New Titles from InterVarsity Press

 

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There is a down side to being a book reviewer.  “Time’s winged chariots” are rarely allow me the privilege of merely enjoying a book.  I need to get it finished. I need to post a review.  I need to share that review on Amazon and Goodreads.  I need to assure the publisher that I am worth their efforts to supply me with the goods.

In days past, there was a world where time could sometimes stand still while I dug deeper and deeper into the books at hand.  There were always more to read and stacks of unreads, but there was a time carved out for the book in front of me, a conversation with the author, and a slipping away from the constraints of time and time’s tyrannies.

That idyllic memory aside, I must highlight a few reads from recent weeks and months from InterVarsity Press.

Disruptive Witness

Just this morning, I finished reading Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble.  (Published by IVP.)

One of my favorite things about IVP books is that so many of them are aimed at middle-level serious readers.  Some, alas way too many, Christian books are fluff.  I despise their large print, double spacing between lines, and easy, sweetened, and calorie free content.  On the other hand, there are tomes and monographs where Christian scholars and academics toss boulders back and forth, laden with footnotes, foreign sources, and theological underpinnings that leave me quaking on the sidelines.  Many of IVP’s titles are academic, scholarly, serious, and yet very readable by laymen and non-academic folk.  They are challenging, but accessible.  This book is one such case.

Do I need to argue the case that we live in a “distracted age”?  I have no assurance that you will even finish reading this blog post (in spite of its brilliance) because it is so easy to click to something else.  Digital things, the cyber world, and gadgets have compounded the distractions in a world already inhabited by machines, schedules, and pressures that prevent us from engaging ourselves with our Creator, His Creation, and our fellow men and women.  Even in sitting still long enough each morning for a week or two to listen to Alan Noble’s case, I found myself wanting the easy list of bullet points.  “Write the chapters, Alan, and then give me a list of 5 simple things to do.”  Although Noble gave plenty of suggestions and exhortations, he did not give me the Cliff’s Notes version of applications.

In what should not surprise us, one of the key emphases of his book was on worship.  Without slipping over between the trenches of the worship wars, I will summarize his arguments by saying that he calls for us to have real, participatory worship that is not geared toward imitating the world.  He also calls us to observe the creation.  I own five acres of God’s earth.  Of course, I am really only a steward of it, but even with land, I am all too prone to slip right past the wonders and awe of God’s creation that surrounds me.

One final note:  For at least the 10th time (maybe 20th time or more), I find an author who borrows heavily from Christian philosopher Charles Taylor’s work A Secular Age.  Glad I have that book; wish I could get serious about reading it.

In Search of the Common Good

A few weeks ago, I read In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World by Jake Meador.

Both Meador and Noble are young authors and thinkers.  Their youth has not prevented them from thinking of some issues and concerns that call for wisdom and discernment.  Meador’s book is a call for community.  His discussion of the “fractured world” is not all that different from Noble’s discussion of a “distracted age.”  My problem with community and connectedness is that it sounds like something that was just fine back in the days of slower moving automobiles, party-line telephones, and long established neighborhoods.  But the fact that that world changed doesn’t mean that we as people have changed.  Christians are often as rootless and clueless as the worldlings next door.

We are also often as lonely and fractured as those outside of Christ.  There is always that nagging concern that we are getting more and more things, and that the things we are getting are better and better, and yet, we are more isolated, more unconnected, more fractured than ever.

Just make this easy on yourself:  Get both of these books and read them one after the other.  The hard part will be making the life-style changes and implementing a different outlook.  These are not two old men remembering the good old days.  These are young Christian men with young children who are seeking to find those practices rooted in Scripture and tradition that will enrich our lives.

On the other hand, Eugene Peterson was an old man and is now home with God.  The term paralleling with “fractured world” and “distracted age” that shows up in his book is “instant society.”  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society has been reprinted in a finely done hardback “Commemorative Edition” by IVP.

I first read this book several years ago and was delighted to see it reprinted.  Re-reading it was a joy as well.  Peterson’s book is actually a running commentary on the Psalms of Ascent, those being Psalms 120 through 134.  He presents each psalm through a discussion of its meaning and application.  This is not an in-depth Bible study, nor is it a quick devotional.  Once again, it fulfills that middling operation.  Each discussion is filled with typical bits of Peterson’s allusions to literature, personal anecdotes, and insights into the meanings of the passages.

The amazing thing is that the remarkable title comes from an unlikely source–Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche wrote, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”  As Peterson notes with a chuckle, no doubt, Nietzsche was probably turning over in his grave to see his very used being used by a Christian pastor and author and being read by Christians for over forty years now.

 

 

 

 

A Christian and a Democrat–Franklin D. Roosevelt

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A Christian and a Democrat:  A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt by John F.  Woolerton and James D. Bratt is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans.

Merely mentioning the names of Franklin D. Roosevelt in many of the circles where I am involved raises immediate irritation, ire, and objections.  Although he has been gone for nearly 70 years, even people who were not alive during his time are roused to disgust when he is mentioned.  For some, the opposition is due to his New Deal Programs.  Others are suspicious of his handling of World War II from our entry into the war to conduct of the war and on to FDR’s actions regarding the conclusion of the war.  Then there are others who have great concerns over the idea that he was a near dictator, that he was in office to long, that he was conniving, and that he was reckless in his disregard of the Constitution.  Finally, there are plenty of concerns about Roosevelt the man in his private life, especially regarding his unfaithfulness to his wife Eleanor.

Every facet of FDR’s life and Presidency is up for discussion, subject to examination, and open for strong passions.  In my own case, I find that very few Democrats seem to be interested in FDR in any sense.  For them, Democrat Party history reaches all the way back to maybe Bill Clinton.  Perhaps, I simply don’t know or hear from enough Democrats.  But for conservatives–ranging from Reaganites (like me) to more Libertarian types to Christians with political interests–FDR is much more a topic of interest and opposition.

Here is my own autobiography:  I developed an interest in Presidential politics in my young age and quickly adopted FDR as my favorite President.  I was raised in a Southern Democrat home where politics was rarely a topic of conversation.  For most of their years, my parents voted straight Democrat.  (My Dad strongly disliked Hubert Humphrey, but he still voted for him.) I began straying from the old ways when I gravitated toward Richard Nixon in 1972.  It was when I entered college that my whole perspective changed.  Calvinism took a huge chunk out of my previously held and unexamined political thoughts.  One of Johnny Carson’s guests on the Tonight Show helped seal my political fate.  That guest was William F. Buckley, Jr.  A few days after watching that part of the Tonight Show, I checked out Buckley’s God and Man at Yale.  

Much of my understanding and teaching was critical of FDR on several fronts.  Yet I never got past a certain admiration for his considerable political skills and for his personal triumph over polio.  As an orator, he was first rate.  As a radio speaker, he was the man of the hour.  As a skillful executive, he was among the best.  None of his gifts diminished his flaws and failings.

An important truth for a history student (or scholar) is that we are not being called upon to vote for, approve, condemn, or justify historical figures.  We are called upon to first understand them.  From a vast factual base, we can try to interpret what they did and why.  Admittedly, we will often have an agreement with their actions or a sympathy for them or a personal liking for them.  Writing hagiolatry (the worship of saints) or writing hit jobs are not the work of serious historians.

When I first saw the book A Christian and a Democrat, I knew this was a book I wanted to read.  It is a part of a fine series Eerdsmans publishes called The Library of Religious Biography.  I have several of the volumes of that series and previously reviewed Damning Words: The Life and Times of H. L. Mencken by D. G. Hart.  The biographies range from the expected religious leaders, like Cotton Mather and Billy Sunday, to unexpected and often political figures, like Thomas Jefferson and William E. Gladstone.

FDR was raised in the Episcopal Church where he remained an active member all his life.  The Book of Common Prayer was always at his bedside, and his copy was well worn.  He was schooled at Groton and was heavily influenced by Endicott Peabody who drilled his charges in academic and spiritual exercises.  FDR sang hymns, even played the piano at services, labored to help the needy and the young, served on the board of his local church, and always included worship services before his taking oaths of office.

One of my favorite pictures is of FDR and Churchill onboard a ship at the Atlantic Conference in mid-1941.  They are in a worship service together and are singing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  Whatever else one might think of these two men and their staffs and military joined in worship, this much is true:  Never would there have been a picture of Hitler and Mussolini worshiping together.

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Roosevelt’s faith was pronounced and public.  Perhaps more than any other President, he spoke of faith in his addresses and quoted Scripture.  He even led the nation in prayer via a radio address on the occasion of the Normandy invasion.  His was not merely a public and for political gain faith, but was a part of the essential man himself.

Theologically, what was he?  FDR’s faith was shaped by the traditional cadences, prayers, and services of the Episcopal Church.  His instruction was infused with lots of Social Gospel content.  In some ways, the Social Gospel that he absorbed was of the better sort.  By that, I mean that he had a strong commitment to acts of service in the community, among the poor, and help to people in need.  He read quite a bit through the years, but was not a serious reader of theology or of Christian doctrine.  He was active in church as a participant and a lay leader, but said little that could contribute to a statement of faith.  From the book, one picks up little or nothing about his take on theological issues of his day or upon the details of his beliefs.

I suspect that he heard many sermons that were tinged by liberal theology, Social Gospel teachings, then-modern deviations from orthodoxy, and Neo-Orthodoxy.  I never got the sense from the book that FDR absorbed or embraced those teachings.  While relatively well read and well educated, he was not a deep thinker.  Did he believe the fundamentals of the faith?  Did he accept the historic teachings of the faith?  He seemed to be a faithful follower of his church’s teachings and traditions without any comments on them.

The historian cannot probe the heart.  Even the man in the pew or pulpit has to be careful when doing that.  I have trouble probing my own heart, much less that of anyone else.  Of course, we can evaluate what a person professes and how he lives.  That assumes that we can know and hear and see enough of the person’s life and words.

Roosevelt was, at least for one period of his life, unfaithful in his marriage to Eleanor.  Theirs was not a model marriage, although politically they were extremely helpful to one another.  Dr. Woolverton says that FDR was remorseful over his adultery which occurred early in the marriage.  He never mentions or alludes to other cases of unfaithfulness.  One can add FDR’s  other sins to the list, if he wishes.  FDR was notorious for lying, but again one has to look carefully to see when he was outright falsifying the truth or when he was concealing things or being canny for political purposes.  I am not trying to give him or any other politician a free pass to distort truth, but am referring to cases where FDR was compelled to mislead or not answer completely when asked about matters that were sensitive due to the war.

A later chapter in the book deals with FDR’s fascination with Soren Kierkegaard.  An Episcopal minister was invited to dine with the Roosevelts.  At that time, Kierkegaard was not widely read or known, but the evils of World War II had awakened an interest in him by more people, including this minister, named Howard Johnson.  Johnson explained Kierkegaard’s views of sin and evil to FDR who found it all fascinating.  It appears that FDR basically accepted a Cliff-notes-like understanding of the Danish philosopher, but that he found it all helpful in understanding the evil of the Nazis.

To sum up, what difference does it make?  This is far from a summary question, for the relationship of an individual with God is the most important question of all.  And the relationship between a national leader and God is vital.  How FDR responded to both domestic crises (the Great Depression) and international crises (World War II) were shaped by his faith commitments.  What a man believes and how he acts or governs are connected.  None of this means that believers are better leaders or that faith leads to perfect policy positions.

All in all, this book is a fascinating study of a complex and religious man.  This book needs to be supplemented by other more broad biographies of Roosevelt, but it does have a useful focus on a part of his life that will not likely get adequate coverage in the standard biography.

 

The Theopolitan Vision by Peter J. Leithart

The Theopolitan Vision by Peter J. Leithart is published by Theopolis Books, an imprint of Athanasius Press.

Dr. Leithart is the President of the Theopolis Institute, which is a study center for “Biblical, Liturgical, and Cultural Studies.”  He has authored an incredibly large of books on Biblical, theological, and literary topics.  I have and have read a number of his books, but I way behind on having everything he has published.  His productivity simply astounds me.

On the one hand, doing a promotional review of a Peter Leithart book is both certain to succeed and to fail.  Leithart, as well as his friend and mentor James B. Jordan, have lots of fans, followers, and students who would buy print copies of their grocery lists if such were available.  I understand, for I am that way about certain authors.  On the other hand, there are those who immediately link Leithart with various positions he espouses or with people he is associated with and would flee from any suggestion of reading his books.  I am not able to address either group, and that first one probably has already devoured this book.

I am not equipped to be contentious or even capable of deep critical thought.  When my wife and I go to a concert and listen to skilled musicians, we talk about them on the way home.  I am usually saying things like, “They are really good.”  My wife, on the other hand, is saying things about the technique,  interpretation, dynamics, and execution of the music.  I nod and assume she is right and try to figure out if she also thinks they are really good.

There are many theologians, philosophers, political and social commentators, literary critics, and historians that I learn from without being able to plunge to the depths or climb to the heights of their thought.  Nor do I reject them because of a point of contention here or a quibble there.  I write this post, therefore, to ask readers to glean the pages of The Theopolitan Vision.  If you want to know which sentence caused me to cringe or which paragraph put a grumpy face on me, message me.  Overall, the book was encouraging, enlightening, and much needed among God’s people.

Many years ago, I was reading heavily from books emerging from the various corners of the Christian Reconstruction (Theonomic) movement.  For a time, the centers of these productions were coming forth from Chalcedon in California, from Tyler, Texas (for a short season), and from American Vision in Georgia.  In spite of the many good and serious works these Recons were writing, there was an ongoing criticism.  It was that their books, and especially those of Dr. Rushdoony in California, were weak on the local church.

Maybe they were, or maybe they were just focused on some overlooked areas of Christian cultural engagement.  A movement will tend to morph in several directions.  There are always those who try to maintain the original ideas and concepts, and then there are those who push the boundaries and maybe even redefine them. us

I don’t know the exact role of Peter Leithart from those Recon days.  There are quite a few Christians who found the Recon movement helpful without embracing it.  I think that defines me, and I think it defines such people as Leithart, George Grant, Andrew Sandlin, John Frame, John Barach, Mickey Schneider, and others.  In the second tier of Reconstruction authors was James B. Jordan.  For a season or two, he worked for Chalcedon, and then he departed. (Departed being a nice way of saying that he was fired.)  Dr. Jordan, an acquaintance of mine, greatly influenced Leithart.

Within the ranks of those who might have been immersed in Reconstruction thought in the 1980s, we now find many who now have a heavy emphasis on the local church, church life, and liturgy.  In our day, we find a wild enthusiasm for many elements of Reformed theology that is often joined with many contemporary, popular, and crowd-centered ideas about the Sunday worship service.  It is not all bad, but it is not all good either.  I pastored for several years in a Presbyterian church with a very traditional service, and after I stepped down as pastor, I was still in charge of the worship service.  I thought the order of service to be quite good, Biblically rich, and fulfilling.  Nevertheless, for a host of reasons, the church faltered, failed, and then closed.  I still love the liturgical practices of those days.

The Theopolitan Vision is not a manual for worship services.  Leithart would direct you to Jeffrey Meyers’s useful book The Lord’s Service for that (and I found Meyers’s helpful but not convincing). I would direct you to John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth.  Instead, this book, as the title indicates is a vision of what church life should be.  Leithart directs a large part of the book to the role of the pastor, who is to be the prime (or maybe sole) worship leader.  He also presses upon the people in the pews how they are to worship and participate.

We can, so easily, minimize that hour or so we spend worshipping.  We can, while worshipping, find ourselves so distracted, so lulled by the repetition from week to week, and dulled by our own lethargy that we miss what a powerful impact worship has.  Every area of life and thought is to be brought under the dominion of Christ, but central to all that is church life and worship.

Leithart explains the vision as follows: “So the Theopolitan vision isn’t a vision of pastoral ministry alone.  It’s a vision of the church in the world and of the church’s mission in and to the world. It’s a vision of the church, the whole church, as God’s heavenly city on earth.”

There is nothing wrong with the sentiment of the song that says, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” but if we are not experiencing something really, really close to that in worship, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Of course, it is easy to read a book with some attainable, but rare ideals of church life and find yourself nit-picking the problems in your own congregation. (Avoiding in the process your own eye logging industry.)  Whether pastor or pew sitter, you will find your own church service, congregation, and church life wanting.  Leithart says that if you find your own church indifferent or hostile, pack up and leave immediately and find the ideal church.  No!  He does not say that.  Instead, he says, “If the church is faithful to the gospel, start by giving thanks for the congregation, pastor, and church….Thank God for their faithfulness, for their ministries and evangelism, for the truth that is communicated.” Amen!

I would love to see Christians reading this book who are not in sync with Leithart’s doctrines and practices.  I would love to see Baptist, non-denominational, charismatic, and people-friendly pastors and others gleaning from this book.  Many would read it and conclude, “Here is how we are going to do what he says.” That response, I think, would be quite joyous to me, and I think Peter Leithart would like it as well.

Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little

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Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little by Russell M. Lawson is published by St. Polycarp’s Publishing House.

One of the amazing features of book publishing today is the number of small, independent publishers.  Of course, the big names such as Random House (no relation to me), Harper & Row, Penguin, and others still produce many books.  Of course, university presses are pouring out more books than can possibly be comprehended.  Of course, the best sellers and the books most commonly found in the chain bookstores are from the New York based big companies.

But behind the scenes, off the main book interstates, and obscured by their very obscurity, small publishers are producing fine quality works on topics that will never break through the charts, reach the New York Times book reviews, or make millions for their authors or publishers.  Small niches–they are.  But they are filling in some vital gaps, reaching remnants of people who can search through the thousands of books at Books-A-Million and find nothing worthwhile.  Some of these small presses focus on reprints of classic works of literature, history, or theology.  Some focus on theology.  Some on history.  Some produce works of fiction and poetry.

When we discover one of their books, we often realize that we not only had heard of the publisher, but we may not even remember where we first heard of the book.  Perhaps it was on Facebook that I first stumbled across a book by an author I did not know, about a man I had not heard of, and published by a Christian group I was not aware of.

But the results of those fortuitous finds, or we might say providential blessings, can be quite rewarding.

Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little filled in a wide gap (of which there are many) in my understanding of colonial, Revolutionary, and post-Revolutionary American history.  We hear so much about the 13 Colonies on the eastern seaboard.  It was only by a few encounters with George Grant’s lectures that I realized that there were far more than 13 colonies, many of which chose not to join in the fracas of the 1770’s.

The current state of Maine is identified on the colonial maps as being part of Massachusetts colony and state.  In fact, it did not become a state until 1820 when it was brought in to maintain the slave and free state balance due to Missouri’s quest for statehood.  The narrative flow of history books focuses on the westward movement which then leads to the Northwest Ordinance, Manifest Destiny, the settlement of the states beyond the Appalachians, and then to the cultural divides between the northern, southern, and western states.

Maine crops up with the Missouri Compromise.  Perhaps, if one if reading about General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, either in biographies or in the novel Killer Angels, his service as an educator, soldier, and politician will relate back to Maine.  Then there is the famous quip made during the 1936 election campaign where Franklin Roosevelt trounced Alf Landon.  The statement was “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”  (Sometime prior to that, the saying was “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”)  One cannot forget that Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican and a woman who showed up in the fight for the Republican Presidential nomination fight in 1964, was from Maine.  (Barry Goldwater won that contentious fight, and it would be interesting to consider how history would have been different if he had put Sen. Smith on the ticket instead of William Miller.)  Later, Ed Muskie, another Senator, Vice Presidential candidate, failed Presidential primary candidate, and Secretary of State was from Maine.

The state is obscure to me, and its early history was a total blank.  But it was an outlet for the many thousands of people on the eastern coast.  Why, with New England winter’s and rugged soil, they ventured even further north is a puzzle to me.  But they did.  And there, they encountered various Indian tribes, particularly the Penobscot tribe.  These settlers were the children of the folks who settled the established New England colonies, but the distance they moved separated them from the culture, religion, and civilized ways of Boston and its environs.

Apostle of the East tells the story of one man’s experiences in bringing the Gospel to settlers and Indians in Maine.  Daniel Little lived from 1724 to 1801.  He lived, therefore, during such events as the Great Awakening, the French and Indian War, the prelude to the American War for Independence, the war itself, and the time when the Constitution was written, ratified, and put into effect.  Most of these events were outside of his own direct involvement, but he was not without contact with them.

Although he pastored a couple of churches in the Maine territory, he spent a good many seasons traveling throughout the region working to spread the Gospel, evangelize Indians, and establish churches and schools.  Most of the English colonists were folks who had drifted far from places where churches were found.  Prone to squabbles and deviations from Christian practices, they were–to use Flannery O’Connor’s words–Christ-haunted if not Christ-centered.  Dealing with the Indian tribes was a harder challenge.  For one thing, there was the continual problem of land dealings.  Dealings is a nice way to describe the efforts of the stronger white ruling folk to impose boundaries on the Indians.  Along with that, many of the tribes had been influenced by French Catholic mission works.  Trying to differentiate between French Catholicism and British Protestantism was a challenge, and many Indians were plenty satisfied with their own beliefs.

Although missions were his main passion, Little was also interested in science and exploration.  In the area he was in, that meant scaling mountains.  As a trained minister, he was a teacher and educator, a theologian, and a scientist in the tradition of the day.

In several cases, Dr. Lawson, the author, describes how Little’s theology changed.  He writes, “Little’s simple piety in a God who blesses all of the Creation led him to move increasingly from New England Calvinism to a more Universalist mindset.  Feeling that anyone could be saved spurred Little on to bring the Good News to the ignorant, the wayward, the Catholic, the Indian.”  I find this passage both troubling and unclear.  I think the author did a fine job of recounting the many journeys of his subject, but a better theological analysis is missing from this book.  I would have preferred an approach more like a George Marsden could have given.

Universalist is not explained, nor do I think that New England Calvinism is understood.  Jonathan Edwards was very much the Calvinist who preached the Good News to all sorts of people and even did mission work among the Indians.  There are too few excerpts from sermons and letters for the reader to make any judgment on Little’s theology.  (And Calvinism, although mentioned several times, is not in the index.)

Anyone wanting to grapple with the theological developments in New England will find little help in this book.  On the other hand, it is a interesting and enjoyable account of a man who gave himself unstintingly to church planting and missions.  As I said earlier, it does turn the focus from the westward movement of the nation to the most north-eastern portion.

Also, there is another fine point of interest in the book.  Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a powerful short story called “The Minister’s Black Veil.”  Little was taught for a time by a Harvard-trained pastor named Joseph Moody, who was overwhelmed by the emotional weight of his work.  The author writes, “He felt completely completely inadequate to represent the Lord of the Universe to his small parish.  This inadequacy translated into an overbearing weight of sin upon him.  Unable to look his parishioners, or anyone else, in the eye, as if he were looking God Himself in the eye, Moody veiled his face in public, ate alone, and eventually decided he could no longer serve as pastor.”

 

Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France

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Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams is published by Oxford University Press.

I am really close to embracing the absurd idea that World War II never happened.  In particular, I can almost find myself believing that the D-Day Normandy invasion of France on June 6, 1944 never happened.  No, I am not losing my sanity, nor am I listening to weird conspiracy theories of crackpots.

Here is my thought:  I cannot fathom how the men at Normandy faced the obstacles, encountered the dangers, endured the noise and destruction, and braved the event.  I get frightened by severe storms or near car wrecks on the highway.  How did these men, many who were barely past boyhood, do what they did?  My awe extends beyond the work of just the Americans, and I even marvel at the enemies on that day.

This past June 6 marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  In light of that, a number of books began appearing highlighting the events and retelling the story of Operation Overlord.  I first learned of Sand & Steel from a friend and historian Tony Williams, who wrote a fine account of some of the books on this crucial day during World War II. His article can be found HERE.

Along with this book, James Holland’s Normandy 1944 and Alex Kershaw’s The First Wave hit the shelves shortly before the 75 year commemoration.  There are some older books that are great treasures as well for studying this event.  The first great account was Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day, which was followed up with an all-star cast epic movie.  Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day: June 6, 1944, John Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy, Max Hasting’s Overlord, and Antony Beevor’s D-Day are among the books I have acquired over the years on this event.

It is hard to imagine a book, however, that is more detailed and rigorous in its content that Sand & Steel.  With nearly 900 pages of narrative, Caddick-Adams goes from event to event, from landing to landing, and describes the multitude of encounters, failures, disasters, and acts of heroism.  I was astounded and often simply swamped by the details.  How could any one man put so much of this story together.  In his acknowledgments, the author talks about his many years of research and many days spent walking the actual battlegrounds.  He also accessed interviews and personal accounts and got into the story in time to talk with some of the actual participants.  He was also at Pointe du Hoc in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan gave one of his greatest speeches ever.

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Several points to be made about this book:

The first 400 pages of this book deal with the planning stages for the invasion.  I was horrified by the fact that so many soldiers were killed during training exercises going on all across Britain during 1943 and early 1944.  Many men who “died fighting the Nazis” actually died during mishaps and problems relating to the training drills.  But, if these training drills had not taken place,  the results would have been worse.  Those poor guys are just as much fallen heroes as those who actually made it to the beaches.

The Germans were working furiously to create defensive mechanisms, collectively known as the Atlantic Wall, to repel the invasion.  They were hindered in many ways, ranging from lack of supplies to efforts to sabotage their works.  The beaches of northern France were turned into death zones by the mines, barbed wire, metal obstacles, and other devices.  Topping the high ground were bunkers, machine gun nests, pill boxes, and other concrete fortifications stocked with all manner of weapons.

The role of air power was decisive for the Allies, but the number of times where bombs fell in the wrong places or did not succeed in destroying enemies locations is incredible.  Again, adding to my disbelief, the sheer amount of tonnage dropped on Europe and particularly northern France seems impossible.  (How did people endure the noise of World War II?)

As Caddick-Adams began describing the various encounters during the landing, I found myself wondering how the Allies could possibly have been winning that day.  One of the most enjoyable features of the book is the author’s short accounts of the men themselves.  Thankfully, a number of personal accounts and interviews have been gathered that tell the story from the perspective of the participants.  Repeatedly, the stories are filled with the horrors of seeing people killed and maimed who were standing just inches away.  Some men did heroic acts while disembarking and hitting the beaches, while others cringing and panicking did whatever they could to find safety.  I stand in awe of all.

Caddick-Adams does a good job of reassessing some of the previous accounts and stories and myths about D-Day.  Cornelius Ryan’s book is outstanding, but in a story this big, he missed the mark quite a few times.  Even with 900 pages, Caddick, Adams is still only skimming the surface of this story.

This book is not for the person who wants to just read a good account of D-Day.  Maybe someone watches The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan and they want to learn more.  They should go for some of the other, shorter accounts.  But for the student of World War II, already well briefed on what happened, this book is a great resource, very readable, and filled with much that is unforgettable.

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The Essential Karl Barth

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The Essential Karl Barth: A Reader and Commentary by Keith L. Johnson is published by Baker Publishing Group.

Karl Barth was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century.  He remains one of the more controversial theologians as well.  I have no way of knowing how much influence he still has or will have over the next few decades.  Theology is not my field of specialty.  I watch the high dives while wading in the shallow end of the pool.

I figure that many pastors, teachers, and theology students are not all that different from me in their familiarity with Barth.  We have heard the name.  Often it is resounding in phrases like “Bultmann, Barth, and Brunner.”  Add Tillich to the mix and you have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who either spread wisdom throughout the Christian world or who spread evil.

In my background in very conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles, Barth (and company listed above) were not admired and were seen as the enemy of orthodoxy.  Two of my great theological heroes, Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til (pictured below), both wrote books critiquing…let’s be more blunt…critically condemning Barth’s theology.  These two men, dogmatic as they could be, were not simply off on a rant.  There were elements in Barth’s theology that were not merely different perspectives on truth, but were undermining of the same.

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I must confess that in my life experiences (which have been limited), I don’t recall ever running into a bona fide Barthian.  I don’t recall hearing him quoted either.  That was all true for many years, until one occasion when I was working on a lesson prior to Easter.  I needed a quote from a heretic who denied the resurrection.  I went in search of Barth denial and was struck by the fact that he affirmed it.  I mean a bodily resurrection of Jesus the God/Man and not some mystical sense of “the spirit and teachings of Jesus lives on.”

It was around this same time that I learned that my friend P. Andrew Sandlin, a man who had worked alongside of R. J. Rushdoony, was an admirer of Barth.  And then, the more I searched for the quotes on all subjects, the more I discovered that Barth didn’t just happen to say something true and good every now and then, but he did so often.

Karl Barth wrote a large number of books, many of them quite weighty and lengthy.  He was a dominating theological force both in European and North American circles.  If you go around the theological blocks a time or two, you will encounter quotes, references, critiques, praises, and condemnation of Barth.

I often think (and maybe regret) that I did not pick a particular theologian or Christian thinker to be to focal point of my own reading and study.  Instead, I have flitted from branch to branch, reading a book by this person, a biography of another, and many quotes and references to all the big names in Reformed circles with a few outside those confines.  If I could pick the theologian to study and devote years to trying to master and understand, it would not be Barth.

That is why books like The Essential Karl Barth are so useful and necessary.  I ascribe to the idea that most pastors need to be theologians and scholars.  Books such as The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan address these issues.

Along with the near impossible task of keeping up with the latest theological trends, ideas, and debates, there is the need to be aware of the past teachers and leaders of the Church.  Very certainly, I would put Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, Machen, and a few others before Barth, but I would not leave Barth out.

One of the most helpful and instructive things about The Essential Karl Barth is the work that Keith Johnson put into giving a helpful sketch of Barth’s life and times at the beginning of the book and then giving descriptions and footnotes to the selections he includes.  I am sure that real Barthians will grimace over what is left out, but I find the amount of information helpful.  In other words, sometimes I have no idea what problem or people Barth is writing about, but the notes set the context and explain what is going on.

I know this for certain, Barth is usually labeled as Neo-Orthodox.  Although he called himself Reformed and he fit into the Reformed tradition in some ways, his theology put him at odds with the more strictly and historically Reformed people that I am associated with.  But he was strongly opposed to the theological liberals of his day.  He was not on a mission against American evangelical or fundamentalist thinking; rather, he was going full throttle against those who denied the supernatural God and the Bible.  He believed that Jesus was the God/Man and that He rose from the dead.  He affirmed much that we believe, and his enemies were those that we would oppose.

I remember reading from John Warwick Montgomery an account of him going to hear Barth speak in Chicago.  Montgomery, a very solid Lutheran, opposed Barth’s theology.  But on this occasion, he was in Barth’s corner as he listened to him skewer the theological liberals.

Paperback Preaching in Hitler's Shadow : Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich Book

 

A final point is actually one of my main reasons for being interested in Barth.  He opposed World War I and preached against it.  Then, in the 1930’s, he began speaking out against and criticizing the German Christian movement.  He is often remembered and praised even by his critics for signing the Barmen Resolution.  Alongside other Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul  Schneider, Martin Niemoller, Barth saw the sham of identifying German nationality and culture with Christianity.  Being Swiss, he was able to escape from Germany.  After the war, he labored to restore the crumbled foundations in European Christendom.

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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