Glancing Back at Antiquity–Quick Looks Books

In college, my focus was mainly on American history. I did take courses on British history (which is fundamental background for American history) and on Modern Europe (meaning Europe since the 1500s).  Outside of my course work and interest was the Ancient and Medieval Worlds.  Years of teaching world history did better acquaint me with fields outside of my preferences.  But the focal point was always on American and Modern European history.

My entrance into classical Christian education began with a horrifying jolt in the summer of 1995.  I attended some lectures by Wes Callihan and Chris Schlect (both of whom were then teachers at Logos School in Moscow, Idaho) and found myself confronting a near total illiterate–myself.  That began what is now year 24 in a quest to read all the classical works from Genesis and Gilgamesh to Faulkner and Ishiguro.  I am still behind on my readings, by the way.  But I have made progress.

This post–which promises to be brief–will focus on three recent books that are helps or friends in the journey through Antiquity.  They all deserve longer, more detailed, more persuading reviews.  For now, let me assure you that they are all worthy candidates for a space on your bookshelf if you are reading, teaching, or exploring the worlds of Greece and Rome.

OUPress.Data.Entities.Image

Communication, Love, and Death in Homer and Virgil by Stephen Ridd is published by the University of Oklahoma Press.  It is Volume 54 in the Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture.  As Victor Davis Hanson and others have lamented, studies in the Classical Culture of Antiquity or studies in the Greek and Roman languages and literature are much diminished in our day and time.  College educated people from past centuries read the classics in the original languages.  My college experiences did not even include reading translations.

This is not the book to start with.  Even though it is called “An Introduction” to certain aspects of Homer and Virgil, don’t begin here.  Read Homer and Virgil.  Read them several times.  Read them with a group.  Read a couple of translations.  Homer’s works are simple enough:  The Iliad and The Odyssey.  (I recommend Richmond Lattimore for the first and Robert Fagles for the second.)  For Virgil, read The Aeneid.  Virgil’s Georgics can also be fun.

It was Louise Cowan and some of her students who first opened my eyes to the richness of these works.  Through the years, I have taught Homer and Virgil’s books to many innocent students.  Each reading and teaching experience challenges me to better understand and enjoy the epics.  My preliminary reading from Dr. Ridd’s book convinces me that this is a worthy resource to be dipped in to or read from cover to cover.

Image result for brian phillips meditations of marcus aurelius

Worldview Guide: Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Dr. Brian Phillips is published by Canon Press.  Brian Phillips is a friend of mine (although we have only met once) and a brother in Christ.  He is also the pastor of a family of friends–Wade, Jody, and Caleb Choate.  Brian jokingly wrote in the inscription of my copy “Rave about it publicly.”

This makes my task and burden difficult.  But I will be brave and launch in with this major criticism of this book:  At 41 pages, it is WAY TOO SHORT.  I was just getting into the enjoyment of this book when poof, it was over.

Now, let me put a better spin on all this.  When reading and teaching classics, we often need help.  The tendency is to go pull a dozen volumes off the shelf that provide helps and hints to understanding some older work.  The book–even if it is War and Peace–looks small compared to the towering stack of commentaries and serious studies.  The book described above about Homer and Virgil is that type of helpful reading.  But the key to reading classics is reading classics.  

My belief is that the reader/teacher needs to find a few short, simple (as in simplistic), readable guides for the classic.  Read the Wikipedia article on the classic.  Read an encyclopedia article, a summary, or a brief (5 pages or less) introduction.  But let nothing stop you from reading the classic.  Upon reading the work itself, keep plowing back through the brief helps.  Only after your classical permanent teeth come in can you or should you read the experts.

Brian’s book is a part of a series of Worldview Guides.  The Christian reader can easily succomb to either rejecting a book totally because the author is a pagan  or embracing it totally because it mentions things compatible with Biblical truths.  Marcus Aurelius was not a Christian; in fact and almost unexplainably, he was a Roman emperor who persecuted believers.  But before we shout, “Unclean, unclean,” we have to recognize the sheer brilliance and beauty–via God’s common grace–of his Meditations.

I read and loved the Gregory Hays’ translation of Meditations, pictured above and published by The Modern Library.  Phillips uses the older George Long translation (1862).

Image result for larry w. hurtado

Destoyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado is published by Baylor University Press.  This book is a blockbuster of a work.  It can be asserted that the Christian battle royal against the Roman world is the greatest epic battle of history.  Many of us Christians read the New Testament with far too much ease.  But the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles are battle reports and tactical training manuals for warfare.  And, pragmatic folks notice, it worked.

This book will preach, to use the old preacher term.  It is a scholarly, historical, and theological work.  But it is affordable (not all that common for university press publications) and practical and devotional.

My only lament in this post is that this is my American Story year for Humanities.  Most of my reading and all of my teaching will be devoted to things American.  But books can still be scanned, dipped into, and coveted (in terms of content) even when they are not on the reading stacks.

Advertisements

Confounding Founding Father: Thomas Jefferson

I frequently come across people today who say, “Have you ever seen a President being attacked like this one is being attacked?”  These people are usually supporters of President Trump who have been angered by the government, politicians, and the media for years.  Pres. Trump, better than any politician in the last 36 years, was able to tap into that anger and surprise everyone in November of 2016.  The President’s actions, words, attitudes, and tweets have continued to create a firestorm of protests, complaints, and anguish.  The election results shocked the nation and embarrassed the pollsters.  Efforts to calm the raging storm for the past eleven months have been few.

But let’s go back to the question:  Has any President ever been so viciously attacked? The answer is yes.  The President to start with is George Washington.  The first President is iconic and marble-like that it is hard to fathom how mean-spirited and cruel some of the attacks were on him.  The short, unhappy presidency of John Adams was a time of immense criticism for the chief executive.  Adams’ support of the Alien and Sedition Acts didn’t do much to deflect such criticism.  He could, on occasion, be his own worst enemy, but he had no lack of other enemies snapping at him.

Thomas Jefferson also endured a long string of attacks over the course of his career.  A survey of attacks on presidents could cover the whole gamut of men who served in the Oval Office, but we will focus on Jefferson.  The book Confounding Father:  Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert M. S. McDonald is about Jefferson’s dealings with the press, his image, and the spin give on his actions on the American political scene.

On the one hand, Jefferson was statesman like in his bearing, his labors, and his overall contributions to America.  It was his pen that produced the Declaration of Independence.  He served in a number of political posts, both elected and appointed.  Just dwell over his resume:  Member of the Continental Congress, member of the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence,  governor of Virginia, foreign ambassador to France, first Secretary of State, Vice President, President, and founder of the University of Virginia.  Most of these posts are associated with great accomplishments.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident:  That all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are .”

“We are all Federalists.  We are all Republicans.”

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

These quotes, and many more could be added, testify to Jefferson the statesman, Jefferson the scholar,  Jefferson the philosopher/king.  He truly had some real nobility in his actions and devotions to the things he believed.

Image result for two sides of thomas jefferson

One the other hand, Jefferson was one canny politician.  In the legendary Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler,” it says, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run….”  That wisdom has its own application in the political world.  Jefferson could cut an enemy without ever weilding a weapon himself.  He used newspapers, friends, and circumstances to advance himself and detract from his opponents.

One of the more unusual traits of our politically ambitious founding fathers was their ability to appear totally disinterested in political office, such as the presidency.  Presidents Washington and Jefferson were both masters at that ploy.  Maybe they would have been perfectly happy never to have been the President, but one suspects they wanted the job as much as candidates do today who seek the office.  But mouthing about ambition was not acceptable in their time.

Jefferson ably presented his better side to the voters.  There were troubling issues, largely personal.  Frequently, Jefferson was attacking for cowardice (fleeing from the British during the War for Independence), for having a slave mistress, and for not being an orthodox Christian.  He did, in fact, flee from the approaching British army (led by Benedict Arnold) while he was governor of Virginia.  It was perhaps more prudence than cowardly.  The question of a slave mistress (namely Sally Hemings) was not broached by the man himself.  Due to a tendency among southern plantation owners to be involved with slave women, it was not a touchy issue in the southern states.  Jefferson was not the raging atheist who threatened the Christian religion, but he was not orthodox either.  To a large degree, he let his enemies vent on these matters without engaging in what we call “gutter politics.”

Comparing the past with the present is always a risky matter.  Putting Jefferson side by side with the four most recent Presidents creates some weird mental vibes.  At the same time, Jefferson–for all his indisputable brilliance–was a man of his time.  He owned slaves; he very likely had an adulterous relationship with one of his slaves;  he naively fell for much of the rhetoric of the French Revolution;  he was not at all loyal to President Washington; and he played political hardball.  In terms of wily political maneuvering, he was the equal to or superior to either Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon.  In terms of being a man of distinction, he deserves all the honors that have come his way through the decades.

Perhaps what was most stunning to me as I started reading this book was the fact that Jefferson’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence was not widely known for years.  Can you imagine any modern politician–or his campaign managers–missing out on such a “photo and media op”?  It was a different world, a different playing field.

Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time is a wonderful way to enter that world so much like our own and so different from our own.

What more Reformation-centered than Lutheran Theology?

Image result for lutheranism

This is THE year to be reading, studying, writing, and teaching about the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s.  October 17, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the event we often refer to that heralded the beginning of the revolt of Martin Luther and many others in his wake against the corruptions of the established Church.  Just as the Reformation itself resulted in a tidal wave of publications, the 500th anniversary is spurring the writing and printing of many books on Martin Luther himself, the Protestant Reformation as a whole, the theology of the Reformers, and the other greater and lesser known leaders.

The Reformation 500 celebration is really an enjoyable event for me.  I have been planning some special activities for several years in advance.  Here they are:

  1.  Buy books on the Reformation.

2.  Read books on the Reformation.

3.  Talk even more than usual about the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Knox, and related people and events in class.

4.  Repeat steps 1-3 often.

I am giddy with excitement over all this.  Truth be known, I started celebrating at least a year ago.

Part of the joy of this year’s readings is going down unexpected paths.  Recently, I posted a blog about two books that are both real challenges on aspects of the Reformation.  The first is Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition.  The second is Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross by Marco Barone.  Both books took me way beyond the familiar story to some new ground.

       

Earlier in the year, I read Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Theology by Ruben Alvarado.  This book was an eye-opener and one that called for quick repeat reading.  The impact of Calvin on political thought has been a long-time topic of interest for me.

Not every book has been in the challenging to really tough range.  Just this week, I finished reading Erwin Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel.  This is quite an enjoyable retelling of the story of the Reformation from Luther to Calvin and on to their heirs.  Very basic, very well told, this book was a refresher course, but yet another case of reminding me of why I love this period of history so much.

Image result for rescuing the gospel

Along this year’s Reformation journey, my friend George Thompson commented on his enjoyment of a book simply titled Christology by David P. Scaer.  This is Volume VI of a series called Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics. The books in this series cover such topics as baptism, eschatology, church, Gospel and the means of grace, and the Trinity.  Short–barely over 100 pages,  this book covers a wide range of theological issues related to Jesus Christ, including the Incarnation, Virgin Birth, Death and Resurrection, and offices.

Dr. Scaer distinguishes between Lutheran confessional views and those of modern theologians and theologies.  In fact, the first chapter deals with Post-Enlightenment era Christologies.  But he also deals with Lutheran differences from Reformed views.  Many of these portions of the book were new and surprising to me.  Since the comments and coverage are brief, I was neither convinced nor deeply informed by what was said.  But I think the purpose of this book, and most likely the whole series, is to introduce or review essential dogmatic positions held by confessional Lutherans.

Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics Vol VI.JPG

In some ways, this book might seem to represent what many people dislike or fear or distrust about that field of study called “Theology.”  On the one hand, people sometimes refer to dry, dusty theological tomes.  I reckon they exist.  On the other hand, I was involved in a discussion recently (with my college age daughter) about how theology students in college are often cynical people.  If that is so, we can say to the cynic, “You are so pessimistic, cynical, and sarcastic that you should major in theology.”

Let’s stop that train immediately.  I found this volume to be densely and tightly written, but far from dry or dusty.  Any Biblical, sound, orthodox theological work dealing the God who made us, the Christ who saved us, and the Spirit who fills us should leave us prostrate in the dust.  Simply put, if someone cynical is a theology student, they are a total, abject failure (even if they are on the President’s list at college).

But what about the arcane doctrines that separate certain Reformed theologians from their Lutheran counter-parts?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on other things?  Well. yes, maybe we should be focusing on other things, but that depends upon who “we” are.  I am a history and literature teacher.  That is my main focus, and those fields have their own internal, highly complex topics of study and thought.  Theologians have the task of going to the roots of issues.  They need to “major on minors.”  We certainly hope that they are not all head and no heart (if such were possible), or so deep and complex as to not understand the common man in the pew.  But theology–trying to wrap our puny minds around our great God is not child’s play.  (But even that is not to say that children at play display lots of theological truths.)

Luther changed the world.  His followers–whether they call themselves Lutherans, Evangelicals (which is what the early Lutherans called themselves), Reformed, Protestants, non-denominational (which is odd since you have a name that means no name), or simply Christian–need to celebrate this year what Luther started 500 years ago.  That includes at least giving some nods toward the Church that is affiliated with his name and theology.

Christology is a fine study.  Challenging to both heart and mind, it will remind the reader of the great freedom in the Gospel.  Part of that freedom is the freedom to ponder and study all aspects of who Jesus is.

The St. Andrew Seven–First Glances

 

Image result for boy at back of classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Works of John Knox–“Some Books are to be tasted….”

Image result for some books are to be tasted

Not knowing the library policies in heaven or the new heavens and earth that come later, I have to content myself with only tasting some books.  In some cases, a book has a limited use, and the dipping into it now and again is to fulfill such needs.  We call them reference works, and that includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauruses, and some Bible commentaries.  There are plenty of biographies, histories, books on economics and politics, and theological works that will only be used in the manner of checking the table of contents, then the index, and then scanning the pages for some pertinent quote or information.

The light use, occasional use, or call it underuse of a book is no bad reflection on the worth of a book or its author.  There is the matter of time, add to that specialization, add to that the tyrannies of the moment, add to that the human capacity or incapacity to absorb the contents.  I have books and particularly sets of books that I will never likely read and certainly not master cover to cover.  They are dearly loved…yes, loved…not merely liked or found useful or found attractive on the shelf.  My four volumes of Herman Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought is non-negotiable when considered as a possession (although I would probably yeild it if one of my children were kidnapped and NCTT were part of the ransom).  Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization gets read in bits and pieces, but it is indispensible.  The same can be said Calvin’s Commentaries, Calvin’s Letters, Magnalia Christi Americana, the works of Shakespeare, any literary criticism written by Cleanth Brooks, and my two great volumes of T. S. Eliot.

Image result for herman dooyeweerd new critique of theoretical thought

Dooyeweerd’s New Critique was published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publications during the early 1970s and was almost given away at one time.

Image result for t. s. eliot johns hopkins press

Another treasured collection I have is the six volumes of The Works of John Knox, published by Banner of Truth.I supposed that if Banner were to publish the London telephone book, I would want a copy.  There books are quality on the inside and out.

But it is not just the quality, shelf appeal, and grandness of this set as a collection of boards, ink, and paper.  These are the works of the Other John of the Protestant Reformation.  We are talking John Knox, who was as much an influence on American history as was George Washington. (Debate or consider that statement later.)  Knox was a trench fighter, a survivor, a front line Reformer.  Scotland, or at least the Scotland of the 1500’s-1600’s, bears his brand, but he was also pivotal in Reformation battles in England and in Continental Europe.

It is incredible that he survived imprisonment on a Spanish galley ship.  Even more incredible is his surviving numerous conflicts with the reigning powers of both England and Scotland, particularly Queen Mary Stuart.

How did such a man ever find time to read, think, write, and preach?

We might have expected a volume or two of his works to survive, but we have six large volumes.  Okay, one of them does contain a biography, but even then, we have lots of Knox material to taste, chew, and even digest.

I am currently reading his largest work, which is titled History of the Reformation in Scotland.  It extends through the first two volumes of this set.  I suspect it will take quite a while and may never be completely read by this poor pilgrim.  But whether I get through 50 pages or 500 or all 3824 pages, I will find quite a bit that will delight, inform, correct, and encourage me.

There is a further obstacle to reading these books.  The language of Knox, which precedes the King James Bible and is dominated by Scotification (to coin of word) of the English language.  Reading Knox is not as difficult as reading Chaucer in the original, but more difficult that reading the KJV or Shakespeare.  The key to breaking the language and spelling code is reading it aloud and phonetically.  When sounding the words out, most of them become readily familiar.  This does raise the challenge level for these books, but it also adds to the beauty and setting.

It should be noted that anyone wanting to read Knox’s account of the Scottish Reformation can do so in a shorter and modernized version, found HERE and also published by Banner.

I will conclude this brief discussion of The Works of Knox with a few quotes which I enjoyed during my morning readings.  I am beginning in the midst of a sentence and the preceding portion was a list of charges brought against Scots who had begun seeing great flaws in the Medieval Church.

“By these Articles…may appeir how mercyfullie God hath looked upoun this Realme, reteanying within it some sponk of his light, evin in the tyme of grettast darkness.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Amen, and may God retain some “sponk of his light” on us in our time.

Speaking of his mentor/hero and martyr Patrick Hamilton, Knox said, “The zeall of Goddis glorie did so eat him up, that he could of no long cintinuance remain thair (in Wittenberg, Germany), bot returned to his countrie (Scotland, whair the brycht beames of the trew light which by Goddis grace was planted in his harte, began most aboundantlie to burst forth.”

From A Brief Treatise of Mr. Patrick Hamilton, Knox’s mentor, as found in Volume 1:
“The Gospell, is as mooche to say, in our tong, as Good Tydingis: lyk as everie one of these sentences be–
Christ is the Saviour of the world.
Christ deid for our synnes.
Christ offerred him selve for us.
Christ bare our synnes upoun his back.
Christ bought us with his blood.
Christ woushe us with his blood.
Christ was maid dettour for our synnes.
Christ hath maid satisfictioun for us and for our synne.
Christ is our rychteousness, oure wisdome, our goodness.
Christ is ouris, and all his.
The Father of Heavin hath forgevin us for Christis saik.”

J C. Ryle–Prepared to Stand Alone and Holiness

Image result for j. c. ryle

There are three things right up front that commend the book J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray to me and hopefully to you.

First of all, it is a Banner of Truth publication.  For decades now, Banner has been publishing outstanding books by current authors promoting historic evangelical Reformed theology.  Along with that, Banner has reprinted hundreds of works by Christian authors from the past, ranging from John Calvin to John Owen to Charles Spurgeon and many others.  There are more Puritan books available today than there would have been during the heyday of the Puritans, thanks to publishing houses like Banner of Truth.   Add to that, their books are well bound and are beautiful additions to the library shelves in your home or office.

Second, the author of this book on Ryle is Iain Murray.  Mr. Murray has some incredible gifts as a writer and biographer.  Often Christian biographies are in the light and fluffy category.  They are written to inspire us all to do better.  If the subject happened to be a significant figure in history or theological movements, academics weigh in with biographies that are often technical, critical (in multiple senses of the word), and beyond the interest level of most Christian readers.  Murray hits the middle ground.  He writes for the Christian who needs (desparately) to know more about Christian history or Christian leaders of the past, but who is not an expert.

Murray’s first and foremost biographical study was his book The Forgotten Spurgeon.  It was not, strictly speaking, a biography, but rather a study of Spurgeon’s battles against several theological trends in his life and ministry.  My favorite Murray book is his two volume study of the life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  The second of those volumes changed my life.  His biography of Jonathan Edwards is first rate, but should be read alongside of George Marsden’s more academic biography.  Murray has also written accounts of A. W. Pink, John Murray, and John MacArthur.

A Scottish Christian Heritage and Heroes are both fun reads as well, and The Puritan Hope is a great study of both the Puritans and of eschatology (Murray is postmillennial).  Looking over a list of Murray volumes thrills me with remembering his past works, but also frustrates me since I am still lacking far too many of his books.

Third, the subject of this book is J. C. Ryle.  Ryle was a minister in the Church of England who lived from 1816 to 1900.  He was a prolific author, although he was also a very busy pastor and parish priest.  Twice widowed in his earlier years, he did not have an easy life.  His earlier career choice was the law, and he had suffered tremendously from economic setbacks that wrecked his father’s business.

At age 21 he was converted to Christ. He was, we might say, very nominally Christian or churched before that.  He later wrote, “If I had died before I was twenty-one, if there is such a thing as being lost forever in hell, which I do not doubt, I certainly should have been lost forever.”

During his career, he served as parish minister in several churches.  He suffered quite a few difficulties along the way, but managed to not only minister very ably to his congregation but also wrote tracts and other writings.  Understand that tracts in the 1800s sometimes meant books of a hundred pages.  Overall, Ryle literary output was tremendous.

It is very easy to think of a Church of England parish minister in the 1800’s as having a placid, quiet life.  Think of the ministers in Jane Austen’s books.  Other than their failed efforts to woo one of Austen’s heroines, they had fairly quiet country lives.

Image result for mr. collins in pride and prejudice

Image result for mr. collins and lady catherine de bourgh in pride and prejudice

That is not at all the world of J. C. Ryle. Of course, there were the beautiful old churches, quaint villages, tea with parishioners, but there were also battles.  The last half of the 1800’s was a war zone for the Christian faith.  Ryle’s theology, which was Biblical, enriched by the Puritans, decidedly Reformed and Calvinistic, and evangelical was under attack.

The more admirable of the enemies were part of the Oxford Movement.  Quite a few very scholarly and literary churchmen were gravitating (or running) back to Rome.  Some made the switch, while others labored to widen the theological options available within the Church of England.

On the other hand, there were the forces of Darwinian Naturalism, the higher critical movement, and the rise of various more modern philosophies and theologies that were not only on the outside of the faith, but were cropping up within.  Ryle’s own son, Herbert, bought into many of the “up to date, modern, cutting edge” theologies of his day.  (Any surprise that Herbert–also an author–is largely forgotten along with his works?)

Ryle, like his contemporary and fellow battler for the truth Charles H. Spurgeon, labored all his days against the unbiblical theologies, false gospels, and popular new ideas of his age.  He was not a philosopher or really a theologian in the technical sense.  Nor was he the debater of his age or the man who could answer the fool according to his folly.

Ryle’s gift was faithful, convicting exposition of Bible passages and doctrines.  His books remain valuable and can inform and convict the modern man as much or more than the original readers.

I highly, triply, recommend J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone.

However, don’t even get close to that book unless you already have read from Ryle himself.  Banner of Truth has published many of Ryle’s books in fine hardback editions.  You cannot make a better investment for your library AND your soul than Ryle’s classic book Holiness.

But first, a warning and/or exhortation.  Reading this book out right, as in from cover to cover, is not necessarily the way to go.  Maybe some will disagree, but I recommend the slow read, the frequent re-read, and the careful handling of this work.  Even the introduction is red meat.  If you have read more modern books on spiritual disciplines and personal holiness, all such will be good primers or warm-up exercises for Ryle.  Regarding the more modern guys, I highly recommend the late Jerry Bridges and the current author Kevin DeYoung.  But again, Ryle is completely undiluted.

So, acquire Holiness and hopefully then grow in holiness.  Read it slowly.  Read the chapters out of order.  Pick it up and read a page or two almost anywhere.  Mark or write down good quotes.  Work the book over.  And, I am not just speaking to you.  I am speaking to myself as well.

The History Teacher’s Morning Devotional

Related image

Many pastors and preachers are readers of history.  If the study of theology and the Bible is their vocation, history is often their source for relaxation as well as for extra help.  Stories from history support and add to sermons.  History is, in some ways, an extended commentary of Biblical truths.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I know of nothing next to the reading of the Scriptures themselves that has been of greater value to me in my own personal life and ministry than constant reading of the history of the church.”  Along with church history, biographies are a favorite of ministers.  But secular history, and I wince at that awkward term, is also useful for broadening a pastor’s perspectives, providing rich sources for sermon illustrations, and disciplining the mind.

Not only do many preachers read history, quite a few have written on historical subjects.  There is the field of history as a profession, involving certain academic credentials and labors, but history is not confined to the specialists.  Along with journalists, novelists, and popular authors dipping into the vast river of history, preachers sometimes write histories.

Along with history-reading-and-using preachers, there are also history teachers who borrow heavily from the fields of the Bible and theology.  I am talking about more than a history teacher who is a church member in good standing and who reads his Bible each morning for personal spiritual growth.  Some historians have dug deeply into theological matters for historical research.  This is more than just the realm of church historians.

Christopher Dawson was first and foremost a historian, but his historical works are shaped by his theological concerns.  The Dutchman Groen van Prinsterer was primarily a historian, but his conversion to Christianity radically altered his understanding and writing of history.

Image result for christopher dawson        Image result for groen van prinsterer

Just as some (hopefully not many) preachers preach badly, so some people do history badly.  Beware of statements like “History shows” or “History proves” or “What we can learn from history is.”  History provides illustrations of everything.  Want to prove or buttress any argument?  Look around in the huge bin of historical examples.  Every cause imaginable has been put forth as to why the Roman Empire fell.  Every American President or political leader can be likened to some famous or infamous Roman.  Almost any era of history can be presented as a golden age or as an example of vice we should be careful not to follow.

In short, history does not prove.  Go to math class for proofs.  This does not mean that history is without lessons or practical applications.

Image result for reading the bible with the founding fathers

Today (July 19, 2017), I finished reading the book Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel L. Dreisbach.  It is published by Oxford University Press.This is one of the best books I have read this year and is one of the best studies of the Founding Era of U. S. history that I have ever read.  While it is true that we should not be taken in by credentials and academic titles, professional historians are held to higher standards than the rest of us.  There is much to be said for academic reputations and peer reviews.  Yes, mother sometimes knows best what to do for your stomach ache, but you still go to the trained, licensed doctor for serious medical conditions.

Dr. Dreisbach is both a scholarly historian and a Christian.  He has filled in a large gap in the conventional story of the sources of America’s freedom and establishment as a nation.  Certainly, the familiar names, such as John Locke and Montesquieu, are mentioned, but it was the Bible that provides the most quotes and references among the founders in their writings and speeches.  But was this just a ploy used to appeal to a Bible-reading public?  To some degree, yes, but the extensive use of Bible verses, references, and ideas in public and personal discourse indicates that the Bible was believed and adhered to as a spiritual or God-given source for political understanding.

In my Humanities class this coming school year, I will be teaching The American Story.  It is my favorite of the four Humanities courses, largely because I am better versed in American history and literature than the other subject areas.  But even the teacher needs both refresher studies and new realizations.  This book provides both.  I have been exploring the connection between the Bible and American history for years.  I am certain that I have read and studied at least a couple of hundred books on the topic.  (Many books included the topic but were not focused on it.)  If I were to provide a bibliography of ten or so books, this one would make the cut.  Unless I am forgetting some other vital book, this one might very well get first place honors.

If 234 pages of text were not enough to convince or challenge me, Dreisbach has an extensive section of notes with further details.  This book can be used, as the title of this post states, as a devotional read for the history teacher.  But this devotional will not be closed as the teacher then prepares for his or her labors in the classroom.  Whether quoted extensively in lectures or just used indirectly, this book will impact the teaching of history.

I received my copy of this book free for the task of reviewing it.  As such, I am not obligated to speak in favorable, much less glowing, terms about it.  But I am doing such because it is that good.