From the Book Hunting Trails

Book Buys LR 2016

On Saturday, I got the chance to spend some time stalking the shelves at River Market Books in Little Rock. This is my second favorite used bookstore in Arkansas. Sad to report, but the history books (usually priced at $4 each) were on sale for half price.

River Market Books 2

From the back row, left to right, I picked up a copy of Andy Stanley’s It Came from Within. This is the older hardback edition of what is now titled Enemies of the Heart (in paperback).  The newer edition is currently being used in the Wednesday night studies at my church.

Also, I got A Company of Readers: Uncollected Writings of W. H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling from the Readers’ Subscription and Mid-Century Book Clubs. What a long sub-title! The inclusion of Barzun made the sale.  But all three men were top notch literary fellows and scholars.  Books of essays are easily dipped into and read in short stretches, here and there, then saved for a later occasion.

On the front row, we have The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo by Gregor Dallas. Some years back I  1945: The War that Never Ended and thought it was an excellent history.  I think I also have 1918: War and Peace by Dallas. I find him very much in the tradition of great British historians, such as Max Hastings, Piers Brendon, and John Keegan.  The British produce some great scholars in the field of history.  (Some editions of this book are titled 1815: The Roads to Waterloo.)  It looks rather comprehensive in covering the major countries and players in the final defeat of Napoleon.

Then we have The End of Order: Versailles 1919 by Charles Mee, Jr. Both World War I and 20th Century history are specialties of mine (in my own mind, at least).  Of course, the Versailles Conference included some influential leaders and resulted in a disastrous peace.  The title brings out a curious thought.  Versailles was an attempt to bring a new order on Europe.  In a very real sense, it created the seeds of World War II.

The last book is titled Profiles in Folly: History’s Worst Decisions and Why They Went Wrong by Alan Axelrod. From the Trojan Horse to George Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, mistakes and bad judgments abound. Looks fun and instructive.  This is a book of less than 350 pages, so it is obviously only a small glimpse of the bad decisions that fill the ages of the past.  (I am glad we have learned all the lessons from past mistakes and will never make any more.)

Total damage done: $15 for 5 nice hardback books.

50 Plus Good Reads and Authors from 2015

Theological and Christian Living

1. God in the Whirlwind by David Wells
This is the follow-up to Wells’ four books on Christianity and Modern Culture. A heavy theological application.

2. The Prayer of the Lord by R. C. Sproul
A study of the Lord’s Prayer. I preached on that prayer several times before reading this book, but I would read it again before preaching on the prayer.

3. The Philippian Fragment by Calvin Miller
A really fun spoof on much that happens in Christianity and Churchianity. I stumbled upon a used copy of this book, which turned out to be a really funny and yet sometimes convicting book.

4. In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson
50 chapters of a few pages each. Most mornings, I read 2 of them. Very good, heart-centered, theologically sound reading for the start of the day. Ferguson is a great writer and Christian teacher.

5. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim
A very good study of the recurring Biblical images and uses of Eden and the Temple. Worth a second and more detailed reading.

6. The Case for the Psalms by N. T. Wright
Good. Worth another read.

7. For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, edited by Storms and Taylor Like many collections of essays, the content varied. Some were a bit too scholarly for my early morning comprehension. Lots of good material. A great tribute to a great preacher.

8. On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor by Clay Werner
Good and right on target on so many issues.

9. Calvinism in Times of Crisis
A collection of talks by such men as G. C. Berkouwer, H. G. Stoker, and others given in Grand Rapids in 1946. Weighty and dated, but these men were solid Calvinists who were applying the Faith to the current crises.

10. Books by R. J. Rushdoony
The Sermon on the Mount by R. J. Rushdoony
A brief study of the SOTM. Complements the work of others. Insights aplenty. Very good book for theological and devotional reading.
Sermons in Obadiah and Jonah by R. J. Rushdoony
A short book of 8 messages. Good for morning reading. Rushdoony always has something worth reading, meditating on, and remembering.
Van Til and the Limits of Reason by R. J. Rushdoony
A difficult short book. This is a reprint and slight expansion of the Thinkers of the Modern Mind (?) series that Presbyterian and Reformed did back in the 1960s-70s. A challenging introduction that reveals the thinking of both author and subject.

11. Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer
A Banner of Truth reprint. Good study of Reformation theology. A manual of church oversight and Seelsorge–soul care. Interesting detailed study of penance, which was not just a Catholic practice.

12. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman
I read this book in 2013 and went to Perman’s lecture at the ACCS conference in June in Dallas. I re-read it with the commitment to try to implement what he says. Very good book, worth multiple readings and applications.

13. Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Since I read Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal, I thought I should read something by Brunner. This is a very basic, almost catechetical study of Christian doctrines. Only a few points of detected differences. His opening chapter sounded like Van Til.

14. Prayer by Philip Yancey
Yancey writes the most powerful honest assessments of Christian struggles of anyone I know. I felt, however, the book went on a bit long with too many unanswerable dilemmas. In spite of that, it was a profitable and convicting read.

15. Living the Cross Centered Life by C. J Mahaney
A really good and soul nourishing book. Great quotes, great content.

16. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buchner
Outstanding morning read. Received this book as a birthday gift from Toni Lemley. Loved the book and plan on reading it and the author some more.

17. The Concordia Psalter.  This is a handy, beautiful collection of the Psalms with prayers following each Psalm.

Great Works by Great Writers

18. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
This is my second or third read and the first really good understanding of this much neglected classic, which we read in Humanities class. I am almost persuaded to pursue much more reading of Scott’s many volumes.

19. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh
A strange, even haunting, but enjoyable book.

20. Books by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Apricot Jam and Other Stories by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I read the first story over a year and a half ago. Then last year, I plodded through the rest of them. Several of them were hard to follow, but perhaps the book needs more attention. I am trying to fill a big Solzhenitsyn deficit in my life.
The Russian Question at the End of the Twentieth Century by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Much of the book is a survey of Russian history. Solzhenitsyn laments Russia’s failure to help its own people through the years. The last part is about the failure of progress to satisfy man’s most important needs. Worthy of a second reading.
The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
This book took a while to get through, but the last 100 pages made it worth the effort. It definitely needs another reading, but more thought before that time. Also, I read the older 87 chapter version and now need the 96 chapter version.

21. Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
A very enjoyable novel. Based on Don Quixote, this story is about a poor priest and a defeated Communist mayor in Spain who travel throughout the country. Profound and funny.

22. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  It is always fun to teach this book which often becomes a favorite for students.

23. Fierce Wars and Faithful Wars (Book I of The Faerie Queene) by Edmund Spenser
Really enjoyed reading and teaching through this book again.


24. Two by Paul Johnson
The Renaissance by Paul Johnson
Read this because it is…well, by Paul Johnson, and because I have had it for a long time, and because it fit with what I was teaching at the time. A lot about art, which is one of Johnson’s specialties.
Eisenhower by Paul Johnson
Johnson has become the master of the short biography. It is a great survey of the life and gifts of a very skilled leader. Convincing and enjoyable. Typical Paul Johnson delightfulness.

25. Foundations: The History of England From Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd.
This is the first volume of a multivolume history of England. Not very easy reading, in part, because I am still vague about the chronology of English kings prior to the Tudors. Worthy read and one that makes me anxious to read the other volumes. My first reading of an Ackroyd title.

26. Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance
By Philip White
A really enjoyable book. How many Churchill books does it take to satisfy me? At least a few more.

27. Nations and Nationalism by Eric Hobshawm
Very challenging and detailed book. While reading this, I knew I was in the presence of a great thinker. Would have to read it again to more fully engage with it.

28. The Last Cavalryman: Lucian K. Truscott by Harvey Ferguson
Long break between the start and finish of this book. Truscott was a first rate general, but he has not received adequate attention. Good study of his role in the Italian and southern France campaigns.

29. Riots, Revolutions, and the Scottish Covenanters: The Works of Alexander Henderson by L. Charles Jackson
Scholarly, heavily documented, and weighty study of the man and his times. There are lots of lessons to draw from this book regarding the interaction between faith and politics. Really glad that Reformation Heritage Books has published this and other fine books.

Books about Books and Authors

30. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Enjoyable entry into the world of rare and antiquarian books. But the thief, John Gilkey, who loved books, was a totally disgusting amoral person.

31. On Writing by Stephen King
Overall, a really good book. King is often profane, but also often profound, and sometimes both in the same paragraph. I would like to read some, or at least one, of his books at some point.

32. When Books Went to War by Molly Guptil Manning
After a slow start, this turned out to be an interesting book. Much of the focus and many of the stories concern the American Service Editions of books that were printed by the millions to provide reading for the troops. Great story and an overlooked aspect of World War II.

33. Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone
A surprisingly good book. Ms. Malone is a nun and of a slight liberal persuasion, but her discussion of the place of reading in our lives was totally agreeable and enjoyable.

34. How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem
By Rod Dreher
An enjoyable book that doesn’t easily fit into a niche. Not exactly a study of Dante or his poem; not exactly a Christian read, although it made the list of the best evangelical books of the year; largely autobiographical with a focus on Dreher’s physical and emotional breakdown and recovery.

35. The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth about a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker by Daniel J. Mahoney
A great study. After some troubles getting into the book, I began read some of Solzhenitsyn himself. This is a necessary companion volume to Solzhenitsyn books and biographies.

Political Readings

36. Silent Revolution by Barry Rubin
An in-depth look at the Third Liberalism of our day. A good account of how Pres. Obama’s political views are far off course from those of liberals of the past. The book was repetitive, but useful.

37. Statism: The Shadows of Another Night, edited by Charlie Rodriquez
A collection of essays and speeches by Christian writers and former Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan . The theme is, of course, statism. Good and timely collection.

38. Insider Books about Politics
The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
After showing the video in class for years, I finally decided to read the book. I am astounded at how corrupt and evil the Kennedy brothers were. This book was quite a contrast with The Hawk and the Dove, which was one of the top reads for 2015.

Hell of a Ride: Backstage at the White House Follies1989-1993 by John Podhoretz
A fun but shocking look at the disorder and lack of coherence in the George H. W. Bush White House.
At Ease in the White House: The Uninhibited Memoirs of a Presidential Social Aide
By Col. Stephen Bauer
Very interesting book and very interesting job. I learned quite a bit about the social side of the White House. Bauer was a Vietnam vet. Very favorable views of Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. Carter was so stingy and unaware of how things ought to be done.
The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents
And/or In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect By Ronald Kessler
Fun for the inside look at the personalities, foibles, and faults of Presidents and families. Also a good study of the role, history, and inside fault lines within the Secret Service. Lots of overlapping stories in these two books.

How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson
Read this mostly as an afternoon read. Very enjoyable. Along with the expected anecdotes and stories, there was lots that I did not know. Robinson was the main author and proponent of the “tear down this wall” line.

39. Hard America; Soft America by Michael Barone
Read this book a few pages at a time. Although it is over 10 years old, it is still relevant and useful as a cultural analysis of good (hard) and bad (soft) trends in our country. Barone is a fine political and social commentator of a consrvative nature.

40. Christian Political Action in the Age of Revolution by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer
Being that Groen is the author, what more needs to be said? This was written later than the Revolution and Unbelief collection. Quite good, but not an easy book to glean from. Groen describes the struggles and opposition he faced while laboring in Dutch politics.

41. Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics by Charles Krauthammer                                                                          A really fine collection of essays on a wide variety of topics. Krauthammer is a good stylist. I got this fine volume at a used book source for $2 and it was in new condition. What a find.

Coming Soon:  Favorite Popular Fiction Reads of 2015

Going Dutch

It was a church estate sale and the advertisement said, “Lots of books.”  There were not many in the main building, but a lady directed us to a building out back.  She repeated the phrase, “Lots of books.”  And there were exactly that.  Boxes and boxes of books from a now defunct church library.  No order, with sets sometimes scattered here and there, and a large room full of boxes and quite a few people.

I loved looking, but after a while, it was obvious that I was not going to find much here, if anything.  As uncontrolled, as eclectic, as varied as my reading and collecting tastes are, there was little here I was interested in.  There were some good books.  I found a few volumes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ series on Ephesians; there was a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs;  I still regret bypassing a few nice commentaries by Henry Ironside;  yet it looked like I was not going to find anything.

That is a hard fact to endure for a book hunter.  I can remember finding the copy of Surprised by Joy at an estate sale some years back that had few books and no other books I would take.  I recall finding a much prized copy of The Philosophy of Gordon Clark at the junkiest paperback bookstore I have ever seen that was in Hot Springs.  On my many hunts and searches, I found books autographed by Carl Sandburg, W. H. Auden, and Pat Conroy.  Once I stumbled upon the entire 54 volume Brittanica Great Books Series, with many volumes still in shrinkwrap, for $40.

But this day, this trip, looked to be a wash.  The estate sale was to close at 5:00 and it was already a few minutes past.  I was slowly working my way to the front, still glancing anxiously from box to box.  Then I spotted it.  A blue hardback book with the title The Person of Christ visible.  I picked it up, looked closer, and realized that it was a volume by Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer and was part of an older series he did called Studies in Dogmatics.  This particular volume, according to information penciled inside by a dutiful librarian, was purchased for $3.00 (the regular price being $4) on October 28, 1955.  That was exactly 2 months before I was born!  The library card, which appears to have been added much later, indicates that the book had not been checked out.  The book cost me $2.

Who is G. C. Berkouwer, you ask?  The quick internet answer is “Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996) was for years the leading theologian of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. He occupied the Chair in systematic theology of the Faculty of Theology, Free University in Amsterdam.”

But I would give this explanation:  Berkouwer was the theologian that Cornelius Van Til recommended his students go to for further studies in theology.  Van Til generally assumed that any smart student wanting an advanced degree would look no further than the Free University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands for attaining that degree.  Theology students would study under Berkouwer and philosophy students would seek out Herman Dooyeweerd.

One American who did study under Berkouwer, though not a student of Van Til, was R. C. Sproul.  He used Dutch translations of Berkouwer’s books to train himself in the language before he went there.  In many of his books, Sproul references things that his teacher said or wrote.

Professor G. C. Berkouwer, looking somewhat like his colleague Herman Dooyeweerd.

The Studies in Dogmatics series consists of a total of 14 English volumes covering a wide range of theological issues.  I have not seen the set in years.  I do remember years ago as a young Calvinist, gazing at it in Professor Henry Wood’s library.  Mr. Wood gave a quick commentary on each of the volumes, with most being rated good, but one or two getting poor marks.

The addition of this Berkouwer volume is part of a on-going quest to glean from Dutch Christian thinkers.  It is an amazing thing that a nation so small has contributed so much to the world of Christian theology and philosphy.  Thomas Cahill wrote an excellent book that tells How the Irish Saved Civilization.  Arthur Herman credits another small nation with a great accomplishment in his book How the Scots Invented the Modern World.  I think it worth noting that it has been largely the Dutch who have taught the Christian world how to think theologically, philosophically, and worldviewishly.

I have been reading various Dutch authors (and their English students) ever since I became Reformed back in 1975.  But I have been feverously collecting works by Dutch Calvinists for the past 7 years.  In my (now over) public speaking days, I lectured on Dutch Calvinistic thinkers in Virginia and Alaska.  I am still collecting and reading.  These Dutch guys are heavyweights.  I feel like I have maybe gotten half-way through kindergarten in reading the Dutch Calvinists.  And, I still hang my head in shame when asked, “Do you read Dutch?”  I have to admit to being restricted to English translations.  But that restriction is not all that restricting.

I suspect that I have over 100 books written by and about Dutch Christian thinkers. These books include lots of theological and philosophical works, along with some biographical and historical works and some Bible commentaries.

I am still a novice. Below are some of the books that I would recommend, as a first grader to someone wanting to come into kindergarten.

1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  Yes, the simple story (or the movie) about Corrie Ten Boom and her family during World War II.  This is a good starting place because it gives the reader a picture into some Dutch history and the piety of the ordinary Dutch Christian folk.  That country suffered horribly under the Nazis and lots of believers were persecuted or killed.  Faith and Victory in Dachua by Jacobus Overduin is also a powerful first hand account of a Dutch Christian during the war.

2. Why I Believe in God, Defense of the Faith and/or Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til.  Van Til will be the one case where I will allow an immigrant to join this list.  I include him because he was such a vital link between Calvinism in America and in the Netherlands.  This was in large part due to his willingness to work at Westminster Theological Seminary where he pointed many students back to his Dutch peers and mentors.  Almost any of his books would do for a reader, and the Van Til biography by John Muether is a delight.

Cornelius Van Til

3. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper.  I know I mention this defining work quite a bit.  Every book that is available today that discusses the need for a Christian worldview either explicitely mentions Kuyper or implicitely repeats (in an inferior manner) what he said in these lectures on religion, politics, science, art, and all of life.

4. The Practice of Godliness by Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper was an amazingly prolific writer.  He did Biblical studies, systematic theology, political and social studies, and books on personal Christian living.  This short volume is a refreshing and helpful guide in Christian living.

5. God’s Renaissance Man: The Life and Work of Abraham Kuyper by James E. McGoldrick.  Reading any biography of Abraham Kuyper will leave you exhausted.  How did one man do all that he did in just one lifetime?  This biography is quite good.  So is Frank Vanden Berg’s older biography , and it is available online.  I have, but have not yet read, the relatively new biography of Kuyper by James Bratt titled Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat.  And I must also mention the in-depth essay collection titled On Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work, and Legacy of Abraham Kuyper, edited by Steve Bishop and John H. Kok.  There are at least four or five recent works about Kuyper that I am longing for.  Add to that a few volumes of Kuyper’s writings that are becoming available in English.

6. In the Twilight of Western Thought  and Roots of Western Culture by Herman Dooyeweerd.  I cannot begin to explain or fathom the depth and work of Herman Dooyeweerd.  His works and thought call for an annotated bibliography all its own.  His followers and borrowers can be found in the fields of Christian philosophy on all the continents of the world.  He is no easy read, but one can access his article “Secularization of Science” online.  Also, many of Dooyeweerd’s books are now being published in affordable editions by the Reformational Publishing Project.

Herman Dooyeweerd, Dutch Christian philosopher.

7. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by Hans Rookmaaker.  This is one of my son Nicholas’ favorite books.  Rookmaaker was a student of Dooyeweerd’s thought and was a close friend to Francis Schaeffer.  The six volumes of Collected Writings of H. R. Rookmaaker is a prized possession in my library.  The  biography of Rookmaaker by Laura Gasque is very enjoyable.

9.  Reformed Dogmatics (4 volumes), Reformed Dogmatics (Abridged in One Volume), The Doctrine of God, and The Christian Family by Herman Bavinck.  Bavinck is perhaps THE big name in theology in the Dutch Calvinist tradition.  I am in great need of reading more and more from this defining Christian thinker.  His volume of writings on other topics, titled Essays on Religion, Science, and Society shows something of the wide scope of his thinking.  His book on the Christian family is a pioneering work from the early 20th century that is exceedinly relevant today.

11. Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman,  and Theologian by Ron Gleason.  The four titles pretty much tell the story of Bavinck’s life.  This biography is a good insight into the labors and travails of the great theologian.  Some of the intramural battles between various factions in the Dutch churches and seminaries are confusing readings, but it is still phenomenal that Bavinck engaged in the battles of his day and Christian community, but wrote for the ages.

12.  Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church by Rudolf Van Reest.  This is not an easy book because the author assumes that readers understand the struggles going on between different factions in the Dutch churches before, during, and after World War II.  Schilder’s trilogy of sermons on the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ is a must have for any Christian pastor or student.

13.  Modern Uncertainty and the Christian Faith by G.C. Berkouwer.  I bought and read this great book some years ago based on a recommendation by Andrew Sandlin.  It was my only Berkouwer book until the recent find.  Now I want all of his works.

And time fails me to mention the works of Herman Ridderbos, S. G. Degraaf, D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, Gerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, Groen van Prinsterer, H. Van Reissen, Piet Prins, and the many Americans, Brits, and Canadians who have plumbed and explored these Dutch treasures.  I was not personally very familiar with his work, but recently learned of the scholarship of Anthony Tol.  Tol was born in the Netherlands, came to North America in his youth, and returned to the Netherlands where he labored on the philosophy of Vollenhoven.  Dr. Tol died earlier this month.

It was Groen van Prinsterer, the Dutch historian, who said, “The Netherlands, more than any other country, was chosen and set apart by the mercies of God to be a seat of Protestantism.”   Pray for the Netherlands, for its sins are many.  But also give thanks for God’s using this country to enrich the world.

Reading about Reading

I love books about books.  This past year, I not only enjoyed reading several of Pat Conroy’s books, but I especially enjoyed his book about his own readings.

My Reading Life–Conroy’s rich descriptions and unusual tales about his reading experiences.

My Reading Life is an enjoyable book.  Conroy tells of his own reading experiences, favorite books, book store adventures, and contacts with fellow authors and literary folks.  Sometimes, he is too rough around the edges (and not just the edges), but Conroy is a master stylist and a powerful wordsmith.  I often have to slow down and read his prose slowly just to hear the poetry in it.

I bought a copy of My Reading Life this past summer at a Half Price Bookstore in Dallas (guided there by my friend Kent Travis).  At some point, after I finished the book, Nick carried it off to Wheaton where it remains.

About a month ago, I found another copy of the book.  It was ‘like new.’  The only thing that was not ‘like new’ was the price–$2–for a hardback book.  It is always useful to have a second copy of a good book, so I bought it.

Today, I took that copy to my classroom so that I could read about Conroy’s experience in being coaxed into reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  I opened the book, turning to the title page, and then nearly passed out.


I showed each student in the class the autograph and then walked out in the hall and yelled, “This is amazing.”  What a day! What a blessing!

That could be my copy of a Conroy book that he is signing!