The Great American Novel and the Late Unpleasantness

Walker Percy once told his friend, Shelby Foote, that he was writing the American Iliad.  He was referring to Foote’s monumental three volume history of the Civil War, titled simply The Civil War.  Foote’s incredible narrative style wove its way through hundreds of battles, across miles and miles of the country, and across four years of war, twenty years of writing, and a couple of pages of text.  But Foote’s Civil War was not the American Iliad, nor are any of the many, many powerful histories of that war.

Some of the greatest books on the War Between the States, a name I prefer over Civil War, have been fiction.  Of course, we have to begin by understanding that fiction at its best is not fictional.  Rather, it is true.  Or at least, fiction has a way of getting to the truth that is quite revealing of the human situation.  Fiction can probe in areas and make pronouncements that non-fiction can only envy.  When the historian or biographer probes the subconscious, the underlying motive, the subjective, it often reveals more about the author than the subject.

Much could be said about Civil War fiction.  I know because tonight I picked up a book out of the study that I have not read from in years.  There was a time when my obsession with the War itself morphed into an obsession with Southern literature.  I am not a person with hobbies, only obsessions.  I see them altered through the years, but never completely overcome, thankfully.

The book is Classics of Civil War Fictionedited by David Madden and Peggy Bach.  It was published by University Press of Mississippi, one of my favorite university presses.  This book consists of more than a dozen selections and essays.  Without listing the books in this book, I will just say that I have only read a few of the selections they highlight and several of them are totally unfamiliar to me.  But, the book has a great nearly 20 page introduction to the subject and a interesting list of bibliography containing novels, stories, poems, and plays from 1852 to 1949.  As the editors point out, a surprisingly small amount of literary criticism and attention has been devoted to Civil War fiction.

My current interest in the topic stems from recent reading assignments inflicted upon my poor captives in junior high American history and high school Humanities:  The American Story.  I will, in my usual fashion, list books that I have read and liked and comment with what I hope is lucid brevity.

1.  The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

Take care that you don’t read The Killer Angels as a historical narrative.  It does a great job of capturing the history of the battle of Gettysburg and many of the key historical figures, but this novel only incidentally covers the visible, outward war.  It is the internal conflicts that propels this book along.  The Killer Angels very closely follows many of the patterns of Homer’s Iliad.  And, whereas the chief battle in The Iliad centers around when “first there stood in division of conflict” Achilles and Agamemnon, in this novel, the conflict is between Generals Longstreet and Lee.  I love this novel and have taught through it several times, and I also argue with it at many points.  I also think the movie, titled Gettyburg, although lacking the internal depth of the book, was well done.

Michael Shaara’s son, Jeff, wrote both a prequel and sequel to The Killer Angels.  The prequel was titled Gods and Generals and it covers the earlier years of the war prior to Gettysburg in 1863.  The sequel, The Last Full Measure, covers the closing years of the war.  I enjoyed reading both of these books, but did not find the fictional element as strongly convincing as the elder Shaara’s book.  Jeff Shaara has gone on to write an incredible number of fictionalized histories of American wars.

2.  Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt.


I read this book last December for the first time.  I also used it in class for the first time.  It is written for young readers and is a marvelous story.  This is really a fun read.  Set in southern Illinois and focused on a young boy named Jethro who witnesses the coming of the war.  His brothers and teacher and mentor all go off to war.  One brother joins the Confederate Army, while the others side with the north.  As the war progresses, Jethro learns of the battles and rising and falling of military leaders.  This book is a good teaching tool about the war, but also a really good story.

3.  Nashville 1864  by Madison Jones


I read Nashville 1864 by Madison Jones at least 10 years ago.  This is another novel featuring a young boy, who in this case witnesses the disastrous Battle of Nashville, Tennessee.  The novel is a short one, but I remember really liking it.  Madison Jones is a Southern author I really need to read more of.

4.  Shiloh by Shelby Foote

If I have trouble remembering the previous book, I have even more remembering this book.  Shelby Foote was an accomplished Southern writer with the voice and manners and style of a true Southern gentleman.  He was also a friend to William Faulkner.  This is another short novel and it is set in the disastrous battle of Shiloh in 1862.  One should generally expect a dire and dreary tone to books by Southerners about the War.

5.  Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier in December of 1997 was my first and only experience of reading a best seller while it was on the charts.  This is a beautiful and lyrical book.  In so many ways, it is a recasting of Homer’s Odyssey.  A Confederate soldier, who is disillusioned with the war, begins his long journey home across Virginia.  Meanwhile, his fiance undergoes a transformation as she learns how to farm, grow and store food, and survive.  Both main characters are learning the world around them through their experiences.  I have never recovered from the heartbreak this book gave me.

6.  The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Of course, Crane’s novel is a classic.  Although some have identified the battle in the book as the northern defeat at Chancellorsville, the book leaves the exact details vague.  The ever amazing fact is that Crane had never witnessed war.  This book blows the whole theory that writers should stick to what they actually know.  The story is powerful, but the novel can easily be read too lightly.  This is not a story of courage, honor, and valiant young men in battle.  It is a study of the emotional and psychological impact of war and life experiences.  It could have been set in any time, any war, but it does reflect some of the story of the Civil War.

7.  The Fathers by Alan Tate


Alan Tate was a master poet, a brilliant literary critic and essayist, an Agrarian, a Fugitive Poet, a pivotal figure among the New Critics, a literary professor, and in this one case, a novelist.  This book is rarely noticed, but was highly acclaimed.  For a true sense of the Southerness of Alan Tate, one would do well to read his biographies of Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

8.  Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

Somewhere around 1997, I read a used paperback copy of Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove.  This kind of alternative history, fantasy-type reading, is not my forte.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book.  It involves a time machine that enables some South Africans to go back in time and aid the Confederacy with modern weaponry.  This is fun and one could wish for such changes in history on occasion.

9.  The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

I cannot say much about this book because I just started reading it.  Last summer, we had a wonderful short trip to Franklin, Tennessee (one of the greatest places in the world).  We visited the historic Carnton Plantation which was converted into a hospital during the awful battle of Franklin.  Dark stains are still on the floor where surgeries were performed.  Near the house is a cemetary containing quite a few remains of Southern soldiers.  This story, the first novel of Franklin author Robert Hicks, is centered around that story.

10.  None Shall Look Back by Caroline Gordon

Caroline Gordon was an outstanding Southern author and she was the wife of Alan Tate (for a time).  This book, None Shall Look Back, is absolutely one of the best novels I ever read.  It is deeply Southern.  Ms. Gordon writes about war with the skill of a Homer or Douglas Southall Freeman, and she writes of love and romance like Jane Austen.  This book contains both war and love.  I never knew of Gordon until some years after I finished college.  What a loss.

11.  The Unvanquished by William Faulkner

This is, without question, my favorite novel on the War Between the States and my favorite Faulkner work.  I have read the book around 10 times and cannot wait to get started on it soon with the Humanities Class.  I think it gives a powerful view of the struggles on the homefront, the terrors of the war in a local region, and the Reconstruction period.  In my late blog of yesteryear, I discussed the novel and Faulkner HERE and I have the text of a paper I once wrote and read at a literary gathering in Dallas which is about The Unvanquished, which can be found HERE.  Various other Faulkner works deal directly or indirectly with the War Between the States and its aftermath.  There is no understanding of Faulkner’s world apart from the War.  Two major works that deal with that war are Absalom, Absalom, a novel, and “Mountain Victory,” a short story.

The book pictured below, Reading Faulkner: The Unvanquished, is part of an incredibly helpful series of books published by the University Press of Mississippi, which explain and comment on Faulkner’s Southern language and literary twists and turns.

There are lots more fictional works on the war.  I know that I have left off the defining piece of both Southern fiction and cinematography, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  Alas, although I have watched the movie several times and liked it (all except for the first watching back when I was in 8th grade), I have not read the book.  But I will try soon to remedy that moral failing.

Book Buying Opportunity

You might not have guessed it from reading this blog, but I like books.  I like reading books, collecting books, moving books, remembering books, ordering books, receiving books, giving books, thinking about books, teaching books, and even occasionally writing books…or at least thinking about writing books.

I don’t do enough to inform readers of my favorite book sources, or those wonderful haunts where the best books are found at the lowest prices.  I work hard to find deals, steals, and both rare and new books.  Having four hungry children (one of whom is in college) and a hard-working wife, I feel guilty about taking the money we should use for food, clothing, and shelter and buying books with it.  Unless, of course, the book is one I don’t have, or by an author I like, or on a subject I am interested in, or in the category of rare, unusual and special. What is a meal compared with owning a book of poetry autographed by Donald Davidson?

In this special report from the Heavy Laden Bookshelf, I want to give you a really great offer to buy some fine books at good prices and to help a friend.  David Leach is about the best book finder and seller I know.  (I am the other book finder and seller, so David’s rank is easily obtained.)  I have probably bought 300 or more books from him over the years and possibly still owe him for half of those.  Being a book seller is a sure route to poverty.  The nice thing about selling books is that you get to keep what doesn’t sell.  That is also the bad part about being a book seller.

Please visit this link…and buy some books from David: I promise you will be satisfied with the books and the service.

Also, I really want to reduce my abundant supply of my book:  Punic Wars and Culture Wars.  You can buy it from Amazon for $21.05, plus postage and handling.

OR YOU CAN BUY IT FROM ME FOR HALF THAT.  Wait, it is even better:  Only $10 plus $3 for postage and handling.

Do you want multiple copies of my book?  Contact me at and I can make you some deals you will not believe possible.  I am an unknown author of an unknown book.  Distribution is vital.

So, let’s review the lessons we have learned:  1.  Order some books from David Leach.  2.  Order multiple copies of my book from me.

This book covers lots of history, not just the Punic Wars. If you don’t like the book, you will like the bibliography.

Scaling the Peaks of Mount Herman Dooyeweerd

I approach Herman Dooyeweerd in the way that I do a grand piano.  I cannot play a piano, but I can recognize its worth.  I am not a Dooyeweerdian or the son of a Dooyeweerdian.  I point to Dooyeweerd a lot however.  I recognize him as a gift of God to the Kingdom of God.  Dooyeweerd was a philosopher, thinker, and professor who lived in the Netherlands from 1894 to 1977.  He was a Christian who delved deeply into the stream of Western culture and thought and thought through an entire and expansive philosophy informed by Christianity.

Many of the English language accounts of his life focus upon his extensive writings and lectures.  Like his contemporary Corrie Ten Boom, he had his cat-and-mouse struggles during World War II evading the Nazis.  The Nazis were philosophically astute enough to recognize that the teachings of Dooyeweerd and the heritage of Kuyper was undermining to the Thousand Year Reich.  Like his friend Klaas Schilder, he was involved in the cultural and theological battles of his day.  It has often been speculated whether either Dooyeweerd or C. S. Lewis knew of the existence of each other.

Mainly, Dooyeweerd thought, lectured, and wrote.   His primary work in English is titled A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.  Many Christian intellectuals were strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd’s writings in Dutch and the English translations.  While Hans Rookmaaker was in a prisoner of war camp during World War II, a fellow prison gave him the first volume of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique.  It was eye-opening for Rookmaaker who devoted the rest of his life to thinking Christianly about the arts.

A fellow Dutchman in America, Cornelius Van Til, read Dooyeweerd and heavily annotated the margins.  For a time, Van Til was the primary proponent of Dooyeweerd’s thought in America.  In time, other Christian scholars read either Dooyeweerd or books growing out of his ideas.  Not every reader embraced the whole of Dooyeweerdian thought, often called the Cosmonomic Philosophy, but many were influenced by it.  Along with Van Til, such Christian scholars and writers as R. J. Rushdoony, E. L. Hebden-Taylor, Gregg Singer, Calvin Seerveld, Evan Runner, Francis Nigel Lee, and others read, quoted, and drew insights from Dooyeweerd.

There are today, scholars, philosophers, theologians, and thinkers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, South Africa, and various other points around the globe who have drawn heavily from Dooyeweerd’s thinking.  Books and journal article continue to appear that are based on his works.

Here is a portion of my older blog where I ranked The Roots of Western Culture as the best book I read in 2007.  It was back those days when I was blessed with the opportunity of giving lectures in Virginia and Alaska highlighting Dooyeweerd’s work.

#1 Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options by Herman Dooyeweerd
As stated above, Dooyeweerd is hard to read. This book is the best way to begin the ascent up the high peaks of Dooyeweerdian thought. Dooyeweerd is usually categorized as being a philosopher, but he was also a historian. This book is a broad cultural analysis of history as a whole. I have described this book as a high octane version of Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? Dooyeweerd wrote this originally as a series of newspaper articles in the wake of a culture war erupting in the Netherlands after World War II. After the Netherlands suffered from Nazi occupation and the evils of that regime, many Dutch Christians left the country. The battles between secularists and Christians for the heart of the country were quite severe. As a Christian way of thinking about history and culture, this is a worthwhile study.

Here are some worthy quotes from Roots:  
“[T]he excessive expansion of power within a given cultural sphere always occurs under the guidance of an apostate faith….” Page 106

“Sparks of the original glory of God’s creation still shine in every phase of culture, to a greater or lesser degree, even if its development has occurred under the guidance of apostate spiritual powers.” Pages 38-39

“Religion is not determined by national culture, but vice versa; it is religion that brings its formative power to bear on national culture.” Page 84

Herman Dooyeweerd, scholar, polymath, philospher, and Christian thinker.

I discussed Dooyeweerd’s writings in more detail some time back:  Click here!

I will mention in passing, that two of the defining Dooyeweerd studies are Roy Clouser (The Myth of Religious Neutrality) and L. Kalsbeek (Contours of a Christian Philosophy).  Both books by themselves are great studies, but they are also helpful in grasping Dooyeweerd’s thinking.  I personally found Cornelius Van Til’s Defense of the Faith helpful, although he is not explicitely dealing with Dooyeweerd, and I thought R. J. Rushdoony’s opening chapters of The One and the Many to be a very useful explication of Dooyeweerd’s approach to history and philosophy.  

I want to mention three recent books that will be helpful to students of Dooyeweerd and philosophy.

Cover Art

First, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, published by Baker Academic.  This book is the third in a series of introductory level books on Christian life and thought.  This book is centered around a series of letters written by a young couple.  One, the boy, attends a secular university where he is given an unbelieving and often unsettling approach to philosophy.  His girlfriend, however, is taking philosophy at a Christian college where Biblical presuppositions govern the content.  The content of the book is relaying what the girl is learning in her classes.  This is a great survey, a worthy Philosophy 101 text, and a useful and brief introduction to the key names, concepts, and concerns.  (For high school students, one would be better served by using R. C. Sproul’s The Consequences of Ideas.)

For purposes of this blog, I will emphasize that this introduction to philosphy gives lengthy and repeated references, quotes, and applications of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy.


Wordbridge Publishing is producing an interesting array of studies for Christians.  These include classic novels, studies on economic and political history, challenging works by G.W. F. Hegel, and now this series on Herman Dooyeweerd.  Pierre Marcel was a Reformed theologian and scholar.  Some may know him for his book on baptism, which I read some years ago with much profit.  During his time, a mentor and colleague introduced Marcel to the work of Dooyeweerd and urged Marcel to take up the study.

Marcel studied Dooyeweerd’s works, both the man and the message.  He typed out a long series of observations and commentary on Dooyeweerd’s work.  Like the Samizdat literature in the former Soviet Union, these notes were reproduced by increasingly poor Zerox copies that were in Marcel’s native French.  Then, along came Colin Wright, who translated and edited these Dooyeweerd studies.  And, along came Ruben Alvarado and Wordbridge who published these studies.  I like the uncompromising title of these two works:  The Christian Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd.  Volume 1 is The Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought, which echoes the English translation of Dooyeweerd’s primary work De Wijsbegeerte Der Wetsidee, which we English-only folk know as The New Critique of Theoretical Thought.  Volume 2 of Marcel’s study is titled The General Theory of the Law-Spheres.

As I said in the beginning, Dooyeweerd to me is a like a grand piano.  These books on Dooyeweerd and Christian are themselves daunting.  I am, by trade a teacher of American history and literature, so in-depth philosophical studies leave me winded in a hurry.  Still, there is the place for the novice, the amateur, and the appreciative onlooker.  I know that the challenges to Christian thought are many.  The books I teach might or might not satisfy the student who is advanced beyond high school.  I can live on the plains, to change from my piano analogy, point to the high mountains and say, “Go scale Mount Dooyeweerd.”

Preaching: A Biblical Theology

Some books are pretty easy to peg by their titles. This is the case with Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer and published by Crossway.  Nearly all interested readers of this book will either be preachers in the pulpit or preachers in training. There is a place for church officers and leaders and Sunday school teachers to learn more about what to expect of and how to evaluate preachers, and perhaps that would be a good topic for another book. But this is a specialized book for the vital few who work from behind a pulpit.

I have been seriously collecting books on preaching for the past 2 years, but had also collected books on the topic many years ago. There have been years in my life where I preached almost every Sunday (the past two years in particular) and years where I hardly preached a sermon at all. But it is only in the past two years that I have had an increasing interest and desire to study preaching and other aspects of Christian ministry.

For me, the revival of interest began with a change in our church that left me as the designated preacher. Then I reread John Stott’s book Between Two Worlds. Standing up in front of a group of people with a studied and prepared Bible text and a sheaf of notes and outlines and talking was no problem for me. Preaching and pastoring were (are) big problems. Preaching bears some resemblance to what I do in my classroom teaching job, but it is not the same. Preparing sermons bears some resemblance to the Biblical and devotional studies I do, but it is not the same.  Reading and studying the Bible bears some resemblance to teaching American history, but they are not the same.

Every year now, I try to read several life-changing books on preaching and ministry. The preacher needs a conversion experience story in his life. He needs a Damascus Road encounter with Jesus Christ. And he needs such every week, every day, and on every occasion where he faces the task of standing in a pulpit declaring to a hungry gathering that he is portraying (imperfectly) the message and example of Jesus Christ.
Preaching: A Biblical Theology (henceforth simply called Preaching) is a good and useful book for preachers–both current and future.

Here are several hints as to its worth: First, it contains a foreword by John Piper, who is one of the best popularizes of sound Biblical theology in our day. Jason Meyer has taken Piper’s place at Bethlehem Baptist Church since Piper has retired. Meyer better know something about preaching!

Second, there is an appendix to this book that is called “A Crash Course on Preaching Books Available Today.” I have lots to learn, but I do know a thing or two about who to learn from. Meyer cites and endorses such men as Lloyd-Jones and Stott, as well as some of the older standard works on preaching by John Broadus, Haddon Robinson, and William Perkins. I often begin a book by skimming the bibliography, the book recommendations, and the footnotes. This one is a winner by that standard.

Third, there are quite a few chapters in this book devoted to expository preaching. The contrast is made between expository preaching and topical preaching. Perhaps more needs to be said about how expository preaching is done. Even a topic can be preached in an expository manner, and it is easy to preach through a book of the Bible and create topic oriented sermons. In general, however, an emphasis on expository preaching is always welcome.

The largest section of this book is a survey of the whole Bible from the angle of preaching. Meyer suggests that the reader can focus on the first and third sections of the book for some big pictures discussions on preaching.  The first section focuses on the “what,” “how,” and the importance of seeing the story structure of Scripture.

Meyer states the thesis for the whole book: “…the ministry of the word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word.” The triad of stewarding, heralding, and encountering recurs throughout the book. Those three words are the book. A steward is someone who is entrusted with a task, a property, a valued thing. God has entrusted the Bible steward with His word. A herald is one who proclaims a message. As Meyer notes, a herald goes into territory ahead of an advancing army announcing surrender terms. He speaks on behalf of a king and offers the choice of surrender or destruction to the king’s enemies. The result should be an encounter. The hearers hear the herald and recognize the voice of the king.

The last section of the book includes a lengthy defense of expository preaching. I know from my own background that it was eye-opening when I first heard and realized that the Bible could and should be taught verse-by-verse. In expository preaching, the preacher is not only taking the hearers through a Bible passage; he is showing them how they should read the Bible. The Bible does not consist of random fortune cookie sayings that can be tweaked or read in such a way as to apply direction and advice, usually confirming what we already wanted to think. The Bible is a context, a whole world, a complete story, and the use of it should reflect that.

The middle section of the book is a lengthy Biblical survey of the pattern of stewarding, heralding, and encountering. Although Meyer says that a reader can skip that section, the book becomes only a helpful reference work if that section is skipped. From the Garden to the New Testament pastorate, the role of the steward and herald is described in a series of models from the Bible. In every case, there is the faithful steward and herald in contrast with the false or unfaithful one.

If the pastor needs to teach the whole counsel of God and the Bible in its totality, it makes sense that the work as a whole models and molds the role of the steward and herald. Preaching is a high risk job. The church today, as in all times, is not really threatened by the false philosophies, religions, and worldviews of the secular, God-hating, or God-rejecting world. The church is threatened from within. False congregations grow out of false preaching. The models of false prophets, false teachers, deceivers, and liars is all there in Scripture. But, there are those who were and are found faithful.

Meyer’s book will appeal to a small audience. Those few who hear and heed its message, or the message of the good books recommended and cited in this work, will impact greater numbers who will in turn impact the world.

Christianity, Economics, and Capitalism

A former student of mine from the Genoa Central days, Melissa Hays, asked me for recommendations concerning books on capitalism from a Christian perspective.  This question has stumped me.  I only have about 100 or so books on economics with about half of them being Christian in perspective.  I really know very little about the topic directly.  For the past 20 plus years, I have devoted great amounts of time to various eras of history, many different aspects of literature, certain topics in Christian worldview thinking, and quite a few pastoral and Biblical studies.  But I have read few works on economics.  In part, this is because economic reading always reminds me of some bill I need to pay, or how quickly this month’s salary is disappearing, or how much kids and cars and house and insurance cost, or how stretched my budget is, or how long I will have to work to pay off my debts (probably up through year 2247).  I prefer poetry over economics.  Don’t misunderstand me:  I love money and what money can do for me and the world.  I just prefer to read about life in the old South over investments on Wall Street.  The election of 1948 intrigues me more than the bank bailouts of 2008.  But the field is an important one for Christians to study.

On a political level, I cannot bear to think about economics.  I thought things looked really bleak and dreary back 20 and 30 years ago.  For a time, the economic direction of our country improved slightly.  During the Reagan, Bush I, and even Clinton years, there were infinitesimally small changes that promised some hope.  I harbor no such expectations at the moment except for a hope that I am totally misreading this gigantic hole in the hull of our economic ship of state.

I will make some book recommendations, but will put forth these caveats.

First, don’t test me on the books.  I have many books of which I am only slightly familiar with the contents.  In some cases, I read the books.  In others, I read portions of the books.  In yet other cases, I read other books by the author or things about the book or scanned over the book. This is not my bailiwick.

Second, capitalism is a broad topic.  It has many facets in our economic, social, and political spheres.  Capitalism has been used by good people for good purposes, and it has been used by bad people for bad purposes.  A Christian bookstore and a brothel can both be capitalistic enterprises.  The recommendations will consider the varied hues of capitalism’s uses, abuses, and value.

Third, not all Christians agree on what Biblical principles arise from Scripture.  As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary  consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”  Civil,  social, and economic policies are not, in most cases, directly stated in Scripture.  There are applicable Scriptural principles, such as prohibitions against idolatry and theft.  Governments do have the tendency to assert divinity.  In those cases, the political and economic implications of “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” apply.

Because economics covers so many areas of life and action, there will be differing approaches from Bible-believing and Bible-informed thinkers.  This should not be viewed negatively, but rather as the occasion to study, glean, think, pray, and best apply whatever Biblical principles are apt for the occasion.

Fourth, many fine books on economics have been written by economists and historians who are either not Christian or not specifically writing in light of the Bible.  Assuming as I do that “All truth is God’s truth,” I find much there that is compatible or reflective of Christian principles.

I will name some books below and comment on them briefly.

1.  Biblical Economics in Comics by Vic Lockman.  Yes, this is a book written in comic and cartoon style.  Vic Lockman is an old and dear friend whose gift has always been cartoon drawing.  His views are very conservative and theonomic.  By theonomic, I mean that he derives principles of ethics from Biblical law.  There is much here to amuse while educating the reader.  At the very least, a reader should come away from this fun book realizing that the Bible contains some principles and precepts that we need to think on regarding economics.

2.  Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread by R. C. Sproul, Jr.  Mr. Sproul came to Veritas Academy some years ago and taught this book to my students.  There is much that I appreciate about it.  It is, however, more libertarian and more Austrian School than I would adhere to.  (You will have to look up libertarianism, libertarian economics, and Austrian School on your own.)  In terms of economics, this book is priced for $16.  But if anyone wants a copy for $5. plus postage, I would be glad to sell it to them.

3.  Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.  It has been many years since I read this book.  It is a vigorous defender of free market capitalism.  Hazlitt was not writing as a Christian. This is a free market classic.  The first chapter, titled “The Broken Window,” is worth the price of the book.


4.  The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson.  Ferguson, a Scotsman, is an economic historian.  I think that Civilization is one of the best books I have ever read.  His discussion of Christianity’s impact on civilization and capitalism was memorable.  Being a Scot, Ferguson, I assume, has a Presbyterian heritage, but I don’t think he is a believer.  One of the big questions on capitalism and Christianity is in regard to the connection.  A society doesn’t have to be Christian for capitalism to thrive, but it seems like capitalism has been at its best in societies that have more Christian influences.

5.  Follow the Money:  The Money Trail Through History by Ruben Alvarado is a short and useful book on money.  Alvarado is a Christian.  From the website: “The book takes the reader on a journey through history, beginning with ancient Meso­potamia, through Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome, then through medieval and early-modern Europe in its interaction with the Near and Far East, all the way to the modern-day community of nations. It demonstrates in no uncertain terms just how decisive the institution of money has been, and at the same time just how misunderstood – its role, its effects, even the very form it takes.”

6.  Those Enterprising Americans and The Roots of Capitalism by John Chamberlain.  It was many decades ago when I read these books.  I don’t know why they are not as noticed, read, or reprinted in our day.  My memories of them are favorable.  America is not the only capitalistic country in the world, but it is certainly a key one.  In spite of abuses of economic systems, the very opportunity to be enterprising, to think outside the box, to innovate and experiment, has resulted in many great economic benefits for Americans, and through America, for the world.

7.  The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek.  This book was originally written in the 1930s and was read by a few conservatives here and there for years.  Then it was rediscovered and has been a best seller.  It is a free market classic.  Hayek was not a Christian, but many Christians appreciate this book.  I was especially pleased about a year ago when I picked up my son Nicholas at the airport and he greeted me saying, “I read The Road to Serfdom on the plane ride.”

8.  Capitalism and Progress: A Diagnosis of Western Society by Bob Goudzwaard.  Many of my acquaintances, including Dr. Roy Clouser and Dr. Henk Geertsema, have recommended this book, along with Goudzwaard’s other writings.  I have it and need to read it.  Goudzwaard is professor emeritus at the Free University of Amsterdam.  Being Dutch and Christian, he connects his thinking with the foundations of Christian thought as promoted by Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd.  More about and by Dr. Goudzwaard can be found at All of Life Redeemed.

9.  The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Society by Rodney Stark.  I read, enjoyed, and profited from several of Professor Rodney Stark’s fine books.  I especially enjoyed the emphasis in this book on how Christianity impacted freedom and capitalism.  Often, much–maybe too much—credit goes to Protestantism in opening the doors to capital expansion, but Stark gives lots of credit to the Catholic city states in Italy.

10.  Calvin and Commerce: The Transforming Power of Calvinism in Market Economies, edited by David Hall and Matthew Burton.  Of course, I have to mention some book that gives Calvinism the credit for all that is good in Western Civilization.  This book is part of the P & R Calvin500 series that came out in 2009.  There are other sources that also credit (or blame) Calvinism and Protestantism for capitalism’s impact on Western Civilization.  The works of Tawney and Weber are well known and questionable at points, but most of the serious studies of Calvinism include some references to the growth of economic freedom.  (Time will not allow me to discuss Walter Russell Mead’s God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World.)  

11.  The Good of Affluence: Serving God in a Culture of Wealth by John Schneider.  This is a great book that I read a few years back.  I especially enjoyed his treatment of the parables and teachings from the Gospel of Luke that related to economics.  Both Andrew Sandlin and David Bahnsen think it is among the best books on the topic of capitalism and Christianity. In part, it is an answer to an older and questionable book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by the left-leaning Ron Sider.

Here are some further recommendations from friends:

Gregory Baus recommends the writings of John Robbins that can be found on the website for The Trinity Foundation and Robbins’ book Freedom and Capitalism.  I also liked the late Dr. Robbins’ book and had a small part in saving Robbins from a biographical mistake concerning Hilaire Belloc.

Freedom and Capitalism

Gregory Baus, who is quite well read in economics from the Austrian School perspective, and I both wonder why E. H. L. Hebden Taylor’s book Economics, Money, and Banking: Christian Principles is not still in print.  Gregory also recommends the works of Wilhelm Roepke.

Ruben Alvarado, author of Follow the Money and the publisher at Wordbridge Publishing, recommends Joseph Schumpeter’s writings, particularly Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy and History of Economic Analysis.  I don’t have these books, but will work on remedying that problem.

P. Andrew Sandlin recommends Jay Richards’ books,  but adds that Schneider’s book, listed above, is the best.  There goes a few more books on my wish list.

David Bahnsen recommends Wayne Grudem’s recent book, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, and Michael Novak’s books.  I will have to get the new Grudem book, and I will have to comb through my study to find what books by Novak that I have.  He also recommends John Sirico’s Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

There are many more books to think through.  Although I don’t agree with him at all or many points, I have fond memories of Gary North’s many writings on economic issues.  North’s economic commentaries on the Bible, which were mainly confined to the first five books of the Bible, were wonderful.  I used Russell Kirk’s Economics: Work and Prosperity in a few classes some years back.  The writings of Thomas Sowell were outstanding.  Ludwig Von Mises was beyond me, but profitable at points.  Milton Friedman’s works, defining of the Chicago School of Economics, still have merit.  The Incredible Bread Machine, a fun paperback book of yesteryear, was a eye-opening delight. Finally, Leonard Read’s delightful essay “I, Pencil” is unsurpassed.

They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships…and Write

Tales of the sea abound. You cannot navigate the vast sea of literature and be a textual landlubber. Perhaps, it begins with The Odyssey. Homer describes the ship cutting across the “wine dark sea” and the poetry and humanity and engineering feat of sailing becomes a constant in literary studies.  Even our English literature reaches back to the haunting poem of “The Seafarer” or to the ships bearing Beowulf to the rescue of the Danes.  When the great northern heroes of ancient lore or myth died, they were sent off to sea in flaming boats to their destinations.  Tolkien borrowed from this when his broken and aging heroes boarded ships bound to the Undying Lands.

James Fenimore Cooper wrote the first, or one of the first, naval novels. It was titled The Pilot and like other Cooper writing ventures, it opened the latches to a host of books.  Cooper, in his earlier years, failed as a student and went to sea.  Herman Melville was and still is the master of the art. His books such as Typee and Redburn were based on his own personal experiences at sea.  Not only did Moby Dick float on water, but so did his Mississippi River-based novel The Confidence Man.  The English poet John Masefield wrote beautiful lyrics about ships and waters (“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky….”)  C. S. Forester wrote the Horatio Hornblower series chronicling the tales of a young British officer during the Napoleonic Wars, which were to a large degree for the British, naval wars. In more recent times, Patrick O’Brien also wrote at least 20 novels where the setting was also the Napoleanic era naval war.  He may be best known for the book and movie Master and Man.  

The idea of a boat on the waters captures one of the main ingredients of literature. That is, the imaginary world. A fictional story has to have a Narnia, a Middle Earth, a Yoknapatawpha County in which the story can occur, and that world can be created and contained on the decks of a sailing vessel.  It doesn’t matter so much as to whether the place is actual or imaginary, whether it is recognizable or not, but there is no story without setting. And, literature cannot embrace vast numbers.  Literature is not demography.  Russian authors like Tolstoy and others tax us with their vast arrays of characters, but even the stories with many people with many situations have to narrow their focus to a few.

Ships are near perfect vessels for conveying a story from the embarcation port of the writer to that of the destination port, the reader. The setting is confined mainly to the decks of the ship and the characters grow out of the crew or passengers. (I never watched it–thankfully–but the television series “Loveboat” followed this same pattern.)

The ships can be large (as in The Posiden Adventure); they can be submarines (as in The Hunt for Red October); they can be ancient (as in The Odyssey or The Aeneid); they can be historically based  (as in The Caine Mutiny, which is set in World War II); they can be purely imaginary (as in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) ; they can travel through space (such as those of the Star Trek and Star Wars sagas); they can be as small as a two man raft (as in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).  Ships and voyages can fill an epic poem (again, The Odyssey), an epic novel (Moby Dick), a short story (Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat”), a poem (Longfellow’s “The Secret of the Sea”), or a song (as in Gordon Lightfoot’s incredible “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”).  Such stories might be as mysterious as “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” or as faith-inspiring and historical as the story of the Mayflower or as tragic and unforgettable as the maiden voyage of the Titanic.  And when literature locks arms with its old mate, history, the stories abound with such tales as the the English Sea Dogs against the Spanish Armada, the three ships Columbus and his crew manned, Magellan’s world encompassing voyage, Nelson at Trafalga, the American navy at such places as Coral Sea and Midway, and the British in their successful pursuit and destruction of The Bismark (another great story captured by in song).

Ships can reflect the microcosm of the world, society, and humanity. A story about a crew who were all equal in rank and the same in personality would not only be uninteresting, but would not be remotely human. There is so much that is metaphorical and analogical about people being together on a voyage by ship, crossing the sea of life, going from one port of understanding to another port of deeper and better understanding. The journey can represent life as a whole, the path from youth to manhood, or redemption. We can flee on ships (Jonah), seek riches on ships (Treasure Island), outgrow selfish and spoiled childhood (Captains Courageous), seek revenge on a ship (Captain Ahab in Moby Dick), or seek understanding on a ship (Ishmael in Moby Dick).

In recent weeks, I have read two marvelous short novels about men and ships. They were Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville and The N-Word of the Narcissus by Joseph Conrad. (I also read Melville’s Benito Cereno, but I shall not be discussing that interesting work here.) Both books are short, powerfully descriptive, and rich in character studies.

Good literature is immune to spoilers. By that, I mean that a good novel does not depend upon the reader finding out how the story ends. The surprise ending may be fun or fulfilling, but it is the development, the style, the word-crafting that makes the story. We all know how Dicken’s Christmas Carol ends, but it is the story unfolding along the way, the gentle transformation of Scrooge, the universal nature of the past, the present, and the future that makes the story. In spite of all that, I will refrain from telling how Melville’s and Conrad’s stories end.

Billy Budd was still in rough, uneven form when it was published. Melville died before he finished drafting the story and it was published a good many years after his death. Nevertheless, Melville being Melville, one doubts that he would have shaped the story up too much differently from the existing form. He was not a a post-Hemingway news reporter, but a poet who wrote novels. Billy Budd, the character, was a loveable, handsome, naïve, cooperative, and congenial fellow. He was captured off of another ship and impressed on the ship where he served. He was, to use a school analogy, “voted most popular” by the other sailors. He would have been the team captain of a sports team, the escort for the Homecoming Queen, and fellow all the other guys honored and wanted to be like.

Billy Budd as portrayed in a film version of the story.

          But even Mr. Perfect, Billy Budd, had a flaw. He stuttered when under pressure and was nervously fearful of failing in his duties. His attributes which won the admiration of the crew also created vengeful scorn in one of the ship’s officers, named John Claggart. Vengefulness, pettiness, and power create the movement toward the conflict in this story.  The political and military backdrop to the story, obscurely revealed in the novel, is the fear of a ship mutiny.

         In some ways, Billy Budd is a Christ-figure. That idea has to be handled with care because no character in literature is remotely like Christ in any true sense. But just as I am called upon to mirror Christ as a husband, so literary figures mirror Christ in small ways. Billy Budd was the innocent and pure man who came into conflict with Claggart, the evil and scheming man.

All novels, even many badly written ones, mirror truths about human nature. None of us can claim even Billy Budd’s purity and innocence, but we still provoke the jealousy of the Claggarts of the world. In some cases, we are the Claggarts. We envy and resent the fortune, position, honor, and success of others. Melville reminds us of the twisted and warped and fallen world we live in. I wish I could affirm that Melville was a Christian or that he returned to the Dutch Reformed heritage of his youth. I cannot do that, but I can affirm that the Calvinistic view of the world as fallen is always present in his books. Billy Budd is both a good introduction to Melville and a good, but sad, reminder of the sinful world we inhabit.

Surely Joseph Conrad read Herman Melville. Conrad is an amazing English writer just for the mere fact that his native language was Polish. He was a seaman. From his earlier career at sea, he learned the nautical language and experience the range of characters as found on a ship’s voyage (any ship’s voyage).

One of his earlier works was The N-Word of the Narcissus. I will assume that you understand “n-word.” Conrad’s book, like Flannery O’Connor’s short stories and William Faulkner’s novels and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, used the word that custom and society allowed, accepted, and assumed. Ruben Alvarado and Wordbridge Press has re-issued the original book and replaced that other word with “N-word.” Some people have complained and screamed “Censorship.” Not so. This was not a government action. You can buy editions with the original title all the day long. You can scream the title at the top of your lungs all the day long (which I would caution against). But the Woodbridge edition was presented as “a public service.”

The Conrad novel will not be read, discussed, or distributed in many circles because its title creates concern and opposition. Our age has grown obsessed with the dangers of movies showing people smoking. Our age will allow movies, books, and songs that use almost every profanity and blasphemy imaginable. Our age feels comfortable about displaying body parts on the screen and in society. We have our limits, our own cultural taboos, and the “N-word” in almost any context is a taboo.  (The exception to the taboo, strangely enough, is in the music and lyrics of some rap artists.)

So, thanks to Wordbridge Press for putting the book out there for readers, for high school and college classes, and for any who would not read the original.

The N-Word of the Narcissus is the story of a motley crew of sailors. (I hesitate to use the phrase “motley crew” for it might imply a knowledge of the singing group of whom I know nothing.) A black man, from the West Indian islands, boards the ship, and becomes the center of attention for the rest of the book. This is not a predictable story of racial prejudice. You know that story: Whites meet and pre-judge a black man. The black man slowly demonstrates good character and kindness to the racially warped whites who finally realize their errors. I will grant that story line is a good one and necessary one, and it is the heart of what happens between “N-word” Jim and Huck Finn in Twain’s novel.

But the redemption from racism tale is not Conrad’s story.  James Wait, the black sailor, is no hero. He is not even nice. He is sick and dying, which he can’t obviously help, but he is also mean and manipulative. At many points, members of the crew risk life and limb to help Wait, but only receive rebukes and angry responses from him. This is not a racist screed, however, for the whites have their own share of sins. Donkin, another sailor, is absolutely despicable. He is lazy and conniving. The cook is incredibly heroic and selfless at one point, but a religious fanatic who is insulting when witnessing. The other sailors exhibit their own personality flaws as well.

The crew does go out of its way to help and cater to James Wait. The question is this: Is he truly sick or just using an appearance of sickness to avoid work? In his interesting introduction, Ruben Alvarado suggests that the story deals with guilt manipulation. Wait takes advantage continually of the crew’s guilt and labors for his benefit. Sadly, there are no redemptive turns in this sad tale.

Life on a ship is not easy or ideal. If the storms don’t drown you, the human relationships will break you. No happy endings in either Melville or Conrad. Both novels of the sea echo much that is true of all of life.