So You Want To–the first two installments–by Brian Daigle

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Brian Daigle is a big man who writes small books.  There is a method to his madness.  I am proof of the pudding, for I have read his small books.  But the main appeal is that he is writing these books to target people who are looking for a plan of action.  Brian, by the way, writes from a plethora of experiences.  He has started and leads a Christian school in south Louisiana.  He has spoken across the land to educators and interested parents.  Also, he has read deeply and widely in all the areas associated with classical education.

The classical Christian school movement is still relatively new.  Relatively because it really started picking up steam in the 1990s.  A number of now older men and women found themselves questioning education, Christian school alternatives, and the needs of our children.  Names started popping up all over the place; that is, names like Dorothy Sayers, C. S. Lewis, John Milton, and others who were known for their writings in literature and other areas were also people who addressed education.  There was a question that arose regarding not what these people wrote or said, but how were they educated?  Hence, an obscure essay by a woman mainly liked for being a murder mystery novelist suddenly became a cornerstone for a movement.  I am referring, of course, to Dorothy Sayers and her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

Many of us dove into classical Christian education little prepared, little aware, and less equipped for the task that needed.  But as G. K. Chesterton, another favorite in CCE circles, said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”  So, we began doing something worth doing and often doing it badly.  But, hop in the pool and flail your arms long enough and you just might learn to swim.  Then, find a swimming coach and watch amazing things happen.

Twenty plus years after the reawakening, the 95 Theses posted to the door of modern education, and we are still a small movement.  But people keep having babies and going to church.  Some, not enough, see that what is taught in church and in the Bible and what is taught on the other days of the week ought to mesh together.  If one is to trump or undergird the other, it should be the church and Bible, rather than the school and culture.

Here is where So You Want to Start a School is needed.  I strongly advise you not to run before you walk, or to start a school before you know what it is that you are starting.  And the “you” I am using better be the plural, as in “Y’all” (meaning “You all).  A bad Christian school, started because of public school violence or Common Core Curriculum or evolution in textbooks, might be worse than the disease.  This book is 65 pages long.  That is just the right length for you to read 3 times before talking to other concerned people.

You will make mistakes in starting a Christian school.  (Some involve hiring practices; some involve admissions; some involve thinking this can be done without paying teachers; some involve doctrinal confusion; and the list never ends.) So, at least make sure that you have worked through the issues in this book and can head off or minimize the lurking disasters.

On the other hand, there are Christian schools that have been around for a while.  Sometimes, I hear of a Christian school that is “just like our schools use to be.”  Well, if “Happy Days” (the television show) is your model, go for it.  Public school with a chapel, public school with a Bible class, public school where evolution is not taught, and the like may be enough for you.  (And I think we should have a serious talk, if so.)  And above all, if you are motivated by having your kids kept in an environment where only “our kind of people” are present, referring to race, let me make this clear:  You are in sin.  But I digress.

Some Christian schools or people associated with them have seen some of the features in the classical Christian school movement and find it attractive.  First of all, don’t add the word “Classical” to your school or curriculum.  I can call myself General Ben House, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have never spent a day in the military (and have not shot a rifle in years).  Second, don’t think that your school can do what it does, but just add a classical track onto its curriculum.  If it is Latin you want to teach, or logic, or if you want to add a few more classics to the reading list, do so.

Transforming a traditional Christian school into a classical Christian school is more than a few minor adjustments.  Read the book.  Brian got carried away and wrote 79 pages this time.  Plan on it taking a year or so for you/y’all to get acclimated to what you are even talking about.  There is a cost involved.  Compare it, if you will, to transitioning from being a single guy to a married man with four children.  (That process took me 11 years.)

Thanks Brian Daigle for taking up the standard and leading the next generation of classical teachers, boards, and schools.  How about a book called So You Want to be a Classical Teacher?  next?  Or, So You Are Finding Classical Education Difficult?  Short books, with Calvin’s preferred “lucid brevity”:  That is your calling, along with the 94 other things you are doing, for now.


Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James E. Beitler

Seasoned Speech

Simply put, this book is outstanding. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James E. Beitler III is published by IVP Academic.

My first serious encounter with the subject of rhetoric was around 1995 when I attended a classical Christian school conference.  In reality, I first encountered rhetoric when I was an infant, but I am speaking of it as a subject we consciously study.  In college, the first two English courses were titled Rhetoric and Composition, but the term “rhetoric” was never really explained.  That name was a hold-over from the past and it made the course sound much more academic than merely calling it “Writing Class.”

Rhetoric is one of the foundational and defining courses in the classical education world.  Like so much that has happened in that educational revolution and renaissance, it has focused quite a bit on the older, even oldest, treatments of the subject.  Hence, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, (Pseudo-) Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herrinium, and Quintillian’s multiple volumes of rhetoric are the textbooks of many courses being taught to high schoolers.  As much as anything, the use of these books have been educating teachers in the field of rhetoric.  Due to the increased interest in the subject, many books have been discovered or written on the topic in more recent times.  Corbett and Connor’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Richard Weaver’s Rhetoric, Scott Crider’s excellent Office of Assertion, Sister Miriam Joseph’s The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, Douglas and N. D. Wilson’s The Rhetoric Companion, and Fitting Words by James Nance are all among the “must have’s” for the rhetoric teacher of today.

But, let’s be clear about this:  However full your shelf of rhetorical studies may be, it is near empty if you do not have Seasoned Speech.  This book is top notch, fun, challenging, mind-expanding, and inspirational.  Can you read between the lines enough to discern that I love this book?

Yet, one may think that we have narrowed the field of interest to those individuals who teach rhetoric in school.  For Christians, the primary rhetoriticians that we are exposed to are our pastors and teachers in the church.  This book, as asserted by the subtitle, is for the life of the church.  Yes, to the improvement of rhetoric in the academies, in politics, and in the world of secular discourse, but persuasive and powerful speech must be the focus of those who preach, teach, write, and counsel in the broader Christian world.  It is one of the joyful facts that among Reformed people, we believe that no one is convinced apart from a work of the Spirit of God and that it is incumbent upon the speaker to make his or her words winsome, clear, and convincing.

This book approaches the subject by examining the lives and writings of five people who were and are influential Christian thinkers.  One might well question some of the particular doctrinal beliefs of each of the five, but this book is not an ordination exam.  It uses the writers as models for what they did effectively.

The first up on the list is C. S. Lewis.  Lewis is far from a one-dimensional writer.  He is known for his novels, both those directed at younger audiences and those that are more adult-centered.  Many people love his theological writings, especially Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.  Quite a few volumes of his essays have been published, including God in the Dock.  He was also a first-rate literary scholar as seen in such books as Preface to Paradise Lost.

I have quite a few books by Lewis and an equally large number of books about him.  And I don’t consider myself to be a Lewis scholar.

This book, Seasoned Speech, focuses on Lewis as a rhetor.  The aim is to show how Lewis makes the faith winsome in his writings.  The application of this and all the chapters is for others, such as preachers, teachers, and writers, to absorb the same skill.

The second figure in the book is Dorothy Sayers.  She may very well be one of the most neglected Christian thinkers of our time, which neglects many fine Christian thinkers.  A few months back, I read and reviewed The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers.  That review can be found here.

While she paid her electric bill by writing mystery novels, she also wrote some fine theological tracts.  She, too, was a master of communication.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the third subject of the book.  His biography is well known because of his involvement (indirectly) in a plot to kill Adof Hitler.  His books The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together are two of the best Christian books I have ever read.  Yes, I know that Bonhoeffer had some theological oddities, quirks, and false ideas in his overall theology, but he did write and say some things well worth reading–again and again.  The chapter on him highlights some of the best of his ideas.

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I was not as familiar with the details of Desmond Tutu’s life.  I do remember the ordeals of South Africa during the years in which he was a spiritual leader there.  So, this section was nearly all new information, but good reading.

Concerning Marilynne Robinson, I first learned of her just a few years ago.  Two friends, who have no connection with each other, sent me emails recommending her book Gilead.   I read it and liked it, but it took some more reflection upon it before I began sensing how good the book actually is.  Then I read the two other related novels, Home and Lila.  If you are wanting some rip roaring adventure, steer clear of these books, for the action is slow and there is much meditation that takes place in the stories and in the reader’s mind.  But they are a great work, and these three volumes have to be seen as being a unified work, although one could read Gilead without reading the others.

I hope to say more about Robinson after I complete Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialog with Marilynne Robinson, which is also a recent IVP publication.

Balm in Gilead

Back to Seasoned Speech:  This is a not an easy beach read, but it is a very rewarding study.  Whether one tackles all five of its subjects or just one, the book is worth the effort.  It ranks high on my list of really fine books and on my list of books that must be read again.

Seasoned Speech

Beauteous Truth by Joseph Pearce

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I hear it continually.  It is a lament, a regret, a wish.  It comes from parents.  It comes from teachers.  It even comes, occasionally, from students.  “I wish I had read more.”  ” I wish I understood the classics.”  “I wish I had a better education.” And so it goes.  Part of the pain of adulthood is the realization that “time’s winged chariots” are near.  Part of life’s wisdom is the realization that we may never get to read and enjoy and discuss the best that has ever been written or thought.

There are many encouraging exhortations that can be given.  And the available resources are overwhelming.  But the doing, that’s the rub.  (Already, two literary allusions have crept in “on little cat feet”–now making it three allusions–and do you recognize them?)  Yes, get started.  Read a classic.  Buy some books.  Turn off those digital devices.  Get off social media and the internet (except for this blog).  But beware:  Acquiring a well-tempered literary and classical mind is no easy task.  So, I will offer yet another resource, but a vital one.

To be educated, not for the sake of a resume or to be primly snotty, but for the joy and blessing of cultivating the mind is a process.  One of the vital steps is to get around people who make you feel uncomfortable, near illiterate, maybe even stupid. Then keep your mouth shut and listen.  Listen and listen and listen.  If there are groups of actual people you can spend time with who can elevate your mind, great.  If not, there are book.  Even if you are around the well-grounded in thought, you simply must read.

Joseph Pearce needs to become your buddy, and his books need to be on your shelves.  He will never know how much or little you know, because you are just listening, or actually just reading.  He is not an academic who has lived his life in a library.  He has spent time in jail in his radical, un-Christian, racist days.  Since he was found of God and renounced his past ways, he has been a quick study.  With the zeal of a revolutionary and street radical, he has become a revolutionary for a different cause:  Glorifying God by enjoying the great works of literature, especially those written by Christians.

Beauteous Truth:  Faith, Reason, Literature, and Culture is published by St. Augustine Press.  A little plug here for St. Augustine Press:  The books coming from this source are incredible.  You may never see them in your local large chain stores or even in Christian book stores, but don’t ignore the tidal wave of books from this press.

This book consists of 76 essays.  Most of them are but a few pages.  It took me a long time to read this book because my preferred method was to read just one essay a day.  By “just listening,” the reader will become more and more acquainted with G. K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc,  C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Graham Greene, Roy Campbell, Ronald Knox, Dorothy Sayers, Christopher Dawson,  T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, John Henry Newman, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and several other recent (as in late 19th through 20th century) authors.  A literary education begins with learning the geography.  The map-quest shows how Chesterton leads to Lewis and Lewis leads to Tolkien and so on.  Pearce is well equipped on this front because of his book Literary Converts.  

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Literary Converts is the second book by Pearce that you should read.  But it was the first book by him that I read.  It is a must for English majors and teachers, Lewis and Tolkien fans, cultural critics of the past two centuries, historians, and pastors.  While much of the 20th century seemed to be a time of the sun setting on the United Kingdom, God was raising up a bevy of writers who were penning the best essays, poems, dramas, theological works, and novels that were Christian.  Beauteous Truth contains fragments (not splintered fragments, however, Mr. Tolkien) of the stories in Literary Converts.

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Also, Pearce has written biographies Chesterton, Tolkien, Belloc, and Solzhenitsyn.  Get them!  I try to get and read everything by Joseph Pearce.  I keep hoping to meet him some day as well.  He is a tireless defender of the good, the true and the beautiful and is a gifted writer and advocate.

Along with the more recent writers that Pearce discusses, he also brings in others from the literary canon.  So, he discusses Dante (one of his favorites),Shakespeare, Chaucer, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, Charles Dickens, and many, many more. He also frequently discusses Oscar Wilde, yet another subject of a Pearce biography.  Pearce seems to be grounded in the whole panorama of European literature.

An additional strength to this book is that Pearce is a Christian and the gist of his writing is about Christian connections.  His theology and mine differ on too many points to even begin discussing.  He and I can banter about all that on the fourth or fifth time we get together in the future.  To be sure, there are plenty of writers who were not Christian, who were writing long before Christ, or who have been anti-Christian.  As R. C. Sproul has said, all literature is about someone running from God or running to God.

I was only vaguely conscious of the Christian scope of literature while I was studying history and English in college.  I was blessed by some good literature teachers, especially Dr. Rosalyn Knudson at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who taught a courses that included Milton’s Paradise Lost, Spencer’s Fairie Queene, and Shakespeare’s plays.  Later, I begin to think of Christian literature as being the enjoyable, but light novels of Frank Peretti.

Some of the world-changing works I read were the books by Cleanth Brooks, Louise Cowan, and Leland Ryken.  As I was getting immersed, sprinkled, and poured in terms of Christian literature and culture through teaching in a classical Christian school, I was making more and more connections, faster and faster.  Joseph Pearce’s books were a catalyst for those heady days.

It is easy enough to look on-line and see the table of contents of this book, so I will not try to reproduce it here.  But be ready:  Some essays that sound less interesting due to the titles will be mental game changers.  Some will leave you thinking, “I don’t know what he is talking about.”  That is okay because we want to learn from people who have read, thought, and sought more than we have.  Some will be disagreeable.  That is okay as well.  Good, educated disagreements are part of education.  Many will be humbling.  Some confirming.  All worth reading.

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Studying Political Classics

This picture is from the Ashbrook Scholar program which has a great reading list on politics and philosophy. Click on the picture above.

This is proving to be a challenging year for teaching government.  With Hillary swinging between the extremes of barking like a dog or snapping in anger at a questioner, with an aging Socialist drawing massive crowds, with large crowds attending the Republican debates–as participants, not candidates, and with Donald Trump being himself, politics and current events have been crazy.  Switching from the political updates, ranging from terrorism in Brussels to tangoing in Cuba, to serious political philosophy is tough.  It is like watching the classic Shawn Michaels vs. the Undertaker WWE match and then switching over to a stock market report.

But the current political dust will settle.  Fewer people will remember Chris “Krispy Kream” Christie than those who remember former Vice President Thomas R. Marshall.   Most of the current political rants, diatribes, promises, and oratory will become, to borrow from Macbeth’s words, tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This is not to denigrate politics, government, the election cycle, political debates and rallies, or the importance of the Virgin Islands delegation in the event of a brokered convention.  Bismarck, the wily Prussian politician of the past, warned that it was best not to watch sausage and laws being made.  The same might be said for the political process of electing leaders.

Beyond that are the political classics.  There are books that have endured through the ages.  They reflect discussions, debates, ideas, and concepts that generated conversations that have never ceased.  They don’t comment on the issues we face, obviously, but the quips and quotes, the bits of blinding wisdom, concise summaries of human propensities, and the reflections on the human condition speak to our times and all times.

Mark Twain said that a classic is a book that everyone talks about, but nobody reads.  That was before our time when nobody even talked about classics.  But there have always been remnants, hold-outs, individualists, and even odd balls who counter-march against the culture.  In other words, someone always keeps reading the classics.  The flame flickers, but never goes out.

I took one government class in college and CLEPed out of a second one.  Along with a number of history and literature classes, none of these took us into the riches of political classics.  Thankfully, given enough time and true repentance, we can survive our own educational deficiencies.

In my Ancient World Humanities class, we have been battling our way through Plato’s Republic.  It is, I must admit, over the heads of my 9th graders, also my 10th, 11th, and 12th graders.  It’s over my head as well. I have told the students that they are in kindergarten and I am in 1st grade.  Nevertheless, our perseverance has paid off and we will finish Plato this week.  We have struggled with the concept of the Ideal State and rule by Philosopher-Kings, the vision from within the cave and the mission of those outside the cave, and the delineations Plato/Socrates makes on every statement.  My hope is to make it to 2nd or maybe even 3rd grade through this reading.

By the way, we use the Dover Thrift Edition of Plato’s Republic.  I do not recommend it.  The translation was done by Benjamin Jowett, who was an esteemed classicist in his day, but I have found the Hackett Classics edition, translated by C. D. C. Reeve, much better.


In government class, we are reading from The Federalist Papers by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  This reading is following some study of the Constitution.  I first made it all the way through The Federalist Papers some years ago when teaching government.  Usually, our classes focus on reading at least 10 to 20 of the 80 plus essays.  I have found the best edition for this work is The Federalist Papers in Modern Language Indexed for Today’s Political Issues, edited by Mary E. Webster.  Dr. Webster has modernized the punctuation, added sub-headings, and added some notes that ease the reading of these essays.

Some of these essays raise questions that seem obvious.  For example, the first series concerns whether one nation (or one united confederacy) would be superior to having multiple nations.  Since we have grown used to the idea of the original 13 states (grown now to 50 states) being united as one, we forgot that this was a serious contention.  Historical references abound in these essays.  The authors knew history and used history.  The insights into human nature are profound.

The Federalist is not just history.  There are any number of current issues that are discussed or foreseen in these essays.  For example, in recent weeks there has been lots of debate about whether the Senate is obligated to basically rubber-stamp Pres. Obama’s nomination of Garland Webster to the Supreme Court.  Suddenly, Democrats are touting views that are totally opposite views they had when Republicans held the White House.  An appeal to recent history (such as Joe Biden’s flip-flop) is interesting, but the study of Federalist 69 is defining and weighty.  There we are told that “the president had was the power ‘to nominate, and, WITH THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE, to appoint.’”

We can be assured that there is no limit to the wisdom of these essays.

On my own, I recently read John Stuart Mill’s work On Liberty.  This was the first time I had the book, or lengthy essay.  It is brilliant.  I determined to make no notes and mark no passages with this first reading.  That was difficult.  This is not to endorse everything that Mill said or to buy into his system.  He is a strong proponent of individualism and free thought.  In what was probably a time where there was little independence of ideas, Mill was pushing the envelope.  In our age, I am not sure he would be all that pleased with all who march to their own drummers.

On Liberty is one of the best political works I have read.  Certainly conservatives and libertarians would enjoy and benefit from this book.  I would not mind adding it on to the teaching load, if only we could squeeze it in.

This last political classic may be the least known.  Yet, I think it is the most important.  I read this book near the end of 2015 and am currently reading it again.  It is published by Wordbridge Publishing, which is under the direction of Ruben Alvarado and is the publishing house for some outstanding works on political philosophy.

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (my story of the man from the year 2008) , commonly just referred to as Groen, is one of the greatest Christian political thinkers and activists of all time.  His realm of action was in the Netherlands during the 1800s.  He was a court historian who turned his scholarly labors to dealing with political issues of his time.  He rightly determined that the philosophy stemming from the French Revolution was a poison that would destroy Christian culture and the political order of Christendom.

Groen, along with others, started a political party.  He and his political allies worked to create one of the most vital ingredients for a Christian society, Christian schools.  His labors involved writing and assembling the Christian history of the Netherlands and the contributions of Christian thought and action from the time of the Protestant Reformation.  Specifically, he labored for the freedom and opportunity to start Christian schools.  It turned out to be an 80 year battle for the heart and soul of the Netherlands.

As with many Christian works, the first fruits are short lived, but the labors have long-term effects.  We are still tapping into the resources of Groen’s thought.  His name is overshadowed by that of his colleague and successor Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper’s brilliance and many accomplishments are not to be minimized, but without Groen, there would have been no Kuyper as we know him.

Groen’s main work was titled Lectures on Unbelief and Revolution.  It consisted of talks he gave to a group of interested friends on the impact of the French Revolution and how that movement was at heart unbelief.  That work, which was his earlier work, and Christian Political Action in an Age of Revolution were originally in Dutch.  Outside of some Reformed theological circles and Neo-Calvinist philosophical circles, few people look into the writings of Dutch theologians and philosophers.

It is amazing how the little country of the Netherlands produced a whole array of brilliant Christian thinkers during the 1800s and early 1900s.  The names include Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, H. Van Reissen, G. C. Berkouwer, Klaus Schilder, and many more.  We can add the names also of those who crossed the pond from the Netherlands to North America.  Louis Berkof, Gerhard Vos, and Cornelius Van Til are among the esteemed names we give here.

Basically, our current political struggles are a re-fighting of the issues of unbelief.  I don’t want to simplify and over-simplify current politics so as to boil this down to two charts with one being the good guys (belief) and the other being bad guys (unbelief).  We are not talking about current candidates, the two-party system, or the 2016 election cycle.  Unbelief is a deeper problem than Bernie’s Socialism, Hillary’s emails, Donald’s tweets, or Ted’s abrasive personality.

The problem is not located in the candidates, but in the heart and soul of the country.  We expect flawed sinners to bring us “hope and change.”  We expect walls to keep out problems and bombs to make the world safe.

We need to get back to some deeper issues.  Some of the answers–or at least the right questions–can be found in Plato’s Republic, The Federalist Papers, and Mill’s On Liberty.  As we get serious about rebuilding a political and social culture, we have to mine the gold found in those Dutch writers like Groen van Prinsterer and in this fine book Christian Political Action in an Age of Revolution.

Christian Thinking–Help Is Here

Thankfully, a trickle has turned into a flood.  For a period of time, we might say from the 1920s through the early 1970s,  Christian thought in America retreated.  It retreated from the academy, from politics, from culture, from economics, from art and literature, from philosophy, and other areas devoted to the life of the mind.

I stand behind the sentence stated above, but also note that it is full of holes.  The decades of the 20th century were the years that God raised up J. Gresham Machen, Herman Dooyeweerd, T. S. Eliot, Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, Graham Greene, Carl F. H. Henry, R. J. Rushdoony, Christopher Dawson, and a host of other Christian thinkers.  The problem was not the lack of Christian thought or Christian scholarship and certainly not the lack of Christian scholars and intellectuals.  The problem was that the main body of Christians didn’t engage in Christian thought, and the part of the world that did produce scholarship didn’t tend to recognize or interact with Christian thinking.

It was this empty chasm that led Harry Blamires to lament “There is no longer a Christian mind” in his book titled The Christian Mind.  Mark Noll recast the idea in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by stating, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”  Sure there are plenty of Christian musicians (some of whom are reputed to be good), Christian fiction writers (some of whose book covers do not feature Amish girls),  Christian cookbooks and diet plans, Christian wall art replete with Bible verses (some of which actually apply to the pictures), and Christian kitsch.

There are also lots of truly good Christian books dealing with personal, family, relational, and church related matters.  We are also blessed with having some theological heavy weights in our own time along with easy access to the theological writings from all the past centuries.

That being said, the Christian mind is often found to be flabby or starved.  The well-toned muscular Christian mind is still in short supply.  Professor Digby’s concern in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was “Why don’t they teach logic any more?”  That is one concern among many.  There are still far too many Christian ministries that are fluff-centered.  There are far too many churches that are more user-friendly than God-centered.  There are far too many Christians happily retreating into being a clueless witness in a pagan arena (public schools, for example) than in being a cutting edge in a true cultural confrontation.

To say that help is on the way is already passe.  Help is here.  God has always equipped His Church and His People with tools for dominion and conquest.  The Bible itself, of course, is a primary source weapon for any and all cultural battles.  And the Bible didn’t come off the presses and hit the book racks yesterday.  2000 years of interaction with language studies, theological wrangles, cultural confrontations, philosophical interactions, and even outbreaks of screaming and hollering have left us with an embarrassment of riches, Biblically and theologically speaking.

I am all in favor of putting Christian kids through a weight-lifting program with hefty copies of Augustine’s City of God, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and about 6 dozen novels, 2 dozen histories, 20 to 30 works of virtuous pagans–ancient and modern, and a healthy dose of Shakespeare’s plays and Southern poetry and fiction.  But we have to balance out and help refine the work of the “greats and classics” with some specialized worldview thining skills.

I admit that I am a Christian-worldview addict.  Show me a book on Christian worldview thinking and I want it.  The first time I heard the word “Christian World and Life View,” I had no idea what it meant.  Within a short season, that phrase changed my life and redirected my teaching career before it ever actually began.  I have never looked back.

All this brings me to the key point of this blog:  Two books that were published this past year on Christian thinking.

Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians was written by Bruce Riley Ashford and published by Lexham Press.  Dr. Ashford serves as Professor of Theology and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ashville, Kentucky.  That seminary, by the way, is under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler and is becoming a center of Christian thought and ministry training.  Lexham Press, a relatively new publishing house, is rocking Christian scholarship with a combination of short, powerful books like the one above, along with some other heavy-weight works such as their translation and publication of Reformed Dogmatics by Gerhardus Vos.

Every Square Inch is a book for square one; that is, it is a book for beginners.  (I am an old grizzled warrior in these matters, but I, too, profited greatly from the book.)  The title is taken from Abraham Kuyper’s defining phrase:  “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ who is Sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine.'”  Kuyper, a Dutch Christian who is the father of much of our Christian worldview thinking, is one of three key thinkers that Ashford credits and recommends.  The other two are Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis.  If the only thing a reader got from this book was the recommendation to ready Kuyper, Schaeffer, and Lewis, that reader would do well.

Abraham Kuyper was noted for his unusually large head. What the mind inside that head produced was far more astounding.

C. S. Lewis produced a wide variety of books from fiction and poetry to apologetics and literary criticism.

It is hard to imagine where the Christian community would be if it had not been for Francis Schaeffer.

Ashford devotes chapters to such topics as culture, calling, the arts, the sciences, politics, economics, education, and mission.  For sure, each chapter is incomplete, but this book is a starting block.  Each chapter ends with recommended readings.  The chapters themselves makes the cases for Christian pursuit of each of the areas of thought and life.  Key authors, and not just the three above, are quoted.  Summaries and thought questions are found at the end of each chapter.  There is also a whole chapter devoted to six case studies of Christians, including the blessed trio, who actually did apply the faith in their academic lives or life missions.

This book is a necessity for grounding students in Christian thinking.  It can also be used as for teacher training in a Christian school.  It is also useful for discipling or mentoring.  Since it is short, affordable, hardback, and easily readable, I hope it is soon found on many Christian home bookshelves, book stores, Christian school classrooms, and Christian colleges.

Nancy Pearcey is just plain intimidating.  She is a short, petite middle-aged lady you might expect to encounter in the grocery store, but don’t be fooled.  She has become a virtual Christian version of Achilles, minus the vulnerable heel.  I was blessed by getting to hear her and meet her at the Association for Classical Christian Schools conference in Dallas, Texas in June of 2015.  She was at the back of the meeting room when she was introduced to speak, so she hurried to the front, looked frantically for the steps, and seemed a bit out-of-breath when she began her talk.  That was just a glimpse of this fiery brain that is undaunted by whatever piggish legions unbelief has put in her path.  Dr. Pearcey serves as drill sergeant, or rather as a teacher at Houston Baptist College (where the incredible Louis Markos is also a professor).

She has authored and co-authored some really useful books in the past, such as The Soul of Science, How Now Shall We Live, and Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity.  Her most recent book is Finding Truth:  5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes,   which is published by David C Cook, a long-time publisher of Christian books and resources.  This book is, like Ashford’s book described above, a beginner book.  In this case, however, the book is for beginning to analyze and counter non-Christian thought.  It is heavy on method with the intent being the training of Christian students in apologetic thought across the spectrum of thought.

Nancy Pearcey’s personal experience was that of a church-raised girl who came to a point of unbelief or agnosticism.  Like many a potential unbeliever of the past, such as Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis, the Divine Chessplayer gave her a brain concussion.  The tool God used was Francis Schaeffer and his ministry known as L’Abri in Switzerland.  In short, Dr. Pearsey repented of her unbelief, embraced Christ, and devoted herself to loving God with all her mind.  Her pilgrimage has taken her to and through the works of Christian thinkers such as Herman Dooyeweerd and Phillip E. Johnson.  Her target audience consists of people like the man who told her “I lost my faith at an evangelical college.”

This book provides a 5 step program or 5 tests for students and Christian apologists to use in confronting unbelief:

  1.  Identify the idol  (meaning that unbelief is not belief in nothing, but belief in a false god of some sort; in other words, an idol)
  2.  Identify the idol’s reductionism (an idea borrowing heavily from Dooyeweerd and the brilliant Roy Clouser on all non-Christian thought being reductionistic)
  3. Test the idol: How does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: How does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: Make the case for Christianity

Complete with a study guide, extensive notes, and sample test-thought questions, this book is a college level course for Christians.  An eager high school class could do well with this study as well as college students.  Teachers, preachers, and study groups could also enjoy the book.

Help is here.  Let’s keep pressing on.

ACCS Rock Concert

Yesterday, I came home from the yearly conference of the Association for Classical Christian Schools.  I was exhausted.  I had 3 days of depending upon coffee, cokes, and tea to keep going from one great lecture to another.  My mind was both racing with all the information and experiences and shutting down from overload.

There was not actually an ACCS Rock Concert.  But my experience was more like that of a 17 year old girl at a One Direction concert than that of a late middle aged man listening to lectures on educational subjects.  I got to hear and meet several authors I have read and long admired, and I have added a few more authors and many more books to my “to buy” and “to read” lists.

First of all, there were two founding fathers, granite pillars, and stalwart, steadfast warrior-leaders speaking at the conference.  The opening session began with Dr. George Grant speaking on “Dumpster Diving:  Recovering the Discarded Treasures of Our Inheritance.”  What an apt metaphor.  Our modern culture has thrown away treasures in order to make room for junk.  The great works of literature that formed Western Civilization were reduced to short selections in anthologies, then to trivial pursuit questions, and then to nothingness.  As always, Grant inspires.  No matter how much you have read, George Grant has read more.  But he is not just a bookish walking Wikipedia; he applies and delights in reading and learning.

Douglas Wilson is the most important modern figure in the classical Christian school movement.  It is a sign of his modesty that he did not speak in a plenary session (that is, a lecture given to the whole group) until Friday afternoon.  His talk was on the “Poetic Turn.”  Very few people would think that poetry has much value and even fewer would see it as essential to reclaiming and rebuilding civilization.  As part of the choir that Wilson was addressing, I still could say “Wow! and Amen!” to his talk.  I did not get to go to Wilson’s workshop on Beowulf, but I do have his recent translation of that powerful work and plan on listening to his talk when it becomes available on MP3.

Needless to say, I have and have read many books by Grant and Wilson.  It is easy enough for any reader here to Google their names and come up with a bevy of titles.  Doug Wilson has written some of the defining books on classical Christian education.  He was very influential in convincing me and others here in Texarkana to start a Christian school along these lines.  George Grant’s books and friendship have been defining to me over the past 15 years especially.  My blog post of nearly a year ago–found HERE–captures my appreciation and giddiness over Grant’s ministry.


Matthew Perman spoke on “Gospel-Driven Time Management in the World of Education.”  Last year, I read Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.”  During the lecture, I found myself resisting the content, just as I had resisted when reading the book.  Sometimes we need to read something or listen to someone simply because we like and delight in what they say.  But we often need to read and listen to someone when we don’t like what they say.  The last sentence defines me in relation to Matt Perman’s book and what was a basic summary of it in his lecture.  I needed the conviction that is still sinking in regarding time management.  I hope to re-read the book soon AND ACTUALLY START IMPLEMENTING what he says.


John Mark Reynolds, author of When Athens Met Jerusalem and general editor of The Great Books Reader, spoke on “Athens, Jerusalem, and the Christian School.”  This was an amazing talk regarding the fact that Christians and Humanists had contrasted Athens (the center of Humanistic Reason) and Jerusalem (the center of Theocentric Reason) for centuries; however, in our time, secular and non-Christian thinking has become so debased that it has rejected both Jerusalem and Athens.  As he pointed out, it is Christians who actually read Aristotle and Darwin (and as a matter of fact, we do read both of them at Veritas Academy).  On the bright side, Dr. Reynolds strongly believes that the next decade will be critical for Christians and Christian schools.  Civilization is collapsing all around us.  We should not despair.  Who would want a humanistic decadent culture to thrive?

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary, has been described as the major evangelical intellectual in America.  He spoke twice at the conference.  The first talk was merely very good, while the second one was life changing.  I am glad that Dr. Mohler’s Calvinism and Augustianism prevented him from giving an altar call, but I would have walked the aisle if he had.  He alone was worth the cost of the trip.

(I don’t–yet–have any of Dr. Mohler’s books, but I have read quite a few of his web articles.  He is a genuine scholar with the amazing ability to correctly address and access the culture.)

Dr. Thomas Kidd is one of the brightest young Christian historians of our time.  He is a history professor at Baylor University (where one of our 2015 Veritas graduates will be attending) and is the author of several books. I only got to hear him during a panel discussion on American history where he spoke along side of Wilson and Grant.  I was in another meeting during Kidd’s lecture on George Whitefield.  Thankfully, I made enough money selling my book (Punic Wars and Culture Wars) to buy a copy of Kidd’s new biography of Whitefield.  I also bought his book on the Great Awakening.


And more!

On the last session on the last day of the conference, Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth and other books spoke.  This was yet another “worth the entire price of the trip” experiences.  Nancy Pearcey has been called the most important female evangelical intellectual of our time.  She was converted and trained through the work of Francis and Edith Schaeffer at L’Abri.  She has written on science, culture, and apologetics.  Along with Chuck Colson, she co-authored How Now Shall We Live.  I read Total Truth some years ago and was incredibly impressed.  From her extensive bibliography, I began restructuring much of my reading and thinking.  She has noted and footnoted the work of Herman Dooyeweerd, along with other Christian worldview thinkers.  Her session was on apologetics.  I was thrilled that I got to have a brief conversation with her after her talk.

I have saved the discussion of Louis Markos for last.  It was some years ago when I purchased the book From Achilles to Christ by Dr. Markos.  Later, I bought his lectures on C. S. Lewis.  Believe me, “Louis on Lewis” is quite a listening experience.  I have picked up several of his other books along the way, but I had never crossed paths with him until this conference.

I could have skipped Dr. Markos’ sessions on the grounds that I already knew quite a bit about his subjects (Lewis and Tolkien) or because there were plenty of other good sessions to attend.  But I am glad I did not skip him.  Louis Markos is a small framed, wiry, bald-headed, heavy-bearded Greek bundle of energy.  I know the country of Greece is suffering from economic problems right now, but if they all had Markos’ energy, Greece would be the predominate world power.  Markos was incredible.  He was funny, energetic, fast talking, profound, and all those things sometimes in just one story or anecdote.  When I attended his session that gave parallel biographies of Lewis and Tolkien, I carried a cup of Starbucks coffee to overcome a wave of late afternoon fatigue.  Believe me, hot, strong, caffeinated coffee (a redundancy, for sure) and Markos combined were atomic.

I managed to give a copy of my book to Dr. Pearcey and another to Dr. Kidd’s wife, but try as I might, I could not get past the fans of Dr. Markos to give him a copy.  Then as we were about to leave the conference on Saturday, I saw Dr. Markos and his daughter walking–briskly–back up to the hotel.  I grabbed a copy of my book and ran for Markos like I was a tackle on a football team.  Handing him the book, he insisted that I autograph it.  Then he began talking, again with energy and joy.  There were Lewis quotes, Chesterton quotes, stories about this and that.  I think he would have given me 3 college credit hours worth of information if I had stood there long enough.

Three final comments

1.  Most of you will not believe it is humanly possible for a finite being to meet, hear, and experience so many great Christian speakers and scholars.

2.  Besides all these folks, there were other outstanding presenters.  Some I heard; many I did not.  Most are not as well known, but are doing great work across the land.

3.  Being at the ACCS conference has convinced me that I need to start a Classical Christian School in Texarkana.  WAIT, that has already been done.  Veritas Academy is moving forward.

Carl F. H. Henry Speaks

In 1988,  I was well established as a history teacher at Genoa School.  It was a good year, and I was progressing in my efforts to teach history.  What I did not realize that year was that the Christian theologian and scholar Carl F. H. Henry had written an essay with me in mind.  Now, he did not know me and I was only vaguely aware of him.  But the essay, “Educating for Intellectual Excellence” was written with people like me in mind.

First of all, my awareness and appreciation of Carl F. H. Henry increased exponentially last year when I read Recovering Classical Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry by Gregory Alan Thornbury.  I now have Henry massive 6 volume work God, Revelation, and Authority.  Therefore,  someday when I grow up, I will be well read and grounded in Henry’s thought (and Van Til’s, Dooyeweerd’s, Frame’s, Grudem’s, and Flannery O’Connor’s).


Second, the essay appears in Twilight of a Great Civilization:  The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism by Henry.  This collection of essays was published in 1988.  I bought my copy from my favorite bookseller David Leach, whose current stock can be found here.  Being essays that are now nearly 30 years old, Henry makes points that are often dated.  (So do Calvin and Augustine!)  Nevertheless, the book still packs a lot of punch.

When Henry described what should be a key foundational part of education, I rejoiced in God’s providence.  For 18 years now, I have labored in a classical Christian school, Veritas Academy in Texarkana.  We are seeking to do the very things that Henry recommended.

What Henry writes about a college is what we are seeking to do.  He is encouraging an engagement in the Great Books curriculum.  Of course, a school that is classical simply must read classics, and a school that is Christian simply must engage in Christian filtering and thinking through the classics. We read such works in our Humanities classes in the high school, the Omnibus class in junior high, and in the other courses we have. If our children are being grounded in good books and good thinking in the elementary and secondary years, then college education will enable them to soar.

Henry writes,

“The first course–perhaps a full-time freshman module–might well be Plato’s Republic, which interacts with materialism from a supernatural stance, deals with the sad break-up of Greek democracy, discusses the ideal content of education, wrestles with the nature of truth and the good, and interacts with much else that is also of critical contemporary concern.” (p. 95)

Our use of Plato’s Republic is mainly in the Ancient World Humanities class, but just this week, we read from his Allegory of the Cave in our apologetics class.  Plato, his teacher Socrates, and his student Aristotle were truly brilliant at so many points.  They raised questions that still vex and perplex people.  Granted, their worldview was wrong, their presuppositions falsely based, and their conclusions were unreliable.  But they hit upon essential ideas.  They were blind men groping for God.  They were, at many points, painfully honest.  They will sharpen the mind of good students.

Henry continues,

“The next course might well take the Bible as its basic book in revelatory confrontation of both philosophical idealism and naturalism. An educational program alert to presuppositions and to the importance of logical tests could then well find its climax in a senior required course on Biblical theism and Christian ethics.  That comprehensive overview is much more important than majoring only in changing space-time relativities that need constantly to be revised.” (p. 95)

Not only do we have a course for upper high schoolers on Biblical theism and Christian ethics (we call it Theology and Apologetics class), but we seek to alert students to presuppositions all along the way.  This is what is commonly called a Christian worldview.  It has reference to the underlying ideas in society and thought.  And to break through some of Henry’s more difficult language, we believe that a solid presuppositional and theological view of the world enables us to both analyze past ideas and see through current issues.

Henry closes the essay by questioning the objection that not every student needs to be a theologian or philosopher.  In classical Christian schools, we are sometimes accused of thinking that way, but more often accused of training students primarily in literature.  Henry makes some great points regarding the nature of education.

He writes,

“The leaders of the Protestant Reformation were all university-trained, and they knew the Biblical languages and the Bible’s content and its implications. In that great turning-time the laity knew more about theology than do many pastors today, armed as they may be with even a Doctor of Ministries degree.  Evangelical leaders often speak enthusiastically of the prospect or hope of a new Reformation. If they intend this seriously, they must face up to its educational demands.” (p. 96)

I teach about the Protestant Reformation, the American Great Awakening, the work of the early Church Fathers, and the impact of Dutch Neo-Calvinist thinkers.  I long for and pray for Reformation and Revival in this land and throughout the nation.  But such work is discouraging.  God knows how often I am discouraged.  That is why the Holy Spirit moved Carl F. H. Henry to write what he did in 1988 and what God directed me toward reading it in 2014.

Let’s read and hear and think on Henry’s comments again:

“Evangelical leaders often speak enthusiastically of the prospect or hope of a new Reformation. If they intend this seriously, they must face up to its educational demands.”