The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida

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My step-mother used to refer to men who were “trying to make a preacher.”  I also remember reading a book where young candidates for the ministry were said to be “tolerated” by the congregation.  There are numerous gifts that pastors need to have or that the session of elders need to have.  But whoever is standing behind the pulpit or lectern or is up front of the congregation with his mouth open  needs to be well equipped.

Lots of good men are not good preachers.  Lots of men who are capable of getting through a sermon and edifying a congregation once are not apt to be at that task every week or very often.  Bad preaching comes in lots of varieties. Church life and Christian living depend upon more than just preaching, but preaching is a vital ingredient for both the church as a body of Christ and the individual living for Christ.

Preaching depends upon certain God-given gifts.  Absent these gifts, a man is not likely to ever “make a preacher.”  But most men who have been “tolerated” by a congregation or homeletics class will have some skills that need to be honed for regular preaching and teaching.  A Charles Haddon Spurgeon breaks all the rules.  He skips Bible college and formal training; he enters the ministry at a very young age; he preaches from particular verses or even parts of verses; and he is incredible.

Message to all of us:  Look in the mirror; listen to a tape or podcast of your sermons; ask a few objective members of the congregation; and embrace this truth: You ain’t Spurgeon.  Most of us ain’t Tim Keller, Mark Dever,  John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Alistair Begg, or Sinclair Ferguson.  Feel free to fill in the name of any other great preacher.  But you probably ain’t him either.

But God never calls men to greatness.  The Apostles, as they stumble through the Gospel accounts, appear more often as buffoons, immature and jealous boys, and intellectual lightweights.  The most academic and scholarly of the New Testament writers, Paul, was not a powerful orator, by his account.  He could put people to sleep by his sermons!

God calls fallible, but transformable men to ministry.  But they have to learn.  They need mentors.  Some of their best mentors will be long-since dead men of old.  Some of them will be their teachers or previous pastors.  Some will be current authors.

Men going into ministry need to read good books on everything and every aspect of Christian life and thought.  This includes books on preaching.  The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida is at the top of my list for books for pastors at all levels to read.  This book is published by B & H Academic, which has become one of my favorite publishers. They are currently publishing the Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon series and Stewart Kelly’s book Truth Considered and Applied which I have reviewed and praised in previous posts.

One of the main thrusts of this book is that preaching need to be expository.  By that, we mean that the preacher should explain the meaning of the text he uses for the sermon.  The sermon should illuminate the text and the text should determine the content of the sermon.  Want to preach on a topic?  Don’t go and find a Bible verse that includes a slight reference to the topic and then go merrily along your way.  Don’t “use” the Scriptures, but teach them.

Quite often expository preaching will entail teaching and preaching through entire books or lengthy passages.  So be it.  That is what is needed to teach the people the Bible.  The Bible is not a set of aphorisms.  Even Proverbs is not just a random list of neat sayings.

The first half of the book, however, is not devoted to teaching the preacher how to preach or construct sermons.  The first seven chapters are in a unit titled “The Expositor’s Heart.”  There is no sermon worse than a sermon delivered by an unfaithful man.  Part of what makes ministry so hard is that the preacher has to spend all week preaching to himself before he can preach for a half-hour to hour to others.  As preachers know, if your upcoming sermon is on joy, you will experience the most joyless week ever as your prepare for it.  Same for patience.  Same for just about anything.  God’s training camp is not for sissies.  It’s not for tough men either.  Only a Christ-centered Spirit led life can enable any man to survive his own soul and preach to others.

The second half of the book is titled “The Expositor’s Message.”  If the first half needs to be read on one’s knees, the second half needs to be read with a pencil, paper, and open Bible.  God just doesn’t give messages.  Yes, I believe that I could stand up right now and preach a message.  But if the message turned out to be any good (and I know God can and does use really bad messages as well), it is because of years of study, reading, listening, and practicing.

Merida emphasizes two key parts of the sermon preparation.  The first is called the MPT.  That stands for the Main Point of the Text.  It is not the main point I want to make in my sermon, nor is it some main point my congregation needs to hear.  It is the Main Point of the Text.

Second, there is the MPS, which is the main point of the sermon.  Having three points, many subpoints, alliterative lists, and the like may or may not be useful.  But a sermon should have a main point, a main take-away.  It needs to be clear and needs to be repeated in the sermon.  I have heard many tolerable to decent sermons that seem not to have had a main point or a memorable main point. I have probably preached too many sermons where the main point either didn’t exist or was obscured along the way, or was not made perfectly clear.

Pastor Merida is well grounded in the best writing on pastoral ministry and preaching around.  He highlighted many books I read and loved along the way.  Some of these include John Stott’s Between Two Worlds and Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students and Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers.  He also quotes and recommends quite a few other books I would be lunging after if preacher were still on my job description.

Most books like this one appeal only to actual preachers or preachers-in-training.  Well grounded people in the congregation need to occasionally read a book like this.  Those (of us) who are sermon listeners, rather than sermon makers, could benefit from being better equipped to know what we are looking for.

As Helmut Thielicke said, “Sell your shoes and buy Spurgeon.”  I would add this:  “Sell another pair and buy The Christ-Centered Expositor.


Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen

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Political books abound.  Political books by conservative authors and publishers abound.  I steadfastly avoid at least ninety-nine point nine (99.9) percent of them.  I avoid the books that are written in the heat and issues of the moment.  The only point of interest for me is wondering how they get written so fast.

I avoid, reject, and almost abhor political books that feature pictures of the author on the cover.  In fact, the books where the author’s picture is the cover are effectively “Keep Out” signs for me.  If I want such a book, it is easy enough to find it a year or so later in the bargain or used book bins.  But usually, a year later, such books are no more relevant than last week’s newspaper.

To a large degree, I also avoid the people who are considered the media representatives of conservatism today.  Sad to say, most of those who have radio and television spots as conservatives are devoted to ranting endlessly, to defending President Trump shamelessly, and beating dead horses furiously.  Yes, such voices often say true things and things with which I agree.  But I find little of interest in tide of cultural or social or media conservatism.

The hype of the day, the popular cries of the moment, and the trending internet stories can easily obscure real political thought.  Magazines such as National Review are a welcome relief to such trendiness and trite fluff.

We have been cursed with living in interesting times.  I have yet to figure out what happened in the 2016 election.  The political successes and failures of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump all astound me.  Everything I predicted was wrong.  But I am in good company there.  Everything just about anyone predicted was wrong.

The greatest consolation in this political climate can be found in going back to the roots and sources of our world. Many times I am reminded of the wisdom of the Roman historian Livy:

“The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see: and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”

But the study of history, roots, and original sources is never to be done as a way of escape from the current age or as an excuse for pining away for the good old days.  We live in an age where the cracks in the foundation are showing badly.  The structures of our world cannot stand.  “The centre cannot hold,” as Yeats said in “The Second Coming.”

For these reasons, reading Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick J. Deneen is both a relief and a source of hope.  Dr. Deneen is a professor of political science at Notre Dame University.  This book, published by Yale University Press, has been subject to many book reviews and discussions.  Dr. Albert Mohler, a leading evangelical intellectual, interviewed Dr. Deneen in an enjoyable discussion found HERE.

With all the commentary (both favorable and critical) and buzz about this book, I could easily say:  “Read the book while I start my second reading of it.”  If all my ________________ (millions, thousands, hundreds, dozens, or 5) followers did that, we would all gain from the process.  And I am going to read the book again (after having finished it today).

The first key point to take note of is that the words Liberal and Liberalism are not just descriptions of the Left Wing of the Democrat Party (yes, I know that the right wing of that party died years ago).  Why Liberalism Failed is not a boast-filled celebration of the defeat of Madame Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer,  and company.  It is not an attack on the media, the education system, the Washington establishment, or any of the usual targets of the political news.

The words “Liberal” and “Conservative” are best seen as relative terms, like tall and short.  Directly stated, both the Democrat and Republican parties, both our modern day liberal and conservative spokespersons, both the left and the right are part of the greater tradition of Liberal Thought in the West.  Remember that the word “Liberal” was often used in Europe to describe those who wanted more political freedoms and less governmental interference.

Anyone wanting to see Democrats and the media bleed need to look elsewhere for a book to read.  That is not to say that there is not a lot of bloodshed in this book.  But it is the West, the American system, the Founding Fathers, and the core values of what many of us hold that are shown to have gaping wounds in this book.

Second, there were three great ideologies in the twentieth century:  Fascism, Communism, and Liberalism. Fascism failed when the combination of Allied armies (made up of a coalition of Liberal Democracies and a Communist regime) crushed Mussolini’s Italian Empire and Hitler’s Third Reich. Victor Davis Hanson’s remarkable book The Second World Wars retells the story of the fall of Fascist regimes.  (Franco’s Fascist regime lived on until his death and the transition of Spain back to a more constitutional monarchy.)  Communism died or continues to die more slowly as a result of its own internal failings as well as the success of the West both militarily and economically.

Liberalism survives, but as Deneen notes, it has failed.  It is not outward armies and empires at the gates that threaten Liberalism.  It is its own successes.  Liberalism has created a people and a mindset that believes certain premises about life and government and society that have long-term detrimental consequences.  It has created a view of government and actual governments that have become all reaching, all encompassing, and all promising.

I was made more aware of one of the saddest facts I know:  Changes in political parties do not change our overall culture and government.  That being said, I will still hope for and vote for a dozen future Ronald Reagan-types over the alternatives, but the problems are not skin deep or Washington-centered.  We have installed a government of consent that consistently and naturally overflows its boundaries.  We can vote ourselves the largess of government-controlled money and controls.

Years ago, I read Herbert Schlossberg’s book Idols for Destruction.  That influential book still resonates with me.  One of the idols of our age is our own combination of government, society, and culture.

Third, the book is not without hope.  Deneen cites several authors who have probed these issues.  Wendell Berry of Kentucky has written both essays and fiction that provide a glimpse of a better way of life.  With all its limitations, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher also has some really helpful guidelines.

There is no big meta-solution issuing from the bowels of a centralized order to solve our problems.  That is the problem.  It will take a large degree of self-control, self-government, family life, church life, and local focus to start the long march back.  Wait, I meant the long march forward.  Deneen strongly asserts that no one can sensibly try to move us back in time or back to some pristine age.  There is wisdom in the past, but the movement is forward.

Christians, read this book.  Your family and local church, the education of your children, and the culture you create in small societies is vital to the future.  Yes, read this book while I get started back on my second reading.

I received this fine book as a review copy from the publisher.  As such, I am not bound to review it glowingly, but I have by personal conviction.  I recommend you buying a copy because it is both a great read and is affordably  priced.

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By the Dawn’s Early Light–Morning Readings

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I changed.  It wasn’t sudden or even deliberate, but it happened.  Once I was the proverbial Night Owl. It was the stroke of midnight that fired up my mind and witnessed the most intense reading.  The stillness and quiet of the hours after ten p.m. were golden.  Whether sitting at a desk or reclining in bed, that was my favorite time to read.  But I changed.  Maybe it was work.  Maybe it was marriage and family.  Maybe it was the racking up of mileage on the biological odometer.  Or maybe it was the guilt of the old timers who scorned the late night person and assumed that any real man would be up before the dawn.

Coffee helped.  Helped is a weak description.  Coffee was the bridge, the fix, or the possibility.  But now it is the call to get up.  Often I awake and simply cannot wait until I can turn on the coffee maker, begin the Bible reading, and then the reading begins. All too soon–about an hour and a half later–it ends.

Choices for morning books are determined as follows:  1.  Is the book written by and for and about Christians?  2.  Will it fill a spiritual need or deficit in my life? 3.  Is it readable?  The last question relates to whether the book is on a level I can understand and be challenged by and not lost by reading.  If it is too difficult theologically, it gets a either put aside or is read in very small segments.

Now for some of my recent morning reads.

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Speak The Truth in Love: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation by Carmen LaBerge is published by Regnery Faith.  Carmen LaBerge’s website is found HERE.

One of the main and recurring things I learn from books is how wrong I so often am.  I have to admit to being a bit shy about reading a book by a woman who is talking about conversations.  Yes, I lean toward books by men talking about war and politics or theological battles.  No, I am not against women and have the highest admiration for Margaret Thatcher, Flannery O’Connor, Caroline Gordon, Jane Austen, Louise Cowan, Jan Karon, Barbara Tuchman, and many other women.

I recognize that different writers write for different audiences.  I don’t mind being an outlier in the audience.  I had the suspicion that this would be a really good book for “the women at church.”  By that I meant that I thought this book would be like Edith Schaeffer’s books from the past or Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth’s books now.

Stop throwing things at me.  I admit I was wrong.  I was corrected, rebuked, and even slapped before I got even a few pages into this book.   And yes “the women at church” need to read this book and discuss it, but so do the men.  Knowing the dedication of the two groups, I would bet more money on the first group than the second.

This book has earned a place on my apologetics shelf.  Apologetics is defined as “the defense of the faith.”  The reader wanting to know the particular battle ground issues dividing followers of Van Til from Clarkians and both of those groups from Classical Apologetics need to looks elsewhere.  This book is the real, in-the-street, sitting together for coffee or a meal, elbow rubbing apologetics.  Francis Schaeffer would have loved this book.

Or rip the book in half and place it on both the apologetics shelf and the evangelism shelf.  NO DON’T TAKE THAT LITERALLY.  DON’T RIP BOOKS.  There is a strong connection between the roles of the apologist and the evangelist, and this is not the book to see the comparisons and contrasts.  This book is self-help.  But it is the flotation device that is to keep you from drowning while you reach someone else who is going under.

Talking to unbelievers is difficult work.  The old door-to-door evangelism may be effective for some, but it has largely been weighed in the scales and found wanting.  The two week long mission trip to outer–who knows where–maybe some far off largely pagan land like Vermont–may result in “57 people making decisions for Christ” but I have concerns about that method.  (I am not against it.  My younger son went to Ireland this past summer for beach missions work.)

How do we talk to, share with, listen to, minister to, show compassion to, and share the Gospel with people who are outside the faith.  Typically, I describe the mission to three types of people:  Lost people (those who are “professing” non-Christians), un-churched people (for all kinds of reasons), and under-churched people (people who are part of a church but are not being fed, or being fed the wrong stuff, or not taking what feeding there is).  The last two categories fit most people I run into.  Here in the deep Bible-belt South, most people have some sort of loose connection to Christianity and church.

How do we reach people?  Some well-meaning Christians load their FaceBook accounts with blistering rants against all the unbelievers in range.  For some, unbelievers include all Catholics, every Protestant who doesn’t adhere to every jot and tittle of “right doctrine,” and a lot of other semi-innocent bystanders.  I love the opportunities that FB provides to share the Faith and to be encouraged by other believers, but it is no substitute for actually facing our neighbors.

On the opposite and even worse extreme than our beloved zealots are the namby-pamby of every age.  “Maybe if I could soften some of the rough edges of Christ’s message, then more people will respond.”  Many people create evangelism that presupposes that God in Heaven is saying, “Wow.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  We have to be uncompromising on the truths of who God is, what Jesus came here for, and what changes Christianity brings into our lives.

We have to talk.  We have to listen.  We have to respond.  And we have to respond faithfully to the Bible.  That is what this book is about.  It is vital stuff.  Worse than my prejudging the author and content is my failure to apply what this book is saying.  The men at church–any church, every church–really need to read and discuss and implement this book.

Let me end with some good quotes from Speak the Truth:

“Jesus spoke with people; He didn’t speak to issues.  Why is that? Because for Jesus the issue is always the same: the issue is redemption.  We can learn a lot from the way He reframed conversations to help others see the supernatural and eternal perspective on temporal realities.”

“Whether the issue is pancakes, porcupines, politics, or parenting, the issue is God.  ‘What?’ you ask.  Yes, really. From the subject of pancakes, you can talk about manna, bread of heaven, and from there the bread of life, Jesus Christ….”

“We must not reduce the Gospel to anything less than its comprehensive nature. People living in deep darkness need the fullness of the Light of Christ, nothing less.”

“Being a Christian is an identity; it is a calling, it is a way of life, it is a mission, and it is a post.  It informs and influences every part of life: how we think, what we watch, what we buy, how we work, who we date/marry, how we relate to others, how we parent, how we vote, what we expect from government, how we serve, how we spend our money, and what we say in conversation.”

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The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson

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Two factors made this book an instant “Must Have” and “Must Read” work.  The first factor was that Victor Davis Hanson wrote it.  Hanson is both a classicist and a military historian.  He is equally at home teaching, speaking, or writing about the ancient Greeks and Romans.  His skills include being adept at discussing the literature of the Greeks and Romans.  Want to know about Homer, Herodotus, or Livy?  Read Hanson.  Particularly, see Who Killed Homer?, Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece, Bonfire of the Humanities, or A War Like No Other.

But he is also one of the premier military historians of our time.  Rank him right up there with John Keegan.  See Carnage and Culture, Ripples of Battle, The Soul of Battle, or The Savior Generals.  (We can add this point also:  Hanson is a first rate political commentator as well.  See his contributions as found on his web-site or on the National Review web-site.)

The second reason was the title:  The Second World Wars.  As I have stated before, my love of history began with studying World War II and other events in 20th Century history.  That love has never diminished.  (My love for other parts of history has increased, however).  Oddly enough, I never took a college class that covered WWII nor have I taught it much in recent years.  But I continue to read about it.

If one wants to know the story of the Second World War, don’t read this book.  If one wants to know the causes, don’t read this book.  If one wants to read extensively about the incredible cast of leaders (political and military), don’t read this book. If one enjoys the narratives of the battles, the clash of arms, the suffering and the glory of what the soldiers, sailors, and airmen faced…need I repeat myself?

Who then should read this book?  Those who already have read extensively on the war.  This is a BIG PICTURE ANALYSIS of the war.  It is an accounting of multitudes of numbers, details, weapon capabilities, geographical factors, industrial outputs, and casualties.  As such, I loved it.

Who besides Victor Davis Hanson could fill a book with a million statistics, facts, and figures, and then make ample use of references to ancient wars, and still produce an incredibly mind-numbing and brilliant work?  I found myself constantly asking, “How could a war of this magnitude have actually taken place?” and “How could Hanson have assembled and made sense of all these details?”

Most nights (for I read this book at night), I was only able to absorb and cover 10 to 20 pages of this book.  That is a testimony in its favor. (I always had the “page-turner” close by to read after the Hanson book.)  But each night, I looked forward to reading this book.

The Axis powers simply took on more than it was possible for them to achieve.  Of course, one can examine ways they could have won the war or achieved some degree of survival.  Some of the decisions of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese defy reason.

On the part of Hitler: Why attack Russia when Britain was still a formidable force that was hurling bombs on Berlin itself?  Why declare war on the United States after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?  Why waste so much manpower holding places like Norway?  Why leave Malta and Gibraltar in Allied hands?  Why waste money and resources on some major weapons that were never produced in ample numbers?  And, of course, why brutalize people you needed on your side?

To Mussolini:  Why declare war on France?  That little venture, along with the attack on Greece, helped doom Italy.  Why enter into a war when Italy did not have an adequate army or industry to wage war?  Why join in with the efforts to conquer Russia?

To Japan:  Why leave the American forces in Pearl Harbor wounded, but not destroyed?  Why provoke America and Britain into a war when war with China was already consuming so much manpower?

Along with those issues, the Allied powers made plenty of mistakes on their own.  The fall of France in 1940 continues to defy imagination.  Britain made enough blunders to lose the war a dozen times over.  The United States would have committed blunders of almost irreparable harm had it not been for the British restraints.  Russia’s conduct–meaning Stalin’s–was horrendous and stupid at times.

Yet Britain, America, and Russia produced weapons, planes, tanks, artillery guns, trucks, and bombs in such numbers that the sheer weight of it all should have crushed the Axis powers.  Add to that, the manpower (which was not made up solely of males).

Hanson’s account calls on the reader to reconsider the impact of the Allied bombing campaign over Germany and Japan. The types and amount of planes that Britain and America produced and employed was staggering.  The air war was the second front that Stalin often complained about the lack of.  The British really made a substantial contribution to winning the war both through being at war with Germany longer than any other allied country and in terms of quality production of weaponry.  And no one can successfully dismiss Churchill’s roles and rhetoric.

If your love of history spurs you to want to make the comparisons between opposing forces, this is the book for you.  If you have read and enjoyed Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, but feel like you are ready for some behind the scenes details, this book will amaze you.  If you enjoy comparisons of the recent past (World War II) to the distant past (the Peloponnesian War), you will find those comparisons here.

In short, this book is a great contribution by one of our finest historians.  And this book is absolutely vital to add to your library and reading list for understanding the Second World War.

I’ll Be a History Teacher Someday

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Learning history once seemed so easy.  I would go to college for four years.  I would teach history for a few years.  Then I would go to college some more.  Then I would teach some more.  Somewhere around age 30, I would know history.

Nothing like that happened.  Well, I did go to college for four years, and I did go back to college at nights and in the summers and add on graduate hours.  But I have never reached the point where I know history.   I am still laboring to learn, re-learn, and un-learn history.  I feel like I am almost ready to begin–if I could begin over.  But beginning might mean beginning my teaching career over.  Or it might mean beginning college over. Or it might mean beginning elementary school over (but that only if I could be socially and physically less awkward).

Here I am facing yet another stack of history books.  I will share with you some readings that I am finishing or anxious to start.

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When I heard about this book last fall, it was an immediate “I must have it or I will perish.”  That was no exaggeration.  It was critical for me to get the book.  I should finish it today.  I has been a long, hard slog to get through it, but it has been worth it.  This is not a beginners’ story of the war or a narrative highlighting the drama and personalities of World War II.  It is a detailed analysis of the Allied and Axis powers in terms of weapons, manpower, effectiveness of tactics, and leadership.  Great book.  Watch for my upcoming review.

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Two events conspired to cause me to want the book Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River 1961-1865.  First, it is a history book and not just any history book, but a book about The War and not just any book about The War, but a book about a part of The War that gets overlooked–the Trans-Mississippi theater.  Second, I met the author.  Now, I would like to say that I met him in some scholarly setting where we were exchanging ideas about history, but that is not the case.  I met him in a store where I was buying a light for our bathroom (that has not yet been installed).

Last month, I read the introduction to this book and was hyped to get it started.  I should be diving in this next week.  Watch for a review soon.

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Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History is by the duo history authors Brian Kilmead and Don Yeager.  Their books are best sellers and are popular histories.  I have yet to read them to be able to give my take.  I should have read this book before last week when I talked about the Tripolitan War in class.  This book looks good and is a short read.  I will be reading it this next week.

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John Witherspoon’s American Revolution is by Gideon Mailer.  I suspect this book is going to be a challenge, meaning this is not an easy read for the midnight hour.  That is fine, for I have plenty of midnight reads and usually fall asleep before that time.  But John Witherspoon is, after all, John Witherspoon.  Sometimes called “the Forgotten Founding Father,” he is the man most dear to the heart of Calvinists who love history.  I desire anything and everything I can find and read about him.

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Another book I should have read prior to my recent classroom lectures is Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman.  This book was published some time back, but just came out in paperback.  Jefferson is a pivotal and key figure in understanding American history.  He is one of the few U. S. Presidents who would still be a major figure even if he had never served as the Chief Executive.  Last year I read Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert M. S. McDonald.  That was a surprising and delightful book. It seems like there is no end to fascinating studies on Jefferson.

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Another book that is not quite so urgent is Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Proteges, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald.  This book consists of essays about some of the key figures in Washington’s life and career, including the military men, like Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, and the political men, like Jefferson and Hamilton (who was also a military man)  Being a collection of essays, this book lends itself to being read in part based on which figure one wishes to study.

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Like Washington and Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt was a man who dominated his times and extended his influence into our times.  Loved and hated by the left and the right wings of political folks, he had a personality and style that transcends mere political likes and dislike.  The book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer explores the political differences between two titans–Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  Having the proverbial meal with famous people would not go well if your choice guests were TR and Mark Twain.  They would likely pick back up with an argument that set them at odds back in their times.  Can’t wait to start this one.

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Reading history is not all fun and games.  I am duty bound to labor over a weighty collection of essays titled What Is Classical Liberal History, edited by my friend Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness.  I read Dr. Douma’s opening essay which warns me of the depth of water I will be swimming in.  I am not in the camp of classical liberal historians, but I think I am very sympathetic to them and their approach.  By the way, don’t confuse the term “classical liberal” with our current political discussions concerning folks we call liberals.

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Calllie the dog is a therapy dog who is trained to help me understand parts of books that are above and beyond me.


Truth Considered and Applied by Stewart Kelly

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There is a lot of book packed into the pages of this work.  Truth Considered & Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith is by Stewart E. Kelly, who is a philosophy professor at Minot State University (in North Dakota) and the author of several books.  This book is published by B&H Publishing Group.

The website says that it is for philosophy and theology students.  I agree, but would add that it is valuable for history teachers and students as well (referring to college level history majors).

Here is a bit of my experience with this book.  Back in the fall, I found a stack of copies of this book at a religious bookstore.  Most Christian bookstores don’t have too many titles that are brainy or philosophical books.  Just try this: Walk into your nice Christian bookstore and ask for books by Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Van Til, Gordon Clark, Rushdoony, James K. A. Smith, or Christopher Dawson.  (Byron Borger’s Heart and Mind Books is an exception.  There are others.) But this store had this book on truth and postmodernism in abundance.

I went back to my office to look up this “new” title.  To my surprise, I learned that this book had been out since 2011.  And no customer reviews were posted on Amazon.  (I am changing that.)  I soon acquired the book, but it has taken a while to work my way through it.  The slow pace was due to the many books I am trying to read, as well as the challenging nature of this book.

For those who want an enjoyable and anecdotal survey of some modern ideas, look elsewhere.  This book has the feel of being a professor’s expanded outline notes.  It has a mountain of bibliographical and footnoted information.  It is a walk through the section of the library dealing with modern thought with glances through the writings of key thinkers.  It will overwhelm you (in a good way) with the books, terms, ideas, and names which have contributed to modern thought and postmodern thought.

The pastor counseling a couple with a few marriage problems or the history teacher with a classroom full of eighth graders will not find answers here.  But I really hope that pastors and history teachers have the time and inclination to get outside of their boxes and explore these issues.  There are connections between the ramblings of brilliant, but misdirected philosophers and the cultural and social problems that we face in everyday life.  As I once told Richard Weaver, “You know, Richard, that all of these ideas I am teaching you have consequences.” (Don’t fact check that story!)

For beginners and novices, like me, this book is a good survey or introduction to lots of issues.  Well chosen quotes begin each section.  The quotes alone are good glimpses of some of the ideas that have been bouncing back and forth between intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, and academics.   I would love to take a class, preferably with Dr. Kelly teaching it, where we were reading and discussing this book.

The first 152 pages of this book are on postmodernism itself.  It is titled “Friend or Foe: The Challenge of Postmodernism.”  The next section, titled “Truth and History,” is much more my area of interest.  In that part, Kelly covers the ways that historians have interpreted history over the past hundred years or so.  Sometimes we may wonder why a person would read four different books on the same topic or era of history.  Certainly, the facts don’t change.  But history books have never been and can never be about listing facts.  Even the encyclopedia is selective and interpretive about what facts to include.

Schools of thought and methods of interpretation change.  With two major world wars and the rise and fall of various ideologies, the histories of the twentieth century are going to reflect both the time they were written and the school of thought of the authors.  This may not change the way that I hope to finish my discussion of Gettysburg next Monday in history class, but it does affect my historical understanding at other levels.

There are people who like hamburgers.  That’s fine.  But some people have to go beyond the culinary delight of two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun to understanding the cattle industry, wheat production, vegetable harvests, and food distribution.  Likewise, some people like history.  May their tribes increase.  Whether it is good biographies, the History Channel, historical fiction, or touring Civil War battlefields, all such interest is good.  But some of us really need to understand the inner workings of the discipline.  This book will help.

In short, some of you really need to get this book and study it.  Pick up on the recurring names and ideas.  Let this book be a launching pad for deeper and further studies.

Post Script:  Dr. Kelly devotes about two pages of small print in an extended footnote listing authors and titles of history works that have influenced his understanding of “postmodern historiography and historical epistemology.”  As one who has been around the library and history block a few times, I am astounded at the range of books he calls attention to.  The journey never ends.



Morning Reads of Late

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Years ago, I was a night owl.  A combination of age, jobs, children, and other factors changed me.  I love getting up in the morning and sitting down with some time for Bible reading, coffee, and a stack of books.  Some days, my mind is still too inert to grasp much on the page, but on other days, it is a sponge.  The key is perseverance.  Good days or bad days, busy days or leisurely days, in sickness and health, I get up and read.

Here are some of the recent reading experiences that I have either finished or am still working on.

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I cannot say that First John is my favorite book of the Bible, but it is the book that challenges me the most. The structure–the repeating patterns, the beauty, the brevity, and the depth of it always leave me wanting more to understand it.  This commentary–1, 2, & 3 John by Constantine R. Campbell–makes a fine daily study in the three short letters John wrote. It is part of a series called The Story of God Bible Commentary, published by Zondervan.

These commentaries have three portions in each chapter:  Listen to the Story, Explain the Story, and Live the Story.  The method is useful for morning studies, but would also be beneficial for sermon preparation, family devotions, or any other format.  Listening to the passage of Scripture is self explanatory, but it is also important not to forget.  I confess to having jumped into a passage when working to prepare a lesson or sermon without having spent enough time just looking and listening to the words of the Bible.

In the portion on explaining the story, Campbell weaves in the textual issues regarding Greek words, interpretive challenges, and different views held by other commentators.  I especially enjoyed some of the quotes Campbell included from Augustine.

Living the story is the application.  Here Campbell includes stories and anecdotes along with specific suggestions on how to practice what is being learned.  As a fan of Charles Spurgeon’s methods of using anecdotes and quips to enhance his sermons, I found this book full of plenty of encouraging and usable material.

Although the largest portion of this book was devoted to 1 John, I really found the chapters on 2 and 3 John quite enjoyable.  All too often, those books are raced through without being given much thought.

This book was enjoyable to read and would be enjoyable to read again either for morning devotions or for lesson preparation.

Praying the Bible

Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney is published by Crossway.  The Crossway website also has a video and additional helps for using this book.  Some of you are probably familiar with Mr. Whitney fine book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  If so, then you know that his writings are clear, practical, convicting, and Biblical.

This book is a short read of ten chapters and is less than 100 pages.  It is easy to read one or two chapters in the morning.  There are lots of good books on prayer that I have read.  What stands out about this book is that it is not written to convince or convict us to pray, but tells us how to pray.  Basically, Whitney focuses on using the Bible–as in the exact text we are reading–to formulate our daily prayers, weave in the various needs, expand upon the topics mentioned, and use the language of the Bible to pray.

Read it for yourself or share it with the family.

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After several occasions where I glanced at and scanned a few pages, I have finally begun seriously reading Speak the Truth: How to bring God back into every conversation by Carmen LaBerge.  Her website and more information about the topic (including a free read of the first chapter) can be found HERE.

After I received this book, I had a few doubts about reading it.  First of all, I was not familiar with the author.  Second, I found myself suspecting it might be a shallow read.  Several chapters in, I am better acquainted with the author, and this is a solid and in-depth, but very readable book.  It is not shallow or sappy.  Every time I suspect the author might give a weak or watered-down answer, she hits a home run (to mix metaphors).

I will share a few quotes I have particularly enjoyed.

“To conceal from others the truth and grace of God’s reality, His love and the hope He offers in life and in death may well be the greatest sin we ever commit.”  pages 10-11

“We treat life like Monopoly.  When we land on a square God ‘owns,’ we owe Him rent money.  He can have those certain properties, but as far as the rest of the board goes–we pursue it for all we’re worth.  Truth is, it all belongs to God….” page 15  (Reminds me of the Kuyper “every square inch” quote.)

“The Gospel is the solution to jihad in the Middle East and the Gospel is the answer to famine in Africa. The Gospel confronts human sex trafficking in Asia and resolves the lonelines of your single neighbor.” pages 17-18

“If we are not taking God’s viewpoint into the conversation at the bar or in the bleachers, then it is not the culture’s fault that God’s perspective goes unheard.  People can’t hear what no one is saying.”  pages 39-40