1917 Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Order

“Emerging from the forge of war in 1917 was the active role of government in every aspect of daily life, and the rising expectation that government can fix every problem and deal with every crisis from economic depression to childcare and climate change.” (Page 236)

This past year marked the 100th year anniversary of the Russian Revolutions.  Most of the applauding and celebrating came from those who rejoiced in the fall, rather than the rise of Communist Russia.  The Russian Revolution(s) is a story filled with all manner of drama, tragedy, near fulfillment of hopes, and unexpected turns of events.  It might have been simply a sideshow to World War I, but it became something much bigger, more enduring, and more terrifying.  The death count related to world-wide Communism has been listed as 100 million, and the count is not yet complete.

It is surprising that as 1917 was beginning, Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin were still sidelined on the cataclysmic war that was engulfing Europe.  By the end of the year, they were the two prime movers and shakers in what was happening. There are, no doubt, plenty of books with plenty of positive things to say about Wilson and Lenin.  By no means are the two men just alike.  Herman notes clear differences as well as gifts and strengths of each man.  But as his subtitle indicates, the results of their tampering with the world, 1919 gave us a world recovering from war and preparing for decades of disorder and preparation for the next war.

The story of Woodrow Wilson is painful.  Brilliant, no doubt, Wilson was insufferable. His idealism was matched by a theological bent that convinced him that he was or his vision was God’s plan for the world.  He imbibed much from his upbringing in a Presbyterian manse, but he did not seem to be grounded in sound doctrine.  He did, for better or worse, want to avoid bringing the United States into World War I as a fighting power.  At the same time, he wanted to rise above the powers of Europe and the older ways of war and diplomacy and craft a more perfect world.  The key statement of his vision in found in the Fourteen Points.

Germany, reeling from the war by 1918, called for an armistice, hoping the 14 Points would work to their advantage.  They didn’t.  Wilson was as vindictive as he was idealistic.  But all that came out after the firing stopped.  Prior to that, the United States entered a war that it was totally unprepared for in 1917.  A year later, even with troops pouring into France, the U. S. was not producing equipment for its own still fresh men.  As a manager and administrator over a war government, Wilson was a disaster.

Lenin had plenty of problems of his own.  His return to Russia was financed and provided for by the German government.  As a measure to produce chaos behind the lines in the east, it worked better than any could have imagined.  Russia underwent its first revolution and toppled the Tsar in February.  In October, revolutionary actions finished off the provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky, and moved the soviets into positions of power.

With Leon Trotsky overseeing the military, and a young Stalin perfecting ways of eliminating enemies (broadly defined), a totalitarian state was being put into place.  Everything that would, in time, characterize the Evil Empire (Ronald Reagan’s term) was started during this time:  acts of terror against the citizens, arrests right and left,  establishment of the Gulag system, and the implementation of a secret police (forerunner to the KGB).

Russia gave up tremendous concessions and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  This freed numbers of German divisions which were raced to the western front in a last attempt to end the war.  It almost worked.  But this part of history is chock-full of “almosts.”

Arthur Herman, author of quite a few fine histories, has done a magnificent job in telling a terrible story in a way that is gripping.  Full of insights, a few jabs at recent events, plenty of good narrative, this book will be a hard one to best in this upcoming year of reading.

 

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Karl Barth–The Epistle to the Ephesians

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Karl Barth–What a topic to tackle.  He is more than a man, for he is a subject, a whole realm of discussion.  Ranked by some as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, he is despised by others for being a heretic.  His influence was great, but his legacy is and always will be under fire.

Here is the story of my slight connections with the esteemed Herr Doktor Barth:

I became a follower of Reformed theology around 1976.  I was not familiar with any theologians.  I had heard of Wesley, since I was a Methodist.  I knew of Martin Luther, but was unclear as to who he was.  Then I was suddenly pushed into the deep end of the pool and was surrounded by a such names as Hodge, Edwards, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, Kuyper, Berkof, Lloyd-Jones, Rushdoony, Boettner, Van Til, Clark, Machen, Spurgeon, and more.  These were all the good guys; they were our team.

My main focus in reading quickly became fortifying my grasp of God’s sovereignty and the doctrines of grace.  I was buying and reading books like crazy.  One of these best sources was a place called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.  Each month, they sent out a one page (front and back) sheet advertising books.  At the bottom of the second page were the sale books.

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One such sale book was Karl Barth’s Theological Method by Gordon Clark.  I think I paid a dollar for the hardback copy of the book.  It went to my ever expanding shelf of books on theological matters and has relocated many times, but is still part of my meager library.

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Many years later, I bought Christianity and Barthianism by Cornelius Van Til.  I am sure I must have bought it because i) it was a book, ii) it was by Van Til, and iii) it was a big influence on R. J. Rushdoony.  It has lived its life among my other Van Til books.

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Then in some now-forgotten book purchase, I picked up a short biographical work on Barth by T. H. L. Parker.  I loved Parker’s biography of John Calvin, so I figured there was some worth to this book.

Thus, I was fully armed for any future confrontations with Barth’s theology and Barthians.  But I was living in southern Arkansas, teaching school in a rural public school and being active in two different Reformed churches in the area.  I encountered all manner of theological arguments and argued with many people holding a wide range of religious ideas.  BUT NOT ONCE DID I ENCOUNTER A BARTHIAN or even a person who had read or liked Barth.

One year, I was in search of quotes regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (I think it was in conjunction with a series of Sunday school lessons on the person and work of Jesus Christ.)  Having found great quotes by theological heroes, I thought I should snuff out a few enemy quotes.  To my surprise, I discovered that Barth believed in the resurrection of Christ.  As time went on, I found great statements by Barth on other topics.  I also began realizing his role in signing the Barmen Declaration and his opposition to theological liberalism.

While I still encountered writers who had serious disagreements with KB, I slowly realized that he was no simple “black and white” theological figure.  I probably have a half dozen or more books by Barth now.  But here is where I am in the process:

On the one hand, I know there are some serious flaws in his theology.  I am wary, suspicious, and untrusting of his writings in general.  What those flaws are, I cannot personally articulate.  I would be an easy knock-out in a debate with someone who had seriously read Barth.

On the other hand, I know that Barth is highly regarded, respected, and loved for his theological insights.  What those great insights are, I don’t know.  Barth is like a grand piano to me.  I know it is a fine instrument, but I don’t have the means of demonstrating it.

In terms of my position–not knowing much–I am a lot closer to many theology readers than one might think.

This past year, I received two review books that are new English publications of Barth’s writings.  The first was A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons.  This book is published by Westminster John Knox Press.

This is a really useful study of the period when World War I began, meaning the late summer and fall of 1914.  Many German pastors and theologians jumped on the war bandwagon and heralded the Kaiser’s troops as they marched off to glory.  More experienced slaughtered and horrors than glory as that war turned into a four year long trench-based battle of attrition.  Neither the causes nor conduct of that war were Christian, God-glorifying, or even in the best interest of the nations involved.

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Barth’s work is a remarkable look at a man who went against the times, against many of his teachers from the past, and against his culture.  Pastor to pastor, I would tell him that he preached too many sermons in his opposition to the war.  This series basically lasted from August through December.  His church was in neutral Switzerland, but the congregation must have had a basic sympathy to the Germans.

While Barthian skilled theology students might enjoy seeing hints of Barth’s later theology in this work, I read it as a history student.  I thought it was a great example of a pastor confronting current events from the pulpit while primarily seeking to minister to his congregation’s spiritual needs.

Soon after reading the World War I sermons, I received a copy of The Epistle to the Ephesians by Barth.  This book is published by Baker Academic.

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The back cover and blurbs. The front cover is at the beginning of this review.

The first fifty pages of this book consists of essays by the editor, the translator, and two scholars who discuss the lectures, Barth himself, and where his Ephesian lectures fit into his larger corpus of writings.  Barth was largely an academic theologian.  He was part of the long respected German theological tradition.  Remember that men such as J. Gresham Machen and Benjamin Warfield went to Germany to study theology, and while they rejected the theological deviations, they wanted to gain the academic training offered there.

Translation, a distance of a century, and changing theological currents all add to the challenge of reading Barth.  I am not a theologian by training, experience, or profession.  My academic training is more centered on history, so I am out of my league on these matters.  Still, I read some theological heavies for the same reasons that I listen to classical music, try to understand great art, and dabble in reading the great philosophers.

From my years of doing pastoral work and teaching in a Christian school, I have tended to go to the more accessible, readable, easy-to-find help sort of writers.  Stranded on a desert island, I would prefer the books of Sproul, Piper, or Grant to those of Barth.  But there is the need for me to tackle Barth on occasion.

The heart of this book is a series of lectures Barth gave during a winter semester at the University of Göttingen in 1921-22.  Most of the lectures were focused on Ephesians 1.  In fact, Barth scribbled notes in the margins of his lecture notes indicating that the class was complaining that he was too slow in getting through the book.  They were right.  After devoting many lectures to the first chapter of Ephesians, he then gives a brief survey of the remaining five chapters.

While reading this book, I was continually having to go back to the beginnings of the lectures where the Greek and English texts were located.  I can recognize very few words in Greek, and the lectures were detailed expositions of the Greek texts.  (Thankfully, the Latin phrases were all translated in the end notes.)

This was a plodding read, but IT WAS WORTH THE EFFORT.  In my previous experiences, this book would have not helped me find the quick exegesis, pithy quote, or keen insight into a verse to be lifted and used in a sermon.  But it is a good source for slowly, carefully thinking through this most rich chapter of God’s word.

Look for the scholarly reviews if you need to know the more academic theological assessments of this book.  I will close, however, with a quote or two that I found inspiring and helpful.

“And how astonishing that when the gospel of Israel’s Christ was directed to the whole world, it displaced so many rival claims at the time and met with such success!”  page 60

“The praise of God to which Paul refers is not a matter of course; it tolerates no rivals.  Such praise is directed to God, the Father of Jesus Christ, who reveals himself in his hiddenness and is the creator of all things.  It is an act of knowledge, of repentance, of transformed thinking.”  page 84

“How could the praise of God consist of words alone?  Words are inadequate, but so is action.  We can only cover our faces (‘crever les yeux,’ Calvin) and give God the glory.”  page 84

“It is utterly impossible that what the hidden God accomplishes in the person will not also have the greatest visible consequences in that person’s life.  It is utterly impossible for faith not to be accompanied by good works, as Luther says.”  pages 98-99

“Forgiveness is not a matter of merely excusing a person; the one who is forgiven is also made obedient.  The rule of God does not refer only to the dynamics of God’s action; God’s acquittal effects a corresponding dynamic in the creature, whose action is completely dissolved, reconstituted, and established on a new foundation.”  page 106

“How can we understand the meaning of the blood of Jesus, of his suffering and action in the passion, apart from the resurrection, which reveals their meaning?”  page 107

These are just a few of the many fine statements (often a paragraph or more in length) found in this study.

Post Script:  Recent articles dealing with Karl Barth’s life have contained the inexcusable story of his long-term affair with his secretary.  In short, he had a bad marriage, and he and his secretary lived in a sinful relationship (with his wife’s knowledge and, to some degree, acceptance).  This story is not hearsay, innuendo, or unprovable assertions.  No doubt this clouds the case for reading Barth.  I don’t blame anyone who refuses to read him or these books I have reviewed simply for that reason.

At the time I got these books, the affair was only a rumor.  It pains me when I read beautiful statements by Barth and realize his own failing.  Lord have mercy on all His people.

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God and Politics in Esther

God and Politics in Esther by Yoram Hazony is Cambridge University Press.  Dr. Hazony’s website is found HERE.

The author is a Jewish scholar who researches and writes about philosophy and theology, political theory and intellectual history. Hazony’s previous books are The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul (Basic Books, 2000).  His next book is and will be completed with My next book is The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books, 2018).

This book on Esther is one I fear will not get enough attention from many of the circles I am in.  I am a Protestant Christian with Reformed and Evangelical ties.  I have lots of close connections with Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, and Christians of other and non-denominational affiliations.  Hazony fits into none of those categories, nor is he Catholic or Orthodox, but is a Jewish scholar living in Israel with his wife and nine children.  He is highly recognized and respected in many circles, but, as indicated, overlooked in my world.

About the same time that I became aware of this book, a church in my town was having a Bible study for women on the Book of Esther.  I did not attend that study for obvious reasons, but was curious as to how it would differ from this book.  I think that Esther is capable of being taught from different angles to different audiences, so my point is not contentious.

Again, I would like to see Christians reading this book.  Here are the drawbacks, however:

  1.  It is published by Cambridge University Press.  For me, that is a major plus.  I am constantly amazed at the outpouring of books from university presses.  Certainly, there are plenty of astoundingly obscure topics that grow into books interesting to very small circles.  Such books will line the shelves mainly of university libraries.  But there are also a multitude of books for less specialized readers, but such books rarely appear on the bookshelves of our local book stores.
  2.  University Press publications tend to be highly priced.  I am usually dependent on review copies or used copies or university press sales for such books.
  3. It is not a conventional commentary and is not a Christian-directed book.  As noted, the author is Jewish.
  4.  This book is not all that easy to classify.  Does it go in the religion section?  Perhaps, since it is about the Old Testament.  Or does it belong in the political science area?  The word Politics is not just in the title, but is a vital part of the content.  The field of politics is itself an area of philosophy, so maybe the book should be wedged into the philosophy shelves.

Very rarely do Christian pastors preach from the Book of Esther.  It is relatively easy to construct a topical sermon or two from the book.  There are two key texts that “preach.”

One is Esther 4:14:  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

And the other is a phrase from Esther 4:16, which is her response to the verse above.  Esther says, “If I perish, I perish.”

But how would a pastor preach a series on this book which never directly mentions the name of God and that deals with so many intricate political problems?  My answer:  Read Hazony’s book.

Chapter 5, which is titled “Idolatry,” is worth the time and effort and cost of the book itself.  This is a book about bad leadership, false beliefs, and survival of faith amidst evil people.  Idolatry, while not overtly apparent as in the case of the Golden Calf, is nevertheless the great evil in this book.

Another key theme is that of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  This is a favorite Calvinist Sunday afternoon topic of thought or discussion.  J. I. Packer’s book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is still a classic favorite.  Hazony does not take a view that is totally compatible to my Reformed disposition.  But he does offer some ideas–both acceptable and debatable–about the role that people must take without depending upon a Deus ex machina.

For years, Christians shied away from politics.  It is easy to imagine a church full of people in 1960 who were evenly divided over whether to vote for Nixon or Kennedy.  Some of the choices or races in recent years are harder for conservative Christians to grapple with.  Conservative theology and liberal politics are difficult to reconcile.  But so are conservative theology and conservative politics (at least in the popular sense of “conservative”).  Since Hazony is not American, his perspective is not directly connected to Democrats and Republicans, the American left and right, or to the issues confronting us.  That is a strength of the book.  He is not one of “us,” nor is he one of “them.”

We Christians believe in both the presence of God and the intervention of God in human events.  Yet, we too face a world and circumstances that causes us to question where God was when certain events happened or why God allowed (and/or purposed) such.  The easy answers are not found in this book, but it is a help along the way.

I hope someone out there buys and reads this book.  I hope some pastor preaches through Esther or someone teaches a Sunday school series through this.  (And I hope it is not just a women’s study.)

Thanks to my friend Paul David Robinson, a philosopher in the making and a brilliant fellow, for recommending Hazony’s book The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture in a Facebook post.  That discovery led to this book.

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Yoram Hazony of the Herzyl Institute

My copy of this book is autographed! Thanks again to Paul David Robinson for commending this book.

Used copies of this book (and mine is a used copy) are very affordable.

The St. Andrew Seven–First Glances

 

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Truth be known, I have often been the kid at the back of the classroom.  Rather than sitting on the front row, taking notes, listening intently, I am sitting at the back of the room and gazing about absent-mindedly.  When the pressure is on–meaning the assignment is due tomorrow or I am on the verge of failing–I get busy.  Bottom line:  I am usually a bad student.

Case in point:  For years–at least a decade or more–I have heard George Grant wax on and on about Thomas Chalmers.  Then the front row students ask, “What should I read to learn more of Chalmers?” Meanwhile, I am wondering how much longer until class is over.  Repeatedly, in lectures, asides, personal exhortations, and the like, Dr. Grant says,

“The first book that I always send readers to is the short profile by John Roxborough and Stuart Piggen entitled, The St. Andrew Seven  (Banner of Truth).  Though not entirely about Chalmers (most of the text is devoted to six of his students and the way he influenced the trajectory of their lives and ministries) it is nevertheless the best single, accessible work available in a modern edition.”

The front row students hypervenilate until their copy of the book is in their hands.  And, they are anxiously awaiting that still future event where some mega-work on Chalmers by Grant himself arrives in print.  Meanwhile, on the back row, all I hear is that there is some book called Seven Saints Named Andrew, which I confuse with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (a movie), which I might watch instead of having to read the book.

Then a copy of the book arrives in the mail.  That is like a note sent home to the parents.  So, with the pressure on, I have finally begun to plod my way through this massive 150 pages tome with no pictures.

First observation:  A telling story appears about Chalmers in the early days of his ministry.  Although he was employed as a pastor, he was quite interested in a position teaching mathematics at the University of Edenburgh.  His view was  that “after the satisfactory discharge of his parish duties,” a minister could enjoy five days in the week of uninterrupted leisure for the prosecution of any science which his taste may engage.”

In popular terms, and some people actually think this, the preacher only works one day a week.

Twenty years later, and we might add, much sanctifying grace later, Chalmers wrote:

“What are the objects of mathematical science?  Magnitude and the proportion of magnitude.  But then…I had forgotten two magnitudes.  I thought not of the littleness of time.  I recklessly thought not of the greatness of eternity.”

It takes time–of which there is too little–but the kid at the back of the room does finally hear something,

Good Books, Good Times

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My former pastor, Curtis C. Thomas,  once described what he thought physical activities were for me.  He described it as, “closing one book and opening another.”  Didn’t he realize that I also had to walk to the shelves, pick out the next book, and carry it to the reading chair?  Never underestimate my life of adventurous activity.

Today, I will highlight a few of my current morning reads.

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The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Michael S. Heiser, published by Lexham Press, $24.99. I started this book a couple of months ago.  But some of the late spring reads are halted for a time and then resumed with summer break.  This is a fascinating and revealing book. One would think that Christians would not need to be prodded and jolted into reading the Bible–of all things–with a supernatural worldview.  Surprise, surprise.  We do need instructions on this.  This is a serious study of the Scriptures and not a one-time quick read.

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Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel L. Dreisbach, published by Oxford University Press, $34.95.  I am stunned every time I read from this book.  Sometimes Christians with more zeal than academic skill have oversold the Christian influences in our earlier history.  (I am guilty of this at times myself.)  Sometimes, in an effort to offset years of Christian influences being ignored while secular and Enlightenment thought was being highlighted, history was distorted.  Dreisbach is an academic scholar and Oxford University Press is not a small time Christian publisher.  And it is not that he was able to ferret out a few Bible references.  Instead the book is full of cases, quotes, and examples of the Bible drenching early American culture.  If the main text is not enough, he has enough extra material in the endnotes to make an additional volume.

 

Since reading Doug Douma’s outstanding biography of Gordon Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark  (published by Wipf and Stock), 

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I have been marveling over what all Clark did in his lifetime to promote sound, logical, and most of all, Biblical Christian thought.  Falling head over heels for Clark once again in my life, I suddenly had a profound thought:  I should read the big man himself.  Again.

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A Christian Philosophy of Education by Gordon H. Clark, published by The Trinity Foundation.

So I am enjoying getting back into Clark’s book on Christian education.  Christian schools or homeschooling families are found in almost every corner of the nation today, but Clark first wrote this book back in 1946.  That precedes even the writings of R. J. Rushdoony on Christian education.

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Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition is edited by W. Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Tomes and published by The Davenport Trust.

I received this book a few weeks ago, but just opened it up today.  It speaks to an issue of much concern to me:  Calvinists are fighters.  We are conditioned to contend for the Faith–and Biblically commanded to do so.  We learn the debate skills, Biblical arguments, intellectual approaches, and wide range of other (usually meaning false) options.  We are, as several historians have said, God’s marines.  I don’t know how many times I have heard a position referred to as “THE Reformed view.”  I don’t want to be accepting of any and every shade and variation of thought claiming to be Christian.  But we have spent far too much intellectual and spiritual energy fighting one another.

This book is made up of essays (adapted from talks) coming out of the Convivium Irenicum, an annual gathering of scholars, students, and pastors to “exchange ideas, deepen friendships, and apply the Reformed faith today.”

Count me in, guys.  I am looking forward to getting farther in to this collection.

Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man

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Watching television and movies keeps you from reading books.  Reading novels keeps you from reading serious non-fiction.  Non-fiction keeps you from reading theology.  Theology keeps you from reading the Bible.  Watching plays and reading dramas keep you from reading poetry.  Shorter poems keep you from reading epic poems.  Epic poems keep you from reading Plato and Aristotle.  Reading Plato and Aristotle keep you from reading….fill in the blank.

We are finite and busy and slow at reading, so whatever we are doing is keeping us from doing something equally good or better.  We are not only finite and limited, but we are all artistically inclined.  We are all users, admirers, and developers of art and artistic creations.  Some of the arts we deal with are such things as the finely finished report, the good meal, the freshly mown lawn, the washed and ironed clothes, the long studied and delivered lecture or sermon, or the pleasing hummed tune.

God looked on creation and said, “It is good.”  Even when our own creations are mediocre or even bad, we have the built-in apparatus to look on what we have done and say the same.  God has wired us to see art (connect that word to artisan and craftsman and not just painters) and order.  God has also wired us to comprehend, interpret, and think about art.  The wrestling fan who says, “Boy, that was a good fight,” is interpreting an art exhibit in a fashion similar to the art critic who comments upon Rembrandt’s use of shadows.

We can not do all the things we want and need to do.  And what we actually do is a series of artistic efforts and interpretations.

But let’s slow up a bit here and focus upon just a couple of things:  Science fiction, science fiction movies and television, and C. S. Lewis.  Here too is a door to a universe more wonderful and vast than we have imagined.  I say that as one who would not prefer science fiction or fantasy (which are two different genres) in books or movies.  But I am a C. S. Lewis fan.  On the one hand, I have done quite well in collecting most, but not all, of Lewis’ books, but then comes the books written about Lewis, including biographies, but more than just that.  Lewis was a wide-ranging and first class thinker whose ideas–including theological and philosophical as well as literary ideas–have impacted a wide range of disciplines.

The book Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man:  Finding C. S. Lewis in Sci-Fi Film and Television is edited by Mark J. Boone and Kevin C. Neece.  It was published this year by Pickwick Publications, a branch of Wipf and Stock Publishers.  It has a forward by Brian Godawa, who is something on the order of the Reformed theologian of movies.  Re-reading Godawa’s essay today convinced me even so of his knack for teaching us to view film as a worldview tool.  He writes, “Science fiction as a genre is most often an argument for or against current ideas or worldviews by showing their ultimate ends lived out in the future.”

Great statement.  While there is “nothing wrong” with just sitting back and enjoying a movie, it is just not possible.  Every film, like ever book or song, is presenting some sort of vision of reality or of ultimate things or of moral truths.  This is why we in the Christian school business have to keep honing in on the idea of worldview thinking.

The first chapter of the book is titled “Finding C. S. Lewis in Science Fiction Film and Television.”  The hook for me, however, is that this essay is written by co-editor Mark Boone.  Dr. Boone is part of an expanding universe of Christian thinkers who are carving niches in every area of academic life.  God is doing an intellectual Reformation in our age, whether the greater body of believers and the vast masses of unbelievers see it or not.  Boone’s first book is a study of Augustine, titled The Conversion and Therapy of Desire: Augustine’s Theology of Desire in the Cassiciacum Dialogues.  When I was studying this book last summer, I concluded two things:  First, this is a first rate study that is not a fast read, and second, Mark Boone is serious.

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Serious, however, does not mean grave, somber, and solemn with no application to folks that don’t dwell in safe academic zones.  (The hidden humor of that remark is that Boone spent the last year teaching somewhere in the Middle East.)  So, this book appeals to a broader crowd that still wants to think.  In this case, it involves a cross discipline jaunt:  C. S. Lewis’ short book The Abolition of Man and science fiction films.  Lewis’ little classic could be used in a number of courses and discussions, including education, literature, history, ethics, current culture, pop culture, and, of course, science fiction.  The case is made stronger by the fact that Lewis wrote some science fiction, his Space Trilogy.

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My biggest hindrance was lack of knowledge of most of the films.  I was familiar with one show, Person of Interest.  Artur Skweres wrote the essay titled “Between the Good and the Evil Samaritan: Person of Interest in Light of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.”  I love that show and read the essay twice, but I don’t agree with it.  That is okay in a book of thought provoking essays.  I did realize that I was watching the show way too passively and have tried to be more alert to the deeper messages.  Skweres concerns about the workings of Mr. Finch and Mr. Reese may be right on target, and I may be wrong.  That is what is fun about these discussions.

Several chapters in the book are about the ever popular television series and subsequent films known as Star Trek.  Never watched either!  But I could benefit from sitting through a few hours of both so that upon rereading, the essays resonate with me.

Many of the films discussed are older.  As Brian Godawa points out, they are nearly all accessible now.  The issues, the ethical dilemmas and worldview confrontations, are old as well, and yet they are all throughly relevant and on the cutting edge.

Don’t try to read this book through from cover to cover (as I did–with a long break between the halves of the book). Read the foreward and first chapter.  Then read any chapters that pertain to movies you know.  Then use the other chapters to locate movies and read the chapters both before and after the film viewings.

With a group of interested folks–whether students in a class or a reading group–this could be a really fun book.

 

Crossing the Finish Line; Back to the Starting Line

The Finish Line

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I confess that using athletic metaphors and illustrations makes me feel more physically fit.  So, instead of just sitting in a chair and reading, I am working out.  Instead of sitting at a keyboard typing, I am pumping up my heart rate.  The cup of coffee at my side is Gatorade in my mind.  Being in that mode and mindset enables me to share a few recent wins or finishes in the world of reading.  But every race won puts me in a new bracket, facing a new opponent, and needing to run harder, faster, and better.  (That last sentence nearly took my breath away.)

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Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Sermons in the Christian Year by Sidney Greidanus was published this past year by Eerdmans Publishing Company.   With 615 pages, this book is moderately list priced at $40. Normally, I might complain about that sticker price, but I offer no objection.  First, book buyers routinely know how to search out the best prices on the market.  Check with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Christian Book Distributors, and other sources for good pricing.  Go to Allbookstores.com  for more comparisons.  I really encourage  Christian book buyers to buy from Christian book sellers and strongly urge you to make some (as in many) purchases from independent and small-fry book sellers.

That being said, $40 is a reasonable price for what all this book contains.  I started reading it last December.  I read and read, and for a few months put it aside.  Last month, I picked it back up and persevered to the end.  It is a labor, but it is the labor of mining gold.  I would buy this book just for the quotes and footnotes Greidanus included.  I would buy it just for the introductory chapters on the Psalms.  I would buy it just for his sermon expositions.  I would buy it for all the extras–theme, organization, context, uses in worship–he includes.  But a couple of Andrew Jacksons will net all of these things.

Whether one wants to use this book for preaching through the Church Calendar, or for some topic sermons, or for personal spiritual reading, this book is top shelf.  “If I were a rich man,”  I would buy a case of these books and hand them out to all preachers, teachers, and theologians that I know.  I am betting that this book wins high honors on the “Best Books of 2017” that I award each year.  I am convinced that I want to acquire and read more of Greidanus’ books.

The Taste of Sabbath: How to Delight in God’s Rest by Stuart Bryan is published by Canon Press.  Pastor Emeritus Mickey Schneider gave me this book a few years back.  It drifted from stack to stack and then was lodged somewhere in the deep recesses of my study building/book barn.  Last week, I was needing some study on the topic of the Sabbath because I was approaching two Sabbath encounters in Jesus’ life from Matthew 12.  For different reasons–some say Providence, others say disorder–I did not find this book in the study until it was too late to read through it.

I did begin it last week, and since it is a short book, it is now finished.  The Sabbath issue scares me a bit.  I have been in the middle of or on the edges of such discussions for nearly 40 years.  Christians have staked out at least 4 major positions on the relevance/irrelevance, abiding validity of/ending of, acknowledgement of/seriousness of what was the Jewish day of worship as it appears in the 10 Commandments.  I have held to–with varying degrees of commitment–at least 3 of the 4 major views.  (I have never been convinced to worship on Saturday.)

In the Reformed tradition, there is a lot of weight and weighty theologians in favor of what is sometimes called the Christian Sabbath and even the Puritan Sabbath. Each and every Sabbath concern is not addressed in this book.  It is a very positive, uplifting, and informative book that holds to an abiding, but changed Sabbath.  It is convicting, without being crushing.  Pastor Schneider, well known for his love of the Christian Sabbath, described this book as one of the best on the topic.

The fact that I read the greater part of it (and it is only 105 pages long) after my sermon is indicative of the fact that our thoughts on God’s Word and application do not end with the doxology at noon on Sundays.  Fine study.

The Starting Line

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Two books down.  Many more to go.

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Like the Shepherd: Leading Your Marriage With Love and Grace by Robert Wolgemuth with a foreword by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is published by Regnery Faith.

Last summer, I took my wife, daughter, and sister-in-law to North Little Rock to hear Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth speak.  My wife, Stephanie, and sister-in-law, Toni, had long been followers of Nancy’s “Revive Our Hearts” ministry on the radio and had read her books as well.  I was interested in seeing her as well, but figured it would be a meeting dominated by Christian women. It was, but I wasn’t the lone male in the crowd.

Along with having instructed women in ways of serving God for years, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, as she was previously known, surprised the Christian world by getting married at age 56.  Prior to that, she was serving in the much neglected ministry that singles can and should have in the Christian community.  For years, she had been advising wives and mothers.  Her instructions were solid and Biblical.  After all, the central figure in the Christian faith was a single man.  (Guess who?)  Paul the Apostle may have been a widower, or he may have been single.  Many great servants of God, such as Augustine from of old and John Stott more recently, were single.  So was J. Gresham Machen, and for most of his life and writing career, so was C. S. Lewis (and John Murray).

Nancy married Robert Wolgemuth, who had lost his first wife a few years earlier.  They knew each other from their Christian ministries:  Both were writers and speakers on Christian living issues.  Mrs. Wolgemuth is a powerful and convincing woman of deep faith.  But she is a small wisp of a person who is easily overlooked in a crowd.  In contrast, Mr. Wolgemuth is a large man with powerful features.  His size and demeanor are intimidating.

To my surprise, both Robert and Nancy were at the meeting and both shared some of the experiences of being newly weds!  Biggest problem seemed to be that Robert rises early in the morning to write, while Nancy is a night owl.  Both were incredibly gracious and friendly to their listeners and readers.

Last spring, I bought my wife a copy of Nancy’s book Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together.  This is clearly a “woman’s book,” but I enjoyed the few times that Stephanie read aloud from it during our family times.

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I was glad to acquire a copy of Robert’s book when it was recently published.  I am reading it this week to help prepare my mind and thoughts for this coming Sunday–Father’s Day.  Of course, his book is on being a husband and not on fatherhood.  While those topics are different, I am convinced that the best thing I can do for my kids is to be a good–let’s hope better, much better–husband than I am.

The guiding metaphor in the book is the husband being the shepherd to his wife.  I am sure this book will not please too many feminists, but that is not the point.  I figure this book will offend, hurt, irritate, and slap me.  I need this book to sink in.  Great to be starting it now.  I will keep you posted on my progress.