My stock portfolio for the last several years…No, make that for my entire working career…is mighty poor. I am the proverbial person who has enough money to live on for the rest of my life, if I die this afternoon. I am the person who could go broke selling water in a desert. I have fulfilled the maxim that a fool and his money are soon parted without figuring out how to make enough money to be parted from. I am aware of the saying that money cannot buy happiness with the realization that neither can poverty.
I am rather wealthy, however. My investments are my family, church, and career. And I have enough books to run a book business for a decade or two if I were ever to switch from consumer to distributor.
All of this is to bring attention to some of my recent stock acquisitions. You won’t find these on the Dow-Jones market report, but they are good investments.
I am speaking of a few books I have picked up in recent months from Wipf and Stock Publishers.
I first became aware of Wipf and Stock a few years back when they reprinted Roy Clouser’s book Knowing from the Heart. Clouser is a mentor to me and an e-friend and brother in Christ. He is also a profound philosophy teacher and scholar. His book The Myth of Neutrality is one of the most important books I have ever read. The reprinting of Knowing from the Heart, along with several other books I came across, made me think that W & S was just devoted to reprinting out-of-print editions of much needed books. They do quite a bit of that.
But they are also publishing a wide range of new works as well. As they say on the web-site, they are “committed to writing that honors the imagination, intellect, and heart,” and that includes books that range from “biblical studies to classic theology, poetry to history” by authors who are “experts, scholars, and artists.” I must admit to getting a sick feeling when I browse through the incredible number of books they publish.
The books I have from them that I have read or am currently reading are Christian studies. The pattern seems to be books that are not fluff or simplistic, but not so scholarly and abstruse as to fly over the serious reader. If there is too much drivel in the Christian book stores (and sadly, there often is) and too much saccharine on the radio (and there often is), these books are serious stuff. These are the kinds of reads that C. S. Lewis had in mind when he mused about the singing unbidden while working through or reading “a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand. “
Let me highlight just four books that I have found or am finding quite a delight:
First, Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition by Louis Markos.
There are quite a few things that drew me to this book. First, it is written by Dr. Markos, literature professor at Houston Baptist College. I first became acquainted with Markos from his book From Achilles to Christ. Then I listened to some of his lectures on C. S. Lewis and began following his work more closely. The high point was the meeting of the Association of Classical Christian Schools conference in Dallas, Texas in 2015 (which I covered here). Dr. Markos is high energy in his lecture style. I don’t know how he settles down enough to write, but he does. The main focus of his writings seem to be on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, but he has ventured way beyond those two greats.
A second attraction of this book is in the subtitle–Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition. Based on the past 20 years of grappling with the classics, the greatest epics, and the poetic traditions of the West has all created an insatiable appetite for knowing more. So much of Western literature is dominated by or interpreted by the Christian view of the Afterlife. “You die and that’s it” might be the bitter beliefs of some, but not the view that has under-girded our literature.
Third, this book devotes chapters to some of my favorite and often taught books. These include Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy (8 chapters!), Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Lewis’ The Great Divorce (of which I wrote the chapter in the Veritas Press publication Omnibus V The Medieval World).
Markos is a scholar devoted to cultivating romance between the student and the text. He is also a dedicated Christian. This book is a fine resource to pull out when teaching particular books or a useful book to read from cover to cover. I previously reviewed this book in 2014 here.
This past summer I read and commented on The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity: Roots, Consequences, and Resolutions by Keith C. Sewell. Dr. Sewell and I have corresponded on a few occasions over the years, but we have never actually met. He taught history at Dordt College for a time, as well as in England, and now he is living in Australia. Some years back, I acquired his weighty study (based on his dissertation) on the Christian historian Herbert Butterfield. That book is titled Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History and is published by Palgrave MacMillan.
I found The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity to be one of the most enjoyable and informative books I read in 2016. Most of the book is a history of Christianity with a special emphasis on the English and American Evangelical experiences. When I say the book was enjoyable, I do not mean to imply that I found pleasure in all the content. Christianity–or Evangelicalism in this case–has failed, fallen short, and made a hash of many of its situations and opportunities. This book burns a bit going down. Although Dr. Sewell is Reformed in his theology, just as I am, he is not beating the drum for Reformed theology or Evangelicalism. The book diagnoses some of the bad tendencies and failure. This is not a depressing analysis of “where we failed.” He offers suggestions for remedying the situation.
Whether read as a prescription of what should be done or as a history of what has been done, this is a first rate study. I look forward to a second reading, hopefully soon. My previous comments on this book can be found here and here.
I have commented on The Conversion and Therapy of Desire: Augustine’s Theology of Desire in the Cassiciacum Dialogues so often that I feel like I should be carrying pom poms as I cheer. The initial draw of this book was the name of Augustine in the subtitle. This was in the summer and with the Medieval Humanities coming up, I was interested in doing collateral reading on Augustine prior to teaching City of God. My recent post explores some of what I have experienced and run into in this quest to scale Mount Augustine. It can be found here and my post from the summer can be found here. By the way, Mark Boone, another e-friend, is forever in my debt for me having paired him and his work with that of Albert Camus. Albert Camus, were he still living, would have been honored as well.
Because of having gotten to know Mark Boone, I learned from him early on that he had a new work from Wipf and Stock. It is titled Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man: Finding C. S. Lewis in Sci-Fi Film and Television. Boone and Kevin C. Neece edited this collection of essays.
Let me admit this up front: If I did not know Mark Boone and I just stumbled across this book, I would have glanced at it for a while and walked on. The gaze of C. S. Lewis in the cover picture and the mention of his name would have interested me, but my interest would have ceased with reading the words “Sci-Fi Film and Television.” Truth be known: I liked The Waltons, not Star Trek. If William Faulkner had tried his hand at Science Fiction, I might have been willing to give it a try, but he didn’t.
But the serious reader, teacher, student, learner, human must branch out. “You don’t like what you don’t know” a wise teacher told me back in 9th grade. Besides, Lewis is there in the picture, approving the book. And, his classic Abolition of Man is alluded to in the title. Furthermore, movie critic and yet another acquaintance of mine–Brian Godawa–wrote the foreword. Should I add that Louis Markos contributed one of the essays?
Yes, I am afraid that this book is going to mess up my box and shake up my comfort zone. I doubt that Sci-Fi in print or film will ever become a favorite genre for me, but this study looks really good. I will let you know more as I progress into it.
If Science Fiction is the broccoli that I have to learn to eat, the book The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by Douglas J. Douma is my desert table–meaning, banana pudding, German chocolate cake, carrot cake, coconut cream pie, and loads of ice cream.
Everything about this book appeals to me. One exception–its brevity–for it is only 318 pages. I never met Dr. Clark, but he has been an influence on me directly and indirectly for over 40 years. That influence includes how his books shaped the thought of the history professor who shook up and changed my whole worldview in 1974-1976. It also includes the books Clark wrote and the books he contributed to. These range from his terse little book called Predestination to his Christian Philosophy of Education. Two of the best of his works–in terms of their impact on me–are Historiography: Secular and Religious and A Christian View of Men and Things.
Some years back, I did a lecture series called “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Age.” I had the occasion to give some of the lectures “coast to coast,” meaning in Virginia and Alaska. Clark’s works and contributions were included in my lectures, readings, and bibliographies. But I never did him justice. Some of that neglect was due to Clark’s disputes with Cornelius Van Til (covered, of course, in this biography) and his subsequent distance from the Westminster Theological Seminary’s key players. Another problem was my focus on the Dutch theologians and philosophers, centering around Herman Dooyeweerd. Clark was never a Dooyeweerdian and most of his followers have distanced themselves as well.
Then there was this problem: There was no biography of Gordon Clark. The book Gordon Clark: Personal Recollections, edited by John Robbins, contained lots of good anecdotal and biographical information, but was not a complete biography.
When my son, Nicholas, went to Wheaton College in 2011, I had several occasions to visit the college, and I was always looking for something there that would have noted the influence of Gordon Clark. He taught for a few years there back in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It was not a pleasant experience overall, and he left no monuments on the campus. However, he changed the Christian world while he was there. Students he influenced included Carl F. H. Henry who became the editor of Christianity Today, Edward Carnell who became president of Fuller Seminary, Edmund Clowney who was president of Westminster Theological Seminary, and author/theologians Paul Jewett and Harold Lindsell. Unfortunately, Clark intimidated more than influenced a bright young student named Billy Graham. American evangelicalism might have been better served had young Graham’s mind been more receptive to Clark’s thinking. (Graham’s wife, Ruth Bell, did recognize Clark’s strengths and once–in a spiritual crisis–longed to have a dose of Gordon Clark Logic to alleviate her doubts.)
I am currently reading this book during part of my morning reading ventures. This work was love at first sight.
Side note: Gordon Clark’s grandson, Nathan Clark George, is a friend of mine and is one of the best Christian musicians around today. His website and his recent CD–An Ode to the Carter Family–can be found here. When Nathan casually refers to playing chess with “Granpa Clark,” I get cold chills.