Through Many Dangers–Faith Under Fire

Through Many Dangers

Through Many Dangers, Book 1 and Through Many Dangers, Book 2 by P. M. Kuiper, illustrated by Paula Barone are published by Reformed Free Publishing Association.

I have read at least 20 novels over the course of my years that are set in and are about the War Between the States, which I will call the Civil War so to not rile my friends who live in the northern wastelands. These novels include classics like The Red Blood of Courage by Stephen Crane, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and my favorite, The Unvanquished by William Faulkner. I have also read quite a few more recent and often less known Civil War novels, such as Fallen Land by Taylor Brown, who is a very gifted current day novelist, and The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks.

Add on to those twenty novels, some of which have been read several times, some 100 plus histories and biographies from the War. I reached a saturation point where I began dreading teaching on the Civil War because I simply could not get through it all. I could easily teach a year-long course and barely have Lee’s army past Second Manassas.

I was quite willing, therefore, when asked to read these two volumes by P. M. Kuiper. This work, because it is really just one story separated into two volumes, is Mr. Kuiper’s first venture into getting a novel published. Now understand, I had a bit of reluctance because the characters in the story are fighting on the Union side. And first novels by previously unpublished writers can sometimes be less that Faulkner-like. (That is an impossibly high bar to set, I know.) Finally, Kuiper’s son-in-law, Marco Barone, is a friend who I admire greatly. The illustrator, Paula Barone, is Marco’s wife and P. M. Kuiper’s daughter. Although Marco wrote a scholarly book titled Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross, I reckon that he has not confined his life and energies to sitting in a library. Meaning, Marco might travel south just to punch me out if I offered a scathing review.

Here is what has happened since I received the books: I came home from the dental surgeon’s office recently after having two back teeth pulled. I laid down on the couch and picked up volume one. It was the perfect book for that day and occasion. I don’t mean that you should only get this book as a medicinal help after dental work. What I do mean is that the book was easy, enjoyable, relaxing, but also spiritually encouraging.

The Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. The story here picks up in August of 1862 with each chapter title bearing a date (month and year) of the war. It is somewhat like a diary in that manner. The characters in the story are from Holland, Michigan and are all part of a close-knit Dutch community. The main character, through whom the story is told, is named Harm van Wyke, a farm boy in his late teens. Most of the other key characters are his buddies from his home town and church.

Here I will digress to say that this story is a beautiful account of the Dutch experience in America. I grew up in the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic South and knew nothing of this from my own upbringing or education. But as I studied Calvinism as theology and as a historical experience in America, I was exposed more and more to the Dutch folk. Of course, some, like Cornelius Van Til and Louis Berkhof, are key figures in Reformed theology.

Some years ago, I did a series of talks in Virginia called “Calvinist Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years” and a related series in Alaska called “Spheres of Reformation,” both of which covered some of the Dutch theologians and philosophical thinkers. Those studies, along with a few friends I acquired with Dutch backgrounds, made me aware of a counter-cultural group within America that strove really hard to maintain Christian community.

While the Dutch experience is interesting for students of history and sociology, it has a greater importance. Long before Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option became a fad or a point of discussion, there were communities already seeking to live out the Christian life and ideals without surrendering the world to the Devil.

Along with the Dutchness of the story, there is the recurring theme of the “Band of Brothers,” made famous in our own times by the book by historian Stephen Ambrose and the film series. Wartime life creates bonds unlike those of perhaps any other human experience. The shared lives, horrors, loves, deaths, fears, joys, and communal living bond men together in ways that we civilian folks cannot understand. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque is just such a story.

Remarque’s book is not one to read for pure pleasure, for it is quite frank and brutal. (And I love that book.) Through Many Dangers is a much better choice for younger readers and for anyone wanting to create an interest in Civil War history or supplement the historical studies.

The boys in the book grow into manhood through a series of trials, temptations, dangers, and moral dilemmas. These guys do not all come out clean. Living among soldiers gave plenty of opportunity to drink, gamble, and womanize. Soldiers curse–a lot. Kuiper spares us the words and details. Anyone who has experienced work crews, sports teams, and almost every facet of non-Christian community knows that foul language is the lingua franca of our times.

There were real dilemmas as well. Soldiers were not always fed and provisioned as they should have been. Foraging was used, commanded, and necessary to feed the armies. Try as an army might, and most didn’t really try, buying and paying for the stored foods and livestock of nearby farms was not going to happen. Soldiers took what was needed, or they starved.

As expected, soldiering involves shooting with the intent to kill. Christians have long agonized and debated on the proper circumstances where this can occur. For the Christian who takes up arms, the matter is no longer under debate. To the surprise of the young Michigan boys, Southern soldiers were also young fellows. Also, to their surprise, their Southern enemies were often brothers in Christ.

Joys in wartime often included letters from home. Harm has a girl that he is sweet on, and their friendship grows through letters. Typical of most soldiers, the most terrible parts of warfare were excluded from the letters, lest the homefolk become too distraught. But deaths could not be hidden.

I could go on with more observations from these books. I read them quickly, not because I was feeling pressure to get reviews written, but because I was caught up in the stories. I would love to teach Through Many Dangers to a class in American history and parallel the events in the story to the battles mentioned. And I would also have the students read my all-time favorite soldier memoir, Company Aytch by Sam Watkins, to get a real soldier’s perspective and a bit of Southern flavor.

I hope Mr. Kuiper lends his hand to writing another novel or two. This was a great beginning. I don’t think any of you who read these two books will be disappointed.

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Blessings of the Faith–Great New Series from P&R

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Theology is a deep and far ranging subject. It has often been called “the Queen of the Sciences,” which is an allusion to the power of the queen as a chess piece. Studying theology can take you into the depths of religious studies, philosophy, history, literary classics, and, hopefully most of all, the Bible.

My heavy laden shelves sag from the great theological books I have acquired through the years. My face blushes when I realize how little use and application I have made of such a great treasure. Nevertheless, I can still hope that I–or someone else–will glean from some of the books, gather huge harvests from some, and provide food for the minds and souls from these books.

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To change the metaphors, diving into theology can be a challenge. But we can all go and enjoy a day at the beach. By that, I mean that this is not a subject only for the highly learned, the academically trained, and the ponderous reader and thinker. Theology is the study of God and everything that pertains to God. Every subject is theological and everyone’s a theologian, as R. C. Sproul’s book reminds us.

I am soon to be finishing a six month venture into reading Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1 by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, which is the first of four projected volumes and is itself over 1100 pages long. I have the second volume and am hoping soon to add the third to the shelves.

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I also have, waiting anxiously, a wonderful copy of W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, which is available in a hefty one volume edition from P & R Publishing. Shedd was one of the stalwart Presbyterian men of the past century whose theology has survived the theological tumults of those times.

Dogmatic Theology, Third Edition

I could go on and on about the weighty, challenging, often affirming, sometimes conflicting works of theologians past and present. Much can be commended by the theological body builders who are dead lifting Turretin, the Puritans, and Thomas Aquinas. Yet there is a need for the gentle cardio exercises as well. Something needs to be said, some commendations need to be made, and some attention needs to be drawn to the short, easily read works of theology.

P & R Publishing has one such series that currently consists of three books that fit the description above. The series is called Blessings of the Faith. I like that title, because people are sometimes a bit intimidated by titles such as Theology of the Faith, Doctrinal Studies of the Faith, and so on. But who can object to blessings?

To add to delight of this series, the books are bound in attractive hardcovers. While hardback prices are often high, these books are quite affordable. In fact, quite a few Christian book dealers have discounts up to fifty percent off. With Christmas just days away, you might need to stop reading my blog and make some orders right now.

Covenantal Baptism

The first book I read from the series is Covenantal Baptism by Jason Helopoulus. In the interest of fairness, the perspective is Reformed, Presbyterian, and paedobaptist. Baptism is controversial, and as strongly paedobaptistic as I am, I don’t recommend slapping your credobaptist friends in the face with this book. I am in the awkward situation of being a Presbyterian who is a member of a church that has Reformed elements mixed with Baptist theology.

This book is not designed to be a Sherman tank for destroying credo-baptist convictions. Contact me if you desire to deal with such weaponry. This book, instead, is a comforting, compelling reminder of the content, convictions, and reasons why many of us believe the way we do. I think that many young people, such as my own infantly baptized children and others who grew up Presbyterian, could really profit from this book.

I remember, with both joy and sadness, the battles I dealt with on reaching my convictions. Do I second guess my theological choices? Occasionally and slightly, but upon reading this book, I am reminded, deepened, and grounded in what I believe. There are many things from my past that I would change if I could. Embracing Covenant Theology and Baptism is not one of them.

I am all for sword sharpening, but again, that is not the gist of this book. It is a teaching tool. And it aptly reminds, convicts, and urges parents to not rest on those few minutes of the child’s past where the family stood at the front of the church and the pastor administered baptism to the baby. We parents have incredibly deep obligations to mirror, teach, lead, direct, pray for, evangelize, and nurture our covenant children.

The last portion of this book, as well as the others in the series, consists of frequently asked questions and answers. I had several moments there where I was discovering answers to questions I had not even asked yet. As with all of this volume, the tone is pastoral and instructive.

Expository Preaching

Expository Preaching is by David Strain.

My first thought about this book was that the target audience was preachers. Having suffered in both the pulpit and the pew, I was interested in reading a defense of this method of preaching. And yes, this is a good book for preachers. And I certainly don’t think it would be wrong to slip it in to a package with a gift certificate to a good restaurant to your non-expository preaching pastor.

But the congregation needs to hear, know about, and understand the nature of expository preaching as much as does the pastor. Quite simply, the issue revolves around whether preaching ought to be located in a topic from which Bible verses are then added or whether one should preach from Bible passages and let the topics emerge from the text. Surely, I have stated this simply which also means somewhat inaccurately.

The strongest defense of topical preaching is the example of Charles H. Spurgeon. I urge all pastors who can preach consistently like Spurgeon to preach topically. (In case you didn’t get the joke: Look in the mirror. Charles Spurgeon will not appear there.)

The Bible is not given as a series of quips, quotes, aphorisms, or object lessons. It is a textually layered book. It is meant to be largely used in long, understandable segments. Imagine a math class (that itself is a frightening image for me) where the teacher randomly just explains bits and pieces of mathematical processes. Imagine a Shakespeare class where varied and sundry Shakespeare quotes are tossed out there.

Why then do we ever attempt to treat the Bible as a jumble in need of a pretty bow to tie it together. Expository preaching, even as the author points out can work on topics, is crucial for the life of the church.

Persistent Prayer

Persistent Prayer is by Guy Richard.

I love it that this series which has some theological issues being discussed has not neglected prayer. I found much to convict and convince me when I read this third volume. And for the person who would not venture into books on baptism and preaching, prayer is certainly the right way to begin.

Thankfully, there are many books on prayer that are available for the Christian to read. Sadly, not one of those books is the magic bullet that will of itself transform the reader into a man or woman of prayer. But prayer is a blessing, a gift, a privilege. Prayer is as easy as it is hard. The believer in the pew is not to run around baptizing all the babies in the nursery or go up and push the preacher aside and start giving an exposition of a passage. But he or she can pray.

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