July–A Banner Month for Reading

I have been falsely accused of just sitting around reading all the time.  That is blatantly untrue.  Sometimes, I have to go book hunting.  I also have to rearrange shelves.  I have to think about mowing the yard.  I have to post these blog articles on books.  I have to make coffee in the mornings.  I have to plan out naps.  Finding time for reading is not easy, but this month has been a great book month.  I have finished 14 books.  Several of these were books that got started in past months, but could not be finished until now.

Here are the books I finished this month:

1. This Independent Republic by R. J. Rushdoony.  Read in June-July

I first read this book when I was in college.  It overwhelmed me then.  I did not know how to read serious books or how to think from Christian presuppositions.  I have read portions of this book several times since then, but only now reread it from cover to cover.  This book, which came out in the early 1960s, stands the test of time.  This is still a great starting point for young Christian historians.  I hope to complete a more in-depth article on Rushdoony as a historian.

2. The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus.  Sarted in February and finished in June-July.

I started this Crossway book last winter and read a good portion and then it got set aside. In June I picked it back up and plowed on through to the end. This is an extremely good study of economics from a Christian, conservative, and free market viewpoint. The focal group of intended readers is leaders in Third World countries, but Americans need to read this book.  From Congressmen (which will likely not happen) to high school and college students to pastors.  This book makes good practical and Biblical arguments for more freedom and less government control over the economy.

3. Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.  Read in June-July.
I have and have read lots of books dealing with the idea of a Christian worldview.  The Church today still avoids the serious thinking and the needed applications of Christian worldview thinking.  Geheen and Bartholomew have also written a really good survey of philosophy from a Christian viewpoint and a book on Scripture.

4. The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving by Randy Alcorn.  Read on  July 9.

This is a million-seller book.  It is extremely convicting.  It is an easy one-sitting read, but implementing this book involves some radical changes in the heart, mind, and wallet.  I hope to absorb and implement more of what is taught here.

5. What is Reformed Theology? by R. C. Sproul.  Read in  July.


I read this basic survey of Reformed Theology and have listened to parts of Sproul’s audio lectures on the same topics.  I am also currently reading Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian.  Sproul is outstanding at introducing readers to theological issues, but he also instructs those of us who have been around the block a few times.

6. Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have To Give Up In Order to Move Forward by Henry Cloud. Read in July.


Dr. George Grant recommended this book to me.  It is one of the best books I have read this year.  I am at a point of needing to move forward in several areas of life.  This book forced me to make some serious decisions and make some changes that were needed.  In spite of changes, I will need to read this book again.

7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  Started reading about the middle of  June and finish about the middle of July.

1070 pages of Rand’s rant.  I have commented on previous blogs about this book.  It is worth the effort.  Rand hit upon a few truths that are woefully missing in our world today.  Her solution is no solution.  Her own life and philosophy reveal the stupidity of self-centered, idealistic, impractical Objectivism.  By the way, why was there no editor to cut at least 250 pages from this book?

8. Andy Finds a Way by Jesse Stuart.  Read over a few days in July.

A comfortable and pleasant children’s story by Jesse Stuart, one of my favorite authors.  This is the first of his chidren’s books I have read.  As always, a beautiful picture of rural America in the not so distant past.

9.  Calvinism: A History by D. G. Hart.  I started this book back in October, put it aside, and picked it back up and finished in July.

A great and scholarly history. I really need to write a review of this outstanding book. It neglects, however, Baptists, Anglicans, and more recent conservative Calvinists in its coverage.

10. Collision 2012 Obama VS. Romney and the Future of Elections in America by Dan Balz. Read in July.

Front Cover
I should have known that this would be a depressing read. Too many “what if’s” in my mind and too much disappointment at the lost opportunities. Some helpful discussion of how technologies and methods have changed in politics. Dan Balz, however, is no Theodore White. I am thinking through a needed political article that will borrow heavily from this book.

11. The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief by George M. Marsden.  Read in July.


A really good survey of the ideas floating around in the culture of the 1950s. The survey of books and ideas in the 1950s was better than Marsden’s application of how the nostalgia of the 1950s impacted the rise of the religious right. Still, lots to think about in this fine book.

12. The Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva.  Read in July


The second Silva book I have read. I was engrossed enough that when I pushed through to the end last night, I really wanted to go fetch another volume in the series. Borrowing from C. S. Lewis’s idea, I try to read an older book, a classic, after reading more recent popular literature.

13. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray. Read in July.


A convicting and encouraging book about a great man of God and written by one of my favorite Christian writers.

14. Scholarship: Two Convocations Addresses on University Life by Abraham Kuyper.  Read in July.
A short but rich book. Good for the school teacher and administrator to read. This work, translated by Harry Van Dyke, is part of the ongoing Kuyper translation project.

 

There are quite a few other books that I started or read from this month.  Some I will finish in August; others will be finished someday; and some will be only read from.  These other reads include Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next, Glenn Moots’ Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology, a short story by Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro, the opening portion of Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914 and portions of the writings of G. C.  Berkouwer and John Piper.

Going Dutch

It was a church estate sale and the advertisement said, “Lots of books.”  There were not many in the main building, but a lady directed us to a building out back.  She repeated the phrase, “Lots of books.”  And there were exactly that.  Boxes and boxes of books from a now defunct church library.  No order, with sets sometimes scattered here and there, and a large room full of boxes and quite a few people.

I loved looking, but after a while, it was obvious that I was not going to find much here, if anything.  As uncontrolled, as eclectic, as varied as my reading and collecting tastes are, there was little here I was interested in.  There were some good books.  I found a few volumes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ series on Ephesians; there was a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs;  I still regret bypassing a few nice commentaries by Henry Ironside;  yet it looked like I was not going to find anything.

That is a hard fact to endure for a book hunter.  I can remember finding the copy of Surprised by Joy at an estate sale some years back that had few books and no other books I would take.  I recall finding a much prized copy of The Philosophy of Gordon Clark at the junkiest paperback bookstore I have ever seen that was in Hot Springs.  On my many hunts and searches, I found books autographed by Carl Sandburg, W. H. Auden, and Pat Conroy.  Once I stumbled upon the entire 54 volume Brittanica Great Books Series, with many volumes still in shrinkwrap, for $40.

But this day, this trip, looked to be a wash.  The estate sale was to close at 5:00 and it was already a few minutes past.  I was slowly working my way to the front, still glancing anxiously from box to box.  Then I spotted it.  A blue hardback book with the title The Person of Christ visible.  I picked it up, looked closer, and realized that it was a volume by Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer and was part of an older series he did called Studies in Dogmatics.  This particular volume, according to information penciled inside by a dutiful librarian, was purchased for $3.00 (the regular price being $4) on October 28, 1955.  That was exactly 2 months before I was born!  The library card, which appears to have been added much later, indicates that the book had not been checked out.  The book cost me $2.

Who is G. C. Berkouwer, you ask?  The quick internet answer is “Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996) was for years the leading theologian of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. He occupied the Chair in systematic theology of the Faculty of Theology, Free University in Amsterdam.”

But I would give this explanation:  Berkouwer was the theologian that Cornelius Van Til recommended his students go to for further studies in theology.  Van Til generally assumed that any smart student wanting an advanced degree would look no further than the Free University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands for attaining that degree.  Theology students would study under Berkouwer and philosophy students would seek out Herman Dooyeweerd.

One American who did study under Berkouwer, though not a student of Van Til, was R. C. Sproul.  He used Dutch translations of Berkouwer’s books to train himself in the language before he went there.  In many of his books, Sproul references things that his teacher said or wrote.

Professor G. C. Berkouwer, looking somewhat like his colleague Herman Dooyeweerd.

The Studies in Dogmatics series consists of a total of 14 English volumes covering a wide range of theological issues.  I have not seen the set in years.  I do remember years ago as a young Calvinist, gazing at it in Professor Henry Wood’s library.  Mr. Wood gave a quick commentary on each of the volumes, with most being rated good, but one or two getting poor marks.

The addition of this Berkouwer volume is part of a on-going quest to glean from Dutch Christian thinkers.  It is an amazing thing that a nation so small has contributed so much to the world of Christian theology and philosphy.  Thomas Cahill wrote an excellent book that tells How the Irish Saved Civilization.  Arthur Herman credits another small nation with a great accomplishment in his book How the Scots Invented the Modern World.  I think it worth noting that it has been largely the Dutch who have taught the Christian world how to think theologically, philosophically, and worldviewishly.

I have been reading various Dutch authors (and their English students) ever since I became Reformed back in 1975.  But I have been feverously collecting works by Dutch Calvinists for the past 7 years.  In my (now over) public speaking days, I lectured on Dutch Calvinistic thinkers in Virginia and Alaska.  I am still collecting and reading.  These Dutch guys are heavyweights.  I feel like I have maybe gotten half-way through kindergarten in reading the Dutch Calvinists.  And, I still hang my head in shame when asked, “Do you read Dutch?”  I have to admit to being restricted to English translations.  But that restriction is not all that restricting.

I suspect that I have over 100 books written by and about Dutch Christian thinkers. These books include lots of theological and philosophical works, along with some biographical and historical works and some Bible commentaries.

I am still a novice. Below are some of the books that I would recommend, as a first grader to someone wanting to come into kindergarten.

1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  Yes, the simple story (or the movie) about Corrie Ten Boom and her family during World War II.  This is a good starting place because it gives the reader a picture into some Dutch history and the piety of the ordinary Dutch Christian folk.  That country suffered horribly under the Nazis and lots of believers were persecuted or killed.  Faith and Victory in Dachua by Jacobus Overduin is also a powerful first hand account of a Dutch Christian during the war.

2. Why I Believe in God, Defense of the Faith and/or Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til.  Van Til will be the one case where I will allow an immigrant to join this list.  I include him because he was such a vital link between Calvinism in America and in the Netherlands.  This was in large part due to his willingness to work at Westminster Theological Seminary where he pointed many students back to his Dutch peers and mentors.  Almost any of his books would do for a reader, and the Van Til biography by John Muether is a delight.

Cornelius Van Til

3. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper.  I know I mention this defining work quite a bit.  Every book that is available today that discusses the need for a Christian worldview either explicitely mentions Kuyper or implicitely repeats (in an inferior manner) what he said in these lectures on religion, politics, science, art, and all of life.

4. The Practice of Godliness by Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper was an amazingly prolific writer.  He did Biblical studies, systematic theology, political and social studies, and books on personal Christian living.  This short volume is a refreshing and helpful guide in Christian living.

5. God’s Renaissance Man: The Life and Work of Abraham Kuyper by James E. McGoldrick.  Reading any biography of Abraham Kuyper will leave you exhausted.  How did one man do all that he did in just one lifetime?  This biography is quite good.  So is Frank Vanden Berg’s older biography , and it is available online.  I have, but have not yet read, the relatively new biography of Kuyper by James Bratt titled Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat.  And I must also mention the in-depth essay collection titled On Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work, and Legacy of Abraham Kuyper, edited by Steve Bishop and John H. Kok.  There are at least four or five recent works about Kuyper that I am longing for.  Add to that a few volumes of Kuyper’s writings that are becoming available in English.

6. In the Twilight of Western Thought  and Roots of Western Culture by Herman Dooyeweerd.  I cannot begin to explain or fathom the depth and work of Herman Dooyeweerd.  His works and thought call for an annotated bibliography all its own.  His followers and borrowers can be found in the fields of Christian philosophy on all the continents of the world.  He is no easy read, but one can access his article “Secularization of Science” online.  Also, many of Dooyeweerd’s books are now being published in affordable editions by the Reformational Publishing Project.

Herman Dooyeweerd, Dutch Christian philosopher.

7. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by Hans Rookmaaker.  This is one of my son Nicholas’ favorite books.  Rookmaaker was a student of Dooyeweerd’s thought and was a close friend to Francis Schaeffer.  The six volumes of Collected Writings of H. R. Rookmaaker is a prized possession in my library.  The  biography of Rookmaaker by Laura Gasque is very enjoyable.

9.  Reformed Dogmatics (4 volumes), Reformed Dogmatics (Abridged in One Volume), The Doctrine of God, and The Christian Family by Herman Bavinck.  Bavinck is perhaps THE big name in theology in the Dutch Calvinist tradition.  I am in great need of reading more and more from this defining Christian thinker.  His volume of writings on other topics, titled Essays on Religion, Science, and Society shows something of the wide scope of his thinking.  His book on the Christian family is a pioneering work from the early 20th century that is exceedinly relevant today.

11. Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman,  and Theologian by Ron Gleason.  The four titles pretty much tell the story of Bavinck’s life.  This biography is a good insight into the labors and travails of the great theologian.  Some of the intramural battles between various factions in the Dutch churches and seminaries are confusing readings, but it is still phenomenal that Bavinck engaged in the battles of his day and Christian community, but wrote for the ages.

12.  Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church by Rudolf Van Reest.  This is not an easy book because the author assumes that readers understand the struggles going on between different factions in the Dutch churches before, during, and after World War II.  Schilder’s trilogy of sermons on the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ is a must have for any Christian pastor or student.

13.  Modern Uncertainty and the Christian Faith by G.C. Berkouwer.  I bought and read this great book some years ago based on a recommendation by Andrew Sandlin.  It was my only Berkouwer book until the recent find.  Now I want all of his works.

And time fails me to mention the works of Herman Ridderbos, S. G. Degraaf, D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, Gerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, Groen van Prinsterer, H. Van Reissen, Piet Prins, and the many Americans, Brits, and Canadians who have plumbed and explored these Dutch treasures.  I was not personally very familiar with his work, but recently learned of the scholarship of Anthony Tol.  Tol was born in the Netherlands, came to North America in his youth, and returned to the Netherlands where he labored on the philosophy of Vollenhoven.  Dr. Tol died earlier this month.

It was Groen van Prinsterer, the Dutch historian, who said, “The Netherlands, more than any other country, was chosen and set apart by the mercies of God to be a seat of Protestantism.”   Pray for the Netherlands, for its sins are many.  But also give thanks for God’s using this country to enrich the world.

What’s Missing from the 50 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century

 

The book list from Intercollegiate Review was very instructive.  I have seen many gaps in my own reading and study, along with confirmation of some books that I have read and loved.  But there are some egregious omissions from their list, in my opinion.

1.  Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.  This was the most powerful hammer used against the theological liberals of the 1920s.  It emboldened Christians, buttressed the Fundmentalist movement, laid the groundwork for a revival of Reformed theology, and influenced a host of future preachers, theologians, and thinkers.  You cannot understand the background of 20th Century American Protestantism apart from this book.  It was the theological and intellectual side of the battle that included the Scopes Trial, the rise and retreat of Fundamentalism, the theological decline of many denominations and seminaries, and the secularlization of the universities.

                                                            

2.  How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer.  There are quite a few Schaeffer titles that could be mentioned.   One might argue that the trilogy of The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He Is Not Silent were more foundational than this book.    But, coming out in 1976–America’s Bicentennial, this book captured and repeated the essentials of Schaeffer’s arguments.  There have been better writers and thinkers than Schaeffer, but he influenced many others and staked out some essential issues.

3.  The Institutes of Biblical Law by R. J. Rushdoony.  Sadly, Rushdoony’s vast number of books and ideas have been marginalized due to oppositition to Christian Reconstruction.  As is the case with Schaeffer, there are several Rushdoony titles that could be listed as the most important.  Certainly, such books as his studies on education, apologetics, and history, have also been thought-changing for many.  I reckon that Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law has not had as wide a currency in theological or intellectual circles as I might assume or wish.  Too many have dismissed the of Rushdoony’s thought because of differences over some of his ideas.  There is no other book that detailed Old Testament Law and the Ten Commandments like this massive work.

4.  God and Man at Yale or Up From Liberalism by William F. Buckley.  I find it surprising that the ISI guys did not include Buckley on their list.  God and Man opened up a salvo against the liberal economics and theology of Yale (and, by implication, other major universities). Conservatives, businessmen, and orthodox Christians were funding institutions that opposed their most cherished beliefs.  Buckley’s work helped create and coalesce conservative alternatives to all areas of life.

                                             

5.  Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper.  Although these lectures were given in 1898, they were published in book form first in 1931.  And although Kuyper was Dutch, these lectures appeared first in English.  This book is the foundation for so much that fits into the world of Christian worldview education, which includes Christian schooling from day schools to universities.  Don’t be misled or put off by the title.  Kuyper uses the word “Calvinism” as shorthand for a Scripture based approach to all areas of life and thought.  He himself was a Calvinist and was lecturing at the premier Calvinistic seminary in America (Princeton).  His call for Christian thinking and application is monumental.

6.  Knowing God by J. I. Packer.  This book has really impacted lots of people.  Packer is one of the premier forces who has popularized and promoted Reformed theology in our time.  This books ranks right up there with C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship in its widespread impact.  It is a good book in and of itself.  But more than that, it is a bridge-book.  It has introduced Reformed thinking across the spectrum.  Coming from a English Anglican, it has connected with all sorts of Christians.  The rise of the New Calvinism, in the best senses of that movement, is due in large part to Packer and others in his circles.

7.  A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer.  I suppose the impact of this book is mostly in among Calvinistic circles, but it should have been more widely read and noted.  I remember being in a conversation at church camp some years back where several different men were telling about how this book changed their thinking.  There are now lots of books that talk about the influence of Christians on American history, but this book is significant because it deals with the ideas, the philosophies that dominated throughout American history.

8.  The multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro.  These four volumes tell the story of American politics in the 20th century.  The third volume is the best book on real politics that I have ever read.

9. The History of the English Speaking People by Winston Churchill.  Of course, the other list did include Churchill’s account of World War II.

10.  A Religious History of the American People by Sidney Alhstrom.  A really in-depth and enjoyable look at American history.  As might be noted, the ISI list was weak on theology and almost devoid of Protestant studies.

11.  Russia Under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes.  Of course, the mention of Russian history demands that I at least mention Robert Massie and W. Bruce Lincoln.  Pipes wrote quite a few worthy books on Russian history, Communism, and the Russian Revolution.

12.  The Southern Tradition at Bay by Richard Weaver.  No listing of Weaver on the ISI list?  His book Ideas Have Consequences and Visions of Order are both notable.

13.  The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart.  I have highlighted Jesse Stuart’s books on quite a few posts.  Of all his books, this one is the best.  This book is fun; it is inspiring to a teacher; and it is revealing of life in an older, much more rural America.

14.  I’ll Take My Stand by 12 Southerners.  These essays and authors are indispensible to me.  This book was a game changer in my thinking.  Conservative thought all too often sidesteps the thinking of key Southerners.  Eugene Genovese wrote several significant volumes explaining Southern thought.  This book captures much of the tradition, farm, faith, and family connections found in the South and much of rural and small town America.  These essays deal with history, literature, culture, education, and more.

15.  How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.  This book yeilds more insight each time I teach it.  This is not just a chunk of overlooked history; rather, this is a recipe for saving civilization.

16.  Barbara Tuchman:  But do I pick A Distant Mirror or The Guns of August?  That is a tough decision, but The Guns of August wins out.  In Max Hastings’ new book Catastrophe 1914, which covers the same ground, he pays tribute to the influence of Tuchman’s best selling book.  The month of August 1914 determined so much of what would unfold in the rest of the Twentieth Century.

And No List is Ever Complete

It must be noted that any list of most important books of mine would be more inclined to including 20th century Calvinist thinkers and theologians. So, I would have had an entry for Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, David Wells, Carl F. H. Henry, and Herman Dooyeweerd (whose lectures titled In the Twilight of Modern Thought first appeared in English, even though he was Dutch).   These men have influenced me and a lot of the other people in my circles, but Calvinistic thought has not had as wide influence beyond Reformed circles.

I would be more prone also to list a few more current historians, such as Niall Ferguson, David MacCullough, Victor Davis Hanson, and Rodney Stark.  At this point, I would definitely include George Marsden on my historians listing.  Stephen Ambrose, Cornelius Ryan, and Rick Atkinson are all really good, but the bulk of their work is on World War II.

And a few of my friends, acquaintances, and e-friends whose books I have read and liked would have been included, and that would have meant books by George Grant, Douglas Wilson, Roy Clouser (whose Myth of Neutrality is unsurpassed), Danie Strauss (author of the weighty Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines), and John Frame.

What I have left off that should be included?

The Venerable George Grant

Today is George Grant’s birthday.  I have long speculated that there are actually 2 or 3 persons who pose as George Grant.  One is the writer, whose books number in the dozens.  There are a wide range of books on Christian issues that George Grant has written, compiled, edited, or contributed to.  I have quite a few of them, but continue to discover missing volumes in my collection.

Then there is George Grant the pastor, teacher, educator, and orator.  Dr. Grant pastors a large church, counsels fellow pastors and friends, teaches courses on history, and delivers knock-out speeches at conferences around the country.  The third George Grant cannot possibly be either of the other two.  That George Grant is a man of leisure.  He listens to music of all kinds, going to Fleet Foxes concerts, and converses with friends about all kinds of music from Bach to his late neighbor George Jones.  This George Grant also runs.  He treks over the hills of middle Tennessee on foggy mornings, runs marathons across the state, and is consumed with those awful things runners obsess over.  But he also reads.  He reads fiction, mystery and spy novels, great literature, biographies, poetry, and theology.  He also eats–with his favorite foods being Tex-Mex (from his Houston upbringing) and barbeque (another Texas legacy).  This epicure and hedonist (in the best of John Piper’s sense) cannot possibly work.

All three of these George Grants have birthdays today.  The picture above captures the life of Dr. Grant.  He is talking.  He talks a lot.  He is gesturing.  He gestures quite a bit.  And he has a book in hand.  It may be the Bible, or it may be some fine volume containing a rich defining quote that he is using to illustrate some point of theology or Christian living.  He is always reading, citing from books, discovering authors, and promoting books.

A few years back on his birthday, I posted a blog entry (on my old blog) that highlighted a few of  Dr. Grant’s books.  You can read it here.  I will not repeat the praises of these books.  His many lectures on the Humanities can be found at the King’s Meadow Study Center site.  The curriculum is a bit costly, but the content is rich in gold and silver.  His talks, books, and essays can be accessed across the web and on his defining blog called Grantian Florigeum.

George Grant is likely the best scholar around today on the topic of the life and ministry of Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish version of Grant from the past.  He is also an expert on the Middle East, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, John Buchan, and Arthur Quiller-Couch.  His likes and interests are extensive.  See his list of favorite authors--living and deceased.  He has, from my perspective, read every book that has ever existed and some that don’t exist.  He has been a warrior on the front lines of Christian culture for decades.  His book on Margaret Sanger and the history of the pro-life movement were foundational to the cause of life.  His work has extended far beyond just protests against this age of rootless, reckless abandonment of truth, goodness, and beauty.  He is far more interested in the building projects of a future Christendom than the rubble removal of the failing humanistic and atheistic worldview of modernity.

So happy birthday George Grant.  And, for those of you who don’t know him, begin by thanking God for raising up a faithful pastor and thinker in our day and start on the path to reading from and listening to George Grant.  Those who already subscribe to his teachings can only affirm what I have said above.

I must caution those who are fans and people who will just now be learning of Dr. Grant:  If I don’t see (and own) copies of Dr. Grant’s study of the Forgotten Presidents (long promised, but not yet in print) or his yet-to-be published biography of Thomas Chalmers, I will cease writing these praise-laden posts on July 24 of future years.  Surely a man with only a dozen or so overwhelming tasks can carve out some time to get these volumes completed.

 

Fifty Best Non-Fiction Books of the Twentieth Century

I love book lists.  I love bibliographies.  I love those listings and rankings that purport to tell us the best books, the most important books, the essential books.  Book lists are about the closest thing in my life to participation in a competive sport.  When I see a list, I begin doing a few mental stretches, take a few deep breaths, and plunge into the fray.  Every book list is a fight, a contest, a disputation.  “Why is that on the list?” and “I can’t believe they left off such and such” and on it goes.

The Intercollegiate Review, published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, posted the “Fifty Best Books of the Century.”  (A follow-up is the “Fifty Worst Books of the Century.”)  I have enjoyed the books and articles from ISI for quite a few years.  I generally like what they say and promote.  Note that their list, made up by several ISI scholars, has several restrictions:  1.  It is confined to 20th Century Books.  2.  It includes only non-fiction.  3.  It is only books that were originally published in English.  Read their comments here.  I will post my comments below.

By the way, this list really makes me feel illiterate, backwards, and uneducated.  That is a pretty good assessment of my life.  I will be trying, however, to master at least a few more of the selections they have included.

1. Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

I started this book last summer and finished it this summer.  Often quoted and included on many lists of classics, The Education of Henry Adams is interesting at points, confusing at other points, eloquent, and yet full of complaints about life, education, politics, and society.  I am still unsure as to the overall message.

2. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1947)

I have read this several times.  It is not one of my favorite Lewis books, but it is often quoted.

3. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952)

This is a revered book by many.  I have read and used portions of it.

4. T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (1932, 1950)

I still cringe over not buying a collection of Eliot’s essays at an antique store some years back.  I have read his Christianity and Culture and admire much of his poetry.

5. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (1934–61)

Is Toynbee still read and noticed?  I have some of his books.  Also, I read C. Gregg Singer’s study of him some years back.

6.  Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

Even though I have read of this book often, I don’t have it.  But I need it,

7. Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America (1945)

I have this book.  I think Barzun’s Dawn of Decadence is a great book.  It would be on my list.

8. Walter Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson (1975)

Don’t have it, but I am starting to plod through the classic work Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

9.  Cleanth Brooks & Robert Penn Warren, Understanding Poetry (1938)

I have an treasure a couple of copies of this book.  ANYTHING by Cleanth Brooks is on my list of essential books.  Warren was also great.

10.  Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (1931)

It’s funny (although I am not laughing) how history majors are never instructed on the topic of history.  I have a book by Butterfield and wish that I had Keith Sewell’s study of Butterfield.

11.  G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

Great, yes, really great.  Why are there not more college courses on Chesterton?

12.  Winston Churchill, The Second World War (1948–53)

I have this set, but have only read the more condensed one volume version.  Churchill is the only historian to win the Nobel Prize for literature.  I still lament not buying a nice set of Churchill’s biography of Marlborough that I once found at an estate sale.

13. Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy (1946–53)

Often recommended.  I do not have any of the multi volumes in this set.

14.  Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950)

Anything by Dawson is on my list and most are on my shelf.  I even try to get the original Sheed and Ward editions.

15.  Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (1992)

Don’t have it, but it is on my wish list.

16.  Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative (1958–74)

Read it and loved it.  Got to hear Mr. Foote speak some years back.  Great set of books.

17.  Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee (1934–35)

All of Freeman’s biographies (on Lee, Lee’s Lieutenants, and George Washington) are prizes to be sought and won.

18.  Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

Friedman was a great economic thinker.  Probably banned from the White House today.

19.  Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll (1972)

I have read and prized several of Genovese’s books, but don’t have this defining work.

20.  Frederick von Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (1960)

I did not find this in my study.  I feel like a bum.

21.  Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew (1955)

Don’t have it.

22.  Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

Don’t have it, but have seen it referenced many times.

23.  Paul Johnson, Modern Times (1983)

Anything by Paul Johnson is a high priority.  Read this book when it first came out.

24.  John Keegan, The Face of Battle (1976)

Keegan was the best of military historians.  Have it and have read it.

25.  Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953)

I have this book and quite a few others by Russell Kirk.  He was a leading founding father of the modern conservative movement.

26.  Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (1936)

Huh?

27.  Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981)

Huh, again?

28.  Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time (1948–81)

I would love to have this set.  I had the hope a few months back that my friend John Barach would be able to snatch it up for me for a trifle, but alas.

29.  H. L. Mencken, Prejudices (1919–27)

Mencken is a favorite infidel amongst many Christians.  He is wonderful for hit acidic wit and conservatism.

30.  Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain (1948)

I have this book, and I first learned of Merton in a biographical book on several brilliant Catholics (which included Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy).

31.  Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941)

Have it, but only have read bits and pieces from Niebuhr.

32.  Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community (1953)

My friend Andrew Sandlin like the author and book.  I have it.

33.  Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being (1978)

I would have listed Mystery and Manners, but I enjoyed O’Connor’s letters as well.  Her fiction, and remember this list is only non-fiction, is essential.

34.  George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1952)

He wrote more than 1984 and Animal Farm.  I need this book.

35.  Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos (1983)

I have several of Percy’s books, both fiction and non-fiction.

36.  Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)

Never heard of it.  [IMPORTANT UPDATE AS OF JULY 28:  I now have this book.  Found a nice paperback copy for a buck.  Read some reviews and decided it was worth the dollar and more.]

37.  Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966)

Have heard of it and the author, but do not have it.

38. George Santayana, Persons and Places: Fragments of Autobiography (1944)

No knowledge of this book.

39.  Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942)

Need it.

40.  Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (1953)

I have only indirect knowledge of Leo Strauss, an influence on many conservative thinkers.

41.  William Strunk & E. B. White, The Elements of Style (1959)

Have it, have read it several times, and have taught it several times.

42.  Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950)

Trilling was an influential literary critic in the 1950s.  Need it, but don’t have it.

43.   Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (1920)

Another gaping hole in my historical training.  On the other hand, you cannot study American history without absorbing bits and pieces of the Turner thesis.

44.  Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (1952)

I need some of Voegelin’s works and some summaries of his imporance.

45.  Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (1901)

Read it and taught it many times.

46.  James D. Watson, The Double Helix (1968)

I read almost no science.  Yet another glaring fault.

47.  Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore (1962)

Indirectly very familiar with this study.

48.  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953)

Only have secondary understanding of Wittgenstein.  Greg Bahnsen, I miss you!

49.  Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (1979)

I recently passed up a nice copy of this book.

50.  Malcolm X (with the assistance of Alex Haley), The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)

Even though I have read a lot about the 1950s and 60s, I have not read this book.

 

 

Pages Keep Turning

A house of books–now that might just solve a number of problems.

Summer moves on and the pages keep turning.  I love the extra bursts of time for reading in the summer, especially in the morning hours.  I love the lack of structure, the freedom to read what I want and as much as I want, and the range of reading that books offer.

Right now, my mornings begin with Bible reading and brewing coffee.  (I am a truck driver when it comes to coffee, so look elsewhere for sophisticated talk about blends and brews.)  As has happened in the past, my reading begins with R. C. Sproul stopping by.  I am reading his latest book Everyone’s a Theologian:  An Introduction to Systematic Theology.  Sproul is probably the best popularizer and simple presenter of theology in the country today.  By training and gifts, he could have been a more in-depth and original academic theologian.  But he also has a great teaching style and simple writing style.  I am always caught between two thoughts while reading Sproul:  “I already knew that” and “I never knew that.”  Often both thoughts occur while reading a single paragraph.

This past year at Veritas Academy, I taught a course called Theology and Apologetics.  The students and I both loved the class.  I used James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith.  That is a good, weighty, and readable book.  But when I teach the course again, I will, D.V., use Sproul’s book.  He has 60 short chapters with pertinent Bible verses and just enough meat and explanation to launch a discussion or further studies.  This book is, as the subtitle says, an introduction to systematic theology.

After a chapter from Sproul, I read from What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman.  This book is too perilously close to being a self-help book for me to normally read.  But I need help, and not self-help.  I need Christ-centered directives for living and implementing the Gospel in my life.  My work for the past 19 years has been in what we usually term “full-time Christian service.”  But working at a church and in a Christian school and around Christians does not mean that we (or I) have it all figured out.  Time and task management is a problem.  This book borrows from some of the popular approaches to being highly effective, but the foundation is the Bible.

The chapter I read today was titled “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matters.”  It is about the necessity of good works.  Of course, good works don’t save us, but they are the result of being saved.  This chapter was a healthy reminder that the good works we do are not just “missionary activities,” but the everyday tasks we have in the home and office.

After this, I turn to my reading of history from a Christian perspective.  I recently finished D. G. Hart’s outstanding book Calvinism: A History.  Now I am reading from The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief by George Marsden.  Marsden is an outstanding and brilliant Christian historian.  His biography of Jonathan Edwards is great, as is his book Fundamentalism and American Culture.  This book is not a history of the political or social events of the 1950s.  It is an analysis of the ideas growing out of the time.  There was a greater sense of concensus in the 1950s.  Looking back, that time appears more stable, unified, and moral than our time.  But, to borrow from  William Butler Yeats, the center could not hold.

This book demands that the caffeine is working.  It is more of a “Hmmm” book rather than a “Wow” read.  It ties in with several other things I have read or thought about in recent months that relate back to the 1950s.  I hope to say more about this book later.

If time permits each day, I read bits from two different Banner of Truth books.  One is John MacArthur:  Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray.  This book is a double bonus.  First, I want every book that Iain Murray has ever written.  I have and have read quite a few of his biographical and historical studies.  He writes Christian biographies and histories that are readable, scholarly, and encouraging.  Second, this book is about John MacArthur.  MacArthur is far from perfect and I am sure that plenty of Calvinists have found faults in him and his theology.  (I had serious questions about his book Strange Fire, which I reviewed on this blog some months back.)  But there is much in the life, the ministry, and the writings of MacArthur that are amazing.  He is not as theologically astute as R. C. Sproul, but he has done a great job of modeling expository preaching and the Calvinistic doctrines of grace.

John MacArthur

My other Banner of Truth read is about someone as obscure as MacArthur is well known.  I refer to the book Pleading for a Reformation Vision: The Life and Selected Writings of William Childs Robinson, 1897-1982 by David Calhoun.  Calhoun has written 3 outstanding volumes on Presbyterian history.  Two volumes were devoted to Princeton Theological Seminary and a more recent volume focused on the Southern seminary–Columbia Seminary.  One of the later teachers at Columbia Seminary was William Childs Robinson.  Calvinism went underground for a time in American history.  Those who held to the Reformed Faith in all its particulars were marginalized or in most cases buried and forgotten.  But during the years when Calvinism was less well known and less often proclaimed, there were those who held on, taught others, pored over Scripture and the old theological studies, and taught others.  William Childs Robinson was one such man.  This is an encouraging study about a great, but little known, warrior for the faith.

 

Not At All Dismal Economics

One of the blessings of summer, even if no ocean is in view, is having more time for reading.

During the morning reads, I am plowing on through to the end of The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by theologian Wayne Grudem and economst Barry Asmus. I started this book back around February, read a large portion of it, and then went on to other books. It got lost in the stacks until recently when I picked it up and began reading with an intent to finish it.

In the evenings, I have been reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I had several motivations for reading this book. First, I am teaching a government class next year and am trying to read more on political and economic philosophies. Second, in line with this, Ayn Rand has influenced quite a few political and economic leaders and commentators. She has inspired a whole school of thought and has impacted many conservative ideas regarding economics and liberty.  Her views within the conservative camps are quite controversial.

In many ways, these two books, The Poverty of Nations and Atlas Shrugged, are quite different. The first is a book on economics, while the second is a novel. The first was written by two Christians, while the other was written by an atheist. The Poverty of Nations was published in 2013, while Atlas Shrugged came out in 1957. The first is directed primarily toward third world nations, while the second is a warning to first world nations. And, The Poverty of Nations is written in a clear, concise outline form, while Atlas Shrugged is a sprawling novel of some 1000 plus pages.

Yet despite these differences, the two books coincide on some very important themes: The importance of freedom, capitalism, the profit motive, and the results of these things. Ayn Rand would be absolutely livid about The Poverty of Nations because it is premised upon Christian presuppositions. The authors of The Poverty of Nations would be highly uncomfortable with Ayn Rand crashing their party, although they would appreciate some aspects of her work.

Atlas Shrugged

I will now discuss some parts of Atlas Shrugged. Don’t worry about me giving spoilers regarding this novel. I am now barreling through the second half of the book with still about 400 pages to go. I am avoiding reading all commentaries on the book and anxiously await the conclusion myself.

Ayn Rand was a brilliant woman who was born in Russiain 1905 and lived there during the time in which Communism took hold of that country. Her independent streak , self reliance, and sheer pluck enabled her to escape the world of Stalin and his successors. She came to the United States, mastered English, and developed a philosophy about life known as Objectivism.

She succinctly stated the major tenets of the philosophy as follows:
1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self Interest
4. Politics: Capitalism

Each of these tenets bears further elaboration, and Ms. Rand did so in the essay “The Essentials of Objectivism,” as well as in other writings. Of her worldview, she said, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

She was an able and powerful expositor of her views. One is not left wondering what she meant or how her philosophy was to be applied. Her great enemies were collectivist governments, statist controlled economic systems, coercive humanitarian ideals, and any system of thought that violated her concept of reason. She devoted her main energies to battling against socialism, communism, fascism, and state-directed tyrannies in the marketplace and in society. She was also strongly opposed to religion of all varieties.

Part of her philosophical gift was her practice of embodying her ideas in novels. Particularly in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she taught her views. A short and great work of hers is the novella Anthem.  Her method and execution were brilliant, but the same can’t be said for her writing style. Perhaps it was the language barrier, for English was her second language. Perhaps it was the lack of good editing. Both of her bulky novels plead for being lanced, pruned, and trimmed.

The biggest problem with the total lack of literary skill found in Ayn Rand. I know that one cannot argue with success. Her novels have been around for decades and are still read and discussed. While many Pulitzer Prize winning novels and Nobel Prize winning authors are relegated to a few college classrooms, Ayn Rand’s works still attract readers from all areas of life.

Still, I contend that the woman was devoid of literary abilities. Her characters are generally overdrawn. There is no complexity or ambiguity or real human traits in her pasteboard cut-outs of heroes and villains. Granted, I would like to possess at least some of the traits of a Randian male hero. These guys are strong, handsome, independent, brilliant, and usually unbending in their pursuit of their ideals. Their opponents are stupid, sycophants, slavish, hypocritical, and spineless.

Also, the strong women figures in Rand’s novels, modeled no doubt after her image of herself, are strong, beautiful, independent, ruthless, and totally unswayed by the moronic villains in her books. These are women who are happy to live without love until they meet the Randian male heroes who then typically force themselves upon these strong women. Trying to be discreet, and being thankful that Ayn Rand wrote in a time where sexual encounters in books were still veiled somewhat, the love scenes in her books are disgusting.

Ayn Rand’s descriptive abilities would be rated as great if she were writing comedy or parody. In serious fiction, her descriptive powers are tortuous, or as I said in a previous post, physically painful to read.  Consider this description of her heroine Dagny Taggart as she appeared at a party: “The black dress seemed excessively revealing–because it was astonishing to discover that the lines of her shoulder were fragile and beautiful, and that the diamond band on her wrist of her naked arm gave her the most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.”

“The most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.” Hmmm. I suggest a counselor for whoever wrote that sentence or anyone who agrees with it.

I cannot count how many naked shoulders, naked arms, naked hands, naked necks, naked feet and ankles, naked index fingers, naked ear lobes, and, in some scenes, entire naked bodies appear in this book.  But her descriptions repel rather than lure the reader.  Except for those times when we wear gloves, our hands are naked.  Writing with endless repetitions of exposed skin becomes quickly disgusting.

Then consider this: Atlas Shrugged is a one thousand plus adventure tale of a woman who runs a railroad who is in love with a man who runs steel mills. The reason why they are in love is because of railroads and steel mills. Had Dagny Taggart been a kindergarten teacher and Hank Reardon the local butcher, this story and the love affair would not likely have occurred. At least it would not have taken 1000 pages to line out.

And yet, I admit, the book has a certain appeal. This book is a ringing indictment against all governmental, economic, and social forces that suppress freedom, the free market, profit, and personal gain. I admit to thinking that the book resounds at points in our time. I recognize that our own worsening cultural and economic mindset needs a strong dose of the medicine Atlas Shrugged contains.

I want to finish the book. It is reinforcing my views of freedom. It is making me thankful for independent thinkers, of entrepreneurs of the mind and of the business world, and of people willing to defy the political correctness of our day. I wish more senators, congressmen, governors, and political operators would read and thoughtfully consider this book. It echoes my hatred of governmental overreach.

But a world of Randian heroes and heroines offers no solution to this world’s problems. This is where a quick strong supplement is needed to balance what Ayn Rand thought. The Poverty of Nations is just that sort of book. It is a carefully researched and clearly expounded case for less government (and no an absence of government), more freedom, a greater production of goods and services, and an increase in economic well being.

While Grudem and Asmus are not theonomic, they are well familiar with the specifics of the Bible’s prescriptions for economics. While they are not libertarian (or radically libertarian), they are aware of the many problems of government interference in economic life. While they are American, they are concerned primarily with how third world nations can implement programs that truly help.

The impoverished nations of the world have been helped, ministered to, subsidized, and rescued repeatedly through the years. If we could truly box up all the extra stuff we have and ship them to another country and see a real long-term transformation there, it would be worth the minor sacrifice. But many studies, Christian and otherwise, testify to the limited and often counter-results of American and missionary aid.
Cultures have to be changed and governments have to be changed.

This book needs to reach the leaders in poor countries. It also needs to be in the hands of teachers and mission workers in those countries. But, the same lessons need to be in our minds. Every member of Congress needs to read this book. (I don’t expect that to happen.) Pastors and teachers need to read this book. All candidates for ministry and Christian service need to be steeped in this work.

Freedom–political, economic, and religious–is always under siege. Reading is a means of liberation.