Ongoing and Occasional Readings

No description available.

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.

See the source image

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.

May be an image of 4 people, people sitting and indoor

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.

No photo description available.

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.

.

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.

May be an image of one or more people, book and text that says 'VOLUME ECCLESIOLOGY, DOCTRINE &BIBLICAL LAW AN INFORMED FAITH the POSITION PAPERS of R.J. RUSHDOONY'

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.

No description available.

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.

May be an image of text that says 'G.W.F. W. HEGEL GREAT THINKERS SHAO ΚΑΙ TSENG Foreword by Brant Bosserman'

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.)

See the source image

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

No description available.

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.

See the source image

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.

May be an image of 4 people, people sitting and indoor

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.

No photo description available.

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.

.

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.

May be an image of one or more people, book and text that says 'VOLUME ECCLESIOLOGY, DOCTRINE &BIBLICAL LAW AN INFORMED FAITH the POSITION PAPERS of R.J. RUSHDOONY'

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.

No description available.

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.

May be an image of text that says 'G.W.F. W. HEGEL GREAT THINKERS SHAO ΚΑΙ TSENG Foreword by Brant Bosserman'

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.)

See the source image

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

No description available.

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.

May be an image of book and text that says 'Foreword by D. A. CARSON WHAT ABOUT EVIL? 2O1UT A DEFENSE OF GOD'S SOVEREIGN GLORY SCOTT CHRISTENSEN'

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.

No description available.

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.

No description available.

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.

No description available.

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.

No description available.

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

May be an image of 1 person, book and text

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.

May be an image of text that says 'Thaddeus Williams God Reforms Hearts Rethinking Free Will and the Problem of Evil'

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

May be an image of book and text that says 'THE MAKER ERSUS THE TAKERS HAT JESUS REALLY SAID BOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE AND ECONOMICS RY BOWYEK'

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.

May be an image of book and text that says 'comprehensive introduction to learning how to think ike a Christian..." Michael Wagner (PhD). Author of Leaving God Behind STUDIES IN BIBLICAL APOLO GETICS FOR FOR A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW STEVEN R. MARTINS'

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.

May be an image of 1 person

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

No description available.

B & H Classics and the Aesthetics of Book Collecting

No description available.

“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.

No description available.

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.

No description available.

No description available.

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.

No description available.

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.

No description available.

Summer 2021’s History Readings

Summer 2021 was supposed to be the best ever. I would be temporarily reprieved from my minor teaching jobs. I had been working out since the Fall of 2020 and was in the best physical shape ever. I have a son in North Carolina who would give me an excuse for getting close to the Outer Banks. I was mentally thinking myself stronger, fitter, and in better mental condition than ever.

Then reality hit. Following a great routine checkup, I willingly got around to getting an unpleasant colonoscopy. Survived the pre-procedure purging and slept soundly through the procedure itself. I got the not so troubling news that I had a large, but benign polyp in my colon that would require surgery. But what better place to recover from a surgery than the sand and surf?

Then everything else unplanned by me (although not outside of God’s wise decrees) happened. A couple of days in the hospital turned to being nearly a month. A minor surgery turned into two surgeries. A quick recovery turned into days in ICU, several on a ventilator, a plethora of tubes pouring meds into my body, and a team of doctors trying to figure how to keep my blood pressure from dropping too much while medicating my now broken body. Being more full of life than ever in the spring, I almost died before summer came. Thankfully, I could not grasp how sick I was.

That tan from the Southern sun was replaced by a nice set of incisions. My workout schedule was replaced by physical therapists working to get me up on my feet, brushing my teeth while standing, and using a walker to get down the hall. (Thanks to Samantha Tefteller and Jim Spain for their life-restoring work on my broken body.) My increasingly Emersonian self-reliance was replaced by calling for help to get attend get to the bathroom.

God was working to break down and build up my body, but even more so, He was reminding me of my total need for Him and His grace. My faith plunged lower than my blood pressure. God sustained me.

Such are my confessions of both failure and progress for the summer. But since this blog is primarily about books, to that I will attend. I am quite thankful for getting to enjoy quite a few history reads over the summer. I have already posted reviews on many of these books and will be posting reviews on a few others, but I will recap some of the experiences.

No description available.

History Readings During the Summer of 2021

See the source image

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Eric Larson

This was the first book I got seriously into reading after my surgery. Went for a week or three without reading anything. But this book was just right for the occasion. I love histories of World War II, biographical accounts featuring Winston Churchill, and the story of the Blitz.

I honestly didn’t think Britain was going to survive while reading this book. Incredibly difficult times. Erik Larson’s style is such that I would like to read more of his books.

Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier by Daniel Drury and Tom Clavin

When I first got this book, I questioned the wisdom of it. It was sent to me as a review book, so I was not out any money, but would I actually be interested in taking the time to read it?

Boy, was I surprised. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, adventurous, and educational history books I had read in a long time. I loved Daniel Boone as a kid (back when he was played on television by Fess Parker), but on reading this book, I discovered that I love Daniel Boone as an adult.

Calhoun : American Heretic by Robert Elder (2021, Hardcover)

Calhoun: American Heretic by Robert Elder

I have mixed views about this book. On the one hand, it filled in enormous gaps in my mind concerning the life and political battles that John C. Calhoun was involved in. I have long known a few bits and pieces about his life and have often taught students about the great triumvirate of Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay. Yet I had not read a biography of the man.

The reservation about this book is evident from the title. Elder brands him a heretic to the American system. Calhoun’s colleagues and many statesmen in the years that followed certainly didn’t see him that way. And many who have praised and respected him did not agree with him. Calhoun as a political thinker was lost in this book. There was way too much catering with efforts to win popularity with the current trends in Calhoun-hating America.

See the source image

God’s Cold Warrior The Life and Faith of: John Foster Dulles by John D. Wilsey

This book is the latest contribution in a series about religious, political, and literary people that focuses on how their faith (or lack thereof) directed their lives. I have quite a few of the selections from this series and wish I had them all. Published by Eerdmans, this series is called the Library of Religious Biography.

In past book reviews, I reviewed the really interesting biography that D. G. Hart did of H. L. Mencken, an interesting man of great literary skill but with hostility toward Christianity. About a year ago, I reviewed the volume on Franklin D. Roosevelt, which I found totally fascinating.

This book, however, was quite disappointing. Part of the problem was the subject–John Foster Dulles. Dulles grew up in a Presbyterian household that included church going and Bible reading. His father was a pastor. But the Dulles family fell on the wrong side of the great Presbyterian war of the early 20th Century between theological liberals and conservatives, with a huge batch of moderates in between. If only Dulles had read J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism and embraced the message.

Much of the book covers pleasantly interesting details about Dulles’ enjoyment of the outdoors, his vacations to the island he came to own, and his family dynamics. He was an imperfect man, of course, but was a good husband and father. And he was a serious scholar and public servant who mastered the field of foreign affairs. Dwight Eisenhower appointed Dulles as Secretary of State. Until his untimely death, he served in that capacity and came to be known for a policy called “Brinkmanship.”

The best known part of Dulles’s life was his time in the Eisenhower Administration. His religious views, while lacking orthodox gravity, did provide a moral foundation from which to oppose Communism in general and the Soviet Union and other aggressive Communist states in particular.

This is what is most interesting to me about Dulles. But this short biography only devoted a small portion of the last chapter or two to this part of Dulles’s life. I would have preferred fewer camping stories and more foreign policy crises. I would have benefited from more Cold War coverage, even if that had doubled the size of the book.

Consolation prize for this unfavorable review: This $22 book is being sold for $5.63 on Amazon. That is for a new copy. It is well worth getting for that bargain price.

May be an image of 1 person and book

The Path of the Martyrs: Charles Martel, The Battle of Tours, and the Birth of Europe by Ed West

This book is a cheaply priced, short paperback. It is a narrative history pieced together with lots of secondary sources and little or no scholarly depth or originality.

However, this book is a fun and useful read. It is written in the way that history teachers, primarily in the junior high and high school settings, should teach. This history is story. It is enjoyable and informative. I figure the information could be gleaned from Wikipedia or an encyclopedia, but it would not be told in such a delightful way.

The author, who is British, has written several other volumes, primarily on British history. The breezy style, with a few quirky asides, would bar this book from most college reading lists. But for a high schooler, this would be a fine read.

George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father by David O. Stewart

I liked this book enough to go and purchase several other books by David Stewart. I have read quite a few books where Washington was either the subject or a subject. But this one filled in a niche that I didn’t even recognize clearly.

I had usually assumed that Washington had some unique military skills, which mainly hinged on survival techniques rather than winning battles. I knew that he had served in various political assemblies, albeit as a quiet rather than an oratorical force. What I had not realized is that he was a first class political operator. That may sound a bit crass or self-serving, but you can’t be a statesman if you are not in office and are not getting your agenda accomplished.

Washington’s political skills were honed on his early political and military experiences in Virginia. During the War for Independence, he was as much a politician as he was a general. He would not have survived otherwise. When he became President, he battled some severely debilitating health issues and threatening political ones. He survived. He did more than that: He triumphed.

May be an image of text that says 'LeRoy R Haten and Francis Marion VouDE Fort Laramie and the Pageant of the West, 1834 1890'

Fort Laramie and the Pageant of the West, 1834-1890 by LeRoy R. Hafen and Francis Marion Young

Steven Carr graciously sent me this book to help me during my recovery. I have tried to minimize my readings on Western history in America. The reason is that I like too many topics already and I know that I would get consumed with the the American West. I have, despite my best efforts, ended up reading at least a couple of books every year that focus on the frontier. This book and the Daniel Boone book are two of the more recent ventures.

The fun part of this book is that while it is not directly a primary history source (as opposed to secondary sources), it is very close. The feel of the book’s narrative is refreshing because it is not encumbered by some of the style, prejudices, and academic concerns of today.

Fort Laramie was right in the center of much that happened in the settling of the Old West, and that story is amply told here.

May be an image of book

The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity by Stephen Davies

This book, like another listed later on, was assigned to a reading group, hosted by Michael Douma. I was able to join the group for part of the discussion via Zoom, but I was in the hospital at the time. And I wisely kept my mouth shut.

This book is a really fine analysis of the events, people, ideas, and inventions that created the modern world. It was not an easy read, but it was one that had me wanting to start the book over once I finished it. Time has not allowed me to do that. This is a great read for a college level study on the Modern World.

See the source image

President Without a Party: The Life of John Tyler by Christopher Leahy

This is a much needed fine biography of a President who none would list as one of the greats, but who should be noted as good to very good. While we had no raging wars or domestic cataclysms during his nearly four years in office, the political tensions were high.

Tyler had few allies, many challenges, and limited success in his administration. But he had some solid character and unbending convictions. He was a man of his times, bearing the faults of his times, but he was the kind of man we need more of in politics.

May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'bullies lies and AN HONEST LOOK AT THE GOOD AND EVIL saints OF CHRISTIAN HISTORY JOHN DICKSON'

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

Although the chatty personal style that pops up in this book was irritating, I still liked the book. Although the author makes a few wrong judgments (in my opinion) about who are the bullies and who are the saints, I still liked the book. Although the last few chapters really went astray of the purpose of the book, I still liked it.

I was informed, entertained, convicted, and made curious. In fact, I think I bought around five books that I first learned of while reading this one.

Hastings Max-Operation Pedestal HBOOK NEW

Operation Pedestal: The Fleet That Battled to Malta, 1942 by Max Hastings

A review is still forthcoming on this outstanding World War II study. Hastings is in the top echelon of military historians. I have a large number of his books and am intent on reading them all.

This story is incredible. I am convinced that the little island of Malta was crucial to the long term victory of the Allies. But its survival was a hit and miss operation. The large fleet that battled its way to the island to bring much needed supplies is a really gripping story of untold bravery, good and bad leadership, and the fortunes and horrors of war.

May be an image of 2 people and text that says 'JAMES CRACRAFT'

The Revolution of Peter the Great by James Cracraft

At one time in my life, I considered going to graduate school and focusing on Russian history. A college class on Russian history, followed up by a trip to the Soviet Union in 1978 spurred that interest for a season or two. But I knew my interests were more firmly in American history and the opportunities for either pursuing the higher education and employment were limited. So, I opted to drive a school bus for a decade or more.

I still venture into Russian history every now and then. This rather brief word, recommended by Amanda Wood Aucoin, proved to be a really fine read. The subject is broad and the object is not a biography of Czar Peter. Rather, it focuses on how his rule and influence changed the culture and landscape of Russia.

May be an image of book and text that says 'JOHN STRICKLAND THE AGE of PARADISE Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium PARADISE AND PARDI UTOPIA The Rise and Fall of What the West Once Was VOLUME ONE'

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

With the need to read more on early Church History because of a class I am now teaching, I picked this book back up and started reading it with increasing intensity. The author and perspective is Orthodox, so parts of it were not agreeable or were simply informative. Overall, this is a good survey with lots of application for us as we seek to reclaim Christendom.

And for the life of me, I still cannot grasp all of what went on in the controversy over the Filioque clause.

No description available.

Revolutionary Prophecies: The Founders and America’s Future, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald and Peter S. Onuf

I read this collection of scholarly essays for a study group hosted by Michael Douma. Then I missed the Zoom meeting of the study group. I found the essays quite challenging. These topics are in the category of heavy lifting that serious history students need to read, but I am forever asking how the information could be translated into junior highese.

The contents are a continual reminder of the issues and concerns that are usually left out in basic discussions on the Founding Era.

Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II by Sean McMeekin

I reckon that Stalin’s War will be the last history read for the summer of 2021. Fall will actually have begun before I finish this book. This book is heavy, long, and incredibly detailed. And I am loving it.

I have never recovered from a deep love of studying World War II, nor do I wish to. I must confess, as I did above, that the sheer immensity and horror of the war makes me wonder if it all could have happened. Add to that the evil of men like Stalin and Lavrenty Beria, both of whom rival Hitler and the Nazis in their evil actions.

More important is the way that this book recasts many of the issues related to the war. Stalin did not mastermind the war, but he certainly was far from being a mere victim of Nazi aggression.

See the source image

John Tyler–President Without a Party

See the source image

President Without a Party : The Life of John Tyler by Christopher J. Leahy is published by Louisiana State University Press.

Presidents are often remembered by only a few words or sentences. Some of the bigger names, such as Washington and Lincoln, may get more notice, but for quite a few of the 46 title holders, most are scarcely remembered or connected to just an event or two.

John Tyler is often listed among the lesser known, less respected, and less honorable men who have held the office. At best, he is known for being the first Vice President to step up to the higher office due to the death of the President. Since Tyler’s day, that has happened 8 times. It is now a given. The Vice President is pegged as being a heart-beat away from the Presidency. The choice of a VP hinges, supposedly, on that person’s fitness to step in at a moments notice.

But the process began with John Tyler. He was not one of the major political figures of his day when he was chosen by the Whip Party to be the Vice Presidential candidate alongside of General Harrison, but he was an experienced politician, a Senator, and a former Democrat who had fallen away from the party over differences with the boogyman of the time, Andrew Jackson.

There were concerns over Harrison because he was entering office at age 68! (Thanks to the plethora of modern medical miracles, we have now had 3 different Presidents and many candidates who were well into their 70s.) The unexpected and sudden illness and death of President Harrison so soon (one month) after taking office was unexpected.

Very simple solution for what to do next: The Constitution says “In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President….”

Everyone now knows what that means, but when Vice President Tyler stepped into the job, howls and cries went up about it. For it was here where Tyler took a principled and determined stand against a body of detractors. After all, it was going to be 3 years and 11 months before a duly elected President would take office.

Tyler insisted that he was the President. He was not a substitute, a fill-in, or a “sort-of, but not really” Chief Executive. And he insisted on using the title President. In fact, he often ignored mail or comments that were directed to him that avoided the term.

Much of the problem hinged on the fact that Tyler unhinged the Whig agenda, which was largely the vision of a failed Presidential hopeful, Henry Clay. Tyler was not really a Whig. He was not an advocate of the party. He was still very much a conservative, old-line Virginia Democrat. There are people around today who are in the two major political parties, but not of them. Senator Mitt Romney doesn’t really fit in with most of the Republican Party today, and Senator Joe Manchin isn’t in line with his more liberal Democrat colleagues. Senator Bernie Sanders is an interesting case because he has twice run for the Democrat nomination and he caucuses with the Democrats, but he is, by party identification, a Socialist.

A two party system will have quite a few odd fits. And I favor it over a multi-party system, but that is another story. But rarely does one of the odd fits get to the White House. (Donald Trump is one of the exceptions.)

The problem with Tyler was that he never embraced any such notion as “to get along, go along” (attributed, I think, to Sam Rayburn). He had his own views, most of which were quite firm and fixed. And he had no intention of being a rubber stamp. John Tyler, having been raised by a man of strict Jeffersonian principles, was a man of strong, usually unbending character.

Two problems, and no doubt more, hindered his success as a leader. First, he was often, as the book points out, slow and indecisive. The time between his taking a position and acting on it was often long and confusing. Second, and this was the biggest problem and the theme of the book, was the fact that Tyler had no firm political base.

The Democrat Party was still the party of Andrew Jackson, who was still living at the time. The Whig Party had several luminaries in it such as Speaker of the House Henry Clay and Secretary of State Daniel Webster. Clay and Tyler entered into a no-holds barred, no disqualifications, nearly four year long cage match. The fact that Tyler was able to thwart the very skillful Clay quite often was no little feat.

Daniel Webster earned some of the well deserved praise that he is often accorded because of his actions during the Tyler administration. Most of Harrison’s cabinet flew the coop. Tyler was viewed as a sinking ship, a political albatross. More than that, Tyler was not going to have a cabinet-run administration. Webster stayed. Webster was loyal without being a sycophant. In time, he disagreed with Tyler over the Texas issue and found occasion to step down, but that was long after Tyler was able to stand his ground on being the President.

One thing that amazed me from this book was the details showing how extremely difficult that job of being President was. There was no war. It was not the modern age. The bigger issues of the ante-bellum United States were bubbling, but not boiling. Yet, Tyler had to work and work hard. He labored to build coalitions, cultivate allies, block opponents, dodge bullets, oversee foreign affairs, and balance a number of spinning economic plates.

Along with the political struggles the book covers, there is the personal life of Tyler. He was a gifted and aspiring politician who served in a number of offices, but not the man we would have voted as “most likely to succeed,” at the time. He was a plantation owning southern farmer with all of the baggage, meaning debt and slavery, associated with those times. He was a too often absent father and husband, who dearly loved the family that was often left without his presence due to his political obligation.

One of the great sorrows of his life was the death of his first wife, which occurred during his time in the White House. One of the most interesting, even amusing, parts of his life was his pursuing and marrying a woman who was less than half his age. The second Mrs. Tyler, a real beauty and a catch, bore him a number of children. (He had quite a few from his first marriage as well.) It is laughable to think of the prim and proper Tyler chasing his young sweetheart around the room during their courtship. Everything about the subsequent marriage indicates that this couple was truly in love until the death of John Tyler did them part.

Tyler really wanted to get the opportunity to run on his own for office and serve another term. The Whigs had repudiated him, and the Democrats were not willing to embrace him again. He toyed with the idea of a coalition of Democrats and others who thought like he did, but the movement never coalesced. After he went back to Virginia, he still nurtured hopes for a political comeback and still weighed in on political issues. His last political service was a short-lived stint as a member of the Confederate Congress. His death prevented him from doing further services for the Confederate States.

One final note: I am a Texas by birth, so I have strong reasons for liking the President who used a variety of political means to see to it that the United States was able to join itself to Texas.

This is a long-overdue and great biography of a man who might not be relegated to the list of great leaders, but who should be granted the status of good to very good.

The Age of Paradise: Christendom–the First Thousand Years

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium - VOLUME ONE Paradise and Utopia: The Rise and Fall of What the West Once Was by John Strickland

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium by John Strickland is published by Ancient Faith Publishing. It is part one of a three part history that Dr. Strickland is writing. The second volume, Paradise and Utopia: Christendom from the Great Schism to the Protestant Reformation is also available. Both can purchased HERE at a discount!

Necessity trumps need. I needed to read this book a year ago. In fact, I did read the opening portion and was most impressed by it. But I suffer from Book-Stacks-itis. The common name is “Too Many Books.” So, The Age of Paradise had to wait patiently on the shelves for a more convenient time.

Then came the necessity. I am beginning a class for some home schooling students on the Early Church and Medieval Period of history. I have a perilous stack of required readings for myself and the students, but I have an even more perilous stack of helpful and interesting extra readings for myself. At the top of that list was this book.

This is a serious detailed study of Church History during the first thousand years of the Faith. Note well that the author is an Orthodox priest, so his perspective is Christian, as opposed to non-Christian or modernistic nihilistic, and Orthodox, as opposed to Protestant or Catholic.

I am all for intramural battles amongst Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox followers of Christ. There is much to debate and many gut punches to deliver, as well as strong right and left hooks. God grant that our spiritual and academic sparring will result in sanctified iron sharpening iron.

There is also the place for Christians in all traditions to sit down, shut up, and learn from those who differ from us. Most of our more Western Church Histories exclude or minimize Eastern Orthodoxy. Philip Jenkins’s remarkable book The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died is a remarkable supplement to our deficits.

John Strickland’s series is another fine supplement. This was a very intellectually and spiritually challenging work. While there were familiar stories in it for any of us who have read church history, there are angles and details that I had never heard before. Plus, Strickland has a strong focus on the ways in which Christianity was a culture building movement. It–the Faith–was not just saving souls, but was turning the world and life view of the times upside down and inside out.

Below are a few (and many more could be added) that show some of the delights of this book:

“The conversion of the world was a process that engaged the world in its entirety. Culture was part of the world, and it was called to bear the saving faith wherever the Church planted herself. Culture was therefore as much a means of evangelization as an object of it. “

“The world Christendom revealed to pagans was beautiful, and few there were who did not want to become part of it.”

“Unlike Christian lawmakers in a nihilistic modern Christendom, the Emperor Justinian was not shy about legislating morality. “

“The most powerful liturgical action there was the placing of ‘crowns of martyrdom ‘ on their heads, symbolizing the sacrificial love their marriage requires. ”

Another aspect of this book is its discussion of the different theological emphases of the East and the West. Here in the West, Augustine is the Big A-Man. His thinking has a strong dominance in both Protestant and Catholic groups. But Strickland, in the Orthodox tradition, discounts Augustine’s theology as being pessimistic. We would expand that pessimism to Luther, Calvin, and the rest of our (speaking to my Reformed chums) heroes. The emphasis on the Fall, sin, the cross, and Jesus dying for us is the Gospel. The Eastern emphasis is more on the Resurrection and the effects of salvation. I confess to cringing every time I read the word “deification” as applied to us and our salvation. I was reminded of one of many reasons why I am not Orthodox. (Other reasons include not being able to grow a long enough beard and not wanting to be even more out of step with other plain folks here in the Bible Belt South.)

It’s easy enough to find wording used and terms omitted in Orthodox theology to make a hasty conclusion that “these folks ain’t Christians.” Do I believe that there are people in the Orthodox Church who are not believers? Yes, and I would have great concerns over the claim that Vladimir Putin is a devoutly Orthodox Christian (with further doubts about the Presbyterianism of Donald Trump and the devout Catholicism of President Biden). I believe that the most solidly Reformed, Bible-centered, Evangelical group in the U.S.A. (which I have yet to find) would and could have unbelievers in the midst.

There is a place for seriously listening to the Orthodox discussion of doctrine set within a historical narrative and considering. So, along with wincing, I discovered the need to do some learning.

A final aspect of the book is fifth and sixth chapters that deal with some rough and tumble theological battles between the East and West and between Constantinople and Rome. The filoque controversy left me dizzy and light-headed. This was not a “let’s talk over coffee” discourse between a couple of pastors. “Them’s fighten’ words” was the pattern, or perhaps it was the pattern for those who omitted the fighting words.

Related to this was some pure ugly in regard to the Papacy and Papal Succession. Admittedly, this is Calvinist fodder, especially when we are thinking ahead to that great yearly celebration of Reformation Day. Trying to be charitable, I would have a hard time adhering to Catholicism after relearning some of the awful things done to and by those who were or aspired to be the Vicar of Christ.

History is almost always ugly up close. All traditions have those who bore the name of Christ-follower, but who did terrible things–in that very name.

But for the Christian, history is never concluded with the up close and ugly. The picture is far above us and far more all encompassing than our glimpses into a few chapters of a book. Christian culture, the Age of Paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven all advances in spite of the counter-moves or the opposition from without.

This is a book about victories. As Herbert Schlossberg emphasized in Idols for Destruction, Christianity is a series of victories, disguised as defeats.

This book is a fine read for the person who loves history and is a believer. It is a great resource for the history teacher and a useful book for the theologian/pastor. I really liked this volume and look forward to reading the next one.

Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at Christian History

Want a good way to build up your faith? Read church history. Want a good way to create doubts and depression? Read church history.

Our only hope is in God. Great men are great sinners. Great movements contain fissures and cracks and fault lines that threaten to topple the whole edifice. Good documents can lead to bad applications. The best of motives can turn events upside down and inside out. The only hope is in God.

God works through history. But our salvation is not provable or stabilized by history. There are enough lovely events, selfless people, and acts of grace to fill volumes, but under the same banner, touting the same doctrines, and proclaiming the same Christ, one can find filth, dung, and vileness.

The application is simple: Imitate the good and eschew the bad. How can you know which is which?

Read Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History by John Dickson. This book is published by Zondervan and is available both in hardback format and in a digital format.

Bullies and Saints is a history written for the non-academic reader. This would not be the main book to pick for a college or seminary course. For such as that, one would want to consult works such as Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity or some of the older works, such as that of Williston Walker. Also, this book is not comprehensive. It is episodic.

Instead of being a comprehensive history of the Church, this book is written as an enjoyable stroll through the story of the Faith. Of course, being that the book is highlighting some of the colossal failures of Christianity, some of the ‘enjoyment’ is not pleasant. See my opening paragraphs.

Most of the cast of characters and events are those we would expect. High on the list of dark days for the Faith are those people and events related to the Crusades. Somewhat out of chronological order, the Crusades were where this book begins the story. I must confess that these opening chapters of the book were less than satisfying. I know that there was much done from the calling through the execution of the Crusades that was a travesty of Christian theology and practice. Even if viewed as political actions, the Crusades were failures. And on a military scale, in spite of some victories, these wars of Christians against Muslims were not great successes for the European powers.

My disappointment was in Dickson’s failure to reference or make use of Rodney Stark’s revisionist studies of the Crusades. And Stark is not alone. One thing that these more recent studies have affirmed is that Christians were not just bullies in terms of treatment of Muslims, but were the bullied. There were plenty of efforts of Muslim forces over the centuries to expand their empires and beliefs beyond the modern day Middle East and into mainland Europe. “They did it too” does not justify atrocities, but the conflicts between Islamic nations and Christendom (past and present) have been a long-term and recurring feature of history.

The early years of Christianity provide some of the most thrilling portions of the story. In short, in historical accounts, martyrdom is beautiful. The zeal, the willingness to die, and the efforts to defend apologetically the Faith provide some of the best chapters of the Christian story. This lends aid to the idea that the Faith is best when it is the minority position that lacks the power or even the tolerance of the State.

The Christianization of the Roman Empire, beginning with Constantine and going on through later Emperors, is often viewed negatively–for good reasons. Christendom is a difficult story to work through. Too often the modern age, with its secular, nihilistic biases, condemn every breath that any Christian ever took. But there were always bullies and saints, and sometimes the saints were able to do what they did because the bullies bullied their opponents.

One of the best portions of this book is the chapter that deals with the Inquisition. Again, there is no whitewashing of the Inquisition, but that term is bandied about as though every tenth person in Europe was stretched out on a rack by the Church Gestapo. The numbers and extent of the Inquisition have been greatly exaggerated and overblown. This is not weird history being touted as the views you never heard from your teachers. If Dickson did one thing right, it was digging through the best scholarship around.

Speaking of Dickson’s own scholarship and use of sources, I ordered possibly as many as five books based on his references and use of them in this book. There are five to ten more that I would like to order. There are quite a few that, thankfully, I already own. These are mainly secondary sources. I say that because hundreds of footnotes are referencing primary source materials.

I applauded and even gave standing ovations to portions of Bullies and Saints. At other times, I withheld judgment (usually with a frown), while I shook my head in disagreement over some portions. That is fine. That is good. That is what reading history is all about.

From acts of charity and mission works to misuses of doctrine and power, there are numerous events in this book that can be lifted and applied to current situations. I don’t think history supplies “the answer” to how we should deal with a secular state, declining morals, persecution of the Faith, and Christians in politics. I think history gives perspectives, and I think the more perspectives one has, the better the judgments that we can make.

On the Reading of Saint Augustine

See the source image

Augustine is often listed among the four great teachers of the Early Church. R. C. Sproul counted Augustine in his top five theologians list. He is quoted often, read sometimes, referenced frequently, and highly esteemed in Christian circles. Augustine is a common denominator theologian for both Catholics and Protestants. Admittedly, they like him for different reasons. Augustine is a big favorite among Reformed folk because of his advocacy and expositions regarding predestination and election. Calvin and Luther were both fan boys. The Augustinian Order in Medieval Catholicism contained quite a few adherents to the man and to his theology.

My prior experience dealing with Augustine has been mainly through studies in Church History. Any study of church history will deal with Augustine and his writings. As is common among many college educated people of our time, I was never required or encouraged or coerced into reading Augustine in undergraduate school or graduate school. Despite his pivotal role in being a part of history and defining a school of history, I don’t think any professor of mine mentioned him, except for Henry Wood. Mr. Wood began his classes with a couple of lectures on views of history, which reached its pinnacle in his discussion of Augustine’s City of God.

None of my education courses referenced Augustine even though he wrote a valuable treatise on education. I learned nothing of him in literature classes even though he largely created the genre of autobiography. I did not read him in any graduate course, nor did I have occasion to teach much about him in my public school experience.

Then came Classical Christian Education. Several years into the program, I had a class of 5 girls. We were studying Medieval history and literature. I assigned The City of God. We struggled and persevered all the way through it. I later used On Christian Teaching (also titled On Christian Doctrine) with my teachers one year and at least once in a rhetoric class.

I used portions of Augustine’s Confessions, This coming year, I will be using and teaching Confessions to a junior high Omnibus class. Along with that, I will add that I probably own 2 dozen or more biographies and studies regarding Augustine, and I have quite a few editions of his works, including those from the Church Fathers series.

That being said, I still aspire to merely enrolling as a student of the man, rather than thinking that I am accomplished. Given the miles on life’s odometer and given my interest in 127 other people and areas of study, I don’t expect to reach the highest peaks of understanding. But I do delight in the thought of learning more.

New City Press (www.newcitypress.com) has undertaken nothing less than effecting a whole renaissance of Augustine’s writings and influence. Multiple volumes, available in hardback, paperback, and probably e-book editions, are available now in new translations. The set is a bit costly. If I were a beginning scholar or pastor, I would be angling for both the books and the shelf space to house them. As it is, I am happy to own just a couple of volumes–one in paperback and one in hardback.

Augustine Set 44 volumes

One of my recent readings was Homilies on the First Epistle of John. Having a long-time love affair with 1 John and needing to read Augustine, this was a good matchup. At 173 pages, the book is very readable and accessible for those who might be unable to tackle City of God right now.

I want to give several comments and observations on how to read and use this study.

  1. This is not a commentary on 1 John. If I were preaching through John’s letter, I would read this book first for a general sense, and then I would use it for supplemental help along the way. Augustine does exegete passages, but he is not doing so systematically.
  2. Augustine is dealing with issues connected to his hearers. One of the main concerns was the Donatists. The New City Press editions have some footnotes to explain certain references that are unfamiliar to most of us.
  3. Augustine is all over the Bible! Even though he is preaching through 1 John, he is quoting and applying a number of Bible verses. You don’t read an Augustine sermon without getting a boatload of Scripture passages.
  4. Augustine seems to ramble. Many of us who have preached sermons know this fault. If you are looking for a clear outline, don’t look here. There is a certain free flowing, stream-of-consciousness-like technique to Augustine. It would be interesting to know what his “notes, or outline, or manuscript” looked like. One suspects that he had very little material that he carried “into the pulpit.” It is very much Augustine Unplugged in concert here.
  5. Augustine drives his points home, repeats his themes, and loads his sermons with applications. He may be known in our time as a theologian, philosopher, and deep thinker, but he was not giving academic lectures. He was seeking to move the hearts of his listeners.

Sad to report, this series of messages ends abruptly and incompletely just as he get to the fifth chapter.

Having now read this book, I look forward to soon tackling Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John.

One of many fine quotes from the book we have read and reviewed:

“If a person loves his brother, the Spirit of God is abiding in him. Let him look, let him probe himself before God’s eyes. Let him see if there is in him a love of peace and unity, a love of the Church spread throughout the earth. Let him be attentive to loving not only the brother who is before him and upon whom he is intent, for there are many brothers of ours of whom we do not see, and we are joined to them in the unity of the Spirit. “

Saint Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John

No description available.

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

May be an image of book and text that says 'Foreword by D. A. CARSON WHAT ABOUT EVIL? 2O1UT A DEFENSE OF GOD'S SOVEREIGN GLORY SCOTT CHRISTENSEN'

What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory by Scott Christensen is published by P&R Publishing.

“Strangely, God never addresses Job’s pain and suffering in his grand monologue; instead, he recounts numerous instances of his own glorious acts in creation. Why? Because Job needed to see that there was something vastly larger than himself and the pain that circumscribed his own miniscule world. He needed to situate his pain within the larger realm of the ‘theater of God’s glory. ‘” Scott Christensen

What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory by Scott Christensen is published by P&R Publishing.

This book came back in the winter, perhaps even before Christmas. I was duty bound to read and review it, but I was still working on re-reading another volume from P&R (The Mystery of the Trinity by Vern Poythress). The Christensen book suffered from a not uncommon fate for books in my house: It got lost in the stacks. Something new was always arriving. Something urgent was always getting attention. Shorter books, easier books, and more appealing books were constantly keeping this book hidden away.

And consider the title: Who really finds themselves in our day and time wanting to read about EVIL during morning devotions? I am not one for fluffy feel-good theology, but there are some topics, whether weighty, or troublesome, or controversial that I would prefer to avoid. (I also shy away from the books that remind me of how I fall short as a husband and father.)

Then May happened. May of 2021 was like all of the worst of 2020 (pandemic, election, school shutdown, job loss, etc.) being outdone and surpassed in a 23 day descent into the abyss. In short, I went into the hospital for what was to be a relatively minor surgery. I expected to be home in a day or two, to be able to avoid all chores I disliked, and to be able to lie around and read to my heart’s content. Then everything in my life turned south. In short, I ended up spending 23 days in the hospital, mostly connected to all sorts of tubes in ICU, had low blood pressure problems, suffered hallucinations, spent a few days on a ventilator (which I don’t remember), may have had pneumonia, had a second surgery to correct some internal bleeding from the first one, and got a diagnosis of congestive heart failure.

After finally getting home in June (and I did have one 3 days return to the hospital in early July), I slowly resumed my morning reading patterns. My mind was not always able to focus clearly, nor were my eyes. Emotionally and spiritually, I was still in ICU.

But I picked up What About Evil? and started reading. And everyday for several weeks I would read 10 to 20 pages or a whole chapter. At some point, something in the book triggered an extreme emotional and spiritual jolt. I was brought to the point of “having to,” “being forced to,” and wanting to give thanks to God for all I had been through. I was not just thankful for God sparing my life (He did, for one night my diastolic number on my blood pressure was a single digit), nor was I just thankful for the good doctors and nurses God provided (and the physical therapists!), nor was I just thankful for being out of the hospital, nor was just thankful for the rapid healing I was experiencing. I was thankful that God had been pleased to send this series of calamities on me. It was a soul somersault. I am not saying that I don’t still question or lament all of this, but I was bowed down before the sovereignty of God.

Here is what I wrote on the day I experienced this:

As I began reading and thinking about this book today, for the first time, I was able to say, Thank you, God, for the illness and ordeal of the past month. ” Not “Thank you for the healing I am experiencing. ” Nor “Thank you for the spiritual insights and reminders of your grace. ” Nor “Thank you for the many who prayed for, visited, or ministered to me. ” I am thankful for all that! But for the first time, I can say, “Thank you for the ordeal, sickness, complications, pain, and struggles. ” Calvinist that I am, I figured I would give thanks for all this in time, but with a bit of forced piety. Meaning, I do this because I have to. But it seems as though God has given me a glimpse of His Sovereign Glory. Only a glimpse. But I repeat, “Thank you, God, for all of this. ”

This book is not a self-help or devotional study. It is deep theology. The question it tackles is a hard one that faithful Christians struggle with and have disagreed over. It is a defining point of Christian doctrine. And the book itself is 471 pages of text examining the issues.

I will have to rate this book as one of the top theological books not just for 2021, but for my whole life of reading theology (going back to 1974). This was not a game changer, for I have long adhered to the Reformed views of God’s Sovereignty. But this was confirmation. I realize that not everyone who might read this book will find it a companion volume to particular troubles they are having like I did. It can be read during the best of times for a seminary student, during a fruitful pastorate for a preacher, or for some good theological meat for a theology reader.

Concerning the topic of evil itself and how Christensen deals with it, this is one of the biggest challenges in apologetics, theology, and practical Christian living that Christians face. It is a point of contact with unbelievers since no one can rationally argue that evil does not exist. But it is also a point of contention since unbelievers are often hostile toward God over the issue. (It sometimes leads to the odd atheist who proclaims that God doesn’t exist and hates Him!)

Sometimes, some Christians feel like they need to come to God’s rescue. “If God is all powerful,” the unbeliever asks, “then why doesn’t He prevent evil? Why did He allow it to enter into His creation in the first place?” The most satisfying answer that many Christians have found is the Free Will Defense. People, beginning with Adam and Eve, had to have freedom to choose. God would not have made us puppets who were programmed to love Him since love has to spring forth from an emotional choice-based reservoir. In love, God let us decide to love Him. That meant that many rejected His love and the rest of us have strayed (by divine permission) all too often.

I am not trying to make a caricature or mockery of this view. It is a serious attempt to deal with a hard issue. While some find it comforting or convincing, I have never found it so. Nor do I find it compatible with Scripture (based on my understanding).

What Christensen posits is God’s Greater Glory in His purposing, planning, predestining, and controlling evil in His universe. The ultimate end, the eschatological outcome, of all the miseries of this life and world are far more offset by the greater, complete and all glorifying work of God in redemption and judgment.

Does this explanation make everything fall in place and easy to accept? No, but it does put the trust in God and in reliance of what is revealed. I don’t like falling into the “my Bible verses beat your Bible verses” kind of debate, but I was convincing (or reconvinced) that the Scriptural weight falls in the direction that Christensen advocates.

Prepare to wrestle when you pick this book up. Even if you are already in the author’s camp, it is a workout to think through these issues. But the pleasing part of this book is how attractive and readable the arguments are. For example, Christensen has a whole chapter devoted to how in literature “Everyone Loves a Good Ending.” As a literature teacher, I was swept away by this discussion. Then to see how this internal mind-set echoes what Scripture teaches is amazing.

I never feel that I have cheered loudly enough for some books. I read a lot of books and enjoy most of them. But this one is different. It is better, more important, and more influential than the others. If I were rich, I would be sending all of you copies of the book, but for now, I can only highly recommend it.

Here are a few choice quotes that I sent to family and friends while I was working through this book:

“Job’s miserable comforters made many true statements about sin, righteousness, justice, and God; yet they were painfully wrong when they tried to speak on God’s behalf, presuming to understand why He was bringing such affliction on their suffering friend. Nor can we demand that God explain Himself. Job sought for God to explain Himself for the evil He providentially oversaw in Job’s life, and the answer he got back was stark and humbling. The essence of it was this: I AM GOD AND YOU ARE NOT. “

“When we consider God’s sovereignty over the forest, few people object. But when we consider his sovereign control over the individual trees, people start to squirm in their seats, especially if those trees include the leaves, branches, trunk, and roots of their individual lives. The fact is, human actions are not exempt from the providence of God but represent the particular emphasis of Scripture. God’s fixed decree includes the future actions of individuals. Human choices are determined by God.”

“We are not conditioned to expect good to emerge out of the murky mass of evil. But God designed evil so that something remarkably white and wonderful would emanate from its black depths. As William Cowper penned, ‘Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face. ‘” Scott Christensen, What About Evil? A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory