Southern Theologians–A Reunion

Reading Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary (1828-1927) by David B. Calhoun was like a good reunion of family and friends.  Part of the connection is the fact that this book is published by Banner of Truth, which has been a favorite publisher of Reformed books for decades in my life and more decades before I was aware of Reformed Theology.

For quite a few years, I had recurring awakenings to the various aspects of Southern heritage.  The first such awakening was an interest in the War Between the States.  Soon after that, I became interested in Reformed theology (to my total surprise) and the history of Calvinism.  Calvinism and the Old South have lots of connections.  The best connecting piece between the two is Robert L. Dabney’s book The Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General  T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson.

In the years that followed, both interest in the War and the religion of the South continued to interest…rather, consume…me.  For quite a few years, I was very much locked into studies of the literature of the South.  Other aspects of Southern life, such as music and folkways, was also intriguing.

Reading Our Southern Zion was then a pleasant regathering of thoughts and reminder of the great Southern theologians.  Of course, therein lies the rub to this whole matter.  The lives of theologians rarely makes for exciting or adventurous reading.  After all, a theologian spends most of his time in the study, the classroom, and the pulpit.  Then there is the Southerness of this book’s subjects.  The South carries a weight and burden of its past that still gives it discredit in many circles.  We grant that the Southern Church, in nearly all branches, failed in its mission and message at many points.  All churches in all areas have had their areas of failure, their failure of vision, and their misapplication of doctrine and life.  Reading history is never for the point of recreating.  History should humble and instruct us, but never provide the exact blueprints for our own times.  Therefore, reading about Southern Christianity is both a challenge and a rebuke.

Since I referred to this book as a reunion, I want to recount the titles of favored books I encountered here again.

1.  Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990 by Erskine Clarke.  Lengthy study of the various Calvinists in the history of South Carolina.

2.  Preachers With Power: Four Stalwarts of the South by Douglas Kelly.  A very inspiring study of Daniel Baker, James Henley Thornwell, Benjamin Palmer, and John Girardeau.

3. Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South by Eugene Genovese. A fascinating look at Southern Christians by a historian who went from Marxism to Christianity.

4.  The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of An American Conservatism by Eugene Genovese.  Southern conservatism has its own vision.

5.  Southern Presbyterian Leaders 1683-1911 by Henry Alexander Whyte.  A very exciting and moving study of Southern Christianity.

6.  Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.  Murray is a wonderful Christian historian.

7.  Presbyterians in the South, 3 volumes, by Ernest Trice Thompson.  A lengthy study by a Texarkana native.  It took me years to acquire the entire set.

8.  B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought by Bradley J. Gundlach.  Warfield was a Kentuckian with Southern roots.

9.  The Gentlemen Theologians: American Theology in Southern Culture, 1795-1865 by E. Brooks Holifield.  The intellectual depths of Southern theologians have often been overlooked.

10.  The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, edited by Robert M. Myers.  The moving letters of a Christian family during the War Between the States.

11.  A Georgian at Princeton, edited by Robert M. Myers.  The same family as above, the Jones family, had two sons who attended Princeton College.

12.  Heroes by Iain Murray.  Murray devoted a chapter to Charles Colcock Jones, missionary to African-American slaves.

13.  The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell.  4 volumes.  A great source of theology and Southern culture.

14.  The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell by Benjamin Morgan Palmer.  I read this book back in the 1980s and loved it.

15.  Writings of Thomas E. Peck.  3 volumes.  I got this set a couple of years ago.  Peck was another Southern preacher.

16.  Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer by Thomas Cary Johnson.  A great study of a great preacher.

17.  Memoirs of James P. Boyce by John A. Broadus.  Boyce and Broadus were Baptists.  The story of Calvinistic Baptists from the South is another chapter of Southern Christian history.

18.  The Metaphysical Confederacy: James Henley Thornwell and the Synthesis of Southern Values by James Oscar Farmer, Jr.  I read this interesting study of Thornwell long, long ago.

19.  The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney by Thomas Cary Johnson.  A great biography of Dabney.

20.  Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life by Sean Michael Lucas.  A recent biography of Dabney.

21.  Discussions of R. L. Dabney.  Dabney’s writings and opinions on all kinds of matters, theological, political, cultural, and social.  Banner of Truth published the theological discussions and Sprinkle Press published the wider range of Dabney’s thought.

22.  John L. Girardeau’s Lifework and Sermons.  Sprinkle Publications reprinted several works by and about Girdardeau, who is best remembered for pastoring an African-American church.

23.  Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism by John L. Girardeau.

24.  The Theology of Infant Salvation by Robert A. Webb.

25.  Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology by Morton Smith.  Morton Smith wrote this as a doctoral dissertation.  He is an heir to the Southern theological tradition.

26.  Studies in Preaching, volume 3, The Homiletical Innovations of Andrew W. Blackwood by Jay E. Adams.  Andrew Blackwood was one of the later professors at Columbia.

27.  J. Gresham Machen: A Biographial Memoir by Ned Stonehouse.  Machen was invited to take a position at Columbia, and it appealed to his Southern heritage, but he opted to stay at Princeton.

28.  Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning, 1812-1868 and The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929 by David Calhoun.  These are Calhoun’s previous volumes on Columbia’s better known sister seminary.  They are reviewed here.

Wow!  What a gathering.  And there were quite a few bibliographical guests that I had not met and do not own.  Just for the record, numbers 2, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 27, and 28 are all published by Banner of Truth, which is located in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Banner of Truth is, therefore, one of the best sources for books on the Calvinistic theological heritage of the south.

A history of a theological seminary is, by design, a history of the many different teachers whose spent time in the halls of learning.  This book recounts some amazing aspects of Southern history.  First, the South produced some of the most brilliant theologians of the 19th century.  The Columbia greats, such as Thornwell, Girardeau, and Palmer, wrote some works that have continued to instruct serious theology students.  Second, the great theologians were quite often quite powerful pulpiteers.  The accounts given of the preaching of these same 3 (Thornwell, Girardeau, and Palmer) indicates that these men were not primarily academics.  Their theoology translated into practical, hard-hitting, soul stirring sermons.  They would have agreed with Karl Barth on this point (without agreeing with him on other matters):  Theology is nothing other than sermon preparation.

Third, many of the Southern Presbyterians had great hearts for and devoted great attention to African-Americans.  Their views were not always perfect and their paternalistic views have been rightly criticized.  But Southern Presbyterians of the 1800s had hearts for carrying the Gospel to their slaves.  Had their vision and emphases been more applied in the South, racial problems in the years following the War Between the States would have been lessened.

Fourth,  the Southern Presbyterian Church and Columbia Seminary were strongly rooted and grounded in historic Calvinism.  There were no frayed edges to orthodoxy in their doctrines.  But, it should be noted that this Calvinistic rigor did not preclude Southern Presbyterians from having great relations with Christians of other traditions.  Along with that, these Calvinists were strongly evangelistic.  

Our Southern Zion will probably have limited appeal. But there are those like me who rejoice in seeing the works of God in a Presbyterian seminary in days past.  It gives a hint of what kind of blessings God still has in store for us.

Weightlifting for Theologians–Christmas Suggestions

In the great tradition of Augustine’s City of God, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Puritan William Gurnall’s Christian in Complete Armor, theologians continue to combine weghtlifting and reading into one activity.  We can all be thankful for the short treatises (some merely 400 pages), for handily carried paperback books of a hundred pages or so, and for the many thin volumes that load our shelves and fill our minds.  Some short books, like J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, carry weight beyond their few pages.

But there is something daunting about a 1000 plus page work on a single subject.  Of course, the single subject might be something like systematic theology, so it calls for an abundance of print.  I like the look, the feel, the heft of a huge theological tome.  It looks good on the shelf and is tantalizing when wrapped and placed under the tree.

How does a person read such books?  I must confess to not successfully making my way through many of the theological hefties from cover to cover.  I have actually come to the view that such books are best read, by me at least, in portions.  In some cases, I may read a particular portion many times.  A thousand page book can be viewed as 10 hundred page studies, or as four 250 pagers,  or a thousand one page devotions.  Most such lengthy theological studies do not demand a complete reading.  Note well that what is true of a theological study is not the case for a novel.  Histories vary:  Some can be profitably read in portions, while others call for completion.  For those who successfully swallow the whole huge books, more power to you.  I will have to settle for enjoying reading the big books in portions and will have to wait until heaven to finish my reading.

This post, like several recent ones, is a Christmas suggestion list.  I hope all the theologians, theologian-want-to-be’s, and those like me who are dependent on theologians for guidance will find some big, weighty, lenthy, in-depth books will find one or two of these books under their trees or ripping through their stockings.

Weighing in at 1060 pages, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life is edited by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones.   The Puritans were masters of theology both as doctrine and as practice.  The Puritans were academically trained, theologically astute, and classically well read, but they wrote and preached for the man in the pews.  They had a firm conviction that Christianity was to be life consuming and heart changing.  Since at least the 1970s, there has been a surge of Puritan reprints.  Some of the reprints were facsimiles that were incredibly hard to read, but many were retype cast and sometimes even modified in language, spelling, and grammar for modern readers.  Some of the best works regarding Puritanism, in my opinion, have come from authors who themselves gleaned the Puritan works and wove the quotes and ideas into modern books.  A Puritan Theology consists of long discussions and explanations of Puritan views on doctrine and life followed by selections by the Puritan authors.  Any chapter or portion can be read as a stand-alone study.  I would be quick to grab any book that Joel Beeke has written or contributed to.

Here is another 1000 plus page book:  The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California.  This book and the one below was published by Zondervan.  This past summer, I read through the first chapter of this book–twice.  It was an excellent study of theological and philosophic currents of the past several centuries.  This is a weighty book by a prolific theologian.  Because this is more a book for the theology student and the serious pastor/reader, Dr. Horton produced a smaller, but not small, and simpler, but not simplistic, book titled Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples.  I read through a chapter or two of that book back last spring and liked it as well.

 Sad to admit, Calvinists have lots of disputes.  We must grant that men with deep convictions and exacting approaches to Scripture, doctrine, and life must inevitably find areas of disputation and argument.  The knowledge of the Church and the advance of the Faith and the purity of the Truth is dependent upon these confrontations.  Dr. Michael Horton, along with some of the other professors at WTS–Escondido, have had some serious theological differences between their school of thought and other Reformed theologians, thinkers, and writers.  We must note right up front that no one in these disputes is questioning whether Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s Word, or Jesus rose from the dead.

John Frame is one theologian who has had serious differences of viewpoints with Michael Horton.  You are reading this on the web, so you can easily Google the names of the authors and the web-sites and the reviews and issues.  I have read on some of these matters, and I tend to favor John Frame in these matters.  But I largely am avoiding the conflicts.  I just want the books.  I just want to know a little bit of what these men know.  In my personal Christian walk (and crawl) and my pastoral duties, I need to be aware of the issues, but I am not a partisan, a co-belligerent, or a combatant.  I will freely glean from both sides, and in this case, from both Michael Horton’s and John Frame’s systematic theologies.

Only one problem:  I don’t have John Frame’s new systematic theology yet.  But I will, God willing, and I can recommend it based on the man and my previous encounters with him and his work.  This book is yet another heavy.  It is 1280 pages. In the past years, John Frame published his three volume Lordship series, a profitable set, which are all sizeable books.  Then P & R Publishers produced a massive Festschrift for Dr. Frame from his many admirers, fellow students, and colleagues, titled Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame.

Speaking the Truth is Love is a great collection of essays on a wide range of topics.  Since Dr. Frame’s theological interests and vision has been broad, so is that of his followers.  I read quite extensively from this book a few years back and would profit from another visit.

It is amazing that the Reformation was so centered on the doctrine of Scripture and yet the heirs of the Reformation have so often attempted to water down, deny, or radically re-interpret the centrality of Scripture.  It was Loraine Boettner’s chapter on the inspiration and authority of Scripture that first sent me tumbling down from self sufficiency to a reliance upon Scripture.  It was the old stalwarts of the Reformed faith, such as Benjamin Warfield, Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, and John Murray who convinced me of the authority and centrality of Scripture.  But the battle for the Bible never ends.  This new and very large book is a powerful new addition to the corpus of books on the Bible.  I have yet to start gleaning from this work, but I prize it none the less.  Thy Word is Truth contains 1392 pages.

The hardest part of Calvinism has been long disguised in language and misunderstanding.  The doctrine was called Limited Atonement.  The best example of the way it was viewed was from Mark Twain’s account of the sermon in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  There, the narrator says of the preacher that he presented “an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.”  Along with that is the notion of the “Chosen Few” or the warped notion that God drags the elect into heaven kicking and screaming at being forced into heaven.

That day of caricature, misunderstanding, and poor labeling is hopefully ending.  Calvinism has been undergoing a surge of reawakening and popularity for several decades now.  From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, includes lots of the newer and younger theological minds as contributors.  As I indicated in a sermon a few weeks back, “this is not your father’s Calvinism.”  (The original ad from GM was about the Oldsmobile.)  This book opens the door for a new generation grasping the incredible beauty and efficacy of God’s saving work.  How appropriate that the Foreword to this book should be written by the inimitable J. I. Packer, whose essay titled “An Introduction to the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” was a short and pivotal work that helped spark the Calvinistic revolution of our time.  This great book, published by Crossway, is a mere 768 pages.

This list could go on and on, for I have not yet talked of Herman Bavinck, Jonathan Edwards, the two volumes of Christian  Apologetics: Past and Present, the Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker and of Francis Schaeffer, or Martin Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on Romans.  But I will close with a book that I have found quite delightful.  It is another Crossway title and is titled The Theology of Benjamin Warfield by Fred G. Zaspel.  At several points in my life, Benjamin Warfield has stepped out of the past and ministered to me.  This book was a help in reviving my interest in theology and Warfield himself several years back.  It is easy to read from and use for reference.  I wish I had a dozen of them to give away.

Christmas Suggestions for Pastors, Theologians, and Divines

A pastor’s workplace. Wouldn’t mind the shelves and the chairs.

There are some really great benefits to pastoral ministry.  A pastor simply must read.  A pastor must read some really good books.  A pastor must read a lot.  Maybe, he will get plenty of opportunities to talk about his reading as well.  And, he sometimes gets books for Christmas.  This is my second blog post regarding Christmas book suggestions.  I must emphasize that this is not my list; rather, it is books I have become familiar with and would recommend to others.

I recently finished reading Charles H. Spurgeon’s classic work Lectures to My Students.  If I had a vote in the matter, I would fire myself for not having read it completely before.  I had read portions of it in prior years.  The most attractive edition is the one published by Banner of Truth.  Almost anything by Banner of Truth would be a good pastor gift.  Spurgeon gave this lectures to students in his preachers’ college on Friday afternoons.  He reckoned that they had enjoyed or endured a full week of heavy studies and now needed something light and refreshing.  Beware:  This is not fluff, but it is fun.  Spurgeon is hilarious, but he is also convicting, persuasive, and incredibly moving.  Any orator or teacher would profit from this book.  It took me months to slowly taste my way through it.  The second reading won’t be far off.

I suspect that any and every book by Charles Haddon Spurgeon would be profitable.  I wish I had his sermons, and I wish I could read more and more of his writings.  This is a new and lengthy biography of the great preacher.  In years past, I read several good biographies of him and would readily recommend those by Iain Murray and Arnold Dallimore.  This book’s focus is not only on the life, but as the subtitle indicates, the pastoral theology of CHS.  So far, I have only just begun this book.

Pastors in the Classics is a fun book for reference and recommendations.  Leland Ryken is a recently retired literature teacher at Wheaton College.  I attended two of his classes vicariously through my son Nicholas.  Phillip Graham Ryken has been a pastor and is now the president of Wheaton College.  This book highlights the roles, some negative, some positive, of pastors in classic books. The first part of the book consists of in-depth essays of pastors in some classic works, while the last half is shorter synopses of novels with clergy in key roles.  From Graham Greene to Nathaniel Hawthorne, from Dostoevsky to Jan Karon, the great authors included pastors who are both inspirations and warnings.

I confess to really needing to reread Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  I credit Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray,  and a sinus cold to my being in the ministry.  It was Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones that pushed me into this role.  That two volume biography is now out in a one volume edition.  Lloyd-Jones’ books like Spiritual Depression and The Sermon on the Mount have been mind-and-heart changers.  I recently blogged about the man and his works, so for now, I will simply recommend this book on preaching.

When I found myself back in a major role as a pastor about two years ago, I pulled my older edition of Between Two Worlds by John Stott off the shelf and re-read it.  This book is in my top ranking for books for preachers.

The Kind of Preaching God Blesses by Steven J. Lawson is a really short work.  But sometimes, we need to read short books.  It was an easy read and an encouraging work by a pastor who has been writing some fine exhortations on ministry.  Lawson’s books on Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin are great guides for pastors.  I just acquired his book on Martin Luther and suspect it will be good as well.

I am currently reading Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer.  So far, so good.  I have sensed a need to read lots more on all aspects of pastoral ministry.  I have been at this for over twenty years, but in the past, I was able to yield most of the duties to other faithful pastors and elders in the church.  On other occasions, I was doing lots of preaching, but didn’t seem to be able to engage myself into the mission as I should.  For whatever time I will serve in this capacity, I now have a desire to learn and improve, so I am hopeful about this book. A fuller review will be forthcoming.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp is one of the best books I have ever read, and it is also one of the scariest.  Every pastor needs this book, but maybe it is not the best choice for a Christmas present.  “Here, Pastor.  We thought you needed this” would be true, but troubling to a pastor.  This book is a mirror and a spotlight.  It is painful, but sanctifying.

I have two problems with Center Church:  Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Tim Keller.  First, the print in much of the book is too small.  The book has double columns and the endnotes are on brown pages with a font that must be about size 8.  The book is about four hundred pages, but should be about 600 for those of us who struggle to read the fine print.  Second and greater problem:  The first six or so chapters that deal with Gospel Renewal are SO GOOD that I cannot get past them.  I read those chapters and realized that I need to truly get the message, so I read them again.  Now I feel like I need to read chapters 5 and 6 a third time.  I will never finish this book–I hope.

Eugene Peterson’s books and writings sometimes make me wince.  He is a bit Barthian, but that can be weighed in and evaluated as it appears.  He also likes to address pastors as he or she, which is a problem for us old ultra-conservatives.  But his writing style and literary gifts are outstanding.  I have several of his books.  A friend and church member, Jeff Bruce, first gave me a Eugene Peterson book that consisted of several of his titles bound together.  Along with that, both George Grant and my sister-in-law Toni Lemley have recommended him on occasion.  In The Pastor: A Memoir, Peterson tells about his life experiences in the ministry.  This book was a joy and was instructive.

A similar type of book was Calvin Miller’s Life is Mostly Edges: A Memoir.  Miller died this past year, and that news caused me to start reading and collecting some of his works.  In spite of his first name, I don’t find a lot of theological connection with Miller, but I do recognize a good writer and a man who loved Christ and the church.  Some of Miller’s pastoral and ministry experiences were quite revealing of the kinds of challeges pastors face.  I also recently picked up Miller’s book titled Preaching, but I have yet to get into that book.

I would be a bit concerned about any pastor who never read fiction, and I have known some.  I think pastors need to read lots more fiction and poetry.  I think we need lots of instruction on how to read both as well.  I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven is a beautiful short novel about a preacher who learns to love his congregation.  He was a Canadian of English descent and his parish was a poor tribe of Indians living on the coast.  Their village was confronted by changes and he was facing a terminal illness.  There was a clash of cultures at points, but primarily, the young priest was having to learn how to understand and minister to his congregation.  This is a lovely novel.