The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church by David S. Steele

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The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church by David S. Steele was published in 2019 and is available through Amazon.

A few months ago, Dr. David Steele sent me a copy of his latest book The White Flag.  Being the diligent and quick book reviewer that I am, I was able to turn to this past week to read it.

First of all, I think it is good and necessary that pastors write.  David is senior pastor of Christ Fellowship in Everson, Washington.  This is, I believe, his third book, and the other two are on Martin Luther and John Calvin.  Pertaining to the topic sentence of this paragraph, I believe that writing, on the one hand, is a good discipline for pastors.  (I often cringe when I know that teachers assign themes and papers, but never write such things themselves.)  But more than just the discipline and focus that writing entails, it is good for a congregation to have written messages from their pastors and leaders.

Preachers are, whether they wish to acclaim the title or not, public theologians.  So, their writings need to address both doctrinal positions of their church, but also the greater cultural issues swirling around and affecting the minds of people both in and out of the congregation.  Also, written articles, newsletters, and, even better, books by the pastors enable the congregation to share, evangelize, and edify those they come in contact with.

Second, David has addressed some vital topics here in this book.  Scrolling through Facebook (with both the good and bad benefits of such), I am constantly made aware of heretical preachers, misleading theological deviations, denominational fights, and, in short, surrenders to the wrongful ideas that are battering the walls of the church.

The history of Christianity is a history of all too many surrenders.  As a student of history, I have read many accounts of armies surrendering.  Some surrenders were long overdue, but what is painful to read about is where an army surrenders unnecessarily.  (I am thinking here of the British surrender at Singapore in 1942.)  In contrast to the debatable historical examples, the church need never surrender its claims before the threats it faces.

The dangers can be put into two categories:  Outward dangers and Inward dangers.  The Outward dangers are probably the easiest to confront and are the least likely for the church to embrace.  In recent years, there has been a resurgence of atheism with several key figures who are the public apologists for such positions.  In my youth, that role of public atheist was carried on by Madelyn Murray O’Hair, who was something of an obnoxious buffoon. The big names today are more formidable.

The idea of a church surrendering to atheism is absurd.  (That doesn’t mean that it may not have happened in some case or another.)  Even the far from Fundamentalist or Evangelical churches in your community are not likely to hire an atheist pastor.  In past decades, most of Christendom was pretty firmly against the then-present threats of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism.  There were compromises, sell-outs, surrenders, etc., but it would not be expected that a church today would tolerate swastika or hammer and sickle symbols in their presence.  And thankfully, even in some of the whitest of Southern churches, the KKK is not welcome.

These outward threats, which must still be identified and confronted, do not constitute the greatest dangers.  Don’t look, in other words, over the wall of protection at the raging worldlings out there.  As the old Pogo cartoon character said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The key word in understanding what Dr. Steele addresses is compromise.  The middle and largest section of the book examines compromises.  No, neither your church nor mine will tolerate an atheist, Communist, Nazi, Mafia don, KKK member, or whatever else, but we are all susceptible to compromising what we believe, what the Scriptures teach, and what churches have historically affirmed.

I recognize that finding a balance is sometimes tricky.  Maybe some issues would be easier to confront if we just adopted a full-fledged Amish approach and cut off the world and most modern gadgets.  While I admire much in such separatist and pietistic efforts, I don’t think such an approach is reasonable or Biblical.  On the other extreme would be an antinomian embrace of “Christian liberty” where “all things are lawful” (wrenched out of context) and we get to enjoy “all this and heaven too.”  That would also allow for a libertarian Christianity that boldly proclaims in creed:  Whatever!

The solution is embarrassingly simple.  Adhere to the historic, creedal doctrines of what the Bible is, who God is, what Christ is, what faith is, and how we should then live and worship.  Yes, we will have some brush-ups and spats between ourselves and others.  Dr. Steele is a Baptist, while I am a Presbyterian. We can have a water fight at some point, but there are just too many clear and agreed upon doctrinal immovables for the two of us, and for Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Reformed, Protestant, and creed affirming Christians to join together on.

Finally, I found myself thinking, while reading this book, that I may not tend to raise the white flag of surrender, but I am all too willing to seek detente.  That term, going back to the 1980s, refers to mutual coexistence.  On the one hand, I don’t want to fall into the mean-spiritedness that Christian convictions can wrongly cause us to embrace.  I want to have friends and connections with people on the other side of issues.  I wish every solid standing Christian could have a friendly relationship with at least one atheist, Muslim, LGBTQ person, and a dozen varieties of heretics.  How else can we share the Gospel with them?

But I don’t want to reach the point of affirming to myself that my friend X is Y, but I can accept that because of Z.  We recently watched the movie made about the life of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist, whose life was overwhelmingly difficult because of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  There were many wonderful things included in this movie about this man, including his lifelong atheism.  I can’t give him a free pass because of his rejection of even a mere belief in theism.  Nor can I overlook the soul killing heresies or unbelief or wrongful lifestyle choices of people around me.  Compromise does not just lead to surrender:  compromise is surrender.

David Steele’s book contains some vital reminders for us.  It is as timely as the daily news, but its message is far more lasting.

Novels for the Times of Confinement

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I am not sure which is worse:  The person who never reads fiction or the person who only reads fiction.  I will, for the present, make a slight distinction between the fictional reads I am recommending below and the books of old that are the affirmed classics in the canon of Great Literature.

While we are all quarantined, or better put, given some extra reading opportunities, I would like to suggest some ten works of fiction.  In true Ben House fashion, I slip in a few extras.  Most of the authors whose books I am touting have written other books I like as well.  Consider it all an endorsement of not just the books below, but the corpus of works of the writers named.  I have mostly confined myself to very current works by living authors.  The one exception is Albert Camus, number 10, who is included for reasons explained below.

These works are what are often seen as middle-brow literature.  I think that means that these books are quite enjoyable and so may not reach the level of the great books of all time.  But they are not passing fancies either.  I have excluded two of my favorite authors, Daniel Silva and C. J. Box.  I have read many books (as in nearly everything written) by them, but their works are more in the spy novel, murder mystery, current best selling fiction niche.  Read them, but recognize that you are better off starting the Gabriel Allon series or the Joe Pickett series from the beginning.  I didn’t do that, so it is not necessary, but helpful.

Nor did I include the usual roundup of Christian favorites, which usually means the works of Tolkien and Lewis.  The case has been made for them time and time again.  This is a list of 10 books, not 500, so make your own list if you wish.  Speaking of your own list, I got my idea of this from my friend Andrew Sandlin.  Andrew is a serious theological and cultural scholar, but he enjoys some good reads in fiction.  His listing can be found HERE.  By the way, I have not read a single one of the books on his list, but will take the listing under serious advisement.

Here goes


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  1.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  And, the sequels are good as well:  Home and Lila.  I loved this book and the two accompanying books.  Marilynne Robinson should win the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Her overall perspective is built on a Reformed theological perspective.  No, she does not dot every i or cross every t that we truly Reformed would prefer.  Not any fast action here, but deep, meditative, moving soulful narratives.

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2.  Ancient Highway by Bret Lott.  Mr. Lott is one of the very good novelists of our time who is also a Christian.  This book was my first reading from his works, but since that time I have tried to buy and read everything I can find by him.  I also recommend his books Jewell and A Song I Knew by Heart.  Or if you want a bit of murder and mayhem, then The Hunt Club and Dead Low Tide.  I anxiously await the next Bret Lott novel.  His books on writing are also first rate.  If you want some sweet syrup of Christian devotional fiction, look elsewhere.  If you want a rich, unforgettable story of human struggles with the element of faith, read Lott.

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3.  Peace Like a River by Lief Enger.  His most recent book Virgil Wander was also quite good.  In between those two, I read So Brave, Young, and Handsome, which was worthwhile and enjoyable.  I picked up my copy of Peace Like a River in a Goodwill.  I thought it was a western.  One Friday night, I was up late with a toothache, I think.  I started reading this incredible novel that night.  I am certain I raced through it.  Great work by another novelist with a Christian perspective.

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4.  Shortgrass and Mustang by John Dwyer were favorite books of mine last year.  I really hope that John can add some more chapters to the story of Lance Roark in a future volume or two.  John, who I can call by his first name since he is a friend, has mostly been working on books on Oklahoma history in recent years.  But he did these two novels also.  I was nearly in tears at the end of the first one, and the second one put me through ever emotion possible.  John’s books are forthrightly Christian, but they are not safe reading.  Mustang, after all, is set in the midst of the air war of World War II.  The conflicts of war take place right alongside of the conflicts of faith and life that Lance Roark struggles with.

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5.  Fallen Land by Taylor Brown.  I found and gambled a whole buck on buying this unknown novel by an unknown author.  I was drawn to it because it was set in the War Between the States.  This is a really enjoyable and gripping story.  I am looking forward to reading more of Brown’s novels.  This is one of a couple of dozen books I have read, ranging from the famous to the obscure, that are set during the War Between the States/Civil War.  Getting dialog and details fashioned so as to be believable is difficult for such books.  This one succeeds and has a gripping story to boot.  I have purchased another book by Taylor Brown, who is way too young, and hope to read more and more of this promising author.

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6.  The French Lieutenant’s Woman  by  John Fowles.  I picked up a nice copy of this older novel in one of those neighborhood library boxes that was next door to Eudora Welty’s house in Jackson, Mississippi.  This book, and number 10, are both older works.  While this story appears to be a late Victorian novel, it is full of curve balls.  Unusual.  Creative. Incredibly funny at moments.  Unstoppable.

2-Book bundle-THE RESISTANCE & companion volume WAR IN THE WASTELAND

7.  War in the Wasteland and Resistance by Douglas Bond.  Douglas is another friend.  He has written a whole shelf of fictional reads featuring famous Christians or Christians in historical settings.  Many of his books are geared more for younger audiences, but are still enjoyable for adults.  I enjoyed teaching and reading his book Hostage Lands, which I used in a junior high geography class.  These two books are set in the World Wars.  Good stories, enjoyable reads.  Douglas doesn’t get the reader grimy and soiled by too brutal a display of war or of war-time talk, but he maintains a tone that is clean without being stilted.

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8.  Summer of My German Soldier by  Bette Green.  I bought this novel for my daughters, but neither was drawn into reading it.  I was about to give it away, but started reading it instead.  I had watched the movie version of it many years ago.  I think this book might be classified as teen-age fiction, and I would love to use it in either a junior high or high school class.  But it is not juvenile.  The story is immensely moving and well told.  And it takes place here in my state of Arkansas.  This story is built around three displaced people:  A young Jewish girl whose father is neglectful, the African-American maid who proudly defends the girl, and a German POW.

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9.  A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  Possibly the best novel I have read in years.  His other book, A Matter of Civility, was quite good as well.  Amor Towles is probably the most gifted sentence craftsman I have read in a while.  And the story here is compelling.  This book is rich, very rich.

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10.  The Plague by Albert Camus.  My first experience reading Albert Camus was The Stranger.  I found it disturbing.  Since that time, I have read a few other things by and about him.  He was a French existentialist and a Nobel Prize winner.  He received the Nobel Prize at a relatively young age and was killed a few years later.  His writings and musings are often dark and troubling.  But his vision into the abyss of life in this world and the human heart are powerful.  I hope he became a believer, and after reading Camus and the Minister by Howard Mumma, I have some hope for that.  He certainly seemed to be a man in search of something, which we know can only be fulfilled by God.

The inclusion of The Plague is its relevance to our own circumstances.  The book concerns reactions to a plague in a North African town.  Very much a book that deals with psychology and philosophy within the parameters of a well told story.

As stated above, there are always more books to list.  Feel free to add your own suggestions, along with making your own list that is posted on a blog or your Facebook page.  I hope to highlight some books in the near future by other friends.  Remy Wilkins’s The Strays must get some attention before he becomes too famous.  Rick Skowronski wrote a fun novel a few years back, and the world awaits the sequel.  Martin Selbrede did the only novel that I know of that combines some unusual ideas of physics with references to Cornelius Van Til.  My own novel awaits revision and publication.

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God Sings by Douglas Bond and Sing! by the Gettys

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The term often used is “worship wars.”  Along with a hundred thousand other doctrines, practices, and preferences that divide Christians, we are prone to take up the sword and shield against, not our many enemies comprising the world, the flesh, and the devil, but each other.  The Church today not only cannot unite on many doctrinal fronts, but it cannot unite over who is going to lead the music and what music it is that is being led.

I don’t want to sound like I am minimizing the implications of the war for the keyboards and soundboards.  Important doctrines and actions are at stake here.  In the worst cases, we must love the singer, but hate the song.  Much singing and music should create as a collateral grace, amazing patience.  Flannery O’Connor tells in a letter of a man who was converted after attending church with his wife for years.  “The preaching was so bad,” he said, “That I concluded that there must be something important to all of this to cause people to keep coming.”  Maybe the same can be true of music.

I admit that I don’t want to wade into the worship wars battlefield.  I have fought with the brethren over Calvinism, baptism, the eldership, tongues, theonomy, weekly communion, congregational rule, charismatic gifts, church discipline, the application of Old Testament laws, the Sabbath, the role of women in the church, and more.  On some of these issues, I know I have been right at some point because I have been on both sides of the arguments at some point.  And I have not successfully avoided the sharp points of spears and barbs in fights over music.

But I would like to cross by on the other side of the road while the wounded musician lies there, beaten and robbed of his lyrics.  I will hope for a Samaritan heading to Brentwood, Tennessee will do what I don’t want to do.  Call me war weary, if you like, or maybe just a passive coward, if you prefer.  I confess that I really don’t know what to do to change music in the Sunday morning hour where we are all united in our being divided.

So, as a partial concession to the need to engage, I will comment on two excellent books on the music issue.  Read carefully, lest my tongue-in-cheek comments be taken for serious reflections and my serious reflections be taken for veiled attempts to rival the Babylon Bee.

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God Sings! (And Ways We Think He Ought To) by Douglas Bond is published by Scriptorium Press.  Check out Mr. Bond’s website (click HERE)   where you can either order two copies of this book, or get the book along with a free CD called Rise and Worship, containing hymns he has written.

Douglas Bond is best known for his cottage industry that produces Christian historical fiction.  While many of his books are geared toward younger readers, they are enjoyable for readers of all ages.  His novels War in the Wasteland (set in World War I) and The Resistance (set in World War II) are recent works of his that I have read, enjoyed, and reviewed in the past year.  His book Hostage Lands, set in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall, is a delightful book my junior high class and I read together.  It was that reading experience that cause me and Douglas to “Bond” as reader and writer.  (Yes, I know that was awful.)

But Bond is not stranger to the subject of music.  He has written biographies of John Knox and Isaac Watts, both being part of the “Long Line of Godly Men” series published by Ligonier Ministries. (Outstanding series, by the way.)  Moreover, anyone who has been a Christian for a long time and has had the occasion to sit in a variety of Christian worship services and conferences acquires a wide range of experiences with music.  Although music often is done almost as the opening act to a sermon or lecture, it is, upon reflection, more than that.  It is not merely an appetizer before the main course of a meal.

Side note:  We have attended services where the music part was referred to as “the worship” while the preaching that followed was…well, I am not sure what.  We are worshiping while we sit under the preaching of God’s Word as much or more so as when we are singing or listening to singing.

Bond suffers from the same possible tendency as I do:  Grouchy old man syndrome.  I am a bit older than he is, but his hair is totally white!  It is easy to write off the old, curmudgeonly Calvinist who is against everything except for some sparse, cold, doctrinally obtuse worship service.  So, one picking up his book and giving it the quick glance might conclude:  Here is another old man who is railing against the very thing we need to draw the young, unchurched into our churches.

I assure you that the description above is not who Douglas Bond is or what he seeks in his book.  (Whether it describes me or not is a different story.)  God sings.  Read Zephaniah 3:17.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Music is essential to sound worship.  Musical lyrics are doctrinal.  Music teaches, which means that it can build up or lead astray.

I have experienced both the unsingable, overly long, ancient church hymns that leave me cold and the loud, overly repetitious, shallow, syrupy creations that pass for music today.  All old and staid or all new and hip are not the choices.  But we do need to be singing doctrinal truths that are well written, learn-able and teachable, singable and delightful.  As Douglas Bond points out in example after example, such hymns have already been written in the past and they are still being written in the present.

God Sings! is good, convicting, and convincing.  Everyone on the church staff needs to read and discuss it.

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I picked up a copy of Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty a month or so ago at my son Nick’s house.  I took it home with me to finish reading it.  Nick said, “It looks like one of those coffee table books.”  By that he meant the type of Christian fluff that has large print, double to triple spacing, with little text and even less content.  I agree, for I did not expect to find much beyond a bit of light topping in the contents.

However, this book is a solid study–yet very readable–that is calling the Church to do something radical: Sing!  I have experienced (even with limited travels) too many cases where there is a loud performance group (called the Worship Team), plugged in instruments, words flashed on a screen, and a soundbooth working overtime to mic the singers, but only the tiniest of sound coming from the congregation.  I have watched my wife and children, all trained musicians, stop even trying to sing the randomized melodies of the shallow songs.  I myself refuse to go along with the “repeat 20 times” of a song.  I abhor the moment when the oft sung refrain is sung yet one more time quietly for some emotional effect.

But even as hard hearted as I can be, I am always moved when I hear and feel the surge of volume coming from a congregation singing the hymns.  Sometimes the effect is from the large size of the congregations (where I am visiting), but usually it is the participatory engagement rather than the numbers that affect the songs.

Read both of these books.  Distribute copies of them if you are able.  Pray for a revival of congregational singing of solid hymns old and new and yet to be written.

Post Script:  Incremental steps are often good.

  1.  Turn down the volume of the mics on the singers up front and turn way down the volume of the instruments.  (I am not talking to first rate pipe organ players!)
  2.   Introduce and learn a solid hymn or two.
  3. Be patient with enduring old favorites that are weak (like “The Old Rugged Cross”) or new favorites that are shallow (“Bless the Lord O My Soul”).
  4. Teach on the importance of good hymnody.
  5. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a U2-type concert will grow your church into stalwart Reformed soldiers.
  6. Allow songs to convey their messages.  Songs dealing with sin and the death of Christ don’t need to be set to dancing jig tunes.