Book Reviews Due

Image may contain: 1 person

Don’t talk to me about the splendors of the Renaissance, nor about the glories of the printing press of the Reformation, nor about the Puritan Revolution.  They all pale beside what is going on today.  When I first embraced Reformed theology in the late 1970’s, it was possible to keep up and or at least be aware of most of the major publications.  Back in those days, Puritan-Reformed Books (in Delaware) was a clearing house for the many and varied Reformed publishers and titles.  There were a couple of newsletters and magazines of a Reformed variety that were chocked full of material as well.

I thought I was overwhelmed back in those days with reading challenges and opportunities.  That was a trickle.  We are living in a tidal wave.  Via the internet alone, one can access more Reformed theological works than one could find by shopping and mail ordering in the 1970’s.  Today, there are more reprints, more new books, more new publishers, more sources for out-of-print books, more PDF’s, more used book sellers, and more of everything a serious reading Reformed Christian would want.

Add to that this fact:  The broader Protestant evangelical community is far more open to and accepting of Calvinist authors and titles than was the case years ago.  One can enter a Christian book store today and walk out with arm loads of books by Spurgeon, Pink, Sproul, Keller, Mohler, Devers, Piper, and others.  Yes, some of us older, more crusty Calvinists can scoff at some of what might seem to be Calvinist-lite, new Calvinism, and a more congenial approach to Reformed theology.  Yes, I still like the unabashed pure strains found in Warfield, the Hodges, Machen, and Boettner.  But we are experiencing a tidal wave, as I said.  And it is not just here in the U. S. or in the English speaking world.  Almost daily, I am being encouraged by a hardy band of young, restless, Bible and theology-hungry Reformed Christians in Brazil.

Being a book reviewer in this day and time is both great fun and impossible.  I cannot even hope to get through all the books I need to get through.  Many that I read are of such a quality as to demand re-readings.  What a problem to give thanks for!

Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present is edited by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey and is published by New Growth Press.  This is a massive work, a treasure trove of theological wealth, a compendium of Reformation resources.  While daunting to behold due to its size, it is easily accessible because one can pick and choose where to begin.  There are 26 historical liturgies along with historical introductions.

This will be high on the list for summer reading and perusing.  Already this book is getting lots of attention in Reformed circles.  Yep, it costs a bit, but not too much considering the size of the book and quality of the packaging.

Image result for n. t. wright paul

Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright is published by HarperCollinsPublishers.  You can listen to Bishop Wright discuss the book and subject here.  N. T. Wright has his ardent fans and bitter foes.  He has written an incredible number of both scholarly and more popular Christian works.  Paul’s Epistles are his specialty.

I profit from Wright’s books.  I do not profess to be a great student of his thought or system.  I read things that astound me by him and things that puzzle me.  His way of speaking and describing theology is not my way.  That, too, is a reason why I read him.

I have only glanced at this book, but am looking forward to delving into it in June.

Image result for the cradle the cross and the crown

The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament is by Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles.  It is published by B & H Publishers, one of my favorites.

This is another hefty book, but it is, after all a textbook style “introduction.”  I lament not having had any formal study of theology and the Bible.  I continue to pick up bits and pieces of a theological understanding here and there.  While there are many New Testament textbooks, this is the one that I will be focusing on this summer.

Image result for saving truth

Saving Truth:  Finding Meaning & Clarity in a Post-Truth World by Abdu Murray is published by Zondervan.  Murray’s website for this book can be found HERE.

I am already well into reading this book.  It is yet another call to Christians (and any non-Christians willing to read this book) to be alert to yet another tragic turn in our culture.  The battle is for Truth itself.  It is not a new battle, but each generation has to fight this concern in another manner.  We are all subject to “fake news,” opinions posing as truth, attacks on truth, redefinitions of truth, and questions about whether truth even exists.

In the spirit of Christian cultural critics and observers like Francis Schaeffer, Charles Colson, Os Guinness, and others, this book is a worthwhile examination of a key issue we cannot escape.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

Image result for why should the devil have all the good music book

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?  Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Alan Thornbury is published by Convergent Books.  Dr. Thornbury has worked and taught at Union College in Jackson, Tennessee and King’s College in New York City.  He currently serves at the New York Academy of Art.  A few years back, he wrote a fine study of Carl F. H. Henry, titled Recovering Classical Evangelicalism.  My comments on that book can be found here.

My attraction to this new book was based on the skills of Thornbury the author.  Of Larry Norman, I knew little.  Back when my son Nick was at Wheaton College (2011-2015), I found some Norman CDs at a local thrift shop where I often buy books and music.  I called Nick and asked him about the music.  “Get them,” he said.  “Norman is the father of Christian rock.”  So I bought them and passed them on to Nick.

I was in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but I was not of the 60’s and 70’s.  It was not a spiritual retreat, but a cultural one.  I marched to a different drummer.  More exactly, I marched to a fiddle and steel guitar.  I not only listened to country music, but I listened to what even then was the older, more rooted country music of the 1940’s–early 1960’s.  The defining rock music of that era was all a blur.  I vaguely knew some of the names and was exposed to bits of the music, but generally gave it very short shrift.

By the mid-1970’s, I had become a Christian and by 1977 became Reformed.  I added classical and Big Band music to my list of preferences, but apart from a Beach Boys album, I still had little contact with rock music.  My early exposure to what people called Christian Rock was totally unappealing.  (Oh yes, I did really like the Christian-like/lite B. J. Thomas record.)  It was only after having a student directed seminar on music of the 60’s-70’s (with some really bright kids that year at Genoa School) that I was exposed to rock.  Later, as in much later, my son Nick developed into both a musician and musical scholar.  He taught me to like such radical groups as Simon and Garfunkle.

All of this is to say that began this book with little background experience.  End result:  What a fascinating story of an incredibly gifted artist who devoted his life and energy to serving God.  Up close, like all close examinations of we who are recipients of grace, is the story of a complicated, contradictory, sometimes confused, and struggling man who, nevertheless, blazed a trail for Christian music.

In spite of the fact that Elvis Presley had strong Christian roots, many evangelical people had little regard for the more edgy types of music in the 1960’s.  Conversion to Christ was supposed to result in a person leaving behind the music and hippie, rebellious, long-haired culture, communes, and life-styles of the times.  There were standards and mores neatly defined by traditional Christian culture.  Pressing the limits was not considered a good sign.

We have to reset our mental frameworks to look back at that time.  Remember that Francis Schaeffer, soon to rise as an intellectual leader of evangelicals, was way off the mark because he actually watched movies, listened to popular music, and looked at modern art with an attempt to be constructively critical.  Worldview was the not the way of those times; rather, it was world retreat.

The song “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music,” from which the book gets its title, tells it all:

I want the people to know
That He saved my soul
But I still like to listen to the radio
They say that rock and roll is wrong, we’ll give you more chance
I say I feel so good I gotta get up and dance
I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong and I don’t confuse it
Why should the devil have all the good music
I feel good every day
‘Cause Jesus is the Rock and He rolled my blues away

Being a trail blazer, being on the cutting edge, pushing the envelope all meant that Norman faced lots of rough waters.  Christian folks often disliked the music (and hair).  Non-Christians were a bit nervous about the religious message. But Norman pressed on.  He sang and talked.  Sometimes his talk was more radical than his music.

Overall, Larry Norman was an incredibly talented musician, artist, producer, and creator of a whole new style.  At the same time, living when he did and how he did, he was sometimes a real kook.  He had two unsuccessful marriages.  His first wife, a model, was way off the spectrum of sanity.  Some of his friends and associates were loony as well.

Larry Norman needed a strong pastor, accountability group, godly wife, and more thorough theology.  He would have been a better man if all those factors had been in place.  That is all just to say that he is just like the rest of us.  To the end, despite some real stumbling and misguided efforts, he sought to serve God in his singing and performances.

Post Script:  I am now listening to and learning to like his music.

Image result for why should the devil have all the good music lyrics