American History–An Incurable Passion

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American history  has paid the bills at my house for several decades now.  (Hey, American history, I would not object to you generating a few extra bucks.)  I have walked the breadth and depth of historical studies and found myself falling in love with many different ages, countries, and periods of history.  But when I fall back on my druthers, I had druther read, study, and teach American history than any other place, story, or phase.

I want to highlight very briefly each of the books above.  Most are review books lined up in my never ending queue of required readings.  Other are books I have shelled out the hard cash to purchase and really want to read.  Some have already been read through; some are being read; some have been started; but all are books I certainly hope to get read in the next few months. (Unfortunately, more books will show up demanding immediate attention.)

From left to right, I will identify and comment briefly on the books pictured above and below.

Protestants and American Conservatism: A Short History  by Gillis J. Harp.  Outstanding study of a long relationship between the often changing ways that Christians have, for both better and worse, embraced every changing modes of conservative thinking.  I have reviewed this book on this blog.

The Price of Greatness:  Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Oligarchy by Jay Cost.  More a survey of the economic and political agendas of these two men, rather than biographical studies of two sometimes allies, sometimes enemies.  Useful study of the hows and whys of early American economic successes and challenges.

Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906 by David Cannadine.  Someone slipped a bit of UK history into my line-up of American history stories.  British history runs a strong second to my love of American history.

Baptists and the Holy Spirit: The Contested History with Holiness-Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements by C. Douglas Weaver.  I am interested in looking into this story with no dog in the hunt.  American church and Christian history is a sub-genre of American history and is a consuming interest.

Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson.  Sent by Oklahoma University Press, this book struck me as one of marginal–at best–interest.  Then I read from the introduction and realized that this event–totally unknown to me–sounded incredibly interesting.

The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher M Rein.  In spite of my best efforts to wean myself away from Civil War reading, I keep returning.  The western campaigns are still largely vague, in spite of having read Thomas Cutrer’s excellent study Theater of a Separate War:  The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861-1865.  

The Founding of Thomas Jefferson’s University edited by John A. Regosta, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy.  While this might not sound like the most interesting book around, we must remember that Jefferson listed the founding of the University of Virginia as one of his 3 greatest accomplishments.

Thomas Jefferson’s Lives: Biographers and the Battle for History, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald.  I started this book recently, but other readings rudely pushed it aside.  Through the years, many have written about and sought to interpret the life of Thomas Jefferson, and this book’s contributors dwell on how the man has fared through it all.

Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions by Caitlin Fitz.  I almost felt guilty for spending two bucks for this Goodwill find, for I have so many books on the American Revolution/War for Independence.  Then I discovered that it focuses on the subsequent revolutions in Central and South America in relation to our national experience.  Looking forward to this read.

Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes.  Having read Dr. Shlaes’s books on the Great Depression and Calvin Coolidge, I knew this was a must have.  Bought it with a Christmas gift card.

Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America by Michael P. Winship

and

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

I love colonial American history, the Puritans, the Reformation and its impact on American and British history.  What is there to not be excited about with these two books?

America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It by C. Bradley Thompson.  I have been interested in this book since I first heard about it from Bradley Birzer.  After reading the opening, I am more interested than ever.

Conceived in Liberty:  The New Republic, 1781-1791 by Murray Rothbard.  Years ago, Dr. Rothbard wrote a multivolume history of early America.  Only now is this last volume, painstakingly deciphered from Rothbard’s handwriting, made available.  Rothbard is anything but conventional and predictable as a historian, and that is what makes him interesting and challenging.

Dreams of El Dorado: A HIstory of the American West by H. W. Brands.  The settlement of the American “West” has not been one of my main priorities in my studies, but as I am learning from this book, it is a fascinating story.

Lest anyone think these are all of my current history–American mostly–books that are screaming to be read, I assure you the stack is still very high.

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Protestants and American Conservatism by Gillis J. Harp

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Protestants and American Conservatism: A Short History by Gillis J. Harp is published by Oxford University Press.  Dr. Harp is a professor of history at Grove City College.

I became a Christian around the year 1972.  A few years later, I self-consciously began identifying myself as a conservative.  The conversion came about from the benefits of a lifelong family commitment to attending church and respecting the Christian faith.  In God’s timing, I began finding sermons, previously uninteresting, suddenly compelling and convicting.  Many factors contributed to what I now know was the work of the Holy Spirit convincing and convicting and drawing me to Christ.

Many factors also contributed to my becoming a conservative.  One night, Johnny Carson had William F. Buckley, Jr. on his show as a guest.  The next day, I went to the college library and checked out God and Man at Yale.  I devoured it.  This was during a season of my life when I was being overwhelmed with a myriad of ideas and concepts.  The biggest intellectual change in my life at that time was embracing a Calvinistic Worldview.  That changed and solidified all types of things in my life.  It put me on a trajectory that has never changed.

But rethinking has been a way of life since the beginning.  Much of what is found in Protestants and American Conservatism is almost biographical.  Familiar names, issues, historical time periods,  political fights, and the changing conservative agendas and definitions have been consuming passions for me in my personal thinking, teaching, lecturing, and writing.

The tendency in our time is to have quite simple ideas of what Conservatism and Liberalism are.  Turn on conservative talk radio and a number of hosts will be there usually defending Pres. Trump and touting his conservative credentials.  A few years back, they were castigating Pres. Obama and attacking his liberal views.  Turn to many of the more liberal media formats and the opposite cases are being presented.  Then there are those who now proclaim that any Republican who is not lining up exactly on the conservative’s check list is a RINO, that is, a Republican in Name Only.

Go back a few years and we have the rise of what has been called the Christian Right, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and other names, all of which are highlighting the politically conservative and usually Republican-leaning views of evangelical Christians.  Of course, this opens the discussion up to other types of Christians who may not identify as evangelical, fundamentalist, Protestant, or conservative.

When did this all start?  Some say when Ronald Reagan created his winning coalition in 1980.  Some say when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion in 1973 (although Protestants remained asleep for a half decade on that one).  Some date events back as far as the Goldwater race for the Presidency in 1964.  Or maybe it does goes back to Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, published in 1951.

All those markers are useful, and a number of books have been written on both the popular and scholarly levels attempting to alert, alarm, or inform readers of the cultural, political, economic, and philosophical crises of our times. But the strength, the key selling point of this book is that while it covers all of the events listed above, it takes the issue of Christian conservative thought back to the Colonial Era.

This is not just another “America was founded by Christians” book.  Lest anyone think I was being sarcastic with that sentence, I firmly believe our Colonial and Revolutionary Founders were Christians, with many being self-consciously focused on applying the precepts of the faith to events of their times.

“Nothing is simple,” says my former history professor Dr. Tom Wagy.  The interaction of Protestants with politics has a long and textured history.  It was not as though they were all trying to impose a Christian form or design on the political order.  Rather, they carried deep presuppositions about the nature of man, of society, about the covenantal and historic connections between the faith and the social order, and about the applications of such presuppositions in their times.

Christianity is not safely caged within a political creed.  One can argue that the Pharisees and Romans were the conservatives of their day.  Certainly, those who didn’t skip across the pond to start new versions of church and state were not trying to conserve the English status quo.  Nor were Loyalists during the American Revolution the liberals in the scuffle over rule of the colonies.

Literature is full of cases of characters donning someone else’s uniform or armor.  Patroclus, in Homer’s Iliad, Achilles’s armor, leading to his death in battle.  Christians have been sometimes too quick to embrace a political view that puts them in the wrong battle or at least in a awkward position.  Events both prior to and after the American Civil War put Christians in a variety of odd positions regarding application of the faith.

To be sure, I believe that Christian presuppositions call for a view of people that recognizes both their being in the image of God and being fallen.  I believe that there are limits on what government can and should do.  I believe that the free market is generally more conducive to prosperity and distribution and enjoyment of resources.  I believe in freedom.  All of these beliefs and more are grounded in my being a Christian.  They propel me to favoring more conservative politics in our times.  (I identify as an unhappy Reagan Republican.)

I remember some years ago when a conservative and Christian (failed) political figure was calling for America to reclaim the Panama Canal.  For sure, I sided with Candidate Reagan on that issue in 1976. (His close ideologically conservative friend William F. Buckley, Jr. disagreed.)  I think there are sound reasons for arguing that the U. S. should never have relinquished control of the Canal and Canal Zone.  At the same time, I have not witnessed any apocalypse resulting from our ceding it back to Panama.  What is the Christian position on this issue?  I don’t find any of my Christian presuppositions endangered by giving up the Canal Zone.

Of course, not every issue is like that.  And while the Bible doesn’t list a program for government actions, I do believe that there are plenty of laws, admonitions, examples, broad themes, specific applications, and so on for Christians to appeal to in thinking about public policy.  There are both debatable issues and non-negotiables.

This book will not cause a conservative like me to repent, nor cause any who hold more liberal views to accept Christ.  But it does examine and weigh out many of the past issues.

This book is fine history.  Yes, I argued with the author at times.  Yes, I hung my head in embarrassment a few times as well.  Overall, I love the reading experience and hope to read it again and refer to it often.

 

Philosophy 101 Claimed by Christ

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A clueless, naïve college freshman walks into a classroom.  The course is Philosophy 101.  The bearded, intimidating professor, decked out with a bow tie, tweed jacket, and an armful of books walks in.  He announces that this is a course on the study of PHILOSOPHY.  As he passes out the syllabi to the students, he goes on about some of the benefits of taking the course. Then comes the clincher:  As he walks back up to the front of the room, his stentorian voice rings out, “Write this on a sheet of paper:  I don’t believe in God.  Postdate the paper for May 12, 2020.  For by that date, and by the time you are taking the final in this class, you will not believe in God.”

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Wow!  How many times have I heard this kind of story? And there is even a movie made about it.  And even Einstein is resurrected with words put into his mouth answering the atheist professor.  And many a scared young Christian has feared either going to college or taking philosophy, and maybe he has been scared about confessing to his parents and pastor that he is studying philosophy. I am sure it actually happened somewhere.  I am sure that there have been professors who maybe had an agenda for discounting belief systems in their students.  I had lots of college profs who seemed to have little regard and even less understanding of Christianity, but if any were trying to dissuade me, I didn’t even realize it.  (Most teachers I have ever had have had a genuine appreciation for any serious students.)

To tell the truth, I would actually be more frightened if I were an atheist, agnostic, or skeptic about entering a philosophy class than I am afraid as a Christian about the field, the study, and the teachers of philosophy. If there is one area where Christians today are waging war, one area where we are capturing the high ground, one area where the vast treasures of the past thought are being uncovered in our favor, one area where we are winning, it is philosophy.  CHRISTIANS ARE DOMINATING THE FIELD OF PHILOSOPHY.

Forget end times, tribulation, despair and decline, retreat, and hopes for being raptured as a last effort to save a shrinking band of surviving believers.  Christians are winning cage matches, tag team matches, philosophy-mania, and more. This is not to imply that there are no battles to be fought.  This is not to imply solidarity among Christian philosophers and philosophy teachers.  This is not to imply that philosophy has morphed into a praise and worship team. “In this world, you shall have trouble.  Be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world,” said Jesus.  Let’s paraphrase, “In the study of philosophy, you shall have trouble.  Be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world.”  Not escaped, sidestepped, or retreated from, but overcome. I assure you that if you are a Christian and are wanting to study philosophy, the resources available to you are vast and growing.  And these are not little booklets written by non-philosophy types like me.  (My background studies are in history and literature, and I am, at heart, a junior high and high school teacher.)  We are talking Ph.D., peer reviewed journal contributions, top name colleges, and books as dense or readable as you wish.

There are many fine books on the market aimed at Christian college students introducing the field of philosophy.  Alongside that, there are the secular presses that have hundreds more–new and old–to choose from.  For many, beginning with a book like R. C. Sproul’s The Consequence of Ideas is a great foundational work.  For those wanting to see how a writer without Christian presuppositions approaches the topic, there is Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind.

Most of the introductory books will be largely a historical survey of the philosophers and ideas that have come and gone through the ages.  Some, in contrast, will focus more on the issues that have engaged philosophers.  Every history and literature teacher, along with every pastor and Bible student, should have a hefty stack of such introductory books.

In this review, I would like to highlight John Frame’s We Are All Philosophers:  A Christian Introduction to Seven Fundamental Questions.  This book is published by Lexham Press, a favorite publisher of mine.

This small hardback book is a great accompaniment to any of the historical survey-type intros to the field.  Frame is a theologian with a solid philosophical background. He studied at Princeton and Yale, as well as studying theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.  Frame is a student of Cornelius Van Til and a prolific author on theological topics.  His larger work on philosophy is A History of Western Philosophy and Theology–a magnum opus in the field.

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology - By: John M. Frame

Concerning We Are All Philosophers, here are the seven questions:

  • What is everything made of?
  • Do I have free will?
  • Can I know the world?
  • Does God exist?
  • How shall I live?
  • What are my rights?
  • How can I be saved?

One might think that these questions are either irrelevant (in regard to what everything is made of) or merely religious (as in regard to questions about God and salvation).  Everyone has to confront what everything is made of.  If we are merely material stuff, then lots of other questions get answered differently than if we are being with material bodies and non-material souls.

The question of God’s existence is the one that shows up in the stories and anecdotes concerning the fabled atheist Philosophy 101 profs.  At its heart, the question goes beyond just a Ray Comfort Man-In-The-Street evangelistic interview.  Is belief warranted, rational, and certain, or is it merely hunches and hopes.

The question of rights gets to the heart of many of the political agendas that are being debated in the current election year.

Avoid these seven questions (which I don’t think is possible) and you avoid life.  And if you give wrong answers?  Then we go to history class and prepare by taking a major anti-depressant.

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Eleonor Stump’s book The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers is published by Marquette University Press.

Dr. Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louise University and is recognized as a leading expert on Thomas Aquinas.  This short book is based on lectures she gave at Marquette University.

All through the years, philosophers and theologians have borrowed from each other, but also battled each other.  A theologian poring over the Bible and a philosopher poring over philosophy texts can and have reached different conclusions, given varying explanations, raised different questions and provided contrary answers.

But is that an insurmountable divide?  Are these two fields separated by the guiding presuppositions?  Is the Christian who enters philosophy bound to always be a philosopher who is a Christian rather than a Christian philosopher? This question has been discussed numerous times.  It is a great question with lots of implications for al of life.  Dr. Stump gives some strong reasoning why we should not feel compelled to put our Bibles aside while studying philosophy.

If you took note of the picture posted at the top and bottom of this discussion, you will see several other fine Christian works on philosophy.  The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy by Steven B. Cowan and James Spiegel, published by B & H Publishing Group, is a fine and weighty study on the issues one studies in philosophy.

A History of Western Philosophy: From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans is published by IVP.  It is a survey of the history as the title says of famous philosophers, schools of thought, and major ideas.

Philosophy: A Christian Introduction by James K. Dew, Jr. and Paul M. Gould, published by Baker Academic.  I became aware of this book after reading and loving Dr. Gould’s book Cultural Apologetics.

Final comments on the two books by Dr. Frame and Dr. Stump:  Both are small, short, nicely done hardback books.  Great for carrying along on a trip or a meeting where you might just find a few free minutes.  Frame’s book is a good “learning to swim” book, while Stump’s book is a serious plunge in the deep end of the pool.  Even the most serious students need to get a refresher on the starting fundamentals of philosophy, and even we beginners need to be exposed to some of the depth of the subject.

 

 

Scaling Mount Bavinck, Part One

How shall we say it? There is a Herman Bavinck revival going on now?  Herman Bavinck is trending now?  Bavinck is flooding the book market–in certain limited niches?  Bavinck is becoming the most important Reformed theologian of our time?

I have to remind myself that the circles I am in are very small indeed.  But within my contacts here and there with fellow believers and adherents of Reformed theology, Herman Bavinck’s name is showing up more and more.  Years ago, we had The Doctrine of God, Philosophy of Religion, Our Reasonable Faith, and perhaps a few other works available for English readers. The Doctrine of God was first translated by William Hendriksen in the 1930s, but it was not published until the 1950s.

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For me, I knew the name, but it was often blurred in my mind with a number of Dutch Hermans, such as Herman Ridderbos and Herman Dooyeweerd.  And Baivinck, as I crept into my next stage of understanding, was a junior partner in the rich Dutch Christian worldview firm of Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, and associates.  Bavinck shared honors with H. Van Reissen, Klaus Schilder, Hans Rookmaaker, and the many other gifted, but lesser lights in the greater movement.  (Forgive the many errors in my thinking.)

The largest gap that exists between the 19th and 20th century reformations in the Netherlands and the theological catch-up in the New World has been language.  I well remember being in an email discussion group where I would ask a question, and someone would begin their answer by saying, “Do you read Dutch?” Here in my neck of the woods, no one reads Dutch.  No colleges teach Dutch.  No one even figures there is a need to read Dutch.

There are, however, those who did master the language.  Some were encouraged by Cornelius Van Til who basically thought Dutch was the heavenly language. Some, like R. C. Sproul, sailed the ocean blue (in the opposite direction of Columbus) in order to study at the Free University of Amsterdam or some other institution where the Dutch theologians resided.  G. C. Berkouwer was one of the great draws, along with Dooyeweerd and his less acclaimed brother-in-law Dirk Vollenhoven.  Many, of course, were drawn to the Dutch authors through the works of those Dutchmen who immigrated to North America where they did their writing and teaching.  Here is where such names as Van Til, Louis Berkhof, and Geerhardus Vos show up.

In time, whole groups of seminary scholars and theology students gathered to take on the tasks of translating mountains of Dutch theological and philosophical works into English.  This was an act of faith and perseverance, because it was not as though English-speaking Christian folks were clamoring for Dutch tomes.  But they began appearing.  Thankfully, there were those works like Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism that already had a following.

It seems to have been only in the last 10 to 15 years that the translation work has started pumping out a series of Bavinck’s works almost non-stop.  It would be his Reformed Dogmatics in four volumes and later condensed into a one volume edition that would begin pushing aside other books on the shelves to take an honored position.

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The following listing is not in an exact chronological order, but it represents the order in which I best remember getting or reading his books or books about him.

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Ron Gleason, a pastor (and former college wrestler) wrote an enjoyable biography of the man titled Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian.  Published by P & R, this book explored the life of the man who was not merely an adjunct to Kuyper’s work, but was a partner, leader, and sometimes adversary to the great Abraham.  Much of the book explored the battles Bavinck experienced as he worked, studied, and thought his way through his own schooling, pastoral work, teaching, and writing.  There were, then as now, plenty of theological controversies, some quite clear and identifiable, while others are arcane to the modern reader.

The great benefit was that we could now know about the life of the man as we were beginning to read his books.

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This book, Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, is a great collection that shows how Bavinck was not merely a theologically centered or academic scholar, but was engaged in “religion for all of life.”  Published by Baker, this book is a nice work to have alongside the other Baker series of Bavinck studies.

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Along came Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers, translated and edited by James P. Eglinton, one of the premier Bavinck scholars of our time.  This delightful book covered some very practical and pointed views Bavinck had for preachers.  And it included a few selections from his preaching.  Having spent most of his labors in the classroom, Bavinck’s extant sermons are few.

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Also quite practical is The Christian Family, translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman with an introduction by James Eglinton.  This short book was publihed by Christian Library Press in 2012.  It is another reminder that the man was not confining his theological works to the obtuse and weighty themes that are wrongedly labeled as “dry and dusty theology.”  Bavinck was hitting some family and marriage issues hard.  In our times, because the family is under attack, we think we are living in a new set of circumstances, but the family is always under attack.  This work is relevant today and only the smallest smidgens of it are outdated.

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More about the life of Bavinck and his theology is found in Bavinck on the Christian Life: Follwing Jesus in Faithful Service by John Bolt.  Bolt, by the way, is another of the most prominent Bavinck scholars of our time.  This book is part of a fine series of biographical and theogical studies of prominent Christian thinkers and is published by Crossway.

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Very accessible, readable, devotional, and worthwhile is a short work titled The Sacrifice of Praise, which was edited by Cameron Clausing and Gregory Parker, Jr.  Cam Clausing is a Facebook friend and the close friend and co-laborer of another friend.  Cam secured me a Dutch Bible during his recent years spent in the British Isles and in the Netherlands studying and researching Bavinck.

This work was originally aimed at preparing the hearts of those who had been baptized and catechized to partake of and benefited by the Lord’s Supper.  It is a still a wonderful guide for believers at all stages.  I enjoyed reading it last year and have it high on the “need to re-read” list.

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Christian Worldview, translated and edited by Facebook friend Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton, and Cory Brock, was recently published by Crossway in a beautiful hardback edition.  I have not read it yet, but have been reading books with “Worldview” in the titles for years.  The basic idea of thinking Christianly across the board of life and thought and experiences is something that the Dutch really developed.  This is the category that we usually think Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper in as being the leading thinkers, but Bavinck again was on the cutting edge.

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Alas, I do not own a copy of The Wonderful Works of God by Bavinck.  The book came out late last fall (2019), but the initial press run was soon old out.  It is expected to be back in print in March.

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Everything said prior is simply prelude to my experiences in reading one of the most in-depth and wide-ranging studies in theology and philosophy.  Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity, edited by John Bolt, is volume one of a projected three volume work, being translated for the first time in English.  Reformed Ethic is published by Baker Academic, which also published Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

This work is being developed by the extensive lecture notes that Bavinck compiled in teaching courses on ethics.  According to the introductory materials in Reformed Ethic, an 1100 page set of notes was found that Bavinck used for teaching and may have intended to publish in time. The book is weighty and packed with lots of references and descriptions of the many views of Christian thinkers long before as well as contemporaneous with Bavinck.  This is not a devotional or introductory work, although many passages will bid the heart to sing to God in joy.

Reliving Presidential Elections from the Past

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First of all, this post is just for fun and to help me celebrate Presidents Day, even though I am not dealing with either #1 or #16.  Second, it does work either logically or historically.  Logically, if A, then B, but if not A, then not B makes sense.  If some of my Presidential choices had happened, everything that followed would not have happened.  What are the odds, for example, that Richard Nixon would have been riding down a street in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 if he had been elected President in 1960?

I am posting my choices of who I would want to have voted for, based on the perspective of having studied most of these campaigns from afar, and who I would have posited as my preferred choice or choices in some cases.  Feel free to join the party, whether it is the Republican or Democrat Party, here.

Oh, to clarify, I am beginning with the election of 1900.  I am listing the Republican candidate first and the Democrat second.  If this offends you, think of it as either saving the best for last or first is….uh…first.  Maybe I can cover the prior elections on a future post.

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1900:  William McKinley/Theodore Roosevelt vs.  William Jennings Bryan.

As in 1896 in which the same two were running, I would opt for McKinley.  I love so much about “The Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan, except for his political views.

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1904  Theodore Roosevelt vs. Judge Alton Parker

I vote TR.  I reckon that Parker was the more conservative, more Cleveland-like candidate, but U. S. history would be missing so much without having TR in the White House.  My love for his personality trumps my concerns about some of his politics.

1908  William Howard Taft vs.  Bryan (his third run failed run.

I vote Taft.

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1912  Taft vs. Woodrow Wilson and both of them vs. Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party) (and also Eugene V. Debs, Socialist)

Taft again.  TR’s more radical positions came more to the forefront, but you have to admire his speech given after being shot.

1916  Justice Charles Evans Hughes vs.  Pres. Wilson

I vote Hughes. “He Kept Us Out of War” rings hollow in the light of history.

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1920  Warren G. Harding/Calvin Coolidge vs. James Cox/Franklin Roosevelt

I vote Harding/Coolidge, wishing it had been Coolidge/Harding.  “Normalcy” ain’t such a bad word.

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1924  Calvin Coolidge vs.  John Davis  (One can also add Progressive Robert LaFollette, if you wish.)

EITHER.  This was my dream election–both honorable, capable men.  Both conservative.

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1928  Sec. Herbert Hoover vs. Gov. Al Smith

I vote for “The Happy Warrior” Al Smith

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1932  Herbert Hoover vs. Franklin D. Roosevelt

I vote Hoover.  After all, somebody needed to vote for him.  Being Southern, Texan, and knowing about the Great Depression’s effects, I admit that I might have voted for FDR.  Ronald Reagan often quoted from FDR’s 1932 campaign platform.  I would have preferred his VP Texan John Nance Garner.

1936  Alf Landon versus FDR

Landon, but the fact of being a Texan and Southerner might have kept me voting Democrat–reluctantly.

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1940  Wendell Wilkie vs. FDR

Awful election choices.  Garner tried to get the Democratic nomination, but FDR held it and went for the unprecedented 3rd consecutive term. Wilkie was just a businessman with no political experience and was very close to FDR in many views.  But I vote Wilkie because some of the Agrarians supported him.

1944  Gov. Tom Dewey vs. FDR

I vote FDR, but only because of the course of World War II and because he dropped Henry Wallace as VP in favor of Truman.

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1948  Dewey vs. Truman

Dewey represented the more liberal/northeastern wing of the party.  Truman had spunk, detested Communists, and had some good gut instincts (honed by years of reading history).  Besides, it is sad to think of the picture above if Truman had been frowning.

As a Southerner, I had a fondness for Strom Thurman.  Both poets Donald Davidson and Robert Frost voted for him.  I might have as well.  But I am glad Truman won that year.

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1952  and 1956 Dwight D. Eisenhower vs Adlai Stevenson

I vote Ike in both cases. Stevenson was not as liberal as many in the party and had some attractive qualities.  Truth be known, I really opt for the Republican Party choosing Robert Taft in 1952.

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1960  Richard Nixon versus John F. Kennedy

Two bright, handsome, young, dynamic men, both terribly flawed.  This is the first election I remember as a child.  My sister explained to me that we were for Kennedy because he was better looking.  Maybe so, but I would have reluctantly voted for Nixon.

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1964  Sen. Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon B. Johnson

Goldwater ran one of the most inept campaigns in history.  LBJ’s ability to pass a Civil Rights Bill and a brilliant tax cut were outstanding actions.  Oh yes, Goldwater should have put William Scranton in the ticket as his VP.

But let there be no doubt, I would have been in the AU H2o camp all the way.

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1968  Richard Nixon vs. Hubert H. Humphrey and both of them vs. Gov. George C. Wallace

What a calamitous year!  I admire much about Humphrey and about Gov. Wallace (flaws notwithstanding).  It would have been far better had the Republicans nominated the articulate Gov. Ronald Reagan of California or even Gov. George Romney of Michigan.  Maybe even Gov. Nelson Rockefeller would have been better than Nixon.

I was for Humphrey back in 7th grade, but now I would reluctantly vote Nixon.  Brilliant man, flawed leader.

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1972 Nixon vs. George McGovern

I vote Nixon again.  Sen. McGovern was a really good man in his heroic military service and personal life.  But his left-leaning politics were atrocious.  His minions captured control of the Democrat Party by changing rules, but that’s politics.

1976  Ford versus Gov. Jimmy Carter

I voted for Pres. Ford in this, my first, election to vote in.  But in the previous May, I voted for Ronald Reagan in the Texas Primary. I wish the Democrats had nominated Sen. Henry Jackson, the last of the old-time Cold Warriors.

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1980 and 1984

Reagan vs.  Carter in 1980

Reagan vs. Mondale in 1984

Me–Reagan all the way.  He is my favorite.  Once, I got his autograph; twice I saw him.

1988–1992–1996

George Bush vs. Michael Dukakis

Bush vs. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot (Independent)

Robert Dole vs. Pres. Clinton and Ross Perot (Independent)

I wish 1988’s Republican candidate had been Jack Kemp.  I voted for Bush in ’88 and then voted for the hapless Constitution Party in ’92 and ’96.

I favor Bush and Dole with a bit of reluctance.  Their WWII records, however, are highly respected.

2000 and 2004

George W. Bush vs. Al Gore

Bush vs. John Kerry

I voted Bush both times.  Imperfect, but honorable in many ways.

2008 and 2012

Sen. John McCain vs. Sen. Barack Obama

Gov. Mitt Romney vs. Pres. Obama

I voted for both Republicans.  I don’t think Sen. McCain would have been a good President, and I supported Mike Huckabee in the primary.  I was for Rick Santorum in the Republican primary, but came to really like Romney.

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2016

Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton

This was one of the most interesting campaigns ever with two of the worst candidates ever.  Shortly before going to the election location, I decided to stick with the Republican Party because of Mike Pence.  My state, Arkansas, was very Red.  (We didn’t have much regard for our former First Lady of the state and of the nation.)  The election would have been much better had it been Vice Presidential candidate Pence vs. Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine.

I much preferred Sen. Marco Rubio as the Republican candidate.  Second choice was Sen. Ted Cruz.  I could have been comfortable with any number of other Republicans, but you don’t have those choices on election day.

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Lexham Press’ Best of Christianity Today

 

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I was born in December of 1955 and Christianity Today first went out in October of 1956.  It would be many years before I gained even a shadowy awareness of the rise and travails of Evangelicalism within the Christian faith.  I was raised in the Bible Belt and most of my elementary teachers attended either the same Methodist Church I attended or went to Baptist churches in the community.  We prayed in school or at school events and the Christian undercurrents were still going strong.  In time, I became aware of a preacher named Billy Graham, mainly because his televised Crusades interrupted the regularly scheduled evening line-up of shows.

In my college years, 1974-1978, I became increasingly aware of the issues that had confronted Christians in previous decades and that were continuing to confront Christians.  Early on, I came to know enough well read, usually college educated, Christians so that I never believed or assumed that the mind and the faith were on different spheres.  My goodness, all it took was one struggling read through Gregg Singer’s Theological Interpretation of American History and R. J. Rushdoony’s This Independent Republic for me to embrace the powerful floodlight of the Calvinistic worldview.

At times, over the years I subscribed to Christianity Today.  My lapsed subscriptions were usually due to my paltry funds for magazines.  Also, I did not have easy access to the magazine in a library since public schools didn’t subscribe to many publications and certainly not a Christian one.

Along with my occasional reads from the magazine itself, I would hear and continue to hear about and read criticisms of the magazine.  Is it any wonder that a publication that seeks to speak for a large segment of professing Christians receives lots of criticism?

Most often in these times, I only hear about the magazine if something is published that outrages Christian conservatives or if an article appears that “we” really like.  The cover posted above highlights an outstanding article in the magazine by Dr. Louis Markos that praises the work of classical Christian education. As a teacher in a classical Christian school and as a fan of Dr. Markos, I loved the article.  There have probably been quite a few other articles that I would love, as well as some I would totally disagree with or just be indifferent to.  By the way, the conflicts related to Christianity Today are not new.  R. J. Rushdoony locked horns with the editors many decades ago when they published an article about William Faulkner.  And in this case, I respectfully and fearfully disagree with Rushdoony.

In the early decades of the magazine, the towering figures in the Evangelical world were being published in the magazine.  (Yes, in ever area, we always can enjoy sitting around complaining about kids nowadays and how the old days were better.)  Without creating or demanding theological conformity on every point, Christianity Today attracted lots of top notch Christian theologians, authors, and preachers who wrote fine articles addressing current issues with ancient wisdom.

Lexham Press has been wooing and winning my heart for several years now with their publications of great works by some of those amazing Dutchmen such as Geerhardus Vos, Abraham Kuyper, and Groen van Prinsterer.  If that was all that they published, I would be plenty happy with them.  (And even happier when the day comes when I buy the entire set of Kuyper’s works.) But they keep doing more and more.  I feel like a young theology student in Geneva during the days of Calvin and Farel. (Besides having many good pastor/theologians to listen to daily on podcasts/morning sermons, the printing presses were going non-stop in that town.)

One of the most attractive, irresistible, and enduring series of late is called Best of Christianity Today.  

First came Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essay of John Stott.

Alongside of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott was one of the greatest preachers and writers on Christian theology in the British Isles and across the English speaking world during the Twentieth Century.  I have probably a dozen or more of his books, but not near all of them.  He was solid in theology, a fine writer and stylist, and a powerful communicator.  As with everyone (except me), there are errors or glitches in his theological understanding, but the man was a giant. And while quite learned and educator, he was not a theologian who wrote for theologians.  He was a pastor, first to those within earshot and then to those who read or still read his works.

Second in the series is Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H. Henry.

Carl F. H. Henry was never the effective, easy communicator that Stott was.  But he was regularly regarded as being one of the serious heavyweights and key intellectual Christian thinkers of his times.  Like his teacher Gordon Clark and like some of his contemporaries, such as Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer, and Henry Van Til, Henry taught lots of Christians how to think, how to expand their minds beyond church issues, and how to confront cultural and philosophical issues of the times.

Henry’s main work is a massive six volume set called God, Revelation, and Authority.  Few will be those hearty enough to plow through the volumes.  In fact, one admirer said of Henry, “It is too bad that no one has translated his works into English.” (An obscure joke since he wrote in English.) For a time, it seemed as those interest in Carl Henry faded away, but I detect a renewed interest in our times.  Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Recovering Classic Evangelicalism:  Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry awakened my interest in him several years ago and sent me scurrying to my library to rediscover several read and unread volumes I owned.

Any book that is highlighting the writing of the giants of the past, even the recent past, are a blessing to the Christian community.

The third volume in the “Best of Christianity Today” series is Basics of the Faith: An Evangelical Introduction to Christian Doctrine, edited by Dr. Henry.

This volume is a collection of articles by a host of authors who constitute the “Who’s Who of Evangelicalism” of the 1950s and 1960s.  Contributors include Philip E. Hughes, John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, and many more.  While not a systematic theology, the essays cover a series of topics one would find in ST.

The key benefit in this book, as well as the series, is that these are relatively short essays.  Many readers are daunted by heavy books, long chapters, and the high mountain ranges of theological and Christian study.  But we can all read an article, an essay.  Of course, no short essay can cover the vastness of a topic, but we are finite.  The magazine and these writers were speaking to the Christian community.  You will likely dislike the fluffy Christian books as much as I do. You may break out into a sweat or hives when trying to negotiate with the contents of a serious, somber, searching theologian who is assuming that you have attended as many seminary courses as he or she has.

Here is the middle ground.  Add to that, these books are beautifully hardback works that adorn the shelf as well as fill the mind.  And for those of you who like, and I hate to say it, there are digital copies availabe to adorn your digital devices.

Great series.  Must haves.  Easy accessible reads.  Admirable authors.  Lovely bindings.  Thank you Lexham Press for this publishing venture.

 

What’s So Important About Western Civilization?

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Two new books….If that were all there was to discuss this topic, we would be in for a treat.  But there is so much more.  Every book and every study opens up a vast field of people, movements, ideas, and events calling for examination and reflection.

In my high school classes, I use and enjoy Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live?  I assign the book; we watch the videos; and I test the students over a long list of names.  Along with almost any standard Western Civilization textbook, this provides a good grammar of the subject.  To some degree, the learner has to have a mental outline of history and a sense of where to peg certain people and events.  For example, if George Washington, the Protestant Reformation, and the death of Socrates are not in some mental order in your mind, you cannot make sense of history or the present.

We interrupt this blog post for this special announcement:  One of the helpful resources available for and geared for students is Ancient History from Primary Sources, edited and compiled by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.  This work, published by Trivium Pursuit, contains a vast number of timelines, bullet point materials, and references for teaching younger children Ancient History.  While this might be gold to the homeschooling mom who is laboring over a history curriculum, I find it equally appealing as a history teacher with decades of teaching behind me.

Now back to the journey at hand:  I have found the study of Western Civilization to be all encompassing.  There are plenty of authors and books I find indispensable.  At the top of the list would be anything written by Christopher Dawson, Jacques Barzun (particularly his book The Dawn of Decadence), Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples, Niall Ferguson (especially The West and the Rest), Paul Johnson, and more.

We cannot even begin to list all of the original sources, classics of literature and philosophy, biographies, and other books that are part of the arsenal of understanding Western Civilization.

So while this topic cannot be reduced to two new books, I am going to focus now on two new books.

Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization by Samuel Gregg is published by Regnery.

Regnery is a well known publisher of conservative books, and the books they publish are quality materials with depth.  We are not talking about talk radio conservatism, but well-thought out, tradition-based, serious conservative interaction in the world of books and ideas.

I try not to cut and paste from others in doing my book reviews, but this comment found on the Regnery page for this book is a gem:

“Gregg’s book is the closet thing I’ve encountered in a long time to a one-volume user’s manual for operating Western Civilization.” —The Stream

Gregg’s book is a not a historical narrative, but is a analysis of key thinkers who have positively or negatively interacted with the issues of reason and faith.  In many formats, the reason versus faith matchup has been discussed.  In one sense, it goes back to the old line by Tertullian, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”  But the debate intensified during the Enlightenment.

If your study of Western Civilization—whether it be a class you teach or take, books you read, or your “study” via popular culture, or your Sunday sermons–is not raising questions of reason and faith, something is missing.  “Something” here meaning only the most vital elements.  And like it or not, the struggle for Western Civilization is a war of coalitions.  Yes, Protestants differ from Catholics.  Yes, we differ from those other people whose definitions of faith are inadequate.  But this is war and struggle.

We face a host of opposing ideologies.  Among others, Gregg focuses upon authoritarian relativism, Jihadism, and liberal religion.  These ways of thinking attack boldly, seep in, disguise themselves, and find other ways of infiltrating our culture and thinking.  Consider this quote from the one time Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  (And we cringe to remember that Kennedy was a Catholic and a Reagan appointee.)  If that statement is truly the heart of liberty or belief in that statement is the norm, we are in trouble.

But this book is not a gloom and doom Jeremiad.  Concluding with a chapter titled “A Way Back,” Gregg follows up his making us better aware of the issues confronting us with a reminder of the hope and the means of recovery.  Western Civilization can, by God’s grace, say, “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland is published by Basic Books.

Dominion is simply too good.  I have been reading praises and seeing reviews showing up everywhere.  I had long anticipated this book and expected it to be an enjoyable, enlightening read.  But it was better than expected.  I can actually take comfort in the scattered observations of Mr. Holland that I found unconvincing or totally objectionable, lest I despair of ever speaking of history again without quoting directly from this book.

On the one hand, this book is something like a Church history.  From the ancient world to the present, it hits various Christian and church-related movements, leaders, ideas, and struggles.  But it is not a textbook or survey of the Church or of Christians.  In some ways, it does what Christopher Dawson did through a vast number of books and essays on the impact of Christians and Christian thought, but in a different style.

This is a narrative history.  It is a story, or a collection of stories.  Repeatedly, the stories are about how Christianity interacted with and impacted culture.  This is not hagiolatry.  There are saints described, to be sure, but there are some of the inescapable stinkers who used the cloak of Christianity to do wrongful things.  (Many of them were truly convinced that they were doing the right things.)

Holland’s use of the word “revolution” is truly on target.  Christianity has so permeated the culture, so impacted events, so structured the foundations, that no one can think without borrowing heavily from the Christian foundation.  Holland’s journey in life and in writing history began with an upbringing that included aspects of both nominal and real Christian belief.  His writing journeys carried him through different venues of the ancient world, especially among Roman and Persian cultures.  But in the course of years as an unbeliever, he has begun retracing the faith, both that of our culture and of his own experiences.

This is not a conversion story.  I am not sure whether Mr. Holland is a God-honorer or a God-follower.  But the contents of this book should be enough to strengthen every believer and to give the willies with a touch of fever to every agnostic, atheist, or skeptic.

There is no way that a history teacher can honestly step back into the classroom or up to the lectern without having read or starting this book.  Am I too fulsome in my praise?  Guilty.  Read it and see if I am right.