Cracks in the Ivory Tower–In the Review Queue


I am all in for higher education.  My two oldest children are currently making plans for graduate school.  One is going into philosophy and the other into occupational therapy.  This past spring, I took a graduate course at the local university and loved both the class and the idea of being back in school.  At the same time, I realize that the education business in America is a huge industry, and the cost of education is staggering.  College debt is a real burden on many (including my two children and myself), and sometimes the payoff in the work world is slow in coming through.

Being that there are so many colleges, so many courses, so many professors, and so many ideas, agendas, and philosophies “out there,” it should come as no surprise that the world of higher education is not some mythical paradise.

For years, I have been reading critiques of the American education system.  I went from teaching in a public school to being a founding member, administrator, and teacher in a private classical Christian school.  To call much that I read about education a “critique” is a bit misleading.  Most of what I have read has been downright critical–in the negative sense–of education.  I have also been such a critic.  That being said, I enjoyed my years in public school teaching.  Although far from perfect or far from ideal, the school where I taught was a good school, with many fine colleagues, and a good working environment.  But there were enough problems to force me to make the sacrifice and enter into the less secure, less lucrative, and less sustainable private school world.

As far as my own college education is concerned, I have very little to criticize.  I would do a lot of things differently if I could go back, but I did have good courses and many fine teachers.  I will pat myself on the back for refusing to go for an education degree and for insisting on getting a major in history and a minor in English.

But plucking a few ripe cherries off the tree is not the greater picture of American education.  When I teach about the causes leading up to the Protestant Reformation, I know that there were faithful parish priests who were seeking to pastor their people.  I know that the Bible was being taught.  Chaucer’s parson, in The Canterbury Tales, was a godly man.  The Brethren of the Common Life Schools, begun by Gerhard Groote, was a good source for Christian training.  But there were some major faults running through Christendom.  Both Erasmus and Luther, who became bitter opponents, railed against the worst of abuses.

Likewise, all is not right in the world of academia today.  This is all a preview regarding Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness.  This new book is published by Oxford University Press, an all time favorite source of mine for books.

As the website notes in a few bullet points about the book:

  • Provides a comprehensive account of why American academia is dysfunctional
  • Offers evidence that most academic marketing is deeply immoral
  • Examines at length what promises universities make and finds overwhelming evidence they fail to deliver

This being an Oxford University Press publication means that this is not just some cranky and quirky book by a couple of malcontents. We who are in the world of education must be our own most severe critics.  Something is rotten in the state of academia.

Stand by for me to update you as I venture over the next couple of weeks into this book.

Liberty in the Things of God by Robert Louis Wilken

Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom by Professor Emeritus Robert Louis Wilken is published by Yale University Press. It is a hardback book affordably list priced at $26.

This book was incredibly pleasing to me in a variety of ways.  It was scholarly without being technical.  It covered a wide range of history going from the time of the Church Fathers through the Reformation.  It was a combination of historical, political, and theological studies.  It affirmed the Christian faith and Christian struggles with conscience issues.  It is the kind of book that makes me say, “This is why I have chosen to make history my life study and to teach it to others.”

Sometimes, we are given the impression that Christianity, the Church, and religious folks in general have been the enemies of freedom, especially freedom of conscience.  If you are wanting to slap Christian really hard in the kisser, history provides plenty of examples of sins, bad rulings, and oppressive actions.  To be fair, history has enough sewer running right down through the middle of human affairs to throw everyone and every cause into it.

But what was the ongoing and developing direction of history?  As this book points out, Christian leaders repeatedly came back to recognizing that the conscience of a person, his or her inner convictions, cannot be commanded, controlled, or coerced by Church or State.  And without being overly progressive or unduly optimistic about human nature, the Faith has matured in its convictions and practices regarding religious differences.

In many Christianized societies of the past, serious leaders were completely troubled by the idea of two religions co-existing in the same realm.  The idea that religious beliefs might take on a thousand different shades was beyond their grasp.  In their better moments, it was conceded that those whose convictions differed from the state religion or religion of the realm would need to exercise their faith and liturgy somewhere other than the public square.

It is easy to be condescending to everyone in the past from our modern perspective.  They were narrow minded, but we are broad minded.  We have embraced the virtue of tolerance, but they were intolerant.  Granted, a person today faces no attacks from the ruling or ecclesiastical authorities for his views on the Lord’s Supper.  But we have our own “religious dogmas” that cannot be tampered with.  Thankfully, the diversity within the United States allows some freedom of movement, expression, and action for those of us who go against the accepted (politically correct) views of our time.

Speaking out sexual, economic, racial, political, and even some scientific views can get a person banned from the academy, politics, or even Facebook.  We have our own religious battles in our own society.  That is all the more reason to study books like this one.

A free church in a free state is a golden ideal.  Neither is accomplished without lots of ink and maybe blood.  Neither can achieve permanent status in this world.  But if it is freedom that one desires, it is to the Christian tradition that one should go to find it.  Christians erred many times, but in the ongoing clash of ideas, of working through the theology, the recurring idea has prevailed.  I cannot make your religious, Christian, or moral.  That does not necessarily rule out laws to restrain all human impulses, but it does bring us back to a formula for a society of faith existing alongside societies of differing views.

I have several of Robert Louis Wilken’s books, but this is the first time that I have given one of his volumes a serious and complete reading.  It will not, Lord willing, be the last time.  The mark of a good book is that the reader hurries to get through it, then is sad that it is finished, and then wants to read it again.  That is very true of this book.



For God and Country by Mike Root

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There is something to be said for the new and aspiring author.  There is something to be said for the person who has gotten his hands dirty doing the Lord’s work in missions.  There is something to be said for the person who has served in the armed forces and now seeks to apply aspects of those experiences to the civilian and Christian world.  There is a lot to be said for the person who doesn’t just want to write a book, but actually does so and gets it published.

Meet Mike Root.  Along with his wife Michelle, Mike founded The Kingdom Advancement Project (KAP) that provides Bibles and other resources to missionaries in Nicaragua, Pakistan, and India.  Mike is also an officer in the United States Air Force and a student on the road from two master’s degrees to current work on a Ph.D.  He is also irritatingly young, athletic, and possessed of an outgoing personality. I got to know him via Facebook a few months back, and I began our friendship by my usual subtle method:  “Send me your book.”  It took a little while for Mike to fulfill my wish/demand because the book was not then published.

For God and Country: A Discussion on Servant Leadership is available through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Get to know Mike on Facebook and let him know if you want a signed copy (like mine).

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First, a word about the value of short books.  For God and Country is the second of two short books I have read this month.  (The other is Brian Mattson’s fine new book Cultural Amnesia.)  Short books rebuke those who say they don’t have time to read.  Skip a few shows, put your phone away, and take a few minutes to read.  On a topic like servant leadership, much more could be written.  Mike may very well be working on the four volume, 2800 page, encyclopedic study of the topic.  But we know that we would not read much past page 86 of such a massive work.  Guess what?  For God and Country is 86 pages.

Second, we need short, readable, handy, practical books in the Christian community.  More could be said on any topic, but getting the message across is essential.  All of us who have preached (and listened to preaching) know the dread of a sermon that tries to say too much.  I know that certain Puritans preached for one to two hours.  Great, but (prepare to be shocked) we are not living in Puritan times.

Third, Mike’s book is not a “read through and put it on the shelf” type of book.  As a book reviewer, I am always in a hurry to get the book finished.  But this book needs to be read not by me as book reviewer, but me as a Christian who has often been in a leadership position.  In other words, read the book as fast as you can, but then plan on reading it again or, better, read it with a group that is interested in discussing it.  It would make fine 8 week Sunday school study.

All that being said, much of Mike’s book didn’t deal with my situation in life.  Mike talks about the need to witness to co-workers, how to live and maintain the faith in a secular environment, and how to share the faith as a leader.  I work in a Christian school.  My co-workers are all Christians.  I don’t have to think through ways to bring up the faith when teaching students.  We were reading Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Hugo’s Les Miserables, and R. C. Sproul’s Everybody’s a Theologian.  I live and work in a Christian environment.

But my experiences–at this time–are different from that of most Christians.  I have not always been in the current setting.  I forget that many people work around folks who are crude, blasphemous, immoral, and hostile to Christianity.  I would add that sometimes in working in Christian communities we assume everyone is spiritually with us when that is not really the case.

So, how do you (in your mingling with the world) share the faith?  We perhaps can all cringe when we think of the person who overdoes it with too many words and efforts or who is “Obnoxious for Jesus.” Some environments and workplaces are more congenial to sharing the faith than others.  And what about those serving in the military?  (This, of course, is one of Mike’s primary concerns as a military man.)

Read this book.  The profits, by the way, go to support KAP (  Take care to notice the leadership style promoted/commanded all through the Bible.  Then re-read and discuss this book.  Be a witness to those around you by how you live and conduct yourself, but don’t fall for the mistaken saying “Preach the Gospel at all times: Use words if necessary.”  We are not people of the Ethic, but followers of Christ.

I remember many years ago listening to Dr. Greg Bahnsen talk about how he and his family came to know Christ.  Dr. Bahnsen’s mother worked for a dentist.  That dentist invited her to church.  No doubt that if he had been a terrible person to work for, she would have run the other way.  But God used that to convert her and her husband, and then they raised their sons, Greg and his brother, in the faith.  (Greg was converted, if I am remembering his story correctly, at a church camp later.)  We are not witnessing so that we can cultivate the next Greg Bahnsen or Billy Graham or Mike Root.  We are telling others about Jesus because of who He is and because of what He has done and is doing for us.

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Going to the Wars by John Verney

John Verney, 1913-1993, was a writer, painter, and illustrator who served in the British Army during World War II.  He wrote Going to the Wars: A Journey in Various Directions about his military experiences.  Some years later, he wrote Dinner of Herbs which covers more of his military adventures in Italy.  Both books have been republished by Paul Dry Books, Inc.

In recent months, I have picked up several books relating to particular individuals who served in World War II.  Along with reading the broader histories covering battles, campaigns, and leaders, it is important to read the accounts about and by the men who served in the wars.  One type of book complements the other.  Without understanding the overall scope of the war, the personal account will sometimes be confusing.  Without seeing the war from the perspective of the man who was there, the real individual cost of war is lost in the numbers.

John Verney’s two books are quite different from most of the books I have read written by actual participants in the war.  Verney was a literary man, as well as an artist with a love for the moderns.  The two books have a literary flair that often creates an atmosphere more like a novel than a memoir.  His experiences were varied and fascinating.

Verney’s actual military service began in the Middle East where he was serving in a mounted unit.  We forget how prevalent was the use of horses in World War II.  Verney was in the region around modern day Israel and Syria, and his unit rode from place to place dealing with either the French or natives of the area.  The main theaters of the war were to the west in North Africa or to the north-west in France and Britain.  In time, Verney’s unit, the North Somerset Yeomanry, entered the “modern war” and he became part of the Royal Armoured Corps.  His main activities came about when he became part of the Special Air Service.

Verney and others were sent on a mission that bears the feel of a war dramatic movie.  They were taken to the island of Sardinia and tasked with blowing up airplanes located on that island which was part of Italy and occupied by both Italian and German forces.  This stealth activity was successful, but the men then faced the task of traveling across the island to reach a rendezvous point where they would be rescued.  Along the way, they encounter a number of peasants, most of whom thought they were Germans, and some Italian forces.  After a few narrow escapes, they were captured and held.  Being good soldiers and men with quite a bit of derring-do, escape was their great hope and mission.

The prisoners in Sardinia were transferred to the Italian mainland.  More of this story is taken up in Verney’s second book, A Dinner of Herbs.  The Italians were, by most World War II standards, more accommodating and considerate of their prisoners than some other countries.  (Meaning, you would not want to be in a POW camp run by Russians, Japanese, or Germans. Americans and British were the most civil of the countries involved.)  At times, Verney was able to actually enjoy aspects of prison life.  He was able to read, work on his art, enjoy good conversations, and survive with a minimum of difficulties.

It was the expectation of being liberated by the Allies that helped make the prisoners’ lives even more bearable.  But that hope was always hindered by two factors.  First, in spite of capturing Sicily rather rapidly in the Mediterranean campaigns, the invasion of the Italian peninsula was a long, slow, costly process.  Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944 aptly chronicles this part of the war.  Second, the Germans moved quickly to occupy Italy after that country toppled Mussolini and surrendered.  That meant that the prisoners were facing the likelihood of being put under German control and being shipped to Germany.

It was during this time that Verney and two other soldiers escaped.  For a long period, they lived in the mountains and caves of Italy and were cared for by Italian people who risked their own lives and sacrificed their own goods.  All along, the expectation was that the Allies were just days away, but the actual time when Verney was able to get back to his side was much longer.

In Dinner of Herbs, Verney alternates the narrative between a visit that he made back to Italy years after the war and his experiences in the war itself.  He was able to meet the people again who had rescued him.  He was able to climb the mountain and look at the cave he and his friends once lived in.

As I often tell my students, I could not have survived World War II if I had just been assigned the task of feeding old cavalry horses in some obscure military post in North Dakota.  Compared to many, Verney’s experiences were difficult, but not filled with unending horror.  Nevertheless, he was separated for years from his wife and a young child he had never seen.  He and his friends suffered from bitter cold, some bouts of hunger, and constant danger.

Still, he had a certain elan and adventurous spirit about him.  As I said, the books read like a novel.  His friends were amazing and quirky characters.  Being in a prison and later living together in the mountains, they were able to share lots of stories, conversations, and ideas.  One man, Mark Gruffy, was a literature and history scholar, and he was a talker, so he recited and commented upon poetry endlessly.  As is the case in war, some companions never made it back; others were separated by time and events, but the memories remained strong.

I had first wondered why these two short books were published separately.  Together, they would comprise a book of about 400 pages.  Nevertheless, in spite of both being written by the same man about the same time period, the books stand alone quite well.  A Dinner of Herbs could be read without  previously reading Going to the Wars.  Likewise, the first can be read without reading the second.  I think that the reader who loves the military aspects of World War II and the adventures of soldiers who still had a bit of the swashbuckler about them would enjoy the books.  But the reader whose taste is less for the guns and guts of war could also enjoy these books.

The recent movie Tolkien is really a story about male friendship.  That is a concept that is endangered in our times for lots of reasons, but it was a real part of J. R. R. Tolkien’s life leading up to World War I when all of his close friends but one were killed.  John Verney’s books are similar in his recounting the close, the irritating, the good, and the bad types of men he spent lots of time with in the war.  Those of us who have never served are thankful for being spared the difficulties, but the human bonding is something that we have truly missed out on in our lives.

Going to the Wars



Paradise Restored by David Chilton



It was the 1980s and we were young.  Also, we were on a mission to change the world.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  But each generation does change the world, and while the young men of the 1980s were not like the boys who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc, they have had their own impact on culture and society.

The 1980s was a world where, within evangelical Christian circles, eschatology, or the study of last things, was rampant.  Many Christians I know testify that the first book they read after being converted was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay.  He was a popularizer of “we are living in the last days” theology, but he was far from alone.  The sound of many preachers preaching on Revelation (which some called Revelations), Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the Anti-Christ, and the rapture was deafening.

I became a Christian in the 1970s, but never connected with any form of Dispensationalism.  Perhaps it was the Methodist roots that held me back.  I suspect it was that I really found it disappointing to think that I might never get through college and get to teach history.  Besides, I never understood what the preachers were talking about.  I could never quite get the charts and fulfilled prophecies settled in my mind.  And, no one ever gave me a copy of The Late Great Planet Earth.

Instead, I began–after I got into college–reading books with titles like A Theological Interpretation of American History (C. Gregg Singer), This Independent Republic (R. J. Rushdoony), Nietzsche (H. Van Riessen), Christianity and the Problem of Origins (Philip E. Hughes), and at least one popular best seller in Christian circles, How Should We Then Live? (Francis Schaeffer).  I also read the books by Loraine Boettner, such as Studies in Theology and The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.  At some point, I plowed through Boettner’s The MIllenium.

In other words, I was on my way to being a nice, ordinary evangelical believer when I suddenly got hijacked by a notorious circle of writers who believed in serious Christian thought, based on the theology rooted in the Reformation.  The shorthand for all that was the term “Calvinist,’ which referred in part to the “Five Points of Calvinism,” but really embraced much more.  (James Jordan’s delightful article “The Closing of the Calvinist Mind” chronicles these same kinds of life-changing events, as does P. Andrew Sandlin’s essay “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”)

In my earlier years in Reformed circles, I was somewhat Amillennial in my views.  I was reading both Amillennial and Postmillennial authors on topics other than eschatology.  Dispensationalism, which never took root anyway, was ignored completely.  I was also finding myself reading and liking more and more of the writers who would come to be labeled as “Reconstructionists” or “Theonomists.”  It was, however, the reading of two books that pushed me into the Postmill camp.  One was J. Marcellus Kik’s Eschatology of Victory and the other was John Jefferson Davis’s Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered.  Neither of those authors were considered part of the Reconstruction Movement.  (Kik’s death preceded the rise of the movement.)

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In the course of time, I learned about a new book, titled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, and a new young author, named David Chilton. This book with an awkward title was a rebuttal to a book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider.  Already secure in conservative political thinking, Chilton’s book was a real delight.  I realize now that I should read Sider’s book (and will, if I find a used copy cheaply priced) and re-read Chilton.  But Christian-leaning socialism is distasteful to me even when I recognize serious concerns they raise.  Defending capitalism and the free market involves some careful thinking and formulating, lest one get tossed in with the worst of the money grubbing capitalists.  David Bahnsen’s The Crisis of Responsibility is a brilliant and balanced study of the issues in our time.

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David Chilton was a student of Gary North and an writer within the web of organizations of that time that were promoting Christian Reconstruction.  He undertook to writing a few books on eschatology.  These works were Paradise Restored and Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation.  I read both books.  Or to use the more aggressive term, I devoured them.  Add to that, embraced them, quoted them, promoted them, and built my views around them.

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David Chilton’s life and ministry were cut short by serious heart problems and an early death.  While someone (I cannot remember who) suggested that he wrote his books too early and should have waited until he was more mature in his thinking, it is good that he wrote when he did since his days were not long in this world.

Over time, especially after I married, had children, and began working to establish a classical Christian school, many theological hot spots cooled down.  This is not a confession of wrongdoing, but rather a recognition that life changes result in changes of focus.  And I mellowed.  In Christian school circles, I was around people of differing views.  The more I read, the more I became comfortable with the wide range of theological positions people who love Jesus hold to.

These past two months, April and May 2019, I reread Chilton’s Paradise Restored.  Sometimes, re-reading a book results in a feeling of disappointment, meaning that it was not as good as I once thought.  Or, some rereadings result in rejection, meaning that the book is no longer convincing.  Rereading Chilton was, however, confirmation.  I found the book strangely warming, to borrow from John Wesley a bit.  I read it without looking for ammo to use in battles with the pre-mills and a-mills in my life.  Instead, I read it for devotional comfort from God’s Word.

One thing I would not like is for people to read this book to either battle with unrelenting zeal for the postmillennial position or, worse, to look for gaps in the position that Chilton takes.  Notice the title:  Paradise Restored.  Much of this book is a serious study of Paradise, God’s original Creation, and its reflections found in the Temple and in prophecy.  Did God’s Plans A (Creation of Paradise) and B (the Covenant People of Israel) fail, leaving Him to abandon the whole planet earth project?

My mellowing out over the years does not mean that I have lost my bearings or convictions.  It does mean that I seek and I want other Christians to seek to read and study the views of their fellow believers with care and grace.  I think this book will convince some, maybe many, to embrace or lean to a postmillennial view of the Bible and history.  But I would also like to see it enable some to simply appreciate the depth of arguments for this position.

A few months back, a man at church was talking to me about millennial issues.  The church I am part of is generally Amillennial.  When I told him that I was Postmillennial, he said, “There are not many of you around, are there?”  Well, back in the 1970s that was the case, but there are plenty of Postmill folks that I know or know of.  In this book, Chilton has an appendix that lampoons Hal Lindsay’s statement “There used to be a group of people called postmillennialists.” We are closer now to being able to say, “There used to be a group of people who read Hal Lindsay.”

One more point in favor of this book:  In reading this book, you actually get a really good study of Athanasius’ classic work On the Incarnation.  Chilton uses lengthy quotes from Athanasius at the beginning of each chapter, so reading this book is like reading the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of Athanasius.  Then, Chilton has a nearly 50 page appendix excerpted from the Jewish historian Josephus concerning the Fall of Jerusalem.  That event in history, written by someone with no agenda on modern eschatology issues, adds lots of details to what was prophesied in Matthew 24 and other places.  So,  in one book, the reader is able to garner understanding of three writers.  But the main reason to read this book is not for picking up on or reviewing Athansius or Josephus, or even for understanding David Chilton’s ideas.  Read this book to better understand the Bible.

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The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942


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After the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other places in the Pacific area, Winston Churchill said that he went to sleep peacefully and joyfully because the United States was now in the war.  I am glad that he did not have The Darkest Year:  The American Home Front 1941-1942 by William K. Klingman to read at that time.  It would have given him nightmares.

Understand up front, this is a very enjoyable and informative book.  But as I was reading it, I kept wondering how America ever managed to get its act together and win World War II.  In my mind, the United States gets into the war and within a year is taking great strides toward winning it.  That, too, is true. But this book is a look behind the scenes, mostly away from the centers of power, and beyond the bullet points of the war’s progress in 1942.  America, being a big nation, had lots to do, lots of thinking to change, lots of fears–some legitimate, some ungrounded–with lots of unknown factors that we can now know.  How likely it was that Germans and Japanese would be bombing or invading the U. S. was a real concern at that time.

Mobilizing an entire nation to war is an incredible task.  No doubt many conservatives and libertarians are right on track in their concerns and even opposition to our wars from the past.  World War II necessitated bigger and bigger government action.  It also necessitated uniting people in their attitudes and commitment.  Metal and rubber drives were part of the efforts to get everyone involved.  Gas and food rationing put everyone into the war effort.

Some steps were regrettable.  Primarily, the internment of Japanese Americans was perhaps understandable at that time, but it was far from just or right.  Not surprising, German and Italian Americans were not treated the same.  But part of understanding history is trying to put yourself into the time and place where decisions are made and attitudes are formed. That does not free us from the judgment of history, but it humbles us because we are looking back after more than fifty years and not undergoing the same problems.

Along with the bigger issues of the book is its sheer volume of stories, news clips, and anecdotes.  After years of studying and teaching history, I am still astounded at how Klingman assembled and organized thousands of details of happenings across the country as people reacted to the war.  Sometimes, the paragraphs jump from topic to topic as the author grouped details under the happenings during the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of the recurring topics in the book was the transition of the American factories from producing mainly peace-time items to creating a war machine.  From cars to tanks, from passenger planes to bombers, the retooling and redirecting of the industrial might is powerful.  But it is surprising to see how much opposition there was to women taking on jobs in the factories.  What were people thinking?  If the men were in the military, who would “man” the machinery.  Even greater was the opposition to African-Americans to working in factories.  There are lots of features of everyday life from the earlier parts of the last century that I admire, but the prevailing racial attitudes were appalling.

One thing that surprised me was the control the government exercised over news from the war front.  I always assumed that the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo was headline news after it occurred, but it was suppressed.  So were other events, both good and bad.  There is the old question of protecting the military’s actions and the public’s right to know.  In some cases, information about even mundane things was silenced to keep it out of our enemy’s hands.  Such is wartime.

For those, like me, who have read a lot about the military campaigns of World War II will like and should read this book.  I like to think of myself as well informed on the 1940s in America, but I was continually realizing how little I knew of life in the States during those years when we were on a crash course to building the most powerful Arsenal of Democracy the world has ever seen.

I recently told my students that I still have a hard time realizing that World War II happened in color.  I have countless documentaries about the war, and most are in black and white.  Images capture our minds and brand certain periods of history.  Getting more and more of those images, terms, and bullet points are essential tools of learning.  But there is the need to read the more in-depth studies to see how much more there is to what was happening.

There are always the details and the big picture.  That’s why Churchill went to sleep peacefully on the night of December 7, 1941.  He could have speculated that there would be many growing pains, false starts, blunders, and insanities in the process from the under-armed, ill equipped, and naïve United States entering into World War II, but 1942, while a dark year for the United States, was the dawning of the Allied victories that would turn the course of the war and the world.

The Darkest Year: The American Home Front  1941-1942 by William K. Klingman was published in February 2019 by St. Martin’s Press.  Dr. Klingman has published numerous histories, including The First Century, The Year Without Summer, and specific histories of 1919, 1929, and 1941.

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“Old Presbyterians”

Old Presbyterians

The rusted creak of Presbyterian hinges,

stepping into a deserted church building, now cobwebbed;

once founded in 1829; wounded in the war–the first fruits blighted;

balcony emptied; widowed, orphaned, graying with age,

holding out against the heresy of time; now congregated no more–

passed on–scattered, forgotten, on a few hillsides.

but the ark, rotting and resting, still at this Ararat.

Here alone, I enter and step back a dozen decades–

feeling the cold November Sabbath chill,

the ache of the hard, lonely benches,

rough walls echoing the intoned doctrines

given and driven in stern commands–catechized, confessed,

amened and amened, then reinforced and sung in agonizing tones,

interspersed with dreary consolations.

Still able to hear that hard cry to heaven–

feeling the elder’s piercing stare, seeing the deacon’s disdaining nod–

the pain of a faith of now dead people.

Stepping back out, squinting at the light of sun,

thawing again in our age of warmth,

returning to our modern climb to Nothing:

A technological, well-analyzed soul–lacking everything.


From Dirt Roads and Confederates


Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction

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Here is the truth of the matter:  We are all new Christians.  It doesn’t matter if you were converted last Sunday or fifty plus years ago.  We are all arriving at the party (okay, let’s say fellowship meal) long after it began.  This means that we are going to be constantly surrounded by a discussion where we are lost as to the issues.  We miss the inside jokes.  We don’t understand the words and concepts being used.  We don’t know who the others are talking about.

Christianity has been running strong for over 2000 years.  (We could extend that time even longer and include the Old Testament saints.)  The most basic and important means of catching up is reading the Bible. But no one does or can read the Bible without help.  During all the years the Christian faith has been spreading, there have been teachers and preachers whose gifts and ministries from God has been helping people understand, see, and apply the Word of God to all areas of life.  As in any field, there are good and great examples.  Some people have been so dominant in the field of Bible study and theology that their names and influence continue to this day.

I know there are plenty of people who are simple folk and who are busy with jobs and families or maybe hindered from pursuing the Bible and theology in depth.  I am not judging nor condemning them.  But people who can read, people who master computers, video games, sports trivia, and other mind-centered fields of interest can also get grounded in the Bible and theology.  This is not being said in order to just fill in some intellectual niche in the life of educated people.  Instead, this is a great need in the Church.  It is a great need in the local church you are attending.

Most of us are part of churches or church traditions that are small creeks.  In so many ways, a creek can be a really fascinating place.  (I lament no longer owning land that had creeks running at both the front and back of the property.)  But if we never explore and find the river that the creek flows into, we are missing something.  And that river itself then leads to a bigger river and on then to the ocean.


Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction by Kenneth Richard Samples is an invitation to explore past the pleasant creek and see the flowing rivers and vast ocean of God’s Kingdom through history.  This book is published by Reasons to Believe, a Christian organization devoted to strengthening believers in doctrines, apologetics, and a world-view of Christian thought. Ken Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, along with being an adjunct instructor of apologetics at Biola University.  He has authored several books prior to Classic Christian Thinkers, including Without a Doubt and 7 Truths That Changed the World.

Classic Christian Thinkers covers nine Christian scholars:  Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis.  Of course, part of the fun of this book is raising questions like “Why did you leave out (fill in the blank)?” or “Why is (fill in the blank) included?” I admit to be a glutton for books with a group of theologians, pastors, preachers, or writers we should know.

This book keeps the focus narrow enough so that we can actually get some depth on the scholars in the line-up.  Samples has designed the book as a launching pad.  It is well and fine to read the book and be able to say, “Anselm…Yes, I have heard of him.”  But there is a need to dig deeper and read the nine men in this book.  Samples gives short biographical sketches of the men, followed by a description of key doctrinal positions or insights, distinctive ideas, and contributions to the Christian Church as a whole.  Lots of other details are presented, including a few main writings, a defining quote, a timeline, and resources for further study.

This book is the theological equivalent to the Fodor’s travel books.  In other words, this book is to be followed up with an actual journey after reading.

Sometimes, looking over the vast writings of an author is intimidating.  But many authors can become familiar by reading shorter works or short selections from works.  Augustine’s Confessions, which Samples and I both love, is not too long or too hard to read.  Luther’s Small Catechism, recently translated and published by Paul Rydecki, is short and very readable.  Wading into the wide river is not too hard to do, especially if you take advantage of guides like this book.

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One additional advantage of this book is that it forces us to stop thinking so provincially and so denominationally.  God has moved across a wide spectrum of beliefs and theological traditions across time.  We who are Protestants feel quite comfortable with Luther and Calvin, but they were both nurtured by the Church Fathers, which includes such men as Augustine and Anselm.  Thomas Aquinas may be one of the defining theologians in the Roman Catholic tradition, but many men, like R. C. Sproul, have gleaned richly from his writings.  Blaise Pascal is an interesting case study because he was French and, therefore, almost automatically Catholic, but he is connected to the Jansenists who were very thoroughly Augustinian.  As for C. S. Lewis, he is God’s gift to all believers.

I have often thought in recent years about the decision that John Piper made in his early theological studies to pick and master one theologian.  In terms of where I am, I think I must be content to be a dabbler in many theologians, historians, novelists, poets, and philosophers.  But books like this remind me that there is a need to get the basics and then follow the stream to where it leads to the rivers.