Catchup on Book Reviews, Not Fries

A student of mine recently said that she didn’t get a book finished because she didn’t have much free time. Hmmm. There are a number of problems with that statement. For one, time is never free. Second, one should not relegate reading to the leftover time we have after the “important” stuff is done. Third, students should get their assignments done.

And I have failed on that third point. I am hopelessly behind on writing and posting book reviews. This sweep of books and titles will be my effort to try to get caught up, even if points are taken off for the work being done late.

It was over a month ago that I ventured to review all of the books in the picture above. I only succeeded in getting the top four from the stack covered. So, let’s get after the rest.

Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job by Eric Ortlund is published by InterVarsity Press.

In the summer of 2021, I had a mild case of the Job experience. Okay, it actually started in 2020 and continued through to the beginning of 2022. But, unemployment, health issues, and other crises brought me to consider our brother in suffering, patient and righteous Job.

I read Christopher Ash’s book Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job sometime over the last year. Ash has a fine commentary on Job, but this work is a short and easy study. I also read Job: A Philosophical Commentary by my friend Owen Anderson. Ash’s book is strong on the devotional side of Job, while Owen’s book helps differentiate the approaches that Job’s misguided friends gave him. And as the subtitle A Philosophical Commentary says, this book rightly puts Job in the field that those pesky Greeks think they should dominate.

Piercing Leviathan is neither a commentary nor a chapter-by-chapter survey of the book. The primary aim is to deal with the issue of what the oft mentioned Leviathan in the book is. Sometimes, commentators and readers have concluded that Leviathan was a whale or a dinosaur or a rhinoceros. But in the last chapters of Job, where God speaks and settles the issues that have been swirling around for nearly 40 chapters, the power of God’s creation has already been stated and presented as Exhibits A-Y. Just adding this big animal as Exhibit Z would not be the capstone, clinching argument. (Yet, I would affirm that if Ortlund is wrong, whatever God says is right.)

Piercing Leviathan is not a case of God telling the story that Melville will repeat and expand (and expand and expand and expand) in Moby Dick. In other words, it is not about the yuge task of actually subduing a white whale. Leviathan represents the forces and power of evil, the kingdom of Satan, the world that has been in rebellion against God since the beginning of time.

Job hears God’s presentation and is more than satisfied. Even though he gets full payment for damages incurred in the events, Job’s bowing before God was done in worshipful awe and not in a hope to gain some favor. One can realize that he was ready to go on with life as he had recently experienced it, full of confidence in the Goodness, Power, Holiness of God. Job had a glimpse of Ultimate Reality: God wins, Satan and evil lose. Cosmic war ends in no arbitration or settlement, but rather in total victory.

To be blunt: I now NEED the 3 volumes of Calvin’s Sermons on Job that is newly published by Banner of Truth. And, yes, I would not mind the John Calvin tumbler as featured and included in the Reformation Heritage deal.

You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World by Alan Noble is published by InterVarsity Press.

There is a bit of a reformation/renaissance going on at Oklahoma Baptist University these days. The first time I heard of that university, it was from a couple of friends who were swindled in attending what was supposed to be a college that was faithful to the doctrines and teachings of Southern Baptists. They were getting strong doses of liberal theology without the benefit of even a Karl Barth-corrective.

Reformation happens. Unbelief falters and stumbles and doesn’t deliver. God is faithful. A movement is sweeping across quite a few Christian campuses that is restoring the rightful places of Christian views of literature, philosophy, history, and even…theology.

Dr. Alan Noble and Dr. Ben Myers are two of the leaders of these efforts at Oklahoma Baptist University. Myers has written some fine works of poetry and about poetry. Noble has written several books about Christian living.

This book springboards off of the Heidelberg Catechism’s opening answer to the question “What is our only comfort in life and death?” Among other things, that answer states, “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

The world always, and for certain in these times, asserts that we are our own. Political liberals state that mantra even as they ease our ownership titles over to state control. But on the political right, Randians, Libertarians, and others, in an effort to preserve individual freedoms, push the idea that we are our own.

Noble’s book uses the theme that we are not our own for some 230 pages. The applications and examination of the theme is far ranging. This is a useful book for discussion or even for some sermon preparation and use. As with Noble’s other works, it is written by an academic, but it is written for all types of readers.

Covenant and Election in the Reformed Tradition by David J. Englesma is published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. Engelsma has written an incredible number of books published by RFPA.

This is one of two books by Pastor Engelsma that I received and am duty bound to review and am hopelessly behind on getting to. The other book is Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root.

I woke up one day in the middle of a pastors’ conference years ago and discovered that there was a movement called Federal Vision. The duties I had as a pastor of a church, the administrator of a school, the Humanities teacher at the same school, the husband and father at home, etc. kept me from getting involved and informed in the issues.

This theological tete a tete quickly became too heated, too involved, too loud, too distracting, too bizarre for me to wade into. I found it more my style to press on with my too many tasks until I suffered a full blown, much deserved physical and mental breakdown.

You can find more than enough attacks and defenses of Federal Vision online. I have a small stack of books that present defenses and rebuttals, and most are unread.

So, on the one hand, I simply do not and maybe cannot understand what is going on.

On the other hand, I did read a book by Gene Eward Veith on Lutheran theology that sounded almost identical to what I thought the FVers were saying. This led me to wonder why most Reformed and more Presbyterian folks who oppose FV views would possibly accept Lutherans (and Arminians and Dispensationalists and Charismatics) as brothers? I am assuming that they do accept them as such.

The driving gist of this book is that the most trusted, reliable, faithful Reformed approach is that Election precedes Covenant. I was swirling around and sinking during this whole discussion.

Obviously, from some of the reviewers who I have glanced at, this book is well done and a sound refutation of the position they oppose. Obviously, if you are reading what I have said, I am completely muddled as a reader. But here are my thoughts:

  1. I think Pastor Englesma should have focused the book on the topic of why he believes and affirms those confessional statements that say that election precedes covenant. Teach that truth as found in those statements.
  2. Potshots taken at FVers were usually in the form of jibs and jabs and insults. Insulting words do not an argument make.
  3. In the cases of Reformed people in the past, like Klaas Schilder, whose views Englesma opposes, he should have carefully stated their views and why he thinks they are in error.
  4. Above all, the book should deal more directly with what is plainly taught in the Scriptures rather than what is plainly stated in the historic confessions. Lest I be misunderstood, I love Reformed confessions. I have been using them to teach my evangelical, more fundamentalist, most likely Arminian students in the Bible class I have. But the confessions often build upon theological controversies of the days of yore and sweep past the reader of our times.

Okay, I have grown soft in my older years. Maybe I am embracing heretics, theological deviants, and corruptors of the Faith. Maybe I need to start denouncing someone. I did that for years. I was confrontational for years. I am either wiser now or wearier of battle or just off the grid theologically.

If one is wanting to wade into the Federal Vision versus Reformed Orthodoxy debate, here is a good book. As for me, let me try to explain and share the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer with my students.

Subjects Theological and Worldview Oriented

During the summer days and weeks this year, I have been, as usual, reading through a number of books. Also, as usual, I have fallen way behind in posting book reviews and updates on my readings. I can’t blame the usual suspects from the past: administration duties at school, closing of the school (2020), health crisis (2121), vacationing, spending mornings overlooking the sand and the surf, backpacking in the Appalachians, or doing yardwork. I really don’t have an excuse other than a tendency to be lazy.

So get ready for a potpourri of books that have this in common: All are by and for Christians and all were on my unending reading stacks.

Let me start with When the Bluebonnets Come by John J. Dwyer. This book and the other works by Dwyer can be found HERE.

Sometimes I need to read a story that is pleasant and affirming. I appreciate the great works of 20th Century masters like Hemingway, Faulkner, and others. Dostoevsky is unsurpassed. Charles Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper are both profitable challenges. But sometimes, I long for home, for childhood, for community, for local matters rather than epic challenges.

This book is set in Texas and in a small-town community. The dialog reflects how people talked that I grew up around. Most of the thinking, both good and bad, reflects how most people I knew thought. Yet, this is a novel, and there are several layers of conflict. At the heart of these problems are issues of faith versus the unbelief of the world around us. But even the faithful in this book stumble and struggle. And the “Christ-haunted” nature of the South, to borrow Flannery O’Connor’s phrase, seeps in in unexpected ways and places.

John Dwyer, a friend for certain, has most recently written the second volume of his history of Oklahoma. He has also written other books. My two favorites are Saltgrass and Mustang. He and I believe the same things, share the same loves, and are close enough alike in age and temperament to be brothers. He also fulfills some of my dreams. He not only wears a cowboy hat, but he has the real credentials. Best of all, John is a Christian whose writings don’t just slip a hint of Christianity into the middle of the stories, but are undergirded by Christian thought.

Read his books! If you want a pleasant vacation from your life struggles, read When the Bluebonnets Come.

Francis Bacon by David Innes is part of the Great Thinkers Series published by P & R Publishing.

I am long overdue writing a blog post heralding and praising the Great Thinkers series. This is a collection of some 12 books and still counting on philosophers, theologians, and key thinkers through the centuries. These works are analyses of the ideas, good and bad, by people who maybe were or were not Christians, but who have impacted the world around us.

If you need a quick biographical sketch of some famous thinker, go to Wikipedia or, if you are old fashioned, the encyclopedia. If you want an analysis of the ideas of great thinkers, get ready to be overwhelmed by the serious studies that are available.

What makes these books to differ? These books are all of readable length, meaning that they are less than 200 pages. Most important, they are written by Christian scholars in the Reformed tradition. The authors are people who are deeply embedded with people like Calvin, Bavinck, Van Til, and others.

Christian colleges need to have stacks of these books on the required reading lists and in their libraries. College professors who teach philosophy, history, theology, and even literature, need to have and to have read these books.

But beware: These works are not easy, “philosophers for dummies” types of reading. Every one of the volumes that I have read so far has swamped my philosophically limited brain. That’s okay. I’m a history and English teacher; I’m old; and I am slow witted. But there are plenty of you who need these books. The rest of us will just have to read them slowly twice and wait for someone to help us.

Francis Bacon, the subject of the book I most recently read, was a key thinker from England. We often pick up snippets of his witty sayings or read a paragraph about his contributions to the developing field of scientific research.

His claim to be a Christian fits into a context of Christian England more than it affirms a living and active faith in the man himself. The impact he has had on modern thought is enormous.

David Innes is also the author of Christ and the Kingdoms of Men, which is a study of political thought and is another P&R publication.

Check out the Great Thinkers series. Read these books. Buy them for your college bound students.

One of the unsung publishing and writing heroes and scholars of our time is Ruben Alvarado.

Through his efforts and publishing company, Pantocrator Press, we have books like In Memory of Stahl by Groen van Prinsterer.

Because we “live in time so little time,” to use Robert Penn Warren’s phrase, we also know so little. That problem of finite time and ability has been compounded by the times in which we live. Christian thought and heritage have been ignored, muffled, misinterpreted, suppressed, and forgotten. Thankfully, we live in a time where we can now find the works of John Witherspoon. In my college days, such was not to be found; nor were biographies of him. Most people go through life and school without learning anything about the great Christians of the past and present. (Go ask your local philosophy professor about Gordon Clark and Herman Dooyeweerd.)

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer was a brilliant Dutch historian and political thinker. His works, numerous in Dutch, are still slipping into English translations and being made available. Stalin-types might ask, “How many divisions do the Dutch have?” as a way of dismissing the contributions of the Netherlands. Well, not many divisions, but lots of great minds in philosphy and theology.

Friedrich Stahl was a Christian thinker and political leader in Prussia and Germany. Obviously, his thought lost out in time to the forces that led to Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and tragically to the Third Reich. But there was a time in which Stahl was a significant force for Christian political thought.

For those who think that this book written by one obscure Dutchman praising an obscure German is too far above their paygrade, I would suggest that you look into the works of Stahl published by Pantocrator.

If you are in any field of political thought or jurisprudence, this is a command, not a suggestion.

To better understand Groen van Prinsterer, one should race hurriedly to acquire a copy of Unbelief and Revolution, which is published by Lexham Press.

Lexham Press, a favorite of mine, has also published a beautiful collection of sermons by John Webster, titled Christ Our Salvation.

Also, John Webster was a theology professor, he very strongly believed, taught, and preached that “the Gospel is the heart of Scripture.” These beautifully crafted sermons, models of rhetorical preaching, are all deeply rooted in a theological unveiling and exposition of Scriptural truths.

As a preacher, it is hard for me to read someone like Webster and then venture into a pulpit. I can’t preach like he did, but I can be deeply enriched by reading his sermons. This book fulfills the daily need for a devotional jumpstart and incentive, along with the need for some theological ballast.

These sermons were preached to men in theological training, meaning men who would one day be preachers themselves. They are weighty, without being obscure or opaque. They are convicting, without being shallow. They are Christocentric, without being repetitive.

Great book for any serious Christian reader.

[I will write on the remaining books later.]

Reading More, Reading Fewer

I find myself often driven to read more books each month. On a low month, I might get 4 or 5 read. On a good month, I might get 8 to 10 read.

But I have committed myself to reading some books that I am duty bound as a book reviewer to read, but they are heavy, long books. They will damage the monthly quota. Meaning, I have a tendency to enjoy reading the book that can be easily read in a week or less. “Look at how many books I have read this month!” I tell myself.

There are more than enough short or medium length books lying around for me to read. But I have neglected the heavy weightlifting challenges in my perilous stacks of books surrounding me. I am now on a mission to read fewer books but to not neglect the huge books that demand some attention.

The Whole Counsel of God, Volume 3, God’s People in the Western World by Richard C. Gamble is published by P&R Publishing.

Several years ago, I bought volume 1 of this series. I think I got it because it was on sale, and since I had volume 1, I felt it necessary to get the second volume. In typical Ben House fashion, I put these two hefty volumes on a shelf and let them stand.

Volume 3 arrived some months ago with the command “Read and review.” I experienced a number of starts and stops in reading at, near, from, sort of in the book. But as June was coming to a close, I resolved that this book would be read from daily all the way through to the 1100 plus page ending.

This book is something of a survey of Western Civilization from a theological perspective. From the Greeks to the present, it gives summary accounts of the leading thinkers, issues, and events. While it is a massive book in itself, it can only graze over the surface of the topics.

All of that is to say that this is exactly the kind of book I tend to love and need. Pastors, teachers, and students need lots of surveys, lots of summaries, lots of bullet points, and lots of exposure to vast areas of knowledge. Just today, I finished the chapter on Augustine. I am neither an expert nor a total novice when it comes to Augustine. Some parts of the chapter were a recitation of details in his life and thought that I already knew, but the chapter went on to a relatively detailed account of his development of the doctrine of the Trinity and related issues.

My method of tackling this huge whale of a book is to attempt to read a whole chapter or at least 20 pages each day. Typically, the deeper I get into a book, the more I am prone to read.

I assume that one would be better off reading the previous volumes on the Old and New Testaments before tackling volume 3. But the last volume is a worthy stand-alone read.

I also assume that many students in Bible colleges and seminaries (especially those in the Reformed tradition) will be assigning Gamble’s trilogy so as to produce good minds and strong biceps. But for those of us whose seminary and Bible studies are located in our nearby bookshelves, this whole set is a worthy collection and challenge.

A Theology of Paul and His Letter by Douglas J. Moo is published by Zonervan Academic.

I received this review book somewhere back near the Christmas season. I have dipped into it on occasion and found tidbits to help along with whatever Pauline writings I was going over.

This book consists of lengthy studies into the theological views of Paul (to no one’s surprise). Pauline studies are a major field in theology. I don’t even begin to think that I can wade into the vast and richly rewarding field. I mainly try to collect some books and read things to supplement my own Bible readings and teaching opportunities.

The other large portion of this book consists of chapters devoted to the various epistles Paul wrote. One could read these as brief commentaries and overviews.

As I have already indicated, this book is a useful reference tool. Later this year, I do hope and plan on reading it from cover to cover.

The Klaas Schilder Reader: The Essential Theological Writings, edited by George Harninck, Marinus DeJong, and Richard Mouw is published by Lexham Press.

Some years ago, I stumbled into the Netherlands and discovered a world of wonder. I was not unfamiliar with the land and its history nor its theologians before those years, but it was only then (around 2005) that the depth and height and width of Dutch theology and philosophy began to unfold before my eyes. I had a few major opportunities to lecture on some of the great Dutchmen. Very soon, I was garnering everything I could find by and about Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd. Pursuing any one of those men’s works is challenge enough. But more Dutchmen kept showing up at my door and hinting at insights they had into God’s World and Word.

I had already heard of Klaas Schilder. R. J. Rushdoony mentioned how grand and eloquent Schilder’s writings and sermons were. I acquired his famous three volumes on Christ in sufferings, trial, and death. I have, alas, used these volumes all too little.

I found myself feeling giddy when I first learned last fall that Lexham Press (a favorite publisher) was putting this volume out. It seemed like forever before it arrived.

Of course, the biggest delay in unfolding the treasures of the Netherlands is the time needed to translate the works into English. Herman Bavinck is becoming something of a theological rock star in Christian, particularly Reformed, circles. Geerhardus Vos is getting a wider and wider reception. The beloved trio of Groen, Kuyper, and Dooyeweerd have their ardent followers, students, and commentators. The Dutch-to-America transplants like Louis Berkof, Herman Hoksema, and Cornelius Van Til have their strong supporters, along with weirdly bitter critics. And I have to throw in the name of H. R. Rookmaaker with this all star cast.

With this volume, I think many more will become acquainted with Schilder. For those who are totally unfamiliar with the list of names I have been spouting off, I will guess you may be familiar with Corrie Ten Boom and her great story found in The Hiding Place. Men like Schilder, Rookmaaker, and Dooyeweerd were all dodging the Nazi Gestapo and trying to pursue their academic missionary callings in the worst of times. The Third Reich perished–praise God–and the Dutch Christian witness pressed on.

It may be that these Dutchmen will have a greater impact in these lands across the pond than they did in their own times and places.

The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck is published by Westminster Seminary Press and distributed by Westminster Bookstore.

Speaking of Dutchmen and Herman Bavinck, this book, one of many now available by Bavinck, is a real treasure. I started reading it a year or so ago. I suppose it got sidetracked by one of about 15 major crises that engulfed our lives here, starting with Covid.

I was really enjoying the book, but for reasons I can’t explain, I put it aside, intended to read more, covered it with layer upon layer of other books, moved it to another room and bookshelf, then moved it again, and again, and again.

Blame the reader, not the book. I do remember how the book was beautifully and gracefully unfolding systematic theology. A few weeks ago, I was preparing a sermon to preach on Trinity Sunday (June 11). I was combing through some systematic theologies for strengthening my own understanding. I decided to jump into the chapters in Bavinck’s work that deal with the Trinity.

This chapter, Chapter X “The Divine Trinity,” was pure gold. It was balm from Gilead. It was refreshing cool waters. It was a green pasture to lie down in. I didn’t preach the chapter for my sermon, but it was the preaching to the preacher that enabled me to preach a far less rich message.

This book is part of an on-going series from Westminster called The Westminster Seminary Press Set. I have all five volumes. These are reprints and updated versions of theological treasures in the Reformed tradition. If you don’t have any of them, buy them as a set. Otherwise, just complete your incomplete collection.

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Second Edition, by Douglas Groothius is published by InterVarsity Press.

Defending the faith is vital for the Church. I have long been reading and teaching Christian apologetics. The recent overturning of Roe v Wade brought many attacks from unbelievers to the forefront. While apologetics is a tool often used for students in Christian schools or perhaps for pastors, I am convinced that it is needed for the people in the pews.

In many cases, the individual believers will not know or remember how to answer some of the endless objections brought against the Christian faith. I typically try to comfort people by reminding them they need not panic. With over 20 centuries of battling unbelief, Christianity is no rookie in the ring. Someone, usually a bunch of someones, has answered the objections previously. This is not a new game.

I have yet to dig into this book, but it certainly looks and sounds like a winner.

Hopefully, I will be posting more updates on these books in the coming months. And, I hate to admit it, but I still have several other huge books that I need to at least start scanning and skimming.

The Medieval and Brilliant Mind of C. S. Lewis

The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind by Jason M. Baxter is published by Intervarsity Press.

Had C. S. Lewis been the ONLY Christian writer that God had given us during the 20th Century, we would still be able to count that time as a great outpouring of blessings. I cannot begin to name all of the great theologians, novelists, poets, philosophers, and other writers that God lavished and flooded upon us during one of the otherwise most violent centuries of all time.

Of the writing and making of books about C. S. Lewis, there is no end. That too is another blessing. Once you think you have learned quite enough about his life, mind, and writings, along comes another study that examines it all from another angle and reveals and enhances the depth and riches of his life’s work.

I knew that I would like The Medieval Mind of Lewis from the start: The title had his name in it, the term Great Books, and the word Medieval. But the book has a lot more depth than I first suspected. Although I don’t recall any teacher in any class that I had in college or graduate school courses ever mentioning Lewis, he was a top-notch scholar and a prime candidate for studies in the academic world. Much to the consternation of some disgruntled old profs and his now deceased colleagues, he was also an immensely popular writer.

I somewhat expected that this book would begin with a list of Lewis’ favorite books from that vast period of Medieval history and would then give delightful summaries and exhortations regarding such books. It does give some of his top reads, but it takes ideas from the books and develops what thoughts Lewis had on the subjects and how these ideas impacted his own writings.

For those of us who love lists, here are Lewis’ top ten books that he says shaped his life and vocation:

  1. Phantastes by George MacDonald
  2. The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton
  3. The Aeneid by Virgil
  4. The Temple by George Herbert
  5. Prelude by William Wordsworth
  6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
  7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  8. Life of Johnson by Samuel Boswell
  9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
  10. Theism and Humanism by James Arthur Balfour

(Just for the record, I only have 5 of these [2, 3, 4, 7, 8] and have only completely read 3 of the 5 [2, 3, 7]. I may have numbers 5 and 1.)

For a man who so highly treasured the Medieval period, this list might look confusing. Only Boethius is a Medieval author, but Williams’ book is about Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Lewis himself wrote two books about Medieval literature:

On the one hand, he was not merely stuck in the Medieval portion of the university library, poring over Medieval texts. It was more that the Medieval era, worldview, mindset impacted his way of thinking. He could embrace a book or idea, no matter how modern, that reflected some of the Theo-centric and Christian worldview of the Medieval era. And if it didn’t, he often found little to like about the book that hoisted its flags firmly on modernity.

His own books generally reflected or directly attributed the idea that he loved most from Medieval studies.

The Great Divorce by Lewis is one such example. In a sense, one could describe the book as a modern, highly condensed version of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Baxter titled one chapter “Why Lewis Loved Dante.” That chapter reminded me all too painfully how much I have missed in receiving The Divine Comedy and The Great Divorce way too late in life.

Another book that gets much attention in Baxter’s study is The Consolation of Philosophy. What is so attractive, engaging, and sometimes frustrating about Boetheius is that he weaves theological and Biblical truths together. There are seams between the two, but they are not easily discerned. The stodgy Calvinist in me wants Boetheius to write The Consolation of Theology, but he didn’t. His Christian thinking was interwoven with “secular ideas.” Lewis helps us–not to clearly separate–but to enjoy both strands in Boethius.

No doubt the student doing research paper could find a useful quote or idea about one of the many Medieval texts discussed. But this book is primarily about how Lewis thought. He was as complicated and deep a thinker as he was expressive as a writer.

This book is fun, really fun. But it is not a fluffy retelling of Lewis’s life or writing career. I highly recommend it.

Readings in American History

Reading, learning, and teaching American history is not an easy, one-time-through-the-book, course of action. Whoever thinks that history is an easy subject with just some dates and dead people’s names to memorize doesn’t understand serious historical studies.

Or maybe, I am just slow. Nearly 50 years after entering college to be a history major, I am still adjusting and re-adjusting my sites so as to understand what happened and why.

Here are three fine history studies that I recently read that have proven to be enjoyable accounts, but also site adjustments. Time is ticking too fast for me to assume that I will ever get a perfectly clear vision in this life of the subject I have devoted so many years to.

We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie is published by Intervarsity Press.

Books on the Founders–either as a group or as individuals–have been pouring off of the presses like a flood in recent years. With a popular musical highlighting the life of Alexander Hamilton, one can find all manner of praise, blame, friendships, discord, shenanigans, and noble actions among those men.

We the Fallen People adds a new perspective on this issue. One of the most important aspects of this book is its discussion of how the Founders embraced a Biblical view of human nature. At the same time, either their embrace of Original Sin, human depravity, or man’s propensity to evil was sometimes grounded in direct Christian influences, but at other times accepted from more secular traditions.

Those who want to recast the Founders as a school of divinity are, in spite of their intentions, misrepresenting the Founders. Nor are those who, as we often were taught in the past, indicate that the Founders were purely Enlightenment-based secularists.

The Founders and the documents they produced were geared toward a recognition of the sinful human nature to use the powers of civil government for ill.

And then the narrative changed! The prosecution calls to the witness chair General/President Andrew Jackson. The Era of Jacksonian Democracy turned the tables on many of the traditions, foundations, and ideas of the still-young Republic. In the Jacksonian narrative, the voice of the people was good. Jackson’s tendency was to villainize any who stood in his way. (Actually, he often preferred to shoot them.)

I have read several books over the past few years that have been very favorable to Andrew Jackson. A few others, like this one, are quite unfavorable. Call it a weakness in me, but I am often blown both here and there on Jackson based on the book I am reading. Much to the disappointment of many, I can never quite shake off an admiration for the man. Much to the disappointment of others, I can never fully embrace Jackson the man or the policies. (And he was a dedicated Christian with Presbyterian roots and convictions, which works in my favorable category.)

Dr. McKenzie is a history professor at Wheaton College. I think I met him when we took our son Nick to Wheaton some years ago. We the Fallen People is a useful study. I can see it sparking debates and affirmations in a good college-level discussion. It can also add lots of perspectives for the mere history teacher who is trying to race through the early chapters of the textbook. And it is books like this that caused me to never succeed in my attempts to race through such classes.

The Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic That Changed America’s Destiny is by Tony Williams.

Tony is a Facebook friend who has, over the past several years, become a real friend in many senses. I always enjoy his updates on his readings, the adventures of his family, the basketball exploits of his son Paul, and his helpful advice on books to acquire. If he and I ever join forces in a good used bookstore, we will certainly do some damage to the inventory.

I think I own copies of all of his books. In this case, I had a copy, but found this even better and signed copy in a thrift store. I don’t know what convinced Gloria to depart with her signed copy, but her loss is my really cheap, but valuable gain.

It is a shame that this book is not currently in print. It is a book for the times we are living in. It is a useful light on many of the issues we have been facing as a nation with an epidemic. If I had read this book years ago, I would have thought it good, but having read it in the light of the past two years’ experiences, I found it even better than expected.

History doesn’t, in spite of the popular saying, repeat itself. This book doesn’t reveal, like some Nostradamus-like prophecy, what we are going through. “History teaches us that…” is a usually vapid phrase. Usually, it is said to mean, “What I believe about things can be backed up by this historical anecdote.”

What history does is provide perspectives. Ours was not the first, nor the last, epidemic. The plethora of blame, false narratives, myths, and confusion of our epidemic are not unlike similar reactions in the past. Nor are controversies over the vaccines or innoculations.

The smallpox epidemic that hit Boston created a flurry of controversies between men of religion and men of science. You have all known this: Men of religion looked to faith and the Bible, while men of science looked to science and Enlightenment thought. The matter is settled. We religious folk need to humbly confess that we are a bit on the narrow minded side.

But wait! The story of this epidemic found that the premier religious leader, Cotton Mather, was no novice when it came to science (or theology). He was the key theologian who promoted the use of the controversial inoculations. Mather is given short shrift in all too many historical accounts. Even those who will tip the hat to Jonathan Edwards will still social distance themselves from both Cotton and Increase (his father) Mather.

Mather was a towering intellect. I confess to my shame to having read far too little of the massive Magnalia Christi Americana. I will take a cheap shot and blame my college history professors for not grounding us in the older historians.

Along with Mather, there was one doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, who advocated for and practiced giving inoculations. A more educated and prominent doctor, one William Douglas, who railed against inoculations.

The fur did fly in these fights. And these were not mere academic differences. Everyone in Boston was under threat. If you were immune (from an earlier bout with smallpox), you still witnessed family, friends, and neighbors suffering. And business suffered. Just as we experienced supply chain issues, Boston had such. Firewood, a vital necessity, became scarce. Wood-cutters were not interested in getting near town or getting the infection. Nor were ship captains anxious to land their loads of cargo at the port of Boston.

Mather, himself, witnessed deaths in his family and congregation. Not all were from smallpox, since diseases come in all shapes and sizes. He had to glean messages from Scripture that gave comfort to grieving parents, spouses, and friends. He had to preach when his own heart was broken from deaths of a daughter and grandchild.

Two other key characters in this narrative are the Franklin brothers. James Franklin, the older and less known of the two, used his newspaper to attack Mather, Boylston, and the concept of inoculation. Young Benjamin began writing a series of jibes under a pseudonym that poked at the clergy and others.

Time and more open views of science enabled Boston to recover from the epidemic. Mather lived out his rich life, weary however from his toils. Doctors and those who “followed the science” came to see how inoculations saved lives. The younger Franklin brother moved to Philadelphia and continued on his road to success as a man of both science and politics.

This is a rousingly good story, and it is history. And let me add, this book gives an honest, favorable, and affirmative view of Puritans and the society they established. All too often, I have read fine historians who seem utterly blind and ignorant when they venture into explaining theology or people of faith. Certainly, I would tweak a few sentences here and there, but overall, Tony Williams explains the Puritans and Cotton Mather in what I judge to be accurate terms.

Irreconcilable Founders: Spencer Roane, John Marshall, and the Nature of America’s Constitutional Republic by David Johnson is published by Louisiana State University Press.

I imagine that I have come across the name Spencer Roane during my years of reading. However, I had no conscious memory of the name or the man. And the name of John Marshall is large and bold in the outlines and teachings of American history and government.

Sometimes, it is the less known person, the second fiddle, who really plays a critical role in events. Sometimes, it is the case of the minor figure who saw events more clearly than the well-known names. I have discovered many such men and women in history who don’t get the shout-outs, the references, the honors due to them.

With just a few minor changes here and there, Spencer Roane could have been well remembered. He could have and probably should have been on the Supreme Court. He was occasionally mentioned as a Vice Presidential candidate, although that is no pathway to certain fame. There were those who also thought he was of Presidential timber. But the “What If’s” of history cannot be substituted for the actual events.

Roane’s political life was found in the Virginia Supreme Court. His major writings were opinions that were usually objections to the national Supreme Court’s ruling under John Marshall. Roane’s causes were the “Lost Causes” of Jeffersonian rule, States Rights, limited government, and judicial restraint. He opposed the ratification of the Constitution for the same reasons that many wise men of his day did. The “Anti-Federalists” have to take the side of the British in the War for Independence, Mexico in the Mexican-American War, the Confederacy in the Late Unpleasantness, and others who lost the battles or issues of their day.

It is easy enough to generalize American history as a progress where things got better and better. There is lots of progress in history. It is easy enough to see a destiny, manifest or unfolding, where America does prove to be a light on a hill for all the world to see. Both liberals and conservatives today point to particular events as evidences of right overcoming wrong, And people will gleefully sing of “God’s truth marching on” in the context of America’s actions.

But such rosiness is not usually good history. Nor is it good or accurate commentary on the present situation. Spencer Roane railed, wrote, and argued for a restraint of our judiciary that speaks to issues still being battled over today.

Just yesterday, a new justice to the Supreme Court was confirmed. It takes no insight to know that she will embrace John Marshall’s vision far more than that of Spencer Roane. And I might suggest that she could no more explain Roane than she could explain what a woman is.

This is yet another book, like the two reviewed above, that is more relevant than today’s headlines. Thankfully, a biography of Roane (a short 120 pages, with an additional 70 pages of his writings) will broaden knowledge of the man. I can hope that from this academic study, Roane’s presence in our country’s history and ideas will start seeping into more minds and causing his name to get a host of mentions. I hope future history teachers will learn of him earlier than I did.

Many thanks to my friend, Gordon “Koty” Arnold, one of the brightest young scholars I know, for calling my attention to this book.

Hodge and Dabney–Read Them While You Can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



“What a Piece of Work is a Man”–Studies in Theological Anthropology



What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

Psalm 8:4-6

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act 2, Scene 2

Truly the study of humans is among the most profound, deep, enriching, challenging, and worthwhile pursuits.  Most of us in our professional lives as well as our day to day living are continually studying both ourselves and others. At every stage in life and family, the topic is renewed and expanded and the perspective is widened.  Marriage changes our understanding drastically.  Children expand that understanding in even more ways.  Self-reflection involves a series of affirmations or denials that all contribute to the topic.

The term “Theology” means the “study of God.”  Much of theological study involves in depth examination of Scripture and historical theological developments regarding who God is.  But in the broader sense, we use the word theology to refer to a series of studies that include not only God Himself, but the created order.  Highest in that order is man, meaning in the older sense, mankind or people.  The beautiful opening line of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion says, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’

I have recently been blessed by the challenge of working through three outstanding studies on the doctrine and nature of human anthropology.  First of all, I recommend all three books highly. They are not repetitions of one another, but the contents complement one another.  I did not set out to read these three books in an academic quest for studying humanness.  My reading plan is far too haphazard to be the result of a logic on my part.  But it has happened to me, and I could wish it to happen to others.

Reenchanting HumanityA Theology of Mankind

Reenhanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan is published by Mentor, which is an imprint of Christian Focus Publications.

This book is very basic, sound, and suited for regular readers, laymen, high school students, and perhaps college students in their first couple of years.  Topics include creation, fall, and redemption, as expected, but also particular subjects including work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice.  Each of those latter topics are hot spots in modern discussions.  Obviously, there are a wide range of views and speculations on these issues, but that does not mean that there are not basic and foundational truths to start with.  Strachan neither skirts the controversial issues nor does he waver from having a solid and traditional Biblical defense.

Some friends criticized this book as being a bit shallow.  Well, maybe.  But that depends on who the audience is.  I found the book to be both informative and spiritually moving.  In other words, theology and devotional reading met and ministered to me as the reader.  And there is always the need for good statements of basic truths and teachings.

This is a book that I would love to teach to a high school group or a Sunday school class.  At the same time, it was a very enjoyable morning read.

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck is published by Baker and is the first of three volumes.

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Herman Bavinck is currently a rock star among Reformed readers.  His books are being published, republished, translated, discussed, and promoted with unwavering zeal.  Now, along with the books by Bavinck, there are a number of studies appearing where scholars are analyzing and discussing him.  While he was never completely disregarded in the Reformed world, the degree of attention he is now getting is amazing.  I have previously posted a discussion of him and some of the many books that are now available.  I am currently reading off and on from The Wonderful Works of God, and it may well be the best Bavinck book to start with.

Bavinck is weighty and scholarly, but not impossible to read.  All he calls for is a bit of patience, a reasonably slow pace, strong hot coffee, and a mind ready for work. This first volume is…no surprise here…on ethics.  But such a topic so overlaps the study of man, mankind, humanity, people-persons that it is worthy to be used alongside the other two books listed here.

Any study of anthropology from Christian foundations has to examine what we were created to be like, how that changed due to the Fall, and how that has changed again due to redemption.  This is not ivory tower philosophy or dry-as-dust theology.  These matters are the nuts and bolts of Christian life and thought.  From here, one gets an understanding that should emanate from the pulpit, define the Humanities, impact the social order, and permeate every area of life and thought.

As my previous post indicates, one ventures here not just in reading some old dead Dutchman named Herman Bavinck, but in “Scaling Mount Bavinck.”

An Introduction to Theological Anthropology:  Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine by Joshua R. Farris is published by Baker. Academic.

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When I first received my review copy of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology, I began second guessing myself for requesting it.  I really try to avoid asking for review copies of books that I think I will find too shallow, too technical, or disagreeable.  I thought this book would be way over my head, far above my reading ability, too deeply theological for my tastes, and too unfamiliar as a topic.

I was right.  And I am loving this book.  Yes, at times my comprehension of the discussion falls to a flat zero while Dr. Farris buzzes right on along tossing out terms and views that I know nothing of.  Some mornings, the caffeine in the coffee cannot quite energize me to the level of the book.  But so often, I have found myself very moved in the heart and challenged in the mind to think on topics that have never resonated quite this way before.

One of the saddest parts (and don’t bother to mourn for me) of being a book reviewer is that there is a drive to finish and post a few comments.  But this is a book that a reader needs to go through from start to finish, and then start over again with a pen and paper in hand.  Or he or she needs a group to study with.  Or maybe, one should just pay Dr. Farris to give lectures and reading assignments from the book.

One of my recurring thoughts on this book is about how vital this topic would be not just to a trained or aspiring theologian, but to a trained or aspiring student of philosophy.  I have spoken, as an outsider, about the need for, the growth of, the advance of Christians in philosophy and Christian approaches to philosophy.  And humans are central to our study of philosophy.  One thing that has dawned more slowly on me is that it is not just theologians and philosophers who should study “Humans, both creaturely and divine,” but also historians, literary scholars, psychiatrists, teachers, business people, and everyone else whose lives touch humanity.

What about preachers?  One of the questions I keep asking while reading this book is the old saying, “Will this preach?”  I don’t think, on the one hand, that many preachers will be stealing long passages from this book to incorporate into their sermons.  But the book’s discussion of the Incarnation worked me over.  I would not dare read those portions on the morning before giving an Advent sermon.  If I did read them at that point, I would not step into the pulpit.  But I would read and reread and think on these passages in my own study, which should be filled with sermons directed to my own mind and heart.

This is rich stuff. I have no doubt that some scholars and students more familiar with the sources cited and the topics addressed will have some fascinating tug of wars with this book.  “Farris did not adequately address such and such.”  “His treatment of this or that did not reflect a proper understanding of the whatever position.”  That is fine, for that is the world of some people, and such clashes of iron sharpens the clashed against iron.  But that is not my world.

For me, this book is once a again a work that impacts both head knowledge and heart direction.

Great books–all three.  Certainly, different strokes for different folks.  All three are evidences of God’s abundant blessings via the publishing world for us today.




Return of the Strong Gods and The Virtue of Nationalism


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In Greek mythology, Proteus was quite the character.  You could get the truth from him, but only if you could catch and hold on to him.  Not hard to do, except for the fact that he could morph from one being to another.  He might be found looking like a seal, sunning on a rock in the sea, but when you tried to catch him, he could turn into a fish and swim away or into a bird or fly away.

In politics, words are often like that.  Get a good grasp on a word and the next thing you know, it changes.  Liberal has one meaning today and in the United States, but the word had different meanings in the past or in the European experience.  The same goes for conservative.  So, is a person who wants to abolish an absolute monarchy and establish a republic the liberal or conservative?  Depends on who you read or how you define the terms. Liberal, conservative, democracy, republic, libertarian, legal, illegal, protests, revolutions, reforms, federalism, and other terms demands a context and an explanation.  Phrases are the same.  “Public servants”  is a great term, as is “statesmen,” but “politicians” has negative connotations.  In rhetoric classes, we often begin by pointing out the proper and the less accurate ways of defining the term “rhetoric.”

This brings us to the term Nationalism.  In the studies of American history, there is a period of time somewhat after the Founding Era and the Federalist Era that is often called the Nationalist Era or Period.  It is set in contrast to Sectionalism, which of course hurls the nation onto the fate of civil war and disunion.  Like all terms and labels, this moniker is both helpful and a bit of a stretch.  Sectionalism can be found in not only our nation’s origins, but in the colonial period.  Likewise, nationalism was a concept that goes back at least to the times when Benjamin Franklin and others were calling for colonial unity.

In the study of European history, nationalist periods are those times when the nation-states that came to dominate Europe developed as separate nations, usually under absolute monarchs.  Then in time, these “nations” had their own internal nations that were subjected to rule by the larger powers.  What we call France and Spain are actually hegemonies of groups within those recognizable boundaries.  Germany and Italy are a bit easier to understand because neither existed as nation states until 1870.

Nationalism was often cited as a cause of World War I.  Austria-Hungary to a large extent was an empire that corralled several nations under a ruling Hapsburg monarchy.  The breakup of that polyglot was one of the results of World War I.  Thus a number of new nations emerged in that age of nationalism.  In the years that followed, the more positive connotations of nationalism turned dark and bleak as leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, and others incited their nations to a more intense, dangerous, and megalomaniacal versions of the idea.

The handy and ugly term Nazi is simply a short form of the term National Socialist.  It is ironic, perhaps, that World War II featured various forms of nationalism that adopted ideologies that involved the suppressing nationalism of their conquered territories.

The story goes on after World War II.  Books on the topic abound.  Views on the issue are varied.  For one just wanting to grasp the history, I would highly recommend Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism Since 1780.

For some contemporary thought on the matter from positive viewpoints, I have found much appeal in the books highlighted above.  I have read and am working on a second reading of The Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West by R. R. Reno.  This book is published by Regnery Gateway.

That the West is in trouble is beyond debate.  That the future of the West is uncertain is for certain.  Reno contends that in our quest to be anti- or against this or that ugly ideology of the twentieth century has caused us to also reject some of the forces for cohesion and strength that are necessary for a society to survive.

I am still beginning my long overdue reading of The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony.  Dr. Hazony is a great thinker, an Israeli scholar, and a gifted writer.  I have enjoyed all that I have read from him in the past.  This book comes highly recommended by a number of people whose opinions I already respect.

Hopefully, we can return in a future blog to discuss both these books.  You are welcome to provide me your own thoughts, reviews, or concerns.  Post a comment or send me an email at

Christian Essentials: The Ten Commandments and The Apostles’ Creed from Lexham Press

The Ten Commandments: A Perfect Law of Liberty is by Peter J. Leithart

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is by Ben Myers

Both of these volumes are part of the Christian Essentials series published by Lexham Press.


Thank God for the massive, weighty, richly voluminous weight-lifting theological books available to us in our times.  My bookshelves are literally sagging from these huge volumes often surpassing the 1000 page mark.  From the past and the present, great works of theology have been made available to us in these times.

Yet many of us have to confess that we have bookmarks sticking out in the first chapters of these books.  Or we have cheery picked a chapter or two for particular reading.  Or we have made it through only the first volume of a multi-volume set.  Or we have read the endorsements and blushed with shame that we have not been able to echo the words of J. I. Packer or Joel Beeke about the value of some great theological treasure.

Praise God for our partially read books, our unstarted books, our good intentioned book reading, and our failed efforts to persevere.  Bit by bit, we have tasted great works.

But let us also give thanks for those books that are easily read from cover to cover.  And thanks be given for the short summaries, the “concise brevity,” to use Calvin’s words, and the books that are so easy to buy, carry around, and not only start, but finish.

Lexham Press published books of all sizes and shape.  Abraham Kuyper’s Honey From the Rock  is a physically big book from Lexham Press, but so are John Frame’s We are All Philosophers

and Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.



Besides the differences in size and topics, these books also display the variety of theological angles that Lexham Press books are providing.  Travis James Campbell and his study titled The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling God’s Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence and Michael Heiser’s books such as The Unseen Realm and Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the  Powers of Darkness are in the Lexham line-up.  At the same time, there are a number of rarely seen books by a few of the great Dutch theologians and thinkers such as Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen van Prinsterer.

Then there is this fine series called Christian Essentials.

These books are short, well-bound hardbacks that address key elements of Christian doctrine and life.  They are also deceptive!  One thinks that he or she is going to skip along through a nice, devotional read, but instead, the reader discovers a deep wellspring of theological practice and thought.  Short books, to be sure, but books that are far from light and fluffy.  Readable, yes, but also deeply connected to Faith and Life.  Practical, yes.  Teachable, yes.  Understandable, yes, assuming one is in a good solid church that is supplementing a life of Christian doctrine and practice.

I read Ben Myers’ Apostles’ Creed a year or more ago.  Sometime after reading it, I pulled it off the shelf again to borrow heavily from in preaching a sermon on the Creed.  (I never got past the words “I believe” from the opening of the Creed in my sermon.) This Creed is one that all Christians should believe, embrace, and recite.  Growing up Methodist, I learned it from childhood.  Recently, Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist theologian, wrote a book on the same creed.  (Mohler’s book is good, but Myers’ book is better.)

A few months back, I received a copy of Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments.  I have met and heard Dr. Leithart and have read quite a few of his many books.  Hop on board the Leithart train and you will be taken on a wild and surprising journey into theology, liturgy, literature, and more.  He is, quite simply, too smart.  (Read jealousy into that statement.)  He is also a good writer.

There are a number of books, as one might guess, on the Ten Commandments.  On the one hand, I tend to shy away from some of the ones that would be more popular, trendy, and designed to go after our cultural enemies.  Note that I would probably agree with most of the content of such books, but would still not prefer to be reminded that statistical numbers and Hollywood culture are cringy signs of a culture that hates God.

My two previous and preferred books on the Ten Commandments are as follows:  I love R. J. Rushdoony’s classic Institutes of Biblical Law.  This book is large, detailed, profound, thoughtful, and revolutionary.  More than any other work I know, it expands and applies the commandments to all of life, culture, thought, politics, and society.

The second volume I like is Thomas Watson’s Ten Commandments.  This book is, in Puritan fashion, aimed at the heart.  It is rich, devotional, and filled with practical exhortations.  If you want to like the Puritans, read this book.

Now, my favorite Ten Commandments book has a third member:  Leithart’s book.  At the end of each chapter, I found myself wondering how anyone could have packed so much into so few pages.  This book is a not a call for posting the Commandments on the lawn of the city square.  Nor is this book one that places the Law of God in a museum for New Testament believers to tour and take selfies in front of.  The Law is applied to people in Christ because they are in Christ and the Ten Words are from God.

Great books–The Christian Essentials are wonderful studies, preaching and teaching tools, family worship materials, and reads.




History Readings on the Nightstand and Day Stack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Progressive Era by Murray Rothbard

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

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

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

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