The Medieval and Brilliant Mind of C. S. Lewis

The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind by Jason M. Baxter is published by Intervarsity Press.

Had C. S. Lewis been the ONLY Christian writer that God had given us during the 20th Century, we would still be able to count that time as a great outpouring of blessings. I cannot begin to name all of the great theologians, novelists, poets, philosophers, and other writers that God lavished and flooded upon us during one of the otherwise most violent centuries of all time.

Of the writing and making of books about C. S. Lewis, there is no end. That too is another blessing. Once you think you have learned quite enough about his life, mind, and writings, along comes another study that examines it all from another angle and reveals and enhances the depth and riches of his life’s work.

I knew that I would like The Medieval Mind of Lewis from the start: The title had his name in it, the term Great Books, and the word Medieval. But the book has a lot more depth than I first suspected. Although I don’t recall any teacher in any class that I had in college or graduate school courses ever mentioning Lewis, he was a top-notch scholar and a prime candidate for studies in the academic world. Much to the consternation of some disgruntled old profs and his now deceased colleagues, he was also an immensely popular writer.

I somewhat expected that this book would begin with a list of Lewis’ favorite books from that vast period of Medieval history and would then give delightful summaries and exhortations regarding such books. It does give some of his top reads, but it takes ideas from the books and develops what thoughts Lewis had on the subjects and how these ideas impacted his own writings.

For those of us who love lists, here are Lewis’ top ten books that he says shaped his life and vocation:

  1. Phantastes by George MacDonald
  2. The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton
  3. The Aeneid by Virgil
  4. The Temple by George Herbert
  5. Prelude by William Wordsworth
  6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
  7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  8. Life of Johnson by Samuel Boswell
  9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
  10. Theism and Humanism by James Arthur Balfour

(Just for the record, I only have 5 of these [2, 3, 4, 7, 8] and have only completely read 3 of the 5 [2, 3, 7]. I may have numbers 5 and 1.)

For a man who so highly treasured the Medieval period, this list might look confusing. Only Boethius is a Medieval author, but Williams’ book is about Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Lewis himself wrote two books about Medieval literature:

On the one hand, he was not merely stuck in the Medieval portion of the university library, poring over Medieval texts. It was more that the Medieval era, worldview, mindset impacted his way of thinking. He could embrace a book or idea, no matter how modern, that reflected some of the Theo-centric and Christian worldview of the Medieval era. And if it didn’t, he often found little to like about the book that hoisted its flags firmly on modernity.

His own books generally reflected or directly attributed the idea that he loved most from Medieval studies.

The Great Divorce by Lewis is one such example. In a sense, one could describe the book as a modern, highly condensed version of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Baxter titled one chapter “Why Lewis Loved Dante.” That chapter reminded me all too painfully how much I have missed in receiving The Divine Comedy and The Great Divorce way too late in life.

Another book that gets much attention in Baxter’s study is The Consolation of Philosophy. What is so attractive, engaging, and sometimes frustrating about Boetheius is that he weaves theological and Biblical truths together. There are seams between the two, but they are not easily discerned. The stodgy Calvinist in me wants Boetheius to write The Consolation of Theology, but he didn’t. His Christian thinking was interwoven with “secular ideas.” Lewis helps us–not to clearly separate–but to enjoy both strands in Boethius.

No doubt the student doing research paper could find a useful quote or idea about one of the many Medieval texts discussed. But this book is primarily about how Lewis thought. He was as complicated and deep a thinker as he was expressive as a writer.

This book is fun, really fun. But it is not a fluffy retelling of Lewis’s life or writing career. I highly recommend it.

Knowing Sin by Mark Jones

Knowing Sin: Seeing a Neglected Doctrine Through the Eyes of the Puritans by Mark Jones is published by Moody Publishers.

Both in the academic world and the Christian community, Puritan studies have been on a rising trajectory for quite a few years now. Gone are the days when the history class stereotypes branded the Puritans as a fun-hating, dreary, morose, judgmental group of religious fanatics. Gone, hopefully, are the days when Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter was read as an historical document revealing the hypocrisy and meanness of the Puritans. Gone are the days when Puritan ways were celebrated for being eclipsed by the Enlightenment thought of their scientific and open-minded descendents.

I don’t want to suggest that all have climbed aboard the bandwagon. I am strongly suggesting that access to the riches of the Puritans is engulfing us.

The tidal wave of Puritan works has its own liabilities. I have gleefully placed quite a few sets of Puritan works on my heavy-laden bookshelves. Puritans were typically exhaustive (and exhausting) when dealing with spiritual topics. They wrote pages on what some modern might try to say in a sentence. They wrote whole books over what today’s preacher might reduce to three simple/simplistic points.

Wordy, yes. Endless, maybe. But it was not just flowery talk and verbal padding. They really studied, dug at, expanded, examined, meditated on, and applied passages and doctrines to the Christian life. They treated the Scripture as though its teachings really mattered. Hence the value of the Puritans.

“What Puritan books do you recommend?” “What should I read first?”, and similar questions often come up. I would mention that the serious reader rush over to see what Banner of Truth has reprinted and what Reformation Heritage Books is currently pushing. Just pick one or ten and start reading. I might be inclined to recommend Thomas Watson first or that so often read book The Pilgrim’s Progress. And if one wants to tackle Jonathan Edwards, there is plenty to choose from in very readable editions (unlike my two weighty small print Banner editions).

But the best way to meet the Puritans is through a mutual friend, or a mediator, if you wish, between us and those grand theologians. In the past years, two men who were legends in the Christian community were key modern Christian writers with Puritan connections. They were Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer. They were both digging up and gleaning from Puritans back when the books were not easily found.

Along with them, and still living, is Iain Murray. Murray has helped promote Puritan writings and reprints for year at the Banner of Truth Trush. I am sure that there are quite a few others who have labored to put Puritan theology back on the shelves of pastors and serious Christian readers today.

Mark Jones is currently, perhaps, the best Puritans quoter, promoter, and expert. Theologically and academically, he has the tools to write those scholarly journal articles that most of us would never know existed. He has a PhD. from Leiden University, after all. But he writes for…me. (Maybe he has a picture of me at his desk to use when writing.) He knows I love books, love Puritans, love theology, and love to read, but that I am also untrained, a novice, and a man who would readily attain a 12 volume set of the works of Thomas Goodwin, but keep hesitating to take the plastic shrink wrap off of the books.

Knowing Sin is not just a handy collection of great Puritan quotes. The Puritans are called in a supporting witnesses to a number of areas that Jones focuses on in regard to the doctrine of sin.

Yet, we all know sin, right? Or we can answer as Calvin Coolidge did when he referred to his pastor’s sermon on sin: He was against it. And we routinely pray for God to forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses as we…this is the hard part…forgive others. And we can often name our sins: I got mad today; I spoke rudely to my wife; my mind wandered off when I was praying; or maybe it wandered off instead of me praying.

Key problem is that we deal with sin (and hence salvation) superficially. I can actually give some pretty good explanations and excuses for my sins. They really aren’t so bad, if only you knew my challenges. I confess I am a sinner, but I also profess to be living a relatively good life.

Puritans are surgeons. They don’t traffic much in Band-Aids and simple surface remedies. They hurt you. And Mark Jones doesn’t enter the operating room without a support staff of scalpel wielding Puritans.

There are 18 chapters to this book. Many of the chapter titles are witty plays on song titles and familiar sayings. Jones is pastoral and humble. He does not seek to set us straight, but rather he takes us along with him as he explores this really serious disease we have been forgive for and that still lingers.

Good and fast readers could probably knock this book out in a day or two. I strongly advise against that. One chapter a day is sufficient. Add thought. And prayer. And application.

Side note: Mark and I are not personal friends, but I have, many times, been uplifted by his delightful family posts on Facebook. He has strong views, as we Calvinists are prone to, but a gentle spirit. He has a beautiful family and a great ministry through writing and preaching. We are living in a great era and are also enjoying the past eras that had their own accomplishments.

Disclosure Statement: I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for a review.

Readings in American History

Reading, learning, and teaching American history is not an easy, one-time-through-the-book, course of action. Whoever thinks that history is an easy subject with just some dates and dead people’s names to memorize doesn’t understand serious historical studies.

Or maybe, I am just slow. Nearly 50 years after entering college to be a history major, I am still adjusting and re-adjusting my sites so as to understand what happened and why.

Here are three fine history studies that I recently read that have proven to be enjoyable accounts, but also site adjustments. Time is ticking too fast for me to assume that I will ever get a perfectly clear vision in this life of the subject I have devoted so many years to.

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

Books on the Founders–either as a group or as individuals–have been pouring off of the presses like a flood in recent years. With a popular musical highlighting the life of Alexander Hamilton, one can find all manner of praise, blame, friendships, discord, shenanigans, and noble actions among those men.

We the Fallen People adds a new perspective on this issue. One of the most important aspects of this book is its discussion of how the Founders embraced a Biblical view of human nature. At the same time, either their embrace of Original Sin, human depravity, or man’s propensity to evil was sometimes grounded in direct Christian influences, but at other times accepted from more secular traditions.

Those who want to recast the Founders as a school of divinity are, in spite of their intentions, misrepresenting the Founders. Nor are those who, as we often were taught in the past, indicate that the Founders were purely Enlightenment-based secularists.

The Founders and the documents they produced were geared toward a recognition of the sinful human nature to use the powers of civil government for ill.

And then the narrative changed! The prosecution calls to the witness chair General/President Andrew Jackson. The Era of Jacksonian Democracy turned the tables on many of the traditions, foundations, and ideas of the still-young Republic. In the Jacksonian narrative, the voice of the people was good. Jackson’s tendency was to villainize any who stood in his way. (Actually, he often preferred to shoot them.)

I have read several books over the past few years that have been very favorable to Andrew Jackson. A few others, like this one, are quite unfavorable. Call it a weakness in me, but I am often blown both here and there on Jackson based on the book I am reading. Much to the disappointment of many, I can never quite shake off an admiration for the man. Much to the disappointment of others, I can never fully embrace Jackson the man or the policies. (And he was a dedicated Christian with Presbyterian roots and convictions, which works in my favorable category.)

Dr. McKenzie is a history professor at Wheaton College. I think I met him when we took our son Nick to Wheaton some years ago. We the Fallen People is a useful study. I can see it sparking debates and affirmations in a good college-level discussion. It can also add lots of perspectives for the mere history teacher who is trying to race through the early chapters of the textbook. And it is books like this that caused me to never succeed in my attempts to race through such classes.

The Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic That Changed America’s Destiny is by Tony Williams.

Tony is a Facebook friend who has, over the past several years, become a real friend in many senses. I always enjoy his updates on his readings, the adventures of his family, the basketball exploits of his son Paul, and his helpful advice on books to acquire. If he and I ever join forces in a good used bookstore, we will certainly do some damage to the inventory.

I think I own copies of all of his books. In this case, I had a copy, but found this even better and signed copy in a thrift store. I don’t know what convinced Gloria to depart with her signed copy, but her loss is my really cheap, but valuable gain.

It is a shame that this book is not currently in print. It is a book for the times we are living in. It is a useful light on many of the issues we have been facing as a nation with an epidemic. If I had read this book years ago, I would have thought it good, but having read it in the light of the past two years’ experiences, I found it even better than expected.

History doesn’t, in spite of the popular saying, repeat itself. This book doesn’t reveal, like some Nostradamus-like prophecy, what we are going through. “History teaches us that…” is a usually vapid phrase. Usually, it is said to mean, “What I believe about things can be backed up by this historical anecdote.”

What history does is provide perspectives. Ours was not the first, nor the last, epidemic. The plethora of blame, false narratives, myths, and confusion of our epidemic are not unlike similar reactions in the past. Nor are controversies over the vaccines or innoculations.

The smallpox epidemic that hit Boston created a flurry of controversies between men of religion and men of science. You have all known this: Men of religion looked to faith and the Bible, while men of science looked to science and Enlightenment thought. The matter is settled. We religious folk need to humbly confess that we are a bit on the narrow minded side.

But wait! The story of this epidemic found that the premier religious leader, Cotton Mather, was no novice when it came to science (or theology). He was the key theologian who promoted the use of the controversial inoculations. Mather is given short shrift in all too many historical accounts. Even those who will tip the hat to Jonathan Edwards will still social distance themselves from both Cotton and Increase (his father) Mather.

Mather was a towering intellect. I confess to my shame to having read far too little of the massive Magnalia Christi Americana. I will take a cheap shot and blame my college history professors for not grounding us in the older historians.

Along with Mather, there was one doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, who advocated for and practiced giving inoculations. A more educated and prominent doctor, one William Douglas, who railed against inoculations.

The fur did fly in these fights. And these were not mere academic differences. Everyone in Boston was under threat. If you were immune (from an earlier bout with smallpox), you still witnessed family, friends, and neighbors suffering. And business suffered. Just as we experienced supply chain issues, Boston had such. Firewood, a vital necessity, became scarce. Wood-cutters were not interested in getting near town or getting the infection. Nor were ship captains anxious to land their loads of cargo at the port of Boston.

Mather, himself, witnessed deaths in his family and congregation. Not all were from smallpox, since diseases come in all shapes and sizes. He had to glean messages from Scripture that gave comfort to grieving parents, spouses, and friends. He had to preach when his own heart was broken from deaths of a daughter and grandchild.

Two other key characters in this narrative are the Franklin brothers. James Franklin, the older and less known of the two, used his newspaper to attack Mather, Boylston, and the concept of inoculation. Young Benjamin began writing a series of jibes under a pseudonym that poked at the clergy and others.

Time and more open views of science enabled Boston to recover from the epidemic. Mather lived out his rich life, weary however from his toils. Doctors and those who “followed the science” came to see how inoculations saved lives. The younger Franklin brother moved to Philadelphia and continued on his road to success as a man of both science and politics.

This is a rousingly good story, and it is history. And let me add, this book gives an honest, favorable, and affirmative view of Puritans and the society they established. All too often, I have read fine historians who seem utterly blind and ignorant when they venture into explaining theology or people of faith. Certainly, I would tweak a few sentences here and there, but overall, Tony Williams explains the Puritans and Cotton Mather in what I judge to be accurate terms.

Irreconcilable Founders: Spencer Roane, John Marshall, and the Nature of America’s Constitutional Republic by David Johnson is published by Louisiana State University Press.

I imagine that I have come across the name Spencer Roane during my years of reading. However, I had no conscious memory of the name or the man. And the name of John Marshall is large and bold in the outlines and teachings of American history and government.

Sometimes, it is the less known person, the second fiddle, who really plays a critical role in events. Sometimes, it is the case of the minor figure who saw events more clearly than the well-known names. I have discovered many such men and women in history who don’t get the shout-outs, the references, the honors due to them.

With just a few minor changes here and there, Spencer Roane could have been well remembered. He could have and probably should have been on the Supreme Court. He was occasionally mentioned as a Vice Presidential candidate, although that is no pathway to certain fame. There were those who also thought he was of Presidential timber. But the “What If’s” of history cannot be substituted for the actual events.

Roane’s political life was found in the Virginia Supreme Court. His major writings were opinions that were usually objections to the national Supreme Court’s ruling under John Marshall. Roane’s causes were the “Lost Causes” of Jeffersonian rule, States Rights, limited government, and judicial restraint. He opposed the ratification of the Constitution for the same reasons that many wise men of his day did. The “Anti-Federalists” have to take the side of the British in the War for Independence, Mexico in the Mexican-American War, the Confederacy in the Late Unpleasantness, and others who lost the battles or issues of their day.

It is easy enough to generalize American history as a progress where things got better and better. There is lots of progress in history. It is easy enough to see a destiny, manifest or unfolding, where America does prove to be a light on a hill for all the world to see. Both liberals and conservatives today point to particular events as evidences of right overcoming wrong, And people will gleefully sing of “God’s truth marching on” in the context of America’s actions.

But such rosiness is not usually good history. Nor is it good or accurate commentary on the present situation. Spencer Roane railed, wrote, and argued for a restraint of our judiciary that speaks to issues still being battled over today.

Just yesterday, a new justice to the Supreme Court was confirmed. It takes no insight to know that she will embrace John Marshall’s vision far more than that of Spencer Roane. And I might suggest that she could no more explain Roane than she could explain what a woman is.

This is yet another book, like the two reviewed above, that is more relevant than today’s headlines. Thankfully, a biography of Roane (a short 120 pages, with an additional 70 pages of his writings) will broaden knowledge of the man. I can hope that from this academic study, Roane’s presence in our country’s history and ideas will start seeping into more minds and causing his name to get a host of mentions. I hope future history teachers will learn of him earlier than I did.

Many thanks to my friend, Gordon “Koty” Arnold, one of the brightest young scholars I know, for calling my attention to this book.

The Reformation of the Church

The Reformation of the Church: A Collection of Reformed and Puritan Documents on Church Issues, edited by Iain Murray is published by Banner of Truth.

Let’s face it, some books call for a long, hard slog. I love page turners, meaning those books that are hard to put down. I find myself wanting to race to the end and yet dreading that time when the book is finished. Some books gain momentum as the reader progresses. I told my students who were assigned to read The Brothers Karamazov that the book would pick up the pace after the first 300 or 400 pages. (That is actually more true of other lengthy novels.)

But some books are hard reads. Some books demand commitment. Some books are a page-by-page, chapter-by-chapter task to read.

Yet, the slogging through a book is often needed. No, not everyone needs to slog. No, not every slog is worth the effort. And NO, NO, NO, a slog is not what is needed at the bedside for relaxation.

The Reformation of the Church is a slow, weighty, challenging read that is worth the slog. There are plenty of books out there that diagnose church problems, that recommend church strategies, that counsel and advise pastors and elders, that give quick easy encouragement to church leaders, and that are easy, teachable, sharable nuggets of help to all of us living in the world of church life. I have profited from many such books.

But our churches today are the products of long, hard, difficult battles over theology, liturgy, polity, and outside forces. The Reformation was not just about Martin Luther rediscovering the experience of personal salvation. His was the first (or arguably the 500th) domino to fall in a series that led to church and world-changing consequences for several centuries, including our own.

The essays in this book deal with some testy issues of days past that are not seemingly relevant to our times. The ministerial attire of English pastors was a battleground issue. Seems strange to me because I see good and godly pastors whose clothing styles range from overly casual to well-dressed to robes. But surplices and cassocks riled men of Puritan temperament.

That issue is not one where we see the lines clearly drawn today. Some of my Anglican pastor friends preach solid sermons, as do my more causally dressing pastor friends. But there was a need in the purifying battles of the post-Reformation period for reforms to be root and branch. We can all agree on the root reforms more easily than the branch reforms.

The chapter I am currently reading is on the topic of bishops and episcopacy. For clarification, I am a Presbyterian with low views of presbytery connections who is a part of a Southern Baptist church that seems to have no views of denominational connections. (Long story there that I will forego telling.)

“Bishops” is a biblical word that seems to be wrongly used by some and ignored by others. I am constantly astounded by churches that proclaim adherence to the Bible as the truth, but they ignore Biblical teachings and examples regarding ministry. Churches today often have a pastor and a staff of others that includes music ministers, assistant pastors, associate pastors, youth pastors, senior pastors, etc.

But what about elders? The eldership is not a vaguely mentioned, scarcely noticed concept in the Bible. The Reformers, the Puritans, the Covenanters, and their American heirs would never have skipped past such issues and raced on to make plans for a summer softball league. And the churches are groaning because we don’t have proper, Biblical leadership. And head pastors are flailing and failing because we have elevated their office to a multitasking monstrousity.

The Reformation of the Church is not going to be a chapter-by-chapter resource for quickly solving church problems. Most of what I as a former pastor and you as a pastor or layman are facing will not show up in black and white print in this book.

So why read it? Part of our problem today is simply that—it is a problem today. We have no historical depth, no rooted convictions, no history to guide us (other than last year’s business meeting minutes). We are thinking like Moderns. That also means that we are not thinking at all.

The Reformation of the Church should be either assigned as a whole or in part for students seriously studying church history. (Okay, that sold a few copies.) But men training for the pastorate should also read it. (Sales bumped up a bit.) The huge numbers of wide-eyed Christians who are part of “worship teams” should also read it in order to find the Reformation and Puritan roots of “worship teams.” (I don’t expect any rush to purchase from that statement.) The Christian in the pew might be okay with focusing on issues other than those in this book, but that is true only if he or she is in a church where the leadership understands this book.

One other reason for reading this book: Iain Murray is the editor of this work. He is the best popular church historian and biographer of our time. His many books have laid out the names and stories of many great leaders in church history particularly in the British Isles. His biographies of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Jonathan Edwards are classics. His labors with Banner of Truth are sterling.

So, prepare to slog through the book. Read slowly and wonder how the seemingly arcane discussions of the past reveal weaknesses today that you and I have not taken seriously. This won’t necessarily be an easy read, but it will be profitable.

Discovering Isaiah by Andrew Abernethy

Much can be said about the use and abuse of words like “theology” and “theologians.” I think R. C. Sproul nailed it with his book titled Everybody’s a Theologian.

We have to hasten to add that we are not all good theologians, nor have any of us arrived. Theology is the study of God, the Bible, and things pertaining to such. In one sense, theology can be expanded to all areas of life and thought. We often refer to such things under the title of Worldview. Or we can study doctrines as they have unfolded in church history, creeds, confessions, controversies, and key thinkers. We often refer to that as Systematic Theology. Or we can trace the development of doctrines through the Biblical texts (with some interactions with post-Biblical developments). That is what is called Biblical Theology. Most often, the average Joe/Jo in the pews reads Christian books designed to help him or her to be a better Christian, witness, parent, spouse, church member, prayer warrior, etc. That is often called practical theology.

Be able to label or read or master theological texts should never be the goal, but those things happen in the process. Theology should make us better Christians–whether we preach, teach, or simply live the faith among our neighbors.

In some upcoming posts, I want to call attention to some of my recent and upcoming or in-progress reads in theology. I hope these books are not simply going in my head one way and then out the other. The heart is a resistant and lazy thing.

Today, I will begin with a book on a great Old Testament prophet–Isaiah.

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

Back in December, during the Advent Season, I began reading this book along with Isaiah from the Bible. Sometimes the lengthy Old Testament book has been called the Fifth Gospel. But due to its length, complexity, and prophetic style, it is generally known by many Christians only for a few key passages. Some of these passages are often recited during the Advent Season or during Easter season. For many of us, the sixth chapter is well known, and that familiarity was aided by R. C. Sproul’s beautiful explication of it in The Holiness of God.

In spite of the difficulties and length of the book, it is well worth studying. Isaiah was the best poet in the Old Testament with the possible exception of David. But again, the poetic content, merged into 66 mostly lengthy chapters become a difficult challenge for our Bible readings. As the Ethiopean eunuch in Acts told Philip, “How can I understand unless someone helps me?” And he was reading from Isaiah.

Andrew Abernethy is an associate professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Discovering Isaiah is his third book on the topic of Isaiah. Note well that this book is not a commentary. The one wanting to do a chapter by chapter or verse by verse study will need to look at Abernethy’s bibliography or elsewhere. (I would highlight the commentaries by J. A. Motyer and E. J. Young on Isaiah.) Abernethy’s books on Isaiah are thematic studies.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom is published by InterVasristy Press. It is also a fine study and I hope to review it more later.

Discovering Isaiah deals first with how the book was received, taught, and understood throughout church history. Some might think this is not relevant, but it helps us to not only understand the book, but understand how the book has been understood throughout the years. Truth is not relative, nor is the Bible changeable in meaning, but we are relative and we are changeable. As of late, I have struggled with many troubles (loss of job and school, health breakdown, and loss of my father-in-law), and I have been reading both the Book of Job and some books about Job. They speak to me in a different way than when I was living through easier times.

Likewise, we are going to find themes resonating with us in our times that differ from those of earlier commentators. We need their perspective, and we need our own reflections.

The main emphasis of the book deals with the major themes of Isaiah. First, the reader gets some of the history. Isaiah is a book that has a place in the historical and Biblical timeline and it contains primary source history material. In fact, Isaiah demands a knowledge of kings and events in Israel and Judah, as well as geography, kings, and events of the Ancient World of the Middle East.

My favorite chapter, echoing Sproul’s work, is titled “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Both devotionally and theologically (or if you don’t mind this language, speaking to the heart and to the mind), the emphasis on the Holiness of God is a central theme of the book. Isaiah the man gets his commission from God in chapter 6, when he has a vision of God’s holiness. This holiness, this otherness, this weightiness of God is a powerful concept in Scripture.

Other chapters focus on the Messianic King and the Suffering Servant. Although I am comfortable with both of those designations for Jesus, one must read Isaiah (and its companion volumes, meaning the Gospels) in the light of how these two designations are so different. Too often my Bible reading lacks the “Wow!” factor. I read the Scriptures dully and routinely, but I should be reading them in the way that a mathematician works out a complicated problem.

Perhaps one of the most obviously relevant themes in Isaiah is justice. Abernethy devotes a chapter to that topic. Justice and social justice have been tossed around in both Christian and non-Christian circles in lots of political and sociological contexts. Often more conservative Christians wince over hearing about social justice, and I reckon some more liberal Christians may think this theme is of utmost relevance from the pulpit and in society. Key issue and concern is for all of us to mine the Scriptures, to advocate for justice, and to be more theonomic in our vision for justice.

I preached through the first several (maybe as many as ten) chapters of Isaiah some years ago. I was sharing the pulpit with others, so I don’t really remember why I ceased or what my end goal was. The problem with tackling Isaiah when one is an expository preacher with a tendency to focus on small sections is the prospect of never finishing the book.

What I needed then and still need is a sense of the themes of Isaiah. That is what Abernethy has provided in this book. Read Isaiah. Read some of the many helpful commentaries if you wish. But during your reading of the prophet, read this book. After reading Isaiah, read it again.

Rigged by Mollie Hemingway: Election 2020

Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections by Mollie Hemingway is published by Regnery. Many of the best serious conservative books available today are from Regnery.

The Presidential Election of 2020. What can we say?

I am guessing that it will be twenty years or so before we can get some really good, objective accounts of what all really happened in that Presidential election. There were a number of happenings that will make that election memorable and historically interesting in ways that most elections fall short.

Nerves are still tender. Tempers are still flaring. Accusations are still flying. Feuds are still brewing. And families are still divided over what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and if it all really did happen.

First of all, let me do a bit of historical and political analysis. Joe Biden will be ranked as one of the most amazing candidates of all time. He was the oldest candidate ever; he got the most votes of anyone ever; he was a failed candidate in two prior election years and was not willing to test the waters in the year 2016; he not only lost the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, but he trailed way behind in both; he picked a woman as the VP who is also a person of color and who was a critic of him during her short run for the Presidential nomination.

His campaign was, one would think, a model of how not to do things. He made fewer campaign appearances than any major party candidate since William McKinley’s front porch campaign of 1896. He flubbed speeches and lines on numerous occasions. He had as a slogan “No More Malarky” which should have been a fatal jab. He appeared, particularly to his opponents, to be having mental troubles due to age.

Yet he won. Joe Biden was rallied around by the Democrat power base and a significant number of primary voters and caucus attenders. He satisfied the party’s desire for a moderate, a soothing and calming man, a veteran of politics, and a candidate who could appeal to the traditional bases of the party.

Whatever one thinks or will come to think of his term in office, his capture of the Democrat nomination and winning of the White House will be studied for years with great amount of marvel.

Donald Trump will also be seriously studied by those who come along at a point where they are neither Trumpers, Never Trumpers, or Trump Haters. He was a businessman with no political experience who ran against the best line-up the Republican had fielded for years and won the nomination in 2016. Then, running a very odd campaign with few of the traditional methods, he defeated Hillary Clinton. It was the political upset of the century. Polls were wrong. News outlets were wrong. Both Democrats and Republicans were shocked.

Trump’s four years in office, his style, his successes and accomplishments as President will have to be addressed later. The 2020 campaign was yet another astonishing series of unexpected acts. President Trump continued having rallies amidst a wave of pandemic fears about large gatherings. He rarely wore the much talked about masks. He got Covid, recovered, and continued campaigning. He won more votes than anyone had ever won for the Presidency except for the man who defeated him. And that also meant that he won some 5 million more votes than he had in 2016. He also changed the demographics of voting patterns for the poor working class, Hispanics, and African-American males.

Yet he lost. In my opinion, he gets the primary blame for losing. I could detail serious mistakes and missteps he took in the campaign and in the Oval Office that mounted up to lose him a second term. To make matters worse, he failed all the way up to the end to do that which Americans expect their Presidents to do: Leave office gracefully.

Voter fraud, stolen election, cheating, lies, manipulation, and other key pejoratives became words being tossed about and then being censured or being labeled with warnings on social media. A new series of phrases entered the political currency: “false election claims” or “false narrative” or “discredited election views.”

I accept that Joe Biden is President. I pray for him, and I try–with great effort–to support him and respect the office. I abhor what took place on January 6. Anyone who wrongly enters into the halls of Congress should be tried and punished. President Trump’s words and actions, his blaming others, his disregard for precedent and procedures, and his outlandish behavior are all disgraceful.

I am trying to be a big boy about all of this. But I still confess to believing that the election of 2020 was not exactly a nice, clean, honest, transparent, imitable, pure event. First of all, I have read enough history to know that campaign shenanigans, dirty tricks, underhanded methods, fraud, lying, stealing, and corruption happened in the past. I have taught school long enough to know that kids in class will cheat, lie, deceive, twist the truth, lie for each other, and downright defy the authorities over schoolwork. I know human nature. I confess to believing in human sinfulness.

There is no reason to think that any election is pure. A book from years ago was titled It Didn’t Start With Watergate. I don’t have it, never read it, and am not interested in the book per se, but I buy the thesis.

I did learn a lot about politics from reading Robert Caro’s four volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. And IT–being political corruption and wheeling and dealing–didn’t begin with LBJ.

No doubt political fraud and corruption has happened on the local level. The county sheriff, the big city mayor, the road commissioner, the state legislator, and even the local justice of the peace will possibly bribe, coerce, lie, misappropriate funds, abuse power, and more to gain, hold, or use power.

There are several ways that an election can be “rigged,” to use Mollie Hemingway’s term. First of all, and perfectly legal, is the setting of rules, regulations, and laws governing the campaign. Second, the use of media and advertising is critical to a campaign. A man can talk all day, but it is the 5 second sound-bite that hits the news. Third, one can control the counting of votes. Simple enough, one would think, but some votes will be, could be, or should be disqualified. Fourth, there is the use of outlying votes. This has reference to those late votes that may have been absentee ballots, far off precincts, or small stacks or boxes of votes lying around.

Honestly, if you have been up until 4 AM with the vote counting process and one candidate is 40,000 votes ahead, are you going to really be concerned about counting the last box that came in with a mere 10,000 votes?

Then in Presidential elections we have a further factor. Election day is early in November. A couple of weeks later, the holiday season hits. After that, in early January, Congress certifies the election and by January 20, the President is inaugurated. That really isn’t much time to sort out a tight election. It took a month for one state in 2000 (Florida) to get its votes recounted and ruled over by a court case. It took that long or more for just one Congressional district in New York to determine the winner.

Less than 50,000 votes determined the 2020 winner. Five states had results that were questioned. Only 3 flips were needed to change the outcome.

I suspect that when some really solid, academic, dispassionate, nonpartisan accounts are being written on this election, scholars will be heavily using Mollie Hemingway’s book. They may be using it as the doorway to what issues to explore, or they may use it as a basically primary source for the reaction and concerns. And Mrs. Hemingway may be one of those writers whose work is heavily used, borrowed from, and pored over without her getting much footnoted credit.

What I learned first of all about this book is that I know little about politics. We tend to think of election day and people voting and votes being counted. Behind the scenes, for months and even years in advance, teams of professionals are working on the laws, by-laws, legal issues, demographics, polls, studies, research, and other details that go into an election.

Hand it to the Democrats, they won the election big time long before the election in their use, contribution to, and control of election machinery. I live in a relatively small state (Arkansas) that is overwhelmingly Republican. Only Bill Clinton was able to carry Arkansas from the years 1980 through 2020. It flipped during those years from being a traditional Yellow Dog Democrat state to being a solid Red Republican state. I am certain that neither campaign invested many resources in the expected outcome in Arkansas.

Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin were the primary battleground states. So was Florida, but it went strongly for Trump. So was Iowa, but Trump prevailed with a huge margin. North Carolina squeaked through for Trump. And Arizona turned out to be a battleground and an unexpected Biden win.

Funny things happened on the way to the White House. I still cannot figure how Arizona was called early in the evening, but the final vote was razor thin. And when I went to bed, I was confident of a Trump win. The last things I remember hearing was about his carrying traditional Blue/Democrat counties in Pennsylvania. He was leading in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

I felt like the way Thomas Dewey must have felt on the morning of 1948.

I don’t reckon I would have been surprised if one of those late election night leads that Trump had vanished. But they all vanished. (“Grow up, Ben. Be a man.”)

Georgia was the last Trump plum to fall. The number of votes was huge nationwide. Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States. He was older in age than the old man he defeated and the other three living former Presidents.

Mail-in voting, the pandemic, vote counting, poll watchers, those mysterious black boxes in Georgia, the news stories that were touted that hurt Trump, the information (especially regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop) that was suppressed, the terrible debates, Russian interference, and more all turned the election of 2020 into a nightmare. Or maybe a deliverance. We don’t all agree.

I wish I could say that I read Rigged objectively, critically, and without taking sides. Truth is, the book made me mad. I am mad over what happened. Saying that, I will confess to being a Trump voter in both elections, but President Trump made me mad or disappointed many times. But something was rotten in the state of America.

Send me free copies of books that lay out the claims that all is well, all went well, and that the only thing we have to fear is Republicans themselves. I will read them. Correct me. I will stay quiet. But until then, my lurking fears continue.

Put Rigged: How rhw Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections by Mollie Hemingway before you ever go vote again.

Robert E. Lee: A Life by Allen Z. Guelzo

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

General Robert E. Lee led one of the most interesting lives of anyone in American history. There are good reasons why biographies have been written about him for decades and why his face is so familiar to so many people. Those who love him and those who criticize him both agree to the pivotal role he played in the American story. His life is also one that is filled with tragedy. Where one locates or identifies the tragedy depends on other views or interpretations.

Allen C. Guelzo is a gifted writer and a prolific historian. Many of his books are on Abraham Lincoln, but he has written on a wide range of topics. His lecture series The American Mind, found in the Great Courses series, is outstanding.

It would appear as though the great man of history and a great writer of history had met.

The timing of this book has won it lots of applause. Several reviewers have praised it for being just the account of Lee that is needed in our current times. I used to wonder why biography after biography was written on historical figures. They were just repeating the same story, I assumed. But that is not the role of history, biography, historians, and biographers. As Dr. Tom Wagy so often reiterated, history is art. Each historian is painting the same tree but from a different perspective.

The men who knew Lee, who had fought alongside him, and who loved him had a perspective for their early biographies. And some were anxious to absolve Lee of blame for failures at Gettysburg and elsewhere. He was so highly regarded in the South after the war that most did not dare criticize him.

In later years, biographers catered to a desire of the American people to honor both Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. These two men were the two heroes of American history, barring different stations and different views that had during the War Between the States. It became acceptable for a northerner, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, to praise Lee or for a southerner to admire Lincoln.

The Centennial of the War, the early 1960s, opened the floodgate for histories and biographies. With bits of partisanship, most authors tried to put all sides in the best light. Slavery was the albatross around the southern neck, while centralization of the government and the demolition of States’ Rights and the Constitution was the ongoing battle cry of those who favored the Confederacy.

Lee held his own against the years. Douglas Southall Freeman’s four-volume biography of Lee won a Pulitzers Prize, and he followed it with a three-volume work titled Lee’s Lieutenants. Freeman walked by a statue of Lee on his way to work each morning and saluted it regularly. Pictures of Lee could be found in colleges, public buildings, schools, and homes. His name graced many schools. Statues were erected in many towns. A university bore his name along with that of George Washington. Overall, he was honored for his character and studied for his military prowess.

A few critics came along and sought to puncture the “myth of Lee.” The book The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society by Thomas Connelly attacked both Lee’s reputation and his military style.

Lee Considered by Alan Nolan furthered this questioning of the man who was often hailed as the greatest of military geniuses. Then Michael Shaara wrote a novel titled Killer Angels. Basically, Shaara recast The Iliad and made James Longstreet into Achilles and Lee into Agamemnon. Lee, as fictionalized, was ailing with the heart condition that would take his life a few years later. He was unresponsive to Longstreet’s tactical wisdom and was religiously confident that God would grant him victory over “those people.” Perhaps in one of the greatest indignities of all, Martin Sheen was cast in the role of Lee in the movie version of that book.

When the prequel to that movie was made–titled God and Generals, based on the book written by Shaara’s son Jeff–Robrt Duvall portrayed a much more commanding Robert E. Lee.

Along with the never-ending debates on the causes, conduct, heroes, and villains of the war, a number of people began being interested in the religious commitments of General Lee and much of the Confederate army. A book collector in Virginia, named Robert Sprinkle, ventured out and reprinted a huge old volume titled The Life and Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson by Robert L. Dabney.

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was Lee’s most brilliant corp commander. Jackson was also a dedicated, unswerving Presbyterian. His faith was quite compatible to Lee’s Episcopal Christian commitments. Added to that was the fact that Dabney, the author of the Jackson biography, was a Presbyterian theologian whose works and name had vanished for a season.

In time, a number of books were written or reprinted that extolled the Christian faith and character of Lee, Jackson, and other Confederates, and that defended the Confederacy itself. Dabney and other Presbyterian Southerners were being read again widely due to reprints of their books and the revival of Reformed theology.

I mention all of this part of the story because it not only pertains to Lee but it explains my own life and attraction to Lee, Jackson, the Confederacy, and Calvinism. That being said, I would not equate Calvinism and the cause of the Confederacy. (There is too much here for me to digress into.)

The terrible summer of 2020 resulted in an unveiling of many horrible attitudes of American regarding race. The issues still divide the nation. In many cases we were not even able to communicate with each other. To go from saying “Black lives matter” to adding that “all lives matter” was controversial. In the midst of the riots, lootings, violence, racist attitudes, and more, there was and is no defense for the sinful conduct of all too many. Added to that, there is always the place for self-examination on even those matters where we think we are innocent.

But the summer of 2020 went beyond the calm and rational discussion. Statues were removed and many were defaced. Statues of Robert E. Lee were among the primary targets. They were dismantled and moved from public facilities. (One doubts that Lee would have ever wanted such monuments to himself.) In the extremes of passion, statues of other Americans who had owned slaves, not condemned slavery enough, or who had dealings with slavery were also removed or defaced.

All hung juries of the past that had failed to convict the Confederacy and all juries that had let the Confederacy off with a misdemeanor were themselves tried and found guilty. Lots of people were angry. I can try to understand the anger and passion of the times. If the unjust actions of police in some cases and of mobs in other cases were not enough, the whole country was shut-down with the Covid 19 pandemic.

In the quiet of a library or study, surrounded by books, the scholar cannot be immune to the boiling passions outside his office door. He has to ask not only what happened in the past, but “how is that past to be judged now, in the light of the current situation?”

Neither historians, nor scientists, philosophers, or accountants, are neutral and objective beings. As Herman Dooyeweerd surmised, we all have presuppositions and views that undergird our explanations of all matters.

Certain matters would impact those who had labored long on historical figures in American history, particularly those figures tied to American slavery and the War Between the States. One needs only look into recent biographies of John C. Calhoun, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Tyler to see the added portions recasting these men in darker tones due to their failures to embrace our “better understandings.”

Allen Guelzo has written a really well-crafted biography of Robert E. Lee, but it is premised on the idea that Lee was a traitor.

That’s a serious charge. If true, it doesn’t really matter much that Lee had done great service in the military for decades prior to the war. Benedict Arnold gets little praise despite his great service at the Battle of Saratoga. It doesn’t matter that Lee was a devout Christian, for he was a covenant breaker. It doesn’t matter that he was skilled on the battlefield, for he was doing evil.

Traitor is a term like heretic. Meaning, one should not toss it around lightly. In modern social discourse (which is not to be equated with polite conversation), people–usually for political reasons–are called traitors, Communists, Fascists, and worse with reckless abandon. But when one is writing serious history, this is a serious charge.

Basically, the stature of limitations has run out for an official charge against Robert E. Lee. Although he somewhat expected it, he was never jailed or charged or taken to court for treason. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned–and treated somewhat brutally–for his actions. With a team of northern lawyers preparing his case, he never had to step into a courtroom.

Secession was and is a touchy subject. The United States has supported and even encouraged acts of secession numerous times in our history, up to the present day. Texas and California both came into our Union following secession movements. Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries in particular were filled with secessions, unions, and redrawing of boundaries. Scotland nearly seceded from Britain just a few years back, and Britain seceded from the European Union.

Secession may or may not be a good idea in a particular time and place. (And Southerner that I am, I think the South’s actions were unnecessary and unwise.) But it is hard to make the case that secession is ever totally, completely, morally wrong. Added to that is the idea that while it was acceptable for the United States to add lands on to our possessions, it came to be considered wrong for those lands to be subtracted.

Lee grappled with secession as an issue. More than that, he opposed it. He denounced it as revolution. Later, when loyalty to his native state put him out of the Union, he defended both his state and the Confederacy with body and soul convictions.

Allen Guelzo faults Lee for not thinking as he does. Lee should have sided with the Union. Lee should have denounced slavery from Day One. Lee had, to borrow the words of the famous prayer, done those things that he ought not to have done and left undone those things he ought to have done. That is the historian/author’s prerogative. He can call his subject to account for his errors.

The issues, however, were rooted deeply in political ideas that don’t get much currency today. Personally, I can never bring myself to repeat the word “indivisible” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know of anything or of any principle that makes this nation inherently incapable of being divided. And I don’t want it to divide!

Lee’s citizenship was restored posthumously in the 1970s by President Gerald Ford. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware was one of the supporters of the restoration. I don’t think this would happen now, for our political climate has overheated.

Regarding Lee’s life, Guelzo goes into great detail about Lee’s years as an army engineer. Perhaps more detail that most want to read. His chapters on the war and the battles seemed a bit scant to me, but he was seeking to write a one volume biography, and at 434 pages of narrative, it is rather short.

I was impressed with his views regarding why Lee was so determined to invade the northern states. I often want to jump back in time and convince Lee to hold off on those two disastrous campaigns. Guelzo makes a strong case that such was needed to bring the Union to the bargaining table.

I think Guelzo really misstated Lee’s religious convictions. This is surprising since Guelzo has written extensively on religion in American history and is, as far as I know, a professing Christian. Many, like me, have often been encouraged by quotes from Lee and examples from his life and character regarding the Christian faith. Guelzo doesn’t seem to be quite as impressed.

At the beginning of the book, Guelzo faulted some earlier biographers who hailed Lee as being a very transparent and easily understood man. The longer I live, the more I think that none of us is easily understood. Even with detailed accounts of our words and actions, we still have sphinx-like qualities that cannot be easily read or discerned. A bit of psychology, which seems to be a passion for some historians, might yield a few more answers. Lee was troubled his whole life by his father’s life-struggles and failures. Lee was economically vexed by his circumstances. Lee was tasked with an overwhelming military command with few resources. He did have the additional burden of a wife who suffered from arthritis.

But for some, those obstacles are part of what we see that makes Lee more than an historical figure. They are part of the reason why we hail as a hero, a model of the Christian gentleman, and as a knight in maybe not perfectly shining armor, but in battle-tried armor.

One of my favorite parts of the book is in the final section where Guelzo credits Emory Thomas’s book–Robert E. Lee: A Biography as being the “best and most balanced of any single-volume Lee biography.” Perhaps Guelzo should have said that in his introduction.

And lest I sound too harsh on Dr. Guelzo, I was moved enough to purchase his volume on the Battle of Gettysburg.

Faustian Bargain by Ian Ona Johnson

Faustian Bargain by Ian Ona Johnson is published by Oxford University Press.

It is subtitled The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War. Dr. Johnson is a professor of military history at Notre Dame University.

As I write this review, the world’s attention is once again focused on events in Russia and particularly in Ukraine. Like most conflicts in history, this story didn’t begin this past week or month or year. The issues and troubles are rooted in centuries of Russian and Ukrainian history. And like most of history, it is not simply a remake of an earlier event. Many conflicts that might resemble the opening moves of World Wars I and II led to nothing like those wars.

Historical studies are insightful, but they are not necessarily predictive prophecy. Related to this is the most egregious statement on foreign policy ever made by former President Obama when he chided Mitt Romney saying, “Gov. Romney…when you were asked what is the biggest geopolitical group facing America, you said Russia… And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

No study of the modern world is complete without factoring in the major role Russia played from at least the beginning of the 20th century and the Russo-Japanese War, continuing on with the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In recent months, well before this current crisis, I turned my attention to the Russo-German War, which was a major part of World War II. It all began with Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II by Sean McMeekin.

When I first saw this book, my thought was “Nope. I have too many unread books about Stalin and about World War II.” As usual, a review and a recommendation and an interview with the author by Tony Williams weakened my easily swayed resolve.

Although this is a rather hefty book, I read it rather quickly and with great interest. I hate to say it was enjoyable, because the accounts in it were grim, brutal, and depressing. Hitler deservedly gets high billing for the causes, extent, and horrors of World War II. But this book crowds Hitler off of his perch and gives much more credit to Stalin for the design, unfolding, and events of that war. He was not the wizard behind the scenes causing each step and misstep, but he was always active, always plotting, and always deceptive in his goals and mission.

Lend Lease was a well-intentioned American effort to pump weapons and materials into the hands of other nations who were fighting on the side we favored. Most of it went to the Soviet Union. There is much to commend in the Lend Lease program, but this book reveals quite a bit that was excessive. We were giving things to Russia that we needed for our own efforts. We were giving to Russia while they were imprisoning Americans who were forced to land planes in that country. We were allowing Russians to freely spy on our production facilities. In short, we were selling out to the Russians.

Russia, to use an old phrase, was “playing both sides against the middle.” Russia was gobbling up neighboring countries right alongside of Germany’s conquests. Russia was co-existing with the Japanese while supposedly helping us in our two-ocean war. Russia was run like a mob boss was at its helm. Except, I don’t think most mob bosses are as evil as Stalin, Beria, and company.

I really thought that Faustian Bargain would be yet another retelling of the story that Stalin’s War covered. I like history enough to enjoy hearing the same story, or reading about the same events, numerous times. But I soon discovered that these two books are not echoes of one another, but rather are complementary accounts of events.

The Soviet-German partnership began in the waning days of World War I. In a real sense, both Germany and Russia lost that war. For Russia, it was a disaster from the very beginning. Events of the war led to the toppling of the Czarist government. Further difficulties led to the short life of the Kerensky government.

When the Bolsheviks managed to gain control, the first and major issue was extricating Russia from the quagmire of the war with Germany. The result was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was a bundle of major land concessions by the Russian government. Short term, it was a disaster, but it gave breathing room for the Soviet government to consolidate its power and turn its attention to the Civil War.

When the dust of World War I finally settled, Germany was stripped of much of its military power and forbidden to reconstruct its military. But when all else fails, use deceit! Germany needed space and opportunities to enhance research and development for future weaponry. And Germany rightly knew that while armies of the past moved on their bellies, future armies would move on their petrol tanks. Russia needed military upgrades as well. They lost the war in large part because they could not equip or mobilize their armies adequately. And the horses and lances of World War I were certainly not going to defend or expand the military boundaries of the post-war world.

It was a match made in Hell. A “Faustian bargain” refers to the German legend, often retold in literature, of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for certain powers. Whether Germany or Russia was the devil in this case is hard to figure.

The years from roughly 1919 through 1939 were filled with treaties, meetings, agreements, and under-the-table deals between Russia and Germany. In Germany, it certainly didn’t start with Hitler. One of the areas where the two powers cooperated related to furthering the development of poison gas. By the mercies of God, those horrible weapons were outlawed by the Geneva Convention after World War I and surprisingly not reintroduced in World War II (although both sides kept such weapons close by–just in case). Russia’s lands provided great venues for R&D on gases.

Airplanes had made a major impact on the previous war, and the door was opened for both good and bad uses of air flight. Germany was forbidden to have an air force, so Russia provided a curtain for them to engage in building factories, improving designs, and testing new methods.

Tanks had entered into the last portions of World War I. Those creepy looking contraptions from the war now look like poorly drawn monsters. But this was the age of mechanization. Just as automobiles and airplanes were being constantly upgraded, so were tanks. A few people on all sides were seeing the future potential and dangers of mechanized armored warfare. A few strategists and military folks (like Basil Liddell-Hart in England, Heinz Guderian in Germany, Charles De Guallle in France, and George Patton in the USA) were envisioning a type of warfare that would come to be known as the Blitzkrieg in the upcoming war.

Germany had long had a tradition of outstanding military training methods and facilities. The Prussian state, which was the premier German principality before the union of the peoples in 1870, had a reputation of being a militant nation. Russian officers were eager to learn from these teaching masters.

The relationship between Germany and Russia was never pure, never without distrust, and never benevolent. While neither country knew exactly where they would end up in the coming decades, neither anticipated an age of peace.

Johnson’s book is dense with details. His work lacks the narrative style of McMeekin’s work. But he published this work with a university academic press. It bears the marks of a dissertation, for it is exacting, heavily documented, weighted with source materials not generally known to the average reader, and a matter-of-fact style. And it has chapters that are all amazingly short. While it was not the most engaging reading, it was very readable because after a few pages, the chapter would end.

One of the most bizarre, wicked, and potentially fatal things that Stalin did was his ravaging purge of his military. Some of his best generals, including several who had been sent to Germany to be groomed in the military sciences, were placed against the wall and shot. A few were “merely tortured and exiled,” so Stalin was able to rehabilitate them for the Second World War.

The Faustian Bargain climaxed in the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939. This diplomatic triumph ended with a feast where Poland was served up and carved up. World War II had begun. For Russia and Germany, barring a few tensions, it was a love feast.

Germany’s need for Russia still existed because Germany lacked the vital fuel resources necessary to keep its armies and Luftwaffe in motion. And then the time came when Germany felt it could slip past its bargain and further endanger her sold-out soul and attack Russia.

Operation Barbarossa: The History of a Cataclysm by Jonathan Dimbleby is also published by Oxford University Academic Press.

I have not started reading this one yet. Until then, I will be praying that the now occurring cataclysm will be soon resolved.

Soaring High With Lexham Press

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To visit the website for Lexham Press, please click HERE.

I can’t remember how or when I first became aware of Lexham Press. It was a few years back, and I began receiving and reading and reviewing books that were publishing.

Lexham Press is the premier publisher of the works of the great Dutch Christian thinker, writer, theologian, Abraham Kuyper. Someday, when the money flow is abundant, I hope to acquire every Kuyper volume they have published.

But along with that Dutchman, they have also published some of the works of Geerhardus Vos. I recently reviewed a book of sermons by Vos (from another publisher), but my main Vos collection are the five volumes called Reformed Dogmatics.

Add to that, Lexham Press has published several (maybe most or all) of Michael Heiser’s intriguing and informative books.

Among the books I have reviewed over the last year is my friend Thaddeus Williams’s God Reforms Hearts: Rethinking Free Will and the Problem of Evil.

I could go adding more and more books that I have that they have published and more that they have that I want.

But now, let me proclaim a major public repentance and proclamation: I AM VERY SORRY FOR SEVERAL TIMES IN THE PAST WHEN I REFERRED TO LEHAM PRESS AS A SMALL PUBLISHER!

I am no stranger to being wrong or to underestimating matters. But for sure, this is no small, hole-in-the-wall book printing operation. I will rank them right up there with many of the biggest names in Christian publishing.

And add this: They are not merely putting out a bevy of books. What they are publishing are books that are wide ranging in style, content, and audience-focus. There are deep theological works, middling theology (meaning books for the reading, but not technically trained, Christian), commentaries, reprints and first-time-in-English translations (as is the case with Kuyper and Vos), practical Christian living books, and children’s books.

I am drowning in the riches of this publisher. We are living in a book producing renaissance, reformation, revival, tidal wave, great awakening, and outpouring of blessings upon blessings.

I want to call attention to just 4 books I have received in recent months from Lexham and highlight a few useful features of each.

The Apostles’ Creed: For All God’s Children (A Fat Cat Book) is by Ben Myers (text) and Natasha Kennedy (art).

A few weeks ago, I was leaving to go teach my class of Tuesday/Thursday students. The topic was the Creeds, starting with the Apostles’ Creed. I have been on a kick about the Apostles’ Creed for several years now. On several occasions, I have filled in the pulpit at a friend’s church, and each time I have used the Creed as the basic for my sermons. And in my church, which only recites the Creed when it shows up in the New City Catechism once a year, I am beginning my Sunday school class with my teen boys with us saying the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. (It’s an SBC church.)

Ben Myers wrote a book called The Apostles’ Creed: An Ancient Guide for Modern Believers that I have read and referred back too often. That book is published by….guess who? You’re right: Lexham Press. It is one of four volumes in a really nice set called Christian Essentials. I have read and loved all four volumes.

It is vital, useful, and a blessing to be trained on the Apostles’ Creed from childhood. The Methodist upbringing I received left many key issues and teachings unfilled and untouched. But the church did regularly recite the Creed. My heart was being formed to believe and embrace the teachings of the Bible.

But I remember being confused over who the guy was in the Creed who was a pilot. (Pontus Pilate) And I wasn’t sure why we were Methodists, but we always affirmed that we believed in the Catholic Church. Saying and drilling the Creed was great, but our children need to be taught what it means.

This book is beautiful, readable, but it is not a picture book with only a few words on each page. And like any really good children’s book, it is a help to adults.

This would be a great book to give to your children for Easter!

Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics is by C. S. Lewis

This book is a bit unusual for Lexham Press. The reason is that this is a book written by a person who was not a Christian! Before you gasp too many times, let me clarify: This was C. S. Lewis’s first published work. At the time it came out, he was not yet a believer. He was struggling to clarify his views, his style, his literary directions, and the type of works he would write.

He set out to be a poet. As we all know, he went on, after his conversion, to write a number of different types of books and even continued to write a few poems. But this is the first glimpse at the man who would become the creator of Narnia and the author of so many beloved volumes.

Published in 1919 using the name Clive Hamilton, this book reflects the troubles Lewis had with God and the experiences he had in World War I. Although those who have read and studied the work suggest that the poems were not top quality works, they did show promise.

Those who like poetry, particularly the challenges of modern–meaning 20th Century–poetry, this is a volume to put on the shelf beside the early works of Eliot, Frost, Wallace, and the Fugitive Poets. But the greater attraction will be for those of us who love poetry and the later C. S. Lewis.

Here is the heart of a man who is yet untamed by God, endangered by Aslan, and unable to locate Joy.

Added to that, this is a beautiful hardback book. Sorry that Valentine’s Day is already past, for it would be the perfect complement to a dozen roses and a box of chocolates.

.But it’s never too late to get or give a book. (I’m still accepting Christmas and birthday presents.)

Signs of the Messiah: An Introduction to John’s Gospel is by Andreas J. Kostenberger.

I received and read this book back in 2021. I thought it was a good book. But I was needing some guidance and help this year when I was teaching the Gospel of John to my class, which I previously mentioned.

I read this introduction again and read it properly, meaning that I read it in conjunction with reading John’s Gospel and with an eye for structure and application.

This is not a commentary on the Gospel. Kostenberger has written one however. This book deals with an outline of the book and major themes. It is a great book to use as I did for teaching an overview of the Gospel. For pastors teaching John in an expository series (which is how it should be taught), this is the definite before book to read with some referring back along the way.

For people who like to have some accessible helps and prods for their own Bible study, again this book works. And again, as is often the case with Lexham, the book is published in a nice hardback format.

Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, and Culture is by J. I. Packer.

Truly, I have saved the best for last!

It should be enough to see that the author of this book is the late J. I. Packer. Not sure we had many in the recent century quite at his level. Theologically, he was at the top of his class. But stylistically, he excels even that compliment. His book Knowing God is a gem. It is one of the key books to have and read and reread. I could list many titles and could wax eloquently about them.

This book is a collection of short articles that Packer contributed to the magazine Christianity Today over the course of several decades. The articles are really short, but really delightful. I have to purposely refrain myself from over-indulging and read five or ten at a time.

I never thought of Packer being particularly witty until I started reading this book. And, as usual, he can be profound, moving, convicting, and instructive all in one essay.

This book is a part of a series that Lexham Press has consists of reprints of articles from Christianity Today. For decades, that magazine has published articles by the biggest names in evangelical Christianity. Now, the best of them are being made available in nice, hardback editions.

The Best of Christianity Today as published by Lexham Press.

Final Note: There’s more from Lexham Press that I have not yet called attention to, but this is enough for now.

And for the benefit of my more modern, less book hoarding friends, I sadly confess that all of these works and more from Lexham Press are available in digital formats.

Make Lexham Press one of your go-to sources for books.

Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

cover image of Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

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

A few years ago, I waded out into the ever surprisingly deep waters of Dutch theology and philosophy. We still await a really good book about how the Dutch, while maybe not saving civilization, have highlighted what a saved civilization would believe and think.

Very few colleges offer courses in the Dutch language. It is a minor topic in most historical studies. They did have a lesser role in the establishment of the American colonies. At times, they are noted for weighing in on the bigger events of European history. For example, the Glorious Revolution in Britain came about because the King of the Netherlands, William, was married to the daughter of the English King James II. William and Mary were invited to move back into her parents’ home, contingent on kicking dad and his son out, and based in large part on William and Mary being Protestant.

Occasionally, attention is given to some of the greater minds from the Dutch nation, such as Spinoza. But history courses tend to give short shrift to quite a few religious theological and philosophical leaders. But the small, partially below sea level, land of tulips, and windmills is heavily weighted with some of the most brilliant, profound minds of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The most prominent names are Groen Guillame van Prinsterer, Abraham, Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd. Perhaps the most widely read and currently acclaimed theologian/philosopher is Herman Bavinck. But there are quite a few more, some of whom are best known in the land they were transplanted into, meaning the United States. Here one encounters the great systematic theologian Louis Berkof, the apologist Cornelius Van Til, and the subject of this post Geerhardus Vos.

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Vos’ dates were 1862 to 1949. He was a professor of Biblical theology during most of his years at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was a peer to and friend with Kuyper and Bavinck in the Netherlands. In fact, they tried to persuade him to stay in the old country and teach in a seminary there. But he returned to the United States (the land he had moved to with his family in his 19th year). His colleagues here included the Presbyterian theologians Benjamin Warfield and J. Gresham Machen.

He wasn’t just surrounded by theological luminaries: he was one himself. He is often considered to be the father of Biblical theology. While many theological studies focus on systematic theology, the biblical theologian focuses on the development of a doctrine through the course of the Bible itself, without heavy emphasis on previous theologians, church history, creeds, confessions, and the like.

Vos’ writings have been in print through the years, but he was not one whose style and content was popular or attractive. He was, as we sometimes hear, a weighty and academically rigorous theologian. Much more popular is his wife’s work. The Children’s Story Bible, now also published by Banner of Truth.

Several years ago, Lexham Press began publishing Reformed Dogmatics, available in English for the first time. These five volumes made much of the thought and teachings of Vos available for modern readers. Still, this was more theology for the theologians and serious readers. (And that doesn’t mean you have to be a seminary student or a college graduate to read them!)

And here, to load the cart a little heavier is a partial bibliography of some of Vos’s works. \

  •  The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son.
  • ——— (1894). The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline: The Inauguration Of Rev. Geerhardus Vos, Ph.D., D.D., as Professor Of Biblical Theology. New York: A. D. F. Randolph. 
  • ——— (1903). The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church. New York: American Tract Society.
  • ——— (1922). Grace and Glory: sermons preached in the chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Press.
  • ——— (1926). The Self-Disclosure of Jesus: The Modern Debate about the Messianic Consciousness. New York: George H. Doran Co. 
  • ——— (1930). The Pauline Eschatology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 
  • ——— (1934). Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments. Philadelphia, PA: Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. 
  • ——— (1944). The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Philadelphia, PA: Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
  • ——— (2001). The Eschatology of the Old Testament Phillipsburg, NJP&R Publishing
  • ——— (1980). Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. 

What I am not sure of is which of these books are NOT readily available, having been reprinted in more recent years.

But notice that Grace and Glory first appeared in 1922. Bless those at Banner of Truth who find and reset and reprint these treasures. And they have updated and expanded the number of sermons in the book.

Grace and Glory consists of 16 sermons. They are, in several cases, rather lengthy. I say that because I sometimes read a whole sermon during my morning readings, but some were basically divided into two sections.

These sermons are a perfect fit for those who want something with enough devotional/emotional/spiritually motivational impact to set the day on a good course. In other words, you need your heart to sing praises to God.

But these are not snappy, uplifting five minute or less inspirational thoughts. This is heavy theology by a brilliant theological mind. These were sermons being preached to some of the most promising and bright theology students of their times.

If you want some ideas on how to preach this upcoming Sunday, look elsewhere. I cannot imagine being able to preach with this depth and height and magnitude. If you want to be brought to your knees in awe of the God we worship, read these sermons.

Sinclair Ferguson’s quote on the back of the dust jacket is worth repeating: “In these pages the reader is invited, almost commanded and certainly demanded, to become a spiritual mountaineer.”

So true. Such a good characterization of what is contained in this book. These sermons are well worthy of being read, reread, quoted, meditated on, and shared.

Side note: Banner of Truth also has another Vos book in publication: Biblical Theology. And, of course, I want it.

Here are a couple of the quotes I shared a few months back when I was reading Grace and Glory:

“Thanks be to God, He is a Saviour who seeks the lost, who with eyes supernaturally far-sighted discerns us a long way off, and draws our interest to Himself by the sweet constraint of His grace, till we are face to face with Him and our soul is saved. “

“The only thing that can give a faint suggestion of the engrossing character of the divine hold upon his people is the first awakening of what we call romantic love in the youthful heart. “

As if it needs to be said at this point: Buy and read Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos!

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