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

A. W. Tozer–Three Spiritual Classics

 

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) remains one of the most popular devotional Christian writers of our time.  Moody Press, which has long promoted Tozer’s work, has combined three of his best known works into one fine hardback edition.  Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume contains The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man.  See the website HERE for more details.

A. W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume: The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God's Pursuit of Man

First of all, the well-known Tozer and the many editions of his books means that I am not having to acquaint many readers with him or convince many to read him.  I have, since getting this review book, come across numerous new and used copies of his books and an untold number of quotes. I would venture to say that Tozer ranks second only to Charles Spurgeon in being quotable and quoted.

The key selling point of this publication is that it contains three books and is hardbound.  It is not bulky or hard to navigate.  I read the first book, then the third one, and finally the middle one.  Typically, Tozer’s chapters average ten pages, so it is a great length for morning reading.

Second, I can see why some Christians would not prefer to read Tozer.  He is not theologically rigorous or technical.  If you are wanted to be grounded in systematic, biblical, or dogmatic theology, his books would not satisfy.  Nor is he exegetical, so that if you are wanting insight into the meaning of passages or books of the Bible, his books would not satisfy.  Nor is he polemical, so that if you are wanting to watch theological jousting and combat, his books would not satisfy.  And one might find the gist of his books to not give enough emphasis on church, covenant community, and weekly worship.  Certainly, those of us who love a Kuyperian embracing of every area of life and thought will find Tozer silent on those matters.

Third, but what Tozer does and does well is to focus on the Christian’s devotional and meditative life.  He rarely quotes other writers, but when he does, he is usually quoting more Medieval and mystic writers.  (No, he is not enough close to being Roman Catholic!)  He is not monastic; in fact, he is critical of any attempt to escape the world as some forms of monastic life emphasized.

He seeks to push Christians toward meditative and intense contemplation of God.  I was surprised at his theological accuracy contained in his otherwise layman-centered writings.  It is obvious that Tozer wants the believer to be grounded and well read in the Bible, for his is not a searching of the inner man for peace and wisdom.  But what he abhors is a sense that we can do our religious duties and rites and then close the book and go about our secular lives.

This personal intensity explains why he is quoted so often.  These three volumes could be reformatted into a book titled The Quotable Tozer and little content would have to be sacrificed.

Fourth, I would not have preferred to have read three Tozer books in a row.  I was compelled to do so for the sake of getting this review done.  It is somewhat like rushing through a meal for whatever reason.  But I do need a dose of Tozer here and there.  Yes, the Puritans are stronger.  Yes, Spurgeon has more with and anecdotes.  Yes, J. I. Packer is a more powerful writer.  But none of that detracts from the reminders and the pressing urgency with which Tozer calls on us to seek after God.

Fifth,  I recently read a comment where a friend and theologian referred to Tozer as one of his favorite non-Calvinistic Calvinist writers.  Tozer was careful to sidestep the old Calvinist-Arminian debates.  In my cage-stage years, I would have gnashed my teeth.  But reading him now, I see the sheer beauty of what we call Calvinism in Tozer’s discussion of God’s work in pursuing us, in changing us, in giving us His Holy Spirit.  I figure my non-Calvinist friends would read him and enjoy those parts and others as well.

So, I recommend that you pull one of your neglected Tozer volumes off the shelf.  Read or reread the whole book, or just read a chapter–any chapter.  Even better, buy this book and have the best of his work all bound together.  Maybe you have a Christian friend who just isn’t going to tackle Calvin’s Institutes or Augustine’s City of God.  Here is a gift for them, but get two copies so that you have one as well.

Mustang, Sequel to Shortgrass, by John J. Dwyer

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My friend John Barach is right.  Fiction is read for enjoyment.  As a literature teacher, I spend class time highlighting benefits of reading literary works.  Sometimes, I justify my own reading of spy and espionage novels, murder mysteries, and other times of “escape reading” because the books are well written, or give insights into human nature, or reveal aspects of foreign nations, and so on.  But I like reading for fun.

It is all fun, but some types of books are…funner than others.  (I like using the word funner because it is more fun sounding than more fun.)  Page-turning fiction is fun to read.  I often start the book with a slow pace and read a chapter or a few pages each night, but somewhere around the 50 to 100 page mark of a good book, I start reading more and more.  I don’t stay up all night reading, nor all day.  And I usually am reading a half dozen books at a time.  But the novel on the bed stand is my dessert reading.  And I like dessert in every form.

In January, I read and reviewed Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer.  This is a novel set in Oklahoma during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  It is the story of a young man named Lance Roark and his life struggles, ranging from religious convictions to romance to facing the oncoming war that conflicts with his pacifist religious background. From the moment I finished that book, I was chomping at the bit to read the sequel.

That sequel, Mustang, came out a few months ago, but I saved it for just the right occasion.  That occasion turned out to be mid-to-late July.  I read the book by starting slowly, but as often happens, I found myself more and more drawn in to Lance’s life and struggles.  Consequently, I read increasing numbers of pages until I felt the relief of having finished the book along with the sadness that it was over.

To review a novel is not easy because of the problem of spoilers, so I will focus on some of the themes of these books, with an emphasis on Mustang.

World War II was a great war in terms of the number of places where it took place, the number of countries it involved, the cost in lives and material, and much more.  The bibliography on WWII is simply overwhelming, but one could do no better than to read Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars. It was a war dominated to a large degree by the still evolving air power.  Debates still rage over the effectiveness and the morality of the air war.

Lance Roark falls in love with flying before the war.  After Pearl Harbor, he is a shoe in for the Army Air Corps.  (The Air Force as a separate branch of the military did not exist then.)  He then becomes the lead pilot for a B-17 Flying Fortress.  The array of planes used by the different sides in World War II is amazing, and from a distance, the air war seems to have a certain glamour and panache.  The actual story, from inside the cockpit and from the experiences of the pilots and crews, was anything but glamorous.  The air war was horrible for both those in the sky and on the ground.

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Flak, unbearable cold, enemy fighter planes, and fear were among the factors that made bombing raids so terrible.  I would be curious to know some of Dwyer’s sources for details because the story was unbearably gruesome reading.  That can all be seen as the cost of warfare, but the other factors have to do with the effectiveness or lack of it in the bombing raids.  We would like to think that the Americans bombed military targets with only occasional civilian losses, but that is far from true.

Concerning World War I, J. R. R. Tolkien said, ” By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”  Same just about happened to Lance Roark, and that is not poetic license on the part of the author.

But this is a novel and not a war documentary, so there is an intense human element to the story.  Lance is a Mennonite from his upbringing.  Being such, he and his ancestors and church community had been against fighting.  Although like many who were influenced by pacifism, he choose to go into the service, he never completely gets over his convictions.  Before the war, he had been a friend to and a supporter of Charles Lindberg.  Lindberg’s life went from hero to villian in a short time because of his opposition to the U. S. entering into World War II (prior to Pearl Harbor).  Often forgotten is Lindberg’s service to his country after the war became a fact.

Intertwined in the story are many threads related to the political actions that got us into the war.  Add to that the atrocities that Americans, who were far less brutal than the Nazis, Japanese, or Russians, committed.  War, even when most justified and necessary, is fraught with many evils.

Lance goes through a series of crises with his faith.  You will have to read the books to learn the details, but he was the proverbial “red-blooded American male,” the type that the British described as “over sexed, over paid, and over here.”  Lance ain’t no Elsie Densmore, nor is he Natty Bumpo.

In so many ways, I find myself envious of Lance Roark.  He is a football hero; he is apparantly a heart-throb to many girls; he is brave, faithful, loving, strong; and yet he is a real and believable character.  And he is a Southern, by way of Oklahoma, who in true Southern fashion loves his momma. He is also like Forrest Gump, in that he meets and knows so many people who either are famous or who become famous.  Besides, Lindberg, Lance crosses paths with President Roosevelt, Walter Cronkite, John F. Kennedy, and others.

But I don’t envy what Lance goes through.  I am currently reading a massive book called Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams.  It reinforces and elaborates on many of the details that are found in Mustang.

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When I look at World War II, whether it is in an historical study or in fiction, I simply shake my head in unbelief that mere mortals like me did the amazing, brave, horrible, and incredible things that people did.

When (not if) you read Mustang, you may either want to brush up on your knowledge of the war or have your electronic devices handy so that you can distinguish between Messerschmidts and Mustangs.  And buckle on your flak jacket and helmet.  You are in for a ride.

 

 

Three Worthy Reprints–Machen, Kuyper, and Groen Van Prinsterer

You cannot possibly keep up with all of the really fine books that are being written today by serious, capable Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians. I know and experience that frustration constantly.  Besides, theological books are only one component in the vast university of knowledge that many of us need to attend.  Books on history, classics of literature, and political and economic studies abound as well.

The problem gets worse, not better, when we realize that along with the many good books available, there are many older works that simply cannot be neglected.  I don’t have a magical formula for solving either yours or my own reading problems.  The best I can do is to simply plug along, reading a half dozen or so books at a time.  In some cases, I am getting 20 pages read a day, but in other cases, I am getting less than half that amount.  Some get started and set aside, and they may not be picked up for a very long time.  Some get lost in the stacks.  Some seem better suited for a different time.

These are the problems that are associated with modern American abundance.  In some places, books are few and far between.  In some places, serious students have to master a second or third language to access the books readily available to us. We here in the English speaking world are inundated with reading material, and that should make us thankful.  Our thanksgiving should also include giving thanks for the availability of three Reformed classics from three different publishers in recent months.

Christianity & Liberalism: Legacy Edition

It just makes sense that the new Legacy Edition of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism has been published by Westminster Seminary Press. It was Machen who led the movement that founded Westminster Seminary.  And it was this book, originally published in 1923, that clearly marked the dividing line between the historic and orthodox Christian faith from its deviations of that time.

I first became aware of this book when a college student I knew was reading it for a class by Professor Henry Wood at Texarkana College.  The class was on the second half of American history, so I was puzzled why a “religious book” was being read for the class.  The girl explained that it fit in with what was going on in American history during the time period.  I was pretty sure that I knew a lot about American history, but was clueless about this.

The importance of Machen’s book became clear over the next year or so after I took Professor Wood’s classes.  I cannot remember when I first read Machen myself, but I am certain that I have read this book a couple of times over the years.  The first thing to be clear on is what the Liberalism is that Machen is contrasting with Christianity.  He was not talking about politics of his time or ours.  He was, at the same time, a man of conservative and slightly libertarian political convictions.  In this book, however, he was dealing with theological liberalism.  The liberals, or higher critics, were embracing modern thought, Darwinian naturalism, and then-current scientific beliefs with reckless abandon.  Their heirs are still among us.

This book laid down the distinction between what Christians have historically believed and what the Liberals were proposing.  Machen’s contention was that their beliefs were not simply another brand or way of thinking Christianly, but that they were positing an entirely different religion.

Adding the value of this new edition is a section called “The Legacy of Christianity and Liberalism by the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary.”  This consists of some 17 short essays on different aspects of Machen’s work.  So, don’t just rush out and find an older copy of this book or pull your copy off the shelf, get this new work.

Lectures on Calvinism

Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper has also been around in many editions for many years.  This new edition, published by New Liberty Mission and distributed by American Vision, has been modified slightly to improve readability. Don’t worry, for this is not a paraphrase or abridgement of the original book.  It is a translation that has some slight changes in punctuation along with some much needed footnotes.  Kuyper gave these lectures in 1898.  He refers to many things in his time that we are not generally aware of.

This book is the foundational read for each and every book that seeks to present a “Christian Worldview.”  It is astounding how prevalent that phrase is now.  When I was a young pup, very few people would have used that phrase or known what it meant.  Interestingly, Kuyper actually used a phrase that is translated “Life and World System.”

This book stumped me some years ago because I quickly grew used to equating Calvinism with “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  I was devouring everything I could find on understanding and defending those Five Points.  But Kuyper’s lectures had six points, and there was no TULIP or similarly description of Calvinistic soteriology.

Many, although fewer than in the past, stumble, balk, snort and kick, and object to the word “Calvinism” itself.  When Kuyper gave these lectures at Princeton in 1898, people of varying theological positions knew exactly what he meant by the term and how he was using it.  Especially at Princeton Theological Seminary, the use of the term Calvinism was helpful shorthand for a system of beliefs, more or less articulated by Calvin and his heirs.

In our day, the controversy over the contents of this book revolve around what is called the “Two Kingdoms Theology” and its counter-part, which is often referred to as Kuyperian theology or Augustinian theology.  There are plenty of books to read on this where you can witness the clash of swords as Calvinist battles Calvinist (or Lutheran battles Calvinist).  For a short, sweet deathblow to the Two Kingdoms view, read Brian Mattson’s Cultural Amnesia.

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I have read and used Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism many times.  I have several editions of it, as well as Peter Helsam’s Creating a Christian Worldview (written about Kuyper’s book), Kuyper in America (about Kuyper’s experiences while here in the States giving the lectures), and a Dutch edition of the book.

This book is critical to all who are teaching in Christian schools.  This book is valuable to all pastors and teachers in the church.  This book is necessary for us in our times as we struggle to figure out how to have a Christian influence on our culture.

Unbelief and Revolution is by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and is translated by Harry Van Dyke.  The book is published by Lexham Classics.

I first encountered Unbelief and Revolution many years ago when there were only two portions of it available in English. Groen (which would translate as Green in English) was largely unknown in America both in the theological and historical worlds.  I suspect that is still the case, although less so and to our shame since his works are much more available in English.

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Groen is the Dutch counterpart to Edmund Burke when it comes to the French Revolution.  Meaning, the French Revolution is often heralded as a great event in history, a liberating event, a demolishing of old and antiquated ways, and of establishing a new order.  Sure, there was an excess of beheadings, but as Lenin would later say, “To make an omelet, you must break some eggs.”

I realize at this point that this book sounds like a work of specialized interest for students of history.  It is that, but it is more.  Groen was not giving a history of the French Revolution, but was examining its cultural, philosophical, and theological underpinnings.  If nothing else, this work helps teach us to go beyond mastering the facts and trying to discern the foundational beliefs in a movement.  And, this is not a simplistic “Christians didn’t pray enough” approach to what was a world-wide revolution.

Translator Harry Van Dyke writes in the Introduction:  “The central message of the book is that the French Revolution is not actually over but lives on in its ideas, and these ideas are dangerous for society.  This book makes a compelling case for challenging the ‘permanent revolution’ in which Western Civilization has engaged since the 18th Century Enlightenment.  Our culture, according to Groen, is increasingly in the grip of an intellectual and spiritual revolution that has put secular humanism in the saddle and repeatedly wreaks havoc with the created order for humanity and society.”

On the cover of the book is a short statement from George Harinck saying, “Very relevant for today.”

I would love to take (or teach) a course on the revolutions of the 18th–20th centuries.  I would require that James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men and Crane Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution be required reading, but first on the list would be Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution.

Get and read these great reprints!

 

Morning Reads and Evening Reads of Late

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The beginning of the day and the ending of the day are for me the two best reading times.  They call for different kinds of books, and I usually have a half dozen books going.  Some get more attention, others less.  Some fit the niche perfectly, while others are hard to adapt to.  Much always depends upon alertness and relevance, but some authors, as we all know, lure us more easily within their pages than others.

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I am currently working through a book titled Reading Acts by Joshua W. Jipp.  This book is published by Cascade Books, which is part of Wipf and Stock.  This study is not a commentary, but rather a thematic examination of Acts.  Luke, the author of both the Gospel account and Acts, was a superb stylist and writer.  Themes overlap both of  books in the Bible.  It is all too easy to be doing the daily Bible reading through Acts and not catch some of the recurring and developing ideas.

One might wonder at times why Paul repeats his own salvation story three times, or more particularly, why Luke records this.  Today, I read the part of the book detailing Paul’s Mediterranean journey to Rome, with a his side visit to the Island of Malta.  Jipp’s discussion of this was incredibly edifying and enjoyable.  Those chapters can create a panic for the preacher who is suddenly faced with a long narrative and is puzzled by this seeming detour from the story.  Far from being an unnecessary rabbit trail, this story is rich in metaphor and meaning.

Delightful book that should precede and then be used within a study of Acts.  Joshua Jipp is Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

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The Essential Karl Barth: Reader and Commentary is compiled and edited by Keith L. Johnson and is published by Baker Academic.

Karl Barth is one of the biggest names in Twentieth Century theology.  For me, he was a name that quickly showed up on the enemies lists based on who I was reading when I first started reading theologians.  Two of my theological heroes, Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark, wrote books examining, critiquing, and arguing against Barth and those who were embracing his theology.  Quite often his name showed up in a list consisting of Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich.

Being focused on studying history and literature, but reading theology on the side, I was too busy trying to get grounded in the basics of Reformed theology and thought to read the Germans and other theologians of varying positions.  That was not a bad approach.  Over the years, however, I continued to read quotes from Barth that were, without question, really good.  No surprise since many bad thinkers have turned apt phrases.

In the past several years, I have slowly lurked into the corpus of Barth’s writings.  His sermons on World War I, titled A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s World War I Sermons, was a very useful account of a man who went against many of his peers and who opposed the German actions and entry into war.  Also, his Epstle to the Ephesians was a rich study.

This book begins with a useful biographical sketch of the man and his theological development.  He lived in the midst of peril and was strong in condemning the social and theological evils of his time.  He first made an impact on the world when he published his commentary on Romans.  The second chapter of this book is a lengthy selection from that work.

I seek to read with discernment and with a willingness to be instructed.  That should be the goal whether it is Barth or Calvin or Spurgeon that we are reading or our local pastor who we are hearing.

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The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Times by Will Durant is simply fun.  This short book contains Durant’s picks for the greatest thinkers, poets, books, civilizational achievements, and dates for all time.  Whether we agree with him often or rarely does not matter, this is a delightful excursion through the thinking of a man who had an encyclopedic knowledge of history without any taint of dullness.

Durant was an optimistic Humanist.  That optimism along with his barbs against Christianity (wherein he sees Calvin and others as having skewered the teachings of Christ) is more amusing than irritating.  And it is offset by the enthusiasm of his lists and his assumption that we all love to know, just as he did.

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Venice Saved by Simone Weil is published by Bloomsbury Academic.  This work, appearing in English for the first time, was translated by Silvia Panizza and Phillip Wilson.

Simone Weil is one of the many voices from the Twentieth Century who spoke prophetically and wisely about the times and cultural challenges of her day.  Her days on this earth were short–1909-1943.  Her life was difficult for she was in France when it was conquered by the Nazis.  Although she was of Jewish heritage, she moved toward the Christian faith.

She is one of the subjects of Alan Jacobs’ remarkable book The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.  Reading about her there and also reading an essay she wrote about education all led me to wanting to know more about her and her writings.  She was not a playwright, but she did work on a play that was never finished.

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Venice Saved deals slightly with history, but is better seen as a commentary on Weil’s own times–World War II.  The story is simple and the meanings of different statements are transparent in their application to her times.  Venice was a beautiful city that was on the verge of a takeover by its enemies.  But isn’t our culture always standing on that same precipice?

This delightful book has a lengthy and somewhat tedious series of introductory essays by the translators.  I plodded through them and found them helpful, but I think they may be better read after I finish the play in a couple of days.

Time and length fails me from being able to highlight my evening reads, but I will list them.

The Pioneers by David McCullough.  Good story by a great historian.

Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams.  Hefty and good reading.

Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.  Rich in details about the ancient world.

Mustang by John Dwyer.  Sequel to Shortgrass.  Set in World War II.

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva.  Great spy novel by the master of that genre in our times.