“What a Piece of Work is a Man”–Studies in Theological Anthropology

 

 

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

Psalm 8:4-6

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act 2, Scene 2

Truly the study of humans is among the most profound, deep, enriching, challenging, and worthwhile pursuits.  Most of us in our professional lives as well as our day to day living are continually studying both ourselves and others. At every stage in life and family, the topic is renewed and expanded and the perspective is widened.  Marriage changes our understanding drastically.  Children expand that understanding in even more ways.  Self-reflection involves a series of affirmations or denials that all contribute to the topic.

The term “Theology” means the “study of God.”  Much of theological study involves in depth examination of Scripture and historical theological developments regarding who God is.  But in the broader sense, we use the word theology to refer to a series of studies that include not only God Himself, but the created order.  Highest in that order is man, meaning in the older sense, mankind or people.  The beautiful opening line of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion says, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’

I have recently been blessed by the challenge of working through three outstanding studies on the doctrine and nature of human anthropology.  First of all, I recommend all three books highly. They are not repetitions of one another, but the contents complement one another.  I did not set out to read these three books in an academic quest for studying humanness.  My reading plan is far too haphazard to be the result of a logic on my part.  But it has happened to me, and I could wish it to happen to others.

Reenchanting HumanityA Theology of Mankind

Reenhanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan is published by Mentor, which is an imprint of Christian Focus Publications.

This book is very basic, sound, and suited for regular readers, laymen, high school students, and perhaps college students in their first couple of years.  Topics include creation, fall, and redemption, as expected, but also particular subjects including work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice.  Each of those latter topics are hot spots in modern discussions.  Obviously, there are a wide range of views and speculations on these issues, but that does not mean that there are not basic and foundational truths to start with.  Strachan neither skirts the controversial issues nor does he waver from having a solid and traditional Biblical defense.

Some friends criticized this book as being a bit shallow.  Well, maybe.  But that depends on who the audience is.  I found the book to be both informative and spiritually moving.  In other words, theology and devotional reading met and ministered to me as the reader.  And there is always the need for good statements of basic truths and teachings.

This is a book that I would love to teach to a high school group or a Sunday school class.  At the same time, it was a very enjoyable morning read.

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck is published by Baker and is the first of three volumes.

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Herman Bavinck is currently a rock star among Reformed readers.  His books are being published, republished, translated, discussed, and promoted with unwavering zeal.  Now, along with the books by Bavinck, there are a number of studies appearing where scholars are analyzing and discussing him.  While he was never completely disregarded in the Reformed world, the degree of attention he is now getting is amazing.  I have previously posted a discussion of him and some of the many books that are now available.  I am currently reading off and on from The Wonderful Works of God, and it may well be the best Bavinck book to start with.

Bavinck is weighty and scholarly, but not impossible to read.  All he calls for is a bit of patience, a reasonably slow pace, strong hot coffee, and a mind ready for work. This first volume is…no surprise here…on ethics.  But such a topic so overlaps the study of man, mankind, humanity, people-persons that it is worthy to be used alongside the other two books listed here.

Any study of anthropology from Christian foundations has to examine what we were created to be like, how that changed due to the Fall, and how that has changed again due to redemption.  This is not ivory tower philosophy or dry-as-dust theology.  These matters are the nuts and bolts of Christian life and thought.  From here, one gets an understanding that should emanate from the pulpit, define the Humanities, impact the social order, and permeate every area of life and thought.

As my previous post indicates, one ventures here not just in reading some old dead Dutchman named Herman Bavinck, but in “Scaling Mount Bavinck.”

An Introduction to Theological Anthropology:  Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine by Joshua R. Farris is published by Baker. Academic.

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When I first received my review copy of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology, I began second guessing myself for requesting it.  I really try to avoid asking for review copies of books that I think I will find too shallow, too technical, or disagreeable.  I thought this book would be way over my head, far above my reading ability, too deeply theological for my tastes, and too unfamiliar as a topic.

I was right.  And I am loving this book.  Yes, at times my comprehension of the discussion falls to a flat zero while Dr. Farris buzzes right on along tossing out terms and views that I know nothing of.  Some mornings, the caffeine in the coffee cannot quite energize me to the level of the book.  But so often, I have found myself very moved in the heart and challenged in the mind to think on topics that have never resonated quite this way before.

One of the saddest parts (and don’t bother to mourn for me) of being a book reviewer is that there is a drive to finish and post a few comments.  But this is a book that a reader needs to go through from start to finish, and then start over again with a pen and paper in hand.  Or he or she needs a group to study with.  Or maybe, one should just pay Dr. Farris to give lectures and reading assignments from the book.

One of my recurring thoughts on this book is about how vital this topic would be not just to a trained or aspiring theologian, but to a trained or aspiring student of philosophy.  I have spoken, as an outsider, about the need for, the growth of, the advance of Christians in philosophy and Christian approaches to philosophy.  And humans are central to our study of philosophy.  One thing that has dawned more slowly on me is that it is not just theologians and philosophers who should study “Humans, both creaturely and divine,” but also historians, literary scholars, psychiatrists, teachers, business people, and everyone else whose lives touch humanity.

What about preachers?  One of the questions I keep asking while reading this book is the old saying, “Will this preach?”  I don’t think, on the one hand, that many preachers will be stealing long passages from this book to incorporate into their sermons.  But the book’s discussion of the Incarnation worked me over.  I would not dare read those portions on the morning before giving an Advent sermon.  If I did read them at that point, I would not step into the pulpit.  But I would read and reread and think on these passages in my own study, which should be filled with sermons directed to my own mind and heart.

This is rich stuff. I have no doubt that some scholars and students more familiar with the sources cited and the topics addressed will have some fascinating tug of wars with this book.  “Farris did not adequately address such and such.”  “His treatment of this or that did not reflect a proper understanding of the whatever position.”  That is fine, for that is the world of some people, and such clashes of iron sharpens the clashed against iron.  But that is not my world.

For me, this book is once a again a work that impacts both head knowledge and heart direction.

Great books–all three.  Certainly, different strokes for different folks.  All three are evidences of God’s abundant blessings via the publishing world for us today.

 

 

 

Humanities Readings from Veritas Academy–RIP

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Humanities Course

Key Topics Studied

Representative Authors or Sources

Ancient, Classical, & Biblical World

Greek and Roman Heritage, along with Old and New Testament Bible History and Literature

The Bible

Homer—The Iliad & The Odyssey

Virgil –Georgics & The Aeneid

Aristotle— Politics

Plato—The Republic

Greek Dramatists—tragedies & comedies

Herodotus—The Histories

Edith Hamilton–Mythology

Ernle Bradford—Thermopylae & Hannibal

Christendom:

Early Church, Medieval, & Renaissance World

European History from the Fall of the Roman Empire through the Renaissance;

The growth and development of the Early Church; the Middle Ages; the Age of the Renaissance

St. Augustine—City of God

Bede—Ecclesiastical History of the English Church

Beowulf

Eusebius—Church History

Chaucer—Canterbury Tales

Dante—The Divine Comedy

Thomas Mallory—L’Morte d’Arthur

Boethius—Consolation of Philosophy

Shakespeare—Selected plays and poems

Barbara Tuchman—A Distant Mirror

Reformation & Revolution: The Modern World: The Reformation To the Present

The Protestant Reformation;

Exploration and Colonization;

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution;

Industrial Revolution;

Modern Wars;

Theological Wars

Martin Luther—Bondage of the Will

John Calvin—Institutes

Jane Austen—Pride and Prejudice

Charles Dickens—A Tale of Two Cities

Victor Hugo—Les Miserables

Fyodor Dostoevsky—selected novels

Charles Darwin-On the Origin of Species

Francis Schaeffer-How Should We Then Live?

The American Story:

The United States in history, literature, and cultural development

An historical, cultural and literary survey of America; the ideas, theologies, books, and people who impacted the United States’ rise from colonies to the leading world power

The Puritans—selections

Mark Twain—Huck Finn

James Fenimore Cooper-The Last of the Mohicans

Nathaniel Hawthorne-The Scarlet Letter

Herman Melville—Moby Dick

Founding Fathers—speeches & writings

The Federalist Papers

William Faulkner—The Unvanquished

Fitzgerald & Hemingway—Selected Novels

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Reformed Theology Takes Hold in Texarkana circa 1960

In 1960, R. C. Sproul was still in college.  He had not yet encountered John Gerstner who would Calvinize his thinking.  John Piper was a teenager at Wade Hampton High School in South Carolina.  John MacArthur was a young Arminian, following in his father’s Wesleyan footsteps, who was transferring from Bob Jones University to Los Angeles Pacific College.  Tim Keller was an elementary school student.  John Frame was a seminary student.

There was no Gospel Coalition.  No PCA existed, while the OPC was a small group. No Founders Movement in the SBC.  Few people who identified as Anglicans in the Reformed tradition.  No internet trove of resources.  Few leaders who adhered to creation, inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and certainly not the Canons of Dordt.

Reprints could be found of old works of Arthur Pink and Charles H. Spurgeon.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known mostly in the British Isles.  Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd (still living at that time) were mostly confined to Dutch theological students.  Banner of Truth was just in its third year in the U. K.  Westminster Theological Seminary was a small operation that employed rather little known teachers named Murray, Van Til, Stonehouse, and Wooley.

These were what I have termed in various writings and talks “The Calvinist Wilderness Years.”  The declining fortunes of Calvinism had resulted in a loss of Calvinistic theology in Presbyterian, Reformed, Baptist, and Anglican circles.  Theological liberalism, the Higher Critical Movement, and Darwinian Naturalism had waged war against historic Christian theology in the latter decades of the 19th and the early decades of the 20th centuries.  The responses to theological deviations came from two radically different sources.  One was Neo-Orthodoxy and the profound, but not historically compatible, teaching of such men as Karl Barth or Emil Brunner.  The other more widespread response in the United States was the Fundamentalist Movement.

Rarely found from the fall of Princeton Theological Seminary to the 1980s were solidly Reformed, worldview thinking, culture driven Calvinist thinkers and movers and shakers.  Rarely found, but still in seed form and small plants, the future harvest of Calvinism could be found as I have indicated in my works called Calvinist Worldview Thinkers: The Wilderness Years.

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Here and there, a remnant was out there preaching and teaching the historic doctrines that echoed the lessons from Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, J. Gresham Machen, and others.  In the 1950s, a row broke out at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  Some students were talking on campus about something called “the Doctrines of Grace” or “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  The young men who were there with plans of becoming preachers who then embraced historic Calvinism realized that their futures in Baptist churches in the south were dismal at best.  What was needed was another field to work in where they would not be dependent on church support.

Henry Wood was a negligent and careless student during his first year of college.  Running up and down the halls with a water gun, he was failing or nearly failing his courses.  He was a tall, lanky young Christian man with a baritone singing voice of amazing tone who was going to be a preacher.  Raised in a faithful Christian home, he was called of God to his way of thinking, so he went to Ouachita Baptist College. Little did he know that God who purposes the times and events intended much more than for Henry to just sing in a quartet and get a Bible degree.

In short, Henry got a glimpse of God in His Sovereignty.  He fought the doctrines tooth and nail, but like all who battle against God, Henry was subdued.  He wasn’t brought kicking and screaming into Calvinism, to use C. S. Lewis’s description of his own conversion, but he did kick and scream (as I did many years later) until he was amazingly changed.

In 1960,  after a few years of teaching in a high school and some time spent in seminary and then on to graduate school in history, Henry and his wife Melba Wood arrived in Texarkana, a border city on the Texas and Arkansas border.  Henry had been hired as a history teacher at Texarkana College.

It was 1974 when I was first sitting in his classroom at the front of a row with a notebook opened and ready to take notes.  I had previously taken a CLEP test that granted me credit for both semesters of American history.  But God had ordained that Texarkana College would still require that a student take one semester of American history.  I entered the classroom with the slightly cocky feeling that I already knew American history.

A few minutes into Mr. Wood’s stentorian lecture he used the word “Weltanschauung.”  That is a still obscure German word meaning “world and life view.”  I did not totally realize it at the moment, but that first powerful right hook from Professor Wood had put me on the mat.

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Luke Campbell, my favorite boxer, seen here delivering a punch. I am not actually a boxing fan, but I find Luke to be a talented athlete and family man.

By 1974, the lecture notes Henry had developed through years of reading and delivering his talks were in top form.  I found myself trying to write every word, every anecdote, book reference, humorous aside that he mentioned.  I was in a continual mental whirl in his classroom.

Through the next couple of years, I read several of the books that Henry assigned in his classes:  John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits and A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer,  This Independent Republic and Freud by R. J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the Problem of Origins by Philip E. Hughes,  Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen, and Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.  Then after he gave me a sale sheet from a place called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, I ordered a book called Studies in Theology by Loraine Boettner.  My mother saw me reading it and asked, “Are you changing your major?”  I was a history major, English minor, and No, I was not changing my major, but still my major and minor and everything else was changing.

I have referred to The University Without a Campus.  That university did not have a campus at Texarkana College, but it had a chair.  Henry should have been designated the John Calvin Professor of American History and Western Civilization Studies.  The research library for those studies existed in his home on Main Street on heavy laden bookshelves weighed down with theological and historical resources.  There was no other such collection of books in Texarkana or probably anywhere in a hundred or two hundred mile radius.

Distilled in his notes were the thoughts of the Princeton theologians, Gordon Clark, R. J. Rushdoony, Gregg Singer, and others.  While Henry admired Cornelius Van Til and Herman Dooyeweerd (and owned works by them), he was not drawn into the intramural debates between Clarkians and Van Tillians or the Amsterdam philosophy, as far as I could tell.  He had also read deeply and widely in the leaders in the emerging conservative movement, and this involved his reading of William F. Buckley, M. Stanton Evans, and others.  Among his labors, Henry had worked for the futile Goldwater Campaign in 1964.  He remains a Republican voter and political conservative, but he always found the Republican Party to be a small stepping stone on the path to the wider Reformed worldview.

Many students took Henry Wood’s history classes.  Many students grumbled about his style, his lectures, his religion, and his academic standards.  They were losers.  Others enjoyed getting good solid teaching.  Some appreciated that he was conservative, or scholarly, or Christian.  A few of us embraced the whole package.

It would be the mid-to-late 1970s before Henry and others were able to start what has been an abiding Reformed Baptist church in Texarkana.  At the time, Texarkana had no local churches that shared its theology–either of Baptist or Presbyterian variety.  It was a pioneering work, a lonely work, and a battle against all manner of odds.

Now, there are far more churches, pastors, and individual Christians who are committed to Reformed theology or who have at least borrowed heavily from it.  And there are those who have embraced the world and life view that  Reformed theology contains.  Henry and Melba Wood are moving to North Carolina to be closer to their children and grandchildren.  Henry allowed me to recklessly plunder his library and to get books I had long coveted.  He just sat there and commented on this book or that while I was building stack after stack of books.

Several times in the past, Henry gave a series of lectures for the Sunday School hour on the history of Christianity in America.  This was prime material.  I heard portions of the series several times.  I hope that a quality set of recordings exist.  An era is coming to an end and a great mission has been accomplished.

Return of the Strong Gods and The Virtue of Nationalism

 

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In Greek mythology, Proteus was quite the character.  You could get the truth from him, but only if you could catch and hold on to him.  Not hard to do, except for the fact that he could morph from one being to another.  He might be found looking like a seal, sunning on a rock in the sea, but when you tried to catch him, he could turn into a fish and swim away or into a bird or fly away.

In politics, words are often like that.  Get a good grasp on a word and the next thing you know, it changes.  Liberal has one meaning today and in the United States, but the word had different meanings in the past or in the European experience.  The same goes for conservative.  So, is a person who wants to abolish an absolute monarchy and establish a republic the liberal or conservative?  Depends on who you read or how you define the terms. Liberal, conservative, democracy, republic, libertarian, legal, illegal, protests, revolutions, reforms, federalism, and other terms demands a context and an explanation.  Phrases are the same.  “Public servants”  is a great term, as is “statesmen,” but “politicians” has negative connotations.  In rhetoric classes, we often begin by pointing out the proper and the less accurate ways of defining the term “rhetoric.”

This brings us to the term Nationalism.  In the studies of American history, there is a period of time somewhat after the Founding Era and the Federalist Era that is often called the Nationalist Era or Period.  It is set in contrast to Sectionalism, which of course hurls the nation onto the fate of civil war and disunion.  Like all terms and labels, this moniker is both helpful and a bit of a stretch.  Sectionalism can be found in not only our nation’s origins, but in the colonial period.  Likewise, nationalism was a concept that goes back at least to the times when Benjamin Franklin and others were calling for colonial unity.

In the study of European history, nationalist periods are those times when the nation-states that came to dominate Europe developed as separate nations, usually under absolute monarchs.  Then in time, these “nations” had their own internal nations that were subjected to rule by the larger powers.  What we call France and Spain are actually hegemonies of groups within those recognizable boundaries.  Germany and Italy are a bit easier to understand because neither existed as nation states until 1870.

Nationalism was often cited as a cause of World War I.  Austria-Hungary to a large extent was an empire that corralled several nations under a ruling Hapsburg monarchy.  The breakup of that polyglot was one of the results of World War I.  Thus a number of new nations emerged in that age of nationalism.  In the years that followed, the more positive connotations of nationalism turned dark and bleak as leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, and others incited their nations to a more intense, dangerous, and megalomaniacal versions of the idea.

The handy and ugly term Nazi is simply a short form of the term National Socialist.  It is ironic, perhaps, that World War II featured various forms of nationalism that adopted ideologies that involved the suppressing nationalism of their conquered territories.

The story goes on after World War II.  Books on the topic abound.  Views on the issue are varied.  For one just wanting to grasp the history, I would highly recommend Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism Since 1780.

For some contemporary thought on the matter from positive viewpoints, I have found much appeal in the books highlighted above.  I have read and am working on a second reading of The Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West by R. R. Reno.  This book is published by Regnery Gateway.

That the West is in trouble is beyond debate.  That the future of the West is uncertain is for certain.  Reno contends that in our quest to be anti- or against this or that ugly ideology of the twentieth century has caused us to also reject some of the forces for cohesion and strength that are necessary for a society to survive.

I am still beginning my long overdue reading of The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony.  Dr. Hazony is a great thinker, an Israeli scholar, and a gifted writer.  I have enjoyed all that I have read from him in the past.  This book comes highly recommended by a number of people whose opinions I already respect.

Hopefully, we can return in a future blog to discuss both these books.  You are welcome to provide me your own thoughts, reviews, or concerns.  Post a comment or send me an email at Veritas@cableone.net.

Christian Essentials: The Ten Commandments and The Apostles’ Creed from Lexham Press

The Ten Commandments: A Perfect Law of Liberty is by Peter J. Leithart

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is by Ben Myers

Both of these volumes are part of the Christian Essentials series published by Lexham Press.

 

Thank God for the massive, weighty, richly voluminous weight-lifting theological books available to us in our times.  My bookshelves are literally sagging from these huge volumes often surpassing the 1000 page mark.  From the past and the present, great works of theology have been made available to us in these times.

Yet many of us have to confess that we have bookmarks sticking out in the first chapters of these books.  Or we have cheery picked a chapter or two for particular reading.  Or we have made it through only the first volume of a multi-volume set.  Or we have read the endorsements and blushed with shame that we have not been able to echo the words of J. I. Packer or Joel Beeke about the value of some great theological treasure.

Praise God for our partially read books, our unstarted books, our good intentioned book reading, and our failed efforts to persevere.  Bit by bit, we have tasted great works.

But let us also give thanks for those books that are easily read from cover to cover.  And thanks be given for the short summaries, the “concise brevity,” to use Calvin’s words, and the books that are so easy to buy, carry around, and not only start, but finish.

Lexham Press published books of all sizes and shape.  Abraham Kuyper’s Honey From the Rock  is a physically big book from Lexham Press, but so are John Frame’s We are All Philosophers

and Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.

 

               

Besides the differences in size and topics, these books also display the variety of theological angles that Lexham Press books are providing.  Travis James Campbell and his study titled The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling God’s Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence and Michael Heiser’s books such as The Unseen Realm and Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the  Powers of Darkness are in the Lexham line-up.  At the same time, there are a number of rarely seen books by a few of the great Dutch theologians and thinkers such as Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen van Prinsterer.

Then there is this fine series called Christian Essentials.

These books are short, well-bound hardbacks that address key elements of Christian doctrine and life.  They are also deceptive!  One thinks that he or she is going to skip along through a nice, devotional read, but instead, the reader discovers a deep wellspring of theological practice and thought.  Short books, to be sure, but books that are far from light and fluffy.  Readable, yes, but also deeply connected to Faith and Life.  Practical, yes.  Teachable, yes.  Understandable, yes, assuming one is in a good solid church that is supplementing a life of Christian doctrine and practice.

I read Ben Myers’ Apostles’ Creed a year or more ago.  Sometime after reading it, I pulled it off the shelf again to borrow heavily from in preaching a sermon on the Creed.  (I never got past the words “I believe” from the opening of the Creed in my sermon.) This Creed is one that all Christians should believe, embrace, and recite.  Growing up Methodist, I learned it from childhood.  Recently, Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist theologian, wrote a book on the same creed.  (Mohler’s book is good, but Myers’ book is better.)

A few months back, I received a copy of Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments.  I have met and heard Dr. Leithart and have read quite a few of his many books.  Hop on board the Leithart train and you will be taken on a wild and surprising journey into theology, liturgy, literature, and more.  He is, quite simply, too smart.  (Read jealousy into that statement.)  He is also a good writer.

There are a number of books, as one might guess, on the Ten Commandments.  On the one hand, I tend to shy away from some of the ones that would be more popular, trendy, and designed to go after our cultural enemies.  Note that I would probably agree with most of the content of such books, but would still not prefer to be reminded that statistical numbers and Hollywood culture are cringy signs of a culture that hates God.

My two previous and preferred books on the Ten Commandments are as follows:  I love R. J. Rushdoony’s classic Institutes of Biblical Law.  This book is large, detailed, profound, thoughtful, and revolutionary.  More than any other work I know, it expands and applies the commandments to all of life, culture, thought, politics, and society.

The second volume I like is Thomas Watson’s Ten Commandments.  This book is, in Puritan fashion, aimed at the heart.  It is rich, devotional, and filled with practical exhortations.  If you want to like the Puritans, read this book.

Now, my favorite Ten Commandments book has a third member:  Leithart’s book.  At the end of each chapter, I found myself wondering how anyone could have packed so much into so few pages.  This book is a not a call for posting the Commandments on the lawn of the city square.  Nor is this book one that places the Law of God in a museum for New Testament believers to tour and take selfies in front of.  The Law is applied to people in Christ because they are in Christ and the Ten Words are from God.

Great books–The Christian Essentials are wonderful studies, preaching and teaching tools, family worship materials, and reads.

 

 

 

History Readings on the Nightstand and Day Stack

Under a Darkening Sky:  The American Experience in Nazi Europe: 1939-1941 by Robert Lyman

This book is an account compiled from Americans who were in Germany, France, and Britain during the years when World War II began.  This is an engaging book for one who knows how the story progresses.  Many Americans in Europe felt strongly that America should have acted sooner in entering World War II.  Knowing the home-front, that was not going to happen.  It was surprising to read about how nonchalant, uninterested, and uncommitted many Germans were to the war, Hitler, and events of the time.  Also, shortages of almost everything in the Third Reich were astounding.

One who knows little of the war would not enjoy this book quite as much, but I am finding it really enjoyable, if that word can be used to describe such a depressing scenario.

This book was the sole birthday present I received some months ago.  My favorite book hunter found it for me.

The Puritans: A Transatlantic History is by David D. Hall.

I started reading from this book, little by little, several months ago.  I got 50 or more pages into this massive study, but it got shuffled aside due to other reading ventures.  Just those opening chapters were outstanding.  I am planning on going back to the beginning and reading this from cover to cover.

This is a scholarly study of the wide-ranging group of religious thinkers and doers that we call Puritans.  It deals both with the movement in England and with those who migrated to the New World.  For anyone who has simply a layman’s interest in Puritans, I would recommend more easily covered accounts.  But for a serious history reader, this is the book to go to.

The Progressive Era by Murray Rothbard

This is my second time to read a Rothbard book in recent months.  As I covered in a previous review, he is an outlier in the field of history.  In other words, he was very well educated, scholarly, and unconventional.  If you want to read the traditional accounts of American history, don’t read Rothbard.  But if you want a different, a challenging, and even a disturbing perspective to upset your mental apple carts, he is the man.

While he wrote quite a few works on American history, he never did a complete survey of our country.  In fact, this book is made up of several chapter of a manuscript along with some other related essays.

I usually find that teaching about the Progressives in American history is very difficult.  There are many students who may dislike current liberals, but they are not usually interested in seeking out the roots of the movement.  It, whatever it is, did not begin with Presidents Obama or Clinton, or even Johnson or Kennedy, or either of the Roosevelts.  Progressivism is so ingrained in our culture today that it is almost impossible to imagine a society where we were not gearing our political discourse and elections around Progressive themes.

Side note:  the previously reviewed Rothbard book was Conceived in Liberty, Volume 5.  It deals with the era in which the Constitution was written and ratified.

How America’s Political Parties Change by Michael Barone

 

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How America’s Political Parties Change (And How They Don’t) by Michael Barone, longtime political analyst, is published by Encounter Books.

If you are looking for a fun, rip-roaring tale of politics and politicians, don’t look here.  If you are looking for a searing attack on the bad guys (whoever you think they are), don’t look here either.  But if you like a good, serious, fact and detail filled study of political trends, this is the book you should read.

I love politics.  I have taught government and history for over forty years.  Somehow, the details of the legislative process, the levels of court jurisdictions, and the dynamics of the bureaucracy fail to excite me.  But political campaigns–that’s a different story.  Polls, primaries, speeches, endorsements, dark horses, front runners, and old time conventions are sheer delight for me to read about.  The series of books that Theodore White wrote, beginning with The Making of a President 1960 going up through America in Search of Herself, are beloved volumes.

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I have read lots of books on the candidates, winning and losing ones, the elections, and the campaigns.  Concerning the last Presidential campaign, 2016, I have, so far, only read two books.  One was John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  This book was weak, whiny, and unconvincing.  There were a few useful parts here and there, but it was mainly an shaky evangelical lament that Donald Trump won.  (And I was not happy with the 2016 choices either.)Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by [John Fea]

The other book was P. J. O’Rourke’s How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016.  O’Rourke’s book was sheer delight.  He is an incredibly witty writer, but it only took some reporting of the story to write comedy about the 2016 election.

I await the time to read a good coverage and analysis of the 2016 election.  I don’t want to read a Trump supporter, a whining liberal, or a Never-Trumper, so I may have to wait a while to read about what we experienced.

Back to Michael Barone’s How America’s Political Parties Change:  I have been reading Michael Barone’s political analyses for years.  He is a conservative of the Reagan-era type, but he is not using his books to grind ideological axes.  Instead, he compares numbers.  Lots and lots of numbers, percentages, vote totals, trends, demographic changes.  He has visited every congressional district in the United States, and I reckon it was for research purposes.  He has been a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics since 1972.

In 1940, FDR ran for an unprecedented third consecutive term and was opposed by a political neophyte and former Democrat and businessman named Wendell Wilkie.  Roosevelt won the election, in large part, because the impending war made some nervous about switching Presidents, and in larger part because of the political coalition that the Democrats had assembled.  That coalition was winning control of the Presidency, the House, and the Senate from 1930 to 1996.

In 1944, Roosevelt told an aide, “We ought to have two real parties–one liberal and the other conservative.” That was not true for many years, because both parties were made up of coalitions of both conservative and liberal factions.  It is more closely true today.

Overall, the American electorate is fairly evenly divided between Republican and Democrat voters.  In a given Presidential election, if the Democrats run unknown Candidate X and the Republicans run unknown candidate Y, the Democrats will net somewhere between 47 to 49 percent of the vote.  The Republicans will tally somewhere between 45 to 48 percent of the vote.

In only two of the past seven elections have the winning party actually won a majority of the popular vote.  In two of the past seven elections, the Republicans won in the Electoral College vote while losing the popular vote.  The spread has been less than 5 percent difference in five of those seven elections.  Winners have been determined in large part by rallying the certain voting factions or groups or by edging out the opponent in a few key swing states.  In other words, a small number of voters in a small number of states or districts could have changed most of those election results.

The House and the Senate, predominately Democrat from 1930 to 1994, have switched back and forth several times since the mid-term elections during the Clinton Administration.  While congressional seats tend to remain in the hands of incumbents, there are always incumbent Senators and Representatives who don’t seek re-election or a few who become vulnerable for a variety of reasons.  Almost every election cycle has included a realistic possibility of the majority party in either house losing control.

Barone surveys several periods in the past where similar cases prevailed.  Along with that, there have been a few times where one party or the other swamps the losing party in several elections for a period of time.  In our own time, there are Red States  (Republican) that are inching toward turning Purple (undecided) or Blue States (Democrat) that get flipped and go red.  It wasn’t all that long ago that California was in the Republican column in several Presidential elections.  In recent years, West Virginia, a long-time Democrat sure bet, has gone for Republican Presidential candidates.  2016 was a surprise because the big mid-western Blue Wall broke with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa going for Trump over Clinton.

What does all this mean for the 2020 election?  Right now, President Trump is dealing with a wrecked economy, on-going fears and problems related to Covid-19, and riots and racial unrest across the country.  Economic troubles favor the Democrats, while law and order issues favor the Republicans.  Just a few months ago, the economy appeared to be booming.  President Trump continually displays weird, uncouth, and irrational behavior that either excites his base or at least does not worry them, but neither do such actions expand that narrow base.  Candidate Joe Biden continues to display moments of blundering thought, lack of thought, and no thought.  While confine to his basement, he seems to be a safer and more winnable candidate that he would be if he were out and about.

This is June and the election is in November.  In political terms, that is many lifetimes for a campaign.  But of this much you can be certain, the race is within a likely 5 percentage point spread.  It will be decided in a few key swing states.  That will be true if it is a Trump vs. Biden race or if it is a Candidate X vs. Candidate Y race.

 

The University Without a Campus

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To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.”  By that I mean that the post- and also pre-World War II era, including the 1960s, was a time of great political and cultural calamities, and it was a time of great spiritual drought and uncertainty.

There was no Internet on which to search for the topic Christian worldview.  Nor was there an Amazon, Goodreads, or Abebooks on which to find needed resources.  The Christian school movement, including the revitalized classical Christian school movement and home schooling, were largely non-existent.  Christians in politics usually meant more liberal people fighting for Civil Rights (somewhat correctly) or more conservative people opposing Civil Rights (wrongly).  Christianity and philosophy were separate subjects who barely acknowledged one another.  Reformed theology was limited to a small number of folks who clung to the Five Points of Calvinism or some traditional Presbyterians who were hold-outs against the theological wars of the 1920s.

Billy Graham represented in both positive and less positive ways the face of evangelicalism.  There was little concern for finding the Christian mind because few thought that it even existed.

And yet, there were and had been a cadre of Christian scholars and thinkers who had swum against the tides.  They circles were small; their followers were few; their books were obscurely published and, in not in English, usually untranslated.  They found themselves rarely noted, reviewed, footnoted, or referenced.  This was what I called in a series of talks some years ago “The Wilderness Years.”

The topic mesmerizes me.  I was first reminded of it when James Jordan published an article called “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind.”  Later, P. Andrew Sandlin published a similar article titled “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”  For them and for me, the story was powerful because it was autobiographical.  When I rediscovered this topic, somewhere around the year 2005, the age that Jordan and Sandlin wrote about had passed.  For me, it had faded into the back of my mind, but reading about it was like discovering a door leading back into the foundations of my own journey and still incomplete worldview.

As I described the events of the time, an Australian friend described the situation as “A university without a campus.”  I thought it an apt and beautiful phrase.

Like all historical recollections, this one is incomplete and not fully nuanced.  But here in this post, I want to call attention to a world of books that were, even in the most intellectually barren and spiritually slim times, “out there.”  Some few found them.  They told others.  The books got picked up here and there.  Iron sharpened iron.  The remnant read the books.

One can find many books today that are, in most respects, better written, more applicable, and improved.  But these were the books that showed up in those Wilderness Years.

Charles H. Craig

Charles H. Craig may be among the most under-acclaimed heroes of Christian publishing. He took over Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing in 1957 and was responsible for seeing to the publication of so many good books.

THE UNIVERSITY WITHOUT A CAMPUS

Books Published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company

(also called The Craig Press)in the 1950s-1970s

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Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 1977

——–Homosexuality: A Biblical View, 1978

Theonomy in Christian Ethics came near the end of the period that I have as my focus.  The picture above is of a much later edition.  In many ways, this book and author were high-jacked.  Dr. Bahnsen wrote a lengthy, detailed study of Biblical law.  It was attached to a movement, alternately called Theonomy or Christian Reconstruction, which made it handy to refute it by attacking some aspects of the movement.  It lessened Bahnsen’s standing as a first-rate scholar in apologetics and philosophy, not because of anything wrong with the book, but because it overshadowed the work of the man.

Whether one accepts any or all or none of its content, this was a powerful study that has yet to receive due compensation from Christian thinkers.

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Gordon H. Clark. Historiography: Secular and Religious. 1971

——–Karl Barth’s Theological Method.

———-Religion, Reason and Revelation. 1961

———-The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. 1964

———-Three Types of Religious Philosophy. 1973

Gordon Haddon Clark was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of the 20th century.  Wheaton College committed a kamikaze attack on its own academic standards when it pushed him aside decades ago.  Controversies within Presbyterian circles pitted Clark against Cornelius Van Til, resulting in the small remnant of Calvinist thinkers battling each other rather than confronting the enemies in the opposing trenches.

Much recovery has been done by Douglas Douma’s biography of Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher:  The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. There are probably more serious students of Clark’s writings than ever before. R. C. Sproul said that Clark is one of the few Christians of our time who will be read 500 years from now.  Almost all of his books are currently in print from the Trinity Foundation.

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by [Doug J. Douma, Lois Zeller, Betsy Clark George]

Norman De Jong. Christianity and Democracy. 1978

———-Education in the Truth. 1977

While many evangelicals accepted, embraced, and defended public schools, the Dutch in America maintained a suspicion and opposition to Christ-less education.  They were not fighting against integration, the removal of non-descript prayers, or evolution; rather, they embraced a whole philosophy of education.  Norman De Jong wrote several books that provided such foundations.

Herman Dooyeweerd. The Christian Idea of the State. 1968

———-In the Twilight of Western Thought. 1960, 1980

———-A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 4 Volumes. 1953

One of the greatest names in philosophy in the world today is a name that is ignored still in many philosophy departments both secular and religious.  Herman Dooyeweerd, a Dutchman, wrote extensively on philosophy and culture. Through most of his life, he was little known here in the United States.  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing picked up some of his books and lectures, or had them translated, for the North American readers.  HD is not an easy read, but he has sparked a number of followers in philosophy, history, and theology.

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David Hugh Freeman. A Philosophical Study of Religion. 1964

———-Recent Studies in Philosophy and Religion. 1962

Freeman wrote and contributed to a number of volumes that P & R published.

E. R. Geehan, editor. Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and  Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 1971

This work, which probably garnered few readers, was an in-depth discussion of Cornelius Van Til’s thought as critiqued and defended by friends and foes.

Philip Edgecombe Hughes, Christianity and the Problem of Origins. 1974

Reverend Hughes wrote quite a few fine books, including several Bible commentaries.  He taught at Columbia Theological Seminary due to a grant for a theology professor from a wealthy conservative donor.  A British scholar, Hughes wrote the little noticed short work listed above.  I read it for a Western Civilization class taught by Henry Wood, one of that small remnant who read the Calvinist thinkers back in their day.  That short work was powerful. It needs to be made available again.

Jon R. Kennedy. The Reformation of Journalism: A Christian Approach to Mass  Communication. 1972

Both the book and the author are forgotten.  I read it back in the 1970s because I was taking some journalism classes.

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Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee

Francis Nigel Lee. A Christian Introduction to the History of Philosophy. 1969, 1978

———-Communism Versus Creation. 1969

———-Communist Eschatology. 1974

———Origin and Destiny of Man. 1974

Francis Nigel Lee was a prolific writer, a scholar who collected Ph. D.’s like other people collect coffee mugs, and an engaging preacher.  He wrote several fine books, but the biggest was Communist Eschatology.  I spent a couple of years searching for this book.  I could remember back when P & R was just about giving it away.  Finally, I contacted Christian cartoonist Vic Lockman, who agreed to sell me his autographed copy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting Vic and Dr. Lee via emails.  I was saddened when Lee died some years back.

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Ronald H. Nash, editor. The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. 1968

The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift - Ronald H. Nash Ed. - 1968 HB

In Hot Spring, Arkansas some years ago, I was searching–I thought in vain–through the most worthless, cluttered, junky used bookstore I have ever been in.  98 percent of the books were trade paperback romance novels and the like.  But somewhere in the high reaches on a shelf, I saw a good hardcover edition of this festschrift to Gordon Clark.  Outstanding book, containing contributions from several of the other authors mentioned in this posting.

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Gary North, economist, libertarian political thinker, theonomist, Christian Reconstructionist, author, and more.

Gary North, An Introduction to Christian Economics, 1973

———-Marx’s Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction. 1968

Although I now have a couple of dozen books by Gary North, I don’t think I have ever acquired An Introduction to Christian Economics.  From these two books that North did for P&R, he went on to create his own publishing firms which were putting out his books and those of his followers.  It is easy to find fault with Gary North on some topic or the other, but the man wrote some fine studies and has labored hard for the cause of Christian thought.

Vern S. Poythress. Philosophy, Science, and the Sovereignty of God. 1976

This book has been reprinted, revised, and expanded.  Poythress is among the last of the old-time Calvinist worldview thinkers who has lived on to be in the top cadre of such writers and thinkers.  His books are many.  I know because I keep trying to get all of them.

W. Stanford Reid. Christianity and Scholarship.

I am not sure if I have this book or not.  The topic is one on which dozens of books are being published today, but it was not as common in the past.

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Rousas John Rushdoony. Foundations of Social Order. 1968

———-Institutes of Biblical Law. 1973

———-Intellectual Schizophrenia. 1961

———Law and Liberty. 1971

———-The Messianic Character of American History. 1968

———-The Myth of Overpopulation. 1969

———-The Mythology of Science. 1967

———-The Nature of the American System. 1965

———-The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. 1971

———-Politics of Guilt and Pity. 1970.

———-This Independent Republic. 1964

Pilloried, ignored, discounted, and politely not mentioned, Rousas John Rushdoony was one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century in regard to Christian thought.  Yes, he was wrong sometimes, but try reading Augustine and Calvin for perfect thinking.  RJR was the most widely diffused thinker I have ever been acquainted with.  I met him a few times, corresponded with him a few times, and read and listened to him quite a bit.

The books listed above are, besides being on a variety of topics, brilliant gems.

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C. Gregg Singer. From Rationalism to Irrationality: The Decline of the Western Mind From the Renaissance to the Present. 1979

———John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits

———-A Theological Interpretation of American History. 1964

It was Singer, along with Rushdoony, whose books first taught me a critical lesson:   I didn’t know how to read serious, analytical material.  And another lesson:  I didn’t know how to think Christianly about politics and culture.  Even on points where I disagree with the late Dr. Singer now, I still have to respect what his books taught me.

J. M. Spier. Christianity and Existentialism. 1953

———-An Introduction to Christian Philosophy. 1966

Spier was another Dutchman, I think, who helped pave the way for English speaking people to read and understand Dooyeweerd.

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Hebden Taylor. The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State. 1966

———-Economics, Money, and Banking , 1978

———-Evolution and the Reformation of Biology. 1967

———-Reformation or Revolution. 1970

E. L. Hebden Taylor was a British Anglican theologian and writer.  His books are all out of print and hard to find.  One of my copies came to me from New Zealand.  A dear couple, the young man now deceased, gave me copies of The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics, and the State and Reformation or Revolution.  Taylor was a strong disciple of Herman Dooyeweerd.

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H. Van Reissen, author of Society of the Future and a monograph titled Nietzsche.

H. Van Reissen, The Society of the Future. 1952

Van Reissen was a Dutchman, part of the cast of thinkers in the Free University of Amsterdam orbit, and a profound Christian scholar.

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Cornelius Van Til. The Case for Calvinism. 1964

———-Christian Theistic Ethics. 1971

———-A Christian Theory of Knowledge. 1969

———-Christianity and Barthianism. 1962

———Christianity and Idealism. 1955

———Christianity and Modern Theology. 1955

——–Common Grace, 1947

———-The Defense of the Faith. 1955

———-An Introduction to Systematic Theology. 1966

———The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel. 1953

Cornelius Van Til was one of the greatest apologists of his and our time.  There are plenty of critics around.  I cannot completely land myself within his complete system, but I have gained so much from my limited studies of the man and his labors.

In the late 1990s, P&R would publish two major studies of Cornelius Van Til.  One was by Greg Bahnsen and the other by John Frame.

         

William Young. Foundations of Theory

———-Hegel’s Dialectic Method: Its Origins and Religious Significance. 1972

Young was a translator of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique , and he authored a couple of philosophical studies.  A few years back, another company published a collection of his writings which range from philosophy to theology.

             

Modern Thinkers Series, edited by David H. Freeman

Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen

Kierkegaard by S. U. Zuidema

Dewey by Gordon H. Clark

Bultmann by Herman Ridderbos

Sartre by S. U. Zuidema

Van Til by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Niebuhr by G. Brillenburg Wurth

Barth by A. D. R. Polman

Tillich by David H. Freeman

James by Gordon H. Clark

Freud by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Toynbee by C. Gregg Singer

This set of books was outstanding in its day.  I have several of them and wish I had them all.  P&R has somewhat revived the tradition with its Great Thinkers Series.

Books Published by Baker Book House

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism.

H. Henry Meeter, Basic Ideas of Calvinism. 1939

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. 1959

Baker Book House often worked in tandem with Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.  These three books are all classics in the field.  I think that they may all still be available.

Books Published by William B. Eerdmans

Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education. 1946

———-A Christian View of Men and Things. 1952

Herman Dooyeweerd, Transcendental Problems of Philosophical Thought. 1948.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. 1923

Four books among many that William B. Eerdmans published that were influential in Calvinistic Worldview Thinking.

Books Published by Ross House Books

Gary North, editor, Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective. 1979

Ross House became the publishing firm for R. J. Rushdoony’s books.  They are still pouring out old and newly published volumes of his work.  This work was an early publication that has some really tough essays on Christian thought.  It is worth searching for and buying.

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Time  fails me from being able to scope out and discuss, even briefly, many of the other works of the Wilderness Years.  Besides the men mentioned above, others like George Grant, John Frame, Joseph Morecraft, Gary DeMar, David Chilton, Calvin Seerveld, H. Evan Runner, Arthur Holmes,  Carl F. H. Henry,  and many more were writing, teaching, preaching, and laying the foundations for Christian thinking from solidly Reformed positions.

Also, much more could be said about the formative roles of James Orr, a Scotsman, and those incredible Dutchmen–Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck.

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Paul versus the Philosophers and America versus the Just War Tradition

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These two excellent morning readings of late are on very different subjects, consisting of multiple contributors, and both enriching.

America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts is edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles and is published by Notre Dame Press.

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context is edited by Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Briones and is published by InterVarsity Press.

The overwhelming criteria for my reading plans is that a particular book is close at hand.  I could wish that I had a drive to master particular topics and could read with a greater goal in mind.  But I accept my gadfly reading program and often surprise myself at how themes and commonalities crop up in spite of my non-intentions.

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy

I have been repeatedly made aware of how deficient my own education has been due to a lack of philosophy studies.  I have majors in history and English, but was never required to study philosophy.  It is inescapable for both of those fields.  I have also been involved in studying the Bible and theology since my late teen years.   I served as a pastor in the past and am still a teacher in a classical Christian school.  While philosophy and the Bible are not equal, any serious student of the Bible and theology must, as in MUST, study at least some philosophy.

This is not a case where one must go on a difficult journey to find someone, somewhere, who has written something on the connection between the history of philosophy and the history of the Church, or philosophical issues and theological issues, or of philosophers who were also Christians.  You want to get books on philosophy and Christianity?  Better get a large bookcase and a big budget.

The great thing about Paul and the Giants of Philosophy is its accessibility.  Each chapter takes one of the philosophers of the Greco-Roman world and presents their views on a topic and then contrasts those views with Paul’s writings.  There is more interaction between Paul and the philosophers in the Stoic tradition rather than examinations of Paul’s writings viewed in the light of “The Big Three,” meaning Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Certainly, more in-depth, scholarly, weighty, academic books can and have been written.

But this book is readable, enjoyable, and geared toward the non-expert.  I firmly believe that my philosophy professor and student friends and son would find reading this book profitable, but it is geared toward those of us who read Paul a lot and Stoics rarely.  But, for those who wish to know more, each chapter ends with suggested readings giving both primary and secondary sources for the more serious pursuit of the topics.  And each chapter has some discussion questions as well.

I believe that this would be an excellent book to use in a college philosophy survey.  It could also be used in any course studying Paul in his historical and cultural context.  Some groups would enjoy this for a series of Sunday school lessons or as a book club read.  And, with strong, hot, black coffee, it is wonderful for morning reading.

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I usually begin with some readings related to the Bible and theology, and after that, I like to read something that fits into the broader Christian worldview perspective.  This is what led to my reading of America and the Just War Tradition.

America and the Just War Tradition

This book is like a long trip for a child.  What was overwhelmingly attracting me was the chapter by chapter survey of the various wars that the United States has fought in, beginning with the War for Independence and going up to current engagements in the War on Terror, meaning Iraq and Afghanistan.

But before one can get into the fun stuff, there is a long chapter written by the editors, Dr. Hall and Dr. Charles, titled “The Just War Tradition and America’s Wars.”  These 50 pages constitute what could be a short book on its own.  We all have a sense of certain wars or aspects of wars being just or unjust.  We all have a list of do’s and don’t’s about what is allowable in war.  On the one extreme, we would find pacifists who would eschew all wars.  There is within the Christian tradition a great amount of history and theology to support such a view.  As one whose military “experience” consists only in teaching about war, I have a heart-felt desire for pacifism.  But it is not easily sustained in light of real world conditions.

On the other hand, you would find extreme nationalist views which would justify any and every war that America or some other country of one’s origins has fought.  I find a certain sympathy with that position as well.  We honor the military men who, as we say, fought for our liberties and right to be free.  But exactly what liberties and freedoms for us were they fighting for in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, and possibly some or all of the others?

The weighing out of justice or injustice in war is not merely a matter of gut reactions or simplistic patriotic urges.  The Just War Tradition largely grew out of the context of Western Civilization, or we could even say Christendom.  The greatest philosophers and theologians have thought seriously about the ethics of conflict on both a personal and nation-wide level.  Growing out of the thinking of such people as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, philosophers have agreed (always a slippery word to use) on what constitutes justness before, during, and after war.  The Latin phrases which permeate this book and topic are Ius ad bellum, Ius in bello, and Ius post bellum.  

Ius ad bellum, justness before war, begins with just cause, which is followed by just authority,  and right intention.  Ius ad bello, justness in war, hinges on discrimination and proportionality.   Ius post bellum deals with how the results are handled, what happens to the people and countries that were defeated, and what follows from that war.

As might be guessed, a war could be started for wrong reasons, conducted honorably (according to the criteria), and ended well.  Or you can mix and match the ingredients in a wide variety of ways.  As helpful as the criteria are, such things are not always clear cut.  War is so horrible that it sometimes seems insane to try to make it a subject of calm, reasoned discourse.

I majored in history in college.  I have taken courses that have included or primarily focused upon the wars of the United States.  I would guess that I have a thousand books dealing with war.  But this book revealed how little I actually understood or had been subjected to understanding the historical, philosophical, and traditional views of Just War.  That is the long journey that the reader has to take before getting to “the answers” in the chapters on America’s wars.

To quickly comment upon the wars, each chapter has a different contributor.  I honestly think there is not a bad or weak essay in the lot.  Part of the delight in this book is the cases where I was surprised or even shocked by the views of the authors.  I would tend, for example, to find the American War for Independence just and defensible, but Dr. John D. Roche thinks not.  Amazing argument, this chapter didn’t convince me, but it did humble me a bit. Many chapters later, I thought that there was little or no way to defend the American experience in Vietnam, but Mackubin Thomas Owens’s chapter blew me away.

As indicated in the review above regarding the Bible and philosophy, history teachers must study philosophy.  Just War is a philosophical and ethics related tradition and a theological concern as well.  Studying this book will not give you the set of pat answers to why this war and not that one was right or wrong.  But it will give perspective.

History teachers, read this book.  As a further note, it is chocked full of other reading suggestions on both the specific wars and on the topic in general.  I am convinced that I must acquire Michael Walzer’s book Just and Unjust Wars.  Also, I am confirmed in my conviction that Mark David Hall is one of the best resources for serious historical and political studies in our time.  I learned of him last year from political theorist Koty Arnold just after Hall’s book Did America Have a Christian Founding? was published.  I am now on a quest to obtain and read all that Dr. Hall writes.

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It’s Getting Western Real Fast Now: Four Histories of the American West

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History has been my life and career.  I decided in 9th grade, back in 1970, that I wanted to be a history teacher and never swerved off that path through the years that followed.  I have also been other things, such as a newspaper reporter, a convenience store worker, a pastor, a school administrator, and a teacher of other subjects, but I have always at heart been a history teacher.  The realm of history is, however, vast so I have my areas of focus, or what we might call specialization.  That is a fancy way of saying that some parts of history are of more interest to me than other parts.  Generally, I prefer 20th Century history to anything Medieval.  Always, I prefer political history over social or economic history.  I have read and taught the War Between the States without ever acquiring the ability to know when I should end the topic and move on.  Being one of the most non-military type people in the universe, I have, nevertheless, read and taught enough military history to at least get honorary rank of private, no class.

As a teacher of American history in most of my classroom ventures, I have tried to avoid getting too interested in the history of the American West.  On the one hand, that is impossible because the American West was originally the lands just past the coastlines of the original colonies.  The western frontier was a moving, fluid concept with different boundary lines, different cultural events, and different settlers all the up to 1890.  On the other hand, there are too many events that are directly tied to the west, as defined by the areas across the Mississippi River that were settled, fought over, and brought into the union from the time of the Louisiana Purchase and beyond.

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I tried to avoid the numerous Indian Wars, except the Nez Pearce’s ill fated skirmishes with the U. S. cavalry when they were led by Chief Joseph.  I tried to keep cowboys and cattle drives, saloons and settlements, outlaws and sheriff’s posses all confined to the television shows I loved as a kid and still enjoy on occasion.

But recently, I slipped away by night from the 20th Century, from Puritans, from Confederates, and from all other realms of history, and headed out west.

It all started with Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands.  This book was published by Basic Books in 2019, and I acquired it with a gift card from Christmas.

I have several books by University of Texas (Austin) history department chairman Dr. Brands.  He is not only quite prolific as an author, but he has written on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from both Roosevelts, to Benjamin Franklin, to Andrew Jackson, to books on western settlement.  He is one of those few authors who is both an academic professor and a writer of popular narrative histories.  In short, I would not hesitate to pick up any book that he has written (which total over 30) and would find them enjoyable reading.

This book goes back to the earliest of American (here meaning United States) explorations.  The western (here meaning west of the Mississippi River) expansion began with the fur trade.  For certain, the western man was rugged, tough, engaged with weather and conflicts, and resilient.  We have lots of myths about frontiersmen, but the myths exist only because there were actual people bearing mythic qualities.

The west is a complex story, filled with fur traders and Indian conflicts, religious migrations and Indian conflicts, wagon trains and Indian conflicts, gold strikes and Indian conflict, cattle drives and Indian conflicts, the Civil War and Indian conflicts, railroads, buffaloes, untamable lands, impassible mountains, raging streams, frontier justice/injustice, territorial expansion, broken hearts and bodies, and Indian conflicts.

As a non-specialist in American western studies, I was continually amazed at how much I was familiar with.  There is no study of American history without a Conestoga wagon being pulled (hopefully) by oxen and mules and heading toward the direction of the setting sun.  While El Dorado, the mythical city of gold, was never found, many El Dorados were found.

Brands’ book might be bypassed by the college professor who wants a more scholarly, footnote laden, “this scholar contends, while that scholar objects,” politically correctly, and horrendously overpriced university press book for a 300 or 400 level history course.  I disagree.  This book is good history and good reading.  Add on, Mr. or Madame Professor, a few more in-depth monographs, but assign this book.  Historians must never forget that story is essential to history, and that story must be engaging.

Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862–The Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson is published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Dr. Anderson is an authority on western, Native American, and U. S. history, with having authored a dozen books.  He even wrote one criticizing Texas.  That is one brave historian, and I hope he has had facial recognition surgery to protect himself from some of my Texas friends.

This book was for me what reading history must be like for many people.  I was largely unfamiliar with most of the names, places, and events in the book.  My knowledge of Minnesota history basically begins with the late 1940s and 1950s when Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy began rising to prominence as leaders in the Democrat Party.  I had heard of the mass hanging, eerily photographed and often reprinted, that was part of the outcome of this event.  The Dakota tribe was just a name that merged in with the several dozen Indian tribes that I have read over and past through in many surveys of American history.

After feeling frustrated for not grasping more of the details of this event (and surprise that I never really knew about it), I remembered that Dr. Anderson began the book by telling that how he had been studying, thinking through, and researching this story for four and a half decades.  Why should I expect that one book read over a period of a few weeks would fast forward me through what he has spent a lifetime studying?

There are basically three stories in this book, and all three of them are sad, tragic, and painful to read about.  History is not for sissies.  If you want knights rescuing damsels in distress, pure heroes and heroines, and truth, justice, and the American way, go to some source other than history.  (Hence, referring back to Dr. Anderson’s book on Texas, even the Lone Star State is a collective sinner in need of grace.)

The first story is one that is overall familiar.  Treaties, reservations, and corruption were endemic problems.  No one wishing to make a case for government involvement in human affairs would want to call in examples from how the Dakota tribes were dealt with.  Some people benefited greatly from these actions, but they were usually the government agents who were mishandling funds.  The Dakota people had few resources and means to combat and certain few, if any, to correct the abuses.

That led to the second story which was an outbreak of hostilities between Indians and whites.  As has often been said, when whites fought and won a conflict, it was called a battle, but when Indians won, it was called a massacre.  This part of the story is a horror story equal to the best/worst accounts that we have read about or watched on old television westerns and movies.  White communities were attacked, men, women, and children were killed, torturous methods were used on human beings.  In many cases, the news accounts became exaggerated and accounts were tweaked to satisfy the morbid curiosity of those far from the scenes.  Then there were the stories of rapes and abuses of women.  White people who had co-existed near Indian tribes were victims of the attacks; militia units hastily formed to stop the attacks suffered as well.

This was all happening during 1862, so the United States was so focused on what were the worst years of the Civil War for the Union that few resources were available to rescue the area.  In what was the only bit of humor found in the book, one U. S. soldier said that the weapons he and others were issued were so bad that they  should have been given to the Indians to help defeat them.  As expected, as is the case in every book and account of white and Indian civilizations at war, eventually, the power, numbers, and resources fell to the whites.

The third story may be accounted as the most tragic and horrible of them all.  It is the story of injustice.  Indians were not reckoned as a military enemy in the traditional sense.  Nor were they citizens.  There were trials of large numbers of the captured warriors.  These trials sounded more like things I have read about “justice” in Stalinist and Nazi regimes than what I would have expected in America.  Bereft of counsel, deficient in understanding of the English language, totally lacking knowledge of the justice system, one after another, Indian men were hauled before the courts, given a brief (often less than an hour) of trial, and sentenced to death by hanging.

This world is complicated.  Understanding doesn’t always excuse evils, but it often helps explain why things happened.  In many cases, Indian men took white women and made them their wives.  That was their way.  In the white world, this was abuse and rape.  I honestly felt grief for both sides in this situation.  I could wish that mercy had triumphed over justice.

Over three hundred Indian men were sentenced to hang, but President Lincoln pardoned most of them.  Granted, some who died had been criminal in their war waging, but again, the system was complicated.  Thankfully, there were Christians among both white and red peoples who sought to do right; however, these instances were far too few.

I wish I were convinced that we actually learn from history and correct the wrongs of the past.  There is so much to learn here.  Grievous though this story is, it needs to be read, remembered, and mourned over.

The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher M. Rein is published by the University of Oklahoma Press

I am still reading this book so I will limit my remarks.  First, this book is a useful follow up to reading Thomas W. Cutrer’s Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River.  That book is my “go to” work on any of the campaigns and battles that took place in that most neglected part of the Late Unpleasantness.

Second, Colorado was a territory, along with New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and other places in the far west.  Like the California Gold Rush of a few years earlier, Colorado had drawn hordes of men interested in finding gold.  Some came out of the South, some from the North.  In some ways, the small battles, whose numbers pale before the fight going on along the eastern and middle parts of the country, seem inconsequential.  The Confederacy tried, unsuccessfully, to extend the boundaries of their nation to the western regions.  Units like the Second Colorado Cavalry tied into battle and stopped them.

What difference did it make?  Or could that have turned the course of the war?  Interesting questions, but those who fought, died, were injured, or maimed in those battles were just as much dedicated soldiers fighting for beliefs and visions as were those who are buried at Gettysburg.

I hope to report more on this book later. Perhaps it is of interest only to those who are really engaged in not just the Civil War but the less known theaters of the war.

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Author Stephen Harrigan standing outside the Alamo holding his book.

 

Big, Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas by Stephen Harrigan is published by the University of Texas Press.

Weighing in at close to 1000 page, this history of Texas promises to be fun.  I reckon that like the two books immediately preceding this one, there are some terrible tales that will make even Texans humble themselves into a repentant attitude.  But this book, which I have yet to start, looks to simply be lots of fun.

I count it as a near miracle that I survived 7th grade Texas history class.  I even became a history teacher, not because of, but in spite of that class.  It was terrible.  The “bless her heart” teacher apparently knew nothing about Texas, 7th grade boys, or teaching.  (I warn’t no saint either.)  When I taught Arkansas history, I often told my Arkansawyer students that most of their (now mine as well) state’s history was the story of people passing through on the way to Texas.

James Michener wrote a fat novel called Texas.  The very state just demands BIG.  Granted that Michener’s writing tended toward obesity of prose, he would have made a novel about Monaco at least 500 pages.  I have often taught a portion of Michener’s draft that got cut out and then was revised to make a separate book.  Titled The Eagle and the Raven, that historical novel compares and contrasts the careers of Santa Anna and Sam Houston.  But, I have read far too little about the state I grew up in.  In fact, I know far too little about the state.  Unfortunately, when I was able to travel, we usually opted to head north to north east to find cooler climates and mountains.  Living in the corner of northeast Texas and now southwest Arkansas, Texas was too hot during the summer to draw me into traveling there.

I hope Emily Dickinson was right in saying, “There is no frigate like a book to take us miles away,” because I am going to travel across geography and time to visit the great state of Texas in this book.

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