History, History Everywhere and Not Enough Coffee to Drink

The Heavy Laden Bookshelf should fire me as it chief book reviewer.  Problem is that that would involve me firing myself, and I don’t know who I could hire who would work as cheaply as I do.  But I am far too slow as a reader.  And I ain’t too swuft at getting reviews completed.  So, it looks like I am stuck with keeping me as my chief book reviewer.

Let’s look at some of the history backlog for a moment.  The nine standing books in the picture above have all been glanced over or started, but none are finished yet.

Editor to Reviewer:  Say something about the standing books.

Reviewer to Editor:  Well, I have finished and written reviews on the two that are lying down (Sand & Steel and Apostle to the East).

Editor to Reviewer:  There are nine books you have to get going.  Get some reviews completed.  At the very least, say something about them.

Reviewer to Editor:  Okay, I’ll try, Sir.

So here goes:

First up is Southern Gambit: Cornwallis and the British March to Yorktown by Stanley D. M. Carpenter.  This book is Volume 65 in the Oklahoma University Press Campaigns and Commanders series.

Earlier in the summer, I read Rick Atkinson’s delightful The British are Coming.  I always wish that I were more focused and maybe even totally absorbed in reading about the American War for Independence.  The problem is that I harbor the same wish about another two dozen historical eras and I flit from historical branch to branch and never settle in.

General Charles Cornwallis is often relegated to a bit part in American history, and it is the role of a loser.  The name of Cornwallis is associated with Yorktown, defeat of the British, “The World Turned Upside Down,” and a number of other images that all spell out the word LOSER.  Of course, history could have easily turned in a different direction, but what if’s, while fun, are simply speculations.

The southern venture by the British Army seemed to have all the making of a success.  The possibility of rallying the southern colonies back to the British side, of rooting out the rebellion to the south, and succeeding in the classic “divide and conquer” strategy could have and maybe should have worked.

Cornwallis blazed a trail of Pyrrhic victories across the Carolinas and into Virginia.  Then matters only got worse as Cornwallis’s luck or fortune ran out.  Let’s go ahead and use the word they used then:  Providence gave the upper hand to the Patriot army and their French allies.

 

Very promising book.

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Spying Across the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz is published by Penguin Press.

My review copy of this book, which came out last May, included information about the author tour promoting this work.  Sad to report, Mr. Horwitz died just a few weeks after this book came out.

I had looked into one of Horwitz’s earlier books, Confederates in the Attic, and when my teacher Dr. Thomas Curtrer called my attention this book, I was immediately interested.  This book is a retelling of one story with a newer accompanying story.  The original story was that of Frederick Law Omsted, a journalist and architect (1822-1903), who traveled across the southern states in the years before the War Between the States.  His writings were combined into a volume titled Journeys and Explorations into the Cotton Kingdom, which was published in 1861.

Horwitz studied Omsted’s work and then began retracing his traveling.  By that, I mean that he ventured on a journey to the same places and updated us on the life, communities, and cultures across the way.

This is a very readable and enjoyable book.  Unfortunately for me, I keep letting it get lost in the dangerously high reading stacks beside my bed.  It is good, easy-going, and entertaining reading that can handily precede sleep.

Travel books were, perhaps, more popular in past centuries.  Writers such as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were masters of such writings.  In our day, it is easy enough to either travel ourselves, or to watch documentaries, or to Google places across the land and become familiar with them.

But getting the feel of the culture is a more complicated matter.  The questions that I suppose this book raises are “What was the South like when Omsted traveled and observed it?” and “What has changed?”  Putting this book back to the top to read.  Thankful that the author was able to finish it.

Leaders: Myth and Reality

Leaders: Myth and Reality by General Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone is published by Portfolio/Penguin.

Leadership comes in all varieties, areas, and styles.  The subjects for this book are diverse and unexpected. The chapters cover the following people:  Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Maximilien Robespierre, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Zheng He, Harriet Tubman, “Boss” Tweed, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those who might expect leaders in a book like this to be solely political and military figures are to be a bit surprised.  Part of the attractiveness of this book is its diversity of subjects and the surprising inclusions.  When I started reading the book, I was astounded by the genius of Walt Disney.  On the one hand, I am not a big fan of Disney productions–past and present.  On the other hand, one cannot read about the man without marveling at his creative genius and drive. Coco Chanel was another surprise.  I began with having no clear idea who she was, and then made the connection with the women’s perfume Chanel #5.  Coco Chanel was a creator and marketer of fragrances.  This was an enjoyable chapter.  I would not want to read a lengthy book on Coco, but the picture of her skills was delightful.

I do hope to keep plowing along in this succession of accounts of various leaders and varied styles of leadership.  On a downside note, I was irritated in the beginning of this book where Gen. McChrystal detailed his dislike of Gen. Robert E. Lee.  He told of having put a framed portrait of Lee in the trash bin.  I buy the idea that one can find fault with Lee’s leadership at many points, but this smacked a bit too much of playing to the crowd-tastes of our age.

Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy by Benjamin Armstrong is published by Oklahoma University Press.

This is yet another, Volume 66, in the amazing Campaigns and Commanders series published by Oklahoma University Press.  Have I mentioned that I wish I had every single one of them?

One of the most amazing and maybe amusing facts of U. S. history is that our country waged its first two wars against the supreme naval power of the world.  The fact that we came out of both wars without being vanquished is a delight, especially when talking with friends across the pond.  Ton for ton and gun for gun, there is no way the fledgling American navy or lack thereof could have held its own against His Majesty’s Royal Fleets.

The subtitle explains a bit of how and why we muddled through.  The smallest of boats and crews can conduct raids.  Small boats, manned by daring men, can poke, jab, hit and run, and do some damage to the greatest of fleets.  Like a horsefly plaguing a stallion, the ability to sting here and there can be effective.

This is the story of such efforts.  Dr. Alexander is Assistant Professor of War Studies and Naval History at the U. S. Naval Academy.

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Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Conflict, 1917-1918 by Edward G. Lengel is published by the University Press of Kansas.

I first became acquainted with the writings of Ed Lengel last fall when I was on a World War I binge.  I was teaching about the Twentieth Century and came across his recently published book Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion.  My review of that enjoyable book is found HERE.

This book came out in 2015, so it precedes Never in Finer Company and also tells the story of the bigger picture of the American involvement in World War I. As I often mention, the First World War is so overshadowed by the Second World War that we forget how awful, long, and hard fought it was.  American involvement can be oversimplified in two ways.  First, the war starts in 1914, and then the U. S. enters in 1917 and more directly in 1918 and finishes up the mess that Europe had started.  A second way is to view the American contribution as a minor thing.  The German army was a spent force by the time the U. S. arrived, and the main work had been accomplished by the French and British.

History always lends itself to easy explanations until the digging begins.

Ed Lengel is quite an amazing historian.  He wrote several books on George Washington, and then he published three or four studies of America in World War I.  Next year, he will have a new book coming out on the Revolutionary War.  Recently installed as the Senior Director of Programs at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, he will probably whip out a few books on that war.

I will need to highlight these books a bit later.  I have too many books even to briefly describe.

Rosebud June 17, 1876: Prelude to the Little Big Horn by Paul L. Hedren is published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Burton K. Wheeler of Montana by Marc C. Johnson is published by Oklahoma University Press also.

Competing Memories: The Legacy of Arkansas’s Civil War, edited by Mark K. Christ, is published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt by John F. Woolverton and James D. Bratt is published by Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little

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Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little by Russell M. Lawson is published by St. Polycarp’s Publishing House.

One of the amazing features of book publishing today is the number of small, independent publishers.  Of course, the big names such as Random House (no relation to me), Harper & Row, Penguin, and others still produce many books.  Of course, university presses are pouring out more books than can possibly be comprehended.  Of course, the best sellers and the books most commonly found in the chain bookstores are from the New York based big companies.

But behind the scenes, off the main book interstates, and obscured by their very obscurity, small publishers are producing fine quality works on topics that will never break through the charts, reach the New York Times book reviews, or make millions for their authors or publishers.  Small niches–they are.  But they are filling in some vital gaps, reaching remnants of people who can search through the thousands of books at Books-A-Million and find nothing worthwhile.  Some of these small presses focus on reprints of classic works of literature, history, or theology.  Some focus on theology.  Some on history.  Some produce works of fiction and poetry.

When we discover one of their books, we often realize that we not only had heard of the publisher, but we may not even remember where we first heard of the book.  Perhaps it was on Facebook that I first stumbled across a book by an author I did not know, about a man I had not heard of, and published by a Christian group I was not aware of.

But the results of those fortuitous finds, or we might say providential blessings, can be quite rewarding.

Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little filled in a wide gap (of which there are many) in my understanding of colonial, Revolutionary, and post-Revolutionary American history.  We hear so much about the 13 Colonies on the eastern seaboard.  It was only by a few encounters with George Grant’s lectures that I realized that there were far more than 13 colonies, many of which chose not to join in the fracas of the 1770’s.

The current state of Maine is identified on the colonial maps as being part of Massachusetts colony and state.  In fact, it did not become a state until 1820 when it was brought in to maintain the slave and free state balance due to Missouri’s quest for statehood.  The narrative flow of history books focuses on the westward movement which then leads to the Northwest Ordinance, Manifest Destiny, the settlement of the states beyond the Appalachians, and then to the cultural divides between the northern, southern, and western states.

Maine crops up with the Missouri Compromise.  Perhaps, if one if reading about General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, either in biographies or in the novel Killer Angels, his service as an educator, soldier, and politician will relate back to Maine.  Then there is the famous quip made during the 1936 election campaign where Franklin Roosevelt trounced Alf Landon.  The statement was “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”  (Sometime prior to that, the saying was “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”)  One cannot forget that Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican and a woman who showed up in the fight for the Republican Presidential nomination fight in 1964, was from Maine.  (Barry Goldwater won that contentious fight, and it would be interesting to consider how history would have been different if he had put Sen. Smith on the ticket instead of William Miller.)  Later, Ed Muskie, another Senator, Vice Presidential candidate, failed Presidential primary candidate, and Secretary of State was from Maine.

The state is obscure to me, and its early history was a total blank.  But it was an outlet for the many thousands of people on the eastern coast.  Why, with New England winter’s and rugged soil, they ventured even further north is a puzzle to me.  But they did.  And there, they encountered various Indian tribes, particularly the Penobscot tribe.  These settlers were the children of the folks who settled the established New England colonies, but the distance they moved separated them from the culture, religion, and civilized ways of Boston and its environs.

Apostle of the East tells the story of one man’s experiences in bringing the Gospel to settlers and Indians in Maine.  Daniel Little lived from 1724 to 1801.  He lived, therefore, during such events as the Great Awakening, the French and Indian War, the prelude to the American War for Independence, the war itself, and the time when the Constitution was written, ratified, and put into effect.  Most of these events were outside of his own direct involvement, but he was not without contact with them.

Although he pastored a couple of churches in the Maine territory, he spent a good many seasons traveling throughout the region working to spread the Gospel, evangelize Indians, and establish churches and schools.  Most of the English colonists were folks who had drifted far from places where churches were found.  Prone to squabbles and deviations from Christian practices, they were–to use Flannery O’Connor’s words–Christ-haunted if not Christ-centered.  Dealing with the Indian tribes was a harder challenge.  For one thing, there was the continual problem of land dealings.  Dealings is a nice way to describe the efforts of the stronger white ruling folk to impose boundaries on the Indians.  Along with that, many of the tribes had been influenced by French Catholic mission works.  Trying to differentiate between French Catholicism and British Protestantism was a challenge, and many Indians were plenty satisfied with their own beliefs.

Although missions were his main passion, Little was also interested in science and exploration.  In the area he was in, that meant scaling mountains.  As a trained minister, he was a teacher and educator, a theologian, and a scientist in the tradition of the day.

In several cases, Dr. Lawson, the author, describes how Little’s theology changed.  He writes, “Little’s simple piety in a God who blesses all of the Creation led him to move increasingly from New England Calvinism to a more Universalist mindset.  Feeling that anyone could be saved spurred Little on to bring the Good News to the ignorant, the wayward, the Catholic, the Indian.”  I find this passage both troubling and unclear.  I think the author did a fine job of recounting the many journeys of his subject, but a better theological analysis is missing from this book.  I would have preferred an approach more like a George Marsden could have given.

Universalist is not explained, nor do I think that New England Calvinism is understood.  Jonathan Edwards was very much the Calvinist who preached the Good News to all sorts of people and even did mission work among the Indians.  There are too few excerpts from sermons and letters for the reader to make any judgment on Little’s theology.  (And Calvinism, although mentioned several times, is not in the index.)

Anyone wanting to grapple with the theological developments in New England will find little help in this book.  On the other hand, it is a interesting and enjoyable account of a man who gave himself unstintingly to church planting and missions.  As I said earlier, it does turn the focus from the westward movement of the nation to the most north-eastern portion.

Also, there is another fine point of interest in the book.  Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a powerful short story called “The Minister’s Black Veil.”  Little was taught for a time by a Harvard-trained pastor named Joseph Moody, who was overwhelmed by the emotional weight of his work.  The author writes, “He felt completely completely inadequate to represent the Lord of the Universe to his small parish.  This inadequacy translated into an overbearing weight of sin upon him.  Unable to look his parishioners, or anyone else, in the eye, as if he were looking God Himself in the eye, Moody veiled his face in public, ate alone, and eventually decided he could no longer serve as pastor.”

 

Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France

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Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams is published by Oxford University Press.

I am really close to embracing the absurd idea that World War II never happened.  In particular, I can almost find myself believing that the D-Day Normandy invasion of France on June 6, 1944 never happened.  No, I am not losing my sanity, nor am I listening to weird conspiracy theories of crackpots.

Here is my thought:  I cannot fathom how the men at Normandy faced the obstacles, encountered the dangers, endured the noise and destruction, and braved the event.  I get frightened by severe storms or near car wrecks on the highway.  How did these men, many who were barely past boyhood, do what they did?  My awe extends beyond the work of just the Americans, and I even marvel at the enemies on that day.

This past June 6 marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  In light of that, a number of books began appearing highlighting the events and retelling the story of Operation Overlord.  I first learned of Sand & Steel from a friend and historian Tony Williams, who wrote a fine account of some of the books on this crucial day during World War II. His article can be found HERE.

Along with this book, James Holland’s Normandy 1944 and Alex Kershaw’s The First Wave hit the shelves shortly before the 75 year commemoration.  There are some older books that are great treasures as well for studying this event.  The first great account was Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day, which was followed up with an all-star cast epic movie.  Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day: June 6, 1944, John Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy, Max Hasting’s Overlord, and Antony Beevor’s D-Day are among the books I have acquired over the years on this event.

It is hard to imagine a book, however, that is more detailed and rigorous in its content that Sand & Steel.  With nearly 900 pages of narrative, Caddick-Adams goes from event to event, from landing to landing, and describes the multitude of encounters, failures, disasters, and acts of heroism.  I was astounded and often simply swamped by the details.  How could any one man put so much of this story together.  In his acknowledgments, the author talks about his many years of research and many days spent walking the actual battlegrounds.  He also accessed interviews and personal accounts and got into the story in time to talk with some of the actual participants.  He was also at Pointe du Hoc in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan gave one of his greatest speeches ever.

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Several points to be made about this book:

The first 400 pages of this book deal with the planning stages for the invasion.  I was horrified by the fact that so many soldiers were killed during training exercises going on all across Britain during 1943 and early 1944.  Many men who “died fighting the Nazis” actually died during mishaps and problems relating to the training drills.  But, if these training drills had not taken place,  the results would have been worse.  Those poor guys are just as much fallen heroes as those who actually made it to the beaches.

The Germans were working furiously to create defensive mechanisms, collectively known as the Atlantic Wall, to repel the invasion.  They were hindered in many ways, ranging from lack of supplies to efforts to sabotage their works.  The beaches of northern France were turned into death zones by the mines, barbed wire, metal obstacles, and other devices.  Topping the high ground were bunkers, machine gun nests, pill boxes, and other concrete fortifications stocked with all manner of weapons.

The role of air power was decisive for the Allies, but the number of times where bombs fell in the wrong places or did not succeed in destroying enemies locations is incredible.  Again, adding to my disbelief, the sheer amount of tonnage dropped on Europe and particularly northern France seems impossible.  (How did people endure the noise of World War II?)

As Caddick-Adams began describing the various encounters during the landing, I found myself wondering how the Allies could possibly have been winning that day.  One of the most enjoyable features of the book is the author’s short accounts of the men themselves.  Thankfully, a number of personal accounts and interviews have been gathered that tell the story from the perspective of the participants.  Repeatedly, the stories are filled with the horrors of seeing people killed and maimed who were standing just inches away.  Some men did heroic acts while disembarking and hitting the beaches, while others cringing and panicking did whatever they could to find safety.  I stand in awe of all.

Caddick-Adams does a good job of reassessing some of the previous accounts and stories and myths about D-Day.  Cornelius Ryan’s book is outstanding, but in a story this big, he missed the mark quite a few times.  Even with 900 pages, Caddick, Adams is still only skimming the surface of this story.

This book is not for the person who wants to just read a good account of D-Day.  Maybe someone watches The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan and they want to learn more.  They should go for some of the other, shorter accounts.  But for the student of World War II, already well briefed on what happened, this book is a great resource, very readable, and filled with much that is unforgettable.

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The Essential Karl Barth

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The Essential Karl Barth: A Reader and Commentary by Keith L. Johnson is published by Baker Publishing Group.

Karl Barth was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century.  He remains one of the more controversial theologians as well.  I have no way of knowing how much influence he still has or will have over the next few decades.  Theology is not my field of specialty.  I watch the high dives while wading in the shallow end of the pool.

I figure that many pastors, teachers, and theology students are not all that different from me in their familiarity with Barth.  We have heard the name.  Often it is resounding in phrases like “Bultmann, Barth, and Brunner.”  Add Tillich to the mix and you have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who either spread wisdom throughout the Christian world or who spread evil.

In my background in very conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles, Barth (and company listed above) were not admired and were seen as the enemy of orthodoxy.  Two of my great theological heroes, Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til (pictured below), both wrote books critiquing…let’s be more blunt…critically condemning Barth’s theology.  These two men, dogmatic as they could be, were not simply off on a rant.  There were elements in Barth’s theology that were not merely different perspectives on truth, but were undermining of the same.

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I must confess that in my life experiences (which have been limited), I don’t recall ever running into a bona fide Barthian.  I don’t recall hearing him quoted either.  That was all true for many years, until one occasion when I was working on a lesson prior to Easter.  I needed a quote from a heretic who denied the resurrection.  I went in search of Barth denial and was struck by the fact that he affirmed it.  I mean a bodily resurrection of Jesus the God/Man and not some mystical sense of “the spirit and teachings of Jesus lives on.”

It was around this same time that I learned that my friend P. Andrew Sandlin, a man who had worked alongside of R. J. Rushdoony, was an admirer of Barth.  And then, the more I searched for the quotes on all subjects, the more I discovered that Barth didn’t just happen to say something true and good every now and then, but he did so often.

Karl Barth wrote a large number of books, many of them quite weighty and lengthy.  He was a dominating theological force both in European and North American circles.  If you go around the theological blocks a time or two, you will encounter quotes, references, critiques, praises, and condemnation of Barth.

I often think (and maybe regret) that I did not pick a particular theologian or Christian thinker to be to focal point of my own reading and study.  Instead, I have flitted from branch to branch, reading a book by this person, a biography of another, and many quotes and references to all the big names in Reformed circles with a few outside those confines.  If I could pick the theologian to study and devote years to trying to master and understand, it would not be Barth.

That is why books like The Essential Karl Barth are so useful and necessary.  I ascribe to the idea that most pastors need to be theologians and scholars.  Books such as The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan address these issues.

Along with the near impossible task of keeping up with the latest theological trends, ideas, and debates, there is the need to be aware of the past teachers and leaders of the Church.  Very certainly, I would put Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, Machen, and a few others before Barth, but I would not leave Barth out.

One of the most helpful and instructive things about The Essential Karl Barth is the work that Keith Johnson put into giving a helpful sketch of Barth’s life and times at the beginning of the book and then giving descriptions and footnotes to the selections he includes.  I am sure that real Barthians will grimace over what is left out, but I find the amount of information helpful.  In other words, sometimes I have no idea what problem or people Barth is writing about, but the notes set the context and explain what is going on.

I know this for certain, Barth is usually labeled as Neo-Orthodox.  Although he called himself Reformed and he fit into the Reformed tradition in some ways, his theology put him at odds with the more strictly and historically Reformed people that I am associated with.  But he was strongly opposed to the theological liberals of his day.  He was not on a mission against American evangelical or fundamentalist thinking; rather, he was going full throttle against those who denied the supernatural God and the Bible.  He believed that Jesus was the God/Man and that He rose from the dead.  He affirmed much that we believe, and his enemies were those that we would oppose.

I remember reading from John Warwick Montgomery an account of him going to hear Barth speak in Chicago.  Montgomery, a very solid Lutheran, opposed Barth’s theology.  But on this occasion, he was in Barth’s corner as he listened to him skewer the theological liberals.

Paperback Preaching in Hitler's Shadow : Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich Book

 

A final point is actually one of my main reasons for being interested in Barth.  He opposed World War I and preached against it.  Then, in the 1930’s, he began speaking out against and criticizing the German Christian movement.  He is often remembered and praised even by his critics for signing the Barmen Resolution.  Alongside other Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul  Schneider, Martin Niemoller, Barth saw the sham of identifying German nationality and culture with Christianity.  Being Swiss, he was able to escape from Germany.  After the war, he labored to restore the crumbled foundations in European Christendom.

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Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James E. Beitler

Seasoned Speech

Simply put, this book is outstanding. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James E. Beitler III is published by IVP Academic.

My first serious encounter with the subject of rhetoric was around 1995 when I attended a classical Christian school conference.  In reality, I first encountered rhetoric when I was an infant, but I am speaking of it as a subject we consciously study.  In college, the first two English courses were titled Rhetoric and Composition, but the term “rhetoric” was never really explained.  That name was a hold-over from the past and it made the course sound much more academic than merely calling it “Writing Class.”

Rhetoric is one of the foundational and defining courses in the classical education world.  Like so much that has happened in that educational revolution and renaissance, it has focused quite a bit on the older, even oldest, treatments of the subject.  Hence, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, (Pseudo-) Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herrinium, and Quintillian’s multiple volumes of rhetoric are the textbooks of many courses being taught to high schoolers.  As much as anything, the use of these books have been educating teachers in the field of rhetoric.  Due to the increased interest in the subject, many books have been discovered or written on the topic in more recent times.  Corbett and Connor’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Richard Weaver’s Rhetoric, Scott Crider’s excellent Office of Assertion, Sister Miriam Joseph’s The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, Douglas and N. D. Wilson’s The Rhetoric Companion, and Fitting Words by James Nance are all among the “must have’s” for the rhetoric teacher of today.

But, let’s be clear about this:  However full your shelf of rhetorical studies may be, it is near empty if you do not have Seasoned Speech.  This book is top notch, fun, challenging, mind-expanding, and inspirational.  Can you read between the lines enough to discern that I love this book?

Yet, one may think that we have narrowed the field of interest to those individuals who teach rhetoric in school.  For Christians, the primary rhetoriticians that we are exposed to are our pastors and teachers in the church.  This book, as asserted by the subtitle, is for the life of the church.  Yes, to the improvement of rhetoric in the academies, in politics, and in the world of secular discourse, but persuasive and powerful speech must be the focus of those who preach, teach, write, and counsel in the broader Christian world.  It is one of the joyful facts that among Reformed people, we believe that no one is convinced apart from a work of the Spirit of God and that it is incumbent upon the speaker to make his or her words winsome, clear, and convincing.

This book approaches the subject by examining the lives and writings of five people who were and are influential Christian thinkers.  One might well question some of the particular doctrinal beliefs of each of the five, but this book is not an ordination exam.  It uses the writers as models for what they did effectively.

The first up on the list is C. S. Lewis.  Lewis is far from a one-dimensional writer.  He is known for his novels, both those directed at younger audiences and those that are more adult-centered.  Many people love his theological writings, especially Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.  Quite a few volumes of his essays have been published, including God in the Dock.  He was also a first-rate literary scholar as seen in such books as Preface to Paradise Lost.

I have quite a few books by Lewis and an equally large number of books about him.  And I don’t consider myself to be a Lewis scholar.

This book, Seasoned Speech, focuses on Lewis as a rhetor.  The aim is to show how Lewis makes the faith winsome in his writings.  The application of this and all the chapters is for others, such as preachers, teachers, and writers, to absorb the same skill.

The second figure in the book is Dorothy Sayers.  She may very well be one of the most neglected Christian thinkers of our time, which neglects many fine Christian thinkers.  A few months back, I read and reviewed The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers.  That review can be found here.

While she paid her electric bill by writing mystery novels, she also wrote some fine theological tracts.  She, too, was a master of communication.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the third subject of the book.  His biography is well known because of his involvement (indirectly) in a plot to kill Adof Hitler.  His books The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together are two of the best Christian books I have ever read.  Yes, I know that Bonhoeffer had some theological oddities, quirks, and false ideas in his overall theology, but he did write and say some things well worth reading–again and again.  The chapter on him highlights some of the best of his ideas.

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I was not as familiar with the details of Desmond Tutu’s life.  I do remember the ordeals of South Africa during the years in which he was a spiritual leader there.  So, this section was nearly all new information, but good reading.

Concerning Marilynne Robinson, I first learned of her just a few years ago.  Two friends, who have no connection with each other, sent me emails recommending her book Gilead.   I read it and liked it, but it took some more reflection upon it before I began sensing how good the book actually is.  Then I read the two other related novels, Home and Lila.  If you are wanting some rip roaring adventure, steer clear of these books, for the action is slow and there is much meditation that takes place in the stories and in the reader’s mind.  But they are a great work, and these three volumes have to be seen as being a unified work, although one could read Gilead without reading the others.

I hope to say more about Robinson after I complete Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialog with Marilynne Robinson, which is also a recent IVP publication.

Balm in Gilead

Back to Seasoned Speech:  This is a not an easy beach read, but it is a very rewarding study.  Whether one tackles all five of its subjects or just one, the book is worth the effort.  It ranks high on my list of really fine books and on my list of books that must be read again.

Seasoned Speech

A. W. Tozer–Three Spiritual Classics

 

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) remains one of the most popular devotional Christian writers of our time.  Moody Press, which has long promoted Tozer’s work, has combined three of his best known works into one fine hardback edition.  Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume contains The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man.  See the website HERE for more details.

A. W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume: The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God's Pursuit of Man

First of all, the well-known Tozer and the many editions of his books means that I am not having to acquaint many readers with him or convince many to read him.  I have, since getting this review book, come across numerous new and used copies of his books and an untold number of quotes. I would venture to say that Tozer ranks second only to Charles Spurgeon in being quotable and quoted.

The key selling point of this publication is that it contains three books and is hardbound.  It is not bulky or hard to navigate.  I read the first book, then the third one, and finally the middle one.  Typically, Tozer’s chapters average ten pages, so it is a great length for morning reading.

Second, I can see why some Christians would not prefer to read Tozer.  He is not theologically rigorous or technical.  If you are wanted to be grounded in systematic, biblical, or dogmatic theology, his books would not satisfy.  Nor is he exegetical, so that if you are wanting insight into the meaning of passages or books of the Bible, his books would not satisfy.  Nor is he polemical, so that if you are wanting to watch theological jousting and combat, his books would not satisfy.  And one might find the gist of his books to not give enough emphasis on church, covenant community, and weekly worship.  Certainly, those of us who love a Kuyperian embracing of every area of life and thought will find Tozer silent on those matters.

Third, but what Tozer does and does well is to focus on the Christian’s devotional and meditative life.  He rarely quotes other writers, but when he does, he is usually quoting more Medieval and mystic writers.  (No, he is not enough close to being Roman Catholic!)  He is not monastic; in fact, he is critical of any attempt to escape the world as some forms of monastic life emphasized.

He seeks to push Christians toward meditative and intense contemplation of God.  I was surprised at his theological accuracy contained in his otherwise layman-centered writings.  It is obvious that Tozer wants the believer to be grounded and well read in the Bible, for his is not a searching of the inner man for peace and wisdom.  But what he abhors is a sense that we can do our religious duties and rites and then close the book and go about our secular lives.

This personal intensity explains why he is quoted so often.  These three volumes could be reformatted into a book titled The Quotable Tozer and little content would have to be sacrificed.

Fourth, I would not have preferred to have read three Tozer books in a row.  I was compelled to do so for the sake of getting this review done.  It is somewhat like rushing through a meal for whatever reason.  But I do need a dose of Tozer here and there.  Yes, the Puritans are stronger.  Yes, Spurgeon has more with and anecdotes.  Yes, J. I. Packer is a more powerful writer.  But none of that detracts from the reminders and the pressing urgency with which Tozer calls on us to seek after God.

Fifth,  I recently read a comment where a friend and theologian referred to Tozer as one of his favorite non-Calvinistic Calvinist writers.  Tozer was careful to sidestep the old Calvinist-Arminian debates.  In my cage-stage years, I would have gnashed my teeth.  But reading him now, I see the sheer beauty of what we call Calvinism in Tozer’s discussion of God’s work in pursuing us, in changing us, in giving us His Holy Spirit.  I figure my non-Calvinist friends would read him and enjoy those parts and others as well.

So, I recommend that you pull one of your neglected Tozer volumes off the shelf.  Read or reread the whole book, or just read a chapter–any chapter.  Even better, buy this book and have the best of his work all bound together.  Maybe you have a Christian friend who just isn’t going to tackle Calvin’s Institutes or Augustine’s City of God.  Here is a gift for them, but get two copies so that you have one as well.

Mustang, Sequel to Shortgrass, by John J. Dwyer

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My friend John Barach is right.  Fiction is read for enjoyment.  As a literature teacher, I spend class time highlighting benefits of reading literary works.  Sometimes, I justify my own reading of spy and espionage novels, murder mysteries, and other times of “escape reading” because the books are well written, or give insights into human nature, or reveal aspects of foreign nations, and so on.  But I like reading for fun.

It is all fun, but some types of books are…funner than others.  (I like using the word funner because it is more fun sounding than more fun.)  Page-turning fiction is fun to read.  I often start the book with a slow pace and read a chapter or a few pages each night, but somewhere around the 50 to 100 page mark of a good book, I start reading more and more.  I don’t stay up all night reading, nor all day.  And I usually am reading a half dozen books at a time.  But the novel on the bed stand is my dessert reading.  And I like dessert in every form.

In January, I read and reviewed Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer.  This is a novel set in Oklahoma during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  It is the story of a young man named Lance Roark and his life struggles, ranging from religious convictions to romance to facing the oncoming war that conflicts with his pacifist religious background. From the moment I finished that book, I was chomping at the bit to read the sequel.

That sequel, Mustang, came out a few months ago, but I saved it for just the right occasion.  That occasion turned out to be mid-to-late July.  I read the book by starting slowly, but as often happens, I found myself more and more drawn in to Lance’s life and struggles.  Consequently, I read increasing numbers of pages until I felt the relief of having finished the book along with the sadness that it was over.

To review a novel is not easy because of the problem of spoilers, so I will focus on some of the themes of these books, with an emphasis on Mustang.

World War II was a great war in terms of the number of places where it took place, the number of countries it involved, the cost in lives and material, and much more.  The bibliography on WWII is simply overwhelming, but one could do no better than to read Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars. It was a war dominated to a large degree by the still evolving air power.  Debates still rage over the effectiveness and the morality of the air war.

Lance Roark falls in love with flying before the war.  After Pearl Harbor, he is a shoe in for the Army Air Corps.  (The Air Force as a separate branch of the military did not exist then.)  He then becomes the lead pilot for a B-17 Flying Fortress.  The array of planes used by the different sides in World War II is amazing, and from a distance, the air war seems to have a certain glamour and panache.  The actual story, from inside the cockpit and from the experiences of the pilots and crews, was anything but glamorous.  The air war was horrible for both those in the sky and on the ground.

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Flak, unbearable cold, enemy fighter planes, and fear were among the factors that made bombing raids so terrible.  I would be curious to know some of Dwyer’s sources for details because the story was unbearably gruesome reading.  That can all be seen as the cost of warfare, but the other factors have to do with the effectiveness or lack of it in the bombing raids.  We would like to think that the Americans bombed military targets with only occasional civilian losses, but that is far from true.

Concerning World War I, J. R. R. Tolkien said, ” By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”  Same just about happened to Lance Roark, and that is not poetic license on the part of the author.

But this is a novel and not a war documentary, so there is an intense human element to the story.  Lance is a Mennonite from his upbringing.  Being such, he and his ancestors and church community had been against fighting.  Although like many who were influenced by pacifism, he choose to go into the service, he never completely gets over his convictions.  Before the war, he had been a friend to and a supporter of Charles Lindberg.  Lindberg’s life went from hero to villian in a short time because of his opposition to the U. S. entering into World War II (prior to Pearl Harbor).  Often forgotten is Lindberg’s service to his country after the war became a fact.

Intertwined in the story are many threads related to the political actions that got us into the war.  Add to that the atrocities that Americans, who were far less brutal than the Nazis, Japanese, or Russians, committed.  War, even when most justified and necessary, is fraught with many evils.

Lance goes through a series of crises with his faith.  You will have to read the books to learn the details, but he was the proverbial “red-blooded American male,” the type that the British described as “over sexed, over paid, and over here.”  Lance ain’t no Elsie Densmore, nor is he Natty Bumpo.

In so many ways, I find myself envious of Lance Roark.  He is a football hero; he is apparantly a heart-throb to many girls; he is brave, faithful, loving, strong; and yet he is a real and believable character.  And he is a Southern, by way of Oklahoma, who in true Southern fashion loves his momma. He is also like Forrest Gump, in that he meets and knows so many people who either are famous or who become famous.  Besides, Lindberg, Lance crosses paths with President Roosevelt, Walter Cronkite, John F. Kennedy, and others.

But I don’t envy what Lance goes through.  I am currently reading a massive book called Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams.  It reinforces and elaborates on many of the details that are found in Mustang.

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When I look at World War II, whether it is in an historical study or in fiction, I simply shake my head in unbelief that mere mortals like me did the amazing, brave, horrible, and incredible things that people did.

When (not if) you read Mustang, you may either want to brush up on your knowledge of the war or have your electronic devices handy so that you can distinguish between Messerschmidts and Mustangs.  And buckle on your flak jacket and helmet.  You are in for a ride.