Hodge and Dabney–Read Them While You Can

The 1800s in American history was a time of great Presbyterian theologians and preachers.  Most history surveys overlook these men and their messages.  Historians adopt the view of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes whose poem “The One Hoss Shay” attempted to mock the demise of Jonathan Edwards’ theology.  Quite often Ralph Waldo Emerson is treated as though he were a deeply profound American born and raised philosopher.  His buddy Henry David Thoreau is likewise hailed as one of the bright lights of American history.

The final nails are put into the Presbyterian coffin during the Scopes Trial.  Less often noticed is the battle for Princeton Theological Seminary.  Mark Twain, who was often better than the historians at noticing the things that mattered, took more than a few swipes at Presbyterians.  Take down the massive pillars of American Presbyterian theology and the rest of the edifice of American Protestant Christianity would follow.

I am not, at this moment, out to blame the historians.  No one or no one thousand histories can cover everything.  Of course, the perspective of the historian does determine what to include and what to exclude.  This point still remains:  Anyone serious about understanding American history from a Christian viewpoint must go beyond the best known texts and authors.

In short, Presbyterian theologians were some of the most dominant thinkers of the 19th Century.  That dominance continued on into the 20th Century, but their voices and impact became less and less known.  But just as one would not attempt to understand the Age of Elizabeth I in English history without taking note of the Puritan movement, one should not attempt to understand American history without studying the Presbyterians of the 1800s.

This study and emphasis, however, is not just a topic for intellectual historians who are trying to fill in gaps or connect the pieces of the puzzle.  It is not what the Presbyterians said in the 1800s that concerns me most.  Rather, it is what they are calling us to hear in the 21st Century.

We need the old Presbyterians now more than ever.  Sad to say, after being ignored or glanced over for a long time, they are currently being excommunicated from Presbyterian thought and studies.  Especially disliked are those who not only had the “misfortune” of being born in the South, but who defended the South and the Southern Confederacy on a number of very nuanced and profound ways.

The reading list I would like to give on this topic is long and involved.  There are nearly 30 books that I call attention to in one of my past book reviews that dealt with Columbia Theological Seminary.  That review can be found HERE.

For now, I would like to recommend two books written by two of the great Presbyterian theologians from the 19th century.  I will struggle to avoid both being overly biographical or full of praise for these men.  Just know that these are two of the pillars of American Christian Reformed and Presbyterian orthodox thought in the 1800s.

First, Charles Hodge and Exegetical Lectures and Sermons on Hebrews.  This book is published by Banner of Truth.

The pastor, student, or teacher who needs an all purpose commentary on Hebrews needs to look elsewhere.  The Hodge reader who is familiar with his incredible commentary on Romans should know that this work is not in the same category.  It does contain comments on the text, and it is classic Hodge theology from beginning to end.

The first part of this book is exegetical notes on Hebrews.  Hodge is not giving exhortation or application, but is working through some of the Greek grammar details and other points of exegesis, or drawing out the meaning of the text.  For me, it was yet another reminder of how exacting, careful, and learned the Presbyterian ministers were in Hodge’s day.  For me, it was yet another reminder of how far my own education is from the standards of that time.

Non-Greek New Testament students like me will find this section interesting, but not fulfilling.  Greek students would likely be crying out “More! More!”  As a student and teacher of history, it is more confirmation of the education found at Princeton and the scholarship standards of the time.

The following section gives a number of sermon outlines.  A few if the outlines, but not all, come from another Banner publication called Princeton Sermons.  I believe that preachers and students can learn quite a bit from studying these outlines.  A similar work can be found in the B & H series called The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854.  

Reading a sermon outline is a bit of a challenge.  It can be read quickly if one is simply trying to cover pages.  But I think the greater task would be to spend some time thinking on each of the outline points.  I think it would be a great lesson for aspiring preachers to take these outlines and fill in the gaps.  (But give credit to the original writer.)  Side note:  Hodge’s outlines are not bullet points.

The absolute best part of the new Hodge book is the all too few complete sermons from various Hebrew texts.  I remember thinking while reading one of these: “There is no way I could pack this much content into a single sermon.  There is no way I could grasp this much content in a single sermon.”  I am not speaking about merely being full of facts and theological information.  I am referring to the fact that these sermons were rich with content.  As Wesley said in another context, “I felt my heart warmly moved.”

One quote that I posted recently is worth repeating:  “It was the Spirit who made the sound ring in your ears long after the speaker’s voice had ceased, and which brought back the sound in the stillness of the night and repeated in a small, still voice the admonitions of the pulpit.”

The sermons themselves are worth the price of the book.  But the other parts are also helpful in giving both spiritual guidance and a standard to aspire to.  By the way, Banner of Truth has continued to put out or reprint books by Charles Hodge. His commentaries on Romans, Ephesians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians and his book The Way of Life are both available, as is a biography of Hodge by his son A. A. Hodge.

Dabney on Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government is edited and introduced by my friend Zachary Garris.  This book can be purchased from Amazon.

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The books by Robert Lewis Dabney are many, usually lengthy, and now often highly priced and out of print.  Thankfully, Zach Garris has made a handy, short, readable, and very pertinent collection of Dabney’s writings available in this book.

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One of the many strengths of R. L. Dabney was his ability to see the direction that the culture and world was headed in.  I think this insight, often called prophetic by those who study him, came from his Presbyterian worldview, vast scholarship, and personal experiences in being on the losing side of a major war.  I have heard many literary figures explain Southern literature as being the result of the South losing the War Between the States.

Let us sidestep, for the moment, the issues and controversies related to that war.  Often the greatest examples of human writing and thought come from people who have experienced the greatest hardships.  Arguably, any soldier from World War I could have written All Quiet on the Western Front, but the fact that Erich Maria Remarque was a soldier on the German side increased the power of that novel.

The War Between the States was followed by the period known as Reconstruction.  The standard history book then follows up with a period called “The Gilded Age.”  That catchy phrase refers to the surface appearance of gold on an object that is not gold.  Just as the world after World War I was not “safe for democracy” and the world after World War II was full of tragic courses, so that must be said about post-bellum America in the 1870s and beyond.

Dabney saw some bad consequences of ideas that were gaining the high ground in his time.  Repeatedly, his warnings about education have been mentioned, quoted, and listened to by many, except those in the educational establishment.  American education is in a crisis.  Right now, the crisis is centering around school closures and possible inability to open in the fall.  This is not to demean good teachers, faithful parents, or good effects stemming from the modern education system.  But Dabney was looking beyond just a few symptoms to the greater problems.  For Dabney, the problems stemming from a secular agenda would be astronomical.  Be warned:  He is not going to be nice in these essays.  But carefully consider all of what he says.

Dabney was also concerned about feminism.  It is routine to mock nearly all males from the 1800s regarding their views of women.  Granted, they were not perfect in their understanding of this or other issues.  I am thankful for the changes in culture and society that have granted greater opportunities for women in all areas of life.  I have recently read books by one of the best literary scholars of our time, Jessica Hooten Wilson, who was a student of THE best literary critic of our time, Dr. Louise Cowan.  I have been reading The Great Society by Amity Shlaes, who ranks among the greatest historians of our time in my thinking.

But feminism was in some of its root and is in some of its modern day fruit more than just a case of righting some societal wrongs.  We have found ourselves in a world of gender insanity in these days.  Hence, again there is the need to return to Dabney.

Concerning government, Southern Presbyterians had an oddly workable theological position.  Pastors did not see that their task was to instruct the government from the pulpit, but they were pastor/scholars and public intellectuals.  Hence, men like Dabney and his colleagues James Henley Thornwell and Benjamin Morgan Palmer used a variety of formats, usually written articles or public lectures, to address the government.

Dabney’s thought was conservative, but if a modern reader spends some time with Dabney’s writings, he will not find much to connect him to modern day talk radio “conservatism” or Republican party conservatism.  Once again, Dabney will make us uncomfortable.

Zach Garris gives a fine introduction that provides pertinent biographical and theological details about Dabney.  That is followed by reprints of four articles by Dabney on the topics listed in the subtitle.  This is a great way to get introduced to a man who will not be often mentioned in today’s culture–secular or Christian.

There is your assignment:  Get to know Charles Hodge and Robert L. Dabney.  Here are two books that will enable you to go well into that task.

 

 

History Readings on the Nightstand and Day Stack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Progressive Era by Murray Rothbard

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

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

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

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

How America’s Political Parties Change by Michael Barone

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author Stephen Harrigan standing outside the Alamo holding his book.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty, Volume 5

 

It has been said that while history may not repeat itself, historians repeat each other.  Years of reading histories of different events confirms that as a general truth.  Loving history and loving stories (both are intricately connected), a reader does not mind tramping along on the same battlefields, witnessing the same political risings and fallings, and hearing the same anecdotes, with a few new ones added on.

But one thing that slowly dawns on the eager college kid who is majoring in history is that “the story” is not “a story.”  As Dr. Thomas Wagy repeatedly says, “If you want truth, go to the religion or history departments.  History is art.”  It is well that he repeated this often, for it took me years to grasp what he was saying.  History is built upon layers of interpretation, presuppositions, viewpoints, angles of observation, and preferences.

New information often not only sheds more light on a topic of historical study, but it changes the contours of the study.  Every subsequent event in history changes the way the previous events were viewed.  The rise and fall of Nazism not only altered the understanding of World War II, but it altered the understanding of World War I, the career of Bismarck and the unification of Germany, and the history of Europe.  In short, you never learn history, but you are always learning history.

Generally, there are two major sources or streams of thought that affect the understanding of history.  One is the work of the popular, usually narrative historians. Their books are the ones found in the large book chains and that show up in the New York Times Book Reviews.  Authors such as David McCullough, Rick Atkinson, Andrew Roberts, Joseph Ellis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and others are among our most gifted and popular historians.  In an earlier era, the works on the Civil War by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote were among the most popular treatments.  Far from criticizing such writers and writing, I love them.  The authors are generally well trained academically and vetted by fellow authors and historians.  Their writing styles are superbly readable.  Books like Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie were influential in luring me into a life of reading history.

The other current comes from the academic historians.  These works are usually written by professors in universities.  The works are more weighty, more heavily documented, less dependent on secondary sources, and more analytical.  They are usually printed by university presses and are rarely found on the shelves in the book chains.  I love them!  Books pouring off the presses from Oxford University Press, Oklahoma University Press, the University of North Carolina Press, Kansas University Press, and more are weighting down my shelves and bookstands.

Some authors, by the way, manage to score on both fronts.  They maintain their academic standing and produce the less widely distributed and more scholarly studies while producing some more popular books for a wider reading audience.  Mark Hall, who is a political theorist rather than a historian, has written or contributed to quite a few serious, scholarly works.  But his book Did America Have a Christian Founding? was published by Thomas Nelson and is reaching a much wider audience.

So we have three kinds of historians or history writing types:  The popular narrator, the academic analysist, and the rare bird that combines both traits.  Now, let’s add a fourth type:  the outlier.  (I will refrain from examining the kooky historians who load down their books with bogus references and bizarre twists.)

The outlier, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, refers to the scholar or writer who presents viewpoints and interpretations, heavily documented from solid or overlooked sources, that run roughly against the grain of the accepted and majority views.  Some of the writers in this category are not historians by profession and training.  Rodney Stark, for example, is a sociology professor at Baylor University, but his history writings on Christianity are outstanding.  Paul Johnson is a journalist and an art student, but his history writings are among the best around.  R. J. Rushdoony was a theologian and pastor, but he wrote several fine works on history.  Shelby Foote, named above for the popularity of his Civil War trilogy, was a novelist who turned his skills to writing about the Late Unpleasantness.

Groupthink is both a useful method and a questionable one.  You go to college and study history in order to think like a trained historian.  That is why I hate the term “history buff” and get really irritated when someone calls me that.  If it is my medical doctor saying that, I want to return the favor and call him a “medicine buff.”  A liking of the History Channel (which at least used to have history documentaries), historical novels, and historical anecdotes are all good things, but that is not what historians do.  The goal of historical training is to proscribe bad analytical thinking and prescribe sound thinking.  But, the group, in this case the academic historians, often narrow their vision and embrace certain orthodoxies of historical interpretation.

Along comes the outlier, that is, the man or woman who approaches the same historical period, the same huge ocean of facts, and the same events, but says, “I don’t think so” in terms of causes, effects, or actual occurrences. Sometimes, they are disparagingly labeled as “Revisionists.”  But all historians are, even within the orthodoxies, seeking to do some degree of revision.  And often, the novelty of the differing interpretations, the revealing of overlooked sources, the guiding presuppositions gets the unorthodox historian ruled out of court, with or without a hearing.

Many paragraphs into this, I now can mention the name of Murray Rothbard.  The guy was brilliant, incredibly well educated, scholarly, meticulous, and guided by a set of ideas.  He was a libertarian, although we might humorously call him a far right libertarian, because he tended toward believing in anarchy or no or almost no government.  He was an economist, associated with the Austrian school (another rich source of outliers).  Although he served as a professor at several schools, he was always on the fringe of academia.  And, he always managed to attract and educate a small remnant of willing students.

He wrote many books, mainly on economics, but also on history.  Called upon the write on the history of the United States, he published four volumes under the title Conceived in Liberty during the middle to late 1970s.  This history, beginning with early colonization only reached as far as the end of the War for Independence.  By the way, he also wrote books on the Great Depression and the Progressive Era.  A fifth volume on the Conceived in Liberty venture remained unpublished until recently.

The text was written in longhand, which according to those who saw it, was undecipherable.  Some brave soul labored through it; the Ludwig von Mises Institute published it; and now we have it.

In part two of this review, I will actually discuss the book!

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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.

 

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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New Year Morning Reads–2020

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I recommend my method of reading for only one person:  Me.  It might work for you, but most likely, everyone will find their better times, places, and selections that suit their style and needs.  But for me and for the present, this is how I am doing my morning reading time.  I am also using this as a way of promoting some of the all-too-many review books that I need to read, review, promote, and share.

One of my resolves for 2020 is to read and use more Bible commentaries.  Since I left the pulpit, I have largely ignored commentaries on the books of the Bible. Even when I was preaching, I was often hastening through a commentary more in search of a quick fix to my pulpit inadequacies than in growing in Bible understanding.  Amos, Jonah, & Micah is by JoAnna M. Hoyt and is published by Lexham Press.

This is a massive book and is a part of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series edited by Wayne House.  Twelve volumes are currently available in this series.

I am studying the last part of this commentary–the Book of Micah.  I determined to read it from beginning to end and that meant plowing through the technical and background information.  Did I enjoy that part?  Not much, but I agree with what Matthew Kim said in his book titled A Little Book for New Preachers (IVP).  He says that the preacher must immerse himself in the background and setting of the book.

I am now going slowly through the commentary portion of Micah, chapter 1.  Small bits of study each day so far.  It will take a while, but I am determined.

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Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck and edited by John Bolt is published by Baker Publishing Group.

I was so excited when this volume finally came out.  I was even more excited when my copy arrived.  And then…it sat on the shelf, it got covered up by other books, it enjoyed only a passing glance or two.  In my feeble defense, I did plug away at the background information, usually on Sunday mornings.

A second resolve I have this year is to read the longer and weightier books that often get started, but never finished.  I like the thought of getting a 5 books read instead of 1.  For that, I must repent and change.

Now that I am into this book, I am truly enjoying it.

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

This is the kind of book I love.  It is a survey of history, philosophy, and theology that all tends toward an apologetic defense of the Christian worldview I embrace, teach, and read about.

The gist of this book is a refutation of a long-standing trope that reason contradicts faith.  Along with that is the notion that faith is a heart and emotion based feeling while reason is spawned by the mind.  Of course, Christianity gets jabbed in the process.

Building upon the work of men in the past like Christopher Dawson and Herman Dooyeweerd, echoing works like Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and R. J. Rushdoony’s The One and the Many, this book reclaims Western Civilization and its accomplishments.  The thought patterns of the West built upon Greek and Roman heritage in part, but even those civilizations had to be filtered through the lenses of Christendom.

Today, I was reading the portions of the book about Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.  Like any short treatment, more can be said, but we have to be grounded in the grammar of the subjects before we can delve more deeply.

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

Here is another case of combined loves.  This book deals with American history, particularly the wars that have been waged, and it is written from a Christian perspective that examines the Just War Theory.

I recently discovered Mark Hall’s scholarship and writing as a result of reading Did America Have a Christian Founding?  Determined to read more of his writings, I discovered this book.

I am still in the introductory essay which Hall and Charles wrote.  This is good, but slow going.  More details later.

Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans by Robert Elmer is also published by Lexham Press.

I reviewed this book a few days ago.  I try to read only a page or two of it with the hope of making the Puritan prayers my own.

The Hanging God: Poems and The Fortunes of Poetry in the Age of Our Unmaking are both by James Matthew Wilson, one of America’s premier contemporary poets.  The Hanging God is published by Wiseblood Books, and The Fortunes of Poetry is published by Angelico Press.

I am reading these two works for a number of reasons beyond just my responsibilities as a book reviewer.  I am using these two works as therapy so that I can recover from the often disastrous graduate course I took in the fall on poetry and literary criticism.  Let us just say that the study of literature is in danger in the modern secular universities, assuming that my experience was common and not unique.

The Fortunes of Poetry is tough reading at many points, so I suspect that I will need to re-read portions or get instruction from someone named Wilson on how to assimilate the information.

Note to blog readers:  Please don’t speculate that I am neglecting the foundational parts of morning reading:  The Bible and strong coffee.  The Book of Common Prayer is also being kept close at hand so that this Presbyterian who is a member of a Baptist church will be a better Anglican. (Thank you Zachary Jones.)

Also, thanks to my sister-in-law Toni Lemley who gave me the coffee cup with the old pickup truck on it.  I am not going to stop using it just because Christmas is nearly over. I also got a wonderful picture of old pickup trucks from my other sister-in-law Marla Robert.

 

Favorite Histories Read in 2019

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Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War by James McGrath Morris

Here is a good example of why I don’t post the best books of the year in December:  This was one of the last books I read this year.  Outstanding account of two 20th Century American writers.  They met during World War I when both were serving as ambulance drivers.  For several years, Dos Passos was the successful and published writer who was helping out a young Hemingway.

Over the years, their friendship ripened, and both men published a number of books.  Hemingway surged in fame and fortune.  Dos Passos received the accolades of the literary establishment, but little by way of book royalties.  Hemingway, being generous as he often was, gave and loaned money to his friend who also married one of Hemingway’s life-long friends, Katy Smith.

Hemingway being Hemingway, he came to the point where he despised and slashed at his literary companion.  He could not stand the fact that Dos Passos got more appreciation from the very crowds that Hemingway hated–literary reviewers.  Like most things that EH touched, this friendship turned ugly before he killed himself.

I really wish this book had added another fifty or more pages detailing Dos Passos’s turn from the Leftist thinking to Conservatism.  The Spanish Civil War opened his eyes, even as it blinded Hemingway’s vision.  I love much about Hemingway, but he was vicious, nasty, cruel, self-centered, and more.  I lament not having read enough by and about John Dos Passos, his peer who is rarely regarded in these times but who was often viewed as EH’s superior in their times.

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Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals by James Longo

I mentioned having seen this book at Books-A-Million one day while teaching Humanities.  Later that same day, Joshua Carnes showed up in my classroom and handed the book to me.

What an outstanding book!  The Habsburgs are rarely regarded or thought of.  Francis Ferdinand is usually relegated to the brief discussion of the immediate outbreak of World War I.  I never knew that Hitler had any vendetta against the family.  Of course, it comes as no surprise that Adolf sought to harm the children of Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, both slain in the summer of 1914.

This is a sad story of a devote Christian family, oppressed and tortured, who nevertheless maintained faith and dignity.  (I reviewed this book last February.)

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynn Olson

Outstanding study of how the countries conquered by Hitler continued their resistance from the sole outpost of freedom–Great Britain.  So much here was new to me, in spite of a lifetime of reading on World War II.  So many unsung heroes and heroines.  Reviewed in March under the title “World War II in Books.” I am now a collector of anything that Lynn Olson has written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberty in the Things of God by Robert Louis Wilkin

Outstanding study of the development of Christian liberty of conscience.  I really loved this book.  Worth reading again and again.  Vital due to our lack of understanding of religious freedom and the misconceptions that assume that such freedom is the product of unbelievers.

Reviewed in May.

The British are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson

The British are Coming, Volume 1 of the Revolution Trilogy by Rick Atkinson

I loved Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on World War II, love this book, and look forward to the next two volumes.  I must confess that my greatest comfort in reading this account of the American War for Independence came from knowing how the story ends.  In the midst of this book, I kept thinking, “We are going to lose this war.”

Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams

Lengthy, detailed study of the preparation and execution of the Normandy invasion. Review written in August.

This year was the 75th anniversary of the greatest military invasion in all of history:  The D-Day Normandy Landings in France on June 6, 1944.  This account was incredibly packed with both big picture explanations of the events along with the up close and personal accounts of those who were there.

I am sold on this author/historian which resulted in me buying his equally lengthy book on the Battle of the Bulge, titled Snow and Steel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt by John F. Woolverton and James D. Bratt

Review written in September.

As expected, my favorable review of this book garnered me a few criticisms from my normally adoring public following.  Conservatives so dislike FDR that many cannot pause long enough to give him credit for anything.  I enjoyed this detailed, but still inadequate account of FDR the man and his faith.  Was he truly a Christian?  I am not sure that is a question for historians.  He was not shallow in regard to his faith commitment.  He had a life-long attachment to Christianity, was a long-time and faithful church member, was vocal about his beliefs, and was spiritually minded on the personal level and not just for political purposes.

His faith was diluted by the social gospel and more liberal elements then in vogue.  His life was concerning because of some of the moral failings.  Still, this is a good study of a complex and great man.

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Did America Have a Christian Founding? By Mark David Hall

Review written in November.

How delightful the discover of this book has been.  I became Facebook friends with Dr. Hall and have entered on the quest of obtaining and reading every book he has written or edited.  The topic of this book is one that I have long read and studied.  But, if I had only one book to read and consider on this topic, this would be the one.

The issue here is vital.  Like the Achaians and the Trojans battling over the slain body of Patroclus in The Iliad, our culture has been fighting over the role of Christianity in our history and culture for a long time.  By the way, Protestants have done some stupid things along the way, and those actions are recounted in this book.  Myths are presented and documented and then dealt with forcefully by that old sly trick of historians–going to the sources.

America's Religious History - By: Thomas S. Kidd

America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation by Thomas Kidd

Shame on me here.  I did read and enjoy this book, but I really should have completed my homework assignment and read the two volume American History by Dr. Kidd published by B & H Publishers.

I have long wanted to find a better American history survey than the one I use in my classes.  And Thomas Kidd is one of the brightest and most prolific stars on the stage of Christian historians.  I have a number of his books and am intent on getting and reading all of his works.

I did read this short history of religious faith in America.  On the one hand, Sidney Ahlstrom’s book, A Religious History of the American People,  has some advantages over this book.  However, Ahlstrom’s book is massive and much older; it is great for a long, serious study of the issue.  The strength of Kidd’s book is its brevity.  Many times, I was shouting “More, More!”  But I was often coming across ideas, people, and beliefs I had never heard of.  I would love to use this book as required supplemental reading for a college American history survey.

Reviewed briefly in “When Religion Meets History and Philosophy” in November.

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The Soul of the American Presidency:  The Decline Into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal by Stephen Knott

Excellent read that I reviewed just a week ago in December.

I wish I could say something deep, scholarly, and profound, but I will have to fall back on this response:  I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this book.  I read lots of politically related books and teach government.  I have studied Presidents ever since the election of 1964, in which I was–unknowingly–for the wrong candidate.

Did I agree with Stephen Knott at every step?  No way, but I found many things to reconsider, to re-enforce, and to reconfigure ways of thinking about the Presidents.  His heroes include some Presidents I find less lovable.  His villains include some of my heroes.  That was part of the fun, accompanied by pain, in reading this book.

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The Darkest Year: The American Homefront 1941-1942 by William Klingman

Fascinating and heavily anecdotal account of the wild and chaotic year after the U. S. entered World War II. How in the world did we ever win the war? Hundred of anecdotal details about the first year of America’s involvement in World War II.

Reviewed this book in May.

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