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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

A Little Book for New Historians and Creative Historical Thinking

 

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I confess that I feel like I have never been properly trained in the field of history.  Been teaching the subject for forty years and reading history for longer than that, and yet I always feel this gaping gap in my own training as a history student.  Perhaps it is common for undergraduate students to just take enough random history courses to get a major in the field.  And having garnered quite a few graduate hours in history, perhaps it is common there as well.  But it just does not seem to be the right approach.

Future history teachers and historians ought to be grilled from the beginning on what history is and is not.  They ought to be grilled in the various schools of interpretation, forced to uncover the presuppositions of authors they are reading, exposed to various viewpoints, and made to dig deeply in primary sources. If that isn’t enough, they should also have to read some of the older historians, such as Edward Gibbon, George Bancroft, Thomas Babington Macauley, and Francis Parkman.

But I have run too many miles in this marathon to start now thinking about what shoes to wear while I am running.  But I will make the call once again for the teaching of history as a subject to history majors.  I am, even this late in the race, still reading books about the field of history and the study of it.  I still aspire to be a historian.  Up to now, I still consider myself a history teacher.  The history teacher can be a story teller, a lecturer, a martinet who imposes history upon unwilling subjects, and an entertainer.  (I think I fit all of those categories.)  But a historian has to dig deeper, think more, and do better than just recite facts.

A Little Book for New Historians: Why and How to Study History by Robert Tracy McKenzie (professor of history at Wheaton College) is published by IVP Academic.

A Little Book for New Historians

This book is a part of a series of books, all sharing the words A Little Book for New ____________ in the titles.  Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Crossway Books both have similar series of short, introductory works on various academic areas.

McKenzie’s book is a very fine introduction to the topic of history.  For a more in-depth review than I will attempt, read what historian Michael Douma says on his blog review–found HERE.

The first point, which has to become second nature to a history student, is that history is not a study of the past, but rather is a study of what (little) we can know or uncover about the past.  McKenzie says, “If that wall of water plummeting downward is analogous to ‘the past,’ then the drops you can catch in a paper cup represent history.”  We may have lots of official records, personal memoirs, letters, and snippets of knowledge about World War II, but we cannot even discover all of what happened to any one person in that war, be it a famous leader or an obscure private.

For me, history and the presuppositions of the Christian faith are merged.  By the way, this book, as all of the series, is setting forth distinctly Christian ways of viewing history, although I would reckon that a non-Christian could find much agreement in it.  Back to my point, I am not saying that being a believer gives me “the truth” about historical events.  Nor can Christian history folks take the causes exit marked “God ordained it.”  Rather, the Christian has to be overwhelmingly humbled by studying history.  What you usually learn from an in-depth study is how much you don’t know.

McKenzie emphasizes the importance of Christian love and charity when dealing with historical figures.  This week, a story has been trending about a series of racist comments that were made in a conversation between President Richard Nixon and then Governor Ronald Reagan, many years ago.  I love Reagan (and Nixon to a much lesser degree), and it is important that I examine the times they were in (the early 1970s) and the issues.  The fact that this was a private conversation is important as well.  None of this excuses either man, but we have to recognize that people of the past do not inhabit the same atmosphere we do.

I have often heard fellow Calvinists quote R. L. Dabney’s comments on conservatism: “What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism…” (Found here.)   Good quote and true enough, but I grew weary of hearing my fellow Calvinist friends repeat this as a way of not supporting the more conservative political candidates of our day (the William F. Buckley principle).  But Dabney would have voted for John C. Breckinridge, most likely (or else John Bell), in 1860 and would have preferred Seymour over Grant and Tilden over Hayes.

Related to this are the efforts we all make to lionize or demonize Founding Fathers on the basis of current political situations.  To link current spending policies with Alexander Hamilton is not doing history.

Alas, I am straying away and preaching too much here.  Concerning the use of primary sources, the need for being humble and teachable, and the willingness to really try to listen to the sources are all key points of this book.

Great introduction to “funnest” subject on earth to study.

Since we are on the subject of history, and since I have previously mentioned Michael Douma’s review of the book above, I should once again herald his outstanding book Creative Historical Thinking.  This book really helps the history student sort out how our minds work and interact with history.  Besides, Michael does something that is absolutely awful for an academic:  He inserts wit all through the book.  So, you start out thinking this is going to be serious, sober, somber, and searching, and you discover that it is funny and full of practical wisdom.

Don’t set foot in a history classroom without having read Creative Historical Thinking.

There are other books I would recommend concerning the study of history, but I will save that venture for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Reason and Worldviews by Owen Anderson

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First, I must begin with a warning:  Do not attempt to read Reason and Worldviews with decaf or weak coffee.  Make it stronger than usual.  Avoid distractions.  Don’t confuse this book for a morning devotional.

Reason and Worldviews is by Owen Anderson, assistant professor of Integrative Studies at Arizona State University.  It is published by University Press of America.  It bears the very descriptive subtitle Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics.  

Often my book reviews are tied to some experience I have had in my life.  In this case, I read a couple of essays around the years 2008 and 2009 that rekindled my interest in my first experiences in confronting Calvinistic or Reformed theology.  On the one hand, there were those many Bible flipping evenings where I was reading Boettner, Pink, Steele and Thomas, and others and looking up the proof texts for Calvinistic soteriology or views of salvation.  But prior to those experiences and subsequent to them as well were explorations into the Calvinistic worldview.

It was first introduced to me with the German word Weltanschauung.  That mouthful was explained as meaning a world and life view or a comprehensive view of all things from a particular viewpoint.  God grabbed me by the mind and did not let me go.  I had the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, but the life of the mind was pretty mushy, vague, and vulnerable.  A Fifth Column of Presbyterian and Reformed warriors, including Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, Gordon Clark, Francis Nigel Lee, H. Van Reissen, and Phillip Edgecombe Hughes sidetracked me and forever changed my way of thinking.

That was the 1970’s and it was, to repeat myself, the years 2007 and 2008 when I re-engaged with the thinking that had created this initial effect.  There were men, like those mentioned above, who were not exactly the public intellectuals because most of the world–both secular and religious–either did not know they existed or they ignored them.  But they reached a remnant of thinkers, and like a stone tossed in a pond, the ripple effect spread out widely.

I had the opportunity to give a series of talks in Newport Newes, Virginia and later in Alaska in 2008.  My series in Virginia was titled “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers During the Wilderness Years,” and in Alaska, my topic was “Dutch Worldview Thinkers.”  I loved the subject (if I may call it that) and have continued to read on the various influential Reformed theologians and philosophers who have grappled with the issues of modern thought.

When I first saw the title and subtitle of Reason and Worldviews, I was sold on the book.  Being a more specialized monograph, it bears a high, but not prohibited price.  So, it took me a while to get the book, and this past few weeks, I have been reading it.

The word “Apologetics,” which appears in the subtitle, is a rather broad word within Christian thought.  I have and have read dozens of books on apologetics, which is the field of defending the Christian faith.  Many books focus on the range of arguments Christians confront in the classroom, in conversations, and in our culture.  Hence, such books teach provide us foundations for believing the Bible, answering objections, and dealing with stumbling blocks to the faith.

This book, however, is dealing with much more difficult issues.  Christian theology has not merely brushed up against the field of philosophy, but has confronted and, we might say to some degree, converted it.  Or at least, it has taken thought captive–as Paul admonishes us to do in II Corinthians 10:5.  For many years, Princeton Theological Seminary was the center of Christian philosophical thought as well as theological thought.  Harvard had caved;  Harvard Divinity School hired Ralph Waldo Emerson to teach whatever it was that he believed.  Yale had waffled.  Princeton stood as the bulwark of Christian thought.

Truth doesn’t change, but the way we present the truth changes.  We teach our young children truths, but we expand and adapt these truths to fit their minds and lives as they grow up.  The issues confronting Princeton changed through the years, and sad to admit, but Princeton changed as well.  That is another story, but as long as the Hodges and later Benjamin Warfield occupied key positions, Princeton was a ruling force.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield is the key Christian theologian/philosopher in this study.  He wrote on a wide range of theological topics, although many have lamented that he never compiled all of his thinking into a systematic theology.  To some degree, this has been remedied by Fred G. Zaspel’s book The Theology of B. B. Warfield.

In Anderson’s study, Warfield is examined for his approach to the issue of how we know God, how we interpret revelation of God, and to what degree man is excusable or inexcusable from life experiences.

Warfield had a beloved friend and fellow theologian across the pond named Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper was a key figure in the theological and political world of the Netherlands.  He was invited by Warfield to give the Stone Lectures for the year 1898.  Those lectures were published and have been reprinted many times under the title Lectures on Calvinism. While Warfield and Kuyper could walk arm in arm on many issues, they had different approaches to apologetics and how unbelievers were to be confronted and held accountable.

 

In time, a young Dutchman and immigrant to America, attempted to bring the differences of Warfield and Kuyper together.  His name was Cornelius Van Til, and he is well known in Calvinistic circles for presuppositional apologetics.  For many, Van Til has provided the definitive and last word on apologetics and how the unbeliever thinks and/or suppresses the truth.  At the same time, in good old Calvinistic fashion, some fellow believers rank Van Til’s thinking somewhere below that of Joel Osteen.

Others have grappled with these issues as well.  Two of the big names in Christian philosophy in our day are Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga.  Plantiga has promoted the position that Christian belief in God is warranted belief.  In other words, we Christians are just a bunch of simple minded crazies. (Okay, well some of us are, but not all.)

Each variety of thought–Warfield’s, Kuyper’s, Van Til’s, and Plantiga’s–has attempted to deal with some difficult issues, and each has its limitations.  As a way of bridging some of the gaps here, Anderson proposes that we seriously examine the much neglected idea of Natural Theology.  In his conclusion, he brings us back to Warfield who was, in many ways, closer to the answers found in Natural Theology, than some of the others.

“Ben,” you ask, “Do you even know what you are talking about?”  Okay, I admit it.  I walked out to the pool expecting to wade, but I got thrown into the deep end–again.  Owen Anderson is not teaching basic swimming lessons.  He had to pull me out of the water several times, in fact.  But he ends each chapter with a series of questions.  On my next reading, I want to have those questions in view as I read.  And he includes a really useful glossary of terms and key people mentioned in the book.

This is not, as I said above, a morning devotional.  Nor is it a fast, once through and then shelve, book.  Who needs it then?  First, people like my son Nick and many others I know who study philosophy, but who have a theological grounding.  Second, pastors and teachers who need to branch out beyond their sermon helps.  Third, Christians who have been given the blessings and gifts of the enjoying the life of themind.  Fourth, me.

I deeply love Warfield, Kuyper, and Van Til.  I suspect that the more read of Plantiga, the more I will love him.  But this is more than just hero worship (of which I am often guilty).  There is the great concept of “Glorifying God and Enjoying Him Forever.”  Forever doesn’t begin when we arrive in heaven.  Enjoying God–even to the extent that it means examing the heights and depths of philosophy and theology–begins now.

 

Wars from Revolutionary to Vietnam

One of the more unexplainable parts of my personality is my total aversion to conflict of any kind, yet my compulsion to study conflicts.  I wish I had had the personality, guts, and inclination to at least consider being in the military when I was right out of high school or college.  I don’t even like guns.  Don’t worry, for I love the Second Amendment and fully support the U. S. military as well as the folks all around me who love hunting.  But personally, I don’t like guns.

Yet, military history has been a consuming passion.  I do find the terrible more terrible, the losses of lives more grievous, the waste of human resources appalling, but the narrative of the history of warfare is a driving force in my reading, teaching, and studying of history.

In this blog, I am going to highlight the stack of books pictured above that I have on my reading agenda for the summer.

Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy by Benjamin Armstrong is published by Oklahoma University Press.

This book is Volume 66 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series that I have been collecting and reading for some years now.  From wars in the ancient world to the modern age, from the perspectives of leaders and soldiers, from primary to secondary studies, this series is an overwhelming collection of military studies.

Concerning this book, consider that the United States began its history by going to war twice with the greatest naval power of the 18th and 19th centuries.  That we even survived those wars is due to the successes or avoidance of disasters wrought by soldiers in the land.  Credit George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and, yes, even Benedict Arnold, along with Daniel Morgan, Nathaniel Greene, and others for these land victories.  But the British Navy was a player in both wars against the Britain, and the American nation could in no way go toe-to-toe in a naval confrontation.  From Tralfalgar to Jutland Sea, the British have trounced many who tried to engage them on the waters.

Therefore, it was raiding and irregular warfare, pluck and daring, small efforts and unorthodox attempts that enabled the United States to land a few punches into the “breadbasket and kisser” (to use the descriptive language of wrestler and wrestling announcer Gino “Gorilla” Monsoon) of the Royal Navy.  This book highlights that story in a series of accounts where the American naval heroes, of whom few other than John Paul Jones are rememberd.

Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918 is by Edward G. Lengel.  It is published by the University of Kansas Press.

Ed Lengel fascinates me as a historian because he has written a number of studies on George Washington, but also several books on World War I.  Usually, historians specialize in one area and when they venture off the beaten path, it is still on familiar ground.  Late last year, I read and reviewed Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion.  This was during a time when I was reading World War I histories, poetry, and fiction to supplement my teaching on the war.

This book, Thunder and Flames, came out in 2015, several years before Never in Finer Company.  It is a more scholarly study of the role of Americans in the First World War.  As I have said previously, World War I is totally overshadowed by World War II.  The Americans entered late and a superficial textbook reading might lead the student to think that we were mainly just mopping up the remains of the already shattered German army.

The fact that we entered and “won” the war overlooks the many failures, challenges, and deficiencies that the Americans faced.  Nothing said here is meant to lessen the courage, learning curve, or achievements of the American soldiers.  World War I was an ugly event even for the United States as a late-comer.  But it is well worth the time spent studying it.

The book I am currently more than halfway through is The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson.  It is the first volume of the Revolution Trilogy by Atkinson.  Prior to this undertaking, Atkinson wrote the Liberation Trilogy on the North African and European Campaigns of the United States (primarily) in World War II.  It was that series that hooked me on his writing.

So far, I am being constantly shamed in this book by realizing how little I know about the American War for Independence.  The narrative is top notch; the cast of historical characters would put Tolstoy to shame; and the flow of the book leaves me wondering if we (the United States) will win.  Among other things, I was astounded reading about how much salt was needed for the army and the colonies.  Supplies were as much a point of contention, struggle, and survival as was getting through battles.  Smallpox was as much of a foe as were the Redcoats.

This book is good enough to read from beginning to end and then start over.  I suspect this series will be just as good as the Liberation series.

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

This is one of several books that has been published this year just prior to the June 6, 2019 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  My first study of this event in World War II was reading Brave Men by Ernie Pyle, a first hand account by a reporter who accompanied the soldiers.  It was first published in 1944, and I read it in high school in 1970.  Sometime later, I read Cornelius Ryan’s classic book The Longest Day.  Along with reading Ryan’s other books on World War II, I watched the movie version of The Longest Day several times.  Then I read Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6, 1944 sometime after it came out.  I read quite a few other books that covered that event in some form or fashion as well.

I have yet to start this book.  It will have to wait until I finish the Atkinson book discussed above.  But it promises to be thorough.  It is pretty hard for me to find a book on World War II that I don’t like, so watch for updates on this book

Anthony Beevor’s D-Day The Battle for Normandy is one of many books that Beevor has written on World War II.  I have read several of his books and loved them and am trying to get and read all of his books.  I have yet to start this book.  My son Nick picked it up for me at the Thrifty Peanut in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Another historian I really like is Max Hastings.  When Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 came out last year, I bought it.  Once again, it is having to patiently wait for me to delve in.  But if Hastings, Beevor, Atkinson, or Lengel writes a book, I get it as soon as I can and hope that I actually read it.

 

 

 

Summer Morning Readings

Summer mornings are grand.  I love listening to the waves lapping against the shore, watching the sea gulls swoop over the waters, feeling the salty sea breeze against my face, and seeing sun rise as I drink coffee and read.

Okay, none of that describes my mornings except for the last two.  But beaches are overrated, hot, and humid, and sand gets in your coffee and in between the pages of books.  But I do enjoy the extra time that most summer mornings provide for that most delightful of chores:  Reading review books.

I read from a number of different books during the morning.  I will either try to read a whole chapter or I read try to read at least ten pages.  The pattern varies, but that is basically my mode of operation.  I am not recommending it, but it seems to work for me.

I am reading from a new republication of Tozer’s work by Moody Publishers.  This nice hardback volume consists of three of Tozer’s books:  The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man.  Sometimes, I find books that are all combined in one volume are too bulky, but this book has a good feel to it.

I have read A. W. Tozer off and on for years, and I have encountered quotes from him numerous times.  Of late, while reading The Knowledge of the Holy, the first of the three books in this collection, I realized something.  If you are wanting to work through some serious theological issues, like the doctrine of God, don’t read Tozer.  If you are wanting some comforting devotional reading, don’t read Tozer for that either.

Tozer is theologically challenging and sound in his writing, but he requires the mind to connect to the heart.  He may not be the best beginning person to read to get grounded, but he is solid for reinforcement.  His chapters are quite suited for a short reading time, being that they are ten or fewer pages long.  The prayers at the beginning of each chapter are powerful.  I usually read the prayers twice.

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

Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James Beitler III is published by InterVarsity Press.  This book is shaping up to be one of my best reads for the year. The classical Christian school movement has been instrumental in reviving the study of rhetoric.  While that emphasis has often been grounded in the teachings of the ancients, such as Aristotle, (pseudo) Cicero, and Quintillian, this book focused on some recent and Christian writers and thinkers.

The five people whose rhetorical skills are touted in this book are C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.  Each chapter (lengthy ones at that) explores the dimensions of a particular author’s use of rhetorical conventions.  I am less than halfway through this book and am totally swept away by what I have learned from it.

Seasoned Speech

Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Second Edition) by David Koyzis is also published by IVP.

I have been friends (through various media channels) with David Koyzis for many years.  He is a top scholar, dedicated Christian, and a Dooyeweerdian thinker who is readable.  I have read from and used the earlier edition of this book, but am making myself read through the entire second edition.  This is the high diving board of Christian political thought.

I have been long convinced that most Christians know and understand little about politics.  I think they/we are gullible, narrow, and prone to use a few catch-phrases and political words in ways that far exceed good sense.  I often credit the book Master of the Senate by Robert Caro as a political eye-opener for me.  This book is filling the gaps in my understanding.  We are not talking about caulking up a few holes in my thinking, but rather filling in a vast chasm of unclear thinking.

Are you ready for this book?  If you talk in any public forum about politics, you better read it (twice or three times) before you say much.

Political Visions & Illusions

The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy by Steve B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel is published by B & H Academic.

I learned about this book when I sat in on a philosophy class at John Brown University last fall.  This was the textbook for that class.  I have read through several books that are meant as introductions to philosophy, but most of them focus on the history of philosophy and a discussion of ideas of the main thinkers from Socrates to Derrida.

This book analyzes the different ways that philosophy deals with topics.  Like the book above, this is not the wading pool.  I am trudging slowly through this book and am thankful that I am not being tested over the contents. I would love to sit in on a class where this book is being taught.  This is a solid and challenging work.

Reason and Worldviews:  Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til, and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics by Owen Anderson is published by Rowman and Littlefield.

This rather short book with a rather long subtitle is still awaiting my official kick off in getting it read.  But I have picked it up and time or two to see what it is in store for me.  A few years ago, I gave a series of lectures on “Calvinist Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years.”  I was pretty proud of my accomplishments in studying the Dutch and American thinkers who were Calvinists before Calvinism was cool.  But I was only scratching the surface.

This will be a slow read, and I will be lamenting not being in a classroom listening to Dr. Owen lecture on the issues in this book.  He and I recently became acquainted on social media.  Again and again, I am rejoicing in the caliber of men and women God is raising up in our day to take dominion over the various fields of thought.  Owen Anderson’s website can be found HERE.

Reason and Worldviews

Some Permanent Thingby James Matthew Wilson is a collection of poems and is published by Wiseblood Books.

I read the poems in this book last March and April.  But working through a collection of poetry is not just a matter of starting on page 1 and getting to page 156 in the case of this book.  It is in the slower, more meditative rereading that Wilson’s words are breaking in.

Wilson is a Christian, but don’t expect nice little poems about God and the Bible and going to church.  He is not a sentimentalist, even though he says so much so well about faith, family, and loves.  I suspect that he is a name to keep an eye on.  This book is a revised second edition for he saw fit to keep working on and molding his poetry more in line with the poetic tradition.

I make the mistake of not reading enough poetry collections, and worse, I make the mistake of only reading poems once.  These poems are worth the time spent and the time spent again.

Image result for james matthew wilson some permanent things

And summer really hasn’t even begun.