The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy Sayers is, in my world, the lady who wrote the essay. I am referring to “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which Miss Sayers wrote in 1947 and delivered at Oxford University.  Like quite a few other people, I read it several decades later, and slowly, it began to change my whole approach to education.  That essay is the founding document in the classical Christian school movement in America.  It doesn’t say everything that needs to be said about education in general or classical education more specifically, but it said enough to spark thought, debate, and, more important, application.

That essay was just a sliver of the corpus of writing that Dorothy Sayers did in her lifetime (1893-1957).  Her main means of support was writing mysteries, and her main characters in her stories were Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  Lest one think that this was just pot-boiling writing to make a buck, take note that she was one of the founding members of the Detection Club.  She also served as president of that organization of mystery writers, being preceded by G. K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown stories, and succeeded by Agatha Christi.

She was also an incredibly gifted theological writer.  Her contemporaries were such fellows as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others among the famed Inklings. I am not sure she was ever able to hang out with the guys, but she could have more than held her own trading wit and wisdom with those writers of Christian thought and imagination.  Her theological books blend deep convictions about doctrine with a worldview that applies the faith to art and all of life.  Not as wittily quotable as Lewis, she was still quite bold, profound, and solid.

In her own personal life, she battled quite a few issues.  She got a degree from Oxford at a time when such a thing was unheard of for a woman.  Her personal life was full of struggles, both from her own bad choices and from other circumstances, but she persevered and made her own niche in English letters.

Plough Publishing House has produced a series of books with titles beginning with the words The Gospel in….  Authors whose works have been chosen for this series include Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George MacDonald, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dorothy L. Sayers. As the subtitle of The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers states, this book is made up of “Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays.”

This book is a marvelous way to either get acquainted with Dorothy Sayers or to renew and enrich that acquaintance.  Reading her books would involve taking quite a few mystery novels, a number of theologically-centered plays, several books of theology, some translations of classics (like The Song of Roland and Dante’s Divine Comedy), and reading her letters.  This is not to say that they are all here in this volume, but it is a great selection of bits and pieces of her mysteries, without any fatal spoilers, and portions of her other writings.

The book consists of twenty chapters, preceded by a biographical sketch and followed by short essay about Sayers by C. S. Lewis. The chapters are mostly named for her mystery novels, and then the selections begin with something from a novel, followed by non-fictional writings on the same topic.  Topics include conscience, sin and grace, covetousness, forgiveness, judgment, and more.

Let me confess something:  I have failed greatly in not reading or appreciating enough of Dorothy Sayers’ writings.  My response to the chapters of this book as I read it in the mornings (usually) is one of lament and regret over having ignored her.  As I said in the beginning, my Sayers’ experience has been centered on that one brilliant essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  This book is a marvelous means of literary repentance for me.

I love this whole series of books by Plough Publishing House.  I hope they do more books of this type.  So many writers have structured their books around Gospel themes.  Even unbelieving authors resort to sin and grace, forgiveness and redemption, fall and restoration in their stories.  Literature is a bulwark of Christian history and apologetics.

Books like this one, The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers, are great tools for students and teachers.  Forget that statement.  It sounds much too serious.  This book is great fun to read and is packed full of plenty that will nurture the soul and create an appetite for reading more of Dorothy Sayers.

Image may contain: 2 people

 

 

World War II in Books

See the source image

Finally, I am able to teach World War II without it being done in the waning days of school in the middle of May.  Of course, I will have to confine my teachings to a few weeks and readings to a few books, but it is great to be able to delve into that world event that has so dominated history and society since the 1930’s. This school year, I have confined my Modern World Humanities History class to the 20th Century.  We did begin with an overview of history, culture, religion, and society by reading a Christopher Dawson essay on Christianity through the centuries and then by reading and watching Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?  After that, we began with looking at the world in 1900, followed by World War I, the Russian Revolution, the world in the 1920’s, and events leading up to World War II.

For my own needs, I read Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson.  I made a major mistake in taking on this book.  I assumed that it was simply a history of Britain during the war.  It is that, but it is much more.  Simply put, this is an incredible account of the various countries that were outwardly conquered by the Third Reich, but that kept on resisting, fighting, and trying to undermine Hitler’s New World Order.

My favorite part of this book (and I liked it all) was the chapters devoted to the Netherlands.  Queen Wilhelmina ranks right up there with Winston Churchill as a leader who used words and actions to oppose the Nazis.  The war transformed this queen from being an isolated member of the Dutch royalty to being a true champion and leader of her people.  The Dutch people themselves paid a very high price during their German occupation.  The story that many of us know through Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is one of the most terrifying and yet ennobling accounts of faith and courage through the war years.

Likewise, the story of the Polish people is incredible.  They were the first nation to be conquered when the war actually began.  Polish airmen, in significant numbers, fled to England.  At first the British were skeptical of the abilities of the Polish airmen, but soon the Brits recognized the skill, experience, and dedication of this group.  Polish soldiers and resisters also fought bravely.  The great tragedy was that Poland was “liberated” by the Soviet armies which then clamped down on them with their own tyrannical means.

The stories of the Norwegians, the French, Belgians, and others are also aptly told.  The many efforts of the British, especially during the darkest phases of the war, are not excluded either.  This is a book that revives the spirit in terms of reminding us of why people fought and sacrificed in that war.  Even after years of reading books on World War II, I was introduced to many people and events I was unfamiliar with.

At this point, I will make acquiring Lynne Olson’s books a priority.

See the source image

Next on my reading list is The Darkest Year by William K. Klingaman. Quite often we are more interested in the movement of armies and navies than the homefront, but it can be argued that World War II was won on the American homefront.  I would hear about parts of this from my parents and grandparents.  They talked of rationing and other life-changes that the war brought.  For my dad, the war quickly took him away from the homefront, but my mother and oldest sister lived those experiences.

I will be reporting back again on this book soon.

I recently acquired three of Antony Beevor’s books on World War II.  In past years, I read his books Stalingrad and The Battle for Berlin 1945 and thought them to be first rate histories.  I would not object to having all of his books.  He is, according to the official website, “The number one bestselling historian in Britain,” with books in thirty-three languages and with more than eight million copies sold.  His writing is quite compelling.

See the source image

I still have a deep fondness for several American historians on the War, including Cornelius Ryan.  His main books were The Longest Day (which was made into a movie), A Bridge Too Far (also made into a movie), and The Last Battle.  It was many years ago when I read his books, and I am still convinced of their worth as good reads.

See the source image

In more recent years, I consumed Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6 1944 and Citizen Soldiers.  I also wrote the student lessons that accompany Citizen Soldiers in the Omnibus VI book from the Veritas Press series.  Ambrose’s shorter book The Wild Blue: The Boys and Men who flew B-24s over Germany is also top notch.  That book gave me a whole new perspective and respect for the late Senator George McGovern, whose politics I disagreed with.

The Liberation Trilogy Boxed Set

Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy is also outstanding.  I read the first one–An Army at Dawn–in part because my dad served in North Africa, but sometime after Operation Torch, which was the American and British invasion.  The second volume, which covered the Sicily and Italian campaigns, was beyond belief.  If I had not already known the outcome of the war, I would have been assuming that the Germans defeated the United States and Britain, up until the last parts of that book.  The challenges the Allies faced there still astound me.  I liked the last volume as well, and once again, was made to feel in awe of the common soldiers in that war.

My friend Glenn Moots recently called my attention to the book The Flying Greek: An Immigrant Fighter Ace’s WWII Odyssey with the RAF, USAAF, and French Resistance.  It is an autobiographical account written by Colonel Steve N. Pisanos who died recently.  I am looking forward to this book.  An added bonus was discovering that the used copy I picked up had been signed by the author.

My raid this week on McKay’s Used Books in Chattanooga included picking up Max Hastings’s Overlord, yet another study of the June 6, 1944 landings in northern France.  I am a dedicated collector and reader of Max Hastings’s books.  While he has written on numerous military events, most recently Vietnam, quite a few of his books are on World War II.

See the source image

 

Time would fail me to talk again about Victor Davis Hanson’s outstanding book The Second World Wars, Niall Ferguson’s The World at War, the multi-volume edition of Winston Churchill’s history of the war, or of many others.

For those who are overwhelmed by the choices and lengths of the greater studies and accounts, I would heartily recommend World War II: A Very Short Introduction by Gerard L. Weinberg.  This is part of a series of books, small and compact, with the words “A Very Short Introduction” following the subject titles. They are published by Oxford University Press.  These books, written by scholars in the particular fields, are great for either introducing or reviewing the topics at hand.

See the source image

Calvin Books from Banner of Truth

 

Sermons on Timothy and Titus (16th-17th Century Facsimile Editions): Calvin, John

It is a rather funny thing that that such words as “Calvinists,” “Calvinism,” and the like exist.  I don’t think Calvin himself would find it either funny or flattering. He would be most troubled that his attempts to mine the truths of the Bible would be something that resulted in attaching his name to a movement, which is really a number of movements.  But the terms related to Calvin’s name are useful as identifiers when used correctly.

What is too easily overlooked is how Calvin the man was so different from those of us who have appropriated the name Calvinists.  Calvin was often more a devotional writer than a scholarly theologian.  He seems to have had one and only one audience:  God’s sheep, the congregation.  His preaching schedule was murderous, and his method was expository teaching through the Bible book by book.

Some years ago, Banner of Truth (which is a favorite publisher) reprinted several facsimile editions of Calvin’s sermons.  These were English translations from the 1500’s and maybe the 1600’s.  These were beautiful books–big, well bound, and printed with quality in mind. But for reading purposes, they were less appealing.  The size of the books, the older versions of English print, and the other features expected in a facsimile edition render these books hard to read.  When I preached through 1 Timothy a few years ago, I don’t think I even looked at the facsimile that I have.

Now here is the good news:  Calvin still speaks to us today.  His message is still relevant.  And, translations are pouring off the printing presses that are much more manageable, readable, and attainable.  While Banner of Truth is not the only publisher to be mining the riches of Calvin’s sermons and books, they books they have made available are outstanding.

Currently, I am reading from Letters of John Calvin.  Banner has a more complete multi-volume edition of Calvin’s letters and other writings that is quite attractive. It is called Tracts and Letters of John Calvin.  Many years ago, I picked up a four volume set of Calvin’s letters that has been valued, but under-used in my library.  It was published by some scholarly publisher, and I suspect Calvin’s correspondence was rare until the recent Banner set.

But most people are not going to casually or devotionally read multiple volumes of Calvin’s mail.  This book is just the right size. It is a relatively small book of some 70 letters and less than 300 pages.  The letters are preceded by a biographical sketch of Calvin’s life.  Despite having read books and articles by the scores on the life of Calvin, I always enjoy revisiting his story once again.

His correspondence provides an autobiographical look into the man’s personality and character.  It is also a testimony to the front line issues of the Reformation and key figures in it.  Because Calvin’s intent and life was God-centered, this book is devotional reading and theological study as well.

Cover image for Sermons on 1 Timothy

Robert White is, as far as I know, the best Calvin translator around today.  Several years ago, I received and read from his translation of Calvin’s Institutes.  It is a beautiful rendering of Calvin’s words.  Most recently, I have acquired Sermons on First Timothy.  It rests on the stack of books I read from in the mornings, and for now, it is part of my Sunday morning reading.  In other words, I am inching my way through this book of sermons.

I would think that the better method would be to read a sermon every day, but time constraints prevent that right now.  But Calvin can be enjoyed in just short and even infrequent doses.  Cotton Mather said that he loved to sweeten his breath with the taste of Calvin before going to bed.  Me, on the other hand–I prefer a dose of Calvin along with strong morning coffee.

Whether read in conjunction with Calvin’s commentary on 1 Timothy or read as a resource, this book would be most useful to the pastor or teacher working through the letter.  Also, as a book just for spiritual edification (as though that were a minor component of life), this volume is first rate.

Take note that Banner now has volumes of sermons on 2 Timothy, Titus, Genesis, Job, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Daniel, and perhaps others that I have overlooked. Needless to say, there are far too many good books around than I can wrap my mind, time, or pocketbook around.  Nevertheless, we do what we can.  Inch along the way and get Calvin’s books in the new, faithful translations.

Banner Books on Calvin:  HERE.

Cover image for John Calvin's 'Institutes of the Christian Religion'

Cover Image for 'Sermons on Titus' by John Calvin

Presidents Day Thoughts–About Biographies

See the source image

Today is Presidents Day which focuses on the first and the sixteenth Presidents, but I am branching out beyond those two key figures in history to think of various others along the way.  With pride, I confess to having acquired a read many books on the U. S. Presidents, Presidential elections, and even on some of the failed candidates for high office.  With shame, I confess to having not yet gotten to many of the books I own which have become definitive in telling of the lives of our Chief Executives.

I will list a few favorites in this post.

See the source imageI am guessing that I may have around 40 studies of George Washington.  Some are complete biographies, while others focus on one part of his life.  Add to that the many books I have about people who were alongside Washington.  James Thomas Flexner’s four volume set is a favorite simply because I read it back in 1976 as a Bicentennial study.  Along with that set, I love the works on Washington by Ron Chernow, Joseph Ellis, Paul Johnson, Thomas Fleming, and David Hackett Fischer.  I have been furiously acquiring the books by Tony Williams, Edward Lengel, and others.  Of course, I have the Douglas Southall Freeman books, although my set is missing a volume or two.

See the source image       See the source image   See the source image

Just imagine how many more books would be available if only Martha had not burned George’s letters.

John Adams book.jpg

I reluctantly bought and read John Adams by David McCullough.  I thought that I didn’t like Adams, and I had a number of wrongful preconceptions of the man.  Granted, he could be quite irritating, but overall, he was a truly dedicated and brilliant man.  McCullough’s book is outstanding.  I have a few other biographies Adams as well.

See the source image

For Jefferson, I would highly recommend Jon Meacham’s biography.  I also really enjoyed reading Confounding Founding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert McDonald.  There are many biographies of Jefferson, and once again, I have way more than is human to have (and far from all of them).  For libertarians, one might hit the older work on Jefferson by Albert Jay Nock.  For dedicated readers, the six volumes of Dumas Malone would be the choice.  Also, check out Kevin Gutzman’s Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary.

See the source image

James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams.

How embarrassing, but I have few biographies of these guys.  I know I have a book or two on Madison, but often the focus of books is on his greater work as a contributor to the Constitutional Convention and The Federalist.  I did read a fine short collection this past year called Letters of John Quincy Adams to his Son on the Bible and Its Teachings.  

See the source image

Andrew Jackson fills a whole shelf (theoretically) in my library and mind.  Bradley Birzer’s recent biography is a great introduction or review or defense of the man who is so often castigated for his role as a military leader and later as a President.  I thoroughly enjoyed Jon Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize winning American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.  The man who is most often associated with Jacksonian studies is Robert Remini.  One can read his three volume biography of the man’s life as a whole, or you can choose one of his many shorter works on Old Hickory.

Presbyterians, take note:  Jackson, for all of his flaws and sins, was a Presbyterian and a committed believer.  Even in his worst moments–and they were legion–he always acknowledged and reverenced the faith of his mother and wife.  In his later years, he kept the Bible and the Westminster Confession close by.

See the source image

Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler all have few biographers and defenders.  I know I have a book on Harrison and will lament it if I don’t have a defense of John Tyler among the stacks.

James K. Polk is often recognized as one of the most successful one-term Presidents ever.  His agenda consisted of about four major goals, and he made good on them.  Then he did what many more ought to do after a good first term–retire and go back home.  Scorn me to the extreme, but I own, but have not read the book A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican-American War, and the Conquest of the American Continent.  I also have a shorter biography of Polk by John Seigenthaler.

 

 

See the source image

Zachary Taylor, like William Henry Harrison, merits attention more for his military career than his short and failed Presidency.  Millard Fillmore, to no one’s surprise, has few biographical works on his time in office.  Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan also get either little attention, or much criticism for their failures to avert an impending national crisis.

I would recommend The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858 by David Bigler and Will Bagley as an overlooked event in the Buchanan Presidential term.

See the source image

I am going to stop.  Getting into the discussions of the two Presidents during the time from 1861 to 1865 will be an adventure.  By that, I am referring to both Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U. S. President, and Jefferson Davis, the first and only Confederate President.

And looking ahead, I know that I will go overboard in trying to highlight books about Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

I welcome any recommendations, corrections, criticisms, and vicious attacks on who has been included and who has been left off this list.

Support Your Christian Authors

There is much to envy about the life of writers.  On the other hand, it is a life of long periods of working alone, and while being alone and being lonely are not exactly the same, they can overlap.  It is a life of much labor and frustration.  The love that the writer pours out onto the page goes for a long time–and maybe forever–without being requited.  For most who write, the trips to the bank are not frequent or overly exciting.  All this is assuming that the writer or would-be writer actually gets a manuscript completed, manages to get it revised, finds some way of getting it published, and then actually sees it get into the hands of willing readers.

Lots of people would like, so they say, to write a book.  Lots of people think they could write a book.  Most don’t get books written.  How many of those completed manuscripts should not have been written and should not be published is a different story.  Overall, the “successful” writers’ life is a hard life.  Only a very few writers in any field make enough money to live off of writing.  Often even the more successful writers find it necessary to devote lots of time to publicity and book signings and speaking in order to draw attention to their books.

That is the writer’s life.  I know a bit about it, having written a book or two and having written lots of articles and book reviews.  I also know something of how difficult it is to get the word out that a book has been written and is in desperate need for buyers and readers.  So, I am highlighting some books by Christian authors I know.  In most of these cases, I these are men that I only know through correspondence and social media.  However, I have discovered so many common bonds that I feel like we could have been life-long personal friends.

War in the Wasteland

The first of the books is War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond.  Set in World War I, this novel includes some actual people, such as C. S. Lewis.  There are also fictional characters.  I found myself drawn to this book for two reasons.  First, I used Bond’s book Hostage Lands in my junior high class. Set in the days when Romans and Celts were battling over lands north and south of Hadrian’s Wall, this book is rich in history with a compelling story of faith built in.  It passed the most difficult test: The judgment of junior high students.  After we read the book, one of them asked if we could read more books.

Already being pleased with this Bond book, I wanted to read his book on World War I in conjunction with my teaching on the Great War and my readings of some six or more other books on that war.  Bond’s books are perfect for introducing young people to history and reinforcing faith issues.  I confess to being some 20 plus books behind in covering all of Douglas Bond’s many works, but this journey to completion is now underway.

 

Image may contain: 2 people

George Grant is no novice when it comes to writing books.  I have a whole shelf full of books he has written or compiled, and my collection is incomplete.  But he is so busy with pastoral duties and teaching that he doesn’t whip out books as frequently these days.  But it was exciting to see this book arrive in the mail.  An Experiment in Liberty: America’s Path to Independence is a great reading resource for studying American history.  I feel myself wanting to use this book next year with my junior high history class.

As expected in a George Grant book, you will discover many gems and witticisms and details about history that are usually obscured.  If someone seeks the more technical, scholarly type of work, look elsewhere.  But if you like the idea of story being an essential component of hi-story, go for this book.  Check and see if free copies are still being sent out.  All you pay is postage.  Here is the website:  https://www.georgegrant.net/?fbclid=IwAR1RCYGADQNyyDrwByQ1Se-tjlTrsrrbaRVXO3YipLSwo-Oinutq1hbQeiw

No photo description available.

I have not known Paul Rydecki for long.  I learned about him through a mutual friend, Ryan Brown.  Ryan teaches Latin at Veritas Academy, and he crossed paths with Paul on a trip to Italy.  (There is a Biblical precedent for meeting someone named Paul in route to Rome.)  A month or so ago, Ryan mentioned that his friend from the Italy trip had just published a new edition of one of Luther’s works.

Titled Luther’s Small Catechism: An Introduction to the Catholic Faith, this beautifully done hardback volume is a great edition to any library.  Granted, I am a Westminster Shorter Catechism man, but I love the Heidelberg Catechism, the New City Catechism, and Luther’s Small Catechism.  This is a handy, compact of Christian truths. Besides the catechism, the book has a really useful list of Bible memory passages. And for those of us still getting our minds wrapped around the best of Christian traditions, it has a lectionary for Bible readings throughout the year.

Along with Christian education, a good church, and a solid family, getting grounded in the historic, Biblical, and Reformation-based creeds, confessions,  and catechisms are the most important components for Christian living and discipleship.  So, I urge everyone at whatever age or stage of life to begin reading and learning creeds, confessions, and catechisms.  Go to the historic documents of your own church tradition, but then branch out and little and glean from the breadth of God’s field.

Luther’s Small Catechism is a fine source for those of us who need to do more than just admiring Luther.

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon

A book on that is on my “Read Next” stack is Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon–Wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes, Jr.  There are quite a few things that commend this book.  First of all, it is related to the life of Charles H. Spurgeon.  If I had my life to live over, I would have invested time and money in obtaining the sermons and writings of Spurgeon much earlier and with much more diligence.  I am where a person ought to be at age 20 in terms of reading and cherishing Spurgeon.  I will not refrain from encouraging others to read the man himself.  Read Lectures to My Students, An All Round Ministry, John Ploughman’s Talks (now reprinted as Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom), Treasury of David, and the many, many collections of his sermons, but especially the series published by Pilgrim Publications.  And read biographies of the man.

That being said, if this woman merely knew Spurgeon, her story would be of interest.  But she was the woman behind the great, but often suffering pastor, preacher, writer, and organizer of many ministries.  Add to that, I have heard so many recommendations of this book.  I will be writing a review just as soon as I finish reading this work.  But don’t wait for me!  Get the book.

The Oklahomans

I reviewed Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer just a few weeks ago.  I am still reeling and swooning over that book.  I can hardly wait until the sequel comes out in May.  This novel is set in Oklahoma in the years of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  War is looming in the near future, in spite of promises to the contrary by President Roosevelt and actions to keep us out of it by Charles Lindberg (both of whom appear in the story).  It was an age where flying was still coming into its own and was filled with thrilling adventure to those willing to learn the skill.  Lance Roark, the hero of the story, is the guy I would want to be.  Don’t parade any super-heroes before me, for they fall short of Lance.

This book has so affected me that I may just haul off and buy John’s books on Oklahoma history, even though it is illegal to own books about Oklahoma in my state of Arkansas.  (In my home state of Texas, people would wonder why anyone would bother to read about any other of the lesser states.)

A last add-on to the list:

Image may contain: 3 people, text

The Resistance by Douglas Bond is his newest work, and my copy just arrived this week. This is a companion volume to War in the Wasteland, and it promises to be another great story set within a historical context.  In this book, the setting is World War II.  Expect more later.  But note this:  Both The Resistance and War in the Wasteland can be purchased together for a mere $25.  If you are homeschooling, use education as the excuse for buying these books.  If you are a Christian, use that as an excuse.  Find some reason and buy these books.

Coming soon:  New books by P. Andrew Sandlin, a reprinted book by David Chilton, more on Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor, new and older works on philosophy from a Christian perspective, more books on World War II, and books by historians that I have become acquaintances/friends with.

Image may contain: table and indoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Dutch Saved Civilization

 

This year I have been teaching a history course on the twentieth century. With a number of historical periods that I have studied, read about, and taught on, the twentieth century is possibly my most frequently studied period.  My class and I spent an inordinately long time studying the Great War (World War I) which, like all historical turning points, extends both back in time and forward in its causes and effects.  We are currently wrapping up a study of the Russian Revolutions.  Next I will be devoting attention to the period between the World Wars, leading up to a month or more of looking at World War II.

The chessboard of twentieth century history includes many key players.  The United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, and France are vital to the whole period.  But one cannot overlook Italy, Japan, China, and then some major minor players like Belgium and Serbia in World War I and Poland and Spain (particularly the Spanish Civil War) in World War II.  The post-war period brings in a whole new cast including Greece, Israel, Korea, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and other countries.

One could make analogies to various chess pieces and the leading countries.  Then there are the pawns whose movements may or may not be significant to the causes of events.  Any chess player (and I am not one) can affirm that pawns can make or break a game of chess.  They can be minor pieces, but their impact can direct the course of events.

This brings me to the topic of the Netherlands and the Dutch people in the twentieth century.  I am not when or if the fine textbook I am using refers to events in the Netherlands after the age of Napoleon.  The Netherlands was neutral during World War I (wise move on their part) and were a quick knock-out in World War II.  The Dutch underground in the Second War gets some attention.  The failed Allied offensive (recounted in the book and move A Bridge Too Far) took place in the Netherlands, but that story is one of the British, American, and German armies.

After World War II, the Netherlands was a NATO member, but has remained on the periphery of historical movements.  One recurring story is of decadence and immortality in that country which seems to be ahead of the rest of the West in moral degeneracy.

The history books and the news accounts often miss or don’t know the whole story or even the greater story.  The late 19th and 20th century history of the Netherlands is rich in certain respects.  Unlike my hopeful title, the Dutch have not saved civilization, but they have pointed to and promoted what would be civilization saving in many respects.

There are a number of Dutch Christians who lived in the middle to late 1800’s and up through the mid-1900’s who have grasped issues even more important than the immediate challenges of ending World War I, defeating Naziism in World War II, or holding on to the Free World against the Communist Bloc in the Cold War.

The names are familiar to those who have waded into the deep currents of Reformed theology and philosophical thought.  Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, Geerhardus Vos, Klaas Schilder, Hendrik van Riessen, H. R. Rookmaaker, and Cornelius Van Til are among the key leaders in the intellectual revolution of the past 100 plus years.

I could devote quite a few paragraphs and pages to talking about the various men named above.  I actually have talked and written about most of them.  In fact, I have literally talked from coast to coast about them.  (I spoke at two conferences years ago–one in Virginia and one in Alaska.)  For now, I will focus on two of the many books that are now available highlighting key ideas from the Dutch Calvinist Worldview Thinkers, as I like to call them.

Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper is a Christian classic.  It has been reprinted and edited many times since it first emerged from the Stone Lectures that Abraham Kuyper gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898.  One such reprinting and repackaging changed the name to something other than either Lectures on Calvinism or The Stone Lectures.  The goal of all such publications is to get the message of these lectures out.

This book calls for a big dose of humility from all Christians.  Reformed Christians need to realize how limited our vision is when we think of Calvinism as a system of 5 Points or we think that our efforts to promote Christianity are full-orbed.  Non-Calvinists need to realize how, despite whatever struggles they may be having in regard to soteriological (salvation related) issues, the claims of God are over all areas of life.

Many books, movements, schools, colleges, ideas, study centers, and terms have grown out of this book.  Many Christians speak today of having a Christian worldview without knowing that this idea springs from Kuyper.  Kuyper, however, spoke of a World and Life System rather than using the more compact term Worldview.  Every concern that comes up about the Christian role or lack thereof in politics needs to be referenced back to Kuyper’s chapter on politics.

He also spoke about science, art, and the future, which can be studied for how Kuyper may or may not have foreseen events.

American Vision has reprinted and edited the edition of the book pictured above.  Some of Kuyper’s sentences were a bit long and heavy and many of his references are obscure to most of us.  This book has modified some of the language and punctuation without rewriting or condensing the content.  Also, footnotes explain many of the terms or references that Kuyper and his audience would have been familiar with.

I would include this book for essential reading not just in my top 100 or 50 or 25 reads, but in my top 10 reads.  Furthermore, it is not a read-once-and-shelve book.  This is a book to reread often.  Get it and read it.

One of Abraham Kuyper’s mentors and contemporaries was Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer.  Usually and conveniently, he is referred to as Groen, pronounced to rhyme with prune and equivalent to our word green.  Groen was a brilliant Christian historian and political leader in the Netherlands.  At some point in his career, he gave a series of lectures at his house on the key determining issue of his age.  That issue was the French Revolution.  It was not the details of the storming of the Bastille or execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette that concerned Groen.

Behind the Revolution and preceding from it was a worldview or philosophy.  As has been often, but not often enough, pointed out, the so-called American Revolution and the French Revolution were not twin events.  Their differences are comparable to the knife use of a surgeon and that of a street criminal.  Lest someone think this is a odd-Christian weirdo interpretation, just look at such books as James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men.  

Before Billington and before all the forces for secularism, humanism, and whatever other objectionable isms of the twentieth century, Groen was discussing the essential beliefs and unbeliefs that propelled Europe into the modern age with revolutions continuing for over a century.

For years this book has been hard to find.  It was translated into English and published by a small Canadian publisher back in the 1980s and 90s.  I doubt that it is on the reading lists of any or certainly not many college courses on the French Revolution, modern thought, revolution in general, or political philosophy.  Groen would not have been shocked or surprised by that omission.

Unbelief and Revolution has been reprinted by Lexham Press.  Along with a number of great books, including Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics and many volumes by Abraham Kuyper, Lexham Press is turning into a modern center of Reformed Christian thought and theology.  Harry Van Dyke, a great scholar and acquaintance of mine, translated this book.  Jake Mailhot, who is what I want to be like when I grow up, is a key figure in the distribution of Lexham Press publications.

Get this book.

Read the Dutch Christian authors.  Start with Kuyper and Groen.

Shortgrass: A Novel of World War II by John J. Dwyer

I have a confession to make, and it will be of no great surprise to those who know me well.  I don’t prefer fantasy, science fiction, or what I might call Christian fantasy.  I have read and felt the power of The Chronicles of Narnia (although my reading was late in life) and I read and enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit, but not The Silmarillion yet).  Does Fahrenheit 451 count as science fiction?  I love that book, of course.

But as a whole, in general, and overall, give me a novel with a realistic twist and a setting in the south or the west, preferably in an earlier era.  For that reason, I love Wendell Berry’s books.  And although William Faulkner’s southerners are often (nearly always) a bit on the eccentric, weird, and warped side, I love Yoknapatawpha County.  The books of Jesse Stuart are among my favorites, and Hie to the Hunters is the most popular book I teach.  The books of Ron Rash, some of Bret Lott’s novels, the Joe Pickett novels of C. J. Box, and the non-fiction, but deeply southern books of Rick Bragg are among my favorites.

So, it should be no surprise that I read and liked Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer.  But I was surprised.  You see, it is a bit awkward when one reads a novel by someone you know.  John Dwyer is in the category of a good friend I have never met.  We live in neighboring states:  He is in Oklahoma and I am in Arkansas. I have personally inscribed and autographed copies of his biographical novels about Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson.  I have his study of America history, titled The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil Civil War.  I read his posts on Facebook with joy and laugh at his grandson’s cute antics.  But his and my paths have not crossed.  We would be instant friends because of so many shared interests, although I would be a bit daunted by all he has done and is doing.

Here is the difficulty:  What do you do when a friend or acquaintance writes a book and it is only “so so” or even worse, what if it is awful?  Usually, I can find some good points in most books.  I have read a few where I found myself hoping the authors would kill off the main characters and end the book more quickly.

The good news is that I not only found this book pleasing to my desire to read about people in a past-tense southern setting and I found it quite enjoyable.  In fact, I am now chomping at the bit for the sequel which isn’t due out yet for a few months.  So, let me talk about this book a bit without any spoilers.

Shortgrass: A Novel of World War II by John J. Dwyer is published by Tiree Oghma Creative Media.  You can read and learn about the book from John’s website found HERE.

Oklahomans - Stry of Oklahoma and Its People

The story is set in Oklahoma (which is no surprise since John has written some histories of that state) during the 1930’s and 40’s.  The book is set in a historical context with lots of references to political events of the time, primarily the Great Depression, the New Deal,  and the looming prospects of war coming to America.  The main character is a young man named Lance Roark.  Lance is the All-American boy in many respects.  He loves his family, excels at football, loves his horse Jeb deeply, and faces all sorts of challenges and threats to his future.

While Lance is a great guy, he is not perfect or flawless.  He struggles to know what to do, which direction to turn at times, and how to curb his appetites and desires.  And Lance is a Mennonite.  He is not nominal believer, but rather is deeply committed to following Christ.  On the front line–to use an awkward analogy–the issue of interaction with the world is critical for a Mennonite believer.  Going to war is verboten (German for forbidden).  But what about other interactions in this world, or in Lance’s world, like football and college and girls of other faith persuasions?

I have to admit that the opening chapter created great doubts about the book in my mind.  It begins with the story of Lance’s senior year and a football game that turns into a brawl between neighboring towns.  If you don’t understand the intensity of small town sports rivalries, you won’t get this chapter.  Football has never been my sport.  God made me far too small, too slow, too uncoordinated, too unaggressive, too clumsy, and totally unfit for anything resembling sports competition, especially football.  But I was enduring the chapter until the end when something happened at the end that hooked me into the book.

So much for plot details.  Here I shall say a word or two about the importance of the book.

First, it accomplishes what a piece of fictional writing is supposed to do.  It provides enjoyment.  Great stories are enjoyable in many different ways and at different levels, but beyond all great themes, worldviews, philosophical underpinings, and the like, a story is to be enjoyed.  Mark Shortgrass a success here.

Second, this book deals with the struggles of a believer who is facing challenges to what he believes.  Lance has two loves pulling for his attention:  He wants to work at a mission among the Comanche people and he wants to fly airplanes.  Add to this all of the other things tugging at his heart and life:  Family, friends, football, girls, college, career, and the war.  Lance’s people had known religious persecution.  During World War I, the Mennonites in his community and background had been harassed and persecuted for their pacifism.  Their Germanic heritage caused people to accuse them of being in sympathy to Germany in World War I and their refusal to fight resulted in their being called cowards, traitors, and worse.

This is no book about shallow faith or easy believe-ism.  And it is not a sappy religious story of a good boy who finds the doors open to him as he obeys God all along the way.  An curmudgeonly Presbyterian Calvinist like myself found much in this book that resonated with my own life.

Third, this novel is set in the midst of a historical time-period with interactions and appearances of actual historical figures.  This gives the book a real feel.  If it did not actually happen, we know it could have.

Don’t want to overkill the book with praise here, so let’s give this review a rest.  Unfortunately, it will have to be a long rest since Mustang, the sequel, will not be out for a few more months.

John J. Dwyer, novelist, historian, Christian, and real Oklahoma cowboy.