him so as to preach like him, but we read him so that we can be instructed.

So, younger readers, as well as those my age and beyond, sell your shoes (or skip buying that new pair) and buy the works of Spurgeon.  Let’s start with his lost sermons.

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Six O’Clock A.M. Seminary Classes

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I attend an early morning seminary class on theological subjects.  It begins at 6:00 a.m.  Yes, I know that Robert Murray McCheyne, Samuel Rutherford, Jonathan Edwards, and others would have already been up for hours by that time.  And I know that George Grant has already run 65 miles, written a chapter or two of a book, and read 3 books by that time.  But I am a challenged person.  I still think of the sixth hour as the middle of the night, so this is “one large step for mankind” in my case.

There are two companions in the classes with me.  On my right sits the student who provides lots of encouragement and incentive to read.  His name is Morning Coffee. He is usually strong, black, and bitter, with me sharing only the latter attribute.  But he does wonders in terms of helping me focus.

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Really helps open my eyes and unclog my brain in the morning.

On my left, all too often is another companion.  This companion, suffering from severe ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity, and a total lack of intellectual curiosity is Callie, the dog.  Contrary to appearances, she is not even a good listener.  She just wants to play.  She has an assortment of toys that she brings to me so that I can throw them, or use them in tug-of-war.  After doing that for a few minutes, she is content to fight with wolf-like ferocity the very hand that feeds her. One would think–upon seeing her–that she would be a good listener–but she is not.  Nor is she a good student or a help, but she forces me to be awake and pay attention.

Has little love for serious theology and is often a continual distraction. Forces me to really work at concentrating.

Currently, my class begins with a study on the Minor Prophets from a book titled The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets by Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. and Gary E. Yates.  The Minor Prophets are the twelve books at the end of the Old Testament, starting with Hosea and ending with Malachi.

I, for one, experience lots of problems with reading and understanding the Minor Prophets.  First, the common attribution of them being “minor” seems to indicate that these writings are less important than other revelations in Scripture.  Second, the writings are short, often written in poetic form, and focused on local events of the time.  The historical context is often vital to making sense of the writings.  Third, since they come last in a normal reading of the Old Testament, they often get the quick read (as in, “I am hurrying to get through”) from me.

We often remember Jonah’s story, but that is because it is different in style than most of the other prophets.  We also tend to notice a few particulars out of these writings that relate to the birth of Christ or other New Testament events.  Overall, we neglect this rich source of Bible revelation. I must admit that when I first saw this book, I only noticed the title and not the subtitle.  I thought it was going to be a study of the Apostles.  There are some fine resources on the Apostles, such a study would be inviting.  But I am glad that I am now “signed up for and sitting in” a class that will help enrich my reading of those short orations that were given to call the people of God back to God.

This work is suitable for a Bible college or seminary classroom.  This is a serious analysis of the prophets with the first portion of the book dealing with common themes and structure of the writings.  I am just now ready to begin the portion that focuses on the individual books.

I will soon be starting a reading and study of  God and Politics in Esther by Yoram Hazony and published by Cambridge University Press.  This book is a sequel of sorts to Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, also a Cambridge Publication.  (My copy of the latter book is autographed!)  I first became aware of Hazony’s writings through Paul David Robinson’s comment in a discussion group a few years back.  Robinson is a Ph.D. candidate who hails from Northern Ireland, but is studying here in the U.S.

Hazony is a Jewish scholar and is the Provost of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and Senior Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, Political Theory, and Religion.  Because of his Jewish perspective, the insights from his books are going to be way outside the box of a southern (basically fundamentalist) Calvinistic Presbyterian.  While there is plenty need for me to be grounded more and more in what I am already convinced of, I also need the challenge and mind-and-soul expansion that comes from reading Hazony.

I noticed a few weeks back that a local church has a women’s study on the Book of Esther.  I think that is well and good, but I also recognize that we all have a hard time with Esther, apart from the fact that it is a good story.  We also struggle with how to blend or separate religion and politics.  I suspect this book will be a bombshell in the most positive sense.

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Speaking of politics and religion, I recently read a book titled The Individualist in Church & State by Frederic de Rougemont.  This book is published by Wordbridge Publishers.  I try to read everything Wordbridge publishes.  Run by e-friend (meaning we know each other via e-mails) Ruben Alvarado, a brilliant scholar himself, Wordbridge publishes a number of books on theology, politics, economics, philosophy, literature, and the connections between those fields.

I am convinced–more than ever–that now is the time for serious political reading and thought.  The last election–whatever one might think of the outcome–was the result of lots of shallowness on the surface, but lots of demographic, economic, social, cultural, and philosophical twisting and turning below the surface.  Christians were just as bumfuzzled as the rest of the nation.

Talk radio–with its few strengths and many weaknesses–cannot provide a foundation for Christian thinking about politics.  But these basic issues did not begin with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, nor with the previous Presidents Clinton and Bush and Bush.  There is a need to be more deeply grounded in the political history of Christianity.

There are many useful books from the past and about the past on these topics.  Just note that Wordbridge has also published Groen van Prinsterer’s Christian Political Action in an Age of Revolution.  The great Groen van Prinsterer was not the lone European with a vision for a Christian political order.  One of the things that astounded me about this book was the appendix that covered the life of the author.  I was not sure I had ever heard of Rougemont before reading this book, but in his day, he was an incredibly prolific author and commentator on a host of theological and political topics.

Rougemont believed that “revivalist movements spread individualism into the church, which went from there to society at large. In turn, this led to the radical separation of church and state and the consequent triumph of unbelief in and through the state.”  (From the back cover.)  The argument in the book concerns another time and set of circumstances, so this book is not a picture of modern America or Europe.  But that only adds to its worth and necessity–see C. S. Lewis’ classic essay “On the Reading of Old Books.”

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As I was thinking about The Individualists in Church and State, my mind shifted to a book I finished just today.  It is titled A Gospel Without Limits: Good News for Family, Church, Culture, Cosmos by my friend (who is more than an e-contact) P. Andrew Sandlin.  As a long time proponent, speaker, writer, and thinker for the broad concept of Christian culture, this book is yet another installment of what will hopefully, someday be a massive work on Christianity and culture by Sandlin.

The problem of individualism, or of salvation that is only a heart-changing issue, is a focus of this book.  Sandlin is building upon the works and influence of men such as Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and others who saw Kingdom building as part of the Gospel.  Christianity impacts the family, and no where is such impact more needed today than in the family.  It may be a given that the Faith impacts the church, but the broader components of changing–not just slightly brushing up against–the culture is a key area of much needed Christian involvement.

The world or cosmos is not just a failed creation action of God that He will replace with heaven.  God is redeeming us to dwell in a new (re-newed) heaven AND earth.  Future–yes, but also present, here and now.

A Gospel Without Limits

I must also mention that I love Andrew’s footnotes and book references.  He and I share a lot of reading updates and book suggestions.  His reading background is extensive and his knowledge of theology continually astounds me.  I read the footnotes as commendations on books he and I both have read and value and as suggested reading assignments and purchases for the future.

Here are some of the books he quotes, references, or plugs in this book:

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture.  Amen and amen.  Read and could profit from reading it another 10 times.  A blockbuster.

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied.  Read this and other Murray books years ago.  John Murray is top shelf.

Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology.  Have but have not read.  Sandlin’s quotes and use of Van Til is a not-so-subtle suggestion that we all need to be reading that Dutchman often.

Stephen C. Perks, The Christian Philosophy of Education.  Perks is a pillar of Christian thought in England.  This book is first rate.

John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life.  Andrew and I agree that anything by Frame–even his grocery list–is worth reading.

H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism.  Great book that should be read after Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.

Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, For the Fame of God’s Name.  Excellent collection of essays honoring John Piper.

David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant.  Have, but have not read.  However, have read and profited from many of Wells’ books.

Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster.  This is one of a very few books by Schaeffer I don’t have.  Pity me.

Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea.  Anything written by McGrath is either something I have or want.

Carl F. H. Henry, Christian Countermoves in a Decadent Culture.  We should never forget or overlook Henry.

G. C. Berkouwer, Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith.  I bought and read this excellent volume on Andrew’s recommendation years ago. I continue to acquire books by the great Berkouwer, yet another Dutch theologian.

There’s more!  But all this, regarding those early morning seminary classes is enough for now.

My Wipf and Stock Portfolio

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My stock portfolio for the last several years…No, make that for my entire working career…is mighty poor.  I am the proverbial person who has enough money to live on for the rest of my life, if I die this afternoon.  I am the person who could go broke selling water in a desert.  I have fulfilled the maxim that a fool and his money are soon parted without figuring out how to make enough money to be parted from.  I am aware of the saying that money cannot buy happiness with the realization that neither can poverty.

I am rather wealthy, however.  My investments are my family, church, and career.  And I have enough books to run a book business for a decade or two if I were ever to switch from consumer to distributor.

All of this is to bring attention to some of my recent stock acquisitions.  You won’t find these on the Dow-Jones market report, but they are good investments.

I am speaking of a few books I have picked up in recent months from Wipf and Stock Publishers.

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I first became aware of Wipf and Stock a few years back when they reprinted Roy Clouser’s book Knowing from the Heart.  Clouser is a mentor to me and an e-friend and brother in Christ.  He is also a profound philosophy teacher and scholar.  His book The Myth of Neutrality is one of the most important books I have ever read.  The reprinting of Knowing from the Heart, along with several other books I came across, made me think that W & S was just devoted to reprinting out-of-print editions of much needed books.  They do quite a bit of that.

But they are also publishing a wide range of new works as well.  As they say on the web-site, they are “committed to writing that honors the imagination, intellect, and heart,” and that includes books that range from  “biblical studies to classic theology, poetry to history” by authors who are “experts, scholars, and artists.” I must admit to getting a sick feeling when I browse through the incredible number of books they publish.

The books I have from them that I have read or am currently reading are Christian studies.  The pattern seems to be books that are not fluff or simplistic, but not so scholarly and abstruse as to fly over the serious reader.  If there is too much drivel in the Christian book stores (and sadly, there often is) and too much saccharine on the radio (and there often is), these books are serious stuff.  These are the kinds of reads that C. S. Lewis had in mind when he mused about the singing unbidden while working through or reading “a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand. “

Let me highlight just four books that I have found or am finding quite a delight:

First, Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition by Louis Markos.

Heaven and Hell

There are quite a few things that drew me to this book.  First, it is written by Dr. Markos, literature professor at Houston Baptist College.  I first became acquainted with Markos from his book From Achilles to Christ.  Then I listened to some of his lectures on C. S. Lewis and began following his work more closely.  The high point was the meeting of the Association of Classical Christian Schools conference in Dallas, Texas in 2015 (which I covered here).  Dr. Markos is high energy in his lecture style.  I don’t know how he settles down enough to write, but he does.  The main focus of his writings seem to be on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, but he has ventured way beyond those two greats.

A second attraction of this book is in the subtitle–Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition.  Based on the past 20 years of grappling with the classics, the greatest epics, and the poetic traditions of the West has all created an insatiable appetite for knowing more.  So much of Western literature is dominated by or interpreted by the Christian view of the Afterlife.  “You die and that’s it” might be the bitter beliefs of some, but not the view that has under-girded our literature.

Third, this book devotes chapters to some of my favorite and often taught books.  These include Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy (8 chapters!), Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Lewis’ The Great Divorce (of which I wrote the chapter in the Veritas Press publication Omnibus V The Medieval World).

Markos is a scholar devoted to cultivating romance between the student and the text.  He is also a dedicated Christian.  This book is a fine resource to pull out when teaching particular books or a useful book to read from cover to cover.  I previously reviewed this book in 2014 here.

The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity

This past summer I read and commented on The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity: Roots, Consequences, and Resolutions by Keith C. Sewell.  Dr. Sewell and I have corresponded on a few occasions over the years, but we have never actually met.  He taught history at Dordt College for a time, as well as in England, and now he is living in Australia.  Some years back, I acquired his weighty study (based on his dissertation) on the Christian historian Herbert Butterfield.  That book is titled Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History and is published by Palgrave MacMillan.

I found The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity to be one of the most enjoyable and informative books I read in 2016.  Most of the book is a history of Christianity with a special emphasis on the English and American Evangelical experiences.  When I say the book was enjoyable, I do not mean to imply that I found pleasure in all the content.  Christianity–or Evangelicalism in this case–has failed, fallen short, and made a hash of many of its situations and opportunities.  This book burns a bit going down.  Although Dr. Sewell is Reformed in his theology, just as I am, he is not beating the drum for Reformed theology or Evangelicalism.  The book diagnoses some of the bad tendencies and failure.  This is not a depressing analysis of “where we failed.”  He offers suggestions for remedying the situation.

Whether read as a prescription of what should be done or as a history of what has been done, this is a first rate study. I look forward to a second reading, hopefully soon.  My previous comments on this book can be found here and here.

The Conversion and Therapy of Desire

I have commented on The Conversion and Therapy of Desire: Augustine’s Theology of Desire in the Cassiciacum Dialogues so often that I feel like I should be carrying pom poms as I cheer.  The initial draw of this book was the name of Augustine in the subtitle.  This was in the summer and with the Medieval Humanities coming up, I was interested in doing collateral reading on Augustine prior to teaching City of God.  My recent post explores some of what I have experienced and run into in this quest to scale Mount Augustine.  It can be found here and my post from the summer can be found here.  By the way, Mark Boone, another e-friend, is forever in my debt for me having paired him and his work with that of Albert Camus.  Albert Camus, were he still living, would have been honored as well.

Because of having gotten to know Mark Boone, I learned from him early on that he had a new work from Wipf and Stock.  It is titled Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man: Finding C. S. Lewis in Sci-Fi Film and Television.  Boone and Kevin C. Neece edited this collection of essays.

Science Fiction and The Abolition of Man

Let me admit this up front:  If I did not know Mark Boone and I just stumbled across this book, I would have glanced at it for a while and walked on.  The gaze of C. S. Lewis in the cover picture and the mention of his name would have interested me, but my interest would have ceased with reading the words “Sci-Fi Film and Television.”  Truth be known:  I liked The Waltons, not Star Trek.  If William Faulkner had tried his hand at Science Fiction, I might have been willing to give it a try, but he didn’t.

But the serious reader, teacher, student, learner, human must branch out.  “You don’t like what you don’t know” a wise teacher told me back in 9th grade.  Besides, Lewis is there in the picture, approving the book.  And, his classic Abolition of Man is alluded to in the title.  Furthermore, movie critic and yet another acquaintance of mine–Brian Godawa–wrote the foreword.  Should I add that Louis Markos contributed one of the essays?

Yes, I am afraid that this book is going to mess up my box and shake up my comfort zone.  I doubt that Sci-Fi in print or film will ever become a favorite genre for me, but this study looks really good.  I will let you know more as I progress into it.

The Presbyterian Philosopher

If Science Fiction is the broccoli that I have to learn to eat, the book The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by Douglas J. Douma is my desert table–meaning, banana pudding, German chocolate cake, carrot cake, coconut cream pie, and loads of ice cream.

Everything about this book appeals to me.  One exception–its brevity–for it is only 318 pages.  I never met Dr. Clark, but he has been an influence on me directly and indirectly for over 40 years.  That influence includes how his books shaped the thought of the history professor who shook up and changed my whole worldview in 1974-1976.  It also includes the books Clark wrote and the books he contributed to.  These range from his terse little book called Predestination to his Christian Philosophy of Education.  Two of the best of his works–in terms of their impact on me–are Historiography: Secular and Religious and A Christian View of Men and Things.

Some years back, I did a lecture series called “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Age.”  I had the occasion to give some of the lectures “coast to coast,” meaning in Virginia and Alaska.  Clark’s works and contributions were included in my lectures, readings, and bibliographies.  But I never did him justice.  Some of that neglect was due to Clark’s disputes with Cornelius Van Til (covered, of course, in this biography) and his subsequent distance from the Westminster Theological Seminary’s key players.  Another problem was my focus on the Dutch theologians and philosophers, centering around Herman Dooyeweerd.  Clark was never a Dooyeweerdian and most of his followers have distanced themselves as well.

Then there was this problem:  There was no biography of Gordon Clark.  The book Gordon Clark: Personal Recollections, edited by John Robbins, contained lots of good anecdotal and biographical information, but was not a complete biography.

Gordon H. Clark: Personal Recollections

When my son, Nicholas, went to Wheaton College in 2011, I had several occasions to visit the college, and I was always looking for something there that would have noted the influence of Gordon Clark.  He taught for a few years there back in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  It was not a pleasant experience overall, and he left no monuments on the campus.  However, he changed the Christian world while he was there.  Students he influenced included Carl F. H. Henry who became the editor of Christianity Today, Edward Carnell who became president of Fuller Seminary, Edmund Clowney who was president of Westminster Theological Seminary, and author/theologians Paul Jewett and Harold Lindsell.  Unfortunately, Clark intimidated more than influenced a bright young student named Billy Graham.  American evangelicalism might have been better served had young Graham’s mind been more receptive to Clark’s thinking.  (Graham’s wife, Ruth Bell, did recognize Clark’s strengths and once–in a spiritual crisis–longed to have a dose of Gordon Clark Logic to alleviate her doubts.)

I am currently reading this book during part of my morning reading ventures.  This work was love at first sight.

Side note:  Gordon Clark’s grandson, Nathan Clark George, is a friend of mine and is one of the best Christian musicians around today. His website and his recent CD–An Ode to the Carter Family–can be found here.  When Nathan casually refers to playing chess with “Granpa Clark,” I get cold chills.

Hitler’s Religion by Richard Weikart

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I find books about Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin depressing.  I am sure that I would find books about Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot equally depressing if I read them.  I can grasp how leaders can be vengeful, ambitious, overly aggressive, and obsessed.  Pure evil is harder to fathom.

With Hitler, it takes lots of patience to navigate the political and social turmoil of the Germany he came to rule.  It takes effort to figure the effects of World War I on the people of that time, the machinations of the German government, and the deep-seated roots of anti-Semitism throughout Europe.  But understanding and even feeling the pain of a nation defeated in war doesn’t enable me to make the leap of sanity needed to grasp great crematoriums burning the bodies of people killed for their race or religion or political opposition.

The ugliness of World War II battlefields at least holds out certain consolations.  There is the pluck and bravery of the Royal Air Force and the pilots flying their Spitfires against the German bombers.  There is the incredible salvage operation during the Battle of Dunkirk.  There are the virtuous Germans, such as General Rommel, “the Desert Fox” or Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.  There are the Russians in Leningrad who survived a siege of nearly 3 years.  America’s “good war,” which produced “the greatest generation,” offers plenty of uplifting stories of men, women, and an entire nation.

There were plenty of evils on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific.  There were atrocities, violations of the rules of war, and unnecessary and wanton destruction of lives and property that did not shorten the war.  But still those matters can be grasped and grappled with.  Gassing Jews, conducting evil experiments on children, and hanging political opponents with piano wire falls into a much deeper and more horrible circle of Hell.

Hence the Hitler problem.  How can a political science student or reader classify this man who was an extreme nationalist, a demagogue, and a tyrant alongside other fault-laden politicians of history?  How can a military historian explain the priority given to trains transporting people to concentration camps when German armies were being chewed up on three different fronts?  How can the sociologist or psychologist deal with a culture where people went to work each day routinely killing masses of people?

Even as a Calvinist looking at history with the strong conviction that we are sinners, warped and ruined and depraved and wicked to the core, still there is the Hitler Problem.  And he wasn’t alone.  For all those reasons, all too many of my volumes weighing down book shelves with the name “Hitler” or “Third Reich” or “Nazi” are avoided.  Yet, truth demands looking at the ugly, the wicked, and the false premises under-girding a world in sin.

I suppose everyone who decides to major in history in college and then to teach history came in through the various doors promising excitement and good stories.  Great battles, great men and women, heroes and heroines, romantic causes and the like lured us into the field.  The bright and shining figures still exist for me, but there are other aspects that are grim.  There is the miserable death count that teaching history entails.  At some point, the 147,234 deaths in this event and the more than 3 million total deaths in that event leaves the teacher, student, and reader numb to the reality.  I have never even known that many people.  The deaths of friends, family, and acquaintances depresses me. Holocausts and genocides are unthinkable, except that the history teacher is a messenger–Clio plus Hermes–so he must bear the bad news.

It is for these reasons that I am thankful for Richard Weikart and historians like him.  I first became aware of him when I read and reviewed his book From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany.  I thought it might be useful, but I found it more than that.  It was astounding.  That book led me to a companion volume and follow-up titled Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress.  Dr. Weikart and I began occasionally corresponding after I became aware of these two works.

This past year, Weikart’s book The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life was published.  I reviewed it and some other books HERE and HERE.  The Death of Humanity is a serious examination of some of the key thinkers and most faulty thinking that has struggled for the soul and culture of Western Civilization in recent centuries.  Weikart’s book is a good supplemental, more in-depth study of what Francis Schaeffer attempted in How Should We Then Live?

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Now Richard Weikart has yet another very important new book out.  Titled Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich, this study examines the speeches, private conversations, writings, and actions of Adolph Hitler relating to religion.

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Let me emphasize:  THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BOOK.  That being said, I regret having read it during the Christmas holidays and shortly after the death of my father.  To quote from the person who would be President, “What difference does it make now?”  That is, what difference does it make what religious views, if any, Hitler held?

First,  Hitler’s religious beliefs were part of a wider set of beliefs that made up his worldview.  Surely, he duped lots of folks.  Truth-telling was not his forte, but there was plenty that could have been known from his writings, particularly Mein Kampf.  Hitler bought into the dark side of Darwinian naturalism for certain.  I know that the Darwin-Hitler link is a point of controversy, as is the Hitler-Nietzsche link.  Hitler was not a profound thinker or systematic organizer, but he did absorb bits and pieces of ideas that coagulated into his warped worldview.

Second, Hitler is sometimes labeled a Christian and/or a Catholic.  Of course, he was Catholic by birth–as were most Gentile Austrians.  Likewise, he picked up on some Christian concepts, such as Providence, that he made reference to.  But, as this book demonstrates repeatedly, Hitler despised Christianity in all forms–Catholic or Protestant.  He was a politician in a country with a Christian heritage, and so he sometimes crafted language and actions in ways to either appeal to or disarm the residual Christianity in his culture.

Third, sometimes Hitler is accused of being a Satanist or part of the Occult.  It is fair enough to label his actions and hatreds as Satanic, but he was not a Satan worshiper.  There were elements of the Occult in Germany, but the Third Reich was not an Occult Regime.

Fourth, everything being weighed and put in the mix, Hitler was–like all people–religious.

Allow me to copy off of someone else homework for a moment.  This is from Gary Scott Smith’s excellent review of the book:

Weikart argues that Hitler is best understood as a pantheist, one who believes that nature is God and that the cosmos provides principles to guide human conduct. He frequently deified nature, referring to it as eternal and all powerful. One of the reasons it’s difficult to determine Hitler’s actual beliefs, however, is that he said different things in public than in private, like many politicians, and because he often portrayed himself as a pious Catholic and applauded Christianity in his speeches (especially before the late 1930s) to gain political capital, public approval, and greater popularity. Moreover, Hitler was a “religious chameleon” and notorious liar who continually obfuscated to serve his purposes. Most Germans who joined the Nazi Party or at least voted for Hitler professed to be devout Christians, and many even saw him as protecting Christianity from the threat of godless communism.

 

Therefore, this book goes beyond the mere question of what box Hitler would have checked on a form asking for his religion.  He himself would have asked himself what he would gain from checking certain boxes.  He was “a believer.”  He was a man who was compelled by a set of doctrines to pursue his goals.  Certainly his pantheism mish-mashed religious mix credited him with a key role in purifying “humanity,” meaning Aryan peoples.  Worldviews, philosophies, presuppositions–both those spoken and those assumed, scientific trends, the need for scapegoats, and the warped to desire to create a utopia are all dangers that lurk out in the darkness, but out in the open as well.

This book is a testament to the importance of serious historical examinations of how thoughts lead to actions.

Another recent book I read on Hitler was the short biography, simply titled Hitler, by A. N. Wilson.  This book gives just enough biographical information and discussion of the events in Hitler’s life to equip the reader without excessive detail.  And, Wilson does a credible job of dealing with the laziness, incompetence, speaking power, and surprising successes (at least up until late 1941) of Hitler.

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Even as the evils of World War II overwhelm the reader, there are those stories of heroic people who stood against the terrible regimes or did some small part to relieve suffering. One such account that is most appealing, although grim, is the book A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps–My Mother’s Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade by Barbara Rylko-Bauer.  This woman chose to go into the concentration camps to serve as a doctor.  We need these reminders that evil never ultimately wins.  This book was published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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