The Magna Carta of Humanity by Os Guinness

The Magna Carta of Humanity

The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and The Future of Freedom by Os Guinness is published by InterVarsity Press.

Some books we acquire because of who the author is. Such is the case with Os Guinness. For many years, he has been writing books that are combinations of cultural commentaries with Christian critiques and answers.

It all began with The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counter-culture and How It Changed America Forever. The 1960s were a redefining period of American history. I find it amazing that America survived during that period and the decade that followed. Guinness wrote this account, which is still in print, to examine that time period.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purposes for Your Life was first published in 1997. I did not pick it up and read it until many years later. There is a 20th anniversary edition of the book that came out in 2018. In my experience, this is my favorite Guinness book. Each chapter is a great meditation on finding purpose and direction for the Christian. And, Guinness, in all his writings, amply quotes from a wide variety of sources, both Christian and other.

This book is a great one for teens and younger believers to read. I think it would be great for a group study.

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion is a book about Christian apologetics. I remember loving it the summer that I read it. I need to read it again…and again! Often, my experience has been in reading books where an advocate of one school of apologetics makes the case for his approach and critiques the other school. I reckon that all of that is needful. But I have often found myself discouraged by the rancor that exists between presuppositionalists and evidentialists, between Van Tillians and Clarkians, and between advocates of various church positions. Then there is the snobbery that is found among some, including, sadly Dooyeweerdians and Neo-Orthodox, and the dismissals that attend those who profess Christianity, but see no need to convert anyone.

While good and great men and women of God have written and argued in ways that reflect my concern, I often did not find enough basic stuff to instruct believers on how to live and speak persuasively on the faith. This book does not, to the best of my recollection, deal with the intramural debates.

Other Guinness book titles include Time for Truth, Unspeakable, A Free People’s Suicide, The Global Public Square, Last Call for Liberty, and Carpe Diem Redeemed. I have most, but not all, and have read many, but not all, of his books.

The Magna Carta of Humanity is Guinness’s most recent book. It is a classic and predictable work. He surveys the social, political, and theological landscape and finds much that is wanting in our day. He calls again and again for spiritual and theological renewal. The focus is not on the church or family primarily, although both are seen as central. This is not a rewrite of the Republican party platform with a few Bible verses, nor is it an acceptance of the social justice, or “Woke” concerns, or current mantras of the religious left.

As such, I reckon every school of thought will want to mentally add a chapter on to this book either prescribing particular Bible teachings, conservative or liberal applications, and endorsements for other ministries. (I don’t mean to imply that liberals–whether theologically so or politically so–will find much of comfort in the book.)

In large part, Guinness has written a book that is highlighting the writings of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I was not familiar with either Rabbi Sacks or his writings. He is described as a “British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, peer and public figure. He died in 2020.

This book is dedicated to Rabbi Sacks. Much of it is a commentary on Sacks’s book Covenant and Conversation: Exodus: The Book of Redemption.

Perhaps many of us have not read Exodus with enough political focus. After all, we are often subtly instructed not the read any of the Bible with a political lens. But Exodus is a story that is inescapably political from beginning–with an oppressive baby killing government–to the end–with a law for God’s people that reflects God’s moral order for the nations.

I read some of Gary North’s fine books on Exodus years ago. It was part of his economic commentary on the Bible. And politics and economics are overlapping topics. Just today, I finished reading an outstanding essay on how preachers and writers in colonial America used the Exodus narrative to describe the plight that the colonies were in during the American War for Independence. That essay can be found in another IVP book, titled Every LIne, Leaf, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter

Sacks and Guinness contend that the Exodus story should be the defining model for a revolution. To bring about a real, good, and positive change, eschew French, Russian, and Chinese models, and anything advocated by Marxists pat and present, and look to Exodus.

God is at war continually with tyrants. Wimpy pastors who tremble at the political winds are not at all in good standing. Every state and social order adheres to a law code. And all law codes are founded on religious presuppositions. We are always seeing Egypt warring against the Hebrews. Change the names as needed to fit the era, and yet the battles remain the same.

Much of this book is, as expected, standard and recurring Guinness talk and advocacy. He didn’t abandon what 20 other books promoted and repeats his best themes and working bullet points. What preacher or teacher doesn’t do the same?

This leads to part of what is a bit confusing or cluttering about this book. Guinness repeatedly contrasts the American War for Independence (okay, for this occasion, let’s call it the American Revolution) with the French Revolution. That is a great theme. That is a good reason why we all need to study history. Read the historical accounts of the Frenchies and read the fiction as well. Concerning fiction, I am thinking of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (which I have written about previously and compared to Augustine’s two cities) and Baron Orczy’s Scarlet Pimperness. Concerning history, read Otto Scott’s Robespierre or Simon Schama’s Citizens. And there is an older work titled The Origin and Principles of the American Revolution Compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution written by Friedrich Gentz with a preface by John Quincy Adams. And I simply must mention Unbelief and Revolution by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer.

The dust jacket on the book reflects this conflict: At the top is seen a portion of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. At the bottom is seen (upside down), Lady Liberty in the French Revolution. At the end of almost every chapter, Guinness repeats the words: “America cannot permanently endure half 1776 and half 1789.”

This recurring message, the history lessons in the book, the warnings of our forefathers, are all useful reminders of the need for vigilance and reawakening.

But alongside this theme is the workings of Sacks’s ideas. So, the dust jacket also includes the image of Moses with the Ten Commandments off to the side. The calling attention to Sacks’s ideas and books is useful. I was not aware of him or his writings. But the clutter I mentioned earlier comes from Guinness hopping from a discussion of the Exodus Revolution to the American or French events and/or to current events.

Maybe he should have written a shorter book in praise of and commenting on Rabbi Sacks. Whether another shorter book on the American and French historical experiences should have been written is another story. If Guinness had written both, I would have been interested.

We are used to older people talking on and on. In many cases, when the older person is wise and learned, he or she is worth listening to even if there are repetitions or ramblings. I have heard and read the thoughts of people who may have passed their high bars of succinctness.

I reckon I can imply that Os Guinness is old, because I am old and he is older. But old Guinness, like wine, not the beer his family created, ages well.

This is a needed book. It is worth the few confusing portions to read. It is yet another call for our day and time.

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George Washington–Political Achiever

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George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father by David O. Stewart is published by Dutton Books. Click HERE to learn more about the author and the book.

Of the buying and reading of books about George Washington, there is no end. I have at least a couple of shelves that are devoted solely to the man. Add to that all of the books about the War for Independence, the Constitution, the early years of the Republic, and the Presidency, and I am guessing that the numbers go up in the hundreds.

But I was immediately attracted to David Stewart’s biographical study of Washington due to its subtitle. I have typically thought of Washington as primarily a soldier and farmer who, nevertheless, proved to be a successful politician. The history of military men who reached the Presidency is an interesting story in itself. Washington, Jackson, Eisenhower, and some of the post Civil War President Generals were successful at transitioning their military skills and experiences into political leadership. Theodore Roosevelt was a politician who took advantage of the Spanish-American War to upgrade his resume and fulfill some of his bucket-list agenda. William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor were both in office for too short periods to be ranked. Grant is usually the poster boy for the great general who makes a lousy political leader. (Maybe Ron Chernow’s biography has offset that.)

As it turns out, Washington was not a Johnny-come-lately when he took the oath of office to be President. He spent quite a few years in Virginia serving in the legislative branch. He was active both in trying to win elections and in trying to affect and influence legislation. He was not, in other words, purely a Virginia farmer who got called away to military service.

At the same time as Washington was doing political service, he was actively looking for and finding opportunities to serve in the various frontier campaigns under the British army. One has to realize that young Washington would never have been dreaming of being President or of leading an army that was opposing the British.

He was, in contrast, honing his skills in battle, military leadership, and the politics of military leadership. And, as this book strongly emphasizes, Washington’s political and military skills needed honing. He made more than a few blunders, and he was (surprise! surprise!) prone to equivocate, minimize, and reinterpret failures and blunders. He worked to get on the good side of those who were in charge. That sounds a bit self-serving for the Father of Our Country, but it is a necessary skill for people who are climbing the ladder of success.

And, Washington was a grand and capable actor, which was best demonstrated when he donned his old military uniform at the meeting of the Continental Congress gathering that chose him for leading the Continental Army.

Washington, as Stewart points out, won four key elections in his life unanimously. An occasional three point basketball shot may be lucky, but four in a row says much more about the player than luck. Washington was unanimously chosen to lead the Continental army. Some years later, he was the unanimous choice to preside over the Constitutional Convention. Then he set an unbroken record for being unanimously chosen by the electoral college twice as President. (It is interesting to speculate what might have occurred if Washington had sought a third term, for his fan base had declined and criticisms had increased.)

Some of Washington’s greatest political triumphs occurred not in the legislative assemblies where he had been a member and not in the Presidency. They occurred during his time as a military commander. Six years in the field with an always under-supplied and under-manned army did not yield Washington many great victories. Indeed, it can be argued that his success was usually found in avoiding annihilation of his army and the Patriot cause. Then there was a great victory–Saratoga–but it was not Washington’s leadership there.

Horatio Gates receives the honors for that victory, even though it can be better attributed to a then honorable Benedict Arnold. A simple proposition followed that great victory: If Washington can’t win a battle, but Gates wins not only a battle, but captures a whole army, then….

There are plenty of details in the military battles and army movements that Washington experienced that allow armchair strategists today and observers at the time to question the man and his methods. And ambition was a driving force in many a heart of the soldiers in that war. Intrigues and cabals between men in uniform and men in the halls of government not only questioned Washington’s leadership, but took stealthy steps toward removing him.

Washington survived and trumped his opponents on the American side with a skill that may have been often lacking when confronting his British military opponents. He had to cajole and plead and maneuver his way through the political labyrinth to both keep his position and procure goods.

Valley Forge was not just a miserably cold place where his army struggled to survive. It was also where he was able to keep his political enemies unbalanced and hold on to his power.

Washington’s presidency witnessed many more political battles lost and won. Washington learned, to his disgust, that going down to Congress to talk out a plan was not productive. He learned well how to work with congressional leaders from his distant perch. It is interesting that James Madison, quirky mercurial Little Jemmy, was a key Washington ally for many years.

Perhaps his greatest triumph and one that has rarely been equaled and never exceeded was his balancing act of having both Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in his cabinet. They were, perhaps, the two most brilliant political thinkers of their time (and most times since then), but they were diametrically opposed to one another in terms of political philosophies. People still identify themselves as Jeffersonians or Hamiltonians. (Jefferson awaits his revival of interest based on a musical.)

Another fact about Washington’s presidency is his health. The demands of the office, what we would call stressors today, were many. Washington, although far younger than our last two Presidents, was often suffering from a variety of health problems. The years in the fields of battle and other factors made him an old and sick man. But he persevered. No doubt, he looked forward to the end of his first term when he could go home to Mount Vernon. But he basically got roped in and “guilted” into serving an additional term.

Eight years were enough. In his short time as an ex-President, he did face one time when it looked as though he might have to wear a military uniform again. John Adams, Washington’s lack luster successor, did achieve one thing–he kept the US out of war with France. That kept Washington from being coerced into leading an army.

I could name a dozen or more great and delightful books on Washington the man, the general, and the President. But one would do well to either start with this fine work or, like me, supplement his or her knowledge of Washington by reading it.

This is a fine, readable, and informative study of a great leader during perilous times. It is also a reminder that our own times resemble a softball game with out of shape amateurs manning the pitching mound and the bases.

The Path of the Martyrs: Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours

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The Path of the Martyrs: Charles Martel, the Battle of Tours, and the Birth of Empire by Ed West is published by Sharpe Books. Ed West’s books and ideas can be found on his website: Ed West — Journalist and author . Among other attributes of this are its brevity (100 pages) and very cheap price (5.99).

I hate when I hear people “compliment” a history teacher or author when they say, “He/she makes history interesting.” This always sounds like history is a painful subject, forced on poor captive students, and desperately in need of of a makeover, a recasting, or a transformation from what it is to what it needs to be.

Granted, there are plenty of poor history teachers and rare is the history textbook that becomes the page-turner keeping students up too late at night. But bad teachers and poorly written texts are not confined to history. And students are not uniformly a group of neutral tabula rasas awaiting anxiously to be absorbing knowledge. Students, in many cases, are bored with almost everything. The “teach me by entertaining me” mindset is a different story.

Also, there are analytical, in-depth, highly scholarly accounts of history that are simply above the average reader. And they are above even the above average reader who is not a specialist in a particular area. Authors, particularly scholarly ones, assume a certain knowledge from their expected reading audience. If she is writing for non-historians who want to read a juicy biography, she writes a certain type of book. But if she is written to refute the claims of three other historians in their technical and critical biographies, she is assuming that the reader already has lots of knowledge of the subject. That is to be expected. All subjects can be examined at the more shallowed, wadable ends of the pool or be dived into on the deep end.

All of that is to say, Ed West’s little book doesn’t make history interesting. Instead, he does a fine job of tell a story that is already intrinsically and inescapably interesting, fun, and compelling. If you want to fit the book into a bigger picture, a meta-narrative, you can for it deals with an event that can be called “the Birth of Europe.”

Those serious, somber, scholarly types who prefer a more analytical and in-depth look at the rise of Europe would do well to read Stephen Davies’ book The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity, which I reviewed in a previous post.

The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity

Births are not easy, painless events. I say that as a personal witness to four of them. The metaphor of a birth is not an apt way to describe anything easy either. The fate of the world was hinging on two major worldviews, world orders, and philosophy/religions. The prevailing power of the age in which this book is set was the Muslim religion. While much of history bemoans (rightly so) European efforts during the Crusades to defeat Muslims (and Jews) in the Holy Land, that was just one chapter in a long history of struggles between the Christian West and the Muslim East. (And I know that both of those labels are inadequate.)

Islamic forces had long since captured what we call the Middle East. North Africa was also under their sway, and Spain had been taken by them as well. Europe, in contrast, was a hodgepodge of smaller, less powerful, but emerging nation-states. Judging from the look of the times, one would have speculated that Islam would become the ruling ideology and political force of the following ages. Europe would have been a weak holdout at best or a number of vassal states under Islamic domination.

But Charles Martel and the forces aligned with him changed all of that. France had been under the “rule” of wimpy, inadequate kings, but the real powers were exercised behind the throne by the Mayors of the Palace. As Muslim forces advanced by conquest and raids into the Frankish Kingdom, Charles Martel led the resistance.

The climatic battle, the one often regarded as a turning point in world or at least European history, took place somewhere in west-central France. Outnumbered by the Muslim forces, Charles’ heavy massed infantry not only held the battlefield but administered a sound defeat to the Muslim armies.

With the never ending debates and revisions and rewriting of history, some more recent historians have questioned the centrality of the Battle of Tours. Carry on with such explorations, but many of us profit from the less detailed historical records with the more catchy bullet points as markers. So, we can be allowed to persist in calling this victory of European Christendom over Islamic expansion as the “Birth of Europe.”

The events in this book are usually covered rather matter of factly in a paragraph or two in the textbooks. And I don’t mean to completely dismiss the role of such learning tools. But the richer story, which West tells, is one that the history teacher needs to learn and learn to tell. Or, since the book is short and inexpensive, it could be assigned to a class. The historical events are the background to a grand piece of literature called The Song of Roland, ably translated by Dorothy Sayers, so anyone teaching that poem should read this account.

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For me, I was looking for a short book to read in between two rather lengthy ones. So, I picked this book up, little knowing that it would be a really enjoyable read.

I feel compelled to add that for the more serious reader, Ed West has the habit of inserting a few bits of humor along with way. I confess to having the same tendency. Plus–horror of horrors–he has based the book on a number of other books, all of which are secondary sources. I confess to having the same tendency. And finally, he includes a bibliography that only lists the names of the authors and titles of their books. How can we read a book that sites a secondary source and then doesn’t tell us that it was published in London in 1984? Actually, I didn’t have any problem with that, and in typical Ben House-fashion, I found several titles that I wish I had.

To repeat, Ed West failed to make history interesting. Instead, he aptly told a story that is more than merely interesting, but is rather fantastic. I think we might say it has had an impact on our lives as well.

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The History Spectrum

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“I am a history teacher,” I usually tell people when they ask. And they, most often those who are professionals (and in recent weeks usually doctors), respond with telling me how they enjoy watching the history channel. Occasionally, one will mention a book that he read or intends to read that is about history.

It is a bit disconcerting. I would never think to answer the doctor by telling him that I watched “House” on television in such a way as to imply that I am as grounded in his profession as he is in mine. Maybe it is all part of the liberal arts inferiority complex that some of us have to deal with. We know what useful things doctors, dentists, chemists, lawyers, and accountants do. But people who talk of history , literature, and the arts can seem to be a bit of societal fluff.

At the same time, we who teach history and other academic subjects should not be so smug and elitist as to think that the non-academic cannot benefit from and enjoy the same kinds of things that we label as work. And maybe there is truth to what I have often said (possibly in jest) which is that I became a history teacher because I didn’t want to have to work for a living.

Most non-professional history fans, enthusiasts, and buffs enjoy a particular kind of history book. Or they consume hours of endless World War II documentaries on cable television. The Bill O’Reilly “Killing” series, which I am skeptical of, is said to be one of the best selling history series ever. And plenty of other news celebrities write books on history. I myself recently read Bret Baier’s Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire. I picked up another of his “Three Days” histories shortly after that.

Dr. Michael Douma, who is both one of the most serious academic historians and least serious Facebook friends, wrote a fine article describing “Dad History.” This has reference to the often best selling histories and biographies that many men (and probably women as well) enjoy reading and read simply for enjoyment. (Men are often skeptical of fiction.)

One of my recent readings was Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. What a story of adventures! And it is history! I have read few books as fun, terrifying, and gripping as this story. The idea of Boone being a legend, a near mythic character, and a proto-type o western heroes is all true and laid out in this book.

The range of historical studies goes far beyond those books that show up in our local book franchises or that get best seller status. The more serious “tools of the trade” will almost never be seen at a Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble. Thanks to on-line venues, they are much more easily found.

I recently read a book and have been reading a book that illustrate some of the spectrum of what historians and history students (I am one of the latter) read. If there is a depth and seriousness to our calling, it must be cultivated in the types of books I am going to mention below.

Fort Laramie and the Pageant of the West, 1834-1890 by LeRoy R. Hafen and Francis Marion Young came out in 1938 and is being kept in print by the University of Nebraska Press.

This book deals with a narrow portion of a relatively short period of time in a subsection of American history. The story is part of the Western Movement, particularly that part concerning events and places beyond the Mississippi River. Keep in mind that all of American history up to 1890 was the Western Movement.

Located in the eastern part of Wyoming, Fort Laramie is still a national historical sight. It was one of the pivotal locations in the processes where trappers and traders, farmers and soldiers, Indians and agents, and missionaries and Mormons passed through in route to new lands and hopes for wealth or struggles for survival.

This book is clearly not the work of a modern historian. He or she would have sifted through the material, woven a unified narrative, analyzed the data in comparison to other events, set the story in the greater historical context, and produced an academically satisfying work.

Instead, the authors of this work did lots of archiving and compiling. The book has lots of details that include the numbers of wagons, the names of both obscure and famous travelers, the food items and supplies delivered or consumed, and more. But the narrative story, the adventure we might say, still emerges in the midst of the details.

What is refreshing is that the bulk of the information is not pasteurized, sanitized, or analyzed for the reader. Horrible events (perpetrated both by whites and Indians) are told. Attitudes are reflected. Historical figures are named. But judgments are left out. There is no attempt here to expand upon or refute the Turner Thesis or to condemn what would now be unacceptable.

Lots and lots of facts, anecdotes, trivia, and minor details fill the book. But it is not just a sourcebook for factual content. It is a story and that story is easily seen as being pivotal to the western movement, the growth of the nation, the plight of the Indians, and the changing roles of the government as the nation settled the areas beyond the MIssissippi.

And it is a fun book. Consider this snippet:
“Sir George Gore’s favorite author was Shakespeare, which Jim Bridger ‘reckin’d was too highfalutin’ for him; moreover,  he remarked,  ‘thet he rather calcerlated that that big Dutchman,  Mr. Full-stuff (Falstaff), was a leetle too fond of lager beer, ‘ and thought it would have been better for the old man if he had ‘stuck to bourbon whiskey straight. ‘”

Those who settled the West were, in the best senses of the word, characters.

Thanks to Steven Carr, a serious student and teacher of American history, for both calling my attention to this book and for putting one into my possession.

Far different and far more difficult on the history spectrum is The Wealth Explosion :The Nature and Origins of Modernity by Stephen Davies. This work is published by Edward Everett Root Publishers in London.

This book was proved to me by the aforementioned Michael Douma. I was invited to read it and then join in a discussion with some real scholars who also read the book. (Alas! My most recent hospital venture prevented me from finishing the book and messed up my efforts to join in on the discussion via Zoom.)

This is the type of book that one might pull from the nightstand, start, get sleepy, put away, and never pick up again. Despite the use of the word “explosion” in the title, this book is not one for those who enjoy the rough and tumble, the wars and tribulations, and the trials and tribulations of history.

But, after hearing parts of the group discussion and after my own–as yet incomplete–reading from the book, I recognize that it is an important work. Whereas Fort Laramie focused on a narrow part of American history, this book is examining an incredibly wide swath of world history, particularly from the 1700s on.

I often contrast narrative histories with analytical histories. This one is analytical. It not only gets under the hood, but it dismantles the engine to examine how the parts work.

This is a book that makes me want to study it and hear lecture discussions on it piece by piece. One reading is not enough. This is historical calculus, not historical multiplication tables. Get the point?

Would non-historians want to read the book? No, not for fun, but I can see the advantages for academic or scholarly people working through it. But this is mainly for the historians.

Granted, when I teach, I prefer to build the case for Modernity and wealth on a few preferred foundations. Following the work of Christopher Dawson from the past and Rodney Stark from the present, I would structure the modern world in the positive sense on the influence of Christian thought. And I would throw in enough of Adam Smith, the American Founding Fathers, Edmund Burke, and or Northern Europeans to solidify my biases.

I don’t think I am all wrong, but my explanations would suffer from not being broad and deep enough. Davies’ book takes me past my stream and forces me to go both up river and down river to see how much I am missing.

Stephen Davies seems to have historical superpowers. He analyzes and describes events in Asia, Europe, and America, past and present, with broad sweeping generalizations and specific details. This is a world history text, but one that supplements the books that give us the maps and timelines.

This is the book that I need to read several times. And if the book itself is not daunting enough, at the end of each chapter, Davies includes a section for further reading that is incredibly wide-ranging and comprehensive.

Fine books described above. Very different. Very representative of what we history folks really have to contend with. We only make it look easy and fun for your benefit.

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Benjamin Myers: A Poetics of Orthodoxy and Black Sunday

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Poetry. Where does it fit in your life? You may hear or read lines quoted in various places. I recently came across a wonderful poem titled “No Enemy” by Charles McKay. It was quoted on the Netflix series “The Crown” by Margaret Thatcher, and it is true that Ms. Thatcher loved that poem.

I come across other poems in reading. Scott Christensen quotes a poem titled “This is the True God” in his book What About Evil? (A very moving poem in a great book). That poem was used by contemporary Christian music artist Phil Keaggy and it is titled “Maker of the Universe.”

I took a graduate level English class a year or so ago that was called “Poetry and Literary Criticism.” But my main motivation was the need for 3 additional graduate hours in English (so as to be able to teach English at a college level–which hasn’t happened). I did enjoy reading previously unfamiliar poetry and in understanding some of the theories of literary criticism (many of which are insane).

Even in teaching, poetry has its challenges. How do you teach the poem without making it into a pedantic labor that guarantees that neither student nor teacher will like it? Sometimes, we read the poems and we all weigh in as to whether we like the poems or not, as though we were sampling sweets in a candy shop.

Then where do we fit in the person who writes poetry? It seems lame to be standing in a crowd of guys where one speaks of having overhauled his truck engine, another tells of having hunted and killed an elk in Colorado, the next one updates us on his remodeling of the living room of his house, while yet another tells of his deadlifting over 300 pounds at the gym, meanwhile, you are wondering if you should mention your failure to get the rhymes and syllables just right in a sonnet that you labored over all afternoon.

Poetry often survives because of the captive classrooms. Like with many academic subjects, there is always the student who “smartly” questions where he will ever use what he is being subjected to in the classroom. The teacher takes consolation in the small cadre of students who like the poetry. That creates the danger, however, of that particular type of student (like me) who assumes that because T. S. Eliot wrote poems without rhyme that he can do the same.

Let’s face it: America, Western Civilization, and the world are in trouble. Be it the liberal viewpoint or the conservative viewpoint, no one is echoing Robert Browning’s lines “All’s right with the world.” Few people read poetry. Few know contemporary American poets. And who memorizes poems?

And yet, I was in the hospital for 23 days during May and early June. Being in ICU and a hospital bed, I was struggling to rest and sleep. One night, John Masefield came to mind. I remembered his book of poems that I found in a bargain store for a buck or less. And there was that line from his most frequently anthologized poem, “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky….” (from the poem “Sea Fever”).

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My longing for home, my bed, my life was comforted by those words. It may only be Fahrenheit 451 type fragments of poetry that I know, but they come to my mind. They remind me, fortify me, redirect me, and often just bring a bit of pleasure. Perhaps poems need to be labeled for ingredients: Comfort, humor, meditation, courage, sadness, memory, etc.

I have recently become acquainted with Benjamin Myers. He and I share an affinity for “the Great Books” and teaching the classics. He does such work at Oklahoma Baptist University, just as I was doing such work at a different level at Veritas Academy. I reckon that if he and I were bound to ride together across west Texas. we would suffer no shortage of books, novels, authors, and poetry to discuss. We would probably both prefer to meet and talk over a few cups of coffee or other refreshments.

Benjamin is also a published poet. He was the poet laureate of Oklahoma and has written several volumes of poetry. This past year, I read his latest volume, which is titled Black Sunday: Dust Bowl Sonnets. This book is published by Lamar University Literary Press.

This is a really fine collection that would make sense to the person who is not at home with poetic works. I am assuming that such a person would be aware of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In other words, those who know a bit of history or literature would recognize what is going on.

Myers writes a series of sonnets here that reflect the experiences of different individuals during those terrible times. The book also includes some grim pictures showing the heavy piles of dust covering everything. Unlike Steinbeck’s Joad family, these people are stuck in Oklahoma. The miseries pile up with each layer of sand. The farmer, the wife and mother, the preacher, and others are all struggling with the sandy, dry, life-killing Hell. Even the few experiences of having sand or grit in my mouth are unpleasant. Even the seasonal pollen that coats our out-of-doors is a mild plague. Imagining the waves of dust is basically unimagineable.

Myers’ people are a bit like those of Edgar Lee Masters in his famous Spoon River Anthology. The difference is that Myers doesn’t include a wide range of character, and each one speaks through several of the poems.

Okay, here is an interpretation of history and a bit of collateral reading to supplement the Steinbeck novel. Why read the book? This past year (2020) America went through all manner of upheavals primarily springing from the Covid pandemic. Granted many bad things happened. But people often talked about this as though this was the ultimate disaster and crisis of all American and even World history.

Along with that, we suffer. And if we are not suffering, we are prone to not have the empathy needed to help those who are in misery. These poems take us to the inside of such suffering and hardships. Dr. Louise Cowan used to emphasize how literature teaches us of mortality (even as she seemed for a season to defy it while continuing to lecture while in her 90s).

Such poetry, whether Myers’, Masters’, or Masefield’s, provides us with emotional knowledge. We too often put knowledge and reason in one box and emotional responses in another. But human feeling is knowledge of the human condition.

To follow up on this, I will soon discuss Myers’ latest book A Poetics of Orthodoxy: Christian Truth as Aesthetic Foundation. This book is a fine way to deepen our understanding of the hows and whys of poetry.

Save yourself some time by ordering and reading both books.

Henry Adams: The Last American Aristocrat

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The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams by David S. Brown is published by Scribner, which is part of Simon and Schuster Publishing.

Henry Adams is a name that is inescapable in studies of American history. Getting past the name and the innumerable references to him has not been an easy task for me. The question is whether the fault lies with Mr. Adams, with me, or with the education I received.

Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of the sixth and second Presidents. His recent ancestors both suffered defeats at the polls in their efforts to win re-elections, but both had careers of such accomplishments that their Presidencies can be slightly overlooked like a few bad dreams.

Neither John nor John Quincy have ever struck me as people I would want to go back in time to share an evening with. Stuffy, arrogant, uppity, and certainly aristocratic, neither exemplified the traits I would find enjoyable. They were not good ole boys of Southern upbringing.

At the same time that I might personally feel distant from the Adams family, I am continually impressed by the education, moral character, and work ethic of the two Presidents. David McCullough’s biography of John Adams convinced me against my druthers of what a man of character he was.

The pedigree carried clout. Henry’s father, Charles Francis Adams, served as ambassador to Britain under President Lincoln. At a later time, his name was tossed around as a Presidential candidate. But the changes in American campaign politics didn’t provide a venue for the Adams’ style.

Henry Adams became best known as an author and historian. The book that is most often mentioned or quoted in American history contexts is The Education of Henry Adams. After hearing about it for years, I read this somewhat autobiographical account of Adams’ life from the really fine Library of America volume. It was named by the Modern Library as the best English-language non-fiction book of the 20th century.

While the book was enjoyable in places, I found myself continually puzzled by Adams’ cynical, whining, and self-deprecating attitudes and observations. This man had a treasured heritage and upbringing. He was part of the American elite, the heir of a honored name and title, a part of the Boston brahmin class, a definitive WASP, and as the biography labels him, an aristocrat–in a democratic society.

He was able to work alongside his London-based father during the Civil War, which certainly beat having to slog along the roads with Grant’s army. The doors to the best of education were all open to him, but he seemed to disdain the discipline or culture of those settings. Washington, Boston, London, and other parts of Europe were open to him.

Certainly, there were plenty of things for the social critic to fault during his lifetime, but his own personal experiences exceeded those of 99.9 percent of American, and he was a complainer.

Or maybe I just didn’t understand The Education of Henry Adams. For that reason, I welcomed the opportunity to read this biography, The Last American Aristocrat. One can’t help but be impressed by the circles, contacts, and events in the life of Adams. He was well educated and cultured, at home with political leaders, sought after by prominent people, financially able to live the best of lives, but once again, he came across in the book as a dissatisfied, complaining, and unappreciative man.

He was a faithful husband in a challenging marriage. His wife had numerous health and mental problems. He was a successful author. He wrote several novels, usually anonymously. I took it upon myself to read the one titled Democracy, which is also found in the Library of America series. It was a surprisingly good story of the inner workings of Washington politics.

He became best known for multi-volumes on the histories of the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. (I was puzzled as to why he didn’t write about his own forefathers’ administrations.) These works gave him recognition as one of the premier historians of his day. And, having never been assigned any of the older historians’ works in my studies, I began reading his History of the Administration of Thomas Jefferson. Other events have stalled out that venture, but from the portion I finished, I was once again struck by his abilities.

I believe David Brown’s biography is a good one. I also believe that whatever problem I have with Henry Adams lies deeper than trying to find out about his life or gather a few insights into his literary labors. I would welcome professional or amateur historians to explain to me what I am missing when I try to place Adams in the roll call of great or influential Americans.

Perhaps it is that I am suffering from not having read Mont Saint Mihel and Chartes, which was inspired by his visits to cathedrals in France. My journey, with its unpleasantness and irritations with Henry Adams, is not quite over.

The Last American Aristocrat
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The Pastor: His Call, His Character, and Work

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The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work by Faculty and Friends of “Old” Princeton is published by Banner of Truth.

Predictable! Delightfully so. That is how I would characterize this collection of sermons and talks given back in the day at Old Princeton.

Princeton Theological Seminary was the moral compass, the lodestone, the North Star, the pillar and ground of theological and Biblical truth in the 19th century. Under such theologians as Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and others, the seminary dug its heels in and refused to budge when confronted with the flurry of theological heresies, social currents, and societal upheavals of the day.

Princeton Theological Seminary was not a cultural backwater, however. The men who taught there were students of the latest discoveries in theological and linguistic research. They kept abreast of the scientific advances and challenges of the time. They interacted with the political events.

But Princeton Seminary had one primary goal. It sought to train men to be faithful pastors. Of course, this entailed language studies. It also took students through the depths of theology, homiletics, and Scriptural exegesis. Such were the expected tools and steps for those who wanted to be Presbyterian pastors. There was no place for the illiterate man who be converted one Sunday and feel compelled to start preaching the next Sunday. Rather, one had to study hard and deep and be grounded in the Word of God and able to faithfully communicate it.

The gist of the nine addresses in this book is not on academic or scholarly attainments. Rather, the focus was on the pastor’s heart. Godly, pious, faithful men were the only ones who were apt to be ministers. Each pastoral leader in these essays exhorts his hearers to be faithful and focused in following Christ.

That is why I said that this book is predictable. There are no surprise heresies lurking between the lines of some speculations regarding Scripture. This book would not satisfy the one who was looking for seeds of deviation from the Scriptural and Westminster-based norms. These were sound men exhorting the next generation to remain sound.

As such, these essays are good devotional reading. One wanting to explore theological issues would need to look at other Princeton works, such as Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology or the works of Benjamin Warfield. The amazing thing is that while it was the mind that the seminary was filling and expanding, it was the heart that was the central concern. As a former pastor, I could feel the need to hear these kinds of words and exhortations again and again.

For those who want to know more about the work and legacy of Princeton Seminary, I will mention the following books, which are also Banner of Truth titles:

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David Calhoun has written a definitive history in two volumes of the seminary and the men who served there. This is an outstanding historical study. Volume 1 covers the years 1812 (the beginning) to 1868 and volume 2 takes the story up to 1929. The later stages of the seminary’s history are rather sad because of the death of Benjamin Warfield and the internal battles over theological liberalism.

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Princeton and the Work of Christian Ministry is a two volume set from which The Pastor was taken. The 255 pages of this shorter work can easily whet the appetite for the 1500 pages of the larger set.

Pastor-Teachers of Old Princeton

Pastor-Teachers of Old Princeton is subtitled “MEMORIAL ADDRESSES FOR THE FACULTY OF PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY 1812-1921.” Once again, source materials are ready at hand for readers in our day to be reminded and grounded in the historic teachings of Reformed Christianity.

Finally, Banner of Truth and other publishers have printed a number of works by such men as Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Benjamin Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and others who were pastors/scholars/teachers/students of the old Princeton tradition.

These works do have relevance as historical documents, but their greatest value is in the true and sound theology they contain and remind us of. We are living in a Christian Renaissance. We not only have many good and faithful preachers and teachers in our day, but thanks to works like the book reviewed here, we have the wealth of the past at our fingertips.

image of the book The Pastor by Faculty and Friends of old princeton

Calhoun: American Heretic

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Calhoun: American Heretic by Robert Elder is published by Basic Books.

Robert Elder has written an outstanding biography of an essential man in 19th century American history. The book, the man, and the issues are primary and critical for any students, would-be-scholars, and teachers of American history. I would commend any college professor who assigns or at least strongly recommends this study.

With decades of teaching and reading American history, I found huge gaps in my own understanding of history helped by my study of this work. All of that being said, I do have some reservations, indeed disagreements, with the author’s perspective that I will comment on later.

The Great Triumvirate : Webster, Clay, and Calhoun by Merrill D. Peterson

There were three men, sometimes referred to a “the Great Triumvirate” of the U. S. Senate, who held powerful positions in the antebellum government from the War of 1812 up to the Compromise of 1850. They were Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. It is interesting that none of them made it to the Presidency, yet all of them individually outshone quite a few of the Presidents of those years. All three were Secretaries of State at one time or another (and that office was the stepping stone to the Presidency). All three battled the key issues of the day, often in opposition to one or the other amongst themselves. All three have been ranked as being among the greatest leaders in the Senate for all of American history.

Of the three, it is Calhoun who has often been praised or blamed for being an original and profound political thinker. While he grappled with the political conflicts of his time, and while he sometimes had views that morphed from one stance to another to fit circumstances, and while he was a skilled a wily politician rather than a marble statesman, he actually carved out time to write A Disquisition on Government. This work, which like too many source materials is mentioned sometimes and read almost never, grapples with the issues of how a minority (the Southern states in Calhoun’s situation) can coexist with a ruling majority.

For Calhoun, political thought was not an academic ivory tower escape. He was generally in the thick of the political controversies of his time. He came near to being a Presidential contender on several occasions. Oddly enough, he served as Vice President twice under two men who were Presidential rivals (John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson). Not surprising, Calhoun’s principles and convictions would put in alliances with others at points, while later producing political enmity. His conflicts with Andrew Jackson were both political and personal. Jackson regretted not hanging Calhoun, although he had no legal grounds to do so (which would have been only a slight impediment to Old Hickory).

The political drive, unrelenting convictions, and untiring work that Calhoun devoted to his and South Carolina’s and the South’s and the United States’ are astounding. Much of what labored to achieve fell into obscurity, or occupies a few paragraphs of most government texts, or is discredited in our day.

There is no understanding of pre-Civil War America without some serious time devoted to Calhoun. For that reason, this book is quite important, readable, and well done.

But notice the title: Calhoun: American Heretic. Robert Elder deals forcefully with the terrible institution of slavery in Calhoun’s time. Like so many other leaders of his era, Calhoun was a slave owner. Unlike many of them, he did not flinch or apologize or seek to minimize the bad effects of slavery. In our time, we have, thankfully, gotten past praising our leaders of the early republic as though they were all pillars of truth and exemplars of all virtue. Hagiography has no place in historical studies. But we still have to reckon with the fact that people from the past live in a foreign land that differs from our own. Criticizing and fault finding is inescapable, but there a need for trying to get inside the mindset of a previous era whose sins and follies differ from our own.

Calhoun is a pariah today. His name, statues of him, and his legacy are part of the great airbrushing of history due to our own sensitivities, political correctness, and desire to rewrite the past. I found Dr. Elder’s last section of the book unsatisfying. In it, he heaped up his criticisms of Calhoun, his dismissal of his political thought, and his willingness to push him off the stage. Maybe Elder is right. Calhoun said and thought many things I don’t want to defend.

For me, I find myself now wanting to read Calhoun’s writings, particularly his Disquisition on Government. I also am ready to dig into the works of such scholars as Lee Cheek and Clyde Wilson who have much more favorable assessments of the man. That is, I suppose, what historical studies are all about.

Whether you like Calhoun or despise him, whether this would be one of many reads on the man or your first venture into his thought, Robert Elder has written a challenging, readable, and worthy book.

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Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier

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Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin is published by St. Martin’s Press

To put it quite simply, I was wrong about both Daniel Boone and this book. I opened it up, expecting a fairly interesting read about a man who is both legend and historical. What I didn’t know was how incredible and intertwined in historical events the man was.

This book was one of the most enjoyable, terrifying, and informative reads I have experienced in a long time. Enjoyable because the book was well written and the events were fast paced like a thriller or mystery novel. Terrifying because life on the American frontier was almost non-stop dangers, threats, and hardships, with death coming at the settlers every moment from every angle. Informative because the events in this book, which took place in the just-being-settled “dark and bloody ground” known as Kentucky were part of the American War for Independence.

I grew up with hearing bits and pieces of the story of Daniel Boone. I often got him confused with Davy Crockett. That was not surprising since actor Fess Parker played the part of Crockett for the Disney movie and the role of Boone for the television series. Both were supposedly coon skin cap wearing pre-western cowboy heroes. They lived by wits and weapons, battled Indians, bad guys, and elements, and made American history.

Boone preceded Crockett by a generation or so. Boone was a part of the Scotch-Irish folk who filled in the gaps between the coastal areas of the original colonies and the unsettled (by whites) regions of the country. While people moved to the frontier with the intention of clearing land and farming. But Boone was a restless spirit. Not for him were a team of oxen or mules pulling a plow and clearing a field for crops.

Daniel Boone was a hunter. Always in search of new ground, woodlands and clearing, he, along with a few companions, would kill, dress, and gather an immense amount of meat and hides. These adventures generally put him in Indian territory, and that often meant skirmishes.

Among the interesting facts I came across was this: Boone, and his distant cousin and future general Daniel Morgan, and later British General Thomas Gage, was on the ill-fated Braddock expedition. He was rubbing shoulders with another American legend, George Washington.

Along with seeing the sheer fight, grit, danger, and risks of settling the frontier, this book includes all manner of choice details, such as the following:

“Thirteen years had done little to dull the Irishman John Findley’s beaming countenance.  He wore the grin of a man who killed weasels with his teeth. “

I reckon that the history of American settlement of the frontier is chocked through with myths and exaggerations. But this book made me realize that the story itself is quite incredible.

April Readings

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In retrospect, maybe I should have spent some time outside reading. But parts of April were unexpectedly cold or were rainy. And I was outside several times, but it was usually for yard work or for an outdoor event. The reading portions of the month were quite good, even if the weather was not.

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John Le Carre is one of the premier spy novelists of our time. His two most famous books are The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. As is all too common in that genre of writing, author begins to crank out novel and novel after novel. He can afford to write several potboilers, since he is raking in big bucks. And if he is good enough, the fans stick with him. And, he will occasionally hit a home run.

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I have erred in my approach to Le Carre. This is the third book by him that I have read, but I have not read his two best. Worse, I have not read the books that A Legacy of Spies and I have not read the previous books that featured George Smiley and Peter Gilliam. So I read this book being blind, confused, and often a bit bored by the story. I suspect that the book was not a top work by the old master, but it goes to show that one should not enter into a conversation where you have missed all of the prior discussion.

I try to humbly begin by blaming the reader, not the writer, when a reading experience is a bust.

Bret Baier is a Fox news journalist and celebrity. He, along with a couple of more focused historians and contributors, has written several books that begin with the words “Three Days.” I found this like-new copy of Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Union for a mere 2 bucks. I snatched it up and read it.

Two of my “much wiser than I am” friends and historians, Tony Williams and Michael Douma, would not have done what I did. Tony steers his readings away from the work of celebrity news authors. Rightly so, in many ways. There is no way that Baier could do extensive research on the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and Ronald Reagan while getting make-up put on and reviewing bullet points for his Fox News appearances. But he did have some help in putting the book together. Michael calls these kinds of books “Dad History,” meaning that these are the kinds of history stories that men often like to read in place of watching sports or reading novels.

Okay, guys, you are both right. But I enjoyed this book. Why? It was a walk down lots of memories, anecdotes, and concerns back when Reagan was President. Yes, the book has a Wikipedia feel, a lack of analysis, a retelling and simplifying of complex issues. Scholarly sources are not cited. Footnotes are not weighty. And no serious historian is going to assign this work to his grad students. But I am a life-long teacher to junior high and high school students. And I love hearing and rehearing and rehearing again the quips, quotes, and things about Reagan that made him who he was.

Footnote: A few days ago, I picked up a $2, like new, copy of Baier’s Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II. Now I need to find a copy of his Three Days book on Eisenhower.

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Several years ago, I was very excited when The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony was published. My excitement rose when I was able to purchase a copy of the book. Then, I put the book on a stack that later got shuffled around from shelf to shelf and neglected.

Last month, I picked it up one day, read the first pages, and determined that it was time to read the book. I found it to be an outstanding study of politics, nationalism, and history. Hazony is concerned that the trend in modern statecraft is toward world cooperative institutions and empire. Nationalism is labeled and branded as a bad thing.

Often the idea of nationalism is linked to such movements as the National Socialists of Germany in the 1930s. Nazis were nationalists, so it is said. Yazony, who is a citizen of Israel, like others, is appalled that he and his fellow citizens would be criticized and compared to the such a horrible bunch. National Socialism was not a nationalist program, for the Nazis were empire building. They were crushing nations and nationalities all around them.

Nationalism has also been criticized as it was applied to the outlook of former President Donald Trump. His America First policy was seen by critics to embody all manner of wrong things. Hazony contends that a nation seeking its own good properly excludes the nation from crushing other nations. Sin and evil happens, and no system is failsafe. But he believes that nations such as the United States and Israel have provided better models of Statecraft when they have striven to be nationalistic.

This was a great read that would be enjoyable to use in a classroom setting or a discussion group.

The Doctrine of Creation by Bruce Ashford and Craig Bartholomew is published by IVP.

This is, simply put, one of the best books I have ever read.

The Doctrine of Creation

Studies with the word “Creation” in them are often predictable. Christians have been in a culture war over origins for over 150 years now. Often that war has been within the ranks of believers, churches, seminaries, and schools of thought. One might see this book and expect yet another series of battle cries over one approach or another to the events described in Genesis 1-3.

I am not opposed to those types of books. I have read quite a few studies over the past decades, admittedly from only a couple of the options, and have definite views on the subject.

The strength of this book, however, is that it is a study of doctrines or teachings based upon the fact that God made the world, the various kingdoms, and more importantly, man and woman. God gave approval to all He made and commissioned all He made.

Following the simple ground-motives scheme of Herman Dooyeweerd, all of life, in the Christian view of things can be summarized as “Creation, Fall, Redemption.” That is more than a handy three word mantra. It provides avenues of venturing into a world of thought and exploration into numerous areas of life.

As the book’s subtitle indicates, this study is “A constructive Kuyperian approach.” This is thrillingly good news to all who love the work of those amazing Dutchmen, such as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd. If all of this is new to you, God’s blessings on you as you begin to explore what He has done through His beloved Dutch servants in the 19th and 20th centuries and in their heirs.

I will also add that this book draws heavily and quotes often from Karl Barth. While not every reference is favorable, many are useful in reminding or informing the reader why Barth has been such a powerful theological force over the past century.

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This book became a quick favorite of mine because it strikes a perfect balance. It is the kind of challenging theological work that demands strong, heavily caffeinated coffee. But it also is doxological, meaning that the discussions didn’t merely inform the mind, but inspired the heart in praise to God. There is lots of philosophical content for those who like those matters, but also practical applications. It cuts across the usual boundaries that sets Christian against Christian in many of our discussions.

I have previously read works by both Bruce Ashford and Craig Bartholomew. I have profited from both authors and that profit was exponentially increased in the reading of this book.

I read two enjoyable novels in April.

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The first was The Pilot by James Fenimore Cooper. I have been touting my increasing love for James Fenimore Cooper ever since last November when I undertook to read the three volumes of The Leatherstocking Tales, which I had not previously read. Cooper was one of our greatest, although not always easiest, writers. And he was a Christian, and I find it unusual that so many fellow believers embrace Tolkien (a Cooper fan), Lewis, and Jane Austen but don’t seem to notice JFC.

This was my first reading of a book that did not include Natty Bumpo. But Cooper created the sea novel, as well as the western. The Pilot was set in the American War for Independence and features fictional exploits of John Paul Jones, who in the book is usually just called the Pilot or Mr. Gray.

Central to the story is the issue of loyalty to one’s country. The more favored characters were devoted to American independence. Their former loyalty to King George and Britain was broken by the abuses well known to readers of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, the British characters were appalled at the “disloyalty” of the Americans.

I really feel the need to read this novel again before I move on to the next sea novel by Cooper, The Red Rover.

I recently did a review of The Anumpa Warriors by Sarah Elizabeth Sawyer, along with a companion volume called The First Code Talkers by Michael Meadows.

I will reaffirm that The Anumpa Warriors is a really enjoyable and historically informative novel. It is Christian through and through. It is based on historical people and actions. And the story itself is quite inspiring.

May be an image of book and text that says 'HIII UNDERSTANDING MODERN POLITICAL IDEAS A Guidebook for Christians and Other Patriots Dr.Benjamin L.Smith L.S'

I had to harass, cajole, plead, beg, and almost threaten Benjamin Smith to send me a copy of his book Understanding Modern Political Ideas: A Guidebook for Christians and Other Patriots.

When the package arrived, I was disappointed at seeing such a small, short work.

Then I started reading it. Now I know why the author was trying to keep this work under wraps. This is an outstanding survey, introduction, and review of major broad-based political ideas in our time. These are lecture notes that I would have to either assign verbatim or steal from shamelessly.

The simplicity and succinctness, despite my initial scoffing at the book’s brevity, is the selling point. Dr. Smith gives plenty of suggested readings at the end of each chapter. I was even tempted beyond resistance into ordering two of the titles he mentioned several times.

“This is among the most important political lessons of Christianity–we must not look for ultimate happiness in or through political life. Christian faith rejects all earthly utopias. ” That statement alone is a great reminder in these politically insane times.

Post Script: I neglected to post a March Readings blog. Perhaps I can remedy that soon. Or I might have to move on to another 50 books I need to discuss, recommend, or droll over.

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