Masquerade: Treason, The Holocaust, and an Irish Imposter

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Masquerade: Treason, The Holocaust, and an Irish Impostor, by Mark M. Hull and Vera Moynes, is a recent publication from the University of Oklahoma Press.  I am a book reviewer for that university and am, therefore, a literary Sooner.  As might be expected, that press is responsible for the publication of numerous books on Native Americans and the American West.  But UOP is also the publisher of a great series of military works under its Campaigns and Commanders series.

And in an age that is hesitant or unsure about classical studies, UOP continues to publish scholarly studies on Homer, Virgil, and the other ancient authors whose writings once constituted the basic core of academic education. Those books are part of the Oklahoma Series on Classical Culture.

Masquerade is not part of a series and is classified as world history and biography.  While I was reading it, I tried to shelf it alongside studies of World War II.  The book is about a woman named Phyllis Ursula James, who went by the names Nora O’Mara, Róisín Ní Mhéara, and Rosaleen James.  Her role in World War II, although treasonous, was minor.  Her role in Irish affairs after the war was a bit more prominent, but I suspect she is not well known in Eire.

There were Englishmen and women before and during World War II who looked favorably on Hitler, the Nazis, and the Third Reich.  The novel and movie The Remains of the Day by Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro is about that subject.  The best known among the treasonous was William Joyce, known as “Lord Haw-Haw,” and the American Mildred Gillars, best known as “Axis Sally.”  (“Lord Haw-Haw” was hanged for his treason after the war, while Gillars served time in prison.)  In contrast, Rosaleen James was never actually accused of her actions to aid the Nazis.

With a thousand plus figures from World War II, ranging from key political and military leaders to lowly privates and civilians, of what importance is this woman?  She did opt to live the war years in Germany.  She did defend and support the Nazis.  She continued throughout her life to blaming Churchill, the Allies, the bombing campaigns, and all opponents to the Third Reich for the defeat of what she viewed as the more virtuous power in the war.   She faked Irish heritage and was consumed with avenging Irish wrongs at the hands of the English.  She did try her hand at broadcasting during her years in Germany during the war.  She attempted to help with efforts to recruit Irish to the Nazi cause or to use Ireland as a source of intelligence for the Abwehr (the German intelligence department).

But in many ways, she could be discarded as a subject of interest and relegated to the category of a kook.  But two historians found her life worth studying and investigating.  This book is an investigative history.  Her story is not found in the standard works and resources for World War II.  Dr.  Mark Hull’s previous book is titled Irish Secrets: German Espionage in Wartime Ireland, 1939-1945.  Vera Moynes is a historian with the National Archives of Ireland.  They are, therefore, well equipped to deal with this case.

The book is fascinating in several ways:

First, it is a testimony to a really difficult and troubled life.  Rosaleen James was an abandoned child.  But she did not have a Dickinsean experience.  Quite the contrary, for she was basically adopted and raised by Lord Hamilton and his wife. I say “basically adopted” because Rosaleen’s connection and status with Lord Hamilton was not good. Lady Hamilton claimed Rosaleen as her adopted child, but Lord H didn’t.

In time, Rosaleen would have two children but would not be married.  Her relationships were a bit murky.  She never knew her biological parents, and this was the basis for her claiming Irish descent.  Growing up with aristocratic benefactors put her in good society, but she was not a good person.  The Hamilton’s, by the way, were Hitler sympathizers before the war.

Second, Rosaleen translated several works from Gaelic into German, and she wrote newspaper columns and a couple of books.  She was a gifted person, for the Gaelic language is not an easy climb.  Her autobiographical works concealed as well as revealed parts of her life and the persona she created.

Third, she was an unabashed defender and apologist for the Third Reich and the German people.  She loathed the English, especially Winston Churchill. Her main criticisms of Germans was cases where the German government performed acts of contrition for the Nazi crimes.  She contended that the deaths found in the Bergen-Belson concentration camp were largely exaggerated in terms of numbers, due mainly to an outbreak of typhus, and were made worse by Allied bombings.  The primary evidences of the Holocaust never seemed to have lessened her insistence that the whole thing was an Allied deception.

Fourth, while this book is listed as history and biography, I would mentally place it in another file.  I think it fits better under psychological and mental disorders and under pastoral studies.  I don’t have the background to evaluate why people like Rosaleen James function like she did.  But I have been around the block a few times in dealing with people as a Christian pastor.

While we are all prone to shade, twist, or conceal the truth (part of our sinful nature), some people are prone to live lies.  While it is easy to see why one tells a lie to get out of an immediate situation, living a life of lies is puzzling.  Rosaleen lived a life of twisting what she knew about her background, lying about people she knew and personal experiences, and lying about her Irishness.  She so embraced her connections to Ireland (not a bad thing in and of itself) that she concocted stories of visits there that never occurred and about historical connections.

The authors of the book tried to meet with her as they were doing research on her life.  Her son conveyed the message to them that ill health prevented such a meeting.  Rosaleen died in 2013.  But her family also refused to share any personal insights or interpretations of her life.

This story is a dark tragedy. Rosaleen James actually achieved some minor fame and notice in her life.  There are those who think of her as heroic.  But while she achieved little in her early efforts to become an actress, she played a life-long role that was a fiction.

I received this book as a review copy and am not bound to review it favorably. But I did enjoy this obscure story and think the two historians did a fine job of putting the pieces together in the mystery of this woman’s life.

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The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre

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There is a big part of the topic of apologetics that doesn’t apply to me.  Maybe I am dimwitted, gullible, and shallow.  I don’t deny those things.  I believe the Bible.  I believe the words of Jesus.  I believe the historic and creedal teachings of the Church (in the broadest universal sense).  I have no more problem believing in the virgin birth of Christ than in the non-virgin birth of myself, my children, and others.  I believe Christ rose from the dead.  I am a creationist and pretty much in line with fundamentalists, except that I am not premillennial.

In matters where I have doubts, I simply shrug them off as a personal failing.  Like the people of Pennsylvania that former President Barack Obama, I simply cling to guns and religion.  Well, actually, I cling to coffee, books, and religion, but I basically fit alongside of those political Neanderthals as depicted by the Enlightened One.

Nevertheless, I have long loved and studied and read on Christian apologetics.  I have loved that area of study since I first discovered it many years ago.  I love it too much to take sides.  By that I mean that I love Van Til and Gordon Clark.  I love the approach by Greg Bahnsen and that of R. C. Sproul.  I love Classical Apologetics, Theistic Proofs, Evidentialists, and simple home-grown personal testimonies.  Correcting my words above, I actually do take sides:  I do favor the views of the presuppositionalists, but will still employ examples form Evidence That Demands a Verdict.  

Back in December, I started a book titled The Case for Christ:  The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre.  I was reading it as a spiritual prop to all of the non-spiritual pressures of the Christmas season.  It filled that need, but it did much more.  The reading of the book was a heart and mind exalting experience.

On the one hand, I was convinced of nothing I didn’t already believe.  But I was strengthened, confirmed, and made incredibly joyful of the “faith once delivered for all the saints” (Jude 3).  But the field of apologetics, as defenders of the faith would say, is not primarily to convince the unbeliever, but to comfort and strengthen the believer.

My initial attraction to this book was that it had an afterword written by Bishop Robert Barron. I had read and reviewed a book featuring Barron titled To Light a Fire on the Earth.  My review can be found here.

Wanting to learn more of Barron, I was interested in this book primarily for that reason.  Dr. Pitre lives in my neighboring state of Louisiana and is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.  Besides being an academic professor, he is a best selling author.

This book begins with a central issue:  Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God?  Again, I never lay awake at night wondering about that.  But it is a stumbling block for many.  And it is a contention that is raised by folks in the liberal wings of the Christian umbrella.  Granted, I have long since embraced J. Gresham Machen’s teachings in Christianity and Liberalism and have dismissed the theological liberals as being outside the pale.  But the broader religious community, which includes all varieties of Christian-adjective groups, teach, write, suggest, imply, and slip in doubts and questions about this.

Heresies are a great blessing to believers.  For by them, Christians are forced to wake up, drink stronger coffee, and pull the Bibles down from the shelves and start digging.  The result is not capitulation, defensive retreats, or fear.  Rather, the result of battling a heresy is clarification of the truth.

Bart Ehrman is the prime target of this book.  Ehrman, who is–sad to say–a Wheaton graduate, is a popular writer whose claim to fame is debunking the faith he once embraced (sort of).  He is a good writer.  I read a book titled The Gospel According to Judas.  The fragment that is attributed to Judas is ridiculous, but it is a valuable piece of ancient Gnostic material.  Bart Ehrman’s essay on the Judas fragment was outstanding.  Eherman’s labors, however, are usually aimed at undermining the confidence of believers.

His books, along with contentions of professors of religion, created a crisis for Pitre when he was a student.  But there is a valuable lesson for any Christian who is troubled by “the latest discovery regarding Christianity.”  It is this:  There are no new arguments against Christianity under the sun.  For this reason,  Pitre ably assembles the teachings of Church Fathers and others from 2000 plus years of whipping heretics to pin Ehrman and others in quick knock-out matches.

A good and Christ-centered stroll among the Church Fathers is almost always a blessing.  This is especially true if you have a guide who knows the Fathers and knows the best quotes and references.  But that is not the greatest strength of this book.

We Protestants are a folk who love the Solas of the Reformation.  It all begins and even ends on Sola Scriptura.  Praise God for Church Fathers of all 2000 years of winning arguments.  But our first, primary, and actually only defense is found in Scripture.  It is here that Brant’s work was so helpful to me.  By going straight from one Bible verse, story, or teaching to another, Brant emphasizes, teaches, reinforces, and shouts aloud that Jesus Christ is God, that Jesus Christ claimed to be God, and that Scripture teaches that message clearly and forcefully.

Don’t wait until the Advent season to read this book.  For those who like spiritual reading during Lent, there is still time to delve into this work.  But best of all, it might be just the book to read on Easter and the days following when we celebrate that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Very God of Very God, rose from the dead and lives and rules forever.

Post Script:  I am obliged to confess that I received this book as a review book and am not obligated to praise it to the hilt.  The high regard is the result of my being unable to restrain myself.

Damning Words–a Biography of H. L. Mencken

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“Love him or hate him” goes a frequent saying.  But with H. L. Mencken, it is possible to do both.  He was a vicious attack dog toward Christianity and religion in all forms.  He could unleash powerful vitriol against the American South, working class people, American culture, and America in general.  But he was also capable of being incredibly funny, engagingly readable, and often right on target.

The life of Mencken is told in the book Damning Words: the Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken by Dr. D. G. Hart.  It is published by Eerdmans and is part of their Library of Religious Biography series.  (I have quite a few volumes of that series.)  Dr. Hart has previously written such fine books as Calvinism: A History and biographical studies of J. Gresham Machen and John Williamson Nevin.

Mencken was and never ceased to be a newspaper man, a journalist, a scribbler in the heat and passion of the newsroom working to get the latest edition out.  He was a cynic, a curmudgeon, a skeptic, a doubter, and a critic.  He could find the worm in every apple of pleasure.  It is apt that the cover of this book pictures him sitting in front of a typewriter.  That is where he lived so much of his life.  But it was far from being a dull or limited life.  He dwelt in the fascinating world where words live and meet, join together, reproduce, and create new sentences, paragraphs, pages, and ideas.

Maybe more than any other American, he should have received the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He would have rejected it if he had won, by the way.  Worldly and brazen in many ways, Mencken spent much of his life living with his mother and taking care of her and other family members.  For a few years (after he turned fifty), he was happily married.  His wife, Sara, was ill when they married, and they knew it would be a short-lived marriage.  He was nevertheless devoted to her.

Perhaps one of the most attractive things about Mencken was his opposition to the New Deal and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He was largely what we would call a libertarian.  At the same time, he was out of touch with the nation and its economic crisis in the 1930’s, so he really never grasped what was going on in the hearts and minds of the populace.  It was this same willingness to venture opinions when they went against the grain that gained him friends and foes and cast him in many battles of the times.  Mencken’s life, as the title suggests, is a study of the times in which he lived and the religious issues of that age.

The big religious conflict that Mencken was associated with was the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.  For a number of reasons, Mencken loathed William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan, a 3 time Democrat Presidential nominee and loser, was a prominent evangelical and opponent of Darwinism.  A great orator in his day, he was not on his best game at the Scopes Trial.  While he was bested by Darrow on the witness stand, Bryan grasped some of the more dire implications of Darwinian thought.  Implications is a mild term considering some of the actual statements found in the eugenics-oriented biology texts of that time.

In Mencken’s eyes, Bryan could do nothing right.  Bryan’s death almost immediately after the trial ended did not elicit any sympathy or kind words from Mencken.  Along with the attacks on Bryan, Mencken went after various forms of the Christian faith of his time. Granted, there were aspects of Victorian moralism that were held up as Christian, but were not really defining of the Faith.

Mencken was a street fighter in many of his literary battles.  He railed against enemies high and low, in general and in particular. His forte was the newspaper column.  In fact, he is the prototype of many today who write columns bewailing various cultural and political issues.

But Mencken was also a largely self-taught scholar.  At several points, Hart reminds us that Mencken had only a high school education, and the school he attended was vocationally based.  From his youth, he read.  All of his life, he cultivated a rich harvest with words.  His book The American Language was and still is a major linguistic source.  He wrote several volumes that were loosely constructed as memoirs of his life.  He also published many of his columns in book form.

At a time when few Americans were reading Friedrich Nietzsche (okay, few have ever read Nietzsche), Mencken wrote a book analyzing the German philosopher.  Prior to that, he had written a book about the plays of George Bernard Shaw.  One wonders what Mencken would have done if he had pursued a higher education and landed a safe position in academia.  (Translate that as “he would be forgotten today.”)

Any reading of the life of Mencken is bound to give moments of joy alongside of some very sad thoughts.  Mencken’s last years–particularly 1948 to 1956–were quite depressing.  A stroke had impaired his ability to read and write, but he lived on.  His literary and newspaper careers had faded along the way.  The Great Depression and World War II changed the world and his reading public.  Making matters worse, Mencken was German by heritage and disposition.  While no defender of the Third Reich, he was out of step with the times.

Lots of writers, particularly journalists, enjoy their day in the sun. Later, they are forgotten.  Who still reads William Allen White, Richard Harding Davis, or Edward R. Murrow?  But Mencken is still read, loved, and quoted.  He is often good for a quote.  There is no way I would teach on Puritanism without referencing his quip:  “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

I don’t agree with it, but I always get a chuckle out of it.

A year or so ago, I wrote two article for PorterBriggs The Voice of the South titled “The Skeptic and the Theologian” that can be found here and here.  

In these two articles, I dealt with Mencken and a fellow citizen from Baltimore, theologian J. Gresham Machen.  I wish I could have read Hart’s book before I wrote the articles.  I don’t think it would change any content, but it would have enhanced my love for Mencken’s gifts and sorrow over his views and life.

 

 

The Bible Unfiltered by Michael Heiser

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The Bible Unfiltered by Michael S. Heiser is published by Lexham Press.  Never heard of Lexham Press?  Then you are in for a treat.  They are publishing a wide range of top notch Christian books, including works by such pillars of the Reformed faith as Abraham Kuyper and Gerhardus Vos.  They are also publishing works by contemporary authors and theologians on Biblical and worldview issues.

Never heard of Michael S. Heiser?  Then you are in for another treat.  Dr. Heiser’s website features articles, resources, and podcasts on his Bible research and teachings.  This past year I read The Unseen Realm, a best seller work also published by Lexham Press.

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The Unseen Realm was highly recommended by several people I know, so I got the book and read it.  It is challenging, often convincing, and always fresh and Scriptured-centered.  By Scripture-centered what I mean is that Heiser is very honestly and directly trying to uncover what the Bible says.  Does he always succeed? No need to answer that, but he always tries.

Our problem as Bible readers, sermon preparers and sermon listeners, and Bible students is that we can never approach the Bible objectively.  We are finite, and we live (in most cases of those reading this) in the United States in 2018.  We are culturally conditioned.  We are not just conditioned by the culture around us.  In fact, we are often alert to the perils of modern society, Hollywood, secular humanism in the recent forms, and the like.  But we are conditioned by Western Culture, by the last 2000 years of Greeks, Romans, Carolingians, Catholics, Protestants, Puritans, Colonists, English speaking peoples, Enlightenment thinkers, converts during the Great Awakening, Calvinists, Arminians, Dispensationalists, Post-millennialists, Dutch theologians, and all sorts of others  tweaking and touching our way of thinking, processing information, and coming to settled opinions.

That is not all bad.  I wish I some of those listed above influenced me more.  But what we all have to do is to keep going back to the Bible, ad fontes, and seeking out what it is saying to those to whom it was written and when it was written.  Research into the ancient languages and cultures (Greek and Hebrew, but also the neighboring tribes) is a growing and expanding field.  Don’t forget that Medieval people often knew of Homer and his epics, but the actual texts went underground for centuries. The same has happened with other realms of languages and knowledge.

This detective work is Heiser’s specialty.  He digs, discovers, and offers new interpretations.  That is the strength and enjoyment of his work.

Concerning the book at hand–The Bible Unfiltered–let me make some observations.

First, I read the book last year in November.  I read it dutifully as a book reviewer and enjoyed it, but delayed getting a review together.  This past week, I started re-reading the book and am enjoying it as more than a book-reviewing duty. It can be read and re-read with enjoyment and profit.

Second, it is unusual in a few respects.  The Unseen Realm calls for the reader to gear up and do some heavy lifting, but The Bible Unfiltered is much lighter and easily read.  It would be great as a prelude to reading Heiser’s more challenging work or as a follow up.

The chapters are all short–usually 3 to 4 pages.  It could be read as a morning devotional, but unlike most devotionals, this one would feed that part of us that fits under “loving God with all our minds.”  Don’t assume that mental growth is not connected to spiritual growth.

This makes the book a delight for the “I’m too busy to read theology” person.  This book is good, sharp punches rather than a long drawn out match.

Here are the topics for the first long section of the book:

  • Part One: Interpreting the Bible Responsibly
    • Serious Bible Study Isn’t for Sissies
    • Getting Serious—and Being Honest—about Interpreting the Bible in Context
    • Sincerity and the Supernatural
    • Let the Bible Be What It Is
    • Bad Bible Interpretation Really Can Hurt People
    • Unyielding Literalism: You Reap What You Sow
    • Everything in the Bible Isn’t about Jesus
    • Bible Reading and Bible Memorization Are Not Bible Study
    • Marxism and Biblical Theology Aren’t Synonyms
    • How to (Mis)Interpret Prophecy

In my re-reading, these are the ones that are freshest in my mind.  My thought on the first one, which is on serious Bible study, is that I need to read that to my theology students and to myself often.  In these short chapters, Heiser knocks the props out from under many false or unthought-out ideas.  The chapter on bad Bible interpretation discusses past bad uses of the Bible to justify race-based slavery (sons of Ham).  “Unyielding Literalism” lays flat an overly simplistic approach we often fall prey to.  The portion on Marxism and theology struck me as a bit dated.  Does anyone still see Marxism as an application of Christian community?  But it never hurts to chop the head off of a dead snake.

I did not readily agree with “Everything in the Bible Isn’t about Jesus.”  I mention that as a selling point, not a turn off.  It just so happens that I am currently reading a book titled The Christ-Centered Expositor  by Tony Merida.  He is teaching pastors how to make preach with Christ as the message, no matter what the text.  Is he right or is Heiser? Well, it is not that simple.  Both men point out ways that well-intentioned expositors can make connections that just aren’t there in the text.  So, even the chapter I question still provides me some cautions in my own Bible readings.

On the one hand, I would love to jump right in and finish reading number two of The Unfiltered Bible during this coming week.  With sixty chapters and 230 plus pages, it can be read quickly.  But I prefer to keep it handy, to use it as the book to carry to an appointment, to read in short snatches, to use for nutritious snacking.  However, one read it, it is a fine work.

 

By the Dawn’s Early Light–Morning Readings

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I changed.  It wasn’t sudden or even deliberate, but it happened.  Once I was the proverbial Night Owl. It was the stroke of midnight that fired up my mind and witnessed the most intense reading.  The stillness and quiet of the hours after ten p.m. were golden.  Whether sitting at a desk or reclining in bed, that was my favorite time to read.  But I changed.  Maybe it was work.  Maybe it was marriage and family.  Maybe it was the racking up of mileage on the biological odometer.  Or maybe it was the guilt of the old timers who scorned the late night person and assumed that any real man would be up before the dawn.

Coffee helped.  Helped is a weak description.  Coffee was the bridge, the fix, or the possibility.  But now it is the call to get up.  Often I awake and simply cannot wait until I can turn on the coffee maker, begin the Bible reading, and then the reading begins. All too soon–about an hour and a half later–it ends.

Choices for morning books are determined as follows:  1.  Is the book written by and for and about Christians?  2.  Will it fill a spiritual need or deficit in my life? 3.  Is it readable?  The last question relates to whether the book is on a level I can understand and be challenged by and not lost by reading.  If it is too difficult theologically, it gets a either put aside or is read in very small segments.

Now for some of my recent morning reads.

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Speak The Truth in Love: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation by Carmen LaBerge is published by Regnery Faith.  Carmen LaBerge’s website is found HERE.

One of the main and recurring things I learn from books is how wrong I so often am.  I have to admit to being a bit shy about reading a book by a woman who is talking about conversations.  Yes, I lean toward books by men talking about war and politics or theological battles.  No, I am not against women and have the highest admiration for Margaret Thatcher, Flannery O’Connor, Caroline Gordon, Jane Austen, Louise Cowan, Jan Karon, Barbara Tuchman, and many other women.

I recognize that different writers write for different audiences.  I don’t mind being an outlier in the audience.  I had the suspicion that this would be a really good book for “the women at church.”  By that I meant that I thought this book would be like Edith Schaeffer’s books from the past or Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth’s books now.

Stop throwing things at me.  I admit I was wrong.  I was corrected, rebuked, and even slapped before I got even a few pages into this book.   And yes “the women at church” need to read this book and discuss it, but so do the men.  Knowing the dedication of the two groups, I would bet more money on the first group than the second.

This book has earned a place on my apologetics shelf.  Apologetics is defined as “the defense of the faith.”  The reader wanting to know the particular battle ground issues dividing followers of Van Til from Clarkians and both of those groups from Classical Apologetics need to looks elsewhere.  This book is the real, in-the-street, sitting together for coffee or a meal, elbow rubbing apologetics.  Francis Schaeffer would have loved this book.

Or rip the book in half and place it on both the apologetics shelf and the evangelism shelf.  NO DON’T TAKE THAT LITERALLY.  DON’T RIP BOOKS.  There is a strong connection between the roles of the apologist and the evangelist, and this is not the book to see the comparisons and contrasts.  This book is self-help.  But it is the flotation device that is to keep you from drowning while you reach someone else who is going under.

Talking to unbelievers is difficult work.  The old door-to-door evangelism may be effective for some, but it has largely been weighed in the scales and found wanting.  The two week long mission trip to outer–who knows where–maybe some far off largely pagan land like Vermont–may result in “57 people making decisions for Christ” but I have concerns about that method.  (I am not against it.  My younger son went to Ireland this past summer for beach missions work.)

How do we talk to, share with, listen to, minister to, show compassion to, and share the Gospel with people who are outside the faith.  Typically, I describe the mission to three types of people:  Lost people (those who are “professing” non-Christians), un-churched people (for all kinds of reasons), and under-churched people (people who are part of a church but are not being fed, or being fed the wrong stuff, or not taking what feeding there is).  The last two categories fit most people I run into.  Here in the deep Bible-belt South, most people have some sort of loose connection to Christianity and church.

How do we reach people?  Some well-meaning Christians load their FaceBook accounts with blistering rants against all the unbelievers in range.  For some, unbelievers include all Catholics, every Protestant who doesn’t adhere to every jot and tittle of “right doctrine,” and a lot of other semi-innocent bystanders.  I love the opportunities that FB provides to share the Faith and to be encouraged by other believers, but it is no substitute for actually facing our neighbors.

On the opposite and even worse extreme than our beloved zealots are the namby-pamby of every age.  “Maybe if I could soften some of the rough edges of Christ’s message, then more people will respond.”  Many people create evangelism that presupposes that God in Heaven is saying, “Wow.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  We have to be uncompromising on the truths of who God is, what Jesus came here for, and what changes Christianity brings into our lives.

We have to talk.  We have to listen.  We have to respond.  And we have to respond faithfully to the Bible.  That is what this book is about.  It is vital stuff.  Worse than my prejudging the author and content is my failure to apply what this book is saying.  The men at church–any church, every church–really need to read and discuss and implement this book.

Let me end with some good quotes from Speak the Truth:

“Jesus spoke with people; He didn’t speak to issues.  Why is that? Because for Jesus the issue is always the same: the issue is redemption.  We can learn a lot from the way He reframed conversations to help others see the supernatural and eternal perspective on temporal realities.”

“Whether the issue is pancakes, porcupines, politics, or parenting, the issue is God.  ‘What?’ you ask.  Yes, really. From the subject of pancakes, you can talk about manna, bread of heaven, and from there the bread of life, Jesus Christ….”

“We must not reduce the Gospel to anything less than its comprehensive nature. People living in deep darkness need the fullness of the Light of Christ, nothing less.”

“Being a Christian is an identity; it is a calling, it is a way of life, it is a mission, and it is a post.  It informs and influences every part of life: how we think, what we watch, what we buy, how we work, who we date/marry, how we relate to others, how we parent, how we vote, what we expect from government, how we serve, how we spend our money, and what we say in conversation.”

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The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson

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Two factors made this book an instant “Must Have” and “Must Read” work.  The first factor was that Victor Davis Hanson wrote it.  Hanson is both a classicist and a military historian.  He is equally at home teaching, speaking, or writing about the ancient Greeks and Romans.  His skills include being adept at discussing the literature of the Greeks and Romans.  Want to know about Homer, Herodotus, or Livy?  Read Hanson.  Particularly, see Who Killed Homer?, Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece, Bonfire of the Humanities, or A War Like No Other.

But he is also one of the premier military historians of our time.  Rank him right up there with John Keegan.  See Carnage and Culture, Ripples of Battle, The Soul of Battle, or The Savior Generals.  (We can add this point also:  Hanson is a first rate political commentator as well.  See his contributions as found on his web-site or on the National Review web-site.)

The second reason was the title:  The Second World Wars.  As I have stated before, my love of history began with studying World War II and other events in 20th Century history.  That love has never diminished.  (My love for other parts of history has increased, however).  Oddly enough, I never took a college class that covered WWII nor have I taught it much in recent years.  But I continue to read about it.

If one wants to know the story of the Second World War, don’t read this book.  If one wants to know the causes, don’t read this book.  If one wants to read extensively about the incredible cast of leaders (political and military), don’t read this book. If one enjoys the narratives of the battles, the clash of arms, the suffering and the glory of what the soldiers, sailors, and airmen faced…need I repeat myself?

Who then should read this book?  Those who already have read extensively on the war.  This is a BIG PICTURE ANALYSIS of the war.  It is an accounting of multitudes of numbers, details, weapon capabilities, geographical factors, industrial outputs, and casualties.  As such, I loved it.

Who besides Victor Davis Hanson could fill a book with a million statistics, facts, and figures, and then make ample use of references to ancient wars, and still produce an incredibly mind-numbing and brilliant work?  I found myself constantly asking, “How could a war of this magnitude have actually taken place?” and “How could Hanson have assembled and made sense of all these details?”

Most nights (for I read this book at night), I was only able to absorb and cover 10 to 20 pages of this book.  That is a testimony in its favor. (I always had the “page-turner” close by to read after the Hanson book.)  But each night, I looked forward to reading this book.

The Axis powers simply took on more than it was possible for them to achieve.  Of course, one can examine ways they could have won the war or achieved some degree of survival.  Some of the decisions of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese defy reason.

On the part of Hitler: Why attack Russia when Britain was still a formidable force that was hurling bombs on Berlin itself?  Why declare war on the United States after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?  Why waste so much manpower holding places like Norway?  Why leave Malta and Gibraltar in Allied hands?  Why waste money and resources on some major weapons that were never produced in ample numbers?  And, of course, why brutalize people you needed on your side?

To Mussolini:  Why declare war on France?  That little venture, along with the attack on Greece, helped doom Italy.  Why enter into a war when Italy did not have an adequate army or industry to wage war?  Why join in with the efforts to conquer Russia?

To Japan:  Why leave the American forces in Pearl Harbor wounded, but not destroyed?  Why provoke America and Britain into a war when war with China was already consuming so much manpower?

Along with those issues, the Allied powers made plenty of mistakes on their own.  The fall of France in 1940 continues to defy imagination.  Britain made enough blunders to lose the war a dozen times over.  The United States would have committed blunders of almost irreparable harm had it not been for the British restraints.  Russia’s conduct–meaning Stalin’s–was horrendous and stupid at times.

Yet Britain, America, and Russia produced weapons, planes, tanks, artillery guns, trucks, and bombs in such numbers that the sheer weight of it all should have crushed the Axis powers.  Add to that, the manpower (which was not made up solely of males).

Hanson’s account calls on the reader to reconsider the impact of the Allied bombing campaign over Germany and Japan. The types and amount of planes that Britain and America produced and employed was staggering.  The air war was the second front that Stalin often complained about the lack of.  The British really made a substantial contribution to winning the war both through being at war with Germany longer than any other allied country and in terms of quality production of weaponry.  And no one can successfully dismiss Churchill’s roles and rhetoric.

If your love of history spurs you to want to make the comparisons between opposing forces, this is the book for you.  If you have read and enjoyed Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, but feel like you are ready for some behind the scenes details, this book will amaze you.  If you enjoy comparisons of the recent past (World War II) to the distant past (the Peloponnesian War), you will find those comparisons here.

In short, this book is a great contribution by one of our finest historians.  And this book is absolutely vital to add to your library and reading list for understanding the Second World War.

Utmost Ongoing–Oswald Chambers’ Book Lives

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One of the things I learned quickly when I begin reading serious books about the Bible, theology, and Christian living was that the most popular authors and works were not to be trusted.  The Bible commentaries of William Barclay were found everywhere.  Barclay was a great story teller who filled his volumes with anecdotes, but he either waffled on or outright denied basic Christian truths.  What Would Jesus Do? remained a popular book, but it was sappy.  The Late Great Planet Earth and other bestsellers from Hal Lindsey were to be shunned at all costs.  There were other books filled with fluff, saccharine, and, let us say it, heresy, that were floating all around the Christian community.

But I was marching to a different drummer.  I had entered a world where names like Warfield, Boettner, Clark, Rushdoony,  Machen, and others were providing the gold standard for which authors to pursue, which books to read, and which theological topics to focus on.

Many times and in many places, I would see a book titled My Utmost for His Highest.  I did not know the book itself, the author, or the theological perspective it contained.  But it was popular.  I probably confused it with another book titled Hind’s Feet on High Places a few times, but avoided both books.

The theologians I read, the pastors I listened to, the cassette tape lectures I consumed (from Mount Olive Tape Library), and fellow believers of like-theological persuasions all provided me more than enough theological fodder for me to consume.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to spiritual perfection (and I wasn’t even close to arriving).  George Grant came to Texarkana to speak at our school and to the community.  In the Q&A sessions, he got the inevitable question asking how someone could possibly achieve any semblance of reading all they needed to read.  After all, in our circles (Reformed, classical education, Kuyperian, etc.), we love books and a wide range of books on theology, history, literature, and more.

Grant’s answer was that sometimes he was so busy and tired at night that he only had time for a snippet here and there from a book or two, a bit of Bible reading, and the daily selection from My Utmost for His Highest by Chambers.  I was taken aback.  Maybe Dr. Grant meant to say that he read a bit from Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, or Jonathan Edwards’ sermons.  But no, I had heard correctly.  George Grant reads and rereads Oswald Chambers’ long-time best-selling devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest.

Of course, I then made it my mission to buy a copy of the book.  Over the years, I have picked up several copies of it, along with a few other works by Chambers.  But, I confess this to my shame, I did not become a daily Utmost reader.

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Recently, I learned that a new book was out about Chambers’ book.  This book consists of 27 contributions by people in all walks of life who lives and Christian walk have been impacted by Chambers’ Utmost.  For many, the book was given to them early in their Christian walk.  Some found direction and help early on. But for others, it took time and many experiences for the devotional’s content to come back into their minds and bring change.

Former President George W. Bush is perhaps the best known example of someone who has used the book. (I wish he had contributed a chapter to this work.)  But Chambers’ book, largely put together by his wife Biddy after his death, has directed people in all sorts of work and many types of Christian ministries.

Most of the contributors were unknown to me.  There were two exceptions–Grant himself and Joni Eareckson Tada.  When I first got the book, I turned immediately to Grant’s article and read it.  As expected, he and Joni both had wonderful contributions.  But it was the others who made up 25/27ths of the book and whose articles impressed me as much or more.  I was made aware of so many Christian ministries, web-sites, and servants of Christ that I did not know existed.

In the past few months, we have lost at least three great and powerful Christian leaders:  R. C. Sproul, James Sire, and Billy Graham.  The number of people whose lives have been changed by these three men (any one of them or all three) is incalculable.  My Utmost for His Highest first came out in 1935.  It has been reprinted in a multitude of editions, including an updated “translation” into more modern language.  Each day, thousands of Christians begin their day with this book or work it into a break or some free minutes.  And it only takes a minute or two to read the snippet of a Bible verse and the three to five paragraphs that follow.

For faithful readers of Chambers, this collection of testimonies would be a great joy.  For those of us who fall short, this collection is a convincing exhortation to get the book and keep it close by and actually read from it–daily.

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Footnote:  A few years back, I was part of an email discussion group. One contributor once raised what he saw as a concern.  It was that people in Reformed congregations were, in all too many cases, reading Oswald Chambers.  I think I was the only responder who did not share the concern.  At the time, I was pastoring a Reformed congregation.  Too much Chambers would have been welcomed on my behalf.  Yes, I would want to see the Reformed folk reading Kuyper, Warfield, Calvin, Sproul, and a lot of guys with Dutch names.  Yes, Chambers’ books focus on a narrow part of the whole Christian life.  But that central core–the heart–needs a daily dose of, if not Chambers, those who share his love and devotion to Christ.